“Enough with the lists already!” I hear you scream, alright, soon I promise, but you should all know by now that it’s common practice to sum up your opinions of the preceding year in list form; lists help us function as a society, and also make for easy blog-reading.
Below I list my personal favourites and not-so favourites of 2011, including TV, Film and Comedy. Remember, these are just my personal opinions, and I can only vote on what I’ve actually watched this year, that’s why shows like Breaking Bad and Louie are absent, because I’ve only just started to catch up with them.
Best TV Drama
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Easily the most gripping television drama series of the year. George R.R Martin’s fantasy epic A Song of Ice and Fire was brought to life by cable network HBO and the combined skills of David Benioff and D.B Weiss. Featuring a sprawling cast of talented actors, compelling characters, beautiful scenery, and some of the most balls-out, gutsiest story-telling ever seen on TV. Each episode left you begging for more, there’s not much more you can ask of a television drama than that.
Tyrion’s confession: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHx-kita75Y
Doctor Who Series 6 (BBC)
Probably not a surprise to see Doctor Who feature on the list given how much of my blog I devote to the show, but Series 6 truly was a fantastical, mind-bending series. Steven Moffat created one of the most inventive, intricate, exciting series of Doctor Who ever to be broadcast. The acting stepped up a notch too, with Matt Smith now fully embodying the Doctor, and Karen Gillan giving stellar performances in episodes such as “The Almost People” and “The Girl Who Waited”.
The Doctor’s Wife: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxcU5VNDNpk
Boardwalk Empire Season 2 (HBO)
Despite it’s stunning visuals and top tier acting, Season 1 of Boardwalk Empire failed to remain compelling, the stakes just weren’t high enough, it was beautifully made television, but it all felt a little aimless. Season 2 has fixed those problems and improved massively, now as well as the amazing cinematography and superb acting skills, the plotting is much better paced, the story has purpose, and the thematic structuring of certain episodes is extremely impressive. It also features some of the best dialogue on television.
Richard Harrow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0fVy9DMHPQ
Honourable Mentions: Justified, Black Mirror, True Blood Season 4.
Worst TV Drama
Dexter Season 6 (Showtime)
I feel kind of bad putting this show here, but then I just remind myself of what happened this season, and it’s justified. Dexter used to be a good show, never great, but it has been able to deliver thrilling, captivating episodes of television. The writers used to respect Dexter, even if they didn’t care for the majority of the side-characters, the plots made half-way sense, and the dialogue was partially subtle - Season 6 has thrown all that out of the window. Dexter is now as stupid as all the other characters, the dialogue (especially the voice-over) borders on the ridiculous, and the “big-bad” is played by Colin Hanks. Kill it off, put it on a blood slide, and hide it behind the air vent never to be seen again.
Terra Nova (Fox)
Following a long line of recent sci-fi based television shows that sound good on paper but fail in execution (FlashForward, The Event, V), Terra Nova couldn’t hold interest despite it’s intriguing concept. A group of people going back in time to the dinosaur age to start life afresh sounds interesting, but for it to work you need to have likable characters, original story-telling, and the faintest touch of dramatic purpose. It all just felt very wooden and dull, not even dinosaurs could help, nor Allison Miller, who will appear on this list again, albeit for entirely different reasons.
You felt with Outcasts that some suit at the BBC had said “Right, we need to prove we can do sci-fi as good as the Americans”, not realising that the channel is already home to one of the greatest sci-fi shows ever created, Doctor Who. What we got instead was one of the worst sci-fi shows ever created, poorly scripted, full of awful exposition and muddled plots, and some questionable acting, although it perhaps wasn’t the actors faults given what they had to work with.
Dishonourable Mentions: The Playboy Club, Mount Pleasant.
Best TV Comedy
Limmy’s Show Series 2 (BBC Scotland)
Perhaps the most original voice to emerge in British comedy in years, Brian Limond continued his success with the second series of his off-beat sketch show Limmy’s Show. Quite possibly the best sketch comedy show of the last decade, Limmy’s Show is a blend of character pieces, monologues, animation, and sometimes just Limmy dancing to cheesy 80s pop music. It’s smart, witty, angry, silly, and like nothing else currently on television. Oh, and it’s also bloody hilarious!
Tina Turner: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4J_oee1S66M
Community Season 2 (NBC)
Yes, Season 2 started in 2010, but more than half the episodes aired during 2011 (plus, I haven’t started watching Season 3 yet). Arguably the most daring mainstream sitcom since The Young Ones, constantly breaking conventions and refusing to succumb to the usual tropes of scripted comedy series. It may be for those reasons that Community doesn’t get the ratings it deserves and is in fear of cancellation, but it’s also the reasons that make it fantastic, and why it has garnered such a loyal, dedicated fan-base. Six seasons and a movie!
Troy and Abed and Tacos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGEFGqHROWo
Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle Series 2 (BBC)
One of the most intelligent stand-up comedians in the UK, Stewart Lee returned with his dead-pan delivery, superiority complex, and penchant for breaking the fourth wall. Covering topics such as Charity, Identity, and Democracy, although his routines often detoured off in to talking about crisps, slagging off Top Gear, and even playing guitar. The choice to replace the sketches with snippets of the spoof Armando Iannucci interview was a brilliant move, as it provided the episodes with more structure, and made them funnier.
Honourable Mentions: Beavis and Butthead Season 8, Twenty Twelve, Psychoville Series 2.
Worst TV Comedy
Life’s Too Short (BBC)
Ricky Gervais laughs at little people. Okay, so it’s supposed to be the comedy of embarrassment, and not actually provoking humour at the expense of others, but no matter how many times Gervais hides behind the badge of “irony”, there is only so much you can take before it crosses that line. Life’s Too Short is the same joke from The Office and Extras, people acting inappropriately, sometimes unrealistically so, resulting in lots of “REACT” shots and “cringe-comedy”. It was also another excuse for Gervais to put his Hollywood pals like Johnny Depp into one of his series, and what is it with all of Gervais’s characters being obsessed with becoming famous - projection much?
Whitney Cummings, actress and comedian, had two of her shows picked up this year, both sitcoms, the self-titled, self-starring Whitney, and the co-created, executive produced 2 Broke Girls. What do these shows have in common apart from Whitney Cummings? They are both awfully unfunny. Whitney, which is supposed to be an exaggerated version of Cummings’ own life, is corny, cliched, and full of cartoonish characters. As for 2 Broke Girls, well….
2 Broke Girls (CBS)
…It isn’t much better than Whitney. The characters here are even more stereotyped, the laughs come cheap, and the humour is often crass. It’s one saving grace is that the chemistry between the two lead actresses, Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, is very good, it’s just a shame they are going to waste in this show.
Dishonourable Mentions: Two and Half Men Season Season 9, Mrs Brown’s Boys, Campus.
Best Reality-Competition Show
The Voice (NBC)
A singing talent show that isn’t heaped in negativity? No sob stories or laughing at psychologically damaged people? The Voice was perhaps the surprise hit of the year, an original twist on the saturated talent show, in which the four coaches have their backs turned to the performers and must vote based on voice alone, if they like what they hear, they turn their chair, it is then up to the act to decide which coach they want to be mentored by. The Voice also has one of the best judging panels ever assembled, Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton, their banter is funny and friendly, and never devolves in to inane bickering.
Blind audition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYMsU4O_-IM
The Celebrity Apprentice 4 (NBC)
When the cast was announced and it included Gary Busey, Meatloaf, and LaToya Jackson, you knew right from the off that this was not only going to be the craziest series of The Apprentice ever, but one of the most wild series of any reality-show ever broadcast. It certainly lived up to it’s crazy hype, with volcanic bust ups between Busey and Meatloaf, the vicious rivalry between Star Jones and NeNe Leakes, and it even showed up music legend Dionne Warwick to be, well, a bit of a bitch. In the end two of the nicest contestants made it to the final two, proving all was right, even in Donald Trump’s world.
Meatloaf vs Busey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItYAZLHrN9M
Big Brother 13 (CBS)
It wasn’t without it’s flaws but Season 13 of Big Brother provided some all time classic moments. This year saw the return of some “famous duos” from seasons past, and it immediately turned in to veterans vs newbies, until Daniele Donato tried to shake things up and everything exploded. The double eviction night was one of the best episodes in Big Brother history, with two of the seasons biggest characters, Daniele and Jeff, getting evicted back-to-back. But in the end it was all about the redemption of Rachel Reilly, who managed to finally fight for herself (and Jordan) and took the crown as Big Brother winner.
Double Eviction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32YWplEKaKo
Honourable Mentions: Junior Apprentice Series 2, Celebrity Big Brother 8, Hell’s Kitchen Season 9.
Worst Reality-Competition Show
The X Factor USA (Fox)
It was supposed to be a huge success, not a huge mess. If The Voice has one of the best judging panels ever assembled, then The X Factor USA has one of the worst ever: LA Reid who lets personal feuds in to his opinions, Paula Abdul whose criticisms are so inane it makes Louis Walsh look like a prophet, and Nicole Sherzinger who was created in a pharmaceutical lab somewhere. The proceedings are haphazardly held together by presenter Steve Jones who appears to have invented an entirely new accent. The drama and tension is all false, the only decent acts left the competition too early, some didn’t even make the live shows (Caitlin Koch), and the Thanksgiving special remains one of the most offensive things I’ve ever witnessed.
The X Factor Series 8 (ITV)
The fact that the best thing about the eighth series of The X Factor was Dermot O’Leary’s opening dance routines, and Tulisa wearing a catsuit on the Halloween special, sums up how turgid and awful it has been. Laughing at mentally ill people in the auditions, accusations of contestant bullying, Frankie Cocozza’s cocaine blues, technical glitches, sick calls, and a judging panel as equally bad as it’s US counterpart. The talent was lacking, the chemistry between the judges was lacking, the entire concept was lacking, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a complete overhaul again next series.
Big Brother 12 (Channel 5)
When Channel 5 bought Big Brother they had the perfect opportunity to change the show’s format, which had grown stale on Channel 4. But, of course, they didn’t. And while the short celebrity series was a small success, that couldn’t be carried over into the regular series that started immediately afterwards. The choice of housemates was poor, all 30 and under, and there was a definite attempt to angle the series towards fans of The Only Way Is Essex and Geordie Shore. It did however have one of the most controversial winners in the show’s history, who actually left the house to boos, that wasn’t enough to make the preceding 9 weeks any better though.
Dishonourable Mentions: Survivor Redemption Island, Survivor South Pacific, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.
Best Hollywood Blockbuster
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox)
An unnecessary remake with an overly long title. This shouldn’t have worked, but surprisingly it did, it more than worked. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one of the most enjoyable blockbuster films of the year, it was well paced and plotted, and made you emotionally invest in the characters, and more importantly, in Caesar and the apes. Topped off by good performances from John Lithgow and James Franco, and Andy Serkis taking performance capture to new levels, it made Rise of the surprise hit of the summer.
Super 8 (Paramount Pictures)
E.T meets The Goonies by way of Cloverfield. J.J Abrams and Steven Spielberg team up in this tribute to classic 1980s action-adventure films, where the focus is on the children, innocence, coming of age, and all that malarkey. It’s all done very well, carefully detailed, brilliant action sequences, nicely threatening monster, and top performances from this young and largely unknown cast of kids. Super 8 really is super.
Hugo (Paramount Pictures)
At first glance you wouldn’t tell that Hugo is a Martin Scorsese movie, a big-budget, 3D, family film, but in fact, Scorsese has perhaps put more of himself in to this film than any other production he’s ever worked on. Hugo is a tribute to the movies, the artistry, the craftsmanship, the dedication, and Scorsese seems to have found a new lease on life with these new tools, he actually makes 3D look good!
Honourable Mentions: X-Men: First Class, Captain America.
Worst Hollywood Blockbluster
Red Riding Hood (Warner Bros. Pictures)
The story is so silly and over-the-top that if the script treated it as such it could have made a decent parody movie, but instead this film takes itself wholly seriously and therefore becomes beyond ridiculous. Amanda Seyfried is great, and will appear in this list again later, albeit for entirely different reasons, but the cast around her are just plain bad, even Gary Oldman, who gave one of the years best performances in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s just a bad bad film.
The Hangover Part II (Warner Bros. Pictures)
The Hangover was the sleeper comedy hit of 2009, a surprisingly funny buddy movie, with a likable cast, and a neat concept. The Hangover 2, sorry Part II (What is this? The Godfather?), was a cash-in; hey, there’s nothing wrong with that, there have been plenty of cash-in movies that have still been good, some even great. But The Hangover Part II was just a carbon copy of the first, just more crude, raunchier, and less funny. The element of surprise that made the first film so enjoyable was gone, and instead it relied on lots of obvious gags and set-ups. Still, it made loads of cash, so look out for Part 3, 4, and 5 coming your way soon.
Sucker Punch (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Okay, so Zack Snyder’s action-fantasy thriller is visually stunning, both the women and the special effects, but that’s really about all you can say for the film in it’s defense. The story is barely existent, instead what you have is Hollywood’s take on a video game, with our skimpy-outfit wearing heroines battling through various levels of monsters and mad-men, to retrieve magic items. Zack Snyder has yet to make a great film, Watchmen was decent, his others border on average to awful - that’s why I’m scared about the Spiderman reboot.
Dishonourable Mentions: Battle: Los Angeles, Jack & Jill, Johnny English Reborn.
Best Mainstream Movie
For a film about car chases there isn’t a whole lot of car-chasing, it is perhaps the most quiet and subdued action movie ever released, but all the better for it. It is aesthetically beautiful, the colour scheme and the location shots are perfect, and it features one of the best choreographed openings in a film for quite some time. Ryan Gosling continues his rise as the most talented young actor on the planet with his subtle performance, silent yet still charismatic, and Albert Brooks plays the perfect bad guy, and proves worthy of his Golden Globe nod. Amazing soundtrack too.
Moneyball (Columbia Pictures)
I know nothing about baseball, but you don’t really need to to enjoy this film, despite the technical terminology, it is really an underdog story about an underfunded, failing team that turns their fortune around by employing analytical, statistic based tactics. Based on the real-life story of Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane, what we have is The Social Network of baseball (the screenplay was co-written by Aaron Sorkin), not particularly concerned with what happens on the pitch, but focuses on the behind the scenes, the numbers, the strategy, and stats. Impressive performances from both Brad Pitt and a surprisingly understated Jonah Hill.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (StudioCanal)
Tomas Alfredson directed one of my favourite films of the last decade with Let The Right One In, so my own personal hype for this film was off the charts, and although TTSS is an entirely different kind of film, it is just as gripping. Based on the John le Carré novel of the same time, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a story of espionage, paranoia, information and misinformation. It’s all very grey, dank, and dismal but it works perfectly within the setting of this film. It also features an all-star cast including Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Hurt, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, and Gary Oldman, turning in one of the best performances of the year.
Honourable Mentions: 50/50, Source Code, The Lincoln Lawyer.
Worst Mainstream Movie
The Rum Diary (FilmDistrict)
I think there was a decent story lurking somewhere in The Rum Diary, but it was unfortunately overshadowed by Johnny Depp doing a sub-Captain Jack performance, and a poorly handled romance storyline. The funniest bits of this film featured in the trailer, in fact, the only funny bits were in the trailer, the rest of the movie was just…boring.
Zookeeper (Columbia Pictures)
Kevin James talks to animals. Not as good as Doctor Dolittle. I would like to see Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes kick that Adam Sandler gorilla to death.
Just Go With It (Columbia Pictures)
Adam Sandler being Adam Sandler. Jennifer Aniston being Jennifer Aniston. Crass, low-brow rom-com with little redeeming features.
Dishonourable Mentions: Hall Pass, Green Lantern, The Change-Up.
Best Indie Flick
Kill List (Optimum Releasing)
The most unsettling film of the year, Kill List is one of the best British horror films in quite some time. The entire feel of the film is just odd, like something isn’t quite right, despite the fairly banal scenery of suburban Sheffield and the British countryside, there is that fear of something sinister lurking beyond. The dialogue is real, the performances raw, and the story increasingly intense. It also features scenes of horrific violence, and one of the most uncomfortable dinner scenes ever committed to screen.
The Tree of Life (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Wow, what can you say about Terence Malik’s epic The Tree of Life? It certainly has its flaws, but its scope is so wide, and at times so life-affirming that it would be a disgrace not to include it in a list for best films of the year. Chronicling the origins and meaning of life through the childhood memories of a middle aged man who grew up in 1950s Texas, it is at its heart a film about family and how they shape you in to who you are today. But the story is also interspersed with the origins of the species and the creation of Earth. It’s a massive, bold, daring film.
Melancholia (Nordisk Film)
Melancholia tackles the dark subject of depression, an illness which director Lars von Trier himself has suffered with, and places it against the backdrop of the end of the world, as seen through the eyes of two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Like The Tree of Life, it’s scope is huge, and it leaves a massive impression. The cinematography is breathtaking, and it even manages to get a great performance out of Kirsten Dunst. My full review of this film is available here: http://bit.ly/so8wew
Honourable Mentions: Snowtown, Submarine, Another Earth, Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene)
Making her feature film debut Elizabeth Olsen proves that there is acting talent somewhere in the Olsen family, and to think she nearly quit acting because of older sister Mary-Kate’s eating disorder back in 2004. In Martha Marcy May Marlene Olsen plays Martha, a young woman who escapes a cult and goes to live with her estranged sister and brother-in-law. Olsen portrays the damage and paranoia with great subtlety, sometimes she doesn’t even have to say a word, her facial reactions do the talking, her smile and her big round eyes displaying so much emotion.
Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia)
I’ve never been a big fan of Kirsten Dunst, although that is a lot to do with her film choices rather than her acting ability, as I do believe she is capable of turning in a great performance, and she certainly proved that point in Melancholia. Playing a woman suffering with depression, Dunst excels at displaying both the self-destructiveness and the emptiness of that illness. It really is a mesmerising performance.
Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life)
If you ever wanted a true definition of the term “breakthrough year” then surely Jessica Chastain would follow it in the dictionary. What a year she has had! Astounding performances in The Help, The Debt, Take Shelter, Texas Killing Fields, and in Terrence Malik’s The Tree of Life. It’s the 1950s housewife that she plays in The Tree of Life that I find the most impressive, she brings a refined beauty, almost angelic quality to the character that plays off of Brad Pitt’s strict husband perfectly. If she doesn’t earn an Academy Award nod next year something is seriously wrong in the world.
Honourable Mentions: Charlotte Gainsbourg (Melancholia), Tilda Swinton (We Need To Talk About Kevin), Elle Fanning (Super 8).
Ryan Gosling (Drive)
Let’s face it, this year belonged to Ryan Gosling, there is a whole bunch of films I could have picked, starting right back at the beginning of the year with Blue Valentine, to comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love, or political thriller The Ides of March. Gosling is one of those rare actors that can totally transform with each character he plays, letting each performance stand alone, and his most impressive performance this year was as the unnamed driver in neo-noir thriller Drive, quiet and menacing, and enviously cool.
Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
Another quiet and brooding performance came from Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I gave Oldman a bit of stick earlier for his part in Red Riding Hood, but it’s hard to hold that against him when he gave arguably one of the greatest performances of his career this year. Oldman brought rich detail and a silent ruthlessness to the character of George Smiley, previously played by Alec Guinness in the 1979 BBC series. Oldman did more than enough to make the character his own, and will hopefully be rewarded with an Oscar nod next year.
Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
It’s been a good year for Brad Pitt, I could have just as easily nominated him for his stern, authoritarian performance in The Tree of Life, but I chose to go with his more driven, enthusiastic portrayal of Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane in Moneyball. It’s one of Pitt’s finest performances, he brings an addictive determination to Beane that makes you want to root for him throughout the movie. Pitt has recently talked about giving up acting within the next three years, but while he is delivering performances like this I hope that isn’t the case.
Honourable Mentions: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50), Neil Maskell (Kill List), Jonah Hill (Moneyball).
Now for the fun and slightly more superficial part of the list…
Best On-Screen Hotties
Amanda Seyfried (Red Riding Hood, In Time)
Tulisa Contostavlos (The X Factor)
Allison Miller (Terra Nova)
Honourable Mentions: Alison Brie (Community), Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Kelli Garner (Pan Am).
Best On-Screen Hunks
Ryan Gosling (Crazy Stupid Love, Drive, The Ides of March)
Joel McHale (Community)
James Franco (Your Highness, Rise of the Planet of the Apes)
Honourable Mentions: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50), Timothy Olyphant (Justified, I Am Number Four).
Richard Harrow (Boardwalk Empire)
CM Punk (WWE)
Caesar (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)
Honourable Mentions: Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones), The Driver (Drive), Dr Julia Harris (Horrible Bosses).
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Attack The Block