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SMASH! and Trash: 2012 in Review

Happy New Year! Now that we’ve made it to 2013, it’s time to look back on 2012. It was an ok year. I don’t know that I accomplished much. I learned how to make books. I finished paying off my student debt! That was actually quite exciting. I went canoeing and walked a few of the trails in Algonquin Park. I was a good aunt. I visited Newfoundland, which was the only province I hadn’t been to before. But enough about my actual life: here’s my take on the year in pop culture.

Movies

Every year, I set a goal of watching 50 movies I haven’t seen before; I accomplished that in 2012 with a final tally of 108 movies. A personal highlight of the year in film for me was going to Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival. This was something I’d been thinking about doing for a few years. I saw five films, including one of my favourites of the year (see below). If I can swing it, I’d definitely like to go back in 2013 and possibly see even more movies. Looking at the list of 2012 releases I saw, it seems I saw more movies I didn’t really care for than movies I loved. However, there were four standouts on both ends of the spectrum:

Best

1. The Avengers. I’d been looking forward to this movie ever since that amazing moment when Nick Fury showed up in the Iron Man post-credits scene. Marvel superheroes + Joss Whedon + the generally high quality of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies = lots and lots of hype and expectations. I was living in fear of the possibility that The Avengers would be disappointing. Luckily for me, it wasn’t! At all! In fact, it was superb. It was one of the most awesome movies I’ve ever seen in my entire life and possibly the best thing to happen on Earth in 2012. A massive (they have a Hulk) and massively entertaining summer blockbuster.

2. Les Misérables. I only saw this last week so it’s possible my opinion will change after the movie sits with me for a while, but right now I’m totally enamoured with it; I liked it so much the first time that I went again the next day — that’s a pretty strong recommendation. I was obsessed with the musical as a teenager and admire the songs very much. All I wanted from the film was solid performances that captured the tone of the musical well, and it delivered. Everyone in the cast is great. The film, while not perfect, is a stirring and emotional experience that is as grand as the songs.

3. Argo. This is the one I saw at TIFF, and the one I’m going to be rooting for come Oscar time. (Sorry, Les Mis. I still love you the most.) It’s a tense thriller about U.S. relations with the Middle East, mixed with a comedy about the movie industry — a mix that works very well and is highly enjoyable. Ben Affleck has turned out to be an excellent filmmaker. I’m honestly surprised this movie wasn’t a bigger hit: it has all the makings of a real crowdpleaser.

4. The Hunger Games. Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson shine as Katniss and Peeta in what I felt was a mostly successful adaptation of a book I like very much. The movie has suspenseful action as well as genuinely affecting emotional scenes plus all the terrible spectacle of the Capitol and the Games. The fact that a movie about the horrors of consumerism is now the centre of a vast moneymaking empire is of course a bit ironic, but oh well.

Worst

End of Watch. Vomit-inducing shakycam combined with lots of incoherent shouting. I remain convinced that this was originally pitched as a comedy and someone somewhere along the way accidentally took it seriously.

Cosmopolis. This was at least nine hours long. Why, David Cronenberg, why?

The Amazing Spider-Man. I liked this 10 years ago when it was just called Spider-Man and was actually amazing.

The Sessions. Heroic actor plays severely disabled person! Heroic actress no one’s thought about in years takes off clothes! “Well then,” say the critics, “it must be good.” No.

Music

I was really planning to make an effort to discover more new music in 2012, but alas. I failed quite miserably and basically spent the whole year listening to Florence + the Machine. The only new album I can say made an impact on me is Battle Born by The Killers. I’ve also been enjoying Muse’s The 2nd Law, particularly the unexpectedly beautiful song “Madness.”

As for the worst in music, I was dismayed by Tori Amos’ “new” album Gold Dust, which features orchestral “reimaginings” of some of Tori’s older songs. Sounds like an interesting idea … except that many of the songs included already featured orchestras in their original versions, which made me wonder what exactly the purpose of all this could be. The only thing I can think is that she’s actually run out of crappy new material to record so she’s decided to start destroying her good music, too. The horror, the horror.

Books

My biggest literary excitement of 2012 was no doubt the fact that two of my favourite authors, J.K. Rowling and Lemony Snicket, released new books within a couple of weeks of one another. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy was a very good entry in the English country village genre; Snicket’s Who Could That Be at This Hour? takes us back into the world of A Series of Unfortunate Events for a look at the author’s youth. I enjoyed both, but I think my favourite book of the year was Such Wicked Intent, the second book in Kenneth Oppel’s The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein series. Aside from drawing with great skill on the themes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Oppel brings in other influences — the main one being H.P. Lovecraft — and writes in a convincing Victorian style. I look forward to the final book in the series.

In the world of graphic novels, Jeff Lemire is my cartoonist of the year: I read both Essex County and The Underwater Welder in 2012 and have totally fallen in love with his art. Lemire’s strange and haunting Sweet Tooth is one of two comics I discovered and enjoyed catching up on this year, the other being Mike Carey’s very literary The Unwritten. I also continued making my way through Bill Willingham’s great series Fables, but I’m not caught up yet.

Television

I already covered the first part of 2012 quite extensively in my Memmys blog post so I won’t go on much here. In terms of things that have aired since I wrote that post, I felt Dexter returned to form this season. Yvonne Strahovski was a surprisingly good addition to the cast. Season 3 of Boardwalk Empire was also very impressive, and the most recent season of Survivor is probably one of its best ever, despite the presence of one of the all-time most irritating castaways (Abi, in case you weren’t sure).

I bade farewell to three old favourites as One Tree Hill, Weeds, and Gossip Girl made their final appearances. I discovered a couple of new to me, old to everyone else favourites in the utterly brilliant The Wire, the hilarious Community, and the very endearing Parks and Recreation. I rewatched Lost, and in doing so discovered that it works better the second time through. My rewatch cemented Lost as one of my top five favourite shows.

Finally, a couple of surprises, one good and one bad. Good: I am loving the newest season of Castle. I always thought it would annoy me if Castle and Beckett ever became a couple, but they’ve actually been really fun to watch. Bad: the final season of Fringe has been a real disappointment. I was so happy when it was renewed, but now that I’ve seen what they’re doing I will go so far as to say that unless the remaining episodes are mindblowingly amazing I will probably skip season 5 on any future Fringe rewatches I undertake. It’s a bummer.

So that’s 2012 in a nutshell. There is literally no chance that 2013 will be able to top The Avengers, but here’s hoping it provides some good stuff nonetheless.

You Didn’t Build That

Earlier this month, former Chicago Blackhawks player Brent Sopel tweeted the following in response to the Chicago teachers’ strike:

CPS teachers strike during this economy. Be happy you have a job in a profession YOU chose. #wasteoftime

Sopel’s replies to people who weren’t too pleased with his tweet have since disappeared, but as I recall he was ranting about how much money he gives to charity and how that makes him “special,” and how he was only able to become a millionaire pro-athlete because he worked hard and most people just aren’t willing to work that hard: in other words, a typical rich dude “I got where I am through my own hard work and you would be like me if you weren’t so darn lazy” rant.

Here’s the thing. No, Brent Sopel, hard work was not the only thing that allowed you to become a professional athlete. Chances are, you have some innate talent. Also, I bet there were people who helped you out along the way: to borrow Barack Obama’s much-maligned words, “you didn’t build that.” You obviously were given the opportunity to play hockey: is this because your parents were able to pay for your equipment and lessons? Did they own a car and drive you to practice? Was there a coach who helped you out? You must have lived in a neighbourhood with access to a skating rink. Not everyone does. Finally, how about the fact that you happened to be born with a Y chromosome? The fact is, I could have worked my ass off and practiced hockey for 10 hours a day since I was three years old and even if I turned out to be the female Sidney Crosby, my chances of playing in the NHL are slim to none simply because I am female. Ever think about that, Brent? How half the population is automatically excluded from the opportunity you supposedly got only via your own hard work? No, I didn’t think so. Sopel’s complete lack of awareness of his own privilege was a bit disgusting.

(I’m not trying to whine about the fact that women aren’t allowed in the NHL — whatever. I’m just pointing out a fact.)

Fast forward to today. This morning I watched The Daily Show with breakfast, as I always do. The first segment, about new guidelines for school lunches, made me despair at the stupidity of the world (this often happens when I watch TDS), but then the interview segment unexpectedly cheered me up. The guest: Amar’e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks, there to promote the two books he’s written for children.

In Stoudemire, I saw a sort of anti-Sopel. He and Jon Stewart, a basketball fan who is as short as I am female, discussed the quirk of genetics (he’s 6’11”) that has helped him to become a pro-basketball player. No doubt Stoudemire also worked hard to get where he is, but he is at least aware that his height played a role in his success and that not everyone shares this advantage. This, he says, is why he wants to help children to educate themselves. He stated flat out that most people, no matter how hard they work, will not make the NBA; therefore, let’s encourage kids to put that hard work into reading and education, which can benefit everyone. Obviously, as a librarian, I appreciate anyone who promotes books. But I also felt Stoudemire’s message of practical hard work and realistic aspiration was refreshing. Certainly, it was nice to hear a successful and wealthy person happily acknowledging the role luck/circumstance/genetics played in his success.

Episode IV – A New Blog

I already have a blog, as you may know: Sens at Land’s End, dedicated to my beloved Ottawa Senators. I haven’t posted in it in a while, partly because I’m lazy, partly because I tweet a lot about hockey, partly because I’ve been busy, and I think also partly because I’m not in Vancouver anymore. One of the reasons I started that blog was that I had no one to share my Sens talk with out there, and now that I’m back in Ottawa I guess the need to vent about/celebrate the Sens in cyberspace is a little less pronounced.

But I still enjoy the creative outlet blogging provides. Now that I’m out of school and in the working world, though, I’m feeling a need for a different kind of outlet — perhaps a more scholarly one. (I’m still going to keep up with Sens at Land’s End, though: I won’t be hanging up my skates, so to speak.) That’s where this space comes in. It’ll be a place for me to post my thoughts mostly on TV, books, and movies. I’m interested in learning, thinking, watching, and reading more about several different areas, including science fiction and fantasy, Canadian literature, graphic novels and comics, film, literary theory, and the history of the book. These interests are mostly personal, but some are areas I’d like to explore on a more professional/academic or at least serious hobby level as well. My hope is to think, write, and analyze as I read and watch, to give myself some focus, and to have fun talking about all the TV shows, movies, and books I love.

I guess that’s a pretty vague description, but basically, that’s the sort of thing you should expect to find here.