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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.

I’m a Better Host Than Jimmy Kimmel, Too

Being a sucker for awards shows, naturally I watched the Emmys on Sunday night. The Emmys, I have to say, are one of my least favourite awards shows. It’s hard to take a group that claims to honour the best in television seriously when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was never nominated in a major category except one time for writing, and that writing nomination came for an episode with almost no dialogue (an excellent episode, to be sure, but still). Also, it did not win.

This year’s Emmy telecast was particularly unsatisfying for me as the one show I do love that I can usually count on to make me feel better about these things, Mad Men, didn’t even win. For once, Bryan Cranston didn’t win, yet somehow, neither did Jon Hamm. I was annoyed. As soon as I went to bed, I started plotting out my own version of the Emmy awards, which I am calling the Memmy Awards, to recognize the best in television as perceived by me. Here are my nominees.

Note: Community is the only sitcom I watch, so I’m not bothering with a separate category for comedy because it would just win everything. I bet that would be super, super annoying and predictable.

Best Supporting Actor

Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones. I wasn’t that impressed with season two of Game of Thrones, but one thing I did love about it was Charles Dance’s outstanding performance. The scenes between Arya and the Lannister patriarch were certainly the highlight of the season for me. Dance plays Lord Tywin with great strength and menace, ably showing viewers the forceful paternal influence that made Tyrion, Cersei, and Jaime who they are.

Jared Harris as Lane Pryce on Mad Men. Frankly, he deserves this nomination just for that time Lane punched Pete Campbell in the face. I also loved the crazy scene where he gave Joan some, er, business advice. But as amazing as those moments were, there was much more weighty stuff to Lane’s arc and Jared Harris’ performance this season. So very English, suffering in silence as everyone else went on with their lives, never suspecting the depth of his problems.

John Noble as Walter Bishop on Fringe. John Noble’s omission is one of the things that bothers me the most when I see the Emmy nominations every year. He plays Walter’s messed up mental state with a mix of flat-out weirdness and fragility that can go from hilarious to incredibly moving in just a few short words. He also shows his vast range in his scenes as Walternate, where we see the cold and calculating person the lovable Walter we know might have become.

And the Memmy goes to … John Noble, because for heaven’s sake, someone’s got to give this man an award!

Best Supporting Actress

Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris on Mad Men. Season five was a very big year for Joan: she finally dumped Dr. Rapist, she came back to work after her maternity leave … oh yeah, and she whored herself out for the good of the company and was made partner in return. The moment when she told her awful husband he’s not a good man actually made me cheer. It was a satisfying, if uncomfortable, season for Joan’s character development, and Hendricks played it all beautifully.

Jessica Paré as Megan Draper on Mad Men. Whatever you think of Megan (personally, I like her), Jessica Paré was a force on Mad Men this season. Her youthful exuberance challenged Don to contemplate moving with the times, Peggy to re-evaluate her career, and Betty to take a long look at her own maturity level. (Possibly.) Paré started the season off with a bang (Zou Bisou Bisou!) and went toe-to-toe with Jon Hamm in some very intense scenes.

Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey. Maggie Smith’s wonderful readings of Julian Fellowes’ funny and sometimes outlandish dialogue are very probably the best thing about Downton Abbey. This is simply a case of a brilliant actress doing a brilliant job in a brilliantly-written role. I watch her every moment she’s on screen: every gesture and facial expression is unmissable.

And the Memmy goes to … Christina Hendricks. In most years I would be more than happy to see Maggie Smith take home the trophy, but man, Christina Hendricks killed it this year.

Best Actor

Jon Hamm as Don Draper on Mad Men. Don tried hard to evolve this season and Jon Hamm portrayed his transformation with typical smoothness. It’s amazing to me that he has so far failed to win an Emmy. Don Draper is without doubt the most iconic character currently on television and a big part of that is due to Hamm’s personal charisma. If you think Mad Men will stand up in 25 years as an example of great TV, which I do, it will seem ridiculous that he never won.

Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan on Dexter. This is more of a lifetime achievement Memmy nomination than anything else because I think Dexter’s best days are definitely behind it. But MCH’s awesomness hasn’t faded, and by my count he should have about nine Emmys by now (five for the five seasons of Six Feet Under and one each for the first four seasons of Dexter). Strangely, he doesn’t have a single one.

Michael Pitt as Jimmy Darmody on Boardwalk Empire. I came across this article about shows that have the wrong lead character the other day and was happy because I have always thought Nucky was one of the least interesting people on Boardwalk Empire. Jimmy was far more interesting, especially in season two: his attempts to unseat Nucky, his grief at Angela’s death, his disturbing backstory. Michael Pitt’s deep, quiet, intense, sad performance was outstanding.

And the Memmy goes to … Sorry, Jon Hamm, but: Michael Pitt, for a performance that stayed with me long after the show ended. It’s shocking that the actual Emmys overlooked him.

Best Actress

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones. I find Cersei to be one of the more interesting characters in the series. She’s a woman trying not just to survive in but actually dominate a man’s world. This has made her ruthless, cunning, and just a little bit crazy. Lena Headey has captured Cersei’s rage and the fear underneath it in a way I really enjoy. Her scenes with Sansa throughout the season and especially during the battle were marvellous.

Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife. Alicia has really grown since we first met her in season one, developing more and more moral ambiguity. She’s still a good person at heart, but she has her moments of slipperiness. Julianna Margulies shows Alicia’s conflicted feelings about her job very well. Plus, I love it when she lays out Jackie with a good rant. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Anna Torv as Olivia Dunham on Fringe. I think what impressed me most about season four was the way she actually made Walter (and me) like Altlivia, who had until then been pretty much a villain. But, like Michael C. Hall’s Best Actor nomination, this one is a kind of overall achievement award, rather than related to anything specific Anna Torv did this season. Her performance has been amazing since Fringe started and she’s only getting better.

And the Memmy goes to … Anna Torv. Why do you hate Fringe, Emmy voters?

Best Series

Boardwalk Empire. I liked season one but wasn’t totally convinced it was going to turn out to be a great show. The excellent second season paid off a lot of what was set up in season one and made me very eager to see season three. This series also has stunning HBO-financed production values and is just plain nice to look at.

The Good Wife. An exceptionally well-written legal drama/nighttime soap populated with a large cast of excellent characters, played by great actors, including a series of really notable guest stars.

Mad Men. Somehow, this show has managed to get better every season so far. Season five was possibly the most difficult yet, featuring a lot of developments that made me squirm as the characters went through some major changes. As uncomfortable as I might have been, though, I couldn’t look away.

And the Memmy goes to … Mad Men. I can only imagine Homeland must be the greatest show since Buffy in order to have beaten it for the Emmy.

A final award: instead of doing a bunch of awards for writing and directing, the Memmys just go whole hog and give you …

Best Single Episode of Any Show

Community 3.04 – “Remedial Chaos Theory.” Jeff tosses a die to determine which of the gang must go downstairs and pick up the pizza they’ve ordered, in the process creating six different timelines, each of which is played out in the course of the episode. I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed as hard at anything I’ve seen on TV as I did at The Darkest Timeline.

Community 3.14 – “Pillows and Blankets.” The battle between Troy’s blanket fort and Abed’s pillow fort turns serious and all of Greendale is drawn into the conflict. A dead-on parody of a Ken Burns documentary, showing how social media posts and text messages would become the archival sources for historians of tomorrow. I enjoyed this episode so much that I watched it twice in a row.

Mad Men 5.04 – “Mystery Date.” Set against the backdrop of the Chicago nurse murders, the episode explores humans’ potential for violence and distrust of each other, mainly in the context of men’s sexual violence against women. Particularly disturbing are Don’s dream sequence and Sally’s fear after watching the news with her grandmother. This was chilling stuff. Plus, Joan dumps her stupid husband and not-so-subtly reminds him of that time he raped her. Awesome!

And the Memmy goes to … “Remedial Chaos Theory,” because I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe.