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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.

All Is Quiet, on New Year’s Day

The beginning of a new year always makes me feel like doing random things in the name of having a fresh start; for example, this morning I flipped all the cushions on my couch, which I would probably never think of doing on any other day, but hey — it’s a new year! I also refilled my salt shaker, opened up a new toothbrush, and started rereading the Harry Potter books again.

Now a brief look back on 2011. I did some good things: went to England, managed the HPreread. Got to know my toddler niece as she developed her personality. I rewatched The X-Files. This may not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but I’ve tried to do that three or four times before and have never made it past the first half of season six. In 2011, I did all nine seasons plus both movies. It felt like an accomplishment! I also did a good job of getting myself back in the habit of reading every day, and as consequence I read 65 books. To be fair, many of those were short and some were things I’d read before, but I’d count about 30 of them as solid new books. I think I managed my personal life fairly well. I had surgery to fix up a health problem I’d been dealing with for a while and took advantage of the fact that I have dental coverage through my job to get some much needed work done on my teeth. I paid all my bills and knocked a fairly big chunk off my student debt. I did well at my job. I tried to make smart decisions about how I spend money and on what. All in all, it was a good year.

I also took in some good culture. Here are a few best and worst of 2011 picks:

Music

I liked Florence + the Machine‘s debut album enough that I was really looking forward to the followup, Ceremonials, which turned out to be one of my favourite albums of the year. My picks for the best tracks: “What the Water Gave Me,” “Heartlines,” “Leave My Body,” “Only if for a Night,” “Never Let Me Go,” and “Shake It Out.”  But my most listened album of 2011 is undoubtedly Born This Way by Lady Gaga. It’s not perfect, but there are some truly great songs on there. The best, in my opinion, are “Heavy Metal Lover,” “Bloody Mary,” “Born This Way,” and “Hair.” “Hair” was easily my favourite song of the year. It’s so stupid, but so much fun.

My biggest musical disappointment of the year was Radiohead‘s King of Limbs. I never thought we’d reach the day when Radiohead made a bad album, but unfortunately it seems we have. It’s still possible King of Limbs will grow on me in the future. I hope so.

Movies

I was underwhelmed by the cinema of 2011 until July when I saw The Tree of Life, and I still think it was probably my favourite movie of the year. As I wrote at the time, I totally get why so many people hated it, but it really, really worked for me. I thought it was beautiful and brilliant, and it stayed with me for a long time after I saw it. Another movie that has stuck with me is the haunting Martha Marcy May Marlene, starring Elizabeth Olsen as a young woman who joins and then leaves a cult, but finds that she may never truly be able to escape. I’m not sure why this movie isn’t getting more awards buzz. Speaking of which, The Artist is just as good as people say. I found it very charming. In terms of more mainstream fare, I thoroughly enjoyed Captain America — everyone seems to have a preference between Cap and Thor and, while I enjoyed Thor, I think I was more drawn in by Captain America‘s period setting. I thought the filmmakers pulled that off very well. Plus, Chris Evans was wonderful, and Hugo Weaving made a terrific Red Skull.

Movies I didn’t like: The Descendants, which I am officially naming the most overrated movie of 2011, was just as boring and pretentious as I expected it to be given my hatred of Sideways and my general dislike of George Clooney in serious movies. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 annoyed me so much the first time I saw it that it almost put me off ever watching any of the HP movies again. Then I saw it a second time and liked it more, but I still have to say that the series was overall pretty disappointing — apart from the absolutely excellent casting.

Books

I think the only 2011 releases I read were The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin, both of which were great but fell just short of being truly outstanding. I read Martin’s entire Song of Ice and Fire series for the first time in 2011, and the third volume, A Storm of Swords, was most likely my favourite “new” (to me) book of the year. A low point in 2011 for me and probably for the world: I read all four Twilight books. Breaking Dawn created a whole new level of bad.

Television

The good: Fringe, The Good Wife, and The Vampire Diaries are the best things on television right now. I was overjoyed — overjoyed, I tell you! — by Smallville‘s series finale, which made me feel that the 10 years I spent watching that show were actually worthwhile. The second season of Boardwalk Empire also wrapped up in spectacular fashion.

The bad: I was disappointed when I heard One Tree Hill and Weeds, two shows that have really gone downhill, were being renewed. I finally stopped watching House.

The sad: No Mad Men.