12/27/2011

Best & Worst of 2011 - Movies & Television


Just to be clear, I possess no credentials that qualify me to pull together a list purporting to include the best and worst movies/television of 2011.  I'm about as unhip and culturally illiterate as Carl Rove.  But the one credential I do possess is curiosity, and a willingness to search the net in order to satisfy that curiosity. 

What this list represents is an informal but fairly comprehensive survey of the opinions of people who actually can lay claim to hipness and/or culturally literacy.  Having said that, I've still exercised my right at the list's compiler to contribute my own opinions and snarky remarks whenever the mood struck me.

Best and Worst Movies of 2011
  1. Milestones, Trends, and Honorable Mentions
    1. The End of Harry Potter.  After the last movie, my now 20yr old son turned to me and said, "I feel like my childhood just officially ended."  Bet it felt that way to thousands of other kids who grew up with the franchise, each new movie marking milestones not just in the lives of Harry et. al., but in the lives of the fans who fell in love with the characters in the original J.K. Rowlings books and then faithfully followed them to the screen.  Some of the books made better movies than others, but taken in whole, the 8 Harry Potter movies combined to form a solid and worthy canon.
    2. The Rise of Streaming Video (aka the self-destruction of Netflix). Was 2011 truly the year that streaming video came of age?  That's certainly what Netflix wanted us all to believe.  Desperate to wring more profit out of the movie delivery business, they foisted streaming video upon their millions of subscribers, blithely unaware - or unconcerned - that folks used to having access to a catalog of 100,000 movies might possibly be miffed at suddenly being able to access only about 10,000 movies - and most of those older, "public access" fare like those ubiquitous Marilyn Monroe films they show every Sunday afternoon on network TV.  Clearly streaming video has not yet "arrived" - whatever Netflix would have us believe - but it is also clear that the era of streaming video isn't far off. 
    3. Movies for Book Club Babes.  This was the year Hollywood finally seemed to figure out that women who read are a viable market.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Help, and Water for Elephants were three book club staples that made profits for studios at the box office this year.
  2. Sequels, Superheroes & Remakes
    1. Captain America: The First Avenger
    2. Cars 2
    3. Conan the Barbarian
    4. Final Destination 5.
    5. Footloose
    6. The Green Hornet
    7. The Green Lantern
    8. Happy Feet 2.
    9. The Hangover (pt2)
    10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (pt 2).  It's the sequel of a sequel - how cool is that!
    11. Kung Fu Panda 2
    12. Midnight in Paris.  Not technically a sequel, but Woody Allen's first flick in ages.
    13. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
    14. The Muppets
    15. Paranormal Activity 3
    16. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Shores
    17. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
    18. Scream 4
    19. Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows
    20. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World
    21. The Three Muskateers
    22. Thor
    23. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
    24. Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (pt1)
    25. X-Men: First Class
  3. Critics' Favorites:
    1. The Artist
    2. The Descendents
    3. Drive
    4. Hugo
    5. Iron Lady
    6. J. Edgar
    7. Margin Call
    8. Moneyball
    9. Of Gods & Men
    10. Rango
    11. Separation
    12. Shame
    13. Super 8
    14. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    15. Tree of Life
    16. The Trip
    17. Win Win
  4. Fan Favorites (a mix of movies that made a lot of money + movies that were well-reviewed by ordinary folk)
    1. Cars 2.  Because boys love cars.
    2. Contagion.  Forget Paranormal Activity 3 - this was scary!
    3. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Ticket sales were boosted by folks eager to see the movie version of the only book they actually read in 2010-11.
    4. The Hangover 2. Because boys love stupid comedy and fart jokes.
    5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (pt 2). At last, a series movie that finishes as strong as it began. 
    6. The Help.  It was entertaining and just going to see it made you feel like you were striking a blow for civil rights.
    7. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.  It's on the "fan favorites" list because it made an obscene amount of money, but I haven't yet anyone who felt like their $10 ticket was a good investment.
    8. Puss in Boots.  Continues to amaze me how the folks at Pixar and Dreamworks manage to take preposterous premiseses for movies (the last robot on earth! a mouse that cooks! a house that floats!) and turn them into magic.
    9. Thor.  Because boys loves superheroes, and Thor's hammer was way cooler than Green Lantern's ring, Captain America's lame super-shield.
    10. Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  Because boys love robots.
    11. Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (pt 1).  Because girls love dysfunctional co-dependent romance.
    12. War Horse.  The "war" part sucked in the men, the "horse" part the women - but both genders stayed for the great plot and message.
  5. Worst Movies of 2011 (Movies that were intentionally bad - to include Christmas movies by chipmunks, bromances about alcoholic binges, and anything with the words "Harold and Kumar" in the title - are deliberately omitted. )
    1. Apollo 18.  The premise was cool - astronauts on the moon discover that they are not alone! - but the follow-through was painfully bad.
    2. Arthur.  This movie was awful the first time, which (you have to think) should have discouraged them from trying again.
    3. Bad Teacher.  Bet Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake wish they could have a "do-over".
    4. Cowboys & Aliens.  How can a movie with a kickass name like "Cowboys & Aliens" starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig fail to entertain? I'm still wondering what went wrong.
    5. Gnomio and Juliet.  The yard gnome version of Romeo and Juliet. I'm all for exposing kids to the classics young, but is this really the best we can do?  We can only hope Gnomlet, the gnome version of Hamlet, isn't next.
    6. Jack & Jill.  If you buy the premise that you can tell when comedy stars are dying when they resort to wearing fat suits (Eddy Murphy, Martin Lawrence), then this was Adam Sandler's farewell.
    7. Passion Play.  This Mickey Rourke vehicle went for pretentious ... and missed.
    8. Reel Steel. Really? A movie version of the children's toy Rock'm Sock'm Robots?
    9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Not good enough to be entertaining, not bad enough to be mocked.  A waste of good CGI.
    10. Season of the Witch.  Nicholas Gage needs to fire his agent.  Now.
    11. Smurfs.  Their 15 minutes of fame were up, like, 20 years ago, guys!
    12. The Green Lantern.  Some superheroes just aren't ready to make the jump to the big screen. Hope the folks mulling over the possibility of an Aquaman movie take heed. 
    13. Tin Tin.  You didn't have to be a fan of the comic books to appreciate the deft way the producers of this flick captured everything - the action, the exotic locals, the dog, that hairdo! - that made the comic books great.
Best and Worst Television Shows of 2011
  1. Milestones, Trends and Honorable Mentions
    1. The End of Oprah Winfrey.  Her show went out in a blaze of celebrity glory, but I think we all know Oprah Winfrey isn't going anywhere.
    2. The End of Soap Operas.  Just the names - All My Children, One Life to Live - evoke a simpler time, when we truly cared about whether Luke & Laura would ever be happy, when we truly believed that Erica Cane never aged, and when we still bought a product known as "soap flakes."   
    3. Charlie Sheen Goes Postal.  What's more fun than watching a celeb self-destruct, a la Brittany Spears, Mel Gibson, and Tom Cruise?   I suspect the only television Mr. Sheen will be doing from now on is guest appearances on Celebrity Rehab.
    4. WDDW? WDRW?  A survey published towards the end of the year postulated that political convictions shape television viewing habits. So, what did Republicans watch in 2011? The answer was: Swamp Loggers/Top Shot/American Pickers/Swamp People/pretty much every other cable show that features working people, The Bachelor, Castle, Mythbusters, Jay Leno, The Middle, and Biggest Loser.  Meanwhile, Democrats were apparently tuning into Jon Stewart/Steve Colbert, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, Glee, Modern Family, Masterpiece Theater, and David Letterman.
  2. Trends
    1. Fairy Tales. Two shows - Once Upon a Time and Grimm - insinuated that fairy tale characters are real and that they walk among us.  I always knew I was Alice in Wonderland ...!
    2. Storage wars, Food wars, Fashion wars.  2011 was the year in which the networks turned everything into a battle for survival, from buying storage units (Storage Wars) to designing clothes (Project Runway), from cooking (Hell's Kitchen) to decorating cakes (Cake Wars).  Can't we all agree that cupcakes and hate don't mix?  
    3. Vampires & Zombies & Ghosts - oh, my!  See ordinary folk try to survive a zombie apocalypse in Walking Dead!  See ghosts terrify innocent folks to death in American Horror Story!  See curiously good-looking vampires brood and menace in True Blood and Vampire DiariesBuffy the Vampire Slayer, you have a lot to answer for.
    4. Apparently, America's Got Talent.  Or so you'd believe, based on the number of television talent shows that filled television timeslots in 2011: American Idol, The X-Factor, The Sing-off, Dancing With the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, Live to Dance, etc.  The common denominator, of course, isn't actually talent but production costs: these shows are relatively cheap to produce and so not likely to go away anytime soon; though the 2011 seasons of some of the above suggested that maybe America is actually starting to run out of talent ....
    5. Multiple kids.  Hopefully, 2011 was the year in which our fascination with multiple births finally began to fade. Kate + 8 was cancelled, and 19 Kids and Counting, featuring the Duggers, began to lose its charm after the Duggers themselves appeared uninterested in the details of their latest pregnancy. 
  3. Critics' Favorites
    1. Boardwalk Empire
    2. Breaking Bad
    3. Community
    4. Downton Abbey
    5. Enlightened
    6. Friday Night Lights
    7. Game of Thrones
    8. The Good Wife
    9. Homeland
    10. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
    11. Justified
    12. The Middle
    13. Modern Family
    14. Parks & Recreation
  4. Gone but Not Forgotten (shows that bit the dust in 2011)
    1. All My Children
    2. Big Love
    3. Brothers & Sisters
    4. Chicago Code
    5. Entourage
    6. Friday Night Lights
    7. Hannah Montana
    8. Kate + 8. 
    9. Law and Order: Criminal Intent/Law and Order: LA
    10. Lopez Tonight.
    11. Men of a Certain Age
    12. One Life to Live
    13. Oprah Winfrey Show
    14. Rescue Me
    15. Smallville
  5. Still Good Fun
    1. Mythbusters
    2. Big Bang Theory
    3. 30 Rock
    4. Raising Hope
    5. Sons of Anarchy
  6. Controversial
    1. All American Muslim.   People protested this show because it dared to suggest that Muslims are people too.  Really - couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
    2. The Playboy Club.  Sad to think about all the energy womens' groups expended protesting a show that turned out to be so bad, it would have died a natural death even earlier if they hadn't called so much attention to it.
  7. Declining
    1. Glee.  The producers have turned this into a character-driven drama, forgetting that what attracted viewers that first glorious year was the outrageous plot devices (bring "evil Sue" back!), the "plucky outsiders" storyline, and the over-the-top musical numbers.  
    2. The Simpsons.  The ocassional episode still rises to the challenge, but these days more episodes are lame than not.  Maybe - God help us - it's time to retire Homer et. al.?
    3. How I Met Your Mother.  This show is getting way too whiny, and not in an entertaining Seinfeld kind of way. 
    4. The Office.  A valient effort, but it just isn't the same without Steve Carroll.
    5. Two and a Half Men.  Forget the Charlie Sheen controversy - this should have been retired when the kid entered his obnoxious teen years.  No one needs to see that.
    6. Project Runway.  Lost what charm it had once the show became more about the whiny contestants than the fashion.
  8. Duds (shows that debuted and then promptly disappeared)
    1. Pan Am.  Visually, the show was gloriously glamorous.  Too bad the plots were decidedly less entertaining. 
    2. The Playboy Club.  It's almost hard to imagine how they made a show about The Playboy Club boring, but somehow they managed it.
    3. Terra Nova.  Humans travel back to the past and coexist with dinosaurs!  This idea wasn't even good enough to sustain the truly awful children's show Land of the Lost back in the 70s, and even cool CGI dinosaurs weren't enough to make it work in the '10s 
  9. Worst TV of 2011
    1. Charlie's Angels.  Once the writers ran out of plot devices that justified the angels walking around in bikinis, what was the point?
    2. Jersey Shore.  Someone should step in and stop the exploitation of stupid people by television producers.  Then again, what would MTV do for programming if that happened?
    3. Memphis Beat.   The producers claimed that folks weren't ready to accept the "My Name is Earl" guy in a serious role.  Never mind that the scripts were painfully bad and I could never figure out why the guy was singing.
    4. The New Girl.   Some critics actually liked this show, but I side with the vast majority that found the doe-eyed starlette in the lead role as annoyingly cute as weaponized kittens.
    5. Teen Mom 2 / 16 and Pregnant.  Shows like these remind me why we don't televise executions: we may pretend the purpose is to provide a deterrent, but we all know the reason people watch is the voyeuristic thrill of witnessing people self-destructing before our eyes.
    6. Dance Moms / Toddlers & Tiaras. Actual children are harmed in the making of this program.
    7. Terra Nova.  See above.
    8. X-Factor.  Hey, let's take American Idol but make the venue even more grotesquely extravagent, the guest appearances even more painfully inappropriate, the host even more patronizing, the contestants even more whiny, and the judges even more cruel!  And if we're really lucky, we may even bully some of the contestants into bursting into tears on air ...
    9. Real Housewives of ....  Insert whatever city name you want; these women were definitely something, but they sure weren't housewives.

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