December 21, 2012


Blog of the Year: A 2012 Review


By the time you read this, the world may be bracing itself during its final hours during the Mayan apocalypse...or you'll be cozied up on a couch enjoying some eggnog while waiting for Santa to deliver a shiny new iPad. Either way, it's a time to look back on the endlessly entertaining sideshow that was 2012.

Once again, the year flew by faster than a speeding train heading into the Capitol of Panem. It feels like it was just yesterday when I was commuting 32 miles each way to a temp job deep in the Valley. Then, all of sudden, I had another birthday, Desperate Housewives ended, The Avengers assembled, I left Palm Springs with my Best Suntan Ever, Comic-Con provided several personal nerdgasms, I yee-hawed my way through Dallas, Ricki Lake shoved a microphone in my face -- and before you know it -- I'm gorging on candied yams and turkey on November 22 and trimming my Christmas tree for my sixth annual holiday cocktail party while refiling for (gulp) unemployment. Where did it all go? Where?

While you dwell on that, allow me to share my most memorable morsels that pop culture has produced this year...

FILM PICKS OF THE YEAR


So...The Hunger Games thankfully didn't suck. The Twilight Saga finally ended. Joss Whedon became a savior for fanboys around the world. And Ben Affleck proved that he wasn't a one-trick pony (behind the camera, that is). Elsewhere, a dark knight rose, Disney-Pixar got Brave, and Channing Tatum had one hell of banner year (wooing Rachel McAdams, stripteasing for millions, and firing guns with Jonah Hill). *NOTE -- Not viewed at press time: Zero Dark ThirtyLife of Pi, The Sessions, and The Master.

1. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel -- John Madden's gorgeous travelogue not only gathers the best acting talent from the UK, it beautifully taps into the fears and insecurities of Baby Boomers, a generation that is now entering its "final act" and admirably discovering ways to establish new leases on their lives. And when you put Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in the same movie, you're guaranteed a bloody good time.

2. Beasts of the Southern Wild -- It simultaneously works as an environmental cautionary tale, an unflinching yet whimsical portrait of America's invisible class, a study on a fractured father-daughter relationship, and a much-needed call to action concerning the nation's impoverished.

3. Cloud Atlas -- The Wachowski siblings deliver their most ambitious project to date, a cornucopia of genres skillfully woven together in a majestic tapestry that covers an array of metaphysical topics. Watching Cloud Atlas is like witnessing a dream flourishing before your eyes. It's one of those rare movies that speaks to the subconscious. You either get it and appreciate it for what it is, or you dismiss it as a hot mess -- a gorgeous and meticulously detailed one at that.

4. Skyfall -- Possibly the best Bond flick ever, Sam Mendes's thoughtful actioner is both an ingenious origin film and a clever reinvention. It's also the most personal entry in the franchise. Javier Bardem's villain is one of fearsome flamboyance (you can almost understand where the guy's coming from), Daniel Craig's 007 delivers the requisite gravitas, and Judi Dench, in a meatier role as M, conveys a vulnerability we've never seen before. From its gorgeous cinematography to its exquisite script, it's Grade-A all around.


5. Argo -- Ben Affleck's nail biter of a movie is so ludicrously plotted, it had to have been a true story. Part Hollywood satire, part heist saga, and part history lesson, Argo is a tightly paced crackerjack thriller with one of the finest ensembles seen on the big screen this year. Casting directors, feel free to put Alan Arkin and John Goodman together in everything from now on.

6. Django Unchained -- Quentin Tarantino moves from Nazi Germany to the down and dirty South of a pre-Civil War America to flesh out another revenge fantasy, this time involving slaves and their masters. Foxx is a welcome player to the Tarantino universe, strutting through most of the movie with a quiet rage that explodes during the inevitable climactic bloodbath.

7. Les Miserables -- Despite being a blatant piece of Oscar bait, Tom Hooper's adaptation is a  rousing and innovative production (the actors actually sang on set; no pre-recorded tracks here). This is the Lord of the Rings of musicals and will undoubtedly collect several shiny trophies come February. During the guild screening I attended, the audience applauded for Anne Hathaway in a way I hadn't witnessed since Jennifer Hudson finished "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" in Dreamgirls six years ago.

8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower -- Coming-of-age movies usually fall into the traps of cliches and syrupy sweet resolutions, but not this one. Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his original novel may be a Catcher in the Rye for GenY, but it's also a poignant period piece (it's set in the ancient time of 1991) that delicately paints a portrait of the artist as an outcast and can resonate anywhere anytime with anyone who's ever attended high school.

9. Silver Linings Playbook -- A Hollywood film without pretense (read: doesn't rely on complete star wattage or Teen Vogue-friendly faces) that delivers on all levels: great script, fantastic performances, and a surprisingly original romance. (who knew those still existed?)

10. The Cabin in the Woods -- A horror flick that twists, turns, and annihilates the traditional tropes of the genre while satirizing the hell out of its stereotypes, this much-delayed film from Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (shot in 2009!) was well worth the wait.

...AND 10 VERY HONORABLE MENTIONS: Looper, Liberal ArtsRobot and FrankRuby Sparks, Celeste and Jesse Forever, The Dark Knight Rises, Hope Springs, ParaNorman, The Impossible, and Wreck-It Ralph.

TV PICKS OF THE YEAR

Who knew, in 2012, a little 6-year-old named Honey Boo Boo would teach us the fine art of dumpster diving and introduce "redneckognize" to the nation's lexicon? In other news, Ricki Lake came back from the 90s, Elena became a bloodsucker on The Vampire Diaries, the Ewing brothers returned to primetime (R.I.P. Larry Hagman), and Gossip Girl signed off for the final time. And oh yeah, a little thing called the London Olympics happened (go Gabby Douglas!). Here are just some of the titles that heated up my DVR and sucked me in:

1. Girls (HBO) -- Those who have ignorantly labeled or dismissed Lena Dunham's polarizing comedy about entitled twentysomething white chicks living in Brooklyn as a GenY version of Sex and the City should be pitied for their lack of open-mindedness...and the huge sticks they have up their asses (Those diversity arguments? Trite). Because they apparently haven't scraped away the surface to see that underneath the whiny, woe-is-me sensibilities is an acutely observed portrait of post-collegiate life, packed with embarrassing mistakes and complaints we've all been guilty of making but never wanted to admit -- or remember. Many comedies and dramas have attempted to paint the Twentysomething Experience with no real resonance, accuracy, or success. What this show has that others didn't is a creator at its helm who's actually living it in real time (note: writer-director-star Dunham is 25) as well as a female lead who actually looks like she's torn through an occasional pint of Ben & Jerry's. Now put that in your silver spoon and eat it.

2. Homeland (Showtime) -- A game-changing second season added more jolts, twists, and butt-clenching tension to this Emmy-winning drama and continued to break the narrative mold most shows get chained to. Cheers to the addition of the irresistible Rupert Friend as a Black Ops agent with a secret agenda up his sleeve.

3. Breaking Bad (AMC) -- Shortly after the grisly saga of Walter White started its final season, viewers witnessed the inevitable: Walter finally embracing his dark side and succumbing to a life of treachery. Watching one of TV's most morally ambiguous protagonists evolve into a Big Bad has never been this scary, funny, and utterly compelling.

4. Southland (TNT) -- I avoid most cop shows because of their formulaic premises and by-the-book cases. This one proudly shatters all of those conventions and offers insightful looks at the lives of the men and women of the LAPD when they're in and out of the uniform. The always riveting drama, which starts its fifth season this winter, brilliantly balances the procedural and the serial and puts characters before plot, which is always killer. That said, may I be put in charge of the Emmy campaign for Regina King? Because whoever was doing it before certainly doesn't realize how much she deserves that golden statue.

5. The Walking Dead (AMC) -- After a frustratingly uneven second season, Dead delivered eight episodes -- a first half that introduced new blood (Hello, Governor and Michonne) and raised the stakes like never before. Episode 4, entitled "Killer Within," proved to be the most intense piece of scripted television I had ever seen in a while.

6. Last Resort (ABC) -- The Crimson Tide-meets-Lost comparisons weren't enough. This short-lived thriller (it ends this winter) briefly showed promise, indicating that major networks are willing to take risks with high-profile concepts, produce outside the box, and compete with those award-hogging cable dramas by delivering high-quality material to an increasingly sophisticated and evolving television audience.

7. NBC's Thursday Night Line-Up -- Liz Lemon & Co. aren't holding back as they set sail into their farewell season on 30 Rock (neither are those Office workers). Parks and Recreation has a lot of comedic weight to carry once those two are gone (as does Community). And Up All Night is the possibly most enjoyable rom-com on TV today.

8. Downton Abbey (PBS) -- The most amazing thing about this period soap is how it has managed to turn seemingly stuffy British costume shenanigans into utterly juicy drama for American audiences. Besides, as we all know, love affairs and verbal jabs are exponentially more enjoyable with British accents. Season 3 cannot come any quicker.

9. Happy Endings (ABC) -- These 21st century friends have hit their stride in their third season, and by now, if you haven't jumped on the wacky bandwagon, then you're probably one of those sticks-in-the-mud chalking up this comedic ensemble to acquired taste. My favorite moment thus far:




10. The New Normal (NBC) -- More heartwarming and cute than funny -- although Ellen Barkin steals every scene with a biting soundbite -- Ryan Murphy's version of Modern Family is so...Ryan Murphy. Kudos also go to the casting of the insanely adorable Bebe Wood as Shania, a wiser-than-her-years fourth grader who knows how to put on a killer tribute to Grey Gardens.

BEST SUMMER ADDICTION: Political Animals (USA) -- Equal parts campy family soap and Sorkin-esque potboiler, this "limited series event" featured a delicious ensemble. Sigourney, you're welcome to come back to TV whenever you want.

BEST SHOW I'M NOT WATCHING (so get off my back already): Parenthood (NBC)

BEST GUILTY PLEASURE THAT DIDN'T QUITE LIVE UP TO ITS NAME: Smash (NBC) -- Yes, this musical about Broadway musicals was uneven during its first sprint out of the gate, but I have to hand it to NBC for its ambitious gamble on such a lofty concept. Season 2, thanks to a newly crowned showrunner, looks like a major improvement.

BEST GLEE PERFORMANCE OF 2012: "The Scientist" -- The Fox comedy grew up in its fourth season, particularly in the episode titled "The Break Up," during which every character sang his or her heart out in a closing number that saw the end of every couple's relationship on the show. Heartbreaking, nostalgic, and most importantly, necessary. See it HERE.

BEST SHOW I DIDN'T REALIZE I'D LIKE: Don't Trust The B in Apartment 23 (ABC) -- Consider me happy for James Van Der Beek rejuvenating his career. Well done sir.

BEST FLASH-IN-THE-PAN: The Rosie Show (OWN) -- O'Donnell's short-lived return to the genre that put her on the map went through several formats before settling down on one-on-one interviews that proved to be surprisingly riveting, personal, and thoroughly watchable.

MUSIC PICKS OF THE YEAR


Before you could say "Call Me Maybe," there was a slew of EDM-driven tunage that invaded American radio stations at an unprecedented rate. Who knew these kids today would be listening to the same kind of high-energy dance tracks some of us were already listening to ten years ago? Also in 2012, not only did we lose icons named Whitney and Donna, we lost the man who brought them to us, the inimitable Dick Clark. Taylor Swift broke records (again). Adele tapped into her inner Shirley Bass for 007. Christina was as horny as ever. And oh yeah, Madonna dropped a new album (yawn). In other news, a pudgy Korean man named Psy delivered a "Macarena" for the 21st century (the ubiquitous "Gangnam Style") while folksy bands like Mumford & Sons, Imagine Dragons, and The Lumineers marked their territory in the land of Top 40 (however, if I hear "It's Time" one more time on the radio, I will rip the steering wheel off my Prius). Here's what I thoroughly enjoyed on my iPod this year:

1. "Watching You Watch Him" by Eric Hutchinson -- The acoustic guitar and bouncy hand claps may disguise this as a happy-go-lucky little ditty, but in all actuality, it's one sad song that perfectly expresses the pain and melancholy that comes with unrequited love. Too bad the poorly executed video has absolutely nothing to do with the heartbreaking lyrics. Still, it's a simple sleeper of a tune that'll come in handy when all you'll want to do is scream, "Choose me! Pick me!" when the person you've fallen for falls for someone less deserving.

2. "We Come Running" by Youngblood Hawke -- My theme song from August could also double as the perfect playground anthem for elementary schools everywhere (and don't we need a little cheering up nowadays?). It's also for anyone who appreciates celebratory alt-pop that specializes in big choruses and tubular bells. Recess will never sound more awesome. Teachers, you're welcome.

3. Unorthodox Jukebox by Bruno Mars -- The crooner from Hawaii proves he's a force to be reckoned with on his super sophomoric effort. Bravely experimenting with styles that may not seem so "now," Mars continues to impress, either when he's soulfully pleading for forgiveness or channeling his inner Sting circa 1984. Must listens: the mesmerizing "Moonshine" and "When I Was Your Man," a piano-driven anthem that would do Billy Joel and Elton John proud:



4. "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye feat. Kimbra -- The single that haunted radios throughout much of 2012 is a minimalist tune about heartbreak that's magnified once he bellows out that emotional chorus. Speaking of Kimbra...

5. "Warrior" by Kimbra -- The New Zealand songstress teams up with Mark Foster and A-Trak for this electrifying, synth-filled gem. Not to be confused with the glittery trash that is Ke$ha's title track from her new album.

6. Next-Gen DJs (Madeon, Zedd, and Nicky Romero) -- 2012 was the year that saw a fresh crop of fresh-faced spinmasters come on the club scene and give veterans like Guetta and Harris a run for their money. France's 18-year-old Madeon killed with technotronic masterpieces like "Finale" and "The City," Germany's 23-year-old Zedd climbed up the dance charts with "Spectrum," and Dutch DJ Nicky Romero continues to make his mark with mesmerizing tracks and collaborations like the euphoric "Like Home."

7. "Next To Me" by Emeli Sande -- The hypothetical love child of Alicia Keys and Leona Lewis delivers a catchy piano footstomper that's all about rejoicing. It's one of those songs designed to give you a new lease on life.

8. The Truth About Love by Pink -- Pop's rebel-princess keeps growing and showing us that she's aging like a fine wine. And with that comes a catalogue of tracks full of wisdom, insight, and a kickass sense of humor. Who knew the Pepto Bismol-haired R&B thugette from 2000 would evolve into such a relevant powerhouse? Must listens: "Try" and "Just Give Me A Reason" featuring fun.'s Nate Ruess.

9.  "New Lands" by Justice -- If 1982 had sex with 2002, it would feature a soundtrack like this.

10. "Give Your Heart A Break" by Demi Lovato -- The most irresistible and unabashed pop song of the year (take that, Carly Rae Jepsen) is also the most surprising with its unique twist (Is she breaking up with him, or...oh wait, she's relieving his heart of pain!)

BEST TRACK OF 2012 THAT WAS RELEASED IN 2011: "Midnight City" by M83

BEST BONUS TRACKS OF 2012 (If you don't have these, visit your local iTunes Store now): "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men, "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Capital Cities, "Dark Side" by Kelly Clarkson, "Runnin'" by Adam Lambert, "Sweet Nothing" by Calvin Harris featuring Florence Welch, "Sunlight" by Bag Raiders, "Brokenhearted" by Karmin, "Only The Horses" by Scissor Sisters, "Perfect World" by Gossip, "Silenced By The Night" by Keane, "Feel Like I Feel" by Marcus Collins

MVP OF THE YEAR: The bow and arrow (The Hunger Games, The CW's Arrow, NBC's Revolution, Hawkeye in The Avengers)

That all said and done, during these emotionally sensitive times, I leave you with something I picked up from the adventures of two gentlemen from San Dimas, California...

"Be excellent to each other."

See you in 2013,

H.P.M.
@TheFirstEcho

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