2012 is nearly gone, and with it goes another year of pop culture. As always, much of it was forgettable, but here is the stuff I loved and hated.
Best New (To Me) Book I Read This Year: “Pride and Prejudice,” by Jane Austen
I’m a voracious reader, but my interests tend to flit here and there, rarely settling on a truly “current” read (for example, the only book I read in 2011 that came out in 2011 was “A Dance with Dragons,” by George R.R. Martin). This year, my wife challenged me to read a book by Austen, her favorite writer, in exchange for her reading “Ender’s Game.” I was surprised at how completely engrossed I became in the story. Austen’s lightly humorous dialogue and surprising emotional heft defies those who might expect her writing to be stuffy and unrelatable. Best of all, it was a good reminder for me that the classics became so for a reason.
Most Mystifying Book I Read This Year: Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel
I read and loved “Life of Pi” a few years ago, and with the advent of Martel’s most famous work coming to the screen, I figured it was as good a time as any to give his most recent novel a try. Two months after reading it, I still couldn’t tell you whether I think it’s conventionally “good” or not. Many reviews would tell you it is not.
A story about an author and a strange reader that’s also oddly about the Holocaust and even more about metafiction than “Life of Pi” ended up being, I was convinced that “Beatrice and Virgil” wasn’t working for me as a narrative until the final pages. Then Martel hits you with a series of questions that have deep, deep emotional impact, much deeper than they would have been had you not read the preceding book. I was caught off guard, and it was surprising, but I’m not sure if that justifies the odd narrative structure and meandering plot.
Worst blockbuster: Taken 2
Still watchable in a “so bad it’s good” way, “Taken 2” unfortunately has none of the crisp, unexpected tightness that makes the first movie so engaging (if still unintentionally hilarious). Full of plot holes, silly dialogue and exactly one clever action sequence (the grenade “sonar” scene – and props to the writers for giving the females a more active role this time), Liam Neeson’s second go round as Bryan Mills lacks the unexpected quality of the first.
Best blockbuster: The Avengers
Unfortunately, I’m not nearly well caught-up with Oscar contenders to give you the best overall film of the year, but “The Avengers” was a barrel of fun for a comic book lover like me. Over-the-top, filled with banter and larger-than-life circumstances, the culmination of Marvel’s phase one film cycle managed to fulfill its massive hype machine.
Side-note: However, the most fun I had a movie theater this year was when I watched “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in IMAX. You can’t beat that.
Most disappointing album: Some Nights, by fun.
It would be a lie to call “Some Nights” the worst record of 2012 (a title I’ll leave for someone else to award), but it is the album that failed the most in living up to its band’s potential. After the spectacular 2009’s debut album “Aim and Ignite,” I was hoping for more of the eclectic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to musicianship that had already served the band so well.
Instead, fun. decided to Auto-Tune “Some Nights” to within an inch of its life. While it is possible to use the audio processor to good effect (see: Imogen Heap), all it served to do on “Some Nights” was mask the otherwise great voice of Nate Ruess with unimaginative doodling.
Runner-up: The Sound of the Life of the Mind, by Ben Folds Five
Best album: Synthetica, by Metric
In my best albums of the 2000s list*, I included Metric’s 2009 release “Fantasies.” Praising its seemingly meticulous construction, I enthused that “you get the sense that every song came out exactly the way the band wanted.”
“Synthetica” also feels that way, and though the end product is much colder than “Fantasies,” it’s still endlessly fascinating and listenable. In my original review, I wasn’t quite as fond of it as I am now, but the feeling of alienation and modernized weariness slowly pervades the listener, resulting in a thought-provoking, slow-building album.
Runner-up: PTX Vol. 1, by Pentatonix
Worst song: Diamonds, by Rihanna
By rights, this slot should go to Nicki Minaj’s “Stupid Hoe” – perhaps the worst collection of sounds I’ve ever heard – but that abysmal track was released in the twilight of 2011, so Rihanna comes away with the dubious victory.
“Diamonds” doesn’t even sound like a whole song, coming off instead like Rihanna thought of a chorus (a pretty mediocre one at that) and never bothered to come up with any verses or much in the way of music. “Diamonds” is a grating, droning, repetitive mess, and it’s the song that made me switch radio stations the fastest this year.
Best song: Above the Rim, by The Golden Bubbles
This October, Minnesota band The Golden Bubbles released “Seventy-Two,” a disco album commemorating the brief romance and marriage of reality diva Kim Kardashian and NBA star (and native Minnesotan) Kris Humphries. Though the album is marred by some annoying skits, the songs are quite good, and nowhere are they better than the album opener. An ode to Humphries’ naiveté at getting involved with Kardashian in the first place, “Above the Rim” is a vapid, disposable, fun song perfectly suited to a vapid, disposable story and a vapid, disposable relationship.
Most Disappointing TV Episode: “The Magician’s Code” (“How I Met Your Mother”)
“HIMYM’s” Season 7 finale would have been entirely underwhelming if it had just been the first half hour, a by-the-numbers baby episode for Marshall and Lilly. What drops the episode to the level of “worst thing the show has ever done” is its final half hour, which contains a hacky wedding proposal on Barney’s part and a terrible, out-of-character ending for Ted, who assists a bride in leaving a man at the altar. For those of you keeping score, this happened on “How I Met Your Mother,” a show that once spent an entire season following Ted as he got over the horrible pain experienced after someone left him at the altar.
Best TV Episode: “Ron and Diane” (“Parks and Recreation”)
Though NBC’s best show was sometimes derailed this year by repetitive serialized storytelling and hamfisted political commentary, it’s still a solid show that’s capable of cranking out exemplary episodes, and “Ron and Diane” is one of “P&R’s” best. Utilizing the entire talented cast and excellent guest stars Megan Mullally and Lucy Lawless, “Ron and Diane” is reminiscent of “Soulmates,” the show’s best episode, while still being a completely new story.
Runner-up: “The Kerkovich Way” (“Happy Endings”)
Most Disappointing TV Show: How I Met Your Mother
After an underwhelming Season 6, “HIMYM” did much better in Season 7, likely the show’s penultimate airing. However, starting in Season 7’s two-part finale “The Magician’s Code” and moving into Season 8, Ted and the gang have moved from one maudlin, unfunny adventure to the next.
There’s still hope for “HIMYM,” as it ended the year with two strong episodes, but the first half of Season 8 will be forever marred by annoying distractions (Ted, Barney and Robin’s significant others), tired plot lines (“The Pre-nup”) and an indulgence of the syrupy sweetness that’s always sunk the show when it’s not tempered with laughs or real emotion. Here’s hoping that the back half of the season fares better.
Best TV Show: Happy Endings
I skew toward watching comedy, so sorry if I’m the one guy not naming “Homeland” or “Breaking Bad” in this spot. If, like me, you watch the small screen primarily for the chuckles, you couldn’t go wrong in 2012 by watching “Happy Endings,” the most consistently hilarious show on the air this year.
It’s simple and often shapeless, but that lack of premise only allows to the show to come up with more character pieces. With an easy chemistry among the six leads and a zeal tackling sitcom plots both classic and unique, “Happy Endings” is never less than fun.
Runner-up: “New Girl”
Be sure to check out Capers! soon for my comics of the year list!
*(Sorry for the amateurish writing and for the pat dismissal of progressive music in that old post, but not sorry for the rest of the opinions)
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