"Best" of "2012"

As is my way, when I put together a "Best of" list for the year, I openly acknowledge the extreme subjectivity of my list.  The "bests" can only be the best of what I saw.  There are sure "bests" I didn't see, but I can very well rank them as such without having seen them.  Even so, "best" is so purely subjective in the first place.  So what constitutes a "best" for me is really what I liked a lot, or found inspirational and/or thought-provoking.  Now, given this subjectivity, which would appear to be limiting, I then find myself free to choose, not just from the media released in this calendar year, but from the media I myself have consumed in that year, regardless of its year of origin.

In other words, Art does not have a shelf life; not true art certainly, and I am not obligated to consume it on a market-based schedule.  Large portions of our culture are trapped in the myth of newness -- that new is better, that our jaded standards for style and effects demand the cutting edge, and all else must be cut away as scrap by that edge.

ZO!  The Best Arts of (which I was audience in) 2012 arrre...

FILM

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Beasts of the Southern Wild is not here to be the story you want it to be.  Centering on Hushpuppy, a 6 year old girl (AMAZINGLY performed by the young Quvenzhan√© Wallis) living a subsistence-level existence in a Louisiana flood basin, one of the people with whom I saw it kept waiting for it to be an uplifting Hollywood story about her journey from squalor to security.  It's not.  Rather, it plays more on the level of a Greek epic, or, more specifically, The Divine Comedy, complete with a journey through Hell, Purgatory and the revelations of Heaven.  It's not about the world changing for Hushpuppy; it's about Hushpuppy changing how she sees, and fits into the world.  This film gave me more to think about than any other this year, or in recent years.




John Carter (2012)

And the winner in the category of most mundane name ever for a grand sci-fi epic goes to...

This film performed with notorious badness at the box office, which is really a damned shame.  John Carter has the kind of classic high adventure spirit that Disney would be well-advised to harness for the forthcoming Star Wars sequels.  It's FUN, for one thing, which so many action flicks forget to be in all their masculine posturing nowadays.

The talent behind this thing tells the tale.  Director Andrew Stanton comes from Pixar.  He's the one we don't know the way we know John Lasseter and Brad Bird, but he's the powerful visual storyteller behind Finding Nemo and WALL-E.  It's the most lushly written action screenplay in years, thanks to Stanton, Mark Andrews (writer/director of Brave) and novelist/genre buff Michael Chabon (Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay).

I tend to suspect it was the utterly generic title which left audiences unclear whether John Carter was a grand sci-fi epic adventure or a tax auditor.  It is very much the former.




ParaNorman (2012)

Laika Studios returns to the dark side with their second theatrical feature, and this one is, in my opinion, even better than their first release, Coraline.  ParaNorman both tells a deeper story, and delves deeper into the themes that it takes on.  Anyone like me, who had initial reservations about another zombie story, need not fear.  While the "z" word does come up, the undead are not zombies.  They come to be something much more meaningful.  It manages subjects of the inner emotional lives of certain characters, interpersonal relationships, one's effect of society and vice versa, and spiritual themes connecting them all.  None of which should suggest that this is some kind of heavy exploration.  It's often a very funny film filled with marvelous moments.  It just doesn't forget to be about something.  ParaNorman is a new classic, telling a new story, but rooted in the Truth that nurtures our great fables.




The Avengers (2012)

Pure comic book in the way that The Avengers comic books were meant to be.  Every bit as big as the concept demands.  Pure fun, not a thought in its head, but an endless supply of "Oh man, remember that part--" parts.  Everyone gets at least one stand-out scene (except Hawkeye, but who cares; no one came to see Hawkeye).  None of Dark Knight Rises' self-important turgidity.



Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

This documentary explores the life and work of Japan's most lauded living sushi master.  I felt it missed a big opportunity to fully unfold its narrative about the relationships between fathers/masters and sons/apprentices, but as a meditation on an artisan's commitment to craft, I found it inspirational.  Smaller stories about the quiet dignity of Jiro's elder son and the commercial face of the global issue of overfishing emerge from the simple pondering of Jiro's world.



 Hanna (2011)

Imagine if Jason Bourne was a 16 year old girl.  Hanna plays out with more pathos than a Bourne roller-coaster, but then isn't that part of being a 16 year old girl?  The film would also serve as a good model for a properly executed Elektra origin story.  It's an action movie that's not about the action, but where the actions remembers its place in the story, and the story serves as a conduit for developing the character.




Jeff Who Lives at Home (2011)

Unexpected.

Just in case you hadn't gotten the message yet, it's time to start respecting Jason Segel.











The Hobbit (1977)

Nope, not the big fat Peter Jackson epic Part 1.  The 90 minute Rankin & Bass animated TV special from my childhood.  Hold on, I'll tell you why...

It's definitely dated per the expectations of today's audiences, but I still get a stiffy for the creativity of the 70s -- reedy hippie songs notwithstanding. It's better than I remembered, and doesn't suffer nearly as much as one would expect from abbreviation. The worst shortcut is the battle for the mountain, but once you realize they took care of most of the action off-screen, it makes sense. I expect that will make up most of the third Jackson film.

Production design is marvelous. Scripting is poor, relying heavily on exposition (see: shortcutting action). Voice acting ranges from excellent (John Huston, defining Gandalf for a generation) to poor (Orson Bean, hyper-aware that he's making a cartoon).   I actually like the Gollum voice better than Andy Serkis. It's like a muddy Peter Lorre; it wears its years underground, whereas Serkis reminds me of Howie Mandel's Bobby character.

Even our popcorn entertainments today take themselves too seriously. With the effects available today, so much of it exists under this dour cloud of believability, which involves no actual belief (or suspension of dis-) on the viewer's part. Consider the joylessness of Nolan's Batman. the earnestness of something as sub-moronic as Transformers that demands to be mocked, the fanboy rage because Peter Parker had the offending gall to dance. I think we're paying a price for that with our cultural soul.
I don't know if the real Lester Bangs said it or if it was just Cameron Crowe's version of him, but in Almost Famous he talks about us all trying so hard to be "cool" that everything good and honest is drained away from the creative endeavor. That's where I see us, and for that, one or both versions of him have earned a place in my own personal bible.


TELEVISION

This was the year that I pretty much entirely gave up on broadcast television.  Even the one night each week that I still made an effort to watch, NBC's Thursday comedies, kept getting so jacked around that I was no longer to bother.  On the off chance that some NBC executive is scanning the internet to find out how they screwed up, here you go: putting The fucking Voice on comedy night, keeping The Office on the shelf long past its expiration date, messing with your single best show, Community, over and over and over, and trying to make Whitney a thing.  Also, much as I once quit commercial radio due to advertising, I have likewise had it with TV advertising.

But there's one element that's no one's fault.  Rather, it's to the credit of the creative people making television today.  I'd simply rather watch one show at a time, straight through or at least in big chunks, than have to worry about it being on once a week, unreliably.

So, the series television that defined the year for me was:

Star Trek (1966-1969)
Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1975)
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1984)
Dollhouse (2009)
Twin Peaks (1990-1991)
Community (2009-current)
Californication (2007-current)
Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
The Wire (2002-2008)


LIVE THEATER

Star Trek in the Park


LIVE THEATER/FILM HYBRID-THINGY

Filmusik presents Gamera vs. Guiron


MUSIC

The best music I listened to this year was funk & soul from 1970-1973 or hard bop jazz from the 60s.  I'm sure someone is making good music somewhere, but I just can't bring myself to care enough to dig through all the twee rock & roll and glitchy DJ mixes to find them.

Oh...








 Bobby Womack -- The Bravest Man in the Universe (2012)


...that was good.






COMICS & BOOKS






I can't front; I barely read this year.

I did, however, work on my own book.  Watch this space!












VIDEO GAMES

Batman: Arkham City (2011)
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (2010)

Both great action/adventure games.  Batman is near-perfection, combining a good (not great) story, incredibly moody and interactive game world, and excellent control.  AC:B had the same curse-inducing camera/control issues that plague the series, but also the same great story & immersive worlds that have crowned the series.

Yeah, I'll say it... I played a lot of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011).  What angry fanboys call "the same thing over and over," I call a well-developed game platform with which to share new experiences in an effective format.  This one was massive in scale, befitting its World War 3 setting.  It's not a game that you play.  It's an experience through which you are guided.

The Professor Layton puzzle/adventure games on the Nintendo DSi continue to charm the hell out of me.


BOARD GAMES

My brother-in-common-law and I have really gotten into a game called Garibaldi (2007).  It's like an asymmetric game of Battleship where one player plays as the Italian patriotic hero Garibaldi, racing across the Italian countryside in 1849 while hiding from the other player/players who take the role of Austrian troops trying to track him down.  The design of the game builds in a lot of natural tension as Garibaldi scrambles for his life, surrounded by troops who flounder in the near-dark.

We've also gotten some mileage out of Tsuro: The Game of the Path (2004).  It's a fast, simple game for as many as 8 players. 


BEST TREND

Republican delusional thinking coming around to bite them in the ass.


THE BEST "BEST"

Babytime with the neff.






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