Category Archives: The Year End Review

The Year End Review: Movies

Let me start off by saying that, if you don’t read this, I won’t hold it against you. I know this list is almost too small to even justifying being written, but I’ve been doing it for a few years now, and as the musical says, “Traaadiiitiooooon!!” I’ll say that I really enjoyed all three of these films and thought they were a cut above the standard A-Team crap we have thrown at us all year long. But still, this list feels a little like it looks the way it does more because of the movies I didn’t see this year rather than the ones I did see. Anyway, keep reading, if you dare!

Inception. It’s nice to see Hollywood taking a chance on an expensive sci-fi flick that actually makes you think, although they probably wouldn’t be if someone like Christopher Nolan weren’t in charge of the whole thing. This one also scores points because it managed to keep Leonardo DiCaprio out of a falling tank, shooting planes out of the sky. It was also one of Ellen Page’s first films that didn’t make me want to hit her. But seriously, folks, although the first half was a little exposition heavy, it was a great story that did a better job of incorporating its action scenes into it than most films. Plus, you can’t go wrong with Tom Hardy.

The Social Network. Everything Aaron Sorkin writes takes place in a sort of heightened reality where people have mountains of raw data and statistics at their fingertips, and almost everything they say is quotable. And if his cocaine habit is the price we have to pay for that, then I’m more than willing to make the sacrifice. I think we all understand that his version of Facebook’s creation was embellished just a little bit, but who cares? We expect that sort of thing, right? Major props to Jesse Eisenberg for snapping out of his Michael Cera funk, and Andrew Garfield, who just might make a proper Spiderman yet.

True Grit. I reviewed this one just a few days ago, so I’m not sure what else I could really add here. I’ll just say that nobody does it like Jeff Bridges. And nobody really does it like Jeff Bridges wearing an eye patch. And why haven’t we seen Matt Damon in more westerns?

I admit that this is a pretty generic list. But it does represent the best of what I saw this year. I don’t get to watch as many movies as I’d like, so some, like The Fighter, Winter’s Bone and Toy Story 3 passed me by. I’d apologize, but none of you are here to read my movie reviews. You check back every week in the vain hope that I’ll start LOSTWATCH!! back up. Well, who knows what 2011 will bring. More movies, definitely. More LOSTWATCH? Definitely maybe.

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The Year End Review: TV

It’s that time of year again. And I mean, it’s really that time of year. Any more time and it’d be next year. Speaking of which, how many of you are absolutely sick of the fact that I can’t get my s**t together and update this thing more regularly? Well, too bad! I’m pretty set in my ways, and if I wouldn’t change for any of my three wives, I probably won’t change for you. Anyway, it was a pretty good year for TV, and for those of you who care, these are my top 10 picks. If I had more time on my hands, this list might look somewhat different**, but I can’t watch everything. So, in no particular order…

Lost. I’d be remiss (what does that mean?) if I didn’t mention one of the greatest TV shows in the history of TV (and shows). ‘Lost’ earns its place on the list more in recognition of the entire series than the sixth season, which most people will admit had its problems. But for all of the questions that were left unanswered and weird, glowy caves that had holes in the middle that needed to be plugged up or else the world would explode — I mean, seriously, what was that? — the show delivered a finale that was as emotionally satisfying as I could have hoped for. And before the numbers, polar bears and four-toed statues, it was the characters that made the show what it was. And that damn dog gets me every time.

Treme. For a little while, ‘Treme’ felt like the kid who was a little too cool for school. It didn’t really invite us into its world, but kept us at arm’s length, telling us that we just didn’t get it. But slowly, as if in the arms of a generous lover, it opened up to us. And once the characters started doing a little more than hang out, drink and play music it turned into appointment television. And the fact that it comes from David Simon and could probably go on for six or seven seasons without building toward any clear ending makes it one of the best character studies in recent memory.

Louie. Hands down, the best comedy of the year. FX told Louie CK that, even though they couldn’t pay him as much as other networks, they would give him complete creative control over his own show, and the opportunity was not wasted. I hate to sound trite (no I don’t), but he’s really reinvented the sitcom, with each episode taking the form of a mostly-self-contained short film. And not only is it hilarious, but introspective and thoughtful. Not to mention gorgeously shot. If you haven’t caught this one yet, you can stream it on Netflix. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Archer. ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ are all good and well, but man cannot live on live-action drama alone. Solid animated fare is important, and unfortunately ‘American Dad’ can’t carry the load all by itself. ‘Archer’ comes from the fine folks who brought us ‘Frisky Dingo,’ which for two short years carried the mantle ‘Arrested Development’ left behind after it was canceled. The show takes the world’s most self-absorbed incompetent, gives him a double-0 rating and sets him loose on the world. Hilarity ensues. And when I say hilarity ensues, I mean it. Did you read what I said about ‘Frisky Dingo’? The show comes back for another season in January, so check it out.

Breaking Bad. Suck it, ‘Supernatural’ fans. In its third season, ‘Breaking Bad’ made the jump from engrossing (and high-grossing!), to the best show on TV. And the season before was already pretty great. Watching the lengths Walter White is willing to go to, at first to provide for his family, but then to satisfy his own ego is completely devastating. Walter shooting that drug dealer in the head at the end of “Half Measures” had me screaming at my TV, and if the season finale is any indication (it is), things are only going to get darker going forward. Unfortunately, AMC’s schedule is all jacked up, so the show won’t be back until July. The curse of cable television!

Mad Men. This is another show that doesn’t really have any sort of clear end in sight. And because it’s AMC’s darling, they’re probably going to try and keep it around for as long as they can. The trick then becomes how to keep it feeling fresh and not like it’s spinning its wheels. Season 4 did that. Don has his own agency, and now that he’s divorced he’s back out on the prowl. Although I guess that was the case even when he was married. Anyway, the season featured some of the series’ best work. “The Suitcase” and the showdown between Don and Peggy being only one example. Expect that one to be showered with Emmys at next year’s ceremony. For my money, the show came in just a hair behind ‘Breaking Bad’ this year, but…it was a very fine hair.

Fringe. I don’t think anyone really gives a s**t if a show comes “from the mind of J.J. Abrams” anymore. And if you ask me that’s only worked in ‘Fringe’s’ favor. When it wasn’t the hit some expected it to be, it kind of dropped off the radar. That really gave it carte blanche to go balls to wall and make a show for the people who were watching it, the people who were carrying it into second and third season renewals. This season’s proved that like no other, and really shows what risks the showrunners were willing to take with things. Thankfully they all paid off. I’m feeling a little better about the show’s move to Friday now than I was when I first heard about it, so hopefully its audience will move with it and it’ll be back for a fourth season.

Boardwalk Empire. AMC winning all those Emmys must have really pissed HBO off, because they’re coming back in a big way. It took ‘Boardwalk Empire’ about four episodes to find its footing, but after that it was strong all the way to the finish. It’s always good to see such a big show get things right, and that was before we saw exactly how big a freak Agent Van Alden was, and met Richard Harrow (who’s thankfully been promoted to a series regular in season two). What the show lacks in ‘Sopranos’ it makes up for in ‘Deadwood,’ which sucks me in every single time. Can we lay down some cash that season two will open with a montage of all the characters getting dressed in the morning?

30 Rock. Oh ’30 Rock,’ it’s so good to have you back. After a lackluster fourth season, the show’s really amped things up this year, delivering several episodes that are as good as anything they’ve done in the past. I mean, you’ve got Matt Damon! Paul Giamatti! Liz’s Julia Roberts laugh! John Effing Slattery! I cower before the brilliance of his performance. Now, if the show could just find more excuses to bring Jon Hamm back, all would be right with the world. Really, this is the show propping up NBC’s Thursday night lineup. ‘The Office’ has turned into the grandpa with Parkinson’s disease. Every once in a while it remembers how good it was, but it mostly thinks we’re its wife and yells at us for not having supper on the table when it gets home from work. ‘Outsourced’ is garbage and ‘Community’ is too busy smelling its own private parts to do much else. When the lineup grows by a hour come January, it’s gonna be ’30 Rock’ and ‘Parks and Rec,’ so get ready for it.

Justified. FX is really trying to roll with the big dogs as of late, at thanks to shows like ‘Justified,’ it’s paying off. The show had a mix of procedural and serialized storytelling, and I think that as the season progressed, it realized how much stronger those serialized elements were, and so followed them more as the season closed out. Timothy Olyphant is a great actor, and fans of ‘Deadwood’ know that this role was almost tailor-made for him. The back and forth between him and Walt Goggins is great, but honestly, I’d watch a show of Olyphant just ramming Dewey Crow’s face into steering wheels.

And there you have it. A pretty good year, all things considered. And next year we’ve got ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Luck,’ ‘Lights Out,’ ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ and more ‘Parks and Rec’ to look forward to, so it’s going to be pretty crowded. So until then and as a always, excelsior true believers!

**’Community’ still wouldn’t be on it, because it still isn’t that good.

The Year End Review: TV

It’s had its ups and downs, but overall, the gods of television have been kind to us this year. This is my list of the top 5 best shows this year, and you can add this list of new TV to what you see below.

Battlestar Galactica

One of the best science fiction shows ever created ended its four-season run this year. And in the lead up to the end it never once stopped to breathe, or wasn’t able to find that balance between action and drama. I was glad that the show decided to answer some questions while leaving others ambiguous, and give it major props for tying some things up in ways I never suspected. Except for the whole Fat Lee thing. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Mad Men

If there’s any show that could drive me to drink, it’d be this one. And I mean that in a good way. Three seasons in and this is still one of the best shows on television, maybe the best currently running. It’s also one of the only shows I’ve seen that has yet to suffer any sort of creative slump. The stories, the characters, the acting, the production all make this one hard to keep out of any TV best-of lists this year. Plus now, any time I’m being sexist, I can just say that I’m pulling a Draper, and it’s all good.

Friday Night Lights

I’m a little late to the game when it comes to this one. I only started watching the show about a month ago, and I burned through three and a half seasons in only a couple of weeks. For me, this show is better than cocaine, and I can say that because I’m a massive cocaine addict. I really can’t say enough good things about it (the show, not cocaine). They gave us a game-changing finale last season, and have come up with a creative way to keep the story going despite the fact that about half of the cast has turned over. And where other shows try the same thing and fail, Friday Night Lights is still going strong. Plus, it’s filmed in my hometown. Seriously, I saw Brad Leland in downtown Austin a couple of weeks ago and almost crapped my pants. I might take some flak for it, but FNL definitely cracks my Top 5 best TV shows of the past 10 years.

Breaking Bad

Mad Men showed us that AMC knew how to handle their own drama series. Breaking Bad showed us that AMC was the network to watch out for. Can you believe that, up until a couple of years ago, all I could think of when I saw Bryan Cranston was, “Could you pass me a schtickle of fluoride?” He’s come a long way.

Parks and Recreation

At the end of last season, I was ready to write this one off. Amy Poehler is funny. Greg Daniels is funny. It only makes sense that if NBC put the two of them together, everyone would make bags and bags of money. Well, it turns out that building a park wasn’t the comedy gold mine everyone thought it would be. Now they’re in their second season, and have looked a little farther for their storylines, and the show couldn’t be funnier. This is easily the strongest of NBC’s Thursday night lineup.

A few popular shows that didn’t make it, and why…

30 Rock
I think there’s a reason 30 Rock has won the Emmy for best comedy series these past three years, and that is, for these past three years, it’s been the best comedy series on television. This season, it just hasn’t lived up to that. Tracy making jokes like, “I’ll show you that I can finish everything I–” or Liz liking ham can only go so far. These past couple of episodes have been a lot better, so we’ll see where they go.

The Office
I heard someone say that on this season of The Office, Dunder Mifflin should go out of business, everyone should lose their job, and that would be the end of the series. I didn’t think that was the most horrible idea I had ever heard. In its sixth season, The Office feels like it’s just spinning its wheels, especially now that Pam and Jim are happily married. A few episodes, like Shareholder Meeting, seemed like a lot of wasted potential. The company is losing money, and just when it seems like Scott and Oscar are going to save the day, every runs out of the hotel and speeds away in a limo.Hopefully the show comes back (creatively), because I don’t think NBC can afford to get rid of it right now. I’d hate to see it overstay its welcome.

Community
This show is still trying to decide what it wants to be. Is it a parody like The Office, is it over the top like 30 Rock? I don’t know, because they haven’t settled on one yet. Add that to the fact that all off the characters, with the exception of maybe Abed, are one-dimensional stereotypes, making Community one of the biggest disappointments this season. After that 5-minute clip they released last May, I really had my hopes up for this one.

Dexter
Although I enjoyed season 4 and thought the writers took some great creative twists, there have always been a few small things that have annoyed me about this show, and affected how much I enjoy it. One of them is Debra. Seriously, this woman is like a turd that just won’t flush. Hey, I wonder what happens to her this season. I bet she gets into a relationship that goes bad and manages to call everyone around her selfish along the way. My other big problem with this show is Dexter and Rita’s relationship. It stopped being believable after the first season. It’s like after she got over her experience with her first husband, she never found that balance between standing up for herself and being a jerk. And Dexter’s so great at blending in to normal life, yet still can’t stand up to her. Plus, the dialogue between the two of them reads like it came out of Marriage for Dummies.

Lost
I’m a huge fan of the show, but I didn’t think that the fifth season delivered the way previous seasons had. With the show about to begin its sixth and last season, I felt like it was taking one last, deep breath before it sped off to the finish.

FlashForward
This show is trying to be as great as Lost while ignoring everything that makes Lost great. On Lost, the characters always came before the mystery, and on FlashForward, I’m still trying to remember what the characters names are. Add that to the fact that if everyone in the entire world blacked out for two minutes, there’d be no way in Hell I’d be back at work the next day, or week. Maybe ever. This show is bogged down in its own mythology, and I’m wondering if it’ll be able to crawl back out.

The Year End Review: Movies

There was no one movie that grabbed me the way There Will Be Blood or The Departed did a couple of years ago, but still, there were a lot of standouts this year. After much hemming and hawing, I’ve narrowed it down to my Top 3.

The Messenger

This one kind of snuck up on me. I was setting myself up to watch Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson as U.S. Army Casualty Notification Officers go head to head the entire film, and was surprised at the friendship that developed between the two. There’s a whole subplot with Foster dating the wife of a dead soldier, but you keep watching for the scenes between Foster and Harrelson.

The Road

I don’t think it’s necessarily difficult for a film to provoke an emotional reaction. Even if that reaction is mild revulsion or annoyance (cough, Juno, cough), it’s still an emotion. But provoking a reaction as strong as The Road did doesn’t happen very often. Definitely one of the strongest films this year. Not recommended for those suffering from depression.

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s all grown up now. His long-awaited World War II epic delivered on every level it could. You had the over-the-top characters, the long-winded soliloquies, and all the violence you expect from a Tarantino movie, yet much more refined. Behind Pulp Fiction, this is the best movie Tarantino’s ever made, which made me very happy. Because after waiting for this movie since I was in high school, I think I would have broken down and cried if it had been a flop.

Honorable mentions go to…

Bronson
District 9
The Hurt Locker
Moon
Star Trek
Up in the Air
Zombieland

The Year End Review: New TV

Every year, TV networks try shoving an endless parade of new television shows down our throats. Usually, these new shows follow the same formula as the shows that were popular the year before. Sometimes it works (Parks and Recreation), and sometimes it doesn’t (Day Break). More often it doesn’t, so finding a new show that works on different levels and is able to suck you in is a rare and beautiful thing, akin to your wedding day or your first child being born. This year, two new TV shows grabbed our attention and win our awards, which really aren’t awards and are empty of any sort of meaning to anyone who doesn’t read this blog. In the category of drama, the award goes to Southland!

When we first heard about Southland, we said, “A show about cops! I’m sold!” But it was in a really ironic way so you know we didn’t mean it. Still, we checked it out and were very impressed. With great performances by lead actors Ben Mackenzie, Michael Cudlitz, and Regina King, along with realistic storylines that aren’t always wrapped up at the end of the hour, we see Southland as a successor to that other great cop drama, NYPD Blue. Thankfully TNT picked up the show after NBC completely dropped the ball and canceled it two weeks before the premiere of its second season. Hopefully it’ll catch on and do much better than The Closer, because somebody needs to put Kyra Sedgwick in her place. So, on to comedy. This year, the Working Title award for best new comedy series goes to Modern Family!

Any of the buzz you’ve heard about this show, it’s all true. While characters like Michael Scott and Liz Lemon can be funny because of how over-the-top zany they sometimes are, the characters on Modern Family are funny because how familiar they are to us. While some shows (Community comes to mind) struggle to find their identity, we think Modern Family has been pretty solid right out of the gate. Ratings have been pretty good and we think this one will be an easy greenlight for a second season.

Honorable mentions this year go to no one, because these two shows are far and away the best we’ve seen. New dramas such as FlashForward and V, and new comedies like The Cleveland Show and Cougar Town are still trying to find their footing. The dramas are trying too desperately to be the next Lost while completely forgetting what makes Lost such a great show, while the comedies feel like they’re either stuck telling the same joke, or are trying to be funny by going way over the top. We’re looking at you, Cleveland Brown. Sex jokes are a scalpel, not a club.

Stay tuned for the The Year End Review: Movies, as well as our mid-season write-ups on the shows we’ve been watching.