Sunday, December 30, 2012

My 50 Favorite Pop Culture Artifacts of 2012

My annual list of what I dug in all its mundanity. It's not like this was an exceptional pop culture year, but I still like stuff. Honorable mention: I did want to put a certain somebody's manuscript which I may or may not have been a beta reader for, but I didn't know if it was kosher to mention it. When it's published, though, it's absolutely going on this list in any year.

50. Britney Spears during the audition phase of The X-Factor.
Yeah, her criticisms weren't really worth much, and as soon as the show went live I couldn't even watch it anymore, but during the long, long, really freaking long audition phase, Britney Spears and her energy and guileless weirdness and goofiness and gif-worthy faces were a real highlight of the late summer/early autumn. It was a reminder that she once had a real likability about her. On X-Factor, she was that young aunt that you have as a kid and totally love to be around because she's silly and immature and treats you like you're on her level. It was very sweet. Too bad she got turned back into Jason Trawick's Money Making BritneyBot later on. But for those few weeks, it was nice having her back.

49. This picture of Leighton Meester.
Seriously. I mean, seriously.

48. This comic. Go here to read the entire short, beautiful, bittersweet masterpiece.

47. This picture.
Someone tell me when this sitcom starts airing, because I'm going to watch the shit out of it.

46. Rita Rusic's Year of Bikinis.
A year ago, I'd never heard of this Croatian pop star, or known that there was such a thing as a Croatian pop star. (Haha, it's funny because its culturally subjective.) Now I wouldn't even know it was winter, summer, or autumn without seeing pictures of this sexy cougar all over the place.

45. Crayon Dragon
This short student animation really took me by surprise and touched me deeply. I still can't explain why, but it brought me to tears with its optimism.

44. "Hey, what's going on, everybody?"

43. Miley's sexy new hair.
To be fair, I never claimed this list was anything other than subjective and completely frivolous.

42. Excision
A film so bold and confident, so committed to its take on psychosis and alienation, and so unrelenting in its execution, that I still can't stop thinking about it. One of the most original films I've ever seen.

41. Lord of the Jungle
Tarzan has long been a favorite character of mine. I've kind of given up hope on ever seeing a truly great movie version of the original novel--it is pretty uncinematic--but this comic book take from Dynamite Entertainment has been surprisingly gripping. It tells the same story, but with a sexier, more violent, more contemporary approach (though it's still a period piece) that makes the original story seem more visceral and alive. It's really better suited to the comic book format than film, and the serialized approach gives the developments more room to breathe. Honestly, I was expecting dumb-but-fun, but instead got something surprisingly exciting without trying too hard to be "edgy."

40. Tom Hanks doing slam poetry about Full House.
Just the right amount of bizarre. I think it's kind of ludicrously tragic that NBC thinks the popularity of Jimmy Fallon's bits as viral videos will somehow translate into Tonight Show ratings...

39. Gabby Douglas and McKayla Maroney
I don't even watch the Olympics, but seriously, those young ladies were completely impressive.

38. Nashville
Exactly the kind of engrossing, crazy soap opera that I was hoping for from the many, many commercials that aired last summer. I just enjoy the hell out of this kind of television, and it stars two of my favorite actresses. And I love a lot of the music, particularly this great, surprisingly passionate song. Look at Connie Britton's performance in this scene. That's magic.

37. Monkeys!
Between that Black Macaque Self Portrait last year, and this year's monkey cam at the Houston Zoo, monkeys are getting to be real cam whores, just like us. I hope that never ends. And while we're on the subject of monkeys, how can I forget one of this year's breakout stars: the Ikea Monkey!


Steven Thompson's wonderful follow-up to a favorite from last year, A Geek's Journal 1976. Putting old journals up online is an inspired idea, and it inspired me this year to go through my old things and create an even-more-self-indulgent-than-the-blog-you're-reading-right-now autobiographical Tumblr site: The Autobiography of a Frog.

35. Monti Carlo
Damn, she made MasterChef fun this year. Why doesn't she have her own show yet?

34. John Carter
Just the kind of pulp skiffy adventure romance I wanted to see to start off a pretty damn decent year of moviegoing. I can't believe I actually got two worthwhile Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations to enjoy, one in comic book form, the other as a 3D movie. Not bad at all. Maybe it wasn't what you wanted to see, but that's probably why I don't go see movies with you.

33. Bob's Burgers
So glad I finally got around to watching this show this year. Easily my favorite animated comedy on television right now, and just when I've gotten pretty tired of a number of them.

32. My favorite film performances of the year (so far):
As always, alphabetically by last name.

* Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
* Penelope Cruz, To Rome with Love
* Ann Dowd, Compliance
* Dakota Fanning, Now Is Good
* Michael Fassbender, Prometheus
* Martin Freeman, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
* Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
* Irffan Khan, Life of Pi
* AnnaLynne McCord, Excision
* Ian McKellen, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
* Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed
* Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
* Andy Serkis, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
* Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi
* Kristen Stewart, On the Road
* Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
* Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

And, let's be honest, pretty much the entire cast of The Avengers.

31. The cool "HULK MOOD" shirt that Becca bought me for my birthday.
My favorite shirt right now. I wish I had more cool shirts.

30. Kristen Stewart
I know, you don't like her. But you know I don't care. I just love her. I think she's very talented, and too long diminished by those thankfully-ended Twilight movies which gave her no character at all to play. I love her in nearly everything else. Frankly, the fake cheating scandal only made me love her more. (No, no, it's totally as real as her relationship with Robert Pattinson, wink, wink.) I think she's going to prove herself soon, although she's got nothing to prove to me. And I think we need to make more of her recent professional triumphs: the lead actress in two genre movies that made over $100 million this year, the highest paid actress in Hollywood, and the Snow White sequel which she was supposedly out of; her being in that while the director is told to take a hike is a victory for women that's getting overlooked. When was the last time you almost saw Tom Cruise or Sylvester Stallone forced out of a franchise because of their personal lives?

29. "Ronan"
Taylor Swift's song tribute to a mother and her 4 year-old son who died of cancer is only the second most moving cancer-related moment for me this year. Such a beautiful song, but so hard for any of us who have lost someone to cancer. It's very sweet and genuine, and god damn, it just works on me. One of the best songs I can't listen to very often.

28. Anticipation for the films of 2013.
The anticipation and excitement of waiting to experience new flicks is sometimes the best part of the ever-lengthening summer movie season. Already we've had significant tastes of some of the movies I most want to see next year: Man of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness, Pacific Rim, This Is the End, Carrie, Oz: The Great and Powerful and Iron Man 3 have already had teaser trailers, and with the exception of the constant, impatient poring over insignificant details from the nerd press, it's already a lot of fun looking forward to these flicks. The experience may be something different, but for now the possibilities are great.

27. The making of Spring Breakers.
One of my favorite prurient interests this year was the making of Spring Breakers. I really don't care if it's a good movie or not, it was a couple months of four sexy young ladies--including my darling, darling Vanessa Hudgens--in bikinis and/or cut-off jeans. Good enough for me. More than. Movies are crap, anyway, so why not pretty them up?

26. @TNG_S8
The only Twitter I still follow in my RSS reader, this delightfully funny account imagines hilarious plotlines for another season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, taking all the overly familiar tropes and tweaking them into something special. It's a loving parody, but a deserved one.

25. RuPaul's Drag Race
Becca really got me hooked on this show this year; it's engrossing television, and I ended up devouring pretty much the whole thing in a couple of days. Season 3 remains my favorite; looking forward to the start of season 5 in just a few weeks!

24. The music video for Christina Aguilera's single "Your Body."
Oh, Christina; I still love you. An indecorous amount. I love you more than I ever loved Britney, which is ironic, because I watched half of The X-Factor, but won't watch The Voice... huh. Anyway, this video is the kind of sexy, sleazy fun I love to see from Xtina.

23. Hey, kids! Comics!
I dropped the entire New 52 like a rock this year, but I've found myself delighted with comics that are aimed at a younger audience. ArchieBatman: Lil' Gotham, Superman Family Adventures, Popeye, Garfield, Peanuts, Adventure Time, Marvel's wonderful (and thankfully continuing) Oz adaptations and the fantastic one-shot A-Babies vs. X-Babies, I've enjoyed them all in varying degrees. The reason is clear, I think: they're all so wonderfully uncomplicated and unconcerned with being "cool." I'm sick of "cool" comics. I lived through the 1990s in comics once already, and I've no intention of doing it again. Especially not if they can't be as enjoyable as these clever and silly funnybooks.

22. The Chronological Superman
Currently one of my favorite Tumblr blogs, its author is going through every comic book, comic strip and radio show starring Superman in chronological order. In doing so, he examines what makes the character so compelling, how much media outside the comics have influenced what we think of as the canon details of his fictional world, and how Superman's abilities, trials, ideals and sympathies are shaped by reflecting the times. It's a great study in what makes one of the world's most popular characters--and perhaps the greatest fictional character of the 20th century--so enduring.

21. Elle Fanning
In videos, short films and features, she continues to just totally fascinate me as a creature of movement and expression. I've never wanted to see some kind of bizarre Henson ballet fantasy more. Or ever, but damn, that sounds like it would blow my mind in 3D. Can someone get the Henson people and Werner Herzog on the phone for me, please?

20. Another wonderful year of being a Star Wars fan.
So much neat stuff this year. George sold Lucasfilm and ILM to Disney and announced a new Star Wars flick. We got some great episodes of Clone Wars this year, including that fantastic Jedi youngling storyline and the thing with the bounty hunters in that box, and appearance by the astromech droid QT-KT (a nod to the 501st droid R2-KT, the droid built for a young--now deceased--cancer patient, which is the kind of thing that makes me wonder what in the hell people are talking about when they piss and moan about how Lucas hates the fans). We got Jeffrey Brown's wonderful books Darth Vader and Son and Vader's Little Princess. I got to go and see The Phantom Menace in the cinema again for my wedding anniversary, bringing back a wonderful time in my life when I was more carefree and my wife and I were having a great summer (which sparked yet another pissy debate about how bad the movie supposedly is; look, if you don't like the movie, kindly shut the fuck up about it, because some of us enjoy it and even if we didn't we wouldn't still be talking about it 13 years later because, seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you?). We got to hear the inspiring story of Star Wars Katie. We got the news that Star Wars is headed back to Marvel Comics... I won't die or anything if they don't bring back some of the characters like Jaxxon and Plif, but holy damn, the possibility of more Hoojibs makes me a little giddy. And that Kinect Star Wars with a dancing Han Solo came out and pissed a bunch of fanboys off, and that, my friends, is just pure hilarity at the expense of people who take things way too seriously.

19. Kate Upton
I just find her delightful as a model. She definitely was a highlight of 2012.

18. The Django Unchained soundtrack.
I can't wait to see this flick, but for now, the soundtrack is typically excellent. I love the soundtracks to Tarantino movies as much as the movies themselves; the both reflect the same crazy, eclectic taste of a master pop artist. And it actually uses that old "Django" song that I was always hoping it would when I saw the trailers.

17. Kat Dennings in 2 Broke Girls.
I said it last year, and I'm saying it again this year: thank you for giving me Kat Dennings weekly in my home, CBS. Because Exhibit A:

And Exhibit DD:

That's just good television.

16. Now Is Good
The experience of watching this film and having so much of Ellen's cancer year brought back to me was intense and powerful, and inspired one of the most cathartic posts I've written in a long time. Not a perfect movie, sure, but a moving one that gets the emotions of the illness right, with a tremendous performance by Dakota Fanning as its centerpiece.

15. The Space Shuttles
Finally decommissioned and put to rest, the Space Shuttles took a victory lap around the US that resulted in some of the best, most wistful, and most inspiring photography I saw all year. (As a corollary, I'd also like to mention the photography we're getting from Mars this year. It seems diminishing to refer to that as a pop culture achievement, but it's been amazing.)

14. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Somehow, I had no idea how much I wanted to be back in Peter Jackson's Middle-earth until I was there. Now I never want to leave. I can't wait to get two more trips back.

13. Prometheus
Well, it's not going to win any popularity contests, but I found it to be one of the most fascinating films of the year. Did it answer any of the big questions it addresses? No, not really. Does it have to? I don't really think it does. For me, the movie was about the search and not any conclusions, and I respect it more for not simply being a science fiction adventure that ends in an action setpiece and an attempt at resolution. I know it's unsatisfying to a lot of people who wanted a more straightforward Alien prequel, but I found it to be so much more than I expected. It's not perfect, but who fucking cares? It reached me, and that's what's important to me.

12. The Avengers
I still stand by everything I said here. It's the most fun I've had at the movies in years.

11. "Stay Stay Stay"
The second of two Taylor Swift songs on my list this year. I enjoyed her new album Red, but this track really stood out from the rest for me. It's a light, bouncy number mixed in among the drum-machine-heavy tracks like "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," and I'm grateful for it. This is the Taylor Swift I like best: the kind of silly but sincere young lady who treasures the little things in a relationship. They're not, you know, deep or anything, but they touch this lizard part of my brain that just smiles at little reminders of what it's like to be young, in love and happy. Just like the sense memories of "Our Song," her smiley "I'd like to hang out with you for my whole life" is what stays with me much longer than all the dramatic declarations of strength.

10. channel ORANGE
I had never even heard of Frank Ocean until this album came out and the internet couldn't stop talking about it. I can see why; it's one of the best albums of the last few years, an infinitely listenable neo-soul creation that I can just drift away on. I'm honestly never sure what I'm going to like in modern music anymore--I don't go searching for anything these days--but this modern update of funk and soul sounds is a revelation.

9. Lego Lord of the Rings: The Video Game
I dared to hope last year, and this year my hope for a Lord of the Rings Lego game was rewarded. I love this game; it's easily my favorite Lego video game that doesn't have Star Wars in the title. I've been playing it for weeks now and I'm not even half-finished with finding all of its hidden wonders.

8. Grumpy Cat!

7. Blu-Ray
This year, we upgraded to a Blu-Ray player. Not because of any technical concern, but just because our DVD player--the first one we bought, back in 1998--finally gave out after over a decade of trouble-free playback. I was one of those people saying that DVDs were great and there was nothing wrong with them, but I am now a fervent convert. This week, I watched Jaws and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial on Blu-Ray, and I could not believe how good the quality was. Like, current theatrical quality. They looked completely new, like having a pristine theatrical print of each film. If a movie from 1975 can look brand new--and engross me in a way that Jaws hasn't in a very long time--I'm completely sold. I know it's beyond a cliche, but it was like taking me back in time so that I was seeing two films I know by heart and seeing them for the first time. Blu-Ray: welcome to my home.

6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Boy, am I glad I gave this series from IDW a chance, because it is the TMNT of my heart. This new series from original co-creator Kevin Eastman combines everything I loved about the various comic book, cartoon and movie incarnations of these characters and gets me to actually become emotionally involved in them. Also, check out these action figures:


This is the only comic book I really look forward to every month.

5. The Fake Geek Girl Debate
After professional artist and amateur misogynist Tony Harris unleashed his now-infamous screed against "fake geek girls" on Facebook, a debate was brought to the top of many genre entertainment sites that, at last, is addressing the rampant sexism in fandom and attempting to repudiate it, humiliate it, and finally get it the fuck out of here. It's long past time to call out the bullies and creeps who too often use their fandom to try and run down the people they perceive as inferior fans. I'm so glad this if finally becoming a thing so we can show it for the hypocrisy and egomania that it is and that too often makes fandom so damn unpleasant.

4. That's Why God Made the Radio
The first album that sounds like a Beach Boys album to me since 1973. A true delight. This fits in nicely alongside their great late sixties albums and makes me smile every time I listen to it. It's not SMiLE, but it's not "Kokomo," and that alone makes me happy.

3. Surprised Red Panda
My favorite animal video this year, maybe ever. It just makes me laugh and laugh and laugh every time I see it, and that always makes me happy. It's a nice short term solution to the blues.

2. Life of Pi
The most enveloping experience I had in a cinema this year, totally engrossed in 3D by a film with the emotional grandeur to match its amazing visuals. I wondered after the trailers if the sort of storybook unreality of it would make hold the story back from really making an emotional connection, but the feelings at play here are so genuine and believable that the visuals become part of the film's sweep. It's just a powerful film, and I wonder if anything else from this last bit of 2012 will top it for me.

1. Television
I'm going to be honest with you: 2012 is the year I kind of fell out of love with the movies. And why not, honestly? This year, as I was doing the 365 Films Challenge, I noticed I stopped caring about making it to that number of movies viewed in a year. After sitting through another year of dishearteningly bad highly-acclaimed Oscar-nominated garbage, I feel like I don't even know what constitutes a "good" film anymore. I was in no hurry to see 365 movies because, hey, settling in for long arcs on compelling TV shows (or even TV shows that I used to love that are slipping, like Doctor Who and How I Met Your Mother) is so much more rewarding than sitting down and trying not to feel totally insulted by War Horse or Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I don't feel close to cinema anymore the way I once did. I'd rather watch Breaking Bad than put myself in the path of most of the movies I saw from last year. The same goes for most of the shows I watch. This entry was originally going to be about cable shows, but then there's Revenge and there's Castle finally returning to form and hell, I'd rather spend a day watching Pretty Little Liars than try and make it through Hugo a second time. TV's just giving me more of what I enjoy right now, and it's doing so much more consistently than any other point in my lifetime.

I guess what it comes down to is this: TV is just more rewarding and involving right now than the movies are. That's not everyone's opinion, and it doesn't have to be. But it's what works for me right now, and I'm enjoying it like no other time in my history.

And that's my 2012. Hope you had some good stuff to get involved with, too.


Hobgoblin238 said...

I didn't know it was officially announced that Star Wars was returning to Marvel.

Kal said...

You never let me down with these yearly compilations. I appreciate the effort and thoughtfullness. Heres to another great year.

Kelly Sedinger said...

I'm glad that you always have things I disagree with, because otherwise I'd be a little freaked out that there's apparently a clone of me out there someplace.