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The Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2011 — Part Two!

OK, we’ve arrived at the final installment of my look back at 2011!

Click here for my Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, and part three.  Click here for my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011: part one and part two.  Click here for my Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011.  And, finally, click here for part one of my Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2011.

Now, let’s wrap up my list!

5. Treme: “What is New Orleans?” (season 2, episode 9, aired on 6/19/11) — As the second season built to a climax, everything started to come together in this powerhouse of an episode that encapsulated everything I love about this amazing show.  So many of the story-lines that had run through the entire season come to a head in this episode: The talented young rapper in Davis’ new group begins to upstage him; Lt. Colson gets transferred (against his will) to Homicide; Janette really begins to flower under her new chef in New York City, and so much more goes down.  But the episode’s two highlights come from opposite extremes of the emotional spectrum.  There’s the hilarious sequence in which Antoine steals an audience from Kermit, luring them into the club where his new band is playing… at least until Kermit turns the tables on him.  Then there is the shocking, horribly tragic death of a main character in the final moments.  (I almost selected the Game of Thrones episode “Baelor” for this list — that’s the amazing episode that also climaxed in the death of a main character.  I absolutely adored that episode — it reminded me of the way I fell in love with 24 when they boldly killed off Jack’s wife in the season one finale, a shocking display of anything-can-happen — but ultimately I selected a different episode of Game of Thrones, “You Win or You Die,” for the number ten spot on my list.  ”Baelor” was amazing, but it’s testament to the power of Treme that it’s this episode that left even more of a mark on me.)  I am dying for season three of this marvelous show to arrive.

4. Curb Your Enthusiasm: “Mister Softee” (season 8, episode 9, aired on 9/4/11) — Curb Your Enthusiasm is pretty much always great, but every now and then an installment comes along that shoots right up into the level of genius.  My friends, I would postulate that “Mister Softee” is just such an episode.  There’s so much greatness on display in this episode that I hardly know where to begin: With Larry’s condescending, loose-lipped psychiatrist (played by Sy Abelman himself — A [continued]

 

The Top 10 Episodes of TV in 2011 — Part One!

Well, we’ve finally arrived at my last Top 10 list for 2011.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the previous lists!  (Follow these links to check out my Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, part three, my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011: part one, and part two, and my Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011.)

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to put together a Top 10 Episodes of TV list this year.  For a whole host of reasons, I don’t watch nearly as much TV as I used to.  I’m super-busy, and there just aren’t that many shows that interest me enough to want to watch religiously these days.  And a whole heck of a lot of the TV I watched this past year was OLDER TV — in the form of DVD box-sets (of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, The Larry Sanders Show, Party Down, etc.).  There’s a lot of current TV that interests me that I just haven’t had time to watch: Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Community, Homeland, Louie (season 2 — I have watched season 1 on DVD and LOVED it — I’ll be posting a review soon), Bored to Death (I also just finished season 1 on DVD and loved it — I’ll be posting a review of this soon, as well, and I’m hoping to get to seasons 2 and 3 soon).  All of those shows look interesting and I do hope to eventually sink my teeth in them all via the magic of DVD.

So I felt weird putting together a list, seeing that there’s so much probably-great TV out there that I haven’t seen.  But when I sat down to start to compile the list, I was pleasantly surprised by how easily the top ten choices manifested themselves.  I guess I DID watch some great TV this year!  But keep the above list of TV-I-haven’t-yet-seen in mind when perusing my choices.  OK, enough intro, let’s dive in:

10. Game of Thrones: “You Win or You Die” (season 1, episode 7, aired on 5/29/11) – I’ve never read any of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R.R. Martin, and I wasn’t immediately taken by the first few hours of the HBO adaptation.  But after a few episodes, the complex fantasy story started to get its hooks in me, and by the time I arrived at this stand-out episode I was loving this show like few other things on TV.  Pretty much all of the show’s continuing story-lines jumped to the next level in this installment, which left me absolutely desperate for the next episode … [continued]

 

The Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011!

Click here for my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, and part three, and here for my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011: part one, and part two.

Now let’s dig into my list of the Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011!

10.  The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: Series One As a huge fan of Arrested Development, this six-episode IFC series that reunited Will Arnett (Gob Bluth) and David Cross (Tobias Funke) was something of a disappointment.  More agonizingly awkward than actually funny, it’s on this list because that fact that this weird, short little series exists at all on DVD is one of the reasons that I love this format!  I had missed this series when it aired on IFC, so I was so pleased that it was released on DVD.  The show isn’t without merit, but it’s nowhere near the genius of the late, great (and now possible resurrected!) Arrested Development.

9.  Marvel’s super-hero movie blu-rays: Thor, Captain America: The First Adventure, and X-Men: First Class I praised these three Marvel super-hero movies in my list of the Top 10 Movies of 2011, and I was equally taken by their blu-ray releases.  Not only do all three films look absolutely gorgeous on blu-ray, but all three are accompanied by some fairly in-depth featurettes exploring all aspects of the films’ production.  None of these are super-elaborate special editions, and I do wish that, for all of these films, the featurettes had been edited together into one longer, comprehensive making-of documentary.  But these are very, very solid releases, with a lot for fans of these films to dig into.  Extra props for the wonderful “Marvel One-Shot” shorts included on the Thor and Captain America discs, that further connect the Marvel films leading up to The Avengers.

8.  Louie: Season 1 I’d been reading about this show for a while, and having now finally watched the season one set I can say that this show deserves all the praise it’s been getting, and more.  In it’s structure, the show resembles Seinfeld: clips of Louie C. K. performing stand-up are intercut with vignettes of his life.  But in other respects the show is the exact opposite of Seinfeld.  Whereas on Seinfeld all of the story-lines would wind up beautifully dovetailing by the end, on Louie the individual scenes on the show often have little or nothing to do with one another.  We’ll watch a seven-minute sequence of Louie and his buddies playing poker, and then after some more stand-up we’ll shift to an entirely different scene … [continued]

 

The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011 — Part Two!

Welcome back to the conclusion of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011!  Click here for part one.  (And click here for my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, and part three.)

5.  Moon Knight I really enjoyed Brian Michael Bendis’ years-long run on Daredevil with Alex Maleev, and their relaunch of Moon Knight has been pretty terrific so far.  I love the new conceit that the slightly unhinged Marc Spector is now hearing the voices of Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine in his head.  The result is some great comedy as the three super-heroes banter back and forth in Moon Knight’s head.  (Comic banter is a Bendis specialty!)  Seeing Echo back in a lead role is just icing on the cake.  I never thought Moon Knight could be at all interesting, but I guess the character was just the right sort of tabula rasa for an exciting reinvention.  I hope this is the start of a long run for Mr. Bendis and Mr. Maleev on the character.

4.  RASL I wish Jeff Smith’s sci-fi opus would come out a little more frequently, but I can’t really fault creator/writer/artist/self-publisher Smith, seeing as how he’s pretty much doing everything himself on this comic.  It’s just that the series is so good!  I want more!!  This adventure/love story is just grounded enough in real scientific theories to anchor all of the fun flights of fancy involving parallel universes, lizard-men, and weird-looking little girls.  Jeff Smith’s art is perfection — with a cartoony stylization that is endearing, but also an extraordinary amount of detail to give all of the settings and characters a distinct, “real world” feel.  It feels like things are really starting to come together with the story, which is very exciting.  The wait between issues is BRUTAL!!  If you’re a comic book fan but you’re not reading this self-published gem, do yourself a favor and remedy that immediately.

3.  Criminal: The Last of the Innocent The work that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips do together just keeps getting better and better and better.  I love all of their projects, but the crime-comic Criminal has always been my favorite, and The Last of the Innocent might be the very best installment since the first story-line, “Coward.”  In this dark tale, we meet young man Riley Richards, who is married to a beautiful, wealthy woman.  But he’s tremendously unhappy, and when he returns home and reconnects with his old goof-ball friend and the blonde girl-next-door he used to have a crush on, he realizes that he just might have chosen the wrong girl.  … [continued]

 

The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011 — Part One!

My Best of 2011 lists roll on!  Here are the links to my Top 15 Movies of 2011part one, part two, and part three.  Now on to my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011!

15.  John Byrne’s Next Men When Mr. Byrne’s Next Men series was originally released back in the 90′s, it was one of my very favorite comic book series.  Mr. Byrne’s illustration skills were at their peak, and the story was just “mature audiences” enough to peak my teenaged interest.  I was also very, very taken by the fiendishly clever circular narrative.  I was disappointed when the series ended, particularly since it was only supposed to have gone on hiatus for a few months, BUT I thought that, if it had to end, Mr. Byrne had wrapped things up beautifully.  I never imagined the series would ever return to the comic book stands, but lo and behold, IDW brought the series back for a nine issue run this year.  There were moments when the relaunch approached the greatness I had remembered (I enjoyed the twisted revelations about Bethany in issue 4), but for the most part, I wasn’t quite sure the point of this new story.  It sort of muddled the perfect ending of the series, without really enhancing what had gone before.  Ultimately, I didn’t quite understand the new time-travel machinations, and so was left a bit underwhelmed.  Still, new issues of John Byrne’s Next Men!! How cool is that??

14.  Ultimate Spider-Man I hated the whole Death of Peter Parker story-line, but I am very much enjoying the initial issues with the new Spidey.  The focus on this young kid and his classmates reminds me very much — without being derivative — of what attracted me so much to this series when it began, over a decade ago (wow).  Ultimate Spidey has been one of the most consistently enjoyable comic book series I have followed ever since it began.  Attentive readers will note it has slipped down in the rankings of my end-of-the-year list in the past few years, but it’s still on here as one of the stronger serialized super-hero comic books out there.  And god bless Mr. Bendis and his various artistic collaborators (including the very, very talented Sara Pichelli) for their consistency in getting this book out on a regular basis, month after month, year after year!

13.  Kick Ass 2 Mark Millar and John Romita’s sequel is just as gloriously profane and juvenile as the original.  Taking the concept of “escalation” (an idea explored in many comic books and also in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight film) to the extreme, the … [continued]

 

The Top 15 Movies of 2011 — Part Three!

Click here for part one of my Top 15 Movies of 2011 list, numbers fifteen through eleven, and here for part two, featuring numbers ten through six. Buckle up, now, as it’s time for the home stretch, the best of the best (at least in my humble opinion) of 2011!

5.  Young Adult Juno writer and director Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman re-team for a deliciously dark comedy about a twisted, pretty-much irredeemably terrible young woman named Mavis Gary (a magnificent Charlize Theron) who returns to the small hometown she left years before, in an attempt to win back her old jock boyfriend (Patrick Wilson). He’s married with a young baby, but so what?  During her week back in town, Mavis bumps into another high school classmate, the nerdy, disabled Matt (Patton Oswalt). The two strike up a weird sort-of friendship, and the way the arc of that pairing avoids any of the typical movie cliche ways that those sorts of relationships usually unfold on-screen is only one way in which this movie is unremittingly awesome.  The running gag about the way Mavis wakes up each morning, the terrific chemistry between Ms. Theron and Mr. Oswalt, and that pitch-perfect ending are just a few others.  A phenomenal film.  (Click here for my full review.)

4.   The Adventures of TintinShould anyone be surprised that the team-up of cinematic titans Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson produced gold?  This deliriously joyful, madcap adventure is non-stop pulpy fun from start-to-finish.  The film just zips on by, one incredible sequence after another, with Mr. Spielberg showing us once again how he is an absolute master at staging an action scene and assembling a crowd-pleasing adventure film.  The animation is gorgeous, the voice-work is impeccable (highlighted by another brilliant performance by the great Andy Serkis — I also praised his work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, when I wrote about that film earlier on this list), and when the closing credits ran I couldn’t believe the film was over already.  This one is going to get a lot of play in my household in the coming years, of that I have no doubt.  I can’t wait for the sequel, in which Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Jackson will apparently switch roles (so that Mr. Spielberg will produce the film and Mr. Jackson will direct).  (Click here for my full review.)

3.  BridesmaidsKirsten Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo, working with brilliant comedy director Paul Feig (creator of Freaks of Geeks), producer Judd Apatow, and a tremendous cast of women, hit every note exactly perfectly in this comedic home-run.  The film is … [continued]

 

The Top 15 Movies of 2011 — Part Two!

Yes, this year my Top 10 Movies of 2011 list is a Top 15 list!  Click here for part one of my list, numbers fifteen through eleven.  And now, onward!

10.  The Guard — I just saw this film last week.  It was the last addition to my list!   Brendan Gleeson is riveting as a small-time Irish policeman — brash, set-in-his-ways, and someone who delights in nothing more than taking the piss out of anyone he meets — who finds himself forced to work with an American FBI agent, played by Don Cheadle, investigating drug-runners. The film is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and also dramatic and intense. It looks like it was made on a tiny budget, but I was totally taken by this fiercely original piece of work, and Mr. Gleeson’s role is without question one of the best written and acted of the year.  I’ll have a full review coming soon.

9.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes I’m a hard-core Planet of the Apes fanatic, so I didn’t need any convincing to check out this newest attempt to reinvent the franchise. But I was stunned by how high-quality the finished film actually was. It was perfectly designed to appeal to the long-time Apes fans and the Apes newbies equally. Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as the young ape Caesar, the center of the story, is extraordinary, aided and abetted by some phenomenal, top-of-the-line CGI work. The action at the end of the movie is a whole heck of a lot of end-of-the-world fun, but I was long-before sold on the film by Mr. Serkis’ powerful work. Rise of the Planet of the Apes works perfectly as a stand-alone film, but I certainly hope that we’ll get to see further sequels set in this world.  (Click here for my full review.)

8.  Super 8 J. J. Abrams’ homage to classic Steven Spielberg films that he directed and produced for Amblin Entertainment, throughout the eighties, cut right to the core of my movie-loving heart. The film captures the coming-of-age, kids on an adventure feeling of E.T., The Goonies, and Stand By Me in a powerful way, creating a film that feels deeply nostalgic and also timeless. The ensemble of kids are phenomenal, well-directed by Mr. Abrams, and I loved the film’s gradual build-up of mystery and suspense.  And visually it is stunning, with top-notch visual effects work, costumes, sets, props, etc., that truly capture the period setting.  This would be in my top five this year if only the monster story-line part of the film made a bit more sense.  (For more details on what I mean by that last comment, click here for my full [continued]

 

The Top 15 Movies of 2011 — Part One!

So last year I really struggled to come up with my Top 10 Movies list.  I had a hard time finding ten films that I felt were really GREAT.  What a difference a year makes!  This year there were so many films that I loved that I wanted to include on my list that, for the first time, I decided to expand my Top 10 list to a Top 15 List!  AND I cheated even more and made my number 15 a three-way-tie!

I thought 2011 was a really terrific year for movies, and there were a lot of great films that didn’t make it onto this list.  I really enjoyed Moneyball, 50/50, The Ides of March, Like Crazy, The Descendants, 30 Minutes or Less, Your Highness, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, The Rum Diary, The Muppets, Midnight in Paris, and Our Idiot Brother, but they didn’t make the cut in this strong year.  (Follow the links to read my reviews of those films.)  But, wow, those films could have been on my Top 10 list and that would have been a really strong Top 10 list, one that would have held up quite well in comparison to my previous years’ Top 10 lists!  That’s how good a year this was.

I saw a lot of films in 2011, and particularly in the last month I’ve crammed in a lot of movie-watching, trying to catch up on all the 2011 films I wanted to see.  There are a lot of films that I saw in the last few weeks that I didn’t think warranted inclusion on this list, but about which I’ll be writing reviews on this site in the coming weeks.  These include My Idiot Brother, The Help, Tree of Life, Horrible Bosses, and more.  So you can look for those reviews soon.

As I always do, before I dive into my lists I want to mention the films I wanted to see, but never got to: A Dangerous Method, Shame, The Debt, Drive, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, Larry Crowne, Beginners, The Trip. So if you loved one of those films and want to know why they’re not included on my list — well, now you know.  Hopefully I’ll get to track down some/all of those films in the near future.  (They’re all on my Netflix queue, so all I need is time!)

15.  Marvel’s Summer Movies: Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and X-Men: First ClassI do love me a good super-hero movie, and this summer mighty Marvel gave us three of ‘em, each one a really terrific, fun … [continued]