As always, I wish I’d had the time and resources available to experience more, but here are some of the things that made 2011 memorable (in alphabetical order, to be fair).
À l’Intérieur (Inside) at TIFF Bell Lightbox, August 20: Though I’d already watched this film three times on DVD, I felt that I needed to see it on the big screen. I’ve probably said this a few times already, but it’s still true: it manages to completely transcend the horror genre to become a bona fide work of cinematic art. It is indescribable and powerful and if you haven’t experienced it yet, you should.
Adam Ant: For all those folks who thought he was a crazy, bloated has-been, recent live performance clips on YouTube will more than prove those half-baked theories wrong. He’s so much more than the guy who did “Goody Two Shoes” and any and all adulation for him is well deserved. His descent into madness, fall from grace, and subsequent return to form (used in the truest, most non-cliched sense ever) are remarkable achievements. He remains, after thirty years, a huge inspiration to me.
Alejandro Jodorowsky: I’d heard of this iconoclastic filmmaker before and even read a few inspiring interviews with him, but never seen one of his movies. The recent Blu-Ray editions of El Topo and The Holy Mountain (reviewed here and here literally blew my mind. If there were more artists like Jodorowsky around, the world would be better for it.
Community: The praise for this show is nearly unanimous, so it truly boggles the mind that it’s in danger of being cancelled. I think Community‘s precarious position should spark a big conversation on why viewer habits and TV ratings deserve a major overhaul, but that might overpower the simple fact that Community is a brilliant television comedy.
Electric Six in St. Catharine’s, Hamilton, Waterloo, Toronto; December 27 – 30: How can I succinctly describe four shows in a row from one of my all-time favorite bands? Impossible. But it would include descriptions of abundant wit, bizarre rambling, sarcastic swipes at Rob Ford (and a few of Canada’s less than savory small towns), stellar covers of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and The Osmonds’ “Crazy Horses,” and much more, not the least of would be the indelible image of Dick Valentine pulling a few bad bananas out of the crowd and practically hurling them down a flight of stairs at the Horseshoe, thus cementing his status as a patron sinner for all of us who want to enjoy the show from the front row without getting elbowed in the back or punched in the head. And it would definitely include huge love for the outstanding musicians in Electric Six who are all fabulous people.
Etsy: I was a big Ebay junkie in the ’90s, but Etsy dispenses with the stress of bidding and replaces it with the ability to buy original, unique, handmade items. I want to thank Allison Anders for hipping me to what could prove to be a very expensive pastime. (I should also mention Regretsy, which mocks all the same kinds of weird crap we used to make fun of on Ebay.)
FanExpo Canada; August 24 – 28, 2011: I provided a fairly exhaustive recap of the Festival of Fear in our Halloween Horrors issue, but I need to mention all the other stuff that didn’t get included, like hanging out with all the fun people in attendance, including the crew from The Electric Playground and Reviews on the Run. The “Nerd Approved Music” night with Peter Project, Wordburglar, More or Les, Cobra, and Brentalfloss was one of the best sold-out shows I’ve ever seen. Where else are you going to hear freestyle raps about G.I. Joe and shout-outs to Hogwarts and see a guy in full Mickey-as-the Sorcerer’s Apprentice drag? Nowhere, my friends.
Foetus, Hide: Unlike some music critics who listen to and review hundreds of new releases, I’m a lot pickier. This does not mean, however, that Hide isn’t deserving of the highest accolades. I do genuinely like every new release I reviewed this year, but Hide is by far the best, and one of the best albums of JG Thirlwell’s thoroughly compelling career. The way he manages to constantly expand upon and improve his already-inimitable style is a continuous source of amazement and inspiration. (Read my review here.)
The Good Wife: Season 3 has taken the characters and the viewers in new, confounding, but always fascinating directions. The Good Wife doesn’t do stunt casting, developing instead a solid cast of regulars and ongoing appearances by talented folks like Alan Cumming, Parker Posey, Eddie Izzard, and Carrie Preston. I don’t know if the show can top the intense build-up to Season 2′s finale (which paid off enormously), in the upcoming Season 3 finale, but I can’t wait to see it.
Horror Movies: I don’t just like watching horror movies, I like reading about them and making a list of all the ones I look forward to watching in the future. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about current and upcoming releases as I was this year. I’d like to give massive props to Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria, Paracinema, Rue Morgue, and Twitch for providing such intelligent and exhaustive coverage of this frequently misunderstood genre.
Hunger: I finally understand why everyone talks about director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender in such glowing terms. McQueen is one of very few directors who I will be watching closely in the next few years. I look forward to seeing Shame as soon as possible.
Insidious: I’d heard this film was terrifying from those who saw it at TIFF 2010, but I truly did not expect to be as frightened as I was. For someone who watches mostly horror films, I did not expect to scream and CRY (how humiliating) and then be fully freaked out for months afterwards. Although a subsequent viewing of Insidious did not have the same impact, I still think it’s a marvelous film.
My iPod Touch: This is the most embarrassing thing on my list because it might imply I’m some sort of tech junkie or that I’m obsessed with owning a lot of expensive gadgets and shit. (I’m not.) I’m taking the risk because I now finally understand why people love their pods and pads and whatnot. Besides, autocorrect fail is hilarious.
Livide at TIFF, September 12: This is the second (and intensely anticipated) film from Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, the directors of À l’Intérieur. Read my review for more about the film itself, but I will add that I like it even more now after thinking about it for a few months. It was released in France on December 7 and although it has North American distribution through Dimension, I haven’t seen a 2012 release date yet. These two directors are my absolute favorites right now and I have a feeling people will be talking about them—and this movie in particular—for many years to come.
The Meligrove Band at NXNE, June 16: Yes, they did an entire set of Ramones covers. Yes, many people in the crowd had never heard Ramones songs before. You young’uns seriously need to get a clue, stop trying to follow the latest music trends, and learn some damn history. End cranky old person rant.
Parks & Recreation: The sweet that follows the salty Community on Thursday nights. Like Community, Parks & Rec is not a typical sitcom. It’s got annoying characters like Seinfeld, but you actually care about these people. It has the quirkiness of Arrested Development, but on a far less intricate—though no less enjoyable—level. As much as I adore Community, I suspect that Parks & Rec‘s legacy might last a little longer.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes: While this wasn’t one of the best films I’ve seen, it was still wonderful, mostly because no real chimps were featured in the movie; it was all CGI. The emotional impact of the simian characters was more profound because actual animals weren’t pawns being used to dispense a message about their own mistreatment. This is not just a technological and cinematic achievement, it’s a huge step forward for those of us who don’t think animals should be used for human entertainment.
The Soup: As if Joel McHale didn’t have enough to do filming Community and performing stand-up shows, he also lends his considerable wit and charm to The Soup. It skewers pop and celebrity culture better than anyone else (I’m looking at you TMZ, Perez Hilton, Gawker, etc.) because it doesn’t kiss any asses.
Tim Burton Exhibit, TIFF Bell Lightbox: I saw Tim Burton give a talk in advance of the exhibit’s Toronto premiere at the end of 2010, so it was great to finally see the incredible display of artistry up close: sketches, sculptures, paintings, short films, costumes, and much more. It reaffirms my faith that real talent still counts for a lot in Hollywood.
True Blood, Seasons 1 and 2: I am woefully behind the rest of the world in regards to this show, but it doesn’t mean I don’t still love it. The lightning fast shifts in tone—from gory horror to dread to sadness to goofy humor—should make this show an utter failure, but somehow it works wonderfully.
Twitter: There were a few months in 2010 where I stayed up far too late tweeting. I am fallible, after all. The Twitter thrill is somewhat gone for me now, but it’s not because there aren’t a lot of smart, articulate folks out there; it’s because the information stream is so intense and fast-moving that being out of sight—even for a few days—means being out of mind. If you can keep up with it, Twitter can be not only a useful tool, but intensely enjoyable.
Tumblr: Tumblr encapsulates why I both like and loathe the Internet. I love looking at pretty (and grotesque) photos but like everything else, ignorance and drama are hard to avoid. Still, Tumblr is a nice digestif.
The Venture Bros.: Season 4 proved why we still love this show, with four more episodes than the normal run and a brilliant finale (“Operation: P.R.O.M.”) that was not only superbly written and edited, but also hilarious and touching. It might seem that including Venture Bros. on a “best of” list is a bit redundant, since they’ve got such a large and devoted fanbase. The show is incredibly popular, but not to Lady Gaga levels or anything, so it’s a shame that there are people who would love it, but haven’t seen it yet. Let’s hope 2012 changes that.
The Walking Dead: I’m not going to get into all the drama surrounding Frank Darabont’s departure or the bitching about how Season 2 sucks, blah blah blah. I still love this show and I still think Shane is a giant asshole.
White Lies at The Mod Club, January 9: I’d only just heard this band’s second album when I saw this show, so I was amazed at what a powerful experience it was. Ritual is definitely my second favorite new release of this year, deftly weaving cues from the best new wave bands of the ’80s with an undeniably fresh, modern sound. (Read my show review here.)