After much deliberation, here are our top picks for movies, TV and books in 2012. Items in each category are presented in alpha-order, mostly.
The Avengers (unanimous pick).
Jon says: The sheer size, the amount of characters, the end result... An incredible achievement. Loved it.
Shawn adds: Everyone’s seen it, right? So I won’t blather on. However, submitted for your approval, a candidate for the best cinematic moment ever: the Hulk side punching Thor just after they finished taking out a bunch of bad guys. Perfection.
Chronicle (pick by Mark)
Three high school students struggle with the dark side of their newly found super powers. Well done and creepy. What would superman do if he just wasn’t that nice of a person to begin with?
Cloud Atlas (pick by Lisa)
Tho' perhaps hard to understand if you hadn't read the book, and taking various liberties with the book, I thought the Wachowski siblings made some interesting choices in trying to capture one of my favorite books of all time. For me just thinking through those choices was entertaining. Plus, it was beautiful. And I immediately wanted to watch it again.
The Hobbit: An unexpected journey (pick by Jon, Mark).
Jon says: Always a pleasure to visit Middle Earth.
Mark adds: Delivered what I expected—LOTRs goodness. Great effects, mostly stuck with the book (my family and I “read” the book again on CD this summer crossing South Dakota—and in certain parts of the movie my son leaned over to me and whispered that he knew what was coming next, based on the book—and he was right—the movie held pretty true to Tolkien. Giant eagles rock! (in case you were wondering)
John Carter (pick by Lisa and Mark)
Lisa says: I saw it in my favorite second run theatre, the Riverview, across the street from Scribblerati's hang-out. I wasn't expecting much: a so-so sci-fi movie. But I loved every moment of it. And it has a great puppy, Woola, the super speedy half worm-rhino, half dog.
Mark adds: One of my favorite book series as a boy. I thought Disney did a nice job with this film.
Looper (pick by Lisa and Mark. Comments by Lisa)
I love time travel. I loved how tiny details introduced without fan fare early in the movie become integrated into the plot as it went on. Plus, I've always been a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Moonrise Kingdom (pick by Claudia)
I love Wes Anderson's films, but his current effort is my favorite since The Royal Tenenbaums. I really like the casting of untrained child actors in the leads, they come across as truly untainted by the world. Just a charmer of a movie, with Anderson's usual cast of superiorly talented actors, and his attention to detail which makes every shot a framable photo.
Daniel Craig in Skyfall, particularly in this coat: Oh, yeah. The movie was really good too. (pick by Claudia)
New Orleans street beat meets classic jazz. Christmas tunes like you've never heard them before - from the reverent to the hilarious, traditional to the brand spankin' new and original. Swing your hips - Santaphone style. You can order the CD here.
Game of Thrones, Season 2 (pick by Mark)
Dire wolves, undead, swords, sorcery, nudity, violence, struggle for kingdoms, characters both valiant and vile, warfare and even a trio of pint-sized dragons. I’m excited to see where Season 3 goes.
Justified (pick by Shawn)
I came late to this TV series. I stumbled onto season three in January, fell in love, bought seasons one and two, and finished those up just within the last couple of weeks. Justified, if you haven’t watched it, is an awesome show. Think: old West gunslinger meets modern-day police drama, using the drug-infested hills of Kentucky as a setting. The characters are awesome and the writing is exceptional.
Key and Peele (pick by Claudia)
I actually have only watched a handful of skits by these guys, but they were all really, really funny. It's been too long since the world has given us a great sketch comedy show. Mr. Show is the last one I can think of. Watch this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gODZzSOelss
And then go find their "Liam Neesons" sketch. (pick by Claudia and Jon)
or check out this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxWzsrj8bZE
The Walking Dead, Season 3 (pick by Mark)
This show on AMC is one of my favorites, and the pacing and story was much improved over the previous season. The scenario of the zombie infested prison made for some interesting programs, as well as some of the interplay between the sword-wielding Michonne and the “Governor.”
The Avengers: The comic (pick by Jon)
Jonathan Hickman has started a new era in the Avengers and if his run on Fantastic Four is any indication, it will be brilliant. Plus the art is great.
Red Country (pick by Jon)
The latest in the series by Joe Abercrombie, a fantasy/western in the classic tradition of A Man with No Name, The Wild Bunch, etc. and featuring the return of a long thought dead character, it's a classic tale of revenge mixing fantasy and western tropes with stunning prose. A great read. (pick & comments by Jon)
Cifiscape Vol. 2 (unanimous pick)
Different stories about the wild and weird future Twin Cities. Featuring the short story "Harris" by Jon Hanson. You can buy it on Amazon, btw...
Cloud Atlas (pick by Claudia)
I was blown away by David Mitchell's ability to write in such diverse voices and genres - all in one book. There's no neat bow at the end, nor thematic hammer over the head - it wasn't until after I had finished reading it that I found myself dwelling on the book's larger ideas of systems of power and control - from the microcosm of an old folks' home, to the complete enslavement of a race.
Although I read a number of fiction books and graphic novels this year, my favorite read of all (based on the way I flew through it) was the non-fiction book by Laura Hillenbrand about the real life exploits of Olympic runner and WWII bombardier, Louis Zamperini. He met Hitler, survived more than one close call in flight over the Pacific, was almost eaten by sharks and spent time as a war prisoner in Japan. My biggest regret: missing Mr. Zamperini’s book tour (he’s in his 90’s).
The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (pick by Shawn)
I must admit as to being skeptical. The Dark Tower 4.5? Really? But it works. I mean, it really works. It starts out with Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy on their way to the Calla, and then rather quickly delves into the Roland’s past. But that’s just the start. From there, past Roland tells another story, a fairytale, if you will, set in the world of The Dark Tower. Yes, that’s right. It’s a story, within a story, within a story. And it’s beautiful, and wonderful, and it makes me wish there were more. Say thank ya.
Journey into Mystery (pick by Shawn)
This has easily been my favorite comic of the year. Brian Michael Bendis’s Spider-Men is a close second, as is Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga (which is cropping up on more formal best of lists), but Journey into Mystery was the one I looked forward to most consistently. Kieron Gillen’s run on this title told the tale of Kid Loki, who was brought back to life by his brother Thor. Kid Loki wanted nothing more than to be loved and accepted, but he was haunted by the specter of his past self, manifest in the form of his bird companion Ikol. There was also his frenemy Leah, handmaiden of Hella, Goddess of Hel. Their antics were a constant joy, as were Loki’s endeavors to do the right thing, despite the pull of his trickster nature. And maybe the best issue of all? The last one, where Kid Loki confronts his former self. Agonizing, beautiful, and again, perfection.
Reading The Secret Garden out loud (Claudia’s pick)
I read the classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett to my husband and a friend. It was my favorite book as a child - I think I read it 10 times by the time I was 10. I'd never before read it as an adult, and I was stunned at the depth and complexity of this children's book. (Also, the 19th-century language plus thick Yorkshire dialects made it quite the challenge to read aloud.) There were sections of such truth and beauty that we'd have to stop, read them again, and then pause to reflect before we could read on.
“One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it ... sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with the millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in someone's eyes.” - Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Happy New Year!