Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Film Yap - Oscar Documentary Shortlist 2012

Last year I wrote about the shortlist for the documentaries for the Oscars. It’s a subject that puzzles me every year much like way the foreign film category plays out. By the time the award show finally airs, most of the major categories are predictable but these remain unknown because not enough people have seen them including the journalists reporting on them.

So let’s breakdown the 15 documentaries. This year I’ve seen 10 of them due to availability.

--Battle For Brooklyn. Have not seen this one. It’s about a large protest by people living in Brooklyn trying to save their homes from being torn down to build a stadium and skyscrapers.

--Bill Cunningham New York. One of my favorites of the year and I’m not alone in it. It has topped a lot of critic’s lists because of how charming Cunningham is and how his view of the fashion world is genuine and wonderful.

--Buck. Another crowd pleaser. Buck was the inspiration for the film “The Horse Whisperer”. The way he’s able to calm the horses without violence is inspiring and fascinating to watch.

--Hell and Back Again. Another I haven’t seen, but something I got from the trailer is how visually impressive this one is. I don’t know if they used recreations but the cinematography is impressive as they deal with the struggles of war and PTSD.

--If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. There are a lot of activism movies this year and this isn’t one of the strongest. There’s an interesting debate in the center whether or not they are eco-terrorists but there isn’t enough questioning. Emotional ending, however.

--Jane’s Journey. Jane Goodall is a fascinating person who has done some wonderful things. This movie is just too…kind? It’s a very sweet movie but there is nothing pressing about it. Never feels definitive enough so it becomes just another look at a great woman.

--The Loving Story. Another one of the five I haven’t seen. The Independent Critic said it had a “refreshingly straightforward yet effective approach” to the civil rights case allowing the marriage of a while man and a black woman. It will play on HBO in February.

--Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. This is the conclusion of the decades long case of the West Memphis Three. It wasn’t as powerful of the first two entries because it tries to go back to tell a complete story instead of moving forward. Still well worth watching.

--Pina. This is also on the foreign film shortlist and for good reason. It’s a dance documentary that is so beautiful and abstract yet very watchable. Wim Wenders (“Wings of Desire”, “Paris Texas”) perfect captures Pina Bausch’s vision of dance, all of the pain and curiosity. My version was great, but I really hope the 3D version comes to Indiana soon.

--Project NIM. As a scientific experiment, a chimp named NIM was raised in a human home. It’s a perfect parallel film to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” as the treatment and results of this decision is rightfully questioned. James Marsh (“Man on Wire”) uses too many documentary gimmicks that worked better in his other films.

--Semper Fi: Always Faithful. Newly available as part of Sundance’s streaming project, this is one worth watching. Improper toxic dumping poisoned the water causing irreparable harm to a large number of US Marines, including giving the soldiers breast cancer and death to small children. Their legal fight is hard to watch because of how little seems to be changing.

--Sing Your Song. I haven’t seen this one, but it’s one I would like to. It’s the story of Harry Belafonte, a popular singer who became a civil rights activist. Looks like a well made documentary with a lot of people speaking on his behalf.

--Undefeated. More of a teacher movie than a sports movie. The struggle to connect with a group of inner city kids to get them to succeed at a sport they love makes for a dramatic story.

--Under Fire: Journalists in Combat. Last one I haven’t seen, but this looks fascinating. It’s a look into the emotional and ethical difficulties of being a journalist in a warzone.

--We Were Here. A look at the AIDS epidemic from the men who survived it creates such a personal account of a devastating time. The filmmaking is simplistic, but luckily the speakers are powerful enough on their own.

So What’s Missing? A lot. Again! The reason why I keep writing these articles is because of what films they leave off. I enjoyed movies like “Jane’s Journey” and “We Were Here” but they never matched the results of Errol Morris’s “Tabloid”, Werner Herzog’s “Into the Abyss”, “Page One”, “Senna”, or even Herzog’s other film “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”. All of those films were beloved by critics and have been nominated and won a number of other awards. The one that is getting a lot of controversy is “The Interrupters”, a film I can’t wait to see. Those filmmakers faced the same omission when “Hoop Dreams” wasn’t on the shortlist for its year. Just strange what they don’t even list as the Top 15 of the year.

So Who Will Make the Final Five? It’s hard to say this year. Since they ignored the ones the critics are really responding to, it’s easy for them to pull out five more random films. I think “Bill Cunningham New York” and “Pina” seem likely. “Project NIM” and “Paradise Lost 3” are also likely since they are so professionally put together. The Oscars love issue movies and it almost depends on which activism/war film they responded to. If it’s as good as the trailer, I think “Hell and Back Again” could be that movie, but maybe the Oscars will change their ways and bring in a film like “Buck” which is more of a crowd pleaser.

The nominations come out Tuesday! What are the films you hope make the list? Or what films are you wanting to see soon?

Film Yap - Top 10 WORST of 2011

Last year was my first year with The Film Yap. I was the youngin’ who took every film assignment, mainly the ones that nobody wanted to take. Aka the worst films imaginable. This year I tried to avoid those assignments, but I kept taking ones that I found morbidly curious. They can’t really be as bad as people say right? Of course they are.

Most of my most hated films this year I actually didn’t figure were going to be this bad. I was even anticipating most of them. Not all of them can be winners, but…boy they should be better than this.

#10 – Drive Angry 3D

By this point everyone knows that Nicolas Cage desperately needs to make money. Even if you aren’t following his hysterical financial problems, it’s evident through his films. He makes a few films people enjoy like “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” and “Kick-Ass” but mostly he just jumps aboard anything in production from “Next” to “The Wicker Man” to this. The reason “Drive Angry” is bad isn’t because of the subject matter. Having a guy escape hell to save his granddaughter from a satanic cult can be silly fun. Oh sorry, “daughter’s daughter”; they never use the other word. Can’t let you think Cage is old. Instead, all of the plot holes, boring action scenes, worthless characters, and fading stakes make this a mess instead of the cool 80s film it wanted to be.

#9 – Anonymous

There are dozens of solid theories of why Shakespeare wasn’t the author of some of the beloved plays in history. This may be the dumbest. Their idea is that William Shakespeare was a poor actor therefore he couldn’t have written anything of value so it must have been a rich aristocrat. Then it’s one implausible connection after another to set the pieces in place so Hamlet can be released to the world. Saying someone who didn’t go to an established university couldn’t have written Richard III but saying an 8 year old wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream is valid? This would be stupid on its own, but with an idiotic structure, laughable theatre scenes, and the most serious tone imaginable this is unwatchable.

#8 – The Help

When this film ended, I really expected the row of critics to be on my side to say this is a trainwreck. Nope! But truly, this is a disaster of a film. Joe and I extensively argued the film when it came out. What still resonates after so many months is how the characters feel like nothing. Viola Davis is a great actress who deserves plenty of complex roles, but this wasn’t anything except for a footnote of history. She could have played a character who happened to be in this time where the situations of history affected her persona, but that’s not the case. She is just an archetypical example of a maid from this time, which means she will cry a lot. Everyone is either an extremely racist person or someone with 2011 ideals to criticize the others. The script, direction, and editing are so amateur it’s a struggle to get through.

#7 –The Beaver

I wanted Mel Gibson to have a comeback. He seems like a lousy person I wouldn’t want to have dinner with, but he is still an entertaining actor. This script has been thrown around for a while noted as one of the best unproduced screenplays. Now that I’ve seen the final product, I have no idea why. All of the actors are perfectly fine, but the skeleton of the movie is a mess. Cliché after cliché without a single earned moment. Since none of the characters act like realistic people every time they try for catharsis it fails.

#6 – Mars Needs Moms

This is one of the biggest Hollywood financial disasters of all time and most people can’t even remember this came out. Thus, the disaster. “Mars Needs Moms” cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make but only made a tad back theatrically. This hurt Robert Zemekis’ motion-capture business so much he has to return to live action after vowing to never do that again. Could this be an undeserving failure? I wouldn’t wish them to lose that much money, but this is a terrible movie. Aliens kidnap moms because they need to suck out the maternal instincts. That could be a cool dark kids movie, but this is joyless. The main character learns that he loves his mom in the first few minutes and the rest of the time is just complaining while being surrounded by ugly trash. Even without the 3D glasses, it has this unpleasant color to it that makes you want to switch it off. Never the vibe you want to create.

#5 – Just Go With It

I refuse to see “Jack and Jill” even though I was tempted to put the trailer as my number one choice. At this point I just want to swear at Adam Sandler on the street which is a problem because everyone says he’s a nice guy. Why would such a nice guy keep making these movies where he’s treated like a god and everyone else on the planet are labeled as worthless buffoons? Characters don’t just laugh at this jokes, but they bust a gut and may even try to kiss his feet. “Just Go With It” is a remake of a very funny “Cactus Flower” where Goldie Hawn won an Oscar. Hawn’s character in this one is played a bikini model who is just supposed to stand with cleavage. Her most emotional moment happens off screen, further proving if it’s not about Adam Sandler being praised it doesn’t get to be on screen.

#4 – The Hangover Part II

When I walked out of the theatre for this, I was disappointed. A day later the more I thought about it, I hated it. When I listened to an interview with the screenwriters, I loathed it. They took such pride into make the exact same movie without having a single point to add to it. It took them so much work to recreate every single plot point, but changing the setting or prop. Changing a joke from “Two guys walked into a bar” to “two guys walked into a pub” won’t get a laugh the second time ‘round. I really liked the first one because I liked the characters. I wanted to see a sequel because I wanted to see them in something new, not to be in a shot-for-shot remake.

#3 – The Change-Up

Never see this movie. It’s vile.

#2 – Green Lantern

“The Change-Up” is probably a worse film, but I hate “Green Lantern” more for what it represents. (By the way, don’t see “The Change-Up”; it’s vile.) My favorite director is Alfred Hitchcock. With every film he wanted to show the audience something new; he always wanted to shock and awe them. It’s a contract with an artist. We give them money for the product and they make the best product they can. People can easily spend their money on something practical like food or rent, but they wanted to spend it on art. So at least pretend to make something worthwhile.

This is the laziest film I have ever seen. Boring beyond anything imaginable because it doesn’t care about the audience. The hero is blander than a green screen and the story doesn’t exist. It literally doesn’t exist. A story is a character wanting something, but can’t get it so there’s conflict. In “Green Lantern” the character wants nothing. He’s fine how he is. There isn’t even an unconscious want for a better life. He’s just so static about everything even when he’s whisped across the galaxy and given extreme responsibility over the Earth. When confronted with that, he quits because it doesn’t seem interesting to him. If saving the world is boring to him, why should we care? Everything else in the movie has been done a million times already—this summer even! So if Hitchcock wanted to always give you something new because he cares about the audience, what do these filmmakers want?

#1 – An Invisible Sign

I have no wish to watch any of the movies on this list again because they’re awful. Except for this one. Honestly I want everyone to see this movie because it’s wonderfully bad. People give allegiance to colossal failures like “Troll 2” because they are made by people who thought they were making a good film without having the perspective of questioning all of the madness around them. This film is worthy of being included amongst those great awful movies. Why is this so bad?

Jessica Alba plays a math expert…

Who doesn’t do any math during the movie.

Alba doesn’t know how to play a quirky Zooey Deschanel-esque character so she plays her as autistic.

J.K. Simmons wears ivory numbers around his neck that reflect his mood.

Alba got her job as an elementary school math teacher because the principal remembered that Alba liked math when she was a kid and her mom said she went to college. NO FOLLOW UP WAS NECESSARY.

Alba did not go to college.

Since first and second graders stressed her out, she does not bother to teach them anything. The fourth and fifth graders were never seen.

There is a scene where Alba is supposed to guess what type of cancer a student’s mother has. That scene is a comedy set-piece.

Alba buys a giant ax because it kinda looks like the number seven and hangs it on the wall of a children’s classroom after putting wrapping paper on it. (You know what happens if you introduce an axe in Act 1…)

The science teacher avoids a parent teacher conference and blows bubbles on a swing outside. He has a quote, “If anyone asks, just say it’s a science experiment. Look…spheres.” A sphere is a geometric shape. Geometry is math, not science.

Alba really really plays up the autism performance.

Thinking of numbers all the time is apparently math.

A student says her favorite number is 100. Alba scolds her because she says it should be from 1-10.

The science teacher hitting on Alba is the most aggressive thing imaginable. It’s basically flirt rape. Or rape flirt. Whatever the idea of not taking “no” for an answer of them being a couple.

Their movie date is adorably bad in all the ways the movie didn’t attend.

Jessica Alba plays a math expert.

Please see this movie. I own it on Blu-Ray!

The Rest of the List

11. Cars 2

12. The Music Never Stopped

13. The Green Hornet

14. Gnomeo & Juliet

15. Take Me Home Tonight

16. My Last Day Without You

17. Another Earth

18. The Art of Getting By

19. The Thing

20. No Strings Attached

Film Yap - Top 10 Movies of 2011

The past Top Ten lists on The Film Yap suggested that 2011 wasn’t a great year for film. While compared to an amazing year in television, it’s bound to pale in comparison. I think 2011 is realized as a bad year for Hollywood. There is this fearsome trend where the studio movies are the most disappointing and forgettable. This isn’t some snooty “Studio bad, independent good!” rant, but a look in how we ought to change the way we find films.

Let’s compare it to television. If you just watched ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC you’ll find a lot of repetition in family dramas, sitcoms, and procedurals. A few can stand out like “Community” or “The Good Wife”, but for the most part nothing is too exciting. TV has evolved where there are cable networks that are going for a smaller, more select audience which can be bolder with what they are presenting. AMC produced “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men”, FX made “Justified” and “Archer”, Showtime introduced “Homeland” and HBO created “Game of Thrones”, “Treme”, and “Boardwalk Empire.”

With movies, you can also find other channels besides the big studios to find a film. Plenty of people complain that because we live in Indiana we don’t get to see a lot of the great smaller films, but that’s not true anymore. The Landmark Theatre showed some fantastic documentaries and foreign films. We have plenty of wonderful film festivals like the Indianapolis International Film Festival and the Heartland Film Festival that always have a strong collection.

Also there are new resources. Some of my favorite films of the year were found through Netflix. I read some great reviews when they opened in New York or Chicago and then I was able to see them when they hit DVD. DVDs are not subjected to a movie theatre so anyone can experience great movies on a weekly basis. Most cable services provide OnDemand which allows you to watch a smaller theatrical film in your home for a low price. Invite a few friends over to watch it with you and if you divide it up you just watched a $12 movie for maybe $3.

As critics I think it’s our job to help you find more movies that you could love. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s good. (In fact my worst film of the year is an independent comedy.) It does allow you for a new opportunity. I would much rather watch a film that has the potential to be brilliant or awful than go and see a movie I’m sure will just be okay. January is notorious for having awful films that are dumped by the studios. Instead of wasting money on them, try renting some of the films highlighted by me and the rest of the Yappers. You’re reading this site because you love movies; trust us because so do we.

#10 Beginners

While in pain, it’s hard to figure out anything. Everything feels devastating and unconquerable. That confusion drives “Beginners” into a very personal area while remaining accessible to everyone. As Ewan McGreggor’s character tries to figure out what to do next after the death of father, he finds love. The pain doesn’t dissipate when he’s with her, but it is given certain context that allows him to maybe one day heal. All of the quirks of the film aren’t seen as a silly perspective to the world, but as a beacon to find those who see the issues in the same way. That vulnerability is hard to portray on film, but Mike Mills pulled it off without ever losing the audience’s sympathy.

#9 Weekend

“Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” are two films where two very realized character walk through some gorgeous locations and talk. They talk about philosophy and love while strengthen their own relationship. “Weekend” accomplishes a similar goal, but having the two men walk, talk and sleep together though their home in New York adds a different weight to their story. They aren’t on vacation away from all of their responsibilities; they’re in the middle of it all. All of issues of what is stopping them from being the men they want to be and having the life they want are confronting them at every moment. It’s not up to someone they met just a few days ago to save them, but then again…maybe it can be.

#8 – Bill Cunningham New York

Once again, this was a good year for documentaries. Plenty of established directors gave us an exciting new story, but this one came out of nowhere. Anyone who has seen me knows I’m not an expert on fashion. Yet like all sorts of expression, I’m fascinated by those who are passionate in it. Fashion is usually only reserved for the rich who are able to travel to Paris and spend five figures on a dress they’ll only wear once. Bill Cunningham doesn’t belong to that group. He is a man who lives in an apartment that is about to close down and wears the same outfits every day. His job at the Times has him go to the big fashion shows, but his real joy is riding his bike down the streets of New York to capture what regular people are wearing. A viewpoint like his is so fresh and heartwarming because he is able to champion the unique aspects of those who are never championed.

#7 – Certified Copy

I’m usually not a fan of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. His distance from this characters almost is portrayed as not being interested in them. “Certified Copy” was a complete reversal while still being a contradiction. An English author is in Italy to promote his latest book. In his book he argues the strength and value of a copy as opposed to the original. If you write a great joke and photocopy it, is the original piece of paper funnier? If you copy the Mona Lisa does it not create the same emotions when you look at it? The author decides to spend the day with a woman who came to his signing and they continue to argue this point. Then it gets a little nutty. At first we thought she was a stranger, but that may have been an illusion. Excitement rises from trying to solve this intellectual mystery while being completely charming through the leads romance (or anti-romance) and their search for what is real. Can’t wait to watch this again.

#6 – The Artist

I love silent films. This isn’t an attempt for me to rise to a new level of snobbiness. There was something crazy going on during those first few decades of filmmaking. With books and theatre, it seems obvious on how a story could be told but the cinema was like discovering a brand new world. Without sound, it’s even crazier. “The Artist” is a loving tribute to that time in what is the most accessible story of the year. It’s sweet and funny and lovable. The plot is very similar to “A Star is Born” and “Singin’ in the Rain” but jolted with a new level of creativity. The main character is an actor whose world seems to be more of a film than the ones he acts in. That means an average day can have wonder, excitement, surrealism, drama, and the greatest dog imaginable to light up the screen.

#5 – Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen remains one of the most fascinating directors working today. That said, I don’t like a large chunk of his movies. When someone makes a film a year, there can’t be only masterpieces. The past ten years with Allen has had best of both worlds where “Match Point” and “Vicky Christina Barcelona” ended up being wonderful while something like “Scoop” falls flat. “Midnight in Paris” is everything I want in a Woody Allen film. While remaining a largely comedic movie, he tackles some great points on the nature of nostalgia. It’s a subject I usually find very dull and self-indulgent but Allen looks at the full picture where there is beauty and loneliness attached to it. Being in Paris always looks like you’re living in a dream so Allen takes that a step further by turning it into a thing of pure magic where people can find their home through unconventional ways.

#4 – Hugo

Last year I did a speech about Martin Scorsese in Muncie because I discovered something new about the director. With films like “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” I thought he was always about the brute force, but it was his romanticism that encouraged me to rewatch his entire canon. Any interview with Scorsese can show you how much he adores film history, but it’s also seen through all of his movies. He rarely has direct film references, but instead he’s mixing styles and moods that inspired him from things he’s seen in order to make a pure by-product. “Hugo” has the most surface examples of that adoration. A young boy in a French train station goes on an emotional adventure that leads him to discover one of the greatest silent film innovators. If “The Artist” suggests that life is also a movie, “Hugo” says there is beauty in life that can be translated into a movie. This could easily become a family film classic, if only families go and see it.

#3 – Take Shelter

To me, the strength of a film is how much I think about it after it ends. The ones that stick with you are the ones that have power. All year I’ve been complaining that films are becoming to expensive which creates harmful limitations. “Take Shelter” shows the opposite can be true. Director Mike Nichols’ first film, “Shotgun Stories” was a raw look into the side of rivaling families. That only needed great actors and a working camera to pull off. “Take Shelter” needed a little more. The main character experiences dreams of pure horror and if those dreams don’t terrify the audience none of the emotional weight would resonate. Each one of those scenes isn’t scary because there’s a CGI monster, but they’re scary because it’s a CGI storm mixed with expert filmmaking. Schizophrenia, to me, is one of the most unnerving things imaginable because it means the reality you know is full of cracks. A rational man’s journey through this misery makes for some powerfully heartbreaking moments and a conclusion that doesn’t lessen anything that happened before it.

#2 – Drive

If I don’t write a theatrical review for The Film Yap, I try to put something up on my blog. Yet for “Drive” all I could come up with was “F*** yeah, Drive”. People in my life want to know what I thought of new releases and once again all I could say was “F*** yeah Drive.” I could easily break down all of the pieces of the puzzle. The cast is incredible; the style is smooth and vibrant; the story is simple yet fascinating; the song “A Real Hero” rocks in the context of the movie. All of that is just fine, but why this is a masterpiece of the genre is because how seamlessly it all blends together. Director Nicholas Winding Refn must be able to see across so many dimensions in order to know how it will all fit together even when the ideas seem ridiculous. (A silent driver in a scorpion jacket only listens to pop music in his car?) Everything worked. F*** yeah “Drive”.

#1 – The Tree of Life

There are so many films about religion and spirituality, which have caused me to question a decision the filmmakers decide to exclude. So often there are characters clamoring for their god to be left coldly on their own. Ingmar Bergman made a wonderful trilogy of this silence of God, but where are the other takes on the idea. In “The Tree of Life” I believe the movie goes through five stages of emotionally communication of a 1950s Texas family and their Lord. When they are at their lowest and they are begging for any sign of God, director Terrance Malick shows Him through a zillion steps back to show the whole scope of the story, traveling into the cosmos and the dawn of creation. Instead of being alone, there is hope even though all the pain and confusion. The film travels through time like a hymn with a journey of emotions over one of plot. It’s very challenging but it stretches what a film can be and the stories the medium can tell. One of the best films I’ve seen in a long time.

I saw way too many films this year, but I still didn’t see all of them. The ones I wished I could have seen before writing this article were “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey”, “Le Havre”, “The Interrupters”, “Jamie and Jessie are Not Together”, “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”, “A Separation”, “Tryannosaur” and “A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas”.

The Rest of the List

11. Tabloid – The craziest movie of the year just happens to be true

12. Winnie the Pooh – Pure storytelling that matches the original spirit and humor

13. The Muppets – Flawed structure doesn’t matter when the intent is this magical.

14. Shame – Devastating and inventive

15. 13 Assassins – A samurai film that has the most creative action scenes of the year and the vilest villain imaginable.

16. The Future – Characters who would be seen as pathetic side characters try their best to find purpose in a very realistic present.

17. Poetry – A South Korean woman finds comfort in her poetry class as her brain starts to fade. Wonderful character study.

18. 50/50 – May have a simple story but the characters’ genuine heartache really makes this works.

19. Young Adult – Jason Reitman’s best film yet and Charlize Theron’s best performance yet. Will happily watch two more hours of her glaring at people.

20. Moneyball – One of my favorite tales of how innovative thinking should be encouraged even through the most rigid of environments.

Film Yap - Best TV Episodes of 2011

One of the reasons I love TV so much is because the format is so freakin’ goofy. People don’t sit around comparing chapters in novels because we see it as a whole. With TV it’s as much about the parts as it is about the whole. Episodes are written to be seen separately and usually they’re viewed that way. A show can be terrible, but has one episode that is masterful. A series of great episodes in a row is an awesome feeling. It’s more common to rewatch specific episodes instead of a multiple season show.

Yesterday I wrote about the full seasons that were stellar in 2011, but I also want to highlight certain 30 or 60 minute blocks that were amazing. Instead of just having my opinion again, I brought in some friends. Each of us wrote about the best episode of some of the best shows of last year. Then we each supplied our own personal Top 10 list of the Best TV Episodes of 2011. We avoided spoilers as much as possible, but you are officially warned.

Breaking Bad (Season Four, Episode 11, “Crawl Space”)

By Dennis Sullivan, Senior at Ball State University

[Major Breaking Bad Season Four plot SPOILERS]

Imagine you’re in way over your head. And I mean way, way, WAY in over your head. You know you’re going to be murdered in the near future and because of your actions, everyone you love is going down as well. Your spouse, your children, your brother-in-law are all in danger.

Basically, you’ve messed up, but wait…what’s that? Hope? A way out? Is salvation really around the corner? It’s too good to be true, but it’s there! All you have to do is grab the money you’ve been saving in the crawl space back at home and you can flee! New names, new locations, new life. It would be a difficult transition and hard to explain to the family, but that’s better than being dead, right?

You rush home to get the money. It’s exactly where you left it! But wait…some of it is missing. Actually, a lot of it’s missing. Uh oh. You ask your spouse, who admits to giving to the person she cheated on you with.

And suddenly, it hits you. It’s over. You lost. With no other options, all you can do is laugh.

Now you can understand the most haunting moment in season 4 of Breaking Bad. In a season of tense, shocking, and borderline insane moments, the image of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) lying and laughing in the crawl space of his house sticks out high above the rest.

As a viewer, you’re left with goose bumps. The writers spent three and a half seasons building up White’s ego only to have it come crashing down all at once. Every option and friend he has is gone and with two episodes left in the season, it is impossible to guess where the show’s going. All you know is that it’s going to be good.

You may ask how you can know? Just look at the rest of this episode. Gunshot victims are taken to an off-the-record hospital. White purposely drives his car into oncoming traffic to prevent his partially paralyzed DEA brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris) from snooping around the location of his meth lab. White’s partner, Jesse (Aaron Paul) is placed in charge of the meth lab for the first time. White’s boss, Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), does little to save face by bragging to his mute and crippled rival that he killed off the entire cartel they were both part of. White’s wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn) indirectly causes the death of her former boss and lover, Ted (Christopher Cousins), which is one of the most humorous ends to a plotline the show has done. And Gus has his henchmen kidnap White, tie him up, and drive him into the desert to threaten not only his life, but his family’s as well. That’s when White realizes he’s in way over his head.

“Breaking Bad” is the best show on television. There. I said it. You can try to argue with me on that point, but deep down, you know I’m right. Outstanding acting, beautiful directing, and shockingly perfect writing all come together in a visual experience unlike any other. It is one of those rare shows that get better year after year. Nearly any episode this season could have been selected as the best. The finale was another strong contender, but without Crawl Space, the finale would have never happened. It was in this episode that the show changed forever. We finally saw Walter White’s lowest point and now we’re left to wonder if he can recover. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that, yes, there will be blood.

Dennis’ Top 10 Episodes of 2011

1. “Community” (Season Three, Episode 4, “Remedial Chaos Theory”)
2. “Breaking Bad” (Season Four, Episode 11, “Crawl Space”)
3. “Breaking Bad” (Season Four, Episode 13, “Face Off”)
4. “South Park” (Season Fifteen, Episode 7, “You’re Getting Old”)
5. “Game of Thrones” (Season One, Episode 9, “Baelor”)
6. “Archer” (Season Two, Episode 10, “El Secustro”)
7. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (Season Seven, Episode 3, “Frank Reynolds’ Little Beauties”)
8. “Breaking Bad” (Season Four, Episode 1, “Box Cutter”)
9. “Parks and Recreation” (Season Three, Episode 9, “Andy and April’s Fancy Party”)
10. “Boardwalk Empire (Season Two, Episode 12, “To the Lost”)

Community (Season Three, Episode 4, “Remedial Chaos Theory”)

By Ken Jones, The Reel Deal producer

With a show as fantastic as “Community” it is difficult to pick the best episode of the year. To help me chose I thought about which episode I have talked with people the most. That answer is clearly “Remedial Chaos Theory”. Troy and Abed throw a housewarming party and Jeff creates six alternate timelines by rolling a dice to decide who will go get the pizza from downstairs. It may seem like something we’ve all seen before, but “Community” gave the concept freshness in a way only it could. Every time a different person goes to get the pizza the several storylines happening are altered dramatically. It is a fascinating look into the dynamics of the group and simply wildly fun and entertaining.

Ken’s Top 10 Episodes of 2011

1. “Breaking Bad” (Season Four, Episode 13, “Face Off”)
2. “Doctor Who” (Season Six, Episode 4, “The Doctor’s Wife”)
3. “Community” (Season Three, Episode 4, “Remedial Chaos Theory”)
4. “Breaking Bad” (Season Four, Episode 1, “Box Cutter”)
5. “Breaking Bad” (Season Four, Episode 11, “Crawl Space”)
6. “Doctor Who” (Season Six, Episode 13, “The Wedding of River Song”)
7. “Archer” (Season Two, Episode 9, “Placebo Effect”)
8. “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena” (Episode 4, “Beneath the Mask”)
9. “Doctor Who” (Season Six, Episode 8, “Let’s Kill Hitler”)
10. “Community” (Season Two, Episode 14, “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”)

Doctor Who (Season Six, Episode 7, “A Good Man Goes to War”)

By Austin Lugar

Early in the episode, River Song recognizes what is about to happen. She’s from The Doctor’s future so she has already lived through this even though it’s new for our heroes. She says, “This is The Doctor’s darkest hour. He’ll rise higher than ever before and then fall so much further.”

Such a statement is a bold one, but it’s the sort of challenge that Steven Moffat brings upon himself as writer. The first half of the episode is a daring rescue mission. There is plenty of extreme badassary thanks to Rory the Roman and a cool set of new characters like a lesbian couple from Victorian times with samurai swords. Then the drama sinks in.

It wasn’t just about the bad guys getting away or a few characters meeting their demise. All of the weight is because it’s all The Doctor’s fault. This group of villains have formed because they are devoted to stopping his reign of terror. The Doctor’s adventures may seem like fun, but there are serious consequences that will affect those he loves. When he met Amy Pond, her life was forever changed not because of the whimsy but because of the danger and scars that can’t be healed. What happens to her in this is The Doctor’s ultimate fall.

Then something fascinating happens. It’s not a simple cheat to save the day, but a small ray of hope. For the first time The Doctor is not horrified about what is to come in his future, but the slimmest possibility that what he does can cause benefit to the universe. It’s all through a major reveal and a secret the show has held for two years. No way, I’m going to spoil it here for you today. Watch the show!

Austin’s Top 10 Episodes of 2011

1. “Doctor Who” (Season Six, Episode 7, “A Good Man Goes to War”)
2. “Breaking Bad” (Season Four, Episode 1, “Box Cutter”)
3. “Community” (Season Two, Episode 19, “Critical Film Studies”)
4. “Community” (Season Three, Episode 4, “Remedial Chaos Theory”)
5. “Archer” (Season Two, Episode 10, “El Secuestro”)
6. “Treme” (Season Two, Episode 11, “Do Watcha Wanna”)
7. “Breaking Bad” (Season Four, Episode 11, “Crawl Space”)
8. “Doctor Who” (Season Six, Episode 4, “The Doctor’s Wife”)
9. Louie (Season Two, Episode 3, “Moving”)
10. “The Hour” (Season One, Episode 1, “Episode 1”)

Friday Night Lights (Season Five, Episode 13, “Always”)

By Ryan Lugar, Freshman at Purdue University

“Friday Night Lights” started off as a great book, evolved into a motion picture and ended as an amazing television show that will be forever remembered. The show brought together a wide collection of characters that the audience couldn’t help but get emotionally attached to. In a show that is supposedly centered around football, the worry and care about the sport in the final episode of the season and show were non-existent. With football out of the way, the theme of family and love reigned supreme. I won’t give away any spoilers so I will keep the details to a minimum. The show is clearly wrapping up all loose ends for all characters in a spectacular way, whether it is bringing back old characters, to close the chapter for another character or other characters breaking the mold. What can remain true over it all is the theme of family and love, which the Taylor family lives by and rubs off on to everyone around them. It is this real love that is shown on the show that makes the audience cry because the show is over but smile all the same because they get to see the characters they have watched evolve come to a truly happy ending.

Ryan’s Top 10 Episodes of 2011

1. “Friday Night Lights” (Season Five, Episode 13, “Always”)
2. “Doctor Who” (Season Six, Episode 7, “A Good Man Goes to War”)
3. “ESPN’s 30 for 30” (“Catching Hell”)
4. “Community” (Season Two, Episode 21, “Paradigms of Human Memory”)
5. “South Park” (Season Fifteen, Episode 1, “HumancentiPad”) & (Bonus Documentary, “Six Days to Air”)
6. “Community” (Season Two, Episode 19, “Critical Film Studies”)
7. “ESPN’s 30 for 30” (“Roll Tide/War Eagle”)
8. “Friday Night Lights” (Season Five, Episode 12, “Texas Whatever”)
9. ABC Special (“A Celebration of the Life of Dan Wheldon”)
10. “Doctor Who” (Season Six, Episode 4, “The Doctor’s Wife”)

Game of Thrones (Season One, Episode 9, “Baelor”)

By J.C. Pankratz, Senior at DePauw University

“Baelor” redefined what I considered a horrifying moment of television, especially given the lack of blood and guts spilled in the duration of the episode. This is a show perpetuated by the schemes of others—after all you play to win in the game of thrones. But, even the most high, mighty and cunning players are waiting with baited breath by the end, and perhaps what is most upsetting—and mesmerizing—is watching each of their schemes, no matter how well-plotted, shatter and explode.

J.C.’s Top 10 Episodes of 2011

1. “Game of Thrones” (Season One, Episode 9, “Baelor”)
2. “Doctor Who” (Season Six, Episode 4, “The Doctor’s Wife”)
3. “Community” (Season Two, Episode 14, “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”)
4. “Parks and Recreation” (Season Two, Episode 9, “Andy and April’s Fancy Party”)
5. “Boardwalk Empire” (Season Two, Episode 12, “To the Lost”)
6. “Doctor Who” (Season Six, Episode 10, “The Girl Who Waited”)
7. “Community” (Season Three, Episode 4, “Remedial Chaos Theory”)
8. “Parks and Recreation” (Season Three, Episode 16, “Li’l Sebastian”)
9. “Game of Thrones” (Season One, Episode 10, “Fire and Blood”)
10. “Community” (Season Two, Episode 21, “Paradigms of Human Memory”)

Justified (Season Two, Episode 13, “Bloody Harlan”)

By Larry D. Sweazy, novelist and 2011 winner of Best Fiction Book of Indiana

I thought there was no way “Justified” could get any better after season one. Once the writers found their stride, and decided to keep Boyd Crowder, portrayed brilliantly by Walton Groggins, alive and at the center of the storyline, the first season ended in a crescendo rightly called “Bulletville.” I have said “Bulletville” is the best season finale ever, and I still stand by that. So, I was certain of a sophomore slump, expected a dip in season two—and I was ultimately and gratefully, wrong. I’m not going to recount all of season two here, but let’s just say this: Margo Martindale walked in as Mags Bennett and took the show to another level (and deservedly won an Emmy). Jeremy Davies as the crippled-by-Raylan-Givens-bad-guy added a polar layer to Boyd’s nastiness and teetering confusion between good and evil. Raylan, Timothy Olyphant on point as usual, had his own struggle with right and wrong, and really, I hope he dumps that no good Winona once and for all. The entire season wrapped up in a blood feud worthy of being called “Bloody Harlan.” Raylan barely got out of Harlan alive this time. For this episode to have the full impact, you’ll have to watch the entire season from beginning to end.

Larry’s Top 10 Episodes of 2011

1. “Justified” (Season Two, Episode 13, “Bloody Harlan”)
2. “Justified” (Season Two, Episode 1, “The Moonshine War”)
3. “Justified” (Season Two, Episode 11, “Full Commitment”)
4. “Game of Thrones” (Season One, Episode 1, “Winter is Coming”)
5. “Game of Thrones” (Season One, Episode 9, “Baelor”)
6. “Hell on Wheels” (Season One, Episode 3, “A New Birth of Freedom”)
7. “True Blood” (Season Four, Episode 1, “She’s Not There”)
8. “Luther” (Season Two, Episode 1, “Episode 1”)
9. “Chopped (Season Six, Episode 1, “Victory on the Brain”)
10. “Game of Thrones” (Season One, Episode 10, “Fire and Blood”)

Louie (Season Two, Episode 11, “Duckling”)

By Aaron Wittwer, Ball State graduate

As could be said of the series, “Louie”, as a whole, “Duckling” is remarkable more for the things it doesn’t do, the clichés it doesn’t fall into, and the messages it doesn’t try to send than for anything that actually happens in the episode itself. Here, we follow Louie on a USO trip to Afghanistan, but it’s not an episode about the war. It’s doesn’t try shove any political nonsense down your throat. It’s not biased. And, most importantly, it avoids the hyper-sentimentality inherent in the subject matter. Outside of the overarching concept, there is no clearly definable plot. It’s more just a collection of interactions between Louie and the various people he meets. The soldiers are neither mocked, nor put on some sort of heroic pedestal of moral perfection. The patriotic country singer character, who would be the brunt of the joke in any other sitcom, is just an honest, sincere guy trying to entertain the troops. The USO cheerleader, whose ignorance of Led Zeppelin and insistence that Louie make his act “more Christian” should make her an easy target for ridicule, functions more as a spotlight on Louie’s inability to connect with those around him. And that’s where much of the comedy of this episode comes from. Whether it be his fear of an attack that neither the soldiers nor the ex-army singer share, or his self-consciously pathetic attempts to pick up one of the cheerleaders, Louie’s insecurities put him in a constant state of unease. But it’s not overplayed. Louie doesn’t go around muttering things like “what am I doing here?” and “I’m too old for this”, rather this is accomplished in much more and honest and natural ways; through subtle hesitations, glances, and passing hints of anxiety in dialogue.

Aaron’s Top 10 Episodes of 2011

1. “Breaking Bad” (Season Four, Episode 13, “Face Off”)
2. “Justified” (Season Two, Episode 13, “Bloody Harlan”)
3. “Doctor Who” (Season Six, Episode 4, “The Doctor’s Wife”)
4. “Community” (Season Three, Episode 4, “Remedial Chaos Theory”)
5. “Being Human” (Season Three, Episode 6, “The Longest Day”)
6. “American Horror Story” (Season One, Episode 5, “Halloween: Part 2”)
7. “Misfits” (Season One, Episode 7, “Episode Seven”)
8. “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” (Season One, Episode 26, “The Best Night Ever”)
9. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (Season Eight, Episode 2, “The Safe House”)
10. “True Blood” (Season Four, Episode 11, “And When I Die”)

Parks and Recreation (Season Four, Episode 9, “The Trial of Leslie Knope”)

By Keith Jackson, co-host of the podcast “And the Nominees Are”

I promise I’m not showing any bias to “Parks and Rec” just because it’s set in Indiana. But without a doubt, the comedy had one of the best years of any network show. “Community” had a great episode that poked fun at “mockumentary” shows like “The Office”, “Modern Family” and “Parks and Rec”. Admittedly this narrative device is one of the weaknesses of the show, but somehow it isn’t as obtrusive as it is in others like it. There are better punch lines in the “confessionals”, as the lesser shows resort to staring at the (seemingly invisible) camera. Funny faces are funny(?).

It’s hard to pick a single episode to highlight since the show maintains quality pretty much every week with its memorable characters. One of the best steps the show made was introducing Adam Scott and Rob Lowe’s characters. But you can’t forget about the minor characters—for instance, I can’t help but laugh whenever Perd from “Ya’ Heard? with Perd” shows up. And Tom’s friendship with Jean-Ralphio to create Entertainment 720 created some incredibly funny situations.

But I won’t cop out and say “every episode’s a winner!” This current season is “Parks and Rec’s “fourth (well, third-and-a-half), and it seemed every episode topped the previous week’s. One that comes to mind is “The Trial of Leslie Knope”, which had more plot development than the last three seasons of The Office (I’m assuming). Leslie and Ben have been having a secret relationship that is frowned upon in the workplace. When Chris finds out about it, an ethics trial is held to make sure there isn’t corruption. A callback to an earlier season occurs when the maintenance worker from the Lil’ Sebastian remembrance testifies that he was bribed. While a loophole is sought, it is discovered that Ben took responsibility and Leslie will not completely lose her job. A tender moment is presented in a clever and humorous way: by way of the stenographer.

The best episodes of any comedy are ones that exhibit both heart and humor. “The Trial of Leslie Knope” had this in spades, and a fun play on courtroom drama to boot.

Keith’s Top 10 Episodes of 2011

1. “Doctor Who” (Season Six, Episode 13, “The Wedding of River Song”)
2. “Community” (Season Two, Episode 19, “Critical Film Studies”)
3. “Parks and Recreation” (Season Four, Episode 9, “The Trial of Leslie Knope”)
4. “Archer” (Season Two, Episode 5, “The Double Deuce”)
5. “Doctor Who” (Season Six, Episode 7, “A Good Man Goes to War”)
6. “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” (His week in Paris)
7. “Parks and Recreation” (Season Three, Episode 12, “Eagleton”)
8. “Community” (Season Three, Episode 4, “Remedial Chaos Theory”)
9. “Game of Thrones” (Season One, Episode 6, “A Golden Crown”)
10. “Community” (Season Two, Episodes 23-24, “A Fistful of Paintballs” / “For a Few Paintballs More”)

Treme (Season Two, Episode 11, “Do Watcha Wanna”)

By Beau Thompson, Ball State Graduate

[SPOILERS for the end of the season, only in the 2nd paragraph]

I don’t think I’ve seen a show that has a stronger sense of time and place than “Treme”. It feels like a documentary crew just happened upon this characters while filming the aftermath of one of the worst natural disasters in the United States‘ history. This is not surprising, considering that the creator of the show, David Simon, is the co-creator of “The Wire” A.K.A The Greatest Show in Television History. Like “The Wire”, “Treme” explores the workings of a city (New Orleans) and follows an ensemble of characters of different social classes roughly a year after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their homes, and their spirit. They are trying to rebuild their lives while dealing with a government that seems more problematic than helpful.

The storytelling is masterful. Each episode takes its time with these characters, as we see every aspect of their lives. This slow pacing comes together in beautiful fashion in season two’s finale “Do Whatcha Wanna”. The episode shows the characters dealing with the end of old dreams, and the possible promise of others to come. Both Davis, and Antoine quit their bands, but Davis has a potential bright future with his girlfriend, Annie, whose ex-boyfriend, Sonny, is finding love with something other than a guitar, and cocaine. But the highlight came with Ladonna, when she encounters of the men who sexually assaulted her. Khandi Alexander simply gives the best performance I’ve seen on any medium this year with playing this woman who finally snaps out of the depression that her rape has caused her, and becomes the strong person that she used to be.

Season two has characters dealing with sexual assault, murder, suicide, moral and financial corruption, and redemption, yet I am still left with a smile on my face at the end of the season, because there is the music shown between the drama. The humanity is shown. We, as the audience, get to share with the good, and bad times with these characters, and through them, we get a glimpse of history, and can identify with a people and culture that we might not have otherwise understood; we wish these characters, like the real survivors of Hurricane Katrina, the best. “Treme” allows us to visit New Orleans, and makes us not want to leave.

Beau’s Top 10 Episodes of 2011

1. “Breaking Bad” (Season Four, Episode 13, “Face Off”)
2. “Treme” (Season Two, Episode 11, “Do Watcha Wanna”)
3. “Game of Thrones” (Season One, Episode 7, “You Win or You Die”)
4. “Breaking Bad” (Season Four, Episode 11, “Crawl Space”)
5. “Doctor Who” (Season Six, Episode 8, “Let’s Kill Hitler”)
6. “Treme” (Season Two, Episode 7, “Carnival Time”)
7. “Breaking Bad” (Season Four, Episode 10, “Salud”)
8. “Breaking Bad” (Season Four, Episode 8, “Hermanos”)
9. “Community” (Season Three, Episode 1, “Biology 101”)
10. “Game of Thrones” (Season One, Episode 5, “The Wolf and the Lion”)

Wilfred (Season One, Episode 4, “Acceptance”)

By Mike Gospel, Junior at the University of Miami of Ohio

I find it tough to choose an absolute favorite episode of Wilfred, but I think that episode 4, "Acceptance," may be the one. It is starting to become clear that despite how annoyed by Wilfred Ryan may be, Ryan values Wilfred as his closest friend. This episode shows the beginning of the Ryan-Wilfred relationship norm of "Wilfred tells Ryan to do something, Ryan is skeptical, Ryan finally gets pushed over the edge, shenanigans ensue, a lesson is learned."

I loved Ed Helms as a guest star, and a good part of why I picked this episode as my "favorite" is that it was where we were first introduced to the character of Bear. I first wanted to start watching Wilfred because of all the "personification of a dog" humor that you get to see out of Brian Griffin in early Family Guy episodes. A perfect example from this episode is when Wilfred says, "Ryan how can I be racist, I'm incapable of seeing color."

Bear ends up being Wilfred's sex object/wife and actually a relatively crucial character, which is absolutely hilarious.

The interactions between Ryan and Wilfred are always fun and sometimes crazy, but as far as a show where a pot-smoking dog is played by a human in a giant furry costume, it is one of the most genuine shows I watched this year.

Mike’s Top 10 Episodes of 2011

1. “Family Guy” (Season Ten, Episode 5, “Back to the Pilot”)
2. “The Office” (Season Eight, Episode 2, “The Incentive”)
3. “Modern Family” (Season Three, Episode 1, “Dude Ranch”)
4. “30 Rock” (Season , Episode 100, “100”)
5. “Dexter” (Season Six, Episode 9, “Get Gellar”)
6. “Saturday Night Live” (Season Thirty-Seven, Episode 7, “Jason Segel”)
7. “Castle” (Season Four, Episode 2, “Heroes and Villains”)
8. “Wilfred” (Season One, Episode 4, “Acceptance”)
9. “Desperate Housewives” (Season Seven, Episode 23, “Come On Over for Dinner”)
10. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (Season Seven, Episode 7, “Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games”)

Film Yap - Best TV Seasons of 2011

During the next few months there will be nothing but rearranging various movies into a Top Ten list. I loved the IFJA list (Whoo, Elizabeth Olsen!) but this year of movies wasn’t that exciting for me. There are plenty of ones I loved, but nothing excited me as much as waiting for these shows to have a new episode. Cliffhangers are enough to savor the taste for a little bit, but it’s the quality of the show that makes you clamoring for more. 2011 was a great year for television and this was a year without some amazing shows like “Mad Men” or “Sherlock”. Instead we had a great number of returning shows make up for the lackluster new network arrivals. Shows that continually challenged how to tell a story and steered characters into fascinating new directions. Without further adieu—and with very limited spoilers—here are my Top Ten Seasons of 2011.

10. Archer Season Two

If a comedy gets to its second season, that usually means it’s time for something special. By this time the writers and cast have really been able to spend time with the show so it’s ready to go beyond its premise into something really crazy. To put it crudely, “Archer” got nuts. Archer Sterling is James Bond without all of the qualities that makes Bond an honorable spy. This season his plots became more insane while never losing focus on any of its incredible supporting cast. There is a multi-episode arc when Archer gets breast cancer that goes beyond being unprecedented and enters a league of its own. What’s that league called? THE DANGER ZONE

9. Parks and Recreation Seasons Three/Four

I outright dismissed this show after its disastrous first season. Then something shocking happened: the writing staff expanded, the cast grounded itself and it became hilarious. Season Three really is one of the tightest comedy seasons I have ever seen because each episode felt like the best of what the show can be. Leslie Knope evolved from an annoying SNL-esque character to one of the funniest female characters on TV because her enthusiasm was finally relatable. Her love for the Parks department wasn’t ironic because it features some amazing comedy creations like Tom Haverford, poor Jerry, and RON F***IN’ SWANSON. The addition of Rob Lowe and Adam Scott proved that the good sitcoms are able to write great new characters (I’m looking at you “How I Met Your Mother”). The first half of Season Four continues to expand their world with Tammy One (and Tammy Zero) and an election plotline that has endless potential.

8. Spartacus: Gods of the Arena

I typically hate prequels. Usually not knowing all of the past means the audience can fill in the clues themselves while moving towards what happens next. “Spartacus” was all set to make Season Two until their lead actor got cancer. While they waited to see if he would be able to recover to film again, the decided to make a six episode miniseries that took place before Season One. Shockingly, it rocked. This series already defies expectations by being the most gratuitous show on television—maybe ever—while also being one of the best written. All of the characters are so well understood that the nuances actually enhances the first season. By the time it ends, it wasn’t just a fun/insane piece of action but also further laid the groundwork for a promising second season.

7. The Hour Season One

This year had three shows play up on the popularity of “Mad Men’s” period drama. NBC’s “The Playboy Club” was swiftly canceled because it was terrible, ABC’s “Pan Am” is likely to get the boot very soon but BBC’s “The Hour” was a hit. Technically it is during the 50s not 60s, but that wasn’t the trick. Playing upon the change in the times will only last so long; a fantastic story will endure. A romantic triangle lies at the heart of an upcoming news magazine program while being entangled with a spy drama. What could have easily been a mess is effortlessly seemed together through addicting dialog and vibrant where characters are able to really clash.

6. Treme Season Two

The only complaint people seem to have about this show is that it’s not “The Wire”, aka the greatest TV show in the history of time. As much as I love the rich story of McNulty et al, I never want to go to Baltimore. That was a metaphor for the failings of America, while in “Treme” New Orleans is a testament to everything that should be saved. While the food and the music are the parts the culture that are easy to argue for their merit, it’s the characters that hold the real heart. “Treme” moves without a traditional plot so it’s the characters that really push the show forward. That can mean the show may leave Louisiana for a long stretch of time, lose its focus, and create some of the most honest emotional moments on TV. All the flaws make this a very rich show, worthy of way more attention. Watch this!

5. Louie Season Two

Once a show is stale, it’s lost. Does a single character on “The Office” surprise anybody anymore? They each react exactly as expected for every plot and line. “Louie” is the comedy that defies every rule of comedy. Honest and true, Louis C.K. takes what works in his stand-up and perfects it with a series of short films focusing on his observation. His world is not the quirky times of “Seinfeld” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” but something of extreme sadness and confusion. Each episode is something completely new because Louis C.K. is not interested in structure or continuity. His ambition continues to rise and the result is breathtaking. There has never been anything like this.

4. Community Seasons Two/Three

There has still not been an episode of “Community” I haven’t laughed at several times. Yet there have been episodes when I have stopped laughing for a long stretch. Its collection of misfits making their way through one of the dumbest colleges in existence is a wealth of comedy. It could be them vs the world, but they still can’t bond as a single collective. All of them have entered a low-rated community college because of personal problems that haven’t magically disappeared. Through each other, they have the chance to get better but it’s going to take a lot of work. Also a lot and a lot of laughs. The absurdity of its world means anything can be in flux as they have a Leone western shootout or a Yahtzee game that alternates through timelines. Whatever happens, their group is grounded by a humanity rarely seen in a sitcom.

3. Game of Thrones Season One

Wow. After a year of rolling eyes at all of the fantasy fans freaking out about this upcoming HBO series, I was ready to watch an inevitable cry of disappointment that is currently being felt by fans of the Walking Dead books. Then I watched the pilot and I didn’t know what I watched. There were over a dozen characters who are hiding their true intentions in a world with a long history of rulers. Also there’s something about dragons being extinct. Its visual style and confidence was fascinating so there was no question I’ll give it another hour. Every season and show has ups and downs, except for “Game of Thrones” which only has ups. Very quickly, the whole show instantly clicks and everything is understood. Not through some terrible exposition or scenes when the characters are clearly talking to the audience, not each other. It’s done through expert storytelling by not having a single wasted scene in its 10 hours. Amazed by what a complete creation the whole season was, I watched it again a month after it ended to show my brothers. Then I read the novel it was based off of. Technically, I viewed this story three times in a year and I could probably watch it again right now. There is a reason why everyone wants HBO to adapt their book because this proves they are still the masters of the medium.

2. Doctor Who Season Six

My love for “Doctor Who” is obvious at this point. A madman with a box travels through time and space saving the day through cleverness instead of violence. The show has been around for 48 years because the format makes for endless possibilities. The Doctor and his companion land in a strange land and save the day. Most writers change up why the day needs saving or what the land entails. Steven Moffat is trying something more fascinating by changing The Doctor or more importantly, how we see him. From its shocking opening sequence, Season Six tests The Doctor in a way never done before leading towards one of the darkest arcs I’ve seen on a TV show. This is also going on though some of the most fun I’ve had on the show like when the Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchhill arrived on his personal mammoth, a baby renamed himself Stormageddon and someone finally said “What the hell…let’s kill Hitler.” Nerdiness is only enhanced when something is this enjoyable and intellectually stimulating.

1. Breaking Bad Season Four

Serialized shows have been some of the best forms of entertainment since the success of “The Sopranos”. It’s why I love TV because it’s no longer about telling a 45 minute story, but a story that lasts the whole season, or even a story that lasts the whole series. Since that’s still such a new idea, there’s not a set structure unlike the boring three-act policy in movies. The best shows are the ones that are willing to change as it goes on. “Breaking Bad” doesn’t just change, it refuses look back.

Every season expands the story into a direction no one could predict. Twists are so well crafted that it seems all is lost at least twice an episode. Without spoiling anything, this season put its main character in an impossible situation where he had no power. So the real people controlling the plot was no longer our hero and nobody blinked an eye. It’s not just Walter White’s journey towards [REDACTED] but everyone’s journey into a place they never dreamed they would enter. “Breaking Bad” is captivating, exhilarating, thrilling and better than every single movie that aired this year. Truly masterful.

Honorable Mentions: Cougar Town, Fringe, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Justified, Misfits, and Wilfred

Incomplete: I sometimes can’t watch all the episodes as they air so I save them for later. I’m halfway through the seasons for Damages and Homeland. They’re both really great, but with these plots they really have to land the ending so I didn’t count them.

Haven’t Seen: I’m not caught up with Boardwalk Empire and I haven’t properly started Downton Abbey Season Two

Friday, January 20, 2012

Top Five Mystery Movies of 2011

The last few weeks of December mean a few very important things. Sure there are some religious holidays and a big celebration where Dick Clark stops hibernating to return to television. Really the end of the month is for everyone with a Word processor to note the accomplishments of the year through every random category. WE ARE NO EXCEPTION! Here are the Top Five Best Mystery Movies of 2011.

5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

On paper, this is the best movie of the year. The incredible Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) had a powerhouse ensemble to tell John le Carré’s beloved novel, including Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), Tom Hardy (Inception), Toby Jones and John Hurt. One of the reasons why is that it isn’t as strong as it could have been was because Alfredson purposefully makes everything more confusing. In one way it creates a very authentic atmosphere of espionage and mistrust, but on the other hand it’s hard to figure out the intricacies of the story. This is one I can’t to rewatch after reading the book because each member of the cast seems to have an incredible handling of their character it’s a thrill just to see them in action. If only I could figure out what that action was…

4. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Detective Dee has been a popular character to write about in China partly because he is based off an actual person from hundreds of years ago. In this epic movie, Dee isn’t portrayed as the smartest man or even the best fighter. What separates him is the wiliness to stick to the case, no matter the political implications. This case brings Dee out of exile to figure out who and what is causing people to suddenly burst into flame before the Empress’s coronation. This is unlike any mystery film you have ever seen because it incorporates so many fascinating aspects of Chinese culture. The impressive martial arts sequences add a new layer to the rising tension. The only thing that really threw me off was the supernatural elements because it felt like a narrative cheat, but it truly is a key part of their culture.

3. Cold Weather

There have been so many variations on the mystery format. Memento had a noir story told by going backwards through time. The Big Lebowski was a Raymond Chandler novel told by a protagonist who may not be smart enough to figure out what’s going on around him. Cold Weather is a fun twist in that, there may not even be a mystery to solve. Our hero is a sadsack loser without even the drive to go to his co-worker’s DJ event. When a friend goes missing is this his chance to be a detective like his beloved Sherlock Holmes or is she just not answering her phone? Cold Weather’s characters meander through their lives, which could prove exhausting for viewers. Yet if you stick with it, you’ll find a clever little movie with a cool voice.

2. The Lincoln Lawyer

I was all ready to hate this movie. The book is one of my favorites by Michael Connelly and this was starring…Matthew McConaughey. After sitting through too many lame romantic comedies, I was valid in doubting McConaughey’s ability to play Mickey Haller. I’m always first to admit I’m wrong and I was wrong. He did a great job, mostly because the script worked in his favor. Instead of dumbing down the story, it embraced all the complications. Everyone on the cast is excellent including Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, William H. Macy, Michael Peña, and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad). With lawyer stories, it’s too easy to be stuck in wondering whether or not the client is innocent. This tight story has more nuances and trappings to make it a very satisfying adaptation.

1. Drive

One of the reasons why mysteries are so attractive is because there is a coolness to them. It can be how tough Sam Spade can be to the accomplishment of achieving justice. There wasn’t a cooler person in 2011 than Ryan Gosling in Drive. He’s a man of few words. By day he’s a mechanic, by night he’s a driver for whoever can pay. Throughout the film, he defends his neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and takes on the bad guys. It’ll be one thing for the character to be this cool, but the movie matches it. Even the pop songs—which could be dorky on their own—are cool when matched the style of the film. Every element is working perfectly to create something that is incredibly entertaining while also a smart and sophisticated ride.

I’ve seen a ton of films from this year, but I haven’t had a chance to check out Tryannosaur.

This article was originally published in the December 2011 issue of Pomp & Circumstantial Evidence.

Film Yap: Thurgood

It takes a fine actor to successfully perform a one-man show. The ability to learn almost two hours worth of lines is one thing, but to command an audience on your own is a daunting task. Laurence Fishburne has a long table, some chairs, and very few props at his disposal but they weren’t necessary. He alone was successfully able to tell the history of Thurgood Marshall with charm and power.

Everyone knows at least part of Marshall’s story as the first black Supreme Court Justice, but I imagine few know what a rich sense of humor he had. The play, written by George Stevens Jr., expertly paces the show with running jokes and stories that add to a deeper look at the man. This isn’t a lecture but a time for stories and history.

The 100 minutes fly by because of how well paced every moment is. There are a small break in the action when Fishburne—while still in character—mocks two people returning to their seats in the third row. Aside from that poor interruption, having the live audience was a treat. Fishburne responds to their laughter and when he performs a really powerful moment, like reading from the Constitution, it was like everyone was holding their breath.

Thurgood Marshall maintains a difficult balance of always being the smartest man in the room, but never letting that make him unapproachable. His warm presence and genuine belief towards justice made him the perfect subject for a show like this.

Like most HBO DVDs, this one is extremely bare. Not a single bonus feature is on the disc. That’s too bad, because I heard a great interview with Fishburne on KCRW’s The Treatment talking about this role. He’s very articulate about “Thurgood” and a good interview would have been a great companion to the excellent show.

Film: 4.5 Yaps

Extras: N/A

Delocated Seasons 1 & 2

No matter how many flaws it has, “Delocated” is purely Jon Glaser’s show. For the longest time it was Comedy Central as the network of choice where they take popular stand-up comedians and make them TV stars. As more and more options are available, it’s showing how ineffective they were. Comedy Central made some great shows like “Stella” and “The Benson Interruption” which took things that were already a hit online and then formatted them into their own brand. That led them to be cancelled without a chance to improve.

Now comedians are able to make their original content at places like Adult Swim on Comedy Central like “Delocated” or “Childrens Hospital” where they can be made on a cheap level that the comedians still have full control. On even a cheaper level, podcasts have become such a creative hit that networks are even trying to make podcasts into TV shows. (BBC America has made an awkward version of “The Nerdist” and IFC will film “Comedy Bang Bang” later this spring.)

For some reason “Delocated” Seasons 1 & 2 are being released on DVD now despite airing in 2009 and 2010. Sort of an odd trend going on… This set is to promote a new season that will air this year…sometime. The premise is a fantastic piece of satire. “Jon” and his family are part of the Witness Protection Program after “Jon” betrayed the Russian mob. That’s not stopping “Jon’s” hope for fame! They return to New York City with permanent voice modulators and ski masks to star in their own reality show about their life in the big city!

Everything having to do with that satire works really well, especially when the assassin (Eugene Mirman) trying to kill “Jon” ends up with his own spin-off reality show about trying to be a stand-up comedian while fulfilling his murdering obligations. All of the episodes dealing with the failing marriage or new relationships feel like they’ve been done before. The situation is so clever that they should always keep with that.

“Delocated” is one of the best comedies to make use of their guest stars. Paul Rudd plays himself and is accidently murdered which leads everyone to mourn him by trying to remember all his movies while crying. Josh Hamilton plays “Jon” in the TV movie of “Jon’s” wife’s life. Jerry Minor is Mighty Joe Jon – The Black Blonde. Todd Barry bizarrely plays himself who keeps playing poker with the Russian mob and becomes too involved. The best of the lot was Michael Shannon (“Take Shelter”) proving he needs to do more comedy as a stranger who agrees to impersonate “Jon” after a long talk in a bush.

There should be more laughs per episodes, but almost every episode has one strong earned laugh. The transition from a 10-minute show to a 22 minute show ended up working in its favor as they added more story to their crazy world. This gives Jon Glaser more time to expand the madness and put more absurdist touches like having “Jon” develop multiple personality disorders of offensive stereotypes or wild animals.

It’s not the best comedy on TV, but it’s something wildly original. I hope more comedians get the chance to make something goofy like this because the suburban family sitcoms are really starting to grow stale.

The DVD includes all of Season 1 and 2 as well as deleted scenes, funny outtakes, and some commentaries. What’s weird is that for a show that repeats its premise in a few seconds during its opening credits, nowhere on the box does it say what the show is about or who’s in it. All it has are pictures of “Jon” and his family in their ridiculous ski masks.

Season 1: 3.5 Yaps

Michael Shannon’s few scenes: 5 Yaps

Season 2: 4 Yaps

Extras: 3.5 Yaps

Confusion I felt when they sometimes used the transition tune from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”: 2 Yaps