Friday, December 28, 2012

THE BEST OF 2012 - The Best MOVIES Of The Year


THE YEAR IN MOVIES - 2012

- 2012 was a really, really good year for movies. A lot of readers of the blog have commented to me that my reviews of late have been overwhelmingly positive - and that's true. Part of that is, as always, that I actively try to avoid watching movies that I anticipate will be crap. But a big part of it is also that, remarkably, this year, movie after movie turned out to be good. Movie quality was remarkably high this year.

A lot of films I was personally looking forward to in 2012 matched or exceeded expectations. I think the biggest big movie of the year, the one that became a sort of standard-setter, was THE AVENGERS. At the end of the day, The Avengers didn't make it into my Top 10 list, but it remains one of the most important and precedent-setting films of 2012. It was blockbuster filmmaking that finally broke away from the origin-story template we've seen ad nauseum in the last decade. It was a fun, joyous, over-the-top movie that embraced the wackiness of its comic-book universe wholeheartedly - a great counterpoint to Christopher Nolan's increasingly wearisome real-world take on Batman. Suddenly, I wanted every new big blockbuster superhero movie to be like The Avengers (and/or written and directed by Joss Whedon, who also helped write this year's great CABIN IN THE WOODS), and ultimately, many of them may go in that direction. But more than that, the success of The Avengers - creatively and financially - gave 2012 an anything-can-happen feel. Marvel had pulled off the impossible - so maybe others could as well.

There were a wide-range of satisfying surprises this year. Wes Anderson rebounded from a minor slump to do MOONRISE KINGDOM, one of his best films ever. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, and ROBOT & FRANK came out of nowhere and delivered indie awesomeness. Kathryn Bigelow continued her incredible second act career resurgence with ZERO DARK THIRTY. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was actually really good. DREDD 3D was badass as hell. Ben Affleck continued to make great movies with ARGO. An Indonesian action movie with a British director blew people away, quickly climbing up the list of best action movies of all time. Yep, THE RAID is that damn good.

What wasn't good? Two untouchable bastions of quality faltered a bit, in my opinion. BRAVE was a fine film by most measures - most, except Pixar's. This was one of the first times that an original Pixar movie didn't wow me, and it was a little disappointing. In terms of animated films, I much preferred the return-to-form for Tim Burton via FRANKENWEENIE - a movie that reminded me why I became such a fan of Burton in the first place. The other franchise that showed some chinks in the armor was Christopher Nolan's Batman. I know, I know - this is a divisive one. Some still maintain that THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was a masterpiece. For me, it just didn't work in the same way as The Dark Knight or even Batman Begins. I'm not taking anything away from what Nolan did with the franchise as a whole. But my mixed reactions to TDKR made me ready for new takes on the character and the superhero film in general. To that end, I'll again mention the uber-satisfying comic book adaptation DREDD 3D, which perfectly captured the over-the-top, darkly satirical, dystopian feel of the Judge Dredd comics.

I also had mixed emotions this year about several movies that were very thematically ambitious, but that lacked the ability to properly follow-through on the sorts of thematic and philosophical questions that they posed. This is why, as much as I admired the stellar performances and film-craft of THE MASTER, I just couldn't fully get behind it, and don't count it as one of the best movies of the year. As much as I thought about the central relationships, elements of socio-political commentary, or personal philosophy in the film, I just wasn't able to extrapolate anything meaningful from it. Sometimes, I think critics are so eager for movies that seem to tackle these sorts of grand themes that they stop short of actual critical analysis. The Master is a movie that clearly has a lot on its mind. But what is it actually saying? I was left with a similar feeling of emptiness after seeing PROMETHEUS. That movie was so visually stunning that I sort of loved it on that level alone. But it had an emptiness to it, that left it feeling like the start of a conversation that goes nowhere. I felt similarly about the commendably ambitious KILLING THEM SOFTLY. It might have worked smashingly as straight-up crime noir. But Andrew Dominik's desire to make the film a political allegory derailed it a bit. Point being: the storyteller's job isn't simply to pose questions, but to tell a story. I'm all for ambiguity and stories that are open to interpretation (and I really loved the sorts of tantalizing questions posed by the narratively ambiguous LIFE OF PI, for example). But those questions have to have a point, and you should feel like the filmmaker is guiding you towards answers. Even if answers aren't simple, or aren't there altogether, the filmmaker should be guiding you. The splatter-paint approach doesn't make for great movies.

And that is why I loved CLOUD ATLAS so much. It was a huge, messy, complex film - ambitious as hell. But some very simple thematic threads tied it all together beautifully. Cloud Atlas wasn't a question, it was a thesis statement. And it made the Wachowski's time-spanning epic feel both cosmic and personal. On the other end of the spectrum is ZERO DARK THIRTY. The movie tells the story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden with pulse-pounding intensity and white-knuckle drama. It presents all sides of what happened in a relatively dispassionate, almost journalistic manner. And yet, there is an undercurrent of emotion between the lines of the movie that occasionally boils to the surface. The film doesn't tell us what to think of torture, or religious fundamentalism, or the war on terror, or patriotism. But it gives us all the tools we need to think about these big, relevant themes intelligently and make our own judgments. It's part of what makes the film so electrifying - it shows us a stark view of the world we live in, and forces us to confront the harsh realities we often allow ourselves to ignore (but that those in the film cannot).

LINCOLN, on the other hand, told its story with classic Spielbergian flair. While Spielberg's tendencies towards feel-good drama have at times limited him, his collaborations with writer Tony Kushner seem to bring out his best. And hey, sometimes there's nothing wrong with a movie that expertly sends an audience home happy. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK was one such film - mixing dark comedy with such well-earned emotional payoffs that it made you want to stand and cheer. Meanwhile, KILLER JOE made me want to cheer for altogether different reasons. Rarely have I seen a movie so gleefully twisted and depraved. Killer Joe is one of those movies that will be passed down in college dorms for years to come. By the same token, I suspect THE GREY will be one of those great movies that sort of develops its own legend and following over time. It's one of the most badass, gravitas-infused dramas I've seen - the kind that gives you chills, makes you cheer, makes your jaw drop, and that puts some hair on your chest. Like I said ... badass. Certainly, between The Grey, The Raid, and Quentin Tarantino's brutally awesome DJANGO UNCHAINED, there was no shortage of badassery in 2012. There was also no shortage of funny. Silver Linings Playbook, Killer Joe, Safety Not Guaranteed, Richard Linklater's BERNIE, and others were darkly funny. But for straight-up laughs, 2012 delivered as well, with comedies like THE DICTATOR, 21 JUMP STREET, WANDERLUST, and Danish import KLOWN all proving to be fairly hilarious.

I saw dozens of excellent movies in 2012, and very few bad ones. Movies from all-time favorite directors that hit the mark (Spielberg, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, Tarantino, Peter Jackson), and new voices that really sort of blew me away (Rian Johnson, director of the incredible sci-fi film LOOPER, is a guy I suspect film fans will be keeping an eye on).

So here's my list of the best movies of the year. As always, I can't see everything (only almost everything), so I'm sure there are some notable omissions. Feel free to comment and let me know what's missing.


DANNY'S BEST MOVIES OF 2012:


1.) Zero Dark Thirty

- Ultra-intense, eye-opening, and directed with thunderous momentum by Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty is my pick for movie of the year. The movie hit me in the same way that The Hurt Locker did - it felt like a state of the union of America over the last decade. And not just America - but the American Dream. It made me think about the things we have to do to defend our country, and about the emotional and spiritual toll that takes on those on the frontlines, and on all of us as Americans. No other movie this year felt more relevant, more necessary, more must-see. Kathryn Bigelow has done it again.


2.) Cloud Atlas

- Cloud Atlas was the most emotionally-gripping movie of the year for me. It tackled the Big Questions - "What does it all mean?" "Where are we going?" "Where have we been?" - in epic fashion. It showed what it means to be human, taking us across time and space to show the commonality of the human experience, to demonstrate our capacity for good and evil throughout time. The Wachowskis outdid themselves - blending genres and conventions so that the movie was sci-fi, fantasy, crime drama, comedy, romance, and historical epic all rolled into one. This was a movie about movies, a movie about life, a movie about human potential. Haters be damned - I loved it.


3.) The Grey

- "Once more into the fray / Into the last good fight I'll ever know / Live and die on this day / Live and die on this day." That poem at the heart of The Grey says a lot about the completely epic nature of this film. It's not so much man vs. nature as it is man vs. himself - the movie is about pushing oneself to fight, to live for something, to die for something. It's Liam Neeson in one of the best performances he's ever done - a role that he clearly put his heart and soul into. Few other movies this year left me as floored.


4.) Moonrise Kingdom

- Wes Anderson's movies used to wow me. Rushmore, The Royal Tannebaums, The Life Aquatic. Of late, the wow-factor hadn't been there ... until Moonrise Kingdom brought it back. This was Anderson in top-form - the knack for visual stylization never left him, but Moonrise had heart and characters and smarts to match. While the weakest of Anderson's work can feel almost alien, Moonrise uses the quirkiness to speak to the outsider in all of us, telling a tale of two crazy kids who find each other and are willing to do whatever it takes to stay together. This is one of Anderson's best-ever films.


5.) Django Unchained

- Tarantino's Django Unchained is, of course, badass as hell. But there's also a lot of thought put into its tale of a slave-turned-bounty hunter in the pre-Civil War American South. The movie artfully plays with genre conventions and with history. It is a tribute to Spaghetti Westerns, blaxploitation, and many of Tarantino's personal movie heroes. But beneath the violence and over-the-top humor, the movie also has a lot to say about the evils of slavery, the price of that evil on the American psyche, and the way that that atrocity paved the way for the world we live in today. It's easy to dismiss Tarantino as a mere purveyor of pulp fiction, but there's always more to QT's films than meets the eye.


6.) Beasts of the Southern Wild

- I was fairly blown away by Beasts of the Southern Wild. Visually striking, powerfully acted by a cast consisting largely of non-professional actors, and thematically rich - a haunting tale of isolationism vs. encroaching civilization ... this was a cinematic shocker. The tale of Hushpuppy has stuck with me in the months since I first saw the film, and I'd encourage those who have not yet seen this one to give it a look.


7.) Lincoln

- A landmark performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. A masterful supporting turn from Tommy Lee Jones. A stacked cast of some of the finest actors working today. Wonderfully staged by Steven Spielberg, sharply written by Tony Kushner. A great portrait of one of our greatest Presidents. A classic bit of history that is also incredibly relevant to the times we live in. One of the best movies of the year.


8.) The Raid: Redemption

- The Raid is just so kickass that it hurts. I have seen many action movies, many martial arts movies, but few have left my jaw on the floor as did The Raid. The movie is quite elegant in its simplicity. The story is simple but effective. The characters are archetypal, but get the job done. That leaves plenty of room for the movie to focus on the most insane action set-pieces I've ever seen - heart-pumping gun battles, hand-to-hand combat that will leave you breathless, and mano e mano fights to the death that must be seen to be believed.


9.) Safety Not Guaranteed

- A charming, uproariously funny film, Safety Not Guaranteed totally won me over. This tale of a possibly-crazy man who purports to own a functioning time-machine is funny, quirky, and poignant. It features fantastic turns from faves like Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, and New Girl's Jake Johnson. The script is one of the year's best - weaving absurdist humor with emotionally-involving characters and genuinely interesting mystery at the movie's core. This is the perfect example of a cool indie flick that very much should be Oscar-nominated left and right, but probably won't be because it's not Oscar-y enough. That's lame - this is an awesome and hilarious movie.


10.) Silver Linings Playbook

- David O'Russell's latest is getting a bad rap as a cheesy rom-com, but I found it to be anything but. The movie impressed me by being strange, dark, and occasionally disturbing. And to me, the dark depths that it reached in its exploration of two mentally ill characters made the late-movie payoffs that much more rewarding and applause-worthy. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are both phenomenal in this one. It's great filmmaking, and for me one of the best surprises of 2012.


THE NEXT BEST:


11.)  Looper

- A twisty time-travel yarn with great performances, standout scenes, and "whoah, where did this guy come from?" writing and direction from Rian Johnson ... Looper was one of the best sci-fi films in a long while.


12.) Robot and Frank

- This underrated and underseen gem features an incredible central performance from Frank Langella that's both hilarious and heartbreaking. The movie has some cool sci-fi elements, but at its core it's just a great character piece about an aging thief looking for one last big score.


13.) The Avengers

- The Avengers was a triumph for those of us who love superheroes in all of their tripped-out, cosmic, brightly-colored glory. Joss Whedon captured the spirit of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and infused the mighty Marvel heroes with just enough modern edge to make them feel fresh. This is the new template for all superhero movies to come.


14.) Argo

- A riveting thriller from Ben Affleck, Argo is so cool because its real-life story is so fascinating. Affleck deftly brings this slice of recent history to life by mixing political intrigue, wry humor, and action-movie thrills. The result is Affleck's best film to date, and a serious sign that this guy is the real deal.


15.) Life of Pi

- Visually, Life of Pi was one of the richest, most eye-popping movies I've ever seen - with some of the best and most you-are-there use of 3D I've experienced in a live-action flick. Ang Lee creates a film that is stunning to look at but also alternately scary, harrowing, uplifting, and serene. The film also surprised me with some of its twists - I came away from the film turning it over in my head and thinking a lot about its central mysteries.


16.) The Hobbit

- The distraction of 48 fps presentation aside, The Hobbit proved that the magic was still present in Peter Jackson's Middle Earth. With stunning set-pieces, wonderful performances from returning favorites and newcomers alike, and themes that resonate and stir the soul, The Hobbit is a welcome return to the world of Tolkien from Jackson and co.


17.) The Cabin in the Woods

- One of the most purely fun movies of the year, The Cabin in the Woods is a geek-out worthy deconstruction of the horror genre that was so cool I had to see it twice. The movie starts out as a jokey riff on classic teen horror flicks, but there are hints that something else is up. When the pandora's box is eventually open, the resulting carnage is pure awesomeness, and a huge treat for fans of horror flicks.


18.) End of Watch

- One of the best cop movies I've seen, End of Watch is gritty, funny, and utterly immersive in the way it uses handheld cameras and a you-are-there visual style to put you in the shoes of its central characters. Jarring at first, the film soon becomes totally engrossing. You feel like you're hanging with your buddies during the quieter moments, which makes the intense action and carnage that comes later that much more involving.


19.) Frankenweenie

- My pick for Animated Film of the Year, Frankenweenie is Tim Burton at the top of his game (very welcome after the disappointing Dark Shadows). The film uses stop-motion animation to create a grimly gothic black-and-white world that pays homage to the great horror films of old. But what starts out as a small-scale story about a boy and his dog soon becomes a big and gleefully chaotic tribute to monster movies that recaptures the sort of heartwarming horror that Burton built his rep on.


20.) Killer Joe

- A pitch-black, morbidly funny neo-noir, Killer Joe also happens to be one of the most shocking, weird, disturbing, and just-plain-wrong movies I've ever seen. A cult classic in the making, Killer Joe features an iconic central performance from Matthew McConaughey as the titular killer, who is surrounded by a great cast. An awesomely depraved film.


21.) The Perks of Being a Wallflower

- A moving, funny, wistful ode to teenage wasteland, this is a film that captures the drama and all-or-nothing feeling of being in high school to a T. Emotions run high in this one, but it fits - the highs are high and the lows are lows. Just like high school. Superbly acted and artfully directed, this is teen-angst at its most entertaining.


22.) Cosmopolis

- Director David Cronenberg isn't known for making accessible films, but Cosmopolis might be one of the most difficult and challenging movies he's ever made. A hyper-stylized, surreal jaunt into the heart of darkness, this apocalyptic film felt like a truth-in-madness meditation on the 99% vs. the 1% politics of the past year. If you stick with it and go with it, there's a lot to like here.


23.) The Dictator

- Some were put-off by Sacha Baron Cohen's foray into scripted comedy, but man, I loved it. Incredibly funny, The Dictator also contained some absolutely biting social commentary of the same sort that made Ali G, Borat, and Bruno so great.


24.) Klown

- Who knew? I had no idea that a Danish riff on Curb Your Enthusiasm-style improvisational comedy would end up being one of the year's funniest films. Based on a Danish TV show, Klown follows two man-children as they drag their ten-year-old companion on a trip of oh-so-wrong debauchery and mayhem. There were things in this movie that positively shocked me, and that also made me laugh harder than almost anything else this year.


25.) Dredd 3D

- An ultra-badass action flick, Dredd 3D erased all lingering memory of the 90's-era Stallone flick and delivered a streamlined adaptation that captured all that is awesome about Judge Dredd and his post-apocalyptic world. Karl Urban was perfect as Judge Dredd, and the film had just the right mix of satire, action, and sci-fi to become an instant fanboy favorite.


HONORABLE MENTIONS - MOVIES THAT JUST MISSED THE CUT:

Wreck-It Ralph
21 Jump Street
The Master
Killing Them Softly
Wanderlust
Hitchcock
Chronicle
Bernie
The Amazing Spider-Man
Skyfall
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter


HONORABLE MENTIONS - OTHER RECOMMENDED MOVIES FROM THIS YEAR:

Rise of the Guardians
Paranorman
Prometheus
The Dark Knight Rises
Taken 2
Ted
Sound of My Voice
Safe House
The Five Year Engagement
Les Miserables


INDIVIDUAL AWARDS:


BEST LEAD ACTOR:

1.) Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln
2.) Frank Langella - Robot & Frank
3.) Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook
4.) Joaquin Phoenix - The Master
5.) Liam Neeson - The Grey

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

1.) Tommy Lee Jones - Lincoln
2.) Dwight Henry - Beasts of the Southern Wild
3.) Jason Clarke - Zero Dark Thirty
4.) Jim Broadbent - Cloud Atlas
5.) Christoph Waltz - Django Unchained

BEST LEADING ACTRESS:

1.) Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty
2.) Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook
3.) Quvenzhan√© Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild
4.) Halle Barry - Cloud Atlas
5.) Kara Hayward - Moonrise Kingdom

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

1.) Sally Field - Lincoln
2.) Doona Bae - Cloud Atlas
3.) Emma Watson - The Perks of Being a Wallflower
4.) Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables
5.) Juno Temple - Killer Joe

BEST DIRECTOR:

1.) Tom Tywer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski - Cloud Atlas
2.) Kathryn Bigelow - Zero Dark Thirty
3.) Ang Lee - Life of Pi
4.) David O'Russell - Silver Linings Playbook
5.) Tie: Rian Johnson - Looper, and Gareth Evans - The Raid: Redemption

BEST SCREENPLAY:

1.) Zero Dark Thirty
2.) Silver Linings Playbook
3.) Django Unchained
4.) Safety Not Guaranteed
5.) Lincoln
6.) Looper
7.) Cloud Atlas
8.) Moonrise Kingdom
9.) The Avengers
10.) Argo


- And that's all she wrote - my picks for the best films of 2012. An overwhelming amount of great movies this year ... it's been a lot of fun writing about and reviewing them all. Hope you've enjoyed reading.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

THE BEST OF 2012 - The Best GAMES Of The Year


THE BEST IN GAMING 2012:

- You could make the argument that it's sort of a scary time to be a gamer. Sales are down, publishers are going under, and there's a sense of uncertainty about when the next generation of consoles will hit, and what they'll mean for the industry.

People like me are now, more and more, part of a "lost" or semi-lost generation of gamers. We grew up with gaming, we still play when we can, but as we get older and busier, we just can't commit to too many of the 100+ hour blockbuster games that now make up the core of the gaming market. This has led to the rise of minigames and gaming apps. The iPhone and iPad are killing the portable games market ... though Sony and Nintendo also didn't do themselves any favors by releasing new portable consoles that were pricey and lacking in killer apps. In many ways though, iGaming is eating into the console market as well. Shorter attention spans and reluctance to buy a $60 game - when apps are usually $5 and under - are hurting the games market in general. Nintendo, with the launch of its WiiU, now faces a vastly changed landscape than when it launched the Wii several years ago. The same casual, family-friendly market that Nintendo laser-targeted with the Wii has now moved on to Apple's devices. Nintendo has compounded its problems by taking away its two big hypothetical advantages. Where it should be trumping Apple is in the graphics department - but the WiiU is not particularly strong in the graphics department, offering no significant improvements over the PS3 or XBOX 360. Secondly - and these will come eventually - but Nintendo launched the WiiU without a killer-app, first-party, Nintendo franchise game. A must-have Mario, Zelda, or new original game could turn the tide ... but man, Nintendo is going to have an uphill battle over the next several months.

The other thing that made 2012 feel weird and/or lacking was just the seeming absence of many big, must-have blockbuster games - beyond the usual updated iterations to the various shooter franchises like Halo and Far Cry. Since I've never been into shooters, I found myself without many big games I was really looking forward to. Resident Evil 6 was an exception, but decidedly mixed reviews dampened by enthusiasm a bit.  A lot of big games were delayed, or scheduled for 2013. It's why the barren wasteland that was 2012 might have been - hopefully - an anomaly. 2013 will see Bioshock Infinite, Devil May Cry, The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Revengeance, Grand Theft Auto V, Star Trek, Watch Dogs, and many more big, long-awaited, triple-A titles. 2013 is set to be an amazing year for console gamers.

But here's the thing: the absence of big blockbusters in 2012 has led to an indie-gaming renaissance. The originality, creativity, and coolness that's come from indie and downloadable games over the last year is incredible. The downloadable scene now includes HD remakes of arcade classics, experimental arthouse games, episodic serialized interactive adventures, and new entries in genres long thought dead (point-and-click adventures, anyone?).

There are now more cool downloadable games than I can keep track of. But incredibly, three of my absolute favorite games of the year in 2012 originated as downloadable games. JOURNEY was one such game - an abstract adventure that was more about discovery and creating a mood and ambiance than anything else. It's sort of a remarkable game. THE WALKING DEAD was another game that took a lot of people by surprise. Sure, a game based on The Walking Dead is a no-brainer, but not necessarily a story-based graphic adventure released as serialized downloadable "episodes."  Playing the game brought me back to the fun I had as a kid playing the old Lucasarts and Sierra adventures on the PC. Another cool thing about the downloadable games world is the prevalence of new games that are 100% old-school in nature. Take DUST: AN ELYSIAN TALE - a gorgeous, hand-drawn 2D platformer that is what 10-year-old me probably imagined games of the future might look like. And get this - it was made by one guy. The fact that gaming has now come full circle, where it again allows for auteurs to put out personal and original games, is a great thing. Gaming has always had its James Camerons and Peter Jacksons and Michael Bays. Now it can have its Wes Andersons and Richard Linklaters.

In terms of big console games, I'll admit that most of the ones I spent significant time with in 2012 were holdovers from 2011. These games are so big and drawn-out now, they take me forever to play through. I spent months making dents in Batman: Arkham City, God of War III, Uncharted 3, and the Mass Effect series. To that end, I barely had a chance to sample some of the new games I purchased at the end of 2012 - Resident Evil 6, Darksiders 2, and one or two others. I did get a big kick out of LOLLIPOP CHAINSAW, which was just a totally off-the-wall zombie action game where you play a Buffy-esque cheerleader wielding a giant chainsaw. Insane? Yes. But hey, this is why I love videogames.

Looking ahead, 2013 is going to be a very, very interesting year. From a games perspective, I mentioned all the big titles on the way. But from an industry perspective, it's going to be a transition. We'll likely get our first glimpses of Sony and Microsoft's new home consoles - and you have to wonder, what innovations will they have? Just better graphics and more horsepower? Or will we see true cloud-based gaming, seamless integration with tablets/apps, new motion-control devices, or something else we haven't even really considered? I don't know if this is make-or-break for Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo quite yet, but the stakes certainly feel high. Sony and Nintendo have both made crucial miscalculations this year - and I don't think it's a coincidence that they are both Japanese companies. The divide between the Japanese and American markets is becoming more vast than ever, and we're seeing Japanese publishers survive only by integrating with American developers and properties. From a creative standpoint though, it's a huge loss when all the cool, quirky Japanese games begin disappearing from the market. And it's also a shame when Sony and Nintendo - two companies who have taken risks and supported out-of-the-box ideas, don't succeed. On the flipside, Apple again finds itself in a position where it is, almost by accident, a leading games platform. Will Apple embrace that, or continue to operate as a total outsider to the industry? I know for me, as long as iGames are limited to touch-controls only, I won't consider the iPhone or iPad to be true gaming platforms. The biggest fear of all is: will gaming simply wither and die as a real entertainment medium? Will mainstream gaming devolve into iPhone time-wasters and nothing more? Will we stop seeing huge, epic games that push the medium to its limits? Let's hope not. Gaming shouldn't aspire to be Hollywood, necessarilly - but I also think it should aspire to more, much more, than Angry Birds and Temple Run.

DANNY'S GAME OF THE YEAR 2012:

1.) The Walking Dead - multiplatform

- With some of the best writing and voice-acting I've ever experienced in a videogame, this spin-off of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's comic book is an incredible piece of interactive entertainment. The game takes place in the universe of the comic - and you'll run into some recognizable characters like Glenn and Herschel. But the story and main cast is all new - taking place in parallel to the events of the comic and TV show. But the amazing characters and story are more than worthy of The Walking Dead name. Lee Everett is a convicted murderer who was in the back of a police car, headed to jail, when the zombie apocalypse first hit. In the ensuing chaos, he encounters a young girl named Clementine, who's been separated from her family. Lee takes in Clementine, and watches over her as he meets with others and forms a ragtag group of survivors. The game is filled with fantastic character moments, shocking twists, and a central relationship that is emotional and developed with subtlety and skill. Now, the simple gameplay might seem rudimentary at first, but developer Telltale games brilliantly enhances the story with interactivity. Sometimes, that interactivity means intense action sequences involving zombies. Sometimes, it means making difficult choices - who to save, who to kill, who to support, who to challenge, who to protect. The game slowly but surely completely sucks you in - an engrossing interactive narrative that both took me back to the classic graphic adventures of old but also felt totally new and fresh.

RUNNER-UP:

Journey - PS3

- Navigating through Journey's ethereal landscapes, you can't help but get caught up in the almost spiritual ambiance of the game. The world of journey is very mysterious. You encounter structures, ruins, deserts, vistas, mountains, machines - but what does it all mean? In most games, you wouldn't really question such things, but Journey feels like the videogame equivalent of a semi-abstract painting that invites individual interpretation. The game looks amazing, it's soundtrack is incredible, and the controls are perfectly-tuned. In some ways, playing it reminded me of the feeling you might get when you first played Super Mario Bros. - in that game, the mechanics and the world slowly, organically, reveal themselves through discovery and through trial and error - and the joy is in how expertly the mechanics fit together with that world. Journey has a similarly simple pleasure of exploration and discovery. Without enemies attacking or time limits counting down, the game is less a game in the traditional sense, and more of an experience. I think that's huge - we've always known that interactive entertainment can be more than just a "game" in the strict sense of the word. The same is true for The Walking Dead. Both it and Journey are less about accomplishment and more about experience. And Journey is one of 2012's must-have entertainment and pop-art experiences - in gaming or otherwise.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

- Dust: An Elysian Tale - XBOX 360
- Lollipop Chainsaw (perhaps my "guilty pleasure" of the year) - multiplatform
- Darksiders II - multiplatform

And there you have it - my Year in Gaming for 2012. Feel free to leave your thoughts or comments, and happy gaming.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

THE BEST OF 2012 - The Best COMICS Of The Year



THE BEST COMICS OF 2012:

- There are certain things I'm going to miss as we enter the new digital age of comics. Trying to hold on to the way things were, I still make regular trips to the local comic shop, purchasing traditional physical copies of favorite books as well as the occasional trade paperback collection. But 2012 was the year that I fairly definitively went digital. It was a tough transition, but also freeing. There's still a lot I don't love about reading comics on my iPad, but there are also a ton of benefits. An obvious one is the lack of clutter that comes with no longer buying a weekly stack of new books. But a less obvious upside is the evolving way in which I'm finding and discovering new material to read. In the past, comics were limited in terms of discoverability. The choices were either keep up with a book month-to-month, or else catch up months - or years - later by reading trade paperback collections. But in that crucial in-between window, when a book was a couple issues in and starting to gain steam, finding back-issues and catching up was a hunt and a chore. But now, suddenly, you've got a whole library of new and recent issues at your fingertips. Diving into a highly-recommended comic series is now as easy as a few points and clicks. The same applies for many older issues and series as well. Digital comics store Comixology keeps expanding and adding to its library of classic series, and it's nirvana for fanboys and fangirls who want to seek out more old-school material. In particular, I'm loving the additions of content that are not available in trade paperback in full or at all. It's almost overwhelming - the complete run of Mark Waid on The Flash, the complete Suicide Squad, The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, American Flagg -  all these classics, with more added every week, all available with the touch of a button. But what's more, Comixology is sort of comics' version of Hulu and DVR combined. Miss an issue? It's there. Want the latest issue on day-of-release? It's there? Heard good things about Saga, and want to quickly spead-read through the first 9 issues? A snap. What this has led to, I think, is a potential new golden age for out-of-the-box comics and new franchises. Before, a lot of comics purchasing was driven by habit. Trying out a new series was a risk, so why bother? Now, there's more opportunity than ever to grab new readers and get people caught up. I think it's only a matter of time, too, before we start seeing first issues available as free for a limited time, and other incentives to encourage sampling. Already, Comixology is doing a lot of 99 cent sales that encourage bulk purchases. Although digital sadly closes some doors, it opens, I think, many new ones.

This goes hand in hand with my overall feeling this year that, while I still loved comics, I was really ready for something new. DC's New 52 initiative was a good break-away point for me. I'm still reading quite a few DC titles, but I just don't have the same investment in the universe I once did. Maybe that will change, but for now, too few of the rebooted titles sustained the level of quality to keep me interested. And the titles I used to read because I had an attachment to the characters I'd grown up with - well, they no longer felt the same. With that said, 2012 was the perfect time to branch out and dive into new material that was standalone and not part of a shared narrative universe. More and more, Image Comics was the place I turned to. Image is now officially the best publisher in the biz, the place where the smartest creators are going to tell their own original stories. Stalwarts like Robert Kirkman's THE WALKING DEAD and INVINCIBLE have now been joined by exciting new titles like Brian K. Vaughan's SAGA, Ed Brubaker's FATALE, and Jonathan Hickman's THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS. Image is just killing it these days. They are doing innovative, edgy stories in all different genres - noir, sci-fi, humor, horror. It's the perfect antidote for Marvel and DC's everything-old-is-new-again approach to many of their stories.

Of course, Image's success has come, a bit, at the expense of DC's fabled (pun sort of intended) Vertigo imprint. Books like Saga that might once have lived there are now at image, and titles like the fantastic SWEET TOOTH, and the long-running Hellblazer, are coming to an end.  Many of Vertigo's characters - Constantine, Swamp Thing, etc. - have been brought back into the fold of DC Comics proper. And Karen Berger, the longtime leader of the imprint, is now set to depart for other opportunities. Many of my all-time favorite comics have come from Vertigo, so it's a little sad to see the line diminished. But again, Vertigo's loss is other's gain, and now you've got Image, IDW (publisher of the seminal LOCKE & KEY), and others all competing for similar types of titles. All that said, Vertigo still published a couple of my favorite comics of 2012. THE NEW DEADWARDIANS was one, the other, my pick for comic of the year - the instant-classic, insanely great miniseries PUNK ROCK JESUS.

I also don't mean to imply that there aren't some great superhero books at the moment. DC has done two very smart things, and that's putting its current MVP writers Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire on multiple titles. Snyder's BATMAN run has been phenomenal - his last major arc, which introduced the criminal conspiracy known as The Court of Owls, was a modern classic. And he's topping it right now, unbelievably, with his ultra-creepy Joker story, "Death of the Family." Snyder has also done great work on SWAMP THING, working with Lemire and his ANIMAL MAN title on the excellent crossover story, "Rotworld." Lemire has also done great work since taking over JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK, providing a great home for DC's stable of supernatural characters. DC also put out the controversial BEFORE WATCHMEN this year. Lo and behold, it's actually been quite good, for the most part. Creators like Darwyn Cooke have done great things with the prequel series, and while its mere existence might make Alan Moore grumpy (or grumpier), it turns out that Before Watchmen has been one of the most consistently good reads week in and week out in the comics world.

Sadly, some true icons and legends of the medium were lost this year. Chief among them, the great JOE KUBERT - one of the great artists of all time. Kubert had a naturalistic, expressive style that made him the definitive artist of characters like Hawkman. He also created the legendary wartime hero Sgt. Rock, and drew him and his comrades-in-arms in Easy Company with unmatched emotion and fluidity. Kubert also founded the Kubert School, an art academy that produced hundreds of great comics artists over the years (not to mention his sons, Andy and Adam, great artists in their own right). One of the bittersweet things about 2012 was losing Kubert, but also getting some last, great work from him in various stories, including the JOE KUBERT PRESENTS miniseries. In it, his art is as sharp as ever.

I'll also take a moment to mention the passing of a legend whose work influenced comics, films, TV, books, and countless imaginations. RAY BRADBURY, one of my biggest heroes, passed away this year, and the world is an emptier and duller place without Bradbury's unparalleled presence in it. The author of Farenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man - among many others - Bradbury was a founding father of modern sci-fi. But more than that, he was an incredible storyteller, commenting on what was and speculating about what might be. A few years ago, at Comic-Con in San Diego, I saw a then-elderly Bradbury speak, and it was an experience that will always stick with me. The sense of wonder and the passion for stories that Bradbury, at 90, still had - I'll never forget it. I bring this up here because comics are, ultimately, for me, about infinite possibilities and mind-expanding ideas. And that too, was what Ray Bradbury's work embodied.

Overall, this was a really interesting, really transitional year for comics. There was some really great work being done, but a lot of it outside the ultra-mainstream. But then again - thanks to digital, thanks to the internet, thanks to a changing comics culture - the comics mainstream is becoming an increasingly malleable and ever-expanding thing.

DANNY'S BEST COMICS OF 2012:


THE BEST MINISERIES AND SPECIALS:

1.) Punk Rock Jesus

- My pick for overall best comic of the year, Punk Rock Jesus reminded me instantly of 80's-era, auteur-driven comics like Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns. Written and drawn by Sean Murphy, Punk Rock Jesus takes place in a near-future America where Jesus Christ has been cloned for the purpose of a reality TV show. Gradually, the clone rebels against his corporate creators and religious-zealot supporters and forges his own identity. It's a story that might sound hokey on paper, but Sean Murphy brilliantly uses the premise as a means to explore religion, politics, business, and the American dream. This feels like the kind of risky, rebellious stuff that they just don't make anymore - it's got the same gritty, relevant, nihilistic feel of something like Watchmen. And the art - wow. I was a fan of Sean Murphy before this for his work on books like Joe the Barbarian, but this is a whole new level. Punk Rock Jesus is THE must-read comic of 2012.


2.) The New Deadwardians

- Written by fan-favorite Dan Abnett, this engrossing eight-parter told the story of an Edwardian England overrun by zombies. The added twist is that, in order to survive the zombie apocalypse, large swaths of Brits have given themselves "the cure," aka, turned themselves into vampires! It's a totally over-the-top premise, but The New Deadwardians is actually a very smart mystery dealing with a murder in this land now filled with the undead. Lots of twists, turns, and great character moments made this book a fantastic read.


3.) Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre

- A number of the Before Watchmen books have been good - Minutemen, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, The Comedian, and Moloch were all really well done. But Silk Spectre - the book I had the least excitement for, actually turned out to be the ambitious project's crown jewel. Written by Darwyn Cooke and drawn with cartoonish abandon by Amanda Connor, Silk Spectre was a a trippy meditation on legacy, adulthood, and finding one's own path - all set amidst a psychedelic 60's backdrop.


4.) The Secret Service

- Written by Mark Millar (Kickass) and drawn by Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), The Secret Service has been a really fun miniseries thus far. It involves a British street thug whose life takes a sharp right turn, when he finds out that his enigmatic uncle is actually a certified super-spy - who's come to take his nephew under his wing and train him to be an elite agent. It's one of the best stories Millar has crafted in some time, and I'm curious to see where it goes as it continues into the new year.


5.) Joe Kubert Presents

- A showpiece for the legendary artist, only two of six issues of this anthology have yet been released, but I'm giving it a spot on the list because it's been so enjoyable thus far. Each issue is a mix of original stories written and drawn by Kubert, as well as others from writer/artists he hand-picked for inclusion. There's some great stories in these, but also an added layer of weight and bittersweetness knowing that Kubert died just prior to the first issue's release. This, however, is a fitting departing gift from a true master.


THE BEST ONGOING SERIES:


1.) Saga

- One of the great joys of 2012 was seeing one of my favorite writers, Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man) return to comics after a long absence. Man, did I miss the guy. No one else has BKV's knack for dialogue, for crafting all-too-human characters (even in a story like this one, where they're not actually human), or for telling an epic story filled with twists, turns, and jaw-dropping cliffhangers. Simply put, BKV is the best in the biz, and he's showing why, again, with Saga - a universe spanning space-opera that's like Star Wars meets Y meets Romeo and Juliet. Fiona Staples' digital art is similarly jaw-dropping, giving Saga a look and feel like nothing else out there. Get on board now, people - this is a future classic in the making, and the Best New Comic Book of 2012, by a landslide.


2.)  Batman

- Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo have made DC's relaunched Batman title THE must-read superhero book of 2012 and beyond. While I've been largely sour on DC's rebooted franchise titles, Batman has been a roller-coaster ride, with top-notch storytelling and one modern-classic tale after another. The Court of Owls storyline was great, the current Joker-centric storyline, "Death of the Family," is even better - creepy, disturbing, and intense as all hell. If you ever wanted to dive in to some good Batman comics, now is the time. Start with last year's Batman #1 and work your way through - each and every issue of Snyder's run has been a keeper.


3.) Sweet Tooth

- Jeff Lemire's post-apocalyptic saga has been racing towards its impending conclusion, and even though I'll be sad that the story is over ... man, I can't wait to see how it ends. Sweet Tooth has been probably my favorite comic of the last couple of years. It's a great story with great characters and a sense of mystery and adventure unlike anything else. Lemire's writing is full of humanity and emotion, but his weird, stylized art creates an unsettling, atmospheric mood. In 2012, we finally learned the origins of the plague that wiped out much of humanity and birthed Sweet Tooth, and we also saw the story build to a climactic showdown in Alaska, where badass antihero Jeppard is prepping for his final stand - trying to protect the boy he's come to love as a son from those who would harm him. Lemire is to be commended for his amazing run on this book.


4.) The Walking Dead

- Everyone now knows The Walking Dead from the TV series, but the comic where it all started continues to be a great read - going to dark and disturbing places that even the TV show wouldn't dare tread. I've been catching up via trade paperback, so I'm still a little behind the monthly books. But after a bit of a lull, I felt Kirkman got back on track with the buildup to and aftermath of the landmark issue #100. The events of that issue, thanks to new villain Negan, are horrifying, shocking, and exactly the sort of balls-to-the-wall stuff that made The Walking Dead a phenomenon in the first place. Read it if you dare.


5.) Animal Man

- Here's that Jeff Lemire guy again (and it won't be the last time he's on this list, either). Lemire continues to hit it out of the park on Animal Man, telling the kinds of nightmarish stories that made the title pop back in the day under Grant Morrison's pen, but adding a new, humanistic twist. Buddy Baker's relationship with his wife and children has never felt so real or relatable, for example. And that makes all the crazy, messed-up horror that Baker gets mixed up in that much more disturbing and engrossing.


6.) The Manhattan Projects

- Jonathan Hickman has quite the wild imagination. His new book The Manhattan Projects is, easily, one of the most wonderfully weird things I've ever read. It explores the concept of The Manhattan Project in the 30's as being much more than just a group trying to build an atomic bomb, but a top-secret super-science lab that creates portals to other worlds, artificial life, clones, androids, and anything else that you, I, or Hickman can think of. Hickman has populated the book with real-life figures like Einstein and Oppenheimer, but his versions are like nothing you've seen before. A twisted, insane, and trippy look at the fringes of modern science.


7.) Fatale

- Ed Brubaker knows how to do hard-boiled crime-fiction well, but he's outdoing himself with Fatale. The book follows an immortal femme fatale across the decades as she tries to escape her past, all the while luring any number of helpless paramours into her bed and into her service. This is pitch-black noir with a supernatural twist, and the moody art from Sean Phillips plunges you into a world of shadows and hidden dangers.


8.) Swamp Thing

- Scott Snyder's other DC book that I'm digging is Swamp Thing, a worthy heir to the character's storied legacy. Swamp Thing has been telling a pretty epic story, as Alec Holland wages all out war with the demonic Arcane. Snyder brings a real knack for psychological horror to the book, but he's also able to make it into a grand adventure. As Swamp Thing's been enmeshed in the "Rotworld" storyline, it's taken on a big-event, anything-can-happen feel.


9.) Invincible

- Everyone knows Robert Kirkman from The Walking Dead, but I'm also a huge fan of his other major ongoing book, Invincible. This is another one I've been reading in trade format - so I'm a little behind - but that I can't get enough of when I get my hands on each new volume. Invincible is the most fun superhero book published today - it's got its own epic mythology that at times satirizes classic comic book conventions to great effect. But it also is epic, dark, and intense when it wants to be. Kirkman knows how to crank up the volume and tell a big, shocking storyline. Invincible is superhero comics crack.


10.) Justice League Dark

- One more from Jeff Lemire. Since taking over this book several months back, Lemire has made it an instant standout. In fact, his first big storyline, pitting a group of magical heroes, led by John Constantine, against an occult enemy in a war for the Books of Magic (a story which also saw the return of Tim Hunter, aka the original Harry Potter), was downright epic. Lemire brought his knack for tight plotting, great twists, and fun characterization to the table, and the results are striking. Also striking: the painted art of Mikel Janin, which is absolutely amazing to look at.

SPECIAL MENTION:

- One of the best comics I read this year was LOCKE & KEY. I'm still catching up, so I haven't read the latest volumes yet. But man, it's been an incredible, harrowing, engrossing, mind-blowing journey so far. Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), clearly shares his dad's knack for epic horror - Locke & Key is a book that mixes humor and heart and whimsy with moments that are downright scary and disturbing. The plotting is second to none - as I plowed through each volume, I couldn't stop reading. The art by Gabriel Rodriguez is awesome as well - stylized and unique, but ultra-fluid, expressive, and evocative. I can't wait to read the rest of the story as Joe Hill's saga unfolds into 2013.

WRITERS OF THE YEAR:

1.) Scott Snyder (Batman, Swamp Thing)
2.) Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Animal Man, Justice League Dark)
3.) Brian K. Vaughan (Saga)
4.) Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead, Invincible)
5.) Darwyn Cooke (Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre, Before Watchmen: Minutemen)
6.) Sean Murphy (Punk Rock Jesus)
7.) Dan Abnett (The New Deadwardians)
8.) Jonathan Hickman (The Manhattan Projects, Fantastic Four)
9.) Mark Millar (Hit-Girl, The Secret Service)
10.) Ed Brubaker (Fatale)

ARTISTS OF THE YEAR:

1.) Fiona Staples (Saga)
2.) Sean Murphy (Punk Rock Jesus)
3.) Greg Capullo (Batman)
4.) Mikel Janin (Justice League Dark)
5.) J.H. Williams III (Batwoman)
6.) Amanda Connor (Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre)
7.) Jason Fabook (Detective Comics)
8.) Ivan Reiss (Aquaman, Justice League)
9.) Fernando Pasarin (Green Lantern Corps)
10.) Darwyn Cooke (Before Watchmen: Minutemen)

THE BEST OF 2012 - The Best ROCK Of The Year


THE BEST OF 2012 - THE YEAR IN ROCK

- All in all, rumors to the contrary, rock n' roll was quite alive - and even kicking - in 2012. This may sound cheesy, but I felt like rock got a kick in the pants thanks to a single song that sent shockwaves through the system. That song is "Weatherman" by the band DEAD SARA. Maybe you've heard it, maybe you haven't. It wasn't a mainstream hit (few real rock songs are these days), but it marked the first time in a long time that I heard a new, totally out-of-nowhere song on the radio and said "what is that? I need to hear that again right now!" The song, with its driving guitars and flaming-hot vocals from lead singer Emily Armstrong, was a revelation. In a year when rock radio was taken over by folk revival bands, Weatherman was a stark reminder that real rock n' roll was still out there, and it could still hit you like a thunderbolt when the right new song or band came along.

Another similar revelation about the state of rock came about early in the year, when I went to see THE DARKNESS in concert. The Darkness coming back after a hiatus of several years was big in and of itself. A playful throwback to glam-rock excess, The Darkness were my favorite new band during my college years, and it was fantastic to finally have them back - touring and putting out a great new album to boot. I was psyched to finally see The Darkness live, but the real eureka moment at the concert came before the band even took the stage. A band I'd never previously heard of, called FOXY SHAZAM, was the opener. They got on stage, and within about 20 seconds my jaw was on the floor, shocked at what I'd seen. Channeling the likes of Queen and Iggy Pop, the band owned the stage like few other rock acts I've seen, and churned out a set of instantly-memorable, bombastic rock songs that, quite frankly, blew my mind. This was another sign to me that rock n' roll was very much alive. 


In fact, this year I sought out, listened to, and enjoyed more great new music than I have in a long while.


Old favorites - Aerosmith, Kiss, Green Day - turned out albums that, even if not top-to-bottom successful, at the least contained some killer tunes. The Offspring rallied from a disappointing couple of albums with a kick-ass return to form. Rush had an epic new concept album that only got better the more I listened. The Darkness finally came out with their long-awaited third album, and it was pretty damn good. Jack White went solo, and had an exciting debut. Bruce Springsteen had a timely new album that produced the rallying cry of the year and Barack Obama's political anthem. This was a great year for rock n' roll.


Personally, I saw some incredible concerts this year. I started the year with a bang, with the aforementioned Darkness / Foxy Shazam show at the House of Blues in Hollywood. Soon after that, I got to see another awesome show from one of my classic-rock favorites, The Scorpions. A year earlier, my brother and I thought we'd seen seen them on their last-ever tour. But now, they were back for one "final sting," and seemed as good as ever ... perhaps talk of their retirement was premature. 


Speaking of classic rockers, this past summer I saw the legendary Meatloaf in concert at the Wiltern in LA. Meat has made more headlines lately for his political stunts than anything else - but, putting that aside, it was a thrill to see a musician I've long been a fan of live and in concert. Meatloaf still had some real power in his voice, and despite a lukewarm crowd it was a really great show. I'm glad I saw him in concert while I had the chance. 

Also this the summer, I went to the Hollywood Bowl to see another band that I wasn't sure if I'd ever get to see again - Aerosmith. The last time I was set to see the Bad Boys from Boston live, they cancelled the show due to a Steven Tyler injury. Soon after that, the band essentially broke up. Then Tyler joined American Idol, and the hopes for more 'Smith seemed shaky at best. But, finally, the band got their act together and went back on tour. And man, they were in fine form on that summer evening. After being intro'd onstage by none other than Stan Lee, Tyler, Joe Perry, and the rest of the band blasted through classic after classic (plus some choice cuts from their new album) looking rejuvenated, and reminding fans why they shouldn't be a pop-culture punchline, but should truly be considered one of America's great rock n' roll institutions. And also, it was great to see opener Cheap Trick again. This was my fifth time seeing Aerosmith in concert, and it was up there as one of the best live overall performances I've seen from them. 

In the Fall, I finally crossed a big item off of my rock n' roll bucket list - I saw RUSH live! The concert, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, was truly epic. Surrounded by an elaborate, steampunk-themed set, the soon-to-be Hall of Famers played a number of classics (a lot of 80's stuff, in honor of the 30th anniversary of their Signals album), plus a good portion of their new Clockwork Angels album, backed by a full string section no less. A series of video vignettes telling the story of the sci-fi themed album set the mood, and the pyrotechnics were spectacular. Plus, Rush ended with a kickass play-through of the 2112 sequence, only appropriate given the year. A ridiculously awesome, monumental show. 

Finally, I capped off 2012 by heading to the Orpheum in downtown LA to see another legend - Alice Cooper. I'd seen Alice once before, paired with Rob Zombie, but this was the first time I'd seen him as a headliner. And it was great to see Alice and his band (which included the female guitar virtuoso Orianthi) tear through so many of the hits - 70's classics like "Eighteen", "School's Out," and "Welcome to My Nightmare," 80's monster-mashers like "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)", "Hey Stoopid," and "House of Fire," "Feed My Frankenstein" from the 90's, and a couple of great songs off his latest album, including a previous rock song-of-the-year pick from me, "I'll Bite Your Face Off." Alice also paid tribute to fallen rock comrades by doing a "Raise the Dead" segment of the show, covering classics from Hendrix, Lennon, The Doors, and more. The theatrics - from sword-fighting to hangings to giant Frankenstein monsters - were all vintage Cooper. And the odd coincidence of the year? At both the Aerosmith and Alice Cooper shows I attended, none other than Johnny Depp made a surprise appearance towards the end of each concert, showing up onstage rather mysteriously and hammering through several songs on backup guitar. 

I saw some amazing shows this year - some - The Darkness/Foxy Shazam, Rush, and Alice Cooper - I'd count as easily among the best I've ever seen. 


But, back to the new music that came out this year ... here they are, my picks for the year's best in rock.




DANNY'S TOP ROCK SONGS OF 2012:


1.) Dead Sara – “Weatherman”

- A sonic blast of pure, straight-up rock n' roll, this was far and away the single most kickass rock song of 2012 - a reminder of what rock can be when it's in-your-face and unrelenting. A pure adrenaline rush, matched with Emily Armstrong's raspy, passionate, almost apocalyptic vocals, "Weatherman" is rock magic, the likes of which we haven't seen from a brand new band in a long, long time.




2.) Bruce Springsteen – “We Take Care of Our Own”

- A rallying cry for 2012, this latest Springsteen rocker was a great song but also a poignant one, a thesis statement for what America can and should be. The song was prescient, summing up the stakes in the 2012 presidential election, and boldly challenging the GOP platform by questioning if they stood for the masses, or only the select few. Sometimes Springsteen can be overhyped, but this was a song that was worthy of the praise, and of instant-classic status.



3.) The Darkness – “She’s Just a Girl, Eddie”


- Man, it was great to have The Darkness back, with a new album that showed the band to still be in top form. This is my favorite comeback track, a sing-along rocker that's just-about perfectly crafted in every way - mixing the band's trademark glam-rock bigness with their tongue-in-cheek lyrics. One of the best-ever "get over that girl" songs.



4.) Foxy Shazam – "Holy Touch"


- This is such a good song - catchy as hell and sort of a "we have arrived" statement of purpose from the best up-and-coming rock band around, Foxy Shazam. When you hear singer Eric Nally's soaring vocals, you can't help but think of Freddie Mercury. And indeed, Foxy performs with the same operatic bombast as Queen, kicking down the door of the rock world, singlehandedly working to save rock with the holy touch of the guitar gods.



5.) Rush – "Wish Them Well"


- My favorite track off of Clockwork Angels, this song works as the a kickass climax to an epic concept album that could only have come from the minds of Geddy Lee and his band. Who else would make a steampunk sci-fi concept album like this? What other classic rock band could make such a top-to-bottom great album - one that is harder and heavier than almost anything they've done before - at this stage of their careers? Rush is one of a kind.




6.) Aerosmith – “Out Go the Lights”

- Yes, Aerosmith's new album "Music From Another Dimension" is a bit of a mixed bag. It's got enough lame ballads (including a duet with Carrie Underwood) to make a hardcore member of Aeroforce One cringe. But ... and this is a big but ... a good 50 to 60% of the new album actually owns it, and "Out Go The Lights" is case in point. A big, brash, bluesy, soulful rocker that is vintage 'Smith, this song makes me smile and sing along every time. 



7.) The Offspring – "Slim Pickens Does The Right Thing and Rides the Bomb to Hell"


- I think I unfairly dismissed the new Offspring album when I heard the first single, "Days Go By," and assumed that the whole album would be that same sort of semi-bland pop-rock. Luckily, I was wrong, as the album is a total comeback for the band, and features a great mix of pop-punk, novelty songs, and more hardcore, vintage Offspring-style songs like this one. "Slim Pickens" is just a jolt of energy, a burn-it-all-down bit of nihilism that begs you to crank up the volume.



8.) Rush – "The Wreckers"


- The most epic song off an an insanely epic concept album, "The Wreckers" is a five-minute sonic journey that is emblematic of Rush's ability to tell a story and create a whole fictional universe via song. Another reason why Clockwork Angels is among the finest albums of the year.



9.) Green Day – "Wow! That’s Loud"


- Green Day released two of my all-time favorite rock albums in American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. It was going to be tough to follow those up, but the band, ever-ambitious, chose to release a trio of back-to-back-to-back companion albums late this year. Did we really need a triple-album? No - in my view there's a lot of filler on these three discs. But there are some gems, particularly on Dos, which I thought was by-far the best overall album of the three. Among the standouts is "Wow! That's Loud," an instantly-catchy anthem that feels like classic Green Day.



10.) Foxy Shazam – "Freedom"


- Foxy Shazam infuses their lyrics with a mix of personal confession, jokey satire, and bombastic balladry. While "Holy Touch" is a bouncy, jokey, darkly-funny song, "Freedom" hints at the band's ability to craft a modern-day power-ballad for the ages. Freedom is Springsteen-esque swagger and Americana mixed with Queen-style go-for-broke bigness. It's over-the-top, but man, it's over-the-top in the way where you've simply got to turn it up and belt it out.



THE REST OF THE BEST:


11.) Green Day – "Nightlife"

12.) Foxy Shazam – "Last Chance at Love"
13.) Green Day - "Let Yourself Go"
14.) Aerosmith – "Legendary Child"
15.) Kiss – "Take Me Down Below"
16.) Aerosmith – "Beautiful"
17.) Slash with Myles Kennedy – "Anastasia"
18.) The Offspring – "Cruisin’ California (Bumpin’ in my Trunk)"
19.) Jack White - "Sixteen Saltines"
20.) The Darkness – "Keeps Me Hangin’ On"
21.) Linkin Park – "Burn It Down"
22.) Kiss – "Outta This World"
23.) Jack White – "Freedom at 21"
24.) Foxy Shazam – "The Temple"
25.) The Darkness – "Living Each Day Blind"

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR:


1.) Foxy Shazam - The Church of Rock n' Roll

2.) Rush - Clockwork Angels
3.) Tie: The Darkness - Hot Cakes, The Offspring - Days Go By

POP SONGS OF THE YEAR:


- Yes, as much as I love rock, I like all kinds of music - pop, hip-hop, rap, whatever. I appreciate a great pop-song, and here are my picks for the best tunes of the year that, hey, even a guy like me can't help groovin' to on occasion.


1.) Rihanna - "Diamonds"

2.) Gotye featuring Kimbra - "Somebody That I Used to Know"
3.) Carly Rae Jepson - "Call Me Maybe"
4.) Ke$ha - "Die Young"
5.) Fun featuring Janelle Monae - "We Are Young"


And that's the year in ROCK for 2012. Thoughts? Personal picks? Feel free to comment. But hey, here's to 2013 being a rockin' year for us all.

THE BEST OF 2012 - The Best TV Of The Year


 THE BEST OF 2012 - The Best TV Shows of The Year

- It's that time of year again ... time to make some lists, talk about the year that was, and dive into a lot of the stuff that I don't usually get to cover here on the blog. In the past, I've written regular reviews of a couple of my favorite TV shows, but this year I was limited to the occasional special blog or two to talk about a major TV milestone. But man, it's been quite a year for TV shows. There is still a glut of garbage out there, no question. But more than ever, there's an almost overwhelming amount of good stuff to choose from. Until this year, I never really regretted not subscribing to Showtime. Sure, I missed out on Dexter, but I felt like between HBO and other cable networks, I had my bases mostly covered. Now, HOMELAND has become must-see TV, and I'm sad to say that I'm just starting to catch up. I've got Season 1 on blu-ray, and I'm eager to dive in and see what all the hype is about. I do think a lot of people are trying to figure out how best to catch up with all these shows. The cost of cable keeps going up, even as more and more channels - from IFC to Showtime - are becoming must-haves. HBO is practically a must for any discerning TV fan nowadays, but how many people are using their uncle's friend's HBO GO password to catch the latest Game of Thrones episodes? The cost of keeping up is going up, as is the time commitment required. So more and more, people are turning to alternate means to watch their favorite shows - new and old. The sheer volume of content on Netflix, for example, is almost overwhelming. Suddenly, there's a simple and easy way to go back and watch great TV that you might have missed. For me, for example, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA has been a regular part of my TV diet over the last few months. I'd never seen it previously, but now, I've slowly but surely made my way through the first two seasons. Once I get through that, my to-watch list of classic shows is almost as long as my watch-list of new shows. And I suspect many people are now watching TV the same way.

It is sort of exciting. TV was, for a long time, a disposable medium. Shows were built to be watched once, or else to be watched in repeats or in syndication whenever someone happened to catch them. But now, we are entering an age where TV is now built to last. Because really, it's not "TV" anymore. It's longform storytelling. Much the same as movies, just a different format. To that end, we're seeing shorter seasons, more tightly-told stories with less filler, and more and more high-quality prestige series that aspire to greatness. Of course, a lot of this is happening on cable, where it is easier to adapt programming schedules to this new paradigm. But, even on the broadcast nets, we're starting to see a transition. Experiments like the shortened fifth and final season of FRINGE are paying off creatively, whereas shows still adhering to the old 22-episode format are starting to, more and more, feel stretched out.

It's funny, because you hear a lot about people "hate-watching" shows lately. Sometimes, there is a fine line between a show that you actually enjoy, and one that you can't take your eyes off of for all the wrong reasons. In the past, I've stuck with certain shows (cough*Smallville*cough) way past the point where I found them consistently enjoyable. But lately, there's so much good TV, that my tolerance for unevenness is low. And yes, there's been a lot of unevenness this year - particularly from the perspective of the Fall TV season. Pilot after pilot seemed to stumble this year, with very few really making an impact. Even some that I liked - like LAST RESORT - quickly lost my interest after the second or third episode. Of course, the one new show that I've developed a lot of affection for - BEN AND KATE - a charming and uber-likable comedy on FOX, is tanking in the ratings.

To that end, there seems to be a continuing cultural gap when it comes to comedy. Most friends of mine love COMMUNITY, PARKS AND RECREATION, and 30 ROCK ... but these shows continue to draw flies in the Nielsen ratings. 30 Rock is ending in only a few weeks' time, and for many it will be the end of an era - one of the greatest modern comedy series coming to an end. But in the fragmented TV market that we now live in, 30 Rock's conclusion may register as a mere blip in the large cultural consciousness.

And yet ... think about *this*. THE WALKING DEAD was the #1 scripted show on TV this year ... period. That, to me, is incredible. 1.) It's a cable show on a network, AMC, that only a few years ago had essentially no presence or audience or brand loyalty. 2.) It's a gory, violent show, based on a comic book, about the zombie apocalypse. Unbelievable to me that the show is as popular as it is, but it's also pretty damn cool. As I've said before, it is, perhaps, a sign that the geeks are winning (see also: GAME OF THRONES). Even better, the quality of the show has finally caught up to its potential, and to the greatness of the source material. This year, The Walking Dead finally got awesome.

Speaking of AMC ... I continue to be floored by BREAKING BAD. The show is an all-time classic, and it will be talked about, analyzed, and debated for years to come. In many ways, I see it as the pinnacle of what the television medium is capable of, and it's been an absolute pleasure to watch it over the last few years. The conclusion of the show this coming summer will be both momentous and bittersweet.

It's a new age of television. Once it was all about CBS, ABC, NBC, and FOX. Now it's HBO, FX, AMC, and Showtime. Once it was about watching shows week to week. Now it's about marathoning, Netflixing, catching up on Hulu. Once, the thought of a zombie horror show ruling TV land was unthinkable. Now, everyone else is scrambling (or is it shambling?) to catch up. All of us Gen Y'ers, and those younger, have made the leap to this new era. The question now becomes: where do we go from here?

Below are my picks for the Best TV of the Year. As I mentioned, I didn't and can't watch everything. And yes, Homeland is missing from my list, because I simply haven't seen enough episodes yet to include it. But there is a wide variety of content - and it was tougher than ever to rank my favorites and narrow down the list.

DANNY'S TOP TV SHOWS OF 2012:


1. BREAKING BAD

- How will the journey end for Walter White? That is what fans of great TV will be asking themselves for the next several months, until finally, one of the greatest shows of all time reaches its sure-to-be-epic conclusion. In 2012, Breaking Bad continued to stun on multiple levels. The acting is just heads and shoulders above almost everything else. Bryan Cranston is so good on this show, it's scary. Aaron Paul as well. And how about the underrated Dean Norris as pesky brother-in-law Hank? The midseason finale was literally the "oh, $#%&!" moment of the year. But even without that game-changer of a cliffhanger, Breaking Bad quite simply mixes ultra-intensity, complete unpredictability, and pitch-black humor ("Better Call Saul!") to create a one-of-a-kind narrative alchemy. Heisenberg's blue meth may have perfected the formula for the perfect high, but I'd reckon a great episode of Breaking Bad is nearly as good.


2. JUSTIFIED

- It's time to give Justified its due. In three seasons, it's become one of the absolute best dramas on TV - in my view second only to Breaking Bad in terms of character, plotting, and "what happens next?" intensity. Season 3 of Justified was, quite simply, badass. Timothy Olyphant was as good as ever as the now-iconic lawman Raylan Givens. Walton Goggins was, again, superb as morally ambiguous nemesis Boyd Crowder. Add Neal McDonough to the mix as sadistic villain Robert Quarles, and you've got all the ingredients you need for some hard-boiled, bullet-ridden noir-Western goodness. I'll also throw in shout-outs to Raymond J. Barry as wily old coot Arlo, Joelle Carter as femme fatale Ava, Jeremy Davies as ne'er do well Dickie, and Jere Burns as professional sleazebag Wynn Duffy. Season 4 starts up shortly, and I can't wait. I'm now such a fan of Justified, that I get positively giddy when I hear that great theme song kick up. 


3. AN IDIOT ABROAD

- Ricky Gervais has made a career out of finding profundity in the absurd, and he does so to great effect with the brilliant real-life comedy he mines from An Idiot Abroad. Karl Pilkington is so uproariously, unintentionally funny that it's no wonder many question whether his schtick is all an act. But the fact is, Karl is a one-of-a-kind man - eminently quotable, oddly sympathetic, and yet flat-out hilarious with his zero-filter observations and philosophical musings. All the same, I was constantly surprised by what I got out of An Idiot Abroad. It's funny as hell, sure, but it's also, in its own way, an incredible travelogue and an insightful look at different parts of the world. And hidden in Karl's at-times ignorant or naive thoughts are often some real common-man's wisdom. For cheesy as it may sound, all of us, I think, have an inner Karl - the part of us that gapes in awe and confusion at the weird world around us. This is spectacular TV.


4. COMMUNITY

- Six seasons and a movie! That is my hope for what we'll get from this brilliant comedy, when all is said and done. But realistically, this past season of Community might have been its last gasp of greatness. We shall see. But what we do know is that Dan Harmon is no longer running the show. And what we also know is that Harmon went out with a bang - a big bang of weirdness that took the show to its structural extremes. We saw the gang as 8-bit videogame characters, we saw a pillow-fort war, we saw Abed become Inspector Spacetime. And what we also saw was a show simply firing on all cylinders - delivering great episode after great episode. Community is an undisputed internet darling, but seriously ... let's start talking about it as an all-time classic comedy. Cool? Cool.


5. BOARDWALK EMPIRE

- For some reason, some seem to have bailed on Boardwalk, but to me it just keeps getting better and more engrossing. Sure, the show juggles a metric ton of characters and plotlines, but it's second to none in terms of delivering jaw-dropping, game-changing moments. I loved this season of Boardwalk - not only did we see Nucky Thompson go "full gangster," but we also saw him pitted against the insane Italian bootlegger Gyp Rosetti - one of the scariest and most vile villains on TV this year. In addition to Steve Buscemi's fantastic performance, the show is just stacked with incredible actors portraying memorable characters. Michael Stuhlbarg as conniving Arnold Rothstein, Jack Huston as the tragically-disfigured sharpshooter Richard Harrow, Michael Shannon as the increasingly unstable Van Alden, and Gretchen Mol as the equally unhinged Gillian. Can't forget Steven Graham as Al Capone, or Michael Kenneth Williams as Chalky White. Every week, Boardwalk is an acting clinic, a history lesson, and a wonderfully-woven drama. One of the best.


6. 30 ROCK

- Yep, that's right, nerdz. After a bit of a slump, 30 Rock roared back this year with numerous instant-classic episodes. Season 7 has been a fantastic and hilarious return to form, and the show is most definitely going out on top. Few shows not named The Simpsons have ever been this rapid-fire quotable week in and week out. And few comedies can boast an ensemble cast as great as this one. Alec Baldwin has always been the show's MVP, but he's been absolutely on fire in Season 7. The recent election-centric two-parter was 30 Rock at its best, as was Tina Fey's takedown of the "women can't be funny" train of thought several weeks back. It's going to be a sad day when 30 Rock is no longer on the air - to me, this was the smart and witty counterpoint to all the lame laugh-track sitcoms of the world. The world will be a dumber and less funny place sans 30 Rock.


7. PARKS AND RECREATION

- Argh. How is it that Parks and Recreation - one of TV's funniest shows that's filled with heart, with, and hilarity - is not also one of its highest-rated? The failure of Parks and Rec to become a mainstream hit is a recurring source of heartbreak for comedy fans. But the good news is that Parks continues to do right by its rep as one of the best in the biz. This year saw all kinds of Pawnee goodness, from the moving engagement of Leslie and Ben to the hilarious attempts of Tammy II to foil Ron Swanson's new relationship in a recent episode. Joe Biden even made a pretty great little cameo. Parks continues to have one of the deepest benches in comedy, with episodes able to seamlessly shift focus from Aziz Ansari to Nick Offerman to Aubrey Plaza to Chris Pratt to Rob Lowe. I'm not kidding when I say if you're not watching Parks, you're *literally* missing out on a show that is quickly becoming one of the all-time greats.


8. FRINGE

-  Time is running out for Fringe, but man, what a wonderfully strange, trip it's been. Fringe ended last season with an epic run of sci-fi insanity, and then took the bold step to set its fifth and final season decades in the future, in a dystopian world ruled by the cold-hearted and mentally-advanced Observers. The gamble seems to have paid off, with some of Fringe's most tightly-plotted and well-crafted longform storytelling to date. Really though, what has and does make Fringe so special is its combination of whiz-bang pseudo-science with its fantastic, ever-evolving characters. John Noble as mad-scientist Walter Bishop continues to be incredibly underappreciated by the mainstream. Noble absolutely kills it as Walter week in and week out, setting up a fascinating character arc, telling the story of a man of science trying to make up for the sins of his past, but ever-fearful that he might regress back to "the Walter that was." Noble is the heart and soul of Fringe, and the reason that Fringe has cemented itself as truly transcendent sci-fi.


9. NEW GIRL

- Last year at this time, I never would have predicted that New Girl would be in my Top 10 list for 2012. But somehow, some way, New Girl has improved leaps and bounds and become one of the most sharply-written and best-performed comedies on TV. But it happened, and though some still think of this show as "that adorkable show with Zooey Daschanel", the fact is, the show has course-corrected and actually become sort of amazing. A big reason is two of the best breakout characters on TV this year - Nick and Schmidt. Nick's bitterness issues combined with Schmidt's hilariously douchey antics have resulted in one of TV comedy's most potent one-two punches. Occasionally, the show will show signs of its old meh-factor, but when it's on its game, it can't be beat. Few shows have made me laugh out loud as much as New Girl has this year.


10. GAME OF THRONES

- I still am somewhat in awe of the fact that this show exists, and, what's more, that it's a huge hit. And sometimes, the sheer nerd-out factor of seeing this kind of epic-fantasy story on TV is enough to make watching GoT a thrill. But Season 2 of the show really kicked some ass, upping the action, bringing in new characters, and continuing to be a showcase for Peter Dinklage's iconic portrayal of Tyrion Lannister. The show still suffers a bit from jumpy storytelling, but it does so many things so well that it's hard to get too hung up. Has any show, ever, looked better or more lavishly-designed than this one? Have we ever seen a story of this scale and scope on a serialized TV series? And do the glimpses of of those dragons ever get old? I mean come on - dragons! - amiright?



The Next Best:



11. CHILDRENS HOSPITAL

- Childrens Hospital is a weekly injection of awesomely absurdist comedy. I'm just thankful that this sort of thing is one the air, where it's lovingly nurtured by the good people at Adult Swim. They're even giving it a spin-off. Are they crazy? Good-crazy, I think. But how great is it that folks like Rob Cordry, Ken Marino, and David Wain have a forum like this to just indulge their wackiest comedic instincts? And by the way, how amazing are the women of this show? Lake Bell, Malin Ackerman, Erin Hayes, and Megan Mullally are all living proof that women most certainly can be funny - and look good while doing it.


12. THE WALKING DEAD

- Up until Season 3, The Walking Dead had showed sporadic signs of the show it could be, but never kept up the momentum for a sustained period. Not so this season, which has just been a nonstop frenzy of carnage and zombie-apocalypse mayhem. It's also been great seeing the show's adaptation of the comic's most infamous storyline - the stay at the prison and the conflict with uber-villain The Governor. The show's version has been an interesting change - a more subtle and more quietly menacing sort of antagonist. But mostly, the show has improved by cutting down on the talky angst and upping the action and unpredictability. Suddenly, the show has become filled with the sort of big-time "holy $%&#!" moments that made the comic so great.

13. LOUIE

-  Louie is one of those shows that probably shouldn't exist. But somehow, it does, and it's singlehandedly changing the paradigm for what a TV show can be. Has there ever been a total auteur-driven show like this one? An episode of Louie is essentially whatever Louie CK wants it to be, and that's led to some wonderfully weird half-hours of TV. This year saw, for example, an off-the-wall encounter with an off-her-rocker woman played by Parker Posey, as well as a surreal multi-parter in which Louis CK was tapped to replace Letterman, and mentored by David Lynch. Occasionally, Louie's experiments in minimalist, avant garde comedy don't pay off. But the show is always a must-watch - a testament to what can happen when TV frees itself from its created-by-committee tendencies.


14. EASTBOUND AND DOWN

- Kenny Powers = inherent hilarity. Eastbound & Down undoubtedly suffered a bit from Season 1 to Season 2, and then again from Season 2 to 3. The lightning-in-a-bottle awesomeness of S1 was never quite recaptured in later seasons. Nevertheless, S3 had its fair share of shock-comedy showstoppers - as expected, Kenny playing the part of dad to an infant son led to some incredibly funny moments. Danny McBride also doesn't get enough credit for what he does on this show. His comic timing as Kenny is impeccable, and the way he somehow makes us root for and sympathize with Kenny - despite all the horrible things he says and does - is an award-worthy accomplishment.


15. CHUCK

- What's Chuck doing on here? I know, it already feels like an eternity since Chuck last logged into the Intersect, but I'd be remiss if I didn't include this cult-favorite on my list. Because, despite airing only a handful of its final episodes in early 2012, that final run saw the show reclaim its former awesomeness, and deliver some truly spectacular installments. In particular, the Chuck series finale stands as perhaps my single favorite episode of TV of the year - an action-packed conclusion that was also surprisingly moving. I mean, come on, what red-blooded fan among us didn't have a tear or two in their eyes as Chuck and Sarah sat on that beach as the show forever faded to black? As Chuck and his nerd-herd said their final farewells, we got one last, great hurrah for a show that sometimes stumbled, but ultimately found its font and forged a geek-out worthy legacy.


16. BEN AND KATE

- My favorite new show of 2012 was Ben & Kate - a charming sitcom that keeps catching me off guard by being both disarmingly sweet and also surprisingly, bitingly funny and clever. The brother-sister chemistry of Dakota Johnson and Nate Faxon is fantastic, and young Maggie Elizabeth Jones, as Maddie, has got to be one of the best and funniest kid-characters we've seen on a sitcom in a long while. Few shows do funny and warm-and-fuzzy as well as this one - I can only hope that it survives to show its stuff to a broader audience.

17. TRON: UPRISING

- This hard-to-find show has been given the timeslot shaft by Disney, but it's well-worth tracking down on iTunes or elsewhere. Tron: Uprising has brilliantly been bridging the gap between the original cult-classic Tron movie and the more recent sequel, introducing a plethora of great new characters and expanding the Tron universe in exciting and unexpected ways. The voice-cast is off-the-chain, too - with Elijah Wood as lead character Beck, and Lance Henrikson as the fearsome General Tassler. Plus, original Tron actor Bruce Boxleitner reprising his iconic title role. What seals the deal is the super-slick, oftentimes gorgeous animation - which brings the world of The Grid alive in ways that in some ways surpasses even the movies. If you haven't seen the show, track it down and get in the game.


18. PORTLANDIA

- Portlandia's jokes can be hit or miss, but it's a ton of fun to see Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein let loose and experiment with sketch comedy. The show feels different from anything else on the air, and there's a casual elegance to the show and its Portland setting. Though its exaggerated, there's also a lived-in authenticity to the show that makes it not just funny, but keenly observant. And when the show does nail a sketch, it really can be great (my favorite from this year - a hilarious visit to the "Around the World in 80 Plates" burger joint).


19. KEY AND PEELE

- Speaking of new and different in the world of sketch comedy, Key & Peele has been another breath of fresh air. The comedic duo does everything from totally random and off-the-wall humor to spot-on caricatures of Obama. You never know what you'll get, but as with Louie and Portlandia, there's an exciting sense of auteurism at work here. Some of the best and most original comedy on the air today.


20. EAGLEHEART

- Comedy doesn't get much crazier than Chris Elliott's Eagleheart - a whacked-out, oftentimes hilarious show from former Conan O'Brien writers. The show has three great and up-for-anything leads in the great Chris Elliott, Maria Thayer, and standout Brett Gelman (also seen on Go On). Like Children's Hospital, this show is just an anything-goes forum for Elliott and co. to get as weird as they want. And if you're an Elliott fan (and who isn't?), then you know that that is pretty awesome.


INDIVIDUAL AWARDS:


The Best TV Heroes of 2011:

1.) Raylan Givens - Justified
2.) Walter Bishop -Fringe
3.) Chuck Bartowski - Chuck
4.) Glenn - The Walking Dead
5.) Arya Stark - Game of Thrones


The Best TV Villains of 2011:

1.) Walter White - Breaking Bad
2.) Robert Quarles - Justified
3.) Widmark - Fringe
4.) The Governor -The Walking Dead
5.) Gyp Rosetti - Boardwalk Empire


The Best TV Anti-Heroes of 2011:

1.) Richard Harrow - Boardwalk Empire
2.) Tyrion Lannister - Game of Thrones
3.) Boyd Crowder - Justified
4.) Mike "The Cleaner" - Breaking Bad
5.) Jesse Pinkman - Breaking Bad


Best Actress in a Comedy:

1.) Amy Poehler - Parks and Recreation

Runners Up: Alison Brie - Community, Zooey Daschanel - New Girl


Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy:

1.) Jane Krakowski - 30 Rock

Runners Up: Aubrey Plaza - Parks and Recreation, Erin Hayes, Malin Ackermann, and Lake Bell - Children's Hospital, Gillian Jacobs - Community


Best Actor in a Comedy:

1.) Jake Johnson - New Girl

Runners Up: Max Greenfield - New Girl, Joel McHale - Community, Louie CK - Louie, Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy:

1.) Nick Offerman - Parks and Recreation

Runners Up: Donald Glover - Community, Rob Lowe - Parks and Recreation, Rob Cordry - Childrens Hospital, Rob Huebel - Childrens Hospital
Best Actress in a Drama:

1.) Maisie Williams - Game of Thrones
Runners Up: Anna Torv - Fringe, Kelly McDonald - Boardwalk Empire


Best Supporting Actress in a Drama:

1.)  Anna Gunn - Breaking Bad

Runners Up: Laura Frasier - Breaking Bad, Gretchen Mol - Boardwalk Empire, Emilia Clarke - Game of Thrones


Best Actor in a Drama:

1.) Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad

Runners Up: Steve Buscemi - Boardwalk Empire, Timothy Olyphant - Justified, Joshua Jackson - Fringe


Best Supporting Actor in a Drama:

1.) John Noble - Fringe

Runners Up: Jonathan Banks - Breaking Bad, Dean Norris - Breaking Bad,  Aaron Paul - Breaking Bad, Peter Dinklage - Game of Thrones, Jack Huston - Boardwalk Empire, Lance Reddick - Fringe


There you have it - my picks for the best TV of 2012. Be sure to leave thoughts and comments - and angry tirades about me having left out Homeland (still haven't seen it), Girls (only sort of liked it), Newsroom (couldn't stand it), etc.