One of the best things about writing about multiple media is that you’re not subject to the tyranny of Best Of lists. I could no more decide between Shame and Hugo for a numbered slot than I could pick between Revenge and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (though can we please get Kanye writing rhymes for and about Emily Thorne? I need an update on Snoop Dogg and his Sookie Stackhouse obsession). However, there were a lot of things that made me happy this year, and because Oprah’s not rockin’ it anymore, here is a semi-chronological-but-unranked list of my 26-odd favorite things to consume or discuss in 2011. A similar list of my least favorite things will follow tomorrow.
1. Frank Ocean makes us all hurt so good: I’m more irritated than anything else by the antics of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. But it’s worth it for Frank Ocean, who rocks specific melancholia like nobody’s business. “Novacane” was one of my favorite songs of 2011.
2. Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch: Before y’all accuse me of getting all Armond White up in the business, let me be clear. I don’t think Sucker Punch is an affirmatively good movie or that Snyder is a visionary director (though I appreciate that he actually has a distinctive visual style). But as aestheticized meditation on the horrors of lobotomy, a frightening and overlooked part of American mental health history, I found it unexpectedly moving. Plus, Snyder circumvented a ban on female leads with the movie.
3. Cedar Rapids sets Ed Helms loose: Up In the Air, but for people who actually live in flyover country, and Parks and Recreation with a deeper undercurrent of bitter darkness and isolation. There should be more popular culture about the struggle to be fundamentally decent.
4. War photographers movie The Bang-Bang Club and HBO’s biopic of the Louds, Cinema Verite: After the death of Tim Heatherington and as Joao Silva recovered from his injuries, The Bang-Bang Club offered a look at what it takes not just to put yourself in danger as a war photographer, but at what it means to be an observer rather than someone who intervenes. Conversely, Cinema Verite went back to the invention of reality television to explore what it means to be watched — and dissected — by a mass audience.
5. Game of Thrones is brilliant, and even the frustrating A Dance With Dragons is grist for the mill: I worry that George R.R. Martin’s universe is spiraling completely out of control, too big for any series to contain. But the first season of the HBO adaptation featured great performances, particularly by a host of very young actors and a smart sense for cuts and world-building. I don’t know if we’ll reach the end of this fascinating, maddening saga any time soon. But the ride looks like it’s going to be delightful.