As we approach the end of 2011, I thought I would share what I thought were some of the best things about film and television this year.
10) Karine Vanasse in Pan Am: I previously wrote about how Pan Am was struggling, lamenting its poor ratings in comparison with its quality. While the quality of the show has been hit-or-miss since I wrote that post, one thing is constant: Karine Vanasse is easily the best thing going for the show. Her Colette is head-over-heels more interesting than the other characters. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t use her as often as it should, often relegating her to the sidelines. The two episodes that do feature Colette front and center – “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” and “Unscheduled Departure” – are the show’s best so far. I hope that Vanasse will have lots of offers when Pan Am is inevitably cancelled.
9) Midnight in Paris: I didn’t give Midnight in Paris much thought when it came out, and that was a mistake. Several months later, several of my friends assured me that I would love it, and I was able to catch it at one of those discount theaters that shows movies on their way out. And thank goodness I did. As an aspiring writer and Hemingway fan, I found Midnight in Paris to be an absolute delight – a lovely, entertaining, and engaging film that reminded me why I love writing. And to cap it off, it also resonated with me with its theme of nostalgia for the past.
8) Once Upon a Time: I didn’t know what to expect from Once Upon a Time, the fairy-tale drama from two of the writers of Lost. As a major Lost fan, I was eager to give it a try, but to be honest, fairy tales aren’t entirely my thing. Boy was I surprised. Once Upon a Time has an interesting premise: what if fairy tale characters existed in modern day life but didn’t remember who they were? The weaving of the modern day life and fairy tale life is fantastic, but what amazes me about the show is the strength of its characters. You’ll come to care about everyone involved in the action, and some of them will break your heart.
7) Hanna: I previously wrote about how I find Hanna underappreciated, and what I wrote then still holds true. Hanna is a slick little action film that is superbly acted and directed. And the music? I bet you’ll be humming it after the credits roll. Give Hanna a chance if you haven’t.
6) Fringe: TV’s smartest scifi drama, Fringe continues to amaze me with its inventive use of the dual (or now triple?) universe. But underneath the physics shenanigans is a story of a web of human relationships. Even when Fringe manages of strip these characters of all they hold dear, something about these relationships still bubbles towards the surface. This year, Fringe has been even more inventive than in the past. I can never predict where Fringe is going to take us, and for that, I love it.
5) Hugo’s ode to cinema: Hugo is a film I would not have seen had I not read that it actually involves the theme of the power of cinema. If Midnight in Paris reminded me why I love writing, Hugo reminded me why I love movies. Interweaving the story of a boy’s quest to unlock what he thinks a message from his dead father with the history of French filmmaking pioneer Georges Méliès, Hugo is a testament to the power of imagination.
4) Incendies: Though this is technically a 2010 film, it only came out in the United States in 2011, so it’s included here. Incendies is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. It is a harrowing war story and a gripping human story at the same time, telling an intense family drama against the backdrop of something resembling the Lebanese Civil War. But what’s so great about the film is that, while terrible things happen, nothing is overly graphic in representation; its strength is in what is left to the imagination.
3) The realism of The Good Wife’s Alicia Florrick: The Good Wife is a fantastic ensemble drama, but if its titular character weren’t so real, it wouldn’t be half as good. Throughout the end of the second season and the beginning of the third season of The Good Wife, Alicia has dealt with major life changes, and watching her rage, her passion, her guilt, and everything in between has been a delight.
2) The Artist: The little film that could, The Artist is an absolute delight. It’s hard to think of a film that is as likeable as it, and it exceeded all my expectations. In my review of The Artist, I argued that it’s refreshing to see a silent film made in 2011. The Artist shows us that story still matters more than effects.
1) The first season of Downton Abbey: Simply put, Downton Abbey has become my new entertainment obsession. When I randomly sat down to watch the first episode when it aired on PBS, I had no inkling of how firmly it would grip me, or how many times I would feel compelled to watch it. Julian Fellowes has created a masterpiece that is also riveting entertainment. I’ve previously written about it, and I can’t help but place it at the top of this list.
What were your favorite things about film and television in 2011?