Fringe is over.
Those are words I thought I’d be saying a year or two ago. Fringe, the little show that could, miraculously ended its five-year run Friday night with a proper finish to its reality bending story.
I’ve had my ups and downs with Fringe over the past few years. I was one of the few who really enjoyed the show in its first season; I considered the pilot to be one of my favorites. I later almost gave up watching during the season two episode “Snakehead,” an episode right before the larger story of the show took distinct shape. When the show moved to Friday nights – and later didn’t have next-day streaming except for Dish subscribers – I sometimes found myself falling behind on Fringe. But I always caught up. And when I did, I never understood why I fell behind on it in the first place.
As cheesy as it sounds, there are times in which, while watching Fringe, I have applauded. Like a lot of good sci-fi, Fringe not only pushed the limits of storytelling on a scientific and creative level but also explored what it means to be human. Throughout its five seasons, Fringe proved that telling a good story relies more on characters than on sci-fi shenanigans.
Like last year, instead of making a typical year-end list, I thought I would share what some of my favorite things about film and television in 2012 were.
The third season finale of The Good Wife: Entitled “The Dream Team,” this episode had all that I could ever want from an episode of The Good Wife. It brought back everyone’s favorite guest stars – Martha Plimpton and Michael J. Fox – and ended with that jaw-dropping cliffhanger in Kalinda’s apartment. Oh, and it had one of the best moments in Good Wife history, as shown below:
Call the Midwife: This is a show that surprised me more than anything this year. I wasn’t planning to become to involved in the story of a group of midwives and nuns in 1950s East London, but this show has great humor, heart, and drama. I’m eagerly anticipating the Christmas Special and the second season.
Where Do We Go Now?: I wrote a review of this marvelous Lebanese movie earlier this year, but I really feel that I need to mention it again, as it was one of my favorite movie going experiences this year. Nadine Labaki’s blend of hilarity and humanity makes this an unforgettable movie.
The music of Brave: I’d been looking forward to Pixar’s Brave for quite a while since I love Scotland. When I found out that Scottish folk singer Julie Fowlis, of whom I’ve been a fan for the past few years, would be involved in the soundtrack, I was ecstatic. Though the Mumford and Sons song seems to be getting most of the buzz, let’s hope that “Touch the Sky” (shown in the clip below) will be nominated an Oscar – because I would love to see Fowlis perform at the ceremony.
The Downton Abbey 2011 Christmas Special: The second season of Downton Abbey may not have been perfect, but last year’s Christmas Special (which only aired in the U.S. earlier this year) was the Downton episode I had been waiting for. Its last few minutes are perfection.
Awake: Awake was the most underrated network television show of recent memory. It’s the type of show I feel should have been more successful than it was; it had the procedural element to bring in audiences, but it also had a cerebral and emotional core to it as well. Jason Isaacs completely owned the role of Michael Britten, a man who, after an accident, experiences two realities: one in which his son died and one in which his wife died. Even though the show only got thirteen episodes, the series somehow felt complete, and that’s more that we could have wished for.
This Is Not a Film, 5 Broken Cameras, and The Law in These Parts: These are three brilliant, timely, and wholly important documentaries. This Is Not a Film follows a day in the life of Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who was put under house arrest under charges of propaganda against the Iranian government. 5 Broken Cameras* documents five years in the life of a Palestinian filmmaker whose town protests the building of the Israeli wall. The Law in These Parts investigates the legal measures that supposedly justify the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. (There’s another supposedly great Israeli documentary along the same lines called The Gatekeepers – it’s getting a New York release in February, so I’ll be seeing it then.) Watch these films to learn about the human spirit – and the politics that try to thwart it.
Argo: Before going into Argo, I had no idea what it would be like. I knew it dealt with getting diplomats out of Iran during the hostage crisis, but I had no idea that there were some genuinely funny moments dealing with the movie industry as well. Director Ben Affleck’s blending of the two elements makes this more than just a riveting political drama; it’s a greatly enjoyable movie as well.
The pilot of Last Resort: I wasn’t going to watch Last Resort, but the critical reviews made me watch the pilot in advance online. It was so gripping that I watched it again when it aired, riveted. No further episode quite lived up to it, but that would be a tall order. This speech towards the end sealed the deal:
The technical achievements of Anna Karenina: Director Joe Wright decided to set most of his Anna Karenina on a stage. As such, background characters often move furniture around, sets fold into each other, and the movement is choreographed so that it almost looks like a dance. It’s a visually stunning film that will no doubt garner some Oscar nominations in the technical categories.
Sci-fi swan songs: While I was watching season six of Doctor Who, I worried that Amy and Rory would be leaving the show at its conclusion. Thankfully, we got another five episodes – the first part of season seven – with them, and for that, I am glad. Likewise, Fringe was able to get a shortened fifth season to wrap up its story, and I’m just thankful to have a few more episodes to spend with Olivia, Peter, Walter, Astrid, and the rest of the gang.
The return to Middle Earth: When I sat down to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, it swept me back into Jackson’s version of Tolkien’s Middle Earth – and what a welcome return it was. The opening segments in Hobbiton and Erebor were just the right amount of throwback to The Lord of the Rings and anticipation of this new series about Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield. I get chills (the good kind, of course) every time I watch this clip below, which so perfectly exemplifies everything about the race of dwarves:
What did you enjoy about film and television in 2012?
*A brief cautionary note: 5 Broken Cameras contains content that might be troubling to some viewers, including several instances of shooting and a short scene of animal slaughter.
In (almost belated) honor of International Women’s Day, here are ten of my favorite fascinating female characters from books, movies, theater, and television. Spoilers for the works discussed!
Lady Jessica Atreides from Dune: Someone you definitely don’t want to cross, Lady Jessica is a powerful woman who literally takes the course of the universe into her own hands by producing a son when she was ordered to produce a daughter. Perhaps my favorite scene of Dune occurs when Thufir Hawat accuses Lady Jessica of having betrayed the Duke. She turns the tables on Hawat, making him question his rationalizing abilities. Her words leave no room for interpretation; she forcibly puts Hawat in his place for daring to question her loyalties.
Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice: The literary queen of wit, Elizabeth Bennet is remarkably clever and stubborn. Jane Austen wrote her some of the best dialogue of any character in literature. But Elizabeth is perhaps one of the greatest literary heroines because she isn’t perfect. Throughout Pride and Prejudice, watching Elizabeth understand her errors of judgment makes the novel all the more satisfying.
Dr. Juliet Burke from Lost: Juliet Burke is yet another intelligent but flawed character on my list. Though a nearly genius fertility doctor, Juliet seemingly functions as a double agent on the Island. Juliet’s true nature comes to light throughout her tenure on the show, as does her one fatal flaw: love. Juliet has a weakness for falling in love with the wrong people. Her ex-husband controlled her life to the point of misery before she went to the Island. On the Island, she falls in love with a married man, the husband of her therapist, but becomes the boss’s object of obsession. Her romantic entanglements with the crash survivors are no less complicated. Despite her intelligence, Juliet simply cannot make the right choices when it comes to love. She goes through so much hardship because of these mistakes, which adds an emotional strain to her already-stressful life.
Lady Mary Crawley from Downton Abbey: At first resembling a cross between Elizabeth Bennet and Scarlett O’Hara, Lady Mary is an enigma on this list, a much more passive character than the others. Unlike Scarlett, she refuses to fight for the man she loves because he is engaged, though everyone encourages her otherwise. Mary has a habit of listening to the wrong advice and making bad choices; her steely exterior hides a confused young woman. But Mary also owns up to her mistakes (well, those not involving her sister Edith), apologizing when she is in the wrong. Her many layers make her very real and very fascinating to watch.
Agt. Olivia Dunham from Fringe: I realize that having Olivia on this list is a bit difficult, seeing as Fringe has thus far included about five different versions of her. Though I favor the original, blueverse version of Olivia of Seasons 1-3 (for the most part), I think that the multiple versions all add greater depth to her character. Like many of the characters on this list, Olivia has a stoic exterior that masks a charming, caring, and, at times, wounded person underneath. She overcame a traumatic childhood to become a sharp, loyal woman.
Lady Éowyn from The Lord of the Rings: The prototypical female warrior, Éowyn utters one of my favorite quotes from The Lord of the Rings. When asked what she fears, she responds, “A cage. To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.” Éowyn famously seeks the glory of battle when it is expected that she should stay behind and lead the kingdom. Unafraid to get her hands dirty, Éowyn has an inspiring internal drive to act.
Alicia Florrick from The Good Wife: Alicia Florrick is on this list because she is so real. Never when watching The Good Wife have I felt that Alicia began acting out of character. Alicia has a strong conscience that forces her to be good even when she doesn’t want to. At the beginning of the series, her husband’s scandal forced her to go back to work. The series sees her as a woman constantly struggling to balance her work, her children, her healing relationship with husband, and her growing relationship with her boss and former flame.
Hermione Granger from Harry Potter: What can I say about Hermione? At the beginning of the series, she is a remarkably bookish top student who harbors a very deep-seated fear of failure. But Hermione comes to see that there are more important things to life than academics. Immensely loyal, she never leaves Harry’s side, even when everything is bleak. She fights for what she believes in, whether it be Harry’s word or elf rights. And honestly, in Deathly Hallows, Harry and Ron wouldn’t have gotten far without Hermione’s planning and quick thinking. She is a true heroine.
Lady Macbeth from Macbeth: The most morally dubious character on this list, Lady Macbeth is the main reason why Macbeth (so far) is my favorite Shakespeare play; her scheming is delightfully eerie to watch. And who can forget how easily she persuades Macbeth to kill Duncan? By questioning his manhood, she knows exactly how to make him carry out the dark deed. It is chilling how well she understands him. But Lady Macbeth also grows to understand the wrong her of ways, and watching her unravel is riveting.
Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind: If ever there was a woman who knew what she wanted and never gave up, it was Scarlett. Not the most morally upright character, she spends almost all of the novel/film chasing after another woman’s husband with an almost comical unwillingness to budge. But when she realizes that her true love just walked out on her, she vows to get him back – and I don’t doubt that somehow she will get him back. But Scarlett’s strength stems beyond this, as she fights for her own land. Transforming from southern belle to field worker, Scarlett herself keeps the plantation going during and after the devastating Civil War. Although Scarlett changes in that she begins to work harder towards her goals, throughout her story, she refuses to change her attitude; her steadfast determination to get what she wants never wanes.
Honorable Mentions: I couldn’t go without giving these women a mention as well:
- Eliza Doolittle from Pygmalion and My Fair Lady
- Melanie Hamilton from Gone with the Wind
- Hildy Johnson from His Girl Friday
- Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter
- Catherine Sloper from Washington Square and The Heiress
What female characters intrigue you?
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?