It's that time of the year when people create awards lists to celebrate the year gone by. I've always felt it was a little bit odd to name the best of the year when the year isn't even over yet, sort of like bands putting new songs on their greatest hits albums—a bit presumptuous. But I'm feeling compelled for some reason. And so I present to you the first annual awards given by my blog. There is only one criterion for selection: the nominees have to be new to me in 2011. That means if I see a film or read a book that is decades old for the first time in 2011, it is eligible. So without further ado (to borrow a cliché from awards shows):
Book of the Year
I had the book picked out, and then I went back and looked at my reading list and it turns out I read a lot of good stuff in the past year. It's just that they have become dimmed over time with the weight of books read later. Here are the nominees:
Horns Joe Hill
To Say Nothing of the Dog Connie Willis
Embassytown China Mieville
The Wise Man's Fear Patrick Rothfuss
Who Fears the Devil? Manly Wade Wellman
The Magicians Lev Grossman
Reamde Neal Stephenson
Bridge of Birds Barry Hughart
And the winner is Embassytown by China Mieville. All of these books have much to offer, but Embassytown edges out Who Fears the Devil? because of its taking the tropes of space opera and updating them, taking the subgenre to thought-provoking places it has never been before. The world-building is staggering and the implications are breathtaking. Embassytown should easily push Mieville over what little divide remains between him and mainstream acceptance, and it is a novel that should be read by fans of the power of literature, no matter their genre preferences.
Movie of the Year
I won't bother listing the nominees here, because only one movie stands out so much in my memory that I proselytize it to anyone who will listen. While The Muppets is a wonderful movie that I hope brings back a franchise, my personal movie of the year is 1951's People Will Talk, starring Cary Grant and Jeanne Crain. Cary Grant is my all-time favorite actor, and two of his movies seem to alternate for my all-time favorite movie (North by Northwest and His Girl Friday). Others of his movies stop me in my tracks when they are on, including Bringing Up Baby, Arsenic and Old Lace, and Only Angels Have Wings. I had thought I knew just about every one of his movies until Netflix offered up People Will Talk as a recommendation based on other films Mrs. Speculator and I had watched.
While it seems to have some of its roots in screwball comedy, it has a lot more heart than that. Grant plays Noah Praetorius, a professor at a medical school who also runs his own clinic. His bedside manner is non-traditional and disarming, and Grant's apparent easy charm comes through in spades, as nearly everyone he meets adores him. And yet a rival tries to drum him out of the school, leading to the most unexpected turn I think I have seen in any movie, or heard tell of. And Cary Grant pulls it off with savoir faire, so that the twist and the denouement don't feel ridiculous at all. I purely love this movie, and if you find yourself in the mood for an old-fashioned feel good movie, you should hunt this one up.
TV Series of the Year
Luther, season 1
Whitechapel, season 1
I think it's telling that this category is dominated by original dramas being shown on BBC America. I am constantly in awe of the chances these series take in their storytelling—most of which I cannot describe without giving away spoilers that would cause irate villagers to attempt to tear down my home with fire and pitchforks. Suffice to say, if you have not seen any one of these series, you need to do what you can to rectify that situation.
But, having said that, the winner is Justified, just edging out Luther and Sherlock. Created by Leonard Elmore and starring Timothy Olyphant as a federal marshal who must return to his home in rural Kentucky, the first season was eye-opening. But the second season went further, filled with stellar performances, two of which were nominated for Emmys and one that won (Margo Martindale). Walton Goggins is a revelation in every episode, and his conflicted character Boyd is a delight. Olyphant's Raylan is probably my favorite character on television right now (closely followed by John Noble's Walter Bishop on Fringe). Filled with the snappy dialog and deep and rounded characters one expects from Leonard, Justified is destination programming, and I am nearly counting the days until the new season starts in January.
TV Episode of the Year
"The Great Game", Sherlock
"Episode 1.6", Luther
"And Those We Left Behind", Fringe
"The Great Game" is the final episode of the first season for Sherlock and ends the season on a tremendous cliffhanger. Sadly, knowing that there is a season 2 indicates how the cliffhanger is resolved. "And Those We Left Behind" is another time-based episode on Fringe, where it becomes clear that time-travel is a tool for exploring the nature of relationships and obligation on that TV series, following as it does in the shoes of "White Lily" from the season before. But the winner is the unfortunately named "Episode 1.6" from Luther. All the issues that have been coming down on Luther's head through the previous episodes come to a crisis at the same time, and Luther has to rely on unexpected allies to help him through. Idris Elba shows his acting chops in this episode as a detective inspector who is ravaged by his own faults and the circumstances that those faults have created in his life. Alternately too trusting and paranoid, Luther finds out the cost of misplaced trust in a scene filled with such rage and sorrow as has been rarely seen on television. And, really did anyone see that conclusion coming?
Ongoing Comic Series of the Year
Nothing has excited me so much about the new DC 52 as Batwoman. The plotting and the art, and their masterful intersection in the hands of J.H. Williams III, is a signpost for what the very best in modern comics can do. And that it is being done in the superhero genre just speaks volumes about what Williams is capable of. Fables and Unwritten are strong contenders and should receive regular praise for what they bring to the table, but Batwoman takes my breath away in every issue. I really can't praise this work enough except to say that even non-comics readers should hunt down the first Batwoman collection once the story arc is complete.
And a music selection
I honestly cannot remember all the music that was new to me this year, but only one really jumps out at me as something that needs to be shared: Black Country Communion. If you are a fan of blues rock, you need to know about this band that describes what may have happened to Led Zeppelin had they remained together. Fronted by Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple, with lead guitarist blues master Joe Bonamassa, keyboardist Derek Sharinian, and drummer Jason Bonham, this band's self-titled first album rocks along the lines of bands that have been together for decades. They have a second album which is also particularly strong, but for me its lows are lower than the first album, and so that first album gets my pick. I'm astounded by the vocal range of Hughes in every track, and Bonamassa has already proven himself an artist in his solo work. But what also makes this album strong is their knowledge of the foundations of the genre they are working with. The style is always blues rock but the influences range from Led Zeppelin to Stevie Ray Vaughan to deep tracks of early Journey. I listened to this album for five days straight, and I desperately want ot see them live. I can think of no higher praise.
So, happy holidays to my readers, and I look forward to sharing more of my discoveries from next year. And who knows, given the political importance of 2012, maybe some political commentary might make its way here.