Welcome to the new CultureGeek, and thanks for following us! CultureGeek has gone rogue, so now we can use the naughty words. And what better way to kick off the new CultureGeek than with a look at the year we just escaped - the Year of Meh.
Movies of 2010
Most Fun Movie: Sir Not Appearing In This Column. Oh, there were some I liked – listed in the genres, in fact – but for real fun, we’re short this year. I suppose if you forced me, I'd say it was Inception, but that movie was emotionally and mentally so convoluted I can't really call it "fun." I guess I'd give it to Salt, but she wins best action movie, so for this year, the award sits on the shelf.
-- Honorable Mention: The Town. Ben Affleck wrote, directed and starred in this heist film about a bank robber who falls in love with a hostage. The best writing comes when you write what you know, and Affleck knows this neighborhood. The heists are brilliant, Jeremy Renner pulls out an awards-worthy performance as Affleck's best friend (I guess Matt Damon was busy), the late Pete Postlethwaite is appropriately chilling and all the background characters really make you taste the Boston beans. The only flaw is that Affleck never quite makes me feel his love for the woman, and perhaps with someone else in the lead, it would have been a perfect film. But then, nobody else might have been able to capture a Charlestonian like Affleck.
Best Action Movie: Salt. A movie written for Tom Cruise, they didn't remove any of Salt's skills, intelligence or capabilities just because the lead was Angelina Jolie. A spy who may or may not be a double agent, seeking the kidnapped spouse… it's paint-by-the-numbers if it's a man. With a woman in the center role, it became something wholly new. No one doubts whether Salt is as capable, committed and deadly as a male spy. She is awesome, and supposedly they want her to be a franchise. I surely hope so. Extra credit for backup players Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor and the sadly underused Andre Braugher.
-- Honorable Mention: Robin Hood. Russell Crowe takes a gritty new twist on the famous outlaw, creating a medieval anti-hero we can actually understand. Ridley Scott had some fun in the mud with the genesis of a rebellion, and I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel that showed us the rest of the fight. Only... just a little bit of humor, okay?
Best Movie I Didn't See: 127 Hours, with James Franco playing that hiker who got stuck under a rock for five days and amputating his own arm to escape. Yikes.
-- Honorable Mention: Red. Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, Ernest Borgnine and Brian Cox should have been enough… do you really need to know the plot of retired spies trying to escape their own government? These guys are the pros. I am catching this on Netflix, folks.
Best SF/F Movie: Inception. You have to turn on extra brain cells for this one, guys. Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page bring the top acting skills, with everyone putting in A-plus performances. Everyone talked about the awesome effects, but it's really a story about the quality of memory, the subjective nature of our own conscious reality, about grief and loss, addiction, dreaming and the strange nature of our own minds. It was a top contender for Most Fun Movie, and will probably reappear at Oscar time. Also, how long did we all talk about that damn spinning top?
-- Honorable Mention: Harry Potter and the Deathly Filler still managed to entertain me despite its part-one status and my second-least favorite storyline of the Potterverse. Congrats to the filmmakers and the excellent acting by the kids we've watched grow up. The only downside: we have to wait until next summer to watch the Battle of Hogwarts.
Best Horror Movie: Predators. Redeeming the series from the awful Alien vs. Predator series, my man Adrien Brody turns in a great show as a mercenary among the worst of the worst kidnapped by the Predators, set loose on a jungle planet and hunted. Extra credit to Danny Trejo, Topher Grace and Walton Goggins in their parts, plus Alice Braga as a brilliant and capable sniper and Laurence Fishburne going crazy. Wonderful movie, and hopeful there will be more.
-- Honorable Mention: Buried. I didn’t see this, folks, but what I heard was that it was claustrophobic, riveting and brilliant. Netflix. Others in this category include Shutter Island, which I really wanted to see and vanished before I could hire a sitter.
Worst Horror Movie: Skyline. Nearly AvP-bad, it’s from the same idiots who brought us that abomination. Don’t blame the actors, who barely escape with their careers – wretched writing, plot holes big enough for the Cloverfield Monster and utterly unsurprising “surprises” made it an awful, derivative mess. The only good thing I can say about it is the $10 million price tag – see, Hollywood? Put your money into scripts and you can still have awesome special effects.
Best Kids' Movie: Tangled. I had very low expectations, given the idiotic way Disney marketed it: No, it’s not a princess movie, because boys don’t like movies with girls in them! And we’ll just ignore the fact that it’s a musical by Alan Menken, who single-handedly brought us back from the dead with The Little Mermaid twenty years ago! But Tangled was charming fun, with lovely art that overcame its CGI roots (mostly – I still prefer hand-drawn) and Zachary Levi amused me enough that I didn’t hate him. I never thought princess movies were suffering all that much, not Princess and the Frog or Enchanted, but Tangled’s success should teach Disney that boys will watch girls if the girls kick ass. Bonus: frying pan as weapon!
Best Kids' Movie I Didn't See: The Karate Kid. A surprising shift from the pale remakes of late, CultureGeek Jr. adored it and everyone I know who saw it said it was a worthy successor - with bonus acting! I plan to catch it on Netflix.
-- Honorable Mention: Toy Story 3, because CultureGeek Jr. loved it.
Worst Kids' Movie: The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Nicolas Cage was either drunk or miserably phoning it in, as he gave a lackluster performance - and I didn't think that was possible for him. Boring story with above-average art, they wanted it to be Pirates of the Caribbean or at least Enchanted, and it didn't work. At least they wrote in the mops.
Worst Movie: Clash of the Titans. “Release the Kraken!” Which, of course, was a Norse mythological monster and had nothing to do with the Odyssey, Iliad or Greek mythology at all. I mean, movies were pretty sucky this year, but this one starred the monosyllabic Sam Worthington fighting Medusa, and once you hear her backstory you’re rooting for her. It was an awful movie that could have been awesome.
-- Dishonorable Mention: Grownups. When the "funniest" moment in the trailer has to do with grown men urinating in a pool, I pass. Also, there was another Twilight movie.
Most Offensive Movie I Didn't See: The Last Airbender. I won't rehash the whitewashing and misogynistic rewriting of an Asian-influenced series, because you've read them all. But when you recast a truly international cast so that all the good guys are white and all the bad guys are minorities, you've missed the lessons of RaceFail.
-- Dishonorable Mention: Sex and the City 2. The four ladies were bored with marriage, so they ran off to the desert to be the worst kind of American tourists. The cosmo-sipping women who pride themselves on being the most shallow of New Yorkers were offensive enough in the few scenes I read that I had no intention of watching the movie, even though I used to like the show.
Television of 2010
Best New Show: The Walking Dead. The end of the world and the happy-go-lucky days afterward had everyone talking since its Halloween premiere. The most vicious comic book in history comes to AMC and they do it right. The grotesqueries of the zombies pale beside the man backhanding his wife or Shane's drunken attempt to rape Lori. The psychological impact of the apocalypse is on clear display, from mass suicides to a half-insane doctor at the CDC, stonily awaiting death in the company of the computer. It didn't take long for The Walking Dead to become my must-see show, and it's strayed far enough from the comic that I no longer know what will happen next. Except… I know not to get too attached to anybody.
-- Honorable Mention: Parenthood. Technically not a "new" show as it was a midseason replacement last year, but the trials and tribulations of the Bravermans became a guilty pleasure for me, even when they made me mad. The cast does a good job balancing drama and humor, just like real parents and real family. I’m looking forward to the new season, even though nothing blows up.
Worst New Show: The Good Guys, which lost me before the credits in spite of Bradley Whitford.
Best Police Procedural: Rizzoli & Isles. This Cagney & Lacey for the 21st century did a great job with two women as best friends and co-workers, complete with personality defects and crazy family drama, plus a backup cast of fun cops. My biggest complaint with the series was that Rizzoli always got her man, and then they turned that on its side for the finale. They fail to keep a witness safe and lose half a dozen cops in a precinct assault. Rizzoli is taken hostage by a dirty cop, and as he's using her for a human shield, she shoots through herself to get him. Awesome, with grit that puts Harry Callahan to shame.
-- Honorable Mention: Memphis Beat. It started as a tourist's vision of Memphis, exacerbated by its location shooting in New Orleans. But it smoothed out and became fun, though the good guys always seemed to win. Once they got off Beale Street and started digging into the layered texture of the city, I really started to enjoy the show. I look forward to its return next summer.
Best SF/F Show: Sir Not Appearing In This Column. Okay, I’ve been told I should be watching Fringe, that I gave up too early (in episode 2). But in the year of Haven, The Event, No Ordinary Family and The Vampire Diaries, while Medium and Smallville still walk the earth… there just wasn’t anything I could get behind this year, guys. Even Supernatural can’t win my love, treading all-too-familiar waters of brotherly sacrifice. Just kill monsters, boys.
-- Honorable Mention: With the exception of Warehouse 13. This is mind candy for SFF fans, particularly those with a steampunk bent. It's a show written by geeks with in-jokes that you will get and they trust you to understand. Pete is the good shot, but Myka is hand combat, and as a bonus she dresses like a professional: Dana Scully, not Amy Pond. It's a pile of skiffy fun I can watch with my son, and that's worth putting up with the SyFyLys Network.
-- Dishonorable Mention: V. Hey, I wanted to like it. But the screaming right-wing politics marred the early episodes, it suffers badly from Evil Journalist Syndrome, and later episodes fell into an annoying pattern: Erica investigates, Fifth Columnists run, Anna simpers. Plus, someone needs to give Morena Baccarin a sandwich. I missed the last few episodes and found I didn't care. I might give it one more shot - but only one.
Best Comedy: Castle. It's hard to classify this show, but really it's become a dramedy. The Moonlighting pastiche has been sublimated to a working partnership, and while the cases are a little too outlandish (Bones-style) and the outcome is a little too predictable, watching the two leads play off each other is always fun. They went out in style for the break, singing "Piano Man" on their way to a tavern, and it was an awesome moment. If it's a comedy, it's the best one we've got.
-- Dishonorable mention: Chuck, and the lobotomization of Sarah. The best season finale of 2010 was Chuck's: Ellie finds out about the spy biz, Casey comes clean to his daughter, the final showdown with Agent Superman, the death of Chuck's father… it was great. And then the fall came and we turned Sarah into the lemon-faced whiner, Casey was sidelined, and every episode was about their relationship. Sarah used to be intelligent and capable; now she's just The Girlfriend, as proven by her ill-advised solo mission to rescue Chuck toward the end of the winter session. The only high point of this new season has been Linda Hamilton as Chuck's mom and her relationship with Timothy Dalton, hilariously chewing scenery as a Russian baddie. I was almost disappointed by his villainy, because when he was pretending to be MI-6, he was the most incompetent spy ever, which made me laugh like a little girl as a long-time Bond fan. Can those two get their own show? We'll call it Come With Me If You Want To Live.
Best Drama: Sons of Anarchy is so convoluted at this point I cannot in good conscience suggest you leap in now. I will, however, strongly insist you seek out the show from the beginning. Hamlet in a biker jacket continues to be the best-written and -acted show on television, despite an ill-advised foray into Ireland for half the season. Katey Sagal has deserved the best actress Emmy for the last two years, and I want to know why they keep ignoring her - and Ron Perlman as the Claudius figure is almost as good. Extra credit this season for a guest appearance by Stephen King, a motorcycling "cleaner" who specializes in body disposal… named Bachman.
-- Honorable Mention: Criminal Minds continues to horrify, even with the loss of J.J. (damn ye, CBS!). I am undecided on the J.J. replacement, in case you're wondering. In the meantime, the season finale with Tim Curry as the scariest Unsub since the 100th episode was astounding. This show is always an awful box of awesome, and not for the fainthearted.
Best TV Moment: Bones' 100th episode. Sure, this show has danced around the Moonlighting curse for a long time, but it couldn't go on forever. David Boreanz and Emily Deschanel were letter-perfect, emotionally affected by their missed chances. Extra credit goes to the recent Christmas episode, a nice dovetail to that one with Bones turning to Booth and being rebuffed as gently as he could manage – and Bones weeps. So do we all. In a show generally requiring a huge suspension of disbelief, it gave us a few moments of emotional reality.
- Honorable Mention: The New Orleans Saints win the Super Beauxl. Great game, marred by the worst misogyny in Super Bowl commercials I have ever seen. Jezebel wrote, "Pathetic Men and the Women Who Ruined Them." I wrote my own criticism, pointing out the fallacy of man-vs.-woman henpecking in these commercials when nearly half the Super Bowl's viewers are female. Otherwise, this would have been the best TV moment of the year.
Best Hallelujah Near-Miss: The U.S. version of Torchwood, which died on the drawing board and good riddance. Instead we will get new Torchwood in Britain, where it is far away from American studios' stupidity and Captain Jack gets to remain omnisexual.
Circling Shark-infested Waters: Supernatural. The episode about the Whore of Babylon was a low point in the show's unfortunately-strong history of misogyny, and by now I'm really sick of the Brothers Grim sacrificing themselves for each other. I liked it better when they just killed monsters.
Best Book: Dweller by Jeff Strand. A tale of a disturbing childhood friendship between a lonely kid and a monster, Strand makes good on the promise of his Stoker-nominated debut novel, Pressure. Total disclosure requires that I tell you Jeff is a friend of mine, and I rarely review books by my friends. But I made an exception for Dweller, because it was a brilliant and enthralling story that will propel you through an entire life in one long, page-turning night. CultureGeek strongly recommends.
- Dishonorable Mention: Under the Dome, by Stephen King. From anyone else, it would have been all right. For King, it was pretty dull. The Peter Principle applied to a small New England town's apocalypse should have been fantastic, as King's primary territory. Instead, it was a long, quasi-unbelievable devolution of humanity that dragged in places and made me sigh in disbelief in others. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was very disappointed.
Firefly Memorial Dead Before Its Time Award: Trauma. It turned off a lot of people with an overly high-incident pilot and unprofessional ambulance boinking. But strong acting, intelligent stories and the pressure of high-incident jobs made for an interesting series that could have grown into something wonderful, but the plug was pulled.
-- Honorable mention: 10 Things I Hate About You. It was smart and vacuous, funny and overwrought, a teen comedy that strived to be a little bit more and almost succeeded. Gay and straight students coexisted without stupidity; characters had less-than-perfect home lives; there were characters that weren't perfect Hollywood beauties. It was the best teen show in years that didn't involve slaying vampires, and the first sitcom in years that actually made me laugh. So, of course, it died.
-- Honorable Honorable Mention: Law & Order. One more season and it would have broken Gunsmoke's record. Instead, we got Law & Order: Suntan Edition, and nobody cares. A graceful send-off for Epatha Merkerson turned into the end of the show, and we didn't have time to bring in all the familiar faces you know would have dropped by for the last shot. A goodbye movie would be great, but I wouldn't put money on it, even though L&O was doing its best work in a decade with better ratings than many shows that were inexplicably renewed. NBC, you suck.
-- Yet Another Honorable Mention: The Bridge. BSG's Aaron Douglas as a cop in a decidedly split district, covering both the landed gentry and the gang-infested ghetto of Los Angeles. It lasted a handful of sharply-written, well-acted episodes before it got the axe. Of course.
Biggest Disappointment: The fifth season of Doctor Who. Not even the arguably improved finale could fix it, with twists so complicated they lost me going around the turn and a horribly overdone score. I called on Steven Moffat to find the person doing the music, flay him alive and feed him to the Daleks. But then, Moffat didn’t do much to make me happy this season, what with the screamingly sexist public comments and insistence on writing Amy as a totally incomprehensible and illogical girl. Even Rose, all of nineteen, was really a woman at heart. Worst of all, I think, was writing the Doctor as a jerk, someone who is inexplicably nasty to River Song (who still managed to be mostly awesome) despite watching her die for him only one season ago. I loved the last four years of Doctor Who, and watching it fall apart this season has been awful. It was Doctor Who wrapped in cotton, and in the end nothing mattered, because all the sacrifices were negated by the Power of Wuv. Everybody lives, but when Christopher Eccleston shouted it, it was joyful and rare. Now it is “meh.”
-- Dishonorable Mention: In Plain Sight. It wasn’t the trainwreck I was expecting, and there were a few good episodes. We saw the end of Raph, thank Zod, and he was replaced by Steven Weber, who was smarmy and annoying but at least is unlikely to marry Mary. Still, most of the season was treading water, and the only fun came from the guest stars. I wish they had let us see the original end to Who Shot Mary, because they said it was “too dark” for the series and it got the creators fired. As I don’t mind the darkness and was disappointed most of the year, I’d like to see it.
ER Memorial “That's Still On?” Award: Desperate Housewives. Yes, really, it’s still on.
Biggest Hollywood Brouhaha: Team Conan vs. Team Leno. To recap: NBC decided in all its brilliance that Jay Leno was funny enough to be on prime time every night. They were wrong. NBC tried then to move him to the Tonight Show timeslot and shove Tonight with Conan O'Brien to midnight, with Jimmy Fallon talking to the drunks at dawn. Conan said the 60-year history of the Tonight Show was too important to be shoved aside like that and declined. The internet went nuts, solidly on Conan's side, but NBC held fast, fired Conan and gave the Tonight Show to Leno. No one has watched it since.
Best Internet Moment: Google created a Pac-man logo for the 30th anniversary of the ghost-eating yellow spot, and made it playable. Someone estimated it cost $120 million in productivity worldwide for the 36 hours or so it was on Google.
And that, my friends, was 2010, the year of Meh. Here's hoping for better stuff in 2011, for smart stories and snarky characters and fun explosions and maybe a few laughs and tears along the way. Here's to flying with dragons, battling among the stars and ignoring the laws of physics whenever we damn well please. It's a new decade and a new site, so let's make it the year of the geek.
CultureGeeks, if you please.