Friday, February 17, 2012


Yeah, I really need to get back to writing something besides AICN reviews. So, speaking of which, we just rolled out our year end column(s) for the site last week and I figured I might as well get back in the mix of things with some talk about things I consumed (figuratively and literally) in 2011. So here's some lists* with some pretty brief notes (*lists that are, for the time being, kind of "incomplete" in that I have a stack of games to play still and some movies I really need to watch, but I figure I've consumed the essentials. Addendums to follow though). The funny thing about all of this being that I've been actually working on this for two weeks or so but kept catching up on more media from 2011 as I was preparing this and then had to keep making new additions/edits. Anyway, just a few standard categories with five entries each. Nothing really comics based since that's the kind of spiel I've already got going on.

Best Movies (I saw) of 2011:

This one is always incomplete it seems, because all the Oscar Bait always comes out so late in the year, it's usually February by time I see all of that stuff (that I'm interested in) that gets nominated. I'm actually getting pretty well caught up by now given all the movies that got added in the wake of the Golden Globes and Oscar noms and Blu-Ray and so on. Basically now I'm down to character pics, like "The Iron Lady" and whatever that thing is where Christopher Plummer was gay in and so on.

1) Moneyball - The only thing I saw that had a real solid dramatic premise. Brad Pitt was both charming and depressed as he portrayed Billy Bean and, given how Hollywood dramatizations tend to go, the conversion of the A's story to the big screen was properly melodramatic without getting overly so. Plus it's a subject matter that I always enjoyed so this is probably the best thing I've seen given how much more I still have to go at the moment.

2) Drive - Violent Noir done oh so fucking right. Everything about this movie seemed built for me. All star cast with people I love; Gosling, Perlman, Cranston, etc. Beautiful direction taking on a nice dirty deeds get even dirtier plot with the most fantastic soundtrack bringing it all together. Loved the slow burn for the first hour as well, it really, really pushed everything to the brink and made the "shit going down" all that more brutal and wonderful. Such a great movie.

3) The Muppets - It's the fucking Muppets. Come on.

4) Hugo - Finally saw "The Artist" yesterday but this remains the top of my heap. What I truly loved and appreciated about the movie is the world it inhabits of the train station and all the fun and quirky bit characters that have their own time in the sun to really flesh out that domain. I also highly enjoyed the ride of this whimsical affair with it's appropriate highs and lows of the current story and history of Hugo and then how Scorcese weaves that into his love letter to the Black & White film era. Everything about it is as masterful as you'd expect from that man. Also, it's a travesty Sir Ben Kingsley didn't get a Supporting Actor nom as he more or less killed in this. Can't wait to watch it again.

5) The Artist - Glorious as I thought this was, there was really just one reason I think it fell shy of being my fave/best I saw; predictability. Love how it was shot, and it definitely was not just "gimmicky" with the silent black-and-white treatment. Dujardin killed, the humor was great, the time capture spot on, etc. But, end of day, you knew the plot beat-for-beat as it unfolded. Everything else was glorious, but Hugo had glorious in spades and the process of it turning into its own love letter to a filmmaking period gone by was something I didn't completely expect.

Best TV (I watched) of 2011:

This one is definitely going to be awkward because it's the year I cancelled my cable. So I'm more or less limited to what I got to see via Hulu, Netflix and, uh, more "unsavory" means. But still, I watched a good big even without that sooo...

1) A Game of Thrones - Never felt prompted to read the series (there's only so much of a saga I can take in prose, re: The Wheel of Time) but I loved the idea of Political fantasy and was amped this made it as a show. And the show is pretty fucking awesome. Depressing as hell, but perfectly shot and acted, especially on the part of motherfucking Dinklage. Looking forward to my Blu-Ray set of this.

2) Community - At this point I've watched so many Sitcoms it's one of those deals where my top tier is pretty much set and it really takes something special to breech it. And this is something pretty damn special. So much so that when I had some time off around Christmas the wife and I watched every single episode of it twice within the span of ten days. And hell, I'm down for a third.

3) Boardwalk Empire - This one is kind of cheating because I'm only halfway through the first season since I just got the Blu-Ray set, but damn this is good shit. Writing, acting, love the time period, the whole nine. I really miss HBO these days.

4) Justified - Everyone keeps saying this is like Deadwood (sans all the cocksuckers) meets Walker Texas Ranger (sans all the poor choreography) and I actually agree. And it works awesomely. Really liked the villain Margo Martindale played (Mags was truly disturbed/terrifying at times) and enjoy Raylan and Boyd as characters.

5) Modern Family - Everything I said about Community pretty much rings true for this as well. I'm not as attached to the characters as I am Community but enjoy how equally zany the plots tend to be, given their different context.

My apologies to Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead and so on, as those are the quality shows I was already watching that I now have to wait for box set due to my telling Comcast to go screw.

Best Beers I Drank in 2011:

Okay, only note here is that this of what I drank IN 2011, not of 2011 because that's a whole spiel of it's own once you get real deep into beer snobbery. And yes, I dedicated a bit of my time and effort to becoming more versed in the ways of beer this past year, to go hand in hand with my not being much of a drinker these days. I found myself basically just having a nightcap here and there, so why not try all the craft beer I could since there's a lot better access to it around the city? So out of 182 different beers I had, this are my faves that I tried.

1) Southern Tier Pumking - If there's any style and/or season I prefer it is the fall stuff, Pumpkin beers and Oktoberfests, with the former being a bigger priority in my book. Southern Tier's Pumking was easily my favorite of those types. Nice and sweet because of generous amounts of Nutmeg, good body on it, and nicely alcoholic at 8.6% So glad I still have a bottle left.

2) Founders Breakfast Stout - Coffee, Chocolate, and Oatmeal are my favorite types of dark beer and this has all three and in excellent equilibrium. I am very much a kind of guy that has certain styles he likes during certain times of the year, but I could drink this every one of the 365 days we and I usually don't bother with dark beers once the temps get over 50.

3) Ballast Point "Victory at Sea" - Another dark one and another one full of lots of robust flavors. The name of the game with this beer is vanilla and lots of it. But it wasn't sickly sweet like a lot of the vanilla based beers I've tried have. There's a lot more balance with some coffee and subtle chocolate taste to go with the v-word. I liked this so much that I'm now looking into ordering a couple bottles from a place in Florida I found since the 2011 batch (I got a 2010 last Feb when I first tried this) either never found its way to Pittsburgh, or sold out immediately if it did.

4) Thirsty Dog "12 Dogs of Christmas" - This is following my love of the Pumking for its use of nutmeg. Nice, sweet taste with a little bit of a malty finish. Little bit of caramel and vanilla in there and not overly spiced like a bunch of the winter ales I tried were. I'd really like to get something like this year round if I could, but that's the breaks with these seasonals.

5) Bell's "Oberon" - And, yes, the last of the best beers I had is was also a seasonal release. This one is a summer release in a Belgian Witbier tradition. Big, wheaty taste and body, nice bit of citrus to finish it off and linger on the tongue. Very crisp, very refreshing. This is the beer I want to drink anytime the sun is out and there's a ball game on.

Best Video Games I Played in 2011

Much like movies, I usually don't have a full grasp on this subject until a few weeks into the new year, simply because things are so backloaded toward the end of the year and I need time to catch up. Judging by feedback around the net though, I don't think anything on my backlog pile is the kind of stuff that would be hopping over what I've got here. So, without further ado...

1) Skyrim - Fucking Skyrim. Played this thing for 100+ hours, did not even finish the main story (which, yeah, could be perceived as a knock against this game) and I still loved all my time in it. The world of Skyrim is probably the most enjoyable experience I've had in gaming this generation as it hits bunches of sweet spots in my gamer lobe. I love the world; the harsh elements, the random stories hidden within the environments, the fucking dragons!! etc. The combat is better than Bethesda games have been in the past, if not for you have some more customization over how your character engages in it and it feels like there's a lot more feedback, especially with shields and more physical forms of action. And even though I have not finished the main story yet, there's plenty of great tales within the game and, honestly, I did not leave my experience with the game incomplete because of quality, but because the quantity of stuff I had done contributed greatly to my being so backlogged on games. All things equal, this is pound for pound my favorite game of this current generation.

2) Portal 2 - Arguably the best storytelling I've enjoyed in a video game, that's why this is here. Well that and the sweet ass mechanics this game was originally renowned for. The introduction and story arc of the Wheatley character (wonderfully voiced by Stephen Merchant) and how the "relationship" between Chell and GLaDOS gets turned on its ear and the disembodied voice of Cave Johnson are pretty much the best written parts I've enjoyed in a video game. And, yes, there's those mechanics I've mentioned ala the Portal gun, and it does not get old, especially when the gels get added to the mix and some of the puzzles do get pretty devious in design. Such a great game all around and something I really owe it to myself to run through again.

3) Saint's Row the Third - Going with more excellent writing, SRt3rd is the epitome of "that's so stupid it's fucking brilliant" writing. The gags are amazing as well as the characters which are so non-chalant about their particular brands of crazy (outside your own character) that it makes, say, escaping from a bunch of gimps with riding crops up their whatzits pulling chariots of dudes shooting at you while you escape on your own chariot being pulled by a guy that speaks in autotune not seem so crazy. SRt3rd also happens to be a very well executed open world crime game, so there's that too.

4) Batman: Arkham City - Everything I loved about Arkham Asylum but in an open world setting that I (apparently being in the minority) enjoyed more than the "Metroid" style setup they went with AA. Given, I think there are a couple things about Arkham City here that are a slight bit inferior to its predecessor, namely I did not think the main story was as tight and the idea of Arkham City itself seemed kind of odd as a thing that would even exist, but those are really my only picked nits when it comes to this game. The combat is even more focused and loaded with options and mechanics for comboing which makes what I personally feel is the best combat I've played in an Action game even better. And all the goodies and side quests and continuity Easter Eggs within the open world were very cool to absorb as I played, being the Bat-geek I am.

5) Dead Space 2 - I admit I only kind of liked the first one due to a couple outliers; those being combat controls I thought were a bit twitchy and absolutely godawfully repetitive missions of the "go get this and fix a thing" variety. The atmosphere, though, was absolutely glorious in all its tension filled, eerily soundtracked glory. Dead Space 2 here takes that big positive, keeps it up to par, and then drastically improves those first two knocks against it to beyond even just a "passable" level but to being actually really damn good. There's more mission variety, more interesting weapons (though, admittedly, there's still four that stand out over the rest to the point where you won't bother with the others), and it's just as tension-filled and gory as ever, with a bigger and more interesting story to boot. It was not unlike the big jump in all around quality that the Uncharted games made from 1 to 2 and while I may not think it has that extra flair and depth that makes UC2 one of the best games I've played this generation, it was definitely enough to be one of the five best games I played in a pretty good year for gaming.

And I think that is going to be that for these lists. I was thinking of doing music, but I barely bought twenty albums this year and basically listened to four of them over and over again (those being, for shit's sake, "The King is Dead" by The Decemberists, "Endgame" by Rise Against, "Good For Me" by The Swellers, and "Major/Minor" by Thrice). I plan on (hopefully) putting something up here every two or three weeks when I have something more (hopefully, again) thought provoking on some entertainment industry point or whatnot, or maybe something more frequently if I have a review or something I feel I should write. Anyway, time to finally put this to bed, and here's some links to our @$$ie columns for comic books in 2011. Cheers...

Day One - Best One-Shot, Best Team, Best Cover Art, and Miniseries

Day Two - Best Moment, Best Villain, Best Art Team

Day Four - Best Hero, Best Writer, and Best Ongoing Series