I did it last year, so now I’m almost obligated to do it again this year (and every following year). But I like lists as much as the average High Fidelity record shop employee, so it’s no real burden.
As with last year, I’ve broken it into three important ‘best-of’ lists: comic books, movies and songs (in no particular order). And as I noted last year, I’m purposely avoiding books without pictures, because as a book publicist, (a) the medium is dangerous territory for me, and (b) nobody cares what I think about books.
(Things I noticed: if you make a movie that blends comedy and tragedy or have a band that has a male-female duo, you have a pretty good shot of making one of those lists. I’m so obvious! Also, I didn’t read enough comic books. I need to take more comic book risks.)
(Read in 2011, not necessarily released in 2011)
1 ) Hark, A Vagrant! – Kate Beaton
Hands down, one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. Most of these strips will be familiar to followers of the web comic, but it’s wonderful to have it all in one compilation. Two personal notes: I want to open every talk I do about The Dead Kid Detective Agency with this Teen Boy Detective strip (but it’s sadly not age-appropriate) and Kate Beaton is incredible at drawing the facial expressions of the deranged.
2 ) The Intrepids – Kurtis J. Wiebe & Scott Kowalchuk
A bunch of teenage runaways are taken in by an old inventor and are trained to save the world from the menace that is mad science. With an art sensibility somewhere between Jack Kirby and Mike Allred and threats ranging from cyborg bears to angry baboons, this is like a no-brainer for me. I just feel the writing doesn’t always live up to the promise of the concept, a problem to which I am all-too sympathetic.
3 ) Criminal 5: The Last of the Innocent – Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
I raved about the Criminal series last year, too, but The Last of the Innocent took the excellence to the next level, mixing in nostalgic Archie-like flashbacks in a story that reads like Criminal’s version of The Kreutzer Sonata. (Yep, I just dropped some Tolstoy on you.)
4 ) Anya’s Ghost – Vera Brogsol
After my book came out, I started reading a lot of stories about kids and ghosts, and this is a very good one, with such a nice illustration style and some unexpected twists.
5 ) Walking Dead – Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard
Even though the comic series doesn’t have a Daryl Dixon, this zombie survival story is one of the most addictive comics I’ve ever read. Every book, I feel truly awful after reading it: things just seem to get worse and worse. And even when they’re okay, you just know something bad is going to happen. But still, Kirkman and Adlard’s work compels you to keep reading.
6 ) Pope Hats – Ethan Rilly
Local comics guy Ethan Rilly is, I’m convinced, going to be the next big thing. He just needs to quit his day job and do comics full time. Pope Hats is a beautiful book that blends realism with surreal elements (like early Dan Clowes) and features beautiful linework.
7 ) Axe Cop – Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle
After Hark, A Vagrant!, this was the funniest comic I’d read all year. For the uninitiated, this is a book written by a 5-year-old and drawn by his 29-year-old brother. The results, understandably, are the completely surreal adventures of a deranged policeman that read like they were written on a sugar-high (possibly because they were).
8 ) Morning Glories – Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma
I’m not usually fascinated by prep school, but this ‘Runaways meets Lost’ story has kept me intrigued. The artwork could use a bit of help here and there, though.
9 ) Suicide Squad (original series) # 1 – 10
The terrible, terrible decision of DC to turn Amanda Waller into a woman half her original age and one-third her original size sent me back to the original comic series about dangerous supervillains working for the government on suicide missions to earn time off their sentences. Somehow under mid-80s comics code, the book manages to be grittier and more subversive than its more modern iterations.
10 ) Infinite Kung Fu – Kagan McLeod
Torontonian and National Post staff illustrator Kagan McLeod’s years-in-the-making phone book of a comic is worth the wait, somehow capturing the energy of kung fu film in comic form.
(Watched in 2011, mostly released in 2011)
1 ) Drive – Nicolas Winding Refn (dir)
I can’t figure out whether Drive is more like, as the director and star say, ‘a John Hughes movie with head-stomping,’ or like Camus’s L’Etranger with a love story thrown in. Either way, it’s so good. Sitting in the theatre, I honestly had no idea where the story was going at any point. The soundtrack, art direction, acting: all gold. And the opening sequence (including the credits) are just perfect.
2 ) The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius (dir)
Silent film about the waning fortunes of a silent film star that’s much, much too charming to dislike. It even has an adorable dog, for Pete’s sake.
3 ) Attack the Block – Joe Cornish (dir)
I saw this in a double-bill with Cowboys and Aliens and this blew it out of the water … or dust bowl. Low level thuggish council-estate kids in London defend their apartment block from gorilla-like aliens. Like a much more violent Goonies with endearing British street slang.
4 ) Submarine – Richard Ayoade (dir)
This very funny and well-done coming-of-age story set in Wales and directed by IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place star Richard Ayoade is reminiscent of Rushmore, but isn’t nearly so stylized . The film’s protagonist Oliver Tate might be even more unpleasant than Max Fischer and Yasmin Paige as Jordana Bevan is tremendous. This should be on more year-end lists. ‘My mother is worried I have mental problems. I found a book about teenage paranoid delusions during a routine search of my parents’ bedroom.’
5 ) Fright Night – Craig Gillespie (dir)
At first, I was hesitant about a remake of possibly the best horror comedy of the 1980s, but Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) does a really nice job, relocating the story to the Las Vegas suburbs and maintaining a balance of menace and humour. The movie also features a very nice acting turn by Anton Yelchin (Chekov!) and Colin Farrell being really funny. Even Christopher Mintz-Plasse isn’t completely annoying!
6 ) Hanna – Joe Wright (dir)
Like an art-house fairy tale version of The Bourne Identity, Hanna is a weird movie, but a thrilling one. Just watch Eric Bana dispatch a group of thugs in the subway and tell me it wasn’t exhilarating. Or tell me this movie doesn’t have the most killer opening and beginning. Bonuses: great soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers, Cate Blanchett dressed up like Agent Scully.
7 ) The Guard – John Michael McDonagh (dir)
I’d heard so many good things about this movie, I was a little afraid to watch it. But I wasn’t disappointed – a buddy cop movie set in small-town Ireland, featuring what is probably the role of Brendon Gleeson’s career. Like with The Commitments, you’ll probably miss half the hilarious dialogue due to the thick accent. This is like a movie by Tarantino, if he were more interested in people than movies. Also, it features my favourite type of end credits – ones that show film clips of the actors in action!
8 ) Hobo with a Shotgun – Jason Eisener (dir)
The poutine of a film – so good, but so bad for you, and 100% Canadian. The exploitation film homage about (what else) a hobo with a shotgun ends with the theme song to The Racoons and may be the only film to receive funding from the Government of Canada that shows graphic shotgun-to-crotch violence.
9 ) Beginners – Mike Mills (dir)
A nice little story about love and death that falls just on the right side of ‘too twee.’ Ewan McGregor, Melanie Durant, Christopher Plummer and Goran Visnjic (who I like seeing in any movie) are all fantastic. The subtitled dog manages to be only the second most charming pet in this list of ten movies.
10 ) Bridesmaids – Paul Feig (dir)
This movie was just plain funny. Kristen Wiig trying not to give into diarrhea? That whole air marshal sequence? Giant cookie? Wilson Phillips? What else do you want?
(All released in 2011)
1 ) Beyonce – Countdown
A friend turned me on to this song by saying she’d just been watching the video on repeat for days. Soon, I was in the same boat. It’s like five songs in one, and all of them are club bangers. (I’m not sure I’m allowed to say that unironically.)
2 ) Cults – Abducted
I like every song on Cults’ debut album (which I have a sneaking suspicion is sort of a concept album about actual cults … can anyone support me on this?), but the opener might be my favourite.
3 ) Lady Gaga – Marry the Night
If Lady Gaga comes out with an album, you know I’m going to include a song on this list. ‘Marry the Night’ is like Meatloaf writing a ’90s techno hit.
4 ) Kavinsky – Nightcall (from the Drive soundtrack)
All the song choices in Drive are dazzling, but I think this song, playing over the opening credits, captures the mood of the film best.
5 ) The Sounds – Best of Me
Swedish rock group The Sounds are, for my money, the best purely pop rock band around. Better Off Dead is a fantastic song on the new album, but Best of Me just hits me harder, when they sing: ‘We are still young / but we are getting older / Our hearts are still warm / but they are getting colder / and this liiiiiiife / is getting the best of me.’
6 ) Sleigh Bells – Infinity Guitars
Technically, this may have been released in 2010, but Sleigh Bells are such a nice messy guitars and drums phenomenon.
7 ) The Lonely Island – Jack Sparrow
The troubling part about The Lonely Island is that their songs, while incredibly funny, are also just good as songs. Like, I’d-listen-to-this-even-if-it-wasn’t-funny good. This song also has the great distinction of bringing back Michael Bolton to public consciousness and coining the phrase, ‘back to the good part!’
8 ) The Book of Mormon cast – All-American Prophet
Similar to The Lonely Island, the team behind The Book of Mormon are so successful because the songs work just as songs. The Book of Mormon is both a reaction against and love letter to the traditional musical. And this song, which sums up the narrative of Mormonism in the catchiest of ways, is just one of the show-stoppers.
9 ) The Raveonettes – Forget That You’re Young
The Raveonettes write great songs. And this is probably the best one on the new album Raven in the Grave. I still like In and Out of Control better – this isn’t one of their best albums. But even a so-so album by The Raveonettes is better than 99% of everything else.
10 ) Avril Lavigne – What the Hell? / Ke$ha – We R Who We R (tie)
Judge if you must, but I love Avril Lavigne’s What the Hell? And Ke$ha’s We R Who We R. I can’t explain it, but I’d take either of these songs for a million Bon Iver songs.
(Full disclosure: my favourite song I discovered in 2011 was Robyn’s ‘Call Your Girlfriend‘, but that came out a couple years ago. Too bad, because it allows once to dance while crying, always a great quality in any song.)
Comments, criticisms, arguments, screeds: all welcome! What did I miss? What did I get totally wrong?