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PopMatters Picks: The Best TV, Film, and DVD of 2011

Just like Sisyphus, forever pushing his immense boulder up a hill filled with possibilities, it’s time for PopMatters to take on the task of coming up with the year’s very best. While arduous, the results speak for themselves.

Another year, another try at bringing together 12 months of vastly divergent entertainment into one consensus overview. While getting unlike minded people to agree on anything is a fool’s paradise, it’s interesting to see how the end result comes together. Among the many items appearing on this week’s worth of lists are titles that almost all thought worthy (Drive) or at least everyone could appreciate (The Help). The flukes, however, are always more fascinating. In film, something like Rise of the Planet of the Apes made a strong showing while surefire Oscar bait like The Descendants and Shame barely made a dent. Similarly, mainstream popularity appeared to motivate at least a couple of choices. Bridesmaids may be headed toward a showdown with the other nine Best Picture nominees, but the Academy Award hopeful could only hope for the amount of artist affection it finds/found here.

TV, on the other hand, has become the domain of the derivative. Not that this means the choices are bad - far from it. The medium remains one of the strongest in all of entertainment. What it does indicate, however, is the difficulty newer series have in breaking through to the top. Certainly, some among the 30 are new or nicely settling into their sophomore strategies, but when 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia continue their annual appearances, it’s like creative deja vu all over again. In fact, ratings and a regular spot on the PopMatters list seems to go hand in hand. Yes, there are anomalies and flukes, but they are far outweighed by the small screen stalwarts that come to consistently represent the cream of the crop. We aren’t arguing with the choices so much as mentioning the fact that you’re probably aware of at least a few of the titles as you click through.

And then there are the ancillary categories. Guilty Pleasures in both broadcast and big screen amusement always seems to create conflicting bedfellows. Indeed, one groups hated entry can also be another misunderstood gem (are you listening, Sucker Punch???). Similarly, Independent and Foreign Film always seems to coattail and intertwine with the regular movie list. Still, it’s interesting to see the amount of love for a quirky British fright film like Attack the Block or the trippy Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Performances almost always complement the Best Film choices, since they are almost never mutually exclusive, and DVD remains a mystery. What with Blu-ray buying up as much commercial real estate in the home video marketplace as any other item (with, perhaps, the except of live streaming), the selections become more personal…and some might argue, problematic.

All of which we use to prepare you for one week of (mis)guided group think. It’s hard enough to immerse yourself in this much media and come out of it sane, let alone with a solid understanding of what you’ve seen or heard. The studios don’t make it any easier. The holiday season is a traditional dumping ground, every possible contender for any accolade being piled on top of one another and all screaming for acknowledgement. Worse still, the gift giving dynamic allows for specialized packaging of product previously released, making the finalization of any feature a tough assignment. In the end, however, the staff has stepped up and given it their best shot. The results are guaranteed to make you smile, sneer, and snark all the way to your Twitter peeps. They also represent what we believe are the true representation of the year’s highlights.

Bill Gibron

Sunday, January 22 2012

The 40 Best Films of 2011

2011 was a year of good, not necessarily great, films, though the amazing choices by our staff might argue against such a overall cinematic classification.

Wednesday, January 18 2012

Movies 2011: Out of the Past

Super 8, The Muppets, and some of the other great movies of 2011 owe plenty to movies of the past. And they pull off a neat trick too: they're as vivid and delightful as your memories of those movies.

TV 2011: Survivalist Crime Solvers

Recent US crime shows claim not only that the law does not provide justice to ordinary Americans, but also that it cannot do so.

Tuesday, January 17 2012

The Best Male Film Performances of 2011

In another strong year, crime and punishment take on heart and heroism for the right to be called 2011's best male film acting work.

Monday, January 16 2012

The Best Female Film Performances of 2011

It was a monumental year for women in film as our selections for 2011's best female performances indicate... over and over and over again.

Sunday, January 15 2012

Movies 2011: American Gothic

While comic-book apocalypses ripped across US multiplexes, some smaller films of 2011 envisioned an icier, more disruptive darkness at the heart of the American family.

Movies 2011: Powerful and Disturbing Visions

Many films this year explored self-consciously "big" themes, revealing that sometimes the line between felicity of expression and facileness can be unclear.

Thursday, January 12 2012

The Best Indie / International Films of 2011

The year's best independent and international films are highlighted by a duo from iconic director Werner Herzog, a staggeringly brilliant frontier-western and a score of top-notch documentaries that illustrate how filmmaking continues to reach new highs.

Wednesday, January 11 2012

The Best TV Performances of 2011

For all the high points on TV in 2011, there were also things that bothered me, and not all of them were named Kardashian.

The Guilty Pleasure TV Shows of 2011

Anthropomorphized food... insane soap opera creeepshows... and at least one example of the 'Unhappy Englander" on holiday. Must be time for the guiltiest of TV fare.

Tuesday, January 10 2012

The Best Television Shows of 2011

The small screen offers up the usual suspects, proving once again that, with a few exceptions, what's good on today's prime time schedule will stay that way until the next best-of list.

Monday, January 9 2012

The Guilty Pleasure Films of 2011

You may snicker when looking over this list, but these are the films of 2011 that made us feel guilty for loving them so -- and love them we do.

The Worst Films of 2011

Nothing is more punishing than a bad movie. With these ten, 2011's torture was truly painful.

Sunday, January 8 2012

The Best DVDs of 2011

With the continuing rise of Blu-ray, this year sees a lot of repeat entries. Just because they're here again, however, doesn't mean they're any less special.

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