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

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