PopMatters Picks: The Best TV, Film, and DVD of 2012

If there is a single image that sums up 2012’s media season, it’s Michael Caine crying, almost uncontrollably, in Christopher Nolan’s amazing finale to his Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. Heartbroken over the (supposed) death of his longtime friend and family charge, the actor’s Alfred unleashes a torrent of grief that is almost unbearable to watch. Now, this doesn’t mean this year’s pickings were that pathetic. On the contrary, the highs and lows of 2012 were so incredible that they inspire the kind of irrepressible emotional outpouring that Caine offered on screen. Indeed, by the end of December, the best inspired a near hyperbolic amount of praise, while the worst were being condemned as the funeral bell for the entire type.

Cinematically, it kind of made sense. The sing-along sprawl of Les Miserables was matched by the future Scarface splatter farce of Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti slave delight Django Unchained. David O. Russell wowed viewers with his well meaning mainstream dramedy The Silver Linings Playbook, while those lucky enough to see it couldn’t stop praising the fascinating French film freak out Holy Motors. During the Summer, Bruce Wayne battled Peter Parker and the Avengers for superhero supremacy, while bungles like Battleship and Rock of Ages challenged Hit and Run and The Watch for bottom of the barrel bragging rights. Even at the beginning of the year, Joss Whedon’s other effort, the long dormant and infinitely shelved Cabin in the Woods finally saw the light of day — and delivered in meta deconstructionist spades while Chronicle proved that, when done right, the found footage film could actually work, and work wonderfully. Of course, we had to put up with Project X on the other side of the POV position. Ugh.

Over on the small screen, things were a bit more divisive. The Walking Dead either lost its core or regained it with its latest season, while HBO’s argued over Girls gave viewers either awkward indie smarm fits or real life relate-ability. Mad Men remained strong, while long standing comedy champions like 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation started to fade (and don’t even get us started on the seem-to-be-overstaying-their welcome weirdness of The Simpsons). Previous phenoms like American Horror Story and Louie lost a bit of their social media mania, while newcomers like Sherlock and Nashville promised better things to come. The high note of an otherwise morbid TV season? MTV finally ended our long national (and for a moment, international) nightmare by putting the spray tanned and smashed cast of Jersey Shore out to pasture once and for all.

Perhaps the most intriguing war was declared a wash this year as DVD and Blu-ray bowed to streaming and smartphone accessibility. Apparently, cinephiles have rejected David Lynch’s lamented hatred of miniaturizing the movies for the sake of handheld ease of use. Indeed, all media is suffering at the thumbs of texters tempted by 4G quantity versus product quality. Yet instead of firing up a dirge to depress even the most obsessive fan, perhaps it’s time to rejoice in the new path, Videodrome style. While the old ways appear to be falling out of favor, the novel and inventive are bringing a whole new generation to the entertainments we’ve long taken for granted. For the PopMatters staff, 2012 inspired great loves and huge losses. Beginning with acting and moving through all the rest, we hope to showcase what we want to thrive and anything we hope moves onto the cultural graveyard. Maybe we’ll even join Caine in shedding a tear or two. It was that kind of year.