I meant to do something like this for last year — to summarise my choice cuts from the previous 12 months of media consumption — but time got away from me in the end, and anyway, who wants to read about 2011 at the end of 2012?
Let’s just pretend I never intended to do that and start over right here with my picks of music, film, TV, books and whatnot, both old and new, since January of this year.
What I watched
It was a pretty flat year in cinema for me, meaning that I could count the new releases I saw on both hands. Of those, ParaNorman was the most fun I had at the pictures all year; it’s a genuinely affectionate, heartfelt love letter to 1980s B-movies and horror cinema, pleasingly lacking in the cynicism that often mars present-day throwbacks to that era. And it’s a kids’ movie!
If a Tree Falls is not a kids’ movie, rather a surprisingly affecting documentary on so-called ‘eco-terrorism’ that was rightly nominated for an Oscar earlier in the year. Another top documentary this year was Searching for Sugar Man; although a tad liberal with the truth at times, it’s one of those timeless underdog stories that warm the cockles.
As for the rest, I wish I’d saved my money: Avengers Assemble, Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises were all sore disappointments (though I really shouldn’t have been surprised by the latter, seeing as I hated The Dark Knight with a passion). The Amazing Spider-Man was okay — setting aside its complete misunderstanding of Peter Parker’s character — yet still completely unnecessary. Hollywood needs to try much harder.
Everything else I saw (and I saw quite a bit) was older back-cat fare, much of it via Netflix. None of it blew me away. I described Drive as a “neo-noir that lacks the genre’s trademark snappy repartee, and magnetic performances for that matter, replacing them with ill-fitting explosions of violence”. Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel was fine but missing something. Kill List was shocking but too cold to love.
One real lowlight for me, though, was Vertigo, which is supposed to be the greatest film of all time but for me the sumptuous visuals don’t make any allowances for a hole-filled plot that’s at least a half hour too long, and some seriously crap performances. Jimmy Stewart? Jiminy Stewart, more like it.
Writing this reminds me of how many potentially great new films I missed out on seeing this year. But that’s why there’s downloads and Blu-rays and DVDs.
As for television, Elementary has surprised me by being a relatively respectful take on the Sherlock Holmes paradigm. And Adventure Time is just utterly bonkers and… well, please see it for yourself. Trust me. Meanwhile, the Monday night quiz hour of University Challenge and Only Connect continues to make most weeks.
I didn’t watch enough Community this year. And I still need to catch up on Homeland, The Killing III, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad and Louie, among many others. I see many multi-episode binges in my future.
What I heard
I started writing music reviews (and the odd interview) for Thumped in the first half of the year — and for Burning Ambulance in the latter half — which had me listening to all sorts of great new music, most of it on the heavier end of the spectrum.
The best of the bunch, and my album of the year, is Book Burner by Pig Destroyer, which I described as “grindcore turned up to 11”. Honourable mentions should also go to the self-titled debut from local avant hardcore crew Wölfbait, Converge’s All We Love We Leave Behind, Nihil’s Verdonkermann, the Dicks reissues, the Melvins’ Freak Puke and Dead Neanderthals’ Jazzhammer/Stormannsgalskap. There’s loads more that I didn’t get a chance to review or even listen to, but I’m not nearly as behind as I used to be.
As for live music, the highlight for me was seeing Voivod at The Village in October, while Converge and Grant Hart played solid sets. I’m hoping to see some proper grind in 2013 as Rotten Sound (and also the amazing Cloud Rat, fingers crossed) are slated to come through.
2012 was also the year I got back into podcasts. There are simply so many good ones out there that to digest them all is impossible, so I’ve latched onto a select few — but mostly The Art of Wrestling with Colt Cabana and Dan Harmon’s Harmontown — and dug right in listening back over the past 12 months and beyond. When I start looking for more, similarly geeky fare, I’ll be using the AV Club’s Podmass column as my guide. Among them may well be Greg Proops’ The Smartest Man in the World; if you listen to the recent episode recorded live in Dublin, you might hear me in the background cackling at a joke about Samuel Beckett.
What I read
I enjoyed that one quite a bit; it’s slighter than the subject matter might suggest, and the cliches pile up as the story unfolds, but the pages turn easy and it’s ultimately satisfying. The same cannot be said for Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, which flails around in a world constructed by cherry-picking the work of others, among them Simon Morden’s cyberpunk-ish Samuel Petrovich trilogy, the first of which I found okay if overlong, spending too much time world building and not enough pushing the story forward; I’ll give the next one a chance.
My longest read of the year was undoubtedly James Gleick’s The Information, which I actually started in November last year and finally completed in late October. I’m not sure it deserved that level of commitment, but I’m glad I read it all the same. The most fun read for me was John Dies At The End; I’m looking forward to starting the sequel in the New Year.
At the moment I’m deep into grunge oral history Everybody Loves Our Town and Jason Zinoman’s modern horror overview Shock Value. I’ll probably follow those up with one of the unread Austers on my shelf, and maybe some more comics to vary things up a little.
And the rest
No theatre or art for me in 2012. I feel like such a philistine sometimes. But Robin Ince at the Science Gallery was a hoot (he’ll be here again in February), and it was a treat seeing Terry Pratchett at the same venue, probably my favourite space in the city right now. I’ll be making an effort to see the current exhibition GAME before it closes in the coming weeks, as well as perusing the annual Turner show at the National Gallery.
And games! Dominion was my discovery of the year; all those cards look quite intimidating at first glance, but it turns out to be an incredibly playable (and replayable) experience that I’d recommend to just about anyone. I also played a good bit of Ticket to Ride, which is almost perfect and makes me wish I hadn’t wasted all those childhood hours losing at Monopoly. And Letterpress for iOS is a fiendishly addictive twist on the Boggle concept. More like these in 2013, please.