Thursday, December 29, 2011

Culture Shock 12.29.11: Not everything was annoying in 2011

Once again, it's time to say goodbye and good riddance to another year.

As far as years go, 2011 isn't winning any awards, but at least it isn't the end of the world. For that, we have to wait until next December, or so I'm told by people who don't really understand how calendars work.

On Dec. 21, 2012, the Mayan calendar "runs out." This uneventful event is apparently regarded as cosmically significant by people who don't realize that our own Gregorian calendar runs out every Dec. 31 — at which point it cycles back to the beginning, as it has since it was introduced in 1582, replacing the Julian calendar, which ran out with virtually identical frequency, give or take a few doomsdays.

At this point, however, if the world did end, I'd be hard pressed to say we didn't have it coming.

When I look back at 2011 and see that one of the cultural high points was the return of "Beavis and Butt-Head" to MTV, I know the pickings are pretty slim.

Still, in keeping with the spirit of the season, here are a few things that did not annoy me in 2011:

The sixth season of "Doctor Who" was the best since the show's revival in 2005, and Matt Smith firmly established himself as my favorite Doctor since Tom Baker's tenure in the 1970s.

"House" is never going to be as good as the first three seasons were, but at least the current Cuddy-free season is an improvement over last year's. Nothing against departed co-star Lisa Edelstein, but after the writers decided to have House and Cuddy get together — and then break up — her leaving was the only thing that could save the show. It has been more than 20 years since Dave and Maddie's kiss of death on "Moonlighting," yet TV writers still tempt fate.

C'est la vie.

At the movies, the best of the best was Werner Herzog's 3-D documentary "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," which I reviewed a few weeks ago.

For superhero movies, it was a down year, with "X-Men: First Class" the best of the bunch, despite glaring flaws like January Jones' non-performance. I have higher hopes in 2012 for "The Avengers," but I'm worried about "The Dark Knight Rises," which seems dangerously close to taking the whole "taking Batman seriously" thing way too seriously.

Apart from "The Avengers," the two films I'm most anticipating are both prequels: Ridley Scott's "Alien" prequel "Prometheus," and Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth with "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," featuring Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. (If you're honest, you'll admit "The Hobbit" is a much better story than the bloated "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.) Speaking of Martin Freeman, he and Benedict Cumberbatch return next year for a second season of "Sherlock," the BBC's modern-day version of Sherlock Holmes, from the creative team of Mark Gatiss ("League of Gentlemen") and Steven Moffat ("Doctor Who").

The best books I read in 2011 were mostly nonfiction: "The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human" by V.S. Ramachandran and "Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark," Brian Kellow's biography of the still-influential New Yorker movie critic whose style the rest of us all lamely try to imitate.

I'll have to take an incomplete on Haruki Murakami's newly translated novel "1Q84," which I've just started and is approximately the length of the Tokyo phone directory.

And lastly, on the music front, a word of advice: If you have a chance to see thepau Alabama Shakes perform live, take it. This little band, originally from Athens — as am I, so I confess a slight bias — is probably about to hit it big, and deservedly so.

For the Shakes, 2011 wasn't a bad year at all. But 2012 will be even better.

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