Best Films of 2011

While it does get harder and harder to see as many films in the theater as I once did, I do try and manage more than a handful (and having your buddy working for IFC films doesn’t hurt either).  That said, the top 4 films could have finished in any order but as of this moment this is how I would rank them.  And while I didn’t see too many of the blockbusters or Oscar friendly films, I promise you, rent these and you will be pleasantly surprised.  Here they are…

1)   Weekend- Andrew Haigh

What starts out as a one night stand between Russell and Glen turns into a weekend of something more.  Something special.  Romantic without the romance, this encounter will resonate with each of the men their whole lives.  And watching it you’ll see yourself in one of them.  An outstanding film.

2)   The Tree of life- Terence Malick

Probably the most discussed and talked about film of the year and with good reason.  Love it or hate it this film will provoke discussion.  For me, it’s a spiritual film that didn’t belittle me or object me to the filmmaker’s beliefs.  I saw a gorgeous piece of filmmaking that is strikingly beautiful.  A film that will resonate with me for a long time.

3)   Win Win- Tom McCarthy

Tom McCarthy makes some of the best humanist films around.  His previous films (The Station Agent and The Visitor) were just that.  Stories about the human condition and those trying to survive in the world despite its unfairness.  He gets strong performance from his leads (Peter Dinklage in The Station Agent, Richard Jenkins in The Visitor) and now the always underrated Paul Giamatti in Win Win.  Giamatti plays a hapless father, husband, lawyer and coach of a winless high school wrestling team.  Read a more in-depth review if you like.  Just see this little seen film from an outstanding director.

4)   Midnight In Paris- Woody Allen

What is now Woody Allen’s most successful film in years is a good thing.  Owen Wilson plays the title character (and fills the role of Woody Allen perfectly) of a well to do white man (what else?) who is just a bit unhappy with his life and with his wife.  So what happens?  He falls in love with, Paris.  Perfectly told, perfectly acted and exquisitely shot.  Those of you as big a fan of Woody Allen as me can describe the film as this…Woody Allen’s best film since: Deconstructing Harry (says me); best film since: Match Point (though more in tone to Everyone Says I Love You (says Nick).  You can fill it out as you wish.

5)   Certified Copy- Abbas Kiarastomi

What I think would be a good companion to Weekend, Abbas Kiarastami’s ‘Certifed Copy’ is a beautifully told romance movie of 2 people trying and failing to get to know each other.  Second chances are always there.  From one of the world’s great filmmaker’s.

6)   Beginners- Mike Mills

A young graphic artist is hit by 2 announcements: one his father has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and two is that his father is gay.  Through flashbacks you see his relationship with his father strengthen as his father is dying (played by the superb Christopher Plummer) and in real-time you see him meet, fall in love with, nearly destroy then fix a relationship with a young woman.  Brilliantly and inventively told the film is based on the real life of director Mike Mills (and his father).

7)   Moneyball- Bennett Miller

Based on the non-fiction book of the same name.  Bennett Miller has turned what I thought to be an unfilmable book into one of the most heartwarming and motivating story of the year.  Even viewers who don’t love baseball will love it.  A second great role for Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life).

8)   Kaboom- Gregg Araki

Now this is the Gregg Araki I love.  Little bit Nowhere, little bit Doom Generation.  Every bit classic Araki.  All is forgiven after that piece of crap, Smiley Face.

9)   Cave Of Forgotten Dreams- Werner Herzog

Amazing, breathtaking, beautiful.  Tons of descriptions I could give you for this doc by Werner Herzog.

10)  The Muppets- James Bobin

We (the family and I) saw this just recently and I wanted to include.  Growing up as a kid in the 80’s I was a big Muppets fan.  I remember all the movies and the CBS (?) TV show.  This film was for the fans in all of us and hopefully for millions of those that weren’t.  Heartfelt and respectful, the filmmaker’s did an outstanding job bringing back one of the all time great franchises in movies.  Here’s hoping there’s sequel after sequel. 

Best Albums of 2011

I read on a music site that 2011 lacked the important albums of past years.  While I cannot disagree, I did find this year to be, surprising.  There was a lot of great new music that came out and even the mainstream acts produced solid and very listenable music.  My pick for #1 is one that has stuck with me all year.  It’s by no means a surprise pick in that it has appeared at the top spot on numerous lists.  Here it is dear friends, the 50 best records of 2011.

And for a 2nd and 3rd opinion, scroll down for Thom and Travis’s picks.  Thanks boys.  Enjoy everyone.

1)  Bon Iver- Bon Iver

The year’s best album was the one that resonated with me from the moment I heard it.  Justin Vernon has created not only one of the most beautiful heartfelt albums in a long time but one that can immerse itself into the mainstream.  Painstakingly personal.

2) The Vaccines- What Did You Expect?

As I read all the music sites and journals for their year-end best of I am stunned that this perfect indie pop album hasn’t registered at all with any of them.  Stunned I tell you.

3)  M83- Hurry Up We’re Dreaming

As this was one of my anticipate albums of 2011 it’s no surprise that it made the list.  The fact that it was 2 discs of beautiful hazy dream pop made it twice as good.

4)  Real Estate- Days

2nd full length from Jersey boys, Real Estate.  Minimalistic in sound but full-bodied in tone.

5)  Wye Oak- Civilian

While I liked the last record, The Knot a lot this new record has been on repeat since its release.  The 2 members have an extraordinary way of harmonizing their music and vocals.

6)  Austra- Feel It Break

Katie Stelamis the singer behind Austra sounds similar to Kate Bush or to some extent Zola Jesus.  Pretty and hazy with drums and sound that compliment her range.  Listen to the track, ‘Lose it’ and you can hear it.

7)  Dirty Beaches- Badlands

Again, a record that since I heard it early in the year has been on repeat.  Dirty Beaches is Alex Zhang Hungtai and on this record he does something that I can’t remember hearing.  He channels not only a young Roy Orbison or even a young Elvis, but what that era was all about.

8)  Tune-Yards- Whokill

Tune-Yards has been billed as a one woman show (namely, Merrill Garbus) and she tells you that from the first track.  What the record is however is an impressive display of musical prowess.  You can hear the influence of jazz, afro-punk, lo-fi and so on.  The most original album on this list.

9)  Girls- Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Man, this band can really make music.  So far, they have released 2 outstanding albums and one equally outstanding EP in just over a few years.  I said this last year, if this band continues to make the quality of albums they have then we are looking at one of the best bands of the decade.

10)  The Drums- Portamento

In my opinion, the most underrated album of 2011.  Their first album ranked 16th in 2009 but this is so much better.  What was Kinks-lite has matured into a band that has found their sound.  They did lose a guitarist and the songs are way more about death or dying or loss but they have hit their highest point with Portamento.

11)  Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues

Another great record from the kings of folk-rock that has in recent years really hit the mainstream.  Deeper in tone yet more relaxed.

12)  Tim Hecker- Ravedeath, 1972

I didn’t know much about Tim Hecker until I read a review on his newest album.  Picture all the sounds that complement your life and put them together to make music.  That is what I feel when listening to this.  “Digital garbage” as he describes it.

13)  Smith Westerns- Dye It Blond

Just some good ol’ fashioned kick ass rock n roll.

14)  Fucked Up- David Comes to Life

Hyped as the essential punk rock opera.  It is however a full blast, visceral and intense hard rock classic.  If you’re interested the album is a complicated story of David Eliade who falls in love with a woman named Veronica Boisson.  There’s a lot more to it.  Read Pitchfork’s spot on review here:

15)  Other Lives- Tamer Animals

Dreamy and enchanting lyrics make up most of the previously unknown (to me) guys of Other Lives.  Cinematic and perfectly arranged.

16)  Telekinesis- 12 Separate Lines

Perfect indie pop from Michael Lerner and Telekinesis.  I like this band cause they sound like the great indie pop bands of the 90’s (Teenage Fanclub, first and second album Weezer, Velocity Girl).

17)  Atlas Sound- Parallax

Is Branford Cox the most prolific man in music?  If not then his name has to be on a short list of those that are.  The man’s got a gift.

18)  EMA- Past Life Martyred Saints

High octive in feel but serene and melodic in sound this is a girl on the rise.  Looks to have the total package, set of chops, great sense of how to compose an album and a looker.

19)  Cults- Cults

Pretty and fun is the best way to describe this début.  I’m a real sucker for the 2 person (guy/girl) band.

20)  The Weeknd- House of Balloons

Another free released mix tape that came out earlier in the year.  Sensual and sexual at both times he reminds me of a better sounding Drake (who I don’t care for).

21)  Panda Bear- Tomboy

Much has been written that the new album from the genius known as Panda Bear is that it disappoints.  I think he’s just way beyond everyone else in making music.  All said and done, he is going to be one of the most talented musicians of all time.

22)  Jamie Woon- Mirrorwriting

I think I could be down with this whole smooth singing soul sound that is making a comeback.  Loved this record.  And his voice is killer.

23)   Youth Lagoon- The Year of Hibernation

Boise, Idaho’s own Trevor Powers is the brainchild of Youth Lagoon.  8 great, hushed and intimate tracks.

24)   Craft Spells- Idle Labor

Another lush, beautiful record this one from Craft Spells out of Stockton, California.  I can’t recall another record where the album’s cover mirrored the sound.

25)  Beyonce- 4

Not sure if you’re familiar with this artist.  Her best record.  Easily.

26)  The Joy Formidable- The Big Roar

So, I listened to this record all year.  Why doesn’t it rank higher on the list you ask?  Because last year I placed their A Balloon Called Moaning at #37.  This record has a handful of songs from that plus more.  I still haven’t tired of either.

27)  Okkervil River- I Am Very Far

One of my favorite bands currently.  Disappointing only because their past albums rank so high on my favs.  It sill contains some of the best songwriting and composition of their career.

28)  JAY Z & Kanye West- Watch the Throne

A perfect combination of sounds of 2 of the biggest hip-hop stars of our time (and probably ever).  They work so well off each other that they never seem to get in each other’s way.  It must be tough for 2 top of their game artists to collaborate on something and for it to sound authentic but this really does.

29)  Lykke Li- Wounded Rhymes

She’s just awesome.  I love listening to her voice.

30)  James Blake- James Blake

Another artist that made the list last year (under EP’s) that is getting stronger and stronger each album.  Not only that, but he releases EP’s like all the time.

And the rest…

31)  Frank Ocean- Nostalgia. Ultra.

32)  PJ Harvey- Let England Shake

33)  Parts and Labor- Constant Future

34)  Wild Beasts- Smother

35)  Pepper Rabbit- Red Velvet Snow Ball

36)  Nurses- Dracula

37)   Zola Jesus- Conatus

38)  Male Bonding- Endless Now

39)  Thurston Moore- Demolished Thoughts

40)  Adele- 21

41)  The Kills- Blood Pressures

42)  Hooray For Earth- True Loves

43)  Cut Copy- Zonoscope

44)  Atari Teenage Riot- Is This Hyperreal?

45)  Washed Out- Within and Without

46)  Shabazz Palaces- Black Up

47)  Neon Indian- Era Extrana

48)  Yuck- Yuck

49)  The Dodos- No Color

50)  Lady Gaga- Born This Way

But easily my favorite release of the year is the re-issue of Icky Mettle by The Archers of Loaf.  It’s 1993 (maybe ’94- Thom?) and after seeing the video for ‘Web in Front’ on 12o Minutes, the boys and I hop in a car and head to all of the local record stores trying to find this c.d.  Finally we find it at the great Slipped Disc.  Arguably the album that shaped not only my music tastes but everything that has shaped me since.  One of the most underrated albums ever (and Web in Front is one of the all-time great indie rock songs) this album was re-issued with an additional e.p.  Oh, and yes, they are the namesake of my 2 month old son, Archer.

Favorite EP’s (alphabetically):

Beach Fossils- What A Pleasure

Dirty Gold- Roar

Dom- Family of Love

James Blake- Enough Thunder

Jens Lekman- An Argument With Myself

Tape Deck Mountain- Secret Serf

TV Girl- Benny & the Jetts

Young Brother- Young Brother


Worst album of the year:

Das Rascist- Relax

Just plain silly and not funny at all.


Most anticipated of 2012 (alphabetically):

1)   The Big Pink- Future This

2)   Dirty Projectors- title tba

3)   Lana Del Rey- Born To Die

4)   Miike Snow- Happy To You

5)   Phoenix- title tba

6)   Santigold- Master Of My Make Believe

7)   Sleigh Bells- Reign of Terror

8)   The Shins- Port Of Morrow

9)   Spiritualized- Sweet Heart Sweet Light

10) The xx- title tba


Thom’s Best of…

1)  PJ Harvey- Let England Shake

A timely, masterpiece by an artist who has made a few before.  Don’t let “concept album” angle scare you.

2)  The Fall- Ersatz GB

Another in a recent spate of great albums by possibly the prolific band on the planet.

3)  Anthrax- Worship Music

Why is it that Metallica can no longer do what Metallica does great but Anthrax can make an Anthrax album that can hold its head high with ‘Among The Living’?

4)  Atari Teenage Riot- Is This Hyperreal?

11 years since their last album, Alec Empire and co. returned with ear-shredding manifesto on an ever more fucked up world than they could have imagined when they originally disbanded.  Glad they are back!

5)  JAY Z & Kanye West- Watch The Throne

People complained of lack of substance but this is like watching a homerun contest between Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

6)  Gruff Rhys- Hotel Shampoo

The great Super Furry Animals frontman delivers an amazing solo effort.

7)  Ryan Adams- Ashes and Fire

Revisited this one after his recent amazing performance at Carnegie Hall.  Critics tend to hate him.  They are wrong.

8)  J. Mascis- Several Shades of Why

This man is one of my true musical heroes (see Dinosaur Jr.) but his solo stuff, which is generally more stripped down, completes the picture of what a great musician he truly is.

9)  Das Racist- Relax

Only really checked this out because the great El-P (see, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead) produced some of the tracks.

10)  Spank Rock- Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is a Fucking Liar-

Loved the first album, waited several years for the follow-up.  Love this album.

11)  Terius Nash- 1977

Terius Nash is better known as the massively successful writer, producer, etc. The Dream…Though technically released as a mixtape under his own name due to record company nonsense this album strips away a lot of the posturing and layers inherent in modern R&B/Hip-Hop leaving a very personal, very rewarding album.

12)  Tyler the Creator-Goblin/Frank Ocean- nostalgia, Ultra.-

Sure, OFWGKTA are by far the most over-hyped, over debated story in recent music.  However, the fact remains that the collective is made up of several varied and talented artists.  As history tends to repeat, they have had a lot of the same criticisms leveled against them that The Beastie Boys did early on.  We shall see…

Travis’s Best of

1)  Sneaky Sound Systems- From Here To Anywhere

2)  Lady Gaga- Born This Way

3)  Monarchy- Around The Sun

4)  Robyn- Body Talk Part. 3

5)  Friendly Fires- Pala

6)  Holy Ghost!- Holy Ghost!

7)  Britney Spears- Femme Fatale

8)  Kimbra- Vows

9)  Class Actress- Rapproacher

10) Penguin Prison- Penguin Prison

11) Florrie- Experiments EP

12) Selena Gomez & The Scene- When The Sun Goes Down

13) Beth Ditto- EP

14) Rihanna- Talk That Talk

15) Cut Copy- Zonoscope

Best Songs of 2011

Just a couple of tunes that I liked this year.  Enjoy…

1)   “Holocene”- Bon Iver

For the second time in 3 years, the best song of the year belongs to the best album (Animal Collective in 2009).  Haunting, beautiful and brilliant.  Just a song that has resonated with me all year.  Recently nominated for Record and Song of the year Grammy.

2)   “Ready To Go Steady”- The Go! Team

My most fun song of the year.

3)   “Rolling in the Deep”- Adele

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard this song.  Adele might be the perfect artist to work herself into every person’s heart.  As much praise as the album has

received from outlets this is the perfect mainstream single of the year.

4)   “Helplessness Blues”- Fleet Foxes

Released early in the year it still works for me.  There’s a whole bunch of songs on that record but this still is the best.

5)   “Midnight City”- M83

Victoria’s Secret commercial aside, an outstanding single off of one of my favorite albums of the year.

6)   “Queen of Hearts”- Fucked Up

Damien Abraham’s intensity makes this the best love song of the year.

7)   “A Case of You”- James Blake

This Joni Mitchell cover is off not his full length this year but an EP that came out in the fall.  Watch the just released video starring Rebecca Hall.

8)   “Cruel”- St. Vincent

St. Vincent kicks ass.  She can belt it out like the rest of them, she has a sweet sounding voice as well and she can play a mean guitar.  Total package.

9)   “Video Games”- Lana Del Rey

Other than maybe the Odd Future gang, Lana Del Rey was the most discussed and hyped artist of 2011.  Until a month ago she had 2 songs to her name (she did release an EP years ago under her given name, Lizzy Grant).  She just released her third song, she sold out shows in NYC and will appear on Saturday Night Live in January.  Is she that good?  Tough to say.  This song is however.  Really pretty.

10)  “Countdown”- Beyonce

Not the best Beyoncé song ever (Single Ladies…) but it is my favorite song off my favorite Beyoncé album.

11)  “Afternoon”- Youth Lagoon

Love the stripped down sounds of Trevor Powers’ Youth Lagoon.

12)  “Ni**as in Paris”- JAY Z & Kanye West [Not Safe For Work]

Perfect combination of 2 of the biggest artists in the world.  Complementing each other perfectly.

13)  “High For This”- The Weeknd [NSFW]

I want this to be the last song played at every party I attend.

14)  “Go Away”- The Coathangers

Great pop song.

15)  “Lose It”- Austra

Love her vocals and this is my favorite off of one of my new favorite bands.

16)  “Bumper”- Cults

Again, I could have picked a handful of songs off of this début.

17)  “Hello”- Martin Solveig & Dragonette

Yes, this is that song that is in movie trailers and commercials and probably numerous MTV shows.  If I have a favorite song I want to dance to this year, this is it.

18)  “Whirring”- The Joy Formidable

The song sounds as if this band has been playing and ripping it up for years.  Nuanced and strong.

19)  “The Altar” -Wye Oak

I’m still a sucker for the 2 person (guy/girl) band.  Especially one that sounds this sweet.

20)  “Hex Girlfriend”- Neon Indian

Another pseudo-dance track from the underrated new album from Neon Indian.

21)  “Tamer Animals”- Other Lives

Enchanting and deep.  With outstanding lyrics.

22)  “Last Night at the Jetty”- Panda Bear

Just love the beginning of this song.

23)  “New Beat”- Toro y Moi

Not as impressed with their full length as others.  I did like this track.  A lot of range in the composition.

24)  “Block After Block”- Matt & Kim

Great track but possibly the best video of the year.

25)  “The Edge of Glory”- Lady Gaga

This really is a good record as a whole.  She tells you who she is from the first song.  And I still think this song is as good as any other this year.

26)  “How It Ended”- The Drums

Of the really great songs on this record, this is my favorite.

27)  “California Sunrise”- Dirty Gold

The best summer song of the year?  More to come from Dirty Gold hopefully.

28)  “Don’t Carry It All”- The Decemberists

I may have liked this album more if it was released later in the year.  I really like this song however.

29)  “Future Starts Slow”- The Kills

Yes, most Kills albums sound the same but the intensity is always there and Allison Mosshart is so awesome.

30)  “Yonkers”- Tyler, the Creator [NSFW]

The brashest most accessible song from the leader of the rap collective knows as Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA).  Love them or hate them (as most seem to) they have taken the music world by storm with their harsh language, unapologetic lyrics and unabashed viewpoints.  Tyler however, is an outstanding linguist.  For a rap song with no discernible beat it’s a real skill to keep a listener tuned in by just your voice.

31)  Milkman- EMA

32)  Weekend- Smith Westerns

33)  Where I’m Going- Cut Copy

34)  A Lack of Understanding- The Vaccines

35)  Youth Knows No Pain- Lykke Li

36)  Shell Games- Bright Eyes

37)  A Dedication- Washed Out

38)  Gangsta- Tune-Yards

39)  It’s Real- Real Estate

40)  Lady Luck- Jamie Woon

41)  After The Moment- Craft Spells

42)  Plath Heart- Braids

43)  Horses- Dirty Beaches

44)  Bedroom Eyes- Dum Dum Girls

45)  Belong- The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

46)  Novacane- Frank Ocean

47)  Till The World Ends- Britney Spears

48)  Bed of Nails- Wild Beasts

49)  You Turn Clear In The Sun- Telekinesis

50)  Lake House- Pepper Rabbit


Worst Song of the year:

The Lazy Song- Bruno Mars

How this person still is able to make music and get paid for it is beyond me.  Tyler, the Creator is right.

Best Books of 2011

2011 was a really good year for the début novel.  More than a handful appear on this list.  But I believe 2011 will go down as the year of Murakami.  Not only was his brilliant 900+ page book the best of the year, but sales of the book were off the charts.  That’s a great thing.  And while it’s tough to read everything out there, I did try to read as much as I could (sadly, not enough non-fiction).  Here they are, my favorite books of the year.

1)   1Q84- Haruki Murakami  

One of the greatest story tellers of our time comes out with his magnum opus.  An enthralling 944 pages of equal parts noir crime, love story and hallucinatory fiction.  A little Orwell thrown in, a pinch of Kafka and what you get is easily the most exciting book of the year.

2)   The Art of Fielding- Chad Harbach 

There is a good selection of début books of this year’s list.  This one, which was hyped as the baseball book that’s more than just baseball, was the best of the crop.  Essentially a coming of age story with the backdrop of baseball, college and Herman Melville.  Will rank along side The Natural and The Great American Novel as the best “baseball” books of all time.  There’s an equally interesting story on how the book came to be in a Vanity Fair article/e-book.  A voice to watch.

3)   The Tragedy of Arthur- Arthur Phillips

This is my first Arthur Phillips book I’ve read and it didn’t disappoint.  The story of Arthur Phillips (?) who is told by his criminal father that he possesses the only copy of an unknown Shakespeare play, “The Tragedy of Arthur”.  Is this real? Does Arthur (the son) sell the play for all the world to read or hold for himself as the only positive remnants of his father?  The author does an outstanding job of making this book about the love of books (and of Shakespeare) into an interesting and thought-provoking story.

4)   Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything – Joshua Foer

The only non-fiction book to make the list this year.  Joshua Foer (brother to that overrated author Jonathan Safran) immerses himself in the group of Americans and Europeans that memorize for a living.  Similar in scope to Stefan Fatsis’ Word Freak (about Scrabble players) this is his story of how he spent a year going from journalist to the U.S. memory champion.  He puts himself into this world head first and you learn quite a bit of the how’s and why’s of memory contestants.

5)   The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore- Benjamin Hale

Another fantastic début.  This one is the story of Bruno who young and gifted comes to live a paleontologist named Lydia Littlemore.  There she nurtures him, oversees his education and falls for him in a perverse yet loving way.  Oh, and Bruno is an incredibly deft and possibly the smartest chimpanzee in the world.  Yes, a chimp.  The story is gripping, sad, heartfelt and accomplished.  A great book.

6)   Luminous Airplanes- Paul LaFarge

Another coming of age story.  This one’s about a 30 something programmer who returns to the town of Thebes in upstate New York after the death of his grandfather.  There he reconnects with Yesim who he had a crush on growing up when he spent his summers there.  A story of love, loss and getting to know the person you are and more importantly the person you’ll be.

7)   Follow Me Down- Kio Stark

What begins with an envelope of a picture taken and lost in the mail for 20 years turns into a captivating escapade for Lucy the receiver of this lost picture.  She focuses on finding the person in this picture to give him his rightful belonging.  The author does a fantastic job of putting you next to Lucy in her trip across this desolate, vivid city.  From the very promising Red Lemonade press.

8)   Open City- Teju Cole

A modern day Ulysses?  Yes, those are strong words to compare this novel by Nigerian/American writer Teju Cole.  Julius, the 32-year-old narrator walks New York City pondering his career, his life, his family.  Part stream-of-consciousness, part fiction story telling this is a work that will resonate with the reader for some time.

9)   Tony and Susan- Austin Wright

One of the best books of 2011 originally came out in 1994?  Austin Wright’s novel was reissued to great acclaim this year.  One of the better noir books you’ll read, ever.  The story of Susan who picks up the manuscript by her ex husband Edward.  In Edward’s book, Nocturnal Animals, Tony Hastings is driving to their summer cottage in Maine when things turn for the worst.  We the reader are given not only the story of Susan but get to read this manuscript by Edward as well.  Don’t worry, it’s not confusing.  It’s enthralling and exciting.

10)   The Tiger’s Wife- Tea Obreht

Much has been written about this book by Tea Obreht.  Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysteries surrounding her beloved grandfather’s death.  Told through her eyes in multiple narratives this is an outstanding work that will challenge the reader.  Another début from one of the most original voices in a long time.

And 6 more…

11)  Pym- Mat Johnson

12)  Zone One- Colson Whitehead

13)  The Storm at the Door- Stefan Merrill Block

14)  Bright Before Us- Katie Arnold-Ratliff

15)  A Good Hard Look- Ann Napolitano

16)  Go the F**K to Sleep- Adam Mansbach

Finally, someone writes the essential book for parents.  Download the free pdf here.

Least favorite book of the year:

Swamplandia!- Karen Russell

What started out as an interesting and quirky family story moves into this quest to find the lost sister.  A perfect 1/3 of a book.  That’s not a good thing.

Best TV of 2011

The big news this year is that there’s a new #1 show on television.  Even though 2011 was without perennial favorite Mad Men there was no doubt that my pick for the best show of the year was going to take its spot.  It’s that good. In addition to all the good selection of new shows that are new to this list, there are some repeats.  All are worth checking out if you haven’t already.  So set the DVR’s, or log onto Netflix/Hulu.  Enjoy.

1)   The Walking Dead (AMC)

There’s a new #1!!!  I have to tell you, even if Mad Men (which held the #1 spot the past 3 years) did come out this year, it would have to have been really tough to take away the #1 spot from The Walking Dead.  If you thought last year’s 6 episode first season was good then you are going to be wowed by this year’s.  Thought provoking, cerebral and emotional this was unlike anything else on tv in 2011.  This just in…AMC will be airing every episode from seasons 1 & 2 this New Year’s Eve.  Watch it!

2)   Parks and Recreation (NBC)

The best comedy on tv keeps getting better.  The full-time addition of Rob Lowe and Adam Scott makes what was the best cast on tv that much better.  Things are damn funny in Pawnee, Indiana.

3)   Game of  Thrones (HBO)

Without giving away too much in the plot all I do want to say is, Holy Shit!  For a series to continue to surprise and throw spit balls at you in this way is truly remarkable.  Incredibly intense.  If you haven’t watched yet then you must start now.  But at the beginning.

4)   Revenge (ABC)

So far, the best new show on tv.  What may have come across as campy and soap opera-esque is a truly great revenge drama (duh).  Featuring some of the best acting of Madeline Stowe’s career this is one of the most enjoyable hours on tv.

5)   Louie (FX)

Some of you may be new to Louis C.K.  He’s a comedian or should I say a comedian’s comedian.  The half hour shows are often about his life with his 2 daughters and life as a single dad and comedian in NYC.  While minimal in plot the show takes place in a world that is recognizable to us all.

6)   How the States Got Their Shapes (History Channel)

Flat out fascinating facts about the 50 states of ours.  Candid and funny.  And will make you a little smarter with your friends.

7)   The League (FX)

FX is one of the best stations on tv.  Period.  The 2nd FX show on this list (and another that didn’t make it because I haven’t finished the season, Justified) this comedy is about a gang of friends who are obsessed with fantasy football.  That’s really it.  It is hilarious and gross and obnoxious.

8)   Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)

We love you Larry David.  This season brought him to the Big Apple where the same craziness ensued for Larry and Leon.  For lovers of past Curb seasons, it’s spot on.  For lovers of Bill Buckner, well, there’s one episode for you.  Classic Larry David.

9)   Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

I’m not going to lie.  I liked the first season.  Didn’t love it.  This season started out slow with the plot slowly driving episode to episode.  When all was said and done however this was outstanding year that not only stunned us but furthered its spot into the great dramas of all time.  And finally the great Steve Buscemi receives the accolades he richly deserves.

10)  Community (NBC)

NBC’s other first-rate, brilliant comedy.  This is one school I wish I attended and with the same bunch of friends.  Note to NBC: you recently put this on hiatus.  What the hell?

11)  Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family)

It’s hard for family based tv shows to challenge the viewer each week without coming across as contrived or worse, soporific.  This one does.  About a group of close high schoolers who are trying to figure out the mysteries behind their friend’s death.

12)  Ringer (CW)

Buffy is back!  What started out a little slow has now moved into a gripping first-rate suspense drama.  And kudos to Sarah Michelle Gellar for playing both persons perfectly.

13)  Google Chrome Commercials

Just watch…

14)  How I Met Your Mother (CBS)

I added this show to the list not only for a strong current season (except for that Robin is a mom tease episode, ugh!) but for the latter part of last season (which ran from Jan to May of this year).  It added heartfelt family issues to its comedic tone that is only for the better.  After 7 seasons it has finally matured into a really good tv show.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know how much longer everyone go on without knowing who the mother is but it is improving.

15)  Person of Interest (CBS)

I don’t know if I should categorize this as my “guilty pleasure” show of the year because I really think it’s good.  And for fans of Lost, the return of Michael Emerson (aka Ben Linus).

Worst TV show of the year:

(Tie) 2 Broke Girls (CBS)/Whitney (NBC)

2 Broke Girls is an ignorant, obnoxious and unfunny tv show.  It masks stereotypes while trying to bask in its own coolness by taking place in Brooklyn.  Pathetic.  The awesome Kat Dennings deserves better.  Whitney I found less offensive and sadly less funny.  And completely unoriginal.  How both shows that were created by the un-funny Whitney Cummings manage to get on the air astonishes me.  Whatever.