Another year comes to a close, so now it’s time to reflect back over what entertained me in 2011. I just looked at the wrap up from last year, to get an idea of how far I’ve come in twelve months. It’s clear that my focus has shifted in two directions. I spent a large part of this year with my head in London, after watching the 25th anniversary concert of Les Misérables in March. I also headed back to the past in a big way, once I started watching RetroTV and MeTV during a summer of unbearable television on the big networks. These two obsessions have a major influence on my best and worst list of 2011.
Best Books: Most of the novels I liked this year were written for children and teens. I particularly enjoyed Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (the 2011 Newbery Award winner) and Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John. Guitar Boy by MJ Auch and Countdown by Deborah Wiles weren’t perfect, but they each stayed with me long after reading. My favorite non-fiction book was The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, which managed to make the periodic table interesting to someone who barely paid attention to science in high school. The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan was a little book filled with some gems, and it goes into the “hard to categorize” category. The funniest books were Demitri Martin’s This is A Book, and Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz & David Hayward. The biggest disappointments were The Sherlockian by Graham Moore and The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. The lesson here is to give up on Sherlock Holmes in books and stick to the BBC.
Best Television: The Big Bang Theory remains my favorite sitcom, just for being consistently funny. The best line: “Let’s hurry up and watch this Star Wars blu-ray before George Lucas changes it again!” (Sorry for the paraphrase.) NCIS consistently underwhelmed me, and I’m can’t help wondering if I’ll give up on it soon. In spite of my declaration to boycott Masterpiece on PBS, I still watched and enjoyed Downton Abbey, Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen, Jason Isaac as Jackson Brodie, and the Inspector Lewis mysteries. I spent my summer wrapped up in the old series Da Vinci’s Inquest, and my winter has been dominated by reruns of The Rifleman. Overall, the television program with the biggest impact this year was the Les Mis concert on PBS.
Best Twitter: Last year, Matthew Gray Gubler was my favorite tweeter. He’s still whimsical and original, but now most of his tweets are links to his tumblr page. I hate tumbr, so this is a big strike against him. Sorry, Gube. West End performer Hadley Fraser can be great on twitter, but he goes quiet for long stretches. Ramin Karimloo tweets with sincerity, but all those tattoo photos freak me out! Matt Lucas, Josh Groban and Yigit Pura have been consistently entertaining, and Shah Rukh Khan’s twitter feed has a good balance of the personal and professional.
Best Movies: I did slightly better than last year getting out to see new films on the big screen. I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class, The Descendants, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. I’m not sure The Phantom of The Opera 25th Anniversary simulcast even counts in this category! At the Frameline Film Festival, I enjoyed Kawa and Spork. I have many more late 2011 films to see on DVD when they’re released in 2012.
Best DVDs: I watched a lot of bad DVDs this year, just because they featured actors that I liked. I really need to get over this habit! While not necessarily bad, I endured a lot of fighting and CGI in movies like Thor, Captain America, and Centurion, just so I could see actors Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, JJ Feild, and Michael Fassbender. I tried to watch all ten Best Picture Oscar nominees on DVD, but I faltered at 7½. I did love The King’s Speech. I hate to admit it, but I think my most entertaining DVD experience this year was re-watching JJ Abrams’ Star Trek with a friend.
Best Streaming: Da Vinci’s Inquest and The Rifleman on hulu were great, even though I was also watching these series on broadcast television. The worst: when Netflix split their charges for DVDs by mail versus streaming. I tried a month of streaming only. It was a disaster. Nothing I wanted to watch would play without long pauses to reload. Now that I’m getting DVDs only, the Netflix site doesn’t tell me what is available streaming only. Netflix, you’ve got a long way to go before you win back my trust. One free DVD rental for Christmas isn’t enough.
Best Theatre: Les Mis and The Phantom of the Opera, obviously, even though I didn’t see either show live in an actual theatre. I had some fun at San Francisco’s BATS Improv, especially seeing their Spontaneous Broadway.
Best Music: I’ve spent most of my time listening to Josh Groban, Hadley Fraser, Sheytoons (Hadley Fraser and Ramin Karimloo), and Johnny Crawford. Another favorite is the song Electricity from Billy Elliot (the stage musical). Still, nothing beats Hadley Fraser singing Again. The worst music this year? Whatever was playing in the trailer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Gack.
Best Music Video: It really doesn’t count, but I can’t help it. I love Josh Groban Sings Kanye West Tweets.
Best Entertainment News: Following the news from London about West End performers from the Les Mis concert has entertained me at least as much as the concert itself. It brought me new friendships with fellow fans from all over, and it kicked off the practice of having guest bloggers here at The Ugly Bug Ball. If I’m blogging less about the West End, it’s only because things are pretty quiet right now. 2012 promises some guest reviews of Ramin Karimloo as Valjean.
Entertainer of The Year: Last year was easy. This year, it’s difficult to choose. Johnny Crawford is great, but he came along late, at the end of November. I blogged the most often about Hadley Fraser. He provided me with a rich variety of entertainment, between the Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera performances, the online news and tweets, the music recordings and the YouTube videos. Still, Ian Tracey beats Fraser out for sheer volume. Tracey has been working steadily since he was a teenager, and even without an online presence (no tweets, fansites, or facebook page) he provided me with the most hours of entertainment. I’m going to have to declare a tie between Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey. Congratulations, guys. There’s no prize, but you get my sincere thanks. I’m sorry I can’t promise you my exclusive loyalty, because there’s always going to be a Johnny-Come-Lately waiting in the wings!
Hadley Fraser as Grantaire in the Les Mis concert; Ian Tracey as Adam Worth in Sanctuary
Next: What I’m excited about in 2012. Happy New Year, everyone!