the end (of the year)

Vulture’s Bests and Worsts in this Year’s Entertainment

Photo: FilmDistrict, Roger Kisby/Getty Images, AMC, Suzanne Hanover/Universal Studios

The year is coming to an end, and our critics have submitted their Ten Best lists (movies, TV, pop music!). But now that the overarching achievements have been given their accolades, it’s time for Vulture to take a deeper dive into the year in entertainment, noting the micro-level accomplishments and failures of 2011. Which movie was the most overrated? Which singer had the best dance moves? Which TV show deserved far more success than it got? Which actress was most unfairly maligned? All of these superlatives and more will be revealed just as soon as you click through. Let us know who we left out in the comments below.

There are lots of good reasons to sneer at Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight trilogy and the torpid movies that have come from it, but Bill Condon’s Dawn finally captures Meyer’s plodding but evocative blend of girlish romanticism and body horror. Yes, the cast is often soap operatic and the passive heroine isn’t exactly a role model, but the climactic sequence in which a vampire baby is from Bella’s womb untimely ripped is ferociously primal. No wonder young people are fainting, screaming, getting sick, and then lining up to see it again. It’s good preparation for actual childbirth. —DE Photo: Andrew CooperSMPSP/? 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
It has a tantalizing genre-mixing title and a great cast, but the final product just lays there, a nonstarter as a Western, processed dreck as sci-fi. Couldn’t they at least have given us a Colt .45 versus a ray gun at high noon? —DE Photo: Zade Rosenthal/2011 Universal Studios
Four seasons on, contrary to every smug prediction that the shock will soon wear off, America keeps hooking up with Snooki and The Situation, never mind the public health hazard. The Italy-set season lacked some of the idiotic joy of the three previous outings, but the show was still clocking over 6.5 million viewers, more than most network series. —ML Photo: Jeff Daly/MTV/PictureGroup
A select group of humans travel back in time 85 million years to live in a dinosaur jungle? Terra Nova is no Jurassic Park, nor is it even a particularly good idea for a TV show. It’s not vivid enough to be an action-adventure series or developed enough to be a family drama. Who knew dinosaurs could be this boring? —ML
Was there any horse darker than the one whose heart Danaerys devoured? But seriously, folks: Game of Thrones pulled off the unexpected this year, somehow making sword-happy fantasy epics in fictional dragon-infused societies seem like a perfectly natural fit for premium cable. —ML Photo: Helen Sloan
Singer-songwriter Mark Foster was a recovering Los Angeles party boy hanger-on penning jingles for a living and working in a café when he wrote “Pumped Up Kicks,” a song so relatable (it’s about a teenager’s homicidal fantasies) that it got him off barista duty and onto Saturday Night Live. —LG Photo: Jason Kempin/2011 Getty Images
Just hearing the premise of 50/50 was cause for worry, but as a comedy writer who is also a twentysomething cancer survivor, screenwriter Will Reiser manages to wring laughs out of tragic circumstances without ever losing sight of the underlying sadness. Anjelica Huston, Anna Kendrick, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are all lovely, but the big surprise is Seth Rogen, who, as Reiser’s real-life best friend, brings sweetness and truth to his performance as a crass, horny dude who is also an unbelievable friend. —JY
Every year there’s a picture the fanboys go crazy for, and in 2011, it was Drive. To earn this coveted spot, it must be genre swill with art-house pretensions and, like The Dark Knight, feature a hero with samurailike skills who is also God’s Loneliest Man. Drive is actually not bad. It has a super-hip cast — including this year’s hot young leading man (Ryan Gosling), an actress with highbrow indie cred (Carey Mulligan), the best actor on TV (Bryan Cranston), the hotcha babe from another snob-appeal cable show (Christina Hendricks), and nerd fave Albert Brooks — that gets to slash people up instead of wallowing in self-pity. But if it weren’t for the peewee Michael Mann existential vibe, the offbeat casting of Brooks, and violence so gratuitously gruesome it makes even hardened gorehounds cry out, Drive would be just another dumb revenge picture. But tell the fanboys at your peril. —DE Photo: Richard Foreman Jr SMPSP
Breaking Bad’s Gus Fring was inducted by a fiery explosion, and he joined club founder Richard Harrow from Boardwalk Empire. Soon they were joined by a third member, Denis O’Hare’s American Horror Story burn victim Larry Harvey. As soon as Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent finally gets his Dark Knight TV spinoff, the organization will have enough for two-on-two volleyball, so that’s good news! —ML
Back in February, a Nashville radio D.J. asked the demure country star to pick the station’s next song. “Can I play album cuts?” she replied. Nicki Minaj’s then-unreleased “Super Bass,” off the disappointing Pink Friday, got a huge bump from Swift’s endorsement (and subsequent rapping) — something Nicki has thanked Taylor for again and again. They’re said to be plotting a duet for Swift’s next album. (Get ready for more Sophia.) —AD
Leave it to the French to be the year’s greatest boosters of the American cinematic tradition. To write and direct this dialogue-free black-and-white homage to silent film, director Michel Hazanavicius watched some 300 movies. He shot in Los Angeles at thirties movie studios and at legend Mary Pickford’s home, with star Jean Dujardin recuperating in Pickford’s actual bed. It’s filled with classic American character actors, like John Goodman and James Cromwell. And the lack of spoken dialogue is a neat trick for making the love fest to American movies universal. —JY
Six of the eight movies she’s made since graduating from Juilliard in 2003 came out this year: The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, The Help, The Debt, Coriolanus, and Texas Killing Fields, and she was great in all of them. But Chastain has more going for her than incidental ubiquity. She’s vibrant and selfless, able to hold focus while also providing crucial assists — whether as the patient wife who makes Michael Shannon’s apocalyptic visions not seem like pure psychosis in Take Shelter, or representing the embodiment of all that is good in this world while also coming off as a believable mother in The Tree of Life. —JY Photo: Dale Robinette/?DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. ?All Rights Reserved.
Yes, she was pretty great in All Good Things last year, but knowing about her real-life stint in rehab for depression makes her punishing role as a depressed bride in Melancholia that much more affectingly real. And when the film debuted at Cannes she gave a second excellent performance, pretending not to be furious when director Lars von Trier’s idiotic comments on Nazis nearly overshadowed her accomplishment. But she stayed classy and won Best Actress laurels at festival’s end. —JY
It’s easy to think of Kate Bush as merely rock’s last great British eccentric, an artist whose legacy lives on in the work of her obvious disciples (Florence Welch, St. Vincent, and, awesomely, Big Boi). But when she released two albums this year, including 50 Words For Snow, an insular collection of beguiling erotic weirdness and her first truly new record in seventeen years, we realized she’s also rock’s next great British eccentric. —LG
The best moments in Bridesmaids aren’t the guyed-up ones like women shitting in the street. They’re the moments of pure Wiig, when she and Rose Byrne give dueling speeches, or when she drives topless by her cop boyfriend while littering. Bridesmaids isn’t Judd Apatow’s biggest hit because he taught Wiig how to appeal to guys; Wiig and director Paul Feig (the man who gave us Lindsay Weir) just have a strong sense of how to make great female characters. Let her loose in an eighteenth-century farce or a road-trip comedy and both sexes will still want to watch. —JY Photo: Photo Credit: Suzanne Hanover/Copyright: ? 2011 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
What started out as the “Summer of Sax” — thanks to cheesy retro solos on Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” (with the late Clarence Clemons), Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night,” and, unexpectedly, Bon Iver’s Bon Iver — quickly morphed into a year-long phenomenon, with the help of indie acts like the Rapture and M83. The sax knows no genre, only sweet jamming. —AD
Unfortunately, TNT’s Men of a Certain Age’s relaxed, naturalistic storytelling about middle-aged identity crises and male powerlessness just couldn’t find an audience. Meanwhile, on HBO, Laura Dern has been exquisitely enduring perpetual crises (often of her own making) as a woman determined to help the world even as she drives everyone away on the sadly underviewed Enlightened. Writer Mike White is a genius at creating protagonists who are difficult to root for and yet ultimately worthy of your efforts. —ML
It takes a real artist to sell purist folk-rock so self-serious and sincere it could be from A Mighty Wind. This ethereally blonde, death-obsessed, angel-voiced 21-year-old British prodigy, who this year released her third album, A Creature I Don’t Know, totally pulls it off. —LG Photo: Mark Metcalfe/2010 Getty Images
Especially if one defines success as attention, which Sheen seems to do. —ML Photo: Ryan Turgeon/Splash News/????
As of this post’s time stamp, this ugly, lazy rehash of the first Hangover was the No. 3 movie of the year and the top-grossing R-rated comedy of all-time. Those numbers represent hundreds of thousands of innocent souls duped out of money and time for the same jokes and same scenarios simply transferred to Bangkok with more sexism, more racism, and less humor. They also, horrifyingly, provide justification for the morally depraved Team Hangover to play us for fools and try to take our money yet again for a Part III. We can only hope the cast will grow a collective conscience, or at least some pride, and realize they’re too good for this Bengal tiger poop. —JY Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/(c) 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
Lana Del Ray’s “Video Games,” Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci,” and yes, even Mac Miller’s frat-tastic “Donald Trump” satisfy as catchy Internet ephemera, but their follow-ups suggest that viral video talent won’t always translate on a proper album, or that the controversy will always outshine the music. —AD
Here’s to Keira: She’s reached a point in her stature as a star and a sex symbol that usually calcifies actresses, and yet she shatters all preconceived notions about her with her wildly go-for-broke performance as hysterical Sabina Speilrein in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method. It’s a bravely campy and emotional performance, all jutting jaw and restless intellect, and though she hasn’t received the acclaim she should have from a mostly stunned Oscar punditry, she’s quite unexpectedly become a dangerous A-lister. —KB
Against all odds, the megahyped, hyperactive L.A.-based hip-hop collective didn’t self-destruct. Instead, the Wolf Gang fine-tuned its maniacal live presence and managed to spin off multiple noteworthy solo artists: the ever-mysterious Earl Sweatshirt, the profoundly angry Tyler, the Creator, and the gentle, Watch the Throne–endorsed Frank Ocean. —AD Photo: Roger Kisby/2011 Roger Kisby
Christopher Plummer dominates Beginners as a father falling into ill health and forgetfulness, while both Sissy Spacek in The Help and Burt Young in Win Win are thrust into rest homes by caretakers who can’t deal with their dementia. Even escapist summer movies milked the emotional fallout from suffering parents, as James Franco (in Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and Justin Timberlake (in Friends With Benefits) both had Alzheimer’s-afflicted dads whom they could blame their most driven, least sympathetic personality traits on. —KB
Marilyn Monroe didn’t have to beg to be adored, but an air of desperation for attention long has clung to this minor film with a major Weinstein Company PR blitz behind it — from Michelle Williams as Marilyn on the cover of Vanity Fair to a Harvey Weinstein HuffPo post about how “Marilyn Monroe made dad cool.” But for all the focus on Williams and Monroe, the movie isn’t even a complex portrait of the woman behind an icon; it’s a gauzy sketch of how she appeared to a starstruck 23-year-old guy who spent one whole week witnessing versions of her we’ve already read about: Drunk Marilyn! Drugged Marilyn! Unhappy in Marriage Marilyn! Yearning to Be a Real Actress Marilyn! Magical Fairy Skinny-dipping Marilyn! In one scene, he witnesses her tearful discovery of a journal entry her new husband Arthur Miller had written about how being married to her was killing him. Why couldn’t this movie have been about that? —JY
Somehow George Clooney — from a political family, and blessed with a politician’s brainy charisma — made a political-campaign movie in a tumultuous election year that’s devoid of insight … and people: The candidate weirdly almost never interacts with members of the public. Instead of focusing on the fascinating issue of whether an agnostic could actually have a shot at the presidency, this movie turns on a scandal that is, of course, sexual in nature, with the trite conclusion that politics is the death of idealism. Even Ryan Gosling seemed uninterested in what was happening. —JY Photo: Saeed Adyani/?2011 IDES FILM HOLDINGS, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
On an April weekend when two revered New York bands (see also: LCD Soundsystem) took center stage at Madison Square Garden, the Strokes found themselves cast as the nostalgia act — a designation their piecemeal fourth album Angles did nothing to refute. Typically, they didn’t seem to care. —AD Photo: Tabatha Fireman/2011 Tabatha Fireman
The famous recent New Yorker profile of Anna Faris chronicled the slow mainstreaming of her initially edgy What’s Your Number? character and the studio execs who sanded her down, but how wrong they were: While Number tanked, Cameron Diaz found massive success as the pot-smoking social climber of Bad Teacher, Kristen Wiig wrung sympathy out of being heinous to both her best friend and charmingly rumpled suitor in Bridesmaids, and Charlize Theron won acclaim as the bitch on wheels who refuses to learn her lesson in Young Adult. It puts one in mind of Mae West: When these comic actresses are good, they’re very good, but when they’re bad, they’re better. —KB
The quickest way to connote masculinity in 2011? Strip your protagonist of all his dialogue. If you totaled up all the lines each hero got in Drive, Shame, and Cowboys & Aliens, you’d barely have enough to fill a single Aaron Sorkin scene. In these three films, the lead actors let their enviably buff physicality do the talking for them (though their way without words had nothing on the completely silent Jean Dujardin in The Artist). —KB
In one corner, we have Radiohead front man and bowler-hat enthusiast Thom Yorke, demonstrating his best bodily interpretation of the sine curve in “Lotus Flower.” In the other, upcoming Harlem rapper Azealia Banks, who reinvigorated the dying art form known as the “Limbo” with her breakout hit “212.” Who will win? It is impossible to choose. They are both too excellent. —AD
It may not be the best new show (Homeland) or the funniest (Portlandia) or the most ambitious (Game of Thrones), but it is the strangest, scariest, silliest, buzziest, most frightening and ridiculous and altogether mostest, sometimes terrible but sometimes bananas. Ryan Murphy’s more-is-more approach is strangely mesmerizing. —ML
Because the Happy Endings star calls his penis his “sex nose,” and he’s half of TV’s weirdest, most intense and competitive couple, as likely to nail a punch line with a shriek as with a perfectly delivered glare. —ML
When it opens on December 30, regular folks will get to see why this Iranian domestic drama is the foreign-language Oscar favorite, and took top honors in that category from the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review. About an estranged couple looking for a caretaker for the husband’s senile father, A Separation seems so familiar at first that — except for the subtitles — one barely notices it’s set in modern Tehran. But when the husband and wife hire a devoutly Muslim woman from a lower social strata, it turns into a gripping legal thriller and a timely porthole into the political, class, and religious warfare or a roiling Middle East. —JY
The omnipresent Bravo figurehead is currently television’s most effective fame-monger, comfortably reigning over his empire of shrieking sociopaths with hair extensions. The death of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ Russell Armstrong this summer might have derailed a more squeamish executive, but Cohen soldiers on, shedding his title as the head of development so he can turn his Watch What Happens Live talk show into a five-night-a-week affair. —ML Photo: Nicholas Hunt/? Patrick McMullan
After two acclaimed mixtapes (House of Balloons and Thursday), a Polaris prize nomination, and a Drake co-sign, 21-year-old Abel Tesfaye should be living the high life — but instead, he canceled his September New York debut and has remained more or in less in hiding.  Thankfully, he sends out crazy videos like “The Knowing,” so we know he’s still working. —AD
It’s as gloriously silly as anything from Aaron Spelling, but served up totally straight, with no winking and no shame. The revenge-obsessed heroine, usually clad in bandage dresses, pulls off convoluted plots with the icy assurance of the self-justifying psychotic she really is. It’s never not fun to watch. —WP
He turned out not to be the essential ingredient in reality shows after all. American Idol became indisputably duller and less critical without Cowell — but ratings were up about 5 percent over the previous year, his last with the show. His follow-up project, The X Factor, turned out to be near-identical to Idol, except for a 50 percent ramping up of every aspect … except one: popularity. The show does fine, but it would take it being the biggest show in the history of mankind to rationalize all its derivative bombast and hyperbole. —ML
The country star won over some decidedly un-country fans as a judge on The Voice with his jokey demeanor and surprising emotional depth. Oh, the show was schmaltzy as all get-out, but a choked-up Shelton telling his protégé “You are family to me, and I love you” sealed him as The Voice’s actual breakout performer. —ML
Once upon a time, Entourage, Big Love, Rescue Me, and Brothers and Sisters were earning Emmy nominations, topping best-of lists, and delighting fans with their signature plot moves and singular visions. Unfortunately, that time ended about three years ago — and these shows didn’t end until this year. Talk about going out with a whimper. —ML
Vulture’s Bests and Worsts in this Year’s Entertainment