While most end-of-the-year lists will probably include Red Dead Redemption, deservingly so, I’ve decided instead to include Heavy Rain as my lone video game entry. To me it represents the bigger idea of the future of movie watching. It’s the first successful interactive narrative that balances the right amount of player choices with a multi-structured written story. The effect it has while playing runs emotionally deep and mentally trying. You begin to feel responsible for these characters you are “directing” through a plot that has multiple outcomes. I’ve never been so devastated by the ending of a video game as I have been by Heavy Rain. It’s a gaming experience that sticks with me heavier then any film watching experience this year. You can read my full write-up in “HEAVY RAIN, Interactive Stories and the New Genre”.
9. The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks
If there’s one type of book I love to read it would be non-fiction books that chronicle the creation of technology or entertainment companies. They’re always filled with interesting insights of the one cog in the company machine that determines success or failure: the personalities. The Men Who Would Be King is an exhaustive dissection of the rise and fall of Hollywood’s most powerful team—Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen—and their mission to create the greatest media company they called DreamWorks SKG. There’s hardly enough pages to truly encapsulate the larger than life egos at play in a saga that includes Michael Eisner as one of its “side” characters, though author Nicole LaPorte does succeed in compressing the hundreds of people and places into a breezy tome that entertains. Amidst the tumultuous building of an empire, the book presents, as sub-plots, the behind-the-scenes process of getting an epic like Gladiator made and the sleeper Academy Award-winning hit American Beauty that the studio all but forgot they had produced.
8. Nasim Pedrad
Move over Kristen Wiig, I have a new Saturday Night Live crush and her name is Nasim Pedrad. After only her second season as a featured player, the Iranian-born Nasim has established herself as a consistent comedic force with the beauty and boldness to match. From her ability to play awkward characters with genuine awkwardness to her straightforward performances without irony, she displays the versatility and commitment of a veteran. Now I can only hope that she takes the time to hone her skills before jumping into the feature film fray. Though I wouldn’t complain if she did.
Hyperbole ahead: not since the invention of the wheel has there been a more versatile piece of technology then the iPad. And I’m being serious. My 9-month old son can watch episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba, interact with animated versions of Dr. Seuss books, or bang on a virtual drum machine. With the same device I can catch up on my Google Reader, tweet, surf the internet, watch something from my Netflix Watch Instantly Queue or maybe even do some blogging. There’s a reason why it’s one of the fastest selling gadgets of all time (narrowly beat by Microsoft’s Kinect). Whether he knew it or not, Steve Jobs’ whole career was building up to this point, to create the most revolutionary device we’ll see for quite some time. Suffice to say, he will never top this creation, unless he solves the physics behind creating realistic holograms. Sure, there will be different sizes of the iPad, added bells and whistles, but the core of its genius—making the device disappear so that the consumption or creation of all types of media is literally at your fingertips—will take a generation to improve upon. Besides, who needs wheels when you got Angry Birds?
6. The Talk Show Podcast
The no frills name is just the beginning. With its stripped down format of the same two guys having a conversation, no guests, no intro or outro music and the subject matter covering the gamut from Star Wars to Microsoft, The Talk Show Podcast is unlike any other technology podcast out there. The two guys are John Gruber, the superstar technology blogger behind Daring Fireball, and Dan Benjamin, a software developer and founder of the 5by5 Network that hosts the podcast. It’s the comfortability the two have and the ease in which they jump from subject to subject with no pretense, or even plan, that makes it fun. From Gruber’s constant “I don’t know” refrain to Benjamin’s dry humor, you feel like your listening in on a phone conversation between two buds who are catching up.
5. Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire
“Mmm, I have one of those…and a Smith & Wesson triple lock…A Roth-Steyr, a Webley .455, a mauser 1914…very small, Mmm, Enfield 1917 30-06, telescopic sight…very accurate, accurate to 700 yards. Mmm.”
His introduction was unassuming, but the man in the mask made quite an impact. Richard Harrow, played by actor Jack Huston, made his debut more then halfway through the first season of the HBO behemoth Boardwalk Empire. The show at that point had all the trappings of a typical period mob story until the disfigured war veteran Richard entered the picture. Wearing a handmade tin mask hiding the obliterated half of his face and speaking with a tentative, tension-filled rasp, his character added some much needed pulp to the proceedings. It established there was going to be a more diverse mythology at play, one that wasn’t beholden to some historical narrative and could introduce richer, almost textural characters. And once Richard is taken under the wing of Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) as a hitman and bodyguard the commitment to this alterna-mafia universe was solidified. There is so much potential here and I can’t wait to see what badassness Richard gets into in season two. Phantom of the Opera can eat his crybaby heart out.
This is a show that came out nowhere last year (at the time known only as that other Joel McHale show) and this year solidified its comedic brilliance with bold strokes. With Community, creator Dan Harmon has put together some solid episodes of comedy, including an action film homage masterpiece (“Modern Warfare”), a love letter to Goodfellas (“Contemporary American Poultry”), and a holiday episode done in the style of Rankin/Bass’ stop motion Christmas specials (“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”). But what really makes the show is the effortless chemistry and endearing bond of the cast members. An ensemble that delivers the comedy earnestly and honestly, unlike another NBC show that I have grown to loathe, *cough—30 Rock—cough*.
While all eyes (and ears) are on Adam Carolla to take podcasting to the next level of popularity with his ACE Broadcasting Network there is a far more funny and cutting edge network brewing in the background: The EARWOLF Podcasting Network. Started by Scott Aukerman, a writer/performer on Mr. Show with Bob and David and weekly host at the Upright Citizens Brigade in L.A., the network began last year with Aukerman’s Comedy Death-Ray Radio and has recently expanded to five shows, including Glitter in the Garbage with Drew Droege and How Did This Get Made? hosted by Paul Scheer. With its foundation of improv A-listers the comedy is fast, furious, but most importantly, funny.
2. Louis C.K.
It’s been a watershed year for the foul-mouthed stand-up comedian, writer, actor, producer and director Louis C.K. A year that kicked-off with the Sundance Film Festival premiere of his newest concert film, Hilarious, where it received enthusiastic reviews. Then in the summer Louis debuted his self-titled show on FX, a show that I deemed the most groundbreaking show on TV and one which has already be renewed for a second season. Later in the year Louie capped off an already successful 2010 with a performance at Carnegie Hall for the New York Comedy Festival. Between all that he turned his numerous radio and TV appearances into internet-ready bits of controversial genius. Highlights include a two-part appearance on WTF with Marc Maron where they mend their broken friendship, a highly publicized drunken Twitter tirade about “cunt-face jazzy wondergirl” Sarah Palin, an appearance on Joy Behar where he admits “I just had a vasectomy,” and his telling of the origin of the N-word to Patrice O’ Neal on the Opie & Anthony Show. The man is on fire and set to burn down 2011 with more of his acidic humor.
1. AMC Originals
I originally had Mad Men and Breaking Bad on my list until I realized it was AMC who deserved to be on the list. For without American Movie Classics in their corner, Mad Men would’ve just been another project turned down by HBO and Breaking Bad might’ve been the victim of the WGA strike. Instead AMC took a gamble on two very different shows that had one thing in common: quality writing. From there it was up to the respective creative teams on each show to follow through, and a bevy of Emmys later it’s obvious that they did. Even their misfires like Rubicon, a show that really never found an audience and was cancelled after the first season, is indicative of the level of quality that makes up an “AMC Original.” Now with another hit under their belt with The Walking Dead and a new show in March 2011 that’s already getting buzz, called The Killing, I only have one question: HBO, who?