The Best of 2011

the staff of pop-break.com looks at their favorites from 2011 …

Who doesn’t love lists?

We here at Pop-Break were raised on lists. We love them like we love bears, cookies and all things pop culture.

So as we do every January, we present to you our personal favorites in film, music [albums and songs] and television.

Bill Bodkin [editor-in-chief, Trailer Tuesday columnist], Brent Johnson [managing editor, Lost Songs columnist], Sue [legal eagle]

Logan J. Fowler [senior writer, Link To The Past, Game On, and Trailer Tuesday columnist], Jason Kundrath [senior writer/columnist, “Rath On Record”]

Jason Stives [senior writer/resident ‘Whovian’], Daniel Cohen [film editor], Joe Zorzi [social media coordinator, staff writer], Maxwell Barna [photography editor, staff writer]

Ann Hale [horror movie editor], Jeanne Crump [promotional coordinator, staff writer], Michael Dworkis [wrestling editor, staff writer],

Erin Petrie [staff writer], Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs [staff writer]

Daniel Cohen
5. The Artist
When I first heard about this movie, I knew it was going to get award buzz all over the place. My biggest fear was that people would get sucked into the gimmick of ‘hey, it’s a silent movie, so you have to find this interesting and love it,’ when in reality, there would be no real substance to it. Thankfully, that did not happen. The Artist is full of big emotions, and gut-wrenching moments. The silent movie allure is far from a gimmick, as it’s used brilliantly to tell the story. When this film wins Best Picture, I’ll be totally fine with it.

4. Thor
This is why I go to the movies. Thor is a film that blends character development with big huge action perfectly. So many directors would have taken this subject matter and screwed it up in epic fashion, but Kenneth Branagh made it fascinating and bad ass. Between Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and Anthony Hopkins, the acting is outstanding. Yes, it’s a big summer blockbuster, but there’s compelling family drama going on as well. I love this movie.

3. Warrior
It’s been compared to Rocky, and you know what, I don’t think the comparisons are that crazy. With the exception of maybe the #1 movie on my list, this probably has the best acting of the year. Joel Edgerton is the classic hero we can root for, Nick Nolte is heartbreaking, and Tom Hardy is just fascinating to watch. You really empathize with his character, despite the fact that he’s basically a ferocious caged animal, that when left loose to fight, is frightening.

2. X-Men: First Class
I likened this movie to Batman Begins, and when you start throwing those comparisons around, it probably means you’re a pretty damn good movie. With so many characters, and so many sub-plots, its amazing director Matthew Vaughn was able to craft such an emotionally driven masterpiece. The final battle is riveting, and the chemistry between James McAvoy (Charles Xavier) and Michael Fassbender (Erik Lehnsherr) is so good, you are still shocked by what happens at the end, even though you know it’s going to happen.

1. Drive
When the credits rolled, I just stared at the screen in awe. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Drive is simply incredible. The acting, the directing, the music, I love it all. This is filmmaking at its finest.

Jason Stives: 1. Midnight in Paris, 2. X-Men First Class, 3. Fast Five, 4. Drive, 5. Submarine

Logan J. Fowler: 1. The Muppets, 2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, 3. X-Men: First Class, 4. Thor, 5. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol

Michael Dworkis: 1. Hobo With A Shotgun, 2. X-Men: First Class, 3. Captain America, 4. Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon, 5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Maxwell Barna
1. Drive — Just kidding; movie is still terrible.
2. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never — This is really self-explanatory.
3. Red State — If you haven’t seen this, you should stop reading this list and consult Netflix.
4. Fast And Furious 5 – Yeah, I like cars. So what?
5. Paranormal Activity III — What can I say, this movie scared the stuffing out of me.
6. The Rum Diary – Hunter Thompson. ‘Nuff said.

Ann Hale: 1. Lucky McKee’s The Woman, 2. Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 1, 3. The Thing, 4. Scream 4, 5. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2

Lauren Stern: 1. 50/50, 2. Super 8, 3. Captain America, 4. Thor, 5. Horrible Bosses

Joe Zorzi: 1. Cedar Rapids, 2. Friends With Benefits, 3. The Roommate, 4. Hall Pass

Sue: 1. Bridesmaids, 2. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, 3. X-Men: First Class, 4. The Ides of March, 5. Hanna

Bill Bodkin: 1. Bridesmaids, 2. The Ides Of March, 3. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, 4. X-Men: First Class, 5. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Brent Johnson
5. Bridesmaids
Say all you want about how Kristen Wiig’s flick brought women to the forefront of the usually male-dominated comedy world. At the end of the day, it’s just a funny, funny movie, regardless of gender.

4. Moneyball
In baseball, ‘moneyball’ is the idea of small teams using statistics to overcome their lack of cash and sign undervalued players who can produce runs. Thrilling stuff, right? Director Bennett Miller somehow turns that into a touching, stirring, tense movie about underdog glory. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill give the kind of performances should get praised more often: sturdy and human. And the montage of seeing the scrappy Oakland A’s string together a record 20 straight wins? Pure catnip.

3. The Ides Of March
George Clooney is maybe the most under-appreciated director working today. In this political allegory, he coaxes stellar performances from everyone involved and paces what could have been a stodgy drama with the tenacity of a thriller. It’s a film that will make you question your own morals and loyalty.

2. The Descendants
What’s not to love? George Clooney’s masterful, out-of-character performance as a downtrodden land baron who learns that his wife was having an affair before she slipped into a coma? A story that anyone who’s ever been heartbroken, lost, angry — or all three — can relate to? Seamless direction from Alexander Payne? Scenes so vivid, they’ll stick with you for days? Everything is perfect.

1. Midnight In Paris
Woody Allen’s latest film is not only his best in maybe 22 years. It’s also one of the most charming films imaginable. Owen Wilson is underrated as an American writer visiting Paris — who somehow slips back in time to hang out with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and and Gertrude Stein. It’ll make you want to visit Paris immediately — or at least crack open The Great Gatsby again. It’s magical.

Brent Johnson

10. (tie) ‘Mean’ by Taylor Swift
Call her country all you want. But what Swift really has become is a solid pop songwriter. I dare you to find a prettier, more concise hook in a pop song this year. Plus, it put banjo back on the radio.

10. (tie) ‘Getting Ready For Christmas Day’ by Paul Simon
One of pop’s consummate tunesmiths doesn’t so much write songs anymore as stream-of-conscious tone poems. But the opening track of his enjoyable album So Beautiful Or So What has one of Simon’s classic, vivid melodies. And its subject — about a soldier returning from Iraq for the holidays — is poignant, not political.

9. ‘Lotus Flower’ by Radiohead
So King Of Limbs was the first Radiohead album to truly feel lackluster. Maybe that’s because the greatest living band has reduced themselves to languid drum loops and Thom Yorke’s mumbled wails. But the record’s lead single was exciting — kinetic and hooky.

8. ‘I Should Have Known’ by Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl & Co. did it again in 2011: release pretty much the same album they always do, without it managing to sound boring or old. But this track digs a little deeper. It’s a moody piece of string-laced alt-rock that reunites the surviving members of Nirvana — Grohl and Krist Novoselic — with Nevermind producer Butch Vig on a song about Kurt Cobain’s death.

7. ‘We All Go Back To Where We Belong’ by R.E.M.
The godfathers of modern alt-rock said goodbye after 30 years together. But before doing so, they recorded this lilting elegy. Even if their last few records have floundered, they’ll be missed.

6. ‘Holdin’ On To Black Metal’ by My Morning Jacket
Sometimes, Jim James and friends play spacey jams that drift into the sky. But this is a pure piece of oddball rock — a thumping tune with a snakey riff and a strange choir of backing vocals, based around the hook from a Thai pop song.

5. ‘Down By The Water’ by The Decemberists
Music’s most polarizing group of literate minstrels toned down their penchant for theatrics with The King Is Dead, a fantastic album of alt-folk that highlighted Colin Meloy’s gift for simple yet memorable melodies. This one is the best — a minor-key ditty with great harmony vocals from Gillian Welch.

4. ‘Standing O’ by Wilco
The new album from Jeff Tweedy’s veteran alt-rockers is a mixed bag: part by-the-numbers folk-pop and part arty experimentation. But this song bursts out with punky rhythm, an infectious chorus and a fun farfisa organ. Just goes to show that Wilco would have made a nice 1970s new wave band.

3. ‘Rolling In The Deep’ by Adele
Forget that it’s been played to death. Forget that the phrase ‘rolling in the deep’ doesn’t make much sense. The greatest thing Adele achieved this year was bringing a soulful song anchored by a rock ‘n’ roll drumbeat and gospel vocals to the top of the charts.

2. ‘Hotel Plaster’ by Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea
She’s the least-known on this list, but that’s a shame. The New Jersey songstress has killer pipes — full of drama and wail — and stellar songwriting chops. This is one of the many great tunes from Atkins’ sophomore album, Mondo Amore — a gorgeous, aching torch song that could have been a hit in 1955.

1. ‘The Death Of You And Me’ by Noel Gallagher
Fifteen years ago, this might have been a Top 10 single from Gallagher’s old band, Oasis. Now? It’s the most underrated track of the year — from the elder Gallagher’s lovely solo debut. Noel was always the backbone of Oasis, so it’s no surprise High Flying Birds trumps Liam’s Beady Eye project. What is surprising, however, is how sepia-toned and laid-back the album is. ‘The Death Of You And Me’ is the highlight — a lightly stomping acoustic rocker with gorgeous falsetto vocals and a Louisiana-tinged brass section.

Bill Bodkin: 1. “The Sound” — The London Souls, 2. “My Body” — Young The Giant, 3. “Vultures” by Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea, 4. “Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t” by Anthrax, 5. “Rolling In The Deep” – Adele

Sue: 1. “Someone Like You” — Adele, 2. “My Body” — Young The Giant, 3. “Pumped Up Kicks” – Foster the People, 4. “You and I” — Lady Gaga, 5. “The One That Got Away (acoustic version)” — Katy Perry

Jeanne Crump: “1. Resolutions” – Dave Hause, 2. “Going Out In Style” – Dropkick Murphys, 3. “The Fire, The Steel, The Tread” – Hot Water Music, 4. “If Ever I Stray” -Frank Turner, 5. “Machine Gun Blues” -Social Distortion

Lauren Stern: 1. “Platform Fire” — Jack’s Mannequin, 2. “Big Mistake” — Anthony Green, 3. “New Lands” — Justice, 4. “Steve McQueen” — M83 5. “Got It All (This Can’t Be Living Now)” — Portugal The Man

Ann Hale: 1. “No Light, No Light” — Florence + The Machine, 2. “Rolling In The Deep” — Adele, 3. “Rumor Has It/Someone Like You” — The Cast of Glee, 4. “Settle Down” — Kimbra, 5. “Somebody That I Used To Know” — Gotye

Joe Zorzi: 1. “We Found Love” — Rihanna, 2. “Towers” –- Bon Iver, 3. “Best Places To Be A Mom” — Taking Back Sunday, 4. “All The Shine” –- Childish Gambino, 5. “Trouble On My Mind” –- Pusha T featuring Tyler The Creator, 6. “Midnight City” — M83, 7. “Marvin’s Room” — Drake, 8. “Work In Progress” — The Dangerous Summer, 9. “Don’t Let Me Cave In” — The Wonder Years, 10. “Long Lost Friends” — Transit

Jason Stives

1. Arctic Monkeys — Suck It And See
Go on and say it. This is my favorite band, but the fact was no album’s release felt as anticipated and equallyrewarded for me as the Sheffield group’s fourth studio release. I maintain Arctic Monkeys are a real rock ‘n’ roll band with no additional label, and regardless of some fans’ dismissal of the band after abandoning the sound of their first two releases, one of the most mature acts in music today. Their third album, Humbug, greatly divided those who loved the cockney spry of their teen-angst debut and those who could see their oncoming storm of progression, and Suck It And See was just as equally progressive but a greatly cohesive blend of different song styles. From the heavy-metal thunder of lead single “Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” to the longing and frustration of the title track and its accompanying raunchy music video, there was a lot in the bag, not just British indie schlock as some might assume. There is also the fact that the Monkeys really benefited from the past year of touring, and with an arena tour of America soon to follow in 2012 with current trend setters The Black Keys, the Monkeys have broken their American blockade even though their albums always go Top 20 over here. This wasn’t the best album of 2011 (I hate those labels). This was just my favorite, the one that never left my CD player and the one that haunted my iPod’s Top 25 list for all of this year. So who will take this honor in 2012?

2. Adele — 21
It may seem arbitrary to place this at No. 1, so I didn’t mainly because it was everyone’s No. 1 — and rightfully so. While AV club recently declared that there were no important albums released this year, there were none the less ones that created household names. 21 was no doubt a household-name album, but I think for genuine songwriting, her debut 19 holds more than ballad doldrums of its follow-up. Nevertheless, it was hard to escape the British soul singer’s vocal charm and the scorn and hurt of her lyrics and music. Love or hate how much you heard “Rolling In The Deep” and “Someone Like You,” they showed two ends of the spectrum that most popular modern music is devoid of which is personability, an album that anyone can relate to and not be stubborn to admit. These were classic pop song stories and ones that didn’t have to be catered to one brand of audience. Never mind a lack of cleverness or a feel of being here before, Adele is a deservingly popular singer and has far more of a talent as an individual than most acts on Top 40 radio.

3. Fucked Up — David Comes To Life
I feel as a critic, this one was a shocker to read on pretty much all best of lists, including Billboard.com’s Top 10 albums, but there is a remarkable quality in David Comes To Life. Fucked Up (a household name if I’ve ever heard one) is a quintessential hardcore punk band with full-throttle lyrics with a basic fast-paced backbeat, but David Comes To Life is an amalgamation of most of rocks progress in 40 years. This rock opera without all the flare plays at a beautifully fast pace but with a world wind of pianos, strings, and razor=blade punk guitar riffs. Lead single “Queen Of Hearts” offers the angry veracity of the hardcore band they are, but with a charming melody and sing-song style thanks in part to the additional vocals of bassist Sandy Miranda, a.k.a. Mustard Gas. It’s not what you would expect out of this hardcore outfit, let alone for the public to embrace, but you wanted so badly for it to be the norm of all genre filtering.

4. Girls — Father, Son Holy Ghost
Beach Boys meets Sonic Youth. That is how San Fransicsco indie rockers Girls were described to me, one end of a spectrum I love and the other hate. That said, Father, Son, Holy Ghost is a wonderfully sunny yet melancholy blend of surf rock decadence and alternative youth angst. From the jangling gallop of the opener “Honey Bunny” to the acid-rock sprawl of “Die, Girls,” it fits a certain stereotype but is far more straight-laced than experimental, which encompasses most U.S. indie rock bands. The album’s true highlight is “Vomit,” which is part the androgynous whisper of bizarre imagery from lead singer Christopher Owens and a slow progression into Pink Floyd-style psychedelic rock. There is much here, but yet it’s kept very simple, like all good music should be.

5. Frank Ocean — Nostalgia, Ultra
The easiest way to describe the Odd Future member’s 2011 mix tape Nostalgia, Ultra is an urban collection of David Lynch-sounding songs. Much like his immature OFWGKA cohort Tyler The Creator, Frank Ocean is blunt and doesn’t shy away from what he is feeling. All this is done with a more refined view of his sexual escapades in Los Angeles and songs like “Strawberry Swing” and “Novacane” repeat that longing that only ’70s soul artists convey but with the rough edge of modern-day hip-hop artists. In a year with super-power rap collaborations and shock artists taking the forefront of the medias interest in controversial musicians, Ocean took some of those elements in stride but made something that blended its genres wonderfully. It knocks at auto tune and thug life and constant bump-and-grind dance ballads, but also encourages their existence by being moving and truthful in its execution.

Bill Bodkin: 1. Worship Music — Anthrax, 2. 21 — Adele, 3. Going Out In Style — Dropkick Murphys, 4. Hide Nothing — Only Living Boy, 5. Balls Out — Steel Panther

Brent Johnson: 1. The King Is Dead — The Decemberists, 2. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds — Noel Gallagher, 3. Mondo Amore — Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea, 4. Wasting Light — Foo Fighters, 5. The Whole Love — Wilco

Jeanne Crump: 1. England Keep My Bones — Frank Turner, 2. Simple Math — Manchester Orchestra, 3. Going Out In Style — Dropkick Murphys, 4. In The Pit Of the Stomach — We Were Promised Jetpacks, 5. David Comes To Life — Fucked Up

Lauren Stern: 1. People And Things — Jack’s Mannequin, 2. Hurry Up We’re Dreaming — M83, 3. In The Mountain In The Cloud — Portugal The Man, 4. Audio, Video, Disco –vJustice, 5. Nine Types Of Light — TV on the Radio

Ann Hale: 1. Ceremonials — Florence + the Machine, 2. Vows — Kimbra, 3. 21 — Adele, 4. Stronger — Kelly Clarkson, 5. Barton Hollow — The Civil Wars

Joe Zorzi: 1. Taking Back Sunday –- Taking Back Sunday, 2. War Paint — The Dangerous Summer, 3. Camp — Childish Gambino, 4. Bon Iver -– Bon Iver, 5. The R.E.D. Album -= Game, 6. In Some Way, Shape, Or Form — Four Year Strong, 7. Take Care – Drake, 8. Goblin — Tyler The Creator, 9. Listen & Forgive — Transit, 10. Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing — The Wonder Years

Jason Kundrath

1. Feist — Metals
A staggering work of understated beauty, Feist’s second album lacks any immediate pop thrills; however, after a couple of listens, it reveals a level of depth and nuance that is so enchanting it borders on the supernatural.

2. Peter Bjorn & John — Gimme Some
On their sixth album, the Swedish indie-pop/rock trio delivers on the promise of their minor 2006 hit “Young Folks” with an entire album of hook-laden, super-groovy and eminently danceable party music.

Dawes — Nothing Is Wrong
An unpretentious guitar-rock gem that features solid musicianship, beautiful harmonies and affecting lyrics, making for songs that glow with warmth. Telling tales of life and love lost and found, singer/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith’s vocals are front and center, crystal clear and beckoning you to sing along.

Fleet Foxes — Helplessness Blues
The Foxes return with another album of dreamy folk from another era, but this time around the affair is a bit darker, and even more haunting.

TUnE-yArDs — W H O K I L L
Merrill Garbus — the young lady behind TUnE-yArDs — makes music that defies easy categorization. It’s something of an indie-folk world music mashup with a heart of punk rock. And I love it so.

Val Emmich and the Veeries — Aide Memoire
After the expertly-produced, radio-ready hits-in-waiting that made up last year’s Looking For a Feeling You Never Knew You Needed, New Jersey’s own Val Emmich went for something very different with Aide Memoire, challenging himself to record the entire record, with a new band, live in the studio. The result is an emotionally heavy album with a unique vibe all its own, featuring great performances from the Veeries, and more solid songwriting from the seemingly bottomless well of Emmich’s soul.

Washed Out — Within & Without
I hadn’t heard of the genre “chillwave” before discovering Washed Out. Whether or not that tag will hold water the coming years, Washed Out has delivered an exceptional soundtrack to a beautiful drug trip.

Yuck — Yuck
Apparently the proper amount of time has passed for a band to come out with a sound we can accurately describe as “90’s-influenced.” It’s not a direct imitation or a subtle tribute. No one needs that. Yuck, however, is simply awesome. Crunchy guitars, snotty vocals, and sticky hooks.

Cicada Radio — IMPOSTER
Forgive the nepotism here. This is my brother’s band. Cicada Radio is his first band since our former project Hero Pattern called it quits a couple of years ago. As brothers, we will always be each other’s harshest critics. And it gives me great pleasure to say that Cicada Radio is fantastic, and I am a true fan. Their sound is an expert deconstruction of post-hardcore with an impassioned, emotional soul. IMPOSTER is an EP’s worth of their earliest material and it is confident, catchy and heavy as hell. But it’s only the first glimpse of a band that is growing by leaps and bounds at a staggering rate.

Bill Bodkin
1. Boardwalk Empire
Each week this Roaring ’20s-based Jersey Shore crime series had me captivated. This year’s season finale was so shocking, so controversial that some say it may ruin the series forever. Even if that is the case, I applaud the show’s audacity. The first two seasons of blood, booze and broads were so captivating, so pitch-perfect that even if the next season is a complete disaster, this show should still be considered one of HBO’s best shows ever.

2. The Walking Dead
Say what you will about the “slow moving” first half off the series’ second season, but when The Walking Dead swings for the fences, it always knock it out of the park. The bloody conclusion of the first half of this season was thrilling and highly satisfying from a plot standpoint. And who can forget the badass moment of the entire series when Daryl (Norman Reedus) pulled an arrow out of his stomach and then jammed it through a zombie’s skull.

3. Up All Night
When the series premiered on NBC I thought this would merely be another “I hate you, you hate me, we’re married … waaaah” sitcom. Instead, this a sublimely off the wall yet firmly grounded in reality sitcom about how having a kid … can drive you joyfully insane. Will Arnett is perfectly understated while Christina Applegate channels her role in Anchorman. However, it’s Maya Rudolph as the Opra-esque diva, Ava, who steals the show.

4. Doctor Who
Pop-Break loves Doctor Who — we’ve made that very apparent this year. But for good reason. The series is absolutely brilliant deftly combining science fiction with comedy, horror and drama. And that’s all usually in one episode.

5. Happy Endings
Remember when How I Met Your Mother was a refreshing bit of random comedy? Well, those days seem to be long gone, and luckily Happy Endings is there to pick up the slack. The once cancelled sitcom is an absolute delight — completely random, off the wall and hilarious.

Brent Johnson: 1. Parks And Recreation, 2. Community, 3. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, 4. Curb Your Enthusiasm, 5. Pawn Stars

Sue: 1. The Killing, 2. Up All Night, 3. Law & Order: UK, 4. Modern Family, 5. Happy Endings

Erin Petrie: 1. New Girl, 2. Parks And Recreation, 3. Community, 4. Happy Endings, 5. Modern Family

Lauren Stern: 1. Dexter, 2. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, 3. Beavis and Butthead, 4. Community, 5. The Big Bang Theory

Ann Hale: 1. The Walking Dead, 2. American Horror Story, 3. Dexter, 4. Glee, 5. How I Met Your Mother, 6. True Blood

Jason Stives: 1. Parks And Recreation, 2. Boardwalk Empire, 3. Doctor Who, 4. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, 5. Louie

Michael Dworkis: 1. Transformers Prime, 2. Young Justice, 3. NCIS, 4. Doctor Who, 5. Two Broke Girls

Joe Zorzi: 1. American Horror Story, 2. Misfits, 3. Workaholics, 4. Tosh.0, 5. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs: 1. Game Of Thrones, 2. Louie, 3. Boardwalk Empire, 4. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, 5. Curb Your Enthusiasm

Maxwell Barna

1. Sons Of Anarchy — I mean, yeah, it’s a little on the cheesier side of cable TV, but it keeps me busy when MY motorcycle is broken (which is most of the time, these days).
2. Boardwalk Empire — If you’re not watching this yet, smash your computer and go live in a cave.
3. The Walking Dead — Yeah, this season was slow, which is why it came in third. BUT, when it was good, it was real damn good.
4. American Horror Story — The show that is batshit crazy, makes absolutely no sense, but is so fun to watch.
5. Rocko’s Modern Life — Never forget!

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.