All right, here's the deal. There's highbrow, super-high-quality art; then there's lowbrow, late-night-drive-thru, junky-but fun entertainment.
And I don't see much point in pulling apart my list between the two distinctions. If it's enjoyable, and fulfills its function well, and is worth my—and your—time, it made this list. Welcome to no-brow, friends.
Here we go!
5. PITCH PERFECT
I know, I know. But this was the surprise snark comedy of the year for me, deserving of a place on the shelf next to Mean Girls and Bring It On and Easy A and Drop Dead Gorgeous. It gets the college a cappella scene really, really right, and it's fun, and loud, and cheer-worthy where you expect it.
And holy crap, someone needs to give Anna Kendrick the vehicle she needs to become an A-list, hitmaking star. She's fantastic. I mean, she's like 40 percent teeth, but she's adorable and super-talented. And the girl can sing. Also, Rebel Wilson is pretty amazing. And this isn't her only appearance on this list.
4. TAKE THIS WALTZ
Seth Rogen deserves an Oscar nomination for his work in this film. I can't believe I just wrote that, but it's true. His turn as a cookbook-writing nice guy married to an unsatisfied, desperate Michelle Williams is wonderful, and deep, and nuanced.
This is a shockingly personal, fun, interestingly-shot film that got overlooked from every angle this year. Sarah Silverman is ALSO excellent in this film, even if you discount her terrifying full-frontal nude scenes. But seriously, see this film. It's on Netflix Instant. Go. Watch it.
The Will Ferrell-produced big-screen adaptation of Leslye Heyland's shocking stage play flew under a lot of radars this year. Heyland (who also directed the film, and was a writer for last year's beloved and much-missed tv show Terriers) created a thirtysomething female-marriage-shock comedy that is every bit as funny as Bridesmaids was disappointing.
Kirsten Dunst gives a career-best performance as an ice-queen, leader-of-the-pack maid of honor on a bachelorette party night gone horribly wrong, and Rebel Wilson, as the title character in question, does a lot of the heavy lifting as a sympathetic, plus-size woman who refuses to be victimized. She's going to get an Oscar nom, one of these days, as well. Just you watch.
Everyone loves this film. What else can be said? Affleck is the closest thing our generation has to a Paul Newman, as both a fragile, fascinating leading man and steadfast and creative director.
We all know this film's got a happy ending, but the chase/escape sequence had us all on the edge of our seats anyways. That's talent. Also, John Goodman is perfect here.
1. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Aside from the Philly pride, this is just a wondrous, heart-storming miracle of a movie. Bradley Cooper is all wide-eyed, steel-jawed determination as a mentally ill man trying to get his life back on track, and Robert De Niro as his bookie dad deserves every inch of praise he's garnered for this film.
Oh, and Jennifer Lawrence is smoky, gorgeous, sexy depth in this career-making role. She's the new Meryl Streep, people. And she's 22! She can do anything. And I'll watch each and every film she's in.
5. HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER
This show gets a lot of flack for not being "smart" enough to make it on some lists, and not being "bawdy" (like Chuck Lorre shows) to make it on others. But it is somehow the most earnest comedy on TV.
After eight years of continuity, we've watched a gang of five New Yorkers in this love-story-in-reverse become two couples and a single guy, and as it nears its endgame, it's wistful and fun to see how it all comes together.
We've got another season-and-a-half left, and although there's signs that this show might not be what it used to be, the midseason finale "The Final Page," and its heartbreaking, cheer-inducing last five minutes, are as good as any moment in the show, including season two's "Slap Bet."
There's still life in this show, and I'm excited to see where it goes.
We have one year left, and the writers are making it count, as Dexter's serial-killer lifestyle and newly humanized personal life continue to collide and implode.
Jennifer Carpenter's Deb and Michael C. Hall's Dex circle one another as adopted siblings who may have the hots for one another, and now that the cards are all on the table about Dex's extracurricular activities, there's so many ways this story can end.
And who saw the finale shocker coming? I didn't know Deb had it in her...
3. MODERN FAMILY
Every week, this show just feels like a big, warm hug, with the highest level of comedy polish possible. It gets some flack for being sentimental, but you know what? Sometimes, that's okay.
And every Wednesday night, Modern Family leaves me happier than I was a half-hour earlier. It's still going strong. Also, I'm pretty sure Cam and I own at least three of the same shirts...
2. PARKS AND RECREATION
We all want to be Ron Swanson, and it's CRIMINAL that Nick Offerman doesn't yet have an award for this role. Parks and Rec proves, with every episode, that it's possible to make optimism cool, smart, and funny at the same time, as Leslie Knope and her friends continue to make life better in Pawnee, Indiana. This is what joy feels like as a TV show, friends. And it's better than ever.
At the end of season one, I thought this show could go no further—and then it did, blowing my mind every week, as a mentally ill CIA specialist and an American-hero-turned-Al-Qaeda sleeper agent engage in a sexy, scary, terrifying game of cat-and-mouse.
Claire Danes is awesome, as is Mandy Patinkin as her shrewd, compassionate boss, but Damian Lewis is the real gem of this show, a jack-knife of an actor who is both endlessly charming and unpredictable.
No show in recent memory has inspired this much conversation in my life, and I'm consistently amazed and enthralled. Season three can't get here fast enough.
COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS
Yeah, it's sort of mainstream. But writer Scott Snyder has done what no one thought possible: made Bruce Wayne both accessible and awesome again.
In a way that's totally different from Christopher Nolan's approach, Scott Snyder has made it clear why Gotham needs its Batman, and, in the reintroduction this year of a newly-revamped, horrifying-looking Joker, why Batman himself needs his scariest villain. This is spooky, exhilarating storytelling.
4. UNCANNY X-FORCE
I feel sort of guilty including anything X-Men on here, but what writer Rick Remender and his army of skilled artists has done is taken Wolverine and friends and thrown them into a world of moral ambiguity, where killing is questioned and every choice has at least two consequences behind it.
That it all looks beautiful is a bonus; this is pretty much The Dirty Dozen meets James Bond meets Lost with a bunch of fan-favorite characters—and it really works.
3. ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN
Everyone expected Brian Michael Bendis' plan to kill and replace Peter Parker to, well, suck. And surprisingly, it hasn't: 13-year old black/latino whiz-kid Miles Morales is every bit the captivating character Peter was, and somehow, this drastic change opens up all sorts of new stories. Also, Sara Pichelli might be the best artist working in comics today.
Matt Fraction and David Aja present...Hawkeye's days off? Yep. And it works. Take Jeremy Renner's character from the most successful movie of the year, and throw it through an indie-spirit window of purple-hued, noir craziness, and this is what you get. There's never been a comic quite like this. It's a trip.
Three years from now, you're going to regard Saga the way you do The Walking Dead. Writer Brian K. Vaughn has an amazing talent for high-concept plots, as seen in his creations Ex Machina (world's first super-hero saves Tower Two on 9/11, becomes mayor of New York), Runaways (six kids of twelve super-villains steal their parents' powers and go on the run in an effort to take them down), and Y: The Last Man (every male mammal on the planet dies suddenly, except for one scared grad student and his pet monkey).
Here, he takes it one step further: two alien races, one magic and one sci-fi, are engaged in a bloody religious war, until a soldier from each side falls in love, has a baby together, and decides to run for their lives.
Narrated by Hazel, the baby-all-grown-up in the future, Saga is a hyperpolitical, sharply funny, sexy, grown-up adventure story, and it's going to be huge someday as a TV show or movie series. Mark my words: this Image comic book is the next best thing, and the very best thing on shelves right now.