By: Brennan Carley, Taylor Cavallo, & Dan Siering
Two weeks ago, we covered the best and biggest of 2011 pop culture. This week we are diving a little under the radar to showcase some of the year’s hidden artistic gems, ranging from noteworthy indie movies to innovative and edgy hip-hop. While the pop culture connoisseurs among you may be familiar with these lesser-known high points, the more casual artistic audience may have been distracted by the glitz and glamour of the mainstream. We have highlighted these deserving subtleties of pop culture before they fade with the close of the year.
Flying quietly under the radar during the summer movie season was Richard Ayoade’s indie rom-com Submarine, a semi-autobiographical tale that tells the story of an overly complex teen named Oliver Tate. Struggling to find his niche in the world, the literarily gifted and socially awkward Tate trots through his high school years in solitude, while admiring fellow student Jordana Bevan from afar.
When a series of odd events brings the two together, Oliver and Jordana enter into a boisterous romance chalk-full of comically ambiguous dialogue and ambitious sexual advances from Tate. Amidst this off-beat relationship, Tate struggles to maintain his parents’ dreary marriage along with his hopes for true romance. For those who enjoy quirky teenage comedies or the humor of our English brethren, Submarine is a must-rent.
Another flick that slid into the shadow of the summer blockbusters was Cedar Rapids, Miguel Arteta’s indie comedy that sports a dynamite cast led by Ed Helms and John C. Reilly. Telling the story of a naïve insurance salesman’s journey to a business convention full of characters, Cedar Rapids succeeds by providing coarse, charming entertainment and one of Reilly’s best comedic performances.
The year 2011 was fantastic for albums, whether you’re an indie fan, a grunge fan, or a lover of raw, misogynist rap. Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues is one album that should not be missed. The relaxing and lyrical sound of this Seattle folk rock band is perfect for any lazy day, and, exhibiting their growth as a group, is their best album to date. SPIN Magazine released a cover album by a true compilation of various artists titled Newermind as a tribute to the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s album Nevermind. As risky as covers generally are, this quirky album is worth a listen. Perhaps the most impressive and underappreciated album of 2011 is Goblin, the second studio album of Tyler, The Creator-leader and founder of the alternative rap group that some people love to hate, Odd Future. Though the album’s crude lyrics can be offensive and requires a sort of mental preparation before listening to them, the beauty of Goblin lays past all that. Tyler experiments with different beats, styles, and approaches to the genre of rap as a whole, and unquestionably succeeds.
Though network comedy has been on its game in the past year, cable is still really where comedians get the freedom to just quietly spitball. HBO’s Enlightened with Laura Dern is a brilliant little show, thirty minutes of nonstop emotion with truly nuanced characters. It follows a woman (Dern) who, following a breakdown and spiritual retreat, returns to the workplace that set her off. Luke Wilson plays her ex, and the storylines consistently pop with wit.
Likewise, Louis C.K. put on a wonderful show this spring with Louie, a melancholic look at being a single dad in New York City. Guest appearances by Joan Rivers and Dane Cook were wonderful and never cliched.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Happy Endings, the unlikely successor to Friends that is doing everything right, and Portlandia, Fred Armisen’s weird but spot-on spoof of the Oregon city.
In terms of drama, Treme was woozy but often reached the greatness of The Wire, a testament to David Simon’s incredible writing. Homeland often transcended the highs of Breaking Bad, thanks in part to Clare Dane’s incredible acting, but nobody seemed to watch. Likewise, Parenthood hit its stride this fall, but can a show really hit a stride if nobody’s paying attention?
We’re not sure if you saw, but “Feminist Ryan Gosling” took over the Internet this year, along with a slew of other hilarious blogs. They’re all an amazing way to waste time and have been just as life-consuming as any other aspect of pop culture this year. Some of the best ones popped up towards the end of the year. The Tumblr “Texts From Bennett” blew up last week, featuring hilarious texts from a (hopefully) real person. The blogger documents her cousin’s hilariously inappropriate journey and musings through life, showcasing his ridiculous inability to function as a human being and his skewed, yet laughable views.
For the more intellectually oriented of the group, Ryan Gosling takes the ladies on a ride through post-modern feminist philosophy on “Feminist Ryan Gosling.” With his thoughts from the likes of Hannah Arendt and Simone de Beauvoir, paired with his boyish smirk and seemingly-Photoshopped body, Gosling gives readers not only a good laugh, but also a lesson in the process.
Likewise, the Tumblr “Yelping With Cormac” takes Yelp reviews and rewrites them from the perspective of author Cormac McCarthy. Here’s one about Juicy Couture: “he saw … some gaia figurines to be worshipped by savages, and on them were pajama trousers with the word Juicy luridly stamped across the seat of the pants. Hellfire and damnation,” he said.