Express columnists aren’t automatons who output opinions or dispense advice, then turn off for the week (even if they may sometimes feel that way). They all watch television, for instance. And futz around on the Internet. Some of them even read books and eat food! For the last Express of the year, they were each commanded to reveal their favorite diversions of 2011.
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Vicky Hallett, DC Rider
“50/50”: Chances are you’ll shed a few tears watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt play a sweetheart of a guy whose cancer diagnosis destroys his relationship with his girlfriend, demands regular treatments with agonizing side effects and forces him to face the very real possibility of death. But I bet you’ll laugh more than you’ll cry.
“Unfamiliar Fishes” by Sarah Vowell: Vowell’s history of Hawaii combines her musings from travels around the islands with anecdotes about zany missionaries to create a quick, informative read that’ll make you really crave a beach vacation.
“Downton Abbey”: The Crawley family and their servants taught PBS viewers that, in early 20th-century England, a valet doesn’t park your car (he picks out your cufflinks) and that there’s nothing more important than who inherits one’s estate, even on the brink of war. The second season starts Jan. 8.
Trohv: Baltimore’s best gift store spread its wings — an appropriate metaphor given the many bird motifs adorning its vast assortment of housewares, knick-knacks and cards — and set up a second shop in Takoma (232 Carroll St. NW) this past spring.
Dr. Andrea Bonior, Baggage Check
“Jersey Boys”: I am sometimes rightly accused of being a time-travel transplant from the ’60s, given my love for mid-century pop culture. Even if you think Frankie Valli is a brand of tomato sauce, though, you’re bound to tap your toes to this one. The touring company, now at the National Theatre, pulls it off without a hitch.
“The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim” by Jonathan Coe: You’ve heard it before: Technology is changing how we relate to each other. But this novel — which takes off when Max is employed to drive toothbrushes to a remote location — is a true original.
“Men of a Certain Age”: I am still stinging from its cancellation. Though it was Ray Romano’s brainchild, don’t be fooled — this TNT show is no “Everybody Loves Raymond: The Sequel.” It’s one of the few comedy-dramas to portray imperfect people without the need for a saccharine ribbon wrapping it all together at the end of the hour. Who can we bribe to bring it back?
“Bridesmaids”: OK, OK, as a mom of three I didn’t get to see a whole lot of new movies this year. Still, how often do films — blockbuster, popular, buzzworthy films — focus on the true ups and downs of female friendship? Not nearly enough. And with not nearly enough diarrhea humor.
Marc Silver, Broadcast Muse
“Our Idiot Brother”: It wasn’t a blockbuster, just an utterly and unexpectedly sweet comedy about bearded, long-haired Ned (a charming Paul Rudd) who sells marijuana to a UNIFORMED COP, lands in jail, is dumped by his girlfriend, and gets caught up in the lives of his mixed-up, high-strung sisters.
“Black Cloud” by Davina and the Vagabonds: Davina Sowers is many women in one: Betty Boop, Mae West, rollicking blues-tinged pianist, vaudevillian show-off. She shines like a slightly wacky star on her new album, especially on the title song, in which she seductively petitions “Mr. Lucky Man” to remove the Black Cloud that hangs over her light.
“Scenes from Village Life” by Amos Oz: Israel’s greatest novelist spins deceptively understated tales of a gentrifying pioneer village’s residents, all of whom are waiting for someone or something that never seems to come.
Irene’s Biscotti (sold at Whole Foods): Crisp yet slightly chewy, each wedge is a mere 20 calories in raisin or cranberry variety, or 25 in chocolate and coffee flavors, and while they are a tad sawdusty you can consume FIVE and take in only 100 or so calories — a holiday miracle.
Fiona Zublin, Booze Clues
“Margin Call”: This barely fictionalized account of the 2008 financial crisis, set at a Lehman Brothers-like investment bank, slipped by most people unnoticed. That’s a shame: Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto and Stanley Tucci all give killer performances, and the writing is tight and thrilling. This is the best movie ever made about Wall Street, and that includes “Wall Street.”
“The Book of Mormon”: In a year marked by a depressingly facile discussion of religion in America, we can always count on Trey Parker and Matt Stone to keep things simultaneously silly, poignant, profane and tuneful.
“Pulphead” by John Jeremiah Sullivan: It’s about time the rest of the world discovered what a few of us already know: Sullivan is the most talented essayist working in America. This collection of his work covers some seriously disparate ground — Christian music festivals, cave systems of the central United States, Axl Rose.
“Community”: This is the best show on television, and if you’re not watching it I hate you, because you are dragging down its ratings. Dan Harmon’s meta-masterpiece, on hiatus on NBC, throws its ensemble cast down the rabbit hole of modern pop culture and comes up brilliant every time.
Kristen Page-Kirby, The Reelist
“The Leftovers” by Tom Perrotta: Taking place three years after a Rapture-like event has made about a third of the world’s population disappear (along with, for an unexplained reason, a high percentage of celebrity chefs), this very funny, occasionally heartbreaking book explores several characters’ very normal grief under extraordinary circumstances.
Adele, “21”: “Rolling in the Deep” may be overplayed on the radio, but white-knuckling the steering wheel as I attempt to belt “rolling in the DEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP” ranks with some of my best car-based musical moments.
Ryan Gosling Memes: I’m pretty sure Tumblr peaked with this year’s proliferation of Ryan Gosling memes, all of which begin with “hey girl.” My favorites are Feminist Ryan Gosling; Hey Girl, I Heart NPR; and Biostatistics Ryan Gosling, which is unintelligible to non-science people like me.
“Once Upon a Time”: Fairy-tale characters — not the originals, but the Disney-fied versions — are alive and living in a small American town. Although it occasionally borders on the cheesy, the ABC drama provides clever escapism that’s just right for Sunday nights.
Katie Aberbach, Eater’s Digest
The Royal Wedding: The April 29 nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton spawned countless fascinating products, including a collectible refrigerator, a “sick bag” (a nicer term than “barf bag”) and Kate- and Wills-shaped tea bags. Then there’s the T-Mobile commercial I still can’t get over.
“The Tiger’s Wife” by Téa Obreht: Obreht’s debut novel — about a young doctor coping with grief as she retraces her late grandfather’s final, mysterious days in the former Yugoslavia — makes the region’s history relevant and relatable even to readers unfamiliar with it.
“Revenge”: The day I happened to catch the premiere of ABC’s “Revenge” was a lucky one, because I’m not normally a soap opera person. “Revenge” sucked me right in. I can’t get enough of its more-maniacal-than-meets-the-eye protagonist Emily Thorne, its twisty and utterly unrealistic plot and its preppy Hamptons setting.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2”: The final installment balances massive amounts of 3-D action with touching farewells from both the characters and their actors, who we’ve watched grow up, into and beyond their roles over the past decade. It’s the bittersweet end of an era.
Rudi Greenberg, Inside Jokes
LCD Soundsystem: When James Murphy sang “this could be the last time” during “All My Friends” at Madison Square Garden in April, the entire audience had goose bumps. It was the last time the members of LCD Soundsystem would perform together, and the somber but celebratory four-hour blowout was a fitting end for the beloved dance-punk band.
“Attack the Block”: With a refreshing blend of fast-paced action, slick visuals and dark humor, British comedian Joe Cornish’s directorial debut turned a simple premise — aliens invade a London apartment complex, forcing a gang of teenagers to fight back — into something completely out of this world.
“Breaking Bad”: It wasn’t always clear where AMC’s methed-up drama was headed, but any sense of confusion only added to each episode’s nail-biting, hair-pulling suspense — all of which culminated in an explosive (and immensely satisfying) fourth-season finale.
HBO Go: With nearly every episode of every show HBO has ever aired, the network’s streaming service, which launched in 2010 and moved to mobile this year, is the best remedy for Netflix fatigue. Or, the reason you no longer have a valid excuse not to watch “The Wire.”