The Social Network. All the for-reals movie critics have already said how brilliant this is and they are basically completely right about everything. People complaining that the movie isn’t completely accurate – other than missing the point of movies generally – are mistaken because the accuracy here is about capturing the entire ethos of ruthless vision that led to the 2000s dotcom re-boom. Jesse Eisenberg gives what’s far and away the most brilliant performance of the year by any actor because he’s simultaneously so compelling and sympathetic while being so unlikeable and cold, and Aaron Sorkin’s script tones down his usual crutches to the point where it’s better than anything else he’s previously written.
Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game. Out of all the new boardgames I played in 2010, this was my favorite: a three-hour brainburner that genuinely captures the feel of playing a marathon game of Civ on your computer, except there’s no computer and you get the fun of playing against three other opponents face-to-face. Multiple victory conditions, variant civilization rules, tech advancement for strategic purpose – everything you would expect out of a game of Civ is here, and produced with screamingly awesome quality.
The first and third episodes of Sherlock. I can’t in good conscience give the whole series a total endorsement because the second episode, “The Blind Banker,” is just not in the league of the other two; cheap Orientalism plus a less-than-compelling mystery make for teevee that is only passably entertaining at most. But the first and third episodes are fantastic stuff – the best visual description of texting yet put to screen, genuinely inventive and fun mysteries, brilliant renditions of the Holmes thought process and of course Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s superb Holmes and Watson turn what could have been a goofy lark into some of the best long-form telly of the year.
ArchAndroid by Janelle Monae. Any year Janelle Monae drops a new album it will make this list.
Beasts of Burden by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson. As I get older, and to an extent more productive, the “I wish I had written that” feeling occurs less and less often – that sheer burst of envy you feel when somebody writes something that is so fucking good that is, in retrospect, such an obvious idea that it should have occurred to you years ago, but it didn’t. Beasts of Burden is the only comic all year that made me feel that way: gorgeous, intelligent, crucially not overwritten or overexplained (which would have just ruined it) and mostly just vital. A cat clawing a demon in the eyes felt more urgent than any superhero comic all year long, which says something about superhero comics.
Community. The second half of season one and the first half of season two combine for one of the most virtuosic meta-seasons of any show ever. Community is brilliant not because of the thematic parodies it does (in episodes like “Contemporary American Poultry,” “Epidemiology,” “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design,” and above all “Modern Warfare”), although those are brilliant. No, Community is brilliant because of its exacting attention to detail in crafting its stories: no show is as efficient at using every single inch of screen real estate and every second of running time to cram in as much story as possible. Think Abed’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it subplot in “The Psychology of Letting Go,” or the fact that the show actually gives away the ending of “Cooperative Calligraphy” in the first two minutes in a way that nobody watching will notice the first time through, or the numerous references to the fact that Jeff and Britta keep hooking up on the sly without ever actually bothering to address it in a main plotline (until they do, of course) – but then bear in mind that all of this detail and craft is simultaneously used to further develop and strengthen all of the show’s cast and drop as many gags as humanly possible.
Animal Kingdom. The best crime movie in years. Animal Kingdom features a teenaged protagonist actually acting like a real teenager (sullen and moody), some of the most vivid and genuinely evil characters to come along in a very long time (when one character matter-of-factly explains what is to be done about another – you’ll know it when you see it – it’s just a tour-de-force of the filmmakers daring you to believe that this isn’t happening when it is), and a plot that surprises out of old-school Hitchcockian tension rather than boring old shock value. Staggeringly good movie.
Matt Smith as the Doctor. Because he’s really, really good at it.