TIME’s Favorite Cultural Moments of 2011

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Left to Right: NBC; Everett; Paramount Pictures

Dear reader, you’re probably as exhausted as we are from this month’s onslaught of Top Ten lists. (Don’t worry, we have a couple more we’re rolling out later this week.) But those deal with the macro. Here’s a bit of the micro — our favorite book, music, movie and television moments from the past 360-some odd days. We’d love to hear yours over at our Twitter page.

James Poniewozik, Television Critic

1. Ron and the Eternal Flame

I could probably suggest 15 moments from Parks and Recreation alone. 14 of them would involve Ron Swanson. But the one that comes instantly to mind is this one.

It has everything in there: the hilariousness of his character, the genuine if weird sentiment of Pawnee for deceased local hero Li’l Sebastian (a small horse — not a pony, a small horse!) and just the flat-out funniest moment of TV slapstick this year. All the funnier for the fact that it happens in the background, out of focus, and is punctuated by Leslie, Jerry and Ben’s awkward attempt to cover it up with overeager, horrified applause.

Mary Pols, Movie Critic

1. Bridesmaids

Lillian, the film’s blushing, food-poisoned bride (Maya Rudolph), races out the door of a bridal salon, frantically looking for an unoccupied bathroom. She’s wearing a strapless confection as white and puffy as a marshmallow; it couldn’t be more pristine. Then in the middle of the street, she realizes she it’s too late and sinks, swan-like, to the pavement, her dress pooling around her. At the moment of the ultimate humiliation, there’s Lillian, trying desperately to maintain her composure and live up to the absurd power of The Gown. Kate Middleton probably had a knowing laugh about that one.

2. A Better Life

His teenaged son asleep in the apartment’s only bedroom, gardener Carlos Gallindo (Screen Actor’s Guild Best Actor nominee Demian Bichir) tucks himself into a makeshift bed on the couch, still wearing the same clothes he’s been working in all day. This is the regular routine for the illegal Mexican immigrant – sacrificing for his mostly ungrateful kid, always exhausted and yet always at the ready to head back to work again at dawn. The narrow couch epitomizes Carlos’s tentative status in America; he’s a long-term houseguest, trying not to take up too much room but grateful for somewhere to lay his head.

3. The Artist

But for music, The Artist is soundless for 30 minutes and 35 seconds. Then silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) puts down his highball and the glass hits a smooth surface — click. He’s just seen his first talkie and laughingly dismissed it, via title card, “If that’s the future, you can have it.” Now his dog barks, the phone shrills and the laughter of chorus girls taunts him; yet he can’t make a sound. George is only dreaming and the movie quickly mutes itself, but the notion that sound was a vulgar intrusion, painful even, now makes sense, even to those of us trained on car chases and thundering explosions.

4. Young Adult

The horrible heroine played by Charlize Theron strips out of her soiled designer dress and stands naked but for her pantyhose and a pair of chicken cutlet-shaped silicone pasties cupped to her breasts. She’s just humiliated herself in public and is prepared to debase herself with a man (Patton Oswalt) who is actually too good for her. It’s always an event when Theron makes beautiful look ugly, but this time, the Monster was inside her. Not since Isabella Rossellini stumbled naked across that lawn in Blue Velvet has a beautiful woman offering herself looked so frightening on screen.

Claire Suddath, Music Writer

1. Sleep Clown, Modern Family

“Some people have been known to sleep walk or even sleep drive on that medication. Cam’s reaction is much worse,” says Mitchell, of his husband’s absurd condition.


2. Adrien Brody in Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s charming comedy is his best work since — hell, I don’t even know. It’s been decades since he made something I enjoyed this much. There are so many delightful characters in this film, but my favorite was Adrien Brody as surrealist painter Salvador Dali, who repeatedly declares that he wants to paint Owen Wilson’s character as a rhinoceros. Much of the humor comes in the way he pronounces…ree-noss-eruss.


3. Unicorns

In March, Ke$ha and Lady Gaga released music videos for their songs “Blow” and “Born This Way.” Oddly, they both included unicorns. “Are unicorns a thing,” I thought I watched the clips. “Should I do a unicorn trend piece?” But no more unicorns popped up, and then Chris Marrs Piliero, the director of Ke$ha’s “Blow,” even came out and said the videos’ similarities were just a coincidence. Kind of like the two Snow White movies that are going to come out next year, I guess. That’s too bad. I would have liked to write about unicorns.



4. Downton Abbey

It’s British. It’s an upstairs-downstairs-type period drama set on an English estate just before World War I. Maggie Smith is in it. If any of these descriptions appeal to you and you haven’t yet seen the miniseries, please remedy that right away. Preferably before Jan. 8, when season two airs on PBS.

5. Portgual. The Man, In the Mountain In The Cloud

This album didn’t make my year-end list, but it came very, very close. The Alaskan psychedelic folk-rock band’s cleanest, most cohesive record to date deserved far more publicity than it received. There are plenty of stand-out tracks on In The Mountain In the Cloud, but my favorite is “So American,” which just might be the first song that out-Bowies David Bowie.


6. When Saints Go Machine, “Kelly”

Young love. First kisses. Pop music’s 80s synth revival. This song has it all. Every time I listen to it, I smile.


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