'Inception,' 'The Walking Dead,' 'Scott Pilgrim' and more: Doc Jensen's Best Geek-Outs of 2010

lost-finaleImage Credit: Mario Perez/ABC‘Tis the season for picking favorites — for taking stock of the year that was and expressing ourselves with lists. Like every pop culture junkie, I have a list for everything — movies, TV, books, music, comics, videogames. But I’m also a big geek, with a fancy for what the industry and more sophisticated nerds call “genre entertainment” — superhero, sci-fi, horror, and fantasy stuff, worlds of wild and weird wonder marked by extraordinary creativity and mind-stretching ideas that can inspire intense engagement, deep discussion with friends, and in some instances, multiple 6,000 word essays each week exploring every nook and cranny, real and imagined, of an entertainment experience — especially ones that involve smoke monsters. Here were my favorite Geek-Outs of 2010, and beginning with (no surprise)…

1. Lost
Some people will love me for putting this Number 1; others will hate me. I love that Lost was capable of producing such polarizing responses. Everyone had his or her own intense, personal relationship to the show. I am not here to validate or critique your perspective, whatever end of the spectrum you occupy. That was your experience. This was mine: The most stimulating pop culture experience of my adult life came to a conclusion this past year with a season to savor for years to come. Yes, I do mean savor: The more I think about the Sideways world, the Man In Black, and the center of The Island, the more richness I find — to the point that I’ve recently been re-thinking many of my initial interpretations. (As much as I enjoyed producing those 6,000 word recaps, I really wish I had more time to process and crunch each episode before committing my thoughts to digital paper.) For example, in my write-ups on “The End,” I called the Sideways world “Purgatory” and deemed it a wholly spiritual construct. I am no longer convinced. I find myself tilting toward an idea, suggested by other critics and bloggers, that the Sideways realm should be thought of as a psychological construct; I think you can accept that without negating the spiritual message of the show. That said, in recent months, I’ve been reassessing “The End” through a more agnostic filter, and as I do, provocative and challenging new meanings emerge — about the Man In Black, about what it means to be The Island’s guardian, about the season’s strangest character. What do I mean by all this? And who was the season’s strangest character? I’ll tell you in my long-promised, long-delayed last Lost column, which will post before the end of the year. Oh, and one more thing? Still cry when I watch this. One of the most beautifully heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen on TV.

2. Inception
I’m one of those geeks that enjoys thinking about the construction of a story, especially stories with a lot of moving, synchronized parts like Inception. Christopher Nolan’s dreamy thriller has a Rube Goldberg intricacy to it, multiple levels of gee-whiz storytelling all in service of producing a simple, powerful emotional effect: Cobb coming to terms with guilt and loss and reuniting with his kids. Or did he? And cue the spinning top debate. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s zero gravity fight sequence in a hotel hallway was my favorite special effect of the year. (I like to think behind those closed hotel room doors, an aged David Bowman was laying in bed and yelling: “Keep it down out there! I’m trying to commune with a giant black rock and tie my Starchild on, dammit!”) Inception also inspired my favorite piece of fan theory/critical essay of the year, Devin Faraci’s examination of Inception as a metaphor for filmmaking.

3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
You know the moment at the start of the movie when Knives Chau watched Sex Bob-omb play for the first time with excited eyes as wide as the ocean? That was me, the entire movie. Edgar Wright’s giddily busybusybusy mash-up of romantic comedy, movie, music and comic book homage, and videogame tropes took almost everything I love about pop culture, synthesized into pure audio/visual sugar, packed it into a syringe, and then injected it right into my brain. And then made love to me. (You, too? Crazy!) Oh, it was also an awesome adaptation of an awesome comic book by Bryan Lee O’Malley. As strange as this may sound, I loved how the climax ended with a total fail — GAME OVER! — and then rebooted itself (literally) to give us a new, better ending for Scott Pilgrim/Ramona Flowers/Knives Chau love triangle to score some smart, wise points about the role that self-respect plays in the art of loving, be it friendships or romance. Oh, blah blah blah: WE ARE SEX BOB-OMB! 1-2-3-4! (PS: I still wear my Comic-Con T-shirt proudly.)

4. The Walking Dead
Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s ongoing saga of survival horror is the true successor to Lost, a fable of reconstruction for a post-catastrophe culture. Also, it’s a show where a guy can take an axe and cut up a dead body and play dress-up with intestines and tendons. Also: zombies.

5. Kick-Ass
Four things. 1. Chloë Moretz. Wow. 2. Much needs to be said about how exactly this past decade of superhero pop has impacted our kids and shaped their conceptions of good and evil, heroism and villainy. The stories they will tell when they grow up and run Hollywood and fill the culture with their heroic narratives are going to be interesting. Kick-Ass — Matthew Vaughn’s bleak and ballsy adaptation of the Mark Millar/John Romnita Jr. comic — tells the story of a comic book nerd who decides it would be cool to put on a mask and fight crime and a little girl turned coarse and killing machine ruthless because her role model taught her that vigilante vengeance was the only way to deal with personal injustice and tragedy. Some dismissed this movie as stupid cynical nihilism. I thought it was a movie that had something on its mind, and said it in an outrageously entertaining way. 3. Vaughn directed the hell out of this movie. I can’t wait for X-Men: First Class. 4. Chloë Moretz. Wow. Don’t think I can say that enough.

6. Fringe
April 1st, 2010 — the day Fringe aired “Peter,” the episode that told us how Walter Bishop, grief-stricken over the death of his son Peter, crossed over to a parallel world to save another Walter Bishop’s son — and then claimed him for his own. April Fool’s Day — when Fringe crossed over from fitfully great to just plain great. The show has been a killer roll ever since. The film noir spoof “Brown Betty.” The Peter Weller time travel tale “White Tulip,” maybe the best episode of Fringe ever. The two-part season two finale, which took us “Over There.” And all of season three, which has toggled between “over here” and “over there” to give us two great sci-fi series in one, united and anchored by Anna Torv’s strong performance as the two Olivias. Here’s hoping fans will follow the show to Friday — and that even more fans will join the Fringe fold. It needs them — and deserves them.

7. God of War 3; 8. Mass Effect 2; 9. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Three of my favorite games of the year; three of my favorite far-out worlds of the year. God of War 3 brought ancient mythology to life better than any film I’ve ever seen or comic I’ve ever read. The vast sci-fi marvel of Mass Effect 2 keeps blooming in my head, so much so that I am committed to geeking out about it more here at EW.com in 2011, especially as we get closer to the release of Mass Effect 3. More to come on that. And the time-toggling Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, with its tricky interplay between history and memory, continued the most intriguing mystery-fantasy playing out in games today.

10. Tron: Legacy
Pretty. Just so very, very, very geek-pretty. I’m still trying to make up my mind about the rest of it; some moments stick with me for the right reasons (Young Flynn finding the arcade, cranking the Journey, descending down the rabbit hole), others (“I… choose… USER!”) just clank. Jeff Bridges as Clu was a technical fail; it was a great idea for the story, but the unconvincing effect kept taking me out of the movie instead of drawing me deeper into it. And yet, I close my eyes and the movie still strobes and flashes, and the Daft Punk score still reverberates in my bones; it’s like the movie downloaded a laserium show into my head. For all its flaws, I hope it makes gigabucks at the box office — I want to go back to there.

@EWDocJensen

Comments (92 total) Add your comment
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  • Anjali

    Actually Doc, the noir episode for Fringe was ‘Brown Betty’.

    • Jeff Jensen

      Thanks for the catch! I made a correction.

      • LOL

        Doc J is The Man! Love “Lost” and “Kick-Ass.”

      • iloveiCarly

        You forgot about “Tower Prep” , this show is like LOST only set in a prep academy, it is incredible and I look forward to it every week. Also forgot last season of Smallville where stuff actually seems to be happening and had the best Smallville episode ever in Homecoming.

  • MLLASH

    The Walking Dead and Kick-Ass were highlights for me as well.

  • rafaelrsv

    Wow Jenssen, is good to know that a famous person like you share the same likes that a simple human like me. March on to watch Finge an The Walking Dead next year.

  • nunnya

    I’m so with you!!!! Especially in regards to the zero gravity action sequence in Inception and Scott Pilgrim.
    Also, I couldn’t watch the episode a second time. I cried for 24 hours plus after the finale of Lost.

  • kim in kentucky

    TOTALLY agree about Fringe and Walking Dead!

  • tracy bluth

    NO. NOOOOOO. I will not watch the final scene of Lost again! I will not…uh oh. Here come the waterworks. LOVE the 2001: A Space Odyssey reference. Also, YAY FRINGE!!!!!

    • RK

      Were you crying in pain, because it was so bad?

      • LOL

        RK hates life.

    • Dicazi

      I teared up just seeing the still.
      And RK…….cause it’s so good.

  • Kassie

    I just wanted to mention that it appears that the listings go from #7 to #10. I’m not sure if there are only supposed to be 8 items or if there should be 10, but I just wanted to let you know. :)

    • Brien

      His 7, 8 and 9 are all in one entry. They were God of War III, Mass Effect 2, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (all video games, btw).

  • Derek

    “Genre Entertainment” – thanks Doc, now I too can sound like a sophisticated nerd! I agree with your point about ‘The Walking Dead’ being a true successor to ‘Lost’, in spirit anyway. I think true genre fans have seen through the transparent attempts by other shows to copy Lost (ie. Flash Forward). All we really needed was a serious, well-written genre show.

    • danielle

      Yep,yep…so happy to have something to call it besides “fantasy/sci-fi” and its images of D&D-playing nerds (sorry guys!). “Genre” works much better for a grown girl :)

  • Aimee

    What happened to 8 and 9?

    • Tank Girl

      Read #7 more closely.

  • gf120581

    Thank you for naming “The Walking Dead” as “Lost’s” true successor. Despite the change in setting, they are very similar; a group of disparate and damaged individuals thrown together by catestrophic events and forced to learn to work together and trust each other to survive. And like “Lost,” “The Walking Dead”‘s first and foremost focus is on the characters and their journeys and relations to each other. The zombies, like the Island, are just the backdrop. It’s first and foremost about the characters.

    • Sadie

      Very true and well said! I thought Flashforward or the Event would fill the LOST hole, but both failed for me. I never expected a zombie show, especially for a non-zombie fan, to be so good. I cannot wait for season 2!

    • chocolateislove

      I’ve been kind of skeptical about The Walking Dead, but hearing all these great things about it, especially from Lost fans (and Doc Jensen!) makes me really want to see it now…

    • Betty

      When LOST first came on the air, did anyone compare it to other shows ? No, not that I am aware of anyway. Why are so many people comparing new shows to LOST. Totally different, like comparing apples and oranges. I wish Fringe and The Walking Dead could be judged on their own merit.

  • Chris M

    I completely agree with all you said, especially the Tron and Scott Pilgrim stuff. Sadly, I haven’t seen Kick Ass yet but now I’ll put it on my list.

    CGI has come a long way, but it still can’t do a complete human perfectly enough to not be a distraction. Every time Clu’s lips moved, all I could think was “Ugh”, and it was distracting.

    • Dave

      My Netflix account has effectively dropped by one dvd, since I have no idea on when I will be willing to return the Scott Pilgrim dvd that shipped to me. Cannot stop watching it!

  • Weston

    I just teared up watching that Lost scene. Again.

    • Casey

      Same here. I only got through a minute before I had to stop because my family’s too close to me and they won’t understand why I’m crying. Also, bravo for having Fringe on your list, Doc! It deserves so much more attention than it gets.

  • Psac

    Totally agreed on Fringe. It went from a decent, enjoyable show to real “must see TV” with that episode. If it gets cancelled at the end of this season, I won’t be happy overall, but I’ll be happy that it had this season to tell its story, as it did so well. Thanks to Fox for that — the ratings last year weren’t great either.

  • Gabby

    No Harry Potter? When I saw those Deathly Hallows trailers for the first time and then finally the movie–major geeking out over here. :)

  • jules

    totally agree with you and LOST and Fringe! Two of the best shows that were / are on tv.

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