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DIGITAL MEDIA FROM THE INSIDE OUT: My focus is digital content -- production, distribution, collaboration, innovation, creativity. Some posts have appeared across the web (HuffPo, Tribeca's Future of Film, The Wrap, MIPblog, etc.). To receive these posts regularly via email, sign up for my newsletter here.

Entries in critics (2)

Thursday
Dec082011

• MOVIES, BOOKS, VIDEO, TRANSMEDIA, PREDICTIONS & MORE: My Weekly Round-up of Links 

It’s the end of the year, and I’ll be unfurling my favorite TV, films, software, and books of 2011 in a series of posts, beginning with television, here.

Speaking of lists, one of the most informative movie lists is from the BFI’s Sight and Sound, which polls 100+ critics to come up with the top movies. But the real fun are the critical commentaries that follow the main chart, where I discover lots of gems that I would otherwise never know about.

MOVIES: Speaking of movies, I for one can’t wait for the international coproduction of David Mitchell’s complex novel CLOUD ATLAS, which I just read. Evidently, the production financing may be as big a story as the ambitious movie itself, according to this report from the NY Times.

Meanwhile, Hollywood studios continue to roll out digital access to more movies via the UltraViolet “locker” project, with Sony releasing its first U.S. titles, and Warners expanding to the U.K.

PUBLISHING: Over in the disrupted world of books, Hachette tells the world why publishers are relevant in today’s digital ecosystem via a leaked memo, drawing a quick response from one J.A. Konrath, a successful self-published author. Makes for interesting jousting.

I learned more from a GigaOm post that shows how publishers have given “Amazon a stick to beat them with” by insisting upon DRM that locks readers into the Amazon walled garden. 

VIDEO: Online video viewing has crossed the threshold of 50% of the U.S. population this year, according to eMarketer.  

Beleaguered Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, on the offensive after a couple of brutal quarters, predicts that 50% of TV viewing will be on the web in ten years. He also announced that Netflix will stream more than one billion hours of video in Q4 of 2011. 

The web was abuzz with news and leaks about a planned streaming video competitor to Netflix from Verizon, which will team up with RedBox.  

Machinima.com, an online video site featuring (what else) Machinima videogame content, has hit an amazing one billion monthly views, according to my old pal Allen DeBevoise. While the gamer niche is certainly an aspect of the success of the site, the larger implication to me is the success of ultra-niche video programming channels. Machinima will be of the 100-plus new YouTube partner channels that will begin rolling out in 2012, much as cable introduced “vertical” programming back in the ‘80s.

Microsoft made news with a major upgrade of the Xbox 360 platform, adding functionality and content partners and prompting this love letter post on Paid Content, which coins yet another term: “engaged TV.”

TRANSMEDIA: Two deep and thoughtful posts went up from leaders in the transmedia storytelling movement. First, check out part one of Gunther Sonnenfeld’s piece about evolving investment strategies in emerging media markets. 

The second, from Conducttr founder Robert Pratten is a great post about “engagement-driven” narrative design.

PREDICTIONS: The New York Times published a killer interactive feature on the history and future of computing. A timeline dating from 1617 lays out key discoveries in computation, AI, Transportation, Lifestyle and Communications, and then invites users to submit their own predictions. You can also amend the predictions, which in effect constitutes a form of crowd-sourced prediction. It’s fun!

The Personal Computer is Dead, by Harvard’s Jonathan Zittrain, is a jeremiad against vertical integration and walled gardens (Re: Apple). 

This Business Insider’s post, entitled “The Death of Television May Be Just 5 Years Away,” is bound to send shock waves through some of my clients, as it cites various cracks in the current model. 

That's it for this week. Follow me on Twitter (@nickdemartino) for daily doses of info, or subscribe to the newsletter on my site to get updates directly to your inbox. 

Wednesday
Dec072011

• 2011 Lists - The Best of Television

As the year yawns towards a close, our culture begins its compulsive list-making. Me, too, beginning today with my list of the best television series and programs for 2011. In the coming weeks I'll burden you my choices among films, books, and computer software, as well.  

This exercise, which I only began to do a few years back, has been greatly aided by tools that record what I watch, read and like --- sites like Netflix, Into Now, Get Glue, Goodreads, and Flixster remind me of what I've consumed. 

We mere mortals are at a disadvantage compared to the lonely few still employed as professional critics, whose privileged access to screenings and review copies allow them to provide a veritable consumer guide for the work of a particular calendar year. My look back is idiosyncratic, and published here only as a way to generate talk and heat during the cold December nights ahead. Please feel free to fire back.

Of the four lists, television is the easiest, since we all have access to most stuff -- at least until the cable model cracks wide open and Internet content becomes competitive. So far, at least for my money, this is the Golden Age of Television, mostly provided by HBO, AMC, FX and other cable channels. I tried my best to watch network shows this year, and one by one, I deleted them from my DVR without watching.

Why? Network TV's business model, such as it is, still seems driven by the need to create a tidy formulaic story that more or less ends each week, in order to sell in secondary markets. The results are generally predictable, even when the talent is of the highest order (Maria Bello, Jim Caviezel, Suzanna Grant, Stephen Spielberg, etc. etc.).

Cable, on the other hand, delivers multi-level character-driven stories with minor and major plot lines that unfold over time. Like really long and satisfying movies. Every week. 

So, in no particular order, here's what gave me pleasure on the tube this year:

Breaking Bad. Week after week, plot twist after plot twist, scene after scene, Breaking Bad defies every convention of television storytelling to deliver powerful drama to the screen. Vince Gilligan and his cast and team create a sense of heightened suspense and danger, even as the story unfolds within the most banal setting possible, suburban Albuquerque. I will never forget the last image of Gus from the season finale.

Mad Men. If Breaking Bad is hot, hot, hot, Mad Men is cool, cool, cool, at least on its sleek surface, under which roil cauldrons of vengeance, lust, jealousy and all the fun stuff that people pretended they did not have in the 60s. The period setting brings historical shape and resonance to the unfurling of the lives of some very fascinating characters, particularly Don, Betty and Peggy.

Boardwalk Empire brings us up close and personal at the Prohibition-spawned birth of the mob, which in Atlantic City appears to have been primarily Irish. Michael is the central character, a bastard with two fathers, a monster horn dog of a mom, and a brain. Atlantic City was the prototype for Vegas, which itself is a metaphor for America, as Coppola showed us.

The Killing (Danish Version) The American adaptation of this superb Danish mini-series had its pleasures, most derived from the basic concept of a season devoted to the investigation of a single brutal crime, the murder of a Laura Palmer-like school girl whose connections, when discovered, can take down the power structure.The original was, if possible, even darker, even in lamp-lit interiors, certainly a reflection of the dark secrets held by most of the characters. Plus, we get a lesson in the politics of Copenhagen, which I found fascinating.

Justified. The trappings of the classic Western came home to Appalachia, a place where feuds never end and people are just plain ornery. Relationships are complicated. People are crafty and brutal. Good and evil are relative. And every scene carries and edge and a clue. Oliphant leads a wonderful cast, including this year's standout, Margo Martindale as a matriarch you really don't want to cross.

Sons of Anarchy. Shakespeare takes a ride on a Harley in this compulsively watchable tragedy among a multi-generational tribe of motorcycle gang members in central California. Jackson (Charlie Hunnam) is the central character, hemmed in by the memory of his father, the founder of the gang, his man-eating mother (superbly rendered by Katie Sagal), his non-gang MD wife, and the amoral leader of SOA, Clay (Ron Perlman). The plot flips and slithers around and about, encompassing the IRA, the Mexican cartel, black Oakland rivals, and a wide assortment of law enforcement gangs, whose amorality mirror the gang life.

The Hour. I could quibble with this or that in this stylish BBC period drama, but I must confess that its brief three-episode life left me wanting more more more of the espionage, class warfare and media politics of Suez-era news casting in London. A superlative cast, great dialog, and just the right tone made this compulsive mid-week viewing this year.

Downton Abbey (Masterpiece). Anglophile soap opera with costumes, attitude, and Maggie Smith. What more could a person want from television?

Treme. David Simon’s move from the mean streets of Baltimore (The Wire) to the melancholy streets of post-Katrina New Orleans was a cause for celebration, not only because he brought back many of the earlier series most exceptional actors (and some great new ones, esp. Mellissa Leo), but because the intertwined story form plays both major and minor keys to deliver a jazzed up composition like no other storyteller can (literally and figuratively, of course, since music is central to the lives of the characters and the story). Thank you HBO for keeping this series on.

Modern Family and 30 Rock are classic family sitcoms -- one home family, albeit “untraditional” and the other a work “family” on the order of Mary Tyler Moore. Both have wacky characters, superb casting, and razor-sharp writing – throwaway lines in these shows are funnier than entire episodes of overrated schlock like Friends and Cheers, for my money. Characters in Modern Family address the camera in the now-familiar mock-documentary style.  Characters in 30 Rock just barrel along in mad pursuit of their own character defects. Louie is another kind of comedy entirely, a breakthrough form in which cruelty plays a major role – for the audience as well as for the title character, the stand-up comic Louie C.K. who sort of plays himself. There is precedence of sort for this kind of show-biz-centric sitcom (Burns and Allen, Jack Benny), but no other show has ever taken the audience so close to the despair that the character (and maybe the actor) displays in every aspect of his doomed life.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is essential. It would be hard to get through the mess we’re in, much less watch TV news, without Stewart and his happy band of insane “correspondents” and a peerless staff of obsessive-compulsive clip-hounds. My TV choices can be seen as a quest for intelligent life on the tube, and as such, Jon Stewart is the jewel in the crown. An intelligent guy, who presumes that I am too. Thanks Jon.

Other TV I’ve enjoyed this year:

  • Game of Thrones (HBO)
  • Too Big to Fail (HBO)
  • Glee (Fox)
  • Luther (BBC America)
  • George Harrison: Living in the Universe (HBO)
  • Woody Allen: American Masters (PBS)
  • South Park (Comedy Central)
  • Prohibition  (PBS)
  • Case Histories: Masterpiece (PBS)
  • Rescue Me (FX)
  • Entourage (HBO)
  • MI-5 (Spooks in US reruns) (BBC)
  • Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)
  • Slings and Arrows (CBC, via Netflix)
  • Upstairs Downstairs: Masterpiece (PBS)