Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Of 2011

Photo Courtesy of Animal Planet
This time of year everyone is coming up with their "Best Of" Lists, so not to be outdone, here at Books and Beasts we're offering our choices too.  If you follow the blog, you know that I've reviewed a lot of books and a few movies -- I'm pretty selective in what I include, so everything that I covered is there because I thought it was worth checking out -- even the books I had problems with.  However, even among the best, a few stand out.  So here are my choices for the best animal related offerings of the past year.

1.      Best Fiction -- Again, I've reviewed a lot of great novels and short story collections and all of them are worth your time.  However, there is one novel that stands out this past year among all the rest.  Possum Summer, by Jen K. Bloom is a wonderful children's book that will speak to child in the heart of every reader.  It's the kind of book I loved when I was a kid, and still do.  You can read my review of it here, but you might as well save yourself the time and just rush out and get it.  Not to be missed.

2.      Best Nonfiction -- Same caveat, all the books I've reviewed are important, useful and entertaining (in different combinations, depending on what they were).  But if I have to pick one that most affected me this year, it would be Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean.  Wonderful portrait of the dog so famous that when he died they broke into radio broadcasts around the country to announce it.  You can read my review here, but please, get this book, and pass it on to all your dog loving friends.

3.      Best Movie --  This one's easy.  (I haven't seen War Horse yet, but as soon as I do it'll show up here on the blog).  The best animal movie of the year -- and one of the best I've seen in a very long time -- is Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Yes, it's true, I love it in part because I'm a geek, and there are scenes of Apes running wild through the city and attacking helicopters.  But this is much more intelligent, thoughtful and accurate movie than I ever expected.  The writers obviously did extensive research on chimps raised in captivity, and Caesar -- played by Andy Serkis in a performance that would be nominated for an Oscar if there was any justice in the world -- is the most realistic chimpanzee character ever captured on film.  (Sorry, Cheetah.)  Emotionally, technically, and intellectually the best movie of the year.

The Worst -- I don't usually include a section on "worst" in my blog -- I prefer to use time and space pointing out what's best, and what's important.  But one blog post I wrote this year Tears for Elephants has drawn more hits than anything else I've written.  It's about the sad fate of elephants in Hollywood, including the ones who starred in Water for Elephants.  I gave that book an enthusiastic review, because I think it's great -- but I boycotted the movie, sadly, because I think it could have been great too.  There have been a number of movies this year -- including Hangover 2, Zookeeper, and the new We Bought a Zoo, that made the unfortunate choice of using exotic, wild animals -- a practice that contributes to the abuse, over hunting, and endangerment of these creatures.  You can see my thoughts about it in earlier reviews, but it only makes my Best Movie choice even more notable.  The totally CGI apes in "Rise" are wonderful creations.

4.      Best TV Show -- I haven't reviewed this one yet in the blog, but it's too good not to include.  There are lots of great nature and animal shows on TV, but this one is the best if you're an animal lover -- especially if you're a dog lover -- absolutely if you're a Pit Bull lover. It also happens to be hands down the best reality show going: Pit Bulls and Parolees on Animal Planet. (This is the new favorite show of my canine housemate Lulubelle Dawg, who was also a big fan of Meercat Manner back in the day.) In this day and age, just the idea was audacious.  Let's take two of the most stigmatized groups we can think of, and then let's make an honest, sympathetic, non-sensationalized show about them.  If you've never seen it, the show follows Tia, the woman who runs Villalobos ranch, a rescue facility for pit bulls.  She is helped by her daughters -- who have had difficult lives in their own ways -- and by the parolees she takes on as volunteers.  I don't know of another show on television that deals with second chances, heartbreak, triumph and joy more often.  Oh yeah, and there are Pit Bulls!  What more could you want? 

Well, those are my choices for 2011.  I'd love to hear your thoughts or picks, whether you agree with me or not.  And I look forward to continuing to bring you reviews and information about the wide world of "Books and Beasts".

Readers of Birds and Beasts might also enjoy our sister blog Birdland West, which covers birds and wildlife, mostly in the Seattle Area.