TC’s Ten Best Films of 2012

Let’s by giving props to four films seen this year, which would have made the list, but were just a little too old to qualify (even in our new, looser definition!) for a ‘Best of 2012’ article. Topping those – and it would in all likelihood have topped the entire list – is Confessions. Probably among my favorite Japanese movies of all time [maybe behind Bird People of China, maybe not], we said it was “tragedy on an intense, Shakespearean level, that packs an enormous wallop in a way you can’t see until too late.” Hardly any less impressive was Elite Squad, a Brazillian action-thriller, with cops that redefine “zero tolerance.” Also worthy of an honorable mention are Tell No One and Eden Lake.

Also worthy of an honourable mention are the following, which did come out this year, and were enjoyed, but didn’t quite make the top 10 list. [Entries are in chronological order of when we say them, the links go to our review, or, as appropriate!] Haywire, ID:A, Special Forces, The Devil’s Rock, Claustrofobia, Blooded, Naked Soldier, Zero Killed, Rec 3: Genesis, Mother’s Day, Grabbers and Resident Evil: Retribution. And with those two groups out of the way, let’s move on to the top 10…


10. The Cabin in the Woods. The best film with which Joss Whedon was involved this year, easily blowing away the bloated (if mindless fun) Avengers. Quite why that became the #1 film of the year, while this was sat on, I’m not sure. For this had much more invention and wit, not relying just on large-scale spectacle [though it certainly had its share of that, especially toward the end]. The less you know, the more fun this will be. What we said: “The further this goes on, the further it diverts off-track, providing a fascinating alternative explanation for more or less the entire genre.”


9. The House With 100 Eyes. The pseudo-snuff movie has been done before, with results that could kindly be described as “inconsistent”. But this succeeds because it has a couple of very solid performances at its core, in husband-and-wife psychopaths Ed and Susan, and a defiantly twisted sensibility that helps turn its low-budget nature into a strength, rather than a weakness. What we said: “An impressively sick and twisted creativity at work here, with elements which will stick in the mind for a lot longer than many of its colleagues.”

8. Iron Sky. Two words: “Space Nazis.” A brilliant concept, that almost certainly could only have been fully realized outside the Hollywood system – not least because of its acerbic attitude towards America, which is not always shown as morally superior to the Moon Reich. It’s even more impressive that it was largely created “by committee”, with a lot of the work involved being parceled out and crowd-sourced. Might this be the wave of the future? What we said: “Does a much better job of living up to the trailer than I could have hoped.”

7. The Holding. The first of two British “rural nightmare” films to make the top ten, this starts off a lushly-pastoral piece. But the beauty of the English countryside rapidly becomes a contrast to the creepy stalkerness which unfolds as an itinerant farm-hand decides to take up permanent residence, and turn the single mother trying to run the farm and raise her kids, into his own family. However, he will eventually find out that hell hath no fury like a mother… What we said: “A slick, yet still uniquely British, twist on survival horror.”

6. God Bless America. A deeply-held, passionate scream of anguish about the current state of American culture and life in general, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the equally-unPC Falling Down. But beneath the shock tactics is a movie with a brain, and one that doesn’t shy away from asking questions that we’d rather not answer. Events this year, e.g.  the Colorado cinema shooting, have perhaps given this film additional sick resonance. What we said: “The tension between the likeable lead characters and their extremely unlikeable actions makes for a thought-provoking experience.”


5. Inbred. Yeah, I’m biased (the director was a guest at our wedding reception!), but this is such a gleefully excessive piece of horror, it’s impossible not to love it. Alex Chandon’s aim was to make a throwback to the days of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, a splatter flick to watch with mates and plenty of beer – that target is basically nailed in the bulls-eye. Contains as many FM!RT! moments (such as the one shown on the left) as any flick in recent memory. What we said: “Plenty of originality on view, and the technical skill on view is remarkable, especially given almost all the effects are in-camera rather than CGI.

4. The Raid: Redemption. I love a straight-forward, hard-core action flick, and this is one of the best examples I can remember. It plays like a first-person video-game, and I mean that in the best ways, as the hero fights his way up a tower-block against an apparently endless stream of bad guys, taking damage and acquiring power-ups. More crunchy violence than a Fist of the North Star box-set, and puts the “hits” in “Greatest Hits.” What we said: “in terms of pure, undiluted kickassishness… up there with anything the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen or Tony Jaa have ever delivered.”

3. Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell. I didn’t actually review this, because it’s more stand-up than feature, or even documentary; it’s Smith’s one-man show, filmed in Austin, Texas, and is the fifth such film he has done. This one concentrates on the making and subsequent furore around Red State, as well as his dealings with the Westboro Baptists who were one of the inspiration. It’s simply fascinating, marvellously honest and funny as hell: there aren’t many people whom I could just sit and listen to talk for hours, but Smith is right up there, alongside Henry Rollins. What we said: nothing.

2. ACAB – All Cops Are Bastards. If Elite Squad couldn’t quite qualify due to its age, this is a more than admirable replacement, depicting with wonderful balance the thin line separating, but also the difference between, maintaining the law and dispensing  justice. To me, the latter is much more important, and so Cobra and his Italian police colleagues have a truly heroic quality that is easy to buy into, thanks to some excellent performances. What we said: “A very eye-opening look at life on the ground, where the pointy end of law-enforcement meets those who’d challenge its power.”

1. Skyfall. Right up there with Goldfinger and Goldeneye in my personal favourite Bond films, this rejuvenates the franchise in a way the first two “reboot” attempts didn’t manage, because this both re-invents Bond and is thoroughly loyal to what has gone before. It’s the first time that I’ve felt Daniel Craig really became 007, rather than going through the motions, and he also has a memorable villain to go up against in Javier Bardem. Add in more emotional depth than any Bond since OHMSS, and it’s almost entirely undiluted win. What we said: “Mendes delivers some truly kick-ass action sequences, but doesn’t forget time with the characters.”

TV Dinners: The Best TV of 2012

Shows which were listed in the 2010 or 2011 pieces on this topic are disqualified from a repeat nomination. I’ll probably lift the moratorium next year, on a rolling three-year basis, so that the 2010 shows – or. at least, any of them that are still being screened (Caprica, Spooks and 24 have already gone, with Fringe on its last series and The IT Crowd likely not returning either) – will be eligible to repeat. But, for now, here are ten more of the best pieces of televisiual entertainment to have graced our screens in the last 12 months.

American Horror Story
We had some catching up to do, having missed the first season when it aired last year, and centred on a house with a long history of murder, inhabited by a family of three – and all the people who had died in it previously. The second season is even more disturbing, taking its horror from the realm of the supernatural back to the evil that men (and women) do, set in a 1964 insane asylum, ruled over by a seriously-twisted nun and even more insane Doctor. Jessica Lange, as the former, fully deserved the Emmy she won, and James Cromwell… Well, Babe will never seem the same again.

The Aquabats Super Show!
They’ve been one of our favourite live bands for a decade now, with their mix of B-movie insanity and ska-punk pop tunes as infectious as Ebola, and they’ve wanted to get their own superhero TV show for even longer. Finally, The Hub – also home to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic – gave them a shot, and the result is a brilliantly deadpan slice of fun for all ages (such as the TARDIS-like van, infinitely bigger on the inside). The production values are deliberately cheap and shoddy, but there’s an enormous and obvious affection for everything from Japanese monster flicks to Saturday morning cartoons.

Being Human (UK)
This took its own time to make the list, having got through three seasons of spectral, lycanthropic and vampiric angst without troubling any of my lists. However, the fourth season saw two of the trio replaced. Much as we had enjoyed Russell Tovey’s performance as previous werewolf George, the chemistry of the new household was a great deal better (and less whiny, it has to be said), while the storylines, too, seemed to have improved, with more thought put into them. It remains, however, really confusing to be watching this and the US version simultaneously, with characters and plot threads getting mixed-up in our poor old heads…

The Borgias
Not the British series, which still is widely regarded as among the worst of all-time [I don’t remember it as being that bad. Mind you, I was 15, and likely couldn’t see past all the tits. Minor factoid: watched some of it being filmed at Doune Castle]. This is rather better, held together largely by a great performance from Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI in a time when popes were allowed to have a wife and expected to have a mistress. Advertised with the tagline, “The original crime family”, the Borgias were supposedly an influence on Mario Puzo when he wrote The Godfather. It’s easy to see why in this historical romp.

Covert Affairs
It’s like Spooks/MI-5, only with better teeth and hair… Piper Perabo is perkily perfect CIA operative Annie Walker, jet-setting around the world, looking for intelligence in all the wrong places. But what initially looks to have about as much substance as a tanker of candy-floss, proves surprisingly steely, with no shortage of mayhem, betrayal and treachery. It also gets bonus points for re-introducing us to one of the best TV villainesses of recent years, Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke) a.k.a. the woman who shot Mrs. Jack Bauer. Needless to say, we didn’t trust her, from the moment she showed up here, as department head Lena Smith.

This started the same week as another fairy-tale themed series, Once Upon a Time, and we opted for the grittier approach taken here, with a cop who discovers he is descended from a long line of monster hunters. He has to sort out the good from the bad in the communities that lurk just beneath the surface, and also try to keep his personal life personal. In the second season in particular, that has become increasingly impossible, and the show has also improved beyond being just a “fairy-tale of the week,” which it looked like it might be early on. It now has depth and a universe of its own in which to work.

Claire Danes also won a well-deserved Emmy, for her role as damaged CIA intelligence analyst Carrie Mathison, who becomes convinced that Nicholas Brody, a returning rescued POW from Iran, has been turned and is now a sleeper agent for the terrorists, despite being on the fast political track. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that she’s basically right: but that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as she tries to convince her bosses that these are not just psychotic delusions, because she’s off her meds. And is Brody necessarily the bad guy he initially appears? Can he perhaps be turned into a useful asset?

This is a guilty pleasure, a sprawling soap-opera which sees millionairess “Amanda Clarke” move to the Hamptons. Except, as the quotes suggest, that’s not her real identity: she is out for complete and utter vengeance on the family responsible for branding her late father a terrorist, and having him killed. #1 with a bullet is Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe), her father’s former lover, who betrayed him and is now reaping the rewards. Stowe is deliciously malevolent, and there are just so many shenanigans going on here, that you can only snuggle up on the couch with ice-cream, and enjoy the class warfare as it unfolds.

Kiefer Sutherland’s post-24 show on Fox is a lot more touchy-feely, with Sutherland playing a former journalist with a severely autistic son, Jake, who doesn’t speak, but seems to have an incredible awareness for numbers and the interconnectedness of things. That allows him to bring people together – but also makes the kid a potentially very useful commodity [if you’ve seen Pi, you’ll know why]. It’s a novel mix of the emotional (almost spiritual) with thriller elements, and the first season ended with Jack, sorry, Martin going on the run with Jake, after losing a custody battle. Interested to see how things develop, when it returns in February.

YouTube video

After a couple of seasons where the show was content largely to mimic the most famous of London crimes e.g. the Ripper (inevitably!) and the Krays, the third went for more original ground and was a good deal more successful as a result. It manages to find the sweet spot between characterization and cases, which is often difficult for police procedurals – most tend to concentrate on one or the other. Not to say that this is staid or even slightly plausible, however; instead, it is played with all the enthusiasm and loopy imagination of a Victorian “penny dreadful”, and is all the more fun for it.

TC’s Ten Best Films of 2011

I’ve changed things up somewhat this year, loosening the restrictions as to what counts as a “2011” movie. It could be listed in the IMDB any time back to 2009, but it just needs to have strayed in to my consciousness in some way this year. Might be a cinema release, DVD release somewhere, or even showing up on cable. My theatrical experiences have remained light, so it’s more likely a film won’t get a chance until it becomes available by some other route. I’m thus a bit more flexible, simply because I’m aware of a risk some great movies might miss out on recognition, for fairly spurious reasons.

There are, of course, a few which still missed out exactly because they did not stray across my retina in a reasonable time. Leading the way is À l’intérieur (Inside), which was probably the best horror movie I saw in 2011. However, since it came out on DVD in the United States in April 2008. that was just too much of a stretch. Two others that were similarly eliminated were Onechanbara: The Movie, and Five Fingers.

Before we get to the list, here are eight honorable mentions, which ended up getting to the final round before being eliminated. Not without some heartbreak and much agonizing, it has to be said. These are, in alphabetical order: Attack the Block, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Last Exorcism, Page Eight, Point Blank, Red State, Restrepo, Toy Story 3. And with that, on to the actual top ten. Links go to the full review on TC or as appropriate.

10. We Are The Night
Having endured the Twilight trilogy this year, it was gratifying to be reminded that vampires don’t have to sparkle, emote or… Well, suck. The Lost Boys tagline – “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.” – could be applied every bit here. Except it’s a philosophy expressed as, “We eat, drink, sniff coke, and fuck as much as we like. But we never get fat, pregnant, or hooked,” with a gang of female vampires making Berlin their playground. Sure, there’s not much new here in terms of plot, but the execution is supremely slick. Summary: “A glossy, shiny movie, set in a world that looks like a car advert, where the streets are perpetually wet and the only light is neon”.

9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
A very pleasant surprise, opting to enliven a story – that, let’s face it, we know how it’s going to end – by telling it from the monkeys’ point of view. Andy Serkis proved, once again, why he’s the go-to guy for simians, putting over more emotion without words than most actors could manage with a dictionary to work from. Ok, mostly without words, the exception resulting in the cinematic moment of the year. While not skimping on the action, the script and performances give it a emotional foundation before the monkey mayhem breaks free. Oh, that all big-budget blockbusters took such care in their execution. Summary: “Probably the finest praise I can give this, is that it actually makes sense.”

8. Dossier K
Belgium. Land of Stella, Front 242 and surprisingly-good movies, going all the way back to Crazy Love. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film from there I didn’t enjoy, and this was no exception, a crisply-plotted police procedural that shows how even a society with a general reputation for tolerance is nowhere near ‘integrated’. In this case, the Albanian culture of honor killings sits very uneasily in today’s Brussels, but its the kind of story which you could see happening in any big city with its “new ghettos”. Summary: “That’s where the film excels, painting all the participants in shades of grey: there’s no “bad guys”, as such, just people operating by different moral codes.”

7. Sint
We move a little further up the North Sea coast for the next film, a twisted fairy-tale which takes a character beloved by children and turns it into the stuff of nightmares. Which is exactly what the Brothers Grimm intended originally. Director Dick Maas brings a gleeful sense of fun to his psychotic Santa, even if I had to explain to Chris why it’s perfectly normal for packs of Dutchmen to put on blackface and roam the streets. It’s a throwback to the straightforward slasher pics of a bygone era, yet possesses a knowing self awareness and characters you don’t mind spending time with. Summary: “I’m thinking this will replace It’s a Wonderful Life as a festive favourite, at least in TC Towers.”

6. Darfur
Yep: a Uwe Boll film makes it into a ‘Ten Best’ list. That can’t have happened often. But it’s difficult to deny this one a place because of Boll’s spotty track-record. When he stays off the video-game adaptations, as here, he shows that he can be a more than competent film-maker. What’s delivered here is a million miles from House of the Dead, basically 90 minutes of being punched in the gut and reminded of how just wrong people can be to each other. I don’t think I’ve been so shaken by a film based on real events since Men Behind the Sun, though the shaky-cam approach sent Chris scurrying for the office. Summary: “Even if the “entertainment” value here is low, there’s no denying this packs an immense wallop.”

5. Eaters
Most zombie films are about the outbreak or the relatively short-term aftermath. One of the twists which make Eaters stand out, in a recent glut of such movies, is that some time appears to have passed, and a new anarchically feudal structure seems to have showed up. It kinda works…and kinda doesn’t, and that’s where the plot gets its impetus. Heroes Igor and Alen are the only semi-sane inhabitants in a land of the totally dysfunctional, and make for appealing anti-heros, whizzing round the countryside in search of scientific subjects and singing Wham! songs. Summary: “Likely the best zombie flick to come out of Italy since Cemetery Man.”

4. Sucker Punch
I get the feeling history will prove kinder to this one than contemporary critics, who flayed director Zack Snyder alive for a “greasy collection of near-rape fantasies and violent revenge scenarios disguised as a female-empowerment fairy tale.” Well, I wouldn’t have said it was that good…and I note that men and women have rated it exactly the same score on the IMDB (a respectable 6.2). But it’s impeccably imaginative, in a way no other movie managed this year, and was unsurpassed in terms of producing cinema as an imaginative, visual spectacle. It’s the only Blu-Ray DVD I bought this year. Summary: “For all its undeniable flaws, this is a rare beast: an action film where women [rather than a singular woman] take center-stage.”‘

3. 36th Precinct
It plays somewhat like a Gallic version of Heat, with Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil butting heads as shady and scrupulous cop respectively, battling for a promotion in their department. In the short term, it seems that the former gets ahead, with the good guy losing everything in the process. However, the morality is not quite as cut and dry as it seems, and that lends the change of fortunes in the final act, an almost Shakespearean air of tragedy. Great actors, going head-to-head in a well-written script, is always a pleasure, and this is no different, with two of France’s finest delivering the goods. Summary: “Karma, c’est une biche.”

2. Hobo With A Shotgun
The faux-grindhouse film has become something of a pseudo-trend of late, but it takes more than a few digital scratches on the high-def print to resurrect the genre. Machete, while fun, largely fell short. Hobo, on the other hand, hit all the marks, led by Rutger Hauer’s most memorable performance since… ooh, Split Second in 1992? But even more of a revelation was Brian Downey as evil mob-boss The Drake – having only seen him as uber-wimp Stanley Tweedle in Lexx, this was a stunning bit of casting against type. It has the exploitative elements, but most importantly of all, it has the right ‘tude. It was the sole film we saw as the short-lived but much missed Mesa Royale. Summary: “Eisener is deadly serious, and the film is all the better for it.”

1. Four Lions
Who knew? Chris looked at me sideways on seeing the synopsis of the movie I’d DVR’d: “The inept members of a jihadist cell in England try but fail to carry out terrorist attacks”. Doesn’t exactly scream comedic gem, doe it? But I’d forgotten about the godlike satirical genius of Chris Morris – understandably, since the last thing of his I saw was Jam, back in 2000. This has moments of similar surrealism e.g. the cell’s method of avoiding surveillance cameras, but remains more grounded, only engaging in relatively minor exaggeration for comedic effect. But it’s a very human movie too, that manages to point out the lunacy of extremist beliefs, without turning them into sneering caricatures. Well played, Mr. Morris. Summary: “Genuinely funny, far beyond what you’d imagine possible.”

TC’s Ten Best Films of 2010

If it weren’t for the expected heady delights of Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch, it would be quite feasible to imagine a 2011 where I don’t bother going to the movies. We all but abandoned that this year, the previous issues of increasing cost, decreasing quality of cinematic experience and the rise of alternatives, all combining to work against it. With a broad seam of “treasures” from previous years waiting to mined from sites like Cinemageddon, why bother with new movies? The does make the creation of a list like this difficult, since the number of films which qualified as “2010” was probably an all-time low, even with a deliberately-vague rule on what counts. Next year “of” may be be replaced by “watched in”.

The split of how the ten were obtained is interesting. One was seen at the cinema; two were DVD screeners; two were part of our film festival; and the other five were… Well, for legal reasons, let’s just go with “not”, shall we, and I won’t say which was which. As an aside, I note that the most-pirated movie of 2010 was Avatar…which was also the most-bought DVD of 2010, with sales numbers basically the same as the most-bought DVD of 2009. And, even if you reckon every single one of those downloads personally cost Jim Cameron $10, the total amount lost was less than 6% of the film’s worldwide gross. Yeah, piracy really is bankrupting the movie-industry, isn’t it? </rant> And with that, let’s move on, shall we?

Here’s the list of my ten favorites from the year just past. Links go to the appropriate review: titles marked with a * are over on, so those reviews will pop open in a new window.

The Shadow Within

10. The Shadow Within
I said this quietly understated horror flick “reminded me of Sapphire & Steel,” but I probably should have clarified, to avoid any confusion, that this was a good thing. Most low-budget horror films tend to go for the basics, like slashers, so it was nice to see one that had a spot of invention to give the viewer. Summary: “Managed to overcome the obstacles and deliver something that’s generally successful and occasionally quite chilling.”

9. Harry Brown
This Michael Caine vehicle likely got some quality rub-off from having watched Get Carter earlier in the year, as it feels like an unofficial sequel: Jack Carter, forty years on, now an OAP, yet still capable of being an ultimate bad-ass when necessary. Caine is always a pleasure to watch; like Sean Connery, he is now such an iconic figure, he really doesn’t need to bother. But, unlike Connery, Caine still does. Summary: “Shallow, fearmongering exploitation with a heart”.

8. Inception
The jury is still someone out on this one: when I get round to seeing it again, it’s possible the film could move up the list, if I appreciate its depths, or drop off entirely, as I realize it is pretentious bollocks. It was certainly nice to see a full-on Hollywood blockbuster that spends $200 million to fuck with the audience’s head. David Cronenberg is wondering where he went wrong. Summary: “Nolan is playing with chess pieces, shuffling them around a board of dreams.”

7. Mutant Girls Squad*
Part of the new wave of uber-splatter that has been coming out of Japan: this and last year’s top-10 entry, Machine Girl, share a similar gleeful level of completely mad inventiveness, painted with a firehose of arterial spray. This one plays like a Pythonesque version of X-Men, featuring a hiddem race possessing powers that are largely utterly ludicrous e.g. a chainsaw that comes out of your butt.  Summary: “Impossible to take any of it seriously, even as it is played completely straight-faced.”

6. The Countess
The most unexpected surprise of 2010 came on the heels of the sub-mediocre Bathory, covering the same historical biography. The difference is that Julie Delpy nailed it with her performance, playing a character often depicted before, but never really portrayed. One of the biggest serial killers of all time becomes almost sympathetic, which is quite an impressive feat. Summary: “While not exactly soft-pedalling the brutality, it’s more of a tragic love-story than anything else.”

5. SexyKiller*
And speaking of amiable serial-killers, here comes Barbara, part-time bubble-headed student of medicine and dedicated follower of fashion, part-time cold-hearted psychopath. But just when we’re getting used to that, the whole thing becomes a zombie film, in what must be the most abrupt right-turn since From Dusk Till Dawn. Summary: “I just loved the unashamed nature of it all: Barbara is perfectly comfortable with who she is, and is in no need of redemption.”

4. La Horde
The zombie movie truly is international, and this French entry got back to basics: a bunch of ill-fitting companions, thrown together in a confined space, thanks to and having to deal with the presence of ravenous hordes of undead. If slightly too derivative of Romero’s original [especially at the end], I thoroughly appreciated the stripped-down approach. Summary: “Drawing the characters efficiently, in a few short brush strokes, and then getting on with the horror and action.”

3. You, the Living
One of those films which largely defies description, this makes Inception look like two hours of  webcam footage, in terms of interconnected narrative. Scenes start in the middle, stop in the middle, and link into each other with the kind of logic that only appears in dreams. It should be enormously irritating as a result, yet there’s a genuine sense of human warmth pervading it. Summary: “When it works, it works beautifully, with a deadpan sense of dark humour that feels similar to Aki Kaurismäki

Bitch Slap

2. Bitch Slap*
Chris bailed entirely on this, 20 minutes of sarcasm e.g. “Would you rather watch this alone?”,  into this grindhouse beat-em-up, with the throttle stuck open. It’s closer to Faster Pussycat than anything else, as three women head out to the desert for a stash of treasure, only for their relationship to fall apart in brawls and treachery. Summary: “Alcohol will probably help the neurons go in the correct direction, as will an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop culture, and tolerance for trash at an industrial concentration.”

1. Shellter
If you look at our number ones for the past couple of years – Martyrs in 2009, and 2008’s Sick Girl – you’ll notice both are hardcore horror with a philosophy, and Shellter is cut from much the same cloth. It doesn’t pull its punches and is often difficult to watch; yet it forces you to confront uncomfortable realities about humanity in general, and yourself in particular. How far would you go? Summary: “It’s probably no coincidence that the director has a master’s degree in psychology – and that’s why I say the film has a philosophy. This is what lifts it up above its retarded cinematic cousins.”


TV Dinners: The Best TV of 2010

It may be tied to the decline in our cinema-going, but we’re watching more TV at this point that any time I can remember. There have been occasions recently when our living-room Tivo has been unable to cope with the scheduling, as we try and record three programmes simultaneously – fortunately, there is also the bedroom DVR which can be used as a back-up. After jump, you’ll find the ten shows which have entertained us most reliably this year – unlike our 2008 listing, we’re just going in alphabetical order this time.

Note: there’s a couple of new shows in the fall season, Nikita and The Event, that have potential, but we haven’t seen enough episodes to be sure. They’ll qualify for next year’s listing (if I do one…).

Burn Notice (right). Now in its fourth season, it took a little while for the series to gain a hold – we might not have bothered, except for the presence of Bruce Campbell as a supporting character (we’ll cut anything with him in it some slack). Its tale of disenfranchised spy Michael Weston, stuck in Miami, didn’t initially seem to have much potential, and it wasn’t until the second season that the four central characters began to take hold. While largely a bunch of misfits, they are now gelling, and the stories are peppered with little nuggets of spycraft, explaining the tactics and procedures being used. The scripts do a good job of combining single-episode stories with the over-riding arc, but it’s the characters that make this addictive.

Caprica. I never watched Battlestar Galactica, so the prequel aspect of this show for that is entirely lost on me, yet that doesn’t impact my appreciation of the imagination on view. What I like is the all-encompassing nature of the universe it depicts, with some thought having gone into every aspect of the alien world from sports to gods – it’s recognizably humanoid, yet distinctly non-human. It does a good job of blending politics and religion, with the “terrorists” beliefs closer to those of Western civilization than those against whom they are fighting. Add in ruminations on what it means to be human, and this is more thought-provoking than I expected it to be. Of course, SyFy cancelled it this week. Bastards.

Dexter. Ok, we may not have liked Dexter’s wife Rita all that much, finding her increasingly whiny and controlling. That said, the end of season four packed an enormous wallop, and the ramifications of that shock are rumbling through the new series, with Dexter having to come to terms with several new roles as a father and mentor. Hall’s performance continues to help take a character who should, by all “normal” standards, be a villain and turn him into someone with whom the audience can sympathize, even as he does things far beyond the pale of acceptable behaviour. Inevitably, claims of copycat killers have already begun to surface

Doctor Who. The news of the departure of David Tennant from the show was greeted with dismay in TC Towers. Who could ever replace, arguably, the finest Doctor ever? And replacement, Matt Smith, was only 26, barely an adult. Tennant signed off at the very start of 2010, in a heartrending episode, as his Doctor had the chance to say farewell before bowing out; we caught Smith’s debut when we were in Scotland in April and… Well, initially he seemed a bit of a young clone of Tennant, but as the series developed, he brought more of himself to the role. The results proved acceptable, even to hardened sceptics like ourselves, and occasionally magnificent, as in Vincent and the Doctor. Smith? He’ll do.

Fringe. Now into its third series and developing nicely, alternating episodes between the two worlds, with FBI agent Olivia Dunham now trapped on the other side, “infected” with the memories of the self from there, while said other Olivia operates undercover on our side.  This duality gives most of the other cast members a similar chance to stretch out a bit, playing two versions of the same character; most notably, Walter Bishop (John Noble), whose alter ego is radically different from the gentle, confused genius we’ve grown to love. Quite some way from the X-Files clone it initially appeared to be.

Haven (left). And similarly, this show has come quite some way from the Fringe clone it initially appeared to be. FBI agent, with a black boss, investigating interconnected paranormal occurrences known as the Pattern, sorry, Troubles? Hmm. Fortunately, the series has found its own path, with Audrey Parker trying to penetrate a close-knit community, and discover the truth about her own past as well. To be honest, perhaps too similar to SciFi, sorry, SyFy shows Eureka and Warehouse 13, but we don’t watch those, so who cares? Certainly, the last scene in the final ep wins “Rug-puller of 2010”, leaving us going, “Whaaaaat?”

The IT Crowd. Creator Graham Linehan has brought much the same quirky, slightly surreal quality to this show about “freaks and geeks,” as he did to Father Ted. But as someone who works in tech support, I can particularly relate [“Have you tried turning it off and on again,” is genuinely how we start troubleshooting customer’s server issues, though we usually put it in terms like, “Have you executed a power cycle?”]. At its best, the show has the same sense of delirious, snowballing chaos as Fawlty Towers, where the best intentions spiral off into unintended consequence

Modern Family. It’ll be ten years come Thanksgiving I’ve been out here, and I finally found an American sitcom that is actually enjoyable. Seinfeld, Friends, Arrrested Development, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? All left me stone-cold. But the comedy here flows naturally from the characters, who are the disparate bunch of dysfunctional individuals that you find in any…well, modern family. If you can’t find someone in this show that’s a carbon-copy of someone you know, check your pulse. And no longer will Ty Burrell just be, “that jackass from the Dawn of the Dead remake.”

Spooks. PBS have been showing all the episodes (here known as Mi-5, presumably to avoid confusion with Ghost Hunters International), from its beginning, and we’ve grown totally hooked, to the point where “unofficial sources” have been used to obtain the latest series. It’s like 24 on crack, condensing an entire terrorist incident into a single hour, rather than over six months episodes. And having now also condensed so many series into a year, the high fatality rate for which the show is justly famous, makes it seem the average life-expectancy of an MI-5 operative is about four weeks. But who’d win if Adam Carter (below) and Jack Bauer had a fight?

24. And speaking of whom, we bid a fond farewell to Bauer, who finally exited our television screen approaching nine marvellous years after his first “Dammit!” We had our up and downs, didn’t we, Jack, and it’s probably right that the show departed, rather than lumbering on until Special Agent Bauer was pushing himself gamely about on a Zimmer frame. The final series was as solid as ever, with the usual mix of terrorists, slimy politicians, betrayals, Chloe’s furrowed brow and Jack’s not-so veiled threats. There’ll be a gap in our lives next winter that will be hard for any other show to fill.