Here at Hollywood.com we spend most of the year writing about the big three in pop culture: movies, TV and celebrities. But we're a knowledge-hungy, webby bunch and our interests bleed beyond those constraints, just like most people. And so, in the spirit of a true 2011 wrap-up, we've come together to deliver our favorite pop culture topics from 2011 including those YouTube videos we watched so many times that we make up a decent fraction of the millions of views and the hit songs we're even singing in our sleep - even books (yeah, we read things too!). So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are our favorite bits of pop culture from 2011:
Foster The People
Die-hard fans would correct me and say that Foster The People originally enjoyed the popularity of their smash hit single “Pumped Up Kicks” in 2010 when it became a bit of a viral sensation, and they’d be correct. Technically, that’s the year when the song came into our collective consciousness, but (and this is a big but) 2011 is the year in which Foster the People went from an Indie sensation to a mainstream sensation. Even if you can’t recall the name of this Los Angeles based band, you’ve heard at least three of their songs roughly a million times whether it was on the radio, on SNL, in car commercials, in RomComs like Friends With Benefits and schlocky horror flicks like Fright Night, or even on the season finale of Homeland. Hell, half of their 2011 album, Torches, served as soundtrack fodder for the CW’s biggest hit, The Vampire Diaries. The bottom line is: people of all walks love this kitchy, catchy, summery pop-rock. And while “Pumped Up Kicks” is about to go the way of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” – to the land of over-played songs – one of the other nine songs on the album, including “Helena Beat,” is sure to become the “Rumor Has It” or “Someone Like You” of the Foster the People roster. Add to all this that the trio is nominated for two 2012 Grammys and you’ve got a pretty solid case for why these guys landed a spot on this list. -Kelsea Stahler
Watch The Throne
With the record industry in shambles, the only artists that can make a splash in the digital age are those with true clout. Emerging acts occasionally break through the indie scene to the Billboard Top 100, but it’s the icons that are responsible for the few “event albums” in any given year these days. This year, fans responded to the new efforts from Adele, LMFAO and Katy Perry in a big way, but for my money the best new music came in the form of the highly anticipated collaboration of rap’s reigning champs Jay-Z and Kanye West. Their mutual 2011 release, “Watch the Throne”, doesn’t display the kind of growth that Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” did, but is a consistently satisfying and highly addictive audio experience. Not as lyrically inventive as it is from a production standpoint, the album has a little something for every listener, and much praise must be given to the long list of producers and songwriters who contributed to its diversity including Swizz Beats, The Neptunes, Frank Ocean, The RZA and of course Jay and Kanye. From the bass-thumping gangsta-bop “N***** in Paris”, which is about as current as any other track on the album, to the pop-centric “Lift Off” featuring a reliable hook from Beyonce, to the early 90’s drums-n-bass throwback “That’s My Bitch” to the ultra-cool instrumentation on “Why I Love You”, “Throne” is the sonic smorgasbord we knew it would be. -Daniel Hubschman
The Book of Mormon
Trey Parker and Matt Stone's leap to the Great White Way wasn't necessarily a shoe-in for musical comedy success. Even with the creators of South Park teaming up with Robert Lopez, the Tony-award winning writer/composer of Avenue Q, the duo faced an uphill battle. After all, they were risking millions on a lampoon of an entire religion (and one they've previously knocked on their show). But instead of rowdy picket lines blocking the theater's entrance or tomatoes thrown towards stage, Parker and Stone found themselves showered with praise and Tonys of their own—and for good reason. The Book of Mormon melds the low and high brow, weaving together riotous potty humor, sharp satire and classic Broadway tropes into a genuinely uplifting tale of two Mormon missions. In an era where theater struggles to stay relevant (and afloat), The Book of Mormon is a true gift from God. -Matt Patches
Music consumption is one of modern life’s very difficult – albeit obviously inconsequential, in a grand-scheme-of-things kind of way – decisions. Buying CDs is, for many reasons, not a consideration (at least for me) and the same goes for illegal downloading. Which leaves…well, a ridiculous amount of options. The best, in my opinion – and believe me, my opinion could well change greatly over the next few years, if not months – is Spotify. The streaming service, launched Stateside in July after previously dominating Europe’s digital-music landscape, offers virtually unlimited music on your computer; and for $10 a month, you can stream all those songs on your smartphone (or download them, for those times when 3G/4G isn’t available). The latter option has made my music-consumption decision an easier one and my overall listening experience, especially on the go, much more enjoyable in 2011. As an iPhone owner, I’m still unsatisfied with Apple’s more-confusing-than-meets-the-eye (and more complicated than necessary) iTunes Match and iCloud services when it comes to having all my songs in my pocket; that’s where Spotify wins me over. Additionally, the newbie’s social-networking functionality – which admittedly isn’t of great importance for me – blows all music services, including iTunes (remember Ping?) out of the water. Indeed, Spotify has had a huge effect on me in 2011 by offering the hands-down best music option out there. It shows great promise, and will, in turn, vastly improve the competition in the not-too-distant future. However, the prospect of losing all the music I’ve paid for from Spotify if I do someday change to another service, well...maybe we’ll come back to that in our 2012 wrap-up. - Brian Marder
The Marriage Plot
When a new book hits stands, you may see the writer touted on a few morning talk shows, pop up in the big (remaining) book stores on tour. When The Marriage Plot was released, author Jeffrey Eugenides got his own big budget action movie-esque billboard in the heart of New York City's Time Square. That's faith. Eugenides followed up his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Middlesex with a lighter, multi-narrative following a group of twenty-somethings in the '80s, struggling with post-college life. It's a groan-worthy, CW-esque premise that Eugenides dives into without restraint, making for one of the year's more compelling, funny reads. Thanks to the period setting, the book has a rare relatability across generations—which may explain why it got the "Tom Cruise blockbuster" ad treatment. -Matt Patches
Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
Alright, I’ll admit this book isn’t exactly a 2011 “sensation” for most people. You can’t find it in those airport bookstores that sell the top 25 bestsellers and when I went to pick up a copy at Barnes and Noble, I had such a hard time finding it, I decided to spring for the eBook version instead (it’s better for the environment anyway). The real reason this hilarious, thoughtful book finds its way onto this list is that while part of the reason we’re doing this list is to let you reminisce over the wonderful little distractions of 2011, we’re also helping you catch up on things you’ve missed. And if you missed Kaling’s book, now’s the time to fix that. Most famous for playing the incomprable Kelly Kapoor on The Office, comedian Mindy Kaling has slowly become something of an undergroud female icon. Why, you ask? Well, to put it simply, she gets it. I’m not usually a fan of using Twitter as a public record, but Kaling once tweeted something that stuck with me. She said, “It is so hard when your interests run girly and your temperament runs manly.” And that, in a nutshell, is why Kaling and her book rule. She’s completely admittedly girly – I mean, she’s a girl and girls cry over things like cancelled dates and “You Can Call Me Al,” right? But at the same time, she’s not such a girl about it. There’s an element of honesty, of taking these embarassing girl truths at face value and just laughing at them, accepting the simultaneous mundane reality, urgent importance and complete absurdity of what it means to be the type of girl who doesn’t always say the right thing, or nab the mega babes, or do anything that can be deemed remotely cool (oh except getting a role and a writing job on a little sitcom called The Office, but who’s counting that, Kaling doesn’t understand one night stands and worries that she’ll be a Jane Eyre attic lady forever like the rest of us secret dorks). Essentially, Kaling is the real life version of what Zooey Deschanel’s New Girl purports to be; she gives the dorky, smart girls – who love silly things like smokey eye shadow and pretty, overpriced dresses just as much as the sleek, painfully cool women do – a hilarious voice and I applaud her for it. -Kelsea Stahler
Fight for Your Right (Revisited)
The thing I love most about “Fight for Your Right (Revisited),” the outlying comedy/musical short film starring Elijah Wood, Seth Rogen and Danny McBride as a dilapidated manifestation of the Beastie Boys, is how much I don’t quite understand why it was made. Is it a tribute to the Beastie Boys? Is it a defamation of the Beastie Boys? Is it simply an exercise in creative filmmaking? Whatever the motivation, the outcome is brilliant: it’s bizarre, it’s uneven, it stars just about every contemporary comic actor you know and love. It’s definitely something worth devoting a half-hour to. -Michael Arbeiter
The #SixSeasonsandaMovie Save Community Movement
This one is inherently bittersweet—if Community wasn’t suffering from low ratings and a shaky security of residence at NBC, the #SixSeasonsandaMovie movement wouldn’t have been called for. But to see countless Community fans take to the Internet with their Abed-ism hash-tags, their Dark Timeline goatees, and various other expressions of their love for Greendale Community College was an inspiring triumph all its own for those of us who appreciate a good baggle. -Michael Arbeiter
Adele's "Someone Like You"
Who knew one song could evoke such raw emotions? Adele's lyrics seem to do just that time and time again. Unlike most artists who rely on auto-tune and visual aesthetics to help make a song memorable, Adele doesn't need any of those things. Her deep, soulful, powerhouse of a voice is enough to send chills up anyone's spine, especially when you're dealing with a song as heartbreaking and relatable as "Somone Like You." This song offers a look at the bitter realities of love and heartbreak -- and finding the strength to move on in the aftermath. Sure it's a little depressing, but what tragic love story isn't? It still doesn't stop us from curling up with a box of tissues and watching them every so often. Her songs emulate real-life emotions, which makes it easy to personally connect with -- seeing ourselves in her lyrical plots. It's no secret that Adele became a breakout performer this year and this song helped earn her a permanent place in the music industry. Plus, if your songs turn into an AMAZING mash-up on Glee, you know you've hit it big. -Kelly Schremph
The Super Bass Girls
Sophia Grace and Rosie skyrocketed to stardom after appearing on Ellen last October to perform the Nicki Minaj song, "Super Bass," in front of a live audience after gaining YouTube fame for their at-home performance of the song. Not only were they the most adorable little girls you've ever seen, but they were also extremely talented. Sophia Grace's voice is remarkable for such a young age, but what was even more impressive was how she managed to memorize the rather complex lyrics of Minaj's popular hit song -- a feat which even the most respected adults can't seem to accomplish. And Rosie is the epitome of cuteness with her shy little dance moves, helping to give Sophia Grace "more confidence" (say it with me: aww). Seriously, just try to watch these tutu-wearing, pink-obsessed ballerinas perform without breaking out into a smile. It's impossible to do and I'm so happy Ellen brought them to the front and center of our lives (and TV screens). Whenever you experience a bad day of work or just get into a mid-winter funk, just watch this clip and you'll be back to normal in no time. I promise! -Kelly Schremph
Lots can be learned from studying biology and the biosphere and natural habitats and ecology and all the different eco systems. And what happens after we’re done learning about all those things is we take all the knowledge we’ve acquired and generally try and put it to use, so we can make our own lives better! And this is why I love this video of the Honey Badger so much – through watching how the Honey Badger doesn’t care if bees swarm around it and sting its face, WE learn how those kinds of outrageous incidents are survivable! I guess I’m trying to express how much I value the inspirational nature of this video. It’s just – really life changing. -Hannah Lawrence
This video of a mother coming home to a house covered in flour is wonderful for a variety of reasons, but most obviously because of how shocked and paralyzed she is by the situation. She genuinely doesn’t know what to do, and even though she’s walking around the house with her video camera, her mind is GENUINELY at a complete standstill. -Hannah Lawrence
Time to do the Monsters mash.
Wisely receiving a two-week jump on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Monsters, Inc. looks set to effortlessly scare the aliens and ghosts that currently dominate the box office all the way back to whence they came.
This wonderful computer-animated escapade from Disney/Pixar should mesmerize the rugrats who adored the Toy Story yarns. Parents also will giggle at the misadventures of two friendly monsters, voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman, while enjoying nods to the likes of Armageddon and legendary stop-motion animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen.
That wide appeal will guarantee Monsters, Inc. the most lucrative opening since American Pie 2 bowed Aug. 10 with $45.1 million. Disney/Pixar can expect Monsters, Inc. to exceed the openings of such previous collaborations as Toy Story ($29.1 million) and A Bug's Life ($33.2 million), both of which benefited from a Thanksgiving holiday weekend debut. Toy Story 2 also opened during Thanksgiving, and consequently enjoyed a November-best $57.3 million opening. Monsters, Inc. won't topple Toy Story 2 by virtue of opening on a non-holiday weekend. Still, Disney/Pixar can count on an opening that will beat the month's second-highest opener, last year's Charlie's Angels ($40.1 million). Plus, showing the eagerly awaited Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones trailer before Monsters, Inc. can't hurt.
Monsters, Inc. will no doubt enjoy a two-week reign at the top of the box office, then take a tumble when blockbuster-in-waiting Harry Potter flies into theaters Nov. 17. Even then, Monsters, Inc. will likely serve as the alternative for parents who can't squeeze into one of the many thousands of screens showing Harry Potter. Monsters, Inc. should wind up with a total somewhere between Toy Story's $191.7 million and Toy Story 2's $245.8 million.
The brave souls going up against Monsters, Inc.: Jet Li and John Travolta. Both headline PG-13 rated thrillers, which should enable them to attract significant audiences, but martial arts sensation Li clearly holds an edge over the currently out-of-favor Travolta.
The first sci-fi epic since August's Ghosts of Mars, The One pits Li against Li. He plays different versions of himself from alternate universes, including a cop and the vicious killer out for his blood. Martial arts practitioners enjoy acting as their own co-stars, what with Jackie Chan's Twin Dragons ($7.8 million) and Jean-Claude Van Damme's Double Impact ($29 million), Maximum Risk ($14.1 million) and his direct-to-video Replicant.
Directed by Final Destination's James Wong, The One and its futuristic trappings will propel Li to his biggest opening as a lead. The Shakespearean-inspired Romeo Must Die opened in March 2000 with $18 million and peaked at $55.9 million. The subdued and clumsy Kiss of the Dragon made $13.3 million in July, ending up with only $36.8 million.
Travolta, meanwhile, is struggling to overcome a box-office slump that began with last year's Battlefield Earth and Lucky Numbers. Playing a patriotic cyberterrorist in the repugnant Swordfish somewhat helped Travolta's cause, but the summer thriller went offline with a modest $69.7 million. Domestic Disturbance, a throwback to such early 1990s homebound thrillers as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and The Crush, won't see Travolta break the $100 million barrier but it will allow him to regain his footing. He stars as a divorced father who fears that his son's stepfather (Vince Vaughn) is up to no good.
The extraterrestrial, philosophical ramblings of K-PAX's Kevin Spacey should continue to entrance those not amused by the antics of two goofy monsters. Neither Spacey nor co-star Jeff Bridges are particularly bankable commodities, which made K-PAX's $17.2 million opening last weekend all the more surprising. Its total through Wednesday: $20.4 million. Even more impressive, K-PAX trumped producers Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver's 13 Ghosts, which seemed all the more likely Halloween fare than a tale about a vacationing alien.
13 Ghosts, Zemeckis and Silver's second remake of a William Castle chiller, still managed to frighten $15.1 million from audiences. That's on a par with the duo's The House on Haunted Hill, which opened in 1999 with $15.9 million. With trick-or-treating over and done with, 13 Ghosts should experience a drop similar to the 52 percent decline The House on Haunted Hill endured in its second week. 13 Ghosts' total, through Wednesday, is $18.9 million, so the horror yarn is on pace to match or exceed The House on Haunted Hill's $40.8 million total.
Snoop Dogg's scary efforts met with limited success. Bones, which sees the rap star's murdered neighborhood benefactor return from the grave, opened Oct. 24 and generated $2.8 million during the weekend. Its total through Wednesday: $4.1 million. Bones also will fall out of favor with Halloween's passing, and should disappear quickly from its mere 847 theaters long before Thanksgiving.
Johnny Depp's From Hell, which dropped 45 percent in its second weekend to take in a disappointing $6 million, looks unlikely to make more than the $30 million that his Sleepy Hollow opened with in 1999. The Victorian-era slasher flick, with Depp on the trail of Jack the Ripper, has made $22.3 through Wednesday.
Riding in Cars With Boys, featuring a rare dramatic turn by Drew Barrymore, also took a skid. The Penny Marshall-directed weepie made $6 million in its second weekend, dropping 42 percent. Its total through Wednesday: $20.1 million. At this pace, Riding in Cars With Boys will likely come to halt somewhere just past the $24.1 million that Marshall's turkey Renaissance Man made in 1994.
The gritty Training Day continues to impress, with dirty cop Denzel Washington shaking down $66.1 million through Wednesday. Training Day should surpass this weekend the $66.4 million that Washington's The Bone Collector made in 1999 and could end up matching the $77.3 million that Philadelphia earned in 1997.
Bandits and The Last Castle are shaping up as major fall disappointments for its stars.
Bandits proves that crime doesn't always pay.
Bruce Willis' heist caper tumbled 39 percent in its third weekend to $5 million. This comes after a disheartening $13 million opening that MGM blamed on New York City's anthrax scare. Bandits never recovered, earning just $8.3 million in its second weekend. Its total through Wednesday: $33.1 million. Willis' recent comedic turn as a hit man in The Whole Nine Yards netted him $57.2 million.
Robert Redford must take comfort knowing that co-starring with Brad Pitt in Spy Game, due Nov. 21, will likely reap more bucks than The Last Castle. The military drama is shaping up as Redford's biggest flop since Havana, which earned a disastrous $9.2 million in 1990. The Last Castle, which has taken in $13.6 million through Wednesday, cements Rod Lurie's reputation as a politically minded but unprofitable director.
Still, at least some people have taken a mild interest in The Last Castle. The same cannot be said for On the Line, starring not one but two members of cooling teen heartthrobs 'N Sync. The romance, starring Lance Bass and Joey Fatone, opened last weekend with a less-than-lusty $2.3 million at 900 theaters. That's only slightly better than the terrible $2.4 million that Mariah Carey's Glitter opened with in September at 1,202 theaters. Perhaps pop--at least the soulless kind manufactured by the likes of 'N Sync--really is going bye, bye, bye.
The commencement tune that’ll inaugurate the rite of passage known as the high-school graduation this year ain’t necessarily gonna be "Pomp and Circumstance." And for that, Generation Y can thank Vitamin C and her god-awful, er, best-selling ditty, "Graduation (Friends Forever)."
For those who have yet to become casualties of the teen-pop assault, Vitamin C (not to confused with the little known Oakland-based rapper of the same call name) is actually Colleen Fitzgerald -- erstwhile frontwoman for the disbanded alt rock group Eve’s Plum. Fitzgerald went solo as a singer-songwriter to churn out sunny, happy tunes (hence her name) for her self-titled debut album released late last year.
The "Graduation" song in question is actually more like a rap (with lines of introspection like "where we’re gonna be/when we turn twenty-five"). Its chief distinguishing feature is its borrowed riff -- an electronic, bass-heavy reworking of "Pachelbel’s Canon in D."
Pachelbel is none other than Johann Pachelbel (circa 1653-1706), the German organist-composer whose musical works -- besides having an obvious effect on Miss C -- were also known to have influenced Bach. And "Pachelbel’s Canon," the warm, nostalgic number composed out of a short sequence of notes through circular repetitions and gradual build ups, has remained one of the composer’s most beloved compositions, present at as many weddings as funerals.
Given the current popularity of the digitized rap rendition, can the original composition ride the waves of its postmodern remake and become, all of a sudden, hip for a whole new generation? In short, we wondered: Is Pachelbel, dead or no, a popmeister for the 21st century?
"Well, it’s hard to tell, [the composition] is so well-known on its own already. To me, it doesn’t need to be borrowed in this way for it to become more popular," Jean Perreault, author of “"Johann Pachelbel, 1653 to 1706: A thematic Catalogue of His Musical Works,"tells Hollywood.com.
The Alabama-based Perreault still has yet to lay ears of the Vitamin C song. And Pachelbel scholar or no, he is not offended by the concept of the remake when we described it to him. "Offhand, I think it would be a particularly appropriate composition for sampling because of its structural repetitiveness."
Says Perreault: "There are lot of present-day versions of it, and a lot of different kind of instrumental group and vocal group have tried to find different ways to rework the tune. I think it’s very common for people to borrow stuff. I don’t see anything terribly wrong about it."
But how about Pachelbel? Would the composer have any gripe? Is the "Graduation" song a travesty or an homage?
"[Pachelbel] wrote very little that was not intended for the church, so he might disapprove of the rap version. But, on the other hand, he might have been pleased that his song is being accepted in such a broad way."
Either way, if venerated composer is really rolling over in his grave, all he has to keep in mind is that Vitamin C will surely get it much worse in, like, two years.