It’s the time of year when everyone does “Best Of” lists, but when it comes to the year’s best projects there’s a good chance you’ve not only heard of them all, but you’ve actually checked them out already. So what about all of the cool projects that debuted in 2011 but didn’t make the big “Best Of” lists for one reason or another?
With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of ten projects that were released in 2011 that were some of my favorites of the year, but didn’t seem to make any of the “Best Of” lists. Blame it on the lack of big-budget marketing campaigns, higher-profile projects released around the same time, or simply not having the mainstream appeal of their peers, but these are some of the under-the-radar projects I enjoyed this year that you might want to kick off 2012 by checking out.
Infinite Kung Fu
I included Kagan McLeod’s amazing graphic novel from Top Shelf Productions in a few of my gift guides this year, and I can’t say enough good things about it. Infinite Kung Fu is one of my favorite books of the year, and reads like a great kung-fu movie in print form.
Side note: Along with the copy of Infinite Kung Fu that I own, I bought multiple copies of the book to give people for Christmas. It’s that good.
While it’s not likely to make any “Best of 2011″ lists, this was one of my favorite films of the year. (Yes, I know it was released in Norway in 2010, but it had its U.S. release in January 2011 — so that’s why I’m including it in this list.) With “Troll Hunter,” director André Øvredal manages to blend horror and comedy in just the right amounts, and does a great job making this low-budget film look like a big-budget story.
This Fox show doesn’t seem to have a lot of fans, and I’m not exactly sure why. Despite some early scheduling shifts (the same sort of weird decision-making that sunk Firefly, in fact), “Terra Nova” offered a consistently cool, family-friendly, sci-fi adventure that I really enjoyed. Stephen Lang is at his bad-ass best in nearly every episode, and the show feels like a Stephen Spielberg project in all the best ways.
Here’s hoping it gets picked up for another season.
The Dark Meadow
I loved Infinity Blade, but The Dark Meadow is easily my favorite iOS game of the year (and it’s coming to Android devices in 2012). Basically, The Dark Meadow takes all the best parts of Infinity Blade, beefs up the narrative, shifts to a first-person perspective, and sets the whole thing in a super-creepy abandoned asylum filled with Silent Hill-esque monsters and a mysterious guide who’s as important of a character as you are.
In many ways, The Dark Meadow is the BioShock or Dead Space of tablet gaming world, featuring a moody tone and a compelling narrative that’s just as addictive as the battle elements.
I was one of the many people writing off this series when it was announced as part of DC’s “New 52″ event, but writer Joshua Hale Fialkov proved me wrong. Far from the cheesy, “Twilight”-ripoff that I expected it to be, I, Vampire is a bloody, fast-paced, fascinating story that puts a unique spin on vampire tales.
If you didn’t give it a chance, make sure to do so — you’ll be thankful you did.
Voltron: Defender of the Universe
I was looking forward to the Voltron: Defender of the Universe game for more than a year, and when it was finally released as a downloadable title in November, it definitely lived up to the hype for me. It’s a fairly simple game with a relatively inexpensive price tag, but managed to capture all of the nostalgic fun of the animated series — mainly through the use of old clips and soundbites from the show.
If you were a fan of the original “Voltron” show, this is a must-have game.
MC Frontalot – Solved
I thought MC Frontalot’s previous album, “Zero Hour,” was the best he ever released — but this year’s “Solved” took that title. If you’re a fan of hip-hop — specifically, the “nerdcore” style — MC Frontalot is the Wolverine of that scene (the best there is at what he does). As if that’s not enough, the new album features cameos from Wyatt Cenac (“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”) and Kristen Schaal (“Flight of the Conchords”).
You can check out some teasers from the album (and buy it) at MC Frontalot’s website.
This faerie-tale series premiered around the same time as “Once Upon A Time,” which received significantly more marketing push and has a much higher-profile cast, but it’s “Grimm” that my wife and I were watching obsessively from week to week.
A darker, episode-driven take on the faerie-tale theme than its counterpart, “Grimm” follows a modern-day police officer who discovers that he’s descended from a long line of protectors of the realm tasked with fighting evil witches, big bad wolves, and all manner of literary monsters. Along with featuring some great makeup and computer effects, the series manages to balance cool, one-and-done episodes with an intriguing, overarching plot.
G.I. Joe: Cobra Civil War
There was a lot of attention paid to DC and Marvel’s big events this year, but it was IDW’s awesome G.I. Joe: Cobra Civil War story arc that I thought was the most rewarding narrative of the year. The series explored the aftermath of Cobra Commander’s assassination, and the competition to replace him as head of Cobra — a competition that involved killing scores of G.I. Joe soldiers.
This series had me looking forward to every new issue, and kept me guessing about its big reveal — the identity of the new Cobra Commander — right up until the very end.
The Warrior’s Way
While it certainly wasn’t one of the best movies of the year, the fight choreography in “The Warrior’s Way” provided some of my favorite scenes from this year’s crop of films. Overcoming some terrible acting from Kate Bosworth, the film is a cool spin on classic ninja movies, and pits one of the world’s greatest assassin’s against an army of his peers and a Wild West town populated by cast-offs from a circus. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
It’s one of those films that needs to be seen to be believed, and the action sequences are well worth the price of admission.
So… that’s my list of under-the-radar projects that were among my favorites of 2011. What were some of yours?