Pop Culture

It's the end of 2011 -- did you notice these standouts?

Dec. 30, 2011 at 9:10 AM ET

While some people spent 2011 "winning," GTL-ing and marrying (and quickly divorcing), there were events in pop culture happening under a much dimmer spotlight. The following television shows, films, books, Twitter feeds and otherwise class acts aren’t total unknowns, they're just people and performances deserving of some singular attention as the year comes to a close. That everyone on this list is a woman, well that’s just a coincidence, but one that's totally fine by me.

So without further ado, the people who deserve an extra shout-out before the clock strikes 2012.

Best new character on television:

Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison, 'Homeland'

If, for any reason, you’ve previously written off Danes, or just not given Showtime's "Homeland" a chance, I implore you to reconsider. For the first time in I don’t know how long, Danes portrays a female character who all at once has considerable vulnerability, flaws and power (not to mention mental illness, which adds another dimension to all of that). Season two can't come quickly enough.

Best book of the year:

'Swamplandia!' Karen Russell

Critically, "Swamplandia" received a ton of praise, but the story of Ava Bigtree, a young girl raised on an alligator farm/amusement park didn't get enough attention from a wider cultural swath (Oprah's Book Club: this is how we miss you). Russell's debut novel is full of whimsy, but also wisdom (“it’s hard to hear your own happiness as an alarm bell," she writes at one point). HBO picked up the rights to develop this book into a 30-minute comedy series; I highly recommend you check out the story in its true form before that becomes a reality.

The Twitter feed you should be following:


This Canadian mother of three uses Twitter exactly how it should be used: as a (hilarious) mouthpiece for the darker parts of our consciousness. A few gems: this from Christmas Eve, "I have a huge fire roaring and the kids are screaming that it will be too hot for Santa, but I keep laughing and throwing logs on it. #eggnog." And this insight into Justin Bieber and her 3-year-old: "SERIOUS: My three year old just told me she wanted Justin Bieber's haircut because 'She's so pretty' :("

Oxford just sold a comedy to NBC, so we'll be seeing more of her work on the tube soon, but my Twitter feed would appreciate it if her best, unfiltered material stayed there.

Best film performance:

Shailene Woodley, 'The Descendents'

There's a feeling among my close friends and family that I loved "The Descendents" so much because it stars my George Clooney, but really, truly, the actor who plays his oldest daughter Alexandra, Shailene Woodley, is every bit as responsible for my affection for the film. In less capable hands, Woodley's character could have been cliche, grating, or just plain boring. Instead, the movie couldn't have been anywhere as remotely successful as it's been without Woodley's pitch-perfect performance. I'll be stunned, or at least feeling wronged-by-proxy, if she's not on the receiving end of some awards this season. Regardless, she's an actor we will be seeing for a very long time.

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Class Acts:

A tie — Sandra Bullock, Denise Richards

Seriously, these two women had some real doozies on their hands in 2011. Disappearing entirely would have been completely understandable, but neither did. Instead, they were both judicious with their public comments, did their work, and went on with their lives. When celebrity was rearing its ugliest of heads, Richards and Bullock were holding theirs high. They weren't just a good example to their peers (many of whom could have learned a thing or two), but to a lot of women in general. Good on you, and thanks for showing this little corner of showbiz how to be graceful.

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