By Jeff Jensen
December 20, 2010 at 03:08 PM EST

Image Credit: Mario Perez/ABC‘Tis the season for picking favorites — for taking stock of the year that was and expressing ourselves with lists. Like every pop culture junkie, I have a list for everything — movies, TV, books, music, comics, videogames. But I’m also a big geek, with a fancy for what the industry and more sophisticated nerds call “genre entertainment” — superhero, sci-fi, horror, and fantasy stuff, worlds of wild and weird wonder marked by extraordinary creativity and mind-stretching ideas that can inspire intense engagement, deep discussion with friends, and in some instances, multiple 6,000 word essays each week exploring every nook and cranny, real and imagined, of an entertainment experience — especially ones that involve smoke monsters. Here were my favorite Geek-Outs of 2010, and beginning with (no surprise)…

1. Lost

Some people will love me for putting this Number 1; others will hate me. I love that Lost was capable of producing such polarizing responses. Everyone had his or her own intense, personal relationship to the show. I am not here to validate or critique your perspective, whatever end of the spectrum you occupy. That was your experience. This was mine: The most stimulating pop culture experience of my adult life came to a conclusion this past year with a season to savor for years to come. Yes, I do mean savor: The more I think about the Sideways world, the Man In Black, and the center of The Island, the more richness I find — to the point that I’ve recently been re-thinking many of my initial interpretations. (As much as I enjoyed producing those 6,000 word recaps, I really wish I had more time to process and crunch each episode before committing my thoughts to digital paper.) For example, in my write-ups on “The End,” I called the Sideways world “Purgatory” and deemed it a wholly spiritual construct. I am no longer convinced. I find myself tilting toward an idea, suggested by other critics and bloggers, that the Sideways realm should be thought of as a psychological construct; I think you can accept that without negating the spiritual message of the show. That said, in recent months, I’ve been reassessing “The End” through a more agnostic filter, and as I do, provocative and challenging new meanings emerge — about the Man In Black, about what it means to be The Island’s guardian, about the season’s strangest character. What do I mean by all this? And who was the season’s strangest character? I’ll tell you in my long-promised, long-delayed last Lost column, which will post before the end of the year. Oh, and one more thing? Still cry when I watch this. One of the most beautifully heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen on TV.

2. Inception

I’m one of those geeks that enjoys thinking about the construction of a story, especially stories with a lot of moving, synchronized parts like Inception. Christopher Nolan’s dreamy thriller has a Rube Goldberg intricacy to it, multiple levels of gee-whiz storytelling all in service of producing a simple, powerful emotional effect: Cobb coming to terms with guilt and loss and reuniting with his kids. Or did he? And cue the spinning top debate. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s zero gravity fight sequence in a hotel hallway was my favorite special effect of the year. (I like to think behind those closed hotel room doors, an aged David Bowman was laying in bed and yelling: “Keep it down out there! I’m trying to commune with a giant black rock and tie my Starchild on, dammit!”) Inception also inspired my favorite piece of fan theory/critical essay of the year, Devin Faraci’s examination of Inception as a metaphor for filmmaking.

3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

You know the moment at the start of the movie when Knives Chau watched Sex Bob-omb play for the first time with excited eyes as wide as the ocean? That was me, the entire movie. Edgar Wright’s giddily busybusybusy mash-up of romantic comedy, movie, music and comic book homage, and videogame tropes took almost everything I love about pop culture, synthesized into pure audio/visual sugar, packed it into a syringe, and then injected it right into my brain. And then made love to me. (You, too? Crazy!) Oh, it was also an awesome adaptation of an awesome comic book by Bryan Lee O’Malley. As strange as this may sound, I loved how the climax ended with a total fail — GAME OVER! — and then rebooted itself (literally) to give us a new, better ending for Scott Pilgrim/Ramona Flowers/Knives Chau love triangle to score some smart, wise points about the role that self-respect plays in the art of loving, be it friendships or romance. Oh, blah blah blah: WE ARE SEX BOB-OMB! 1-2-3-4! (PS: I still wear my Comic-Con T-shirt proudly.)

4. The Walking Dead

Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s ongoing saga of survival horror is the true successor to Lost, a fable of reconstruction for a post-catastrophe culture. Also, it’s a show where a guy can take an axe and cut up a dead body and play dress-up with intestines and tendons. Also: zombies.

5. Kick-Ass

Four things. 1. Chloë Moretz. Wow. 2. Much needs to be said about how exactly this past decade of superhero pop has impacted our kids and shaped their conceptions of good and evil, heroism and villainy. The stories they will tell when they grow up and run Hollywood and fill the culture with their heroic narratives are going to be interesting. Kick-Ass — Matthew Vaughn’s bleak and ballsy adaptation of the Mark Millar/John Romnita Jr. comic — tells the story of a comic book nerd who decides it would be cool to put on a mask and fight crime and a little girl turned coarse and killing machine ruthless because her role model taught her that vigilante vengeance was the only way to deal with personal injustice and tragedy. Some dismissed this movie as stupid cynical nihilism. I thought it was a movie that had something on its mind, and said it in an outrageously entertaining way. 3. Vaughn directed the hell out of this movie. I can’t wait for X-Men: First Class. 4. Chloë Moretz. Wow. Don’t think I can say that enough.

6. Fringe

April 1st, 2010 — the day Fringe aired “Peter,” the episode that told us how Walter Bishop, grief-stricken over the death of his son Peter, crossed over to a parallel world to save another Walter Bishop’s son — and then claimed him for his own. April Fool’s Day — when Fringe crossed over from fitfully great to just plain great. The show has been a killer roll ever since. The film noir spoof “Brown Betty.” The Peter Weller time travel tale “White Tulip,” maybe the best episode of Fringe ever. The two-part season two finale, which took us “Over There.” And all of season three, which has toggled between “over here” and “over there” to give us two great sci-fi series in one, united and anchored by Anna Torv’s strong performance as the two Olivias. Here’s hoping fans will follow the show to Friday — and that even more fans will join the Fringe fold. It needs them — and deserves them.

7. God of War 3; 8. Mass Effect 2; 9. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Three of my favorite games of the year; three of my favorite far-out worlds of the year. God of War 3 brought ancient mythology to life better than any film I’ve ever seen or comic I’ve ever read. The vast sci-fi marvel of Mass Effect 2 keeps blooming in my head, so much so that I am committed to geeking out about it more here at in 2011, especially as we get closer to the release of Mass Effect 3. More to come on that. And the time-toggling Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, with its tricky interplay between history and memory, continued the most intriguing mystery-fantasy playing out in games today.

10. Tron: Legacy

Pretty. Just so very, very, very geek-pretty. I’m still trying to make up my mind about the rest of it; some moments stick with me for the right reasons (Young Flynn finding the arcade, cranking the Journey, descending down the rabbit hole), others (“I… choose… USER!”) just clank. Jeff Bridges as Clu was a technical fail; it was a great idea for the story, but the unconvincing effect kept taking me out of the movie instead of drawing me deeper into it. And yet, I close my eyes and the movie still strobes and flashes, and the Daft Punk score still reverberates in my bones; it’s like the movie downloaded a laserium show into my head. For all its flaws, I hope it makes gigabucks at the box office — I want to go back to there.