Flavorpill’s Most Fascinating People of 2011

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Another year, another uninspired list of “fascinating people,” courtesy of Barbara Walters. Babs’ 2011 list seems frightfully behind the times: Aren’t Simon Cowell, Katy Perry, Derek Jeter, and the Kardashians kind of old news? Why interview Donald Trump when you could have picked a real politician who actually plans to run for president in 2012, instead of just teasing about it to hype his past-its-prime reality show? Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family aren’t a bad pick, but do we really need to hear more from tabloid favorites Amanda Knox and Pippa Middleton? Here’s hoping the one name ABC is withholding until Walters’ special airs tomorrow night is more inspiring. Meanwhile, your friends at Flavorpill have our entire list of 2011’s most fascinating people ready right now. Our top 10, and the questions we’d ask them, are after the jump.

Lars von Trier

Several months ago, a stupid comment about Hitler at a Cannes press conference threatened to overshadow the film Lars von Trier was in France to promote. But we’re thankful that it didn’t, because Melancholia is easily the greatest moment in a career that has been full of dark high points — a movie that throws extreme depression into hyperrealistic relief and approaches the apocalypse like nothing science fiction has seen before.

We would ask him: Well, he probably wouldn’t speak to us, seeing as how he’s sworn off interviews. But if he did, we’d ask him whether he agrees with this great Salon article that argues Melancholia is a feminist film. We’d also want to know how he plans to follow up on such a seemingly final statement.

Mindy Kaling

We’ve known for a long time that Mindy Kaling is more than just The Office’s endearingly childish Kelly Kapoor. But 2011 is the year when she really came into her own. Kaling, who became a writer on the show when she was only 24, published Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) in September, giving voice to every lady who has ever indulged in the kind of personal over-analysis the title suggests. In the same month, she was promoted to Executive Producer of The Office. Next year, we are pretty sure she’ll take over the world.

We would ask her: Be honest — aren’t you getting a little sick of Dunder Mifflin these days? What’s next for you? And, um, will you be our best friend?

Ryan Murphy

Showrunners like Matthew Weiner and David Simon have become celebrities in their own right, so it was no surprise that we got to see Ryan Murphy in front of the camera this year, judging The Glee Project. As for Glee itself, the series that seemed so vibrant and necessary in its first season has been losing momentum ever since. But Murphy, who has a history of hopping quickly from project to project, is already wrapped up in his new FX show, the deeply bizarre American Horror Story.

We would ask him: What’s the future of Glee? Do you think the show still has anything left to say? What convinced you that Connie Britton, who played TV’s most wonderful wife on Friday Night Lights, was right for such a dark role on American Horror Story? How do you see AHS evolving, as viewers get to know the characters and it becomes harder to shock us with strange revelations?

Jennifer Egan

Her most recent, thoroughly fantastic, novel may have come out in 2010, but it was 2011 that saw the book take on a life of its own. This year, A Visit from the Goon Squad won both the Pulitzer and the National Book Critics Circle Award. And that’s not all — in April we learned that it’s also being adapted for HBO. Considering how much we love the book and its characters, we can’t wait to see how that turns out.

We would ask her: What’s going on with the HBO project? How involved are you in it? What was it like upsetting Jonathan Franzen to win the year’s biggest literary laurels? What are you working on now?

Drake

Love him, hate him, and/or think he’s a big, whiny baby, 25-year-old Aubrey Graham reinvented mainstream hip-hop with his latest album. Take Care is murky, moody, and electronic; Drake raps (and often sings) more against a soundscape than on top of beats. And his lyrics are confessional and introspective. As Sasha Frere-Jones writes in The New Yorker, “With his cardigan sweaters and his elevated taste… he swiftly established honesty and clarity as the coolest qualities a rapper could exhibit — a radical notion.”

We would ask him: Why do you feel you’re your own best subject?

Ai Weiwei

It’s been a year of extreme highs and lows for Ai Weiwei, who landed at the top of Art Review’s annual Power 100 list only a few months after being released from prison in China. During his three months behind bars on charges that likely had more to do with his political dissent than tax evasion (the Chinese government’s official charge), the global art world came together to support one of its most accomplished members — and shows of Ai’s work sprung up everywhere, only adding to his renown.

We would ask him: Why don’t you leave China after all you’ve endured at the hands of its government? How will you translate your experience in prison into art?

Carrie Brownstein

We know, we know — we already cried foul when she was left off NME’s annual Cool List. But, as far as we’re concerned, there’s no one more deserving of the title “fascinating” this year than Carrie Brownstein. The former Sleater-Kinney guitarist resumed shredding as a key member of indie supergroup Wild Flag, where she shares frontwoman duties with Helium’s Mary Timony and keep audiences entertained with an extensive repertoire of rock-goddess moves. Their self-titled debut album is a sing-along love letter to music. And then there’s Portlandia, the funniest sketch show on TV in 2011, period.

We would ask her: Is Portlandia a one-off thing, or do you see it as the beginning of a longer comedy career? Fans have been excited about Wild Flag ever since we first found out about it. Did those high expectations affect your performances or recording process?

Michael Fassbender

His star has been rising for years now, but 2011 has been Michael Fassbender’s best year yet. It kicked off with Jane Eyre, which had him playing a spot-on Rochester. Then there was his blockbuster turn as Magneto in X-Men First Class. And now, he’s got two more highbrow films out: David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, in which he plays the sensual Jung to Viggo Mortensen’s clinical Freud, and Steve McQueen’s Shame, where he stars as a yuppie sex addict. By most accounts, he’s done a fabulous job in each and every role.

We would ask him: You played so many very different parts this year. What do you do to prepare for roles, and is it difficult to jump so quickly from one character to the next? What can you tell us about the Jim Jarmusch vampire movie you’re supposed to start shooting early next year?

Téa Obreht

At 26 years old, Téa Obreht looks even younger than she is. And yet, this baby-faced, Yugoslavia-born writer has already been publishing stories in such magazines as The New Yorker and The Atlantic for a few years. 2011 saw the release of her debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife, which is set in the Balkans and concerns a young man whose grandfather has a penchant for telling haunting stories. The book won Britain’s Orange Prize for fiction and was shortlisted for a National Book Award.

We would ask her: As a child, you lived everywhere from Belgrade and Cairo to Atlanta and Palo Alto. Which place feels the most like home to you? Do you think your travels contributed to making you such a precocious writer?

Photo credit: Aaron Colussi

Occupy Wall Street

No, Occupy Wall Street isn’t just one person — it’s an uncountable number of activists from around the world, ranging from smash-the-state anarchists to regular, middle-class folks radicalized by the economic crisis, rampant unemployment, and the government’s willingness to bail out banks while leaving their victims high and dry. It’s the biggest and most visible social justice movement in our lifetime, giving voice especially to young people who owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in educational loans but can’t even find a job to help repay them.

We would ask them: Now that so many Occupy encampments have been evicted, how will you maintain momentum through 2012? What do you think most people don’t understand about the movement?