Well here we are, just weeks away from a brand new year, and as you’d expect, all of the blogs are spewing out their “Best Of” lists. Not to be outdone, I have been asked to compile a list of my very own. Unlike last year, however, I have not played many video games in 2013 to put together much of a list (unless you’d like me to just talk about Batman: Arkham Origins).
Instead, I have put together 10 of my favorite TV shows, albums and movies from the past year. Let me assure you, this has been a challenging task and my list has changed four times while I’ve been writing this. That being said, here is my multimedia rundown of the best things (in no particular order) my eyes and ears have feasted upon throughout the glorious year that was 2013.
BEST TV SHOWS OF 2013:
This year, the Sundance Channel released their first ever original series. Brought to us by Ray McKinnon (“Deadwood,” “Sons Of Anarchy”), the story here follows Daniel Holden (Aden Young) who has been released from prison after spending 19 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. The storytelling here is detailed and patient, shining a light more on Daniel’s introduction back into society, his emotional conflicts and the rediscovery of himself while coming home to a town he has not seen since he was 18 years old. Young is a revelation in the role.
“The Americans” (FX)
One of this year’s surprises was FX’s cold war drama “The Americans.” With intelligent writing, a fantastic soundtrack, and a good amount of moody nostalgia, the show is set in the backdrop of the early ’80s when The Cold War still was in full swing. “The Americans” is carried by Kerri Russell in a strong performance as undercover KGB agent Elizabeth Jennings, while Matthew Rhys plays her spy husband who has grown quite fond of America. Let’s not forget Noah Emmerich as FBI agent Stan Beeman, who just happens to move right across the street from our Russian anti-heroes. Seriously, picture the intrigue of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy without that annoying slow burn pace. Returning to FX in February, it might be high time you catch up on this show!
2013 seemed to be the year that horror movies became television shows. I almost put “Bates Motel” on this list but I kept myself to a strict 10 and for me, “Hannibal” handily beat Norman down. NBC flat out shocked me upon viewing the premiere episode of the 13 episode series (not to mention their turn to a 13 episode model here). Not only was the show dark in tone, but the violence and gore one would associate with a story following the iconic character of Hannibal Lecter was also present. Starring the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen in the title role, the stylized production that Bryan Fuller has brought to the small screen is equal parts beautiful and gruesome. Straying from the original story (as these horror spinoffs tend to do), Hugh Dancy delights as Will Graham. Also, shout out to Cowboy Curtis as Jack Crawford…uh….I mean Laurence Fishburne…yeah.
“The Blacklist” (NBC)
When talking about the new fall shows, “The Blacklist” was the one show carrying all of the buzz with it even before its premiere. That buzz was very well deserved and even though the show is technically a procedural, it’s really a whole lot more. Sure, the creator Jon Bokenkamp brings some pretty great story telling for each episode, and yes there was that Die Hard-esque episode directed by Joe Carnahan, but the reason we all really are watching this show is James Spader. His performance as Red Reddington would make me tune in just to watch him watch a pot of water boil. “The Blacklist” is another win for NBC and hands down one of the best new network shows of the year.
“Orphan Black” (BBC America)
Upon giving the first episode of “Orphan Black” a try, I was immediately hooked. And much like James Spader with “The Blacklist”, the biggest reason this show works is because of the acting prowess of its star Tatiana Maslany. Throughout the show’s first season, the actress plays seven different clones all with their own personalities, character ticks, accents, and attitudes. And she does this brilliantly. The performance she delivers here is simply one of the best of the year and Maslany deserves all of the awards for it.
“Orange Is The New Black” (Netflix)
A women’s prison TV show from the creator of “Weeds”? Yeah, when I first heard of this, I had a hard time taking the concept seriously. Once I did get on board, though, I was quickly hooked. Thankfully it is a Netflix show, so I was able to binge watch multiple episodes at a time. “OITNB” blends humor with drama in a heartfelt way here and quickly became one of the stand out shows of 2013. Taylor Schilling is awesome as Piper Chapman but the entire cast works so well together too. I won’t babble too much about this here. If you’re really interested in my take on the show, click here to read my article on the subject.
After their rather successful mini-series “Hatfields & McCoys,” History brought another production to the small screen with their first ever scripted television series “Vikings.” Throughout the beginning of 2013, Jack and I both constantly raved about Ragnar Lothbrok and company on Pass The Effin’ Remote. I’ve stated many times that “Vikings” fulfills me more than “Game Of Thrones” and it’s with great joy that I can say Season 2 of the show will be returning in February. CAN. NOT. WAIT!
“American Horror Story: Coven” (FX)
This one’s a no-brainer. With each season of Ryan Murphy’s horror serial getting better and better, “American Horror Story: Coven” has quickly become my favorite season so far. With a female heavy cast (not common on TV) including the likes of Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett, and Kathy Bates, along with a unique mythology and story canon, it’s very difficult to not get sucked into every episode. Even with the other witch-themed shows now making their way to television, “American Horror Story: Coven” outshines them all. Now that “Breaking Bad” is gone, this has become my weekly “must watch” program.
“Sleepy Hollow” (Fox)
It’s still a surprise to me when I tell people how much I love “Sleepy Hollow.” The trailers making their way to the public before the show’s premiere made it look entirely ridiculous and stupid. So obviously, I tuned in! It only took one episode to shed light on how much fun this program really is. It’s a lovely blend of self awareness, humor, dark mythology, and horror wrapped up into a weekly procedural. It’s really good stuff…and I’m still shocked.
“Breaking Bad” (AMC)
So, the majority of the television programs I’ve listed here are new for 2013. But I’d be fooling myself (and you) if I didn’t give one last hurrah to the show that became my number one favorite over the past five years. All bad things did come to an end in season 5 of “Breaking Bad” and it was beautiful, heartbreaking, violent, and fulfilling in all the best ways possible. Now, let’s hope “Better Call Saul” doesn’t suck!
Runners Up: “Almost Human,” “New Girl,” “House Of Cards,” and “Justified”
BEST ALBUMS OF 2013
Look, I know this is GeekNation and we don’t discuss music too much here. This ain’t no music blog and I ain’t no music critic. But what I am is a lover of music, and I might know a thing or two about a thing…or two. That being said, here are my 10 favorite albums of the year. Take it for what it’s worth!
“Cupid Deluxe” by Blood Orange
Devonté Hynes aka Blood Orange released what I’d consider the best R&B album of the year. It’s lush and rich sounding, reminding me a bit of last year’s stand out release by Frank Ocean. “Cupid Deluxe” is a sexy album full of emotion. It brings me to a retro place in my mind while also pushing me forward into a euphoric sadness future fog (whatever that means). Maybe it’s hipster R&B, I’m not sure. But whatever it is, it’s fantastic.
“The Next Day” by David Bowie
After ten years of silence, David Bowie suddenly released one of his best albums from recent memory. The sound here hearkens back to what made us all love Bowie in the first place. “The Next Day” is probably up with with “Scary Monsters” in feel and scope. It’s conceptually deep and shows us a more mature Bowie who is still waxing poetic about love, religion, and keeping relevant while reflecting on the past.
“Hesitation Marks” by Nine Inch Nails
Yeah, this is my list and I’m putting this here. I’ve been a fan of Nine Inch Nails for over 20 years so of course I’m putting “Hesitation Marks” on the list. After “retiring,” Trent Reznor brough new NIN music into the fold in 2013. Stating he had “The Downward Spiral” in mind when recording the music, the sound on the album is different, but at the same time, it’s not. It’s poppy, minimal, noisy, and melodic. There’s musical growth here and Trent isn’t as emotionally wrought as he was in 1994. Yet, the man is still angry and this new album is still awesome.
“…Like Clockwork” by Queens Of The Stone Age
After a six year break, Josh Homme returned to Queens Of The Stone Age with one awesome album. “…Like Clockwork” was released along with a collection of animated music videos that tell a vivid story of their own. The album blends melody with their signature desert flavored rock. “…Like Clockwork” is what rock and roll albums should sound like.
“Random Access Memories” by Daft Punk
I hate disco. There, I said it! Yet, there’s something magnetic about Daft Punk’s new album “Random Access Memories.” Many may consider the music here as a departure for the duo, but for many others, this has been a progression long in the making. Also, add Pharrell Williams to a track and you’ll probably end up with the song of the summer. Because “Get Lucky” was exactly that.
“Modern Vampires Of The City” by Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend is one of those bands whose music has seeped into random commercials. They’re full of hooks and catchy riffs. Ezra Koenig just has one of those voices, man. 2008’s “Vampire Weekend” brought many comparisons to a young Paul Simon, and those comparisons continued with their follow up album “Contra.” Now, “Modern Vampires Of The City” continues down a path that shows the band as more mature, exploring themes of love and loss. Their music is still catchy, though, so I’m sure they’ve got a new song in a Target commercial somewhere.
“Reflektor” by Arcade Fire
Remember when Arcade Fire won “Album Of The Year” with 2010’s “The Suburbs”? Well, they’re back and have delivered another instant classic with “Reflektor.” Win Butler and wife Regine Chassagne are joined here by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, which may explain what many have remarked as a bit of a different sound here. I really don’t know what else to say to make you listen. The album is just really good!
“Overgrown” By James Blake
It’s a bit difficult to describe the music of James Blake to people. His style is a melange of sorts, blending a multitude of genres including R&B, pop, electronica, folk, and even gospel into what I can only reference as “his sound.” His album “Overgrown” is lush, gorgeous, sometimes minimal, and always awesome. Also worth noting is RZA’s guest vocals on the album. It’s my go-to album for a rainy day and oh look, it’s raining!
“The 20/20 Experience” by Justin Timberlake
After a handful of years, Justin Timberlake made his return to music in 2013 with a two part album release. Part 1 of “The 20/20 Experience” found JT back working with producer Timbaland. What we got in return was an album as fun as it is deep. Along with the singles “Suit & Tie” and “Mirrors,” Timberlake brought us everything from 8 minute long ballads exploring unconditional love to fun tracks reminiscent of “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie. He had a tour with Jay-Z, spent a week on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and released Part 2 of “The 20/20 Experience” a couple of months ago. Quite a year, Justin!
“Yeezus” by Kanye West
I kind of hate myself for writing this. See, I’m conflicted in my love for Kanye West’s music. The man can be quite the idiot and then his music always feeds some weird part of me that needs good hip hop. His latest album “Yeezus” (I both hate and love that name) is Kanye’s middle finger to the industry and its notion of conforming to formula. This is West’s sixth studio album and found him working with unexpected production stylings which took from industrial music, techno, and even acip rap. Combine that with his lyrical prowess, and “Yeezus” was indeed the best and most radical hip hop album of the year.
[I’d like to take this time and apologize to Beyonce. I haven’t heard your album yet, but kudos for breaking the internet last week!]
BEST MOVIES OF 2013:
Finally, I’m rounding out this list with film. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been catching up like a mad man. That being said, I haven’t seen everything! I’m sure The Act Of Killing, American Hustle and Blue Is The Warmest Color are great films but I’ve not gotten to them yet.
Of what I have seen, however, here are my 10 favorites.
Her (Spike Jonze)
In the not so distant future, a slightly pathetic guy falls in love with his operating system. I know, it sounds ridiculous. But what Spike Jonze has done here is bring a quirky and intimate movie about relationships to the big screen. It’s about attraction, separation, and the loneliness in between. The romance between man and machine here is not treated as a joke, but in a sincere manner that just adds to the overall film’s charm. Joaquin Phoenix is outstanding here as is Scarlett Johansson (who knew voice acting could be so poignant?). Someone give her an award.
Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron)
Talk about an hour and a half anxiety attack! Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity accomplished many things on screen that have never been done before. Yay, technology! The standout here, besides the amazing effects, is Sandra Bullock’s performance. I saw the film in IMAX, which might be the only way to truly see it. Whatever the case, Gravity left a lasting mark!
Stoker (Park Chan-wook)
This is the only “horror” title to make my list. I just had to. Park Chan-wook’s American movie debut delivered everything I had hoped from the guy that brought us Oldboy. Stoker is a beautifully strange movie that brings enough stylized violence, uncomfortably taboo subject matter and the dark sense of humor those familiar with his works would expect. Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode are what truly make the story work. You want a movie that’s beautifully twisted? Check out Stoker.
Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite)
F#*k Sea World! That was my initial reaction upon my completion of the documentary Blackfish. Currently available on Netflix Instant, Blackfish tells the story of killer whale Tilikum and his deadly attack on trainer Dawn Brancheau back in 2010. That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, though. What ends up unraveling is a story three decades in the making. It’s gut wrenching, sad, and eye opening. Blackfish is a very well done film, one that will probably piss you off and will hopefully make a change with how whales are treated.
Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
Alexander Payne’s new film Nebraska is shot completely in black and white. The pacing is slow and you can tell that nothing really remarkable is going to happen here. But that doesn’t matter. The character dynamic between Woody Grant and his son David Grant is, at the film’s heart, what drives the story. Bruce Dern and Will Forte are fantastic in this road trip movie that delivers equal parts charm and humor. It’s definitely one of those films that you have to let just happen. And once you do, you’ll realize it’s really one of the best of the year.
Mud (Jeff Nichols)
Earlier this year, I received a screener of Mud without any knowledge of what the movie was even about. Matthew McConaughey was on the cover and that’s pretty much all I cared about. Ever since Killer Joe, I’ve been on a McConaughey kick. The man’s on fire lately! And in Mud, he delivers a stellar performance. The story is reminiscent of something a modern day Mark Twain may have written. The stand out here is Tye Sheridan as Ellis. The movie is an instant American classic…and I’m not just saying that because I read it on the poster.
Dallas Buyer’s Club (Jean-Marc Vallée)
Hey look! Another Matthew McConaughey movie! I told you the man was on fire! Dallas Buyers Club covers some difficult subject matter, but it’s a story that needs to be told. Aside from the amazing performance by McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, the real standout is Jared Leto as the transgender woman Rayon.
The Place Beyond The Pines (Derek Cianfrance)
As a man who never knew his father and struggled through childhood to find a male role model, The Place Beyond The Pines stuck with me for days after I left the theater. While Ryan Gosling delivers a great performance and is prominent in all the posters and trailers, the movie is far more than just his character’s story. It’s about legacy and repercussions. It’s about fathers and sons. Damn good film. Damn good.
12 Years A Slave (Steve McQueen)
I’ve been avoiding this movie because I knew full well the subject matter was going to be a heart wrenching journey. But no matter how difficult 12 Years A Slave is to watch, it’s definitely a necessary film to see. This is the true story about Solomon Northup, a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery who lived in bondage for 12 years. Based on the memoir by the same name, Steve McQueen’s film is a harrowing work and the film’s impact will definitely leave its own mark.
The Wolf Of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
Clocking in at roughly 3 hours in length, The Wolf Of Wall Street is simply Scorsese’s best movie since Goodfellas. While the movie is not necessarily marketed correctly (it’s a black comedy), the crazy true story about 1980s stockbroker Jordan Belfort is definitely a wild ride the entire way through. Everyone here is fantastic but the standout for me besides Leonardo DiCaprio (who is so good at physical comedy) is Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff. If nothing else, that Quaalude crawl scene and crazy kitchen fight will probably have people laughing for quite some time.
Runners Up: The Conjuring, Inside Llewyn Davis, This Is The End and The Hunt
Well, there you have it folks. I’ve just spent my entire day compiling this list for your approval. I’m going to go lie down now but before I go, please tell me what your favorite thing from 2013 was in the comments below.
Now let me end this entry by putting on my best smile as I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Peace! *mic drop*
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