by Culture Correspondent Justin Bog
San Juan Islands, Washington
I love pop culture . . . and I love sharing my best and worst of 2013.
Learning to read was only the beginning, and it ruined me in a good way . . . raised on television of the seventies, All in the Family, M*A*S*H, reruns of sixties shows from Bewitched to Gilligan’s Island, and the classic Star Trek episodes playing each post-school day afternoon, taught storytelling often revisited several times in the 3-channels age.
Movies, even if not in the strict dramatic category, were more dramatic. In present day, dramas are being made in the indie world by smaller film studios, and they are winning huge awards. The Hurt Locker is only the most recent Best Picture in memory to triumph so largely over the studio system, and Avatar‘s blue aliens. The Artist faded from memory as soon as it won the statue, but it tried doing something original. Small movies with big hearts. Superheroes have taken over the box office. I could barely stomach the latest Superman film as it spooled out like a video game, the speed and action pin-balling pell-mell from one CGI set-piece to another with little care for characterization or story. (Since it was essentially a re-telling of the first two Superman films, I missed Marlon Brando, terribly, and Christopher Reeve.) Throw everything and the kitchen sink too, twice, and the audience won’t notice that the plot of Man of Steel borrows plot points from Marvel’s The Avengers flick (another very hyper-sugar high film that left me feeling more empty than entertained.) My largest gripe being the lack of women involved and interacting in these cinematic worlds of the imagination—poor Scarlett Johanssen stuck playing the gun-toting superhero Black Widow who also just happened to have the weakest power on the screen amongst Gods and super soldiers. I expected much more from Joss Whedon, who created all the characters in his seminal Buffy television series (one of the top ten television shows ever made) to be the equal of anyone else; even the characters without a hint of the supernatural relied on his or her own character strengths to get through the day, and weren’t afraid to reveal flaws.
Here, then, are my picks for Best and Worst of 2013 List for Movies, Books and Music:
THE BEST IN FILM
What a concept. Today’s blockbuster films, as always, are dumbed down by committee and lack an overpowering creative streak. Gravity broke this paradigm to great effect, and it is my favorite film of the year because of its harrowing suspense. My favorite films of the year in no particular order after Gravity: 12 Years a Slave (this equals any drama from the golden age of film), American Hustle, The Conjuring, Blue Jasmine, World War Z (horror on grand scale that induced later nightmares of trying to escape similar fates), The Great Gatsby (at least the director tried to shake things up in an original eye-candy Bigger Is Better fashion).
THE WORST IN FILM
Red 2 (poor Bruce couldn’t save this pic, and I’m a fan of his work for the most part—unwatchable condescending-to-the-audience dreck), A Good Day to Die Hard (Bruce Willis as superhero, with Iron Man-like strength and quips; I didn’t believe a second of this film), Before Midnight (this film is on a lot of critical Best-of-the-year lists and I understand why, but don’t approve. There is an emptiness on screen, the unnatural dining scene remains a huge clunker that overpowers the film because it doesn’t ring true, and the thespian doom-argument between the two main actors that wraps up the trilogy became an expected trifle that radiated deceitfulness towards the audience, as if the main characters were winking at us. A real shame since I enjoyed the first two films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset), Star Trek Into Darkness (watching the film, and I’m a Star Trek fan from the very beginning, I felt talked AT, and never could become wrapped up in the storyline. Uhuru stood around or in the background in too many scenes and I wondered why as my mind floated while watching the movie), Iron Man 3 (yes, it tried to be so current, and I watched this several times, too many, perhaps, but its flaws became obvious with each viewing: a bunch of scenes not relating to each other with actors phoning in their “larger than life” performances and being rewarded for doing so). Other films to stay away from: The Lone Ranger and The Counselor.
THE BEST IN BOOKS
This was a wonderful year for books, both large and small, and I was a happy reader. Here are my picks for books you must read:
Life After Life — that’s it. No other book equaled Kate Atkinson’s novel. I ripped right through it, engrossed and happily so, and then began reading it again. Pick up a copy and fall into the structure. The writing is effortless, simple, direct, and magical in its hidden sophistication. Can’t wait for more from Atkinson.
The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story by Diane Setterfield
Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa
The Smallest Narrowest Places by Derek McPhee
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
THE LESS-THAN-BEST IN BOOKS
The book that left me scratching my head the most this year, since I was a huge fan of the author’s first novel, was Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Some readers may have enjoyed Pessl’s second effort, but I did not.
THE BEST IN MUSIC
Okay, there really was only one overpowering story as far as I’m concerned and the music act that took up all the air in the room was our lovely tawdry-on-purpose sprite named Miley Cyrus. Loved or hated, with venomous vitriolic spouting about propriety:
Miley Cyrus has a constant fan in me. Yes, I was one of those strange adults who listened to her music well before her latest incarnation, and happily. Love Simple Song. But her NOT-SO-CLASSIC-STYLE performance at the VMAs made her into something more: resilient in the face of haters, and shows that she isn’t bothered one wit about stirring controversy. It would be different if her music couldn’t back up her created stance. It’s all for show, folks! The coverage continued for months afterwards and she released one of the best albums of the year in the process.
Bangerz is nonstop fun, creative, impossibly gorgeous in the opening track, Adore You, singing about fidelity and marital honesty of all things. The two singles, We Can’t Stop and Wrecking Ball may be the most catchy, but there are other singles, many of them to choose from for the coming year: My Darlin’ (feat. Future), Drive, #GETITRIGHT, Maybe You’re Right, Do My Thang. If you want unfiltered, raw emotional honesty, you couldn’t do better. Katy Perry and Britney Spears also released albums this year and I can’t remember anything beyond a singular Roar . . . check out Same Trailer Different Park by Kacey Musgraves, Lorde’s completed album, and if you can get past his ego, Kanye West’s Yeezus is worth a spin.
THE WORST IN MUSIC
The worst video of the year? Also Miley Cyrus, and the wonderful song Adore You is turned into infantile yearnings that become narcissism on parade. She went in the wrong direction, taking a song about a ‘boy’ she adores and turning it inward, and the video, and the song, then becomes trite and almost creepy as if she’s singing to herself. Take a look by clicking this LINK
THE BEST IN TELEVISION
These shows captivated me completely, and for different reasons, but what they all have is excellent writing, where the story begins and branches out into complex story lines and display characters who can still surprise—some of these shows are better than most of the motion pictures released this year. In no particular order . . . happy binging throughout the next year (that’s how I tend to watch television now and thank Netflix):
1. The Fall — Gillian Anderson is incredible in this twisty tale. Love the pace and the direction too.
2. Scandal — Olivia Pop reigns in Shondaland.
3. Hart of Dixie — Rachel Bilson and the terrific supporting cast carry this sweet and southern duck out of water tale. Reminds me of Gilmore Girls.
4. Breaking Bad — Just had to make this list one final time. A show that gave me pause many times, and in a good way.
5. The Americans — another show that flies too low under the radar.
6. American Horror Story — the first two seasons were just a great prelude to the latest Coven run.
7. Arrow — From the writing to the acting and sets, Arrow gives good show.
8. Parks and Recreation — along with Modern Family . . . keeping the laugh card full . . .
I hope your own thoughts about 2013 don’t keep you up all night. 2014 is here and I’m ready to embrace the unknown future . . . may your own course bring surprise and entertaining options.