Dec 11, 2013

Listmania: Miscellaneous of 2013

For all of the fun times that 2013 brought us, there is one fact: a lot of things happened that are hard to categorize. Either that, or they are in a field that has few competitors and themselves lack a need for a Listmania series. In fact, that is the inspiration behind the Miscellaneous list in which we compile random highlights featuring the good and bad of the year as well as everything in the middle. Either that, or they were just subjects that needed to be addressed without any desire to do whole categories on trilogies, overrated music, or poor marketing. The following is a middle ground of all of this. Enjoy.

Taylor Schilling
Best Episode of TV:
Orange is the New Black - "Bora Bora Bora"

Probably the most controversial move of the year is my choice to select the Netflix freshman series for this pick over much beloved Breaking Bad's final season, including the amazing "Ozymandias." However, while Vince Gilligan's TV show left a satisfying conclusion, Orange is the New Black suggested something unexpectedly brilliant to come. Mixing dark subject matter with humor, this hour-long series makes up for the lackluster Weeds with Jenji Kohan creating one of the most versatile casts. However, the series met is full potential in "Bora Bora Bora" when things went from being strange and hostile to being dark. With a suicide paralleling a prison visit by a school, the stakes were raised and the drama carried throughout the rest of the season. The show has always been ambitious and lofty with its portrayals (Taylor Manning being a notable standout as religious zealot Pennsatucky) while somehow managing to be the Netflix show of 2013 that everyone was talking about (an impressive feat when it included the return of Arrested Development and Kevin Space-lead House of Cards).

Best Movie Trailer:
The Wolf of Wall Street

On the heels of Kanye West's new album "Yeezus," this trailer for Martin Scorsese's upcoming film managed to be the most impressive, mouth watering 135 seconds of marketing this year. Even if it can easily be seen as yet another Leonardo DiCaprio playing a rich guy (the Great Gatsby being in recent memory), can you blame him? This film pretty much plays like a party, with the drums of West's "Black Skinhead" underscoring the energy. There's plenty of humor and drinks being thrown around. Best of all, we don't know much about the film other than it looks like Wall Street if it was actually enjoyable. Even the proceeding trailers for the film cannot compare to this piece, which manages to make the film into the most elegant, fun feature of the year. And don't forget about that DiCaprio dancing at 1:33. It's a thing of beauty.

Most Overrated Album:
Kanye West - "Yeezus"

It is near impossible to think that Kanye West could have matched the excess of "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." Instead, he went minimalist with quite a striking result. While the lead song "Black Skinhead" remains an enjoyable thrash of a song, the rest of the album is questionable. It is an exploration into a man gone mad in every sense of the word. Lyrically, he compares himself to spiritual figures ("I Am A God") while on other tracks, he juxtaposes classic lynching tunes to relationships ("Blood on the Leaves"). However, for all of the effort, it does seem like a tough listen of an album and should only be seen more as an experimental selection. The album lacks discernible lasting quality and tunes like "On Sight" fail to keep a consistent or interesting beat. This is West's ego overpowering quality and while it has some moments of intrigue, it doesn't hold it for the entire ride. It is weird, but the choice to call it yet another great album by the rapper is a ludicrous notion.

Dumbest Marketing Strategy:
Jay-Z and Samsung Galaxy S III

It is amazing to chart the growth of Jay-Z the performer, even from the starting point of "The Blueprint." While his days of rapping about the streets is over, it is interesting to see that he is still money hungry. It could be seen as noble that he decided to release his latest "Magna Carta Holy Grail" for free, but the route quickly backfired. With a joint deal with Samsung Galaxy S III, there was a plan to release a million copies for free to the first million people to buy the product on July 4. With commercials running during the NBA finals, things were looking ambitious for rap this summer with "Yeezus" also being released without fanfare. However, the plan backfired and there were errors predating Obamacare's website. The album itself was disappointing and reflected a performer who had nothing left to prove except to sample Mommie Dearest for some reason. For the most part, this failed attempt at changing the game also only makes it seem ridiculous when considering that Jay-Z claims to have sold a million in a day. If he lies about that, what else is he fooling us with?

Elisabeth Moss
The New AMC:
The Sundance Channel

It was another banner year for AMC with Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Hell on Wheels and Breaking Bad continuing to show the network's gamble of making cinematic TV to be a fruitful decision. However, with two of those shows about to disappear, their game plan is going to suffer. If anything, the freshman series of AMC such as Owner's Manual and Low Winter Sun raise suspicion that the channel is going through an identity crisis. However, in the wake of these events came the rise of the Sundance Channel with several series that produced the acclaim once held by AMC. With shows like Top of the Lake, Rectify, and The Returned, the channel is looking not to adopt AMC's model, but tweak it to feature more foreign shows worthy of your time. It is debatable on how this model will sustain with most of their shows having definitive endings during their brief run, but for the time being, the Sundance Channel has entered the game strongly and looks to usurp AMC in terms of quality in the next few years.

Krysten Ritter and James Van Der Beek
The New NBC:

Not that NBC has had a banner year with the surprising failure of The Michael J. Fox Show, but it feels like ABC has taken over the field in terms of bad programming decisions. Their freshman series such as The Goldbergs, Trophy Wife, and Super Fun Night have all failed to capture audiences and even their dramas such as Lucky 7 were quickly cancelled. Much like NBC's poor choice to air Animal Practice in the middle of the Olympics' closing ceremony, it felt like the network took a few pages and messed with some lesser shows. This is notably true of Happy Endings and Don't Trust the B. in Apt. 23, which were both ludicrously moved around on a week-to-week basis to the point that both were eventually cancelled due to low ratings. Neither show deserved that and it almost seems like karma for ABC's recent lack of success, save for the maligned Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Even if the channel has enough series to stay afloat, their decisions this year put NBC's poor plans (such as firing Dan Harmon from Community) of yesteryear to shame. 

Left to right: Laura Dern and Luke Wilson
Saddest Cancellation:

In terms of great story telling, cinematography, and ambitious antiheroes, Enlightened is hard to beat for 2013. The second season of the series continued to dive into the exploration of rediscovering yourself in more fascinating ways. The notable story this year involved Laura Dern taking down her company with the help of her coworkers. It may have not been always perfect, but the series definitely had a lot of great moments and subtle beauty to it that made the meditative nature a nice change of pace from other HBO series such as Girls or The Newsroom. Despite all of this, there isn't any hard feelings towards HBO for the move, as their excuse was low ratings. Hopefully the series will continue to be discovered on DVD and in reruns, as it is something profound and authentic thanks to the brilliant performance by Dern.

Runner-Up: Bunheads

The show debuted in 2012 and ended its run in early 2013 with no hint of cancellation until the summer. While it dies with even less recognition than Enlightened, it remains one of the best single season series in the history of modern TV shows. Check out the reunion video above in which the group gathers together to perform one last dance.

Strangest Comeback:
Rick Moranis

In some ways, the expectations of Rick Moranis returning to the world of pop culture felt like it would be through the unnecessary Ghostbusters III. However, it came in a much stranger manner. The performer released an album called "My Mother's Brisket and Other Love Songs," which may easily be the most Jewish "comedy" album released in the past decade. With tracks like "Live Blogging the Himel Family Bris" and "I'm Old Enough to Be Your Zaide," he mixes traditional music with a nebbish personality that feels rather authentic in satirizing an entire creed in questionable yet respectable ways. The music works, but it does raise a certain question: who is this album for? Rick Moranis has returned, but not in the most commercial, but possibly most memorable, way possible.

Best Road Trip:
Banksy Visits New York

The mysterious street artist returns to New York and while the fanfare may not seem as strong as it once did, his work remains nonetheless intriguing. His ability to raise the form of street art to something authentic and even thought provoking remains a magical addition to any building. While some consider it vandalism, the work that he has produced juxtaposes the mundane into something weird and often amusing. Even the choice to sell his art just shows how popular he remains, even if nobody has the slightest idea of who he is. We still have no idea who he is, but he will be welcome to visit any city as long as he leaves art that remains some of the most familiar to those even outside of the art community.

Left to right: Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds
Most Accurate Title:

R.I.P.D., or Rest in Peace Department, was a sci-fi film that most people have probably forgotten already. However, with Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds headlining, it seems like it should have been remembered for a little longer. In fact, it will be remembered, probably for the wrong reasons. Earning $33 million on a $130 million budget, it ranks among the biggest box office bombs of the year. Even then, films like The Lone Ranger far surpass its record and it remains this odd feature that continues to represent Reynold's decline of popularity. As soon as the film was opened, headlines read "R.I.P.D. is D.O.A.," which may as well clinch it as the most accurate film title on the grounds of its quick death.

Mark Strong
Best Punchline (Series):
Low Winter Sun

It was announced last week that Low Winter Sun was cancelled. What was supposed to be the next Breaking Bad turned out to be one of the biggest detractors. Often taunting viewers to stay tuned to see previews of the channel's flagship series, the show was problematic in finding an audience that respected them. Instead, Low Winter Sun became the show that people referenced to state a show lacking in appeal or quality. While the show had potential early on, it didn't keep it and probably would be nothing without the lead-in of Breaking Bad. Oddly enough, that is what it became in the long run. The only question now is that the Fall 2014 AMC line-up has cleared up, what show are they going to fill time with? 

Saoirse Ronan
Most Disappointing Attempt at a Breakthrough Role:
Saoirse Ronan in The Host

Confession: I WANT to see Saorise Ronan succeed. Ever since her Oscar-nominated role in Atonement, she has been a fascinating young performer who has taken on challenging roles that while not always interesting (The Lovely Bones), showed her potential to not just play stereotypical roles. Following the great Hanna, she is even higher on my list of desire to see succeed. While it may be sad to say, The Host could have been that film. However, with the taboo of it being a Stephanie Meyers-based property, there was already an astigmatism against it. The film bombed and currently holds 8% on Rotten Tomatoes. While it is true that the movie is awful, it is a bummer that this wasn't the moment when Ronan became a household name. Maybe with Star Wars in a few years? If the casting rumors are true, but let's hope not. However, this didn't keep her from making more impressive selections this year with: How I Live Now, Violet and Daisy, and Byzantium. Hopefully 2014 will be her year. Hopefully.

Ed Helms
Worst Trilogy:
The Hangover

All of the good will for the surprise success of The Hangover is probably gone by now. The comedy that mixed alcoholism with film noir in fresh new ways spawned two sequels, including this year's final chapter. As a whole, it leaves the question of why this needed to be a trilogy and serves little purpose other than to explore Zach Galifianakis' character's exploration of mental illness and addiction, which even then didn't succeed. It was crass and confusing, relying more than ever on pieces from the past two films and adding a cameo by Melissa McCarthy only made her presence in 2013 less pleasing. Fingers crossed that they are good to their word here and that this is the end.

Left to right: Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
Best Trilogy:
The Before Series

It is strange that the best trilogy to finish up in 2013 ended up being the one that was mostly a very long conversation between a couple. Finishing off an impressive collection of films, Richard Linklater has made a great representation on the cycle of love based on the changing mindset of two individuals as they grow older. It is beautiful and the moments candid and full of energy. The symbolism of the setting sun at the end of the film only goes to show how poetic and realized the plot is, as the fading relationship reaches an end only to continue with another conversation. In the end, the Before series should be be seen as a five hour epic of romance through the years and an example of how conversation can power a story.

Runner-Up: The Cornetto Trilogy

This is probably more of a "spiritual" trilogy than a traditional one, but the Edgar Wright-directed series managed to end on a high note. With each film tackling genres that explored maturity, relationships, and fence jumping, the stories were all executed with hilarious and loving precision. Even if some argue that The World's End pales in comparison, one of the triumphs of the series is that they get better over time. While it is too early to compare the latest to Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, all of them have their merit, with the latest probably being the most bizarre story of how nostalgia and corporations are overthrowing society mixed with alcoholism and recovery, the series never suffered from creativity. In a way, it is the trilogy that we deserve more than anything else.

Best Opening Scene:

More than any film in 2013, Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity reminded us why we go to the theaters by giving us a ride through space that is surreal and intense. The calming nature that begins the film seems ironic by the second shot. With that said, the second shot doesn't come in seconds or even minutes. The slow panning over the Earth and landing on Sandra Bullock and George Clooney fixing a spaceship transitions into a tour of both the characters and the ship... all in one continuous take that doesn't end until somebody gets mauled by flying debris and Bullock gets catapulted into space. It is ambitious cinema that comes fast and hard and never loses intensity. It also is just masterful film making that thankfully has captured the zeitgeist as one of the year's best films, and hopefully one that will remain there for decades to come.

Best Reason to Avoid the Theaters:
The Little Mermaid and Second Screen Live

Be thankful that this hasn't caught on with every film coming out. As a cinephile who loves the atmosphere of a theater, there is nothing more nuanced than having to deal with something distracting attention. The concept that a film can be "enhanced" with a portable computer displaying interactive details on the film in front of you is just baffling. There is no way to enhance an experience by distracting from it. While trivia has always made films more enjoyable, that information should never intersect with the feeling of being in a room with a large projection of a film. Enjoy the moment of disconnect from your own world. If you have to look at a "Second screen," you may as well have wasted your money getting kicked in the shin.

Jennifer Lawrence
Best Looking Movie:
American Hustle

Sadly, there is missed opportunity in billing this as David O. Russell's American Hustle, which has such a rhyme cadence to it that it makes it sound hipper. While the film has yet to be released in America upon this publication, the trailers feature some of the greatest costumes and set pieces of any film this year. Hopefully the quality of the story will deliver and not just make the beautiful, seductive images of Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence go to waste. This is a film that manages to feel confident and classy while also being about con men. Also, great suits, gentlemen. I just want this film to feel as hip as Bradley Cooper's channeling of Danny Masterson.

Biggest Affront to the English Language (Tie):
Oxford Dictionary Selects "Selfie" as Word of the Year
& Oxford Dictionary Adds "Twerking" to the Dictionary

There was a time when the dictionary was a respected space. A place where words of higher class were exploited and revered for their cadence. Culture turned to it to look up words and felt more enlightened. However, 2013 saw a huge decline in respect for the Oxford Dictionary when it decided to add twerking to the dictionary and made selfie the word of the year. While both are awful trends that reflect not only a lack of creative language but also lack class as actions, it is terrible for them to receive a level of respect from such places as the dictionary. In fact, both feel like the antithesis of artistic merit (selfies more-so) and make the move even more puzzling if just because neither of the words' predominant audiences are likely to ever read the Oxford Dictionary because of these moves. 

Best Tutorial (Book):
"Film Critic" by Laremy Legel

Have you ever wanted to be a film critic but didn't know how? Do you wonder how press junkets and interviews work? 2013 was a breakthrough year for Laremy Legel in that he released the first book ever on the subject of film criticism that laid it out in plain English. With candid interviews and experiences that make the relation to the career more obtainable, this is a book full of detail that won't bore you. Along with the also great "Sea Change," Legel has quickly become a favorite writer on the subject of film culture and is definitely worth checking out, if even for a laugh (I assure you, he's enjoyable).

Jack Nicholson
Don't Believe the Hype:
Radar Online Says Jack Nicholson will Retire

The iconic actor was in the news this year not for a new film, but for a potential exit. While he had looked fine and chipper at the Oscars, Radar Online reported that the actor was set to retire due to memory loss. Please analyze the text for yourself. It is shoddy journalism that is easily persuasive to those who don't think things through. First off, how credible is Radar Online that they would be the go-to source for such news? Luckily the news never became massive or popular, but sunk the credibility of Radar Online once and for all. The "sources" listed in the piece weren't even credible or named. As it stands, Jack Nicholson may have not been in any films since How Do You Know?, but that doesn't mean he hasn't retired or that he is senile. It just means that the press is really, really desperate.

J.D. Salinger
Strangest Post-Mortem News:
J.D. Salinger to Release New Literature

The highly reclusive author of "Catcher in the Rye" who died in 2010 has had quite a year. With a much maligned documentary about his life called Salinger, he not only came back into the public's consciousness, but also contradicted his desire not to be filmed. The news grew stranger as a book was published that claimed that Salinger was set to release more literature in the near future. While it isn't uncommon for authors to release material after their death, Salinger was a recluse who was stingy about his image. With the writing set to be released in 2015, it does seem like a questionable move and one that suggests that his work is being abused. Only time will tell, though it would be interesting to see if a new generation actually cares to pick up new literature or just fall back on his beloved classic.

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