2014-01-03

Year-end Best-of Spectacular 2013!

Alright, kids, let's gather around for my 9th Annual Year-End Best-Of Spectacular! As usual, we'll be reviewing the year in funness (funitude?), naming winners in the categories of Best Record, Best Song, Best Movie, Best TV Show, a Wildcard category, and all the other things that made 2013 a good time even though a lot of stuff elsewhere in the world totally sucked. Let's do this!


Records
Did you know The Strokes put out a record in 2013? Me neither. So did, apparently, Francis favorites like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Flaming Lips, Fatboy Slim, Franz Ferdinand. Why aren't radio stations playing this new stuff for me? Oh, right, it isn't 1996 anymore. I guess I need to get going on Pandora or something.

I spent more of my time and dollars filling out my catalog this year, especially for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee-elects Nirvana, from whom I picked up an indulgent collectors' Singles box, the completely inessential deluxe edition of Bleach, and the 20th anniversary re-release of In Utero. I didn't spring for the $160 super-mega-deluxe In Utero - it's one of my favorite records ever, but that's just too much, so I went for the double-disc set and the excellent 1993 Live and Loud DVD.

I also filled out my collection with the double-disc Deluxe Edition of Weezer's Pinkerton - rare is the record that merits such expansive treatment, but this is one of those select albums for me. It's cluttered with too many jokey acoustic performances, but the contemporary B-sides and unused tracks, many recorded for the unreleased Songs from the Black Hole, are tremendous.

I also scored a couple of solid hits packages in the Ramones' Greatest Hits and Madonna's GHV2. The Ramones compilation loses some steam towards the end (nobody needs to own the song "Wart Hog"), but it's a delight to hear punk rock being born, and I spent a solid month of 2013 stuck on the exuberant "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker." The Madge compilation is the de facto sequel to The immaculate Collection, this time pulling from her excellent '90's body of work, that somehow isn't as good as the records from whom ostensibly the best tracks were pulled.

I finally bought some stuff I'd had on my list (which is currently empty) in Neil Young's Mirror Ball, Black Keys' Grammy-bait Brothers, Ash's 1977, and Wire's art-rock classic Pink Flag. I also got Alice in Chains' self-titled swan song, which I almost immediately discarded. I picked up two Sonic Youth albums - there's a band I need to vet better, because as good as Goo is, Dirty is that unlistenable. Kim Gordon's vocal performance on Dirty might be the worst I've ever heard on a rock album, like she's trying to sabotage the record for reasons unknown. The best back-catalog pickup for me on the year was probably Marilyn Manson's Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death), a strikingly defiant, hard-rocking effort that I wrote about in an extensive piece about the artist this year.

That leaves me with a grand total of ... three new records that were released in 2013 that I purchased. I may need to discontinue this Best Record feature for next year, I'm afraid - a combination of me having less personal time and perhaps aging a bit out of pop culture. All three were by artists that I rank among my favorites, and none really reached the heights of those bands' best works. The three are Queens of the Stone Age's ...Like Clockwork, nine inch nails' Hesitation Marks, and Arcade Fire's Reflektor. I wrote at length that it was really hard for me to get into either of the latter two and found myself instead raiding their back discography; the same was true for the new QotSA disc as well, though I'd rank it as the best of this crop.

The record that made the biggest difference for me in 2013 was AWOLNATION's delightful Megalithic Symphony, a refreshingly diverse, fun, melodic record that remains consistently excellent top to bottom. I have no idea why it didn't get the praise it deserved when it was released in 2011, and it still bizarrely overlooked by critics. I don't think I can legitimately award it Best Record for 2013 since it came out more than a year and a half before that "3" flipped over on the calendar, but I do think it deserves some recognition. Furthermore, I've decided not to name a winner in this category for 2013. Maybe next year...


Songs
There was one song that mattered this year, and it was "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke, featuring TI and Pharrell Williams. The rest was pretty much just noise. This jaunty track also had a nice little video that you may have seen.

I'm exaggerating, but that one was head and shoulders above the rest of the 2013 crop - congrats to Robin Thicke for claiming Best Song in 2013! A runner-up mention goes to Imagine Dragons for "Radioactive," a jam that I really didn't get into at first but that really grew on me until the point where I realized that, yep, this is the rock song of the summer.

Worst Song is always a fun thing to decide, though I'm bummed that Of Monsters and Men's "Little Talks" is ineligible. That song actually makes me stupider each time that I hear it. I hated Lorde's "Royals" but not enough to put it at #1 here. "Tongue Tied" by Grouplove was fairly awful as well. Fitz and the Tantrums' "Out of My League" might be the worst rock song of the year. Some girls in New Zealand recorded this impossibly stupid anti-"Blurred Lines" parody called "Defined Lines" that is absolutely deserving, but they're not actual musicians so I'm not counting it. Do yourself a favor and do not seek this rubbish out.

But really, we're just here to crown alt-j for "Breezeblocks," the single most annoying song in recent memory. Congratulations on making the worst song out of anybody for the entire year!


Films
I really wish I was still in the business of writing movie reviews - I've never been as interested in cinema as I am in music, but I do enjoy sitting down and typing a few things about the movies I see. Unfortunately, with limited Francis bandwidth for TFB, those have fallen by the wayside a bit.

I just looked at the 10 highest-grossing movies of 2013 and noticed that I'd seen two of them: Gravity and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. What's amazing is that Iron Man 3 was the top box-office draw of 2013, and I barely even remember it coming out. I'm pretty much done with superhero movies. Can you believe it's the 5th highest grossing movie ever? I really wish they would inflation-weight those statistics, or go by tickets sold, or something so that Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn't the 6th most popular movie in history. Please?

I did not see A Good Day to Die Hard, which makes me a bit sad. I've written at length about my fondness for the exploits of Lt. Det. John McClane, but I just couldn't ignore the overwhelming bad press and the 14% it earned on the Tomatometer. I did see the 20th anniversary re-release of Jurassic Park, which still looked great and felt fresh, even with Laura Dern's acting. The Baz Luhrmann version of The Great Gatsby wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting, considering the source, though Fitzgerald's novel remains a tricky thing to adapt. Ender's Game and 42 remain on my to-see list, though I still struggle to understand how Ender can be translated effectively to the screen.

I have to say that I'm enjoying the modern era of filmgoing, wherein one can gather film criticism (especially via Rotten Tomatoes) and pretty much never see a bad film at the cinema. I'll take more chances on DVD, but it's very rare for me to leave a theater disappointed these days. Thanks, Internet! Let's do some quick hits on a few of the top movies I saw in 2013:

The second installment in the Hunger Games trilogy, Hunger Games: Catching Fire, delivered on the promise of the very good first film. The consensus rates it a bit higher than the first film - I have it slightly lower, but whatever, they were both really good. I have never read the books, but it seems to me that both devotees of the novels and people like me enjoy these movies, not always an easy trick to pull off.

The second JJ Abrams Star Trek film, Star Trek: Into Darkness, was fan-tastic. I can't think of any way this movie could have been better in concept and execution.

I was really impressed by Neil Blomkamp's Elysium, a film with the same rebellious spirit as his remarkable District 9. I thought it was very well-constructed, acted, and filmed, and let's be honest, the political undertones really struck a chord with me.

The political undertones of Anchorman 2 didn't do much for me, but it was fucking hilarious. I really can't wait for the next 20 times I watch this movie - if it appreciates in value as much as its predecessor, we've got another classic on our hands. 90 minutes of black screen plus the condom scene would have made it worth the price of admission. I was concerned about this in the months leading up to it, as comedy sequels are notoriously difficult to pull off and I didn't want my fond memories of Ron Burgundy to be cheapened. Those concerns thankfully turned out to be unfounded. Your one friend on Facebook who complained about it is trying too hard to be cool, and isn't succeeding.

My choice for Best Movie in 2013 was Alfonso Cuáron's Gravity, a dazzling outer-space thriller featuring a great performance from Sandra Bullock. I've never seen anything quite like it; lots of movies take place in outer space, but this is the first one where I really felt like I was watching people in outer space, with the exception of a Hubble Space Telescope repair documentary I was at the Science Center that really did take place in outer space.

Congratulations to Gravity, this year's Best Movie!


Television
Congratulations to Best TV Show for 2013: The Biggest Loser!

OK, not really, but Nena and I did start watching this show, and I have to admit it's strangely compelling and actually kind of heartwarming. I usually bristle after just a few minutes of any "reality" show - witness the episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo I regretfully watched - but this one is a guilty pleasure about people avoiding guilty pleasures.

I watched one season of The Wire, widely viewed as the best show on TV, and I appreciated it more than I liked it. For me it was an eat-your-vegetables kind of program, and that wasn't what I was looking for. Now that Bill Simmons dickishly gave away the show's main spoiler, I'm even less inclined to pick it back up. Oh well, there's always Breaking Bad.

You've probably heard enough about what I think about the explosive 24, my favorite show ever. Even though I watched all of the first three seasons, I'm not giving it the title this year, because it already won back in 2006 for those first two seasons, and that doesn't seem like the right approach. Seasons 4 and 5, anyone?

Friends, the TFB winner for Best TV Show in 2013 is Archer, FX's hilariously clever animated spy spoof. Major h/t to my buddies JHH and Griff for recommending this instant classic to me.


Wild Card:


My Chuck thing really reached its peak in 2013, as I documented in my paean to the great man back in February. Since then it's only grown as I spread the gospel of Chuck, still maintaining the Internet's greatest repository of Chuck images, dressing as my hero for Halloween, and inserting the old boy into pretty much every presentation I create at work. Yes, I really do this.

Runner-up was my first year living in "Caita" with my lovely Nena. Ha, you only got runner-up to Chuck! But it really is great and I'm looking forward to many more. You are Bonita!


Here's to a great 2014 for everyone, and remember, above all else: keep rocking!

1 comment:

Nena said...

Second to Chuck?!? Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo