That old standby. The end-of-the-year list on a Cultural Commentary website aimed at media.
And since I’m the editor-in-chief, I get the great pleasure of telling you my favorite everything from the year. From movies and books to music and video games. From television to technology. This is what I’ve been ingesting since the last January came around.
3. Playstation 4
Few things are more exciting for gamers than the release of a new console. Especially now, as these releases tend to be getting more spread out with each cycle. The next generation of gaming took up most of our news this year in the gaming world, and for good reason–these machines are built right. Both the Playstation and the Xbox One are impressive machines built for power, but Playstation 4 came at the right price and appeared to come with the right sentiment. I got it on day one and I’ve been happy with it ever since. It’s fast, intuitive, and built to last. Here’s to ten more years of fun.
2. Final Cut Pro X
While Final Cut Pro X has been out for some time, the newest update (10.1) makes the professional editing software every bit as intuitive as iMovie, but with features the latter never even dreamed of. Final Cut is the old standby for video editors, but this version takes the cake as the best editing suite I’ve ever used. Recommended for all filmmakers, amateur to professional.
It took me years to get around to PC gaming, but boy am I glad that I did. Steam is so streamlined and simple as both a marketplace and an arcade that I’m not sure how it even exists. I never feel like I’m in a valley of billboards. I always feel encouraged to explore indie games and studio games alike. And those sales. The pricing structure of Steam makes it essential to check the marketplace every day for hidden (or not so hidden) deals. It’s a treasure trove, and it’s essential for any gamer with a decent PC.
5. Chance the Rapper–Acid Rap
Chance the Rapper’s second mix tape is something to behold. The 19 (at the time) year old rapper is already positioning himself as one of the most versatile and lyrically-gifted performers around right now. From the rage-filled nostalgia of “Cocoa Butter Kisses” to the nightmarish visions of “Chain Smoker,” Chance the Rapper consistently surprises and entertains with his wordplay and his charm. I can’t wait to get a full release.
4. Daft Punk–Random Access Memories
There was a two month stretch where I only listened to this album. It was the summer, and the bass in my speakers blew out sometime in the second month. Random Access Memories is not the album we wanted from Daft Punk, but it’s certainly the album they needed to make. Instead of evolving their sound, they retrofitted it to a time long past. It’s a disco album. It’s not an homage or a tribute. It is what it is. It’s the Donna Summer album she never made. It’s a story told simply and beautifully. Daft Punk may be known as a gonzo electronic duo, but they’re really just a great melody generator. Listen to this album without smiling or dancing. Just try.
3. Kanye West–Yeezus
Maybe he’s kind of a prick. You know who else was a prick? Mozart. Bob Dylan. Stanley Kubrick. Orson Welles. You know, brilliant people. The ever-groan-inducing personality of Kanye West has almost overshadowed every one of his releases. So much so that I wasn’t even that excited about his new release, which came out with little to not fanfare (that is, until we all heard it). He had a baby with Kim Kardashian. He called himself a god. He started his own line of white t-shirts (selling for over eighty dollars). He was pretty despicable this year.
And then he released Yeezus. And, oh yeah, he’s a genius. I don’t mean he’s a genius like your friend in high school who wrote the short stories. I mean a real, actual genius. While some might accuse him of just being a populist who once heard Death Grips, I think he’s doing something much more interesting. He’s taking pop music and making it grotesque. He’s placing himself in the middle of a sonic wasteland and trying to climb his way out. Nothing in the world sounds like this album, and yet it’s considered pop music. It’s dangerous, difficult, ugly, and kind of beautiful.
2. Earl Sweatshirt–Doris
Earl Sweatshirt came back from his African boarding school a changed man. His self-titled debut evidenced a young (very young, 16) virtuoso that hadn’t yet matured. Doris is evidence that he’s arrived. The album is dark, quiet, haunting, and sometimes hilarious. Earl riffs on everything from his parents to drug use to his fears of being alone. While Odd Future’s other stars, Tyler, The Creator and Frank Ocean get broader and more populist, Earl is sinking away into a strange universe all his own. He’s the true genius of the bunch, and I can’t stop listening to this album.
1. Haim–Days Are Gone
Where in the world did these ladies come from? Three sisters from California who obviously grew up listening to Fleetwood Mac and Don Henley, Haim is a young supergroup committed entirely to creating the coolest, catchiest, most ecstatically happy pop songs you’ve ever heard. You want to know why I stopped listening to Daft Punk’s album? Because I heard this one.
3. Mad Men
This year’s Man Men continued Matthew Weiner’s Dickensian deconstruction of the American dream, moving even wider than previous seasons. Like The Sopranos before it, Mad Men grows wider and deeper with age, adding characters upon characters as it crashes toward its conclusion. Speaking of Crash, was there a better episode of television this year than “The Crash,” the epic hour of hallucinogenic fever-dreams and revelations?
Yes, but just one.
2. Orphan Black
Who is Tatiana Manslany? Pretty soon, you won’t have to ask. In a TV show about clones, you don’t expect a lot of nuance or artistry. Orphan Black gives us both. Manslany is one of the best actors working today, and I’ve only seen her in one television show. But, you know, as seven totally fleshed-out characters, none of them resembling the other besides DNA. Orphan Black is an acting master-class, elevating the pulpy and sometimes silly material to overwhelming heights of performance. It’s a must-see show centered on one (or seven) amazing performance(s).
1. Breaking Bad
There’s nothing I can say about Breaking Bad’s final episodes that hasn’t been said. All I can tell you is that Ozymandias should have been the last episode of the series, and it is the best episode of television ever produced. If you have somehow avoided the show until now, watch the entire series just to reach this Rian Johnson-directed masterpiece.
The Last of Us
What’s the point of giving you a numbered selection? This the the game of the year. The game of a generation. Naughty Dog has created an experience that is both wholly unique to the medium of gaming and wholly a bridge between gaming and other mediums. It’s a story that could only told this well in a game, but it uses our own expectations of films and novels against us. From the design to the gameplay to the acting and writing, this is a complete and total masterpiece.
I will always remember and respect that ending.
A Crack-Up At the Race Riots Reissue–Harmony Korine
I have a confession to make. Every book I read this year came out before 2013. Some of that is due to the education classes I take, and the other part is because I love my classics. However, Harmony Korine’s legendary cut-up novel about “America, sex, and other stuff that’s probably American” was reissued and re-released after years of out-of-print obscurity. It’s a weird, hilarious, and nauseating journey the mind of one of our most idiosyncratic personalities.
6. Spring Breakers–Harmony Korine
Speaking of Harmony Korine, look at this sheeeeiiiiitttt. It’s James Franco’s career-capping performance as a gangster/rapper named Alien. It’s a dubstep-inspired journey through youth culture’s most twisted paradoxes. It’s a shot of pop culture given by a dirty needle. No other movie this year made me feel more upset, scared, or hysterically happy as this one did. Is it a shallow depiction of youth culture, or is it an astute dissection of how that culture is viewed from the outside? Is it shocking with a purpose? Is the stunt casting a part of the appeal?
It doesn’t matter. This is as close to a Terrence Malick movie as we got this year (Sorry To the Wonder), and it is spectacular.
5. Gravity–Alfonso Cuaron
The only reason this movie isn’t higher on the list is because it won’t always be available to me in IMAX 3D. Gravity is one of the most pure action movies ever made (right beside Speed and Die Hard), elevated only by its impeccable craftsmanship and stunning lead performance. Cuaron speaks the language of filmmaking perhaps better than any other major filmmaker working today. From the opening 15 minute shot to the closing images of a sandy beach, Gravity is visually and aurally gripping unlike anything else. From the huge score to the mind-exploding digital imagery, Gravity is a movie that comes once every decade to move the medium forward. It’s a brilliant, deep, haunting movie, hindered only by our own lack of IMAX 3D theaters in our homes.
If you know somebody who thinks 3D isn’t impressive, make them see this movie. Right now.
4. You’re Next–Adam Wingard
I saw this movie on a whim by myself somewhere in the summer. I’m familiar with Wingard’s work, so I decide to see it. I’d heard nothing about it going in, and I only knew what the trailer delivered.
Boy was I surprised by what followed. Unfairly dubbed “This year’s Cabin in the Woods“, You’re Next is actually much darker and lighter. To tell you anything of the plot is to ruin the many surprises to come, but I will say it’s the most fun I’ve had with a horror movie in a very long time.
Bonus points go the soundtrack, which perfectly understands the movie it’s a part of.
3. Before Midnight–Richard Linklater
As a direct sequel to the most romantic movie I’ve ever seen, Before Midnight is seriously bold.
Following up with Jesse and Celine nine years following the events of Before Sunset, Richard Linklater gives us a portrait of a married couple so honest and brutal that we haven’t seen anything like it since Ingmar Bergman’s television cut of Scenes from a Marriage.
Jesse and Celine’s journey has covered every part of a relationship, and this film has the great fortune of giving us what it’s like to be in a long-term relationship after the fireworks have gone off and the smoke has cleared. It’s a film few directors would dare to make, without flashy shots or show stopping performances. It’s an understated triumph.
2. The Place Beyond the Pines–Derek Cianfrance
Cianfrance’s previous film, Blue Valentine, shook me to my core with its incisive writing and devastating performances, but nothing could have prepared me The Place Beyond the Pines, Cianfrance’s epic drama which received polarizing reviews upon its release. Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Dane Dehaan in successive short films centered on the same theme, The Place Beyond the Pines is an ambitious film about the consequences of our actions and the many reflections we see in our lives. It takes place in a universe where pain and love are the primary connectors, and everybody is connected. It’s heartbreaking and heightened, with some of the best tracking shots in recent memory.
The film resonants with me on several levels for several reasons, and I know it’s not for everybody, but for those of you willing to follow a film to the darkest depths of human suffering, seek it out.
1. Prisoners–Denis Villeneuve
This was the biggest surprise of the year. My wife and I saw Prisoners because I found the trailer interesting and I like the performers involved. I wasn’t familiar with Villeneuve nor was I that acquainted with the plot. It was the beginning of awards season, so we saw the film.
I was completely mesmerized from the opening moments. Prisoners is a clock wound tight. Every gear is perfectly placed, moving according to rhythm and necessity. Few pot-boiler kidnapping thrillers have grabbed me the way this film did, with its attention to detail and its resistance to solving its own questions.
The film is about a lot of things, but it’s primarily a thriller. I say primarily because it incorporates several genres, often at the same time. It’s one of those movies that could be “about” anything, from Guantanamo to slavery. It’s open to interpretation and it offers few easy answers.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives the performance of his career as Detective Loki, full of facial tics embedded layers that are never quite peeled. It’s a masterpiece to behold, that rare thriller that works on every level. And it was the single best piece of media I experienced all year.