Sunday, December 29, 2013

THE BEST OF 2013 - The Best MOVIES Of The Year


- This was, quite simply, a phenomenal year for movies. Rarely has it been so hard for me to put together a Best-of-the-Year list, and rarely has it been so difficult to figure out what would and would not make the Top 10, let alone the Top 25. In any other year, great movies like ALL IS LOST and RUSH would have made the Top 10 list, no question. But this year, the quality level is so high that there were close to 30 movies that I'd call absolute must-sees. 2007 was probably the last real landmark year for film. Years from now, I think people will look back at 2013 and put in a similar category - a year that produced great movie after great movie.

Not only did 2013 have some incredible films from well-known directors, but it also had a lot of smaller-scale surprises. On one hand, you had arguably Alfonso Cuaron's best film yet in GRAVITY, arguably Alexander Payne's best film yet in NEBRASKA, arguably Spike Jonze's best film yet in HER, Scorsese's best film in several years with THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, another Coen Bros. classic in INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, and another great action-comedy from Edgar Wright in THE WORLD'S END.

On the other hand, there were any number of films from up-and-coming talent that sort of blew me away. One of the biggest cinematic highs I had in 2013 was seeing a double-feature of The World's End followed by YOU'RE NEXT. I can't wait for more people to discover this absolutely kick-ass horror film. I love how there's this thriving indie horror movement going on, led by people like You're Next director Adam Wingard. I love that movies like this one are putting a new, clever, witty, self-aware spin on horror, and getting me re-energized about a genre that I've been mostly indifferent to for a long time. I was similarly thrilled with Lake Bell's IN A WORLD. What a cool, interesting, hilarious movie. I hope Lake Bell keeps 'em coming. THE WAY WAY BACK is another one that has me excited about its writer/director team. I can't wait to see what Jim Rash and Nate Faxon do next. The list could go on and on ...

One interesting trend this year was that some of the best Asian directors made their first American films. The results were surprisingly awesome. Oldboy director Chan-wook Park did STOKER, which was phenomenal. And I Saw The Devil director Kim Jee-Woon did the Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick THE LAST STAND, which I loved, and which was severely underrated by critics and under-seen at theaters. 

Speaking of action movies, the year's best blockbuster was, to me, PACIFIC RIM. While by no means a perfect film, it was so filled with awe-inspiring visuals and jaw-dropping imagination that it ultimately was, no question, my geek-out movie of the year. The fact that it's the Guillermo Del Toro version of a fetish film kept it from becoming a Star Wars-sized hit at the box office, but the fact that it serves as a love letter to giant robots and giant monsters ensures that it will be a cult classic for all eternity. 

Meanwhile, many movies that I really enjoyed this year either proved very divisive with critics, or just got unanimously trashed by critics. Perhaps the year's two biggest lighting rods were MAN OF STEEL and STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS. Personally, I get some of the criticisms, but I also think both films work very well as popcorn flicks and as pop-art. Critics and internet geeks alike love to pick on Zack Snyder and JJ Abrams, but I think the fixation on some of their specific directorial tendencies unfairly overshadows the fact that both of these guys are phenomenal action directors. I get it: these kinds of movies are easy targets for nitpicky nerd-rage. Do I wish that Zack Snyder better addressed the wanton destruction that Superman caused in Metropolis in Man of Steel? Yes. Do I wish that JJ Abrams and co. concocted a better way to reveal Khan's true evil than via a Leonard Nimoy spoiler-from-the-future? Yes. But in both cases, I think what works about these films far, far outweighs what doesn't. Man of Steel has its flaws, but it was absolutely cathartic to see this epic, action-packed, sci-fi take on Superman after the dull and toothless Superman Returns. And stubborn Star Trek fans seem to have conveniently forgotten how bad the majority of old Star Trek films really were. Into Darkness had well-drawn characters, impeccably-choreographed set pieces, and was jam-packed with fun moments.

That brings me to the thing that bugged me the most about film in 2013. As great as the movies themselves were this year, the level of discourse around movies this year, in my mind, hit an all-time low. People call Man of Steel the worst thing ever. Seriously, The AV Club names it the 4th worst movie of 2013. Have they *seen* Superman III or IV?! How is a film with top-to-bottom quality acting, exciting action, and gorgeous visuals the worst of the year? Have the Into Darkness haters ever seen the show Enterprise? *That's* how bad it *could* be, folks. I saw a number of reviews that absolutely buried THE HOBBIT sequel. So it's a bit too long? Really? Guys, circa 1995 any nerd worth his or her salt would have absolutely killed for a high-fantasy epic that was anywhere in the ballpark of the quality of The Hobbit. But you're telling me it's awful? 

The conversation about movies is sometimes so ridiculous - it kills me. I've heard people call everything from Gravity to American Hustle "horrible" in recent weeks. On Facebook, people are posting an inane open letter from the real-life daughter of Jordan Belfort, whose life is the basis for the film The Wolf Of Wall Street. The letter misguidedly denounces all involved in the film for making Belfort out to be a hero, and people seem to be blindly agreeing with her. And I have to wonder if the whole world's gone crazy. Should we only be telling stories about good men from now on? What's more, if you see The Wolf of Wall Street and don't see that the movie is demonizing and condemning Belfort, you need to take off the blinders. 

In this climate of sound-byte social media posts and click-baiting headlines, there's an absolute deluge of knee-jerk reactions, overreactions, and misguided anger towards films. Online and in real life, from critics, film-fans, and casual fans alike, there's people making blanket statements about actors, directors, or genres they purport to hate, people completely dismissing a movie without articulating why they disliked it on a non-superficial level (i.e. "too long" or "too depressing"), and people jumping on a bandwagon of haters just because it's easy.
I suppose that's what makes it so fun to do this blog. More and more, I sometimes feel like I'm in the minority when it comes to advocating for certain movies. I don't set out to be contrary, but I also don't like being a sheep. I don't mind trashing a deservedly bad movie, but if I see something like Kick-Ass 2 - which I loved - I'm going to sing its praises even if I'm the only one. 

There are, of course, always going to be the obvious masterpieces that are universally praised. The indisputable great movies that quickly enter the cannon, and go on to win awards and get taught in film classes. But what I found so cool in the early days of the internet was finding like-minded folks who appreciated stuff on the fringes. People who thought that films like Robocop and Evil Dead belonged on the all-timers list, who were early champions of guys like Guillermo Del Toro, Peter Jackson, and Edgar Wright. I think about the way movies get reviewed and ripped apart now, and wonder if today's cult classics would ever have amassed their cults if they came out now. Imagine the internet reaction to Donner's Superman if it came out today. It would have been eviscerated. And you know what - there are a lot of aspects of beloved movies that make it easy to pick them apart. But what made them beloved was that they had magic. And what I ultimately look for in films is whether or not they have that magic, that spark - whether they have those "wow" moments that feel like a revelation of some kind. A great film can be a crazy comedy, a pulpy action flick, an out-there sci-fi story, or an epic drama. It could be Gravity, or This is the End, or The Last Stand. The problem is that today, when everything is communicated in shorthand, when opinions are based on what's trending, articulating a movie's true quality is too complex of an undertaking. The Lone Ranger must inevitably suck, because ... #JohnnyDeppPlaysTooManyWackyCharactersInMakeup. Gravity must be great because #OMGSandraBullock. And, what's that? Martin Scorsese made a three hour movie about Wall Street? #Ain'tNobodyGotTimeForThat. That's three hours I can't check my cell phone!

All I can do is try to fight the good fight, and try to articulate why, exactly a film does or doesn't strike a chord with me. At the same time, I don't want to let outside factors influence my thoughts. Let the movie speak for itself. Let's see if it does or does not have that magic. Luckily, many movies had it in spades in 2013.

As always, I'll mention that though I did see a lot of movies in 2013, I didn't see everything. Some notable films that I have not yet seen at the time of this writing include Before Midnight, Saving Mr. Banks, and August: Osage County.


1.) Gravity

-Gravity floored me more than any other cinematic experience in 2013. It looked amazing - this was one of the first films in a long while that absolutely *had* to be seen in IMAX 3D. But I also think that the journey that director Alfonso Cuaron takes us on in Gravity is more than just a roller-coaster ride. He achieves a sort of transcendence that goes beyond that: the sensory-overload experience of Gravity is also a powerful reminder of the human spirit. Space travel has always represented the pinnacle of human achievement, and that to me is what Gravity is really about - the will and desire to literally reach for the stars. Sandra Bullock does career-best work here. We are right there with her for every harrowing moment, and for every moment of triumph. For me, Gravity is a visual masterpiece, but it's also thematically rich and poignant. At a time when we as humans often feel powerless against a world that seems hurtling towards apocalypse, Gravity stands as a testament to just how much we can accomplish - to the strength of the human spirit to persist and survive in even the darkest and most hopeless-seeming of times. Gravity is truly next-level filmmaking that should be seen and experienced by as many people as possible.

2.) 12 Years a Slave

- Here is a film that is important, Oscar-worthy, and a stark reminder of the horrors of slavery. But man, this is also a cinematic tour de force - an utterly captivating, tension-packed narrative filled with unforgettable moments. What strikes me as so brilliant about Steve McQueen's film is that it tackles the underlying psychology of slavery more so than any other film I've seen. The set-up here is unusual - a smart, highly intelligent African-American man gets kidnapped and forced into slavery. He is then systematically stripped of everything that made him a respected, successful man in his previous life. We watch as he is forced to help perpetuate the lie that enables slavery, and we watch as that lie is reinforced over and over by slave-owners and ordinary people alike in some sort of nightmarish mass-delusion. This is a film packed with astounding performances that make this American nightmare come to life, and it's a must-see reminder of the lies we tell ourselves to justify injustice.

3.) Her

- What could have been a gimmicky film in other hands becomes a mind-melting stunner in the hands of Spike Jonze. Joaquin Phoenix's Theodore - a person, and Scarlett Johansson's Samantha - a computer operating system, have the on-screen romance of the year: a strange, funny, emotional, and all-too human courtship that is, also, a pretty spot-on commentary about the world we live in today. Her is a digital-age romance, but it's also surprisingly thought-provoking sci-fi: a near-future parable about the way that our lives are changing - for good and for bad. Jonze doesn't cast judgement, but he does make us wonder if we can, or even want to, appreciate the real-live people in front of us as we once did.

4.) The Wolf of Wall Street

- Perhaps it was the accumulated wisdom of age that allowed director Martin Scorsese to so brilliantly satirize the greedy excess of real-life "Wolf of Wall St." Jordan Belfort. But at age 71, Scorsese has created a film that rockets along with the unbridled rock n' roll energy of a punk kid looking to give a hearty middle-finger to Belfort and his money-grubbing cronies. That's why the criticisms and negative open letters directed at this film are, to me, utterly baffling. Scorsese isn't glamorizing Belfort's drugged-up lifestyle - instead, he's telling this man's story and using it as a parable to show the dark side of the American Dream. We like to tell ourselves that this country was built on the backs of great men doing great things. But through his films, through work on movies like Goodfellas, Casino, and now this, Scorsese - in gripping and darkly hilarious fashion - pointedly reminds us that there is an ugly truth behind the curtain.

5.) Nebraska

- Alexander Payne's latest is, I think, his best. Nebraska is a darkly comic, very personal-seeming road trip movie that features some incredibly memorable performances from Bruce Dern, June Squibb, Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk, Stacey Keach, and more. This is a classic father-son tale, a great story about sticking up for one's family, and a story that finds the heart at the center of it all in a way that I found to be moving and poignant. I'm not sure that Payne has ever fully gotten there before, but he hits the bullseye here. As you watch Nebraska, you'll likely be reminded of some quirk of your own family. You'll think about the hidden lives people lived, the things they accomplished, the people they touched. You'll smile and laugh and get misty-eyed and applaud.

6.) The World's End

- How does Edgar Wright do it? How are movies this cool, this punk-rock, this level of geeky-awesome also so damn heartfelt and poignant? The World's End is a more than fitting capper to the thematically-linked trilogy that started with Shaun of the Dead and continued with Hot Fuzz. In fact, this may be the best of the three - a film that's at once an all-too-relatable meditation about how you can't go home again, a hilarious comedy about old buddies looking to recapture their wild youth, and oh, right, a crazy-ass sci-fi action flick about invading alien pod-people. Awesome? You'd better believe it. Wright is so good at what he does - part of me can't wait to see him get his hands on more big-budget blockbusters, but part of me just wants him, Pegg, and Frost to keep making these indie genre-benders forever.

7.) Captain Phillips

- Perhaps the single best piece of acting I saw in a film all year was Tom Hanks in the final scenes of Captain Phillips. Hanks is so good here that it gave me chills. I knew he was good - one of the best - but here, he totally destroys you. Paul Greengrass' true-life thriller is just that intense, as a whole. So many have tried and failed to imitate his you-are-there directorial style, but only Greengrass pulls it off with anywhere near this level of success. Captain Phillips is packed with white-knuckle intensity, but it's also not afraid to do the character work to show us who these people are and what makes them tick. And to its credit, the movie is not afraid to show us the politics and the social realities behind this situation. It does so smartly, evenhandedly, and soberly. There's nothing ra-ra about this film. Instead, it's a movie that operates on a human level, showing us what drives simple people to do extraordinary things - good, and bad.

8.) This is the End

- Great comedies don't ever get enough credit, but they should. This is the End is one of the flat-out funniest movies in years, and it deserves to be lauded for its sheer comedic brilliance. This movie made me laugh hard and often, and I know I'll be re-watching it, quoting it, and laughing still for years to come. There's an art to good comedy that isn't necessarily tied to matching it with world-shaking satire or the usual things that deem comedy awards-worthy in the eyes of critics. The key here is great jokes, great writing, and performers who can deliver those jokes in a way that makes them even funnier than they were on the page. Danny McBride in this movie? A comedic force of nature.The apocalypse has never been this funny.

9.) Inside Llewyn Davis

- Inside Llewyn Davis is many things - a story about the New York folk music scene in the 60's, a story about an artist's struggle to remain true to himself, and a metaphysical mind-trip about the way life's great comedy keeps repeating itself despite our best intentions. More so than that, this is a Coen Brothers movie, and it's the Coen Brothers operating at or near their full powers - delivering great dialogue, haunting images, and - bonus - an array of folk songs that range from hilarious to moving. Oscar Isaac is winning in the lead role, and the supporting cast - everyone from John Goodman to Justin Timberlake - is on top of their game. What I love about the Coens is that they never give you just a straightforward story. Inside Llewyn Davis is a strange, funny, layered story brought to you by the best in the biz.

10.) Frances Ha

- What a fantastic film from director Noah Baumbach and star/co-writer Greta Gerwig. In my original review, I called this Woody Allen for the millennial generation - and I don't think that's an overstatement. As Frances navigates post-college New York life, there's a mix of aimlessness, optimism, and self-doubt that I found all too relatable. Gerwig has been on the rising-star list for a while now, but to me, this is the movie that solidifies her as a star. She is a perfect match for this material, and it is a perfect match for her. Baumbach directs her with rock n' roll style, and the film as a whole - shot in stunning black and white - has an energy and pulse that seems like a revelation. Here is the definitive movie for the generation that was told that "everyone's a winner," now discovering that that may or may not be the case.


Like I said, this year was jam-packed with A-grade films that, in any other year would have made my Top 10. And I really struggled to leave these next five out.

11.)  Stoker

- From the visionary mind that brought us films like Oldboy (the original, not this year's poorly-received remake) comes this hypnotic, darkly-gothic coming-of-age tale about a teen girl blossoming into womanhood. The twist is that Mia Wasikowska's India Stoker has - in addition to all the usual teen angst and confusion - a growing feeling that the woman she was meant to be is a violent, vengeful killer. And so begins a dark descent into the abyss, told in an eye-popping, gorgeously-shot manner by Chan-wook Park. Wasikowska is amazing here, and so too are Nicole Kidman as her going-mad mother and Matthew Goode as her uncle and mentor. If you think your family is messed up, Stoker shows that you ain't seen nothing yet.

12.) Fruitvale Station

- Talk about a stunner of a debut film - Fruitvale Station instantly puts writer/director Ryan Coogler on the map. This is another true-life story about a young man, Oscar Grant, who was tragically shot by Bay Area cops after a minor scuffle. Michael B. Jordan is one of the year's breakout stars - he brings multiple dimensions to Oscar, showing him at his best and at his worst. We see that Oscar was a complex character who had his flaws, but who also had so much potential that was suddenly cut short. The film avoids heavy-handed sermonizing. Instead, it simply tells this story and shows us this man's life in its final days. It leaves us - powerfully and poignantly - to draw our own conclusions about how and why this young man's life ended the way it did.

13.) Pacific Rim

- Guillermo Del Toro has had a lot of false starts in recent years. At one point, he was set to direct The Hobbit, but that fell through. Later, he was set to tackle his dream project - an adaptation of HP Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness ... but that too was a nonstarter. Fans were clamoring for Del Toro to do something, anything. Why? Because the man has an imagination like no other. He has a passionate love for cinema - for sci-fi and horror and fantasy, and a professorial knowledge of movies and literature and art. When Del Toro is on his game, his movies are cinematic love letters, filled with awe-inspiring visuals and geek-out moments aplenty. And man, Pacific Rim is just Guillermo Del Toro unleashed: a kick-ass ode to kaiju and mechs and monster movies and all things awesome. This is a world that I want to go back to, to see more of. This was the year's best blockbuster - brilliantly larger-than-life in all manner of speaking.

14.) Short Term 12

- On the opposite end of the spectrum is Short Term 12, an intensely personal and small-scale story that nevertheless feels important and vital and about themes that are big and universal. This is the story of twenty-somethings who work in a short-term care home for troubled kids. The workers are often former residents - in some cases, still trying to get over their own lingering psychological traumas. But here they are - the gatekeepers, the best and possibly last hope that these kids have to turn a corner. Brie Larson is absolutely phenomenal in the lead role here. As one of the counselors at the clinic, we see her struggle to help these kids, even as their issues hit all too close to home. It's an incredible performance - raw and vulnerable and real.

15.) Blue Jasmine

-There were a number of great films this year about American greed, but Woody Allen's latest was one of the best. Additionally, this is one of the best Allen films in years - a funny, witty, sharply-pointed satire about one upper-crust, upper-class woman's fall from grace. Cate Blanchett is a tour de force in the lead role, playing a woman who married her way into money - carefully plotting her upward ascent into the 1% - only to see it all come crashing down. Allen's film is a surprisingly timely social critique, and it's great to have Allen back in the here and now, applying his still-sharp observational wit and satirical eye to the modern day. Filled with great performances (who would have ever thought: Andrew Dice Clay is fantastic, a total scene-stealer), Blue Jasmine is something special.


16.) Mud

- Another formidable performance from Matthew McConaughey, and another mesmerizing movie from director Jeff Nichols. Mud is a twisty, pulpy, neo-Mark Twain-esque yarn about two boys who discover a small river island, only to learn that an on-the-run fugitive calls it his home. Mud is a great coming-of-age story that mixes adventure, action, and hard lessons about life and love with thick southern-gothic atmosphere.

17.) You're Next

- It's hard to talk about why, exactly, You're Next is so badass without giving too much away. But just know that the movie's marketing, which made it look like a run-of-the-mill home invasion horror film, was very, very misleading. And that's a good thing, as this movie turns itself on its head and completely subverts expectation at every turn. This is one of the most fun, funniest, craziest, and most unpredictable horror movies I've ever seen. Get a group of friends together to watch this and prepare to have a blast.

18.) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

- Peter Jackson ups the ante from the first Hobbit film, delivering a sequel that feels more sure, more confident, and better-paced - with some absolutely phenomenal set-piece action scenes and striking visuals that are among the best we've yet seen in any of the Lord of the Rings films. More importantly, Jackson's love for Middle Earth is on full display - he once again paints a gorgeous picture of this fantasy universe, bringing all of its creatures and landscapes to stunning life. Even more importantly, Jackson again captures the heart and soul of this story, mixing epic moments with more personal tragedy and triumph. Bilbo and company again inspire and entertain.

19.) Dallas Buyers Club

- Yes, this was the year of Matthew McConaughey. And while I'm getting sick of typing his name, I'm now excited every time I see his name pop up in association with a new film. This guy has just taken his acting to another level over the last few years, and his work in Dallas Buyers Club is him at his absolute best. As HIV-suffering Ron Woodruff, McConaughey is doing Daniel Day Lewis-level stuff - physically transforming to the point where it's almost uncomfortable to watch him on screen, and just fully inhabiting this character. Jared Leto is also amazing here as an outwardly flamboyant, inwardly hurting drag queen. Moreover, this is a powerful film about the AIDS epidemic of the 80's and the kind of political and financial roadblocks that prevented people from getting the care they needed.

20.) American Hustle

- An electric, energetic film from director David O. Russell, American Hustle is an over-the-top, go-big-or-go-home look at 70's-era excess. It's a funny and mesmerizing look at con-men and con-women and the people who love them. The cast here is so good that they could make basically anything great: Christian Bale kills it, Amy Adams is incendiary, Bradley Cooper brings his A-game, Jeremy Renner is fantastic, and Jennifer Lawrence is a scene-stealer. But this cast, matched with Russel's knack for staging escalating scenes of manic energy, help produce one of the year's most entertaining films.

21.) In A World

- As a fan of the TV comedy Children's Hospital, I've come to appreciate the sizable comedic acting talent of Lake Bell in recent years. But her big-screen debut as a writer/director - a smart and silly tale about a woman trying to be the next iconic movie-trailer voiceover narrator - made me realize that she just might be a great new voice in comedy. This film is all Bell, and it's funny as hell. And not just that, but it's a smart, pointed commentary on gender equality and gender politics. Think that sounds preachy? Not to worry: you'll be way too busy laughing to care.

22.) The Way Way Back

- A funny, heartfelt coming-of-age comedy, The Way Way Back is a nostalgia-tinged look at an angsty teen who learns to come out of his shell one fateful summer. Three things I'll say here: a.) Sam Rockwell is fantastic here, as the man-child owner of a water park who takes said teen under his wing. b.) Toni Colette is also amazing as the teen's stressed-out, trying-to-cope mom. c.) If this is the kind of movie that the writer/director team of Jim Rash and Nate Faxon are capable of producing, then all I can say is "more, please."

23.) Man of Steel

- At the end of the day, Man of Steel gave me what I wanted from a Superman movie. It got my adrenaline pumping with its epic action scenes, stretched my imagination with its ultra-cool look at Krypton and Superman's sci-fi origins, and it gave me chills with its inspiring story of Superman's public introduction to the people of earth. Henry Cavill proved to be a more-than-worthy Man of Steel, and Amy Adams was the best big-screen Lois Lane yet - finally, a whip-smart, take-charge Lois who seemed to exist independently of just being Superman's gal-pal. Sure, there is room for improvement in the coming mega-sequel, but I personally am thankful to Zack Snyder for giving us the sort of epic, action-packed big-screen Superman movie that, until now, I'd yet to see in my lifetime.

24.) Rush

- Ron Howard's best film in years, Rush is a fantastic sports movie, and the riveting, true-life story of a rivalry that isn't quite as simplistic or one-dimensional as you might suspect. Chris Hemsworth does his best-ever work as rockstar 70's-era Formula One racer James Hunt. But it's Daniel Bruhl - as rival racer Niki Lauda - who steals the show. Bruhl's turn as Lauda is one for the record books - making the cold, calculating Lauda surprisingly sympathetic. The genius of the film is how it turns Lauda - presumably the villain of the story - into its ultimate hero.

25.) Zero Charisma

- This indie comedy is a must-watch for anyone who's ever felt even just a little bit nerdy. It's the story of an old-school geek who finds his carefully-calibrated man-child existence threatened, when his D&D-playing friends fall under the spell of a of hipster-cool, geek-chic dude who seems impossibly stable and social for a guy who reads comics and blogs about movies. Yep, this one hit slightly close to home, but it's a credit to the movie's spot-on humor that it works so well, and never feels pandering.


26.) All Is Lost

- A harrowing tale of survival at sea, All Is Lost features an amazing lead performance by the great Robert Redford - made all the more impressive by the fact that it's largely wordless. Redford's movie-star charisma makes us think he's got a shot to survive, but his aging body and egoless acting makes us realize that it won't be easy.

27.) Star Trek: Into Darkness

- Some couldn't stand this updated take on The Wrath of Khan, but I say give JJ Abrams his props. The guy brought Star Trek back to life, giving us another adrenaline-shot of pure pop filmmaking. Filled with some of the best set-piece action scenes this side of Spielberg, and populated with a cast of characters that we really care about, Into Darkness was, to me, one of the most riveting big popcorn movies of the summer.

28.) The Last Stand

- An ultra-badass, insanely fun neo-Western action flick from South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon, The Last Stand was a great comeback vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is a high-energy, surprisingly funny, insanely entertaining action film. 

29.) The Croods

- My favorite animated film of this year, The Croods featured spectacular animation, a fun story, great voice-acting, and lots of heart. It's yet another great film from the folks at Dreamworks, who once again this year produced a film that rivaled the competition's. The best movie about cavemen ... maybe ever?

TIE: 30.) Spring Breakers

- On the surface, this appears to be a candy-colored exploitation film. But dig deeper, and you'll find that Spring Breakers is a pitch-black comedy about misguided youth-gone-wild. On top of that, it has one of the single greatest monologues ever put on film - a hilarious extended riff from Jame's Franco's cornrowed drug dealer, Alien. "Look at all mah $%^&!" indeed. 

TIE: 30.) Kick-Ass 2

- I'm not sure why critics were so sour towards this uber-fun, uber-funny sequel, but I had an absolute blast with it. Chloe Moretz continues to work wonders as Hit-Girl, and seeing Hit-Girl hit high-school was a gleefully subversive spectacle - a superhero version of Mean Girls on acid.


The Kings of Summer
The Conjuring
Side Effects
The Spectacular Now
Warm Bodies
The Place Beyond the Pines
Lee Daniel's The Butler
Thor: The Dark World
Despicable Me 2
Monsters University
Out of the Furnace
Anchorman 2



1.) Tom Hanks - Captain Phillips
2.) Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club
3.) Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street
4.) Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave
5.) Tie: Michael B. Jordan - Fruitvale Station, Bruce Dern - Nebraska, Christian Bale - American Hustle


1.) Jared Leto -Dallas Buyers Club
2.) Daniel Bruhl - Rush
3.) Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave
4.) Will Forte - Nebraska
5.) Sam Rockwell - The Way Way Back


1.) Brie Larson - Short Term 12
2.) Scarlett Johansson - Her
3.) Cate Blanchette - Blue Jasmine
4.) Sandra Bullock - Gravity
5.) Tie: Mia Wasikowska - Stoker, Great Gerwig - Frances Ha


1.) June Squibb - Nebraska
2.) Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave
3.) Amy Adams - American Hustle
4.) Toni Colette - The Way Way Back
5.) Nicole Kidman - Stoker


1.) Alfonso Cuaron - Gravity
2.) Paul Greengrass - Captain Phillips
3.) Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave
4.) Martin Scorsese - The Wolf of Wall Street
5.) Tie: Joel and Ethan Coen - Inside Llewyn Davis, Alexander Payne - Nebraska


1.) The Wolf of Wall Street
2.) Her
3.)12 Years a Slave
4.) Inside Llewyn Davis
5.) Nebraska
6.)This is the End
7.) Frances Ha
8.) Fruitvale Station
9.) The World's End
10.) The Way Way Back

- And that's that, another one for the books - my picks for the best films of 2013. Look forward to even more great movie adventures in 2014.

THE BEST OF 2013 - The Best GAMES Of The Year


- It was a strange year for me and videogames. I was more backlogged than ever when it came to games. Sitting in my bookshelf were games like Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider, just begging to be played. And yet, due to a combination of factors, I probably played less videogames than ever before. Am I just getting old? I'm not yet married and don't yet have kids, but I'm finding it harder and harder to immerse myself in the kinds of late-night gaming sessions during which I traditionally get in the bulk of my play time. I'm not any less interested in gaming. I still love games, and I still am passionate about the industry and the artform. 

What I realized is that games are *hard.* And I'm not talking difficulty level. I'm talking about hard to fit in within increasingly compartmentalized lifestyle. Like many of my fellow pop-culture junkies out there, the only way I can fit in all of the media I'm into in my life is to very carefully budget my time. If I have 22 minutes to spare, then great, I can fit in a new episode of Parks and Recreation. If have 44 minutes to spare, then I can squeeze in an episode of Justified or The Walking Dead. On a Sunday morning, I can allow myself a half-hour to read through a couple of chapters in a book, or a few new comic books, before getting out of bed and starting my day. But games? Games don't quite fit into a neatly-planned routine. To me, they're best enjoyed when you can set aside a few hours, forget about all outside distractions, and just play at your own leisure. Unfortunately, those precious evenings when I've got all the time in the world come few and far between these days. And when they do come, I (sadly) all too often find myself asleep on the couch before I've even scratched the surface of a new game. 

What's strange is that games I loved as a kid would actually be much more amenable to an adult's busy schedule. I could breeze through a level of Mega Man or a world of Mario before dinner, and within a week I could play through a whole NES game. But today's games are giant, sprawling, seemingly never-ending affairs. I've barely got time to get through The Last of Us, let alone see every nook and cranny of Skyrim. 

To that end, I'll more and more find myself gravitating towards quick-play games like this year's WWE2K14. I can get home from a long day at work, fire up the game's "30 Years of Wrestlemania" mode, and move on to the next battle in ten or fifteen minutes. Similarly, fighting games are a great way to get a sense of accomplishment in a short burst. Especially when the games have an involving story like this year's Injustice. This year, I often popped Injustice into my PS3 instead of something like Tomb Raider, because it was easier and less intimidating to knock out a couple of quick rounds of superhero fighting than embark on Tomb Raider's giant-sized quests. 

And yet ... big, immersive, cinematic games like Tomb Raider and The Last of Us are among my favorites. When I think about the possibilities of the medium, these are the games that seem to be stretching the limits of what videogames can do. I want games to continue to present us with multidimensional characters, innovative storylines, and fully fleshed-out worlds to explore. To me, The Last of Us is the kind of game that (hopefully) represents where the medium is going, not Angry Birds.

But why can't we have the best of both worlds? I think it's time that game developers figured out how to deliver these great, involving, epic games in more manageable portions. Think about a great TV show like Breaking Bad. It's consumed in 44 minute installments, but it all adds up to a much larger whole - a long, epic storyline, but told episodically. Games right now are not designed to be consumed in digestible chunks. We're starting to see more episodic releases - like Telltale's Walking Dead game. And man, I loved The Walking Dead and named it 2012's Game of the Year. But one "episode" of that game was still a multi-hour commitment. At the movies, we deem a movie too long if it stretches past the two-hour mark. Games that go for 15, 20, 30 hours just seem extravagantly lengthy - especially now that we're not kids with whole weekends to waste away. 

More and more, I hear people talk in terms of gamers vs. non-gamers. To me, that's a little silly, and sort of sad. When I was an eight year old kid playing Super Mario Bros. on my NES, I didn't go around proclaiming myself a gamer. I just loved videogames, as did everyone else I knew. But now, the people who grew up playing games are playing less and less. Why? Because the games industry has increasingly ghettoized itself, making gaming into a hobby that can only be kept up with by the hardest of the hardcore. People who have lives and jobs and families find time to fit in movies and TV shows, but games tend to take a backseat because they are, now, more of a commitment than ever. I am case in point - I love games and have definitely not lost interest with age. But I have lost a good deal of interest in 20+ hour mega-games that require months of one's life to complete.

What's interesting is that games are, more than ever, emulating movies and TV in terms of their presentation. But they are still stuck in the 90's where there's that mentality of "more=better." I think it may date back to when CD-based games boasted of the amount of content that was packed onto the disc. I remember before then, it'd be the rare game like Final Fantasy or other JRPG's that boasted about length. Now, every game does it. 

Mark my words - when a great game on the level of a Mass Effect or Uncharted comes along that delivers compelling, immersive content in TV episode-style, half-hour or hour-long chunks, it will catch on like wildfire. 

Anyways ... I thought that 2013 was a really good, really interesting year for games. The sheer number of great games that came out for the last-gen consoles was pretty staggering, and it sort of made the shiny new systems a tough sell. After all, was there really anything this year on the PS4 or XBOX One that could compete with The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, or Grand Theft Auto V? 2014 is going to be all about the new consoles, and I think we'll start to see heavy conversion next holiday season. But for now, a lot of people (like me) are still making their way through all the games that came out for our several-year-old systems in 2013. 

Going forward, it remains to be seen if Sony or Microsoft will pull away with a clear edge in the next-gen console race. History has shown us that the tide can often turn halfway through a product lifecycle, but we'll see. Since I'm a Sony fan, I wouldn't mind seeing them gain some ground on the competition this go-round, and it seems like they're doing so, so far. Again, I think this is a good thing because it means bigger audiences for Sony-exclusive franchises like Uncharted. And man, Nintendo is starting to get to a pretty perilous place. They've finally got a well-reviewed Mario game out for the Wii U, but one game alone does not sell a system. It feels like the PS4 and XBOX One have just leapfrogged right over Nintendo in this generation, and Nintendo is really going to have to pull out something special to avoid falling into serious trouble. 

More so that ever before though, a lot of the best stuff going in gaming is happening on the fringes. Indie games, digital-only games, retro games, and more experimental games are making a lot of noise these days, and I think that will continue to be the case in 2014. Expanding on my earlier point, I think a lot of gamers are looking for something new and different beyond the big blockbuster franchises, and have had their fill of Call of Duty or Assassins Creed. The indie game movement is filling the void that's there in the retail space - where the offering feels increasingly homogenized and limited.

Perhaps the most exciting thing in 2014 will be seeing what new franchises emerge as the next-gen system sellers and must-haves. What will be the next Mass Effect, the next Uncharted, the next Bioshock? Hopefully, the next gen brings with it just as many groundbreaking new games as the last one did.


I didn't play anywhere near as many games as I'd like to have this year. And of those I did play, I often didn't get to play as much as I would have liked. Much of my gaming time in 2013 was spent still playing some of the previous year's big titles - The Walking Dead, for example.

But my Game of the Year for 2013 is an easy choice: 

1.) The Last of Us

- To me, Naughty Dog is the best development team in the business. They combine great gameplay with immersive storylines and eye-melting graphics like no one else. They've done it through three Uncharted games, and now they upped the ante even more with The Last of Us. The Last of Us was reminiscent of last year's The Walking Dead in that it made you deeply care for its characters, and the gameplay became all the more intense and involving because you were playing not just to succeed and progress, but because you wanted to do everything in your power to help the characters on their journey. This game was also just plain scary and creepy. The zombie-like "clickers" had to be some of the most pulse-quickening enemies ever in a game, and the game crafted some truly nightmarish scenarios for you to navigate - made all the more intense because you - playing as middle-aged Joel, wanted desperately to keep your teenage charge Ellie out of danger. The post-apocalyptic environments in the game were gorgeously rendered. There was so much lived-in detail here that it was almost scary. Ultimately, Naughty Dog - as with Uncharted - found a way to seamlessly merge cinematic storytelling into a compelling gameplay environment. The story unfolded with you playing it, not via static cutscenes. It's an art that most games have not yet perfected, but Naughty Dog is leading the charge. The Last of Us may have arrived late in this generation, but it quickly became one of this era's defining, definitive gaming experiences.

2.) Bioshock Infinite

- Disclaimer: as of this writing, I've still only just scratched the surface of Bioshock Infinite. But I already feel confident in declaring it as an all-time great game, on par with the original Bioshock. Like that game, this one has atmosphere to spare, dropping you into an alternate-reality city in the clouds that is both visually striking, and the setting for some fascinating, politically-charged storytelling. The guys at 2K Games have, again, knocked it out of the park. The way they make their games into true experiential journeys is truly amazing.

3.) Tomb Raider

- I was a fan of the old-model Tomb Raider games, but this series reboot really succeeded in taking the storied franchise to the next level. Borrowing heavily from Uncharted, this new iteration of Tomb Raider gave us a much more human and relatable version of Lara Croft, and a much more cinematic experience than in previous games in the series. Whereas previous games were about exploration laced with hair-pulling puzzles, this one was much more of a roller-coaster ride. I dug it. And man, it looked incredible, with some of the best graphics ever on the current-gen systems.

4.) Injustice: Gods Among Us

- This one-on-one fighting game is a fanboy's dream - pitting a who's who of DC Comics heroes and villains against each other in Mortal Kombat-esque battles (and in fact, the game was developed by MK's Neversoft). The gameplay was sharp and on-point, and the fighting fast and furious. But what made this something really special was, surprisingly, the well-written, well-acted storyline - a super-fun yarn about a Superman who turns to the dark side, leaving only a ragtag band of revel heroes between him and world-domination. 

5.) Ducktales: Remastered

- A straight-shot of nostalgia. There were better games this year, I'm sure, but none brought a goofy grin to my face like this HD remake of the old Capcom-published NES game. Nothing beats classic Capcom 2D platforming, and this game delivers it in spades. The crystal-clear cartoon graphics are a joy to behold, and the redone soundtrack and voice-acting (with the original cartoon cast!) are also fantastic. The funny thing is that playing this game was a reminder of just how hard these old platformers could be (better do pre-play finger stretches - you're going to need 'em). But in a world of overly complex games that challenge patience more than reflexes, this reissue is an awesome blast from the past - a reminder of a simpler time in gaming.

THE BEST OF 2013 - The Best COMICS Of The Year


- What began in 2012 continued into 2013. Yes, last year I dove knee-deep into the digital comics revolution, and as I predicted, the way that I've enjoyed the medium has continued to evolve. More and more, it's easy to sample less mainstream comics, and more and more, publishers like Image are monopolizing a lot of the best talent and stories in the business. In 2013, creators who once split their time between established superhero books and creator-owned comics went full-blown indie. The best writers in the biz - Rucka, Brubaker, Vaughan, Lemire, Snyder, Hickman, Fraction, and more - were all doing amazing work this year on 100% original books. Sure, guys like Snyder and Lemire and Hickman were still doing some excellent books for DC or Marvel, but it feels to me like the beating heart of the comics industry has officially shifted from the established superheroes to original characters whose stories comprise a variety of genres - sci-fi, romance, noir, horror, Western, and more. These types of books always seem to bring out the best in their creators, and it was a thrill to see new books like The Wake, Lazarus, and Trillium quickly rise to the top of my must-read list this year.

Interestingly enough though, it was the Big Two that produced some of the most interesting experiments in digital-only comics this year. In 2013, some of the best superhero stories I read were weekly, digital-only, out-of-continuity comics. If you haven't sampled Batman '66, you've got to give it a look. Written and drawn in the style of the old Adam West TV show, the comic is absolutely hilarious - reintroducing classic villains from the old show, and also intermixing some ideas from more modern Batman interpretations. Even cooler, many issues of Batman '66 take advantage of the digital format with semi-animated panels and more digital-friendly storytelling devices. The experience of reading on an iPad is just plain fun. DC scored another weekly digital hit this year with Injustice, based on the videogame of the same name. On paper, I never would have thought that a digital comic based on a game would be anything special. But I was proven wrong - writer Tom Taylor produced the best DC Comics big-event story of the year - an exciting, twist-filled yarn about a world in which a grieving Superman snaps, and decides to rule the earth with an iron fist - crushing any remaining heroes who would dare oppose him. Taylor came out of nowhere to quickly become a writer to watch. More and more, it felt like some of the best superhero stories being told were in the digital format. In addition to Injustice and Batman '66, digital-only comics like Adventures of Superman and Legends of the Dark Knight gave an assortment of top creators the chance to tell one-off Superman or Batman stories free from the constraints of DC's regular continuity. The result was some fantastic stories. Increasingly, I can see these sorts of digital-only comics becoming the norm, and becoming the best place to find great stories.

Of course, a big discussion point this year among fans was gender politics. With more and more female readers getting into comics, it stands to reason that there is now a lot more scrutiny on the industry as a whole. This isn't a new phenomena, but fans were more vocal than ever in their desire to see strong female characters, as well as to see high-profile books written and drawn by women. The major publishers are getting better at this than before. Many of this year's best books - Lazarus, Trillium, Saga, The Wake, Sex Criminals, and more - featured great, compelling, well-written female protagonists or co-leads. There is still a lot of work to be done - especially with the superhero books - but it does feel like there is starting to be much more diversity in the stories being told, and much more diversity in terms of the top-selling and most buzzed-about books, that reflects a new and more-diverse-than-ever audience. Hopefully things continue to improve to an even larger extent. But, going back to the ongoing theme of how digital comics are changing the industry, the ease by which comics can now be bought and read is going to be, I think, a huge factor in that continued diversification of material and readership. A quick glance at Comixology's current best-seller list shows books like Locke & Key and Saga selling neck-and-neck with Batman and Justice League, so as you can see, the times, they are a-changing.


1.) The Wake

- The Wake has been an awesome read month-in, month out since it kicked off earlier this year. And that's no surprise, as it comes from a comics dream team of writer Scott Snyder and artist Sean Murphy. Snyder has become one of the best and most prolific writers in the biz over the last couple of years, but The Wake might actually be my favorite thing he's done to date. It started out as an ultra-intense, ultra-mysterious sci-fi/horror adventure - a page-turning mix of The Abyss, Alien, The X-Files, and HP Lovecraft. The book, thus far, has been about a team of scientists brought down to a top-secret underwater military base, to study a new species of human-like creatures discovered in the deep. Of course, things begin to go very wrong, as the creatures are not happy about being held captive and studied. What gives the book an extra layer of intrigue though is the brief flashes we've seen to the far future - a post-apocalyptic earth submerged in water. Presumably, the events in the present will result in this strange future, but how we get from Point A to Point B is going to be a hell of a ride. Meanwhile, the art by Sean Murphy is amazing - the guy does gritty, atmospheric drawing like no one else. Act One of The Wake just wrapped up this past month, setting the stage for a new chapter that promises to take the story in a whole new direction. I can't wait.

2.) Trillium

- I was really sad to see writer/artist Jeff Lemire's last book for DC's Vertigo imprint, Sweet Tooth, end at the beginning of the year. Sweet Tooth was one of my favorite comics of the last several years, and its spectacular final issue made it ending all the more bittersweet. But hey, that loss was more than made up for by the launch, a few months later, of Lemire's latest Vertigo book, Trillium. As with Sweet Tooth, it mixes high-concept ideas with a hefty dose of humanity. Trillium is a sci-fi romance, in which two explorers - one from the early 1900's, another from the distant future, meet thanks to a strange portal that traverses time and space. With innovative storytelling and imaginative art, Trillium has already wowed me, but I feel like it's only just revving up. The next year's worth of issues should be something special.

3.) Saga

- Now in its second year, Saga continues to be the gold standard for ongoing comics. Brian K. Vaughan is the master at writing real-world characters in extraordinary settings. Even though Saga is an oftentimes mind-bending story involving intergalactic warfare, sinister robots, feuding bounty hunters, and giant monsters, the dialogue and characters are 100% of this world. Vaughan worked a similar sort of magic with his seminal Y: The Last Man, and as it goes on, Saga keeps inching closer to that high watermark of quality. It doesn't hurt that Fiona Staple's art is amazing and utterly unique in the comics world. Her streamlined, iconic images make Saga consistently one of the most eye-popping comics you'll find.

4.) Lazarus

- This new book from writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark is like Game of Thrones but in a near-future apocalyptic setting. Rucka deftly imagines a world not too far removed from our own, in which the 1% has evolved into a ruling class of five families. All others serve the families, and all others live in poverty and oppression. There's some great, intriguing world-building going on here, and it's all very-much based off of current politics. The hero of the book, however, is a young female soldier known as a Lazarus - a genetically engineered super-soldier designed to protect her "family's" interests. But what happens when this soldier begins to rebel against not just her family, but the whole system? Watching this world get uprooted is going to be a lot of fun in the coming year. Rucka is doing top-notch work on this one, and the gritty pencils of Lark are always appreciated.

5.) Fatale

- Here's another favorite from last year that kept on impressing me in 2013. Ed Brubaker's Fatale reached new film-noir heights this year, as it delved more into the backstory of its cursed protagonist Josephine - an immortal woman caught up in a dangerous conspiracy. A flashback issue taking place in the Old West was a highlight, as has been the current storyline that inserts Jo as a sort of Yoko Ono-like figure in a 90's-era grunge band. Each new chapter of Fatale reveals more about the strange circumstances of Josephine's life, while at the same time furthering the book's mysterious, Lovecraftian mythology. And no other comic is more densely atmospheric - you can practically smell the gin and cigarettes as you read each issue.

6.) Animal Man

- Jeff Lemire's take on the classic DC Comics B-lister has been one of the true highlights of the New 52 DC reboot. The book has been incredibly consistent, and had a great year in 2013. From the epic "Rotworld" saga, to a major death-in-the-family, to the gripping current story-arc involving villain Brother Blood, Lemire has delivered a great mix of Alan Moore-esque heroes and horror that keeps me eagerly awaiting each new issue. Recently, it was announced that Animal Man will be ending in 2014. It's a shame - this has been DC's best ongoing book for the last two years. But when all is said and done, Lemire will have given us one of the all-time classic superhero book runs.

7.) Injustice

- This is, easily, the most unlikely pick on this list. Like I said above, I never imagined that a weekly digital-only comic that also happened to be a videogame tie-in would be among my favorite reads of the year. But I, and a lot of others, jumped on the Injustice bandwagon when it became apparent that this was, believe it or not, the best big, epic, superhero book that DC was putting out. How did that happen? For one thing, writer Tom Taylor took what could have been a throwaway assignment and made it his own. He imbued Injustice with smart dialogue, well-drawn characters, and most of all, epic twists and cliffhangers that often paid tribute to fondly-remembered moments in DC Comics lore. While the main-line New 52 books were trying their hardest not to call back to the pre-reboot storylines, Taylor was clearly having a blast playing in the DC sandbox. I gave the book a try on a whim after enjoying the game, but quickly found myself chomping at the bit to read each new weekly installment.

8.) Batman

- Scott Snyder continues to nail it with his work on Batman. Earlier this year, he wrapped up the dark, ultra-intense Joker story "Death of the Family" in fantastic fashion. Since then, he's done a great job of making "Zero Year" - a reimagined look at Bruce Wayne's first year as Batman - into a must-read storyline. As much as it frustrates me to see origins endlessly retold, I'll give Zero Year a pass simply because it's so darn good. Snyder and artist Greg Capullo simply know how to do the big, cinematic moments to perfection. At the same time, the book has a darkness and a grittiness and intensity that calls to mind the Christopher Nolan movies. With Snyder at the helm, Batman continues to be one of the must-read books in DC's stable.

9.) The Walking Dead

- The Walking Dead hit a bit of a slump for a while, but it's been roaring back thanks to the ongoing "All Out War" story-arc - a multifaceted, unpredictable saga that sees Rick's makeshift community join with other neighboring villages to take down the tyrannical psychopath Negan. Negan is sort of a controversial villain among Walking Dead fans - in some respects, he does feel a bit like a retread of The Governor. But I give Robert Kirkman credit - Negan is his own wholly unique brand of crazy, and he's been built up to be so evil, so horrible, that man, rarely have I ever been so desperate for a villain to get his comeuppance. I'm slightly behind here, as I continue to read The Walking Dead via collected editions, but I can't wait to see how "All Out War" wraps up. Kirkman is the master of the jaw-dropping, holy-$#%& moment, so I have faith he'll deliver yet again.

10.) Batman '66

- Holy comebacks, Batman - in 2013, the 1966 Batman was back with a vengeance! Here's another one that turned out improbably good. New stories set in the universe of the old Adam West Batman TV show? I was skeptical, but curious. As it turned out, this digital weekly is one of the craziest, funniest comics I've read - it takes the old show's psychedelic campiness and cranks it up to eleven. The unlimited budget of the comics format means that the dynamic duo can have more out-there, far bigger adventures than they ever did on the small screen. And writer Jeff Parker masterfully captures the mannerisms and humor of Adam West, Burt Ward, and the rest of the old cast, amping up the ridiculousness to even greater and more hilarious heights.


11.) The Manhattan Projects

- Jonathan Hickman's insane alternate history mind-bender - in which real-life scientists like Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi work in secret on all manner of space-age government projects - continued to entertain this year.

12.) Sex Criminals

- Still only a few issues in, but Matt Fraction's oddball book - about a couple who can freeze time whenever they get busy - is one of the best new comic debuts of the year. It sounds strange, sure, but the writing is spot-on and the characters are well-drawn.

13.) All-Star Western

- The ongoing adventures of scarred Old West bounty hunter Jonah Hex took a strange turn this year, when Hex was time-warped into the present day. What could have been cheesy has actually turned out sort of awesome, as writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have used the device to satirize and explore modern society vs. that of Hex's native wild west.

14.) Time Warp

- For the last couple of years, Vertigo has been releasing a series of oversized anthology specials, packed with thematically-linked short stories from all manner of top talent. My favorite yet was this year's Time Warp special, a collection of time-travel themed stories from a bevvy of talented writers and artists. My favorite? A fun, twisty time-loop story from Lost showrunner Damon Lindeloff, in which time-travelling hero Rip Hunter must continually save his younger self from certain death, creating a never-ending paradox. Keep these anthologies coming, Vertigo.

15.) The Adventures of Superman

- Yet another digital weekly comic that makes the list. Whereas the main-line Superman titles have been a very mixed bag this year, the short story arcs in this weekly series have been by and large fantastic. These are simple, continuity-free tales that give us classic, iconic Superman stories without the baggage of whatever's going on in the main storylines. So far, that includes a wonderful riff on "Flowers For Algernon" starring Bizarro, a harrowing tale about a busy day in the life of Superman, and a fascinating "what-if" about a Superman who decides to get tough on crime by moonlighting as a Punisher-esque vigilante.


FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics
Detective Comics
Judge Dredd
The Phantom Stranger
Fables / Fairest
Swamp Thing
Justice League Dark
Green Arrow
Batman & Robin
Earth 2
Kick-Ass 3
Jupiter's Legacy


- Geoff Johns' final issue of GREEN LANTERN in May capped off a several-year run on the title that marked a modern-day renaissance for the character. While the title had had its ups and downs over the last few years, Johns delivered a memorable finale - tying up years worth of plot threads and character development into an action and emotion-packed send-off. Johns' work on GL, in its prime, was absolute must-read stuff, with story after story that was an instant classic - from the epic Sinestro Corps War to Blackest Night. Johns expanded the GL universe, introducing an entire spectrum of ring-wielders and coalescing decades of continuity into one giant, sprawling mythology. Under Johns, GL was grand space opera - the Star Wars of superhero comics.

- Similarly, I've also got to note the end of Grant Morrison's several-year long Batman saga in the pages of BATMAN, INC. Morrison first began writing ongoing Batman stories years ago, later making waves by introducing Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul, and having him become the latest to assume the name of Robin. While other Bat-books rebooted as part of the New 52, Morrison's increasingly self-contained saga continued, with things coming full-circle. Batman and his allies had to fight a global terrorist network - Leviathan - fronted by Talia, and Damian was caught in the crosshairs. And so, Morrison's story again wove back into the greater DCU, as he penned the tragic death of Damian. Robin, once again, was dead. It's hard to know how to rate this final run on Batman, Inc., because it was so weird, so insular, and so uniquely Morrison. But the legendary writer deserves props for writing a globe-trotting, psychedelic Batman saga in an age where grim n' gritty Batman was par for the course.

- I continue to follow INVINCIBLE in trade-paperback format, and still count myself as a huge fan of Robert Kirkman's modern spin on classic superhero fiction. I'm behind enough on the current storylines that I didn't feel I should include this one in my Best-of-the-Year list. Suffice it to say, it remains one of my favorite reads.

- Speaking of which, LOCKE & KEY will undoubtedly go down as one of the best comic book series of this decade. Earlier this year, I read through Volume 5 of the series, and was completely blown away by the story that author Joe Hill had built towards. I've yet to read the series' final issues that came out recently, but I've read the glowing reviews and have seen them atop many year-end lists. I'll be picking up the sixth and final collected volume when it's released in February, but I had to give this book a shout-out now. It really has been the best comic book going for the last few years, and I hope that Hill has something new up his sleeve in the not-too-distant future, because I and many others will surely be going through Locke & Key withdrawal.


1.) Scott Snyder (Batman, The Wake)
2.) Jeff Lemire (Trillium, Animal Man, Green Arrow)
3.) Brian K. Vaughan (Saga)
4.) Ed Bruabaker (Fatale)
5.) Greg Rucka (Lazarus)
6.) Tom Taylor (Injustice, Earth 2)
7.) Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead, Invincible)
8.) Jeff Parker (Batman '66)
9.) Jonathan Hickman (The Manhattan Projects, Infinity)
10.) Matt Fraction (Sex Criminals)


1.) Sean Murphy (The Wake)
2.) Fiona Staples (Saga)
3.) Jeff Lemire (Trillium)
4.) Jason Fabok (Detective Comics)
5.) Greg Capullo (Batman)
6.) Patrick Gleason (Batman & Robin)
7.) Sean Phillips (Fatale)
8.) Nick Pitarra (Manhattan Projects)
9.) Ivan Reiss (Aquaman, Justice League)
10.) Michael Lark (Lazarus)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

THE BEST OF 2013 - The Best ROCK Of The Year


- Last year at this time I declared that rock n' roll was alive and kicking. I felt musically energized by great new music from old favorites and up-and-comers. This year, I'm not so sure. It's a sad state of affairs when LA's world-famous KROQ's entire playlist consists of Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers, and Lorde. And it's even sadder when literally the only place to hear actual rock n' roll on the radio is on your local classic rock station. It's a strange musical landscape when you throw the odd mainstream metal act like Avenged Sevenfold into the mix. Rock radio is now so toned-down for the hipster crowd that I can only imagine what they must think when something with an actual pulse plays over the airwaves. But the heavy stuff is now grappling for air-time against the elevator music of tomorrow. Maybe it was just an off year for new rock music. Maybe so many big rock albums came out last year that there was nothing left for this year. Maybe part of this is just me being decidedly underwhelmed by the new rock music we did get, from acts like Pearl Jam - whose new album made me long for their 90's-era prime, or Arcade Fire - whose latest, in my mind, failed to live up to the promise of their last couple of albums. Maybe the good stuff is out there, and I just haven't found it. Last year, I made a few great musical discoveries, like Foxy Shazam and Dead Sara. This year, not so much. Oddly enough, pop music is where a lot of the best rock-in-disguise can now be found, from the guitar-lick heavy samples on Eminem's Beastie Boys-style "Berzerk" to the Joan Jett-esque, arena style pop-punk of Avril Lavigne's "Rock n' Roll." Meanwhile, folk-pop continues to dominate the rock-radio scene, with no end in sight. It's not that I hate it, but there's too much of it, and it's not what I want rock music to be. I want something that is rebellious, dangerous, and yes, fun. Not music for depressed hobos. There's a distance and a coldness and a lack of authenticity to a lot of the folk stuff that I don't relate to. Where's the fire? I want to give Mumford and Sons a shot of adrenaline.

Enough negativity though. The group that ruled 2013 in my view were longtime favorites of mine, Daft Punk. "Get Lucky" felt like the perfect pop-song, a throwback to the days when kings-of-pop like Michael Jackson regularly came out with new music that was both innovative and universally-appealing. It's funny, because before Random Access Memories came out, I'd been listening to a lot of Daft Punk's older stuff. So I felt disappointed when I realized just how much of a departure this new album was for the group. But the more I listened, and the more I heard the songs in the context of the album, the more I loved it. Daft Punk are true storytellers, and Random Access Memories tells a quintessentially Daft Punk-ian sci-fi love story. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to call it rock n' roll. To me, Daft Punk is rock through and through. Not just because of the future-sound guitar licks that pop up on many of their songs, but because they embrace the showmanship, the larger-than-lifeness, the spirit of rock in my eyes. They remain thoroughly iconoclastic even with mainstream success.

2013 also saw some great new music from rock legends. Few thought we'd ever see a new Ozzy Osbourne-fronted Black Sabbath album, but we got one this year - and it rocks. The tunes are vintage Sabbath - sludgy, dark, dreary, driving rock. Meanwhile, Joan Jett released a great new album that I thought was very underappreciated. Top to bottom, the songs on it are excellent - lots of up-tempo, cleverly-written rockers that are a nice reminder of why Jett is true rock n' roll royalty. And hey, I haven't made a habit of paying attention to new Paul McCartney music for as long as I've been alive, but Sir Paul made me sit up and take notice with "New." This seems like McCartney's freshest, most lively, most rocking album in many years, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed a number of its songs. Oh, and David Bowie came out with his first new album in years. Not my cup of tea, by and large, but there was something undeniably awesome about having Ziggy Stardust back in the pop-cultural conversation.

I'll also give a shout-out to the Dropkick Murphys. The boys from Boston came out with a great, rocking new album this year that features some of their catchiest, most memorable songs yet. The Murphys were one of the few shining lights this year in terms of modern-rock bands who brought their A-game with great new material.

It was a relatively quiet year for me in terms of concert-going. The one big rock show I saw was in celebration of my brother's birthday. We saw the legendary Pat Benatar (with Cheap Trick) at the equally legendary Greek Theater, and it was an awesome show. I also have fond memories of seeing classic rock cover band The Wayward Sons this September as part of my birthday celebration. Those guys kicked ass, and really brought the house down. It was a nice rock n' roll reminder to stay young at heart even as I get older. My hope for 2014 is to see more shows on par with some of the epic concerts I caught in 2012. But, I did meet one of my musical idols in 2013, as I snagged a photo with none other than the iconic "Weird" Al Yankovic. It was a pleasure to meet the music and comedy legend at Stan Lee's Comikaze expo. I told him that, along with The Simpsons, he was one of my biggest comedy influences growing up. Al was humble and appreciative - truly a man deserving of "American Hero" status.

So yeah, rock n' roll did not have a great year in 2013, but there was great rock and rockin' pop music to be heard, if you could find it. Who knows what will happen in the year to come, but here's hoping that we get less fiddles and more electric guitars in popular music, less music that puts you to sleep, and more music that kicks ass. To paraphrase the great Lou Reed, who sadly passed away this year, here's to rock once again taking a walk on the wild side in 2014.


1.) Daft Punk featuring Pharell Williams - "Get Lucky" / "Lose Yourself to Dance"

-  Get Lucky got most of the accolades, but to me it and Lose Yourself to Dance were the one-two punch of cyber-pop, robot-rock bliss on Random Access Memories. As good as both songs are individually, they're even better when listened to in the larger context of the album - where they serve as infectiously upbeat counterpoints to some of the album's more melancholy tunes. If even robots can learn to lose themselves to dance and stay up all night to get lucky, then so, I suppose, can we.

2.) Joan Jett - "Any Weather" / "Fragile"

- Any Weather is just a great rock anthem, and it's one of several great new songs from Joan Jett's latest album release. Fragile is the other one that really stuck out to me from the album - it's rock n' roll personified: taking painful subject matter and turning it around into a foot-stomping barn-burner that channels sadness into rebellious anger. On the to-do list for 2014: finally see Joan Jett live in concert.

3.) Eminem - "Berzerk"

- This great track from Eminem's new album calls to mind vintage Beastie Boys-style rock/rap grooves. Sampling 80's rock anthem "The Stroke," the song marks a hard-hitting return to form for Eminem after a couple of lesser albums.

4.) Paramore - "Still Into You"

- Look, a big part of me is sad that the latest evolution of Paramore ditched the sort of hard-driving, aggressive rock that originally put them on the map. At the same time, if Haley William's newest iteration of the band is able to channel old-school No Doubt as well as they do here, well, I guess that their new pop-punk sound isn't all bad. Still Into You is just a completely catchy, fun, bouncy song.

5.) Dropkick Murphys - "The Boys Are Back" / "End of the Night"

- The Murphys hit back hard with their latest album, and these are two of the standout songs. The Boys Are Back is just a great, simple, shout-it-out-loud, get-you-pumped-up rocker that sort of encapsulates the Dropkick Murphys in miniature. End of the Night is just a great barroom singalong song - you can picture it drunkenly sung with pitchers held high. A great duo. Glad the Dropkick Murphys are still kicking ass and going strong.

6.) Black Sabbath - "God is Dead?" / "Loner"

- Who could say if a new Ozzy Osbourne-fronted Black Sabbath album would turn out to be any good? Not only was it good, but it was decidedly heavy, showing that these geezers (and Geezer) could still produce the kind of black-mass metal that made Black Sabbath into legends. God is Dead? and Loner are the two standout tracks - both are bleak, grinding journeys into the abyss. No emo here, this is straight-up darkness, courtesy of the Prince of Darkness himself.

7.) Avenged Sevenfold - "Hail to the King"

- Speaking of heavy, here was 2013's token mainstream metal hit. But it's a good one - a fist-pumping battle-cry of a song that mixes metal and melody to great effect. This was the best counter-programming to the folk fluff dominating modern rock radio this year.

8.) Paul McCartney - "New"

- It seemed unlikely that an aged Sir Paul could provide such a great, utopian anthem at this stage of his career, but here it is: a Beatles-y song that's singable and hummable and just downright pleasant. It's a return to Beatles-era optimism at a time when a little positivity is sorely, desperately needed. As long as McCartney's around, then hey, he's still our leader should we need someone to guide us into a new age.

9.) Grouplove - "Ways to Go"

- Channeling late-90's Savage Garden, Grouplove is one of the few acts in the new wave of hipster rock that I actively enjoy. Mainly because there's a bouncy energy to their music and a cleverness to the lyrics that grabs me. This is a cool tune that made me smile whenever it came on the radio.

10.) Avril Lavigne - "Rock N Roll"

- Yes, seriously. Over the years, Avril has showed her rocker side with guitar-heavy songs like "He Wasn't," classic rock cover performances, and, on her latest album, she's even got a collaboration with Marilyn Manson. But I couldn't help but love Rock N Roll - it's a flat-out fun song that channels Joan Jett and 80's hair metal, and even has a killer, Slash-esque guitar solo. Bonus: the music video is one of the weirdest, craziest rock videos seen in many moons. Maybe Avril is a guilty pleasure, but hey, if it rocks, it rocks.


11. Queens of the Stone Age - "I Sat By the Ocean"
12. Fall Out Boy - "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark"
13. David Bowie - "The Stars Are Out Tonight"
14. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Area 52"
15. Orianthi (featuring Steven Tyler) - "Sex E Bizarre"


1. Eminem (featuring Rihanna) - "The Monster"
2. Lady Gaga - "Gypsy"
3. Idina Menzel / Frozen (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - "Let It Go"
4. (featuring Britney Spears) - "Scream & Shout"
5. Lorde - "Royals"

Friday, December 27, 2013

THE BEST OF 2013 - The Best TV Of The Year

THE BEST OF 2013 - The Best TV Shows of The Year

- What a year for television. There is, as usual over the last few years, a lot to talk about in terms of how the way series are being scheduled, programmed, and watched is changing. This was the year that Netflix became a legitimate TV content programmer, and that Amazon jumped into the fray as well. This was the year that binge-watching went mainstream, and did so in a way that actually helped raise the on-air ratings for current shows, as people caught up on past seasons via streaming and download services. This was the year that cable TV continued to dominate, as The Walking Dead became the most-watched scripted show on all of television, and shows like HBO's Game of Thrones dominated the pop-cultural conversation.

But all that being said, this was, I think, the year of Breaking Bad. Changes in consumption habits are one thing, but ultimately, what's even more interesting is when a medium reaches a new creative peak. And that happened this year: BREAKING BAD ended in stunning fashion, and in doing so, set a new bar for TV drama. It feels weird to call a show the greatest-anything of all-time when it only just ended -- don't we need the passage of time to declare such things? -- but with Breaking Bad, it seems like a fair call to make. Months after the astounding final season concluded, I'm still going through withdrawal, still wondering what became of characters like Jesse Pinkman and Walter Jr. after the final credits rolled.

2013 was also the end for some other all-time great shows. One regret I had earlier this year was not finding time to write a lengthy piece about the end of 30 ROCK. 30 Rock somehow became underrated as time went on - perhaps the disconnect between the devotion of critics and hardcore fans, vs. the low on-air ratings, drove some people to dismiss the show as high-brow elitist comedy. Whatever. 30 Rock was TV's best sitcom since they heyday of The Simpsons. It was endlessly quotable, brilliantly written and acted, and mixed random humor with pointed social commentary better than any other comedy in the last decade. I already miss this show greatly. This was the comedy that would have me jotting down quotes to share on social media, that would have me chatting with friends at work about an episode's funniest moments, that would have me pausing and rewinding my DVR to catch jokes I'd missed because I was laughing too hard from something that had happened earlier. 30 Rock had occasional ups and downs over the years, but it was far more consistently great than people give it credit for, and its final season was flat-out brilliant. What's more, each of the final batch of episodes that aired back in January were among the series' best. The series finale was a classic - everything you could have hoped for from this show.

2013 also marked the end of THE OFFICE. The show was in sort of a weird place ever since Steve Carrel left the cast a few years back, but I do think that the show rebounded a bit for its last couple of episodes, showing signs of what made it, in its early years, one of the best comedies on television. In particular, the series finale was a really well-done send-off. Even though the show had long since lost its spot as one of the elite comedies on the air, that finale was a nice reminder of how great the show had been and could be.

For a number of reasons - personal, professional, and otherwise - the end of The Office and 30 Rock really did feel like the end of an era for TV comedy and for NBC.

Another all-time great comedy that ended in 2013 was FUTURAMA. This is a weird one, because we all thought the show was finished years ago when FOX cancelled it. But it got picked up by Comedy Central, and we've been treated to new episodes of the show for the last few years. The quality didn't always match the level of greatness that the show displayed during its original run. But every so often, there'd be an episode like "The Late Philip J. Fry" that was an all-time classic, and a reminder to be thankful that this show was still churning out new episodes. The final season was more hit-or-miss than usual, but the show gave us one last all-timer with its jaw-droppingly amazing finale. The series-ender was an encapsulation of all that made Futurama great - hilarity, imagination, cleverness, fantastic characters, and the uncanny ability to produce episodes that were so full of heart that they made you misty-eyed. How could an animated comedy about robots and lobster-aliens make me more than a little verklempt? It shouldn't, but it did. The finale was a perfect ending for one of my favorite-ever TV shows. And by the way, one of the truly awesome experiences I had at this year's Comic-Con was the Futurama panel, in which I got to see the show's uber-talented voice cast table-read scenes from the series finale, and artists (including Matt Groening himself) live-draw characters from the show. It was a privilege to experience the ongoing adventures of Fry, Leela, Bender, Zoidberg, and the rest of the crew over the years, and I can only express thanks to the creative people behind the show for giving us so many memorable moments and episodes.

Another finale that I've got to talk about: FRINGE. The show aired its final batch of episodes in January, and this was another one that went out with a bang. The show's final season - set in an apocalyptic future - was a strange and bold leap for the show to take, and at times it did seem like too much of a departure from what made the series work so well originally. That said, the two-part finale was a rip-roaring adventure - a time and universe-spanning epic that, while containing a few head-scratching moments, felt like a fantastic farewell to Olivia Dunham, Peter Bishop, and Walter Bishop. Fringe will forever go down as an underrated cult classic. It never got the attention or awards it deserved, and the fact that the great John Noble never even got a single Emmy nomination is a travesty, given that week in and week out, he was doing the best acting on TV of anyone not named Bryan Cranston. Fringe will be talked about and discussed and rediscovered for many years to come, and it will go down, I think, as one of the great sci-fi shows alongside stalwarts like The X-Files and Lost (and Fringe's ending was better than both). But what I already miss about Fringe is that it was one of the rare sci-fi shows on TV that actually made me think about science. It felt mind-expanding. While I enjoy a good light and fluffy fantasy show on occasion (Sleepy Hollow, anyone?), I've had a serious post-Fringe void of harder sci-fi storytelling on TV. Still waiting to see what new show will rise to the occasion and take the ball from Fringe.

One final finale I've got to talk about, and that's EASTBOUND & DOWN. Here's another show that had a cult following, but that never really got the proper respect it deserved from most critics. I sort of get it, because Eastbound & Down is pitch-black comedy - it's funny as hell, but also deeply disturbing and boundary-pushing at times. Kenny Powers is not a good person, and the show never pretended that he was. For that reason, the final season of Eastbound made for an interesting companion piece to the final season of Breaking Bad. In its own way, Eastbound was just as epic and dark - with Kenny falling into an ever-expanding black hole of depravity as he once again attempts to reclaim his treasured modicum of fame and fortune. Despite its dark undertones, however, the fact is that no show, maybe ever, has made me laugh harder than Eastbound & Down. Through Kenny, his grotesque sidekick Stevie, and the rest of its oddball cast, the show constantly pushed boundaries, thumbed its nose at good taste, and was one of the last shows on the air that truly shocked me and left my jaw on the floor on a consistent basis. There was always a temptation to just make Kenny awesome - a hero for us to root for. But what made this show great was that yeah, sure, Kenny was sort of awesome in his own ridiculous way - but ultimately, the joke was always on him. Take note, all other shows that have no self-awareness about their own main characters' likability factor: Eastbound & Down never tried to sell us on the idea that Kenny Powers was a great man (far from it). But because the show was so funny, so layered, and so completely unafraid to go where no other comedy dared go, it is, indeed, one of the all-time greats.

Those were some of the shows that ended in 2013, but not to worry, amigos: the future looks bright. In a matter of week we've got the return of  the reliably awesome JUSTIFIED, and the best new show of 2013, THE AMERICANS. There's so much out there now, it's harder than ever to keep up - but the good thing is that there is a lot of quality stuff being made. The Netflix's of the world see the effect that buzzworthy shows like Breaking Bad have on their platform's usage, and so it's now very much in their interest to create similarly buzzworthy shows of their own, that are drivers to their platform. See: ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK. I'll admit that I've yet to check out that show, but there's no denying that it made a huge impact on the pop-cultural landscape this year. It's a brave new world, people.

So here we go, my top TV shows of 2013. As always, remember: I can't and don't watch everything, so forgive me if I leave out one of your favorites (unless one of your favorites is lame/bad/boring/unworthy, in which case ... not sorry!).



- Hail to the king of kings. Breaking Bad went out in grand fashion in 2013, and anyone who doesn't just acknowledge that it was not just the best TV of the year, but of any year, needs to get their head checked. Breaking Bad was a triumph of storytelling on TV. So often, TV plotlines are derailed by network interference, budget, time, and the lingering uncertainty of how long, exactly, a show will last. But here, for one of the first times ever on American TV, a story was told exactly as it was meant to be told. And so, finally, here was a TV show that felt as seamless, as confident, as expertly plotted as any great film or novel. Vince Gilligan and the creative team deserve all the credit in the world, as do Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and the rest of the best-in-the-biz cast. Cranston's work as Walter White was the best-ever acting I've seen on TV - maybe anywhere. Breaking Bad, like I said, set a new bar in 2013.


- After an uneven third season that was meant to be the show's last, Eastbound unexpectedly returned for one more swing. And thank god it did. The show course-corrected itself, delivering its best season since the first, once again taking wannabe bad-boy Kenny Powers and his delusions of grandeur on an epic journey into the heart of darkness. This season of Eastbound was absolutely, drop-dead hilarious - the funniest thing on TV in 2013. If you've yet to dive into Eastbound & Down, do so immediately. As long as you're not too shocked and easily offended. Because be warned: this show boldly went to places that no other comedy had gone before. While it may be gone, it won't be forgotten: long live Kenny Powers.

3. 30 ROCK

- 30 Rock only aired a handful of episodes in 2013, but here's the thing, nerdz: each of them was a stone-cold classic. 30 Rock deserves to be this high on the list because it was just that good - and Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, Tracy Morgan, and the rest of the fantastic ensemble cast did some of their best work in those final episodes. 30 Rock did something that few of the great comedies have ever managed to do - it went out at the top of its game.


- This year saw the passing of the great writer Elmore Leonard, whose stories serve as the basis for Justified. It's to Leonard's credit that so much of this show - plotlines, dialogue - are lifted straight from the author's novels. Nobody wrote hard-boiled pulp fiction like Leonard, and no show does hard-boiled pulp fiction like Justified. The show's fourth season created yet another sprawling new-Western yarn, that once again pitted Raylan Givens against his sometimes-friend, most-of-the-time nemesis Boyd Crowder. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins really are the perfect yin and yang. As long as these two are involved, you know that Justified will continue to be the most badass show on TV.


- This show really wowed me in 2013. It took a few episodes to really get going, but soon enough, business picked up bigtime. This cold war-set series mixes the moral gray areas of a Breaking Bad with spy thriller action, and one of the most volatile husband-and-wife relationships ever seen on TV. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are phenomenal on the show as a pair of Soviet spies posing as ordinary US citizens, and Noah Emmerich is similarly fantastic as the dogged agent pursuing them (though unaware, so far, that the normal-seeming couple next door are, in fact, who he's after). Gripping and full of surprising twists, The Americans became an absolute must-watch for me in 2013, and I can't wait for Season 2.


- In a year full of great TV, no single scripted event was more shocking or talked-about than Game of Thrones' already-infamous "red wedding." Sure, fans of the books may have known it was coming, but for the rest of us - holy $#%&. But weddings-gone-wrong aside, this was just a great season for Game of Thrones - a show with so many great actors and characters that it's hard to pinpoint just a few standouts. But I'll try. This was the season that Emilia Clarke's Daenerys became really, really badass - a true mother of dragons. This was the season that Margaery Tyrell and her scheming family came into the picture, and added a new level of intrigue to the ongoing saga. This was the season that "you know nothing, John Snow" entered the popular lexicon, as Snow made a home for himself beyond the Wall. Great, epic stuff. 


- Children's Hospital continued to be awesome in 2013, with some of the show's craziest and most ambitious episodes to date. I saw the season premiere over the summer at Comic-Con, and it absolutely killed, leaving the crowd in stitches. This show has still got one of the flat-out funniest casts of anything on TV - Ken Marino, Rob Huebel, Rob Cordry, Lake Bell, Malin Ackermann, Erin Hayes, David Wain, Henry Winkler, Meagan Mullaly, guest appearances from Nick Offermann, and the list goes on ... I hope this show just keeps going and going.


-  Boardwalk is one of those shows that sometimes takes a while to build up steam. Sometimes the pace feels a little slow, and the many divergent plotlines a bit all over the place. But when everything comes together, when Boardwalk really nails it, there are few shows better. I was reminded of this while watching the incredible Season 4 finale. I'd been feeling a bit down on S4 as compared to the superb S3 ... but that finale, man, that was Boardwalk at the top of its game. A key character died in a tragic, unsettling, and memorable fashion. The rift between the Thompson brothers grew bigger yet again. And poor Gillian seems to be in the worse shape she's been in since the show began. So many amazing actors on the show - S4 benefited from a spotlight on Michael K. William's ultra-intense Chalky White, and the introduction of Jeffrey Wright, playing Chalky's enigmatic new rival. 


- What's this show doing on here? In past years, I dismissed American Horror Story as all-style, no-substance shock TV. But Season 3, Coven, has me absolutely hooked. This season's yearly reboot is just clicking on all levels. The show is still wildly over-the-top and crazy, but this year, it feels like there's an actual narrative driving all of the insanity. It feels like a show I can sink my teeth into, rather than just watch to see what crazy $#%# will happen this week. But man, Coven has become an absolute playground for Oscar-caliber actresses to go at it: Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Gabourey Sidibe, Sarah Paulson, and more are making this season ridiculously fun and entertaining. 'Tis the season of the witch, and I couldn't be happier. If you bailed on the show previously, it's time for a second look.


-  All hail one of the last great network comedies left standing. With 30 Rock and The Office finito, and Community suffering through a Dan Harmon-less season, Parks and Rec assumed the mantle of king-of-comedy at NBC. And Leslie Knope and the rest of the citizenry of Pawnee delivered yet again, with numerous fantastic episodes and more great moments for some of comedy's best characters. With the hsow bouncing around the schedule, and Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe set to leave the cast shortly into 2014, it felt like we had to savor each new episode this year. And savor we did, Ron Swanson-eating-a-raw-steak style.

The Next Best:


- One of the year's best new shows, this Showtime drama features incredible performances from leads Michael Shannon and Lizzy Caplan. Come for the sizzle, but stay for the steak - namely, an insightful and thought-provoking look at the sexual and social revolutions of mid-century America. 


- New Girl was on top of the comedy heap earlier this year, but I'm docking it a few points for an only so-so season since September. Still, New Girl was one of the funniest, most laugh-out-loud comedies on TV this year, and the ensemble cast is second to none. 


-  I spoke about Fringe at length up top - only a few episodes aired in 2013, but the episodes that we got provided an epic finish to one of the best sci-fi series of the last ten years. Emmys for everybody, said I. If only people listened. 


-  This new comedy has been a great surprise so far. I'm loving the mix of wacky humor and heartwarming storylines, many of which feel lifted from tales of the Baram household circa twenty-odd years ago.


- Go, now, and binge-watch Season 1 of Bates Motel. It gets good, really good, and the high quality of the last few episodes in the season gives me high expectations for Season 2. Vera Farmiga owned it on this show as Norma Bates - a woman both comforting and creepy, heroic and deranged.


- Futurama deserves to be on here for its series finale alone - a masterful close-out to one of the best-ever animated comedies. Futurama will be quoted, re-watched, and made into memes for years and years - possibly up to and beyond the year 3,000 when it will be directly ingested via neural implant. So I'm glad that the show got to give us a couple more classics before all was said and done.


- This year, Key & Peele became one of my most anticipated weekly shows. The ambition of the sketches is high - you could get anything from a viral video-ready music video parody to a pointed political satire. But what's consistent are how high-quality each sketch is, impeccably shot and directed, impeccably acted by Key and Peele. These guys have just been killing it of late.


- I'm a huge fan of what I'll call the Ricky Gervais school of comedy. The original UK version of The Office is one of my all-time favorites, and now, Gervais' partner-in-crime, Stephen Merchant, has an ultra-awkward, ultra-funny comedy to call his own. Hello Ladies grew on me as it went on, and ultimately I'd say it had a great first season. This is cringe-worthy comedy on par with The Office and Extras, but Merchant does this stuff so well - he finds the humor and heart in all the awkwardness to make this show something special.


- Speaking of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, I've been a huge, huge fan of their brainchild An Idiot Abroad. I'd probably rank this higher, except there were only three episodes of the show's third season, and man, I wanted more! In S3, reluctant adventurer Karl Pilkington explores various remote destinations, accompanied by Gervais' pal Warwick Davis (of Willow and Harry Potter fame). Davis and Pilkington make an amazing odd-couple, and the two share some amazing, hilarious moments. Please lord, let there be more Idiot Abroad. This show is too great to end now.


- I marathoned through this one on DVD at the recommendation of friends, and I dug it. What makes the show special is the phenomenal work of actress Tatiana Maslaney, who plays several highly distinct characters - all clones. I'm hoping that S2 ups the ante in terms of ongoing plot and overarching mythology, but S1 was a fine start. And Maslaney has crafted not just one, but several, of the most kickass female characters on TV today. For that, she's got to be commended.


- Workaholics is a random, goofy comedy series that has a DIY feel. It's clear that its three leads love hanging out and doing this show and putting their unique brand of stoner-bro humor out there into the world. In other hands, it might be grating. But these guys are funny - really funny - and the sharp writing and imaginative plotlines make this series about hapless slackers a must-watch.


- I saw the Sleepy Hollow pilot at Comic-Con this past summer. I went in skeptical, but came away very impressed. This was clearly a show that fully embraced its over-the-topness, and it had an earnest, geeky sensibility that was incredibly endearing. Credit star Tom Mison for making it work. As Ichabod Crane, he gives gravitas and humor to a show that you can't help but root for. I'm still waiting for the show to have its first truly great episode, but there's enough good raw material here that I'm optimistic we'll get it soon.


- As a huge fan of Marc Maron's WTF podcast, I was curious to see how the comedian's world-weary humor would translate to a Louie-esque TV comedy. Things started out a little rough, but by the end of S1, the show had produced some truly winning, highly funny episodes (my favorite: a hilarious teaming of Maron with Danny Trejo as an ex-con). Can't wait to see more.


- Season 3 of Portlandia started off on a high note, with a fantasticaly funny sketch about an aging hipster trying to take back MTV, storming the network's NYC offices and recruiting guys like Kurt Loder to help in the cause. It was proof that when it's on its game, Portlandia is capable of doing great sketch comedy. I look forward to new episodes this year.


- I know, this show has its share of haters. And occasionally, I'm one of them. But the fact is that The Walking Dead, for all its flaws, remains a must-watch because it's a show capable of producing big, crazy, jaw-dropping moments like few other series can. The latter half of Season 3 early in the year was a high point, as the war between Rick and company and The Governor escalated. Season 4 floundered for a while, but picked up steam when the Governor returned. The mid-season finale in December was a great episode of television, delivering a climactic final showdown with the Governor, and opening up some exciting possibilities for 2014.


- Another funny new comedy with boatloads of potential, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I feel, is right on the verge of greatness. The ensemble they've assembled is top-notch, episodes so far have shown flashes of brilliance, and the show seems like the spiritual heir to the aging Parks and Recreation: a workplace comedy with both wackiness and heart. 


The Best TV Heroes of 2013:

1.) Daenerys Targaryen - Game of Thrones
2.) Raylan Givens - Justified
3.) Ichabod Crane - Sleepy Hollow
4.) Walter Bishop, Peter Bishop, and Olivia - Fringe
5.) Sarah Manning, Alison Hendrix, and Cosima Niehaus - Orphan Black

The Best TV Villains of 2013:

1.) Todd - Breaking Bad
2.) Tywin Lanister - Game of Thrones
3.) King Joffrey - Game of Thrones
4.) Dr. Valentin Narcisse - Boardwalk Empire
5.) The Headless Horseman - Sleepy Hollow

The Best TV Anti-Heroes of 2013:

1.) Walter White and Jesse Pinkman - Breaking Bad
2.) Margaery Tyrell - Game of Thrones
3.) Boyd Crowder - Justified
4.) Saul Goodman - Breaking Bad
5.) Chalky White - Boardwalk Empire

Best Actress in a Comedy:

1.) Christine Woods - Hello, Ladies

Runners Up: Amy Poehler - Parks and Recreation, Zooey Daschanel - New Girl

Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy:

1.) Katy Mixon - Eastbound & Down

Runners Up: Lake Bell, Erin Hayes and Malin Ackermann - Children's Hospital

Best Actor in a Comedy:

1.) Danny McBride - Eastbound & Down

Runners Up: Max Greenfield - New Girl, Jake Johnson - New Girl, Stephen Merchant - Hello, Ladies 

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy:

1.) Ken Marino - Eastbound & Down

Runners Up: Nick Offermann - Parks and Recreation, Aziz Ansari - Parks and Recreation, Rob Cordry - Childrens Hospital

Best Actress in a Drama:

1.) Keri Russel - The Americans
Runners Up: Lizzy Caplan - Masters of Sex, Vera Famiga - Bates Motel, Tatiana Maslaney - Orphan Black

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama:

1.)  Anna Gunn - Breaking Bad

Runners Up: Natalie Dormer - Game of Thrones, Emilia Clarke - Game of Thrones, Jessica Lange - American Horror Story: Coven, Kathy Bates - American Horror Story: Coven

Best Actor in a Drama:

1.) Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad

Runners Up: Matthew Rhys - The Americans, Timothy Olyphant - Justified, Michael Sheen - Masters of Sex

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama:

1.) Aaron Paul - Breaking Bad

Runners Up:  Dean Norris - Breaking Bad, Walton Goggins - Justified, Jack Huston - Boardwalk Empire, Michael Kenneth Williams - Boardwalk Empire, Noah Emmerich - The Americans

And that's all, folks - my picks for the best TV of 2013.