2013 Pop Culture in Review

Any critic with their salt is obligated to write a piece selecting their best and worst movies/albums/TV shows/plays/webseries for the previous year; it’s something of a rite of passage that most critics despise doing to hear them tell it (and tell, they do, on Twitter). It may be a tedious task that doesn’t leave a lot of room for nuance and forces critics to compare apples and oranges, but as 2013 slowly eases into 2014 it makes sense to pause and reflect on the year as a whole.

So with that in mind, I’m looking back at the things that I loved and hated over the last twelve months. Overall, I think 2013 was a pretty strong year for pop culture, especially films. We said goodbye to some favorite shows and some exciting newcomers entered the scene. As always, there were horrific missteps and some dreadfully ill-conceived artistic expressions, but on the whole I think this was a pretty good year to be a person obsessed with all things pop and I’m already looking forward to many things in 2014. The pop culture machine is always pumping out something spectacular and I’m curious to see what is on the horizon.

But as we put 2013 in the books, here’s a quick look at my highlights and lowlights of the previous 365 days. As always, my choices come with this disclaimer that even I don’t see or listen to everything. I cover a lot of ground considering that I have a full time job that is not at all related to the entertainment business, but you can only squeeze so much into your free time. So if you don’t see your favorite on the list, I simply may not have gotten to it. Or you might just have terrible taste 🙂 It’s OK – we can still be friends.

Top movies of 2013

  • American Hustle – It’s been almost a month since I’ve seen this film and I’m still pretty obsessed with it. Outstanding performances and an exciting story helped solidify its position in the top spot. The most fun that I’ve had at the cinema all year.
  • Mud – I’m still a huge champion of this little film that not many of you saw and it was my favorite film for most of the year (until I saw American Hustle). Do yourself a favor and rent this little gem; a beautiful coming of age film that features one of Matthew McConaughey’s stellar performances of 2013.
  • 12 Years a Slave – A powerful film that by telling one man’s terrible story tells the tragedy of thousands of other nameless men and women. Amazing performances throughout and a film that I’m glad that I watched but will probably never see again.
  • This is The End – This is easily the hardest that I’ve laughed at a movie all year. An unexpected surprise.

Honorable mention: The Wolf of Wall Street and Gravity. I didn’t love the latter as much as the critics did, but it is still a pretty cool movie. I need more time to reflect on The Wolf of Wall Street; I may not love it as much when I am farther removed from seeing it.

Worst movies of 2013

  • The Lone Ranger – just spectacularly awful; don’t waste the nearly 3 hours of your time. Johnny Depp – heal thyself; Armie Hammer – you seem like a nice guy, but you can’t carry a movie.
  • Girl Most Likely – Despite my general affinity for most of the cast, this Kristen Wiig vehicle was pretty dreadful. Too many quirky characters and a weak story.
  • Pain & Gain – I hated this movie, which wasn’t a surprise given Michael Bay’s involvement. Just dreadful.
  • Honorable mention: The Hangover III – my expectations were so low for this that it didn’t crack my top 5 – and A Good Day to Die Hard (partially saved because I still think Bruce Willis is super attractive).

Must See TV – Best TV shows of 2013

  • Breaking Bad – I am well aware that this is not a controversial selection; I’m going to miss this show so much.
  • Orange is the New Black – Netflix proved that they were in it to win it with this new original series that totally captivated me. I binge watched the whole first season in just a few days. I enjoyed the memoir that the show is (loosely) based on as well.
  • Mad Men – The merger of firms and the disillusionment of Sally Draper made this season great.
  • Game of Thrones – As a person who hasn’t yet read the books, the Red Wedding took me completely by surprise. I’m not as interested in all of the story lines – I’d be happy with a show that just focused on the Lannisters and the Starks – but I’m dying to know what happens next.
  • Broadchurch – I was completely infatuated with this BBC series about the murder of a child in a small town where almost everyone seems to have something to hide; I’m hoping the upcoming American remake isn’t just a pale imitation.

Honorable mention: The Americans, Justified, Top of the Lake and the new episodes of Arrested Development (uneven, but still a lot of fun).

It’s Not Me, It’s You – TV shows I broke up with in 2013

I knew enough to stay away from some of the dreadful new shows that debuted in 2013 – Dads, I’m looking at you – but this year I also gave the heave ho to shows that no longer worked for me.

  • How I Met Your Mother – I finally bailed on this series, which was a long time coming. Even the promise of the current season being the last could woo me back.
  • Once Upon a TimeOnce upon a time I was charmed by this show, but the magical spell was eventually broken. I decided to jump ship after the second season finale; I couldn’t stomach another season of Henry (a terrible thing to say about a kid, but he’s not good).
  • The Walking Dead – Unlike the rest of America, I never thought that this was a particularly good show; sure, the zombies are cool, but the actors are wooden and the characters are poorly drawn. After I let five episodes pile up on my DVR, I realized I didn’t miss the show at all. Sorry Darryl – you were awesome, but I’m sticking with the comics instead.
  • The Michael J. Fox Show – I gave this one the old college try but my childhood affinity for Fox just wasn’t enough to conquer the poor writing and silly story lines. Too sitcom-y for me and squanders the always great Wendell Pierce.
  • Boardwalk Empire – I’ve been pretty meh about this show for a while; I started watching this season’s first episode and realized I really didn’t care about any of this. I’ve heard, however, that the season got really good so I may have to eventually jump back on board.
  • The Following – I was really excited by all the nuttiness of this serial killer drama in the beginning, but the show completely fell apart for me pretty quickly. I finished the season but won’t be back for the next one. Poe should be annoyed his good name was sullied with this foolishness.

On the bubble: The Vampire Diaries (I may have finally outgrown this show on the CW)

Top Pop Culture Experiences of 2013

  • Seeing Mariano Rivera throw the last pitch of his career – As a die-hard Yankee fan, I am so glad that I plunked down the extra money to see this historic moment at the Stadium. It was the perfect ending to a perfect career and I was far from the only person sobbing as he walked from the mound.
  • The Daily Show taping – Only a select number of people got to see John Oliver host The Daily Show and I’m glad that I’m one of them; awesome experience and I’m planning on going to see Jon Stewart in action in 2014.
  • The Boys of Summer tour – We may have had to deal with oppressive heat, a trail derailment and getting pulled over by the police, but none of that could minimize the fun of seeing Jay Z and Justin Timberlake at Yankee Stadium. Awesome show.
  • The Yeezus Tour – I couldn’t let 2013 pass without checking out Kanye West on his first tour in five years. He didn’t disappoint; it was as artistic and insane as I had hoped – and a ton of fun.

Honorable mention: Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon at NJPAC and The National Museum of Play

Favorite Posts of 2013

In addition to the posts above, these posts were among my favorites of 2013:

  • Song(s) for the Dumped – I got a lot of good feedback for this playlist of my favorite break-up songs; look for the companion post on favorite love songs in 2014
  • Pop Culture Teachers – I had fun coming up with my favorite educators from television and the movies
  • 2013 MTV Video Music Awards – My running diary of this “awards show” reinforced two things: 1) I am way too old to be watching this stuff and 2) Miley Cyrus killed Hannah Montana once and for all.

What were your favorite pop culture things in 2013? Let us know in the comments below.

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