Saturday, December 28, 2013

Wrap It Up - 2013 Take One

With 2014 creeping closer and closer, there is nothing enthusiasts of pop culture like to do more than review what happened during all those weeks that brought us to this point.

Like every year, our lives are dominated by the titans of entertainment - what books, movies, TV shows, music, and events made up your year?

To kick things off, here is a random sample of what I was watching, listening to, and adoring the most out of anything else over the last 12 months.

The Year Of Janney 
[The fact this scene exists made my life.]
Pinpointing the exact moment Allison Janney made me crack up for the first time means stepping back into the halls of middle school. It could have been her short scene as an aspiring romance novelist/real life high school principal in 10 Things I Hate About You, but more than likely it was her playing that big haired, trashy broad, with a heart of gold from Drop Dead Gorgeous.

For nearly the last fifteen years it has been a treat whenever her face simply pops up on a screen. Janney's bold presence continually stands out in ensemble casts, like in Juno, Hairspray, The Hours, and The Help, and can spice up ill-fated shows, seen most recently during Matthew Perry's ABC comedy, Mr. Sunshine.

It really has been a Janney year - for me, on the first day of 2013 I finally settled in to discover (and quickly love) her most famous role, Claudia Jean Cregg (aka The Flamingo) on The West Wing, plus she had a few new standout performances to add to her enormous pile.

Anyone who has seen The Way, Way Back can attest that she completely, and brilliantly, stole the first fifteen minutes (and maybe the entire movie), busting onto the screen with one hilarious line after the next.

Janney also gave more life to Showtime's latest, Masters Of Sex. It was well done from the beginning, but when she showed up several episodes in as a befuddled housewife, the show got its most heartbreaking and enthralling storyline, wonderfully acted by Janney, obviously. I'm sure she is completely killing it on her new sitcom, Mom, as well, but I just can't watch those types of comedies anymore - no offense to this American treasure.

Everything is really better with her in it, and that's just the Janney effect. Embrace it, if you haven't already.

Local Girl - Neko Case

This year was momentous on the live performance front when I finally got to see Neko Case do an entire concert. Two years in a row she was faced with her performances cut short due to inclement weather at the Sasquatch Music Festival, which, as an audience member, I sadly understood.

Case's release of her latest album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, meant a tour, and in October this gal gleefully headed to Seattle to check her out at the safeness of an indoor venue.

Some have found her new tracks not as strong as the ones on her previous release, Middle Cyclone, but with the powerful pipes that Case has, I will follow her and those songs anywhere. The entire CD spent many hours on repeat this year, but "Local Girl" is the one stuck in my head on a daily basis - more than likely you will catch me singing the chorus while I bake.


At age 26, just like when I was 7, my dad decided we needed to go see the latest Disney movie together - some traditions never change, and I hope they never do.

And that's what Frozen embraces, family bonds. In the case of this (yes, I'm already saying it) new Disney classic, it's about sisters, a refreshing spin that delightfully plays with all of our expectations for the typical fairy tale.

There wasn't much convincing needed to get me to the theater, since I was completely sold once I saw a commercial with Olaf, the buck teethed snowman who likes warm hugs. Even being a total sap I never think animated movies are going to win me over as much as they do, but this tale is wonderful and enjoyable from start to finish.

I won't give any more details away, because it's better to be surprised (a plus from the non-revealing trailers for this flick). However, I must say, be prepared to be completely dazzled by the song "Let It Go". Don't listen to it before hand, just get swept up by this Broadway-esque showstopper as it plays out in front of your eyes.


After the December 11th episode of Nashville, how could I NOT include this as an essential part of television in 2013. If you watched it you know how much drama was in just the final ten seconds.

In the past it has been The O.C. or reruns of Beverly Hills 90210, but right now, nothing feeds my need for some sort of soapy ridiculousness more than this gem. Plus, this one comes with musical performances (even if it is countrified).

I've dished in length about this one before (even in my 2012 year end wrap up), so that's all I have to say about that. Watch it or don't, but you probably should check it out.


Recently the crew of the international space station had to perform several space walks in order to fix a broken cooling system. As this story was flashing by my eyes on CNN my heart began to pick up a more brisk beat.

After a couple minutes I realized it was because of Gravity. 

Anyone who ran to the theater for this Bullock and Clooney grandiose odyssey might have had the same feeling. Since being confronted and amazed by every second of that movie, I can't help but be panicked for astronauts who are actually circumnavigating the cosmos.

Gravity is essentially a 90 minute space experience unlike any other movie, as far as I'm concerned, that has ever been released. We are right along with the characters calmly observing the picturesque Earth from afar and in the terror filled moments of surviving torpedoing asteroids.

It may have left hearts poundig wondering how/if the characters were going to survive, but it is definitely worth feeling anxious. The somewhat cheesy dialogue at times is its own issue, but all is completely forgotten with the extraordinary imagery of the action packed moments and the rather philosophical undertone feeding the characters need for survival.

Hands down my favorite movie outing of the entire year.

Young and Beautiful - Lana Del Ray

Last year brought all the buzz for Lana Del Ray that made me annoyed. Too much press for anyone make me cringe, and I wanted nothing to do with her. By May 2013 I had to retract all negative opinions previously lamented and admit that I was wrong. 

While her voice is still less than desirable (it sounds highly supported by auto-tuning), that Leo charm must rub off good vibes, because all it took was one scene in The Great Gatsby with Lana's haunting song, "Young and Beautiful", for me to completely change my mind. I got goosebumps.

Her sorrowful, almost longing singing tone combined with the melody and theme is so perfectly suited for this film and it became my most listened to song for the rest of the year. I'm definitely a sucker for songs with big orchestral sections.

Sometimes people can change their minds, and I have in a big way, even becoming interested in several of her other tracks ("Radio" anyone?).
About Time

When it comes to unexpected movie surprises for this year, About Time might surpass them all.

Coming from the likes of Richard Curtis, the king of modern romantic movies (of Love Actually, Notting Hill fame), it was clear his latest written/directorial effort would be simply lovely. What I wasn't expecting was to find a real treasure, a movie clearly more people should have seen and enjoyed at cinemas around the world.

Were people thrown off by the time travel business? There's so much more to the story, and as the film progresses you can't help but be wrapped up by it all. Yes, the main character can travel back to a point in time, but how we all use time in our lives each day, and who we choose to spend time with is really where the story hits with creating a movie worth watching. 

It does seem like advertising for a film like this one could never fully capture all of its unique charm, but I heavily assert that you look for it at a theater or as soon as it comes out to rent.

Closer - Tegan and Sara

Back in 2004, Tegan and Sara had an alternative rock hit on their hands with the release of "Walking With a Ghost", so I never expected one of the danciest, synth pop songs of the summer to come from this sisterly duo.

That is something to admire about these two - they mix up their sound and go after whatever kind of music they want to make all without sacrificing the quality behind the tunes.
My spring and summer were all about this song blasting through car speakers, and cut to me upper-body dancing behind the steering wheel. I know I'm not the only one.
 We're just getting started! Check back for more tomorrow.

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