Looking back over the past five years of V’s Unique and Distinctive Pop Culture Awards, I’m pleased to see that I seem to be maturing in taste. This year, I’m excited to recognize some of the sprinkles and flavors that made the sundae of 2013 so enjoyable.
See past years: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
movies – books – performances – MUSIC – movies – books – performances
Best Artist – Two Door Cinema Club
This has been a long time coming–TDCC has been a favorite band of mine for many years now, as evidenced by my past monthly playlists: they first appeared in March of 2011 with “Something Good Can Work,” and again in October of 2012 with “Sleep Alone.” Their sophomore album, Beacon, was a London favorite, and two of their singles were on my 2013 playlist. Basically, they rock.
Best Album – Bastille, “Bad Blood”
Could Bastille have had a more kick-ass year? They release Pompeii early in 2013, it sits just under music radar for a few months, and then explodes in late March. By April, it’s remixed, the album is getting tons of play, and everyone in England is buzzing. I still get happy to hear it here in the US, since we’re a bit slow about awesome European music sometimes.
Best Soundtrack/Compilation – Late Night Tales, Bonobo
If you haven’t heard of Late Night Tales, and you probably haven’t because I think it’s produced in the UK, you are missing out. They ask artists to guest-mix a playlist of chill music, perfect for a calm night, and pair it with an actor reading a portion of a bedtime story. In the case of Bonobo, this is the third of four parts read by Benedict Cumberbatch, and is a totally mellow, perfect playlist for drifting off.
Best Artist I Should Have Been Hearing Before – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Yep, I was hiding under a rock in 2012. Or at least, it seems that way when you look at Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ The Heist, which I didn’t even realize had already dropped not only “Thrift Shop” but “Can’t Stop Us” and “Whitewalls” before I picked it up. I live in Seattle now, and I had to get my head in the game. Macklemore gets me there every time: he’s brilliant, well spoken, and incredibly astute. It’s smart rap, refreshingly.
Best Single – “Get Lucky,” Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams
Don’t even pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about right now. How could you not hear “Get Lucky” literally everywhere this summer? I have distinctly wonderful memories tied to this song, as well as vague and drunken and dancing ones. It is a song that still nearly always makes me smile, and is so catchy that I think it has the kind of staying power to keep feeding memes for years to come.
Playlist of the Year
Typically, the artist with the most songs on the playlist (if any duplicates exist) ends up being the artist of the year, and 2013 is no exception for Two Door Cinema Club. The rest of the playlist is a surprisingly upbeat record of an incredibly emotional and at times very challenging year. As playlists go, I’m pretty proud of this one.
books – performances – music – MOVIES – books – performances – music
Best Thriller – Europa Report
A fascinating and beautiful sci-fi thriller, Europa Report caught my eye because of A) Sharlto Copley and B) the fantastic images from the Cassini spacecraft that were used to construct some of the footage in the movie. The plays to the fear and wonder we all have about exploring outer space, and takes an unconventional, uncomfortable, and masterfully handled “documentary” approach that feels even more authentic. This was one of my highest rated movies from 2013, an 8/10 (there was nothing higher than an 8).
Best Action – Pacific Rim
I mean really, is there any better candidate for best action in 2013? Think about it: giant monsters, giant robots, shitty marketing, but great and ridiculous scenes that were so massive as to lose scale. Guillermo del Toro didn’t give us a Best Picture nominee (maybe effects, though), but he did give us the perfect summer blockbuster: lots of action, a reasonable amount of character development, a respectable attempt at decent acting, and a ton of visual candy. This movie captured the spirit of air-conditioned, popcorned afternoons from my childhood.
Best Franchise – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
I went into Catching Fire with the lowest of expectations, for two reasons. First, the second book in The Hunger Games series is definitely weaker than the first, and second, the first Hunger Games movie was passable at best. If the first movie based on a book that was stronger than the second is followed by a second movie, it’s logical that said second movie will likely be not as good. I was proven wrong though, as both J.Law and Josh Hutcherson grew into their characters, the director masterfully handled all the material in the book and supplemented necessary missing bits from the first movie, and handed me one of the better adaptations I’ve seen in years.
performance – music – movies – BOOKS – performance – music – movies
Best Series – Mary Russell, by Laurie King
I will admit, I started The Beekeeper’s Apprentice in 2012. But, as the first novel of 12 written by Laurie King as a companion/addendum to the world-renowned Sherlock Holmes stories, it took me a little while to get comfortable with them (and to find the time to read during my MBA). After graduation, I breezed through them, engaged with the characters, and eager for more. I’m still working to finish them, but I like to savor the last few stories. I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Mary and Sherlock, especially after such a long relationship.
Best Novel – The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Gilbraith
I refuse to say this book is by J.K. Rowling, even though it is, because I respect her decision to write it under a different name. Each time she writes something, I find myself in a different genre, and this P.I.-mystery story was very unusual for me. As usual, the characters were entrancing, the language spell-binding, and reading took far too brief a time. I loved the language used to describe London, and I loved knowing where the character lived and worked. This book is a testament to my time in London, and I’ll always enjoy re-reading it for that.
Best Nonfiction – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Col. Chris Hadfield
So I don’t really “do” nonfiction. I never pick up books that are more than marginally based on the past, because usually I read to escape. I did take the time to read An Astronaut’s Guide because I was giving it as a gift to my brother, and had long been following the exciting growth in the popularity of Commander Hadfield since his “winning the internet” (to borrow a popular meme right now). I was so pleased to find this book a combination of self-help, memoir, and nonfiction that kept it genuine and engaging. I wanted to have the drive and passion of Col. Hadfield, and have taken many of the lessons to heart.
music – movies – books – PERFORMANCE – music – movies – books
Best Performance – Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple of Inishmaan
I mean, aside from the fact that it’s Daniel Radcliffe, the physicality of this performance was truly amazing–even from my nosebleed section seats, I could see how hard he was working on stage, and can only imagine how challenging it was to do multiple shows per day. The show itself was a rollercoaster: pleasant then disturbing then joyful then depressing, and incredibly well-written (also a bit tough to understand, which is a testament to the actors accents). I was glad to get tickets for this short run show, to see a bit more of this “English” “humor” thing I keep hearing about, and see Mr. Radcliffe in his natural habitat.
Best Comedy – The Book of Mormon
If you can see The Book of Mormon, by goodness see The Book of Mormon! Can it get any better than a tongue-in-cheek, yet alarmingly accurate social commentary that’s so funny you can’t help but enjoy yourself and sing along? This was hands down one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, and while expensive to see in the West End, a very welcome birthday present. I still find myself thinking about the lessons it taught, the color and vitality it instilled, and the great insight into humankind that it gives in just a few short hours. For guys who get a rap for South Park, this is a home run.