year in culture 2013

Bests, Worsts, and Other Superlatives From the Year in Entertainment

Photo: Maya Robinson and Photos by Getty, BBC, Twentieth Century Fox, Netflix and HBO

We’ve gone hog wild with year-end top ten lists — our movie, music, book, theater, TV, and art critics have all weighed in with their favorites of 2013 — but those are macro looks at the year. It’s time to get micro. What was the most impressive beard on TV? The ickiest amputation? The best movie party? The best music newcomer? We’ve broken out the superlatives! Read on and let us know if there are any we missed!

The first Hunger Games movie was such a mammoth hit that Lionsgate could have easily adopted an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the sequel. Instead, Catching Fire was unusually smart and involving, in part because so many of the minor irritations of the first movie (including that terrible shaky-cam) had been addressed and dealt with. No one involved with Catching Fire was resting on their laurels, not least its star Jennifer Lawrence; she’ll get an Oscar nod this year for her work in American Hustle, but in our opinion, the Catching Fire performance was every bit its equal. – KB Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate
The odds were stacked against The Lone Ranger from the beginning, as Disney execs shut things down during pre-production, correctly betting that the movie would grow too bloated and expensive to turn a profit. They should have trusted their instincts: Aside from a few energetically choreographed fight sequences aboard a train, Lone Ranger’s wannabe-franchise ambition got the best of it, and the audience didn’t show up. – KB Photo: Peter Mountain/Disney Enterprises
Come for the watercooler conversation, stay for the quality content. If after tuning in to see what all the fuss was about, you burned through thirteen episodes in a weekend and are now desperate for more, here’s a plan: Binge rewatch. – PG Photo: Copyright 1999 Adobe Systems Incorporated
As the tormented slave Patsey, Lupita Nyong’o made a whopper of a film debut in 12 Years a Slave. She shares all her scenes with the formidable Chiwetel Ejiofor and the electric Michael Fassbender, and proves herself to be every bit their equal. Let’s hope that Hollywood gives her the follow-up projects she deserves. – KB Photo: Jaap Buitendijk
Bert might be cuter, and Hillary might be smarter, but Warren is the secret heart and soul of Trophy Wife. He’s ebullient and enthusiastic, but also dopey and particularly bad at vocabulary. Sometimes ditzy-kid characters can seem either cloying or vaguely sad, but Warren’s neither. He’s part of the new generation of quirky sitcom kids, and it’s a welcome change. – ML Photo: Peter “Hopper” Stone/© 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
Not that you need reminding, but: She had a No.1 hit for nine weeks; she signed a publishing deal for $2.5 million; and she’s 17 years old. It was truly the year of our Lorde. – AD
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut was a surprisingly smart, daringly sexed-up comedy with plenty on its mind and a truly fabulous comic performance from Scarlett Johansson. Relativity picked up the movie in a big Sundance Film Festival purchase, sensing great mainstream potential, but Don Jon only made it to $24 million … less than even the terrible, star-deficient, woo-hoo-par-tay movie 21 and Over managed this past spring. – KB Photo: Relativity Media; LLC.
It’s great that Melissa McCarthy proved herself able to open a movie this year, but boy, her first 2013 effort was a massive stink bomb. Long stretches of Identity Thief go by without any jokes or even attempts at humor; perhaps not coincidentally, they’re the parts when McCarthy isn’t onscreen. Still, the film was a hit — that’s how eager audiences are to see McCarthy become a movie star. – KB Photo: Bob Mahoney/Universal Pictures
Every few years, there’s a show that is too tender and precious for this world. This time it was Enlightened, the beautiful — sometimes tragically so — dramedy about a woman (Laura Dern) trying to change her life. There was a poetry and kindness to the series that culminated in the season’s fifth episode, “The Ghost Is Seen,” which focused on creator and co-star Mike White’s character and his life that was so pathetic it was breathtakingly brave. What a wonderful show. – ML Photo: Lacey Terrell/HBO
TWD is the most popular show in cable history, and one of the most popular shows on TV now, period. Too bad none of its fans seem to notice how stagnant it is. The big winter finale found the maniacal Governor laying siege to the prison and Rick and his gang. Perhaps you recognize that as the same thing that happened on the last season finale, too. – ML Photo: Frank Ockenfels/AMC
It was devastating when HBO decided not to renew Mike White’s excellent, little-seen Enlightened, but at least they stuck with it for two seasons in the hopes that critical raves would spark a cult favorite. But it was even more painful when ABC Family pulled the plug on Amy Sherman Palladino’s quirky little ballet show Bunheads after allowing it only one season. Surely there is room for more than guilty pleasures (Pretty Little Liars) and the ultraearnest (Switched at Birth). – DM Photo: ABC
They’re not a romantic pair ( … yet), but the budding partnership between the time-traveling Revolutionary War soldier and the modern-day cop accounts for a huge chunk of the show’s substantial charms. These two just get each other! It’s delightful. – ML Photo: Copyright 1999 Adobe Systems Incorporated
Maybe “worst chemistry” is a slight misnomer — Shosh and Ray have crackling chemistry, occasionally. But Adam and Hannah, Shosh and Ray, and Charlie and Marnie are all terrible, terrible couples who should break up and find other, more suitable people. – ML Photo: Copyright 1999 Adobe Systems Incorporated
Pound for pound, minute for minute, the best fight scene in any film this year — surpassing even anything that action movies had to offer — had to be the hotel room showdown that comprises the third act of Before Midnight. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are dazzling and quick and mean and amazing as they finally unload years’ worth of marriage woes on each other, and the scene is a verbal tour de force (all the more remarkable since Delpy plays so much of it topless). – KB
Writers and cable execs stress that showing skin is essential to Masters of Sex and Game of Thrones and Girls. But no nudity was as plot-critical as Tony Hale putting it all out on display as Buster during his Buffalo Bill moment on Arrested Development. How else to make a life-size Lucille doll than sitting naked bent over a sewing machine? – DM Photo: Copyright Apple, Inc., 2013
What does Queenie have in common with a minotaur? They’re both horny, hardy har har. So it must have been kismet when the two met and she pleasured herself while he watched. – DM Photo: FX/Copyright (c) 1998 Hewlett-Packard Company
The greatest mystery of “Bound 2” was not the computer scenery or Kim’s missing nipples, but why on earth these two look so bored while having fake sex on a motorcycle. Were they green-screened in separately? Are they just bad actors? Or is this how they have sex? – AD Photo: Def Jam
The Counselor was not a particularly good movie, but it is notable for having one of the most bizarre sex scenes in film history. A pantsless Cameron Diaz sliding herself, split-eagled, up and down the windshield of a yellow convertible, while Javier Bardem narrates in voice-over — comparing her vagina to a catfish, mind you! — bounces David Cronenberg’s Crash from the top spot in most bizarre auto-centric lovemaking ever. – AS Photo: Twentieth Century Fox
Moviegoers have started to shun those extra 3-D surcharges, but like Life of Pi last year, Gravity proved itself worth every extra penny. You simply had to see it in 3-D on the biggest screen possible, in order to do justice to those breathtaking, enveloping long takes. – KB Photo: Warner Bros.
Jody Hill and Danny McBride wrote Kenny Powers a fairy-tale, death-faking ending for Eastbound & Down’s third season — but then HBO renewed the show for a fourth season. In his second series finale, Kenny forgoes fame for family, and then preemptively imagines his ideal future for his autobiographical screenplay in an amazing, Six Feet Under–esque montage that featured his grown kids (Lindsay Lohan and Alexander Skarsgard) and his second life in Africa (by way of Logan’s Run). “Fade to Black. Audience goes fucking apeshit.” – DM
As if watching Orphan Black baddie Olivier drop trou to reveal his flaccid little pigtail appendage wasn’t enough to make you shrivel, in comes Helena to slice it off. Somehow, this was much, much worse than Theon Greyjoy losing his penis. – DM
Jackson’s “TV anchor” on Scandal is kind of exactly like Perd. (And as Aziz Ansari once pointed out, it means Olivia Pope exists in the Park and Recreation universe!) That’s because in real life, Jackson is a jazz musician who only likes to play newscasters, and he’s been doing it since his 2007 debut as “Reporter” on Dexter. – DM
It’s a real shame. Everyone was out of their minds excited for the HAIM album by summer, and then they waited to put it out until … September 27, which turned out to be the exact day that Lorde released Pure Heroine. Days Are Gone still made all the top ten lists, and rightfully so! But they deserved to sell a few more albums, too. – AD
“If you save yourself for marriage, you’re a bore; if you don’t save yourself for marriage, you’re a hor…rible person.” Trust us, it’s charming when she sings it — charming enough to break Kacey Musgraves out of Nashville and make her a big-time pop star. Just play this record for your mom. See? Everyone loves her. – AD Photo: 2013 Marianna Massey
But not in a lame, philosophy undergrad way. You actually want to listen to Modern Vampires of the City. – AD Photo: 2013 Tim Mosenfelder
It was long, and weird, and we still do not understand what Giorgio Moroder was saying half the time, but: Did you have more fun listening to disco music in 2013? No. – AD
A bunch of dead people suddenly come back to life in a spooky small French town, and their presence is not greeted with universal joy; their reappearance is unnerving, sometimes frightening, and deeply, cosmically confusing for their loved ones. In a sea of samey-samey supernatural shows, the ghostly Returned is a totally fresh take. – ML
In the lead-up to Anchorman 2, fictional news anchor Ron Burgundy has been busy mounting one of the most overblown press tours of all time. Over the past two months, Burgundy has hosted local news in North Dakota, interviewed Peyton Manning on SportsCenter, and announced the Canadian Olympic curling trials. He has sold Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Jockey underwear, and Dodge Durangos. The entire Channel 4 News Team even dropped by SNL to definitively kill the song “Afternoon Delight.” Milk(ing it this hard) was a bad choice. – AS Photo: Paramount Pictures/Dodge
Mindy Kaling’s Fox show is still struggling in the ratings: It does well with women under 35, not so much with other demo groups. In terms of quality, though, every proverbial cylinder is firing: Kaling and Chris Messina are the best not-a-couple on TV, Ike Barinholtz’s Morgan has bloomed into an all-star randomly weird sidekick, and newcomers Adam Pally and Xosha Roquemore are finding their place. Also, Danny’s Aaliyah dance was pretty much perfect. – JA Photo: Copyright 2000 Adobe Systems Incorporated
ABC has transformed this once-promising drama about the music business into a daytime soap opera, tossing aside any remaining shreds of nuanced storytelling for soapy gimmicks and promo-friendly story twists. The cast is still great, and the music soars. Everything else has just broken out heart. (And turned off audiences: Viewership is down 10 percent from last fall.) – JA Photo: Mark Levine/ABC
Every season, we convince ourselves that the police work on The Killing can’t get shoddier. Every year, we are wrong. – ML Photo: Photos : Carole Segal/Copyright 1999 Adobe Systems Incorporated
Don’t get us wrong: Mad Men’s a masterpiece, but it’s hard to call Peggy the star. But Moss is the be-all, end-all on TOTL as a New Zealand detective who returns to her small town to help find a missing tween girl. Moss was always superb on MM, but she shows even more range and depth on Lake. – ML Photo: Sundance Channel
You fought a good fight, Teen Wolf. But no one can keep up with the man tanks of the CW. Hart of Dixie alone is the tank-toppiest show on TV. Throw in Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, and especially Arrow, and it’s exposed biceps all day long. – ML Photo: Greg Gayne/C 2012 THE CW NETWORK, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Oswalt was the most valuable guest star of the season, thanks in part to his sprawling eight-minute monologue connecting Star Wars, a variety of comic book characters, and every nerd’s dreams. – ML Photo: NBC
The show never got the ending it deserved, and any excuse to revisit Neptune is a good one, so news of a Veronica Mars fan-funded movie was met with universal elation. Since then, every tidbit of news, every video clip, every cast Instagram photo, every interview and update — everything is pointing to this movie actually being pretty darn great. If there’s anyone who can pull off the impossible, it’s the people who convinced the UPN to make a high-school noir detective show whose first season was about a rape investigation. – ML
This season’s eighth episode, “The Crash,” found the employees of SCDP hopped up on amphetamines, in the hopes of working through the weekend. Instead, they bopped around in a drugged-out haze, accomplishing next to nothing. Ken, however, did accomplish one thing, and that was executing a perfect little jig. With a cane and everything. – ML
Don’t give the vice-president any St. John’s Wort. Actually, do: It makes her loopy and hilarious. Julia Louis-Dreyfus picked “Running” as her favorite episode of the season, and we can’t help but agree. A stoned Selina is a wonderful Selina. (Unless you’re Tony Hale’s Gary, in which case a stoned Selina is making you promises a sober Selina will never, ever keep.) – ML
When we last saw Huell, one of Saul Goodman’s lovable henchmen, he was holed up in a hotel room at the behest of the DEA. Except the DEA agents who did the holing — Hank and Gomez — well … let’s just say they’re not coming back for him anytime soon. Go free, Huell! Have a good life. – ML Photo: AMC
Con man, seducer, elevator companion, coffee bringer, and general creepy mystery man, Bob Benson had it all. Including a set of magnificent gams, which he confidently displayed when he and Joan took baby Kevin for a day at the beach. Even if we never quite figure out everything about Bob, at least we’ll have those shorts. – ML
Brooklyn Nine-Nine was created by Parks and Recreation showrunner Mike Schur and writer Dan Goor, and it felt like they modeled Braugher’s Captain Holt at least partly after Parks’ Ron Swanson. However, Braugher and B99 take Swanson’s humorlessness even further. Holt is affectless, whether he is mad, happy, or appreciating babies’ “adorable chubby cheeks.” He is a perfect foil for a shenanigan-rich show like B99, as he treats everything as if it’s business as usual. – JDF
ABC Family’s show about two teenage girls who were, uh, switched at birth, could be pure schmaltz. But instead, it’s only a little schmaltz, and the rest is earnest — and even better, interesting — stories about teenagers, about deaf culture in America, about how it takes a village, and about figuring out who you are when you’re not who you thought you were. – ML Photo: Ron Tom/© 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
After two mostly crummy seasons, the curtain finally fell on Smash. At this point, it’s hard to even remember how the borderline fiasco ended, but let us refresh your memory: It ended with Ivy and Bombshell winning Tonys. – ML Photo: NBC/2013 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
The conventional wisdom is that there are writer-sketches that tend to be more conceptual and performer-sketches that tend to focus on big characters doing physical things. “Office Boss,” the sketch in which new cast member Beck Bennett plays a brilliant business executive who happens to have the physicality of a toddler, is among the few that succeeds as both types. In a year when there seemed to be more sketch shows than ever (Key & Peele, Kroll Show, Inside Amy Schumer, The Birthday Boys, etc.), “Office Boss” reminds us that SNL is still as relevant as ever.
We were introduced to Melissa McCarthy’s Mullins character via a chase of perp Rojas. After chasing him in a car, on foot, and over a fence, Mullins finds herself behind a hobbled Rojas, as he throws fruit on the ground in an attempt to impede her path. So, Mullins takes a watermelon and heaves it, hitting Rojas in the back, making the thud sound you can imagine even if you’ve never thrown a watermelon at a person. It was as effective as it was hilarious, which is more than you can say of Thor’s hammer. – JDF
There was obviously interest around British actor Tom Hiddleston when he played Loki the first two times. But this year, for whatever reason, felt like his coming-out party, when fandom transformed into fetishization. It felt not unlike what has happened to similarly classically trained Brit Benedict Cumberbatch, but there’s one main difference: Hiddleston is eating it up. He’s embraced the attention with arms wide and dancing shoes on. He sang karaoke in a Berlin car, because a spotlight’s a spotlight, even if it’s driving in circles. – JDF Photo: 2013 Getty Images
When news got out that Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay were cast in a Woody Allen movie, unsurprisingly most of the attention was paid to C.K. And, though C.K. was charming in his limited role, the Diceman was a real revelation. Sure, he was great at playing the tough-guy parts of the role, but he was better in the quieter moments. Clay brought a surprising vulnerability to a character that easily could’ve been a one-dimensional brute. – JDF
Saul Berenson’s beard: expected. Stan Rizzo’s beard: surprising. “You need all the help you can get when you’re standing next to Jon Hamm,” Jay R. Ferguson told us of his character’s hairier season-six appearance. If only Peggy were attracted to mountain men. – PG Photo: Michael Yarish/AMC
It wasn’t that Michael C. Hall looked bad with a beard, it was that the beard meant something terrible for the show: After eight seasons, it was ending with Dexter as a lumberjack. – PG Photo: Showtime
One look at this guy, and you know he’s a total perv. Good for storytelling, bad for our eyeballs. – PG
Bests and Worsts From the Year in Entertainment