Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My 50 Favorite Pop Culture Artifacts of 2013

My annual list of the pop culture stuff I dug the most over the last calendar.

50. Grumpy Cat!
It seems like a tradition now that I have a celebrity cat up every year. I wasn't sure I would have one this year, and then, well, Tarder Sauce hung out on Sesame Street.

49. "ISS Transit Over the Moon"
Maximilian Teodorescu captured an amazing photograph this year that made us all feel like we were living in a bit more science fiction-y future. This is just a detail of the International Space Station crossing the moon; here's the whole thing if you missed it.

48. The year in James Franco.
One of my favorite actors, but, damn, my wife just freaking loves this guy. And he was everywhere, in every movie, on every TV show, writing actually insightful movie reviews, filming lots of YouTube videos (every day, for a while, making my wife laugh each morning), and, of course, that video. Hell, Newsweek even has a write-up of 2013 in Franco.

The thing about this entry is, well, my wife has real problems letting go of all her stresses and just enjoying things and being in the moment, and every time Franco had a new movie out or a new video up, that was an amount of time, however small, that my wife could enjoy something without guilt or stress getting to her. So thanks for it all, Franco. [gif via]

47. The Post-Punk/New Wave Super Friends
This year I celebrated a lot of fan art, then got kind of tired of the whole endeavor. Not that there isn't a place for it, and not like it can't be good, but I am a bit tired of the "Here are characters from X thing re-designed as characters from Y thing and also here is Doctor Who somehow" aesthetic. Now, of course, I'm about to contradict myself, because I totally love this series of art based around DC superheroes and post-punk/new wave singer by Butcher Billy. Here's the page for them.

46. Defiance
I'm not in love with it yet, but this new series from Farscape's Rockne S. O'Bannon is one of the few times I've genuinely been wrapped up in a science fiction since that series went off the air a decade ago.

45. The finale of The Office
I finally sat and watched the final two seasons of the show this year, and though they varied in quality (better suited to a binge-watch than the time investment of an entire season), I ultimately really enjoyed last May's final episode. The finale reminded me why I had once loved the show as much as I did, gave me a nod to all of the show's long-running storylines, and wrapped everything up nicely. I still think it went on years too long, but that was a nice ending.

44. This picture. I just like to think it means that, somewhere out there, Bea Arthur's been reincarnated.

43. "Follow Me"
Photographer Murad Osman took a wonderful series of photographs with his girlfriend Nataly Zakharova and posted them to Instagram. Each photo keeps this theme; her leading him through the world. It's a special travel diary that I still can't forget, months after seeing it. You can check it out here.

42. Star Trek Into Darkness
What sucks about this entry is that I don't even want to talk about why I enjoyed this space adventure, because no one really cares. The internet decided they were really mad at this movie that wasn't exactly the same enough but also somehow wasn't different enough to the point where the criticisms all blended together into one rush of wind. I don't know, I'm really sick today, my wife is sick, my rabbit is sick, and literally every thing I own is broken. I'm so fucking beside myself with anger and annoyance and my inability to sleep or relax that not liking a movie is way, way far down on the list of things that are worth getting upset over.

41. Pacific Rim
I like movies that know how inherently silly they are. I seem to be ever-more-increasingly alone in that view, but I don't like the grim seriousness and near-nihilism of, say, The Dark Knight. I like movies that know they have a premise that's hard to take seriously, and that they can only go so far with it. The characters need to take it seriously--if the characters don't find it believable, why do I care?--but I prefer it when movies have an idea of when to break tension and blow off steam. Pacific Rim knows all of that, and it's a shame that the promotional materials for the film made it look gritty and dull and self-important. This one almost got away from me, which would have been a shame, because it's just so damn fun.

40. Blurred Sanford
This mash-up is the best thing that come out of 2013's rape anthem.

39. The Ex-Men
I haven't watched The Pete Holmes Show--I don't watch much late night television--but I do love the recurring sketches where Holmes, as Professor X, fires individual X-Men for being so lame. It's especially refreshing to me because the X-Men were my favorites as a kid, and Marvel proceeded to get rid of Chris Claremont and make their mutant books confusing. And yes, I know how that sounds, because that 20-year soap opera had its moments of being overwrought, but without Claremont, things just went off the rails. You can see the sketches here.

38. A couple of DC family books
It's nice that, even with all of the crap DC is putting out now, they still had a couple of uncomplicated, beautifully done all-ages books that I could really enjoy: Dustin Nguyen's Batman: Li'l Gotham and Art Baltazar & Franco's Superman Family Adventures. They were a real treat every month. Of course, DC canceled them both... but hey, Scooby Doo Team-Up looks like it might be fun.

37. Patrick Stewart on Instagram
Always funny and cute, but particularly now that he and Ian McKellen are working together in New York. I'm never going to stop dreaming of Patrick Stewart being the Doctor. Not ever. It'll never happen, but I've been imagining it since 1996, and I'm not about to stop.

36. 47 Ronin
This year, Mike Richardson finally got to realize his dream of telling the story of the 47 Ronin in comic book form at Dark Horse. With art by Stan Sakai (who is unfortunately not having a good holiday season), this was one of the most beautiful and unfaltering comic book stories this year.

35. Lots of animals loved having their bellies rubbed this year.
Whether it was micro pigs, wombats, or even a platypus, animals just dug getting some cuddles this year. Every once in a while you just need some cute animal videos to brighten your day, and those three were some of my go-to's this year.

34. Elle Fanning
Not that you're surprised, because every year with her. What I'm trying to decide now is whether my Elle Fanning ballet film with Henson creatures should use Genesis music or Jim Steinman songs...

33. Batman '66
As far as I know right now, this web original is the only comic DC is publishing that's worth a damn. It's in the style of the classic TV series, which is seeing quite the revival right now; there are also the great action figures that have been coming out, which include a surfing Batman figure (though sadly not a surfing Joker) from my single favorite episode of the show, "Surf's Up! Joker's Down!" This comic is just impeccably good, and makes such good use of the web comic format that I kind of feel like this should be the future of graphic storytelling.

32. The Art Deco Emerald City
I love the Art Deco style, and even though The Wonderful Wizard of Oz pre-dates the style, I've always felt this is what the Emerald City should look like. So it was pretty amazing to see it on a big screen in 3D in Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful. I don't usually get to see my "fan-favorite" choices make it into the movies, so to see the Emerald City depicted pretty much as I'd always imagined it was pretty amazing.

31. The final issue of Roger Langridge's Popeye
A lot of stuff I loved ended this year, and IDW's great Roger Langridge-written Popeye ended its run with a fantastic final issue, which featured Barney Google and Wimpy in a race with Castor Oyl and Popeye. It was a fantastic note to go out on, even as it made me wish for more.

30. Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld on DC Nation
I haven't been keeping up with a lot of the DC Nation shorts, but this series was my favorite this year. This is the kind of thing I look at and think is wonderful and then Warner Bros. natters on about how it's just so impossible to make a good Wonder Woman movie, you guys, when what they really mean is that it's hard to make a Wonder Woman movie for boys. This series was pretty incredible.

29. Man of Steel
Another sci-fi adventure I liked this year that got excoriated for not being all things to all people. I wonder if the fan reaction to this is the kind of thing that makes it obvious that Superman has become so much of a symbol that it's impossible to make him a character anymore. Worth thinking about. Anyway, I loved it.

28. TV, TV, TV
I said last year that 2012 was the year I felt out of love with the movies and felt much more rewarded by television. This year continued that trend, with great programs like Masters of Sex, Vikings, Top of the Lake, American Horror Story, The Borgias (and Sean Harris' amazing performance in its final season), Luther, Game of Thrones, Orange Is the New Black, Mad Men (which I just started watching this year), Homeland, House of Lies, VeepBoardwalk Empire, The Americans, and even network fare like Parks and Recreation, Parenthood, and Bob's Burgers.

27. Miley Cyrus' new sound
I like Miley Cyrus, but her new album, Bangerz, is the first thing she's done musically that I've really, really liked since her "Party in the USA" single in 2009. And I love this video with Jimmy Fallon and the Roots. I think 2013 is the year that--thanks to videos like this and his continued appearances with the Muppets and that great SNL episode (with the Barry Gibb cameo that made me very, very happy)--I finally cast off any lingering irritation with Fallon, to the point where I might actually check out his Tonight Show. We'll see.

26. The finale of Star Wars: The Clone Wars
It's yet another thing I love that ended this year, but the finale of The Clone Wars--which saw Ahsoka Tano accused of a terrorist bombing and helped cement Anakin's disillusion with the Jedi Order--was an excellent story to go out on. The Clone Wars has become my favorite ancillary to the Star Wars universe, and Ahsoka became one of my favorite of all Star Wars characters. I'm happy I got to experience this series for as long as I did, and if it had to end, it sure did go out with a fantastic finale.

25. Behind the Candelabra
Remember how everyone thought this was going to be some kind of goof? Movies that are made for HBO tend to be forgettable to me--even the enjoyable ones, with very few exceptions--but not only have I been unable to forget this one, I think it's one of the best movies of the year. Too bad Michael Douglas won't get an Oscar nomination for it, because his performance as Liberace is surprising. If Steven Soderbergh is really retiring--and I never believe a filmmaker who says they are--this was a great culmination of an interesting career.

24. "Pair of Wings"
This hidden track on Justin Timberlake's new album brings the grand total of Justin Timberlake songs I really love up to three. It's just so pretty, and a lovely live performance on SNL just cemented it for me.

23. Jinkx Monsoon
This year's cycle of RuPaul's Drag Race introduced me to Jinkx Monsoon, my favorite contestant in the show's history. A special drag performer and a very funny one, whose Little Edie Beale impression was one of the best things I've ever seen on that show.

22. Spring Breakers
One of my favorite little media furors of 2013 was the reaction to Spring Breakers, a movie that was very confrontational and uncomfortable about your expectations of a sexploitation movie. I thought that alone made it one of the best movies of the year, but the film itself is such an interesting, hallucinogenic social commentary about what you could almost call the New Entitlement--the listless-yet-desperate belief of the young that if they aren't constantly having fun, they're being oppressed.

21. Broadchurch
One of the most engaging and riveting TV series I saw this year.

20. The year of Taylor Swift
She's another of my favorites; this year I got to enjoy a lot of videos and gifs of her performing, and damn, I just like her so much. I don't even want to go into it. But she's great. She's kind of my religion right now. I know I sound like a fangirl. When it comes to her, I kind of am. [gif via]

19. Marvel NOW!
A sort-of relaunch of a large portion of the Marvel Universe, and probably a better answer to the need to streamline a fictional universe than just restarting the whole thing, New 52-style. I didn't stick with a LOT of the books I started reading as part of this whole deal, but there are a few I really dug: Thor: God of Thunder, Nova, The Guardians of the Galaxy, the much-maligned Thanos Rising, Fantastic Four, Frank Cho's all-too-brief five-issue run on Savage Wolverine, Deadpool, The Superior Spider-Man, Matt Fraction's Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, Young Avengers, and Journey Into Mystery. I'm probably never going to quite love the Marvel Universe the way I love the older stuff--you know I prefer change and growth to repetition--but I'm happy to see the line acknowledging that when practically every one of your thousands of characters are an Avenger or X-Man (or both), it's okay to have fun and stop making every threat so dire.

18. "Gypsy"
I haven't really liked a Lady Gaga song in some time, either ("Paparazzi" in 2009), but I really dig everything I've heard off this new album so far. I also enjoyed her rather self-aware, surprisingly deconstructive appearance on SNL. I don't know if I'll ever be that big a fan, but this year I dig some of what she had going on.

17. Super Boys
One of my favorite books from this year, which I expounded more on here. Not only the definitive story of the creation of Superman as both character and corporate property, the book is also a great examination of why Superman remains so relevant today.

16. The Next Day
David Bowie's first new album in a decade is an observational, innovative, dark and bold album from an elder statesman. The mood of this album is apparent from its subversive cover; the music, too, takes something familiar and subverts it, even obscures it, by being surprisingly jarring.

15. DoctorWho50
I always thought the real brilliance of Doctor Who is that you can kind of take out of it whatever you like and ignore what you don't. Rather than making every piece fit together, there's so much there that you can choose to make your own canon out of. So even if I didn't like "The Day of the Doctor"--or, for that matter, "The Time of the Doctor" or pretty much all of the Steven Moffat run thus far, except for a few episodes--I still had plenty to enjoy during this 50th anniversary celebration of Who. The airing of classic episodes on BBC America, the wonderful An Adventure in Space and Time TV movie, some fantastic fan videos (particularly this excellent animation by Richard Swarbrick), and especially Peter Davison's The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot were all joyous occasions for me. Those were my 50th anniversary, and that's why I'm not wasting my time carping on the current run, which it's no secret I don't care for: I had a lot to enjoy.

14. Hannibal
This one took me by surprise. I think this raised the bar for a lot of network TV for me. It was also an interesting example of what niche viewing has done to the networks. I spent the first eight weeks waiting for this gory, violent show to get canceled; I still remember a time when something like Family Guy would never have aired before 8:30 Central time, much less in late afternoon reruns. So I wonder if networks are taking more chances on content--and, hopefully, on original programming--because so many other viewing options are available. I was riveted to this show week after week, with its great performances and the psychological twists it took. It was one of the more engaging and active shows in a year filled with them.

13. The end of Marvel's Oz comics
Well, it had to end sometime; this winter, Marvel put out the final issue of The Emerald City of Oz, the last of Eric Shanower and Skottie Young's Baum adaptations that Marvel is going to publish. It's been a fantastic ride, with some unforgettable comics. I remember desperately hoping that they might adapt the second Oz novel; I never expected to get the first six.

12. Dance Moms
Last year at the time, I was sick with bronchitis, fading in and out of consciousness, and woke up to find my wife caught up in a Dance Moms marathon on Lifetime. It was premiering on New Year's Day then, too, and we ended up watching this show throughout the year. Even though I don't like the concept, I guess this is the kind of thing you'd think of as a guilty pleasure. I get caught up in the parts about being a teacher the most, I think, but the dancing is genuinely great. I don't see a lot of great dancing on TV. So here I am, one year later, sick with at the very least a bad flu, fading in and out of consciousness, and planning to watch tomorrow's Dance Moms marathon on Lifetime (and tomorrow night's season premiere).

11. Random Access Memories
I'm never sure what I'm going to like in modern music anymore, but after loving their score to Tron: Legacy, I thought I'd take a listen to Daft Punk's new album back when it came out in May. Now it's the last day of the year and the entire album has yet to come off my iPod. The album's perfect. It's basically an electronic disco album, but it's funky and jazzy, and it has Paul Williams on one track, which is just astoundingly wonderful.

10. "Perfume"
I'd pretty much written off Britney Spears. I had no idea that my favorite single of the year would be a Britney song, much less one that's basically a snythpop version of an 80s power ballad, but... well, here we are.

9. The Marvel Cinematic Universe
I just can't believe not only how well they're pulling this off, but how much fun this thing is. This year, we had Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, the great Agent Carter short, and the Agents of SHIELD TV series, and I've been enjoying the hell out of all of it. Not only has the MCU given me a series of films to look forward to endlessly, it's also put me back in touch with my love of Marvel Comics, something I'd never really expected to connect with again (and which led to my ongoing Marvels series on this blog).

8. Mickey Mouse
This year saw a new series of Mickey Mouse cartoons with an anarchic spirit that were a heck of a good time to watch.

7. Breaking Bad
The final season was a masterful ending to one of the finest modern televisions dramas. This is one of the series that made me feel like an active viewer, and it rewarded that attention all the way through to its final episode.

6. The Electric Lady
My favorite album this year is Janelle Monae's newest installment of her ongoing concept series. It's a psychedelic soul experiment about a messianic android. I don't know much about afrofuturism, but it's interesting here to see Monae explore themes of race and identity through a science fiction prism; it feels like one of the few genuinely new things to come out of science fiction in a long time. It's an exciting album; Monae fuses a lot of different styles together and creates something powerful that, honestly, I feel like I've been waiting to hear for a long, long time. This is the kind of album I've been dreaming about hearing for the last 20 years, right down to the guest appearance by Prince.

5. Chris Hadfield
One of my greatest heroes this year was Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who spent a couple of months all over social media documenting life aboard the International Space Station, ending it all with his own rendition of "Space Oddity." It was an amazing personal journey to just 250 miles over our heads, something that humanized life in outer space for a lot of people this year. I know it's not technically a pop culture achievement, but the way Hadfield and Expedition 35 utilized Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and YouTube is a great example of how we filter our collective consciousness today. Thank you, sir, for daring to look up and share the wonder.

4. Gravity
Boy, it really was a great year for outer space and science fiction; better, in fact, than a lot of recent years. Easily the best film of 2013 was this epic space disaster film; it was a harrowing, rewarding experience that grabbed me right from its first moment and didn't let me go for 90 minutes. So few films capture the balance of how wonderful and terrible outer space can be, but this one does, tempering both with a drama of humanity and spiritual (but not specifically religious) significance.

3. The Veronica Mars Kickstarter (and the year of Kristen Bell)
I could only kick in a buck, but I was pleased to be able to give to the Kickstarter to make a Veronica Mars movie--a movie that will be released in just a few months. It was a controversial effort--why should we pay to produce a movie that a multimedia conglomerate will reap the benefits of?--but it was also proof that people are willing to pay for the entertainment they want, and I WANT a Veronica Mars movie. Really, between this movie happening and her continued appearances on Ellen and her pregnancy and her starring role in Disney's Frozen and her excellent performance in The Lifeguard, this seemed like the year that the internet finally fell in love with Kristen Bell. And that's just dandy, because she's magic.

2. Another year in the life of a Muppet fan
Previews for a new movie. The Monster at the End of This Twitter. The Hub's Fraggle Rock-a-Thon. Ricky Gervais' videos with Pepe. Cookie Monster's "Me Want It (But Me Wait)." New Blu-Rays. Big Bird's appearance on The Colbert Report. Jimmy Fallon and the Roots with the cast of Sesame Street at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. Food Fight! with Gordon Ramsey. Even that bizarre Lady Gaga special, which gave me one of the best sights of the year, Kristen Bell dancing with Bobo the Bear. There were so, so many years that with hardly any new Muppets stuff at all, and now... now they're everywhere and everything feels right with the world. And then there was Brian Jay Jones' essential Jim Henson: The Biography, which I'm making my way through right now, and which is the biography we all wanted to read. This is the best time to be a Muppets fan in a long time.

1. FF
Of all the comics Marvel had coming out this year, FF is the best. It's probably the best Marvel comic I've read since I was a child. It just feels like it has real consequences and stake that come out of its rich characters; it's honestly the first Fantastic Four-related comic in a long time that really justifies the idea that the FF--here extended out into Reed Richards' Future Foundation--is supposed to be a family. Matt Fraction and Mike Allred have created something really special and innovative, and it's all working up to a finale that's about to come out, but there have been some touching, wonderful moments along the way; such as the reveal of Adolf Impossible as a fearful, anxious boy, and the casual--but beautiful--revelation of a transgender Moloid. This really feels like the next-generation successor to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four, and I'm so glad I got to read it.

And that's 2013. I meant to have this up yesterday, but I was much more sick than I am today. And it still took me hours, in and out, lots of breaks. I hope this doesn't happen every freaking year. But at least there was a lot of great stuff to enjoy this year. I'd much rather talk about enjoying stuff than go nuts over things I didn't like.

I hope you all enjoyed stuff, too. Happy New Year!


Nik said...

Excellent list, I'm glad I'm not the only one who's been loving FF (oddly the Fantastic Four companion book also written by Fraction didn't do a thing for me).

Kal said...

I am glad to see you hit many of the things I too loved this year. Agents of Shield, Boardwalk Empire, Broadchurch, FF, Grumpy Cat, Chris Hatfield, Gravity,Man of Steel, Asohka Tano on Clone Wars (wow what and ending that makes her eligible to appear in Episode 7 as one of the few forced trained Jedi left around the galaxy.)

SamuraiFrog said...

Nik: The Fantastic Four series started great, but I then petered out for me around the time they were meeting Julius Caesar. I'm sticking with it now because both titles are coming to an end, so I assume both books are going to cross right there at the end.

The next Fantastic Four volume is going to be written by James Robinson, so I kind of have high hopes for that (his Starman is probably my favorite DC comic of all time).

Kal: I would love to see Ahsoka somehow end up in the films. I also still really want to see a Hoojib, but I'm not holding out for that.

Kelly Sedinger said...

Some of the stuff you liked I didn't, other stuff you liked I did...par for the course, but HOW IN GOD'S NAME WAS I NOT AWARE OF THAT LIBERACE MOVIE?! It's amazing to me when something manages to so completely evade my attention. I didn't know about it until I read this post. Wow.

MC said...

Speaking of James Franco, did Becca see his Roast?

Pacific Rim... they had me with the mechs, the huge, huge mechs... the kaiju were just the gravy.

And I love the fact that Pete Holmes basically destroyed the Nolan/Bale Batman... I cannot take it seriously anymore because him doing that voice... Ex-Men is hilarious too.