A Year in Review: Saying Something’s Favorites

By Blake Baxter and Brent Glass 

2013

The year is over, which signals a couple things.  1.) A crap ton of sappy Facebook posts.  2.) Saying Something gets to review 2013’s highlights of popular culture.  However, let us assure you: We will not be composing a list of what the “best” albums, books, and movies were.  We’re simply going to inform you of our opinion of what our favorite pieces of pop culture were.

There is one thing that tops both Blake’s and my lists: the introduction of Saying Something.  As of now, Saying Something has been operating for roughly six months and has been enjoying every post and subsequent “comment” and “like.”  Thanks for being a part of our project.

Brent’s Top 10

1. Matthew McConaughey Favorite films are relatively easy to discern.  Some edge themselves into your heart and others, due to their magnificent directing, cinematography and/or any combination of such speak to your mind.   Until now I had never thought to consider an actor/ actress as a favorite fixture of a given calendar year.  Movies are one thing, but can actors transcend the impact of films?  If not before, Matthew McConauhey has done it for me.

Coming in at #1 of my favorite things of 2013, McConaughey earned it.  The first performance that put him on my radar was his role in “Mud.”  A far cry from the romantic comedies McConaughey became known for, “Mud” was a coming-of-age film centered on two boys in rural Arkansas.  (Contributor Blake Baxter wrote more in-depth about it here.)  The next masterful performance by McConaughey was found in Dallas Buyers Club.  Available in limited release, this film was not for everybody.  Full of graphic content, the tale of an HIV-positive cowboy-turned-pharmaceutical entrepreneur was enough to clinch Matthew many Golden Globe nominations.  Lastly, McConaughey was in The Wolf of Wall Street as a coked-out-masturbating-manager of stock brokers.  Highly revered director, Martin Scorsese, returned to the screen with a sensational tale of the fall of a power stock broker (not McConaughey but DiCaprio).  I consider it a small success for an actor in appear in one good film a year.  McConaughey weaseled out three this year, thus, earning him my numba one spot!

ron woodruff

2. The Final Season of Breaking Bad – It should be no surprise that Breaking Bad made the top of my list.  Certainly among the best television shows of all-time, Vince Gilligan’s masterpiece was finally resolved after five (or six, depending on how you look at it) phenomenal seasons.  A great antihero at the helm, like so many other elite shows (The Sopranos, The Wire), Breaking Bad has become a staple of popular culture.  Walter White and Jesse Pinkman will resonate with fans everywhere for quite some time.  I would say more, but the fact is I don’t have to.  The show’s reputation speaks for itself and you can check out Blake’s pieces here and here.

walter white

3. Gravity  Each year, critics and casual fans alike anticipate the best movies of the coming twelve months.  First, there is the spill over from the year before.  In the past this has included films such as Zero Dark Thirty and will be replicated with the release of Lone Survivor and Her on January 10 (while still being considered for the 2013 Oscar season).  Next there is the summer blockbuster time period.  This is the time where the action-packed thrillers and super hero flicks dominate the screen.  Finally, there is the Oscar-bait season, usually starting in mid-Fall and lasting until the end of the year.  This year has boasted many exceptional films.  One, however, pushed the limits of cinema: Gravity.

The tale of a medical engineer and astronaut who attempt to survive following an accident in space, the plot almost seems as if it would be boring.  Au contraire mon frere.  Director Alfonso Cuarón created a masterpiece that will be considered a game changer for years to come.  The beauty of Gravity lay within the cinematography.  While the story is beautifully personal, the shots of space and earth below are enough to make one’s jaw drop and not come back up until they leave the theater.  After viewing, one is reminded of the unfathomably large universe beyond this world and the unfathomably large narrative that every person holds within them.  A spectacle, indeed.

Gravity pic

4. Jennifer Lawrence – Adorable.  Beautiful.  Charming.  Darling.  Exquisite.  I’m not going to list an adjective for every letter in the alphabet to describe Jennifer Lawrence… but I could.  She certainly does not lack the artistry, brilliance, capability… sorry, there I went again.  But, let’s be real.  We can’t get enough of Ms. Lawrence.  Really it began with her role in The Hunger Games.  A true heroine, Lawrence became the symbol of equality and justice for young teenagers across the world.  Next came her role in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, which earned her an Oscar nomination and a chance to star alongside Bradley Cooper.  Then 2013 came.

Year 2013 was not a bad one for the young (22) actress.  Lawrence reprised her role as Katniss Everdeen for the second installment of The Hunger Games.  Unlike many sequels, Catching Fire surpassed the quality of the first film.  One area the second film excelled in?  Coverage of Jennifer Lawrence.  A newly born superstar, Lawrence’s prowess was felt throughout the entire film.  Oh, and her outfits managed to become much more appealing this time around as well… No complaints.  Her second notable performance of 2013 was as Rosalyn Rosenfeld, wife of con-artist Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), in American Hustle.  Lawrence’s second project with Bradley Cooper and David O. Russell proved to be her most versatile and revealing.  Arguably the funniest of the cast members, Lawrence had the audience on a string with her lingerie, temper tantrums, and catty quips.  As cliché as it may be, the lady known for being the “girl on fire” is now the actress on fire.  Hopefully she doesn’t slow down.  There is already hope, however.  Along with the two other installments of The Hunger Games, Lawrence is starring alongside Bradley Cooper once again in Serena, due 2014.  Yes…

Jennifer, Cooper

5. Arctic Monkeys, AM Unfortunately, I had not listened to the Arctic Monkeys before this year.  If the band was a new act, I would declare them one of my favorite things of 2013.  I may come off slightly stoopid, though, considering their first album debuted in 2006 and their latest record, AM, is their fifth studio album.  Pretty behind the curve for someone who writes about pop culture, huh?  I know, darn it!  But I digress.

As I have grown accustomed to saying, Arctic Monkeys’ most recent album is, well, sexy.  I have never felt so compelled to work my pelvis than while listening to AM.  Especially on tracks like “Knee Socks” where the lyric perfectly align with the “feel” of the track.  When you walked around your house wearing my sky blue Lacoste and your knee socks.

Another factor adding to the ranking of AM is that Blake and I made a trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to see Arctic Monkeys live.  Not ironically, the two opening acts were also quite talented.  The first band was NONONO, a Swedish band known for (if at all) their single “Pumpin Blood.”  I immediately recognized the tune, and by the end of their set the crowd had been won over – myself included.  Next was Foals, a British band whose biggest accomplishment was being dubbed the “best live band in the UK.”  Unsurprisingly, Foals was a treat to watch – especially their poppy, high energy “My Number.”  Finally, Arctic Monkeys took the stage, appearing as nothing more than shadows upon the color changing stage.  As a friend later tweeted, “I was a witness of the sexiest rock show alive.”

6. Lorde, Pure Heroine Some may remember my review of Lorde’s freshman album, Pure Heroine.  Storming the pop music scene like a freighter among paddle boats, Lorde distinguished herself as a serious artist in 2013 through poignant lyrics, an enigmatic personality and interview skills much beyond her years.  If one does not know much of Lorde, it is safe to say they have heard ruminations of We’ll never be royals… 

Though there has been no talk of a quick turnaround for an album, Lorde recently released an extended cut version of Pure Heroine which included four tracks from her The Love Club EP.  Additionally, the young artist surprised her fans with a free single available on iTunes.  These things, coupled with the fact that she recently announced a North American tour in 2014, show she will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

mgid-uma-content-mtv

7. American Hustle  I debated for quite some time on whether to include American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, or The World’s End.  As you can see, I chose American Hustle.  Not that I didn’t think The Wolf of Wall Street was a better film or that The World’s End was funnier, but because it was my favorite.  Some may remember that I had been waiting for American Hustle for quite some time.  I wrote about it for “The Fall Movies Saying Something is Excited About” and I simply thought it was super fun.

Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, and Louie C.K.?  Jeez.  From the first scene of Christian Bale meticulously arranging his toupee to Bradley Cooper’s impersonation of Louie C.K.’s character in the film, I was titillated.  I like being titillated.  Who doesn’t?

american_hustle_cast.jpg.CROP.article568-large

8. Arrested Development, Season 4 – Odd that it seems so long ago, but the highly anticipated fourth season of Arrested Development came out in May of 2013.  A comedy before its time, Arrested Development was cancelled after three seasons due to subpar viewers.  However, television seasons became available on DVD,Netflix happened, and Arrested Development managed to garner more fans than it ever had.  In lieu of the growing momentum, the creators of the Fox sitcom seized the opportunity.

The fourth season was unlike any other of Arrested Development.  Airing ten years after the first season of the show, the dynamics of the show had to change.  Most of the actors from the show regularly star in other movies or television shows.  As a result, most episodes focused on one character, explaining what had become of them since the third season abruptly ended.  The season ended up very wacky, even eccentric, at times.  Some episodes were definitely better than others, but overall I believe it is something worth remembering from 2013.

arrested development

9. Hyperbole and a Half by Alie Brosh – I wrote about this book not too long ago, here, therefore I will not go too in depth.  Hyperbole and a Half was a great piece of pop culture in 2013.  A compilation of short stories composed of crude drawings and narration, the book shone bright.  From coyly examining the odd behavior of dogs to the serious yet hilarious introspective look at the mind of a depressed person, Hyperbole had a little something for everyone.  The book also is a sign of the times.  Today, there are millions of bloggers worldwide.  Some of grown impressive followings such as Hyperbole and a Half and The Oatmeal.  The book Hyperbole and a Half reminded me just how influential a blogger can be – hiding behind a keyboard in their room.

10. Fruitvale Station This film escaped the radar of many people in 2013 and what a shame.  2013 had its fair share of racism.  From the Trayvon Martin case to the bigoted remarks of Riley Cooper, people were reminded that racism is still prevalent today.  Fruitvale Station would have been another one of those reminders for those who saw it.  Michael B. Jordan played the role of Oscar Grant III, a 22 year old man living in the Bay Area of California.  Based on a true story, the film shows a day in the life of Grant on New Year’s Eve.  Having previously served a minor jail sentence, Grant was attempting to live a more righteous path for the sake of his young daughter.  This was all changed when, at the very beginning of the New Year, Grant ran into an enemy from prison.  The two got in a tussle, dragging their respective friends into the battle, and eventually the police.  Police brutality ensued, and in a confusing series of quick events, Grant was shot by a police officer.  His life could not be saved.

Grant’s story was groundbreaking because of the multitude of people who taped the actions of the officers with their cell phones.  Police brutality and racism were exposed, rightly enraging many.  The film was extremely well done.  Michael B. Jordan showed high caliber acting and the final scene invoked anger, terror, and the thirst for justice.  Fruitvale Station was an important movie in 2013 and will be for some time.

13-fruitvale-station

Honorable Mentions:

The Wolf of Wall Street, Mad Men (Season 6), The World’s End

Brent Glass is a Michigander who graduated from Eureka College in May of 2013. He spent time at the Sagamore Institute in Indianapolis, IN (a non-partisan think tank) where he worked on political economy pieces for Detroit, MI and Elkhart, IN. Additionally, he spent the summer of 2012 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, working on social media management. Currently he is working as a freelance writer for Sagamore Institute, creating a social media management business (Connect You Consulting) and working full-time as a Management Assistant to the owner of a car dealership. He plans to further his education in the fall of 2014 in public policy.

Blake’s Top 10: 

Wow, 2013 was a great year for pop culture. As Brent said, it would be pretty reductive to state that these top 10 lists sum it all up, but it does provide a sense of how amazing and fun this past year was, and gives us a snapshot of some of our personal highlights. Don’t forget these are the things that we appreciated the most, not things that we insist are objectively the best, (even if they are!). Plus, it’s not like we’ve seriously consumed every single thing pop culture had to offer this year. We do have lives and jobs outside of this blog, after all. A couple more things before I start, and they’re important. First, I did not see THE WOLF OF WALL STREET before creating this list, otherwise that movie and/or Leonardo DiCaprio – The Great Gatsby wasn’t my favorite, but Leo was excellent in it– would have ranked somewhere pretty high. Secondly, nor did I see American Hustle before this list, or Jennifer Lawrence – she can appear in everything as far as I’m concerned – would have landed somewhere, too.

Okay, let’s go.

10. Eastbound & Down’s final season

When Eastbound & Down began, it was a lot of things – hilarious, ridiculous, surprisingly poignant, to name a few. However, with each new season Danny McBride and his buddies tried to throw in a couple of curveballs. Kenny (FUCKING) Powers was once a superstar, but he faded into obscurity, teaching gym, living with his family in the suburbs. By the end of the third season, Kenny had shown the world that he could get to the top. But in the fantastic season three finale, with nothing left to prove, he gracefully walked away… well, sort of. Actually, he unnecessarily faked his death, and pissed off just about everyone that cared about him aside from the love of his life, April.

In season four, we could have seen Kenny decide that he was wrong and start training for yet another comeback, and it would have been stupid, but probably hysterical. But instead, when season four returned, we learned that Kenny has put his narcissistic, irresponsible, and exceedingly selfish days behind him, and has become the perennial family man. Yet, as is always the case with Kenny, it wasn’t enough. And so, Kenny goes down a dark, self-destructive path towards becoming a big-name media personality. It’s surprisingly dark, but it’s also very smart and off the charts funny. Personally, I’m very sad to see such a brilliant mixture of dumb and clever humor go away. I won’t spoil the ending, but I guarantee you’ll be in tears – for one reason or another.

Kenny Powers

9. Yeezus

Rapper/celebrity/self-proclaimed “God” Kanye West’s Yeezus is without a doubt the most polarizing album of the year. There aren’t a lot of people that are in the middle on this one – you either hate it or love it. I land on the “love” side of the spectrum. I understand why people don’t like it. Kanye and his producers concocted the most abrasive, intentionally alienating noises that they possible could. Its industrial sound literally assaults your eardrums. But if you can get through it and take everything else in, Yeezus is something special.

Most of the lyrics are his most vile, self-aggrandizing, and chauvinistic of his career. There aren’t any sweet songs about his relationship with his mom or anthems for ghetto kids that society has written off, or jams about the struggle to believe in Jesus even though it’s not gangsta.  It’s (almost) all gross. On 90% of the record, Kanye is indisputably a monster, and an angry one at that. He vents about racial progress, he complains about the pitfalls of his own fame, he rehashes ill-advised sexual encounters (and has the audacity to do so to the tune of “Strange Fruit”), and he laments of his own shortcomings. He brags and then he whines. He makes a thoughtful point and quickly negates it with an absurd boast. Then after all that, it ends with an irresistible love song about his relationship with the mother of his child, Kim Kardashian. Suddenly, his tantrum, his crisis has come to an end. He has a daughter, a woman he loves, and all of the nastiness is out of his system. To me, it is one amazing musical journey. But, you know, to each their own.

Yeezus

8. Louisville’s Championship Run 

Not everyone considers sports to be a part of pop culture, but, hey, this is my list, and I wanted to include a couple of sports things. I’ve already written extensively on this subject before, because I was covering the team for an internship at the time. I was following along very closely throughout the season, but even if you weren’t, how could you not get caught up in all of the storylines? Louisville’s quest to get out of the enormous shadow of the University of Kentucky basketball; the last season of the traditional Big East; Rick Pitino’s pursuit of his elusive first title in Louisville. What about the games? The heartbreaking, triple overtime loss to Notre Dame; their incredible comeback over Syracuse in the Big East tournament; and especially, their uplifting blowout over Duke in the Elite Eight after the devastating loss of Kevin Ware. The players? Remember, the electrifying Russ Smith, battle-tested senior point guard Peyton Siva, Senegal’s 6 foot 11 monster Gorgui Dieng? Remember Spike Albrecht’s first half three-point explosion followed by Luke Hancock’s, the Cardinals’ refusal to go away and everything else that happened in that bananas National Championship game? I do, and I won’t soon forget that mania of that entire championship run.

Louisville-To-Play-Michigan-For-National-Championship-650x406

7. The NBA Finals/ NHL Finals

The NBA Finals and NHL Finals are generally around the same time each year, but 2013 was a little bit different. The NHL season begins before the NBA season; so consequently, its season is over first. However, this year the NHL got off to a late start due to a lockout-shortened season. This had a number of side effects, my favorite of which was that the NBA and NHL Finals occurred at the same time. And luck would have it that both finals were very satisfying. The NBA featured the best player in the league seeking his second title in a row. The NHL featured the Chicago Blackhawks seeking their second title in four years. Both featured their share of great games and exciting finishes. The Heat-Spurs series went to 7 games and included one of the most clutch shots ever from a future hall of famer who has had a career full of them. The Blackhawks-Bruins series included one of the longest games of all time (the Hawks won game one with 7:52 left in the third overtime period), and an insane conclusion to the series, when Chicago netted two goals in 17 seconds to clinch the title. What a fun couple weeks to be a sports fan.

Blackhawks Bruins

6. AM

Lord knows I’ve written enough about Arctic Monkeys’ latest, and moodiest, album, but this record just gets better with age. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them twice now and I can assuredly report they show no sign of slowing down. The first time was a party. The band rocked out and Alex Turner drank on stage. They were opening for the much more workman-like Black Keys, and they were thrilled to be doing it. The most recent time, they were all business. They were the main attraction, so they simply put their heads down and gave an incredible performance.  I can’t wait to see what they do next, because the paranoia, longing and sensual seduction of AM provided some of my favorite sounds of the year.

5. Modern Vampires of the City 

For two enjoyable albums, Vampire Weekend made music that was catchy, witty and riotously fun. This year, with the release of Modern Vampires of the City, they took things to a different level. Modern Vampires of the City features plenty of witty lyrics – “you’ve got the luck of a Kennedy,” “you oughta spare your face the razor because no one’s gonna spare the time for you,” etc. – and it’s still tons of fun – try keeping up with the breakneck pace of “Worship You” – but it’s beautiful, thoughtful and ambitious in a way that their self-titled debut and its follow up, Contra are not. Ezra Koenig and Co. meditate on the nature of life, death, and the afterlife. Modern Vampires whimsically explores an array of subjects such as dealing with the uncertainties of spirituality and the perils of aging. My favorite song, “Step” is a perfect dose of the sadness of growing up mixed with a quixotic sense of preserving against all odds. I love it. Modern Vampires of the City is my favorite album of the year.

Vampire Weekend

4. Matthew McConaughey

Wow, this guy was good this year. He’s quietly been on a tear for about two years now. This year, though, he hit a different level. First, he was terrific in a small budget indie movie called Mud. His character may have appeared to be another twangy charmer, but as the title role, McConaughey effortlessly showed off impressive range; he was the embodiment of smoothness, danger and inner-torture alike. Then, this fall he was even more brilliant in Dallas Buyer’s Club, as Ron Woodruff, a real life AIDS victim who refused to go down without a fight in the 1980s. For the role, he morphed into the antithesis of vanity, willfully shrinking his sculpted body into a skeleton. It was a gutsy performance worth every bit of the praise that has been heaped upon him so far. Then, just to make sure that you know 2013 was Matthew McConaughey’s year, he popped up in The Wolf of Wall Street, for a handful of hilarious scenes that lay the foundation for DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort’s behavior for the rest of the movie.

3. Gravity

If it wasn’t for The Wolf of Wall Street, Gravity would undisputedly be my favorite movie of the year. As it stands, it is my favorite movie-going experience. It is only 90 minutes long. There isn’t a lot of plot. You just sit down and melt into your seat. It isn’t so much a character study, (though the characters are compelling) as it is an examination of human nature.  What will a human do to survive in the most extreme and impossible of circumstances? Can man conquer nature? Can it even survive it? This combined with the most stunning visuals of this year – or of any year, for that matter – made it a must-see in theaters.

Gravity

2. The Breaking Bad Experience

The final season of Breaking Bad was a nonstop thrill ride that was unlike anything I’ve seen on television. The brilliant first half, which aired in 2012, displayed Walt at the peak of his powers – and arrogance. The second half was mostly about Walt reaching his inevitable fall. It was about comeuppance, and then, at the end, it was about coming to terms. The season featured impeccable acting from the entire cast, but especially from Bryan Cranston. Its high water mark was a scintillating hour of television called “Ozymandias”. In that single episode, Walt got a member of his family killed, Walt’s son found out the truth about his dad, Walt physically fought with his wife, Walt cruelly stabbed his former partner in crime in the heart with a secret of their past, Walt viciously berated his wife to protect her, and Walt kidnapped his own infant daughter. It was dark. It was sickening. It was exhilarating. I wouldn’t have been mad if that was how the series ended. It was the end of a façade that had been crumbling for some time. The end of the show ended up being something different, but honesty, that is only half of it.

There was nothing like watching Breaking Bad during those eight weeks. The Sunday nights were a treat, but the days beforehand were almost as fun. You could speculate what was going to happen with your friends, or you could read articles with half-baked and well thought out theories alike. There were memes. There were T-Shirts. And, when the finale aired, 10 million people watched it. That season transcended television. It wasn’t just a TV show; it was a pop culture phenomenon. And, let me tell you, it was a blast.

Breaking Bad s5

1. Riot Fest

I consumed A LOT of pop culture in 2013. It was also the year that I graduated college and thus experienced a big life change. Many of my friends moved away. I got my first full time job. Brent and I started this blog, and I started taking writing more seriously than ever before. Together, we committed to exploring a wide range of pop culture in order to challenge ourselves and to be able to provide commentary to our readers on a number of subjects. We binged on TV shows (Thanks, Netflix. What up, HBO GO), we tore through books, we watched sports, we went to the movies and saw a lot of concerts (all of which were pretty great, by the way). But if I could only choose one thing to call the best, my favorite, the most memorable, etc., it would have to be three September days I spent in Chicago. For those three days, I saw around 12 bands from several different genres, trekked all over Humboldt Park, consumed more than enough adult beverages, escaped from the world, and all in all just had the time of my life. And, on top of that, the experience provided inspiration for one of the most fun Saying Something posts that I’ve written.

Riotfest 2013

As evidenced by these two lists, 2013 was a pop culture year to remember; 2014 has a lot to live up to if it’s going to top it.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Blake Baxter is a native of Illinois and a 2013 graduate of Eureka College. He currently covers the Carolina Panthers for Football.com, as well as the Chicago Bulls for Yahoo Sports, and previously covered college basketball for ESPN Louisville during the 2012-13 season. He has also written about sports, pop culture and politics for The College FixThe Wine and Cheese Crowd and an assortment of newspapers. Blake works in the communication and marketing field for Technical Solutions & Services, but aspires to write full-time someday. 

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