Mr. O’Connor gives us his own rundown of 2013’s entertainment highlights… including his top comics, naturally.
Special mention: Gravity
When it comes to films containing Sandra Bullock, I’m sure that I’m not alone in avoiding them like the plague, but in Gravity, she gives one of the best performances I’ve seen from any actor. Although, that’s not to take away from George Clooney who’s both charming and funny here. Though I didn’t see it in the apparently-amazing 3D, it truly didn’t matter because the simple but otherwise involved plot is much more important than over-priced CGI special effects.
Runner up: Saving Mr. Banks
While Saving Mr. Banks is a highly emotive version of a real-life tale that twists some of the facts whilst also adding certain scenes for increased effect, it really doesn’t matter. Though this might mean that Banks is merely based on a true story instead of being one, Disney has given us one of the most beautiful tales you’ll see this year. I actually cried near the end, something I’ve previously only ever done whilst watching Avengers Assemble (poor Coulson) and The Iron Giant. Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are the true standouts here, but Paul Giamatti’s turn as chauffeur Ralph cannot be downplayed. It’s simply wonderful.
Winner: Thor: The Dark World
While I might happen to have crushes on both Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth, they haven’t influenced my opinion on including this one. Director Alan Taylor has taken the experiences from his tenure on Game of Thrones and brought this over to the Marvel Cinematic Universe whilst managing to pull some inspired performances from Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston and Anthony Hopkins. It was always going to be difficult to top Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearian Thor, but this is a much different effort from the first, making it difficult to compare the two. The humour is certainly much more evident, while the action scenes are much more frequent and involved alongside more emotional moments. I know there’s been a lot of flak directed at this film, but it’s all undeserved, especially our own SquabbleBox review written by a hack! A hack, I say! Honestly, everything about this film is superb. Also, continue to watch until the very end of the credits… it’s hilarious.
Special mention: End of Green – The Painstream
It’s for finding bands like End of Green that compilation albums really prove their otherwise limited worth, introducing you to acts that will never get airplay or coverage on the radio or in music magazines. Even those which are aimed specifically at certain genres. Whilst “Holidays in Hell” is by far the standout track, there’s a lot to love on this album that seems to refuse genre-labelling. The band apparently prefers the term “depressed subcore,” but it might make it a bit clearer if I describe it as “industrial doom rock.” No? Sod you then.
It’s an amazing album, and if it wasn’t for the next artist, they’d also be my find of the year.
Runner up: Emma Stevens – Enchanted
Certainly the best solo artist that I’ve discovered this year; she has a wonderful, unique voice and “A Place Called You” is almost certainly the best single of the year. It’s cheerful, catchy, and honestly just the most uplifting song you’ll hear in 2013. While none of the other songs on the album are quite this happy, they’re all of a high quality, remaining similar but with enough variety to be interesting. The only problem is that the record is mostly made up of songs culled from previous EP’s, so if you own any of her other albums, you might feel a bit cheated. However, due to Emma Stevens having been generally unknown up until this year, that’s rather unlikely, meaning that when you first listen to Enchanted its still all-new and superb.
Winner: Volbeat - Outlaw Gentleman & Shady Ladies
A hard rock band that has been firmly embraced by the metal community, Volbeat’s Between Hell/Above Heaven was a firm expression of intent, but while it was musically perfect, it was strangely lacking in catchy songs. Outlaw… certainly doesn’t suffer from the same problem with not one duffer throughout. “Dead but Rising” is certainly the highlight, seeming to meld hard rock and blues together perfectly, although “Room 24,” involving metal legend King Diamond, is certainly at the opposite end of the spectrum, entwining hard rock and heavy metal with blues overtones in a crazy-but-amazing blend of awesomeness. Whilst vocalist and guitarist Michael Poulsen is certainly the band leader, special mention must be made to the rest of the band who give the songs the kick and finish they need to make the album something special.
Special mention: Kangaroo Dundee
A show focused upon adorable kangaroos and wallabies? WHY ARE YOU NOT ALREADY WATCHING THIS?!
Runner up: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
It was almost inevitable that I was going to enjoy this. While Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. started off a little slow (as evidenced by our review of the pilot), it truly came into its own after a few episodes, although it could hardly fail with the inspired casting and directing, intriguing plot, and Whedon-esque humour galore. Also, COULSON’S ALIVE! Whether he’s a Life Model Decoy, a crazy clone or a Skrull, it doesn’t matter because he’s always going to be a badass. The highest praise I can give to this show is that I’d probably watch it even if it wasn’t Marvel-based. It can only improve after the midseason finale, which was easily the best instalment to date.
Winner: Hebburn (Series 2)
A lot of my favourite things this year have been given a lot of criticism by assorted press and review sites, but I don’t particularly care. This and S.H.I.E.L.D. were the only shows this year I’ve specifically gone out of my way to watch every week. While the first series was enjoyable, both the writing and the cast have come into their own this year, as they appear much more comfortable and natural in their roles. While its main focus is on Jack (Chris Ramsey) and Sarah Pearson’s (Kimberley Nixon) dysfunctional family life as the title suggests, it’s truly about the town and its troublesome inhabitants. Jim Moir in particularly gave the best performance each and every week as Joe Jack’s dad, giving wise and sage advice whilst dealing with his own fairly substantial problems. As an actor trying to escape the notoriety of “Vic Reeves,” this isn’t a bad start.
Hebburn is not the most intelligent of comedies, but it doesn’t matter as it’s consistently funny and manages to straddle a fine line between “alternative” humour and a classic family sitcom, and it works spectacularly well. I don’t know how likely a third series is, but I certainly hope there is one.
Special mention: All-New X-Men (“Collected Editions” released 2013)
My review of this series probably says it all; a remarkably enjoyable run for Marvel’s mutants.
Runner up: Aquaman: Throne of Atlantis
While it may involve the Justice League as much as the titular character, anyone who’s read my review of the issues preceding this story arc will know that Aquaman has been my surprise find of 2013, with amazing writing and art throughout. With Geoff Johns leaving his position as writer in 2014, however, there are new challenges for this series to overcome.
Winner: The Avengers (Vol.5)
The Avengers have been through a lot in the past ten years. A Disassembling, a Civil War, a Secret Invasion that allowed Norman Osborn and Marvel’s Villains to take control, followed by a war against the mutants. Yet here they are again, back bigger and better than ever before, preparing to face their biggest threat yet. It might be cheesy but Jonathan Hickman is perhaps my favourite Marvel writer of the moment, and he delivers a series full of wit, charm, and panache. Even though Hickman isn’t directly involved in it due to this set-up, I look forward to seeing the direction that is taken in 2014 with the intriguing Inhumanity crossover.