All things considered, 2013 was quite the year in media. Many (including me) have marveled at how strong the year in cinema was, especially considering how not strong the summer blockbuster season was. But beyond film, you could argue that it was a banner year for television as well, with Breaking Bad ending its run and (mostly) sticking the landing, as well as the emergence of exciting new shows like Top of the Lake, Broadchurch and The Returned. The music world gave us a series of comebacks, some surprising some not so surprising, such as the first David Bowie record in 10 years, and long-awaited follow-ups from The Knife (7 year wait), Queens of the Stone Age (6 year wait) and Nine Inch Nails (4 year wait).
The gaming industry continued to thrive with the new era of consoles on the horizon. Developers pulled out all the stops for their last games on the XBox 360 and the Playstation 3, from console exclusive titles like The Last of Us or Beyond: Two Souls to multiplatform blockbusters like Bioshock Infinite or Grand Theft Auto V. League of Legends continued to break all sorts of the records on the PC gaming side, even with the full release of DOTA 2.
No matter where you went, it was not difficult to find something satisfying, whether intellectually, artistically or emotionally. Here are some of my favorite things from 2013 in the world of entertainment.
Top Three Albums of 2013
3. The Soundtrack for Inside Llewyn Davis
The latest release chronologically, the soundtrack for Inside Llewyn Davis hasn't gotten the press that T-Bone Burnett's other major collaboration with the Coens got (that would be O Brother Where Art Thou?), but I cannot stop listening to this. A compilation of folk covers of both traditional and contemporary songs. Highlights can be boiled down to anything Oscar Isaac sings solo, but specifically his first and last songs, "Hang Me Oh Hang Me" and the solo version of "Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)."
2. Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
Josh Homme hasn't been entirely off the grid since 2007's Era Vulgaris, working with Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones for Them Crooked Vultures (who, somewhat unsurprisingly, sound quite a bit like Queens of the Stone Age with that signature Homme sound), and remastering and rereleasing the first Queens record, but it's nice to get an entirely new album from the band. The personnel has changed again, of course, but that sound is still there, and Homme remains the best hard rock writer and musician in the world. ...Like Clockwork is generally a little quieter and groovier than some of the more aggressive QOTSA records, and it's the moments of true experimentation that really shine. Highlights include those slower dirges, specifically "Kalopsia" and "I Appear Missing"
1. Deafheaven - Sunbather
Considering I didn't even know Deafheaven existed when this year began, to consider it a surprise would be an understatement. I discovered Deafheaven from a Grantland article by Steven Hyden about the Queens of the Stone Age, and was compelled to listen to the album after noticing that it had a 99 rating on Metacritic during its early days of release. It's difficult to put Sunbather into words, with its not so expected mix of My Bloody Valentine-esque tremolo picked guitar work and pure black metal screeching and blast beat drumming. The most distinctive parts of Sunbather, though, are the decisions made by the band to keep much of the album in major keys, resulting in a surprisingly bright sound that matches the post-modern pink cover of the album that has put so many black metal fans on edge. The singer is a barrier for entry that could be difficult to overcome, but there is so much to love here for even those who aren't metal fans. Highlights are the first and last songs on the album, "Dream House" and "The Pecan Tree"
Top Three Television Shows of 2013
3. Game of Thrones
Everyone will remember this season's Game of Thrones for the depiction of The Red Wedding, one of the more infamous events of the books. And "The Rains of Castamere" certainly is one of the better individual episodes of a television show released this year. There are a few dips here and there in the third season of Game of Thrones, but it's a show that continues to improve and gets better with multiple viewings.
2. Breaking Bad
The finale notwithstanding, Breaking Bad would be tough to beat purely on the merits of "Blood Money" the second half premier, and "Ozymandias," the antepenultimate episode directed by Rian Johnson (of Brick and Looper fame). Breaking Bad is going to go down as one of the all-time great shows of the modern era, and much of the reasoning for that is how strong this fifth season is.
1. The Good Wife
The Good Wife could be one of the all-time great procedurals, An effortless mix of thoroughly engrossing court cases (often ripped from the headlines in a way that does not want you to rip your hair out) and a deep, satisfying cast of characters led by Julianna Margulies, Matt Czuchry, Christine Baranski and Josh Charles, the show went out of its way to break up the status quo for the end of its fourth season leading ino its astounding fifth season. The first eight or so episodes of season five are a nonstop thrill ride of backstabbings and explosive confrontations leading to a seismic shift in episode five, understandably titled "Hitting the Fan." There may have been bigger shows on 2013, but there weren't any that were more satisfying than The Good Wife.
Top Three Video Games of 2013
3. Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)
Quantic Dreams' first game since Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls is another adventure game in the same vein, dark, depressing and often disturbing in its content. The draw here is the heavy use of motion capture (which has certainly reached new heights this year), as you very clearly control Ellen Page playing the main character (Willem Dafoe is also one of the leads). It can create a bit of an uncanny valley syndrome especially early in the game, but those worries melt away as the game takes you on its absolutely insane journey.
2. The Last of Us (PS3)
Another PS3 exclusive, The Last of Us is a product of Sony's flagship in-house studio, Naughty Dog. Set in a post-apocalyptic zombie-plant wasteland, you must work your way across the United States as Joel and Ellie, two lost souls simply trying to survive in this dangerous world. The production design of this game, from its in-game engine to its voice acting to the direction of its cut scenes, is second to none, offering a thoroughly satisfying experience that always surprises and never disappoints.
1. Bioshock Infinite (Multiplatform)
I have written at length about Bioshock Infinite, Irrational Games' follow-up to 2007's Bioshock, so it probably doesn't come as much of a surprise that Infinite is my number one game of the year. The design of Columbia, the turn of the century exceptionalist city in the sky is breathtaking, but what brings you in and keeps you pushing for more is Elizabeth, your partner in crime as you wage your way across the world looking to escape. An intellectual masterpiece, Bioshock Infinite engages your brain and never lets go all the way through its shocking and game-changing ending.