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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Best of 2013

Here's my not-very-scientific acknowledgment of some stuff I enjoyed a lot (or didn't) in 2013. Definitive? Hell no.

Best book I read this year (fiction): Probably was Susan Steinberg's Spectacle, an odd assortment of short stories that are quite unconventional, in a good way (I think). I reviewed it for PopMatters so here you go. Sometimes I think the stories are mighty thin, sometimes I think they're brilliant. Probably a bit of both.

Most thought-provoking foreign films on DVD: It's a tie this year, with Germany's neo-Nazi drama Combat Girls going neck-and-neck with the film adaptation of Yasmina Khadra's terrific novel The Attack. There were some pretty major changes made to that book in its translation to film, but it's still a fairly riveting experience to watch. Meanwhile, Combat Girls is a very tough, very powerful movie that deserves a large audience IMO.

Album most likely to rekindle your faith in human nature: Brushy One-String's Destiny is filled with powerful performances from this husky-voiced Jamaican singer. Sure, his guitar's only got one string, but this ain't no gimmick. Brushy's the real deal, kids.

Most effective Afro-Western collaboration: Last year we had The Toure-Raichel Collective's Tel Aviv Sessions; this year we have the JuJu album In Trance. Smoking-hot guitar work plays off of tradition djembe (African violin) with a rock-solid percussion section keeping everything lively. If this doesn't make you jump up and down, there's not much I can do for you.

Best film documentary: I have to go with 20 Feet From Stardom, the movie about backup singers (mostly black women) who make the music superstars they work for (mostly white men) sound so much better. With performances by Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, Judith Hill and Tata Vega, among others, there's just too much awesomeness, not to mention joy, to resist here. BUT, a big shout-out also goes to the scathing documentary Blackfish, which pretty much blows the lid off of Sea World's systemic exploitation and abuse of not only orcas but also the human trainers who work with them. Both these movies are well worth catching on DVD if you haven't seen them already.

Guiltiest pleasure, DVD division: DaVinci's Demons, a Starz TV show that just takes the loony and runs with it. Leonardo as a sort of Renaissance-Man secret agent fighting against the Pope and vampires? Sure, why not? Runner-up: Spartacus: War of the Damned.

Most effective use of guitar distortion: Bardo Pond's Peace on Venus is pretty much what I want my imaginary band, The Non-Dairy Creamers, to sound like. Imagine Crazy Horse after a couple bottles of cough syrup.

Lamest post-apocalyptic movie of the summer: After Earth. I had high hopes going into this one, but it was just... lame. I don't mean to pick on Will Smith's kid, who starred in it, but he is a sorta charisma vacuum. Also, the monsters sucked.

Best TV show: Game of Thrones, OF COURSE.

(WARNING: Season 3 spoilers below, sort of)

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