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The UCSD Guardian




The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian




The Best of 2013

The Best of 2013

“The Wolf of Wall Street” may not stand up against “Gravity.” Read up on the Guardian’s choices for best songs, albums and movies of 2013.

Movies

  1. MOVIES_gravityGRAVITY
    BY DEVON MUNOS
    Outer-space thriller “Gravity” is aptly named for both the challenges the characters face and the monumental emotional voyage the audience experiences. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and seasoned astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) fight the physical difficulty of escaping disaster and the psychological turmoil suffered in the process. The cinematography features long, sweeping shots that make the film feel real. Viewers are left gripping their armrests in fear as they watch the main characters struggle to survive in space.
  2. MOVIES_12yearsaslave12 YEARS A SLAVE
    BY EMILY BENDER
    Director Steve McQueen’s latest film is not for the faint of heart. Based on the 1853 autobiography of a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, the film depicts the dehumanization of slaves and the diseased social order that has plagued the American collective conscience for centuries. With support from Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt, it is lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor — undoubtedly a contender for Best Actor — who anchors the film with dignity and refinement.
  3. MOVIES_americanhustleAMERICAN HUSTLE
    BY DEVON MUNOS
    Dark comedy “American Hustle” shows audiences the high stakes that come when convicts try to scam crooks bigger than themselves. Exceptional acting by an A-list cast helps depict the twisted lives of con artists Irving (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams), who are forced to trap politicians and mobsters at the demand of ambitious, over-eager FBI agent Richie (Bradley Cooper) as he attempts to bust those behind 1970s ABSCAM scandal. “Hustle” uncovers how the instinct to survive corrupts a world beyond the con artist.
  4. MOVIES_insidellewyndavisINSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
    BY EMILY BENDER
    Joel and Ethan Coen evoke ’60s Greenwich Village with a story loosely based on the life of Dave Van Ronk, a folk musician whose career was overshadowed by Bob Dylan. Oscar Isaac plays aspiring singer-songwriter Llewyn Davis, who struggles to keep his music career afloat. Accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack, the film shows Isaac oscillating between hopefulness and despair. And what’s a Coen brothers film without an appearance by John Goodman, who is as snarky as ever as an aging, crippled jazz musician?
  5. MOVIES_savingmrbanksSAVING MR. BANKS
    BY ALLIE KIEKHOFER
    “Saving Mr. Banks,” Disney’s newest classic, reflects on the making of another Disney classic, Oscar-winning 1964 hit “Mary Poppins.” To turn her stories into a film, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) must work with high-strung Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson), author of the semi-autobiographical “Mary Poppins” books. “Saving Mr. Banks” shows the grating moviemaking process, as Travers fights nearly every creative liberty that Disney takes. Ultimately, “Banks” proves that, with a hit like “Mary Poppins,” Disney’s efforts are worth the work.
  6. MOVIES_bluejasmineBLUE JASMINE
    BY ETHAN FUKUTO
    “Blue Jasmine” is a superb but downcast character piece of an unstable woman in emotional and financial disarray. Featuring a career-best performance by Cate Blanchett, the film is supported by an impressive cast and an intriguing screenplay by Woody Allen that follows the fictitious, riches-to-rags socialite Jasmine as she attempts rebuild her life in San Francisco. There are laughs to be had, but the film’s greatness comes from the complex, shattered Jasmine navigating a post-recession America.
  7. MOVIES_wolfofwallstreetTHE WOLF OF WALL STREET
    BY EMILY BENDER
    In collaboration, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio can do no wrong. Working together for the fifth time, the film recounts the real-life story of convicted stock-market manipulator Jordan Belfort. Set in the late ’80s, the film is a Wall Street roller coaster ride fueled by sex, drugs and money. Promising his clients wealth while pocketing the profits, the cocaine-fueled Belfort gets richer and richer as corruption becomes ubiquitous. Not surprisingly, DiCaprio is electrifying under Scorsese’s direction.
  8. MOVIES_blackfishBLACKFISH
    BY DEVON MUNOS
    “Blackfish” is making waves in media as an expose on the captivity of killer whales in theme parks like Sea World. The documentary follows the life of Tilikum, an orca who killed two trainers and a civilian who entered the whale’s facility illegally. “Blackfish” places the blame of the deaths not on the whale, but on the marine parks’ mistakes. Audiences thus question the imprisonment of large, intelligent, sea-dwelling creatures in undersized quarters.
  9. MOVIES_muchadoaboutnothingMUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
    BY JACQUELINE KIM
    Move over, Kenneth Branagh — there’s a new Shakespearean in town. While also filming blockbuster hit “The Avengers,” Joss Whedon adapted one of the Bard’s most famous comedies into a modern setting (in his own house, no less), starring a “skirmish of wit” between a feisty yet subtly vulnerable Beatrice (Amy Acker) and a headstrong, devil-may-care Benedick (Alexis Denisof). Despite a low-budget production, the film manages to complement minimalist black-and-white cinematography with grandiose Elizabethan English, making Whedon’s interpretation of the play a delightful romp.
  10. MOVIES_hobbitTHE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
    BY DEVON MUNOS
    Both visually and mentally stimulating, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” did not disappoint moviegoers returning for Peter Jackson’s latest epic. Incredible CGI effects bring to life the journey that the dwarves and hobbit continue on, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) as they head to take possession of the Lonely Mountain from dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) leaves the group to fight evil surfacing elsewhere. “Smaug” perfects the balance between adventure, camaraderie and comedy, offering an undeniable box office success.

Albums

  1. MUSIC_vampireweekend“MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY”
    — VAMPIRE WEEKEND
    BY KYLE SOMERS
    The true genius behind “Modern Vampires of the City” is that Vampire Weekend created a lineup of some of the warmest, brightest, most enjoyable tracks of the year while flawlessly working in a dark and intelligent message about human impermanence. At once evoking thoughts of youthful adventures and the beckoning finger of death, Vampire Weekend has clearly lost any capacity to give a fuck about an Oxford comma.
  2. MUSIC_arcadefire“REFLEKTOR” — ARCADE FIRE
    BY EMILY BENDER
    Since Arcade Fire won the Album of the Year Grammy Award for 2011’s “The Suburbs,” anticipation for a new release from the Canadian band has been palpable. And Arcade Fire delivered. “Reflektor” is a kaleidoscopic double alb,um whose lyrics about love, rebellion and mourning evoke the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (Auguste Rodin’s statue of the pair dons the album cover). Few bands can combine neo-Italo disco, bilingual vocals and a David Bowie cameo, but Arcade Fire pulls it off.
  3. MUSIC_kanyewest“YEEZUS” — KANYE WEST
    BY ETHAN FUKUTO
    Few would dare compare themselves to Jesus. But Kanye West is daring. And it’s exceedingly evident on “Yeezus,” a lean, aesthetically sharp album brimming with audacity and aggressive passion. The production is minimal yet harsh, with industrial-style synths and beats that complement Kanye’s often enraged raps. He’s at the top of his game, and he knows it. Whether Kanye is a genius or an arrogant ass, it’s hard not to call “Yeezus” anything short of fantastic.
  4. MUSIC_jamesblake“OVERGROWN” — JAMES BLAKE
    BY NILU KARIMI
    The first line says it all: “You’re on your own, in a world you’ve grown.” “Retrograde” actually grows. First, Blake’s hum echoes like the distant call of a bird; then, he strategically adds new layers of sound, moving the audience through the haunting repetition of “We’re alone now” and building up to climax with the cathartic line, “Suddenly, I’m hit.” Gradually, the sound strips away, morphing into a silence that makes whatever room you’re in feel empty.
  5. MUSIC_daftpunk“RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES”
    — DAFT PUNK
    BY KYLE SOMERS
    “Random Access Memories” is a vivid walking tour of Daft Punk’s universe of icy, synth-powered techno and vibrant dance club anthems. The music ranges from the dramatic musical theater-esque lines of “Touch,” to the rocketship takeoff in “Contact,” to the sex-addicted disco beats of “Get Lucky.” Despite its eclecticism, the album as a whole is a cohesive, focused vision that gives listeners no choice but to let their hair down and lose themselves to dance.
  6. Print“PARACOSM” — WASHED OUT
    BY RACHEL HUANG
    You’re in a fairy wood; soft amber light filters through swaying foliage as a laughing breeze entrances you — so goes “Paracosm,” the aptly named sophomore album from Ernest Greene (aka Washed Out). A refreshing exploration in feel-good synth (think Toro y Moi), catchy progressions, seamless transitions and an extended love song to the mysticism of the natural world, “Paracosm” takes listeners to a realm of fantasy and vibrancy, and does it with the aplomb of a child’s purest imagination.
  7. David Bowie's The Next Day“THE NEXT DAY” — DAVID BOWIE
    BY NILU KARIMI
    After 10 years of silence, Bowie is back. Much like its title, this album feels fresh as a new day, combining the rock ‘n’ roll of his 1972 album, “Ziggy Stardust,” with the otherworldliness of 1970’s “The Man Who Sold the World.” Bowie creates music and lyrics that transport the audience into the future, to a place where he has reincarnated once again, exclaiming to the world in this new album, “Here I am, not quite dying.”
  8. MUSIC_haim“DAYS ARE GONE” — HAIM
    BY EMILY BENDER
    Twenty-something sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim are paving the way for a new Los Angeles indie pop wave. Their debut album delivers songs that are rhythmic and tough, reminiscent of ‘90s R&B act En Vogue, yet luscious and emotional, earning the trio comparisons to ‘70s Fleetwood Mac. Featuring catchy hooks, glistening synthesizers and funky bass lines, Haim evokes pop gems of the past while making the sound its own.
  9. MUSIC_ginwigmore“GRAVEL AND WINE”
    — GIN WIGMORE
    BY JACQUELINE KIM
    Amy Winehouse is alive. And Duffy is back on the scene (from wherever she’s been since “Mercy”). Well, not really, but New Zealander songstress Gin Wigmore sounds like a Winehouse-Duffy vocal reincarnation. But Wigmore’s no copycat. Sure, she’s got the smoky voice and Motown funk to match her contemporaries, but the Kiwi singer-songwriter has plenty of her own sass and poignancy. After all, she belts on lead single “Black Sheep,” “Everybody’s doing it, so why the hell should I?”
  10. MUSIC_thecivilwars“THE CIVIL WARS”
    — THE CIVIL WARS
    BY JACQUELINE KIM
    A duo calls it quits on grounds of “irreconcilable differences.” We’re not talking about a divorce here — this is The Civil Wars’ surprise split, fresh off the success of their chemistry-laden 2011 debut “Barton Hollow.” But just months after announcing their hiatus, the Grammy-winning alt-country band reconciled and released a formidably stunning sophomore album that exceeded all expectations. Their sophisticated folk struck the perfect balance of polished and raw — slick enough for mainstream ears and rough enough to be angsty and edgy.

Songs

  1. MUSIC_lorde“ROYALS” — LORDE
    BY EMILY BENDER
    Just when the teen-pop industry thought it knew what teenagers really cared about, 17-year old New Zealander Lorde appeared out of nowhere, delivering an anti-pop pop song critiquing luxury culture and materialistic delusion. The track, which debuted at No. 1 in March, pulsates with subtle beats and echoing finger snaps, adorned with cooing harmonies. The simple arrangement highlights the lyrics, in which the disillusioned singer sneers, “That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.”
  2. “RETROGRADE” — JAMES BLAKE
    BY NILU KARIMI
    The first line says it all: “You’re on your own, in a world you’ve grown.” “Retrograde” actually grows. First, Blake’s hum echoes like the distant call of a bird; then, he strategically adds new layers of sound, moving the audience through the haunting repetition of “We’re alone now” and building up to climax with the cathartic line, “Suddenly, I’m hit.” Gradually, the sound strips away, morphing into a silence that makes whatever room you’re in feel empty.
  3. MUSIC_badblood“POMPEII” — BASTILLE
    BY JACQUELINE KIM
    This rookie band is no one-hit wonder. British rockers Bastille may have had their greatest success with their literate single “Pompeii,” which charted at No. 2 in the U.K., but the group is one to watch this year. Aside from their other, equally well-read singles, “Pompeii” attests to Bastille’s stylistic strength: booming harmonies, military-esque beats and frontman Dan Smith’s vocal range. And honestly, how many songs are about a historic volcano that symbolizes life’s obstacles?
  4. “STEP” — VAMPIRE WEEKEND
    BY KYLE SOMERS
    “Step” is surely a contender for the most well-read song of the year, with obscure cultural references to Astor Place, Dar Es Salaam and Croesus. The lyrics are clever and fit the rest of “Modern Vampires of the City’s themes of aging and death, while the warm harpsichord lines and sweetly wandering melody sound as inviting as a thick blanket on a cold night. The music and lyrics blend seamlessly, helping “Step” outshine the impressive songs on the rest of the album.
  5. “THE WIRE” — HAIM
    BY RACHEL HUANG
    Sometimes you need a good, head-bobbing theme to get pumped, and Haim’s “The Wire” delivers just that. With husky, staccato vocals, belt-worthy lyrics and a delightedly energetic beat, the Los Angeles-based trio of sisters Este Arielle, Danielle Sari and Alana Mychal Haim unite ‘80s pop with modern sensibilities in a hit that yanks you in with the irresistible urge to dance. This rad tune will latch onto your brain and hold there forevermore, bopping feverishly on with the tenacity of a classic rock hit.
  6. “REFLEKTOR” — ARCADE FIRE
    BY ETHAN FUKUTO
    “Indie rock” concerts are typically characterized by a crowd of people too awkward — or too cool, perhaps — to dance. So Arcade Fire, being the indie band it is, doesn’t typically make music to dance to. They threw that notion out the window when they released the upbeat disco-meets-art rock “Reflektor.” It’s eccentric, with a dense assemblage of instruments backed by a pulsing beat, and even features vocals from David Bowie. What’s not to like?
  7. “WHERE ARE WE NOW?” — DAVID BOWIE
    BY NILU KARIMI
    The first line says it all: “You’re on your own, in a world you’ve grown.” “Retrograde” actually grows. First, Blake’s hum echoes like the distant call of a bird; then, he strategically adds new layers of sound, moving the audience through the haunting repetition of “We’re alone now” and building up to climax with the cathartic line, “Suddenly, I’m hit.” Gradually, the sound strips away, morphing into a silence that makes whatever room you’re in feel empty.
  8. MUSIC_mattnathanson“MISSON BELLS” — MATT NATHANSON
    BY JACQUELINE KIM
    Compare the mournful radio staple “Come on Get Higher” with Matt Nathanson’s Bay Area ode “Missions Bells,” and the former begins to sound like a cheery jingle. The lead single off his most recent — and arguably his best — album “Last of the Great Pretenders,” “Mission Bells” continues Nathanson’s usual melancholic themes. But there’s something punchier about the dark love song of “Mission Bells.” Maybe it’s Nathanson’s crazy falsetto in the chorus. But maybe the singer-songwriter’s already sophisticated folk-rock repertoire is maturing.
  9. MUSIC_mutualbenefit“ADVANCED FALCONRY” — MUTUAL BENEFIT
    BY ETHAN FUKUTO
    Simple yet surprisingly rich, warm and inviting, “Advanced Falconry” isn’t a song of subtlety. Sappy as it may seem, it’s a song about love. But up-and-coming folk singer-songwriter Mutual Benefit dresses this admittedly trite but universal theme with a soft voice surrounded by airy guitar loops, violins and light percussion. “Advanced Falconry” is delicately layered and orchestrated, creating a sense of simultaneous longing and happiness.
  10. MUSIC_kttunstall“FEEL IT ALL” — KT TUNSTALL
    BY RACHEL HUANG
    KT Tunstall’s “Feel It All,” off her newest album “Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon,” is a quietly brooding fare. It feels stripped down, lyrically and musically, and showcases Tunstall’s earthy voice at the fore, bare and beautiful as it navigates a simple but haunting melody. Her hushed vocals are grounded by the rough twang of a parallel guitar melody on an otherwise minimal backing track, and, added to the mournful, vulnerable lyrics, carries an emotional weight that is powerful and enduring.
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