The Marquee Year-End Spectacular

Photo via impawards.com

Photo via impawards.com

FAVORITE MOVIES 

Peter Setter: “Skyfall”

The past year marked the 50th anniversary of James Bond. Fittingly enough, “Skyfall,” Britain’s finest spy’s latest adventure, is one of the best in terms of story, acting and design. The dazzling movie contains humor, emotion and a surprising amount of complexity. Old motifs of the series come to a close as new ones are introduced, all while Daniel Craig’s Bond traipses across the globe in a thrilling, cool take as the classic character.

“Skyfall” is not only a faithful entry to the series; it’s also a fantastic movie in its own right. Fans of Bond will delight in this intelligent and opulent vision of the British cultural icon. Both the main and supporting casts of “Skyfall” deliver excellent performances against the backdrop of a crisp London, a sleek Shanghai and the rugged highlands of Scotland. If there is one Bond film to see, “Skyfall” has made a bold case for it to be the one.

Matt Mueller: “Zero Dark Thirty”

Kathryn Bigelow’s probing, jarringly authentic look into the hunt for Osama bin Laden featured one of the most intense sequences of the year, as well as one of the year’s most complex and morally dynamic stories. The movie should have come away with a ton of Oscars – or at least one for its captivating star Jessica Chastain – but alas, it was not to be. Usually, the Academy’s own ineptitude is the culprit for its Oscar oopses, but this time, it was politics that got in the way. In case I needed another reason to hate current politics.

Eva Sotomayor: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

I’ll admit it: I spent way too much of my time this year either listening to music or at concert halls and not enough time at the movie theater. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” was one of the few movies I saw this year, but I absolutely loved it. It was one of my favorite books in middle school, so I was worried when I heard it was being turned into a movie. But the book’s author, Stephen Chbosky, also wrote and directed the film, making a loyal adaptation of the beloved novel.

Claire Nowak: “Life of Pi”

In a year of memorable films, none were as emotionally and visually captivating for me as “Life of Pi.” Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s New York Times bestseller takes viewers on a visual and spiritual journey as they watch Pi Patel struggle to survive on an abandoned lifeboat with a Bengal tiger in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The dazzling colors and detailed special effects make this film a must-watch in 3-D, and it garnered well-deserved Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects. First-time actor Suraj Sharma’s convincing performance as Pi was nothing short of Oscar-worthy, though the Academy failed to give him any recognition for it. If he could solely make 90 minutes of life on a stranded lifeboat stranded worth watching (a la Tom Hanks in “Castaway”), he deserved at least a nomination.

Maddy Kennedy: “Silver Linings Playbook”

This past year, there were plenty of big releases filled with A-list casts, hot stars and big-shot directors, but none of them had the heart or originality of “Silver Linings Playbook.” Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper lead a brilliant cast of talented actors as they try and navigate their way through a rocky modern romance filled with depression, mental illness and dancing. Personally, while I enjoy just about any Bradley Cooper film, it was refreshing to see him break from his usual drunken Vegas antics and take on a heavier, more complex role. But Lawrence’s performance is what truly makes “Silver Linings Playbook” successful. She’s blunt, bipolar, and overall fantastic. Her Oscar was well-deserved. “Silver Linings Playbook” is a fresh, witty and insightful look into the chaotic lives of a small, seemingly normal group of people.

 

Erin Heffernan: “Moonrise Kingdom”

“Moonrise Kingdom” is my favorite kind of movie – one with endless rewatchability. Watching the bespectacled Khaki Scout – played by Jared Gilman – fall in love with his striking preteen beau (Kara Hayward) never gets old. I’ve been a longtime fan of director Wes Anderson’s work with films like “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Rushmore.” Even so, I think this ranks with among the most Wes Anderson-y of Wes Anderson flicks.  Like the rest of his work, “Moonrise Kingdom” nails beautiful cinematography, a solid soundtrack and a quirky language all its own with lines, like “Jiminy Cricket! He flew the coop!”

FAVORITE TV SHOWS

Peter Setter: “House of Cards”

The biggest television programming development coming out of this year was the premiere of Netflix’s first original series, “House of Cards.”

Netflix’s brave new attempt to change how people consume television immediately caught me and dragged me into a frenzy, forcing me to inhale all 13 episodes of the first season.

“House of Cards” follows the political scheming of Francis Underwood, a Democratic congressman and House majority whip from South Carolina. Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, is passed over for Secretary of State, a position promised him by the President-elect. The show follows Underwood and his attempts to bring down those who, in his eyes, did him wrong.

The political drama oozes with darkness, as the conniving politicians work in the seedy underbelly of government. The show plays like a movie, with each episode advancing the plot spectacularly while gripping the audience from beginning to end.

Matt Mueller: “Arrested Development”

Yes, I know I’m approximately seven years late hopping on this bandwagon, but I’ve finally caught up with “Arrested Development.” And as it turns out, all you guys were totally right. The tragically mistreated Fox sitcom, starring the affably idiotic and greedy Bluth family, is easily one of the funniest shows ever put on television.

The characters are hilariously memorable – even the smallest ones like Gene Parmesan – the actors are brilliant, and the writing is unbelievably clever. I mean, absurdly, ridiculously clever. Several running gags don’t truly reach their final punch lines until a season after they started, and each episode is a beautiful web of intertwined jokes and gags, like when Buster got attacked by a loose seal while rebelling against his mother Lucille (not to be confused with Lucille 2, but that’s a whole other subplot).

It’s an incredible show, and I’m glad I was able to jump on the bandwagon before the new season starts at the end of the month. I have a good feeling I’m not the only one hopping on at the right time, but if there’s one thing I know about “Arrested Development,” it’s that they’re always looking out for hop-ons.

Eva Sotomayor: “The Mindy Project”

Mindy Kaling is amazing. Let’s just get that clear before I say anything else. Kaling started off as the only woman on the writing staff for “The Office” and portrayed Kelly Kapoor on the show. Now she stars, writes and directs “The Mindy Project,” a sitcom that follows gynecologist Mindy Lahiri and all of her personal and professional life dramas.

Although it kind of reinforces the stereotype of the professional woman whose personal life is a mess, it portrays Mindy as smart in her leading role. The show’s jokes are witty, fast-paced and clever. The debut season had its ups and downs, but overall it was a light and enjoyable show meant to make you laugh for 20 minutes every week. The debut season is about to come to an end, and thankfully it has been renewed for a second season. “The Mindy Project” is streaming online, and episodes are only about 30 minutes long, so you can catch up on ten episodes in five hours. Not that I’ve ever done that.

Claire Nowak: “Bates Motel”

I’m going to be honest. I really don’t watch TV. The last time I tried to watch a show religiously was when “White Collar” premiered on USA. I watched a grand total of three episodes. That being said, I haven’t missed an episode of “Bates Motel” since it premiered seven weeks ago. A&E’s contemporary prequel to “Psycho” follows a young Norman Bates and a living Norma Bates as they try their hand at running a motel in a quaint Oregon town. Soon enough, they become immersed in a world of drug wars, sex slavery and murder — all while viewers are slowly shown the origins of Norman’s psychotic psyche. It may be disjointed and, at times, a bit too unbelievable for its own good, but it sure is addictive.

Maddy Kennedy: “New Girl”

The premise is simple: An elementary school teacher in her mid-20s moves into an L.A. loft with three guys she’s never met. Friendships and hijinks ensue. Jessica Day’s charmingly dysfunctional roommate relationships are the perfect twist on the tired buddy comedy sitcom. With a quirky cast led by Zooey Deschanel, dry humor and endless potential to surprise, there is a loft full of reasons to start watching “New Girl” … and then never stop.

Erin Heffernan: “Girls”

I’ll admit Lena Dunham is definitely not for everybody. There’s far too much awkward nudity and bratty millennial attitudes on her HBO show for many to enjoy it. Nevertheless, I love “Girls” for the real risks it takes. It is always sharply written and full of depictions that make you reconsider friendships, love (or hookups) and growing up among today’s vaguely indie, sometimes self-involved, just-trying-to-figure-it-out young person. In between scenes that have made me laugh harder than any other show this year, “Girls” spins its strong lineup of characters in often satirical plot turns that, even when they misstep, do so with panache.

FAVORITE ALBUM

Peter Setter: Mumford & Sons, “Babel”

My favorite album from the last year is “Babel,” Mumford & Sons’s sophomore album. The group’s latest effort is less sophomore slump and more folk-pop success story.

At times, the album plays as more of a companion to the group’s first album, “Sigh No More,” and not an independent record. While some may view this as a weakness, I applaud Mumford & Sons for sticking to its strengths and delivering a familiar album that entices fans and invites new listeners to take a chance on the band.

The album returns to the group’s folk sound with earnest lyrics and emotional messages. Each song features the signature of the band: its effortless ability to slide from quiet melodies to loud and boisterous stories.

This album is my go-to if I am ever in need of reliable study music but also works as a casual listen on long car rides home.

Matt Mueller: “Spring Breakers” Soundtrack

Skrillex and I have a nice mutual understanding: He stays away from my iTunes account by all means necessary, and I don’t write terrible, hateful things about his loud, screechy music on every public forum available. Imagine my shock, then, when I went to go see “Spring Breakers,” heard his music and quite enjoyed it. His music – both new and old – matched the movie perfectly and somehow managed the impossible: It made me tolerate dubstep.

Eva Sotomayor: Passion Pit, “Gossamer”

“Gossamer,” the follow-up to Passion Pit’s 2009 debut “Manners,” was different from its predecessor. After blasting “Manners” all through high school, it took me a couple of listens to finally grasp “Gossamer.” Once I did, however, it was on repeat for a long, long time.

With the lead single “Take a Walk” played everywhere from ads to television shows, Passion Pit achieved chart success. But the album also contained moodier songs, like “On My Way,” “Constant Conversations” and “Where We Belong,” that dealt with lead singer Michael Angelakos’s life-long struggle with bipolar disorder. The dark, honest lyrics paired with “lighter” melodies and beats seemed to go perfectly together. It’s the kind of album that goes with any mood.

When I finally got tired of “Gossamer,” I saw Passion Pit live at the Riverside Theatre, where the band played an absolutely amazing show, and thus the obsession was sparked again.

Claire Nowak: The Summer Set, “Legendary”

Odds are, you probably haven’t heard of The Summer Set, but this pop rock band from Arizona is slowly making its way up in the music world. The quintet is a front-runner in Macy’s iHeart Radio Rising Star competition and will play Warped Tour this summer. The group’s third album, “Legendary,” is a clear example of why The Summer Set will soon top the charts. The acoustic guitars and percussion rhythms make fun summer tunes, perfect for dancing and singing along. The lyrics are clever with a hilarious amount of sass, as heard in “F**k U Over.” As an added bonus, these musicians sound just as good, if not better, when they perform live. That should count as incentive to see them on Warped Tour.

Maddy Kennedy: Ed Sheeran, “+”

After releasing his debut album in the U.K. almost two years ago, Europe’s favorite flame-haired Brit, Ed Sheeran, began to gain a following in the U.S. this year after the release of his first American album, “+.” Although he’s not much for looks (Go Google a picture of him. Seriously, I dare you. He looks like a deranged leprechaun.), his soft acoustic sound and simple reflective lyrics accent a vocal talent that’s not always easy to find in the age of auto-tuned pop. He also can rap. Tell me the last time you’ve seen a ginger successfully do that.

Erin Heffernan: Jack White, “Blunderbuss”

When the White Stripes broke up, it felt almost like a personal loss. That was my BAND through middle and high school.  I looked to Jack White as a sort of prophet of great American music.

“Blunderbuss” cemented my faith in White’s ability to rock really damn hard, despite losing sister/ex-wife/drummer Meg. Along with hard-hitting numbers like “Sixteen Saltines” and “Missing Pieces” though, “Blunderbuss” also seamlessly moves from rock to blues to roots in the way only Jack White can—  tinged with a blend of soul, virtuosity and showmanship.

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