Who says 13 has to be an unlucky number?
Luck was clearly on 2013’s side when it came to entertainment. Film, music, arts, pop culture and especially television junkies were offered an embarrassment of riches.
Naturally, some shone more brightly than others. And to the entertainment writers from around the Postmedia News chain, the following 13 entertainers stood out most of all.
1. The cast of Breaking Bad
Now that was sublime. The idea that fictional, artfully created characters can appear in one’s living room week after week, year after year, is as old as the medium of television itself.
Not since The Sopranos, though, has a cast of fictional characters seemed as vivid and real as Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, Skyler White, Hank Schrader, Marie Schrader and Walter White, Jr.
Hour after hour, week after week, year in and year out, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt and R.J. Mitte breathed life into characters written on a page and made them seem real — vitally, tangibly real — and, more importantly, made us care about them, root for them and become invested in their future.
That all came together in a dizzying, white-knuckle thrill-ride-of-a-final-season that will go down in television annals as one of the medium’s most singular achievements.
Breaking Bad traded in cynicism, but it could also be darkly funny and, when least expected, heartbreaking.
That doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it doesn’t happen by accident. Cranston was the patriarch of the group and Gunn the den mother, on camera and off, but it didn’t end there.
In the final season, Norris’s Hank Schrader became the bright, moral core against which Walter White saw his own dark soul twisted and reflected back at him. Brandt’s Marie Schrader became the pale, ghostly image Skyler White saw herself becoming, every time she looked in the mirror.
Mitte, who played cerebral palsy-affected Walt, Jr., was himself diagnosed at an early age. Earlier this summer, as Breaking Bad was nearing the end of its heady run, Mitte recalled a conversation with Cranston in the first season, when he had a line that began, “everything I’ve been through,” and that shaped everything to come afterward.
Breaking Bad was about more than a simple chemical equation. It was about flesh-and-blood characters who, in the hands of its remarkable cast, came alive and provided the year’s finest moments on the small screen.
— Alex Strachan
Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen), Todd (Jesse Plemons), Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), Steven Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in Breaking Bad
2. Miley Cyrus
She came in like a wrecking ball. From the publicity stunts to the twerking, the broken engagement to the fellating of an innocent sledgehammer, Miley Cyrus owned entertainment headlines in 2013.
Though the pint-sized pop tart is currently my least favourite celebrity (which is truly saying something, given Justin Bieber’s behaviour), there’s also no denying that she’s the most notable. In fact, Cyrus became so synonymous with celebrity’s vulgar status quo that her heir apparent — a level-headed teen singer named Lorde (see No. 7) — was partially propelled to stardom on the steam of being “the anti-Miley.”
Not a month went by where we weren’t reminded, in some unfortunate way, that the one-time Disney darling was leading the charge for an apocalypse of biblical proportions. The best we could do was start building arks.
“Highlights” included a soft-core porn shoot with photographer Terry Richardson; pleasuring herself with a giant foam finger at an MTV awards show; sparking a joint on stage at another awards show; riding a wrecking ball naked in a viral music video; and helping make “twerk” the runner-up on Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year list.
Add that to a high-profile feud with Sinead O’Connor, being voted the hottest woman in the world by men’s mag Maxim, a hugely successful takeover of Saturday Night Live, and splitting with Hunger Games’ actor Liam Hemsworth, and you’ve got a solid argument for Cyrus being 2013’s biggest thing.
Now if we could just make her go away.
— Misty Harris
3. Jennifer Lawrence
From the moment she tripped on to the stage to claim her best-actress statuette for Silver Linings Playbook last February, Jennifer Lawrence found a foothold in our hearts as a different kind of female ingenue, one who wasn’t just fiercely talented and photogenic, she was also spunky and smart and just a little bit goofy.
It’s the goofball that makes her special because in the end, that’s where we all live: In that giddy chasm between comedy and tragedy where we’re either redeemed through the light of forgiveness or damned to the darkness of self-denial. It takes most actors a lifetime to reach a place where they can comfortably inhabit this ill-defined, existential void and reflect it back to us with a sense of compassion and purpose. But at the age of 23, the Louisville-born Lawrence has already circumnavigated the poles of human frailty a few times over.
From her breakout turn in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone which earned her an Oscar nod in 2010, to her haunting embodiment of romantic hurt in Drake Doremus’s Like Crazy, Lawrence’s talent for drama is undeniable. Yet, she’s also able to crank up an action movie with the same finesse, as she proved in X-Men: First Class and now The Hunger Games, one of the biggest franchises to hit the multiplex since Harry Potter. The second instalment, Catching Fire, has already racked up one-third of a billion bucks in domestic receipts, making Lawrence a marquee star and a bankable Hollywood commodity. Combine that with her ability to play a teen hero (The Hunger Games) with the same aplomb as a mature and somewhat neurotic grown-up (Silver Linings Playbook) and Lawrence marches to the front of the pack as a surprisingly versatile American talent. And with her new role in Russell’s American Hustle already earning more Oscar buzz for 2013, Lawrence stands uncontested as the mistress of movie mojo.
— Katherine Monk
4. Premium television
Dollar for dollar, what provided the most entertainment in 2013? For me, it was premium TV channels, hands down. Sure, our monthly cable bill is on par with sending a child to uni, but what riches that money brings! Besides, TV is always there, as compared to a child, who will eventually leave (and probably complain that Mom never paid them attention, as she was too busy watching all those glorious shows on TV).
From Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding — you know nothing, Robb Stark! — to the slow burn of The Bridge to the Shakespearean machinations of Sons of Anarchy, my PVR is (OK, PVRs are) overflowing with the glowing wealth of the second golden age of television. Need proof? Watch one episode of Veep and tell me that Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s profanity-packed turn as a frustrated second-in-command isn’t worth the dough.
Sure, there are standouts on the standard broadcasters (The Good Wife, Hannibal and Scandal among them), but a few dollars more gains viewers access to a brave new world that includes The Walking Dead (AMC), The Americans (FX Canada) and Top of the Lake (Bravo).
Plus, this is the gift that keeps on giving: January sees the return of Justified and Girls as well as the highly anticipated premiere of True Detective, with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson no less. It just goes to show: You get what you pay for.
— Ruth Myles
5. Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro was known as the lethal Taxi Driver and the murderous mob guy in Goodfellas. Lately he’s adding some chuckles to his “knuckles” roles in a busy 2013.
In The Family, he was the Mafia capo in the witness protection program trying to survive in a small French village. There was lots of gunplay in the crime comedy, but there were just as many giggles. The movie even references Goodfellas to good comic effect.
“If there’s humour connected to it, that’s good,” said De Niro, leading up to the film. “And it helps if it’s a real integral, organic part of the whole story.”
Next up was the farce Last Vegas with fellow Oscar winners Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline. This Christmas he returned to the ring in Grudge Match against Sylvester Stallone. It’s been billed as Raging Bull versus Rocky, but the intention is to get some laughs. He also has a cameo in American Hustle, reuniting with Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell.
He’s a busy guy, yet the 70-year-old shrugs off the heavy workload.
“I don’t really do as many movies as you think. My movies are spread out more, but they release them when they want.”
— Bob Thompson
Robert De Niro, left — with Jon Bernthal in a scene from Grudge Match
6. Alice Munro
The soft-spoken, self-deprecating 82-year-old Canadian icon doesn’t fit the traditional mould of entertainer. But it was certainly her year.
Earlier this month, the Ontario writer was feted in Stockholm after daughter Jenny accepted the Nobel Prize for literature on her behalf. It was awarded to the veteran writer for her 2012 collection, Dear Life. Proclaimed “the master of the contemporary short story” by the Swedish Academy, Munro was described as a “stunningly precise” writer with an “astonishing power of perception” and ability to give her character’s lives “remarkable dignity.” The medal, which includes a $1.2-million award, was handed out Dec. 10. Munro was too frail to travel to Stockholm to accept the prize herself.
But in a film shot by Nobel organizers earlier, she summed up her motivation: “I want people to find not so much inspiration as great enjoyment. That’s what I want: I want people to enjoy my books, to think of them as related to their own lives in ways.”
Praise is nothing new for Munro, of course. Over the years, she has won every literary prize imaginable, including two Gillers, three Governor General’s Literary Awards, an O. Henry Award and Booker Prize. She has been honoured so many times that she actually withdrew her 2009 book Too Much Happiness from Giller contention, presumably to give other authors a chance to win.
She is the 13th women to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and the first Canadian-based author to receive it.
— Eric Volmers
Of the myriad rising pop stars that shone bright in 2013’s big musical universe, few went supernova as quickly as viral pop hit Ella Yelich-O’Connor. The 17-year-old songstress from New Zealand took over just about every possible mode of communication with her single Royals, on which she sang about her disconnect with celebutante pop, fancy cars and entitled luxury (“That kind of luxe just ain’t for us/We need a different kind of buzz”).
Yes, with the insane amount of exposure — from appearing on Jimmy Fallon and covering Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack, to being spun in high rotation on just about every radio station around the globe) — came the inevitable backlash.
In particular, one blogger took offence to her reference to gold teeth and uber bling car manufacturer Maybach, which the writer aligned with Lorde making a comment on black hip-hop culture. Ultimately, though, it showed the blogger’s own racial bias more than anything else, as these elements are prevalent in high stakes pop of any kind, race excluded.
That said, the incessant marketing surrounding Royals and Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine certainly paid off, with the singer garnering four Grammy nominations including record of the year, song of the year and pop vocal performance of the year. Already over-exposed, yes. But if there were an antidote to Miley Cyrus’s brand of faux shock in 2013, Lorde was it.
— Francois Marchand
Teen recording artist Lorde has been widely hailed as “the anti-Miley.”
8. Dwayne Johnson
He’s played a law-abiding trucker who has to pretend to be a drug dealer to save his son, and a jumbo-sized soldier who vanquishes the bad guys. He’s a large but innocent weightlifter involved in a comically brainless kidnap scheme and part of a fast-driving crew of tough guys who outsmart and out-drive a group of criminal wheelmen. And just to cap off his year, he plays a policeman trying to stop an armoured car robbery in a rush-to-video caper movie.
Throw in the biggest, whitest smile in cinema and a pair of biceps the size of his box office receipts — some $450 million in 2013 — and you have a pretty good year for Dwayne Johnson.
The former wrestler and football player (a year in Calgary) who became an action star was in five films in 2013: Snitch, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Pain & Gain, Fast & Furious 6 and (the stinker) Empire State. He doesn’t have a whole lot of range, but Johnson is turning out to be a better actor than you might expect from someone of his size and wrestling background. His trucker in Snitch, for instance, shows a touching vulnerability that would be easier to buy if Johnson didn’t tower over the actors who were supposed to be intimidating him.
He’s become a reliable draw, and while his name alone may not open a film, he’s a strong part of any muscular ensemble (opposite Mark Wahlberg in Pain & Gain, say, or Channing Tatum — another busy hunk — in G.I. Joe or the always-game Vin Diesel in the Fast & Furious franchise). Johnson is the rock of the year, the foundation of those movies that sit happily on the bottom of the double-bill and on top of the box office, holding space for all the fancy-pants Oscar bait.
— Jay Stone
9. Orange Is the New Black
What began as a trivial yet enticing Netflix series about a well-to-do white woman who serves time for transporting drug money turned out to be one of the year’s most intriguing shows.
Taylor Schilling had our heartstrings from the start as Piper Chapman, whose plans to marry her true love (Jason Biggs) and start up a beauty business with her BFF are put on hold for 15 months so she can pay the price for her wild drug-trafficking days with ex-lover Alex (Laura Prepon). But from the moment OItNB goes behind bars, it’s the backstories of the women Piper encounters that hold us captive. Creator Jenji Kohan (Weeds) brilliantly weaves their answers to the common question “what are you in for?” into the drama of Chapman’s increasingly complicated prison life while maintaining her trademark black humour.
And while Schilling — who’s up for a Golden Globe for her part — carries her weight, OItNB is a team effort, with strong support from Prepon as brash yet heartbroken Alex, Natasha Lyonne as ex-addict Nicky, Kate Mulgrew as maternal Russian Red, Taryn Manning as Chapman’s eerily hardcore Christian nemesis Tiffany and Uzo Aduba as the lovable Crazy Eyes.
Whether you tuned in for OItNB’s July start date or bought into the hype later on, the Netflix exclusive’s 13 episodes likely demanded your constant attention, especially as the first season drew to a nail-biting close. And that’s binge viewing — at its finest. The wait for Season 2 continues …
— Lindsey Ward
Laura Prepon (L) and Taylor Schilling (R) in Orange is the New Black.
10. Scott Wentworth
Actor Scott Wentworth was already working a full schedule at last year’s Stratford Festival when the call came to do more.
He was giving a wonderful lead performance as the philosophical milkman, Tevye, in the festival’s hit production of the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, and was also playing Capulet in Romeo and Juliet.
But then, in late June, when Wentworth was already dealing with a heavy workload, the festival was hit with an emergency. Veteran actor Brian Bedford, who had been set to play Shylock in a late-season revival of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, was forced to withdraw for health reasons. With rehearsals already underway, who could the festival find on such short notice?
Artistic director Antoni Cimolino turned to Wentworth, long one of the most dependable members of the Stratford acting company and an artist versatile enough to move easily between Shakespeare and musical theatre. To tackle Shylock when he was already involved in two major productions was daunting. Wentworth said later that there were times when he was so exhausted that he would go to sleep on his dressing-room floor between performances. But he learned his lines in time, and a superb characterization of Shylock was clearly taking shape during the rehearsal period. So when Merchant finally opened in August, Wentworth had another memorable achievement on his hands. He had also scored a first in the annals of acting — portraying two of theatre’s seminal Jewish characters in repertory in the same season, and often on the same day.
The past season also marked Wentworth’s triumphant return to the festival stage after an extended absence during the regime of previous artistic director Des McAnuff. It was so good to have him back.
— Jamie Portman
To see this urban act live right now is to experience a kind of post-modernist idol worship, because Drake isn’t showing up at sold-out arenas to perform music. The adoring audience has that already. What they want is to be in the presence of the man who they want to be with — whether spiritually or sexually.
Any other act that would devote upwards of 25 minutes walking a moving catwalk around the arena to point out people with all the honesty of a carnival medium — “I see you baby in the polka-dot shirt, man you look so fine tonight” — and have them totally losing it over every word. When he actually performed a full song in his show, it was awesome though. Maybe that’s the point. The Toronto-born rapper has it all.
— Stuart Derdeyn
Drake in Toronto on Wednesday October 23, 2013.
12. Joanne Kilbourn
Regina author Gail Bowen smilingly observed a few months ago that she didn’t waste time agonizing over the need to write “the great Canadian novel.” She was content with the success she had carved out for herself as the author of a consistently absorbing series of crime stories featuring a most unexpected sleuth in the person of Saskatchewan academic and social activist Joanne Kilbourn.
The character has been around a long time — since the 1990 publication of Deadly Appearances. When Bowen’s 14th Kilbourn novel, The Gifted, was published in the summer, she took quiet pride in the fact that she was continuing to survive in an increasingly volatile publishing landscape while remaining true to her principles.
Unlike some other Canadian crime novelists who give their books American or British settings to make them more marketable internationally, Bowen has remained loyal to the province of Saskatchewan and in particular the city of Regina where she makes her home. The books have an acute sense of time and place.
“I felt really strongly about the fact that as a Canadian and as a Westerner, I should be writing about what I knew,” she said in an interview last summer.
It’s also characteristic of Bowen that she uses her success to assist needy causes. So she regularly auctions off characters’ names — in one instance raising $12,000 for Oxfam by inviting colleagues at the university where she taught to bid on getting included in her next book, with the highest bidder winning.
Bowen estimates that her auctions have raised more than $50,000 over the years. But she always promises that the successful bidder won’t end up as a villain or a corpse. This lady is clearly one of a kind.
— Jamie Portman
13. Settle (album)
Navigating the sub-divisional minefields of dance music in 2013 can be a risky proposition. And no artist or group in recent times has walked that fine line between authenticity and accessibility with as much confidence and ease as Disclosure, a pair of young brothers (one still in his teens) from Surrey, England.
Their bountiful debut album Settle, which topped the charts in their native land, plays like a thoughtfully assembled compilation devoid of filler. It could serve as a great workout soundtrack, if all you’re looking for is a steady beat to play in the background.
If you’re looking for something deeper, Settle can elicit more than just a kinetic response. Guy and Howard Lawrence demonstrate a keen understanding of dance music history throughout, even if they’re never beholden to any particular scene.
The duo’s ability to extract elements from these sub-genres — a drum pattern here or a bass line there — and repurpose them as sleek, contagious would-be singles is what makes them such promising composers. They’re big-tent DJs with the potential to shift the entire pop landscape.
Amid a sea of harsh dance-pop sounds designed for immediate impact, Disclosure’s unpretentious productions mark a refreshing return to simplicity. Settle is a mainstream dance record that doesn’t compromise in either direction.
— Erik Leijon