2013 in Review: Our Favorite Things

Ann Mazzaferro 2013 in reviewAnn Mazzaferro: Writer

When word came down that it was time for the 2013 Year-End Round-Up, I was forced to take a good, long look at my life for the past year. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, I am more out of touch than that dorky uncle of yours who just got Facebook and discovered cat memes, and won’t stop posting them. Don’t worry though; even I came out from under my rock to occasionally watch a new movie, read a new (to me) book, or even get out of the house. Let’s put 2013 in the books, folks!

Favorite Movie: Argo

The 2013 winner for Best Picture, and for once I agree (yeah, I’m still bitter about Crash beating Brokeback Mountain in 2006). This taut, swift story of the rescue of six American embassy workers from Iran in 1980 was punctuated with sharp humor that both provided a relief from the relentless tension and highlighted the stakes surrounding all those involved. Even though history had already told us the ending, I was on the edge of my seat for the whole ride.

Favorite Book: Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies

I am always leery of historical fiction, and too many bad run-ins with Phillipa Gregory novels have left me leery of anything involving the storied reign of Henry VIII of England. However, Hilary Mantel’s saga, told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, breathes new life into a tired literary trope and brings the Tudor era to vibrant, gutsy life. Both books grab the reader by the throat from page one and don’t let go until long after the covers are closed. As with Argo, history tells us how Cromwell’s saga will end, but I cannot wait to see how Mantel brings her tale to a close – the final book is rumored to be due sometime in 2015.

Favorite Artist/Exhibit: “The Poetry of Paper,” The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

This beautifully curated exhibit, which ran through October 20, 2013, placed sketches from the Getty collection in conversation with haiku poetry, resulting in a thoughtful examination of line, negative space, composition, and light in both written and visual art. Featuring sketches by masters including Gustav Klimt, Georges Seurat, and Peter Paul Rubens, the exhibition was a beautiful reminder of the potential that lies within a blank piece of paper and a pencil. ‘

Favorite Discovery: Johnnyswim

You know how there are some songs that will forever define a time and place in your memory? For me, Lonestar’s “Amazed” will always conjure up memories of eighth-grade dances in the junior high gymnasium; Death Cab for Cutie’s “I’ll Follow You Into the Dark” takes me back to curling up in a hoodie and trying to sleep through the sadness of my sophomore year of college in Oregon; “For Now” from the Avenue Q soundtrack is the song my sister and I have sung together through countless bad days, celebrations, and glasses of red wine. The summer of 2013, however, is defined for me by Johnnyswim’s album “Heart Beats,” especially the track “Don’t Keep Heaven Busy.” Its longing, poignant melody and lyrics were like a gulp of cold water during a summer that regularly burned at temperatures over 105 degrees. One listen to the chorus and I’m behind the wheel of my car, driving into a summer storm, feeling relief on my skin in a sudden shower of rain, and relief on my soul with this quiet, gorgeous album.

Gina Verrastro 2013 in ReviewGina Verrastro: Writer

Favorite Movie: The To-Do List

I love Aubrey Plaza and pretty much everything she has ever done, so of course The To-Do List was my favorite movie of the year. It’s funny and a little crazy, with realistic teenage-girl friendships in all their awkward silly weirdness. Strangely enough, it’s also a little bit wise.

Favorite Book: The Child Thief

A dark and eerie retelling of Peter Pan, in which a faerie boy named Peter rescues children in trouble in our world and brings them through the mist to his world, where he is training an army of Lost Boys (and Girls) to fight the evil forces that threaten his magical island. If you’re looking for a book with twists you will never see coming, that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and that may even give you nightmares, this is the book for you.

Favorite Artist: Eric Hutchinson

This one is actually a brand new find. A good friend at work played me this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvwxtA75XTA, and that was all she wrote. I can’t stop listening to him!

Favorite Discovery: Duck Lo Mein

Story time children, gather round! After a long night out, a friend and I dropped exhaustedly into a cab and directed the driver to a particular restaurant in Philadelphia’s China Town. My friend was chatting with the cab driver, and although my tired brain couldn’t follow the conversation, three words lodged in my mind: duck lo mein. When we arrived, I excitedly scanned the menu – no duck lo mein in sight. Disheartened, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to at least ask. The reaction from the waiter was the best reaction I have ever received upon ordering food, a combination of wonder and excitement and deep approval. Apparently, that cab driver is the only person who ever orders duck lo mein, and I am honored that he found my companion and I worthy recipients of his secret. So file this one under two categories of discovery: delicious new food, and the infinite wisdom of taxi drivers.

Alexander Poirier 2013 in ReviewAlexander Poirier: Writer

Favorite Movie: Man of Steel

If you’ve read any of our previous year round ups, this pick should come as no surprise. Despite its shortcomings, including a finale that turned everything we know about Superman on its head, I thought that Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel was the best Superman flick yet. Like Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which boiled the Dark Knight down to his detective story roots, Man of Steel boiled the Superman story down to its essence: a story about an alien trying to protect the planet that he calls home. If you strip Man of Steel of all of its Superman mythology, it’s still a really good sci-fi film, and that’s what makes it my 2013 pick.

Favorite Book: The Hedge Knight

Like everyone who has read the first five books in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga, I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of Winds of Winter, and soaking up every bit of Westeros I can find in the meantime. 2013 was the year I discovered The Hedge Knight, the first of three published short stories in the Tales of Dunk and Egg series. The novella, which takes place eighty-nine years before the events in Game of Thrones, gives plenty of backstory on the houses of Westeros, and places the events of the main story in perspective. If history is any indication, I could be left waiting quite a while for Winds of Winter, so the Tales of Dunk and Egg are a welcome addition to my unread library.

Favorite Artist: Austin Kleon

After discovering he was a fan of Blackwing pencils, I picked up Austin Kleon’s How to Steal Like an Artist at my local bookstore. The book only took me about an hour to read through (even while taking plenty of notes), but I walked away feeling inspired. I have, appropriately enough, stolen a few of Austin’s ideas and worked them into my daily routine, and I can’t wait for the release of his new book Show Your Work or his keynote at this year’s SXSW.

Favorite Discovery: Shake Shack

I realize I’m a bit late to this party, but ever since I heard Aziz Ansari mention his favorite NYC burger spot in his standup routine, I’ve wanted to try it. When I found myself in Midtown Manhattan this past year, I finally had a chance. Being a California native, my natural inclination is to compare everything to In-N-Out. As I stood in a 45 minute line to place my order, I judged everything from the crinkle-cut fries (“They must be frozen,” I thought), to the menu’s typography. When I received my burger, however, I discovered all of that judging was for naught. It was, hands down, the best burger and fries I have ever tasted.

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