NGN’s Best of 2013 (and 2014 Preview): Movies

American Hustle was one of 2013's most critically-acclaimed films.

American Hustle was one of 2013’s most critically-acclaimed films.

I hope all of you had a lovely end to 2013 and a fresh, fun, and hopeful start to 2014. May all your resolutions be beneficial and all your days full of learning, laughter, and love.

After ending 2013 with a look at the year that was in television, I’d like to kick off 2014 with a look at the world of film. It’s time to reflect on the performances and movies that made 2013 such a memorable year, and it’s also time to look ahead at what movies we have to look forward to in the coming year.

Top Five Female Performances of 2013:

1. Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld (American Hustle) and Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)
Lawrence’s turns as American Hustle’s charismatic but unstable housewife and Catching Fire’s stoic but tortured heroine were both outstanding on their own, but what was truly impressive was looking at them side-by-side as a testament to her incredible range. For someone so young to have built such an impressive body of work is no small feat, but in 2013, Lawrence proved herself able to rise to every challenge put in front of her as an actress—and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another Oscar at the end of this year’s journey.

2. Sandra Bullock as Ryan Stone (Gravity)
Gravity was literally Bullock’s film—she was onscreen for nearly all of its 90 minutes, and, for much of it, she was onscreen alone. Bullock’s ability to convey the terror of her situation was excellent, but the most captivating thing about her performance was the way she was able to convey both the physical isolation of space and the emotional isolation of grief with such relatable humanity.

3. Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser (American Hustle)
For American Hustle to succeed as brilliantly as it did, Sydney needed to be the kind of woman everyone would fall in love with, and in Adams’s capable hands, she became that and so much more. Adams balanced Sydney’s sensuality, intelligence, ambition, and fierce vulnerability with grace and—even more importantly—with power you couldn’t help but be attracted to.

4. Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers (Saving Mr. Banks)
The way Thompson managed to show the broken little girl underneath P.L. Travers’s icy exterior was nothing short of magnificent. Her harsh sarcasm gave a film that could have been saccharine a nice edge, but it was her emotional journey that gave the film its most winning asset—its beating, beautiful heart. I still find myself tearing up thinking of the emotional range she showed during the scene in which Travers watches Marry Poppins onscreen for the first time, which was possibly the best acting without dialogue I saw all year.

5. Amy Acker as Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing)
It takes an impressive actor to make me truly care about a Shakespearean character. So the depth with which I came to care about Beatrice proves what an impressive actor Acker truly is. The lines rolled off her tongue like she was born speaking Shakespeare, but it was the genuine humor and gravitas she brought to the role that made this character come to life for me as if she was as real as one of my friends.

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NGN’s Best of 2013: TV Episodes and Shows

2013 was the year The Good Wife reminded us how good network dramas could be.

2013 was the year The Good Wife reminded us how good network dramas could be.

It’s time for the conclusion to my look at the best of the television world in 2013. There were plenty of memorable episodes that aired this year that people will be talking about for a long time—episodes that made us laugh, sob, and stay up way too late thinking about them. And whether you’re a one-episode-a-week viewer or a binge-watcher, there’s no denying that 2013 was a year where many great shows hit new heights of excellence.

Top Five Dramatic Episodes:

1. “Hitting the Fan” (The Good Wife)
It’s not often that a show manages to reinvent itself in its fifth season, but that’s exactly what The Good Wife did with this incredible episode. Tensions that had been building for five seasons found release in explosive scenes (Will and Alicia’s confrontation) as well as more controlled moments (Peter and Will’s phone call). Each member of this great cast brought their A-game to this episode, and their excellent performances were heightened by the expert pacing of this episode. “Hitting the Fan” was a bold move and a brave one, and it paid off tremendously for all involved, especially the audience.

2. “The Rains of Castamere” (Game of Thrones)
This episode will always be known by its more colorful moniker, the Red Wedding. The entire hour was a masterpiece of tension and foreboding, keeping audiences on the edges of their seats until the bloodbath began (which was when they moved from the edges of their seats to hiding behind their fingers). The brutal carnage still managed to surprise even those of us who read the books, but my lasting impression of this scene was not one of surprise; it was one of despair. Michelle Fairley made me physically feel Catelyn’s grief and desperation with a ferocity I’ve never experienced as a TV viewer before. This episode was raw and ruthless in its assault on my senses and emotions, and that’s exactly what it was supposed to be.

3. “Ariel” (Once Upon a Time)
“Ariel” represents what Once Upon a Time is at its best. It featured a faithful spin on a beloved fairytale (in this case, The Little Mermaid) with some fun twists (aka Lana Parrilla getting to channel Ursula); some delicious banter between Parrilla and Robert Carlyle; and some very human drama in the middle of a world of fairytales. Colin O’Donoghue, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Dallas, and Jennifer Morrison were at their very best as their characters shared their darkest secrets with one another in the Echo Cave. Each secret’s emotional impact was earned—from the beautiful (Hook’s admission that Emma gave him the hope that he could move on from his past) to the bittersweet (Snow wanting a new baby because her relationship with Emma isn’t what she wanted) to the painful (Emma telling Neal that she wished he was dead so she could finally move on). “Ariel” was a shining example of the emotional power of a television show that’s never been afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve.

4. “The Quarterback” (Glee)
This episode was a respectful, beautiful, and honest way to tell a story no cast should ever have to tell: the death of a friend who left this world far too soon. The emotions ran raw and real—almost intrusively so at times—but “The Quarterback” allowed Glee fans and the cast to mourn together. From the brutally sad moment when Finn’s mother broke down while cleaning out his room to Lea Michele’s devastating rendition of “Make You Feel My Love,” this episode allowed the people who knew Cory Monteith best to share their grief with the fans who loved him, too.

5. “Variations Under Domestication” (Orphan Black)
Great television is all about pacing—finding a balance between tension and release, drama and comedy, emotion and action. “Variations Under Domestication” struck a genius balance between all of those facets as well as between all of the increasingly complicated roles Tatiana Maslany was asked to play. Between all of the twists and turns in this episode (and there were plenty of great ones), I found myself invested in the emotional lives of Cosima and Alison more than ever before. I would have paid to watch a film-length version of this episode in a movie theater—that’s how entertaining it was.

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NGN’s Best of 2013: TV Performances

There has been an embarrassment of riches this year for anyone who is a fan of phenomenal acting on television. 2013 gave us more memorable, complex, and layered characters than ever before. And they were brought to life by men and women with a wide range of talents—actors who didn’t just make us think about these characters as we were watching them; they made us care about them long after the episode was over.

For my next installment of NGN’s “Best of 2013” series, I want to take a look at the actors who brought something special to their respective television shows this year. In a year of standout performances, these—separated into male and female, comedic and dramatic—were the best of the best from my seat on the couch.

Top Five Female Dramatic Performances:

ORPHAN BLACK : GALLERY

1. Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
This might be cheating a little bit because I’m just over halfway through the first season of Orphan Black, but I highly doubt the final four episodes I have left to watch will affect my opinion of Maslany beyond making me respect her even more. Not only does she impressively give each clone her own unique posture, accent, and mannerisms, she gives each one her own soul. I was expecting to marvel at Maslany’s talent when I started this show, but I wasn’t expecting to feel so deeply for so many of the characters she’s created. Yes, it’s amazing how she’s able to not only play clones but also clones pretending to be other clones. But what’s really amazing is the emotional commitment she gives to each character and each scene.
Best Episode of 2013 (that I’ve seen so far): “Variations Under Domestication”

2. Jennifer Morrison (Once Upon a Time)
Emma Swan is not an easy character to play. She suppresses her emotions after a lifetime of loneliness, only showing them in the subtlest change of expression until they all come out in bursts of vulnerability that surprise even her. Emma is strong, but she’s also incredibly broken. And it takes an actress of considerable talent and also considerable love for this kind of character in order to bring her to life successfully. Morrison is so adept at showing every complicated facet of Emma’s character—her awkwardness and her innate ability to lead; her fear of opening up and her intense vulnerability; her ability to love and her inability to fully accept love from others. Emma grounds this fantasy show in real, human drama, and Morrison grounds Emma with real, human emotions.
Best Episode of 2013: “Lost Girl”

3. Michelle Fairley (Game of Thrones)
There’s a reason the Red Wedding was one of the most heartbreaking television moments of 2013. Yes, it was horrifying to watch Robb Stark, his young wife, and his direwolf be brutally slaughtered. But the true pathos of that scene came not from Robb but from his mother. Fairley was fearless in her depiction of a mother’s desperation and grief. Her scream when Robb was murdered still haunts me, and her catatonic expression in the moments before her own death said it all: Catelyn Stark died the moment her son did. Only a truly great actress could communicate such depth without dialogue, and Fairley is as good as they come on a show filled with talent.
Best Episode of 2013: “The Rains of Castamere”

4. Bellamy Young (Scandal)
Mellie Grant could be an easy character to hate—and I suppose, for some people, she is. But I love Mellie—I love her ambition, her ruthless edge, the steel in her spine, and the ferocity behind her first-lady façade. In Young’s capable hands, Mellie developed this year into a tragic figure beyond just a woman scorned. Drunk Mellie was brilliant, but it was Young’s work in the horrifying episode where Mellie was raped that floored me with just how talented she is at making us care about this woman beyond her role in Scandal’s screwed-up love story. More than any other actress on my list, Young is the one I wish more critics and award committees were taking notice of this year.
Best Episode of 2013: “Everything’s Coming Up Mellie”

5. Hayden Panettiere (Nashville)
Juliette Barnes is a complicated woman—she’s a woman from a trailer park who rose to country music stardom; she’s a woman who surrounds herself with men and yet has never really been in love; she’s a woman who’s been used and who uses others; and she’s a woman who acts every bit the diva but also has moments of astounding empathy and kindness. Panettiere has managed to give just the right amount of hard edges and soft spots to this character to keep audiences guessing about exactly who Juliette is. Whether she’s ranting about the way women are used in the music industry, befriending a young girl whose mother is in a coma, or breaking down after a confession of love goes awry, Panettiere has made Juliette feel like a real, complicated woman who it is impossible not to care for—no matter how selfish she may seem on the outside.
Best Episode of 2013: “I Fall to Pieces”

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NGN’s Best of 2013: TV Relationships

nick jess kiss cooler

New Girl’s Nick and Jess were one of 2013’s most talked-about TV relationships.

This was a great year to be a fan of smart, complex, and emotionally-engaging relationships on television. In terms of romantic relationships, there were plenty of engagements, weddings, and first kisses to keep even the most rabid “shippers” happy. And there were plenty of other meaningful relationships that blossomed on our TV screens this year, too—between parents and children, friends, coworkers, and traveling companions.

Today at NGN, it’s time to take a look at the 10 best relationships that graced our TV screens this year. From lovers to family members to mentors, here are my favorite TV relationships of 2013.

1. Leslie and Ben (Parks and Recreation)
In a year that featured the development of many strong romantic relationships, there was still no other duo who could come close to the hold these two have over my heart. Through successes and failures, good days and bad, these two are each other’s ultimate teammate—always having each other’s back and helping them be their best self. Their perfect wedding was my favorite TV moment of the year. Not only are they the best couple on television; they’re the most inspiring for all us Leslies (and Bens) out there looking for someone to love and to like.

2. Nick and Jess (New Girl)
The best television surprise in 2013 for me was how this relationship was handled at the end of New Girl’s second season. With a deft mixture of silliness and sincerity, Nick and Jess moved from roommates to roomfriends to romance in what was quite possibly the most satisfying string of episodes of any show to air this year. Has the progression of their relationship faltered a bit in Season Three? Yes. But that doesn’t take away from what this relationship is at its best—a surprisingly honest (and surprisingly hot) look at what happens when two messy, imperfect people fall in love. And let’s not forget about the kissing. (But really, how could anyone forget about the kissing?)

3. Jaime and Brienne (Game of Thrones)
On a show filled with backstabbing, power plays, and relationships built on deceit, Season Three of Game of Thrones gave us the dynamic duo of Jaime and Brienne, whose relationship is built instead on a slowly developing sense of mutual understanding and trust. Theirs is a story of learning to look beyond first impressions and reputations to see the real person. All Jaime wants is someone to see him as Jaime instead of the Kingslayer, and Brienne finally gave him that gift when she called him “Ser Jaime.” In a world where relationships between men and women are either outlets for lust or political power (or both), Jaime and Brienne represent something very rare: genuine respect.

4. Charming and Emma (Once Upon a Time)
Once Upon a Time began with the ultimate act of paternal love—a father willing to give up his own life to save his daughter. But for over two seasons after that brilliant moment, it felt like Charming and Emma’s relationship would never come close to that level of importance on the show again. Thankfully, Season Three has featured a growing number of moments between father and daughter, and it’s been enough for audiences to see just how special this relationship is. Charming’s concern for Emma’s happiness never feels forced or tied up with any emotions other than deep, unconditional love. From lame dad jokes to sweet forehead kisses, their relationship always feels genuine and uncomplicated, which is the kind of love Emma needs from her parents. Josh Dallas radiates a kind of warm, paternal energy, and he is often at his best when sharing a scene with Jennifer Morrison, including even the smallest background moments.

5. Castle and Beckett (Castle)
Confidence is a beautiful thing, and that’s been the key to Castle and Beckett’s relationship ever since Castle proposed at the end of Season Five. By moving the characters into this next stage of their relationship, the writers seem to have freed themselves of any unnecessary angst and are instead weaving this warm, supportive, and sexy relationship into the fabric of the show rather than leaving it in its own box. From a first “I love you” to wedding planning and talk of future babies, this couple has taken huge strides in the last year, and I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings for them and for us as fans.

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NGN’s Best of 2013: TV Moments

I hope all of you who celebrate it had a wonderful Christmas and are now looking forward to plenty of great New Year’s festivities. This is one of my favorites times of the year because it gives us a chance to look back on the year that was and remember all of the great things that happened during the last 365 days.

Here at NGN, that means looking back on the last year in the world of film and television, so in the days leading up to January 1, I will be posting some lists of what I consider the best of the TV shows and movies I watched in 2013. I hope you chime in with your own picks in the comments, and, for even more “Best of 2013” fun, go check out frequent NGN Contributor Heather’s lists, too.

Today’s “Best of” post features the 10 most memorable moments that leapt off my TV screen and into my heart this year. Some made me unbelievably happy, some broke my heart, and others made me feel awestruck by the incredible writing or performances that brought them to life.

Source: eonline.com

Source: eonline.com

1. Leslie and Ben Get Married (Parks and Recreation: “Leslie and Ben”)
Everyone loves a wedding, and the people at Parks and Recreation do weddings like no one else on television. Leslie and Ben are my favorite couple on television right now, so I was going to love their wedding no matter what. But the fact that their wedding was filled with so many little nods to their relationship and the show’s history made it even more special. Nothing I saw on TV in 2013 made me happier than this wedding, and it definitely wins my award for most-replayed moment of 2013, too. Oh Parks and Rec, I love you and I like you.

2. Nick and Jess Kiss (New Girl: “Cooler”)
It was the kiss heard ‘round the television world—and for good reason. It’s rare that a moment that was telegraphed for basically an entire episode still manages to surprise me, but that’s exactly what happened with this kiss. I was surprised that it happened after the moment seemed to have passed, but what really surprised me was just how incredible the kiss turned out to be. It was passionate, it was romantic, and, above all else, it was HOT. It was a kiss Jess could never forget, and I think the same could be said for all of us who watched it happen.

3. Dracarys (Game of Thrones: “And Now His Watch Is Ended”)
On a show that prides itself on its cinematic moments, Daenerys freeing the Unsullied stands heads and shoulders above the rest. This moment was one of pure triumph. After watching this young woman who has grown so much claim her full power as the Mother of Dragons, you couldn’t help but cheer for her. Everything about this moment was designed to give audiences the best kind of chills: from Emilia Clarke speaking Valyrian to the pounding of the Unsullied’s spears.

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