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Friday, 13 December 2013

On-Screen Advent Adventure: Days Thirteen & Fourteen

To many, myself included, it scarcely bears belief that 2013 is already coming to a rapid conclusion. The year must culminate, however, as all periods of prosperity do, and for the entertainment industry, this in particular has been a superb year for ambitious, subversive releases which dared to do that which initially seemed impossible.

Over the next two weeks, On-Screen will reveal its 'Best of 2013' Awards for those releases and titles which stood above the competition to a notable enough extent that they earned themselves the throne in their particular genre and/or medium. The results may be divisive, yet as ever, such divisions are merely an enticing foundation for future discussions and debates on social networks, and this writer eagerly awaits such discourse soon after the publication of this articles.

To begin, then, I'll connect two Advent Calendar windows into one encompassing piece, featuring our picks for 2013's Top 5 Best TV Shows and additionally (the honours I term as) The Other Awards Part 1:

5. DEREK- Ricky Gervais' carehome-based sitcom had all the makings of a train wreck when its setting was taken into consideration, yet Derek turned out to be an unashamed televisual highlight for the year. Gervais is subdued and a powerful instigator of sympathy in his portrayal of the protagonist and in his scripting and direction of the series, with strong backing from his co-stars Karl Pilkington, Kerry Godliman and David Earl without fail each week serving to create a well-rounded combination of comedy and drama which betters The Office by miles.
4. BEING HUMAN- After a lacklustre fourth season, BBC Three's supernatural drama returned for a spectacular final run that showcased the channel's potent original programming at its spellbinding best. The addition of Alien 3's Phil Davis as a human embodiment of Satan was just a single element of the fifth series that elevated the show back to its former greatness- at the heart of its revived success was the titular Trinity established in Episode 1, and if the studio take anything beneficial away from the project's final incarnation, then they'll heed the talents of Damien Moloney, Michael Socha and Kate Bracken, all of whom give show-stealing turns on a regular basis. If writer and exec Toby Whithouse does succumb to the rumour mill and take over from Steven Moffat at Doctor Who's helm, then he at least knows where to start for a dedicated trio of guest stars whose success with viewers is wholly assured...
3. ARROW- Once upon a time, The CW's spiritual successor to Smallville was a fledging drama which struggled to find its feet in a world where Marvel reigned dominant over big-screen superhero action. One year on, though, and Arrow is outclassing much of what came before it, running circles around Marvel's Agents of SHIELD and at times even broaching the big leagues by surpassing the level of emotive content found in the latter's overarching Cinematic Universe. As the Arrow prepares to face Brother Blood, the Dark Archer, Deathstroke, Deadshot and Ra's Al Ghul in the latter half of his second season, the series has never looked or performed better, its mid-series climax in Three Ghosts especially telling of the consistently engaging and innovative storytelling methods which the show's writers ceaselessly employ in every instalment!
2. DOCTOR WHO- To those readers who are fresh off their viewing of the incredibly gratifying 50th Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor, that Doctor Who doesn't top our list of 2013's greatest TV shows may come as a shock at first. Stop the cavalry (see what I did there?) for a moment, though, so as to recall the days of Spring, where the latter half of Series Seven proved to be an uneven and thus dissatisfying run for the programme. Cold War, Hide and The Name of the Doctor were all brilliant indicators of the science-fiction drama's ongoing justified renown, but clunkers such as The Rings of Ahkaten and Nightmare In Silver were stark reminders that Who still has some creases to iron out before it reclaims its throne as TV's undisputed yearly victor. Speaking of thrones, though...
1. GAME OF THRONES- In what may come as a controversial assertion, I'd wager that Game of Thrones' third season was not its best so far- that honour remains with its immediate predecessor. Telling it must be, then, that even when the series is not quite attaining the same consistent level of staggering quality in all ten of is episodes, as a cumulative whole it can still rank as the greatest contribution to the year's small-screen roster. Peter Dinklage, Natalie Dormer and Emilia Clarke's careers have all rightfully been transformed by their incredibly honed performances here, the latter star even going so far as to scoop the role of Sarah Connor in Terminator: Genesis (as revealed earlier this evening here at OS). For the readers amongst us (this writer included) who have glimpsed ahead at what A Song of Ice and Fire will offer future adaptations of George R.R. Martin's novels, little doubt remains that Season Four should be an absolute stunner, but for now, let's throw a ceremony of celebration- not a wedding and/or an event involving the colour 'red', mind you- for HBO, a studio whose storytelling capabilities appear to hold no limits as of 2013.

BEST ALBUM- Despite a worthy effort from Les Miserables: The Complete Motion Picture Soundtrack, this accolade ultimately must go to Imagine Dragons' stellar d├ębut album Night Visions. Its highlights include Demons, On Top of the World and America, yet not a single track disappoints in its wide variety of hidden and blatant treasures. If this is to be just the opening act of a hugely promising team of artists' careers, then we should await their second compilation with extreme anticipation.
BEST NEW TV SHOW- As its ranking in our Top 5 Best TV Shows of 2013 list should have already proved, Derek has earned its spot as the year's finest addition to the small-screen without a shadow of a doubt. Ricky Gervais' Channel 4 series returns for a second season in Spring 2014, and if its first run is anything to go by, the programme should be expected to go from strength to strength as it continues to simultaneously explore more hilarious and heartbreaking material...
BEST NOVEL- Every once in a while, yearly awards necessitate a slight tweaking of their own rules in order to incorporate releases which didn't quite make it onto the radar soon enough to be considered in the previous year's shortlist. In this case, Sebastian Faulks' A Possible Life earns the title of Best Novel for 2013, having first launched as a hardback release late last year and yet receiving further notable critical and commercial attention with its paperback launch this Spring. Faulks has dabbled with metaphorical and physical time-travel before, but to no greater effect than in the manner he does so here, resulting in a narrative which is as philosophically layered as its author's predecesing texts and yet which accomplishes the formidable feat of a more accessible tone for a wider demographic of readers than Birdsong or Atonement ever struck. Perhaps the text isn't on a definite par with those aforementioned masterpieces; however, once the reader sinks their teeth into the opening chapter, comparisons with the novel's predecessors become futile and irrelevant in light of the supreme compulsion which its scribe ensures his audience will sense and engage with throughout the intricate, arc-interweaving central storyline.
BEST ANIMATED FILM- The competition in this category was remarkably less heated than in previous years, thanks to Disney's two animated efforts for 2013 being the genre's only noteworthy contributions this time around. Wreck-It Ralph is an undisputed success in its nostalgic homage to video gaming in its heyday, yet it's Monsters' University which warrants the prestigious title of Best Animated Film most wholeheartedly here. This reviewer wasn't a major fan of Monsters' Inc, and thus my expectations for its prequel outing were lower than most. As such, that the pure emotional drive which University's predecessor lacked was such a prominent feature of the college-bound follow-up came as a much-needed initial shock to the system, as did the level of lighthearted yet effective satirical elements placed within its efficiently-paced narrative. Even if Pixar's recent highs of Toy Story 3 and The Incredibles are a way off yet, this second Monsters' adventure offers up a far more substantial foundation upon which the studio can build with their renewed focus on original outings.

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