Orange is the New Black…and New Must-See Netflix Show Before the public, and critics, even got a peek of the dark comedy centered on a women’s prison, Orange is the New Black was picked up for its second season. After watching OITNB, it became clear that Netflix’s vote of confidence for its second original comedy was justified. Lead actress Taylor Schilling, a relative newcomer, received plenty of praise, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. Schilling’s excellent performance often took a backseat to a talented, diverse and mostly female cast that grew together as the episodes wore on. The Conjuring Possesses The Summer as a Sleeper Hit Micro-budgeted horror movies are a part of the modern wide release landscape, but few if any have struck a chord like James Wan’s The Conjuring. Based on the supposedly true stories of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the film recalls the events of their most horrific case—a Rhode Island house where a witch who sold her soul to Satan after murdering her infant still haunts families a century later—and it does so in bloody perfect fashion. Relying more on old school haunted house scares over gore, as well as a strong cast playing actually fleshed out characters (and with a dash of The Exorcist thrown in), The Conjuring made audiences scream, squeal and all around scurry out of the theater when the lights blessedly came back on. The movie earned a staggering $316 million worldwide with a $137 million from the U.S. alone, making it the surprise hit of the summer and strangely the most feel good after so many big budgeted disappointments. The Wolverine Fights On And then there is the superhero movie that exceeded everyone’s expectations. Following up on the less-than-fondly remembered X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine had a high mountain to climb, but it did just that when it extracted its claws and cut the rock down to scale for its own convenience. As much a 1970s kung-fu movie that happened to star a knife-wielding Clint Eastwood as a superhero movie, James Mangold’s The Wolverine is the film X-fans have always wanted for the furry anti-hero. The first two acts flow perfectly as Logan’s stories in Japan are interwoven with Nagasaki and other unseemly details when he battles ninjas on bullet trains and wanna-be Samurai in tea gardens, all with a little romance thrown in for a character who also can simultaneously perform heart surgery ON HIMSELF. The climax might feel a little cluttered as it tried to be more “comic booky” than it ever needed to be, but this was an adventure that most walked away buzzing about. Cameos from Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as Xavier and Magneto of course only could levitate geekdom’s excitement. Man of Steel 2 is “Batman vs. Superman…” Trying to round up news stories for future movies in a 2013 list can be a bit like chasing Krypton particles in the wind, but sometimes the announcement is bigger than the movie itself. When Zack Snyder had Harry Lennix read from the pages of The Dark Knight Returns at San Diego Comic Con 2013, Hall H erupted in the type of thunder that could make Zod tremble. The next Superman movie was going to also be a Batman movie. While this left some Superman fans wringing their hands, many more DC fans rejoiced at a shared universe in the offing. AUGUST …And Then Ben Affleck Broke The Internet Again But in August 2013 is when it REALLY happened, when The Batfleck Rises. Yes, when Ben Affleck was announced to play Batman, fans, casual moviegoers and diehard Bat-fans broke the Internet in unison. Overnight, the actor who rebuilt his career as the filmmaker behind Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo, the last of which won an Oscar earlier in the year, became “the guy from Gigli.” In a 1988 repeat, fans were practically rioting in the street at the newest casting of the Batman. To which we still have some sage-like advice: Check out this list of Seven Actors Fans Also Thought Would Suck. Thank us later. Jim Carrey Disses Kick-Ass 2 Actor Jim Carrey made hay earlier in the year when he drew a snarky (but hilarious) point about gun control in a Funny or Die video. Many, including Den of Geek, wondered how exactly he could square that though with his latest film, which featured him in trailers waving a gun and laughing like maniac. Carrey answered that question when he threw Kick-Ass 2 under the bus by not only refusing to promote it, but openly denouncing its violence on Twitter. Talk about a great way to make friends in this industry…It is unfortunate because while Kick-Ass 2 proved to be quite underwhelming when compared to the irreverent joy bouncing from the 2010 original’s potty mouth (largely thanks to director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman in retrospect), Carrey is actually quite good in this movie. Indeed, he is downright hilarious in the way he becomes his character throughout the film. Coupled with another star-making turn by Chloe Grace Moretz as the ever-controversial Hit-Girl, Kick-Ass 2 had more than a few elements going for the biggest Mark Millar enthusiasts. It appears that we can scratch Jim Carrey’s name out of this group after he even did free-promotion for the 2010 film as a fan. Too bad that’s the reason, as we’re always quick to provide context the idea that movies are responsible for violence, particularly in as “Looney Tunes” a fashion as the Kick-Ass movies. SEPTEMBER Sleepy Hollow Heads for a Wild Spin in 2013 If you told us a year ago that Fox would have a runaway hit by turning Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow into a modern day police procedural with a time traveling Revolutionary warrior Ichabod Crane, we’d say what conspiracy theories were you reading when smoking that contraband. But here we are and Sleepy Hollowis fantastic, campy fun. A case of creators Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Len Wiseman, and Phillip Iscove mixing Dan Brown-styled historical fantasy with an actual “end of the world” fantasy based on the Book of Revelations, and then stirring it in a pot of Irving archetypes, this show is often bizarre and always entertaining. A major factor of this can be credited to stars Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie’s appealing chemistry as Ichabod Crane and modern day deptuy Abbie Mills, however nothing beats seeing the Headless Horseman (now Death made flesh and first horseman of the Apocalypse) pumping a shotgun like he’s out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Throw in Orlando Jones for some awesome supporting work, and you have the best new broadcast network show of the season. Agents of SHIELD vs. Fan ExpectationsMarvel’s Agents of SHIELD debuted to spectacular ratings and a fair amount of critical acclaim, but quickly found itself on the wrong side of fan expectations. Despite the prominent inclusion of Joss Whedon’s name for the premiere (not to mention the Marvel brand name) and the promise that this show would expand the Marvel movie universe, a series of uneven episodes and a parade of decidedly non-super foes left fans confused about what the show was supposed to be. There’s still plenty of time for Agents of SHIELD to right the helicarrier, but they might want to do it quickly. Grand Theft Auto V Stole All of Our TimeSeptember saw one of the biggest game releases of all-time with the release of Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online. The game earned more than $1 billion in just three days on the global market, and Rockstar Games cemented their dominance of the console game market. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen Grand Theft Auto V hit the PC yet–and we might not. Regardless, the game deserved its nomination (and win on some websites) for game of the year. Gangsters Take a Cut of TV It was a good year for gangsters on TV. Not necessarily in quality, but in quantity. Gangsters don’t get a lot of play on TV, not when you compare them to cops, doctors, forensics experts, and vampires. Boardwalk Empire took the place of The Sopranos and Luck just ran out of the money last year, which was a shame. All those horses. I don’t think we even got to see a scene between Nick Nolte and Dustin Hoffman. Even William Forsythe couldn’t save Mob Doctor, which spilled over into this year. Magic City survived. We couldn’t really pay attention to Bonnie and Clyde…which just tried too hard. But it didn’t look like they knew what they were trying. A love story? A vanilla fetish parade? A tween vampire romance? Regardless, we’re glad it was on. DC Comics Lets the Bad Guys Win With Forever Evil #1, DC Comics reintroduced The Crime Syndicate to their New 52 universe. For the uninitiated, think of the Crime Syndicate as the evil, goateed dopplegangers from Star Trek episodes like “Mirror, Mirror.” While Forever Evil has (so far) been one of the highlights of the rebooted Justice League’s run, what made this more than your standard event was the simultaneous launch of “Villains Month” in which every single DC superhero book was replaced by titles showcasing the bad guys. Some of these comics dealt with how the baddies were reveling in a world in which the heroes found themselves defeated, while others focused on their origins. While the quality of the Villains Month one-shots was inconsistent, it was still something we hadn’t really seen before, and it was a bold move by DC. Arrow Season Two is Right on Target After a first season that was often mired in some of the less-appealing aspects of the CW’s action/soap opera format, Arrow came roaring back with a second season that corrected the sins of the first. With virtually every episode featuring a parade of DC Comics supporting characters, supervillains, and recognizable heroes, Arrow was suddenly getting praised as one of the best superhero shows ever. And as the show’s first half was spent building up to the reveal of Barry Allen and the origin of The Flash (who will soon get a show of his own), we have to wonder how they’ll up the ante in the second half of season two. Breaking Bad Delivers a Finale That’s 97% Pure
Breaking Bad is the latest television show to become a piece of monoculture – a pop culture installment that captured the attention of almost the entire nation. It’s amazing how fiercely viewership grew for the program coming into its startlingly powerful final season. With all eyes on Walter White, Breaking Bad’s final eight episodes did not disappoint. The tension and action grew exponentially week to week, leaving most to wonder how creator Vince Gilligan and Co. could conjure up a satisfying conclusion that would live up to expectations. No worries though, Gilligan executed with Heisenberg-like precision, giving Walt a goodbye tour de force that wrapped up all the loose ends and left most people without a qualm. It’s likely we wont see another series pull off this kind of storytelling mastery for quite some time.Dexter, on the other hand… While Breaking Bad got everything right on its way out, Dexter couldn’t seem to do anything correctly. In its final season, the Dexter writers followed the trends of their latter season sins; poor characterization, plot lines that went nowhere, needless new characters, and a hapless devotion to their main character with a refusal to acknowledge his many blaring flaws. To make matters worse, the series ended in a completely laughable, head-scratching manner. Apparently the conclusion was at the fault of Showtime Executives, who refused to let the titular character die, but who can we blame for the rest of this disappointing season? South Park is in the News Again! It’s been some time since South Park has made headline-grabbing news. I’m looking at you, Isaac Hayes (RIP), Stick of Truth and Tom Cruise. So when creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker announced that South Park would not return in the spring of 2013, but rather come back for a straight 10-episode run in the fall, the news hit fans where it hurts: the chocolate, salty balls. After the long wait, South Park delivered one of its best seasons in some time, with takes on the Trayvon Martin case, an epic Game of Thrones three-part arc, and the return of the Gay Fish, Kanye West. OCTOBER Gravity is Out of This World Some of us at Den of Geek are not exactly the biggest fans of 3D. With that said, if you haven’t seen Gravity in 3D yet, DO SO NOW. If it can’t be done at nearby second-run theater, buy a 3D TV for pity’s sake, because this movie is the most visually engrossing cinematic experience in years. As the project that took Alfonso Cuarón far too many years to get made, this mind-bending sci-fi survivalist story features stunning visuals that are still confounding in their effectiveness. Relying almost wholly on restrained and riveting performances from Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, Cuarón invents a world where the cameras seemingly float in their dolly like orbits around the stars as they desperately look for a way home in the quiet vacuum of space. It can be argued there are better movies in 2013, but none will have the visceral impact as the one where Clooney drifts into the black, enjoying the sunrise. Something Wicked This Way Comes on American Horror Story: Coven Every season in the now accepted anthology series of American Horror Story brings its own unique scenario and campy quality (preferably with a delicious diva role for Jessica Lange). But in 2013, it became a bewitching mixture of feminist allegory (when Ryan Murphy can stay focused) and powerhouse acting from the best female cast on television. Besides Lange there is also Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Patti LuPone, Taissa Farmiga, Gabourey Sidibe and Emma Roberts. And they are all being allowed to camp it up as a group of witches and/or vodou priestesses who battle for supremacy in New Orleans and use burning stakes, vodou dolls, Frankenstein monsters, resurrected corpses and even the occasional zombie to do it. Yes, they too have walking dead, but these are of the vodou variety and get cut up with chainsaws! For any fan of horror madlibs, this season might be the best one yet. Batman: Arkham Origins Glides Above Buggy Launch Even if Batman: Arkham Origins is pretty much more of the same offered by Rocksteady’s 2011 gem Batman: Arkham City, it is still nevertheless exceedingly fun to play. Indeed, the engine of the Arkham Games, which four years after Asylum isstill simulating the feeling of being Batman, must be wonderful, because it’s allowed Warner Brothers Games Montreal to survive a bumpy launch. Stuffed with pauses and glitches, Arkham Origins still is one of the most entertaining games of 2013 thanks to a compelling story that finally does justice to Bane after two lukewarm appearances in the previous games’ efforts, and also features a very clever interpretation of Batman and Joker’s earliest encounters. While the game lacks the polish and innovation of the previous two Arkham entries, it offers enough of what made those PS3/360 classics to ensure this generation’s last trip back to Gotham is more than worth playing. It was a highlight. NOVEMBER Thor: The Dark World Hammers Phase 2 Forward And once more we arrive at 2013’s latest superhero wedge issue. Despite getting mostly favorable reviews, if slightly more tepid than Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World’s sitcom approach to the antics of the Asgardian God of Thunder has left some Marvel fans apprehensive and others begging for more. Reuniting Thor (Chris Hemsworth) with his lady love Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), plus her gang of tagalongs including Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Eric (Stellan Skarsgard), made for supposedly dark times when the evil Dark Elves came to Asgard and Earth to…get some evil thing or aether. We don’t really know. They’re just bad, and they kill Thor’s mama. But despite this dark turn, as well as its welcome invitation for Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to join the show as the real lead, the movie is unmistakably funny. Indeed, the climax feels like a great finish to a madcap comedy with the entire Scooby gang getting in on the action. Oh and Thor saves the world, we guess. Great disposable escapism or a half-hearted effort? You be the judge. Marvel and Netflix Team-Up For Unprecedented Superhero Action Not happy with superhero box-office dominance and a prime-time network show, Marvel looks to satisfy binge-watchers, as well! With the announcement that Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones would each get Netflix shows, culminating in an Avengers-style team-up as they join forces as The Defenders, Marvel made it clear that they weren’t going to play it safe with their ever-expanding shared superhero universe. We’re still probably quite a ways off from seeing the first of these, but it’s definitely something to look forward to! Doctor Who Turns 50 And the Doctor came back again in 2013 for what may have been the biggest televised geek event of the year (or ever). Simulcast in 94 countries and 1,500 movie theaters around the globe, it really was “The Day of the Doctor.” And in it, we pick up the cliffhanger from “In the Name of the Doctor,” which featured the revelation that John Hurt is the previously unknown regeneration Doctor (since disowned) who blew up Gallifrey. It is all very geeky…and wonderful. The ultimate fan dream of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Matt Smith’s Eleventh teaming up comes true through the help of Queen Elizabeth I (yes, THAT Queen Elizabeth), and they join forces to save Earth in 2013, but also more importantly, save their souls when they convince Hurt’s War Doctor not to blow up Gallifrey. It changes the entire canon of Doctor Who and sets a new course for the upcoming Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, expected to arrive on Christmas Day! Until then, cheers to Ten and Eleven, because sandshoes (and that is what they are!) and bowties are cool! Almost as much as a Tom Baker cameo…. Boardwalk Empire Says Goodbye to Half-MoonThis wasn’t our favorite season on Boardwalk Empire, but not due to lack of quality…we just liked other seasons more. The writing, acting, and plot were engaging, fun and treacherous. Quite a few beloved characters got buried under the sands of Atlantic City and there was at least one surprising survivor. Everyone expected Dr. Narcisse to get whacked this year and most people probably wanted him to. Not us. He’s not quite the “Manson Lamps” HBO characters like Richie Aprile, Gyp Rosetti, or even Russell Edgington on True Blood, but he can kick up his share of chaos. No, he did not die, he was condemned to live. And to live as what? A rat. A rat with principles. That’s going to make him just insane next season and we’re looking forward to it. On the other hand, we’re not looking forward to a season without Richard Harrow. Michael Shannon was a blast this year. His slow corruption is almost complete and he’s got Manson lamps to burn. The Hunger Games Catches Fire and Imaginations If you were to tell most people that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire would be the biggest and best blockbuster in 2013 just a year ago, they would have laughed. But here we are and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire rocks. Proving definitively that old Hollywood wisdom dictating women can’t lead action movies is wrong, this dystopian sci-fi epic features Jennifer Lawrence returning in her star-making role as Katniss Everdeen just as she ignites the fumes of revolution into a fully blazing war. Preferring IMAX to 3D, there is something old school about this film that places emphasis on characters, performances and writing, as opposed to solely setting up the next entry. And while this film does end with a heavy-handed cliffhanger, most of the moviegoing public in America will be back to see if this girl can catch enough fire to bring down an authoritarian regime! Oh, and the love triangle actually works pretty well too. The Next-Gen Consoles Release To Mild Excitement It’s undeniable that Microsoft botched their delivery of the Xbox One when it was announced at E3 earlier this year. But the company rebounded (somewhat) by the time the console released on November. Even so, the early reviews of the consoles generally lacked enthusiasm and excitement, and the same thing goes for the PlayStation 4. November saw the Battle of the Launch Day Exclusives, which in our opinion, seemed to favor the Xbox One with Forza 5 and Dead Rising, beating out the PS4’s Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall. Hopefully, 2014 brings us more games for our new consoles that will make us fall in love with them. For now, they’re just mildly amusing us. Frozen Thaws All Hearts For each and every accusation hurled at Disney movies, deep down we know that we all love them when done right. When they find that perfect balance between fairy tale and modernized wit, Broadway musical and animated adventure, there is nothing as enchanting as a fantasy from the House of Mouse. And Frozen was the one we’ve been waiting for. As the best animated film released by Walt Disney Animation Studios since The Lion King, Frozen is that rare fairy tale that appeals just as much to adults as it does children. With two princesses who are more well-rounded, and Kristen Bell-approved kooky, than their brand heritage, theirs is a story of two sisters as opposed to a girl looking for love. Indeed directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee even subvert that aspect through a clever script that also guarantees Josh Gad’s Olaf will be a treasured plush toy for many Christmases to come. Nonetheless, the real magic comes from a book of songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez who imbue the film with a coveted timeless quality. They provide a number of showstoppers with “Let It Go,” Queen Elsa’s self-empowerment anthem for being different, bringing down the movie house every time as Idina Menzel’s sinuous voice proves as arresting as the gorgeously rendered CGI snow and ice designs. This is the one that Disney and animation geeks have long for, and it is a true delight that will thrill generations to come. DECEMBER The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Burns a Path Forward The last major blockbuster of 2013 of course had to be one of more division. Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s slender, shimmering novel, Desolation of Smaug is the second installment in a nine-hour adaptation of the text. It can be ponderous at times, but also glorious. Moving at a faster clip than its 2012 predecessor, Desolation of Smaug features a number of set-pieces serving as a tourism guide to Middle-earth (or New Zealand), such as the whacky escape via barrels from the wood elves, and the fight with giant spiders. But of course, the real magnificence to be found here is Smaug, the dragon that would burn Lake-town. His ending may be a cliffhanger, but we all know that we’ll be seeing his scaly face again in 2014. The first big-screen Wonder Woman is Cast! It turns out that Wonder Woman is also in the Man of Steel sequel. But whatever you do…don’t call it a Justice League movie. The Amazing Amazon has never made it to the cinemas in her nearly 75 year history, but there’s a first time for everything. Gal Gadot will make cinematic history as the first big screen Wonder Woman when Batman vs. Superman (or whatever it’s called) opens in July, 2015.