2013 recap

I've left it a bit later than usual to do my annual look back through my media and literary consumption, and I'm going to keep it shorter this year too (at least for books) as I've done a much better job of noting down my thoughts as I've gone along.

A bumper year, driven in part by a strong start during our Australian holiday in January and then me shamelessly going to the movies when my boy was off in India for a month. Out of 22 all told (not including re-watches, of which there were a couple), I've got to distinguish between the weakest films and my least favourite, as even I can't claim that Les Mis was a bad film. Of course it wasn't – it was a spectacular production, with strong performances and a whole lot of soul. I just don't like Les Mis. I was bored to tears in the stage show, and I was bored to tears in the cinema, numb-bummed, dying to go to the loo and trapped mid-row. It was my cinematic low point of the year.

And then there's The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. I'll come out now: I'm over it. An Unexpected Journey was way too long, but at least it had a beginning, a middle and an end. DoS is an unfortunate acronym, but seems about right for something that just sort of happens, messily, with far too little structure and with a lot of random padding that doesn't help the story along. And then stops, apropos of nothing. I actually liked Tauriel (oh hello, feisty capable independent female played by Evangeline Lilly – of course I liked her) and arrogant Thranduil – but I could have done without Legolas and all the orc fights. Beorn was underserved, and I don't really understand the rewrite of Laketown's politics or the need for a sub-Wormtongue sidekick for the Master. Someone reminded me that Fili and Kili get left at the bottom of the Mountain with the ponies in the book, so leaving them in Laketown doesn't irritate me as much in retrospect as it did at the time, but the romantic overtones still leave me twitching on every level. Smaug wasn't enough to rescue the rest. I have a feeling this film will make sense when you can watch all 3 back to back (if your bum will stand it) – but as a stand-alone film it didn't work for me at all. This may also go down as the trilogy in which I'll wish the director's cut were shorter, and as things stand I have no intention of ever owning them in spite of my lifelong love of the novel.

Then there's those that weren't entirely terrible but weren't what they could have been. The World's End (the only film in the Cornetto trilogy I have no desire to rewatch), Man of Steel (it had its moments, but it was another under-edited, over the top, humourless Snyder extravaganza with far too much throwing indestructible people through buildings when it was clear that had precisely no effect on them), Elysium (mediocre) and RED2 (which was always going to struggle to match its predecessor), although I'll probably see both of these again at some point.

Everything else I saw, I really enjoyed and have gone on to buy most of them for much future pleasure in repeat viewings. I enjoyed Gangster Squad, Side Effects, Trance, Iron Man, Star Trek, Gatsby, Much Ado About Nothing and Rush every bit as much as I expected to, and unexpectedly loved Beasts of the Southern Wild. Welcome to the Punch was just so pretty (and no pretentions about being other than what it was), and Sightseers was just so wrong, in every way. Pacific Rim wins the prize for absurd levels of enjoyment and complete satisfaction of my inner child and as such is probably my favourite film of the year in spite of all its faults; Despicable Me 2 gets the prize for making me laugh until I cried (when the Minions started singing at the end), but if this were a top 3 (it's not, I can't make my mind up) it would be muscled out by Beasts or Much Ado; Gravity gets the first-ever prize for brilliant 3D and lived up to the hype.

I read a lot last year, and didn't love all of it by a long shot. My unexpected favourite after much deliberation was World War Z, which I didn't expect to enjoy at all and which was happily nothing like the film (which was fine, but I'm just as happy to have seen on an aeroplane). I thought it was well-written, clever and dark in equal measure, and I liked the way the author's mind tackled every angle he could come up with. Predictable co-runner is Gaiman's Ocean at the End of the Lane, which had me at hello and sank me with the Hempstocks. I'm younger than Gaiman, but I recognise the mythic landscape of his childhood, and this novel played to my roots. Third place goes equally predictably to Michael Marshall Smith for the limited-release Everything You Need – his first short story collection in a decade, and different but great. I can't resist a good MMS short, and these were no exception. Honourable mention goes to Cold Earth, Sarah Moss's debut novel about digging up ghosts in Greenland during a possible apocalypse and Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, for being as subversive as you would expect. But there was lots of other good stuff, and I'm still mulling over much of the apocalypse fiction I gorged on last year.

Dishonourable mentions, on the other hand, go to Who Moved My Cheese for being even more offensive than most self-help / management books, The Black Violin for being dull, badly written (or perhaps just poorly translated) and utterly lost in its own sense of self-importance (see also: The Alchemist, as I'm happy to join the ranks of the heretics who don't rate it) and The Left Hand of God, which may be the only fantasy novel to spoil itself with its own title (and its back cover blurb) – although this is less of a sin than how utterly terrible it is.