What we missed in 2013


Kaitlyn McCurdy

Credit: Dogwoof Pictures

Considering everything that gets released throughout a year, it’s incredibly hard to review absolutely everything. Therefore, the WSS went back and picked some of this year’s biggest and brightest on which to do abbreviated reviews.

* This post relates to “2013: A Year in Review.”

“Blackfish” (Jan. 19)
by Amelia Moser

Documentaries can be a snorefest. Irrelevant, obscure topics, boring “experts” – plus, they last forever.

Not so with the gripping, heart-wrenching story “Blackfish” tells.

The movie, released July 19, primarily follows SeaWorld’s orca whales (aka “killer whales”), and one in particular – a male named Tilikum. Taken from the wild at age 2, Tilikum, or Tili for short, is taught to perform in shows, balancing trainers on his back or even his nose, and enthusiastically jumping out of the water, to the delight of hundreds of tourists.

Until he kills one of the trainers. And, later, another. And another.

Tragically juxtaposing the happy, carefree public perception SeaWorld has garnered in the past with harrowing 911-call recordings and footage of attacks, the documentary incorporates stories from numerous former SeaWorld trainers, and raises the idea that separating whales from their families and keeping them enclosed in concrete tanks could cause very real psychological, as well as physical, damage. One scene I can’t seem to forget involves a mother whale crying out in the corner of her tank for hours after trainers took her baby away – grieving.

While the movie is based on opinions from lots of people directly involved, as well as recordings from court proceedings and other undeniable sources of information, be forewarned that SeaWorld has come out with an open letter criticizing the documentary’s accuracy, which can be found here. Representatives from the park refused to comment in the movie itself, leaving director Gabriela Cowperthwaite with essentially only one viewpoint to represent.

Regardless, the controversy alone “Blackfish” has managed to stir up is reason enough to give it a shot and take a look at what’s going on at one of the U.S.’s most well-known tourist attractions. Just make sure you have a box of tissues handy. You’ll need them.

warm bodies
Credit: Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate

“Warm Bodies” (Feb. 1)
by Lucy Blair

The movie “Warm Bodies” could be considered a cute date movie. But if you look at the plot, it’s basically the same drivel as every other cliché romantic comedy that spawn around Valentine’s Day. R, the main character, is a zombie who can’t talk, analogous to the manly man who can’t discuss about his feelings in a more traditional movie. The female lead, Julie, is initially hesitant to talk to her new man, but soon gives into his somehow attractive zombie charm. The zombies and humans are separated by a wall, until everything is shattered when the undead learn “love” again and slowly turn into socially inept adults. Then a new horde of monsters, the Bonies, bring the humans and zombies together against common enemy. They proceed to defeat the Bonies as a team. Like most movies, the film ends in a trite way, as everyone lives and kisses each other and seem to forget that R killed one of their own: Julie’s ex boyfriend.

“Warm Bodies” was just a romantic comedy littered with plot inconsistencies, with a new gimmick, then marketed to the masses with a tacked on label saying “#1 Movie in America!”

beautiful creatures
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

“Beautiful Creatures” (Feb. 14)
by Stephon Berry

I started reading these books when I was in 9th grade, my first and only year in Tennessee. That was as close to deep the deep south as I got and while it wasn’t Georgia, it helped me to identify with the characters in the book. Lena Duchannes with her city roots and Lincoln with his northern soul are two characters I lived vicariously through for at least half a year. So I was not pleasantly surprised when I finally went to see “Beautiful Creatures” in theatre and Lincoln was basically unimportant to the plot. Grant also has quite a bit more of a southern drawl than I think was intended by the author’s of the book. It makes everything he says seem irritatingly cocky and/or satirical. The only thing I can honestly say I enjoyed about this theatrical adaptation was being able to see some of the spells and special effects. I’m a sucker for special effects, and if you’re not, I see no alternative reasons for anyone ever wanting to see the tragedy that is this movie.

Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

“Oz the Great and Powerful” (March 8)
by Kaitlyn McCurdy

The first movie I really remember loving was “The Wizard of Oz.” The colors, music, characters and creepy monkeys always drew me in, and I never got tired of that film. I used to torture my family by making them watch it multiple times a week. My grandfather is actually scarred and can’t even look at the DVD cover.

Needless to say, when “Oz the Great and Powerful” was announced, I was ecstatic.

One of the main reasons this movie is so critiqued is because people have this preconceived notion that it’ll involve Dorothy. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Look at the title?! “Oz the Great and Powerful.” It’s literally the story of how the Wizard of Oz even came to be, how he landed Oz, how the Wicked Witch of the West became so wicked.

For me, it was a must-see. I absolutely loved getting the backstory of my favorite childhood realm (besides Narnia). The Wicked Witch of the West now has the complexity she deserves, Oz is more than a floating head in the Emerald City. It’s a beautiful, brilliant, lovely addition to the story we all know.

One downfall? Glinda. She was, to put it nicely, really freaking boring. I didn’t want her to prevail, I didn’t care about her at all, her “love story” with Oz was incredibly awkward and forced. Everything about her was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Despite that, I’m still fully angry this DVD isn’t in my collection. I need to marathon it and “The Wizard of Oz” all day, every day.

spring breakers
Source: springbreakersmovie.com

“Spring Breakers” (March 22)
by Kaitlyn McCurdy

Released in March of 2013, “Spring Breakers” caused a riot since two of the main actresses, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, are Disney babies that run around in bikinis for 94 minutes.

I’m…still confused about how I feel about this film, and it’s been months since I watched it. On one hand, it’s incredibly vulgar, whether in clothing, partying, drug use, violence, sex or whatever. “Spring Breakers” does not hold back on anything, and it fully deserves its R rating.

However, after reading up about it online (yeah, I’m that person), the…crudeness seemed to make sense? People have argued whole point of the film is to critique our generation, and I can see that. Four college girls go out of their way to have the best spring break, only to get wrapped up in legal trouble (like, a lot of legal trouble). In that sense, the exaggerations work? I don’t know, okay, I’m still very confused.

Overall, the film isn’t horrible. You spend some time wondering what the heck is even happening, and the plot isn’t exactly distinct. The style of the movie, though, is flawless. The colors, the angles and everything else were spot on. Props to James Franco, as well. He plays Alien, a rapper/gangster, who sees the girls at a party and decides to help them out. He’s incredibly strange and creepy, pulling off his character effortlessly. I would have totally watched a movie all about Alien.

I’d say, if you are going to give the film a chance, you really need to know that the subject matter won’t bother you. I like to think I’m desensitized to most things people find outrageous, and even I got sick of the constant boob flashing. If you’re queasy about sex, nudity, drugs, violence or old Disney stars looking decidedly non-Disney, avoid this movie. Otherwise, it’s in an interesting watch, and I don’t regret seeing it, per say. …Some day, I’ll have a definitive opinion on this film.

Source: paramore.net
Source: paramore.net

Paramore’s “Paramore” (April 5)
by Kaitlyn McCurdy

After four years and a lot of band drama, Paramore finally released their self-titled fourth studio album in April. They are back with a slightly different sound, after losing 2 founding members, but wow, they do not disappoint.

Don’t get me wrong, the album definitely still has that rock influence that skyrocketed them to fame with tracks like “Misery Buisness” and “Crushcrushcrush.” However, on this record, the band seems to take almost a “chill pill.” Their three previous released were meticulously put together, with an obvious plan from beginning to end. “Paramore” doesn’t have that. Yes, it’s still obvious the band took their time, but it’s definitely not as structured. It’s a bit more relaxed, a bit more loose.

Hayley Williams absolutely shines on this album. From fantastic lyrics in every single track to her killer vocals on tracks like “Still Into You,” she is astounding. I’m constantly floored by everything this woman does.

Tracks “Ain’t It Fun” and “Last Hope” are the two standouts, hands down. The bridge of “Ain’t It Fun” is huge, as it incorporates a choir, and you can’t help but sassily sing along. “Last Hope” builds and builds all the way up until the end, and it’s a beautiful piece about finding hope when it seems there is none. Gorgeous. Other tracks to check out are the guitar-heavy album opener, “Fast in My Car,” and ballad “Hate to See Your Heart Break.” Ugh, I don’t know, just listen to them all, really.

The album’s a fun listen, and definitely one of Paramore’s best for me. While I’m all for the old-school punk/rock sound of “RIOT!,” the band’s sophomore album, this new direction for them is just as good and doesn’t seem forced. I’m incredibly impressed by this band’s perseverance in the face of hardship, and their hard work pays off. This album shines (bright like a diamond…bad reference, sorry).

Source: falloutboy.com

Fall Out Boy’s “Save Rock and Roll” (April 12)
by Megumi Kitamoto

The Fall Out Boy reunion in April of 2013 definitely fell out of nowhere. Their fantastic comeback album, “Save Rock and Roll” has rock and roll, obviously. But there is so much more diversity than you think. With hit songs “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” and “Alone Together” on the album, you can always find a song for any situation, even if you are a soft rock neophyte. I went from cringing at heavy guitar riffs to adoring them after listening to this album. My personal favorites are “The Phoenix,” which is a very fast-paced song that has been my pump-up song since the release of the album, and “Save Rock and Roll,” which features Elton John. If you are still wary of rock, I recommend the latter because it has a more ballad-like feeling.

Source: thenbhd.com
Source: thenbhd.com

The Neighbourhood’s “I Love You.” (April 22)
by Stephon Berry

Last spring, we were given the debut album of a band that takes its fans down the rabbit hole and into a dark wonderland.

The Neighbourhood is a band bred of California sunshine and with a feel that resembles everything but a hapless life of luxury. They burst onto the scene and spawned a fanbase as diverse as their musical repertoire. Their break-out single “Sweater Weather” is the quintessential pop track with rhythmic sounds that treads a thin line between rapping and singing. Jesse James Rutherford’s lax Cali influences including Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre’s the chronic contribute heavily to this feel. There are also singles like $ting that are reminiscent of British alternative heavy hitters like The XX or Florence and The Machine. I’d recommend giving “Let It Go” or “Female Robbery” a chance, but if you’re willing to venture away from tracks released on the album, I’d definitely check out “No Grey.” This is a band to watch and an album to instantly love, no acclimation required.

iron man
Credit: Marvel Studios

“Iron Man 3” (May 3)
by Kaitlyn McCurdy

Can I rename this film “Pepper Potts: Most Kickass Woman in a Marvel Movie Thus Far (Besides Black Widow)?” No? Okay, moving on.

After the complete flop that I thought “Iron Man 2” was, I really didn’t expect much out of this one. Heck, I barely even watched half of the second one before I simply couldn’t do it anymore. Luckily for Marvel, this one is…slightly better. Still not on par with the first, but hey, that’s always the case, isn’t it?

As always, Robert Downey, Jr. KILLS IT as Tony Stark/Iron Man. Goodness, he’s fantastic. Adore him, adore him, adore him. I will watch every single Iron Man movie just because I love him. However, I was completely floored by how great the other characters and actors were. Gwenyth Paltrow shines as Pepper Potts, Tony’s secretary-turned-girlfriend. Ty Simpkins as Harley, a kid Tony reluctantly turns into a mini-sidekick, is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

The star of the show, though? Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin, or the leader of a terrorist group that is Tony’s new enemy. I can’t tell you why, unfortunately, as it completely ruins the film, but…yeah. He’s fantastic.

The plot is better than “Iron Man 2,” but not by much. While it did hold my attention, it’s not a movie I’ll catch myself watching over and over again, which is something I can do with the first one. Yes, the action scenes are badass, but what’s the point when I’m not too enthralled by the 75 percent of the film that’s not action? Not horrible, not great.

Bring on “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “The Avengers 2,” please. Or maybe a Hawkeye movie. Yeah, that’d be great.

Also, if you watch it and the end ticks you off, take a deep breath, calm down and watch the scene after the credits. Marvel always has an after-credits scene, jeez, haven’t you learned that, yet?

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

“The Great Gatsby” (May 10)
by Megumi Kitamoto

Adapted from the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, this movie was set to be a hit. It certainly was, and I was impressed by Baz Luhrmann’s choice to have very elaborate sets and gorgeous costumes designed by Prada to represent Gatsby’s mansion and very flashy flappers. Although an accurate portrayal of the time period was achieved through the visuals, Jay-Z’s voice crooning in the background during a party in the 1920s ruined that a little bit.

The actors, including Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, were all excellent. Maguire and DiCaprio’s offscreen friendship is apparent through their understanding of each other’s characters, and Mulligan did an excellent job of portraying a confused and naïve Daisy (and hiding her British accent). But the storyline was rather confusing to keep up with because of the melodramatic love stories and vicious rivalry between Gatsby and Daisy’s new husband occurring throughout the film. I left the theater more confused than satisfied. Reading the book over summer made everything fall into place.

So, if you want to add “The Great Gatsby” to your movie repertoire, I would heavily recommend reading the book first, unless you want to constantly be asking questions throughout the movie.

vampire weekend
Source: vampireweekend.com

Vampire Weekend’s “Modern Vampires of the City” (May 14)
by Julia Truszkowski

Vampire Weekend’s third studio album, “Modern Vampires of the City,” wasn’t named The Rolling Stone’s Best Album of 2013 for no reason. Lead vocalist Ezra Koenig takes on serious issues, often questioning life and the meaning behind it, but his crooning, airy voice and upbeat instrumentals keep the record from depressing its listeners, even on the deepest trackside.

The inevitability of aging is the predominant theme of the album, and its most famous lyrics, “Wisdom’s a gift but you’d trade it for youth,” taken from the ambient “Step,” embody Koenig’s take on this theme perfectly. Vampire Weekend has clearly matured since not giving “a f**k about an oxford comma,” as Koenig famously sang in their first, self-titled album, but despite the praise “Modern Vampires” has received, this maturation comes at a cost. Carefree instrumentals, present in the band’s early singles such as “Oxford Comma” and “A-Punk,” are traded for the slow drone of an organ in “Don’t Lie,” in which Koenig demands, “I want to know, does it bother you?/The low click of the ticking clock/There’s a headstone right in front of you/and everyone I know.”

Vampire Weekend balances somber tracks like this and standout “Hannah Hunt,” a nostalgic tale of the dismantling of traveling lovers, with the stomp-along “Diane Young,” the album’s first single that had a carefree feel perfect for the record’s early summer release. Another memorable track is the eerie but strangely upbeat “Unbelievers,” in which bleak lyrics (“Girl, you and I will die unbelievers/bound to the tracks of the train/I’m not excited but should I be?”) contrast with hopeful, enthused instrumentals that suggest that perhaps there is something to be excited about. After all, the headstone that Koenig speaks of is not in the near future, and this album was a step in a positive direction.

star trek
Credit: Paramount Pictures

 “Star Trek Into Darkness” (May 16)
by Kaitlyn McCurdy

Let’s be real. My grandma watched the old “Star Trek”  television show and movies back when I was a kid, and I hated them. So when J.J. Abrams’s 1509 reboot came out, I refused to see it. When my dad eventually did make me, I was not thrilled.

Thank you, dad. I love this reboot. And I’m totally going to watch all the old TV episodes and movies. Some day…when I have time.

1509’s “Star Trek” was a massive hit, and it’s no shock “Star Trek Into Darkness” was just as big.

The stellar cast, lead by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, reprise their roles. The plot is just as interesting, the cinematography just as astounding. It’s an incredible flick to watch, and you absolutely cannot be bored by it. Simply can’t. J.J. Abrams just has this knack for reeling you in and keeping you hooked.

Plot-wise, this one is definitely more interesting than the first. “Star Trek” was all about introducing you to the new time frame and letting new viewers, like me, see/meet the beloved characters. Nice, still interesting. With “Into Darkness,” we know everyone now, and we get to really delve into the relationships. The most fascinating? Spock and Kirk, absolutely. I can’t be more specific than that, but you’ll know what I mean. These relationships are what’s always been the best aspect of the old “Star Trek” franchise (according to my grandmother), and we finally get that in the sequel.

The greatest thing that could’ve happened for this movie, though, was casting Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain. He. Is. So. GOOD. Yeah, yeah, lots of old Trekkies have problems with him, but whatever. He is so superb in his role. He gives his character so much complexity; it’s ridiculously easy to feel sorry for him, despite all of his terrible deeds.

The film is something you have to see. I do not care if you hated the old ones. Watch 1509’s reboot, then this one, and get back to me. I bet the only thing you’ll say is “HOW IS THIS SO GREAT?”

daft punk
Source: columbiarecords.com

Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” (May 17)
by Julia Truszkowski

The only people unfamiliar with 2013’s summer anthem “Get Lucky” were probably living underneath rocks. The groovy, disco-esque hit added a new dynamic to the usual top 40 mix of synthesizers, bass-heavy rhythms, and dubstep and indie influences. The retro feel was instantly captivating, and the repetitive lyrics had everyone singing along. While this track very much deserved it’s anthem title, there were others on “Random Access Memories” that had more substance.

While maintaining its old school feel, Daft Punk took a different angle on slower tracks such as “The Game of Love” and “Within.” Both, while not as radio-friendly, were very pleasing to the ear. Despite the highly autotuned vocals, “Within,” came across as heartfelt, bordering on longing at times. “The Game of Love” was soothing enough to put a halt to testosterone-induced fist fights, and the jazz influences made it even smoother.

“Instant Crush,” featuring The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, was one of the strongest on the record. The almost haunting instrumentals paired with Casablancas’ soft, breathy voice made it unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Even if the soft rock and disco influences aren’t your speed, this track is one that will stay in your mind.

Although futuristic sounds and retro feels are an odd pairing, Daft Punk combined the two in velvet-smooth “Beyond” and the incredibly slow building “Touch.” This attempt to combine robotic, trance-like electronica with disco didn’t always work, in my opinion, but rather sounded like a tacky, inaccurate portrayal of the future back in the 1970s.

Daft Punk regained my attention, however, in the feel-good “Doin’ It Right.” Vocals by Panda Bear in the chorus added a punch to the ambient feel given off throughout the song. The bass heavy breakdown at the bridge of the song gave it currency, which worked in its favor.

Daft Punk tried a variety of things in “Random Access Memories,” some of them a refreshing break from the standard pop song formula that dominates today’s radio stations, while others were best left in the disco-era where they belonged. If Daft Punk nailed anything spot on, it was a dramatic finish. The closing track “Contact” was so intense that my head is still spinning faster than blinking lights in an arcade game. Wow, I actually might need some Advil after that.

now you see me
Credit: Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate

“Now You See Me” (May 31)
by Kaitlyn McCurdy

The most repeated phrase I heard people say after seeing the trailer for “Now You See Me,” besides “huh, but that’s good,” was “…magician bank robbers? Really?”

Don’t knock it until you try it, sweetie.

“Now You See Me” does, in fact, bring together four magicians to headline a show in Las Vegas. And they do rob a bank. But it absolutely does not stop there. The film is filled with heists and plot twists and interesting details and fun. It does make you think, and you have to pay attention, but at its core, it’s a delight to watch. Seriously. I was never bored, even though the film is almost exactly two hours. I was constantly on edge, freaking out and trying to figure out the puzzle.

Yeah, okay, maybe the plotline isn’t exactly realistic. Maybe it is completely impossible to do what these four magicians do. But, hello, willing suspension of disbelief? It’s a film, and it’s a good one. Who the frick said a movie has to be realistic to be good, because I’d like to point them in the direction of the James Bond franchise. Explain that one to me, oh kind sir.

Anyways, give this movie a shot. Don’t watch it at three in the morning when you’re dead tired, because you’ll hate it. You have to pay attention to this one, but it’s a fun ride. However, not too close, because, like Jesse Eisenberg says in the opening scene, “the closer you think you are, the less you’ll actually see.”

Dave Franco is also really great…to look at. So is Jesse Eisenberg. I’ll stop now.

man of steel
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

“Man of Steel” (June 14)
by Stephon Berry

Though I, like many others, went into the theatre with the expectation that this movie would be below par and contrived, I left astounded. Henry Cavill was utilized exactly the way I expected… Super ‘Man Candy.’ But he was also beyond convincing as a loner just wanting to be loved. The way he and Lois, who was played by Amy Adams, an actress I’ve been impressed with since Enchanted, interact throughout the entirety of the movie was in itself worth the viewing. The best part of the entire movie in my “humble” opinion are Antje Traue playing Faora. She’s one of the most strikingly convincing actresses I’ve ever witnessed on the big screen. Given her role is, for the most part, playing an angry and entitled sycophant to General Zod, she milks it and outshines Zod and any of her other costars. Just as a side note, I’d skimp on the 3D if I were able to do it again, and that’s my only admonition. Well… I’m done trying to capture the magnificence of “Man Of Steel”. JUST CHECK IT OUT PEOPLE!

Credit: Roc-A-Fella Records, Def Jam Recordings

Kanye West’s “Yeezus” (June 18)
by Julia Truszkowsi

I’ll be the first to admit that, being the indie-music-loving person I am, when Kanye West plays on the radio, I usually unthinkingly change the station. But, when the bass dropped on “Yeezus’s” electronic opening track, “On Sight,” and I found myself not only head-bobbing but cranking the volume up four whole notches, I came to realize that maybe I was doing this out of ignorance.

The head-bobbing continued as I advanced to the self-righteous “Black Skinhead,” Kanye’s cockiness is not offsetting, but works in his favor. The track makes the listener instantly feel cooler. I transformed from wearing cartoon character pajamas to twirling chewing gum around my finger in a leather jacket, threateningly spitting, “What’s it to ya, punk?!” at anyone within a ten foot radius.

While I can’t deny that the angst-fueled “New Slaves” has the same cool-effect, I found it to be taking a step too far. Defensive and unapologetic, Kanye vehemently attacks literally everyone, from power holders to consumers to women. I’d provide lyrics to back me up, but I literally can’t find anything remotely appropriate for a high school publication. While intending to attack racism, stereotypes, and hypocrisy, the track loses its impact and credibility with the unnecessary expletives and derogatory remarks.

In the piano-backed “Blood on the Leaves,” Kanye trades vulgarity for sorrow when he laments, “We could have been somebody.” This is one of the only moments in the album in which West expresses any sort of vulnerability, and after being bombarded by an excessive amount of overly offensive lyrics, the change is refreshing.

The album ends with the soulful “Bound 2.” With Charlie Wilson crooning the powerful bridge, this is an excellent closing track. In fact, I can picture end credits rolling along with the slow, sway-along beat. With the final “uh huh honey,” that occurs throughout the song, I’m left with mixed feelings about “Yeezus.” While turned off by frequent repulsive lyrics, I found it easy to tune them out and admire Kanye’s versatility and effortless production of one badass track after another.

Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios

“Monsters University” (June 21)
by Kelsey Keranen

When Disney-Pixar studios announced they would be continuing the story of one of my most beloved childhood films, “Monsters Inc.,” I went through a brief period in which I praised the coming of this glorious piece of animation and simultaneously complained about how it probably wouldn’t be as good as the original.  When I finally saw the movie in late July, I entered the theater with moderate expectations – when I strolled out of the theater, I left with them fully exceeded.

“Monsters University” was a purely delightful film.  A prequel to the original film “Monsters Inc.,” it tells the story of a young Mike Wazowski, the round, green, one-eyed protagonist, and how he befriends James P. Sullivan (Sulley), the most frightening monster on campus.  As hard as connecting with round green monsters may seem, Mike’s determination to become a scary monster and his neverending positivity was contagious; I truly felt as though I, too, were a member of Oozma Kappa fraternity, fighting my way to the top of the scaring boards with Squishy, Don Carlton, Terri & Terry, and the underappreciated Art.  The characters themselves were charming and probably the most precious monsters I had ever seen – I loved them with all of my heart.

I could talk for years about how pretty the animation was, but seeing as these are brief reviews and I also have other things to be studying for, I’ll try to keep it short.  The animation of “Monsters University” was far superior to the original, which was released in 1501 and was still part of the early trend of 3D animation.  The colors were vibrant, the movements were fluid, and, as far as I could see, there was no sloppy phasing.  The detail in each character is a spectacle in an of itself, especially the insane animation job Pixar must have undertaken when they animated each of Sulley’s hairs.  That stuff is crazy, kids.

In short, this movie is worth seeing, despite not having been nominated for best animated feature film (which, honestly, was a really bad move on the part of the Academy).  Even though the beloved Boo does not make an appearance, you will love it and you will cry at the end. “Monsters University” is pretty neat.

blessed unrest
Source: sarabmusic.com

Sara Bareilles’s “The Blessed Unrest” (July 12)
by Megumi Kitamoto

Lame confession: I did not buy “The Blessed Unrest” until two weeks ago because it was on sale for the “Best Albums of 2013 for $7.99” deal. And boy, do I regret not buying it earlier.

Sara Bareilles’ fourth studio album released on July 12 is rather different from her upbeat hit “Love Song.” In general, the lyrics show more maturity and most of the album consists of ballads, which is good to calm yourself down after a stressful day. If you are looking for songs in that category, “December” and “1000 Times” are the perfect choice for you. But there are still upbeat songs like “Brave,” as well as a very upbeat song like “Little Black Dress.” Personally, I don’t think this album has any weak tracks. Bareilles’ smooth and clear voice is perfect for anytime, anywhere.

stars dance
Source: selenagomez.com

Selena Gomez’s “Stars Dance” (July 23)
by Kaitlyn McCurdy

Well, it’s nice to know that after three albums under the name “Selena Gomez and the Scene,” she finally realized that the “and the Scene” was completely pointless, since the band didn’t do anything. Whatever. That’s not the point.

Disney just seems to have a rule of “if you want to act, you have to sing, too” and vice versa, and Selena Gomez absolutely fell victim to it. Her fourth studio album, “Stars Dance,” was released by Disney’s label Hollywood Records in July 2013.

Being honest, Gomez is one of Disney’s least talented singers. At least she has a knack for creating obnoxiously catchy tracks, like singles “Come and Get It” and “Slow Down.”

There are very, very, very few tracks on this album that are actually decent. The singles, as said, are incredibly catchy and you have to like them simply because you’re singing them all the time. Other than that, “Birthday” is the only other song I can really enjoy. That’s three songs out of ten. Oops.

The album is just so incredibly bubblegum pop. And, hey, I love pop music. But…there’s just something so off about Gomez’s work. She’s simply ten times better at acting, and she should stick to it.

Stupid Disney and their stupid rules and desire for milking all of their stars until they eventually leave.

Credit: Columbia Records, Sony Music Entertainment

John Mayer’s “Paradise Valley” (Aug. 20)
by Kaitlyn McCurdy

Whatever you think about John Mayer as a human, you simply cannot deny that he’s a musical God. In 2013, he bestowed us with his sixth studio album, and wow. Wow. Just wow.

The album has heavy influences from country and folk music, which is really to be expected from Mayer. He heavily explored it in 2012’s “Born and Raised,” but rather than just repeating himself, he expanded upon the sound by taking influence from even more genres, like blues. They all come together wonderfully, and Mayer’s killer guitar skills and writing prowess make the album that much better. The album is definitely more laid back than previous releases, though. It’s much more relaxed and cheerful, absolutely perfect for spring days and bright sunshine. I’m only being slightly sarcastic on that “spring day” thing. I’m definitely not kidding that it’s perfectly relaxing and great whenever you need a break to just chill out.

In all seriousness, though, “Paradise Valley” is beautiful. From it’s first single “Paper Doll,” an ode to his past relationship with Taylor Swift, to his cover of JJ Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze,” the album is just stunning and exactly the kind of music Mayer should make for the rest of his life.

Credit: Screen Gems

“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” (Aug. 21)
by Hannah Twitchell, WSS intern

Party-crashing vampires, paternal werewolves, fiery demons, witches down the hall and fabulous warlocks: “all the stories are true” in “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” last summer’s film adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s young adult novel of the same name.

All Clary Fray wants for her 18th birthday is a night out at her favorite New York City club with her best friend Simon, but she gets much more than she bargained for when she witnesses a murder. Soon Clary is thrown into a world she never knew existed when the enigmatic Jace, self-proclaimed demon hunter, makes her question everything she knows about herself.  The situation becomes life-or-death when her mother is kidnapped by an enemy from the past, and Clary dives head-first into a fantasy world of magic and blood.

As an ardent fan of the original book I had high expectations for this movie, and I am not disappointed with the adaptation from page to screen. The special effects are amazing, the fight scenes well-choreographed, and the actors really work to bring the characters to life. This movie is ridiculously dramatic at times, but the hair-flipping and angsty looks are more than made up for by the cast of wonderfully sassy and sarcastic characters.  “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is a good movie to satisfy your taste for pretty much anything: romance, drama, mystery, as well as some good ol’ fashioned killing of the things that go bump in the night.

halcyon days
Source: elliegoulding.com

Ellie Goulding’s “Halcyon Days” (Aug. 26)
by Consuelo Mendoza

Ellie Goulding arrived in 2010 as a folk-hop charmer. Her hit singles really do catch on and stick, as seen by “Lights,” which didn’t become popular until almost a year after its UK release. However, the recent success of the single “Burn” proves that things may be changing for Goulding. In 2012, her release of her sophomore LP “Halcyon” put her closer to the dance world with more upbeat and faster pace tracks. Her stunning Calvin Harris team-up, “I Need Your Love,” sealed the deal and really boosted a new start for her. This deluxe “Halcyon Days,” with 10 new tracks, confirms Goulding is doing her best work on gracious tracks with luminescent titles. “Burn” and “Flashlight.” “Halcyon Days” is full of unique tracks where we get to hear Goulding’s springy soprano voice, and lots of instrumental backgrounds. This album is definitely not like your typical modern music,but that’s what makes it so different and catchy. The tracks contain lots of heavy emotion and deep meanings which makes them even more enjoyable. I think almost anyone can relate to the messages in this album and it’s definitely not one to skip.

this is us
Credit: TriStar Pictures, Syco Entertainment, Warrior Poets, Modest Entertainment

“One Direction: This Is Us” (Aug. 30)
by Kaitlyn McCurdy

“One Direction: This Is Us” was directed by the same guy, Morgan Spurlock, who was behind the creation of the Oscar nominated documentary “Super Size Me.” You know, the one where he eats McDonalds every day for a ridiculous amount of time? Just thought you should know that bit.

With “This Is Us,” One Direction follows in the footsteps of teen heartthrobs like the Jonas Brothers and Justin Bieber, creating a documentary following their life on the road.

What sets 1D apart, though, is that it’s actually a documentary. Both Jonas and Bieber made more of a concert movie, with little tidbits of their life sprinkled throughout, though most of Jonas’s “home scenes” weren’t even home and we’re 100 percent scripted. “This Is Us” is 90 percent their home lives, 10 percent random scenes of concert footage, but it works. Props to them. I’d much rather get a behind-the-scenes look at them. I can watch a concert video on YouTube in 1080p, okay?

The film is absolutely adorable, really. Any fan will love it, and fall in love with them all over again. These five European boys are ridiculously endearing, from their deep devotion to their families to their typical teenage boy antics backstage with the band. Super cute. I felt like I was watching a bunch of puppies play together in a playpen. Yeah, that cute.

One downside, though, is definitely the abundance of fan footage. Yes, I love that you love your fans. That’s nice, great, thanks, but if I have to hear one more 15-year-old say “even though they don’t know me, I know they love me!!!!,” I’m going to punch myself in the face. So, yes, less teenage girls, more shirtless Harry Styles, please. Wait, what?

“This Is Us” is just really cute. Really, really cute. Hopelessly endearing and funny. That’s honestly my entire point here. Any fan needs to see it and/or have it in their DVD collection (…I DO NOT?!?!?! Yes, I do, whatever, not gonna deny). It’s pure lighthearted fun with British accents, what’s not to love?

Also, their cover of “Teenage Dirtbag?” Hella great.

Source: arianagrande.com

Ariana Grande’s “Yours Truly” (Aug. 30)
by Megumi Kitamoto

Nickelodeon may have copied Disney in the sense that those who appear on their shows are singers as well. Ariana Grande, known as Cat Valentine on the Nickelodeon show Sam and Cat, is a perfect example of this stereotype.  On August 30, she released her debut album, Yours Truly. Grande says that this album has an R&B touch that is influenced by Mariah Carey, Amy Winehouse and other women that are Grande’s inspirations, but I can’t really see it. Grande’s voice is very suited for R&B because it is very strong and confident, and her vocal range is so wide that it hits notes that I’m pretty sure dogs would have trouble hearing. But I feel like most of the songs on her album are using her wide vocal range a little too much to her advantage. Take “Daydreamin’” for example. It starts out with a lot of high notes, but I heard a lot of screeches. Also, in the songs “The Way” and “Right There,” rappers Mac Miller and Big Sean accompany Grande. Personally, I think the raps make the songs sound like they are being interrupted by someone. But hey, that’s just an opinion.

Overall, I would recommend this album if you enjoy a (very) wide vocal range and (a lot) of catchy songs.

Source: the1975.com

The 1975’s “The 1975” (Sept. 2)
by Kaitlyn McCurdy

You’ve definitely heard “Chocolate.” There is, like, a zero percent chance you haven’t heard “Chocolate.” It was definitely one of 2013’s biggest hits, and it skyrocketed The 1975 onto the indie pop scene.

Thank goodness for “Chocolate.” I don’t know what I’d do with myself without this album, really. It’s that damn good.

In their self-titled debut LP, The 1975 incorporate an 80s pop sound with an indie vibe to create an explosion of musical awesomeness. It’s an absolutely irresistible album; you’ll most definitely find yourself swaying along to the beat.

Packed with great songs instrumentally, The 1975 also have a knack at writing really beautiful, personal lyrics. Their darker undertones are hidden by the upbeat sounds, so when you do stop dancing, actually take a listen to the words.

Matt Healy, the band’s lead vocalist, is crazy talented. His voice is just..wow. There are too many good things to say about this man, and not enough adjectives to accurately describe him.

If this is the first time you’re hearing of this band, check them out now. Open a YouTube tab and just search them up. I’d recommend the album’s three singles (“Chocolate,” “The City,” and “Sex”) as well as “Girls” and “Settle Down.” But, really, you can’t listen to a bad song from them.

“The 1975” is one of my personal favorite albums of 2013, maybe even one of my favorite albums ever, and I can’t wait to see what comes next for them.

Source: cashmoney-records.com

Drake’s “Nothing Was the Same” (Sept. 24)
by Kaitlyn McCurdy

Drake is the best rapper in the game right now. Boom. There you have it.

Okay, no, that’s not actually all I can say. I have to actually talk about the album a little bit.

“Nothing Was the Same” is absolutely everything great about Drake, amplified times ten. He’s absolutely ruthless on this LP; his lyrics are still about doubts and regrets, his beats are still absolutely, well, sick. Drake is a whole new type of rapper, and “Nothing Was the Same” is probably the best album from that genre in a really long time.

Admittedly, some lyrics are absolutely ridiculous and cringe-worthy (“Girl, you know I’ve seen you naked”), but I can look past it. There’s too many good things to let one minor mishap screw up the rest of the album.

I’m not gonna lie, though, I still picture Jimmy from Degrassi whenever I see him. It’s incredibly distracting, especially at the VMAs, when he was performing a mashup of “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “Started From the Bottom.”

…Great album, though? Yeah.

Credit: Universal Music Group

Lorde’s “Pure Heroine” (Sept. 27)
by Megumi Kitamoto

If you listen to Lorde’s lyrics, they are relatable to those experiencing teenage angst. That’s because she’s seventeen and probably has the same issues we do, except she puts them into song. Hailing from New Zealand, Ella Yelich O’Connor, better known by her stage name Lorde, is causing a sensation in the music industry because of her spunky attitude (she dissed Taylor Swift), her eccentric fashion taste and because she creates her songs almost completely by herself. On Sept. 27, she released her first full-length studio album “Pure Heroine,” and it was nothing short of excellent. Her voice has something mystical to it, and makes you want to listen to more of her songs, which is exactly what I did for about two months after the album’s release.

We all know “Royals,” but there are other great tracks on the album. “Team” is a good song if you’re feeling lonely, and “Glory and Gore” is my personal favorite because it shows the nitty-gritty side of her music.

Even if you have doubts about electronic music or really catchy songs, Lorde’s album is definitely worth trying out.

Credit: Marvel Studios

“Thor: The Dark World” (Nov. 11)
by Kaitlyn McCurdy

It’s pretty much common knowledge that sequels can’t compare to the original, right?

Wrong. “Thor: the Dark World” is just as good as the first one. Just as funny, just as action packed, just as much fun to watch.

All of our favorites reprise their roles; Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Kat Dennings as Darcy. Yeah, she’s not a major role, but she’s still great. Surprising lack of shirtless Hemsworth, though.

Every good superhero needs a villain, and really, Malekith fits that role perfectly. He’s creepy and fascinating and so, so evil, and very, very cool. Tidbit, he’s played by ex-Doctor (as in “Doctor Who”) Christopher Eccleston. I totally did not have a minor freak-out after that realization, nope.

Hiddleston, though, steals the movie, which isn’t shocking. He has a knack for that. I don’t even think I’m being biased with my love of Loki here; Hiddleston was just truly that great. He’s absolutely astounding as Loki, and he seamlessly pulls off all of Loki’s little mischievous plots throughout the film. He truly understands his character, and it’s evident and makes him all the better. I honestly don’t think I’d like Loki as much if anyone else were playing him. Stunning actor, truly captivating to watch. Goodness, I sound nerdy.

“The Dark World” really is just one you can’t miss. It’s effortlessly interesting, and even after seeing it twice within two weeks, I wasn’t bored. In fact, I kept picking up on little details I managed to miss the first time around. Really one of Marvel’s bests.

Just so you know, there is a mid-credits and after-credits scene. You’re welcome.

lady gaga
Source: interscope.com

Lady Gaga’s “ARTPOP” (Nov. 6)
by Julia Truszkowsi

I breathed a sigh of relief when Lady Gaga vanished from the limelight just as fast as she had entered into it. When I heard of her new album “ARTPOP,” however, contented sighs turned to groans. I tried to listen with an open mind, but I still couldn’t bring myself to be called a fan.

The record started off relatively strong with the aggressive, electronic “Aura.” It became apparent, however, that it didn’t particularly stand out as many tracks blended together. The album was full of bland, pop-tinged EDM which, don’t get me wrong, was very unique in itself, but got to be rather predictable after hearing the same sort of song eight times.

Maybe Gaga is simply trying to head in a different direction. She took a big step away from the Katy Perry/Selena Gomez crowd in her transition from pop to electronic dance music. This effort paid off in “Gypsy,” an upbeat tune that demands you to get up on your feet, and the dubstep-influenced “Swine.”

While I felt that this album was nothing extraordinary, there were a couple positives. It is clear that Lady Gaga has not sold out in order to achieve stardom, with none of her songs being particularly radio friendly according to today’s standards. Although this style of music did little for me, I applaud Gaga for genuine individuality. And besides, without the constant overplaying of Gaga, I’ll be saved another groan.

Source: britneyspears.com

Britney Spears’s “Britney Jean” (Nov. 29)
by Grace Young

It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from Britney Spears and I guess I just assumed she was hairless and (still) in jail. My last memory of her prior to the November 29 release of “Britney Jean” was being chastised in my basement by my older, more seasoned pals for not understanding the “secret meaning” of her hit song 3. Googling it just now I realize that song was released five years ago and apparently I’m not following the right entertainment blogs on Twitter.

However, after listening to “Britney Jean,” I’m not feeling like I was missing out on anything huge in that five-year void in my memory. The album was first brought to my attention when “Work Bitch” came on Pandora one afternoon and the electronic dance beat was enough to draw my attention away from the stirring math assignment I was in the middle of staring at. “Get to work, bitch,” Britney yelled at me. Rude? Maybe, but the song screamed pump up and by the end I was ready to actually start my homework which is really a testament to the catchy beat that is Britney Spears.

Energized, I decided to look up the rest of the album and my hopes for some killer tunes were quickly dashed. Techno beats were everywhere, taking over songs at times. A short electronic dance break would have been enough in most cases, and even the wild noises couldn’t distract from Spears’ disappointingly small vocal range that even I could keep up with.

Despite the overwhelming electronica, some bright spots did shine through specifically “Perfume” which stayed with me all day like a lingering scent. In all, “Britney Jean” had its moments like any album does, but the shining areas weren’t quite as illuminated as they should have been, instead hidden amidst a whole barrage of techno tones.

Credit: Parkwood Entertainment, Columbia Records

 Beyoncé’s “Beyoncé” (Dec. 13)
by Anna Mondanaro 

They don’t call her “Queen B” for nothing. On Friday, December 13, 2013, Beyoncé Knowles released, without any previous publicity,  the newest installment to her award-winning album collection. The self-titled “Beyoncé” features fourteen songs and seventeen music videos. Featuring other stars such as Drake, Frank Ocean and husband Jay-Z, the album has an essence similar to her previous “I Am Sasha Fierce.”

In tracks, “Blow,” “Drunk in Love (feat. Jay-Z)” and “Rocket”, Knowles exhibits a sex appeal that would even make Liz Taylor blush. For listeners that like a softer vibe, “Mine (feat. Drake)”, “Heaven”, and “XO” slow things down. More personal songs include “Blue,” named after her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, and “Pretty Hurts,” depicting her experience as a young pageant queen.

One of the final tracks, “***Flawless”, explains Queen B’s journey through fame as a woman, with a short clip mid-song from a speech by feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Although bold, the clip explains what Queen B believes to be the problem with fame–talented women becoming overshadowed by men.

Overall, the album encompasses a variety of songs that connect personally with Beyoncé’s life while also interesting the listener. After skyrocketing to the top of the iTunes “Bestselling Albums” list within hours of being released, the truth is clear: Queen B reigns on.