"It was a miraculous year," film critic David Edelstein tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. At a time when Hollywood is churning out Blockbusters and superhero movies that are guaranteed to make money at home and overseas, "it's really great when so many interesting movies, somehow or other, manage to bleed through," he says. " ... You really feel as if directors are taking chances in their storytelling. They are creating a new syntax for every story."
This was a good year for TV, says critic David Bianculli, and that had a lot to do with two new shows from Netflix: House of Cards, the American adaptation of the BBC political thriller series, and Orange Is the New Black, a dramatic comedy which takes place in a women's federal prison. "I was very impressed with the overall quality of what Netflix gave us," Bianculli tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "... That was quite a string of good shows."
So, without further ado, here's Bianculli's top-10 TV list for 2013:
When it comes to holiday drinks, there's always the traditional recipes for mulled wine and eggnog. But what about a taste of something new and different?
James Beard Award-winning mixologist Dale DeGroff has some surprising ideas to spice up your drink menu this season. He is widely credited with reviving the art of the cocktail. He's also president and founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail.
Originally published on Tue January 14, 2014 8:37 am
Chang-rae Lee's new novel, On Such a Full Sea, opens in a surprisingly contented dystopia: Hundreds of years in the future, the world has unraveled; in America, the government has crumbled and the population has fled. But its abandoned cities have been given new life by immigrant workers, moved in by big multinational corporations to provide pristine fish and produce to elite enclaves. In B-mor (once known as Baltimore), workers from China have built a relatively stable and prosperous community â€” though outside the walls of B-mor, the open counties are still lawless and rough.
This past year, many of the best known technology firms were actively designing and building new corporate offices. It's the first time Silicon Valley giants like Apple, Google and Facebook have done so from the ground up. The same is true for Amazon, which is building in Seattle.
All of these projects are still in their early stages, but perhaps the most talked about and architecturally ambitious project that broke ground this year is the Apple headquarters building in Cupertino, Calif. It was a project near and dear to the late Steve Jobs.
The film 12 Years a Slave tells the real-life story of Solomon Northup. In 1841, Northup, a free black man, was drugged and then sold into slavery. How faithfully does the movie capture Northup's life? As part of our week of truth-squadding some of this year's film biopics, Robert Siegel talks with William Andrews, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He wrote To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865.
Robert Siegel talks with technology columnist Farhad Manjoo of The Wall Street Journal about the various ways to watch online video on your television. Manjoo says it's never been so easy or more complicated to do.
One of the most popular channels on YouTube is aimed toward people who play video games. It's got tons of content â€” thousands of game reviews, how-to videos of people gaming away enthusiastically, even little homemade movies that people have made using video-game software.
That last format is a user-generated phenomenon called machinima â€” "little m" machinima. "Big M" Machinima is a company, and it wants to be a new media empire. It's the entity behind that YouTube channel.
Here's a short list of some of the most exciting recent TV offerings on DVD. These are sets you can still order and receive in time for the holidays â€” and regardless, they're perfect to dive into over the vacation period, enjoying an episode or two a night.
When they set out to create the HBO series Getting On, Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer wanted to create a different kind of workplace comedy â€” one that celebrated the workplace and the employees in it.
British dramas, mostly from BBC America, have become gold mines of binge viewing for American TV fans seeking a deep dive into compelling series. Gillian Anderson's The Fall, David Tennant's Broadchurch and Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock are just a few of the series which offer hours of escape.
You might not expect "Santa's Helper" to be a career-altering gig, but for David Sedaris, it changed everything. The writer and humorist spent a season working at Macy's as a department store elf. He described his short tenure as Crumpet the Elf in "The Santaland Diaries," an essay that he read on Morning Edition in 1992.
Instantly, a classic was born. Sedaris' reading has become an NPR holiday tradition. Click the "Listen" link above to hear Sedaris read his tale.
Millions of Americans speak a language other than English at home, and many of them are young children. Picture books are starting to reflect this diversity.
Monica Brown has written more than a dozen children's picture books with text in both English and Spanish. Raised bilingually by a South American mother and North American father, she says her inspiration comes from her own upbringing.
Originally published on Fri December 27, 2013 8:36 am
The long-running debate over whether video games constitute art may finally be moot â€” at least as far as the Smithsonian American Art Museum is concerned. Last week, SAAM acquired two video games, Halo 2600 and Flower, for its permanent collection.
Volunteering while traveling isn't really a novelty anymore. But sometimes that work you're doing, say, in a developing country, well, it could be doing more harm than good. On this week's travel segment, Winging It, we look at what it means to travel ethically.
We're going to hear now from the woman charged with streamlining the Pentagon's roughly $700 billion annual budget.
CHRISTINE FOX: We have to curb the growth of the compensation of our force. It's grown 40 percent above inflation over the last decade. And it's fully half of our budget. So, we have to slow the growth.
On-air challenge: Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase or name in which, like Santa Claus, the first word starts with the letters S-A, and the second word starts with C.
Last week's challenge from listener Pete Collins of Ann Arbor, Mich.: Name an island in which some of the letters appear more than once. Drop exactly two instances of each repeated letter. The remaining letters can be rearranged to name something to eat. What is it?
Originally published on Mon December 30, 2013 11:15 am
I tend to like my heroes strong and capable; not self-important, yet with a certain brand of assurance. But in literature, as in life, profound truths often come to us not through confidence but through wrestling â€” through the quest for who we are and what we hope to become. Three newly-translated novels star not exceptionally robust heroes but unexceptional, aimless ones, each exploring the inward struggles that make us human.
These three international voices offer no barrage of answers. Instead, they remind us of the importance, and the power, of simply asking the questions.
Originally published on Mon January 6, 2014 5:47 pm
Working in radio, you learn one uncomfortable truth faster than you would have otherwise: Few things make a story more difficult to tell than having a listener expecting to hear it. A microphone can make even the most relentless gabber stammer and become self-conscious.
When you think about a scrumptious meal, airline food does not come to mind.
There are plenty of challenges to tasty airline meals, like the fact that many airlines now charge you for anything more than a tiny bag of chips and a plastic cup of non-alcoholic drink, at least on domestic flights. Plus, you can't cook on an airplane, so anything you're served has probably been chilled, then reheated. And flight delays certainly don't help with the freshness factor.
As the year winds down, we here at NPR are looking at a few key numbers that explain the big trends of 2013.
Today's number: 1.6 million.
That's 1.6 million acres â€” about the area of the state of Delaware.
That's how much land was removed this year from the federal Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, which pays farmers to keep land covered with native grasses or sometimes trees. Most of that land now will produce crops like corn or wheat.
Charles Dickens was a celebrity of the Victorian era. His books and plays continue to be celebrated around the world, particularly around Christmas. The new film, The Invisible Woman, focuses on a lesser-known part of his life â€” his relationship with a young woman named Nelly Ternan.
Felicity Jones plays the young mistress and muse, and Ralph Fiennes, who also directed the film, plays Dickens.
Ah, the holidays â€” a time for love and good cheer, for snowflakes that stay on your nose and eyelashes. For full-blown panic attacks in department stores brought on by a particularly perplexing Secret Santa pick.
Fret no more: here at NPR Books, we believe that there's a perfect book out there for everyone on your holiday shopping list. And â€” lucky you! â€” we've made it easy to sort through this year's top releases to find just the right read.