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2013 in arts and culture: MUSE reflects

Mei Mei Kitchen pairs its braised beef dumplings with sriracha sticky rice, pickled red cabbage, garlic aioli and spicy ketchup. BROOKE JACKSON-GLIDDEN/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Mei Mei Kitchen pairs its braised beef dumplings with sriracha sticky rice, pickled red cabbage, garlic aioli and spicy ketchup. BROOKE JACKSON-GLIDDEN/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Best new Boston bite: Braised beef dumplings blowing up
By Brooke Jackson-Glidden

Vegetarians, I’m sorry: you’re going to have to sit this one out. From the crispy, ginger-fragrant dumplings at the newly opened Mei Mei Kitchen in South Campus to the hearty rendition with Chinese celery at Ming Tsai’s Blue Dragon (which opened in May), beef dumplings are the iconic fusion cuisine comfort food. Pork belly has been dominating the pan-Asian market for the last few years, but the braised beef dumpling is making a comeback — and with good reason. Beef and dumplings have graced midwestern dinner tables for generations, and various Asian families around the world kept a special place for gyoza, jiaozi and mandu in the meal. For the blizzards that kept us chilly last winter, that “straight from the crock pot” flavor warmed us from the inside out. In the late hours of those Friday nights, when you want something greasy and fun to eat, salty-sweet dumplings hit the spot. Beef is naturally complemented with soy (Fun fact: the salt tenderizes the meat. Think about the way people salt-brine pork loin or pot roasts), and the way the potsticker wrappers keep all that steam and just in a bite-sized pocket make them simply addictive.

Best film of 2013: Payne’s enthralling ‘Nebraska’
By Hannah Landers

Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, released Nov. 15, doesn’t have giant robots. It doesn’t have any superheroes. Yet the black-and-white Nebraska has still managed to be the most dynamic, enthralling movie of 2013.

The premise is simple: Aging Woody Grant (the captivating Bruce Dern) journeys from Montana to Nebraska with his son David (Will Forte) to collect the million dollars he thinks he’s won after receiving a letter in the mail. In their travels, the two stop along the way to meet up with old friends and family.

Ironically enough, through a story centered on a hoax, Payne uncovers real emotions in these characters.

Some of this is played for laughs. When David asks Woody — in an attempt to gain insight into his own failing romantic life — if Woody had loved his wife when they married, Woody replies, “It never came up.”

For the most part, however, the interactions on screen are deeply moving, despite leaving so much unsaid. That it still makes such an impact is testament to both the brilliance of screenwriter Bob Nelson and to the cast, which is “all-star” in its own way.

“Best Film of 2013” is a weighty title to bear, but Nebraska, with all its bittersweet emotion, certainly deserves it.

Best television show:  heartbreaking, addictive ‘Game of Thrones’
By Joe Incollingo

2013 was the year of the endings. Breaking Bad is over. The Newsroom might as well be at an end. The Walking Dead needs a conclusion. The best TV endings tie together loose ends and maybe even leave a few behind. They bum us out, but leave us satisfied. When a show keeps ending — and yet keeps us going — like Game of Thrones does, then it’s bound to be something special.

Granted, the breathtaking locations and fantasy effects are an escapist’s dreams come true. They are the hair and nails of Westeros, but its story is the meat and bone. Game of Thrones is constantly ending its infinite subplots, but saying that they “bum us out” is an understatement. While having a huge ensemble cast means having expendable characters, the series has a nasty reputation of crowning decoy protagonists only to cut their heads off. It’s Murphy’s Law written in blood, and this past season was no better. Season Three’s penultimate episode, “The Rains of Castamere,” closed one central conflict by opening throats that didn’t deserve to go so soon, suddenly and stunningly, and still stomach-sickening months later. But, if there’s any solace to take away, it is in knowing that — to use a line from the show — “fire cannot kill” the series. A new story will rise from the ashes. New faces will win our hearts and maybe our delusional prayers.

Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig serenedes fans at the second-ever Boston Calling Music Festival. In honor of the festival’s city, he performed the title album’s “Ladies of Cambridge.” MARISA BENJAMIN/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig serenedes fans at the second-ever Boston Calling Music Festival. In honor of the festival’s city, he performed the title album’s “Ladies of Cambridge.” MARISA BENJAMIN/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Best ‘local color’ event: pioneer festival Boston Calling
By Max Cohen

Big music festivals usually occur in huge outdoor areas. Firefly is in a forest in Delaware. Coachella is at an outdoor polo club. But, unbeknownst to many, one of the Northeast’s premier music festivals rests comfortably around Boston’s City Hall. The coolest festival in Boston this year, the now bi-annual Boston Calling Music Festival, has proved once again that Boston has the premier music scene in the country. The festival’s second incarnation brought together indie heroes Vampire Weekend, rap icon Kendrick Lamar and EDM powerhouses Major Lazer and Wolfgang Gartner. The festival, notable for its ultra-clean environment and delicious food (such as Tasty Burger) appealed to all fans of each genre, by booking lesser-known rock groups like Local Natives and Deer Tick, and some of the most influential new DJ’s, including Flume and Flosstradamus. The crowd was friendly, the vibes were good and being able to take the T home was both a relief and an excuse to let loose. A paragon for any music festival, let alone one within a city, Boston Calling has become a tremendous new Boston tradition. With the announcement that next year’s festival will include a third night, Boston Calling has grown from a cool attraction into a Boston phenomenon — all in a single year.

Best album: Daft Punk’s revival Random Access Memories
By Ross Hsu

Sorry to be so spectacularly bland and predictable, but Random Access Memories was likely the best album released in 2013. Self-aware without being self-deprecating, RAM takes everything we already loved about Daft Punk and supercharges it, then flanks it with a roster of guest appearances that would make even the greenest music nerd’s mouth water. The album flows naturally from one track to the next. The song transitions using perfect segues without sounding too similar or deliberate.

Like all Daft Punk albums, RAM is about humanism in a robotic world, a theme that has never been as palpable or as sad as it is on tracks like “Touch” and “Instant Crush.” The robots’ obsessive attention to detail oozes from every note, the LP split into two acts between “Touch” and “Get Lucky,” and split again between “Motherboard,” “Fragments of Time,” “Within” and “Instant Crush,” and so on, in continuously smaller increments down to the very bars and phrases. The synthesizers may have been traded for studio musicians, but the duo’s potency remains in repeating a phrase until a single note out of place induces thrills of excitement. More important than all of this, however, is that for the first time in decades, Daft Punk got the whole world to dance to disco.

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