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Guilty pleasures in movies, music, TV and more in 2013

From left, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in

From left, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in "The Heat." Credit: Gemma La Mana


"The Heat": It's about time somebody made a buddy-cop comedy starring two women, and director Paul Feig chose a coupla doozies in Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock. "The Heat" made the most of its R rating with foul language, crass humor and much wounding of male groins, but the bonding between its female stars gave it heart. Too bad Bullock has publicly nixed a sequel. It might actually have been good.

"Delivery Man": This Vince Vaughn comedy, about a slacker who learns that his anonymous sperm donations have resulted in 533 children, was way too cutesy-wutesy for most critics. But Vaughn's still-potent charm carried the day, and in the end it seems churlish to resist a movie about familial love on such a large scale. Group hug, everybody!

"Bullet to the Head": The best action film of 1983 just happened to come out in 2013. For fans of vintage pulp, this was a dream-team: Sylvester Stallone, playing a hit man with an honor code, plus the legendary director Walter Hill, shamelessly ripping off his own "48 Hrs." Stylish and funny, with a crackerjack climax of fisticuffs and fireaxes(!), "Bullet to the Head" was manna from B-movie heaven.                                                              





Revolt: It's an exciting new concept from Diddy! Revolt is a cable channel that shows blocks of music videos and has VJs who talk about music and musicians. There's something comforting about having someone else pick the playlist for you. Maybe there could be more channels like this, something like Music Television or MTV for short. Oh. Wait.

A cappella: Between the enduring appeal of "Pitch Perfect," the return of "The Sing-Off" and the surprising sales strength of Pentatonix, a cappella has certainly become a cultural force this year. Like any genre, it has its ups and downs, but a wave of new, inventive arrangements has made it much more than a gimmick.

Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake, "The History of Rap": The duo returned to the series for the fourth time this year, cramming three decades of hip-hop into six or so minutes. It's jokey, especially when Timberlake goes into his Eminem impression, but it also shows their love of the genre, weaving together The Fat Boys and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, with Strong Islanders LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes and Salt n' Pepa.                      





"Jimmy Kimmel Live!": In TV, you could argue that just about anything is a "guilty pleasure," although there are certain habits probably a bit less nutritious than others. So continuing with that metaphor, a favored carb overload is "Kimmel" -- consistently amusing, imaginative and (even) smart.

"Sons of Anarchy": I'm ambivalent about "SOA" for many reasons, far too many to get into in this space. Too violent . . . characters who never learn, ever . . . But the show's craftsmanship is superlative -- excellent writing, acting, directing. A shame to feel guilty about watching.

"Duck Dynasty": I really don't watch this all that much -- which is pretty much what everyone says about their guilty pleasures -- but whenever I do watch, I'm reminded that the Robertsons are great characters, or that no one, anywhere, could have dreamed up someone like Si Robertson, reality TV's premiere quote machine ("I am the MacGyver of cooking. If you bring me a piece of bread, cabbage, coconut, mustard greens, pigs feet, pine cones . . . and a woodpecker, I'll make you a good chicken potpie.") And that's a fact, Jack.                                                                                                  





Alec Baldwin: No kidding. His return to Broadway in Lyle Kessler's "Orphans" was generally creamed, but I admired his restraint and sly command of nuance. I think he was blamed for the failure of this revival of the 1983 play that, despite its reputation as dynamite, never was more than a minor fast-talking adrenaline jolt.

Bobby Cannavale: In anything, whether or not he was well-cast in Clifford Odets' "The Big Knife." He is never less than fun to watch -- and frequently much more.

Single-gender Shakespeare: I am philosophically skeptical and a little sick of all-male productions, which, despite the historical justification, usually annoy me with camp gimmickry. But my resistance has been shaken by the Shakespeare Globe double bill of "Twelfth Night" and "Richard III," and besides, this fall, we also had a gripping all-woman "Julius Caesar" from London. This still doesn't make for equal opportunity for actresses, but I'm weakening. So it's a pleasure, but I feel guilty                     .





Though you might expect to find your guilty pleasures on the mass-market paperback rack at a drugstore, three juicy 2013 novels prove that literary fiction can be trashy, too -- in all the best ways.

"The Yonahlosee Riding Camp for Girls," Anton di Sclafani: This debut novel set in the Depression-era South follows a young teenager exiled for mysterious reasons to a girls' boarding school, where the little minx gets in even more trouble. For anyone with B-movie and Harlequin Romance tendencies.

"My Education," Susan Choi: The story of a mad lesbian affair between a grad student and a faculty wife on a Cornell-like campus, weaves powerful insights about youth, loyalty and passion into its steamy scenes and delectable plot.

"Sisterland," Curtis Sittenfeld: Psychic twin sisters and earthquake predictions are the stuff of tabloids -- and also of this novel. Sittenfeld gives her news of the weird a sensitive, funny and profound treatment, showing a Stephen King-like ability to mesh the paranormal with the unsettlingly real.


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