Winner: Jennifer Lawrence
The honeymoon continued for this quirky Kentucky beauty in 2013.
The media darling of the moment earned her second Oscar nomination for playing Bradley Cooper’s love interest in the acclaimed late 2012 hit, Silver Linings Playbook, which raked in over 200 million in international box office receipts. On the night of the ceremony, she was named Best Actress. Despite accidentally tripping up the stairs to the stage in order to accept it, her respected speech was gracious and typically self-deprecating. In a classy gesture, she wished fellow nominee Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) a Happy Birthday. (She turned 86 that night.)
As the year drew to a close, Lawrence returned as Katniss in the second Hunger Games film. In its first month of release, it has already accumulated more than 750 million worldwide. Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. And there’s a lot of buzz for her supporting performance in David O. Russell’s just-issued American Hustle (will she get her third nomination?) which is expected to be a major Oscar contender. It’s her best reviewed film this year and has already made back half its budget, as of this writing.
With appearances in the next installments of the X-Men and Hunger Games franchises plus a reunion with Cooper in the Great Depression drama Serena coming next year, even if she decided to run over an autistic child high on heroin while farting on a puppy, expect the world’s love affair with her to continue unabated.
Loser: President Obama
It’s not easy presiding over a crumbling empire. But the 44th American President did little to stop his nation’s steep decline in 2013. In fact, he may have expedited it.
Not long after being sworn in for his second term, his administration would become consumed with scandal. Despite promising to shut it down within a year of his first term, the still open Guantanamo Bay gulag was thrust back into the spotlight when most of the remaining detainees (half of whom have been cleared for release – twice – years ago) commenced yet another hunger strike to remind the world of their horrifying, never ending dilemma.
At first, the administration downplayed the numbers. Then, they decided to force-feed the most resistant, a cold, unethical practice not approved by either the American Medical Association nor the various human rights groups who outright condemned this ghastly torture. During a major speech in late May, President Obama openly addressed the image program Gitmo presents to the world:
“…history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future 10 years from now or 20 years from now when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country.
Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike…Is this who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children?”
As far as Obama is concerned, yes it is.
While the bogus military trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cronies drags on unconstitutionally, since that Spring speech only four Gitmo detainees have been transferred to other countries. (The transfer of two Algerian prisoners was in itself controversial.) 158 still remain in Cuba.
Meanwhile, Obama’s ongoing war on the press intensified with the revelation that the Department of Justice was secretly investigating the phone lines of Associated Press reporters during one of its many leak investigations. (Fox News reporter James Rosen and New York Times National Security Correspondent James Risen were also unfortunate targets of this vindictive regime.) When Glenn Greenwald’s husband, David Miranda, was detained by nine hours in Britain’s Heathrow Airport, the Obama Administration was given a head’s up and stayed out of the way, effectively giving their blessing to the intimidating measure. The journalistic backlash was swift and severe with the President ordering his Attorney General Eric Holder to reform DOJ guidelines on dealing with the press in order to calm the gathering storm. It didn’t exactly work. There was even more anger when Obama insisted on using his own White House photographer rather than lensmen of the press when doing official government business.
Then came Edward Snowden. In June, the former NSA/Booz Allen Hamilton intelligence analyst leaked an indeterminate amount of secret documents to filmmaker Laura Poitras, then-Guardian journalist Greenwald and Washington Post freelancer Barton Gellman while in hiding in a Hong Kong hotel room. The result: dozens and dozens of bombshell articles in numerous newspapers and websites, as well as on TV news programs, around the world detailing what the American government is really doing in the name of “fighting terrorism”. (Basically, they’re spying on everybody, friend and foe, and have been lying about it for years.)
Obama and his corrupt minions were caught completely off-guard by the constant flood of damning stories of mass global surveillance that would dominate political coverage for the rest of the year. Instead of admitting that maybe, just maybe, that the brave whistleblower was fully justified in doing what he did, Obama was outraged by the protocol breach and wanted him extradited for prosecution. Snowden is the eighth person to be secretly indicted under the unconstitutional Espionage Act under this ruthless administration even though he never leaked the documents to foreign governments. Considering his absolute lack of options for a possible Espionage Act defence and the awful fate that befell Private Chelsea Manning the same month the first batch of NSA stories surfaced, he was absolutely right to seek temporary one-year asylum in a country hostile to the U.S.: Vladimir Putin’s Russia. (He had little choice. America cancelled his passport while he flew there. He was hoping to end up in Latin America.)
As the civil war in Syria raged on, the President suddenly declared that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons on civilians (a controversial claim that was never fully proven) and the American military needed to intervene right now because this had crossed his imaginary “red line”, a phrase he had used during a White House briefing in 2012. But after the British Parliament rejected getting involved themselves, Obama lost a key ally. With the American public not at all hungry for more jolly little wars in the Middle East, Obama’s prime-time war pitch was rejected. Were it not for Secretary Of State John Kerry’s off-hand suggestion during a press conference about the Syrian regime handing over their chemical weapons to be destroyed, there’d be even more suffering in that country than there already is. (Where is the international push for a ceasefire?)
Which brings us to the Affordable Care Act, the watered down health reform law that was ready to take effect in the fall. However, when October 1st rolled around, the first day Americans could sign up for new insurance plans, the official ACA website crashed due to the high volume of traffic amid numerous technical glitches, an enormous fuck-up that, despite some eventual repairs, is still frustrating citizens today. (SNL joked in a sketch that 6 people signed up through the site that first day. Little did they know, that was actually true. To be fair, millions more have now successfully selected their plans, despite these technological frustrations.)
Then came all the cancelled plans. Obama had specifically promised during his initial push for the law that Americans who already had insurance could keep it. In an alarming number of cases, that turned out to be false. PolitiFact named this the “Lie Of The Year”. Furthermore, in some instances, ACA insurance rates are actually higher than the cancelled ones.
Then, there’s the uncomfortable matter of Obama’s drone policy. Despite promising to take every precaution before launching strikes on alleged “terrorist targets”, civilians are still getting murdered. The supremely secretive leader has never allowed a full accounting of this and other controversial policies since taking office nearly five years ago. And don’t get me started on his desire to drill for oil and gas in the melting Arctic, his low tax policies for the rich and the lack of urgency to prosecute torturers, lying spies and Wall Street crooks.
During his final White House press scrum of 2013, the President was asked if this was his worst year in office. It’s a good thing he demurred at the suggestion.
Why? Because the worst is yet to come.
Winner: Daniel Bryan & The Shield
Did anybody in the WWE have a better year than the bearded one and the hounds of justice?
While Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, three talented athletes who can talk, triple powerbombed some of the biggest names in the business in the early months of 2013 – Randy Orton, Sheamus, The Big Show, Ric Flair, The Undertaker, Ryback – Daniel Bryan and his unlikely partner, Kane, were enjoying the second half of their equally unlikely tag team title reign. Well, The Big Red Monster was perfectly satisfied. The Yes Man, on the other hand, was deeply insecure about being perceived as the weak link of the team, which led to the usual bickering this otherwise unified team had grown accustomed to.
On pay-per-view, Team Hell No successfully defended their titles against Team Rhodes Scholars at The Royal Rumble and Dolph Ziggler & Big E. Langston at WrestleMania 29. Meanwhile, The Shield were racking up a number of impressive victories in six-man matches on TV. It was only a matter of time before both teams collided in the ring with the titles on the line.
That moment arrived at Extreme Rules in May. While Ambrose defeated Kofi Kingston to snag the United States Championship, Rollins and Reigns overcame Bryan and Kane to snatch the tag belts. Team Hell No would soon split up with Bryan now singularly focused on overcoming his perceived shortcomings.
And that’s when Beardmania erupted. Thanks mostly to his countless TV encounters with various members of The Shield in both singles and tag matches, the former American Dragon exhilarated crowds with his high-octane offensive flurries and increasingly likeable personality. Soon, the angry weak link schtick was dropped and The Yes Man became the new uncrowned People’s Champ.
The Shield would go undefeated cleanly until Hell No and Randy Orton beat them in a very good six-man match on Smackdown in June. Nonetheless, the men in black would maintain their respective title reigns throughout the rest of the summer as Reigns and Rollins defeated teams like The Usos and The Prime Time Players while Ambrose survived challenges from Kane and Rob Van Dam.
In the build to SummerSlam, WWE Champion John Cena handpicked Bryan to be his opponent in the main event of that show. In something of a throwback to the CM Punk face turn in the summer of 2011, the number one contender grew some big balls declaring the Leader of the Cenation a mere “entertainer” and himself a “professional wrestler”, one who would go back to working the indie scene if he was ever fired again, something he felt was beneath the WWE Champion. Showcasing a ferocious passion never seen in his promos before, it caught the attention of Cena who fought back hard during the best moment in the build, a lengthy verbal exchange on Miz TV just days before the pay-per-view.
Then came the match itself which was terrific. Cena deserves a great deal of credit for wrestling with a serious injury (one of his elbows had a ball of fluid on it which was later removed in surgery) just to get Bryan over in a big way. Unfortunately, Special Guest Referee Triple H pedigreed the new champion and Money In The Bank briefcase holder Randy Orton covered him to take the belt. Stupid.
At Night Of Champions, Bryan regained the title but thanks to a fast count by the referee that night Triple H stripped him of the gold on the following Monday Night Raw. (Also stupid. There’s been no payoff to that story, either.) After a rematch resulted in a no-decision at Battleground (damn you, Big Show) the WWE title remained vacant until Hell In A Cell when Bryan’s real-life trainer Shawn Michaels superkicked him right out of the title picture. Orton has held the belt ever since and thanks to his victory over then-World Heavyweight Champion John Cena at TLC, he’s now the unified WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
As for Rollins and Reigns, in the autumn they started a feud with The Rhodes Brothers which led to a critically acclaimed match at Battleground. (The Shield lost to Goldust and Cody who got their jobs back. Long story.) Their five-month title run drew to a close when The Brotherhood, as they’re now called, won the straps in an uneven match on Raw. (The second half being far more entertaining than the first.) Ambrose remains the U.S. titleholder.
With Bryan stuck in a mid-card feud with The Wyatt Family (but still making his presence known to both Cena and Orton), and cracks starting to show in the once united Shield front as they tangle with former ally CM Punk (who looks ready to face Triple H again), it’s not certain if all this momentum these four grapplers enjoyed in 2013 can be maintained from beyond. Regardless, with 10 Slammys between them this year and 5 championships, no one else on the roster could touch them.
Loser: Paula Deen
It took years to build her cooking empire but only one word to bring it all down.
Southern chef Paula Deen was the lovable Food Network host with the bad reputation for making incredibly unhealthy food. (She once suggested that kids eat high-calorie desserts for both breakfast and lunch.) For two years, she kept her Diabetes diagnosis secret until it was exposed by The National Enquirer.
Then came a discrimination lawsuit in early 2012 from a former employee who claimed sexual and racial harassment within the confines of a violent, hostile workplace. At the time, it was a little-seen story. But after The National Enquirer published shocking quotes from her deposition in the Spring of 2013, the shit hit the fan.
Deen admitted she had used the word “nigger”, as did her brother who allegedly showed hard core pornography to their employees. She also confirmed that she wanted to have black people dressed as slaves for an outdoor plantation wedding, a plan that was thankfully shelved because the controversial cook was worried about how it would look in the media.
Once the story got picked up by the mainstream press, Deen cancelled a Today Show appearance (she eventually rescheduled) and channelled Jimmy Swaggert with one teary-eyed YouTube apology after another in the vain hope that the story would not hurt her brand.
But hurt her brand it did. Her multi-cookbook publishing contract was cancelled, endorsement deals were scrapped and The Food Network, already looking for a reason to cancel all three of her low-rated shows, yanked her off the airwaves.
Although she ultimately won her civil case, the damage was done. May she never return.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, December 24, 2013