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Remember her amazing 2009? This year was better. She nailed both comedy and pulse-pounding drama. She brought heat and gravity. ''She could run a country if she needed to,'' says longtime friend Matthew McConaughey. In 2013 Bullock returned to her physical-comedy roots alongside Melissa McCarthy in Paul Feig's joyful buddy-cop movie The Heat, the one drink of water for female moviegoers in a summer desert of capes, cars, and exploding White Houses. Then, in October, Bullock delivered a bravura one-woman performance — throat tight, breath jagged, eyes wounded and alert — in Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity, a $536 million-and-counting formula-free smash. Still, says Bullock, ''I will always nitpick every aspect of my performance. I'm an actress! We're vain, crazy, narcissistic creatures. You look at yourself 17 feet [tall] and you're going to be riddled with insecurity. Maybe when I'm old and go back to my youth, I'll say, 'Oh, look at her, bless her heart.' But I'm proud of the experiences I had on that movie. I'm proud that when Alfonso said, 'Okay, you're going to sit at the bottom of a tank 35 feet below,' I said, 'Okay, let's go down there and sit all day.' I'm really proud that I had those moments where I became fearless because I've never felt fearless before.''
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The masterminds behind Breaking Bad
''I've never had a better year in my life than 2013. Thirteen is now my new lucky number,'' admits creator Vince Gilligan. A few highlights: When Bad's final season premiered on Aug. 11 to 7.9 million viewers, when AMC announced on Sept. 11 it would move forward with Better Call Saul, a spin-off featuring underhanded lawyer Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk — ''It's kind of like somebody asking you, 'Would you like me to give you a winning lottery ticket?''' Odenkirk told EW; and 11 days later when the series claimed the best-drama Emmy for the first time, as well as a Best Supporting Actress statuette for Anna Gunn. With its Sept. 29 finale, a record 12.4 million viewers tuned in. ''What I love about it is that it's justifiable and legitimate,'' Bryan Cranston told EW. ''It's a very satisfying conclusion to this madness.'' And so the revered drug drama signed off with a final season as powerful as Walt's blue meth.
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The Ex?Disney kid, 21, took a ''Wrecking Ball'' to her tween-star past (and the charts) on her road to reinvention. Says Cyrus. ''I'm proud of the person I've become. Not what people think I've turned myself into, but who I've actually become, which is a happier person.'' She acknowledges, ''I've always had a lot of anxiety, and I've dropped that completely and really started living in the moment and not thinking about anything too much — really practicing what I preach when I say not to worry what other people think and be who you are to the fullest. I'm proud of knowing that's what I encourage other girls to do. I said 2013 was going to be the best year of my life, and I think what you put out into the universe you get back. I proved that to myself this year.'' What was her most memorable day? ''I've had so many crazy moments,'' says Cyrus, ''but something that I was really waiting for was my album release. It had been two years of waiting and working on it and keeping it top secret. I had to make a lot of tough decisions — it wasn't everybody telling me 'Yes, yes, yes.' I took this time and tried to create my own sound.''
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She's a phenom as The Hunger Games' Katniss Everdeen — and the actress, 23, hits the bullseye in the upcoming American Hustle, too. A few highlights from her incomparable year:
Feb. 24: In possibly the most endearing stumble ever, Lawrence collapses in a Dior heap before receiving her Oscar, then waves off the standing ovation: ''You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell.''
May 6: At an uptight Met Costume Gala, she photobombs Sarah Jessica Parker on the red carpet. ''I have this thing when I meet famous people where I just shut down and do something really embarrassing,'' she told EW.
July 31: The world gets its first real glimpse of David O. Russell's American Hustle in a dynamic, gorgeously tacky trailer that finds Lawrence rocking some serious '70s fashions. Spoiler alert: She's riveting in the movie.
Nov. 11: At the London premiere of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Lawrence, a former nanny, abandons the red carpet to kneel down and tend to a sobbing girl in a wheelchair. Unlike some young stars tethered to a franchise, she still loves her heroine. ''I'm so worried about wrapping,'' she told EW earlier this year. ''I'm going to be a mess.'' You and us both.
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Bingeing — it's not just for Thanksgiving anymore! With a trio of hits, Netflix changed how we watch TV:
House of Cards (center)
This cold, compelling depiction of the political machinations of power-hungry Rep. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his Lady Macbeth-y wife, Claire (Robin Wright), kicked off Netflix's big year. On Feb. 1 it dropped all 13 episodes of David Fincher's slick political drama into the ether — and our binge-watching culture was born. ''It felt like a seismic change in the marketplace when it launched,'' says chief content officer Ted Sarandos of Cards, which earned nine Emmy nominations. ''I feel like I've been spoiled for life in all the best possible ways,'' says Cards creator Beau Willimon, who received a two-season order from Netflix before the series even debuted. ''The guarantee of two seasons did change things because it allowed us to think about story on a much grander scale. There were things I could put on in season 1 that might not boomerang back until season 2. That gives you a broader canvas to paint on.''
Arrested Development (right)
The network (yes, it's earned that title) kept the momentum going by reviving the cult comedy on May 26. After seven long years and too many teases, Arrested finally made its triumphant return with 15 ambitious time-jumping, self-referential supersize episodes, each focusing on a particular Bluth family member. The new season was tailor-made for the freedoms of Netflix. ''They worked with me as true creative partners, and it so happens that being creative is their business model,'' says series creator Mitchell Hurwitz of Netflix, adding: ''We were trying to take as much advantage of the opportunities we had — not replicate a recipe that had been made under different circumstances years earlier.''
Orange Is the New Black (left)
The setting is depressing, the costumes bland. But July 11's summer sensation, a dramedy based on Piper Kerman's memoir about being sent to a women's prison after foolishly smuggling drug money for her lover years before, broke free of TV rules and emerged as one of the most colorful series of 2013. ''[Netflix's] introduction to me was 'We're new to this. You know what you're doing. We're going to trust you,''' says exec producer Jenji Kohan, who had previously taken the show to other networks — who passed. Jokes Kohan, ''I so hope HBO and Showtime regret it now.''
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My Most Memorable Day of 2013: ''I wish I could tell you that it's about Gravity — something that was great and cool, like the premiere in Venice. But actually it was one day in the summer when I was traveling with my kids and my girlfriend and her kids. We were in this tributary of the Amazon in this little boat, and it started to rain right after sunset. We were making our way back to the big boat, and all the kids suddenly started to sing 'We Are Young' by fun. in the middle of nowhere. At the top of their lungs. It was very sweet. If I remember one moment, it's that one.''
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Music's Mr. Everything coproduced Miley's comeback and helped propel Daft Punk's ''Get Lucky'' and Robin Thicke's ''Blurred Lines.'' Says Williams, ''With the songs, all we were trying to do was make people smile. When you hear the 'bum bum bum, everybody get up!' [at the start of 'Blurred Lines'], that's really what I was trying to say — like get up, man! Get up! Let's go! Who's gonna tell us that we can't have a good time?'' After some debate over what the true Song of the Summer was: ''Get Lucky'' or ''Blurred Lines,'' Williams admits, ''Honestly, I'm still pinching myself. It's still really hard to believe — all of this is.'' Next up? A possible Oscar nod for scoring Despicable Me 2.
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''I was not the one who termed it 'The McConaissance,''' insists Matthew McConaughey. ''Someone else said that, and I just said I thought it was funny.'' In 2011 the actor best known for lighthearted action flicks, romantic comedies, and general shirtlessness started diving into darker depths. This year the 44-year-old Texan is earning awards buzz for three performances: supporting turns as a survivalist fugitive in Mud and a chest-thumping robber-baron mentor in The Wolf of Wall Street, and a defiant lead role as an emaciated, dying AIDS patient who begins smuggling experimental drugs for others like him in the true-life drama Dallas Buyers Club. His reinvention, in Buyers in particular, has been riveting. ''What happened is that after a year or two...[of] saying no to the things I've done before stereotypically — all of a sudden I became a good idea for these things that maybe I wasn't a good idea for five years ago.'' McConaughey may not be new, but nobody's more improved.
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This year, the world ended every five minutes — with a lot of really cool fireworks. Anyone who threw a rock at pop culture this year was likely to hit something detailing the demise of civilization, be it AMC's record-breaking The Walking Dead, Rick Yancey's YA best-seller The 5th Wave, the hit videogame The Last of Us, or any number of big-screen releases (Oblivion, The World's End, World War Z, It's a Disaster, and Warm Bodies, to name a few). The smart money will tell you that the apocalypse is having a moment because it taps into contemporary anxieties. But money — smart or otherwise — is not going to do you any good when the undead come a-shambling to your door. In the '50s and early '60s, when the threat of nuclear holocaust loomed large, the most popular art form was not science fiction but the Western. Like the Western, the zombie story can accommodate virtually any tale. Thus, instead of How the West Was Won we have World War Z. And instead of James Arness trying to keep the peace on Gunsmoke we have Andrew Lincoln blowing zombies to pieces on The Walking Dead. Who knows if that's progress — but it is good fun.
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The star of BBC America's Orphan Black amazed viewers with her breakout role(s) as seven different clones. In fact, Maslany admits, ''I'm very introverted, very shy in social situations. On Saturday night [I might be] staying in and eating dumplings and watching an old film and reading a book.'' But... ''If you get me dancing, that's where I feel the most brave, and I don't even drink. This other side of me kind of comes out. Diplo or Major Lazer, that's my favorite stuff to dance to.'' And she's got a hidden talent: ''Since I was 11, I've been in love with hip-hop and rap,'' says Maslany. ''I went to Busta Rhymes by myself because nobody would come with me. For a time I was in a rap group. Every now and then I'll get obsessed with a rapper and want to write. That's also where I feel brave — with a mic in my hand in front of the audience.''
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My Most Memorable Day of 2013: ''In Toronto, a friend of our producer was waiting for [12 Years a Slave] to start. He is a white guy, and he was sitting next to a black woman, who had been in the queue for over an hour to get in. They started chatting, and just before the movie ended he felt a hand slide across his hand. They held hands, and once the movie actually finished, they were in tears and consoling each other. It was just amazing — and not unusual. It tells us how much we are connected and how much we care for each other.''
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There's nothing wrong with watching the Scandal on your DVR — but these days it's definitely not recommended behavior. At a time when networks are struggling to steer audiences back to same-day viewing, ABC's deliciously twisted, Shonda Rhimes-created D.C. drama, which stars Kerry Washington as a political fixer with a closet full of skeletons and power suits, has found the solution: Fill each episode with five episodes' worth of surprises and get the cast to live-tweet every single one of them. That's been Scandal's M.O. from the start, and this year it helped the series break the zeitgeist barrier and become the reigning champ of OMGTV. ''Shonda has figured out how to turn cliff-hangers into an art form, so it's part of the culture of the show,'' says Washington. Notes costar Tony Goldwyn, ''To me, [the Emmy nomination for Kerry] was a wonderful acknowledgment of the work that's going on. It was a recognition of Kerry as a truly extraordinary star.'' Says Rhimes, ''It feels like the show has hit some spot in the zeitgeist. You know when people start dressing up as your characters for Halloween that something's happening.''
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My Most Memorable Day of 2013: ''July 4th — held a new baby granddaughter for the first time, kissed my wife for the first time in weeks, the rest of the family, too, got a badly needed haircut and shave. Had closed Lucky Guy on Broadway the night before (tears in our eyes), then — fireworks! A good day.''
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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
The Seattle rap duo became left-field superstars in 2013. They wowed with ''Thrift Shop,'' then proved themselves with their second chart-topper ''Can't Hold Us.'' Says Macklemore, ''It alleviated us from the one-hit-wonder stamp. 'You thought we only had one hit? Here's our second one, and it's real.''' As for their socially conscious track ''Same Love,'' the rapper says, ''Getting it played on the VMAs and having that big audience tune in to a song about marriage equality and homophobia, that was a big, big moment. [It] speaks for more people than just myself; I don't have ownership over it anymore.'' As for his most memorable day of '13? ''The day I proposed to my girlfriend, which happened in the mountains in Ojai, Calif., on January 21st,'' he recalls. ''I would love to relive that day. But in terms of a career move, I would say the VMAs on August 25th. It was stressful, but I felt a sense of acknowledgement from people I had run into numerous times throughout the year. I don't drink, but A$AP Rocky came over with a shot and toasted our wins. We went to the after party with Jay Z and to get a hug from Kanye.''
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The Repertory players of American Horror Story
They've been ghosts, nuns, Witches — and even a really hot Frankenstein. But one thing never changes: This group always kills it. FX's over-the-top thrill ride has taken viewers to a haunted house in Los Angeles, to a mental asylum in New England, and inside a coven of stylish New Orleans witches. But the constant? A terrifyingly talented group of actors, who've become a kind of TV theater troupe for Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's Emmy-nominated series. ''I think Ryan handpicks pretty brave actors,'' says Jessica Lange (third from right), ''actors who aren't going to be concerned with vanity. [The writers] know they've got actors who can make it believable and rooted in truth. So far, knock wood, it's been a pretty good marriage.'' Adds Sarah Paulson (far right), ''You wouldn't half-strap yourself into a roller coaster, would you? No. If you're going to be here, you want to be here. This is unlike any other show from an acting standpoint. On a Ryan Murphy show, you get a chance to show people what you're capable of.''
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Why on earth is she so cranky? She owned 2013! By March of this year, the feline was living large at SXSW. ''Every day there was a line of 1,000-plus people,'' says manager Ben Lashes (yes, she has a manager). In May, Grumpy Cat took home Meme of the Year at the Webby Awards and made the front page of The Wall Street Journal. In October, she covered New York magazine. Now she's pitching a movie. ''Every single person on the movie lot freaks out when they see Grumpy Cat,'' says Lashes. ''Zoë Saldana ran away from her own meeting to get a picture.''