2014 Highlights

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2014 Highlights

2014 Highlights

Movies

This is also posted on my gaming blog.

Runners Up

Last year was a great one for movies, and even the runners-up were strong. Runners-up include:

  • Bojack Horseman. Amazing intro in the vein of David Lynch, overall tends to not pull punches on Bojack or evolve quite as expected.
  • Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World. Much better than I expected, doesn’t pull its big punches.
  • Pain And Gain. Ridiculously off the wall and by far the best Michael Bay movie I’m aware of, with some depth and interesting characters.
  • Blackfish. A compelling documentary; I am not inclined to believe SeaWorld’s counter-claims of fabrication and embellishment.
  • Walking Dead (season 4). Gets back to its character development roots.
  • Her. Deep, lusciously done and very relevant sci-fi but I unfortunately just didn’t actually find it totally engaging.

Honorable Mentions

A few of the more notable movies and shows I saw.

  • Mud. A drama about boys growing up in the poor south. The movie is not at all what I expected: By the end it’s pretty gritty and realistic, while I was expecting a lighter romance. It’s surprisingly good, with strong and complex character interactions.
  • In A World. A quirky movie about Hollywood trailer narrators that’s part romantic comedy but mostly family drama. It’s generally not laugh-out-loud funny, though some bits generate chuckles. The characters and plot though have just enough nuance and depth to make it interesting. Plus, ever since seeing it I’ve been applying the catchphrase to all manner of topics—In a world… where we’re out of orange juice!—and people just look at me funny.
  • Beasts Of The Southern Wild. Modern Southern fantasy mythology. A great movie that’s brilliantly done but I think doesn’t have a ton of staying power. It’s more forgettable than it should be. I haven’t decided if it glorifies alcoholism and poverty, but you can’t deny that it treats its subjects as humans.
  • Dredd. Solid live action version of the dystopian fascist comic character. The movie is very contained, largely limiting itself to a single complex within Mega City One. That’s a bit of a bummer, but what we do see of the larger city is well done. The action and plot here are similarly scoped but solid. It’s just a tightly well done, somewhat small action movie that knows its limits and uses them rather than pushing them. What really makes it good though is that both the villain and the co-lead protagonist are pretty good female sci-fi action movie characters, particularly Judge Anderson the psychic cop.
  • Longmire (seasons 1 & 2). A modern Western about a small town sheriff with ties to native beliefs and dark secrets. An excellent show, much better than the novels it is based on due to tighter inter-character drama; the election plot is done much better here. Great blend of different lives, between modern white western, reservation life, and historical native culture. I thought it was going to head darker and take a more Shakespearean turn at several points, and it says something positive that the show easily could have. That would have been good for its intellectual appeal over a season or two, but crippling to the long term likability of several characters so I can understand why the creators pulled back. Still, it retains a fair amount of conflicted tension between several main characters and is good stuff.

Top Movies & Shows

The most notable movies and shows I saw newly in 2014:

  • Justified (seasons 1–4). A modern Eastern, if that’s a thing, essentially about current day rumrunners, heroin dealers, in Kentucky. Specifically, fabled Harlan County. The later seasons degrade a fair bit as they lose some of their particular Kentucky trappings—once a crime show moves baddy headquarters into a strip club, it’s in pretty generic territory. But they still have solid villains and are very watchable. The first two seasons though are incredible. Very specific to the locale and with wild characters and taut tensions among a number of them. Highly recommended, and definitely better than the novels with tighter character interactions, conflict, and ambiguity, especially around Raylan and his nature and innocence. Walton Goggin’s performance is incredible and the first season really something with a lot of unique characters and settings. The second season follows up by surprisingly managing to introduce equally compelling new antagonists.
  • Django Unchained. Essentially a superhero action antebellum spaghetti Western. Not something to watch over and over. Not even a movie I’d want to watch with people. I can’t really imagine seeing it in a crowd, I’m so sure that most people are not really processing it in any meaningful way. The rampant use of “nigger” throughout strikes me as completely non-controversial, in fitting with the times, but that’s what most people have talked about, carefully ignoring any discussion about slavery or its legacy. To that end, the violence throughout the film is over the top, but used in smart ways: While the violence against the slaveowners is comic, that against the slaves is uniformly not though nonetheless dramatic. Django also seems compromised, limited; he’s doing it all for himself and his wife, not all the slaves. What to make of the d’Artagnan scene? All in all, I think this is a deep movie. That said, it is not without flaws. For example, despite the violence projected against the slaves, I think it significantly pulls its punches at times, particularly so of sexual violence.
  • Edge Of Tomorrow. A time-loop concept piece of a sci-fi invasion action movie. I was not at all disappointed by this after the hype and then rapid fade. Tom Cruise delivers another great sci-fi movie after just missing on his previous effort, the interesting but not great Oblivion. Edge of Tomorrow is really good. The action is superbly well done. Everything just looks amazing, moves amazing. None of it’s particularly novel I guess but it just looks good, tons of detail to soak in each time—which is a good thing given the structure of the movie. The plot is similarly not super novel but it’s solid. More importantly, there’s just enough to the characters to make it more than just a straight action movie, though the squad admittedly should have been developed more. Combine all three parts—looks, plot, characters—being pretty solid and you’ve got a really good movie. It’s also somewhat notable for having a superstar female combat veteran as the lead fighter and trainer through much of the movie.
  • Moonrise Kingdom. Wes Anderson’s take on junior high summer camp. I watched it at least six times the first week I saw it, and appreciated it only more each time. The music, the colors, the big actions, the small actions, the dialog, it’s perfect. Each of the characters just has so much humanity, and things mostly wrap up well for all without being saccharine.
  • The Grand Hotel Budapest. A trip through essentially mid-20th century Eastern Europe courtesy Wes Anderson. This is probably his most polished and complete movie yet. I hesitate to say my favorite, that’s either this or Moonrise Kingdom, but either way it’s extremely good. Again there’s just so much to the characters; Gustave is one of the great ponderables in recent cinema. Combine with Anderson’s usual stylishness and it’s an amazing movie.

Others

As usual, quick notes on everything I watched are in my log. For the record, the worst movie of the year was Riddick. Previously I was really on board with the franchise’s unique, in-depth mythology, and this entry opens with a really novel sequence of Riddick alone again on an inhospitable planet. But it’s also offensively, disappointingly, and shockingly misogynist and gay hating. Details in my log entry.

Music

This is also on my blog, with YouTube embeds.

DJ Play

First, a bunch of actually new-ish songs that got their share of radio play last year, and in some cases much more than that.

  • AWOLNATION --- Sail
    It's a bit too reminiscent of Breaking Bads' use of TV On The Radio's DLZ, but one of the seasons of Longmire ends with this used pretty well, as the hero drives literally and figuratively on Denver.
  • Glitch Mob --- Fortune Days
    Previously noted for We Can Make The World Stop, The Glitch Mob returns with another good one, this time just outside the dub step milieu.
  • Kid Ink feat. Chris Brown --- Show Me
    I'm conflicted by this hip hop hit. As usual, I have trouble with hip hop's generally boring attitudes toward women, as particularly exemplified by the terrible opener for the official video. I also especially don't want to support domestic abuser and general asshole Chris Brown. But the melody is really good.
  • Bastille --- Pompeii
    This verged on being well over played on the radio, and though potentially reading too much into it, I really like the vague hints of story elements in this.
  • Sam Smith --- Stay With Me
    Right on the line of overplayed, but I am a huge sucker for sappy, overwrought heartbreaks and a bit of piano.
  • Vance Joy --- Riptide
    An absolutely great way to seed a flowing, upbeat Pandora playlist is to throw this one in.
  • Mr. Probz --- Waves [Robin Schulz Radio Edit]
    Robin Schulz is ridiculously everywhere on my Pandora streams with his edits, but this beachy, upbeat tune from Mr Probz is really nice.
  • Calvin Harris --- Summer
    A pop-ish tune with just enough warble, everything is better in the summer.
  • Avicii --- Hey Brother
    Tim Berg blows away a more rock-ish tune than usual, and the video even successfully adds a bit of depth.

Pirate Radio

Now some songs that are not so or not at all present on the radio, at least around the northeast US.

Upbeat

To begin, a few more upbeat tunes.

  • Aloe Blacc --- The Man and I Need A Dollar
    Blacc is the singer on 2013's Avicii hit Wake Me Up, of which he also has a good acoustic rendition. These two songs are him in an uptempo soul, R&B mode.
  • Bakermat --- One Day (Vandaag)
    A fast but light, sky-ful Dutch dance song with a nice touch of saxophone.
  • Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne --- Rather Be
    Simple, fun electronic pop with sharp, clean vocals and instrumental ornamentation somewhat unique in that genre.
  • Tom Hangs feat. Shermanology --- Blessed [Tim Bergling/Tom Hangs/Avicii/whoever he is Edit]
    As far as I can tell, this is a Tim Bergling song performed by Shermanology, produced under his Tom Hangs stagename and then remixed under his Avicii stagename.  A sequence of credits as awesome as it is confusing. But this is a great, uplifting tune.
  • Parra For Cuva feat. Anna Naklab --- Wicked Games
    Absolutely incredible, upbeat take on Chris Isaak's classic Wicked Games. Although there's several ultra-slow covers I really like, this is the definitive version for me.

Quieter

At the opposite end of the spectrum, some quieter thoughts.

  • Selah Sue --- This World
    A great somewhat down-tempo soul song.
  • Jim James --- State Of The Art (A.E.I.O.U.)
    Basically the only good outcome from the very disappointing The Blacklist. One headline renders this as "digital ennui," which I think is fair. I'm not sure what genre I'd lump it into, but it's really good.
  • Birdy --- Skinny Love
    The Bon Iver original is also really good, but I particularly love this even slower, quieter rendition of this folk-ish song. Probably the saddest song of the year.
  • Sharon Van Etten --- Serpents [Demo]
    This ostensible demo version and the song overall is shockingly under-established to have had such major exposure--- no official upload?! But it's a really great broken folk/alternative song. Pretty popular despite basically no radio play when it was released a few years back---and really, I have little idea what station here outside XPN would play it---as it was used devastatingly at the close of the fourth episode of the fourth season of The Walking Dead.
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