Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Year in Review: 2014

So Farewell, then, 2014, and don't let the door hit you on the way out. There seems to be a general consensus that its been a bad year in many, many ways, especially if you spend any sort of time in online communities, which have felt like a magnifying glass for all the horrors of the world at times, albeit one that occasionally shows you cute baby animals too. Its also been a year when this negativity seems to have spilled out into everything - there is hardly anything that has been popular that has not been subjected to careful scrutiny for negative messages, secretive agendas or bias of any kind, from all corners of the political spectrum. Not that this sort of thing is an invalid process - I'd argue its a necessary process, in fact - but at times, to quote one of my favorite films this year, it just wanted to suck the fun out of everything. 

Personally, I just want to like stuff, to applaud what is done right. So here, in no particular order, are my "top three" entertainments of the year by largely arbitrary categories. Other Opinions are available! 

Movies (Cinema)
Grand Budapest Hotel - possibly the most Wes Anderson-ey film yet, I loved Grand Budapest Hotel. It's hugely, gloriously, artificial in construction, but also warm, funny, and impeccably mannered, building to a melancholy, lingering denouement. 
The Lego Movie - Everything was, indeed, awesome. So much could have gone wrong with this film and I'm sure much of my affection comes from them dodging all the bullets, but it's a great film that manages to be clever and witty and faithful to the spirit of the Worlds Greatest Toy. 
Guardians of the Galaxy - Who'd have thought it, eh? Marvels big disaster-waiting-to-happen turns out to be riotously brilliant, and a breath of fresh air into a summer dominated by faintly disappointing comic-book flicks. Stablemate Captain America: The Winter Soldier only just misses this top three, by the way. 

Movies (BR/DVD)
Behind the Candelabra - A biography of Liberace doesn't seem like a shoe-in for a great movie experience but anchored by a great script and two compelling lead performances, this really delivers. It's a strange, off-beat film about really messed up people in a different time, but well worth seeking out. 
The Wolf of Wall Street - Yes, its very long. And indulgent. And probably, morally compromised. But it's also gripping and funny and, in it's own way, a savage indictment of the people it's portraying, without overtly moralising. Its also a film I can't imagine anyone but Martin Scorsese making. 
Captain Phillips - Away from the big scale, this is a focused, intimate and extremely tense drama from Paul Greengrass. Essentially a two hander between Tom Hanks and newcomer Barkhad Abdi, it grabs you early and never lets up, getting tighter and tighter as the film rolls on. 

TV Series
Archer - This is the year we discovered Archer, and watched all 5 seasons of it. Yes, that probably is slightly obsessive. Oh well. 
Breaking Bad - continuing our stately "one episode a week" progress we got all the way to the end of this masterclass in TV. Is it perfect? No, because what is? Is it one of the best TV shows ever made? Yes, definitely. 
Fargo - After all the anticipation for True Detective this year, I surprised myself by preferring - ever so slightly - the warmer, more human Fargo. Managing to be both it's own thing, and true to it's Coen Brothers inspiration, Fargo wound up a study of both the better angels, and darker demons of the human soul, and I really, really, enjoyed it. 


Books

Declare (Tim Powers) - We got recommended this as research for the Dissecting Worlds spy series, and it was totally worth it.  An interesting mix of spy thriller and psychological horror story, with a bunch of real history, occultism and weirdness thrown in with it. 
The Dresden Files (Jim Butcher) - Probably not among the best books I've read this year - I've too many problems with them for that - I've read Dresden Files books like literary popcorn this year. I guess they make the list by pure volume! 
Seal of the Worm (Adrian Tchaikovsky) - I recommended one of the Shadows of the Apt series last year, but this year they came to grand and devastating conclusion. We were also honoured to have Adrian on the show, and he was lovely.  

Comics
Captain Marvel - I've been a fan of Kelly Sue DeConnicks writing on Captain Marvel for a while but this year, as she relaunched under the Marvel NOW! banner and headed off into space, I've really, really enjoyed it. Do the Carol Corps admit men? 
2000AD - I resubbed to the Galaxys Greatest Thrill-Ride this ride, and haven't regretted it. Some stories fall flat, it's true, but the talent on offer is as good as ever, and I've been away so long there is a lot of catch up on. 

Sex Criminals - I'm not sure how to describe this, actually. Um, its really filthy, and really funny and occasionally really wrong. But definitely worth picking up. 


Gaming
The Wolf Among Us - My first dip into the growing pool of Telltale Games narrative story games was this adaptation/prequel to Bill Willinghams Fables series. I was surprised, actually, how well the branching decisions work, and how compelling the story became. 
King of Tokyo - The board game we played the most, and simple enough that we've introduced Robert to it. You like Kaiju smashing stuff, and rolling dice to do it? This is the game for you! 
Saints Row IV - The most joyous co-op experience of the year has to be this. It's unbalanced, and buggy and the netcode kept crashing out, but it was just so much fun when it all worked. Also, it really knew just how daft it was, which helps a lot. 

So thats about it. Personally, I got a short comic published in Zarjaz (and another one in the new year) which felt like a major achievement to really cross that critic/creator line and definitely an ambition fulfilled. The back of the year did get away from me, creatively speaking, due to Real Life (tm) but at least I can look forward to 2015 with the hope that things will settle out. 

Happy New Year, everyone.