It’s once again that special time of year where I honor the sacred blogger code of reminiscing about the awesome stuff I read, watched and experienced during the last year. And boy, there’s was a lot of awesome in 2014. With that in mind, I’m going to go ahead and give you my top 3 picks for each category.
Under the Skin
Under the Skin was without a doubt my #1 movie of 2014. It’s a surreal masterpiece that doesnt hold your hand and dares to be very different, doing entirely without dialogue for long stretches of time and using unsuspecting passerbys as extras. In less capable hands, this might’ve been a complete disaster, but Under the Skin pulled me in from the word go and didn’t let go till the climax. Scarlett Johansson delivers what is surely her best performance to date, telling a haunting personal story with a just a handful of words. This is a sci-fi story that effortlessly transcends the genre. It’s art. Give it a go.
Captain America: Winter Soldier
I went into this one with zero expectations. I liked the first Captain America okay, but it didn’t rock my world, so I was quite suprised to have my socks knocked off by this sequel. Action-packed, tightly plotted and tons of fun, Winter Soldier is probably the best Marvel movie to date, on par with if not ahead of The Avengers and the original Iron Man.
Christopher Nolan’s philosophical sci-fi epic seems to elicit either love or hatred in viewing audiences, with little to no middle ground in between. Personally, I loved it. Yes, it had some lengths. Yes, it demanded a leap in logic here and there. Personally, I attributed that to the fact that it’s not real and decided not to let it bother me. Interstellar remains a visually stunning, highly ambitious film with lots of replay value. Maybe it didn’t outdo 2001: A Space Odessey, but it certainly reached for the brass ring, which is an achievement in and one itself.
Honorable mentions: The Babadook (Smart horror! Yes, please!), Guardians of the Galaxy (If the new Star Wars movies are half as fun, that’d be good enough for me), Maps to the Stars (A disturbing look at the inner workings of Hollywood royalty and wannabes)
So our protagonists, Suzie and Jon, can literally stop time when they have sex. Yeah, this is a book that really shouldn’t work at all, but it does and I love it for it. No other comic on the market has ever talked this extensively, honestly or humorously about sex and relationships. Certainly, no other comic has ever found a more creative excuse to broach the subject. Sex Criminals has already won a number of coveted awards (including a rare recommendation by me when it was just a few issues old ;) ), and I’m sure it’s ging to score plently more as the series continues.
As usual when it comes to books written by my personal hero Grant Morrison, this one’s not easy to put into words. On the face of it, it’s about different pockets of DC’s vast multiverse and a cosmic menace that threatens them all, but that’s beside the point, really. What I love about Multiversity is the way it’s bursting at the seams with creativity. Each densely written issue is designed as a one-shot, giving us a brief look into a different alternate reality, and each issue so far has left me clamoring for a full series based in that reality. For my money, Pax Americana #1 (or The Multiversity #4, if you prefer) was the best single issue of a comic book published in 2014. I can’t wait to see more, and I certainly hope all those intricate parallell universes won’t be abandoned once the series wraps.
The concept of super-speed has been around as long as the idea of super powers – it’s a fun but not overly creative idea. What makes Mark Millar’s super-speed tale unique is the way the teenage protagonists use and abuse their drug-induced powers. Many writers have tackled the idea of „super-powered people in the real world“, but MPH is the first book to convince me it’s actually set in the world I can see outside my window, figuratively speaking. The reality depicted feels like ours, and the teenagers act like actual teenagers. MPH would make for an engaging story without any powers at all, but the addition of super speed puts it over the top.
Honorable mentions: The Amazing Spider-Man (Making a book that’s around for decades feel fun and fresh is no small feat, but Dan Slott pulls it off twice monthly!), Copperhead (A female-led space western with nuanced characters and socio-political undertones? What’s not not to like?), C.O.W.L. (great concept, gorgeous artwork.), Deadly Class (Imagine Harry Potter, only all the wizards are assassins. And everyone’s a Death Eater to some degree.), Nailbiter (Possibly the craziest, most thrilling serial killer yarn I’ve come across in any medium), Wytches (A chillingly original take on the concept of witches; reads like a horror movie.)
I was immediately drawn to Dave Eggers’s new book, and it did not disappoint. Eggers imagines what our world might look like if certain trends regarding our „online lives“ continue, picturing a future dominated by social media and a handful of online companies. Although the book is far from a traditional page turner, I was hooked and kept returning to it. Eggers is not subtle about his message, but neither was George Orwell in 1984. Only time will tell if The Circle will leave a similar impression on the collective consciousness, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.
This story about a reclusive cult director and the death of his daughter reads like a noir detective story by way of The Twilight Zone. At 640-pages, it’s a behemoth, but it’s so lovingly crafted and dripping with atmosphere that the pages flew by within two short days. I sure hope author Mari Pessl won’t keep us waiting another couple of years until her next offering.
A Better World (Brilliance, Book 2)
I read both Brilliance books in 2014, and I’m eagerly awaiting the final part in the trilogy. It’s a smart, fast-paced superhero thriller that keeps raising the stakes and needn’t shy away from big budget competitors like the Avengers or the X-Men. Superheroes have yet to make a real impact on the literary scene, but author Marcus Sakey shows that it’s possible.
Honorable mentions: Honestly? None. I read more books in 2014 than I did in the preceeding three years combined, but most weren’t actually published in 2014, so putting them here would be cheating. If that wasn’t the case, I’d definitely tell you to go and buy everything written by surrealist master Matt Ruff. I’d also tell you how I „discovered“ Gillian Flynn, whose meteroic rise to superstardom must’ve happened while I was gazing at my bellybutton. I’m currently reading her sophomore novel Dark Places and kicking myself for not having written it. Gone Girl is already waiting on my nightstand, of course — no spoilers, people!
Boy, did the Fastest Man Alive throw me for a loop. I never expected to like this, at all. I didn’t like Smallville, I couldn’t even get into Arrow, I don’t like modern CW shows, period. Still, I ended up tuning in to the premiere in a „let’s see how badly they screwed this up“-kind of way. And from that point on, I was hooked. Completely unashamed of its comic book roots, The Flash is a fun, lighthearted show with an endearing cast and an ongoing mystery that should intrigue even longtime comic book fans. I’m one of those, and I have no clue how this going to play out. Well played, producers. Well played.
Atmospheric, darkly funny and at times shockingly violent, Fargo is a unique kind of beast. Somebody put a lot of thought and effort into this show, and it shows. Billy Bob Thornton steals the show in the role of the sinister Lorne Malvo, but the rest of the cast is no less engaging. There was not a dull episode in the entire first season.
This show was a delightful surprise. Silicon Valley provides a satirical look at the struggles of a tech start-up and a more nuanced take on the character archetypes presented in shows like The Big Bang Theory. In equal measure poignant and hilarious, this was a surprise hit for me.
Honorable mentions: Gotham (A surprisingly moody crime drama with an old-school Dick Tracy-vibe), Halt and Catch Fire (a sort of companion piece to Silicon Valley in a way), Hannibal (psycho drama at its finest)