Thought I'd post a quick list of the best media I experienced in 2014. I didn't really watch or read that much this time around, but there was at least a good variety of stuff.
First off: the best book I read was Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness: perfectly paced, deliriously scary, and read wonderfully by the recently-departed Edward Herrmann. It's considered the absolute apex of the cosmic-horror genre, and it well deserves that reputation.
The best film I saw was Synecdoche, New York. I didn't like it at the time, but I think that's because watching it was just a shattering experience. I don't know if I can watch it again, but I may not need to; its reverberations will stay with me forever. At a close, close second is Gravity, which is just a straight-shot nail-biter of an action movie. It doesn't reinvent any genres, but it does its chosen genre very, very well, playing wonderfully off of how terrifying and dangerous space really is.
I also want to give a special mention to two animé films I watched. The latest Ghibli film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, plays out ancient fairy-tale tropes to achingly sad effect, with some of the most beautifully expressive animation I've seen in years. Summer Wars goes to the other extreme, brilliantly mashing up its near-future cyberpunk plot with a simmering Chekhovian family drama and giving us the best of both genres.
Finally, I re-watched the 80s classics Clue and Die Hard this year -- they have absolutely nothing in common except for exquisite construction and dead-perfect dialog. They both hold up now just as well, if not better than, the first time I saw them.
My favorite TV seasons I saw this year all had one thing in common: disappointing endings. But before they fizzled, they all told amazing stories.
The best show I saw was Rubicon (1, 2, 3). Sure, it was nominally about conpsiracies and mythology, but deep down, it was a story about geniuses cracking under the unimaginable pressure of working antiterrorist intelligence. Here's a one-terabyte hard drive of information. You have five hours to locate the terrorist cell. If you fail, thousands of people will die. Good luck.
On the other end of the spectrum (though equally fizzly in its ending) was the first season of Sleepy Hollow (1, 2), a breezy genre show that did all the simple things right. It created a half-dozen interesting characters and then, without letting up on its heightened, near-soap-opera-style tone, gave all those relationships real, relatable emotional weight. And best of all, you could feel the delight behind this show. It was a show about unseen corners of the American Revolution, and it was *clearly* written by massive history nerds.
Among animé TV, the first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was just amazingly animated, creating a fascinating far-future Tokyo and meticulously exploring all the strange stories that could spring up once the line between brains and machines blurs away to almost nothing. Cowboy Bebop (1, 2), on the other hand, played with jazz and noir tropes as it followed its doomed, troubled bounty hunters through space.
Among podcasts, one of the big winners was the ubiquitous Welcome to Night Vale, which is every bit as good as everybody says it is. It uses its little fictional community-radio show to spin out an entire world of disturbing weirdness, a funhouse-mirror distortion that often reminds us that our real world is pretty damn weird, too.
Less widely popular is The History of English Podcast, which is exactly what it says on the tin: hours and hours detailing the ins and outs of our language's past. (For instance, ever notice that "C" and "G" kinda look the same? Not a coincidence.) It's perfectly presented, and makes you look at the words you've used your whole life in a new way.
And finally, there were too many good albums this year to fit in this post. So: here is a playlist of my favorite elliptical songs from 2014.
Onward to 2015!
Mood: happy · Music: none