I’m a bit biased in that I do believe that at this very moment whatever film Marvel Studios releases I will probably like it. I’m very close to having drunk the MCU Kool-Aid. Which is a good thing that trashfilguru is here to keep me from drinking that delicious, overly sweetened drink by the liters.
I know that the MCU is not what one would call high-brow art, but I will admit that it’s a very entertaining piece of world-building that we really haven’t seen done in film history. Well, at least not in the scale that Kevin Feige and the creative minds over at Marvel Studios have been attempting (and succeeding) these past 7-8 years.
One film that I highly enjoyed and consider one of my favorites of 2014 (if not one of the best) was the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger. This sequel was a game-changer in regards to the very cinematic universe that Marvel had been building since the first Iron Man. Captain America: The Winter Soldier looked to up-end the very foundation of this universe by making one of it’s bricks become something to not be trusted.
Lisa Marie did a great job in conveying my thoughts about what made Captain America: The Winter Soldier such a good film (I would say great, but again I have that glass of Kool-Aid). One aspect of the film that has been given little to know attention to has been Henry Jackman’s work as film composer for the sequel. In fact, the film’s score has been much-maligned just because the filmmakers made the decision to veer away from the Alan Silvestri musical cues and motifs that had become recognizable as Captain America.
Alan Silvestri did the film score for the first film, but Jackman was tasked with recoding the very musical DNA for the sequel. What we get is a film score that’s very minimalist and supplements well the very paranoia and conspiracy tone the film’s narrative took. This was quite the opposite of Silvestri’s score for the first film mirrored that film’s nostalgic and heroic themes.
The track “Taking A Stand” which scores the David Mack illustrated and Jim Steranko-influenced end credits sequence is a perfect example of why Jackman’s score for Captain America: The Winter Soldier should be put on more “best of 2014” lists.
It seems kind of weird to do a quick review for a 144 minutes film that not only serves as the end of one epic trilogy but also as a prequel for yet another epic trilogy.
Well, so be it. I hate to admit it but I really don’t have that much to say about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies beyond the fact that I saw it on the day after Christmas, I enjoyed it, and I thought Aidan Turner was really hot. It’s not a perfect film but then again, The Hobbit has never been a perfect trilogy. As opposed to the Lord of the Ring films, The Hobbit told a story that could have easily been told in two films. As a result, whenever you watch one of The Hobbit films, you’re aware of all of the filler that was included just to justify doing three films.
But so what? The Hobbit films are fun. Despite the cynical economic reasons behind turning The Hobbit into a trilogy, director Peter Jackson’s love for the material always came through. In the title role, Martin Freeman was always likable. Ian McKellan and Christopher Lee made for properly enigmatic wizards. Though apparently his inclusion caused some controversy among purists, it was nice to Orlando Bloom as Legolas. I also liked Evangeline Lilly’s elf character, even if everyone else seemed to dislike her and her love story with Aidan Turner. And then there was Benedict Cumberbatch providing a perfectly evil and self-satisfied voice for Smaug.
I have to admit that, with the exception of Aidan Turner, I was never a big fan of the dwarves. They were all so surly and bad-tempered and it didn’t take me too long to get tired of Richard Armitage showing up as Thorin and acting like a jerk. However, in the final part of the trilogy, Armitage’s surly performance started to make sense. As Thorin grew more and more paranoid, I saw that The Hobbit was actually using both the character and Armitage’s performance to make a much larger point. Power corrupts and most conflicts are ultimately all about money and property. It was a good message.
When the Battle of the Five Armies started, I was shocked to discover how little I remembered about the previous two Hobbit films. It took me a while to get caught up on who everyone was and why they were all fighting over that mountain. As opposed to the LoTR films, it’s not always easy to get emotionally invested in The Hobbit films. But, Jackson is a good director and he’s a good storyteller and, even though it took me a while to get caught up, I was still often enthralled with what I was watching on screen. The images were so stunning and the battle scenes were so spectacularly done that I could handle being occasionally confused.
Battle of the Five Armies is a fitting end for the Hobbit trilogy. It’s not a perfect film but it is exciting and fun and that’s really all that matters. At the end of it, the audience in the theater applauded, not just for the film but in recognition of everything that Peter Jackson has given us over the past 14 years.
It was a good way to spend the day after Christmas.
From the start of last year, Oscar watchers and other film critics were united in fully expecting Unbroken to be a great film. No sooner had 12 Years A Slave won best picture then we were all predicting that Unbroken would be named the best film of 2014 and that Angelina Jolie would be the 2nd woman to win an Oscar for best director.
And can you blame us?
Unbroken seemed to have everything that you would expect to add up to Oscar glory. Not only was it directed by a celebrity (and, ever since Argo, everyone has been under the impression that all performers can also direct) but it starred an exciting and up-and-coming actor. It was not only a war film but it was a war film that took place during the only war that everyone agrees was a good one, World War II. It was based on a true story and what a story! Louis Zamperini was an Olympic medalist whose athletic career was put on hold when he joined the U.S. Air Force. After a plane crash, he and two other survivors spent 47 days floating in a lifeboat. They were finally captured by the Japanese and Louis spent the rest of the war as POW. During that time, he survived terrible torture. When the war finally ended, Louis set aside his anger and publicly forgave those who had nearly killed him. When he was 80 years old, he returned to Japan and carried the Olympic torch. It’s an incredibly touching story and it should have made for a great movie.
And, ultimately, that’s Unbroken‘s downfall. It has all the ingredients for being a great movie but instead, it’s only a good one.
That’s certainly not the fault of Jack O’Connell, who plays Louis and gives a strong and sympathetic performance. Actually, the entire film is well-acted, with everyone fully inhabiting his role. Perhaps the film’s best performance comes from Miyavi, who plays “The Bird,” the sadistic head of both of the POW camps where Louis is held prisoner. The dynamic between The Bird and Louis is an interesting one, with the film emphasizing that The Bird is in many ways jealous of Louis’s previous fame and Miyavi plays the character as if he were a high school bully who has suddenly been left in charge of the classroom.
That the cast does well should not be a surprise. Actors-turned-directors can usually get good performances but often times, they seem to struggle with shaping a narrative and this is where Unbroken struggles. It’s not that Unbroken doesn’t tell a worthy story. It’s just that it tells it in such a conventional and predictable way. The entire film is full of scenes that seem like they were lifted out of other, more memorable movies. The scenes with Louis growing up and competing in the Olympics feel like they could have come from any “inspiring” sports biopic. (It doesn’t help that Louis’s brother and coach has been given dialogue that sounds like it should be surrounded by air quotes.) When Louis is joking around with the guys in the plane, it feels like a hundred other war films. When Louis is floating in the ocean, it’s hard not to compare the film’s static and draggy approach to what Ang Lee was able to do with Life of Pi or J.C. Chandor with All Is Lost. Miyavi brings a feeling of real menace and danger to the POW scenes but it’s not enough. Jolie’s direction is competent but there’s not a single moment that feels spontaneous or truly cinematic.
In fact, I sat through Unbroken totally dry-eyed, which is somewhat amazing considering how easily I cry at the movies. However, towards the end of the film, there was a clip of the real-life, 80 year-old Louis running down the streets of Tokyo with the Olympic Torch and, at that moment, his story became real for me. And that’s when the tears came.
I really wish Unbroken had been better because Louis Zamperini seems like someone who deserved to have a great film made about him. Angelina Jolie’s heart was in the right place but, ultimately, it’s just not enough to make Unbroken the film that it deserves to be.
Yesterday, the Central Ohio Film Critics announced their nominees for the best of 2014 and they really liked Birdman! I wonder if the Central Ohio Film Critics ever have fights with the Southwestern Ohio Film Critics or the Ohio/Kentucky Border Critics…
Here are the nominees!
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
A Most Violent Year
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Damien Chazelle – Whiplash
Ava DuVernay – Selma
Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
David Oyelowo – Selma
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
Essie Davis, The Babadook
Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin – Inherent Vice
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Edward Norton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Jessica Chastain – A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game
Emma Stone – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Tilda Swinton – Snowpiercer
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy
Actor of the Year (for an exemplary body of work)
Jessica Chastain (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Interstellar, Miss Julie, and A Most Violent Year)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and The Imitation Game)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Enemy and Nightcrawler)
Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy and The LEGO Movie)
Tilda Swinton (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Only Lovers Left Alive, Snowpiercer, and The Zero Theorem)
Breakthrough Film Artist
Damien Chazelle – Whiplash – (for directing and screenwriting)
Ava DuVernay – Selma – (for directing)
Jennifer Kent – The Babadook – (for directing and screenwriting)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Belle and Beyond the Lights – (for acting)
Justin Simien – Dear White People – (for directing and screenwriting)
Benoît Delhomme – The Theory of Everything
Hoyte Van Hoytema – Interstellar
Daniel Landin – Under the Skin
Emmanuel Lubezki – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Robert Yeoman – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Film Editing
Sandra Adair – Boyhood
Spencer Averick – Selma
Kirk Baxter – Gone Girl
Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Tom Cross – Whiplash
Best Adapted Screenplay
Paul Thomas Anderson – Inherent Vice
Bong Joon-ho and Kelly Masterson – Snowpiercer
Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl
Nick Hornby – Wild
Graham Moore – The Imitation Game
Best Original Screenplay
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
J.C. Chandor – A Most Violent Year
Damien Chazelle – Whiplash
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Paul Webb – Selma
Alexandre Desplat – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jóhann Jóhannsson – The Theory of Everything
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Gone Girl
Antonio Sanchez – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Producers Guild of America nominees were announced today.
The PGA is often seen as being a pretty strong precursor as far as the actual Oscar nominations are concerned. Therefore, it’s a bit surprising to see that Selma was snubbed. (A lot of people are speculating that it may be because the Selma screeners were sent out late. We’ll see.) It’s less surprising that Unbroken was snubbed because Unbroken has not exactly lived up to expectations. (I’ll post my review of the film soon.) At this point, it’s hard to be surprised to see Nightcrawler mentioned because — for a supposed long shot — Nightcrawler‘s been doing pretty well as far as the precursors are concerned. Finally, the producers of former front runners Foxcatcher and Gone Girl have to be happy to see that their film has not been as forgotten by the guilds as it has been by many of the critical groups.
Yes, awards season is still going on and critics and guilds from across the country and the industry are still announcing their picks for the best of 2014!
The latest group to make their picks known? The Georgia Film Critics Association! Here are their nominees for the best of 2014!
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
Richard Linklater BOYHOOD
David Fincher GONE GIRL
Wes Anderson THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Ava DuVernay SELMA
Damien Chazelle WHIPLASH
Ralph Fiennes THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Jake Gyllenhaal NIGHTCRAWLER
Michael Keaton BIRDMAN
David Oyelowo SELMA
Eddie Redmayne THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.
Marion Cotillard TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT
Scarlett Johansson UNDER THE SKIN
Felicity Jones THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
Lisa Loven Kongsli FORCE MAJEURE
Julianne Moore STILL ALICE
Rosamund Pike GONE GIRL
Best Supporting Actor
Riz Ahmed NIGHTCRAWLER
Ethan Hawke BOYHOOD
Edward Norton BIRDMAN
Mark Ruffalo FOXCATCHER
JK Simmons WHIPLASH
Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette BOYHOOD
Jessica Chastain A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
Rene Russo NIGHTCRAWLER
Emma Stone BIRDMAN
Tilda Swinton SNOWPIERCER
Best Original Screenplay
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Best Adapted Screenplay
THE IMITATION GAME
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Best Production Design
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
INTO THE WOODS
UNDER THE SKIN
Best Original Score
BIRDMAN (Antonio Sánchez)
GONE GIRL (Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross)
INTERSTELLAR (Hans Zimmer)
LIFE ITSELF (Joshua Abrams)
UNDER THE SKIN (Mica Levi)
Best Original Song
“Everything is Awesome” from THE LEGO MOVIE
“Glory” from SELMA
“We Will Not Go” from VIRUNGA
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from GLEN CAMPBELL: I’LL BE ME
“Something So Right” from MUPPETS MOST WANTED
Best Ensemble Cast
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Best Foreign Language Film
TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT
WE ARE THE BEST!
Best Animated Feature Film
BIG HERO 6
THE BOOK OF LIFE
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
THE LEGO MOVIE
Best Documentary Feature Film
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER
KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON
Breakthough of the Year
Arleigh has pointed something very important out to me. I have been drinking a lot, and the end of the year is nearing. (EDIT- I started this post on December 28th, and proceeded to get too drunk to continue. Then I forgot I had started it, got drunk several more times, and now on January 5th, I remembered it and am proceeding to get drunk again, so perfect time to actually finish this) Pretty much the best time I can think of to make one of my few posts this year. Again, one thing I should point out is that this year there were 149 series released, and I only watched 44 series. Basically, no one other than the biggest loser on earth could have possibly watched every single series released each year. If you know of anyone going by the name of Ryan Saotome, he’s one of those losers. Punch him one for me. But, I like to think that I have pretty good taste, and those 44 I watched were the cream of the crop. So of those best of the best, the best that I’ve watched was easily a series that came out this spring, a title by the name of No Game, No Life.
This show is pretty much an otaku dream. The basic premise is that “siblings” (I’m not 100% sure that they actually are related) Shiro and Sora are a couple of hikikomori, which are basically shut ins who don’t associate with other people, and they are the best gamers out there going by the nickname Blank. Blank is infamous in the online community because no matter what, they never lose. One day they get an invitation to play a game of chess. Naturally they win, although they have to struggle to actually do so. Upon winning, they are warped to the land of Disboard, where the God of that world, Tet, has decreed that all war is abolished and all conflicts between the races will be resolved via games. They quickly become rulers of the weakest faction in the world, humans, and set about to challenge all the races and eventually challenge God himself.
This is based on an ongoing light novel series, incidentally written by a native born Brazilian/Japanese, Yuu Kamiya real name Thiago Furukawa Lucas. Generally speaking, non-native Japanese do not find a lot of success in the Japanese light novel/manga/anime scene, so the fact that this has been highly popular speaks volumes about how well written it is. The anime sticks quite closely to the light novel, which works great for this first season, since there’s enough source material to cover it. Perhaps this means that any future anime adaptations will have to wait, or won’t be as good, but since most anime these days are basically just advertisements for the light novels/manga, I suspect that they won’t be in a rush to adapt more until either there’s more source material, or the light novel’s sales start to slip. Still, with it moving on average over 6,000 BDs per volume (and unlike in the US and other countries, Japan tends to only have 2 episodes per volume even with BDs so an average 13 episode series will still have 6 volumes) that’s showing there’s enough money out there to support a second season easily. I don’t follow light novel releases in Japan, because I can’t read Japanese, so I’m not sure what the sales were like prior to the anime showing, but I do know that for the year the releases averaged over 140,000 per volume, for 6 volumes, which is a pretty decent amount of sales. Combine that with the BD sales, and it’s pretty likely that the light novels got a decent boost, and so a second season is highly likely.
But what about this series makes it work? Well, first off, it’s insanely cute. We all know that Japan does cute better than anyone, but this just strikes a chord with even me, who has seen more cute than you can shake a stick full of kittens at. How cute is cute? Well, in a scene near the end, when the duo is panicking over thinking they’ve been transported to the real world (something hikikomori dread more than anything) Shiro is at her most adorable. No one can tell me that isn’t super adorable. You can try, you are wrong.
It also has one of the catchiest ending themes of the year.
Some of my favorite moments in the series come at the expense of Stephanie Dola. Prior to Shiro and Sora’s arrival in Disboard, she is attempting to be the representative of humanity, but she is inexperienced in the way of games and can’t see when an opponent is cheating, nor can she overcome that. Her naivety leads Shiro to basically begin using her name as an insult, calling her “Such a Steph”. She is constantly being somewhat humiliated by Shiro and Sora, but it never really and truly comes across as malicious. They do embarrass her often, but it seems more like they’re doing it to try and cure her of her naivety and teach her how to become a better ruler of humanity for when they either inevitably become the gods of the world, or return to their world.
Even though you know that Shiro and Sora are going to win (the heroes almost always win, especially in shows like this) the suspense and intrigue isn’t with the if, but the how. Their fight against the Werebeasts showed that even if they’re going to win, it was going to be tough, and most importantly, it wasn’t a bullshit type of win. It was certainly a come from behind, wow I didn’t see that coming, kind of win, but once it was explained, it makes good sense. The fact that the series ends on a major cliffhanger, to me all but assures there being a second season, but since I’m not currently in charge of Japan, and me and Japan don’t always agree upon what makes perfect sense, we shall see.
In all actuality, this was another good year for anime. Anyone saying that anime was better in the 90’s is a crazy person. It only seemed that way because anime was fairly new here, and so licensors were cherry picking titles. These days we get damn near everything, either through streaming, or through physical releases, so naturally there’s gonna be a lot more average titles, and a lot more stinkers. There has never been a better time to be an anime fan than now, and for 2o14, I say the best thing you could do is sit down and watch No Game No Life. Here’s to looking forward to what 2015 brings us, and I hope that I have a ton of must watch anime to think about writing about (but ultimately never do) in the coming year!
So, I’m sitting here and I’m trying to make out my annual list of good things that I saw on TV over the previous year and I’ve just realized something.
I did not watch as much TV as usual last year.
It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. Up until this very moment, I was actually thinking that I watched too much TV last year. But, honestly, 2014 was a busy year for me. Between work and dance and family and romance and writing and seeing movies and shopping and being sick and getting well and the manic states and the depressive states, I just didn’t have as much time as usual to devote to television.
In fact, the only shows that I always made it a point to watch were two reality shows and that was mostly because I write about them over at the Big Brother Blog and the Survivor Blog.
That takes me by surprise because I love television. I’ve never made any secret of that fact and I’ve never felt guilty about it. When I’m writing, I find it helps to have the TV on in the background. As well, knowing that a certain show is always going to be on at a certain time tends to help me deal with my Obsessive Compulsive tendencies. I’ve always felt that, in a perfect world, I would have my own TV network. It would be called the Lisa Marie Network (LMN) and I would be in charge of programming every single minute.
But, for whatever reason, in 2014, I didn’t watch as much as usual. So, don’t consider the list below to be a comprehensive list of everything that was good on television last year. Instead, consider it to just be 20 good things that I was lucky enough to see.
So, here’s the list!
1) Too Many Cooks on Adult Swim
You knew that I’d have to start out with this one, especially considering that I still find myself randomly singing the theme song. “When it comes to the future, you can never have too many cooks!”
2) Figure Skating at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
I actually enjoyed watching most of the 2014 Winter Olympics. (Except, of course, when Bob Costas was there with his fucked up eye.) But what I especially loved was watching the figure skating. How couldn’t you love the chemistry between Charlie White and Meryl Davis or the amazing grace of Yulia Lipnitskaya or Ashley Wagner’s refusal to hide her disgust with the judges?
Without a doubt, the funniest show on television. Anyone who idolizes a politician should be forced to watch it.
4) Community ended its network run on a decent note
After a rough fourth season, Community made a comeback of sort during the fifth season. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep NBC from canceling the show but still, it was good to see a few more decent episodes of Community before the show moved over to Yahoo.
5) True Detective
True Detective has been praised so much that I really don’t have much more to say about it, beyond the fact that I found it to be endlessly fascinating.
6) Sharknado 2!
So, I wasn’t necessarily a huge fan of the first Sharknado. (I was even less of a fan of the way the media seemed to believe that Mia Farrow was the first person to ever live tweet a movie, especially considering how lame most of Mia’s Sharknado tweets were.) But I loved Sharknado 2! Sharknado 2 was everything that the first Sharknado was supposed to be and more!
7) The Old People TV Networks
This is the year that I really made an effort to explore all of the channels that I have available to me. What I discovered is that there are a lot of stations that are apparently dedicated to exclusively showing shows that were made long before I was even born! For a history nerd like me, coming across these networks is a bit like accidentally digging up a time capsule. Add to that, I’ve discovered that old TV shows make for perfect background noise. I call these networks the Old People TV networks but I do so with affection.
8) Seeing my friend and fellow movie blogging Irish gal Kellee Pratt in the audience whenever TCM rebroadcasts that interview with Maureen O’Hara.
9) Opposite Worlds on SyFy
Opposite Worlds was a reality show that was broadcast on the SyFy Network. Contestants were divided into two tribes. One tribe lived in the luxurious future, complete with a fully automated house. The other tribe lived in the past, which basically meant wearing furs and staying in a cave. The two tribes competed every week. Many contestants were seriously injured. I was hoping that Samm would win, mostly because I share her struggle. But I was okay with Frank eventually winning. He turned out to be a nice guy.
(By the way, SyFy, I’m still waiting for a second season…)
10) Bates Motel
Bates Motel got better and better during its second season. I still think Olivia Cooke needs a spin-off where she solves crimes.
11) True Blood ended before it totally went the way of Dexter.
To be honest, True Blood was definitely showing signs of its age. I wasn’t really happy with the final season but I was relieved to see that it still ended on a better note than Dexter did.
12) Flowers in the Attic
2014 got off to a great start with Flowers in the Attic, one of the best movies to ever show up on Lifetime.
13) Lizzie Borden Took An Axe
In fact, the only that kept Flowers in the Attic from being the best Lifetime movie was the fact that Lizzie Borden premiered a week later.
14) The Way The Saved By The Bell and Aaliyah Movies Brought Us Together As A Nation
For two nights, our often troubled country was united by the power of mass snarkiness.
15) Coverage Of The Fact That Paul Rosalie Was Not Eaten Alive
There was something greatly satisfying about how, after spending weeks promising that he would be, Paul Rosalie failed to be eaten alive by an anaconda. I think one reason I especially enjoyed this fact that I didn’t actually watch the special. I thought the whole thing sounded stupid and crass. That made the subsequent ridicule all the more satisfying.
16) Key and Peele
Without a doubt, the funniest sketch comedy program on TV today.
17) Talking Dead
To be honest, the only reason I watch The Walking Dead is so I’ll be able to understand what they’re talking about on The Talking Dead.
18) Daft Punk At The Grammys
It was great to see the Robots enjoying themselves.
19) Weather On The Local News
“Folks, we’ve got a storm system approaching but don’t worry. Channel 4 will keep your 4warned…” Some things never change. I’ve reached the point where I can find the humor in watching our local meteorologists panic every time that it starts to rain. This past year, whenever I was stuck inside while a light drizzle fell outside, I knew that Pete Delkus, Larry Mowery, and David Finfrock would be there to amuse me with their dire warnings of a weather apocalypse.
“A storm’s coming!”
Degrassi endures. And we’re all the better for it.
On one final note: GetGlue, R.I.P. For five years, I enjoyed checking into tvs, movies, books, and emotions on GetGlue. Sadly, GetGlue (or TV Tag as it came to be known) went offline on January 1st. Goodbye, GetGlue. It was fun while it lasted and I’ll always remember that week when me and that guy from Indonesia were violently fighting over who would get to be the guru of pepper spray. (GGers will understand.)
Tomorrow, my look back at 2014 continues with my ten favorite novels of the year!
I don’t think a New Years rolls by that I don’t say something amounting to “odd-numbered years produce better music”. The trend inexplicably holds true once again. I actually listened to a good bit of new music this year–far more than I did last year at least–but when it came time to recap, my options felt… a bit lacking. The best of the best are still grand indeed, but the quality drifts away rapidly if I dig beyond a top 10. I’m pretty happy with the list I ended up with though, and I hope you’ll find something new and inspiring in the tracks I’ve sampled below:
10. Agalloch – The Serpent & the Sphere (track: The Astral Dialogue)
Marrow of the Spirit was a pretty bold divorce from everything we’ve come to expect out of Agalloch over the years, for better or worse. On The Serpent & the Sphere, the band make a return to a more direct evolution of their regular sound. The album offers a nice mix of vintage Agalloch and further dabblings into the post-rock/metal sphere. It didn’t grab me by the balls and thrash me upside the head like say, Pale Folklore or Ashes Against the Grain, but it’s definitely a solid entry in the band’s formidable discography.
9. Cormorant – Earth Diver (track: Daughter of Void)
I was a bit more critical than complementary of Earth Diver when I reviewed it a few months ago, but that mostly boiled down to the feeling that it could have done with better production. Honestly, if I don’t own the cd proper I have no business speaking of such things, because for all I know my copy is just a bit lossy. The raw songwriting on this album is stellar, and I hope to hear more out of this band in years to come.
8. Bast – Spectres (track: Outside the Circles of Time)
I am not sure where Spectres would have placed on my year-end list had I had a bit more time to listen to it, but it could only have moved up from here. I’ve only had about two weeks to check this out and make a call, but I was dead convinced that it belonged somewhere in my top 10. The freshman album by this dirty doom trio does it all, and better than your band. With ease they develop a post-rock build-up into a bassy doom dirge, bust into a stoner metal rockout, and then fuse it into some pretty sinister black metal sounds. When black metal leaks its way into headbanging rock, really awesome things happen. Case in point: “Outside the Circles of Time”.
7. Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry (track: Clarissima Mundi Lumina)
A bit more down to whatever planet these guys hail from than the 777 trilogy, Saturnian Poetry is still a bizarre journey into another dimension that only Blut Aus Nord can seem to access. Its constant whirlwind of motion blasts us into a haze of celestial chaos, wherein the band’s synth chords and clean vocals command us to stare in awe and reverence. Few black metal bands on the market can claim to have forged as unique a sound within the genre as Blut Aus Nord, and they’re still breaking my brain in 2014.
6. Saor – Aura (track: The Awakening)
I tend to think of Aura as a straight-forward album that serves its purpose beautifully. Top-notch woodwinds and string paint a majestic Scottish landscape where the old gods still tread in all their glory, at one with the earth and its people. Without ever really breaching any new territory beyond the tried and true boundaries of pagan metal, Andy Marshall has managed to craft what is probably the most grand Gaelic/Celtic variant of the genre I have ever heard.
5. Boris – Noise (track: Melody)
I fucking love Boris. You know that. They could literally shit on an LP and I’d claim it shear brilliance. But thankfully, they keep pumping out one masterpiece after another instead. Noise is so layered in the band’s two decades of perpetual evolution that I don’t think you could begin to grasp what the hell is going on here if you didn’t already know half their discography by heart. It’s a little bit of everything they’ve done before all crammed together in yet another novel new way. No other band in existence sounds anything like this, and at the same time few bands have borrowed more liberally and diversely from other musical scenes than the bastion of badass that is Boris. Boris Boris. Boris! God damn, this is awesome.
4. Woods of Desolation – As the Stars (track: Unfold)
As the Stars is 2014’s Aesthethica, albeit of more modest proportions. If the obscure Welshman known simply as “D.” could append to his public image anything approaching the epic douchiness of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, it might even be popular. (Ok, I’m one of the few people who’ve actually read Hunter’s writings and think he makes some valid points, but whatever.) This album is a bloody mess in the least figurative of ways, and it’s exactly the sort of raw sincerity that I love about post-black metal. In a new scene that divorces black metal’s brink-of-the-abyss soundscape from its machismo closet-bound harbingers, the bands that play with their hearts on their sleeves tend to touch closest to home. As the Stars offers neither the epic intensity of Liturgy nor the refined sound quality of Deafheaven, and the metal world is sure to forget it in time, but my brief love affair with Woods of Desolation will be remembered fondly. Its humble reach is part of what makes it endearing.
3. Harakiri for the Sky – Aokigihara (track: Jhator)
I hold my top three choices for 2014 in a league far above the rest. Aokigihara is an absolutely enormous bastion of sound that presses the weight of its world on your shoulders from start to finish. And that world is heavy indeed, because it is firmly rooted in reality. Harakiri for the Sky doesn’t play that tried and true metal game of glorifying violence. It shoves some real modern nightmares in your face and says “this is really, really terrible, and there’s nothing we can honestly do about it.” I can see this album attracting a “DSBM” label, which is typically shorthand for “wallowing in self pity”, but Aokigihara is the real deal. If it doesn’t leave you feeling a little sick inside, you aren’t paying enough attention.
2. Spectral Lore – III (track: The Cold March Towards Eternal Brightness)
At more than a dozen listens through this album, I am still not sure what to make of it. 87 minutes of music crammed into seven tracks is pretty hard to swallow, and to make matters worse, the first two tracks are its weakest by far. I find it next to impossible to commit myself to a full attentive listen from start to finish, and it’s not an album that offers much on the surface. Yet, I can’t escape the feeling that something really special is going on here. My mind may drift away for three or four minutes at a pop, but I am always drawn back into some beautiful synergy that dances on the brink of euphoria. 2014 might be at an end, but I haven’t finished listening to III by a long shot. I am going to keep plugging away until I’ve got it fully within my grasp, and when I do I think I might regret passing it by for the #1 spot.
1. Panopticon – Roads to the North (track: The Long Road Part 3: The Sigh of Summer)
The first time I heard Roads to the North, I was routing a rather lossy early leak through my Droid into the particularly horrendous sound system of my wife’s Mazda 6. (My 2006ish Nissan Sentra has godlike audio and the car was half the price. What’s up with that?) I definitely did not think on that initial listen that it would end up my favorite album of the year. With a properly purchased copy through my headphones, it’s easy to tell why an album as subtly mixed as this would translate to crap when pushed through crap. I am absolutely captivated by the melding of sounds on this album. It’s simply beautiful, and you couldn’t ask for a more conscientious artist to craft its folk, post-rock, black metal, and melodic death metal melodies than Austin Lunn. The lyrical and thematic content of Kentucky showed him to be one of the most honest musicians in the metal scene. On Roads to the North, he translated the spirit of Kentucky into sound. Kentucky is the album I think about. This is the one I actually listen to, over and over and over again.