Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Best Of 2014.

Best Film: Boyhood.

In a world where films are always striving to be unlike any other ever made, it's rare that a film actually follows through on such a promise. It's even rarer that the said film is actually great. Boyhood is one of the very few films of my lifetime that manages such a feat. Filmed over 12 years using the same cast, director Richard Linklater looks at the world through the eyes of Mason Evans, Jr. (a stellar Ellar Coltrane), as he grows from a kindergartener into a college freshman before our eyes. It is an episodic film of small moments that feels much closer to long-time-spanning documentaries like the 7 Up series & Hoop Dreams than what it really is--an motion picture epic, crafted from the small shards of everyday life into a stained-glass window of cinematic beauty.

Best Movie: The LEGO Movie.

The most visually-delicious film I've seen in years, which creates a world in which the atom is replaced by the LEGO brick. Like a well-built LEGO building, it clicks together multiple levels of humor & reality, held together by charming characters & hilarious dialogue. When I was a kid, I would imagine that my LEGO town would continue in their own world while I was away; The LEGO Movie puts me smack in the center of it. & it does so beautifully--on every brick-filled level.

Best TV Show: Orange Is The New Black.

[SPOILERS ALERT] Last year introduced us to the inmates of the Litchfield women's federal prison, this year took everything we thought we knew about them & turned it on its head. The Piper-centered story arc shifted aside while more minor characters came out of the woodwork: Who knew that the wedding-planning romantic Morello was a sick stalker whose visions of matrimony are confined to her head? Or that Sister Jane has been excommunicated? Or what really lurks beyond the sad eyes of Miss Rosa? While some of the tangled subplots were more compelling than others, no other show had me rushing back for more.

Best TV Episode: "Beach House," Girls.

In the middle of an uneven season, Girls delivered its best episode yet. When Hannah crashes Marnie's over-planned beach house girls weekend with her ex-boyfriend/now-gay BFF (& his group of gay guy friends), we see the intricacies of the characters rub up against each other & react in hilarious & insightful ways. At the center, the girls do a choreographed routine to Harry Nilsson's "You're Breaking My Heart," before everything melts down into an epic 4-way fight that has been brewing for years, flames stoked by an uncharacteristically drunk-&-blunt Shoshanna: "You treat me like I'm a fucking cab driver." Don't think they'll ever make that mistake again.

Best Album: The Basement Tapes Complete by Bob Dylan & The Band.

The Old, Weird America that was only available in bootlegs has finally been unleashed in the digital age. To keep with tradition (& avoid the $139 price tag), I ripped mine off of a friend. My thoughts about the contents within can be seen from my earlier review here. Lo & behold! 

Best Song: "Word Crimes" by "Weird Al" Yankovic.

It's been an epic year for "Weird Al" Yankovic. After some 35 years in the music business, his 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun, was his first to hit #1 on the Billboard Album chart. & with "Word Crimes" hitting #39 on the pop charts, Yankovic is now one of the few artists to score 4 Top 40 hits in 4 different decades (Michael Jackson & Madonna are 2 others). Yankovic uses Robin Thicke's catchy (if seemingly unfinished) song about sexual boundaries ("Blurred Lines") & turns it into a lesson in social media writing etiquette. & not only does it work, but it finally taught me what an Oxford comma is.

Best Book: The History Of Rock 'N' Roll In Ten Songs by Greil Marcus.

Popular music's (hell, popular culture's) finest critic takes on the assignment of a lifetime: Narrowing down the entire history of rock music to 10 songs. This would be fascinating for anyone to tackle, but Marcus, who's always eschewed the sacred cows of rock music (he once made an essential rock discography that left off Sgt. Pepper, Pet Sounds, & What's Going On), wrote a history of the music on his terms, ignoring anything close to a chronology & gleefully omitting such artists as Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, & Led Zeppelin. Instead we find mesmerizing chapters about The 5 Satins' "In The Still Of The Nite" & Cyndi Lauper's "Money Changes Everything," among others. It is unlike any other rock history you will ever read--which is precisely the point.

Best Reissue: Nashville.

Robert Altman's sprawling country (& cinematic) masterpiece gets the Criterion treatment. I've been putting off watching it for about 20 years now. Now that I own it in its beautiful new box, I am definitely going to sit down & watch it. Maybe even by 2016.

Best Comeback: Geeshie Wiley & Elvie Thomas.

In the middle of April, there came a story that was wholly unexpected from The New York Times Magazine. A music journalist (John Jeremiah Sullivan) & research assistant (Caitlin Love) had unearthed new information about Geeshie Wiley & Elvie Thomas, who seemingly came from nowhere to record 6 of the most coveted, haunting sides in country blues history--including Wiley's "Last Kind Word Blues" & Thomas's "Motherless Child Blues"--& then seemed to return to the nowhere from which they came. Through the archive of legendary blues scholar Robert "Mack" McCormick, Sullivan & Love followed a trail that has to be read to be believed: Check it out here.

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