Favourite things in 2014

It’s the time of year where people do their “best of” lists, so I thought I’d join in. Crowning something as the best makes little sense to me though, as any choice will be completely subjective. So instead I’m purely stating what I enjoyed the most, my personal favourites.

TV Drama – The Newsroom.

Aaron Sorkin’s idealistic news drama peaked in its third and final season and was the show I enjoyed most this year. I’m definitely going to miss the ensemble cast now that it’s over, along with the well crafted dialogue. The show had plenty of detractors and even those who enjoyed it seem to find a number of flaws with it.  Personally I didn’t think it made too many missteps in any season and particularly not in this one. I’m going to have to watch The West Wing now to fill my Sorkin void.

Honourable mentions – True Detective was very, very nearly my pick. Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey’s performances were both captivating and compelling. Cary Fukunaga’s direction and the cinematography by Adam Arkapaw (who also worked on the excellent Australian film Animal Kingdom) were what made the show for me. The plagiarism allegations surrounding the writing took some of the sheen off the series for me, but I’m still looking forward to Season Two. Welsh detective series Hinterland, starring Richard Harrington was dark and brooding and has become a very successful export. Sticking with crime drama, Australian TV movie Jack Irish: Dead Point, the third about the titular hero, was very good. Guy Pearce being the lead certainly helps add some class to proceedings.  Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead returned strong and after some teething problems Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D became a must-see. We watched all of Breaking Bad this year, which would definitely have taken the honour if it had been broadcast in 2014. Before anyone tells me what I missed out, I’ve never seen Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire or Fargo.

TV FactualMy Life in Science Fiction.

Invasion of the Fans and Days of Fear and Wonder were the two episodes I watched, one focussed on sci-fi fandom, the other on the BFI’s Sci-Fi season of film programming. I’d have loved these BBC iPlayer shows, which featured the likes of Brian Blessed and Mark Kermode, regardless of who the hosts were. The fact they were my friends Dave and Barry from the Geek Syndicate podcast just made it all the sweeter.

Honourable mention – Sonic Highways was almost a very good show. I loved Dave Grohl’s Sound City film and this series had the potential to be just as good. The historical stuff about each city’s music scene was fascinating and was what kept me coming back for more. The studio elements were pretty light in comparison, lacking any real insight into the production process or the songwriting. The songs that ended each episode seemed to be full of very on the nose lyrics and even on the best ones, that really got in the way.  It did make me listen to more Kyuss and Willie Nelson though, so that’s no bad thing.

FilmCaptain America – The Winter Soldier.

This was pretty much exactly what I wanted from a Marvel movie, I just didn’t know it until I saw it. As much as I loved Iron Man 3 last year, there was something really special about this solo Avenger effort. Chris Evans really came into his own in the lead role, having been sidelined in the Avengers movie and Black Widow and The Falcon really helped develop the right dynamic. It felt the closest to the comics, it had Nick Fury being a much more rounded character, it had a 70s vibe complete with Robert Redford. It had me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.

Honourable mentions –

Guardians of the Galaxy was within a raccoon’s whisker of being my favourite film of the year. I liked it enough to see it twice, I loved the pop culture feel, the epic space opera aspects, the retro soundtrack the humour and the characters. The fact this didn’t quite take my top spot shows just how strong the Marvel cinematic universe is right now.

Interstellar was also very close to being my favourite film of 2014. There was a lot I really, really liked about it, but some elements, which I won’t spoil, took the shine off of it. It’s an excellent film and very much my kind of thing, but lost a few points despite making me think and feel for almost three hours.

Paddington was a film I expected to hate. The trailer showed the visitor from darkest Peru cleaning his ears with a toothbrush and flooding a bathroom. Out of context it felt like a typical film adaptation that totally forget what the essence of its source material actually was. When Colin Firth walked off the project all the signs pointed to it being a failed project. Nothing could be further from the truth, it’s one of the best family films I’ve seen in many years, funny, poignant and totally in keeping with the character and world we know. The best anti-UKIP, but pro the real Great Britain story you could imagine.

AlbumOnce more round the sun by Mastodon.

Over the years Mastodon have steadily become one of my favourite bands, hitting the sweet spot between the heavier and the more progressive sides to my musical tastes. Their latest album, though not quite as consistent as earlier offerings, still gives me exactly what my ears crave.

Honourable mentions –

Sonic Highways by Foo Fighters is a mixed bag, but I don’t know if the TV show is the reason for that. It has the usual Foos formula, but definitely feels like it’s lacking some bite. A bit like a soundtrack, you can’t help but see the episode each song is from when you listen to the album, which can get in the way. .5: The Gray Chapter by Slipknot came very close to taking top spot, I’m a definite fan of the light and shade that their work always encompasses and their albums are exceptionally well produced.  Royal Blood by Royal Blood is the British hipster version of Queens of the Stone Age and make an impressive noise for a two-pieceI’ve just found out that Seether, Black Label Society and Emigrate both had albums out in 2014 and it’s possible they could have wound their way in here.  If I was allowing compilations then Guardians of the Galaxy’s Awesome Mix Vol.1 would have taken top slot, as I’ve listened to that constantly since seeing the movie.

GigPearl Jam (Milton Keynes)

An odd category, as I only went to see two bands this year (I think). 2013 had two major highpoints, Brad in Birmingham and Alice in Chains, Ghost and Walking Papers in Newport, but this show was just as good as those two concerts. 35 songs in an open air setting, one a beautiful Summer’s evening, it was pretty close to perfection. Thanks to Eddie’s anti-war rant, it’s a show that will go down in the band’s long and illustrious history too.

Honourable mention – Breed 77 at The Globe in Cardiff was another good show and the fifth time I’ve seen the Gibraltan rockers playing in my adopted home town. I was expecting them to play 2004 album Cultura in its entirety, so was a little disappointed when that wasn’t the case. The fact second guitarist Pedro Caparros was injured and not part of the line-up was also a definite shame. They did announce they return to the studio in 2015, so fingers crossed for another album in the not too distant future.

ComicLazarus (Image Comics) 

Greg Rucka continues to write strong female characters and intelligent monthly books that never underestimate the audience. This team up with stellar artist Michael Lark has had me gripped all year and  it got me back into monthly comics after I’d moved pretty exclusively to trade paperbacks. Blending action with politics, drama with sci-fi, this is the kind of book I’d aspire to write. The letters page and back matter round off a pretty perfect package.

Honourable mentions – The other book I read monthly is Rocket Racoon, spearheaded by Skottie Young for Marvel. I’ll readily admit that I picked up the book because I liked the character in the movie so much. The book’s tone is refreshingly irreverent and really good fun, making it a good counter balance to the more serious stuff I enjoy. I was playing catch up with some other series this year and like everyone else I have been loving Saga, I’m only up to the third trade at the moment or that may very well have been my choice. Revival, Southern Bastards and Zero were other books I really enjoyed in trades in 2014. It was definitely a year where Image Comics dominated my reading.

PodcastAustin Film Festival’s On Story Podcast. 

This has been the podcast that has accompanied my warm ups at the gym. It features short and insightful interviews with screenwriters and directors from the Austin Film Festival. I discovered the show last year as Shane Black was on it. Since then I’ve learned something from every single episode that I can use to further my own storytelling and approach to the craft.

Honourable Mentions- Perennial favourites like iFanboy and Word Balloon continue to set a high standard in the world of comics podcasting. Oh Comics! from Panels and hosted by iFanboy’s own Paul Montgomery and Preeti Chhibber gives a slightly more high brow look at the world of sequential storytelling. To compete all things Montgomery, his Fuzzy Typewriter podcast proved to be a very interesting accompaniment to each episode of True Detective, I have the Rise of the Planet of the Apes episode sat waiting for me to see the film. I went back to Nerdist Writers Panel Comics Edition after a break, mainly thanks to the lure of Brian K Vaughan.  On the UK front Geek Syndicate, The Hat Decides ( which finally returned in December) and Comic Book Outsiders (which relaunched recently) were as consistent as ever.  I have had a good time putting out Bags of Action and Steve and I have pretty much kept to a monthly schedule this year. Listen out for Predator in January.

So that was what I liked in 2014. I’m still kicking myself for not watching Fargo, although I’m listening to the Emigrate album as I type this. Here’s to some more interesting stuff in 2015.