Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My 50 Favorite Pop Culture Artifacts of 2014

I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of things I wanted to see, read, play or listen to this year, but there's all kinds of time. Here's my favorite stuff that I DID get to experience from 2014.

50. 700 Sundays
Billy Crystal's concert--based on his 2013 autobiography--aired in April on HBO. I just sort of watched it by accident on a lonely day during a particularly depressing time, and it was a salve I really needed at that moment. Not only was it emotionally truthful in a way I responded to, but it was a reminder of why I used to like Billy Crystal in the first place. For the time I was watching it, it was like his lackluster and tired films of the past 20+ years fell away and I got to see him be a vital comic again.

49. Kate Upton in Zero G
I really love Kate Upton as a model (and her Game of War commercials, which are stupid and obvious, but in a fun way), and this year Sports Illustrated sent her up on the Vomit Comet to do a photoshoot in zero gravity. I heartily approve of this use of technology (but not so much of the idiotic hipster debate that hit Tumblr about what art is after this had a pointless backlash). [gifs via]

48. The Wil Wheaton Project
I've talked about this a bit already, but I'm still disappointed that Syfy [sic] canceled this one. It just reminded of a better time in my life. You all know by now how jaded the internet and personal experiences with fandom have made me about being a genre fan, but this show made me feel... well, more connected to that world. It wasn't perfect, but it was genuine and made with good-natured enthusiasm. It reminded me of the good old days when SciFi Channel used to air SciFi Buzz. [gif]

47. Bill Watterson
This year saw a few works from Bill Watterson to get excited over. Like a lot of folks, Calvin and Hobbes was the defining comic strip of my youth, and continues to be a source of pleasure and inspiration for me. It's rare to have new Watterson work, and this year we had three: his poster for the 2015 Angoul√™me International Comics Festival (seen above), a week of Pearls Before Swine strips, and the poster for the comic strip documentary Stripped. Just these few touches added excitement to the year.

46. The Martian by Andy Weir
It's not a perfect book, but I enjoyed this novel immensely, reading it over three days in the late spring/early summer. I've said before that I don't end up reading a lot of modern SF, so it was nice to see something with a strong voice and real science, that created genuine suspense.

45. Richard Corben and Edgar Allan Poe
For the last three or four years, Richard Corben has been doing some fascinating Poe adaptations at Dark Horse that are in the spirit of his old work for Creepy. They're really wonderful stuff, and this Halloween saw all of his adaptations collected as Edgar Allan Poe's Spirits of the Dead. I'm a little surprised there wasn't more of a deal made of this, because it's some great comics.

44. Elle Fanning
I know, I know, every year I extol the virtues of this wonderful little actress. And this year she was in Maleficent, which was an imperfect movie but which she was so pretty in, and which was close to the kind of big fantasy weirdness I want to see her in. I think my Jim Henson fantasy ballet starring Elle is going to have Jim Steinman songs... who wants to lend me $50 million and give me Brian Henson's number? [gif]

43. Dark Seduction
I dig this concept of the fashion film; it's basically a longform ad for fashion, but it's also a pretty short film. This one, the first for a lingerie brand called Women'secret, is directed by Paula Ortiz and stars my sexiest person of 2014, Elsa Pataky, basically painting and trying on lingerie. I would be willing to direct these, especially if they starred Elsa Pataky.

42. Simpsons Forever
A while back, I was reviewing seasons of The Simpsons with an eye towards figuring out at which point the show no longer spoke to me the way it did in the earlier years, when it was more real, more emotional. FXX aired a marathon of every episode at the end of the summer, and at exactly the right time when I needed something to pull me out of myself for a weekend. Watching the earlier seasons again was sublime. Even if the aspect ratio was wrong, these were the full versions, not cut for syndication. It was so much fun... as much as the show has its moments now, I don't really choose to watch it anymore. (I don't want to go into it; it's a pretty tired opinion on the internet.) So it's easy to forget just how special the first ten years really were. For nearly a week, my TV was glued to FXX... and then "Saddlesore Galactica" started, and it was surprisingly easy to shut off. That episode really is the beginning of the end for me. I did catch The Simpsons Movie when they aired it, which is pretty much the seasonal successor to the first ten seasons. So now I know exactly when the show loses me, despite some wonderful episodes here and there after it.

Things that suck, though: first, none of my local channels are showing Simpsons reruns anymore, some of them for the first time in a decade and a half, because FXX shows it now. Second, FXX stopped showing the full versions and now shows marathons of the same syndicated versions I've seen dozens of times. And third, The Simpsons destroyed a lot of that goodwill the marathon built up in me by doing that vile Family Guy crossover.

You know, though: I think the fact that I barely watch the show anymore made revisiting its origins even more enjoyable.

41. Penny Dreadful
I watched the entire run of this show over a Sunday in early November, and I think that was the perfect way to watch it. This series was everything I wanted it to be: a sexy, sleazy, over the top, dark, gritty portmanteau of turn-of-the-nineteenth century horror literature and pulp adventure tropes. The tone of this show was the kind of thing I was hoping for from The Strain. And, for that matter, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie.

40. The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show
Between this year and last year, I've just come to really love this thing. I know the participation of Taylor Swift has a lot to do with it, but I watched this thing with the biggest smile on my face. (Except for the part with Ariana Grande, which I just fast-forwarded through.) I've always liked fashion because, to me, it's like costuming. I like models. I mean, yes, they're beautiful, but I'm much more interested in the costumes and pageantry of it, and the music and all of that. This year, they had a little bit about how they make the wings, which just played right into my love of creating creatures. I don't care if it's sexy or overrated or whatever, it plays right into three of my major loves: creatures/costumes, sexy girls, and music.

39. Mickey Mouse
To my delight, this series of new cartoons continued this year! And it's still wonderful! And I totally would have loved to have had this image on bed sheets when I was a kid!

38. Game of Thrones
I really enjoyed this season of Game of Thrones, in large part because the show has been so willing to go off-book this season, ever threatening to go off in its own direction. It's a bold move, and one that I think is going to pay off. Also, this season saw Pedro Pascal as Oberyn Martell, and he was excellent.

37. x (aka Multiply)
Ed Sheeran's album was one of my favorite of the year. About half of it's been on my iPod all year. It's pop music, but with a soulful tint to it. Every time someone wants to play me something that they've heard on indie radio, this is the kind of stuff I hope it'll sound like. My wife doesn't like it, but I dig it for sure.

36. "Gust of Wind"
Pharrell's album G I R L is pretty fantastic, and this Daft Punk collaboration is one of my favorite tracks on it. (The album also includes "Happy," which is wonderful, but which is technically from last year, so I didn't include it on this list.)

35. Clouds of Sils Maria
I'm not going to make a list of my favorite movies of the year so far, because I've really seen so few, but this is number one on my list so far. It might seem low on this list (which has a different objective), but I do think this is the best film of 2014 so far. (Still a lot to see.) This dreamlike movie continues to haunt and fascinate me.

34. Pretty Little Liars
I've tended to watch this show with a bit of ironic detachment, but this year I've really started just enjoying how completely ridiculous and amazing it is. It's really embracing its "Twin Peaks for Teens" vibe, and even if it sometimes stumbles into pure stupid, that's part of the fun of this damn thing. Jacob Clifton called it "a tampon commercial directed by Kenneth Anger." That sums it up. That, and these screencaps from the Christmas episode... Mona Vanderwaal died and somehow continued to be the most amazing person on the show.

33. Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland
I wondered what would be next for Eric Shanower after Marvel decided to pull the plug on his and Skottie Young's Oz adaptations. This year, he began a revisit of Winsor McCay's iconic Little Nemo, an update that's very much in the spirit and style of the original. The art by Gabriel Rodriguez has been a visual delight, and the story is whimsical without being cloying.

32. Another year of Marvel NOW!
Marvel is still spotty, but there's a lot of fun stuff coming out. And their publishing schedule is so unpredictable right now that it seems like every time I get tired of one book (I think I'm out on Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova) something new comes up that I like (Skottie Young's Rocket Raccoon series featured the return of Blackjack O'Hare! Put that in your sequel, James Gunn!). I'm especially into the new Captain Marvel series, the new Ms. Marvel series, Thor and She-Hulk. The miniseries All-New Doop brought back one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite series (X-Statix) and managed to be a fascinating fantasia on mental illness, internalized trauma, narrative form, and comic book structure. And Jim Starlin came back with a Thanos story that re-established the Mad Titan as one of the most fascinating Marvel figures.

31. Space Dandy
I loved this anime series in a way that I very rarely love anime. This thing blended together all kinds of manga and anime tropes with a Heavy Metal sensibility and a smartass rockabilly approach and created something truly magical. One of the definite highlights of 2014.

30. Batmanga
DC's only readable comics continue to be their digital exclusives. This year, they started reprinting the Japanese Batman comics by Jiro Kuwata from the 1960s, and these are some of the most fun comics out there right now. Fascinating villains so far include Lord Death Man, the Human Ball, Doctor Faceless, Go-Go the Magician, and Professor Gorilla. The art is so dynamic and kinetic, it's always a pleasure to read (and re-read).

29. Godzilla
The movie was flawed, but I had such a good time seeing it, and I was thrilled to see it on a big movie theater screen with my Dad, who I used to watch Godzilla movies on TV with as a kid. (And we both enjoyed this one a lot more than we had the terrible 1998 version, which neither of us liked.) But as much as I love this movie, this entry goes to the creature himself, which brought me so much joy. You know I love my movie creatures. [gif]

(And hey, true story: Janis Ian shares my Godzilla Haiku on Facebook!)

28. Veronica Mars
Finally... just, finally, and it was everything I needed it to be. Even if we never get another, it feels like closure.

27. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Whatever was going on with that movie, the comic book continues its run of greatness, being everything I want TMNT to be. This year brought back more favorites, including Metalhead, Bebop and Rocksteady, Mondo Gecko, and--FINALLY--my beloved Triceratons. This year also saw a Turtles in Time miniseries and a Ghostbusters crossover that actually fit into the story's continuity. I know it can't last forever, but so far, this series is amazing.

26. "Love Never Felt So Good"
While all of the entertainment sites were going on about Iggy Azalea, for me the song of the summer was this track from the late Michael Jackson. The production, the beat... this all takes me back to childhood and simpler times and those good feelings that, to be honest, only soul music gives me. This is the pure stuff, to me.

25. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
This is just the kind of science fiction adventure I wanted to see from a Planet of the Apes reboot. If they had to do one, at least we finally got a great one and not, you know... that Tim Burton movie. [gif]

24. RuPaul's Drag Race
This amazing show continues to be the best reality show on television. Although I think they need to rethink the way they do the finale, every week this is on I am glued to Logo for what's become mandatory viewing.

23. Kristen & Dax's Samsung commercials
My second-favorite ad campaign this year: two homey, lovey-dovey, cutesy commercials featuring Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard. See the full versions here and here. [gif]

22. "Only Child"
I'm a little unhappy that DC stopped publishing the digital Adventures of Superman comic, which took place out of continuity, was an anthology, and didn't really have anything to do with the New 52. Before it ended, though, issues 43 through 45 published the best Superman story in years, "Only Child," by Ron Marz and Evan "Doc" Shaner. This is the rare Superman story that gets everything right: its approach, the relationship between Superman and (an intelligent) Lois, and Superman's identity as, ultimately, an orphan. And Shaner's art--which recalls classic Superman but with a modern line style--deserves special praise.

21. Hannibal
This second season took what had been a very engaging show and heightened it into a blood-soaked opera.

20. This Star Wars/Guardians of the Galaxy trailer mash-up
Guardians of the Galaxy had a fun and exciting trailer, but YouTube user The Unusual Suspect got to the heart of why this appealed to me by taking the trailer and recutting it as a trailer for the original Star Wars trilogy. My gosh, it does me good to see someone regard Star Wars with a genuine sense of fun instead of "cool."

19. Dance Moms
My team had a rough year this year, but I enjoyed it and I can't wait for next week's premiere. (Boo, Lifetime, for taking the New Year's Day premiere slot away from it this year.)

18. "Chandelier"
Speaking of Dance Moms, star student/team member Maddie Ziegler starred in this excellent video for Sia's great song "Chandelier." The popularity of this really surprised me; over 400 million views on YouTube, and Maddie performed the dance in a number of places, including on Ellen, Good Morning America and Dancing with the Stars. And I thought Jim Carrey and Kate McKinnon spoofing this on Saturday Night Live was hilarious. I really do like to see actual interpretive dancing and movement.

17. Silver Surfer
My favorite Marvel comic this year is Dan Slott & Mike Allred's new Silver Surfer series, which reinterprets Marvel's cosmic stuff with modern sensibilities in a far more interesting way than Brian Michael Bendis is doing with his X-Men-damaged Guardians of the Galaxy. Though it's not quite the equal of last year's FF, which was the best Marvel comic in years and year, it's really something different and fun.

16. Star Trek: Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever
The first interesting Star Trek comic that IDW's put out in a few years, this was a painted adaptation of Harlan Ellison's original version of the teleplay of "The City on the Edge of Forever." The creative team does try to keep it consistent with details of the show (Harlan Ellison says here that the script was written before the show took final shape, so there's no Dr. McCoy here, though Yeoman Rand has an increased role), but it has a very mysterious, complex tone that didn't quite make it onto the show.

15. Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels
This year saw the final finished episodes of The Clone Wars hit Netflix, wrapping up with a group of episodes that really explored the nature of the Force and made clearer than ever the failure of the Jedi to see what was really happening. (It also featured appearances by Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn and Mark Hamill as the Force Ghost of a legendary Sith Lord.) That was followed by the premiere of Star Wars: Rebels, a show set between the two trilogies and one that has been building in surprising ways. I know not everyone is interested, but the story of the Jedi and their fall is pretty much the most interesting thing about Star Wars to me, and the way the show has been exploring the remnants of the Jedi is fascinating. (Also: the rumors that Ahsoka Tano might be a key figure in the early days of the Rebellion.) [gif]

Also worth mentioning here: we got a few new installments of Lego Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles, all of which I find very funny and delightful.

14. Fargo
One of the most consistently surprising and engaging television shows this year.

13. "I'll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)"
My favorite song from Muppets Most Wanted, performed here (in the official video) by its composer, Brett McKenzie. As much as I loved "Man or Muppet," I think this song blows it away.

12. The Force Awakens teaser trailer
Pure excitement. That's what I felt. Pure excitement.

11. The year of Taylor Swift
This was a great year to be a Taylor Swift fan. Unless you're married to me and are annoyed by Taylor Swift, like my poor suffering wife. But I love Taylor for the way she interacts with her fans and is supportive of them when they're feeling low, writing things to them to make them feel better. Given what I've been struggling with and the way I value empathy, I really appreciate what she does. Sometimes, when I need a pick-me-up, I look for videos of her visiting children in the hospital. It makes me feel good to see someone taking time out for people in need. She just makes me feel like the world is a better place than I sometimes think it is. Her song "Shake It Off" is my go-to feel-good song right now, though. It probably will be for a long time, because it's bouncy and I love the message. I wish I was better at doing that.

Taylor's new album 1989 is my favorite that she's done so far; unlike her previous albums, I just loved it right away. It's the kind of album you get from someone at that rare convergence of self-confidence and self-awareness. (And FWIW, her video for "Blank Space" shows that she's hilariously aware of her media persona.)

10. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
Neil deGrasse Tyson's revival of Carl Sagan's documentary series was vital, important, and inspiring. One of the most amazing things he did with the show was, in a non-argumentative and non-smartassed manner, deconstruct and dismiss a lot of very popular fundamentalist, anti-science talking points (for example, how the human eye is actually underdeveloped and imperfect). When I was a very little kid, my Mom instilled a love of science and space in me by making me sit with her and watch Cosmos. Having an inviting and informative update all these years later was one of the best things that happened in 2014.

9. My wife's art on Son of Svengoolie
I already wrote about it here, but seeing Becca's (successful, Elvira-approved) art being held up by the horror host I watched as a kid was a trip and a half!

8. The Marvel Cinematic Universe
This is my favorite thing in entertainment right now, the way Star Wars was my favorite as a kid. This year proved more than ever the lesson too many studios refuse to learn: superheroes may have tropes, but they are not a genre. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a 70s spy thriller with superheroes in it; Guardians of the Galaxy was a great space opera. This year we got more great characters (the Falcon, Rocket and Groot) and deepened our knowledge of others (can't wait to see what the fallout for Natasha is going to be). I really like, too, that the momentum of each component moves the entire thing forward without shortchanging any of the individual stories and characters inside of it. Add to that Agents of SHIELD, which has had some huge events in 2014 (I can't wait to see where this Inhumans thing leads, but boo for killing off Triplett), the Age of Ultron trailer, the announcements about the Black Panther, the upcoming Netflix series, my surprising excitement over Ant-Man... I just love this damn thing, and so far the quality is just as high as it's been. [gif]

7. Key & Peele
After a couple of years of hearing how much I needed to watch this show, I finally sat down and shotgunned it over a series of Comedy Central marathons in the last couple weeks. You guys were right: I did need to watch this show, easily my favorite sketch comedy series since Kids in the Hall.

6. True Detective
Far and away the best dramatic television series I watched in 2014, this show packed more story, character, mystery and drama into a limited series than multiple seasons of other shows--and all without getting dull or losing focus. It had too high a geek factor too quickly to satisfy every viewer, but I personally found the ending very satisfying. This was tremendously good storytelling.

5. Stardancer: The Song of Forgotten Stars Book One by Kelly Sedinger
I'm so glad I can finally put this book on my year-end list, because I really love it. I've already directed the movie version of it in my head, in fact. I talked about this in an earlier post, but I want to say again that I just love these lost princesses and this thrilling novel. (Why not go and purchase one?)

4. Mandatory Fun and Weird Al's weeklong video celebration
One of the best birthday gifts I received last July was a week of new videos from "Weird Al" Yankovic, all leading up to the release of his first album in years (and possibly his last album ever), Mandatory Fun. It was a better album even than I was expecting, including a spot-on parody of Cat Stevens' style and one of his best polkas. It does me good to see that people love Al and that the release of his new album can be an event. It's like everything I was made fun of for loving as a kid is finally popular.

3. ACTUAL Muppet Domination
Back in 2011, when The Muppets was released, Disney promised Muppet Domination. They didn't really deliver, although I appreciated the effort. This year, however, with the release of the even-better Muppets Most Wanted, Disney gave us a lot more to love. There were so many television appearances this year, as well as a wonderful Lipton ad and the Toyota Highlander campaign that saw some of the characters trying to get to the Super Bowl (as well as a Super Bowl ad with Terry Crews). And the Sesame Street Muppets made a lot of appearances, too, particularly Cookie Monster. It's just been a wonderful year for Muppets, all leading back to that wonderful movie and its great creation, Constantine, the World's Most Dangerous Frog, a character hilariously performed by Matt Vogel.

The picture here is from the Muppets' Instagram page, which is loaded with Muppet selfies. Here's a thing about that: I put a post up on my Tumblr with several pictures and a link to their page... that post (which is still getting notes on it up to and including last night--currently it's at 20,014 notes) got curated in three Tumblr categories and there was a sudden explosion of interest all over the internet of this Instagram page. Not, I'm not exactly taking credit for it, but... hey, you know... the timing and all... It makes me feel good because I actually had the first Muppet blog on all of Tumblr a few years ago. I stupidly deleted it, but hey, Ryan Dozier of The Muppet Mindset (the best Muppet fansite) follows me on Tumblr, and that's awesome.

2. Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge
I loved this show so much because it was a huge glimpse into the world I wanted so much to work in as a child. My favorite episode was the movement challenge (because of course it was), but every episode was such an insight into how the illusion of life is created in creatures. I just watched a marathon repeat of the complete series last week, and I found it just as fascinating a second time. I dearly hope we get more of this fascinating show.

1. Guardians of the Galaxy
I had to pull this out separate from my MCU entry because this was the most fun I had at the movies this year. And last year, too, honestly. This movie was such a blast, and it just somehow shaped itself as a perfect movie for both Becca and myself to fall in love with: space adventure, diverse aliens, lots of color, an exceptional 70s rock soundtrack, lots of Marvel Universe references, and that cameo. But aside from all of the details, it was just a great story with lovable characters, well-told and -acted, that's going to be one of my very favorite movies for a very long time. The kind of movie I always hope to see and share with my wife, and so rarely get to. What a special movie.

And it gave me another go-to video clip for when I was feeling down.

And that's my best pop culture bits of 2014. Not a bad group of stuff, considering I know it'll take me a year to see all of the really great movies I missed. Eh, I'm used to it. I had fun.


Roger Owen Green said...

I haven't consumed as much mdia, but some items on the list would be on mine: Simpsons, Kate Upton (though I had only seen the stills), Mupoets, Bill Watterson, and my #1, Mickey Mouse, because The Daughter and I BOTH love it.

Keir said...

Spent a night watching redlettermedia's takedown of all the Star Wars prequels to remind me of how terrible they were. I'm dead to Star Wars, so the trailer is hardly going to get me worked up; I remember all too well how hyped I'd been when I saw the trailer top Phantom Menace in the cinema.

Roger Owen Green said...

Oh, and Weird Al. Kelly, haven't finished the book yet...

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

I look forward to this all year. I always appreciate your review of the year. I always find thing I want to see but haven't.

Nathan said...

I need to check out that Little Nemo series. The art looks a lot like Shanower's as well, but I guess it's just a similar style. Skottie Young's style was totally different.

Strange how the New 52 keeps going when I don't think I've heard a positive word about it, but I'm sure that says more about the people I follow on the Internet than about the general public.

Kelly Sedinger said...

The Redlettermedia guy can eat shit.

MC said...

Zero G was probably a lot safer for Upton than that Antarctica shoot was.