2014

2014: My Year In Lists (Part One)

tv

Holy shit, 2014 is almost over! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? It just started! It was literally January 1st, 2014, like twelve minutes ago. Calenders and clocks are liars, time is the enemy, and I am so scared of getting older that I refuse to look in the mirror anymore because the rapidly aging adult that I see in there makes my soul frown.

But we’re not here to talk about how I am terrified of death! NO! We are here to talk about lists. Specifically, lists of thing that I enjoyed in 2014. Because I have a website and I enjoy making lists! So… over the next few days, I’m going to do just that until I’m finished or get bored with the project. Hopefully it won’t be the latter!

PLEASE NOTE: Not everything in these lists will bear a release date of 2014! As much as I would LIKE to see every movie, and listen to every album, and watch every TV show immediately upon their release, and process them, and rank them accordingly… well, there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to accomplish all of that. Plus there’s my real job, and also I have to carve out time to be a decent husband, a so-so friend, and a middling-to-lousy family member. I’m only one man! So these lists are going to consist of things that I enjoyed during the calender year of 2014, regardless of when they were actually released, produced, aired, etc. If it makes you feel better, you can think of it as a free-form art project that serves as a commentary on society’s need to rank and categorize everything.

Or just read the damn things and marvel at my excellent taste. Or horrible taste, if you disagree with me. It’s all good! At the end of the day, aren’t we all just looking to be loved and, to a slightly lesser degree, to be presented with a really nice sandwich?

To the first list!

Top Ten TV Things of 2014

Cutthroat Kitchen – It’s fun to watch sweaty, stressed people try to make ravioli with spatulas duct taped to their hands. The secret joy of this show is that its winners usually only have like $80 left after bidding on stupid things to fuck with their fellow contestants. “You won Cutthroat Kitchen; here’s a sack of nickels for your trouble… also, you came across as mean-spirited and desperate on national TV!!! GOOD LUCK SEEKING FUTURE EMPLOYMENT.”

New Girl – The ensemble cast on New Girl is as flawless an entity as you’re going to find on network TV. Collectively, they are a humming engine of jokes, laughs, and timing, all of it in service of actual characters instead of just character types. Particular props to Jake Johnson, who is a shambling slacker comedy ninja, and to Lamorne Morris, who has, over a couple of seasons, turned his character (Winston Bishop) into one of the strangest, sweetest comic creations of 2014.

Buying Alaska – I cannot get enough of this fucking show, mainly because it is like watching people trying to buy real estate on Mars. This show has taught me many things… how people who live in Alaska do NOT care about what they look like on TV, that there are electric toilets that burn up your poop for sanitary and gross reasons, and that Alaskans are INSANE… but mainly, it has reinforced in my mind the fact that I never, ever want to live in Alaska. I like everything not being awful way too much.

American Horror Story: Freak Show – The whole American Horror Story franchise is, by and large, kind of a mixed bag. There is some AMAZING stuff in there, like Kathy Bates’ Emmy-winning turn in AHS: Coven, the big twist about 2/3rds into AHS: Murder House, and the cathartic thrill of watching Adam Levine get murdered in AHS: Asylum. However, with the good, there’s also some massive whiffs… the last two or three episodes of AHS: Coven, where everything just fizzled out into nothingness, being the most notable example. This year’s installment, AHS: Freak Show, while not perfect, has mostly been American Horror Story at it’s best… legitimately scary, darkly funny, and unafraid to swing wildly for the fences (modern songs sung by characters in the 1950’s… WHY THE FUCK NOT). Plus, it features not one but TWO of the most frightening villains ever to grace the small screen; John Carroll Lynch’s psychotic yet misunderstood Twisty the Clown, and Finn Witrock’s just plain psychotic Dandy Mott.

Billy on the Street – Billy Eichner is my screaming, gay spirit animal. If you haven’t basted yourself in the glory of his Taylor Swift-inspired music video, “Glitter & Ribs,” do so now.  You will come back forever changed.

Late Night with Seth Meyers – Jimmy Fallon is a little too enthusiastically giggly, Conan O’Brien has flashes of brilliance but always seems like he’s trying too hard, Letterman checked out years ago (though he will always be my One True Talk Show Host), and Kimmel is… you know… fine. Where it’s at for me, talk show-wise, is Seth Meyers and his comedy nerd heart. Now that the nerves have settled and he’s worked himself into a nice groove, Meyer’s show is my go-to spot for breezy interviews and funny bits.

Bob’s Burgers – There will never be another Simpsons, but… if you put a gun to my head and demand that I choose a show to be its successor… then it has to be Bob’s Burgers. There’s really no other choice. Warm, yet biting. Hysterical, but with an honest emotional core. It presents a broadly funny family who genuinely care about each other, and, more importantly, LIKE each other. It’s that pervasive, familial, “we’re all in this together” spirit that sets Bob’s Burgers apart from every other animated show on TV, including the current incarnation of the big daddy itself, the aforementioned Simpsons. Boasting a murderer’s row of voice talents… everyone from H. Jon Benjamin to Kristin Schall to Bill Hader to even Jon Freakin’ Hamm… doesn’t hurt things, either.

Broad City – The funniest show on TV. Hands down. In lieu of trying to explain to you why that is… because trying to explain why something is funny is pointless and painful for everyone involved… I present you with this clip that was recently released by Broad City for the Holidays and, indirectly, as a teaser for their new season. Either you’ll pick up what they’re putting down, or you won’t. (P.S. we saw Broad City live last month and it was better than anything has ever been ever… just FYI)

Fargo – I certainly didn’t see this one coming, and I don’t think anyone else did either. A “spiritual successor” to the Coen Brothers’ movie of the same name, but not related to the movie (at least not totally). And also it’s a mini-series. Featuring Billy Bob Thornton for some reason. There is no reason that this should have worked. And yet… here we are. Fargo was one of the best things on TV this year, precisely because, in the face of all logic, creator Noah Hawley found a way to make all of these disparate parts cohere into a showcase for his own crackerjack storytelling, but also for a whole slew of award-worthy performances. Thornton, newcomer Allison Tolman, and Martin Freeman (marvelously playing against type) are all just fucking fantastic. Plus, it’s violent as all hell, which is always fun.

TransparentTransparent is a show that stars Jeffery Tambor as the patriarch of a dysfunctional family who, late in life, decides to come out as a transgender woman. Also, it’s only available to people with Amazon Prime, via their streaming service. Those two sentences are the sum total of the information that I had about Transparent before I started watching it. And, I should point out, I only started watching it because my wife wanted me to. I doubt I would have otherwise. What I discovered was, in a word, art. Transparent is a thing of true beauty… an intensely personal work that will feel somehow totally familiar to everyone, despite its highly specific narrative. Achieving that sort of universality in a freshman show is a feat in and of itself; doing so with seemingly little effort, and with a light touch and a wicked sense of humor, to boot, make Transparent an easy lay-up for the best thing I watched on TV in 2014.

BONUS LIST: Top Three TV Things of 2014 I Haven’t Watched

Game of ThronesI have no plans to actually ever watch this… mostly because I tend to dislike anything that falls into the “wizards and shit” category of genre storytelling… but I gather that people are pretty enthusiastic about it. Good for them.

Orange is the New Black – My wife watched it, but I wasn’t involved. I just kind of can’t get myself to the point where I’m like, “Okay, let’s do this.” Which is no reflection on the show itself. It’s me, not you, OitNB.

True Detective – I’m going to watch True Detective, I swear! GET OFF MY ASS ABOUT IT, EVERYBODY!!!

Winter Movie Spotlight 2014

movie

Winter is just around the corner. Or, if you live in the North like some kind of sucker, then maybe it’s already here. For YOU. Not for me. I live at the edge of the great American Southwest, where winter is like, “whatever, I’ll put on a jacket for a week, NBD.” Hahaha… you fucking people with your snow and your regret! It’s wonderful here! IT’S WONDERFUL!!! [cut to: A month from now, when Texas is buried under a freak snowstorm that makes the end of The Day After Tomorrow look like the location scouting reel from Tremors]

The point is, with the arrival of the winter months, the nation’s movie theaters begin to make transitions of their own. Gone are the days of exciting blockbusters that people actually WANT to see. Now is the time for important movies… PRESTIGE movies… movies that grasp for Oscars like a child reaching for a favorite toy that you are holding high above its head because you are a terrible parent.

Here, now, a look at the upcoming slate of winter movies that you have no real interest in seeing, because life is hard enough already without spending two hours of it watching people be miserable, but you will watch anyway because if you don’t, you will feel like a racist:

The Remembering Time – Rated PG

Several elderly people in a nursing home think back on their lives, remembering stuff from when they were young, and full of life, and music didn’t have so many swears in it. Everything is shot in sepia tones, because that’s how the audience knows it takes place in the past. Black and white film might also get used; the filmmakers haven’t decided yet. Anyway, everyone gets really bummed out and then somebody’s nephew shows up to play the violin, which makes everything worse because they can tell that he really doesn’t want to be there. The movie ends when all the main characters die. It’s just awful .

Rose’s Antique Handbag – Rated R (for explicit historical fucking)

Rose (played by Kate Winslet, though the character is not THAT Rose), embarks on a sweeping journey across Europe, Africa, and, budget permitting, Asia, to reclaim her antique handbag that once belonged to her inspirational and also empowering grandmother, also named, confusingly, Rose. High drama ensues when Rose discovers that the antique handbag has fallen into the hands of the Nazis, which is strange, as the movie takes place in 1997. Score by Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer. Cinematography by Academy Award winner Janusz Kaminski. Nazi uniforms provided by that one closet at Warner Bros. Studios that’s full of Nazi uniforms.

It’s Horseshit That Gary Oldman Has Never Won An Oscar – Rated G(ary)

Gary Oldman, one of the finest actors of our generation, has NEVER won an Oscar. Isn’t that just totally horseshit??? What’s worse, he’s only been nominated for ONE GODDAMN MOVIE. That Tinker Tailor Solider Spy movie, which, okay, I’m sure it was FINE, but c’mon. Espionage in England or something? Whooooo caaaaaares??? But, of course, THAT’S the performance upon which the Academy finally decides to bestow their oh so fucking hallowed graces. Whatever. What fucking ever. Anyway, IHTGOHNWAO is just one 90 minute shot of Gary Oldman reading a menu from Applebee’s over and over in several different accents, and with varying degrees of intensity. It will break your fucking heart.

My Friend B.S. – Rated NC-17

One man’s crippling addiction to bath salts is explored via gritty, lo-fi film-making techniques, and also some unconventional casting choices. The main part of Terry…  the man struggling with his crippling need for terrifying drugs… is played by John Cryer, in a role that will surprise you. The part of his girlfriend, Joanne… the woman who selflessly helps Terry work through his addiction and get into rehab… is played by Tabitha from Tabitha’s Salon Takeovers, in a role that will surprise you. The bath salts are voiced, dramatically, by repurposed dialogue from a DVD of Beetlejuice that was laying around the editing suite. It’s mostly Michael Keaton stuff, in a roll that will surprise you. And him, too, probably, as he was not paid for his unwitting participation.

Mars – Rated PG-13

This is a movie that takes the viewer to the planet Mars, and shows what it would actually be like to live there. The first half is kind of hypnotically dull, as the Mars pioneers go about doing, you know, regular pioneer shit but with spacesuits. But then the last half is horrifying because a bunch of Martians show up and start disemboweling everybody. Tastefully, of course. The disemboweling is mostly implied. Mostly. What’s important is that the filmmakers invented a new kind of camera for this movie and it makes everything look like it’s actually taking place in outer fucking space. Technical wizardry, bitches. Gravity can suck our 70mm IMAX 3D dongs.

The Cuteness – Rated A Heretofore Undiscovered Rating That is Milder Than G

Carefully composed scenes of brilliant, troubled people doing twee, fussy things are all strung together to the music of Juice Newton, who is an artist we haven’t heard from in a long time, but is being brought back by the filmmakers because it’s cool to do that sort of thing, as long as it’s clear they’re being ironic. Everything looks perfect, and you get that it’s supposed to be funny, but you’re really only laughing because everyone else is. That guy a few seats down is PARTICULARLY into it. He has a neatly trimmed beard and some sort of tweed jacket thing going on. He looks smart. Yeah… this movie is SO smart.

Moshe Blumenthal: A Holocaust Survivor’s Story – Unrated

You may think that it is, at best, crass to sensationalize a real-life victim of the Holocaust’s story for the purpose of winning essentially meaningless awards, but… clearly… you’re unfamiliar with how bitching an Oscar looks on a small shelf above one’s cigar humidor. Yep… things are going pretty well. Thinking about optioning the rights to Anne Frank’s diary and tweaking it into like a Bourne Identity thing where she’s secretly an assassin or something. Pretty sure it’ll be the big summer hit of 2016. Iggy Azalea would make a totally badass, sexy Anne Frank, right???