Alright, everybody. Buckle in your seat-belts as we prepare to blast off into the unknown frontiers of 2015. I think we're all looking forward to getting the hell out of 2014, which hasn't exactly been a banner year in entertainment or in society. But before we completely step away from this mess, let's take a look back at the things that made us smile (and grimace).
It's time for Popcorn Culture's second annual stockpile of the best and worst moments in film, music, and TV! Please please please keep in mind that I'm exclusively pulling from media that I personally have seen or heard. I find it a tad gauche to mock or praise movies and shows I've never even experienced personally. I've been burned before and I shan't be burned again. So if your favorite movie doesn't end up on here, there may be a very good reason for that.
But I assure you that I have done my research, taste testing TV, films, and music from every month of the year and all corners of the globe. If I told you how much time I've spent compiling the lists you see before you, you'd scoff so hard your computer would blow off your desk/table/lap/cat if you're cruel. I hope you enjoy this journey as much as I have.
On with the show!
The Ten Best Films of 2014
#10 They Came Together
No, it's not the most tonally even parody in the world, but They Came Together invites comparisons to Airplane! rather than recent acts of cinematic terror like A Haunted House or The Starving Games. It's refreshing to see a parody movie that actually seeks to exhibit the flaws of the genre it's lampooning rather than directly copy scenes from movie trailers and mix in a heaping spoonful of little people and pot gags. They Came Together could have literally just been the same scene repeated 20 times and be better than the recent spate of juvenile crap, but the fact that it bursts onto the scene with sparkling wit and heart earns my unending gratitude.
Read my original review here.
For my money at least, Neighbors was one of the most surprising comedies of the year. As a frat comedy hailing straight from the incestuous Apatow stable, I was expecting something a lot more crass and crude than this outrageous tale about the travails of parenthood. Sure there's plenty of dick jokes to appease the faithful, but there's also Rose Byrne rocking one of the strongest female roles ever conceived in a bro comedy and plenty of shirtless Zac Efron. One for the history books.
Read my original review here.
#8 Grand Piano
Elijah Wood is one of the most interesting performers out there at the moment. Between 2012's remake of Maniac, the bizarre techno-thriller Open Windows, and the kooky horror output of his company Spectrevision, he has launched himself into the stratosphere of independent cinema. But his greatest work in 2014 was the Spanish production Grand Piano, a slick De Palma-esque thriller with an elegant visual schema and a thrilling plot as taut as piano wire.
Read my original review here.
#7 The Book of Life
The Book of Life is pretty much exactly what I want out of my children's entertainment. Sure, it's not exactly groundbreaking and you won't go home pondering life's deep truths, but it's got gorgeous woodwork-flavored imagery, a respectful representation of the Mexican culture, and delightful songs, including some hit and miss - mostly hit - re-orchestrations of pop hits. Channing Tatum continues his reign of triumph over the comedy genre, Diego Luna proves to have a rough but reliable singing voice, and Zoe Saldana is... there. But her character is written with actual dimensions, so thank you world. We're making some for the better-type changes over here.
Read my original review here.
#6 The Normal Heart
The Normal Heart suffers from Ryan Murphy's tendencies toward operatic grandeur at the expense of consistent character development, but it's led by a spate of solid performances from Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Mark Ruffalo, and a perfectly cast set of near-unknowns. When it's not yanking heartstrings, The Normal Heart is a pounding medical horror film, depicting the very worst the human body has to offer. It's a visceral, emotional powerhouse, sure to be an important text in both the representation of the history of AIDS and its passionate plea for change in the future.
Read my original review here.
#5 The Guest
Sure, The Guest isn't a You're Next level comic horror masterpiece. It's barely even horror at all, rather a mélange of flavors from The Terminator, Drive, and Halloween pumped up with a keenly funny Simon Barrett script and a pulsing 80's synth score. But what it lacks in You're Next's pedal-to-the-metal tone, The Guest makes up for with a pristine, colorful aesthetic that is light years more refined and polished than its predecessor's "shakycam first, gooey gore second, everything else whenever" philosophy.
Read my original review here.
#4 Big Hero 6
I was initially reluctant to watch this latest Disney movie (their first animated film to be based on a Marvel property), but I dragged myself to the theater and not only was I pleasantly surprised, I was treated to perhaps the best computer-generated picture in the company's entire filmography. With an effortless blend of American and Japanese culture and an easy, effervescent comedy style, Big Hero 6 is an important, lovable stepping stone into the future of American animation.
Read my original review here.
And now we've reached the point where Daniel Radcliffe proves that he can actually act. Though he did much to erase Harry Potter from the mind in The Woman in Black, his character's age and associated martial/child-having status did not gel with audiences. But in Horns he breaks out as a handsome, dark young man trapped in a gory fairy tale. Joe Hill's story is superb and Alexandre Aja directs with honey lightness, balancing the darker tone with some surprisingly ebullient comedy. Not even a disastrously peculiar finale can upend one of the most intriguing films of the year.
Read my original review here.
#2 Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy was a genius move. Allowing James Gunn to apply his Troma-honed comic sensibilities to a big budget sci-fi epic was only possible because 1) It's a Marvel movie - they were essentially guaranteed billions and 2) nobody cared enough to actually get mad if they messed up the GotG comics. Giving a property carte glance to a creative filmmaker with indelible personality was just the shot in the arm the company needed before launching the next phase in their unending quest to own all the world's money. The soundtrack is great, the ensemble is expertly symbiotic, and Chris Pratt rules the screen. What more could we want from a comic book movie?
Read my original review here.
#1 The Babadook
Not only is The Babadook one of the most elegant, analytical looks at the dark side of a mother-son relationship in the history of cinema, it's a tense, subtle reworking of classic genre tropes that uses low key, low budget thrills to clamp onto the base of your spine and shoot you full of electricity. It's not the scariest movie ever made, no, but it's a terrific, horrifying piece with a perfect amount of levity and an unforgettable storybook aesthetic. The Babadook is the first feature of Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent, and if her followup films actively improve on this near-masterwork, it might be time to buy stock in anti-anxiety pills because that market is about to explode.
Read my original review here.
The Five Worst Films of 2014
Hercules is the one film on this list that I haven't reviewed, because I saw it at a strict non-disclosure preview screening. I can see why they needed to be strict. They didn't want word of how atrocious the film is to get out. I mean, the atrociousness is evident in the phrase "Hercules starring The Rock," but whatever. It has one interesting idea (Hercules is just a man creating a legend around himself), but it's in service of a string of woefully blah action sequences in which the go-to move - the "Shield Wall" - involves all the soldiers standing in a square while people charge at them. Swords-and-sandals Red Rover epic? Count me out.
OK, it's not like Chef is the Plan 9 of 2014 or anything. It is competently shot and even has some interesting aesthetic elements surrounding the surprisingly organic onscreen use of Twitter. But the plot is nothing but limp twaddle, squelching around onscreen as Jon Favreau's Chef Casper alienates people by being an asshole, then throws money at all his problems until they go away. It's the filmic equivalent of that kid who parks his BMW in the high school parking lot and complains about how terrible his life is because his parents bought him the wrong color. And then Chef Casper is magically rewarded with sex from two preposterously beautiful women, because this is nothing but Jon Favreau's sweaty Jon Favreau fanfiction.
Read my original review here.
#3 That Awkward Moment
Remember how Chef's plot has no stakes? Well, That Awkward Moment throws down the gauntlet by having no plot at all. The spurious but suitably generic concept of "single men agree not to date until their friend feels better but woe is them they meet the perfect women" would have done fine supporting a bland romantic comedy, but once this plot nugget is introduced, the movie shuts down and completely ignores it as all three men continue to date with absolutely zero consequences. This heavy sacrifice is not worth the extravagantly boring romance between plastic Ken doll Zac Efron and British-accent strangling Imogen Poots. Oh well. At least the soundtrack was rad.
Read my original review here.
#2 The Quiet Ones
I mean, The Quiet Ones deserves a spot on this list solely for using the phrase "The Man That Makes Things Happen" to describe its ghostly villain, but it doesn't hurt that it's painfully tedious and disastrously ugly. It's resolutely unscary and, if all the endlessly repeated conversations were trimmed out, wouldn't be longer than the previews that played before it in the theater. And the previews were probably better to begin with.
Read my original review here.
I gave Annabelle an embarrassingly lenient score in my review because it was a decent enough way to pass the time munching popcorn, but the more one thinks about the film, the more indelibly infuriating it becomes. The plot is a nonsensical mishmash, the characters are either generically bland stock figures or idiotic assholes, and the film doesn't even reasonably set up 1) why the doll is the way it is 2) why the evil would then affect those poor souls in the beginning of The Conjuring or 3) why the hell this movie even existed in the first place. It managed to heck up the simple story of "a doll is haunted by a mad spirit" by "raising the stakes" with "a doll is haunted by the mad spirit of a cultist, the spirit of that cultist as a little girl, and also a demon and maybe the kitchen sink for good measure."
Read my original review here.
Best January Found Footage Demonic Horror Movie: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
The newest entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise, The Marked Ones (which really should have been a sequel, not a spinoff) didn't make a ton of money due to a weary fanbase, but has a keen sense of humor, a respect for its Latino characters that keeps the race element from becoming a gimmick, and enough scares to keep horror fans thirsty for more. And any film that has a gang member blast a witch away with a shotgun is worth your time.
Read my original review here.
Worst January Found Footage Demonic Horror Movie: Devil's Due
Although its leads were cute and had genuine chemistry, Devil's Due adds absolutely nothing to either the found footage or devil baby genres. Its uninspired framing device rids the film of any real tension, its hackneyed story fails to fright, and why hang a camera directly above a staircase if nobody is going to be tossed down it? I'd much rather see a film about a devil baby actually wreaking havoc on the world rather than yet another endlessly unspooling tale about its wombly adventures.
Read my original review here.
Biggest Surprise: The Saw 10th Anniversary Re-Release
Real quick, a little context. In the first week of its original domestic theatrical run, Saw made $24,000,000. Saw II made $31,000,000 in its first weekend alone. In its one week re-release, Saw 10th Anniversary made a whopping $800,000. That's only slightly better than The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, notoriously the worst wide release opening weekend of all time (which, ironically, also stars Cary Elwes). It just goes to show that Saw had its time and its place, and those who are crossing their bloody stumps of fingers for a Saw VIII might just have to lay their dreams to rest for another decade or so.
Read my original review of Saw here.
Biggest Disappointment: As Above, So Below
I really do enjoy myself a good found footage movie, and this philosophical exploration of the Parisian catacombs seemed like the perfect film to prove the genre still had some life in it yet. Yeah, it wasn't. It's a disappointment to see a promising movie squander its potential, but it's even worse when the said movie squanders it so completely and efficiently, failing to thoroughly explore its implications and tossing in a couple hundred go-nowhere subplots instead of focusing on its actually interesting central theme.
Read my original review here.
Most Underrated Film: Oculus
Oculus unravels a bit by the end, but until that point it depicts a terrific psychological horror tale with some excellently subtle gore gags and a magnetizing performance by Karen Gillan. It just goes to show that original horror can be successful if it is lead by a team with actual passion for the genre. Who'd've thunk?
Read my original review here.
Most Overrated Film: Gone Girl
I enjoyed Gone Girl as much as the next guy. As long as the next guy wasn't David Fincher himself. It was a thrill ride with some terrific performances and riveting tension. But beneath the close-to-flawless thriller mechanics, I find nothing but a cold, dispassionate aesthetic and misogynistic overtones hampering an immensely human story.
Read my original review here.
Film That I Will Most Likely Surreptitiously Change to a Lower Score: Annabelle
I've derided this film enough, so I won't go into immense detail, but you shouldn't be surprised if you find my 7/10 score precipitously dropping behind your back.
Film That I Will Most Likely Surreptitiously Change to a Higher Score: Shock Treatment
I'm well aware this isn't a 2014 movie, but of all the films I've seen this year, Shock Treatment (the sequel to the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show) is the one that has stuck with me the most. With an ahead-of-its-time pastiche of reality television, some daring scene compositions, and an 80's rock-infused score that's even better than Rocky Horror, Shock Treatment is one of the best bad movies around. It might not really make any sense, but it's so infused with inscrutable fun that it deserves way more attention than it has ever received. And every day that goes by, my 7/10 rating hurts my heart just a little bit more.
Read my original review here.
Best Actor: Channing Tatum, 22 Jump Street/The Book of Life/The Lego Movie
OK, no. Mr. Tatum isn't going to be winning any Academy Awards anytime soon. He isn't a "revelation" or an "important" performer. But this man has found his niche in comedy, knocking a series of lighthearted roles out of the park, utilizing his inherent charm and dopey persona to sharp and biting effect time and time again. Some men just weren't made for leading roles, and I'm glad he's down-to-earth enough to explore his options.
Worst Actor: Kiefer Sutherland, Pompeii
Sutherland's gobsmacking performance as Senator Corvus is transfixing, to say the least. His embrace of camp in a film as artificial, silly, and ultimately tedious as Pompeii is a welcome presence, but it plays so hard against the tone of every single other actor in the film that he comes off as a slack-jawed buffoon with one of those inexplicable "Romans were just angry Brits, right?" accents that are so popular in swords-and-sandals pictures these days.
Read my original review of Pompeii here.
Best Supporting Actor: Evan Peters, X-Men: Days of Future Past
Although I continue to despise every vile fiber of Quicksilver's outfit with every last vibrating quark of my being, Evan Peters' quick-talking performance and smooth smugness really bring the character to life. His solo scene is a standout for being the most technically jaw-dropping, but without his solid, self-congratulatory performance providing the fuel, that scene never would have taken off in the public consciousness quite as much as it has.
Read my original review of X-Men: Days of Future Past here.
Worst Supporting Actor: Charlie Tahan, Love is Strange
OK, full disclosure. Charlie Tahan is unfairly saddled with the most dissatisfying subplot I've ever seen in a motion picture (his parents are upset with him for stealing library books because white people can have problems too). And he is a child, so it's not like he's had a chance to master his craft. But I'd rather watch the kid from The Babadook shrilly screaming and kicking the backseat for 90 minutes than watch any of Tahan's scenes again, especially the grand finale which expects the entire emotional heft of a surprisingly tender elderly LGBT love story to rest upon this wooden youth's back.
Read my original review of Love is Strange here.
Best Actress: Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive
Whatever planet Swinton happens to be from, I'm glad she left it to come bestow her work on Hollywood. She fills every single frame of Only Lovers with ethereal, glowing otherness. Her inscrutable mannerisms and off-putting gauntness separate her from any aspects of true humanity, providing absolute realism to the role of a thousands-year-old vampire in a way that no terrestrial actress ever could have pulled off.
Read my original review of Only Lovers Left Alive here.
Worst Actress: Elle Fanning, Maleficent
I mean obviously Aurora wasn't going to be the main focus of this movie, but it's an inordinately lucky thing that she isn't. If we'd had to spend a full 90 minutes with this vacuous, flat wisp, bored toddlers might have dismantled this nation's theaters in a stupefied rage.
Read my original review of Maleficent here.
Best Supporting Actress: Kathryn Hahn, Bad Words
Bad Words had an airtight, if a tad generic script, but Jason Bateman was stretched taffy-thin between acting and directing duties, so neither got done properly. Luckily Kathryn Hahn swoops in with a pitch-perfect acerbic deadpan performance as a gritty, caring, intensely sexual reporter that pushes the wavering misanthropic comedy into an actively enjoyable register.
Read my original review of Bad Words here.
Worst Supporting Actress: Lin Shaye, Ouija
"Oh, look, here comes the two-bit Lin Shaye impersonator," said Brennan when her scene came up in the middle of the film. Unfortunately for everyone, this is the real deal. I mean, Shaye needs a paycheck as much as the rest of us, but this pale facsimile of her work in the Insidious films is as halfhearted as you can get.
Read my original review of Ouija here.
Best Cameo: Judge Judy, They Came Together
I shan't spoil the nature of this cameo, because it was one of my favorite parts of the film, but this scene alone is worth whatever money one may have spent to procure the film. Let me just say that Judge Judy has proven herself to have a terrific sense of humor and she may have landed herself on my Fantasy Dinner Party guest list with this sterling moment of cinema.
Worst Cameo: Godzilla, Godzilla
I mean, would it have killed them to put him in the movie more? I know Aaron-Taylor Johnson has the musculature of a radioactive behemoth, but it's not exactly the same thing.
Read my original review of Godzilla here.
Best CGI Creation: Groot, Guardians of the Galaxy
This is how you computer-generate a character. Groot is a thoroughly-realized creature with a personality more interesing than most of the human characters on board with him. He has texture, full emotional display, and - most importantly - heart. Of course, it's easier to bring inanimate materials (like wood) to life due to its lesser complexity, but that allowed the GotG artists to pour even more soul into this big ol' green lug.
Worst CGI Creation: Anubis, The Pyramid
And this is how you botch what could have been a relatively unique idea. I apologize for the crummy picture (the movie is too new for that kind of "spoilery" screenshot), but it needs to be said that this design for the Egyptian god Anubis not only fails to give him a realistic physical reality, but fails to keep one from thinking about that godawful excretion known as Scrappy Doo from the live-action Scooby film.
Read my original review of The Pyramid here.
Best Title: Sharknado 2: The Second One
As if there was ever any competition. As annoyed as I am by movies making an effort to be bad, SyFy is really capturing the spirit of careless abandon that fuels the best bad-good movies. I haven't seen Sharknado 2 yet, and I don't think this level of anti-quality is sustainable in the slightest, but I'm glad to be along for the ride.
Worst Title: Hateship Loveship
I mean, it's not like I'm incapable of understanding puns. I get that this is supposed to be some kind of constipated reworking of the word "Friendship." And maybe it makes more sense if you actually watch the movie. But as it stands, Hateship Loveship rolls off the tongue like curdled milk.
Best Line: "Come with me if you want to not die." - Lucy (The Lego Movie)
This line perfectly encapsulates this wonderful children's film's hodgepodge charm, taking pop culture from all decades and repurposing it into its manic and delightful bubblegum world. This is the single film this year that best captures the absurdist microcomedy of the Internet generation and packages it for human consumption.
Read my original review of The Lego Movie here.
Worst Line: "Wicked is good." - Literally Everyone, Way Too Many Times (The Maze Runner)
A holdover from the unendingly wretched novel, this line feature's the most YA-typical, clunky use of irony and antithesis I have ever seen. Referring to the evil corporation running the secret test (W.C.K.D., a slight improvement on the book's more obvious name), "Wicked is good" exemplifies everything pedantic and repugnant about the current state of young adult literature.
Read my original review of The Maze Runner here.
Best Poster: The Purge: Anarchy
It's the simplest of concepts that stick in the mind the most. Nobody wants a busy line-up of name actors or one of those endless images where the hero's back faces the camera as he sulkily oversees his domain. The Purge: Anarchy captures that concept terrifically with an arresting design that effortlessly (if clumsily) states the film's theme with a single, almost poetic, image.
Read my original review here.
Worst Poster: Magic in the Moonlight
I don't think I've ever seen a blooper reel used to promote a film before, so if that's Woody Allen's intent with this poster, hats off to the man. But I dare you to take one look at Emma Stone's half-blazed half-embarrassed pose or Colin Firth's flimsy "about to sneeze" face and not 1) burst into laughter or 2) produce a sigh so deep it rattles the floorboards and frightens your cat (You should really take your computer off of it. It's inhumane.).
Best Poster For a Bad Movie: Stage Fright
In the age-old tradition of crappy slasher films, Stage Fright has a poster infinitely more beautiful and aesthetically stunning than the movie itself. It evokes a classy stagebound horror flick with an undercurrent of knowing humor and plenty of musical theatre pastiche. It's none of those, but at least we'll always have this poster to comfort us.
Read my original review here.
Worst Poster For A Good Movie: Oculus
According to the poster, this movie is about a girl who discovers a mirror that turns out to be a portal to an alternate dimension where her evil twin dyed her hair and Endust was never invented. I dearly want to take the person who designed this poster into the parking lot after school and punch their drawing hand until they agree never to inflict work like this on the poor unsuspecting public again.
Runner-Up Worst Poster For A Good Movie That I Disqualified Because It's the Freaking Exact Same Thing As Last Year: Mockingjay - Part 1
Remember how Catching Fire had a terrible poster? Yeah of course you do, because you're looking at it.
Read my original review of Mockingjay - Part 1 here.
Best Use Of A Song: "O-O-H Child" Guardians of the Galaxy
I know it's the end of the year, but this is an unspoilable moment. If you haven't seen Guardians of the Galaxy yet, move right along. And if you have seen it, bask in the glory that is this scene, then continue to move along. Please. I have more to say and I'd like to share it with you. Also thank you for having made it this far in the first place. I know I'm thorough. But it's all for you, dear reader.
Worst Use Of A Song: "Immortals" Big Hero 6
When this song comes on in a second act montage, it's like someone threw a glam wrench into the airy machinery of Big Hero 6. It's far too "mid-2000's Hot Topic" to fit in with the combination of traditional storytelling techniques and forward-looking design/characterizations to gel peacefully with the film as a whole.
Best Song From A Musical: "No Matter Where You Are" The Book of Life
Please ignore the bland pop stylings of this version of the song. It's the only one I could find on YouTube. But this grand finale to the lovely and stylish musical wraps up its characters in a satisfying - and catchy - way with "No Matter Where You Are," a brief but immensely memorable crowd-pleaser.
Worst Song From A Musical: Literally anything sung by the Metal Killer in Stage Fright
I was so stoked to be getting a modern musical slasher, but the second the Metal Killer arrived onscreen with his Kabuki mask and banshee screeching, I wanted to slice my disc in half and hide it under the filmmakers' pillows. This song is a medley of other tunes from the whole musical, but every single second of his screentime is sheer torture.
Top Five Pretty Guys
#5 Diego Luna (The Book of Life)
Although we technically didn't see his actual face in cinemas this year (that is, unless you caught Me quedo contigo in Mexico or Ukraine, but something tells me that's doubtful), you can still hear his sexy, sensitive self blistering through his performance as Manolo, giving him an almost hyperbolically unfair edge over his romantic rival, Channing Tatum.
#4 Daniel Radcliffe (Horns, What If)
Daniel Radcliffe must, in fact, be a wizard, because he's completely erased Harry Potter beneath an incredibly handsome sheath of piercing eyes, coal black hair, and manly physique.
If this were a high school yearbook, Chris Pratt would definitely win the "Most Changed" superlative. Although his chubby self was still a kind, down-to-earth, attractive, loving soul, his inner knight in shining armor has burst through to the outside in 2014. Good work, Mr. Pratt.
#2 Dan Stevens (The Guest, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb)
My only wish is that Adam Wingard hadn't beat me to coining the term "Downtown Absies" when describing Dan Stevens, the blonde hunk and breakout star of the indie scene this year. His badass charisma and charming smile have earned him a place in the pantheon of unforgettable hero killers in horror.
#1 Zac Efron (Neighbors, That Awkward Moment)
Forgive me for regressing to junior high here, but Zac Efron is just so freaking pretty. Cinema this year has really captured his talents in shirtless scene after shirtless scene. Like a fine wine, Zac Efron only gets better as he ages. Not that we can call 27 years "aging," but we've come a long way from High School Musical.
Bonus: Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones)
Let this chiseled hunk remind people that there's absolutely no truth behind the stereotypes that Hollywood directors are washed-up, portly balding men.
Top Five Pretty Girls
#5 Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (Hercules)
I've had a lady crush on Ingrid Bolsø Berdal ever since her breakout performance as Jannicke in the Norwegian horror triumph Cold Prey, and it's wonderful that she's finding her way over to our shores, even if it's in a film as ignominious as this Greek-flavored The Rock vehicle.
#4 Karen Gillan (Oculus, Guardians of the Galaxy)
Although she's made waves in the nerd community as Amy Pond on Doctor Who, Karen Gillan's star is rising in 2014. Although Selfie was an unfortunate travesty, this luminous redhead can rest easy with a comfortable career thanks to her performance in the uber hit Guardians.
#3 Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow, Into the Woods)
I'd like to formally apologize to Emily Blunt for not having seen any of her films this year, but she's still got the bone structure of a goddess.
#2 Rosario Dawson (Top Five, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For)
Rosario Dawson rivets audiences with her magnetic personality and I have to say, she's never looked better than she has with this perfectly tuned asymmetrical cut.
Read my original review of Top Five here.
#1 Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Book of Life)
Zoe Saldana has proven herself as the reigning queen of sci-fi and she has dutifully performed covered in more paint than the Sistine chapel time and time again. I don't know how she finds time to continue to be so flawless, but I'm glad it's working for her.
Bonus: La Muerte (The Book of Life)
In one the most gorgeously animated film of the year, La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) is one of the most visually arresting figures, cutting a swatch with her gorgeous sombrero and delicate, expansively colorful figure.
Top Ten Songs
#10 "Lost Stars" Adam Levine
Although the hyper-indie script and characters of Begin Again want me to believe that this poppy version of Keira Knightley's acoustic noodle "Lost Stars" is a crassly commercial bastardization of the original song's intent, I love it. Levine's voice is a perfect match for the lyrical content and it careens into the air, performing acrobatic tricks Knightley could only dream of. Maybe she's just jealous.
Read my original review of Begin Again here.
When Taylor Swift announced that her new album would move away from country into a purely pop direction, I said "girl, you're three years too late." But finally embracing her bubblegum tendencies has done her well, and "Blank Space" is a catchy modern tune with a video that cleverly plays with T-Swizzle's media portrayal. Also I love when the meter catches at the end of the chorus. It keeps listeners engaged and is a fun way to update a song with a pretty typical Swiftian theme.
#8 "Postcard" Jukebox the Ghost
Look! I have tastes that swing away from unabashed cheese! Jukebox the Ghost's new album is a stunning piece of work and "Postcard" bottles up a journey of emotion into one tiny little metaphor. It's one of those sad songs that manages to be a lot of fun when you scream it at the top of your lungs, a feat that is rarely accomplished properly. Good work, team.
#7 "Kiss and Not Tell" La Roux
La Roux's new album sort of slipped through the cracks this year. After waiting so long for the followup to the synthpop masterpiece that was 2009's self-titled album, I guess people forgot to care. It's a shame because "Kiss and Not Tell" brings the same implacable grooves as before, but in a more subtle, analog register. It's a real maturation on the themes and styles of the old album, replacing its cold precision with warm heart.
#6 "When You Were Mine" Night Terrors of 1927 (feat. Tegan & Sara)
I'm a real sucker for music that sounds like it was dragged bodily into the modern age through a time portal to 1985. Sythpop is always a lot of fun, but when it's as majestic and soaring and beautiful as the harmonics of "When You Were Mine," it's irresistible. Tegan & Sara's sharp vocals meld perfectly with the Night Terrors' throaty crooning and if you only watch one of these videos, check this one out. Using a variety of simple tricks, it captures a world of emotion and artistry. Modern dance has never looked so beautiful on camera.
#5 "Morning Sun" Strange Talk (Australia 2013)
One of the songs released on the surprisingly awesome That Awkward Moment soundtrack, "Morning Sun" sweeps you away with its electronic grooves. If you ever find yourself driving through downtown at night, pop this track on and listen as it changes your boring ride into a mystical journey of light and beauty. I'm an impatient fellow who likes his tracks to be under four minutes long, but for this song I'll make an exception. I could listen to it forever.
#4 "Runaways" Betty Who
Synthpop is my kryptonite and 2014 has been a banner year for retro music. Probably because this year has been so rough, everybody wants to forget it ever happened. Anyway, the Australian Betty Who is one of my favorite modern artists. Her brand of pop is joyous and vibrant without sacrificing intelligence and "Runaways" is a terrifically ebullient paean to wanderlust.
#3 "Oblivion" Bastille
Sometimes great songs can be really really really sad. "Oblivion" is one of those, but Dan Smith is one of those singers who can raise any sentiment to utmost beauty. He could sing an unforgettable ode to English muffins. So when he faces ideas as poetic as mortality and aging, it's basically a match made in Heaven. But Heaven is made of tears.
#2 "I Wanna Get Better" Bleachers
Speaking of really sad topics... "I Wanna Get Better" is one of those tricky songs with a cheerful tempo and melody that you sing along to and when you finally listen to the lyrics you're parroting you go "...oh." But that's the beauty of the whole thing! The song sucks you in with its earworm rhythm (as well as its harmonically sublime breakdown) and surreptitiously creeps into the back of your mind, forcing you to think. Also it's a super rad rhythm to begin with, so it's a win-win. Always shout along to sad songs in the car.
#1 "Heartbreak Dream" Betty Who
To counteract the last two downer songs, here comes Betty Who again, flying into our lives like Superwoman. Sure "Heartbreak Dream" is about a doomed relationship, but the song itself is joy distilled. The soaring melody, crackling electronic beat, and angelic vocals combine to capture the perfection of living in a moment - ignoring whatever potential trauma comes afterward. This is what pop music is all about and she understands that completely with mind, body and soul.
#5 "Talk Dirty" Jason DeRulo (feat. 2 Chainz)
Ignoring the weirdly racist overtones (which we really shouldn't, but I wanna avoid this becoming an entire article in and of itself), this song is the apotheosis of female objectification in the rap/R&B genre. Also, no matter how hard they try, that brass breakdown isn't catchy. And not that I ever expect worthwhile rap output from 2 Chainz, but "Sold out arenas, you can suck my penis" and "p**sy so good I bought her a pet" is second grade-level rhymesmithy at best.
#4 "Mmm Yeah" Austin Mahone
I have a small amount of appreciation for Austin Mahone, having accidentally seen him in concert (Bridgit Mendler opened for him and so help me I wanted to go) and enjoyed him as a decent teenybopper idol. But I have less than zero appreciation for Pitbull, having accidentally seen him in concert (Ke$ha opened for him and so help me I wanted to go) and been forced to sit through an hour and a half of him pelvic thrusting to other people's songs. The fact that this song is a tribute to catcalling does not endear me to it in any way, but it's so odiously generic that even without its myriad of irritating elements, it might still have ended up on this list anyway.
#3 "Chandelier" Sia
OK, this one gets a brownie point because the video is extravagantly weird and I dig it, but when Sia showed up at the recording studio with what sounds like a debilitating cold (or possibly terminal pneumonia), couldn't they just have sent her home with some orange juice and waited another week?
#2 "Tuesday" ILoveMakonnen feat. Drake
I never though I'd say this, but thank goodness for Drake. I'm not a fan of his music, but his portion of this song is ample and miles better than whatever tensely strained, overlong, whiny, hot garbage ILoveMakonnen is serving up. Also, if we're hitting up the club on a Tuesday and getting it "going up," why does everybody look so bored?
#1 "About the Money" T. I. feat. Young Thug
Obviously I'm not a big fan of rap/R&B. But I try not to let my genre tastes interfere with my appreciation of the style as an art. I have a ton of respect for skilled rappers because I'm pretty sure they're high level mages for being able to do anything at the sheer speed they perform and enunciate. But this? This right here? This is just... It sounds like a terminal squirrel and a deflating balloon are having a fistfight while a bored library employee reads from a book entitled "Mother Goose Goes 420."
Best Mashup/Remix: "Do What You Wanna Do" DJ Earworm
DJ Earworm has produced a year-end mashup for the past half a decade, and with each annual combination of the top 40 pop songs, he has honed his talent for creating organic mashups with their own lyrical content and thematic material, culled, smashed, and incorporated from a variety of diverse sources. The expertly crafted video, linking visual images and common themes from throughout the year is just the cherry on top of some of the best mash work ever created in the history of electronic musical manipulation.
Worst Mashup/Remix: "Steal My Girl" One Direction (Big Payno & Afterhrs Pool Party Remix)
One of my least favorite things in the music industry is remixes that repeat one lyric ad nauseum and "remix" it with a half-hearted beat, then drag it out to three minutes and call it a day. This remix, produced by1D member Liam Payne himself, is a self-indulgent, dull, generic, deeply unnecessary reworking of a song that only highlights its flaws instead of creating something new out of it.
Best Movie Soundtrack: The Guest
I think I've made it clear that I love 80's-inspired music. Well, The Guest soundtrack was pretty much made explicitly for me. Taking the form of a groovy mixtape from a girl stuck in the past, the whirling synth tracks provide a fantastically dark and fun backdrop for the action of the film. Most of the music that I bought in 2014 was soundtracks (That Awkward Moment, The Book of Life, Guardians of the Galaxy), so it's telling that this one is a standout among those greats.
Worst Movie Soundtrack: The Fault in Our Stars
If I hear one more weepy indie rock song on a YA soundtrack this year, I might just vomit all over my sound system. Which is pretty much what the artists presented here did.
Read my original review for The Fault in Our Stars here.
Best Featured Rapper: Angel Haze in Bastille's "Weapon"
Not to brag or anything, but I got the opportunity to see this song performed live and Angel Haze is the spunkiest, most angry performer I've ever seen. She really kills it, baring her soul straight through her throat.
Worst Featured Rapper: Pitbull in Anyone's Anything
Pitbull isn't good.
Biggest Surprise: Danny DeVito in the Steal My Girl music video
The actual music video for "Steal My Girl" was fine, but the inclusion of Danny DeVito as the crazed, disgusting director was a stroke of genius. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has aired no new episodes this year, so it was a real treat to have DeVito appear as a character so similar to Frank (the role he was born to play) in order to assuage us until season 10's January premiere.
Biggest Disappointment: Ariana Grande
Perhaps I'm deflating my reputation as a gentleman of discerning taste and class, but I usually don't dislike the music careers of breakout teen TV stars. Miley's new album is a sizzling power play, Selena Gomez does some decent dance hall work, and Bridgit Mendler is a bubblegum pop savant. But Ariana Grande, fresh from Nickelodeon's Victorious, is a real mystery to me. She's achieved massive chart success despite having the personality of a wet paper towel. She has a decent voice, don't get me wrong, but deciphering her words is like a Myst challenge and she does the least emphatic lip syncing I've ever seen during the lungbusting finale of her "Problem" video. I mean, she's not terrible, but color me unimpressed.
Most Overrated: Beyoncé
Before you get out your torch fuel and pitchfork-sharpening stone, hear me out. Beyoncé is a wonderful entertainer and talented human being, but what she is selling is herself. She manages her media personality #flawlessly and her surprise album release was the water cooler moment of this entire year. But beneath all the good she does with her performance and persona, the music just isn't her best work. She's such a pop megaforce that the quality kind of doesn't matter in the face of her sheer magnetism, but the album is a dull slog divorced from her powerhouse presentation.
Most Underrated: MIKA
Although MIKA has had a slow year musically, he joined The Voice in France as a judge because he speaks every known human language. And I will take any opportunity to climb onto my MIKA soapbox and hail his abundant talents. His delicate falsetto has graced many fantastic songs, but his most recent album The Origin of Love is a magnum opus of operatic pop grandeur and his new single "Live Your Life" is a joyous ode to being awesome, something he knows a ton about. Never forget MIKA.
Best Music Video: Yume no Hajima Ring Ring, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
That's right, I just dropped some Japan on y'all. Perhaps best known for her eye-swallowingly insane "Pon Pon Pon" video, Kyary has matured enormously without losing her candypop soul. This new video tracks the pop star through her life, from childhood to her early years as a model to several of the ever-changing styles from various videos throughout her music career. Encompassing the theme of graduation, she says goodbye to each past form of herself, transforming into a new woman at the end as she continues on her path of life. The lyrics and the video reflect the bittersweet feeling of moving on and leaving the people who shaped you behind, but being all the better for having met them. It's a sentiment that rings with me hard (especially considering that within the next year, I will become a college graduate), but it's a universal feeling that is expressed sweetly and elegantly in this simple, yet magnetizing video.
Worst Music Video: Hangover, PSY
Psy's increasingly pathetic attempts to capture a continuing American audience after the success of "Gangnam Style" are lame enough. But throwing a waxy-looking Snoop Dogg into the fray along with copious cartoon vomit is a new low. Yes, even lower than the video for "Gentleman," which was just three and a half minutes of Psy being rude to Korean women. This is like a PSA for internet sensations: it's best never to become self aware.
Best Album Cover: Syro, Aphex Twin
In lieu of traditional album artwork, Aphex Twin decorated his latest work with a breakdown of the expenses that went into its production. Simultaneously a behind-the-curtain peek at the price of art and an ironic indictment of a materialistic culture on what is by all accounts a deeply personal album, this artwork is a standout in a sea of insipid albums with people's faces on them (I'm looking at you, country music).
Worst Album Cover: Pop Psychology, Neon Trees
In lieu of traditional album artwork, Neon Trees opted for a pop punk Day-Glo monstrosity. Aside from the fact that these clearly two-dimensional people are crudely pasted over a three-dimensional brain, the color scheme is enough to seize up even the toughest of brains. And I speak as a man who has worn at least five different neon colors on his body simultaneously.
Best Cover Song: "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" Lorde
Although it was technically released on the Catching Fire soundtrack in 2013, Lorde's song has been all over movie trailers this year, giving me deep satisfaction for the time I said "this song should totally be on movie trailers." Can you believe they don't pay me for this stuff?
Worst Cover Song: "Wrecking Ball" August Burns Red
Can you believe anyone gets paid for this stuff?
Top Five Pretty Guys
#5 Dan Smith
Contrary to popular belief, no, his name isn't Bastille. But this charming Brit is the perfect frontman with his soaring coif and kind smile. If his lyrics are anything to go by, he'd be a somewhat melancholy date, but his intelligence and charisma more than make up for it.
#4 Nick Noonan
Does anybody remember that Karmin is a thing? I didn't until I was researching this segment and came across Nick Noonan's arresting, delightfully color-coded gaze. His hair, chest, and jaw aren't too bad either.
#3 Childish Gambino
To be fair, I haven't seen the most recent seasons of Community, but how is it possible that this physique was hiding beneath Donald Glover's quirky, dorky character? I mean, I know he played high school football but still! Ten out of ten.
#2 Gusttavo Lima
This "Balada" crooner doesn't do much to disprove my current working theory that every man in Brazil is about 800% more attractive than people anywhere else.
#1 Nick Jonas
Nick Jonas is the Chris Pratt of this year's music scene, bursting back into the limelight with a spectacularly toned physique and a new album that... isn't great. But thank you for your contributions, Nick. Every Disney fan from my generation thanks you for finally rewarding their years of dedication.
Bonus: The guy from Taylor's Blank Space video
Top Five Pretty Girls
#5 Taylor Swift
The woman who I refuse to call T-Swizzle has been really stepping it up this year. With her new slick pop album and her even slicker new style, she's really been tearing up the scene. And I love that shade of lipstick.
#4 Betty Who
My favorite pop superstar of the year shines with the brightness of the Australian sun. Maybe I have a thing for icy blondes, but she reminds me more than a little bit of Tippi Hedren with her crystalline beauty and class.
#3 Jhene Aiko
That flower looks great on her, don't you think? I actually never would have heard of Jhene Aiko if it weren't for my friend Cheyda, but I'm glad she excessively posts about her on Tumblt, otherwise I never would have learned about her music career and her beautiful skin, cheekbones, hair, and everything else.
Colombian pop star Fanny Lú has been a favorite of mine ever since I first learned how to conjugate a Spanish verb. She began her career as a news anchor, and you know how stringent those programs' policies for attractiveness are. So it says something that she has only progressed in beauty and class since then.
Beyoncé is the role model for humanity. She's fabulous, glittery, and proves that you don't have to be stick-thin to be successful.
Bonus: Keira Knightley
Keira doesn't technically count, because she was only involved in the music industry as a part in Begin Again. But her voice is lovely and her face is too.
Top Ten Episodes
#10 "Meet the Hotwives" The Hotwives of Orlando
OK, maybe Hulu's original series isn't as agile a parody as it wants to be. A continued season of this kind of storytelling might be grating, but as a single package, this reality TV pastiche is sharp and stunning. Kristen Schaal continues to prove her comic chops (as recognized in the cartoons Bob's Burgers and Gravity Falls) as an ex-"child star" who appeared in one local commercial, and the ensemble perfectly captures the catty dynamics and preposterous catch phrases that come from the quivering behemoth that is the Housewives franchise.
#9 "The Simpsons Guy: Part 1" Family Guy
I was actually pretty excited to watch this. I'm no big fan of Family Guy or its creator, but I'd been working on The Simpsons all summer and I was looking forward to some out of the box humor. The combination of in-jokes from both series was less "peanut butter and jelly" and more "butter and jelly," but it was still fun to see the two universes collide and explore the ramifications of that.
#8 "Edward Mordrake, Pt. 2" American Horror Story: Freak Show
As has become the norm since Asylum debuted, this season of AHS has been terribly uneven. But the show is as arresting as ever with aging divas chomping the scenery into splinters, off-kilter musical numbers, and homages to so many movies they wouldn't even fit into my prodigious DVD shelf. But "Edward Mordrake, Pt. 2" is the one unequivocally terrific episode in the bunch so far, providing deeper backstory in a less stilted (and more keenly disturbed) manner than before and allowing one of the best subplots to reach a satisfying early conclusion.
#7 "How Your Mother Met Me" How I Met Your Mother
This episode was the one in the final season that truly recaptured the magic of the show. HIMYM had been in a slump for a while, but "How Your Mother Met Me" brought it back to life with its portrayal of an entire season's worth of humor, warmth, and heart squeezed into one 22 minute episode. By showing the mother's side of the story, this ep breathed new life into a dormant, endlessly repetitive season.
#6 "Bad Timing" Adventure Time
What could have been merely a one-off visual gimmick (putting the entire episode inside a circle at the center of the frame) instead becomes a visually challenging treatise on life, mortality, and regret. In "Bad Timing," Adventure Time uses Lumpy Space Princess, one of its most shallow, self-centered characters, as a conduit for one of their deepest storylines yet.
#5 "Episode 1" In the Flesh
Although Season 2 of BBC's queer zombie masterpiece In the Flesh isn't quite as resiliently, exuberantly fantastic as the first, it's still a hard-hitting metaphor and a thrilling new look at a tired genre. The show is one of the most intelligently written zombie dramas ever produced, and the second season expands its world into a startlingly well thought-out humanistic horror story.
"With special guest star Seth Rogen" is a phrase that might strike fear into the hearts of many a bro-comedy fearer, but rest assured that The Comeback knows just how to handle a celebrity playing himself. "Valerie is Brought to Her Knees" is a comic gem, throwing its vain sitcom star Valerie Cherish into the rough and tumble world of sexed-up HBO. It's a clever, nasty, viciously hilarious episode that begins with the series' traditional low key humor and ends with a ribald, riotous, gut-busting showstopper moment.
#3 "The Ringing of the Bell" Over the Garden Wall
I don't know when children's entertainment stopped being macabre and challenging, but I'm glad that it has returned to that blissfully strange tone. "The Ringing of the Bell" is harrowing, adorable, and features a terrific guest performance by perennial cult favorite Tim Curry.
#2 "Looking for the Future" Looking
Directed by Weekend's Andrew Haigh and imbued with his signature low-key style, "Looking for the Future" trims the fat away from the nascent show, focusing solely on Patrick and Richie's budding relationship and their quiet discussion of their triumphs, woes, and fears. It's an intimate and tender look at a gay relationship that doesn't strive to be more than it needs to be. It's just two people in love, sharing themselves with one another, and it's one of the most realistic, romantic, enchanting half hours of TV on the market.
#1 "Food Chain" Adventure Time
There's a reason that Adventure Time is the only show that appears on my list twice. Although this season has had some issues with a diminished cast, it has also pushed the envelope and challenged the limits of the medium of television animation. "Food Chain," a species-bending paean to the natural order directed by special guest Masaaki Yuasa is a visually stunning, psychotropic, surrealist work that toes the line between children's cartoon and modern art.
Bottom Five Episodes
#5 "Protect the Coven" American Horror Story: Coven
Coven started off its witchy season strong, but began to peter out long before the new year rolled around. "Protect the Coven" exemplifies the worst traits of the season, especially its tendency to infuriatingly revive dead characters with no explanation, completely robbing the story of any sense of stakes. This one compounds that sin by reattaching a character's head to their body without even a wobbly nod to continuity.
#4 "The Simpsons Guy: Part 2" Family Guy
After a promising-enough opening act, this slightly-exciting episode devolves into a tedious Family Guy fight scene. Consistently throughout the episode, the Simpsons gags had been funnier than the FG ones, but that is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt during the unfunny, violent, tasteless, monotonous final ten minutes. A crossover episode is only as good as the mean quality of the two shows put together. And Family Guy's mean qualities toss the episode's average into the crapper.
#3 "Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment in Slapmarra" How I Met Your Mother
This episode ignited a fervor because it depicted the HIMYM characters in yellowface, and while that is an unforgivable offense, "Appointment in Slapmara" was also the most tedious filler episode in a season comprised almost entirely of tedious filler. It also beat a beloved long-running joke into the ground with an interminable flashback, reducing the already waning fan goodwill to about .01%.
#2 "Episode 2" Episodes
Throughout its three seasons, Episodes has committed the sin of shoving the funniest element (Matt LeBlanc) into the sidelines in favor of the romantic exploits of a shrill British couple. But tossing in a heaping helping of shrieking misogyny and doublethink in the form of mop-headed Sean punishing his separated wife for sleeping with a man despite the fact that he's slept with that man's sister multiple times without remorse is just too much. The screenshot I used isn't technically from the episode I'm referencing, but I thought the image of the two of them next to a pile of garbage was too apt a description to ignore.
#1 "Pilot" Selfie
When your pilot episode opens with a vomit joke, then gets worse, you've got a problem on your hands. Selfie is a desperate gamble at bridging the gap between the techno-phobic older audiences and the modern youth demographic that overextends itself and falls into the pit. And by "pit" I refer to the depths of Hell itself. Karen Gillan's character is a venal, self-obsessed stereotype who spouts an incessant spray of already dated pop culture references ("I was hoping they'd pull an Elsa and let it go.") and faux-techno gobbledygook ("I got played like Flappy Bird."). And John Cho's character is a smug, pedantic, hateful man who thinks it's suitable to criticize a female coworker's sexual habits in the workplace and has no place being a protagonist we're supposed to care for. It's an exercise in trying too hard and it fails. Hard.
Best New Show: Over the Garden Wall
As the first cartoon miniseries ever, Over the Garden Wall proves that there's plenty of room for artistic integrity and layered, literary writing in children's TV. This run of ten episodes combines childlike wonder of the world with a coming-of-age story about coming to grips with life, responsibility, and mortality, all represented in a style that hearkens back to classic artistic movements and golden age animation.
Worst New Show: </SCORPION>
What's better than a TV show about four militantly arrogant nerds being contemptuous to a civilian waitress who actually solves all their problems because she's the only one with any common sense, but this still means a veritable storm of terrible TV CGI and a twelve-scene pileup of nonsense conflict? Any other show. Barring that, turning off the TV and taking a nap is a close second.
Best Returning Show: The Comeback
When The Comeback returned a decade after its first season, it could have just repeated its successful original formula, but it accelerated the show's caustic humor to the next level. Equally dark, cynical, and hilarious, The Comeback revels in the broken hearts of its characters, especially its central figure, Valerie Cherish, given a dazzling, stupefyingly nuanced backbone by underrated television superstar Lisa Kudrow. Her performance exceeds expectations as the cracks in Valerie's carefully fabricated persona begin to show as she gives her all to her career, straining every relationship in her personal life. The finale is one of the most affecting hours of television I've seen in a good long while, and I urge anybody who only sees Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay to check out this show and have their world rocked.
Worst Returning Show: Glee
I feel for Ryan Murphy and the cast of Glee. Cory Monteith's passing was harrowing in more ways than one. But a show already on wobbly footing completely lost its track, contradicting and folding in on itself until it all imploded with a soft whumph and a burst of glitter.
Best Cancelled Show: How I Met Your Mother
OK, I've made some digs at the expense of Season Nine. It's true. But the fact remains that it is preceded by eight seasons of top-notch sitcom materials that challenges the very nature of the genre with its nonlinear storytelling and uniquely creative perspective on what could have been a very pedestrian "single friends have dating troubles in New York City" program.
Worst Cancelled Show: Friends With Better Lives
Friends With Better Lives aired in the immediate wake of the How I Met Your Mother finale, but it was dead on arrival with lame gags, routine storylines, and a hideous laugh track. It was such an uninspired followup to a game-changing sitcom, it was cancelled right in the middle of the first season. Also, what the hell is going on with that poster? Are they in some sort of transdimensional Pac-Man universe?
Best Actor: Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation)
In an unbelievably strong ensemble cast, Chris Pratt is a clear standout. Andy Dwyer could have simply been a generic "lovable dumb guy" character à la Joey Tribbiani or Homer Simpson, but Pratt elevates it with his comic prowess and precisely hilarious reaction shots.
Worst Actor: Kenan Thompson (SNL)
Try as I might, I just can't get into this guy. Maybe this is what happens when your career finds its genesis at Nickelodeon, but his comedy style is decidedly one note. That's not the worst thing in the world, but when that note is "shout smugly," it gets grating after about, oh, 2.5 seconds.
Best Actress: Frances Conroy (American Horror Story: Coven, American Horror Story: Freak Show)
This is a woman who performs from behind winged glasses and a lion mane while cooly playing the theremin and still knocks it out of the park every time. No actress has been challenged more than Frances Conroy during these last two seasons of American Horror Story and her staunch presence is even more indelible than Jessica Lange, the Grand Diva herself.
Worst Actress: Katharine McPhee (</SCORPION>)
As another reviewer so eloquently put it, "Katharine McPhee plays a waitress, or rather, stands on set in a waitress uniform." Her performance is utterly without distinction, so in a show chock full of things to hate, it's not the biggest target here (like it was on Smash), but it's always worth a mention I daresay.
Biggest Surprise: Ground Floor - Season Two
HOW did this show get renewed for a second season? And WHY? And IS there hope for the tattered remains of humanity's broken spirit?
Biggest Disappointment: The How I Met Your Mother Finale
We knew it had to come up eventually. The final episode of the stellar sitcom took a jarringly cynical direction too hamhanded to match the delicate balance of hard-hitting drama and lighthearted comedy that was the show's speciality. Also, the ending was just a damn cop-out, demeaning everything the show was working toward in favor of a storyline that, had the show ended a season or four sooner, would have felt fresh and intriguing, but here is a plodding end to a tedious season of dead horse-beating.
Most Overrated: Two and a Half Men
As in, literally overrated. As in, why does this show have such high ratings? Who is still watching it? It wasn't good when Charlie Sheen was on it. And it's even more not good now that he's departed.
Most Underrated: Billy on the Street
What could possibly be more entertaining than a spastic Billy Eichner running through the streets of New York shouting erratic, subjective trivia questions and rewarding people with prizes like comforters or bags of shampoo? It turns out, not much. Billy on the Street is a rewarding bite-sized treat straight from the urban streets to your TV.
Best Theme Song: American Horror Story: Freak Show
If only the person who designed the credits for this season could be in charge of the whole show. With a calliope-inspired revamp of the classic theme tune and a fully animated, psychosexual animatronic parade of perversity, this theme is perhaps the best yet, attached to one of the most uneven seasons in a show with footing as stumbling as AHS.
Worst Theme Song: The Ceaseless Bleating of the Patriarchy
It's bad enough when Time puts "feminism" on its poll of annoying words that should be gotten rid of. It's atrocious enough when the perpetrators of Gamergate make threats on the life of a female journalist in defense of "ethics in journalism." But when the author of something called "The MANual" tells women that it's their fault that men are douches who catcall them, it's - well, it's just another drop in the bucket. But I say it's time we kick that damn bucket over, don't you agree?
Best Glee Cover: "Life on Mars"
OK, I know this is technically from American Horror Story, but let's face it. This season is pretty much just Glee with more body parts. And while the frequent interruptions of an already pacy storyline began to wear quickly, this first episode David Bowie cover was inimitable, divorced entirely from the storyline, but filled with enough ghastly make-up and glitter to out-glam anything that followed.
Worst Glee Cover: "Pompeii"
The cover is technically decent in terms of "singers hit the notes", but in the classical Glee style, it's done with no semblance of passion or style. The most hilarious part of the whole shebang is the context. It's the end of the final episode of the season, Rachel says she wants to see her friends again, one of them says they want to do one more big musical number, and within half a second the entire street has exploded into a Top 40 chorus. It's one for the ages, really, and a great (read: terrible) way to send off the penultimate season of a terrible (read: great) television program.
Best Musical Performance: "Sugar Daddy" (The 68th Annual Tony Awards)
Neil Patrick Harris may have left How I Met Your Mother behind, but he still has a bright future ahead of him if this powerhouse performance has anything to say about it. His hard-rocking, honeycomb-dripping display is electric, taking the stage by storm with a thrill of sexy glamour.
Worst Musical Performance: "Break Free" (SNL)
Performing live is difficult. I get it. I'm terrible live. But I'm also not paid thousands of dollars to hoarsely shout into a microphone. This breathy, strained performance is - I'm sure - not a fantastic indicator of her vocal prowess. The SNL stage has taken down more talented performers than poor little miss Venti Grande. But it's certainly not worth watching for any reason.
Most WTF Musical Performance: "Take Me to Church" (2014 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show)
I know Hozier is apparently a big deal in the top 40 and the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show are merely pulling the top acts they can find, but it's such a surreal experience to watch lingerie models attempt to be cheerful and sexy while this grungey dude is singing about knives and sadness and dark religious metaphors. I'm kind of secretly glad it happened, but man, the person who booked the musical acts really needs to rethink their life choices.
Best Guest Star: Bo Burnham (Parks and Recreation)
Bo Burnham's guest appearance as a successful kid country star is a finely tuned parody of a sector of the music industry that needs more work than Heidi Montag ever got (Is that reference still topical? I haven't watched The Soup since 2011). It's spot-on, hilarious, and most importantly, brief. He's in and out, not overstaying his welcome, making the episode better with just a pinch of his potentially overwhelming personality.
Worst Guest Star: Stevie Knicks (American Horror Story: Coven)
Although her "Seven Wonders" musical number in the season's finale was bathed in the glowing golden light of the angels themselves, Stevie Knicks' presence in Coven was a bit of stunt casting the show adamantly didn't need. It was already a hodgepodge mess of stake-free Gossip Girl drama and characters who capacity to be interesting was rapidly dwindling. This useless celebrity cameo dragged down the pacing of the final half of the show even further, shooting it in the foot right in its moment of need.
Best Commercial: "Christmas is for Sharing" (Sainsbury's)
American commercials have been lacking this year, possibly because they are slowly morphing into television shows themselves. So leave it to the Brits to find the emotion behind Christmas in this true story used to sell chocolate. It sounds crass and commercial, and it probably is, but it's done with subtlety and fantastic production value, so you won't catch me whinging about it.
Worst Commercial: "#HalfFast" (Verizon FiOS)
I don't care if they live in an alternate universe where maximum wireless speed is the defining factor of whether or not you're culled for public sacrifice, these petulant and ungrateful little snots deserve a smack upside the gob for not appreciating their parents' generosity. And they just take it in stride, nervously wondering if their other thoughtful presents just aren't good enough for their picky-ass demon children. I say leave 'em on somebody's doorstep and keep the presents for yourself.
Top Five Pretty Guys
#5 Sean Kelly (Project Runway)
It's uncommon that a real person will end up on a list like this (because, let's face it, celebrities aren't real human beings), but while my roommates and I were marathoning Project Runway, we found it hard to keep our eyes off this Kiwi superstar.
#4 Jack Falahee (How to Get Away with Murder)
Another recommendation from Sergio (who actually owns a TV so he can watch first-run programs not on the Internet), How to Get Away with Murder's gay breakout character is given beautiful life by Falahee, who knows exactly how to wear a shirt.
#3 Raúl Castillo (Looking)
Looking had its flaws as a television program, but actor attractiveness was not one of them. Raúl Castillo shone through the screen this year as the obvious best choice for poor dumb Patrick (Jonathan Groff).
#2 Tanner Cohen (Looking)
I've been an over-the-moon fan of Tanner Cohen's since Were the World Mine in 2008, but one guest spot on Looking and a freshly trimmed beard later, I've fallen head over heels once again.
#1 Stephen Amell (Arrow)
I've never even seen Arrow. Is it good? But I've always been entranced by the commercials for it, entirely because of Mr. Amell's scruffy masculine charms.
Bonus: That Viking Dude (American Horror Story: Freak Show)
Say what you will about Ryan Murphy (and I've said a lot), but he certainly knows how to titillate his audience. I'm not normally into guys who look so clean-shaven, but I'll make an exception for this Norse god.
Top Five Pretty Girls
#5 Cecily Strong (SNL)
SNL has been getting a lot of fresh faces lately, but one of the most magnetic presences this season is Cecily Strong, who is not only a terrifically funny chameleon, but a very pretty one to boot.
#4 Kate Mara (House of Cards)
Although her character Zoe Barnes is the nosiest, cockiest, dumbest reporter in all of history, Kate Mara is both talented and beautiful, forging an individual name for herself outside of "Rooney Mara has a sister?"
#3 Angela Bassett (American Horror Story: Coven, American Horror Story: Freak Show)
OK no, she doesn't have three boobs in real life. But this 56-year-old diva knows she's beautiful and owns it. I mean, I hope that I'm that beautiful when I'm thirty-six!
#2 Sofía Vergara (Modern Family)
I suppose this one is incontestable, because a large amount of her storylines on Modern Family revolve around how preposterously hot she is. But the fact remains that, yes, Sofía is so pretty that every person of every gender on the planet has no choice but to be secretly jealous of her.
#1 Malin Akerman (Trophy Wife, The Comeback)
I like Malin Akerman because at first glance she seems like the typical hot blonde, but there's something about her unique facial structure and piercing eyes that allow her personality to shine through. Also I love anybody who was on The Comeback at any point in any capacity ever (here's looking at you, Kellan Lutz).
Bonus: Valerie Cherish (Seeing Red)
Ha! I got you! Seeing Red is the fictional HBO show being filmed in The Comeback, and Valerie Cherish is the venal alter ego of Lisa Kudrow, the supernova actress/producer behind the entire show. And though she's arid and vain, there's a lot to love about Valerie Cherish. Basically, please watch The Comeback. Please. It's so good.
If you don't care about me at all (Is that all I am? Just a movie reviewing piece of meat to you?), please feel free to skip this section. Head on down to the comments and let me know how stupid I am for not including your favorite movie/song/TV show on my list!
I've really been pushing to improve the content on my blog this year, and I feel pretty proud of my achievements. I've run several full marathons, beefed up my analysis, had backlogs of reviews for the first time in ever, and created several new fun features. Now, to find an audience that actually cares about slasher movies. One step at a time, I guess.
I've met some great new blog friends, including Carolann Curry from scarylibrary and Hunter Allen from Kinemalogue. And I've made some connections with a lot of really cool people in the LA horror industry, where I'm trying to get myself situated permanently. So things are looking up for old Brennan. Please enjoy my wrap-up of this year's endeavors!
Most Brennan-y Moment of 2014: The Crystal Light Aerobics Championship
Quite obviously, this clip is not from 2014. But the opening of this 1988 aerobics competition has resurfaced online to quite a buzz. The inane lyrics ("We are the wind, watch us glimmer, like a sunset the champions"), handsome men performing pristine dance moves, and the incessant synth assault are perfectly in tune with my predilection for cheesy 80's atrocities.
The Ten Blog Posts I'm Most Proud Of
#10 "Beware! Beware! Her Flashing Eyes, Her Floating Hair!" (Xanadu, September 6th)
I was so so excited for Xanadu. I mean, come on! A 1980's rollerblading disco musical with ELO, Gene Kelly, and Olivia Newton-John, who wears a hideous fringed cowboy outfit on the back of the DVD? What could go wrong? Well, apparently everything. My incensed rage at the shoddy quality of the film led to an outburst the likes of which is unmatched anywhere else on my blog and, I have to say, it was quite fun to vent out my frustrations into review form.
Best Line: "Xanadu is an exercise in frustration, frequently setting up dominoes that would indicate a fun, glitzy romp, then encasing them in cement so they can never properly be knocked down."
#9 Fright Flashback (June 25th - August 13th)
Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th • They Came Together • The Blair Witch Project • Saw II • The Purge: Anarchy • Slither • Guardians of the Galaxy • Maniac Cop
This summer project, in which I reviewed a horror film that was in some way a spiritual precursor to a new 2014 film, didn't exactly go as planned. It was supposed to run every week. It didn't. I was supposed to review each film I was prefacing. I didn't. Time and money limited me, but the work I did accomplish I was very proud of. And I had a great time coming up with connections between old horror and today's blockbusters. It's like a logic puzzle for the terminally nerdy.
Best Line: "I've made a huge mistake."
#8 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Marathon (October 1st - October 21st)
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III • Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
I'm a huge fan of the horror genre, as you might have guessed. But there are plenty of films that have eluded me thus far in my fright flick education. One of the largest gaps was the Texas Chainsaw franchise, and I had a great time exploring the gory, ineffably strange twists and turns of those six films (Texas Chainsaw 3D? Never heard of it.) in honor of Halloween and the first film's 40th anniversary.
Best Line: "If there's a better way to smear feces all over the legacy of the original Texas Chain Saw, it's... well, it's the rest of the film."
#7 The Saw Marathon (July 9th - December 16th)
Another, even more shocking void in my horror viewing was the Saw films. From James Wan's surprisingly decent original film to the... abysmal defecit of imagination of The Final Chapter, it was a gross, mortifying experience that led to some of the best sarcastic barbs I've ever written.
Best Line: "There are only so many old white dudes gasping in astonishment at other old white dudes one mind can take before it shuts down completely."
#6 Cardboard Science (October 7th - December 12th)
Invaders From Mars • My Bloody Valentine • The Day the Earth Stood Still • Pieces • Them! • The Burning
A crossover with one of the best friends I've never met - Hunter Allen at Kinemalogue - Cardboard Science was a genre experiment in which I forced him to explore 3 80's slashers and he saddled me with a trio of 50's sci-fi oddities. Although I was delayed a bit (OK, a lot) trying to find access to my final film, it was an interesting exercise and a thrilling tour through some of the best (and worst) of a genre that I've never had much time for. For future reference, this is how you learn about things. Have someone else force you to do it.
Best Line: "To be fair, some elements are quite terrific for a film with the budget of a packet of corn nuts."
#5 1980 Post Mortem (July 14th)
The Census Bloodbath project is the biggest undertaking that I have ever... undertook. Of the over 300 slasher films released in the 1980's, I have reviewed about a sixth. It's a tremendous amount of work that I am happy to do in my free time, but my free time is sorely lacking, leading to a (very) slow drip of slasher reviews. This wrap-up of my first finished year represents a huge milestone in actually accomplishing my insane goals.
Best Line: "Anyone who considers [Don't Answer the Phone] a 'fun' movie should be put on a watch list."
#4 "Delta Theta Die" (Sorority House Massacre II, October 26th)
Sorority House Massacre II is one of those inimitable films that horror buffs live to discover. It's crappy, exploitative, and ineptly filmed, but it's almost magical in its sheer lunacy. I felt inspired while writing the review and I believe that I ended up keying more words than actually exist in the film's entire script.
Best Line: "She's like a marionette of Eva Longoria with the strings cut, flopping wildly around the screen with manic intensity and perfect hair."
#3 "Candy Crush" (Candyman 3: Day of the Dead, December 9th)
Of all the films that I have shown him, Sergio has responded best to Candyman with its urban gothic sensibilities. An impromptu trilogy marathon followed, and while the Candyman sequels aren't exactly the creme of the crop, it was an interesting ride into a franchise neither of us had seen. Because of its bad-good charm and some genuinely good moments, especially surprising considering its DTV background, Candyman 3 was one of my favorite films this year to chew on.
Best Line: "It's not the film you'll want on your cinematic kickball team."
#2 Back to Skull (August 25th - August 29th)
While facing the terrors of my final year of college, I coped the same way I always do - copious amounts of cheesy horror movies. This marathon was one of my first big-time pre-planned projects (five days in a row while working and learning is a tough gig) and I think it went splendidly. And it reminded me of a similar marathon my friends and I had after graduating high school. Horror films work best on a nostalgia level, and this was giving me the nostalgia myalgia all over.
Best Line: "The film is a routine slice and dice picture, the female director adding about as much to the slasher formula as a nice face adds to an Abercrombie bag. It's great that you have it, but it ain't gonna be showing up in the frame."
#1 "Bee-Stiality" (Bee Movie, August 22nd)
Bee Movie has long been a topic of hilarity and contempt in the meme-filled conversations at my apartment. So when my roommates and I finally watched it together, I knew that I had to pull out all the stops. My lacerating mockery of the film is both a precision strike and a loving send-up of one of the most surrealistically bad children's movies ever made.
Best Line: "It's like watching a stand-up comedian bleed to death onstage."
My Top Ten Most Listened To Songs
#10 "Life on Mars?" Jessica Lange (27 plays)
Maybe I'm a little obsessed. But anytime Jessica Lange opens her mouth, I can't help but love it, even when it's something as inane as an anachronistic David Bowie cover in a horror TV show run by the man who inflicted Glee upon the world.
#9 "Looking for the Magic" Dwight Twilley Band (30 plays)
The spirit of You're Next has never truly left me. But with this beat pulsing through your veins and Dwight Twilley in your heart, how can you be sad? Even if you're being chased by masked serial killers.
#8 "Seven Wonders" Fleetwood Mac (34 plays)
The one good thing bestowed upon my life from the final episodes of American Horror Story: Coven was the rediscovery of this terrific piece of music. Stevie Knicks gives it her all in a beautiful appreciation of life and the world. Perfect for screaming along in the car.
#7 "Self Inflicted" Katy Perry (37 plays)
It's time to get retro all up in here. I mean, 2008 isn't quite as far in the past as the 80's, where I spend most of my time, but in music years that's like a millennium. This deep track from Katy's first album is heartfelt and light years ahead of the thoroughly scrubbed pop music she would soon be releasing.
#6 "Modern Man" 4 Out Of 5 Doctors (40 plays)
One of my favorite discoveries this year was 4 Out Of 5 Doctors, the band that plays at the party in The House on Sorority Row. It's one of my favorite slasher films, but now its influence has spread even further by encouraging me to explore one of the best underappreciated bands of the decade. 4 Out Of 5 Doctors' sound is way ahead of its time, operating in a cheesy 80's scale but powered by propulsive New Wave lyrics and a sense of political responsibility.
#5 "La Mala" Fanny Lu (43 plays)
Although her song "Mujeres" just barely missed my top 10, Fanny Lú is one of my favorite artists of all time. And although her most recent album was laden with a little too much autotune for my taste, her tunes are still lively and vibrant. "La Mala" is the best track - combining the electrodance sensibilities of her new album with the tropical rhythms of her earlier work.
#4 "Tah Dah" MIKA (57 plays)
If news came out that MIKA was an angel who descended from on high to deliver music to us to make sure we're happy in our lives, I'd say "yeah, and?" His soaring voice bestows even the simplest of bonus tracks with a spirit that instills peace in the soul.
#3 "Yume no Hajima Ring Ring" Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (70 plays)
This song is very important to me. I love cheesy foreign pop music about 800 times as much as the next guy, this Kyary track is one of the first to truly invoke an emotional reaction. I've already written about it earlier, but just remember that I'm serious about this. Pop is art. Just ask Andy Warhol.
#2 "Timber" Ke$ha (feat. Nobody Important) (81 plays)
Pitbull is like the vegetables you have to eat before you're allowed to listen to the infectious hook of Ke$ha's surprisingly thorough metaphor. Although I think I wouldn't have any complaints if the song was just the chorus endlessly repeated 98 times, being spaced out by filler allows her powerhouse moments to shine even more.
#1 "Shock Treatment" Shock Treatment Cast (119 plays)
Richard O'Brien is my role model. The scribe of Rocky Horror and Shock Treatment, he knows that he's not creating a Rembrandt-level work of art, but he pours his soul into his lyrics and any fan of music has to begrudgingly admit that, despite whatever shortcomings the movies might have, the music is damn good. And "Shock Treatment" is an indelible track with its pumping 80's rhythms, Little Nell's birdlike warble, and the smashingly incisive lyrics. A+
Ten Great Moments from 2014
Wondercon is a comparatively minuscule affair when held up to its older brother Comicon, but it was a lot of fun for my roommates and I, and I feel a personal connection with it ever since it was transplanted into my hometown of Anaheim. Also, I asked Tommy Wiseau (writer-director-producer-star of the cult classic The Room) to sign my Disaster Artist book and he hit me over the head with it, so how could that not be the best day of my life?
#9 The Extra Pepperoni Pizza
Sergio and I have since learned to take matters very seriously when asking for extra pepperoni.
#8 Target Adventures
Just about the last person I'd expect to see while stocking up on toilet paper for my apartment at the Long Beach Target is Emma Roberts. But this is a strange world we live in, and she was there to host some sort of Target-sponsored welcome back event for CSULB students. It was pretty terrible, but what a thrill it was to see an actual famous person in a tacky local store.
#7 Being an Adult and Stuff
2014 is the year I got an actual paying job in the industry I'm looking to go into. And the year I actually got an apartment with people I enjoy spending time with and/or I knew previously. I'm gonna make it on my own, one step at a time.
Sergio and I have been all over the culture this year. We got a chance to see the Simpsons fireworks finale at the Hollywood Bowl, Bastille on the USC campus, and managed to have terrifying adventures before a cancelled Basshunter concert in Lake Elsinore. Seriously, it was pouring rain and we wound up on a winding forest road fighting off diphtheria and fording the flooded blacktop. It was like the real life Oregon Trail.
#5 Shock Treatment
It might sound cheesy, but Shock Treatment has been an important part of my year. It was a big step in bonding with my soon-to-be roommates (right after we attended a midnight showing of Rocky Horror at the Long Beach Art Theater), and the ineradicably strange film with the prescient satire and deftly skilled musical flavor is an almost perfect way to sum up our relationship. In fact, on top of our bookshelf at home is a vinyl copy of the soundtrack set up like a shrine, with candles and everything.
#4 Such Memes
I don't know what it is about this year (besides the Internet permeating culture more thoroughly than ever), but my friends and boyfriend haven't been able to resist shoving my image into a variety of memes and I have loved every single second of it.
#3 Oh, The Horror!
Horror has been a huge part of my life since high school, but this year I have made huge steps toward incorporating myself into the community. I've been attending a super cool horror trivia event in Studio City and trying to get into as many screenings as I can. One of my favorite moments of the year is when I got the opportunity to volunteer for Fangoria at the Days of the Dead festival in LA.
I met some great people, had a lot of fun, got to talk about horror, and snapped a picture of the littlest Michael Myers in the world, whose head was so small the mask was puckered into an adorable permanent smirk.
As a Christmas treat, Sergio and I took all the money we've been saving magpie-like in jars for approximately forever and took a trip to Disneyland. Two waffles, a Dole Whip, and a handful of aspirin later, we were on the tram home, exhausted but filled with holiday commercial spirit.
#1 Wes Craven
Wes Craven is my idol. He is so important in my life, that the second I got Snapchat I created some classic Freddy mayhem. And this year - thanks to the hard work of my professor Gary Prebula, I got to meet him in the class I TA for! He attended a screening of New Nightmare, one of my favorite of his movies, and I managed to get a selfie with him and my friend Shannon. We're basically BFFs now.
Here's Some Stuff That I Did in 2014:
Speaking of Wes Craven, I packed about 800 references to his work in my very first short film, iMadman, which I created as part of a supremely intensive production class. Obviously I have a long way to go before I'm making Citizen Kane, but I'm quite proud of my horror satire pitting a slasher villain who's stuck in the 80's against the perils of modern technology. And I was lucky enough to work with two superb actors, one of whom is a good friend from high school who serendipitously showed up to the audition in Hollywood. Check out the video below!
The Breakup is another short film I worked on in that walletbusting class, this time in capacity as a producer. It's insane how much work goes into a mere five minute short, but trust me, it's not for the faint of heart.
"Save Our Concrete"
I was lucky enough to get a chance to volunteer on a nonprofit video for the organization Tree People, directed by David Zucker, who helmed Airplane!, my favorite comedy of all time. I don't think the video is up anywhere yet, but I'll post it as soon as I find out.
My summer job (which ended up lasting until mid-November - Hollywood, everyone!) was at a promotional firm in charge of providing data for the Simpsons app released alongside FX's #EverySimpsonsEver marathon. I suppose I could have gotten a worse job than transcribing Simpsons episodes, so I consider myself very lucky even though I had to drive through LA traffic five days a week for far too long.
So that's it for 2014! I hope, for the world's sake, that 2015 gets us off on a fresh start. But as we look back on the year that was, let's hold on to the good and seek to eradicate the bad once and for all in the upcoming 12 months. At the bare minimum, Glee is ending, so at least that's one thing to look forward to.
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