My 14 Favorite Things from 2014: The Year in Pop Culture

Every year, critics come out with top-10 lists and best-of-year reviews, yet almost every one of them tries to beg out of the process. “How can you say X was better than Y?” they ask. “Why does it have to be just 10?” I can appreciate their thinking, but I still love lists. And if Buzzfeed is any indication, readers do too. So here are 14 things from 2014 that I loved:

Begin Again

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In 2006, John Carney made Once, a melancholic film about an Irish street busker and an immigrant whose shared passion for music leads to something like love. For the better part of a decade, Carney didn’t do much of anything. And then came Begin Again, a crowdpleaser that hits all the right notes. This time it’s Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley using New York City as their sound studio.

Black Mirror

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Okay, so Black Mirror actually debuted in 2011, but because this British television export only made it to Netflix at the tail end of 2014, it goes on the list. Charlie Brooker’s set of six unconnected episodes all manage to be profoundly disturbing for different reasons. From the episode about a prime minister being bullied by terrorists into committing a lewd act on television to the one in which a profane cartoon character runs for a seat in the House of Commons, Black Mirror dares to imagine the dark path down which new technologies can lead if people forget their responsibilities to properly use them.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

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David Mitchell spins a fantastical narrative that spans several hundred years and is told from the view of five different characters. If it sounds like Cloud Atlas, Mitchell’s 2008 megahit, that’s because it is like Cloud Atlas. Some reviewers have accused Mitchell of making novels déclassé, but I’m pretty sure critics said the same of Mark Twain. The way I see it, if an author is going to tell a story, he should at least tell an entertaining one.

Chef

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I smiled through pretty much all of Chef. It’s just that kind of movie.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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I was waiting outside of the bathroom for my wife after this film, silently ruminating on how successfully it displayed man’s penchant for escalating conflict because of its fear, mistrust, and need to assign blame, when I overheard another man, fresh from the same screening, explain to his wife that “the apes started it”. Sigh. Why do films about talking apes have to be so true to life?

Interstellar

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Look, there were some holes in Interstellar. A few times, characters did things and I couldn’t quite figure out their motivations. But grumbling that I didn’t understand every second of a movie as expansive and ambitious as this would have been like dismissing the Last Judgment by Michelangelo because there are cracks in the Sistine Chapel. This is a big picture.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

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Every Sunday night this summer and fall, John Oliver made my belly hurt for 30 minutes. Yet somehow I turned off the TV at the end and fell into a funk. Oliver has a gift for using comedy to present the news stories no one else is covering. He’s so good at it that you forgive the hangover.

The Leftovers

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From the love-it-or-hate-it files, here’s one that I couldn’t stop watching. Two percent of the world’s population disappears in an instant, and three years later we find out…that nobody knows why. The show isn’t so much about the event itself, as it is about how people deal with loss—both the loss of loved ones and the loss of their confidence in how the world works.

The Lego Movie

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A very funny and surprisingly meta film about how conformity is overrated, brought to you by the people who make plastic brick blocks.

The One I Love

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Starring the charming Mark Duplass (The League) and the against-type Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), this quirky film explores whether people actually want their partners to grow and change alongside them—or if they would be happier stuck in a perpetual honeymoon.

Porter Robinson – “Divinity”

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I haven’t downloaded music since 2008. This song, which I first heard on NPR’s All Songs Considered (a must-listen for audiophiles), changed that. I shared it with my wife and she said, “I didn’t know you liked EDM [electronic dance music].” I didn’t know either. With a jaw-dropping hook and an assist from Amy Millan of Stars, I had no choice but to love it.

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers

Rachman’s melancholy book is about the pain we feel when we revisit our pasts—both when it affirms what we already knew about ourselves and when it reveals unknown truths about the people we shared that past with.

Snowpiercer

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I thought I was over post-apocalyptic films because they all seemed to imagine a similar world. And then Snowpiercer came along with the wacky concept of placing the remainder of humanity of a frozen Earth on a speeding train. But don’t let that stop you from watching it. The film is both wildly entertaining and exceptionally clever, and the train serves as a perfect metaphor for our capitalist ecosystem.

True Detective Serial

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Serial was appropriately compared to HBO’s year-long procedural, True Detective. That was equal parts praise and flak. All the same made-up stuff that we watch and munch popcorn to, we find much more discomfiting when it’s well…not made up.

5 Comments My 14 Favorite Things from 2014: The Year in Pop Culture

  1. Ora Cranford

    Jeff! Casey Ward directed me to your site and I pretty much agree with everything on this particular year-end list. I just watched The One I Love last night and it reminded me a lot of Safety Not Guaranteed, which also featured ol’ Mark Duplass. Hope things are well and I’ll be keeping up with the blog.

    Reply
    1. Jeff

      As I was writing that, I thought, “Too bad I’m not writing a Best of 2012 column.” I’m always a few years behind the curve.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Five Things I Loved from 2015 - Serial Monography

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