Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Watched in 2014

As I posted recently, my blogging has been at an all-time low this year, even if I’ve been keeping up things on Facebook. I wrote about The Walking Dead, The Leftovers, The Knick, and Game of Thrones (just so I’d have one show that didn’t begin with “The”).  But I’ve seen a lot of film and television in 2014 that I didn’t share with y’all, and so here are some of my favourites:

Whiplash: Probably my favourite film of the year, this is a dark and gritty look — think Black Swan for musicians — at the pain and suffering that classical and jazz musicians must endure at extremely high performance levels. When a guy strives to be the next Buddy Rich and makes it into the most elite band of New York’s most elite music school, he meets a teacher who believes that breaking down a person’s resolve, self-confidence, and self-esteem are the only ways to make them build themselves back up again. The performances by JK Simmons and Miles Teller are utterly stunning. I think Simmons has the Best Supporting Actor Oscar wrapped up. I can’t recommend this movie highly enough.

Locke: A much quieter film, it takes place almost entirely in the worst car ride one man could possibly have without getting into an accident. While the premise doesn’t sound like much, you have to watch this film for one of the most remarkable one-man performances you will ever see. Tom Hardy (yes, Bane) delivers a sublime performance as one man falling apart, while constantly using his dashboard phone to call several people to try desperately to maintain the foundation of a building he’s overseeing while his real world crumbles to the ground around him. Other than Hardy, you only hear the voices of the other actors, but it’s a who’s who of the best British stars today, and Hardy puts in such a stunning performance I half-wish no other great movie had come out after this one so he could just take that Oscar for himself. 

The Imitation Game: I’ve spent a lot of time this year with Benedict Cumberbatch (as mentioned, and what my publisher would like me to continue mentioning, I’ve written a book on Sherlock that will be out in fall 2015), and he never ceases to amaze me. In this film he plays Alan Turing, the brilliant young mathematician who created the machine that eventually deciphered the unbreakable Nazi code machine, Enigma, which ended up shortening the war considerably and saving innumerable lives. But what the justice system did to him following the war — having absolutely no knowledge of his incredible contributions to saving their lives — is nothing short of inhumane and horrific. The final moments of the movie will have tears streaming down your face for what was done to him. In 2012 at the opening games of the London Olympics, the British brought out the father of the Internet to show all of their great achievements; they decided to hide the horrible thing that was perpetrated upon the father of the modern computer.

Boyhood: One of the best part of movies is discussing them with friends afterwards, but after my husband and I saw this film I was left awed, heartbroken, moved, overjoyed, and speechless. By filming a boy in real time, for several weeks every year from age 6 to 18, Richard Linklater (who never seems to disappoint me) has created a masterpiece of quiet subtlety. I felt like I was watching the next 12 years of my son’s life, and it was heartbreaking to see it move so fast, and see how life can be like sand falling through our fingers, with no pause button. An extraordinary achievement in film.

Only Lovers Left Alive: This might be the best vampire film I’ve ever seen. And it stars Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. I don’t really need to say anything more. Just go see it.

Derek: My brother bugged me to watch this show for ages, and I finally sat down and watched season 1 in a single afternoon. Despite starring Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington, it’s not a comedy. It has hysterically funny moments, but it’s meant to be a drama about a mentally challenged man — Gervais — who lives in an old folk’s home and is the heart of the place, along with Hannah, the woman who singlehandedly seems to run the place when funding runs out at the beginning of the first season. Being a nursing home, it’s inevitable you’ll lose people, but when they die, it’s the effect of their loss on Derek that is so heartbreaking. I just watched all of season 2, along with the Christmas special, yesterday, and it’s equally devastating. I think the finale of season 1 and the special are the two highlights of the series (and as my friend Dave warned me, there’s an episode involving a dog in S2 that will make you cry), and they both had me laughing out loud while tears streamed down my face. I think this is Gervais’s crowning achievement.

Black Mirror: I’ve only watched a handful of episodes, but if you haven’t watched this show yet, YOU MUST. It’s an even weirder and creepier Twilight Zone, all showing the dangers of technology. One is an indictment of Facebook, another of Twitter and social media in general. The Christmas episode that just aired (starring Jon Hamm) explores even deeper things that I can’t talk about without spoiling, but the show is a brilliant and satirical look at the world we have created around us.

Orphan Black: Each week of the second season, I couldn’t wait for a new episode and thought S2 was even more brilliant than S1. Tatiana Maslany continues to be utterly genius in every scene, and the cloning took on more symbolic and emotional significance in the second season. I’m probably not 100% on board with the Tony character, but the rest of it was amazing, including an hysterically funny and shocking homage to Pulp Fiction that might be my favourite TV moment of the year.

The Affair: The first season just wrapped on this one, and I loved it. It was the best pilot of all of the fall shows that I saw, and the performances by everyone in it — Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Joshua Jackson, and Maura Tierney — are stunningly real. The main premise is that West and Tierney are a married couple with four children who go on summer holiday in Montauk. Wilson and Jackson live there, and Wilson (Alison) and West (Noah) begin a torrid affair. What makes the show so great is that the first half of each episode is told through the perspective of either Noah or Alison, and the second half by the other. Watching the story twice is never boring, but instead offers a wealth of clues: in his version, her hair was down and sultry, her skirt skimpy; in her version it was pinned up neatly, and his wife was rude to her and dismissive of Noah. The reason they're retelling the story is because someone has been murdered, and they're involved. SUCH a good show that dips a little in the middle, but roars to the end in a rather explosive manner.

Transparent: A show available on Amazon, it’s rightfully appearing on many best-of lists because it is so damn good. Jeffrey Tambor plays a dad who knows she’s been a woman trapped in a man’s body her entire life, and now that her children are grown and she’s moving into her twilight years, she’s decided she’s going to live the rest of her years as a woman, Maura, and needs to tell them. Her caustic ex-wife, Judith Light, is hilarious and amazing, the kids are all messes, and it’s only when Maura’s secret comes out that you discover the family is riddled with them. Another transgender friend of hers says that when she was making the change, she was told to look around her, and that none of those people would be with her in five year’s time. “Was it true?” Maura says, a look of desperation on her face because of how much her family means to her. She simply quietly nods. While there are very funny moments, it’s a devastating show at times, and it has the best ensemble cast of any other series this year.

Utopia: No, not the reality show that bombed, but the genius British sci-fi miniseries about a group of graphic novel fans who stumble upon a massive global conspiracy involving how the world’s population is ballooning, and one person’s horrifying solution. Season 1 was riveting, but season 2 was even better. When Channel 4 announced shortly after the second season had wrapped that they were cancelling it and there would be no S3, I was heartbroken. This one will go down with Firefly and Pushing Daisies as one of my great cancellation upsets. Still, watch the first two seasons if you haven’t already. They really can stand on their own, but I just wanted more.

So what did I miss? Any stellar television or films that you saw this year that I should check out?


Page48 said...

These days, there is no way to NOT spend a lot of time with Benedict Cumberbatch.

The first time I ever heard of him was when I watched the miniseries, "The Last Enemy", also starring Robert Carlyle. Speaking of the dangers of technology.

I see Jeffey Tambor, I think Garry Shandling and "The Larry Sanders Show".

Recently polished off "The Missing" with James Nesbitt (cuz who doesn't like listening to James Nesbitt's accent?). It also features Yasim Anwar (although not prominently), who also happened to be Cumberbatch's squeeze in aforementioned "The Last Enemy".

Finished S2 of "The Fall", which features Scully, Merlin, and the cutest little Irish girl ever. Like Ever.

Watched the English/French version of"The Tunnel" with Stephen Dillane, Clemence Poesy and James Frain (one of those guys who appears in everything, but when you hear his name you don't know who the hell he is).

Batcabbage said...

I've only just discovered Orphan Black. Batkitty and I just binge watched both seasons, and had to limit ourselves so we wouldn't burn through it too fast. Loved the first season, and loved the second even more with where they took the story. The last fifteen minutes of the 2nd season finale I did not expect. Really looking forward to season 3 in April.

Got into Arrow finally this year (Batkitty has been on board since season 1). I think that was mainly because of The Flash, which I am most impressed with. I hope the new DC movies turn out as well as their TV shows.

I'm loving Agents of SHIELD, which is good, because I was dubious at first. Then Captain America 2 happened and everything changed and a half decent show because an excellent one, and season 2 seems to be keeping that quality.

LOVED Gotham. As a huge fan of Batman (and cabbages, obviously), I am absolutely loving how they're doing Gotham. Having never seen Southland, I can't believe how good Ben McKenzie has gotten. And Donal Logue, always a fave, is great as Bullock. I thought Jada Pinkett would annoy the hell out of me, but I even like her in this. But Penguin is my favourite character so far.

Finally, I watched Outlander with an even mix of hope and trepidation. As a fan of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series (don't judge, my mum got me into them. They're kinda sci-fi! It's not just heaving bosom/hairy scotsman romance!), I didn't know whether this could translate to the screen that well, but when I saw that Ron Moore and Ira Steven Behr were behind the show (they're the reason Deep Space Nine is the best of the later Star Trek series), I knew it would be OK. The only problem is I have to wait til April for the series to come back. A six month long mid-season break? What the frakking frak???

Anyway, yay TV shows! I saw some movies too, but can't think of any right now. Does the Hammer Horror blu-ray collection count? See The Devil Rides Out. Awesome occultish fun.

Eric Fingerman said...

Sleepy Hollow is another great show. Love the two leads, Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie. And it's always great to have the great John Noble back on TV since one of my favorite shows Fringe ended.

TomWill said...

I usually try most of what you recommend and am looking forward to several of your picks.
"Black Mirror" is one I have already seen. I would caution anyone to not judge the series based on the first episode (I suggest to save it for last).
I feel the first episode was much too gross and would not have normally continued to the delightful remaining episodes but was very bored that day.
I wish I had a "grain" (memory implant S1E3) so I could erase the first episode!
Thanks for being my favorite media critic.

Dusk said...

If you want something light and a way to kill stress/time check out The People's Couch on YouTube. Watching other people watching TV may sound dull but it is actually hilarious! You'll especially love their reactions to Orphan Black's Pulp Fiction moment!

The highlight of S2 for me has to the "Carrie" reference in the bathroom. Probably Tatiana's finest acting moment which is really saying something! Have all 20 episodes on my PVR for re-watching whenever I get the chance. Love Alison! The episode with her potluck in S1 was excellent. She's used for dark (and accurate) humor of suburban life, but she can also be darkly serious and to me is the heart of the show. The show is obviously female-centric and I'm looking forward to their take on masculinity even though some fear it will take away too much from the sisters.

Hey Batty, you think a 6 month break is bad? Try waiting 8 months in between OB seasons! Lucky you only have to endure half of this hiatus!

Heard good things about Utopia, saw the opening scene and a montage of S1 moments on YouTube but wasn't sure if I want to upset myself by getting into a cancelled show. HBO is making an American version from David Fincher and Gillian Flynn which I'm sure you'll want to check out Nikki!

Fell out of Gotham because my power went out the night of the mideseason finale and I don't think it's a strong enough show for me to keep watching. Most of the characters except Penguin are pretty flat and the tonal whiplash between campy comic stuff and serious crime drama/procedural is very annoying.

SHIELD has gotten much better. The pacing of it's mysteries has improved, they have clear Big Bads and mostly clear character goals, the characters are actually developing and doing some underhanded spy stuff, more characters with powers/from the comics and they appear to be laying the groundwork for a movie announced in 2018 and has some big implications for the whole MCU.

And again, check out Avatar & Korra. In a time when so many adult TV shows can screw themselves up with a bad ending, these creators ended things perfectly not once, but twice! If you look into the Korra ending you'll see they also probably made Western Animation History with Korra's ending in the last few minutes. But those minutes aren't the only reason to check out the shows, both stand well on their own. You can watch one without seeing the other but I recommend starting with Avatar. Starting with Korra is like watching all of Angel without ever having seen an episode of Buffy. Possible, but you'd miss out on a lot of the big picture world building and significant character development.

Unknown said...

Glad you liked Utopia - I really havent seen anything quite like it. One of my favourite series ever and so gutted its been cancelled. Highly recommend to anyone to give it a try!

Nikki Stafford said...

Dusk: I will totally check out the People's Couch, it sounds fun!!

And yes, I do watch Agents of SHIELD, Gotham, and Sleepy Hollow, but because I blogged on them I didn't include them here. Same with True Detective, which was great.

For movies I realized I forgot Snowpiercer, which was FANTASTIC. Highly, highly recommend that one.

Dusk said...

Glad you like it! I also recommend The Couch's reactions to Drunk History,19 Kids and Counting, Sex Sent Me to the ER, The Amazing Race, and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver for a start!

There is also a People's Couch Canada and some clips are on Bravo Canada's YouTube but of course not as many as the US version.

CoolEthan said...

I recommend The Honourable Woman starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and the BBC three comedy Uncle

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