My Favorite Things of 2014*

*Actual release dates may vary.

As 2014 comes to a close–and to be honest, it’s been a pretty fucked up year–I’ve been mulling over what I read and watched that delighted or changed me this year. I’ve tried to be thorough, but there are two caveats:

  1. I didn’t take great notes as the year went by, so I might miss some things that I loved as the year progressed.
  2. I am sometimes (often, even) a little behind the zeitgeist, so some of these things may have actually been released earlier than this year.

I am going to go ahead and call the year’s media consumption at an end a couple of days early, too. It’s busy at work, and I’m not likely to finish anything else before the year ends.

Without any further ado, here’s my (in-no-particular-order) list of my Favorite Things Consumed (Media Edition) for 2014:

  • Red Rising–it’s a little Hunger Games and a little Ender’s Game, but a lot more graphic and brutal than either, which is no small accomplishment. It’s YA with the emphasis on A, but it’s tense and tightly plotted and I couldn’t put it down. Its sequel is coming in 2015, and I can’t wait to read it.
  • Rainbow Rowell’s writing, but particularly Eleanor and Park and Attachments–These two really are outstanding novels that deftly achieve what they set out to do. They aren’t high art or literature by any stretch of the imagination, but each is a beautiful jewel of contemporary fiction for its target age group. Reading Rainbow Rowell is a lot like hanging out with a girlfriend, or revisiting a crush from high school that you have no bad feelings toward in adulthood. I’ve been reluctant to recommend them for their “lack of depth,” but in retrospect I’m applying the Ebert Rule and judging them on how well they achieve what they set out to do. That makes them awesomely good.
  • Everything written by Roxane Gay but especially An Untamed State and Bad Feminist–her Twitter feed is also often funny and thought-provoking all at once. Gay has a sweet, funny voice in her essays and her Twitter feed, and An Untamed State proves she can do raw and dark as well. She’s uncommonly talented, and I want to be here when I grow up.
  • Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened–I don’t remember when I first found Allie Brosh’s web comic, but I read it religiously for most of law school, and then I fretted during the times when Brosh would go silent. Her comics on the subject of her depression are some of the most truthful, accurate, and yet still-funny I have ever read. The book adds content the site didn’t have, and Brosh can count on me to buy all her future endeavors.
  • Saga–I think I technically read the first of these in late 2013, but I’m squeezing it in here since I read most of it in 2014. This series of graphic novels are hard to truly describe, but it’s a space opera love story about soldiers from two warring cultures who fall in love, go AWOL, and have a cross-species baby. It shouldn’t work at all, and yet it totally does. I’m wait-listed at the library well in advance of every installment.
  • Dusted–Podcast veterans Alastair Stephens and Lani Diane Rich (of StoryWonk) have started a re-watching of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the same time they’ve started an episode-by-episode analysis of them in podcast form. It combines Storywonk’s love of nerd culture and well-constructed stories with the genius of Joss Whedon. But for the other podcast entry on my list, this would be the best new podcast of 2014.
  • Serial–I already loved This American Life and Sarah Koenig when they announced this new podcast they were undertaking, called Serial. I set it up to download to my podcast app–Stitcher–and eager anticipated the first episode. Since then, I’ve been well and truly addicted. I’ve blogged about it. I’ve pushed it on friends. I’ve wished my parents knew what podcasts were in enough detail that I could share it with them. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but if I haven’t tried it, you should. It’s really that good, and once you’ve seen it, we can talk about it!
  • Outlander (TV)–I’m still not caught up with Ronald Moore’s Starz adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s wildly successful novel, but so far, I’ve been impressed by the production values and the amazingly engaging adaptation of what is actually a pretty uneven novel. Starz hasn’t scrimped in bringing the show to the screen, and I’m loving the hell out of the first half of the first season. They’ll finish the novel when they come back from hiatus, and Starz announced after the huge acclaim that greeted the first episode’s airing that they had already renewed it for a second season to be based on Dragonfly in Amber.

A Wishlist for Tonight’s Newsroom

NewsroomFromFacbook1. Do you remember that episode of E.R. where Dr. Awful was crushed by a helicopter? Like that, only everyone.

2. There’s an episode of Sports Night where the crew spends about 27 minutes of the show doing something really awful. They cut a deal with a football player who has just tried to sexually assault an assistant producer on the show: she won’t press charges if he’ll come on the show. Then, they all realize that they’re being horrible people, and someone actually says, “We did a big thing badly,” and they fix it. There’s yelling, there’s swearing of warrants to the police, there’s telling off in awkward ways. So… let’s just have a scene with Don like that, and then an hour of Mary getting to tell her story on live television while Sloan beats up Mary’s rapist. I’m actually not picky about whether that’s a physical or verbal beating.

3. The entire series is revealed to be a dream Charlie Skinner had while drunk.

4. The entire series is revealed to be a dream Mrs. Lansing had while stoned.

5. Maggie’s ethical ex-boyfriend and Maggie’s fun (ex?) roommate, Lisa, live happily ever after, as they are the only ones who deserve it.

6. Hallie wins the lottery, takes over ACN, and texts Jim to let him know he’s fired. Jim is so busy being anti-advancing technology that he’s already burned his smartphone in protest. He keeps coming to work for a year without realizing he’s not being paid, and he sits in a conference room writing scripts on yellow legal pads for a show that he can’t watch because he’s become Amish. He’s eventually arrested for trespassing and, in jail, has long, self-righteous conversations with Will McAvoy’s father. His rise and fall is covered on the third season of Serial.

Any other requests?

Movies I want to see, but don’t know why: Birdman

I’ve seen a short trailer only for the new Michael Keaton film, Birdman, and I’ve heard only clips of interviews and information about the movie. Still, I want to see it. And that’s a big declaration for me anymore because I see, roughly, four movies a year in the theater. Maybe three. This year, so far, I’ve only seen X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and The Guardians of the Galaxy in the theater, I think (which says something about what I consider “big-screen-necessary entertainment”). Still, I feel like I might burn one of my nights out to see Birdman.

So, strangely, this makes me want to find out less about the movie in case it ruins the surprise and the experience. Are there any approaching films that you feel this way about — that there’s just something there that draws you, even though you’re not sure what it is?

Interstellar might fall in this category, too, but… I think I know all the draws there.

Martha Stewart v. Gwenyth Paltrow? Tell me more.

Martha Stewart apparently told Net-A-Porter magazine (that’s a thing, btw) that:

[Gwenyth Paltrow] just needs to be quiet. She’s a movie star. If she were confident in her acting, she wouldn’t be trying to be Martha Stewart.

I kind of don’t know whose side to be one when one massively rich lifestyle-pushing celebrity insults an up-and-coming massively rich lifestyle-pushing celebrity.

Wait, kidding: Martha 4eva.

NYTimes: Jan Hooks of ‘Saturday Night Live’ Fame Is Dead at 57

Here’s a face and a name I instantly recognized, but I hadn’t realized I hadn’t seen her until, well, this.

NYTimes: Jan Hooks of ‘Saturday Night Live’ Fame Is Dead at 57

NYTimes: Death of Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas Fuels Alarm Over Ebola

Having almost nothing to do with any of this… the head of the CDC looks so much like Dennis Kucinich that I keep thinking, “Is it ok to take health advice from a vegan who believes in alien abduction?”

Now, back to your regular sad news about the poor dude who just came here to reunite with the mother of his child.

NYTimes: Death of Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas Fuels Alarm Over Ebola

Movies for Summer

I have been complaining of late that I need more things to look forward to, and I’ve been counting movies as big events.  I’m relying on summer blockbusters, full of explosions, cheesy jokes, chase scenes, and otherwise bubble-gummy wonders to make up for the “no summer break” portion of the work year.

To this end, when I saw Alyssa Rosenberg’s “When the Gun Goes Bang, Bang, Bang” post today about a movie due in August, “The Other Guys,” I was reminded of an old habit that I was once in: listing the movies I want to see, getting lists from others, and then trying to check that list off as they’re seen.

So, here’s my plans for the summer. I know I won’t see all of them, and there will be others that aren’t on this list that I do see, but here’s what caught my eye today:

April 16: Kick-Ass. I am most amused by the girl hero, though the entire premise — regular people trying to behave like superheroes, in a world that doesn’t have movie rules — entertains me. This sounds like a perfect  popcorn combo movie (shared among equally fun-loving movie folks).

Death at a Funeral. It’s unlikely that I’ll see this in the theater, though I admit to a certain curiosity, having recently watched the British movie it based on/ripped from. I’m not sure I believe that Chris Rock can step into the quietly outraged (emphasis on quietly) role played by Matthew McFadden, but I might enjoy watching that attempt.

April 23: The Losers. This looks like pure, high-summer fun, a film full of misfits, explosions, and conspiracies. Bonus: Idris Elba. And The Comedian.

May 7: Iron Man 2. I don’t know the comics well enough (OK, at all) to be able to cheer for the inclusion of specific characters or villains, but I so, so enjoyed the first one that I’m incredibly happy to have the second one here already.  Robert Downey Jr. wise-cracking and saving the world alongside Don Cheadle? Sign me up.

May 14: OK, this might be cheesy, but I kind of want to see Just Wright. I understand I’ll be seeing it alone.  And probably at the dollar theater.

May 28: Prince of Persia. I had no idea Jake Gyllenhaal was trying to prove he would’ve made a better Spider-Man, still, but I’ll be happy to watch his belated audition tape.

Sex and the City 2. I saw the first one, and it was kind of mindlessly fun, so the second seems within the realm of summer viewing possibilities.

June 11: The A-Team.  Just to wash SATC2 out of my hair, I guess,and also because I can think of three guys who will be deeply worried/offended if I don’t attend with great enthusiasm.

June 18: Toy Story 3. Hooray!

July 2: The Last Airbender. I don’t know anything about this film except that every time there’s a new trailer, or a new whisper of a trailer, C watches it like it might reveal the secret of the universe, and has pinned his hopes on M. Night Shyamalan loving his children too much to screw up the film. I have no doubt I’ll be going to see this, possibly the first night it opens.

July 9: The Kids are All Right.  Well, this breaks the happy-summer-movie mold, but it looks enticing (and also like it might not hit my town’s theaters until fall). Julianne Moore and Annette Bening star as partners who each conceived a child through a sperm donor; now, their daughters are grown, and one sister convinces the other they should look for their father. I love Moore and have usually loved Bening’s work, so I think this could be quite good.

July 16: I am iffy on both of these, but The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Inception both come out that weekend.  Inception should be right up my normal summer alley — it has Christopher Nolan directing and Leonardo DiCaprio acting. But I just don’t know enough about it, even after seeing the trailer, to know whether I’m interested.

SA — I think one Nic Cage movie a summer might be enough for me, but I have a feeling C is interested.

July 23: Salt?  Probably not, but I might still be convinced.

July 30: The Adjustment Bureau. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in a world-twisting Philip K. Dick story? Sure, why not.

Get Low. This looks depressing as all hell, but Robert DuVall’s character throwing a funeral for himself at Bill Murray’s character’s funeral home, with Sissy Spacek in there somewhere, makes me want to see this.

I Love You Philip Morris. I may have already seen enough Jim Carrey movies this year (0), but this story — Carrey tries to win back the love of his prison cell mate, Philip Morris, played by Ewan McGregor — sounds bizarre enough to get me to the theater. I’m sure I’ll want air conditioning by then.

August 6: The above-mentioned The Other Guys. It’s like Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals, where Animals=Will Ferrell.

August 13: Scott Pilgrim v. The World. Michael Cera battling supervillains to win his girlfriend’s love? OK.  More popcorn, please!