The 21 Pop Culture Highlights of 2014

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Inspired by the wonderful Linda Holmes of NPR and her list of 50 wonderful things from 2014, I decided to list the pop culture highlights of 2014 that made me happy, and I hope this will provide you with some memories and maybe a few recommendations on this wonderful eve before Christmas. Please share your own highlights with us in the comments below! I’ve limited myself to one show/film/book/etc, otherwise this list would be nothing but things I loved in Hannibal. Speaking of which…

1. Raul Esparza’s performance as Dr Frederick Chilton in my favourite TV show, Hannibal. Esparza’s anRaul Esparza Hannibal 2 actor I’ve loved since Bryan Fuller’s other favourite show of mine, Pushing Daisies, and his smarmy yet oddball charming turn as arguably the most incompetent man in the show was equal parts hilarious and pathetic. Chilton became somewhat more self-aware this season and the audience loved him for his pathetic attempts to outsmart Lecter. His return in season 3 can’t come soon enough.

2. Alexandre Desplat’s score to The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson’s latest was my favourite film of the year, but the score was a whole new level of majestic. Desplat is an accomplished composer but he also does too many movies and as a result stretches himself too thin. Some of his scores are so nondescript that they make Philip Glass sound bombastic. However, with The Grand Budapest Hotel, he excelled and demonstrated just how good he can be, balancing comedy with pathos and perfectly utilising traditional eastern European instruments.

3. E Lockhart’s We Were Liars. I fell a bit behind with YA trend this year but Lockhart’s hallucinogenic ghost story of privilege and regret was a real highlight in the category, and rightfully became a big seller in a year where sequels and series seemingly dominated.

4. Snoop Dogg & T-Pain discussing FKA Twigs. T-Pain returned this year and shocked the world by showing he has one hell of a voice underneath all that autotune. He has previously gone on record discussing the impact the British experimental singer-songwriter had on his decision to return to music, but there’s something especially adorable about two grown men geeking out over her. The exchange “Is she dope?” “She’s super dope” will never be beaten. (12:50)

5. Lupita Nyong’o’s entire Oscar campaign wardrobe. A new style star was born and I remain in awe. Who pulls off capes like that?!

Too perfect. Can't handle it.
Too perfect. Can’t handle it.

6. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s review of The Immigrant on the AV Club. Many have lamented the AV Club’s loss of its most well-known film writers after they left en masse to write for The Dissolve, but the new generation has revealed some seriously talented reviewers, including short-lived host of Roger Ebert Presents: At The Movies. I haven’t seen The Immigrant yet because it has no UK release because Harvey Weinstein hates me but I return time and time again to Vishnevetsky’s review because it’s such a damn good piece of writing. He’s clearly a highly intelligent critic, one with an enviable knowledge of his craft, yet his writing demonstrates his talent in an accessible manner. He can dissect the complexities of a little-seen arthouse movie while still showing obvious joy and appreciation for popcorn fare. I can’t recommend his writing enough.

7. Rosamund Pike’s expressions as she watches Ben Affleck’s TV interview in Gone Girl. This is one I share with Linda Holmes. While I thoroughly enjoyed the film, I do feel it lacked some of the nuances of the book and that Rosamund Pike was a touch too regal for the role of Amy Dunne. However, she absolutely nails the scene where (potential spoilers) Amy sits in her ex-boyfriend Desi’s house and watches her husband Nick, who now knows the truth about her disappearance, try to play the game she’s set out. The full gamut of emotions are on display and you understand so much about such a bizarre and complex character in only a few minutes.

Rosamund Pike Gone Girl

8. The Rhinestone episode of How Did This Get Made? One of my favourite podcasts, How Did This Get Made’s comedic exploration of some of the worst movies on offer is a constant source of amusement for me, but nothing made me giggly maniacally on public transport as much as their live episode on the Sylvester Stallone-Dolly Parton country music comedy. All 4 panellists share their deep love of Dolly Parton and utter bemusement over how a film that requires a leading man who can sing ever cast Stallone. Guest Matt Jones’s use of the descriptive term “Like two mice fucking on cotton” made me laugh harder than any podcast has in a long time.

9. John Oliver’s explanation of Scottish independence on Last Week Tonight. Oliver’s weekly HBO show was the best new show of the year, bringing the familiar Daily Show format together with a fresh and more incisive focus on lesser discussed issues, such as the election in India and the FDA’s control of vitamin supplements. 2014 was a tough year politically for us Scots and we’re surprisingly low on home-grown satire for some reason, so we had to turn to our English friend from across the Atlantic to provide us with some much needed laughs, ones you could appreciate regardless of how you voted.

10. Chasing Time by Azealia Banks. Broke With Expensive Taste is a diamond of an album: rough around the edges but overflowing with uncompromised ideas and uncompromising creativity. It was most certainly worth the wait. Picking a favourite song from the album is a tough one but Chasing Time pips its companions to the post, with a smooth club beat, some strong vocals and an as always on-point flow that reads either as a relationship break-up or Banks’s split with her record label. Iggy who?

11. NPR Fresh Air’s interview with Joaquin Phoenix. My favourite actor (and object of teenage affection – stop laughing) is also a notoriously difficult guy to interview. It’s not that he’s a dick, he just doesn’t like interviews. Fortunately, Terri Gross is a woman of patience and skill and manages to get a full length interview out of him, part of the inevitable publicity wagon for Her, that’s equal parts funny, charming, uncomfortable, revealing, awkward and always fascinating. Highlights include Phoenix discussing that terrible fake rap mockumentary thing he did we shall not speak of, and reminiscing over his time as a child actor, which he says was great because everyone’s nice to you and there’s free food.

12. Ava DuVernay’s interview with Gayle King. DuVerney is that depressingly rare thing in the world of film – a black woman director who’s receiving mainstream critical and commercial attention for her work, in this case the biopic of the civil rights movement, Selma. Her Q&A with Gayle King, handily compiled in list form by IndieWire, includes insights about the world she inhabits and how she navigates it. She is smart, uncompromising and ready for the fight.

13. Dick Pope’s cinematography in Mr Turner. Pope has collaborated numerous times with director Mike Leigh, but his work has never looked more vibrant than it has here, in my 2nd favourite film of the year. Capturing the artistic style of the film’s protagonist, JMW Turner, Pope uses a strict colour palate that at times seems fantastical yet never removes the viewer from the overall experience. The phrase “CGI in a Mike Leigh movie” should be one that invokes horror but it’s handled so beautifully here that you don’t even notice.

Mr Turner

14. Anne Helen Petersen’s history of the Cool Girl in Buzzfeed. The internet’s favourite doctor of celebrity gossip recently made the jump from academia to full time features writer at that site I hate, yet her writing is so insightful and accessible that I find myself begrudgingly returning to it just to read her. She made her debut on Buzzfeed with a study of Jennifer Lawrence and the finely tuned celebrity ecosystem that helped to create her very specific public image. From Clara Bow to Jane Fonda, Petersen documented the evolution of the Cool Girl, a phrase borrowed from Gone Girl, where women who dare to buck the narrowly defined trend of societally acceptable femininity are adored and reviled in equal measure. For anyone who still rolls their eyes at trashy celebrity gossip and its apparent lack of worth, Petersen’s work is a welcome reminder of its real power and the need to understand it.

15. Neil Patrick Harris singing Sugar Daddy from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I was a little sceptical about Harris taking on the eponymous role in one of my favourite musicals when it made its Broadway debut, but while I can’t vouch for the rest of the show (damn my living 3000 miles away), his performance at the Tony Awards alleviated a lot of my fears. I may actually prefer this more rock heavy version of the song to the original. It’s vibrant, incredibly catchy and with just the right amount of anger. It’s also wonderful to watch Harris shamelessly drag his husband into the performance.

16. Robin Lord Taylor’s performance in Gotham. Now here’s a show I have reservations about. There’sRobin Lord Taylor so much to enjoy and yet so much to pull your hair out over. Yet amidst the sprawling inconsistencies and hesitance over the multiple plot threads tangling together, Taylor’s take on Oswald Cobblepot, better known as the Penguin, is one that deserves to go down in DC lore. He’s a snivelling creep with delusions above his station yet with enough psychosis to potentially pull it all off.

17. The soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy. The perfect balance of cool and dorky.

18. Jimquisition. Jim Sterling, formerly of the Escapist and now an independent critic with help from Patreon, has quickly become one of my go-to voices in the increasingly crowded and often hostile world of video game commentary. Uncompromising in his ethics yet savvy to the realities of the industry, Sterling’s weekly editorials are must-watch material. Now that he’s free of potential advertising conflicts of interests, Sterling’s potential is seemingly limitless.

9. La Roux’s Trouble In Paradise. After an extended hiatus, electro-pop musician La Roux returned with her sophomore album, a lush and infectiously catchy selection of late 70s/early 70s inspired songs that wear its many influences proudly on its sleeves while standing on its own two feet. The perfect soundtrack to a drive towards the sunset and my favourite album of the year.

20. Solange Knowles’s wedding. Style perfection.

Flaw. Less.
Flaw. Less.

21. Hans Zimmer’s score to Interstellar. Like Desplat, Zimmer is a composer who too often disappoints thanks to a deluge of projects, and it can be easy to hear him repeating himself over the series of several films. However, few can beat him when he’s at the top of his game, and his prog-rock meets Philip Glass inspired work on Christopher Nolan’s good but often irritating not-so-epic sci-fi film is his best work in years. The organ provides the suitable religious feel to the material while the repetitious tones build up to something that feels truly worthy of the film’s title, even when the film itself doesn’t live up to it.

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