2014 has ended, and that means it’s list time! A Top Ten movie list would be incomplete, as there are several films that I want and have yet to see (Gone Girl, Birdman, Nightcrawler, Inherent Vice and Whiplash to be specific). A “Best of” TV list is a non-starter, because I don’t watch a whole lot of television these days other than sports and Game of Thrones, and therefore wouldn’t be very comprehensive (sorry, Walking Dead fans). And I don’t want to make a “best of” comic book list because, honestly, no one would care. So, why not just mash up all the stuff I loved this year into one list and be done with it? Problem solved! Oh yeah, one more thing– like Spinal Tap and all things that rock, this list goes to 11.
Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s tale about a team of “Mystery Archaeologists” is a dizzying deconstruction of 20th century fiction, and one of my favorite comic book series ever. Published from 1998 -2008, PLANETARY tells the story of three gifted individuals as they examine the “secret history” of the 20th century, uncovering truths about themselves and the world along the way. Mashing up classic pulp literature characters, superheroes, and film genres, PLANETARY is ridiculously dense, but it deftly avoids becoming impenetrable by exhibiting a genuine love for it’s subject matter, even while it’s dissecting it (sometimes literally). Each chapter delivers adventure, blazing commentary, and mind-blowing super science, while continually placing firmly under a microscope what we consider heroic. Aided by colorist Laura Martin, Cassaday’s artwork will astound you; together they brilliantly realize Ellis’ madcap scripts and bring the most insane imagery to life. Put simply, PLANETARY is a modern day comic masterpiece. Finally collected in 2014 in it’s entirety in a beautiful oversized edition, it’s an incredible journey that I love to take as often as possible. If ever there’s a fire, I’m grabbing my wife, cats, guitar and this book before I leave the house. Hopefully in that order, but I’m not making any promises.
Gritty detectives investigating a murder that might be tied to a state conspiracy? A contemplation of philosophy relating to the human condition? Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in top form? Yes, yes and yes. Every once in a while, a television show comes along that feels as if it was made specifically for you. TRUE DETECTIVE is that, for me. Crime fiction on television doesn’t get better than this.
THE RAID 2
I enjoyed The Raid, an Indonesian actioner released in 2011 about a SWAT team and their irrepressible rookie, Rama, clearing out a gang-infested tenement building. It was a solid flick with some outstanding fight scenes, but not necessarily revolutionary. Gareth Evans breathless sequel takes it to another level, and Evans cements himself as the best action director working today. THE RAID 2 pits a now-undercover Rama against even more ruthless foes, and ratchets up the scale of mayhem to a city-wide rampage. The characters and drama are both compelling, but it’s the unique action set pieces that are the star of the show. You have never seen a prison yard fight scene done like this, you will squirm in the subway showdown, and you will never forget that Kitchen scene at the end. Hands down the best action movie of the year.
This bizarre science fiction tale is the story of humanity’s last survivors in a future Ice Age, living on a train (the titular Snowpiercer) that runs on a perpetual engine as it circles the planet. The people forced to live in the tail section of the train, and who are treated like animals, stage an uprising. As they battle their way thru the various cars from the tail to the head, they discover shocking revelations about who’s actually in charge and exactly how the Snowpiercer operates. A scathing allegory of capitalism and survival, this was my favorite sci-fi film of the year.
UNDER THE SKIN
The best weird-ass movie of the year. Is it sci-fi? Is it horror? Hell if I know, but it’s beautiful, tragic and unnerving to the final frame. Scarlett Johannsen’s quietly commands the screen as an alien seductress who is experimenting on men for unknown purposes. A seeming meditation on women’s sexuality and the men who succumb to it soon becomes a rumination of the male and female id, and the outcome will utterly haunt you. I’ve had trouble shaking this film from my head ever since I watched it, and for me, that’s a sign of greatness.
My favorite horror film of the year. This Australian stunner about an evil children’s book that begins to terrorize a widowed mother and son kept the hair on my arms raised for it’s entire running time, and in the process tells a wonderfully engaging dramatic tale. This is the kind of horror movie that keeps the horror genre relevant. Skip the lame exorcism movies and that wretched Paranormal Activity franchise and check out a genuine horror film, THE BABADOOK.
The best ongoing superhero comic of the year. Since I was 12 years old, I have purchased every issue of Erik Larsen’s SAVAGE DRAGON and it feels like a life-long friend. After 22 years, it continues to surprise and delight every month with it’s modern take on classic superhero action. As a result of it’s “real-time continuity”, characters age alongside you, plots are always revolving and no one (not even the book’s main character for 20 years!) is safe. Fun stuff.
PUNK ROCK JESUS DELUXE EDITION
Sean Murphy’s PRJ is a ripping yarn about science, religion, reality TV and predestination. A powerful TV executive has retrieved DNA from the Shroud of Turin to clone Jesus and film his life for a reality show. It doesn’t go well at all. Murphy’s Black and White art is reminiscent of a young Howard Chaykin, and is pulsing with energy. If that sounds like it’s up your alley, and you enjoy solid drama with some sparse action, this stand alone read is worth your time.
Chino Moreno, the ever-prolific lead singer and guitarist of Deftones, joins with Shaun Lopez of Far and beat-producer extraordinaire Chuck Doom and delivers my favorite record of the year. Yes, 10 of the 15 tracks are from prior EP releases, but it doesn’t matter. The new songs are amazing, swaying from near-pop rock to smooth drone/synth beats drenched in Chino’s sullen vocals, it pours out of your speakers like honey with razors in it, and you keep wanting more.
INTERSTELLAR FILM & SOUNDTRACK
INTERSTELLAR isn’t so much a sci-fi film as it is an EVENT film. Boasting jaw-dropping visuals, a heart-wrenching story, and a bastard Matt Damon (DAMONNNNNNN!), the latest Christopher Nolan joint is downright spectacular, and my favorite theater experience of 2014. I love Nolan’s aesthetic, and it seems he is a “love him or hate him” writer-director, but this just hit all the right notes for me. Director Edgar Wright called Hans Zimmer’s music a “cathedral of sound”, and I couldn’t say it better. Greatness.
SETH ROGEN’S HAT TRICK
I thought Seth Rogen most likely peaked with 2013’s THIS IS THE END, his hilarious skewering of Hollywood and disaster movies. I was wrong. After NEIGHBORS, Rogen’s family vs. frat laugher that left my sides hurting, he popped up in 22 JUMP STREET in the funniest cameo this year, and then broke the internet on Christmas with THE INTERVIEW. I think all three films will wind up classics, and it’s because this guy, who’s great at playing dumb, is just so damn smart.