Best of Music
Music has become more accessible than ever. As our opportunities to listen online continue to grow, it’s important to not forget the beauty of the live show. From international tours to small local shows, artists in 2014 put more effort into their tours, as they (unfortunately) began to depend more and more on ticket sales. But for the avid concertgoer, this is great news.
Both in and outside of Madison, this year was a hit for music acts on stage and it was particularly ripe with electronic and rap acts. Kanye West put on one of the most impactful live performances by donning a mask for his show. Catching Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city live was inevitably an unforgettable experience.
Women, like Pitchfork Music Festival’s Grimes and St. Vincent, brought their A game as well. The summer festivals were also a great venue to catch international groups like Arctic Monkeys and Disclosure. Madison also hosted a plethora of local and regional acts, often on display during the monthly Communion concert series.
After a killer 2014, be sure to keep an eye on venues near you in the upcoming year.
Worst of Music
On Sept. 9, 500 million iTunes users turned on their phones, iPads and computers with 11 new songs in their iTunes from a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted band with 22 Grammy Awards and 150 million albums sold.
So why does that make this the worst of music in 2014? Formerly reputable music authority Rolling Stone called U2’s Songs of Innocence the best album of the year and that alone should be an indictment of the album.
A who’s who of famous musicians came out against the album, including Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters fame saying it sounded “like a fart,” while noted pot-stirrer Sinéad O’Connor said to the Daily Mail, “There was something almost terrorist about it.”
While the lyrics were supposed to be very personal, they sounded about as personal as the stadiums and arenas U2 fills on their tours. While I won’t go as far as O’Connor, I can safely say that this is the worst thing that happened in music in 2014.
Best of Film
So there were a heck of a lot of good movies released this year. For example you got “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which was not only a hilarious and stylish continuation of Wes Anderson’s previous work, but something totally new that sort of blew up the way he makes movies. But it was heartbreaking and beautiful and personal.
Also this year was “Interstellar,” which was exactly what I think big blockbusters should be: a giant, sentimental, literally universal expression of what makes humans pretty cool. It feels almost unfair to put Jean-Luc Godard’s newest film “Goodbye to Language” here, but the man is a living legend who’s still pushing the boundaries of what film can even do (this time in 3D).
Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer” was a thrilling argument for letting foreign arthouse directors take over Hollywood action films, with really interesting social/political ideas to boot. “Under the Skin” was an unbelievably tense piece of philosophical feminist sci-fi. “Obvious Child” killed the rom-com forever. “The LEGO Movie” deconstructed, like, storytelling itself, in a way that kids will be able to understand and use. “Birdman” was slick and meta and fascinatingly weird.
Yup, just a lot of good movies. Keep checking them out.
Worst of Film
This year movies showed us action packed adventure, inspiring love stories and heartbreaking tales, but it wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Most of the movies of 2014 fall neatly into the two categories of remake or sequel.
In this case I’ve defined remake as any movie taking its plot from a book, comic series or past movie. Examples of this include favorites like “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Giver.” Despite the fact that remakes often bring in large audiences of devoted fans, they take away the sense of surprise that makes movies so exciting.
Sequels include movies like “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “22 Jump Street” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Sequels are a great way to carry on the stories of favorite characters while also milking them for every penny they’re worth.
A lot of movies mingle with both categories, with flirty films like “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” and “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1.”
In the end, although we did see a lot of great movies this year, how many of them were original?
Best of Televison
2014 has actually been an awesome year for TV, and I really had to think about declaring the (almost) totally arbitrary winner for Best of TV in 2014. But, much like “Highlander,” there can be only one, and that one has to be “Game of Thrones.” In the fourth season of HBO’s flagship program, we saw the best of what has been an amazing 4 years of television. From premiere to finale, season four might be a top-ten television season of ALL TIME. Basically, anything that manages to maintain that pacing while dealing with so many characters and actually going away for the super popular books they’ve been adapted from should probably beget a noble prize. In other words, when the super-amazing-awesome battle at the Wall isn’t your season’s best episode, you’re doing something right. Congrats “GOT,” I look forward to you continuing to blow my mind in 2015.
Honorable Mentions: “Peaky Blinders,” “True Detective,” “Community,” “The Walking Dead” (most improved!)
Worst of Television
While the media-consuming world is living in a golden age of television, with the rise in online networks and the domination of premium cable, 2014 still offered duds in televised programming.
Who can forget the Emmy Awards this year, which was filled with no surprises for those who received awards, and featured Sofia Vergara placed on a literal pedestal, rotating for the audience while Bruce Rosenblum discussed the work of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Then there was late night television. While Comedy Central and FX have had late night shows with more diverse hosts, the stalwart shows on NBC and CBS haven’t changed much in their diversity make-up. The openings at CBS’ “The Late Show “and “The Late Late Show” created buzz that maybe, finally, a woman or person of color may take the reigns at one of these shows. Unfortunately, two white men will soon replace the former hosts, leaving the diversity of late night still unchanged.
To add insult to injury of how far NBC has fallen over the years, four of their newly minted prime-time shows have all been cancelled before they could even make it to the midseason finales.
Best of Video Games
Point one: Nintendo killed it in 2014. Its console, the Wii U, accelerated from a nice console with a handful of great games to a collection of the company’s greatest game design achievements. In addition to last year’s “Super Mario 3D World,” the console added “Mario Kart 8” and “Super Smash Brothers” to round out their multiplayer lineup, while spinning a new story “Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.” Each was graphically beautiful, carried a great soundtrack and offered some of the best play they’ve ever concocted.
Point two: multiplayer exploded. Indie games like “Nidhogg,” “Sportsfriends,” “TowerFall Ascension” and “Gang Beasts” added new experiences to couch gatherings. And online games like “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft,” “Titanfall,” “Destiny” and “Far Cry 4” ensured even those without a roommate would have a playmate.
Point three: games like “Never Alone,” “This War of Mine” and “Valiant Hearts: The Great War” offer mature experiences expanding the diversity and narrative potential of video games. I’d be remiss to not mention the great horror games in 2014. “P.T.,” “Alien: Isolation” and “Five Nights at Freddy’s” offer lasting creeps with thematic resonance.
Worst of Video Games
I can’t decide which is worse: the totally disappointing revelations that “WATCH_DOGS,” “Destiny” and “Transistor” weren’t nearly what they were cracked up to provide, or that games like “Assassin’s Creed Unity,” “Driveclub” and “Hali: The Master Chief Collection” launched barely functional. Most of these games wouldn’t be fixed by technical polish; these games failed to deliver compelling design. Boring missions, collection quests, mediocre gameplay and dull aesthetics brought down games people had spent years slavering to play.
But worse might be the completely nonfunctional multiplayer of “Halo: The Master Chief Collection,” the blatantly cheap “Sonic Boom” or the disappearing faces and hard crashes of “Assassin’s Creed Unity.” These games were rushed to market and lack the technical polish demanded to make them function as intended.
But the worst of 2014 is the dubious honor of Gamergate controversy. The harassment of feminists in game development and journalism has permanently damaged the reputation of video games. Video games last year featured “Gone Home” and “Depression Quest.” This year, those developers were targets. I say, “Yuck.”
Best of Literature
One of the biggest causes of celebration for me was seeing that the trend of releasing long and painfully dragged-out young-adult series is coming to an end. We might still be seeing the latest depictions of uber popular series such as “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” in theaters, but the furor over young adult and teenage book series finally seems to be dying off.
And while seeing commercially heartfelt books on the big screen is a given, as we saw with “The Fault in our Stars,” it was heartening to see riveting and critically acclaimed ones such as “The Giver” make themselves known to the world too. A trend that I hope continues into the next year and beyond.
2014 also saw releases by some very high profile novelists, with Stephen King and Haruki Murakami riding a trend of big literary comebacks.
Worst of Literature
In terms of literary scandal, the dispute between Amazon and Hachette Publishing was nothing if not emblematic of the current publishing climate. Which would you prefer: more expensive ebooks or curtailing of your Amazon Prime benefits? Was Amazon a bully in this enterprise? Is Hachette just a dinosaur that needs to be weaned from existence?
The dispute, on the whole, wasn’t all that virulent. There was a settlement, which will go into place in 2015, between the two organizations. But it (undoubtedly) opens up other avenues for conflict between older publishing houses and newer booksellers like Amazon. And it’s a conflict that never really should have been instigated; it fomented too much ire.
The crux of the Amazon-Hachette dispute is this: The rules and regulations governing book publication in the Internet age are still very much up in the air.