While every year in entertainment is filled with hits and misses, 2014 had some truly great moments. Here are my top 28 (because I just couldn’t cut it down to 25) entertainment moments, events, and releases of the year, in no particular order:
As a movie, The Skeleton Twins is a really good film. It’s not blow-you-away good, but it’s a really strong drama with some great moments of humor. However, I really want to draw your attention to one thing in particular: Bill Hader. His performance as the suicidal gay twin brother of Kristen Wiig is ABSOLUTELY PHENOMENAL. Honestly, it’s a complete revelation. He never once drops into flamboyant caricature, but you also never for a moment question his character’s sexuality. He’s funny, challenging, dramatic, warm, brusque, and confused all in turns, and it’s easily my favorite performance of the year. There’s also a scene he spearheads in the middle of the movie — I don’t want to give it away, but it involves a Starship song — that is hands down my single favorite movie scene of the entire year. This is one of those under-the-radar gems that you should definitely check out.
I understand why some people stopped watching this show early on, as it definitely needed a few episodes to find its footing. But around halfway through the season (especially once it tied its events in to what happened in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. became one of the best shows on TV. Great action, cool sci-fi, emotional character drama, lots of humor, and some serious twists and turns made this must-watch TV every single week! Seriously, this show had one of the single best and most game-changing shocks on television this year, and it was never the same as a result of it. If you haven’t checked it out yet but are a fan of Marvel’s movies, you really need to pick up the Season 1 DVD (or Blu-ray) set and start binge-watching. NOW!
There isn’t much original about Cuban Fury; it’s a film we’ve seen a dozen times before. So why did I love it so much? I’m not 100% sure, but I can say that I really, really enjoyed it. Nick Frost plays an everyman schlub who rediscovers his childhood passion for salsa dancing when he finds out that his beautiful new boss (played by Rashida Jones) is also into it. What follows is a predictably by-the-numbers rom com that’s light on the rom and heavy on the salsa. And while it’s not exactly a laugh out loud comedy, I found myself smiling through the whole film, and grinning madly by the end of it. Plus, Chris O’Dowd is absolutely hysterical in it. This is just a cute, fun, enjoyable tim that I highly recommend checking out.
Ignore all the hubbub and misplaced ire about the free iTunes download (“How DARE you give me something for free? You bastards!”) What got missed in all that overblown angst is that U2 has delivered their best album in 13 years. Not since All That You Can’t Leave Behind has a U2 album been this amazing. They’ve been my favorite band for years (aside from The Beatles, of course), but their last three albums have been a let down. Songs of Innocence, however, is the first album of theirs to take influences from every single album they’ve ever done and mash them together into one cohesive track list. There isn’t a bad song on here, and you can find flavors from all of their previous releases in every song. This is my favorite album of the year by far, and easily one of my top three U2 albums. Rock music perfection.
What can I really say about Guardians of the Galaxy that you don’t already know? It was the biggest hit of the year at the box office, it was almost universally loved by fans and critics alike, and it proved that Marvel can make a hit movie out of just about any property. It would make a much more interesting review if I had anything negative to say about the film, but honestly, I flat out loved it. In fact, when I sat down to watch the Blu-ray, I was floored by the fact that it’s even better the second time around. And yes, the quote above is my favorite line from my favorite movie of the year.
When I first saw the trailer for the Guillermo del Toro-produced The Book of Life, I honestly thought it looked like the worst movie ever. The only reason I ended up seeing it was because I was invited to a press screening of it and Channing Tatum was there for press Q&A. How do you turn that down? So I hunkered in for what I expected to be an interminable 90 minutes, and instead I found myself utterly charmed by this completely original animated film. Funny, exciting, romantic and visually stunning, The Book of Life is simply terrific. Channing Tatum’s character is one of the funniest animated heroes in years, and the entire film just feels like something you’ve never seen before, which is increasingly rare in this day and age. Don’t judge this film by the trailer; it’s so much better than that.
Quite possibly my favorite box set ever, this massive deluxe 15-disc collection (also available in a standard 10-disc edition) not only includes EVERY Halloween movie ever all in one place for the first time, but it also includes a number of bonus films. You get the extended television editions of Halloween and Halloween II (the originals), the unrated editions of Rob Zombie’s remakes (even though I don’t like them, it’s good to see them included as part of the complete set), and — most exciting — the infamous never-before-available Producer’s Cut of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, which changes the film significantly from the version that was released and is considered by many to be one of the weakest films in the franchise. On top of that, you get a 40-page book, amazing artwork in all-black Blu-ray cases, and even a new cover illustration by the master poster artist himself, Drew Struzan. Honestly, as a huge fan of the Halloween franchise, this box set is pretty much a dream come true. For me, Halloweeen is my favorite horror movie, and it remains one of my favorite horror franchises. Sure, it had its ups and downs, but find me a horror series that DOESN’T. You can’t. Michael Myers is the best of all the slasher/boogeymen, and after years of piecemealing my Halloween collection through various DVD and Blu-ray releases, it’s a truly wonderful thing to have THE definitive collection on my shelf now.
This Image Comics action/fantasy series took me completely by surprise. Ostensibly the story of four action heroines in a medieval/fantasy setting, Rat Queens is anything but ordinary. These characters swear, do drugs, have sex, and kill lots of people, all while having tons of fun. Honestly, it’s one of the most refreshing and original comics on the market today, and a completely new spin on your typical Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones fare. With great art, razor-sharp scripts, and a sense of fun that is missing from most comics today, Rat Queens is definitely worth checking out. The first four issues are available in a budget-priced trade paperback, so you have no excuses not to read it anymore.
I absolutely love Phineas & Ferb. I mean, my kids do, too, but I’m just as big a fan was they are. After last year’s terrific Marvel crossover, I wasn’t sure what the show would do to top themselves, but they did it here with Phineas & Ferb: Star Wars. Set firmly in the world of Star Wars, this parody/mash-up hits on major highlights from all of the films, focusing mostly on the original movies but also getting in some prequel jabs as well. It does it all lovingly, though, so it’s never making fun of Star Wars. But the humor is so dead on and this hour-long special is so cleverly written that you can’t NOT enjoy it. I can’t wait for the next Phineas & Ferb crossover.
I’ve been a huge Eminem fan for years, but he’s had a few albums that have been more miss than hit for me. While Recovery was a huge improvement over Relapse, I still wasn’t sure what Eminem was going to show up on The Marshall Mathers LP 2. Luckily, it turned out to be the Eminem who makes incredibly powerful music, and The Marshall Mathers LP 2 has turned into one of my favorite albums of his. Standout tracks include the ferocious Rap God; the emotionally poignant (and one of the most mature songs Em has ever written) Headlights, featuring Nate Ruess of fun; Love Game (featuring a killer rap by Kendrick Lamar); and Eminem’s follow-up to Love the Way You Lie with Rihanna called Monster. There really isn’t a bad track on the album. The Deluxe Edition also includes five bonus tracks, the stand out is of which is Desperation (featuring Jamie N Common), which has a southern rock feel to it. Whether you’ve been an Eminem fan but have drifted away or you’ve been following him religiously from day one, I think this is the album to remind you how great he can be.
I’ve been a huge fan of Arrow since the very first episode, and in its third season it’s just as strong as ever. Then you add The Flash to the mix, which is the perfect response to Arrow. Whereas Arrow is dark and gritty, The Flash is fun, lighthearted, and energetic. Grant Gustin is terrific in the lead role, and the show has felt sure-footed from the very first episode. Meanwhile, Gotham took me a few episodes to warm up to, and while it’s a very flawed show, there’s something about it that I’ve really come to enjoy. I don’t know why Marvel makes such better movies than DC, but DC rules the television roost, and these are three shows I really enjoy watching.
This addictive game comes from some of the creators of Angry Birds that split off and formed their own game development studio. Ultimately a puzzle game along the lines of Candy Crush, it has enough different about it that it doesn’t just feel like a Candy Crush rehash. It’s crazily addictive, but if I have one complaint, it’s that some of the higher levels get awfully difficult awfully quickly. Still, this is a game that’s kept my thumbs busy for months now, and easy the one mobile game I’ve come back to time and again.
In 2013, independent author Blake Northcott published (with the help of Kickstarter) Arena Mode, a Hunger Games-with-superheroes sci-fi novel that was action packed, filled with pop culture references, and a breath of fresh air. This year, she published the excellent follow up, Assault or Attrition and also launched a Kickstarter for the third book in the saga, Final Empire. That campaign went on to become the second-highest grossing fiction book in Kickstarter’s history. Northcott is a terrific author, this trilogy is amazing, and she’s clearly shaping up to be a true superstar in the genre. Check out the first two books now and get in on the bandwagon before she’s a household name, because that day is coming.
Archie Comics were some of the very first comic books I read as a kid. Even after I got into superheroes, I always still enjoyed reading the adventures of the Riverdale gang, and as an adult, I hold a very warm soft spot in my heart for Archie and his friends. So when Archie Comics published two of my favorite comic book storylines of the year, I was blown away. Afterlife With Archie sounds like it could be a comedy mash-up: it’s zombies in Riverdale. Instead, it’s a horror comic that rivals The Walking Dead in terms of scares and emotional impact. Think I’m kidding? Read the issue told from the point of view of Jughead’s dog, Hot Dog. You will be blown away. And then, the company ended the Life of Archie series with the headline-grabbing Death of Archie storyline, which brought more than a single tear to my eye. A terrific story that celebrated Archie’s life and used an inventive storytelling device to avoid revealing if it was Betty or Veronica who was married to him at the end, this was a truly moving story. This was some really amazing adult storytelling, proving that Archie doesn’t have to be just for kids.
I really wanted not to like Anger Management at all. I mean, Charlie Sheen has sort of fallen off the list of people I respect, the show isn’t terribly clever or original, and it’s not like I was really in need of a new show to watch. But despite how I feel about Charlie Sheen’s personal life, I actually like this show. Now, let me be clear: it’s NOT great television. It’s the type of comedy writing we’ve seen about a thousand times before. But for some reason, it works. This season, Lindsey Lohan guest-starred as herself in an episode that sees her dating Sheen’s non-celebrity character. While she’s trying to get her life in order, everything they do together ends up in the headlines, with the actuality of the event skewed to make her look worse and worse. So powdered donuts smushed in each other’s faces becomes a “cocaine binge” in the tabloids. It’s a terrifically funny episode, and seeing Lohan game to make fun of herself is very refreshing.
If Bill Hader’s performance in The Skeleton Twins is my favorite of the year, this one comes a close second. Lead actor Guy Pearce is typically excellent and intense in The Rover, a taut action/drama/suspense film that takes place in Australia ten years after the collapse of the world’s economy. But the real revelation here is Robert Pattinson, who plays a half-wit with a southern drawl and a bad haircut. His entire body transforms to inhabit the role, and he will absolutely blow you away. He’s literally unrecognizable; it’s one of those performances that can only be described as transformative. If you’ve formed your opinion of Pattinson’s acting abilities solely from the Twilight movies, The Rover will absolutely make you rethink him completely. I was completely enthralled every time he was on screen. Oh yeah, and the movie itself is pretty damned good.
In the season five premiere of The Walking Dead, we get one of my favorite scenes of the entire series so far. The gang heads into the woods after escaping the burning cannibal community of Terminus. Rick wants to go back into Terminus and kill everyone there, but the rest of the group resists. As they begin to debate, Carol shows up. In one of the most touching moments of the entire series, Daryl turns around and sees her and runs over to her; crying, he embraces her in a momentous hug that will stand as one of the single best moments of the show’s entire run. The entire season has been terrific so far, but this single moment stands out as what makes this show so great.
Everything is awesome, especially this movie! One of the most successful movies of the year is also one of the BEST films of the year! Don’t think of The LEGO Movie as just a kids’ film; if you do, you’ll be missing out on one of the funniest, most original, most clever, and most creative films in a long time. Sharply written, visually astounding, and superbly cast (with great actors who never overpower their roles), The LEGO Movie is some of the most fun I’ve had in a very long time. This one is a slam dunk all the way.
I will watch anything James McAvoy is in, as he’s one of my favorite actors working today. His performance in X-Men: Days of Future Past shows that good acting and superhero movies don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Meanwhile, the little-seen British film Filth is one of those movies that I would definitely not have watched if it wasn’t for him. Ostensibly the story of a crooked policeman losing his mind, this is a movie that is all about drugs, insanity, violence, sex, hatred, and every other nasty thing you can think of. It’s an incredibly odd film, making Trainspotting look tame by comparison, but it is saved by an absolutely stunning performance by McAvoy. Honestly, I’m not even sure if I liked the film or not, but McAvoy is just so damned amazing in it that I absolutely loved it. My man-crush list may be constantly evolving, but James McAvoy is currently number one on it!
A film about the life of Geroge Takei and his manager/husband, To Be Takei could not be more delightful. This isn’t just a movie about being gay, nor abut Star Trek. Instead, it weaves together tales of Takei’s impressive crusade for gay rights, his history with Trek (and William Shatner), his relationship with his husband, his work with Howard Stern, and his time in an American internment camp during World War II, which clearly affected him greatly. It’s a funny, moving, fascinating film, and I loved every minute of it. I think you will, too.
Already lauded with tons of critical acclaim, I don’t have much to add to the discussion other than to say that I loved the book Gone Girl and I loved David Fincher’s adaptation. I was extremely curious how he was going to pull off the dual-narrator style of the book, and he did so perfectly. And while Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike (whom I’ve been a fan of for years) deserve all the critical acclaim and awards talk they’ve received, there are two people who have gone criminally under-noticed: Carrie Coon as Margo Dunne and Kim Dickens as Detective Rhonda Boney. Honestly, if both of them don’t receive Best Supporting Actress nominations at the Oscars, I’m going to be very disappointed. Affleck and Pike carry the film, but without these two actresses in major supporting roles, the film wouldn’t have been nearly as good. When you watch the film for the second time (because surely you’ve seen it already, right?), keep an eye out for their amazing performances.
The 100 is one of my favorite new genre shows of the past few seasons. While not a huge hit for the CW, it earned enough buzz to bring it back for another season. It’s a great mash-up of The Lord of the Flies, Battlestar Galactica, and After Earth, set in the distant future where Earth is potentially uninhabitable. One hundred under-18 “criminal” kids are sent to the Earth’s surface to see if it’s a viable place to sustain what remains of humanity. The show has a few moments of suspect dialogue and acting, but overall it’s quite solid. And it takes some chances; there are some truly shocking moments in the first season. I’m really glad The 100 came back for a second season, and I hope it continues on for a good long time.
It’s never too late for one of my favorite movies of the year to come along, and Pride has managed to squeak into my top 10 with just a week left in the year. This is easily the best homosexuals-supporting-miners-on-strike-in-1980s-England movie ever. Granted, it’s also the only homosexuals-supporting-miners-on-strike-in-1980s-England movie ever, but that doesn’t take away from what a great film it is. Based on a true story, Pride is by turns funny, touching, indignant, warm, and political. With movie stalwarts like Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, and Paddy Considine representing the miner side of things, it’s the newcomers that play the homosexuals who shine equally as bright. Lead actor Ben Schnetzer will blow you away; if this guy doesn’t become a huge star, I don’t know who will. Pride is one of those movies that will surprise you and charm you; do yourself a favor and track it down.
Even though I’ve been listening to this podcast for 10 years, 2014 continued to deliver some of the finest film commentary anywhere. Not only that, but it’s still the most entertaining audio experience around. British radio personalities Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo bicker like an old married coupe, but never in a way that’s annoying or irksome. The show is filled with humor, and Kermode’s movie reviews remain some of the most insightful, entertaining, and passionate in any medium. If you love movies and you’re not listening to this weekly show, you’re really missing out.
Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staple’s epic science fiction comic book series got a lot of attention in the press this year. A lot of it was unfortunately due to an issue of the series being briefly pulled from the Apple App store due to a scene of homesexuality, but what got overlooked in all that hubbub is what an incredible series this is. While it launched in 2013, the book stayed on schedule and continued to turn in some of the most engaging, bizarre, thoughtful, and exciting science fiction in comics throughout 2014. This is a book that knows exactly where it’s going and never misses a step. And Fiona Staples’ art remains some of the best in the business. Available in separate 6-issue trade paperbacks or one recently released hardcover that collects the first 18 issues, there’s no reason at all not to be reading one of the best comics on shelves.
Another show that made a lot of headlines for a homosexual storyline, what’s great about HTGAWM is just how much fun it is. Like Shonda Rhimes’ other runaway hit, Scandal, HTGAWM isn’t overly concerned with being grounded in the mundane; it’s all about shocks, twists, and barely likable characters doing questionable things. But the central mystery is thrilling, and there are questions upon questions, with answers doled out at just the right pace. Soapy? Yes. Addictive? Absolutely!
DC introduced two new weekly comic book series in 2014: Batman Eternal and Future’s End. Batman Eternal is a sweeping Batman epic that combines gang war, police politics, and super villains. While I don’t pick the book up weekly there’s a terrific trade paperback that collects the first 21 issues, and reading it in one big chunk like that lets you really appreciate the scope of the story. Future’s End, meanwhile, brings the Batman of Batman Beyond to the present… well, sort of. It’s actually five years in the future, where he works to prevent an apocalypse from his past in our near future. It’s really fun to see where our DC heroes are at in five years time, and whether or not DC lives up to it’s promise that the current titles will all end up following these story lines in five years or not, it’s still a really enjoyable ride. This one is also available in a huge trade paperback that collects the first 21 issues.
I have been an outspoken non-fan of Wes Anderson films for years. Aside from his debut film, Bottle Rocket, I’ve never liked any of his films. They tend to be quirky just for the sake of quirky, but they lack any sort of heart, emotion, or likable characters. That all changed with The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson finally imbued one of his films with real heart, and the result is a masterpiece. Part of the credit goes to Ralph Fiennes, who is a true revelation in a rare comedic role. He is so charming, magnetic, and funny on screen that I couldn’t stop watching him, nor did I want to. Paired with newcomer Anthony Quinonez, the two are one of the most enjoyable onscreen duos since Nick & Nora Charles. The other thing that made the film work for me was that it’s intentionally a comedy and it’s intentionally quirky. Which, yes, sounds like every other Anderson film. But in most cases, his films try to drive a serious and dramatic plotline but surround it with unnecessary quirkiness. This time, the film is meant to be silly and goofy and over-the-top, so I never felt that the excessive quirkiness was out of place. The bottom line here is, this film was a surprise for me. Maybe Wes Anderson has some talent after all.
So there you have it, the top entertainment moments of 2014. What are your thoughts? What did I miss? What did you love? What did you hate? Let us know!