Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Favs of 2014

I also really like the polka dot duvet cover I got on sale.

This is by no means a definitive "best of 2014" list. I have not read, watched, or looked at enough things to make such a list. Just a few of my favorite things I read, watched, and looked at in 2014.


Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami - My absolute top favorite piece of media in any medium this year. After the unwieldy 1Q84, some worried Murakami had lost his touch. But this year we got a translation of his latest novel, which is also one of his best. A shy young man's life is upended when his close-knit group of friends mysteriously abandon him. Many lonely years later, he finds the courage to confront them about what happened. The novel also handles a tough topic (that coincidentally became an explosive topic in 2014) with compassion and intelligence.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide - Man doesn't consider himself a "cat person." Then he meets a cat. I also read Tom Cox's Under the Paw, a book about a man who considers himself a cat person and obtains lots of cats. (Ironically, the above Murakami was uncharacteristically catless.)

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver - This collection is likely the swan song of this great poet. A Thousand Mornings is no American Primitive, and I admit I thought her poems about her late dog Percy were overwrought (until my own elderly cat passed away). But it did include one of my new favorite lines ever, in "Out of the Stump Rot, Something": "If you like a prettiness,/ don't come here./ Look at pictures instead,/ or wait for the daffodils."

Other favorites that are not from 2014 but that I read for the first time in 2014:

The Savage Detectives and Amulet by Roberto Bolaño - I went on a Roberto Bolaño binge this year. Like Balzac, Bolaño works with a large cast of characters who span the globe but are mostly rooted in Mexico City. Of these, my favorite is Auxilio Lacouture, a middle-aged drifter and literary devotee from Uruguay who calls herself the "mother of Mexican poetry." In one chapter of Savage Detectives, she tells her story of staying in a bathroom during the army's 1968 takeover of the University of Mexico. In the novella Amulet, we get a fuller picture of her hardscrabble, poetry-filled life.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - I don't usually read thrillers, but when I saw the incredible trailer, I knew I needed to read the book ASAP or I would look up spoilers. Even if you know some of the twists, it's still a tense "in one sitting" read. (Warning: there will be some spoilers in my ramblings on the movie version below.)

Short Stories

"Someone in the Room Will" by Falcon Miller in The Rag - Even when I'm fortunate enough to get a contributor's copy of a literary magazine, I'm still convinced my piece was the worst piece. My favorite piece, however, in my contributor's copy of The Rag #6, was Falcon Miller's clear-eyed but empathetic portrait of a woman who is just not going to make it in society.

"River So Close" by Melinda Moustakis in Granta - Another story told about people at the fringes, "River so Close" in Granta #128 tells the story of a younger, sharper woman who is a seasonal worker at an Alaskan cannery where danger takes many forms.


For the Sake of Being(s), Katy Horan and Katherine Rutter at Gallery LeQuiVive in Oakland - I'm a longtime fan of Horan, but this joint show focusing on nature and dark femininity was my first introduction to Rutter's work.

Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George, O'Keeffe retrospective at the de Young in San Francisco - The giant flowers were there, but this exhibit showed off the artist's range of subjects, from abstract, modern cityscapes to landscapes far removed from her well known desert scenes.


It was a great year for Marvel actors doing arty genre pieces.

Snowpiercer - A cruelly topical, claustrophobic, existential nightmare in which director Joon-ho Bong somehow seamlessly includes slapstick humor and kick-ass action. After the human-caused apocalypse, Earth's only survivors live on a socially stratified train doomed to circle the globe continuously (Marvel Person Count: 1, Captain America. Tilda Swinton: Yes. John Hurt: Yes.)

Under the Skin - This "alien has moral crisis on Earth" movie directed by Jonathan Glazer is...not for everyone. I had to reflect on it for a while before I even knew if it was for me. It's a contemplative film with beautiful visuals and little dialogue. Several people in the viewing I attended walked out, most memorably some guy who apparently decided he just could not watch Scarlett Johansson slowly, slowly, slowly, ever so slowly eat cake. That was where this unknown man drew the line. (Marvel Person Count: 1, Black Widow. Tilda Swinton: No. John Hurt: No.)

Only Lovers Left Alive - The main characters are vampires in this Jim Jarmusch film, but this is less of a "vampire movie" than it is a funny, moving family drama that takes place in deserted Detroit, USA and vibrant Tangier, Morocco. A sunny, earthy woman and her younger musician husband deal with his depression and her reckless little sister. (Marvel Person Count: 1, Loki. Tilda Swinton: Yes. John Hurt: Yes.)

Gone Girl - I read the book so I wouldn't look up spoilers for the movie, and then I had to wait for what felt like forever for the movie! I enjoyed this David Fincher adaptation - I'm sure it helped that Flynn did the screenplay. Some see Amy Elliot Dunne as the ultimate "men's rights activist" strawwoman, but I think she's her own great villain, and Rosamund Pike was excellent in this role (favorite moments: competitive miniature golf, post-murder hair-flip, and that grin at Ben Affleck from the examination room). Although true to the source material, the movie managed to add to a lot of dark humor. Missi Pyle as fake Nancy Grace was a great bonus. (Marvel Person Count: -0.5, with 0.5 for Daredevil and -1 for Batman. Tilda Swinton: No. John Hurt: No.)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier & Guardians of the Galaxy - with a topical political thriller and zany-cute space comedy, Marvel proved it can keep their millions of superhero movies fresh. (Marvel Person Count: check with payroll. Tilda Swinton: No. John Hurt: No.)


Gotham - This prequel series is cheesy and trying to cram in too many famous characters, but I love it. Robin Lord Taylor is an absolute breakout as Oswald Cobblepot (better known as the Penguin) steadily working his way up the ranks of the Gotham underworld. Jada Pinkett Smith, as new character Fish Mooney, is over-the-top and entertaining as a villain who mixes deadliness with the camp of the 1960s series.

South Park - Who knew 18 was a lucky season? The show, which began as a crudely animated short in 1992, found new life in 2014 by drawing inspiration from Silicon Valley, gluten, and pop-star/middle-aged geologist Lorde.


And...the Rainbow Brite theme song's in my head.

Loki: Agent of Asgard - The Asgardians had quite a 2014, which should provide the foundation for a great 2015. Except for Thor, who lost the power to wield Mjolnir and was replaced by a new Thor (popular new name for old Thor as suggested by Katie Schenkel: Snortblat). Loki: AOA started in February, and then led to a mini-series, Thor & Loki: the Tenth Realm, where the brothers met their long-lost older sister, Angela, who then got her own book, Angela: Asgard's Assassin. And a new Thor has begun telling the story of the still-unknown woman who has taken Snortblat Thor Odinson's place as Thunder God.

Loki: AOA has been my favorite, though. Continuing the extreme identity crisis and self-hatred that Kieron Gillen launched for him at the end of Journey Into Mystery, AOA finds Loki living in New York, singing in the shower, playing video games, grilling salmon, and making yet another take-no-shit platonic female friend. But of course, drama finds him. With clever writing by Al Ewing and art by Lee Garbett, highlights have included a guest appearance by Doctor Doom and goddaughter Valeria, the most determined band of juggling-themed supervillains ever, and an obnoxiously heroic Loki who can turn into Thor AND a unicorn.

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