As it did in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, the year came and went and I didn’t consume nearly as much popular culture as I would have liked. (Though some would say – despite my regrets – I consumed far, far too much.) Though no one will care at all and my taste is, by most measures, truly heinous, here are lists of things – namely comic books, movies, songs, and (new!) unfulfilled projects – I greatly enjoyed in the year 2014. A few days’ late, because I’m late for everything! Enjoy! The lists are in no particular order, unless stated otherwise.
Best Comic Books
(Read and released in 2014)
1) Gotham Academy – Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan, & Karl Kerschl
I think everyone is fully aware I have an affinity for teen detectives, so this new series set in the Batman universe and featuring prep-school sleuths Olive and Maps, was like catnip. Luckily, it’s also extremely good, with well-written protagonists who eschew character cliches, beautiful manga-influenced artwork, and some unexpected DC Comics cameos. It’s also a billion times more fun and colourful than any other book in the Batman line.
2) Seconds – Bryan Lee O’Malley (with Jason Fischer)
O’Malley’s follow-up to the landmark Scott Pilgrim series had a lot of expectations to live up to, and while – let’s face it – it doesn’t surpass Scott Pilgrim‘s heights, it is a perfect follow-up. The characters are more mature, dealing with adult things like regrets and failure, and the book features some of O’Malley’s trademark visual humour. It’s a dazzling standalone piece, like Sliding Doors rewritten as a whimsical comic book.
3) Lumberjanes – Grace Ellis & Noelle Stevenson
I have never been a teenage girl, nor – save an ill-fated three days at a pirate-themed day camp – did I spend any time camping in my youth, but I love Lumberjanes! Action-packed and quirk-heavy, the scouting adventures of Mal, Molly, Jo, April, and Ripley (I assume their names are all homages to other literary and movie heroines) are really a delight. The good news is it started as a miniseries, but the people wanted more, so there will be Lumberjanes adventures well into 2015!
4) Daredevil – Mark Waid & Chris Samnee
Daredevil has been on my annual list of favourite comics for three years’ running now, and with good reason. I’m not sure there’s a more consistent superhero series. Mark Waid has made me love a character and supporting cast that never cared much for before, and Chris Samnee has become my favourite current comic illustrator. (Is there any story he can’t draw well?) Since they restarted the series in 2014 and Daredevil relocated to San Francisco, their collaboration powers have only become stronger.
5) Silver Surfer – Dan Slott & Mike Allred
One of my favourite all-time comic illustrators, Mike Allred (Madman, taking on one Marvel’s most far-out characters? What could go wrong? Well, nearly everything goes right in the new Silver Surfer series, with Norrin Radd free from Galactus and venturing on an Easy-Rider-esque journey across the universe with his human friend Dawn Greenwood. It’s fun, it’s weird, and reminiscent of the heyday of Kirby and Ditko in the best possible way.
6) Andre the Giant: Life and Legend – Box Brown
As far as comic-book memoirs go, one of my favourites from 2014 was Box Brown’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend. Moving from Andre’s youth in rural France to his life as a professional wrestling superstar and some-time actor, the comic uses historical records and celebrity anecdotes to build a loving tribute to the short life of (literally) one of the largest figures in popular culture. And though it’s a heartfelt story, it doesn’t shy away from Andre’s many faults and demons.
7) The Pitiful Human-Lizard – Jason Loo
Full disclosure: Jason Loo is a friend. But that doesn’t mean his sad-sack Toronto-based superhero, the Pitiful Human-Lizard, isn’t the best Canadian superhero comic I’ve read in, well, forever. Imagine Spider-Man if he were less successful fighting crime and had even more confidence issues. And if he fought villains that bore an uncanny resemblance to Toronto’s former mayor in locations like Sneaky Dee’s or the AGO. Half the fun is sightseeing Toronto, but the other half is reading a great superhero comic about a sad, lonely man who just wants to be liked.
8) Through the Woods – Emily Carroll
I don’t read a lot of web comics (I know; I’m sorry), so I wasn’t aware of Emily Carroll’s work before Through the Woods collected some of her best horror stories. The book is truly spooky in a way that’s difficult to achieve in comics. Especially with such a bold (but perfect) colour palette. People rave (and rightly so) about ‘His Face All Red,’ but I was equally creeped out by the book’s opener, ‘Our Neighbour’s House.’
9) Saga – Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Like Daredevil, Saga consistently ends up on the year-end list. Mainly because Saga continues to be wildly inventive and entertaining, and manages to emotionally connect readers with characters even only after a few panels. Fiona Staples continues to amaze on the artwork duties. Many of 2014′s issues dealt with the Robot Royal Family, adding depth and intrigue to a group that had been something of two-dimensional villains in prior issues.
10) Hip-Hop Family Tree Vol. 1 & 2 – Ed Piskor
I had the privilege of interviewing Ed Piskor over poutine this year, during which I told him how much I enjoyed Hip-Hop Family Tree. The book should be taught in any and all courses on music history, as it’s an entertaining, exhaustive, and anecdote-filled look at one of America’s youngest art forms. And, as with his previous book, Wizzywig, it looks at how a subculture grew out of taking technology and bending it to new purposes.
(Honourable Mentions: the Tamaki cousins’ This One Summer, Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey’s Moon Knight, Michael Cho’s Shoplifter.)
(Watched and released in 2014)
1) Snowpiercer – Joon-ho Bong (dir)
I went into Snowpiercer with really high hopes, it being the first English-language movie by the director of one of my favourite movies of all time, The Host. And while it was no Host, it was still a pleasantly bizarre, manic, and innovative tale of futuristic class warfare with a truly bonkers cast (Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Kang-ho Song) that works. The movie is worth it for the set pieces – the pause in battle as they cross a treacherous bridge, the scene in the classroom, the shoot-out through the bulletproof glass windows – in the unbelievably long train alone.
Lou Bloom, getting ahead in the news biz.
2) Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy (dir)
2014 was a big year for the lonely white man in film. (Though what year isn’t?) Jake Gyllenhaal, looking not unlike my younger brother, portrays Lou Bloom, a supremely ambitious and unappealing sociopath breaking into the world of crime news footage, all-too willing to cross a few lines to get the perfect shot. (Actually, it’s about ethics in crime journalism.) Nightcrawler works perfectly as a parable for American capitalism, and its depiction of seedy late-night Los Angeles is second only to Drive and the movies of Michael Mann. And don’t even talk to me about how tense that scene in the Chinese restaurant was! (I only wish the music had been a little better.)
3) Under the Skin – Jonathan Glazer (dir)
If you like movies about lonely men, then do I have a movie for you! Under the Skin, one of the closest things Western Europe will ever come to making a Soviet science fiction film, follows an alien in Scarlett Johansson’s form as it picks up solitary men in Scotland and leads them to their doom. As the movie cryptically and slowly progresses (it does move slowly), it becomes less a horror movie and more a reflection on solitude and belonging. I’m yet undecided on whether the movie fully engages in male gaziness, or subverts male gaziness, but either way it’s a hypnotic movie with a heartbreaking ending.
4) The Raid 2 – Gareth Evans (dir)
The Raid was one of the most intense and brutal martial arts movies ever made. With its sequel, the filmmakers take unlikely hero, dedicated Muslim and low-level police officer, Rama, undercover for more punishing and stomach-churning fight choreography. Breaking out from the claustrophobic tenement of The Raid, The Raid 2 travels to prison yards, restaurant kitchens, and (in one spectacular scene) the Jakarta highway. The Raid 2, recommended for fans of depraved violence only, is a martial arts movie you sort-of enjoy and sort-of survive. At the very least, you leave with a strong aversion to baseball bats and claw hammers.
They really hate sports.
5) We Are the Best! – Lukas Moodysson (dir)
We Are the Best! is the best! I defy you to watch this movie and not end up with a stupid smile plastered on your face. Two thirteen-year-old girls, Bobo and Klara, form a punk band in 1982 Sweden, mainly to spite some older boys. They start working on a song about how much they hate sports, but realize they’ll need to befriend the devoutly Christian girl, Hedvig, and make use of her guitar skills. We Are the Best! captures everything that’s great about adolescence – the friendship, the silliness, the fights – and, in a nice change, features flawed adults who are all just trying to do their best for the kids involved. You will believe in the purifying power of Swedish punk music.
6) The Guest – Adam Wingard (dir)
Is The Guest an action movie? A horror movie? An ’80s teen comedy? All of the above? Whatever this movie is, it’s ridiculously entertaining. Dan Stevens (cousin Matthew from Downton Abbey) shows up at the Peterson household claiming to be a soldier who served with their deceased son in Iraq. His true identity you guessing as the movie switches genres handily from comedy to horror to action and back again. Not to be missed are Dan Stevens’ thousand-yard-stare, a great breakout performance by Maika Monroe, and a really killer synth soundtrack.
7) Whiplash – Damien Chazelle (dir)
More lonely white men at the movies! As with Nightcrawler, we have another ambitious protagonist, Andrew (Miles Teller), ready to torch the world and personal relationships to achieve success. In this case, in the world of jazz drumming. But in Whiplash, he faces a nemesis – or tough-love mentor – in band leader Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). What’s better about Whiplash? J. K. Simmons’ hilariously offensive cruelty (second only to R. Lee Ermey’s in Full Metal Jacket) or Miles Teller’s impressive trapezius muscles? Whiplash is a tight little movie that’s just over-the-top enough to make it great. The cherry on the sundae is that these students are killing themselves to be great at jazz, something so few people care about. It’s like killing yourself to be great at lawn bowling, and that’s what makes this movie so wonderful.
Somebody looks ready for a dance-off.
8) Step Up: All In – Trish Sie (dir)
A new Step Up movie was released in 2014, so obviously it made my Top Ten list. The Step Up movies generally get better as their plots get thinner, and while Step Up: All In, the fifth installment, isn’t the best of the series, it’s a real crowd-pleaser, featuring a super-crew of all your favourites from the previous Step Ups (Moose! Vladd, the robot guy! Jenny Kido! The Santiago twins! The best female lead, Briana Evigan!) and more dance battles than you can handle (including one sublime sequence set to ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’). This time around, our dancers have to grow up and get jobs! (Too real!) Here’s a question: did you see any movies this year during which the woman sitting directly in front of you made her hand into a gun, threw it into the air, and shouted ‘Brrrappp brrrapp?!’ No? Well, I did during Step Up: All In. So what makes you think any movie you saw was better than that?
9) The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson (dir)
The Grand Budapest Hotel is the most Wes Andersony of any Wes Anderson movie, and I’m a sucker for his schtick. It’s set-decorated within an inch of its life, and Ralph Fiennes is perfect as a concierge attempting to impart ‘a glimmer of civilization in the barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity.’ Indeed, Gustave H. and the lobby boy, Zero, fight back against gestapo-like villains armed only with nostalgia and twee charm, and it actually works. For me, the movie hit the right note between madcap zaniness and melancholy. Plus, Adrien Brody makes a perfect villain.
10) The Theory of Everything – James Marsh (dir)
The Theory of Everything, the film version of Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde Hawking’s life together, certainly had the best clothing of any movie I saw in 2014, and it definitely had some of the better performances. Eddie Redmayne is supernaturally good, becoming indistinguishable from Stephen Hawking. He does a stellar job both in showing the man’s physical decline and his considerable charm. He has great support from Felicity Jones and the Colin Firth / Orlando Bloom hybrid Charlie Cox, who also deliver on the acting front.
(Honourable Mentions: Force Majeure, Cavalry, 22 Jump Street, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Topher Grace wielding a tire iron before a burning cornfield in Interstellar.)
Best Songs on Taylor Swift’s 1989
1) ‘Out of the Woods‘
Possibly my favourite song on the entire album. The plaintive shout, ‘I remember!’ will haunt my thoughts forever. Also, I don’t care what anyone else says. This is the best song CHVRCHES never recorded.
2) ‘All You Had To Do Was Stay‘
It’s great because it’s completely true. All you did have to do was stay. You had me in the palm of your hand. Killer, killer chorus, and equally great bridge.
3) ‘I Know Places‘
Plans are currently in the works for me to make a T-shirt that reads, ‘They are the hunters, we are the foxes.’
4) ‘Blank Space‘
Has there been a better, more venomous jam written this year? This is T-Swift’s satiric ‘Maneater.’
5) ‘Shake It Off‘
Don’t deny it: ‘Shake It Off’ is 2014′s ‘Hey Ya,’ right down to the hand claps and spoken interlude to the audience. Guaranteed dance-floor filler. And when Taylor Swift harmonizes with herself at the end of the second verse, it approaches audio nirvana.
6) ‘Bad Blood‘
You know I love my schoolyard chants, and ‘Bad Blood’ is just one big, loud schoolyard chant set to music. ‘So if you’re coming my way … just don’t.’
One of the few slower songs on 1989, but a great, catchy song about recovery from an addiction, whether that addiction it be man- or substance-based.
8) ‘Welcome to New York‘
If you only listen to one pop song that uses the word ‘forevermore’ this year, make it ‘Welcome to New York.’
9) ‘Wildest Dreams‘
Much of 1989 is about the importance of remembering people in your life. Of not being forgotten by ex-lovers, no matter how things turned out. The chorus of this song is kind of heartbreaking. She just wants to be remembered at her best, guys.
‘Style’ isn’t nearly as good as many pop-music pundits would have you believe. They just like that the song references James Dean and makes all that Outsiders / poodle skirt imagery that fills much of 1989 blatantly obvious. Still, iI can’t deny it’s a decent song.
Best Other Songs
(Listened to and mostly released in 2014)
1) ‘Do It Again‘ – Röyksopp & Robyn
If Robyn has a new album out, I’m putting at least one of her songs on my ‘best of’ list. I didn’t love every song in her collaborative album with Röyksopp, but ‘Do It Again’ is stellar dance music. Just listening to it makes me really regret missing her concert at Echo Beach this summer.
2) ‘Worst Behavior‘ – Drake
I wasn’t sold on Drake until I heard ‘Worst Behavior’ (which technically was released in 2013), But after hearing it, I was 100% sold. How could a song that’s mostly Aubrey manically shouting ‘remember?!’ completely hook me? I’m not sure. It’s just so insistent! Also, the whole sub-section – ‘Bar mitzvah money like my last name Mordechai / F*** you, b****, I’m more than high. / My mama probably hear that and be mortified. / This ain’t the son you raised, used to take the Acura / 5 a.m. then go shoot Degrassi up on Morningside.’ – I love everything about it. But to represent his ’6′ roots, he really should have spelled it ‘Worst Behaviour.’
3) ‘Partition‘ – Beyoncé
A super-sexy Beyonce song with a grimy beat. What’s not to like? (I like ‘Drunk in Love,’ too, but I’m afraid it’s not nearly grungy enough.)
4) ‘Jealous (I Ain’t With It)‘ – Chromeo
The best song recorded from an alternate universe in which the 1980s never ended. Is there such a thing as a baseline that is too funky? Chromeo is willing to take that risk, it seems.
Chromeo, with Delorean
5) ‘Too Many Cooks‘ Theme Song
That this song isn’t on, like, every single music ‘best of 2014′ list is a travesty. The song even covers itself over the course of its eleven-minute duration. A pitch-perfect theme to a non-existent sitcom. Hear it once, sing it forever.
6) ‘Blockbuster Night, Part 1‘ – Run the Jewels
Almost every track on Run the Jewels 2 is solid, so it’s hard to pick a standout. But I chose ‘Blockbuster Night, Part 1′ for its driving, menacing rhythm, its Jake the Snake reference, and the line, ‘Top of the morning, my fist to your face is f***ing Folgers.’
7) ‘Malfunction‘ – Rancid
The new Rancid album wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was a good time. Mostly – like a lot of latter-day albums from older punk bands – it reminded you of older, better songs they’ve recorded. But ‘Malfunction’ adds a little something new to the mix. Namely, more cowbell. (I don’t think there’s any cowbell on the recording, but there might as well be.) The song is like Tim, Lars, Matt, and Branden doing their best Happy Mondays impersonation, which sounds better than you’d think.
Cher Lloyd and Demi Lovato
8) ‘Really Don’t Care‘ – Demi Lovato feat. Cher Lloyd
I’ve never been a big fan of Demi Lovato, but ‘Really Don’t Care’ is just such good bubblegum pop, and features one of my favourite singers, Cher ‘I Want U Back‘ Lloyd, on all of four lines. Mostly I love it because I was able to do a duet of this song with some customers at the bookstore, with me in the Cher Lloyd role. So I’ll always have fond memories of it.
9) ‘The Man‘ – Aloe Blacc
Aloe Blacc has a pretty tremendous voice and this is a pretty epic orchestral song. Also, it’s a pop song about taking responsibility, I think? That’s weird, right? But kind of great. (The video is really nice, too, referencing many of the black musicians and civil rights struggles of the ’60s and ’70s.)
10) ‘I Wanna’ Get Better‘ – Bleachers
How does a total electronic rave-up about mental health sound to you? Because it sounds pretty astounding to me.
(Honourable mentions: Fifth Harmony’s ‘Sledgehammer,’ Rita Ora’s ‘I Will Never Let You Down,’ Rich Aucoin’s X-Files homage (I imagine) ‘Want To Believe.’)
Best Unfulfilled Projects
(That I planned, yet failed to accomplish in 2014)
I am just putting the final touches on my revisions to the third book in the Dead Kid Detective Agency series, Loyalist to a Fault (out in Fall 2015), but I really thought I’d have time for more personal projects in 2015. Below are the top five such projects that haunt me with their lack of completion.
1) Heritage Moment T-Shirts (w/ Emma Woolley)
For months, brilliant writer and public intellectual Emma Woolley and I have talked about making a line of T-shirts based on the Canadian Heritage Moments, the short television vignettes from which many Canadians learned about their national history, and which are forever remembered by a series of one-liners: ‘Doctor, I smell burnt toast!’, ‘Is THIS normal?!’, ‘I need those peach baskets back!.’ As with most collaborations on this list, it’s been held up by yours truly. We’ve decided on the moments and everything. I just need to get around to drawing the shirt designs.
2) Seaquest: DSV Podcast (w/ Anne Thériault)
This idea began as just a vague conversation between brilliant writer and public intellectual Anne Thériault and myself, when we discovered a mutual childhood love of the television series Seaquest: DSV. I still think we should make a podcast happen. The people want to hear Theriault and my thoughts on Darwin, the talking dolphin!
3) Graphic novel and /or screenplay about all-girls’ high school chess club
As I’ve said for several months, I have a pretty sweet idea for a graphic novel or screenplay about an all-girls’ high school chess club. The only problem is I know nothing about girls or chess. Still, I’m committed to making this happen at some point in 2015.
4) Musical based on The Fast and the Furious (w/ Emma Healey)
This project was not really a thing. I think it was just a joke between myself and brilliant writer and sometime public intellectual Emma Healey – I know a lot of brilliant writers, and many of them seem to be named Emma – about making a musical based on The Fast and the Furious film franchise. I think it’s a sure-fire win, if we ever decide to pursue it.
5) The Outsiders slash fiction
Really, I just need to finish revisions on the third Dead Kid Detective Agency book and re-read The Outsiders and the stage will be set for my greaser-heavy erotic fan fiction, tentatively titled, Stay Hard, Pony Boy.