Mr. O’Connor picks his favourite entertainment delights of the year.
Here’s my personal picks for the best of 2014 in each category. Please chime in with your own picks below.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Partly because I thought Captain America: The First Avenger was such a good film, I had concerns over the sequel, with the Russo Brothers’ inexperience when it came to major motion pictures being a major factor. But they, the scriptwriters and every single member of the cast kicked so much arse that they created a movie that was not only the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but one of the best films of 2014. And anyone who’s been watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will know that the affects of this film are nowhere near finished yet.
Guardians of the Galaxy
There’s no doubt that Marvel kicked arse with their MCU films this year. Guardians… was always going to be a bit of a risk and a film that had had no specific lead-in from any of the other films It was also a title that few outside of the comic book community had really heard of. It had to be a stonker, and my word, was it! Sad, hilarious, epic, and completely bizarre. Also, Lee Pace as Ronan? Awesome.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
The day that Fox and Sony realise that the consumer (us) will benefit much more from having an entirely united Marvel Universe will be a wonderful day for us all. Until then, however, I’m sure we’ll manage with films like this. Days… is loosely based on a classic storyline but it also had the job of uniting the X-Men timelines; the modern original trilogy, the great First Class, and the mixed pair that was the Wolverine films. Thankfully, Bryan Singer returned to the directors role and made the awful that was The Last Stand a distant memory.
Although, can anyone explain why Kitty Pryde’s powers have changed? Would a hint to “Secondary Mutation have hurt?
How to Train Your Dragon 2
When How to Train Your Dragon was released, it became a bit of a surprise hit, especially with the extremely childish source material, but the success of that film meant HtTYD2 was always going to be huge. That it was absolutely stunning was a rather good extra. It made me happy, sad, laugh-out-loud, and I genuinely cared about the characters. I still think the animation appears more childish than is required, and some of the voice acting is a bit questionable, with Cate Blanchett certainly not suiting the character, but then you have Gerard Butler nailing it like a pro. Also, Toothless is adorable.
Being neither a comic book adaption or a comedy, you may be surprised to see this upon my “best of” list, yet Labor Day, based upon a book of the same name, was made amazing with some brilliant lead performances despite its predictable plot. Gattlin Griffith, who plays the role of a son trying to support his mother, is brilliant. The dialogue leaves enough interpretation to the viewer whilst simultaneously managing to be obvious enough that you’re never left perplexed by the plot. This film is, well, just lovely. Hard, emotional and sad, but lovely.
It’s rare for a film to make me as excited as this one does, and while there are more conventional aspects to Christopher Nolan’s latest, you don’t really know what direction its going in. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but don’t expect a mere sci-fi film when you see this.
In all honesty, this year has been spent catching up with the absolute multitude of series that are available, specifically building up my once-pitiful collection of non-Marvel titles. It’s now merely poor. However, there is one comic that’s been a highlight for me this year and that’s…
Life with Archie: The Married Life
There was a lot of media attention attached to the conclusion of Life with Archie, although there were only a few people who actually gave a damn here in the UK. I, however, gave a damn about it because not only is Life with… a rather different proposition, but the reason it received so much media attention was because they leaked the series’ conclusion. I’m sure that doing so sold issues and created interest for those who wouldn’t otherwise have heard about the title. Those of us who actually enjoyed reading the series would rather do so without any form of spoilers, so major ones like this are particularly annoying. For those who’ve been reading the entire series rather than merely #36 (the penultimate issue which contains the spoiled scene), you would know that, despite the lack of superheroes and climactic world-ending scenarios, there’s a wonderful romantic comedy that’s rare in the modern-day comics market. It’s funny, cheesy, gripping, and moving. The finale takes major influence from regular and past Archie comics, yet despite the majorly tragic plot-point of the penultimate issue, the finale retains a cheery air.
Some may find this too “twee” and too “nicey-nicey,” yet when mainstream comics seem to be focusing more and more upon the negatives, with any victory undermined by some form of misadventure which generally seems to lead into the next big crossover or event, a bit of loveliness is actually a nice tonic. Life with… isn’t perfect but the series is more than just its climactic moments, with there having been thirty-five issues of real-life happenings before this over-the-top event. It is the ONLY comic this year that I’ve eagerly pre-purchased. Not even Astro City could lay claim to that. That’s right – this year, Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson were beaten by Archie.
Next year, my prediction is that an illustration by Justin Beiber will be better than one by Alex Ross (who, by the way, drew a creepy as heck cover for Archie). You think I’m joking now, but I’ve just blown the minds of those reading this in December 2015…
Anathema – Distant Satellites
Why Anathema aren’t a much bigger band than they currently are I will never know, with three stunning vocalists in Vincent and Daniel Cavanagh and Lee Douglas. They are able to effortlessly and simultaneously create heavy and beautiful songs alongside more expiremental ditties. While the prog influences are obvious, it’s never difficult to listen to.
Sonic Syndicate – Sonic Syndicate
It has been four years since their previous album, the utterly panned We Rule the Night which, despite several decent songs, suffered from apparent label interference. Now, several founding members lighter due to “musical differences,” Sonic Syndicate returned to the melodic death metal/metalcore hybrid that made them interesting originally. It was also extremely catchy.
Within Temptation – Hydra
Symphonic metallers Within Temptation’s previous album was a bit of a curveball for the always-dependable group, toning down those symphonic elements and creating more of a rock/metal album with a concept to generally good effect. Hydra is somewhat of a blend of their previous record and their recognised style, and works wonderfully. For this semi-return to their general sound, however, they brought in their friends like ex-Killswitch Engage singer Howard Jones and ex-Nightwish player Tarja Turunen, who lent their vocals to two of the best songs on the album. Rapper Xzibit was a change of pace, but he works rather well with his vocals fitting into the band’s style rather nicely.
Casualties of Cool – Casualties of Cool
One of two Devin Townsend albums on my favourites list this year, Casualties of Cool was a departure from the sound of a man who’s never been one to shun experimentation. A blend of country, blues, rock and a fair amount of ambient, the songs are all truly beautiful, but in a way that can only be described as purposeful. The bluesy, smoky vocals of Che Aimee Dorval are well-matched with Townsend’s own and I hope to hear much more from her in the future.
Devin Townsend Project – Z2
Although Townsend has already made my list, it would be impossible to ignore the contributions of his main band, which produced my favourite album of 2012, Epicloud. Z2 is, however, something completely different, being split into two different records; the rocky and lighter Sky Blue and Dark Matters, which was a sequel to his previous concept album Ziltoid the Omniscient, about an alien who came to Earth searching for the greatest cup of coffee. As you may expect, Dark Matters is absolutely bonkers and, due to it’s spoken word sequences, demands to be heard in its entirety at least once as it won’t make sense otherwise. Sky Blue is pretty much the exact opposite, opposing Dark Matters brilliantly.
Tuomas Holopainen – Life & Times of Scrooge
I’ll be honest, I was excited about this before I even heard the first single, but “A Lifetime of Adventure” completely pulled me in with its delicate vocals and grand sound. A concept album based upon Scrooge McDuck may sound like a weird one, but Tuomas Holopainen of metal band Nightwish creates a stunning record which blends orchestral, rock, choral music, and the life and death of a duck into something you’ll come to adore. Admittedly, the effect is better taken all in one sitting, but if you’re too busy to listen to an album about a duck, I don’t think this is for you anyway.
Emma Stevens – Waves
Emma Stevens’ debut album, Enchanted, was one of my favourites of 2013, and the follow-up equals that achievement. While her debut gathered together all four of her EP’s, Waves sounds like a much more polished collection of songs, a mixture of light and cheerful country pop and some stunning light ballads. Romance is certainly the most common lyrical content but there’s also a lot of positivity in the lyrics, even during “Nothing Serious,” which is about support during a serious illness. Self-deprecation and bemoaning the state of the world today this is not, but instead it is something much more personal and all the better for it.