Josie’s Best of 2014

2014 was, in many ways, a flat circle. According to my Netflix viewing history, I spend too much time watching TV, I spent an awful lot of time re-watching old shows this year, including my beloved Twin Peaks (which I finally finished reviewing, just in time for the announcement that there is more to come). And then, suddenly, it was December, and I had very little to show for it. But this is what I’ve got:

Best Television Shows

True Detective is, hands down, the best TV show I watched this year. The pilot episode seemed promising, but I dropped it, because: life—until I read the online hullaballoo about an astonishing six-minute tracking shot in the fourth episode. Cue the vacuum-y sound of me being sucked into a phenomenal murder-mystery that charts the emotional development (or lack thereof) of the two detectives, played to pitch-perfection by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey.

Crator Nic Pizzolatto’s engagement with the tradition of horror stories (including the now-infamous story of The King in Yellow) might be the allusion most people think of when discussing this show, but what drew me in was his exploration of inner darkness and tentative heroism in a fallen world. Pizzolatto’s scripts—and Cary Fukunaga’s direction—skirt the silly, as McConaughey’s Rust Cohle discusses our fate as nothing more than “sentient meat” and watches crows fly into symbolic spirals, but True Detective always felt, to me, like a deeply true portrayal of men struggling to make sense of a postlapsarian world through a detection-quest colored by religious and philosophical musings.

The Flash, on the other hand, is pure cotton candy. As much as I enjoy Arrow’s broody darkness, I look forward to its youthful spinoff more every week. Why? Mostly because of star Grant Gustin’s charisma and enthusiasm: as the Flash, he’s a young man exploring exciting powers, and he makes that excitement infectious. This show makes me smile.

The Good Wife falls into the “new to me” category: although I’d watched the first few episode years ago, I wasn’t attracted to the story of a woman who sticks by her politician husband after an embarrassing amount of infidelity. On a whim, I checked out a few episodes starting in the third season to see what all the fuss was about Carrie Preston’s guest-starring character...and suddenly found myself in the middle of an unintentional, and inconvenient, binge-watch. Now I’m hooked.

By the mid-third season, Juliana Marguiles’s Alicia Florrick is a woman in full control of her powers, and the law-firm procedural aspect of (most) episodes provides a strong skeleton to explorations of power, scheming, adult romance, and—eventually—politics. If you, like me, were unenthusiastic about this show’s initial premise, I recommend starting anew with Season Three.

Best Movies

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was really damn good. I never thought I’d put a Marvel movie on my best-of list, but, like one of my old standby favorites, Person of Interest, this second installment of the Captain America franchise focuses on the surveillance state and the power of remote warfare. Topical considerations aside, it’s also a fun action-thriller with some super-cool fight scenes and a rather enchanting baddie, the Winter Soldier himself. The big MCU reset—Hail Hydra!—sets up some exciting developments for the apparently-unending stream of films and TV shows that will grace our screens for the next millennium.

Blackfish, though, might be the film that stuck with me most. This documentary, which came out in late 2013, will completely change how you see Shamu and his orca friends: they are, we now know, highly intelligent mammals kept in miserable conditions, torn from their families, and abused for the sake of petty human amusement. The film’s effect on Sea World are still being felt, which speaks to the straightforward power of filmmaking. Having said that, Blackfish is not a film that I would wholeheartedly recommend: it might simply be too sad for many people, especially children, to watch.

The Hollow Crown (also in the “new to me” category) has been a delightful discovery that I probably wouldn’t have made were it not for Doux Reviews. This four-part adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V is not flawless, but it is fascinating. From Henry V’s (Tom Hiddleston) rise to power and responsibility (luckily, the dimples don’t disappear when he takes the crown) to Rory Kinnear’s stoic Bolingbroke, these moody films are striking adaptations of some of Shakespeare’s (occasionally unappreciated) history plays.

Best Stories

I don’t have much to add to my Summer Reading post: after discovering Christopher Priest and Megan Abbott in the first half of the year, I got stuck with a string of mediocre novels, many of which I didn’t even finish. Although that trend seems destined to change—I’m currently in the middle of S.E. Grove’s fun The Glass Sentence, a YA novel about magical maps—I think my best find in 2014 was Kij Johnson’s short story “Ponies.” I don’t want to spoil anything about it, so I’ll just say this: it’s free, it’s short, it’s awesome, everyone who has read it loves it, and you should read it right now.

Happy New Year!

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

9 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I enjoyed your "Best of", Josie, and I actually spent a lot of this year binge-watching and doing catch-up, too. Right now, I'm watching the second season of The Good Wife and I really love it. The first season starts out feeling like it's going to be a case-of-the-week legal drama, but episode by episode, the arc elements start creeping in. I had tried the show long ago and had only gotten two episodes in. I wish I'd hung in there.

Jess Lynde said...

I was wondering how True Detective held up for you over the year, Josie. I'm glad to hear it didn't lose it's shine. And I couldn't agree more about The Flash. Grant Gustin's enthusiasm and charm make that show. And Tom Cavanaugh and Jesse Martin are the icing on the cake. I'm looking forward to more of its "cotton candy" goodness in 2015!

mazephoenix said...

Ohh the Good Wife. I gave it up after three seasons. You make me want to go back.
Hmm.
I liked those seasons.

Heather said...

Josie:
I just clicked on your short story reco thinking hey, perfect I'm on the NJ Transit for awhile. And now I will never be the same again.

Laure Mack said...

Blackfish being too sad to watch is exactly why people should watch it. The whole situation is really gross. Only if the demands goes away, will the supply stop.
But yes, don't force children to watch it.

Great post, Josie!

Gavrielle said...

Re The Good Wife: it's fun when you discover things almost by accident. I got hooked on both The Good Wife and Orange Is The New Black on planes (I often do 11-hour flights, so there's time for a binge-watch!). Now I go out of my way when flying to try shows I'd written off without seeing them. And I discovered Deadwood by flicking to it in an ad break while someone else was out of the room. Oh, boring, Western, I thought. There were two teenage kids and I was expecting that someone was going to hug them or something, and then they got shot. Wow! I was hooked.

Mark Greig said...

That picture is just the cutest thing ever.

Scott Riggan said...

I'm a season behind on The Good Wife, but I was hooked somewhere in the middle of the first season. Great writing and a good mix of the case-of-the-week and the overall story. Big moral drama with twists and surprises but also believable consequences. Seems like something that would fit here, right?

I really need to watch True Detective. As someone who chose to skip TV altogether for about 10 years, I feel like now there's so much good stuff to catch up on I will never get current. Thank God for Netflix.

Just read "Ponies" and wow. My daughter (16 year old aspiring writer) will need to read that. Holy crap. Thanks for the referral.

ChrisB said...

Great list, Josie. I, too, am a huge fan of The Good Wife. I stopped watching as I couldn't bear the thought of a "stand-by-your-man" story, but my mom convinced me to give it a try a couple of years ago. I binged the first few seasons and have stayed with it. One of the best.