If you can believe it, 2015 is fast approaching. And with so much art out there, finding the cream of 2014’s crop can seem like an overwhelming task. Lucky for you, the Argus Arts writers came together and shared some of their favorite movies, television shows, albums, songs, and comics of the year.
“Club going up on a Tuesday.” “I go 0 to 100, real quick.” “We made it.” Some of 2014’s most iconic catchphrases are courtesy of the Soundcloud account run by Drake’s record label, OVO. In a disappointing year for hip-hop releases, Drake dominated the rap game without even dropping an album, and it’s not even close. Since ringing in the new year with “Trophies” and “We Made It (Remix),” Drizzy has held Twitter hostage by periodically releasing singles in the dead of the night without any warning.
What’s amazing is that none of the songs, most of which would serve as any other rapper’s lead single, appear to be attached to Drake’s anticipated Views From The 6 album that is supposedly dropping in the spring (although there are rumors of a mixtape in January). Instead, Drake spurned traditional releasing methods and embraced the Wild West atmosphere of the rap blogosphere, showing us that he’s a true visionary. Was it a problem when some fan randomly leaked a new song called “How About Now” a few weeks ago? No way, because Drake, like the generous Canadian he is, responded by dropping that song and two others, “6 God” and “Heat of The Moment.” My personal favorites are “0 to 100” and “2 On/Thotful,” which showcase that, while it’s easy to make fun of Drake, it’s impossible to dismiss him, as he flexes his lyrical acumen and stunts on haters like never before. –Aaron Stagoff-Belfort
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a cinefile’s wet dream. Chronological changes in the narrative mark drastic shifts in aspect ratios, lighting setups, and color palettes, moving from pastels (the 1930s) to lush tones full of somber reds and yellows (the ’60s). This is, after all, a Wes Anderson film, which is nothing if not meticulous, bold, and gorgeous. And many of Anderson’s trademark techniques are here: long tracking shots, props, and scenes which evolve like Rube Goldberg machines, and brilliant, luxuriant sets. Here, however, Anderson brings them all to their stylistic limit. It’s Anderson at his, well, grandest.
But Wes Anderson’s great gift is to match his stylistic idiosyncrasies, at times overpowering, with equally idiosyncratic and emotive narratives. And “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is ultimately Anderson’s most overtly funny film, as lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori and F. Murray Abraham) and concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) scramble across Europe in their desperate attempt to secure a priceless painting. What unfolds contains one of the year’s most thrilling shootouts, absurd chase sequences, and touching romances (between Zero and Agatha, portrayed with poise by Saoirse Ronan). “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is cinema at its biggest and boldest, with all of the glitz, glamor, and gut-busting of a Busby Berkeley musical. It is cinema as only Wes Anderson could bring us. –Dan Fuchs
“The Lego Movie”
“The Lego Movie” is unshakable evidence that animation can indeed be perfect for both adult and child. What is astounding about “The Lego Movie” is the extreme maturity with which it handles its immaturity and capitalizes on it to deliver a wonderful message. As adorable and hilarious as the characters are, they continually make powerful points on expression, conformity, and social outcasting, not to mention the eternal human desire to fit in and contribute.
While I usually prefer that artistic messages not be so explicit, I thought the film’s approach was the most appropriate. In some ways, many adults do become a Lord Business; the contemporary obsession with capitalizing on creativity is by far one of the worst social phenomena, given the shallowness that results from suppressing imagination. “The Lego Movie” is now my absolute favorite animated film because it manages to effectively and seamlessly bridge the generational divide, not only by virtue of being a film about Legos, but mainly because of its integration of basic slapstick humor with sharply written and profound wit. In the very same scene in which the protagonist makes me laugh by childishly falling down, he turns around with a clever jab at capitalism. I’m not sure how blockbuster animation can get better than that. —Hazem Fahmy
Mariko and Jillian Tamaki—“This One Summer”
In “This One Summer,” the award-winning creative team of cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki chronicles the friendship of two young girls, Rose and Windy, on their families’ annual summer vacation to Awago Beach. In the process, they explore the girls’ gradual entry into womanhood. The girls’ family members and the townspeople of Awago are just as important to the graphic novel as the main characters. Whereas the Tamakis’ previous graphic novel, “Skim,” focused on the interiority of one teenage girl’s life, “This One Summer” tells the story of two young girls becoming aware of the world around them, dealing with and navigating the unrealistic standards society imposes upon them.
Though “This One Summer” features two children as its lead characters and is marketed as a children’s book, I would argue it is a book about children rather than specifically for them. In its 320 pages, “This One Summer” explores first crushes, slut shaming, teenage pregnancy, miscarriage, marital difficulties, and attempted suicide, and, to its credit, the book is never melodramatic. “This One Summer” maintains an understated tone throughout, with Jillian’s gorgeous artwork perfectly complementing Mariko’s dialogue and narration as she creatively utilizes blank space between and around panels to manipulate the duration of scenes. “This One Summer” is both incredibly heartwarming and heartbreaking. Without a doubt, it is one of the best graphic novels I have ever read. —William Donnelly
“Outlander,” Season 1
I really love STARZ’s new show, “Outlander.” Sure, the plot is absolutely ridiculous: World War II nurse time-travels back to 18th-century Scotland. But there’s just so much fun to be had with such a ludicrous premise. For one, the entire show is depicted through the lens of an empowered, fully realized female protagonist, Claire Beauchamp. Claire (played by Caitriona Balfe) delves into the usual historical drama tropes of wearing some really gorgeous period outfits and hanging out with some really dishy men. But at the end of the day, the character also doesn’t take shit. She crawls, bites, and fights her way through whatever situation is thrown her way. She faces everyone, friend or foe, with steely determination, her gaze never faltering.
Even better, there’s so much care given to the show’s setting. Everything is shot on location and does justice to the Scottish highlands. I have never seen a place that inspires such wonder on screen; it actually rivals New Zealand in “The Lord of the Rings.” Not to mention, the show refuses to shy away from history. Set mainly during the early Jacobite uprisings, “Outlander” makes a clear point of showing the clash between English and Scottish people. Dialogue is often conveyed in Scottish Gaelic and never translated in subtitles. Instead, the language barrier reminds the presumably English-speaking viewers that they are onlookers and participants in a culture that is very different from their own. —Jeesue Jamie Lee
“Over the Garden Wall”
“Over the Garden Wall” is the best animated series you didn’t watch this year. It consists of 10 eleven-minute episodes, all of which are available for free online via Cartoon Network, so you have no excuse not to watch it. The show stars Elijah Wood as Wirt, who gets lost in mysterious woods along with his younger brother Greg at a most inconvenient time. They are quickly taken under the wing of Christopher Lloyd, who attempts to protect them from the Beast. The Beast, an opera-singing shadow monster reminiscent of Germanic folklore, is one of the most fascinating villains I’ve seen, despite its minimal screen time. This show is efficient. In two hours it gives viewers a fascinating and surreally wonderful world of jazz-singing frogs, an elderly woman (voiced by Tim Curry) who eats turtles, and John Cleese making out with Bebe Neuwirth (or at least their characters do).
“Over the Garden Wall” is endearing, haunting, and brilliant with its simple animation. It’s a gem of a show that came entirely out of left field. I devoured the series in one sitting and cried during the finale. Each episode comes with its own musical sequence that adds to the surreal world, the songs encompassing a variety of styles you wouldn’t normally find in children’s animation. But then again, this show isn’t really meant for children. Children’s shows usually don’t include a monster bellowing, “Are you ready to see true darkness?” and meaning it. —Will McGhee
Sharon Van Etten—Are We There
As a songwriting topic, the end of a relationship is about as standard as one can get. Music has always been just as fascinated with the loss of love as the fulfillment, and it’s all too easy for that association to breed complacency. It’s an accusation leveled at many artists every year: Why can’t you write about something other than love or heartbreak?
This summer, Sharon Van Etten released her fourth studio album, Are We There, which uses a recent break-up as its centerpiece. For those fed up with heartbreak as the great equalizer of music, this might have seemed disappointingly banal, but as anyone who listened to the record can attest, Van Etten makes certain her LP is anything but boring. Are We There is instead personal, distinct, brilliant, and excruciating. At 47 minutes, the record is also unrelenting, offering up song after song filled with tenderness, anger, sorrow, and disappointment. It’s immediate and electric, composed of gorgeous limpid orchestral arrangements and carefully observed, mercilessly honest lyrics.
From “Your Love is Killing Me,” whose chorus thunders forward with self-hatred that feels both crushing and prayerful, to “Every Time the Sun Comes Up,” which ends the album with caustic self-reflective humor and defiance, Are We There deftly evades the clichés of its subject matter and charges straight for brutal introspection. The title, according to Van Etten, is not a question but a constant: perpetual, yearning flux. It fits the record well. Are We There, even if the product of a specific time or place, aggressively transcends boundaries. Emotions, persons, and ideas crash against one another like energized particles; the result is apocalyptic. It’s also a special kind of wonderful to behold. —Michael Darer
“Transparent,” Season 1
“Transparent” is an original half-hour dramedy series produced and streamed online by Amazon and, let me tell you, one of the best new shows of the year. “Transparent” centers on a Jewish family with divorced parents and three adult children living in Los Angeles. All three children constantly grapple with their sexuality: Eldest daughter Sarah is married to a man, but in the pilot she finds herself making out with her ex-girlfriend; only son Josh, at 14 years old, slept consistently with his babysitter and is now in love with his rabbi; and youngest wild child Ali at one point finds herself in bed with two large bodybuilders, and later with a trans man. Their father, Mort, on the other hand, is quite clear about his sexual preferences: He is sexually attracted to women. And he is a woman.
The series follows Mort’s transition to living as Maura, and it is pure genius. It is visually gorgeous, with impeccable production design and cinematography, superbly written and directed, and most of all, brilliantly acted. Jeffrey Tambor is breathtaking as the patriarch-turned-matriarch, Amy Landecker and Gaby Hoffmann are raw and gloriously flawed as the daughters, and Jay Duplass, in his first big acting endeavor, makes a womanizing character who could be utterly unlikeable completely sweet and honest. Judith Light, the mother of the trio and Maura’s ex-wife, is revolutionary. To add just one more incentive, Bradley Whitford ’81 makes a glorious appearance in multiple flashbacks as Mark, a man who accompanies Mort on a retreat to a camp for cross-dressers. —Beanie Feldstein
TV on the Radio—Seeds
There’s a moment halfway through “Love Stained,” right before the chorus, when the drums kick into overdrive and the bass blurts out in such a way that you feel you’ve pushed yourself away from the ground and you’re temporarily suspended, gravity be damned. Seeds, the fifth studio album from Brooklyn-based art-rockers TV on the Radio, spends much of its glorious hour deciding where it wants to plant its feet. In that ambivalence, that uncertainty, emerges TV on the Radio’s most musically subtle and emotionally powerful album yet.
Eschewing the busy background bombast of the band’s previous efforts (2008’s Dear Science and 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain are two musical high points of the 2000s, for just that reason) for something more streamlined, Seeds builds around the loose concept of a relationship’s lifecycle, rising and falling with excitement, hope, resentment, disappointment, and eventually resolve. In their compositions, members Jaleel Bunton, Kyp Malone, Dave Sitek, and Tunde Adebimpe are partial to handclaps, layers of static-y synths, fuzzy guitars, and crystal-clear “oohs” and “ahhs,” like on slow-tempo confessionals “Quartz” and “Careful You,” where entropic drones dominate the airwaves but always keep the articulate vocals and their ghostlike harmonies at the very top of the mix. “Happy Idiot” may be the band’s best single yet, letting the frenetic hi-hat and sharp guitar lead the way. That guitar also cuts through the album’s downtrodden, though never dull, midsection for the post-punk punches of “Winter” and “Lazerray,” giving way to the gentle, determined conclusion (it really does feel like a conclusion) of title track “Seeds.” “Rain comes down / like it always does / This time, I’ve got seeds on ground” is a mantra, repeated, remembered: The next time a rough patch comes around, TV on the Radio knows exactly what is needed. —Gabe Rosenberg
The War on Drugs—“Red Eyes”
I do not tend to discover new music on the radio. It’s something that almost never happens to me. Almost. I was on the way home from a doctor’s appointment, and from out of nowhere, an organ sound rose from my car speakers. I saw the name of the band, The War on Drugs, chuckled slightly, and kept on driving. The organ gave way to an impossibly propulsive Springsteen-straddling-a-jet-turbine drumbeat, elastic lead guitar, a keyboard, bass, and saxophone arrangement that resembled a cloud of fog more than a piece of music, and a near-inaudible voice singing for its life low, low, low in the mix. I pulled over, teared up, and cranked up the volume.
At the end of five minutes, I exhaled, and then drove to three different stores that still sell CDs (possibly the last three in America) trying to find this damn song, at one point accidentally stepping into the hot pavement of a construction site while trying to get inside a Barnes and Noble. Eventually I found it and listened to this one song, “Red Eyes,” on repeat for weeks and weeks and weeks. Months have passed, but I still shout along with every “WOO!” and every lead guitar line. “Red Eyes” is faux-classic rock transcendental road trip nirvana (and I mean Buddhist Nirvana). It just rocks. —Dan Bachman