Dec 31, 2013

Posted by in Ramblings

Some Stuff I Liked This Year

Some Stuff I Liked This Year

So since it is traditional amongst humans to do ‘Best of the Year’ lists around this time each year I have decided to ease myself into this regular blogging thing I will do the same.  But I’m not going to stretch it out over lots and lots of posts because that feels like cheating.  So here’s four in the entertainment world for starters with five things I thought were great in each category.  The key there being what I thought.  I am right so far as this my opinion.  There is NO SUCH THING as objectively good art regardless of what we set as the measures to decide it by.  I think things are good because of the things I enjoy.  I am right.  I am wrong.  You are right.  And wrong. Anything by a Wayan’s brother is just as good as anything by a Coen Brother depending on who you ask.  Deal with it.   Let’s start with music then shall we.

Five Albums From 2013 I Thought Were Bloody Good

There’s really only one to lead with.  Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Push the Sky Away was an utterly incredible album.  Just nine Push_the_Sky_Awaysongs long it told a full story, beginning to end, in the sort of vivid detail that Cave revels in.  Cave himself has said it’s his favourite album they’ve ever done and it’s hard to argue.  And then to top it off, there was that set at Glastonbury.  But before Push the Sky Away I remember saying it’d be damn hard for their to be an album released this year that I enjoyed more than Random Access Memories.  And maybe that’s still true.  Daft Punk’s new album was a thing of joy, fun and for a grumpy, luddite like me, almost reason to get up and dance.  Although a friend pointed out at some point this year, and I apologise I can’t remember which one it was, if he has to stay out all night, he hasn’t really got lucky has he?

Grace Petrie is someone I’ve had the pleasure of working with a few times over the years so it feels like a plug but Love is My Rebellion is one belter of an album.  Well, belter in as much belting as folk gets.  Bonfires in the Street and Protest Singer Blues are two of the best lyrics I’ve heard all year.

It seems almost too easy to go from Grace to Billy Bragg but I’ll do it anyway.  To my mind Tooth & Nail is the best thing Bragg’s down in a long time.  It just works.  All of it.  And Handyman Blues not only has the best video of the year but is basically an anthem for arty nerds.

So that’s four.  I could really analyse my choices but the point of these blogs is to just write so the next that springs to mind has to Dig Thy Savage Soul from Barrence Whitfield and the Savages.  They are’t that well known in the UK but this should let you know in an instant if they’re your cup of tea or not.

Honorable Mentions: The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars, Love From London – Robyn Hitchcock, Hurry, Harry – Simone & Girlfunkle, The Next Day – David Bowie

Five TV Shows I Thought Were Very Good This Year

This one is kind of difficult because TV shows run over years.  So let me give three shows that were on in 2013, but aren’t new, that just keep on being bloody great to start with.  Mad Men continued to be the most brilliantly, adventurous, intelligent drama on TV. And Parks and Recreation deserves all those same adjectives in the comedy arena.  And as it went through it’s final season, we watched with a heavy heart that one of the most carefully constructed, nuanced, beautiful shows, and possibly my favourite drama ever, came to a close.  No, not the one about the chemistry teacher without healthcare.  Treme.  Goodbye.  Thank you.  You were fucking magnificent.

orange-is-the-new-black-twerksIn terms of new shows, it’s only a few episodes in but Rick & Morty is shaping up as a very good thing indeed and I’m excited to see more of it.  But the best new show of 2013, in my eyes, is probably the same as in everyone elses.  Orange is the New Black somehow managed to be smart, funny, dramatic, unpreachy, unlaboured and unpretentious while being set in a women’s prison and tackling every issue you can imagine.  How?  Well it was very well written and boasted the best ensemble cast on TV.  That’s always a good start.

Honourable Mentions – Africa, Family Tree

Five Films That Came Out in the UK This Year That Were Excellent

To be fair, I’ve not got to the cinema half as much as I used to these last few years so probably won’t see a lot of the best films of 2013 until 2014 when they’re out to rent on iTunes.  For example, I’m fairly confident I’m going to enjoy Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, Blue Jasmine and Nebraska just as starters.  So from what I have seen, here’s what I liked.

My film of the year was probably The Way, Way Back.  It was just my sort of film whatever that is.  Incredibly funny, warm yet brutal and very real.  Oh and Jim Rash’s and Nat Faxon’s script is fucking out of this world.  And the performances.  Sam Rockwell has never been better.  Allison Janney is sensational.  Go this film.  Now.  Do it.

I know it was a bit divisive, back at the start of the year but I really liked Lincoln.  Daniel Day-Lewis was obviously excellent but I thought the whole thing almost perfect.  I enjoyed the pacing, the thing most people hated.  I thought focusing simply on that one part of his story, instead of making a paint by numbers biopic really worked well.   It felt like a film, not a tribute, I liked that.

If this opening scene was the only good bit of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa  of the whole film it still would’ve made my top five.  I admit to going to see this film with a sense of anxiety that it wouldn’t work as a film.  I was wrong.  Really, really, really wrong.  And staying with British comedies, The World’s End copped a lot of flak for not being Shaun or Hot Fuzz.  Well, no, it wasn’t.  It was a different film.  That’s why it had a different title.  It was darker, more real, deeper than the others.  It felt like a drama with funny bits in it.  Lots of funny bits.  I actually liked it a lot more than Fuzz and about as much as Shaun.american-hustle_2756552b

And I’ll end with a film I saw just this week, American Hustle.  It’s a bit on an odd one.  It’s fast paced whilst being slow.  Everything happens whilst nothing happens at all.  But I liked that.  A lot.  Plus the cinematography is gorgeous, the script fizzes and the performances, Jesus, they’re good.  Jennifer Lawrence shows there’s pretty much nothing she can’t do and Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper play off each other something excellent.

Honourable Mentions – The Kings of Summer, Blackfish, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Wreck It Ralph, A Field in England

And Lastly Here’s the Best Five Plays I Saw This Year

Ok, so this is cheating, since I’ve seen it before bit we took my parents to see Matilda when they visited this year and it remains the best thing on a London stage by some margin.  But that doesn’t count…

Now, maybe I’m a little biased but I really enjoyed The Winslow Boy at The Old Vic.  It’s not a story that jumps off the stage but it was directed, and acted, so carefully, so wonderfully, it felt like a thriller at times.  A carefuly executed drama, The Magistrate at The National was not.  What is was though was one of the better executed farces I’ve seen in a long time.  And John Lithgow was on stellar form.

Now, The Cripple of Inishmaan is one of my favourite plays.  So when they announced they were restaging it in the West End I was excited.  Then they announced Daniel Radcliffe as the lead and I was apprehensive.  Well, Radcliffe was bloody good.  He’s got greta natural comic timing and didn’t fall into the trap of ‘playing the cripple’ once.  It was a great production of a truly brilliant script.

showbiz-scarlett-johansson-cat-on-a-hot-tin-roofAnd finally two shows from when we were in NYC earlier this year.  My lovely wife took me specifically to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, also one of my favourite scripts ever, with Scarlett Johansson in the role of Maggie.  To be fair, the production itself was a little lacking.  They tried to do too much with it which may’ve been the fault of it having a musical director.  They had stripped back some of the subtleties and that may’ve worked for some unfamiliar with the script, but for me elements felt forced.  But that didn’t really matter in the sense that every time Johansson was on stage she took over, in a good way.  She was reserved in the role, not the va-va-voom you might have expected from her in that role.  She took it another route and by Hell it worked.

The other show we saw on Broadway was easily the best show I saw this year. Steppenwolf’s revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe might actually be one of the top three things I’ve seen on a stage.  The script could’ve been written yesterday.  The direction was note perfect.  The pacing worked better than it ever has in what is a long play.  And the performances from what many would call a ‘no name cast’, in that they hadn’t been in films, were the best ensemble I’ve ever seen on stage.  It was as close to perfect as I’ve ever, ever seen in a revival.  Yes, more so even than Waiting for Godot with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan.  Fuck it was wonderful.

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And so there you go.  That’s twenty things I liked.  I might do books and comics and video games later.  But for now, that’s your 2013.  You might agree.  Or not.  Doesn’t matter.  As long as you liked what you saw.  Actually there’s an idea, maybe I’ll do a shit list as well…

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