Friday, 12 December 2014

That was the year that was: 2014

A parody too farIt's mid-December, ergo it must be time for a recap of what's been good this year. NAOTY 2014, if you will (you won't). This is the fourth time I've recapped a year like this (here's 2013, 2012 and 2011) and, taken together, all these reviews really do is demonstrate just how parochial my tastes are (Michelle, in the unlikely event that you're reading this, you were right about that). Anyway, let's get on.

Best album

"Hendra" by Ben Watt - an understated masterpiece, full of beauty and pathos, and tailor-made to appeal to forty-something blokes who have taken to questioning everything, not least their own mortality and that of their loved ones. Features bonus Bernard Butler too.

Honourable mentions: "World Peace Is None Of Your Business" by Morrissey; "Indie Cindy" by Pixies; "Live at Bush Hall" by Martin Rossiter.

Best song

"Silver Snail" by Pixies - it's been so good to have some new material from Black Francis et alia, and I mean it as a compliment when I say this track could comfortably have been from twenty years ago, yet somehow simultaneously shows how the band has moved on. Neat trick.

Honourable mentions: "Heart Is A Drum" by Beck; "I'm Not A Man" by Morrissey.

Best gig

Another nod here for Pixies whose set at Field Day in the summer was almost everything I could have hoped for. Even the undercard was a winner. I wrote (in shorthand) about it at the time.

Honourable mentions: I've had a quiet year, gig-wise, but Ben Watt with Bernard Butler was excellent; Damon Albarn, thunderstruck and lightning-lit at Latitude, will live long in the memory; Morrissey thrilled, despite the enormo-dome setting.

Best book

"Numbskulls" by Mark Kilner. A diverse yet subtly interconnected set of 20 short stories, showcasing the little horrors of modern life: celebrity culture, life alone, Boris Johnson... Here's my longer review from earlier in the year.

Honourable mentions: a bit of a cheat here because it's a couple of years old but I only got around to reading "Dark Matter" by Michelle Paver this year. It's an incredible ghost story, taking isolation to new heights (or depths, perhaps) in the Arctic Circle. I wish I'd written it.

Best film

For a long time I thought "Inside Llewyn Davis" has this nailed on, but the award goes to "Boyhood", Richard Linklater's simple yet incredible document of a boy growing up. Filmed over twelve years, so that all the principals age realistically in front of you, it's a moving tale of modern family life, and all the fractures and disjoints that now involves. At different times this reviewer identified with both the son and the father, which perhaps explains my heightened emotional response. Everyone involved in the making of this film deserves massive credit. Now do yourselves a favour and buy the DVD.

Honourable mentions: as mentioned, the Coen Brothers very nearly scooped this for their incredible meditation on personal failure, "Inside Llewyn Davis"; it takes some absorbing but Richard Ayoade's steampunk reimagining of modern life in Dostoyevsky-adaptation "The Double" is worth persevering with; Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley both shine in the "The Imitation Game", in which triumph is tempered with tragedy; and I thought Rosamunde Pike was terrific in "Gone Girl".

Best television

As last year, the most fiercely contended category. The award goes to "Fargo", a compelling reimagining of the Coen Brothers' icy world, with standout performances from Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Alison Tollman and Colin Hanks. Not just dark, but dark humour too.

Honourable mentions: it's been another good year for TV, so there are lots. BBC crime drama "Happy Valley" (whose botched kidnap plot owes a nod to the Coens too) was outstanding; series two of "The Fall" is great, if inevitably coming up short against series one; the genuine chills of ghost story "Remember Me" can and should be iPlayered right now; and (sort of but more than) comedies "Rev" and "The Trip To Italy" were both very rewarding.

Best comedy

David Baddiel's "Fame: Not The Musical" scoops the gong here. Its meditation on being famous in general and, specifically, not being as famous as you used to be, is very smart indeed. Stand-up, yes... but there's a lot more going on besides.

Honourable mentions: "Modern Life Is Goodish", in which Dave Gorman continues to show his working as he goes along; Alan Davies' Little Victories tour, not least for his candour in talking of mortality and life-limiting conditions (on his father's dementia: "it's not genetic, but it is inherited, so..."); Punt and Dennis's Ploughing On Regardless tour, whose transition from edgy and out-there to comfortable and nearly mainstream is complete - it's taken twenty years, but at least they haven't sacrificed being funny.

Best theatre

"An Evening With Ray Davies", ostensibly to plug his book, "Americana", but the Q&A reached far beyond that. Part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and in partnership with the city's Writers' Centre, no-one minded at the end when talk of books was set aside, a guitar appeared, and Ray performed an acoustic "Rock and Roll Cowboys". Got an autograph and shook the guy's hand afterwards too.

Honourable mentions: I'm struggling a bit here, because I haven't seen as much on stage this year as I would have liked, but poet Luke Wright was very good at Latitude, bringing a bit of rock'n'roll swagger to the Poetry Tent.

Best blogger

The only person to retain their title from last year is Andrew Collins, whose "Telly Addict" video blog for The Guardian is twelve minutes a week of essential viewing. On top of this, Andrew also writes, for fun, the music blog "Circles Of Life", in which he seeks to dissect his favourite 143 songs of all time. Oh, and the excellent "other" blog, "Never Knowingly Underwhelmed". Andrew is, once more, my blogger of the year.

Honourable mentions: "Too Much Apple Pie" from Kippers and Spike; "The (New) Vinyl Villain" from JC; "My Top Ten" from Rol; "Is This The Life?" from Rob; and "Cultural Snow" from Tim.

Man of the year (new for 2014)

Richard Ayoade for directing The Double, writing Ayoade on Ayoade, being Gadget Man and, most of all, for his role in what would be my interview of the year, if I had such a category, when Krishnan Guru Murthy invited Richard on Channel 4 News.

Honourable mentions: putting aside any political allegiance I might have elsewhere, Gordon Brown deserves a mention, for going out on a high and reminding everyone of the power a principled and passionate politician can have. In my view, the result of the Scottish referendum was in no small part attributable to his eleventh-hour intervention.

Woman of the year (new for 2014)

Professor Alice Roberts, for bringing science to a wider audience without dumbing it down, for her terrific book The Incredible Unlikeliness Of Being, and mostly for taking an implacable stance on creationism and dealing with (the dangers of) creationists on social media.

Honourable mentions: Sadie Jones for writing Fallout and getting The Outcast finally adapted by the BBC; Keira Knightley for her role in The Imitation Game and for posing topless, un-Photoshopped, to highlight and protest the media's obsession with breasts and digital fakery.

Tool of the year (new for 2014)

David Mellor, for his rant at a taxi driver, in which he conclusively revealed himself to be everything we've all suspected for so long.

Honourable mentions: Nigel Farage whose inherent racism, inflammatory pronouncements and general policy void should really scoop him the award - it's just that I don't want him to win anything (and I'm not linking to him either - here's a link to an equally simplistic but opposing view instead); Russell Brand, who hasn't worked out yet that the best way to beat a system, especially a long-established, entrenched system, is from within... and for spouting nonsense: a sprawling and polysyllabic vocabulary is nothing without an underlying degree of sense and reality. Parklife!

And that's it. Agree/disagree? What have you loved and loathed this year?


  1. Well, I'm still counting down my albums - two of yours will feature (no surprises) but I didn't even know about the MR-live one. I've read almost three books this year and it's looking like the best of those will be the first Jack Reacher novel from ages ago. (I'm hoping to start reading properly again when Sam turns 18.) Have to agree about Fargo... although the latest series of Justified which I've only just started watching on download (stupid C5 not buying it) may well beat that. And I've seen very few films - sadly, not Boyhood - but my favourite would probably be the crowd-pleasing GOTG.

    I suspect I've become very boring...

  2. PS - thanks for the plug, as always!

    1. You boring, me parochial...just two different ways of saying we are where we are in life (in itself just a different way of saying we're getting old). As a bloke about my age, and as a dad, I think you'd get a lot out of Boyhood. Nothing much happens...and yet everything happens.

    2. I'm sure I would. I generally love LInklater's films anyway. Still haven't seen the third Before Sunrise film yet though!