Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Favorite Entertainment From 2014

The year 2014 was a year in which I didn't really pursue much in the way of new music. That's kind of odd for me, because I generally buy 6 to 10 new albums every year. I still went out and got a few, but they were from bands that had either already established themselves as bands I want to hear or they were artists I heard live and wanted to hear more from. 

So, of the albums I bought it was pretty easy to find which ones were my favorites. 

Jenny Lewis- The Voyager
I knowingly heard Lewis for the first time at the Forecastle Music Festival and it was a revelation. Solid, sensible songwriting and a sweet, yet experienced voice that had me swooning for a couple of weeks after purchase. "The Voyager" still has a few songs that are getting played by me weekly. It's a good effort. The pop melodies just suck you in and she has a way of painting a picture in your head with her stories in song. "Slippery Slopes" is one of the catchiest songs I've heard in a long time and "Just One Of The Guys" is right there with it. 

Christopher (Crash) Richard- Hardly Criminal
This guy was a total surprise for me. I saw him at Zanzabar in Louisville with about 40 other people and was just blown away. It didn't hurt that he covered "Treatment Bound", but this guy was excellent and so was his original material. I bought "Hardly Criminal" from him and put it on the turntable a couple of days later. Really solid record. "Motion Animal" may be my favorite song of 2014 and if I had to list 100 songs of all-time, it may sneak in there. An infectious tune to say the least! 

I had the pleasure of seeing quite a few films this past year and I have to say this was a pretty good year for movies. Among the best were Gone Girl, Intersteallar, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, and Night Crawler. There were two that really stuck with me though. 

Boyhood-  Richard Linklater
This film was shot over a 12 year period. A very ambitious undertaking. Anything could have gone wrong when trying to span time like that. It totally worked though. We got to follow the characters of the film as the actors actually aged. There is a documentary feel to it that gives it some weight. It's difficult not to equate some of the points of the film with my own childhood and early life. It stuck with me and I wasn't immediately able to even put my finger on why it was so good, other than it just struck a chord with me on how much influence our parents, peers, and experiences have on us. Those things can turn us away from goals, change our perceptions on what we think we know and see. It's easy to see the parents in this movie as being stifling or even villains when it comes to the influence they hold, but they are really just people (like you and I) trying to have their own lives and trying to find out who they are while doing the best they can by their children. For better or worse. It's something that isn't pleasant to relate to at times, but it's a part of a parents reality that isn't readily apparent in day to day life.  I highly recommend this to anyone that loves nuance and intelligence in their movie going experience. 

Birdman- Alejandro Iñárritu
Part reality, part fantasy, part mental illness....this film throws it all in the pot and leaves you to figure it out. It's not an easy movie to understand, but that's part of what makes it so interesting. The director seems to create one long stream of consciousness and that doesn't lend itself to trying to understand the film as it's playing out. I think there is definitely an indictment of the visual entertainment system (as well as the fragile ego of those entrenched in that system) at some level and it takes a shot at all participants. From those in control, to the actors, the critics, to the folks behind the scenes and all the way down to the ticket buying movie fan. Self expectation and projected expectation lay heavy over many of the "scenes" (even if the director tries to get you to take the film in as one long scene with a series of events). What can you be satisfied with? Is it wise to let your past success and failure manipulate the person you are today? Are you doing what you are doing for you or to prove something to others? Can you find happiness running from a past that jogs just one step behind you? Questions that Michael Keaton is dealing with, even if he isn't totally honest with himself about it. 

By far the highlight of my year in entertainment was seeing The Replacements at Forecastle. I truly enjoyed other acts also, including a stellar set from Beck, the hard driving rock of Jack White, and the surprisingly solid efforts from Jenny Lewis and Brett Dennen. Experiencing Paul McCartney for a second time was certainly a highlight of my year. Seeing and talking to Pigeon John was fun and I really dug the experience of seeing Christopher "Crash" Richard, but again, The Replacements topped my list. They put on a lively show and didn't just go through the motions. The wall of sound they created with the added guitar of BJ Armstrong set it apart from the show I saw in Chicago in 2013. Lots of fun and a "life" moment for me! 

Most people would expect me to have a book or two on the list, but I didn't really dig into reading quite as much as I have over the past few years. With that, I will just say that the two most memorable reads of my year (neither book is new to 2014 though) were "Gonzo", which is an oral biography of Hunter Thompson compiled by Corey Seymour and Jann Wenner and "Room Full Of Mirrors", a biography of Jimi Hendrix by Charles Cross. 

My favorite TV shows, once again includes the always relevant South Park. Justified and Game of Thrones were also programs I binge watched and really grew to enjoy. I look forward to the return of those programs in 2015. 

There were several stand up specials that struck a chord with me this past year. The best of which was Bill Burr's "I'm Sorry You Feel That Way" which is on Netflix and is being released on vinyl also. He is the most consistently funny and spot on comic working in an era that I consider to be a revival of great stand up. I also enjoyed Jim Jefferies "Bare" and Tom Segura's "Completely Normal". 

So, there you have it. A few of my favorite things from this past year. I write this to document my year in entertainment, but to also....hopefully...pass on something to anyone that may read this. Perhaps you will enjoy some of this as much as I did.