The year is finally winding down to its last few hours, and it's time take account of all the cool stuff I got to see, play with and enjoy in 2014. While most of these are things that have been released in the calendar year of 2014, a few are things that finally got around to this year. Hey, it's my list, so I can bend the rules a bit.
Best Movie of 2014
"Only Lovers Left Alive"
Honorable Mention: "Big Hero 6"
"Only Lovers Left Alive" is just a well-crafted piece of cinema with some fantastic performances from Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton and Mia Wasikowska. This is the way vampire movies should be: dark, brooding and gothic. If you have those three things, you don't need it to be out and out scary for it to work and work well. And "Only Lovers Left Alive" works very well. It didn't really break any box office records, but it's still a high quality film. Check it out.
"Big Hero 6" had me smiling and cheering from beginning to end. The "fluffy" robot Baymax is a revelation. 'Nuff said.
Best TV Show of 2014
Honorable Mention: "The Flash"
"Derek" is a revelation. I was never a Ricky Gervais fan at all until I came across this show. It just mixes everything so well: humor, pathos, drama and even gross out comedy. Gervais is pitch-perfect as the odd but lovable Derek who works at an old folks home for free. Find this (it's still on Netflix, I believe) and watch it. You will not be disappointed.
CW's "The Flash" is simply the best superhero TV show I have ever seen. It was a close call between the Scarlet Speedster and Derek, but Derek's humanity won out in the end.
Breakout Star of 2014
Robin Lord Taylor in Fox's "Gotham"
Honorable Mention: Margo Robbie in "The Wolf of Wall Street"
I would have stopped watching "Gotham" after the first few episodes if it wasn't for Taylor's fantastic portrayal of the Penguin. He's that good, and (still) the main reason to give the show a shot if you are on the fence about it.
If you saw "The Wolf of Wall Street," you know why the stunning Robbie is on this list. It will be interesting to see her take on the role of Harley Quinn in the upcoming "Suicide Squad" flick. The insane antics of Harley may be a stretch for her, but I'll wait to pass judgment.
Best Music/Song of 2014
Prince and 3RDEyeGirl "AINTTURNINROUND"
Honorable Mention: Taylor Swift "Shake It Off"
It's always a good thing to have new Prince music, and the whole of this year's "PlectrumElectrum" rocks, but the standout track to me is definitely "AINTTURNINROUND" which is evocative of earlier, rocking Prince tunes such as "Bambi" and "Let's Go Crazy" rather than some of his serious dalliances with synth-heavy and dance tracks. Rocking Prince is the best Prince in my opinion.
Yes, I should turn in my man card for picking this TSwift ditty but dammit, it got in my head like nobody's business this summer. There's something to be said for a well-crafted pop tune, and "Shake It Off" is certainly that. I dig it...so sue me.
Best Book of 2014
"The Console Wars" by Blake Harris
Honorable Mention: "Galaga" By Michael Kimball
"The Console Wars" is one of the better books on video game history, probably only coming in second to David Kushner's "Masters of Doom." It's a well-researched page-turner about the heady days of the late-80's into the mid-90's battle between Nintendo and Sega (Sony is thrown into the mix as well) for video game console dominance. I devoured this rather lengthy book in a couple of days. That should tell you how good it is right there.
Kimball's "Galaga" was a gut punch that I just wasn't expecting. It's raw and emotional, but broken down into bite-sized morsels that are oddly fascinating. In theory, it's supposed to be about the history of an arcade classic, but it adds an undertone of abuse and melancholy that's hard to shake once you put the book down.
Best Comic Book/Graphic Novel of 2014
"Seconds" by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Honorable Mention: "The Judas Coin" by Walt Simonson
Following up the hugely popular "Scott Pilgrim" series seems like an intimidating task, but artist and author Bryan Lee O'Malley handles it very well with "Seconds," a stand-alone graphic novel which examines the mistakes we make, but from a more adult perspective than the "Pilgrim" books did. It's a more mature story, one belied by O'Malley's deceptively simple art...a closer examination of which reveals that while his characters may look "cartoon-y," he's absolutely at the top of his artistic game. Anyone who spent their 20s with "Scott Pilgrim" and his friends would do well to see what "Seconds'" Katie Clay is up to.
"The Judas Coin" is a super cool concept and an interestingly woven narrative about the cursed coin of Christ's betrayer finding its way into various hands (including Batman villain Two Face) throughout history. Simonson's art is still top-drawer stuff, as well.
Best Video Game of 2014
Honorable Mention: "Shovel Knight"
"Alien: Isolation" is my favorite game this year because it does its level best to keep you within the walls of terror and fear. Outrunning the alien is nigh-impossible. Attacking it head on will lead to death. In that sense, Creative Assembly nailed it. That's what a true survival-horror game is all about. The ambience is very much like in Ridley Scott's "Alien" as well it should be. The whole experience is slightly marred by the fact that the game cheats by cornering you unfairly and rendering you helpless (this happens only in certain areas, but is frustrating nonetheless).
Players will get frustrated, scared and upset, and it all feels very convincing because to get outsmarted by an almost "real" thinking AI is terrifying...and there are few games that can make such a claim these days. Creative Assembly gets a huge plus for enhancing the fear factor in this one. Forget mindless shooting or tossing grenades randomly to save your butt as the alien is bearing down on you. It just won't work here.
"Shovel Knight" is just an excellent retro-platformer that does just about everything right and has super tight controls. If you grew up playing NES games in the late '80s and early '90s, you need to give "Shovel Knight" a go.
Best App of 2014
Honorable Mention: "Waze"
Making music is fun, and sometimes torturous, but mostly fun. That's the whole point of it, and "Keezy Drummer" perfectly encapsulates that idea. Through incredibly intuitive design and 12 different percussion samples, anyone (yes, even the musically challenged) can create beats that are actually pretty damn good. It's also addicting as all get out, so that's a plus.
"Waze" makes this list because I hate traffic and I'm horrible with directions. This slick app makes my life easier while I'm out and about...and that's always a good thing.
Best Gadget of 2014
Samsung Gear VR
Honorable Mention: None
Decades ago, VR pioneers first invited us to step into another world. But the clunky visuals were more "Steamboat Willie" than "Avatar." More recently, Oculus reinvigorated VR with some truly compelling advancements. This year, the company teamed up with Samsung to develop a $200 consumer package for its VR tech. Just plop in a Galaxy Note 4, download a few apps, and set the controls for the heart of the sun. Tres' cool.
What were some of your favorite things this year? Let us know in the comments below.
From myself and all of us at HNGN, thanks for reading and have a happy and healthy New Year!