While the A.V. Club staff gets to weigh in about what movies, TV, music, and more we liked this year, we’d be fools to think that anyone really cares what we think. After all, we’re not famous. That’s why we asked a bunch of our favorite actors, musicians, podcasters, comedians, actors, and showrunners what piece of pop culture they liked the most this year. This is the first half of all the responses we got, with the second half running tomorrow.
My favorite piece of pop culture in ’14 was Silicon Valley. I’m not sure when it officially started airing; I just recently started watching it (I don’t have HBO as I’m not that into vampires or dragons) and it’s my favorite show right now. The casting is great—the writing, the acting, and especially the directing. It’s tonally so up my alley. I think it’s pitch-perfect.
John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats and author of Wolf In White Van
Man, I’m so checked out I really have to think hard. I think I saw zero current-release movies in 2014… No wait, that’s not entirely true—I went to the Nevermore film festival here in town early last year. And I saw a movie called Here Comes The Devil (not to be confused with the Korean horror flick I Saw The Devil, which was a mistake I kept making when talking about it). Here Comes The Devil was a fucking spectacular horror movie.
My favorite thing this year was Are We There by Sharon Van Etten. I hate the words “master class,” but I can’t find words to describe this album other than a master class in songwriting. Simplicity and forthright thoughts veiling true skill and intricacy—I wish I could write an album like this.
Barry Gibb’s Mythology Tour. His first solo tour ever—an astonishing event for a lifelong Bee Gees admirer such as myself. I went twice. Singing high or low, the voice remains flawless, and the song selection included certain deep tracks (some going back to his Australian days) that I never imagined I would hear live, particularly in 2014. In a two-and-a-half-hour-long show, there was a grand total of two seconds where I was not totally enraptured—when he referred to Justin Timberlake as “talented.”
My heart forever belongs to poppy punky stuff I would have liked when I was 15, and I’m so glad that there is music being released that speaks to that side of me now and forever. This year Antarctigo Vespucci, Chumped, Pup, The Weaks, and The Front Bottoms all put out releases that I obsessed over at some point or another. But if I’m being totally honest, the greatest two hours of my pop-culture-related life this year was probably Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. MONKEYS. RODE. HORSES.
For me it was Boyhood. For the simple reason that it was the clearest example of why cinema—and especially movies seen in theaters—is far from dead. It’s a huge, engulfing novel of a film, and it re-wires you to life and time and the effect of both on each other. And it pulls off this feat better than any other film I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe Hirokazu Koreeda’s After Life comes close. And it also reminds you of the magic of seeing a film in a theater without any special effects—unless you count the effect of time on the human face and heart as a special effect.
Can I make it a tie? Two pieces of culture blew my mind this year, in different media and genres: First, I was floored by Boyhood. Richard Linklater’s plot-light film showed that storytelling can happen even without a plot, much like life. I have two 15-year-old boys, and finishing Boyhood made me feel like I’d raised another. I also think it’s one of the best movie casts EVER.
Secondly, I read a ton and loved a ton of great books this year. Popular Crime by Bill James was an unexpected treat, and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was, as advertised, incredible and moving. But the book that captured my attention the most was The Martian by Andy Weir. The idea that a mostly factually accurate piece of science fiction could be so riveting (including the main character doing math and showing the work!) was thrilling. What a riveting story.
I didn’t listen to any particular music, album, or podcast that had a name or that I can recall. I read science and engineering stuff—and lots of it—from online periodicals. I did rent some movies, but I wasn’t impressed. Oh, I did watch some TV. I guess I was impressed with True Detective.
In addition to listening to Phil Hendrie’s podcast everyday, I’d have to say my fave piece of pop culture was Billy Idol’s Kings & Queens Of The Underground. It brought me back to the ’80s while still appealing to more than just a fan of a certain age. It’s the most I’ve liked a music release in ages. I wanted to listen to it… and pardon this: More, more, more! (Yuck, I hate myself for that.)
My favorite piece of popular culture is actually an online blowjob tutorial video called, in all caps, “ANGEL TEACHING HER GRAPEFRUIT TECHNIQUE.” Though it’s not technically a comedy video, I’d argue that this was the most flawlessly executed piece of comedy in 2014 (and, arguably, of all time). There’s no ands, ifs, or buts about it. Auntie Angel is warm, engaging, and clearly very giving. She delivers her tutorial in a delightfully salacious and matter-of-fact fashion. She’s so detailed and professional when she cuts the hole in her Ruby Red grapefruit. Her accent is great. It’s just wonderful, all around. However, after a couple of minutes, no matter who you are, you get to a point where you’re like, “Okay, I get it. This is great, but I get it.” Then you hit the 2:45 mark, and your brain explodes. I won’t reveal what happens—you have to watch it yourself—but it’s truly the funniest turn/escalation I’ve ever seen.
As of today, “ANGEL TEACHING HER GRAPEFRUIT TECHNIQUE” has more than 2 million views on YouTube. I estimate 50,000 of those views are from me alone. I love this video so much. It never gets old. In fact, my secret Santa gift this year at Parks And Recreation was a signed DVD copy of “Angel’s Fellatio Secrets” on which Auntie Angel refers to me as “The Original Grapefruit Freak.” I want that on my gravestone.
I think people forget how fantastic Mad Men is. It’s so head and shoulders above other television shows, and we take it for granted. It tells stories that aren’t based on genre conventions, or anticipating shocking twists, and manages to make them thrilling. Jon Hamm gives a performance that will be studied for years to come. I think breaking the final season into two short ones wasn’t the greatest decision creatively, but years from now, after that’s forgotten, we’ll remember it as one of TV’s greatest achievements.
My favorite piece of media this year (I’ve had many, but since I have to choose) is The Toast, and specifically all of the pieces written by Mallory Ortberg. Her dirtbag retellings of literature, her analysis of what women in art have really been thinking, her book, Texts From Jane Eyre… basically everything Mallory does is my favorite. I wish she would come and live in my house.
Angel Olsen, artist behind Burn Your Fire For No Witness, The A.V. Club’s favorite album of 2014
True Detective. It was something I looked forward to watching with a group of people every week; I’ve never really been that into a TV series before.
It’s a tie between the movie John Wick and the game Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor on PS4. So many gorgeous ways to kill a bad guy by putting an object through his brain stem! Both were tremendously fun, smarter than they needed to be, and filled with artful violence and rich world-building. They also both came out of nowhere for me, as real surprises, and in this age of insane hype and expectation, that goes a very long way. Sequels for both, please.
I loved the Alan Partridge movie. The whole thing is great but there are two jokes that are two of the funniest jokes I’ve ever seen in a movie, and no, I will not tell you what they are.
I loved everything that had to do with parties and partying and just party, party, party.
True Detective. I was completely wrapped up in this thing from start to finish. The way it unwound was superb, equal parts chilling and beautiful. Some of the best television direction I’ve ever seen, no doubt. Sure, McConaughey was chewing and eventually swallowing every single piece of scenery in each scene he was in, but his moments of wound-up quiet were almost unbearably fun to watch. When he wants to be, he can be a quiet, confident actor with immeasurable gifts. It’s when he’s not feeling as confident that he gets into his McConaughey-ish bits that turn him into an impersonation of himself. Also, perhaps the greatest topless scene in the history of TV. Am I right, fellas? (Just lost all credibility with that comment, but I gotta be honest).
Joseph: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I’ve loved Mitchell’s writing for years, and this one seemed to have a lot of stylistic similarities to his first novel, Ghostwritten, which is still probably my favorite by him. On top of that, he’s started to do something really exciting with the connections between his books. His books have always had overlaps in characters and events, but this new book put some narrative coherence to the world he’s been building for years, and suggested that all of his novels might not only be connected, but telling a single, large story. Which is pretty thrilling to watch come together, especially since it’s not clear if that’s even what he’s actually doing. Either way, I already can’t wait for his next one.
Jeffrey: Metamodern Sounds In Country Music by Sturgill Simpson. I grew up listening to Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Tanya Tucker, Dolly Parton, and Hank Williams Jr. I still listen to those old albums from time to time. I’ve been mainlining Jerry Reed since he died six years ago, much to my wife’s patient chagrin. I occasionally listen to newer country, and I like some of it. Randy Rogers is comfortable. James McMurtry is dark and funny. But I haven’t been moved the way I was moved by Sturgill’s sound. Go listen to “Turtles (All The Way Down).” Or “The Promise” (the best cover of the year). No one in country music today has reinvented Golden-Throated Honky-Tonk Folk Crooner™ quite like Sturgill. I’m a C&W fan again.
The DVD highlight of the year for me was Shout! Factory’s release of The Marx Brothers TV Collection, with more than 50 rare appearances by Groucho, Harpo, and Chico from the 1950s and ’60s. How wonderful to step back in time to an era when TV offered up the last gasp of vaudeville-style entertainment. Even the vintage commercials are fun.
My favorite TV show is Benched, obviously. But for a guilty pleasure, my husband and I never miss Nashville. We came for the music and stayed for the soap opera. They need some new blood though, now that everyone already impregnated each other. I wish Rayna Jaymes was my “in case of emergency please call” person.
Movie: Boyhood. I’ve been a huge Linklater fan since Slacker and this one is definitely his best.
TV show: Trailer Park Boys. I have missed this wonderfully dumb show so much. I was so stoked when Netflix revived it. God bless Bubbles.
Album: Sun Kil Moon’s Benji. Mark Kozelek is 20-plus years deep and just made the best record of his career. As I move into year 17 myself this guy continues to inspire the hell outta me.