Running somewhat late as usual (in my defence editing dozens of our guest Best of the Year posts on a daily basis eats a lot of my December time, so it’s fairly late on before I even get a chance to start plotting my own selection (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it) and so finally I get some time to pen some of my own faves from comics, books and film across the year. As usual it will be far too long – and also as usual my excuse for this is simply that again a lot of damned fine reading crossed my desk this year and it was difficult enough to slim down to even this selection of works below (and yes, I know we restrict our guests to picking only three – although some sneaky peeps cheat a bit, Clark B, I’m looking at you – but hey, we’re the folk who put the blog together all year long so I think we’re allowed to indulge ourselves a little at this time of year). I’m sure that as is traditional a couple of weeks after I have penned and posted this I will notice another title sitting on one of my overflowing shelves and groan because I meant to include it here and missed it as I mentally went back over what I was going to have in my list this year, so apologies in advance to anyone whose work I really enjoyed and have missed out here as I juggle a pile of various excellent pieces of work.
I suppose it’s something of a compliment to the continuing high standard of all sorts of works – from high adventure to child-friendly reading to seriously heavily researched non fiction titles (and works that beautifully mesh real world with fiction) – that there is so much to choose from and try to shoehorn into my faves list. It’s also a compliment to our creators and publishers that as I worked on preparing the dozens of guest Best of the Year posts that ran through December (something of a tradition here) I kept clocking a whole range of titles, from short, self-published to professionally released, full-length graphic novels that I had either missed entirely or else was aware of but was so busy with other reading I never got a chance to pick them up, despite really being interested in them (sadly at the end of the day no matter how many books I enjoy reading there are many more than I can get through in a year, much less also have time to write up). And on which note I’d like to say thanks again to all who took part in the 2014 guest series.
But that’s one of the reasons why we put some much time into the traditional guest series each December – if we’re spotting recommendations we never got near than I’m guessing many of our readers will be too, and hopefully that means we’re not only showcasing the diversity of the medium but also pointing readers to more new reading suggestions. And you know, after all these years in the book trade and despite sometimes cursing the blog for eating up evenings of my own as I edit those guest posts, I still get an enormous amount of satisfaction if someone picks up and enjoys a comic or book on the strength of one of our recommendations. As always after we finish the series our own reviews king Richard will be having a look through them and collating to see if any particular titles or creators were picking up more recommendations that others. To that end, although I am indulging myself with a whole pile of faves here, I will pick out three top selections so Richard can count those in with the guest picks when he runs his review of the best of all the choices. Right, let’s make a start….
Comics and Graphic Novels
Monsieur Jean: From Bachelor to Father, Dupuy and Bernberian (Humanoids)
I’ve admired the work of Dupuy and Berberian for many years now, so much so I even struggled through a couple in French, picked up in a Parisian bookstore (despite my very rusty grasp of the language I still enjoyed the en Francais editions and was stupidly pleased at the fact I only had to resort to the translate programme for a handful of words, something I doubt I could do with a French prose novel, but bande dessinee, with the added benefit of images lending context helped my basic French skills enormously. Great way to work on your language skills, he said digressing already). Humanoids have been putting out some superb titles in the last few years and this was a most welcome addition to their translations of terrific European works (which as regular readers will know we’ve always tried to keep an eye on, thanks to our own Wim Lockefeer’s columns).
This hardback collects the first five Monsieur Jean works, with Dupuy and Berberian sharing both writing and drawing chores until you can’t really tell who did which, and in fact it doesn’t matter. Jean, our confirmed bachelor (well, at the start) and his friends age in each album, which has always endeared the series to me, made the characters more real, more relatable. In this concentrated form going through the first five back to back you really can immerse yourself into the series until the characters seem like old friends you might enjoy a nice drink with in some Parisian cafe. You can read my recent review here.
Maddy Kettle: the Adventure of the Thimblewitch, Eric Orchard (Top Shelf)
I’ve been following Eric’s work for quite a while now, and thoroughly enjoy some of his tweets on his work and the artwork he shares frequently online. Fair to say his full-length, all-ages Maddy Kettle work from Top Shelf was one of the books I was especially looking forward to after so many little previews and tasters, and I was not disappointed. This is an utterly glorious fantasy tale and adventure, a young girl, fantastical beings, parents in trouble and a dangerous quest, but while he employs those standard fantasy quest and challenge elements Eric uses them in his own wonderful way – you can’t take everything that happens here as being qhat you think it is, sometimes people and events are different when viewed from other, later perspectives in the tale, which is both a good narrative device to keep things fresh and interesting but also a lovely way of gently reminding the young readers about not rushing to judgement, that life is complicated, that ours is not the only perspective. The artwork is achingly beautiful and the story a thrill and a delight, with young Maddy being the resourceful, determined girl that will doubtless inspire many real-world young lassies. This really is an all-ages work, a sheer delight for older readers as well as for the younger audience. Or better still, read it with your kids or nephews or nieces. (my full review of Maddy Kettle can be found here)
Sally Heathcote, Suffragette, Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot, Kate Charlesworth (Jonathan Cape)
This is another work where I had been teased by early glimpses and tasters (Bryan had some pages on his iPad to show around at the previous year’s Edinburgh Book Festival) and another I had been looking forward to for months. The story takes actual historical events from the early twentieth century and the struggle for equal rights for women, but uses a fictional, working-class lass from the North of England as our ‘in’ to these events, as she is drawn into the growing movement. It’s a hugely accessible way into the history of the period, impeccably done, with a deft mixture of humour and even romance among the trials (literal and figurative) endured to accomplish something that today we’d find astonishing if those rights were withheld. To their credit the creators don’t ‘soapbox’, they let the events speak for themselves, and they remind us that the suffragette movement wasn’t simply about the Pankhursts and votes for women, but a social movement with deep roots in the emerging union movement that was standing up to unbridled capitalism, demanding rights, protections, protesting the fact that even those in work often lived in poverty, without enough food, unable to afford medical care and more, all of which makes it, sadly, still very relevant to our own era. My full review can be found here on the blog and you can read a guest Commentary about the book by Mary and Kate here)
Scene & Heard, David Ziggy Greene (self published)
David is another creator whose work I have come to originally through his online postings, and his work is a regular in journals both here and in France (he’s even been kind enough to pen some guest blog posts for us reporting from French conventions), and one of the notable places his work appears in is good, old Private Eye, for which I shall always have a soft spot for (not just for keeping an eye on the Almighty Powers, as Leo Baxendale might dub them, but also for still being one of the few places paying going rate for a pile of top cartooning in each issue). But while the Eye is replete with interesting cartoons David’s stand out because he is not content to remain with the normal parameters of the editorial cartoon, instead he practises a form of comics journalism, like Sacco (but in his own unique style), he actually goes out and meets people behind the stories, talks to them, gets their opinion first-hand, and crafts cartoons which are often semi-narrative in form, frequently giving voice to the ordinary person in the street – mothers, teachers, disabled groups protesting the Draconian, harshly uncaring ‘reforms’, those relying on the food banks in Austerity Britain (while our leaders in white tie and tails hold Mansion House banquets and tell us all about ‘scroungers’).
Satirical cartooning has been a genre I have loved since I was a boy – it was probably my gateway drug into satire really, and David not only executes amazing satirical cartoons, more importantly he gives them a personal, emotional core we can all relate to. I finally got to meet him in person in 2014 when he came up to cover the Independence Referendum in Scotland, which just made the year better.
The Boxer, Reinhard Kleist (SelfMadeHero)
Reinhard is one of the new wave of powerful creators coming out of an increasingly confident German comics scene (like the UK scene now standing outside the giant shadow of the Franco-Belgian comics scene, it’s own, vibrant creature), and his Johnny Cash biography several years ago caught our eye here even while it was still only in German editions. SelfMadeHero picked it up and translated it, their very first European translation (the first of many, more power to them), and since then I’ve always kept an eye out for more of his work as SMH translated it. I was initially concerned at the title – boxing is not something I care for, to be honest, but in fact the boxing is almost incidental in a way, this is about a man and his struggle to survive against the odds, from being a bad-tempered Polish Jew pre-war to the horrors of the Holocaust during the war (when an SS guard arranges for him to box other inmates for their amusement, giving him a chance at life in the death camps), to making it to the New World just to discover that there too there are always people who will keep you down to suit their own purposes.
It’s brave work, his central character, Harry Haft, is not a likeable man, yet we still feel for him despite this. There are moving moments, inspiring moments, and also some truly terrifying scenes – a couple of pages where he first sees the ovens for the bodies in the camps is sheer horror, sensitively handled by the artist, avoiding exploitation while still delivering the sheer, Hellish spectacle of the worst of the camps. I had the great pleasure of talking to Reinhard on stage at the Edinburgh Book Festival during the summer alongside Nick Hayes, and we carried on our stage conversation in an interview you can read here on the blog (while my original review of The Boxer is here).
Supercrash, Darryl Cunningham (Myriad Editions)
I’ve been enjoying Darryl’s varied comics ever since his stint as our virtual cartoonist in residence on the blog several years back, and any new fiction or non-fiction work from him is going to get my attention. With Supercrash he refines the approach he has developed in Science Tales and Psychiatric Tales, an approach which allows him to take complex matters – global economics, history, politics, morality and philosophy and create an accessible and understandable view for any reader into the complex issues leading to the global financial meltdown of 2008. It’s absolutely fascinating and, while critical it isn’t a simple bash at the greed of the neo-cons and far right, but a much more nuanced and thoughtful, not to mention important work, from one of our very fine creators who really should be being read by many more people. (my review is here)
Woody Guthrie and the Dustbowl Ballads, Nick Hayes (Jonathan Cape)
I enjoyed Guardian cartoonist Nick Hayes debut Rime of the Modern Mariner a couple of years ago, and his second full-length work was another book I was looking forward to (especially when I was given the chance to talk to Nick about his work on stage at the Edinburgh Book Festival, an added bonus!). Guthrie is the king of American folk music, still hugely influential to this day, but here Nick looks not just at his music but the social, economic and ecological elements of his work and of that 1930s Dustbowl and Depression era in a way that has huge relevance to contemporary readers, all executed in a gorgeous woodcut style. Engrossing and best enjoyed with a best of Guthrie on the stereo as you read. (my review is here and an interview with Nick Hayes and Reinhard Kleist can be read here)
Grandville: Noel, Bryan Talbot (Jonathan Cape)
The fourth entry in the Grandville series by one of Blighty’s finest comics creators, Bryan Talbot, and, for my money, the best one yet. As with the previous albums we’re treated to some glorious artwork and lots of clever references to period art, comics and more woven into scenes, and again Bryan delivers a cracking science fiction/Steampunk tale that is gripping (I read it twice, back to back, each way on a train trip) but which also draws parallels to some of today’s concerns (terrorism, the growing tide of racism and bigotry, equal rights, religious fundamentalism and the political vultures who will use these to further their own power) and also we get a lot more insight into the Grandville history and universe than ever before, which makes it even more engrossing. Fabulous. (my review is here)
And Then Emily Was Gone, John Lees, Iain Laurie, Megan Wilson, Colin Bell (Comix Tribes)
I first came across news of this Indy work when the guys behind it teamed up for a double header with the Dungeon Fun crew (fantabulous all-ages fantasy) for an event in our Glasgow store (Colin Bell being involved in both comics). It’s a weird-looking work mixing rural and urban horror, the artwork being very rough, perhaps even off a bit, and yet it works to the strength of the creepy, unsettling nature of this story, taking in a ruined former big city detective, retired, convinced he is losing his mind as he sees horrible things others can’t, and a young girl from a tiny Scottish island who seeks his help in a conspiracy involving parents with secrets, a strange box and an old myth that may be more than mere story, and claimed one child already. Delightfully odd, unusual and atmospheric. (my review of the first issue is here; the collected edition is out later this month)
Brass Sun, Ian Edginton, Ian Culbard (Rebellion)
Along with my comics intake my reading diet has always included large volumes of science fiction and fantasy, so imagine my delight when my beloved SF and comics come together to create something so stunningly beautiful as Brass Sun. Both the Ians, Edginton and Culbard, are favourites around here for their various works, and here they have produced something truly wonderful. Both Richard and I praised it as it was serialised in the mighty 2000 AD (still producing fresh new strips like this, decades one, more power to Uncle Tharg) and here it is in a lovely hardback, a fascinating concept – one of those beautiful brass and copper orrery devices, but here on a planetary scale, no mere model, people actually living on the worlds revolving on their gigantic cogs, like a Victorian Steampunk version of a Dyson Sphere. The artwork is entrancing, but for all the wide-screen appeal there is also a terrific adventure and quest to lose yourself in, and brave, young characters who you will come to care about. And Brass Sun also does that thing that I think science fiction does better than any other genre: it delivers sheer sense of wonder. (my review is here)
Since there isn’t space for all of them on the main list I’ll cheat a bit by including some Honourable Mentions: Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Velvet, Rob Williams and Simon Coleby’s Royals: Masters of War, Dungeon Fun (volumes two and three) by Colin Bell and Neil Slorance, Wild’s End by Dan Abnett and Ian Culbard (first issue reviewed here), Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughan, Harlan Ellison’s Star Trek: City on the Edge of Forver by Scott & David Tipton and JK Woodward, Zenith Phase One and Two by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell, new Stickleback serialised in 2000 AD by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli, Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja, Climate Changed by Philippe Squarzoni.
And my top three? Oh good grief, this bit is even harder! But we need our threes so we can collate with all our guest series and see if any books picked up more recommendations than others. So in reverse order at number three, Sally Heathcote, at number two Maddy Kettle and my number one pick, Darryl Cunningham’s Supercrash.
Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes (HarperCollins)
South African science fiction and fantasy and horror has been making waves in recent years, and Lauren has been one of the standard bearers, with both prose and comics work. I first encountered her when my long-running SF Book Group picked Zoo City as one of our monthly reads and since then I’ve made a point of keeping an eye out for new work and I was delighted when I got the chance to talk to her on stage at the 2013 Edinburgh Book Festival. That year her remarkable The Shining Girls had just come out, as well as her comics collaboration with Inaki Miranda on Fairest for DC/Vertigo, and both had proved seriously compelling, not to mention frequently disturbing. With Broken Monsters she exceeded even the powerful Shining Girls, delivering one of those novels which is, delightfully, unable to be pigeon-holed in one convenient genre label.
In its most basic form it is a crime novel, but it takes in fantasy and horror until it becomes a monstrously disturbing hybrid, Lauren cleverly tapping into elements of the zeitgeist – not least social media, celebrity and social decay, as well as the ways some remain in a community together to oppose the decay – which means, along with the real world locations (terrific use of Detroit with all its problems, atmospheric but not exploitative of its situation) does what Dracula did a century or more ago, brings horror weeping, crashing, oozing horribly into the actual real world, the streets we live in. (my full review of Broken Monsters is here)
The Sleeper and the Spindle, Neil Gaiman, Chris Riddell (Bloomsbury)
Gaiman again working with Riddell, to craft a terrific work for younger readers, an alternative take on some classic fairy tale tropes (not least Sleeping Beauty). Here though there is no Prince Charming, but a young, very beautiful, strong, determined queen, who dons the armour and rides out to find the enchanted castle and the sleeping maiden within, whose sleep spell is now spreading through the lands. It’s achingly beautiful stuff (and in such a beautiful edition), Neil’s words and Chris’ artwork combining to create a work which manages to be, appropriately, enchanting, but also despite the fantasy having its feet on the ground. And how refreshing to see the women of fairy tales foregrounded here, not mere decoration to enable some vapid hero to ride to the rescue of. Another terrific work for both adults and kids alike, or again another, like Maddy Kettle (see above) which would be both read by adult and child together. (my review)
The Peripheral, William Gibson (Penguin/Viking)
Bill Gibson returns to full-on science fiction for the first time in years, and it is bloody brilliant (well of course it is, it’s Gibson!). Split across two time zones, the near future and a century or so later, Gibson does what the best SF always does, takes today’s concerns (the shattered economy, new mass viral outbreaks, the dwindling resources, the exploitation of the impoverished masses and the tiny elite lording it over all) and crafts it into a totally compelling SF thriller which refuses to go down the convenient (but lazy) route of having entirely bad or good characters, even having one note that nobody sets out to be a monster, or to be evil, it’s what happens when we keep making selfish, greedy choices until all that’s left is the inhuman. And all wrapped up in that Gibson prose that can fashion such evocative lines and descriptions in a single sentence where others may take a paragraph. (my review is here)
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit)
Somehow I’m not surprised that this was tapped as one of the reads of the year by some of our guests in December (Clark Burscough and David Baillie both picked it). I chose Ann’s Ancillary Justice as one of my 2013 books of the year and this sequel arrives on the wings of pretty much every major science fiction literary award on both sides of the Atlantic for that first outing, a quite incredible achievement for any author, new or established, but also adding a fair old weight of expectation on the second outing. I had my book-sense tingling for the first one, I just knew I was going to like it (this happens sometimes, some book-instinct that kicks in even before I know much about the work, I don’t know how it works, but it rarely steers me wrong), and I had the same vibe for this one. And again I think yep, I must trust my instincts, the literary version of the Force, or whatever it is that whispers those recommendations into my head because this is even better than the first book.
We’re deeper into a millennia-old conspiracy, a conspiracy between the same person (the same person re-created in multiple bodies to rule a vast stellar empire), our former Ancillary (a human body repurposed as a drone of the ship’s AI, all that survived of the previous ship) now in charge of a new ship and moving through the shadows of changing loyalties while trying to stay true to her own purpose and morality (and again we have this remarkable society where, like Le Guin before her we have a society where gender isn’t binary, everyone is ‘her’). I’m hopelessly hooked on this series now and eagerly await the third outing. If you still haven’t picked up Leckie after her score of literary awards over 2014 then you are missing out on one of the great new writers in science fiction.
The Girl With All the Gifts, Mike Carey (Orbit)
Mike Carey is one of those writers who seems to seemingly move between prose and comics writing with equal skill. Away from his splendid comics work I’ve enthused on here before about his Felix Castor novels, so I was excited to see a new prose novel from him in 2014. Revolving around a young girl in a very peculiar classroom before opening out into a very different wider world, this is one of those very satisfying novels which you can’t shove into a convenient genre, it’s part science fiction, part horror, part ecological tale, part morality tale, with Mike creating some tantalising moral quandries – what seems harsh and brutal behaviour may be viewed differently in light of later revelations, or perhaps not, it’s hard to tell. Mal reviewed it back at the start of last year and noted that it could sit on the shelf next to John Wyndham, which is pretty high praise.
The Gospel of Loki, Joanne Harris (Gollancz)
I’ve a deep love and affinity for mythology, and in fact I had just been brushing up on my Norse myth by reading a splendid Penguin Classics translation of the Prose Edda (one of the great sources for those epic tales) when Gollancz mentioned that Joanne Harris had a book taking a new perspective on those ancient tales, seeing them from the point of view of the trickster, Loki. Naturally I was keen to have a look and oh, I am so glad I did, because this was a sheer and utter pleasure to lose myself in. Harris – probably best known for her huge bestseller Chocolat – has harboured a love of Norse myth since she was a girl, and here she uses that love and knowledge to great effect.
These stories will be familiar to anyone who knows their Norse mythology – Loki trying to trick the dwarves as he gets them to make gifts, Loki scheming against, well, everyone – but this is from his side of things. And no, he doesn’t pretend to be a saint, he freely acknowledges his mischief, but then he’s sometimes got grounds (at least he thinks he does) to feel and act as he does (even if it leads to Ragnarok) and as he notes, he is wildfire, an untamed, inhuman element, not man or god, so what do you expect? Yes, he tricks Odin and the others but Odin uses him too (he may be even trickier than Loki in his way). It’s a captivating new perspective on ancient tales with a charmingly cheeky scoundrel (the sort you can’t help but love despite what he does and says) if you know them already, and if you don’t then this is a fabulous way to introduce yourself to them (then go read the Prose Edda afterwards!). My review is here.
Barricade, Jon Wallace (Gollancz)
A new name on the SF scene with a debut work that the blurb likens to the debut work years back of Richard Morgan. No small claim, especially for me as I was an early fan of Morgan, but you know what? For once the blurb isn’t marketing hype – this has a lot of that raw, surging energy of Morgan’s Altered Carbon. Kentsibec is a ‘taxi driver’ – that is the guy who drives through the harsh, ruined environment of post-apocalyptic Earth. He’s also not human, but a human-looking android, specially created and designed, now living in the ruins of Edinburgh, tasked to take another ‘Ficial’ through the barricades where the remaining ‘Reals’ (the few humans left, starving, diseased) still fight the Ficials and take her south across dangerous terrain. Like Altered Carbon we have a powerful, morally questionable central character, we’ve got Noir overtones mixed in with the nods to Morgan, to Blade Runner, Mad Max, I Am Legend and others, and some hard-boiled action, but the action isn’t just senseless fun and there is a questioning in there about what humanity actually is, and if anyone, human or artificial in this ruined world they wrought, really has any of it left. Another new voice we should be paying attention to. (my review can be read here)
Film & TV
Night Will Fall
Without a doubt the hardest film I have ever watched. A documentary about a documentary that was never quite finished in its day. In the dying days of World War Two British, American and Russian camera teams documented the depth of the Nazi’s vile Holocaust, as a record for the war crime trials but also as a reminder: this is not hyperbole or invention, this happened. For political reasons the documentary (which included input from Hitchcock) was stopped just before being finished in post-war Britain. Using a lot of previously unseen footage and interviews with surviving cameramen (still racked with emotion at what they saw all these decades on) this explored the subject with the merciless eye of the film camera. I’ve sat through every type of horror film there is, but this was true horror, utterly sickening, visions I will never forget.
Why would I subject myself to such a viewing ordeal? The same week this came out Nigel Farage made a deal with a far right Polish party to get funding in the European parliament for their group. A party which has a leader who denies the Holocaust and here is a British politician cosying up to him. So I went to see this harrowing film because we all need to be bloody well reminded that the road to this man-made Hell starts with simply picking out some others as “different” or “not like us”, then it is passing laws to isolate them, then it’s abuse in the streets, windows smashed and then… And then, well, we know where that manufactured hatred leads us. As the film-makers (in the 40s and the modern ones) make clear, this is a monstrous insanity that any supposedly civilised nation can sleepwalk into. And that’s why I made myself watch it, I only wish some of our blame-the-migrants or gays in our political ranks would sit and watch it too.
A million miles from the previous film in subject and style – the great Mike Leigh is always a film-maker to watch in my book, and Timothy Spall seems to be a bit of a muse for him now. And it’s Turner, for god’s sake, one of our great original artists, a man who crafted paintings you can stand in front of in the gallery and lose yourself into. Avoiding the simple route of a biopic, Leigh instead gives us a few slices of Turner’s later years, some real, some fictionalised, but it gives a real taste of this maverick genius, and some of the beautiful mis-en-scene and cinematography evoke some of his best known paintings quite wonderfully. Here in Edinburgh every January the National Galleries of Scotland display a magnificent collection of Turner seascapes which were given to the nation with the stipulation that they be shown in January, when the weak winter daylight through the windows best suited them. Yes, I shall be going along to see them again.
I grew up on Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos, it fed my fascination for space exploration and along with the documentaries of Attenborough and of Jacques Cousteau they also taught young me about the wonders of nature. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s modern take delivered more of this, updated with the decades of new knowledge gleaned from a series of remarkable probes to the planets, now with cutting edge graphics and animation, but the same mix of cutting edge science with reverence for the history which leads us to this point. That as a young student Tyson was invited to Sagan’s lab and shown around, a day which influenced his choice of later studies and profession, just made it all the better, as did numerous little nods to Sagan and the importance of the original Cosmos. Wonderful.
Interstellar/2001: a Space Odyssey (re-issued)
I’m bundling these two together because, basically, there is so much of 2001 in Interstellar’s movie DNA, both in theme and style. While I found Interstellar a bit too long (it could easily lose 20 minutes at least) and I see why it divided opinion, I still loved it. Like 2001 it’s not just about technological advances or the exploration of space (and indeed trying to save the species), it’s about evolving through those experiences. I saw the re-issues 2001 as part of the BFI’s Sci-Fi season which we’ve mentioned on here before and it was fascinating to revisit it just after seeing Interstellar, especially comparing their mind-expanding finales, the ‘stargate’ sequence in 2001 still providing a real kick to the consciousness, high concept and cinematography in place of LSD, kicking open the Doors of Perception, the ultimate example, perhaps, of the old adage of travel broadening the mind. But the bit that really blew my mind? The very first scenes of 2001 – I had forgotten that before the famous ape-men scene we see the dark side of the Moon, then over the horizon, the Earth rising. So what, you say? Well this film was released in 1968. That image was still science fiction. It was only a few months after the film came out that Apollo 8 circled the dark side of the Moon, the furthest that any human being had ever been away from home in the entire history of the world. And on the dark side they didn’t even have radio contact, utterly cut off from the world… And then they came around and saw the Earth rising in the darkness above the Moon, something no human eyes had ever seen and what had been science fiction in a film mere months before was now scientific truth and part of the “final frontier”. And that went through my mind as I watched the film and I felt my head go boom at the sheer wonder of it.
Guardians of the Galaxy
I know, a lot of you have been picking this, and why the heck not? It was simply so much fun, so much so that mroe than a few times I heard folk referring to it as “Star Wars” for today because it gave that sense of adventure and fun that the original Star Wars gave us back in ’77. And all this from a comics series I had hardly ever read, cared little about and had doubts about the film (was Marvel about to blow their fantastic winning streak?). Guess which film was high on my Blu Ray wish list for Christmas… And oh that soundtrack! I still chair-dance to Awesome Mix Volume 1 at least one a week while working away in the Blog Cave.
Only Lovers Left Alive
I love Jim Jarmusch and here he is handling vampires (which I still retain an affection for from my old Gothic days) and Loki himself, the too darned handsome Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton (one of the great queens of the cinematic world), plus John Hurt (as Philip Marlowe, no less). My friend hated it for the slowness, the lack of narrative drive and style over substance, but that’s Jarmusch, and this, like his Deadman, has a wonderfully dream-like, languid, sensual flow, beautifully shot and with an atmospheric soundtrack. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I lost myself into it the way you do in a good dream.
Honourable mentions for Studio Ghibli’s The Wind Rises, which was, as always for Ghibli, achingly beautiful animation. Sleepy Hollow, which was a series I didn’t except to like much but which has gone on to be one of my must-watch programmes (plus as a benefit it has Fringe’s fantastic John Noble), the last series of Warehouse 13 on SyFy (another show I used to think fairly lightweight, but which grew and became a firm favourite), and The Grand Budapest Hotel for being so simply delightful and wonderful and visually inventive, and the second Captain America movie which dovetailed nicely with the TV Agents of SHIELD. And although it was often a bit silly in places I loved Peter Capaldi’s new Doctor – and the nod to the beloved figure of the Brigadier in the Cyberman story was a lovely tip of the hat to the older fans (and one I imagine Capaldi, an old fan himself, would have admired).