The Ugliest Moments of 2014
The beauty of Ugly Magazine is that we are not confined by the traditional or limited to what is simply popular. We are free to branch out, find what suits us and create the world we want to see. This essay follows those same rules.
What it is: A list of 2014 Ugliest Moments in Culture. What this list is not: comprehensive, ranked, in order, or fair.
So, now that the parameters have been established, I will try to keep this thing somewhat organized. Let’s start with Cinema.
2014 was an interesting year for movies. Seeming to zig to the more dramatic 2013’s zag, cinema got a little weird this year. So, right off the bat, Ugly’s favorite movies of the year, in no particular order were:
The Obvious Child
This movie, or perhaps more accurately, Jenny Slate’s masterful performance in it, was a gem. Taking on a difficult and exceptionally divisive subject matter of pregnancy and abortion, the movie wisely stays away from politics and lands squarely in the realm of authentic, funny and emotional. Plus it’s named for and features a killer Paul Simon song.
Under The Skin
Whew. This was a weird one. Scarlett Johansson delivers her best ever performance by remaining stoic, emotionless and cold. Oh yeah, and she is an alien that lures men into a black abyss and kills them. Crazy and unflinching, this bleak movie was the year’s best dissection of the idea of what it means to be human.
Richard Linklater’s 12 year long project may not get the love it deserves come awards ceremony time, but it may just be the best film of 2014. It’s honest, smart, funny, heart wrenching and is wonderfully acted. Filmed over the course of 12 summers, it follows the maturation of a young boy into adulthood. It’s themes are wide, deep, and authentic. Plus, the soundtrack is superb. It is not to be missed.
One of the year's best action movies, with the guy who plays Captain America (Chris Evans), and it’s all set on board a nonstop train that is carrying the remnants of humanity. Touching on themes of poverty, social order and wealth, it’s as smart as it is enjoyable. And it’s pretty damn enjoyable.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
I have heard all the knocks on Wes Anderson films before. They are too whimsical. Style at the expense of substance. Cutesy art house films. Quite frankly I don’t really care about the naysayers. This latest Anderson film is so good, so clever, and so well crafted it is impossible to ignore. And where other Anderson films may suffer from some overwhelming optimism or whimsy, this one strikes a perfect balance between love and nostalgia, and a creeping, growing threat. The uber talented cast doesn't hurt either, even if the movie doesn't seem quite large enough for so many great actors.
Increasingly it seems that television is expanding into a weird art form of it’s own, on par with cinema and music. These shows stretched the medium in ways we’ve never seen before, all while remaining excellent T.V. The Ugliest T.V. this year:
Game of Thrones
Let’s start with the obvious one here. This show is dynamite for a variety of reasons, but the two that keep drawing me back are the acting quality (it’s among the best casts out there) and the sheer scope of the narrative. No show today is more ambitious with it’s story telling. No show can boast a continent's worth of characters and still manage to keep everything straight week in and week out. For stretching the very idea of what T.V. can do, Game of Thrones gets our vote.
If you missed this crime drama from HBO this year, I don’t know what to tell you. Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey put together the best stretch of acting this year. Particularly McConaughey, who is churning out masterful acting work faster than his romantic comedies used to flop, shows tremendous range and skill as Rust Cohle, the nihilist and heartbroken detective. The show is creepy, visceral, and absolutely gorgeous. Simply put, you need to watch this show. And if you have already seen it, you need to watch it again. Right now.
Oh yeah, and it has maybe the best scene in either movies or television this year. A 6 minute tracking shot following McConaughey through a robbery gone south. Extraordinary.
House of Cards
Yes, yes, I know that some of you will argue that the second season was inferior to the first, and you would be right. But, do you know what wasn’t inferior? Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in the leads. They are, in a single word, captivating. They deliver can't miss performances. Two of the finest actors out there holding up a repetative and at times boring script through much of the show's lackluster second season. That’s impressive. At times it seemed as though Spacey is propping up the show through sheer force of will as the manipulative Frank Underwood. And it’s a good thing too, because he is one of T.V.’s most enjoyable characters no matter how mundane the script is.
Last Week Tonight
Look, you don’t have to agree with John Oliver’s take on the news to find this show funny. And hot damn, this show is flat out funny. More than that, though, it’s the well researched, brilliantly delivered outbursts by the shows very British, yet perceptive on-all-things-American, host that make this show a treat every single week.
The advertising show split it’s last season in half ostensibly just to torture us a little more. But that is ok with me, because once again Mad Men has produced such exceptionally well written, exquisitely decorated and perfectly acted piece of television history that I cannot be angry with it. To watch Don Draper’s continuing saga has been a gift and a puzzle, and there is one final piece left, airing in 2015.
I could sit here and give you another list of music from 2014, but our very own and lovely Barby Garcia has already done that for you here. And suffice it to say, her recommendations are probably better than mine (because I steal all my music from her, anyway). Go. Listen. Enjoy.
BEST OF THE REST
Ah yes, the section of everything else. These things aren’t quite large enough to warrant their own section, but, as it is my article, I get to write about what I want. Sorry.
A radio show, sure, but one of the most captivating radio shows I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. As a spinoff of This American Life (perhaps the most well liked and inventive radio show ever), I was a little wary. But Serial stands alone as the best radio program of the year, and it's not a close race. With episodes released weekly, it followed the nonfiction story of a murder that took place in Baltimore in 1999. Each week got better than the last, kept me coming back for more, and refused to be denied entry on this, ahem, prestigious end of year list.
Us by David Nichols
The novel by British author David Nichols is, among other things, both very funny and very sad. The story revolves around a failing marriage and a “Grand Tour” through Europe with their son who is going off to college. Don’t let the threat of tears steer you away from this one, though, it is a joy to read.
2014 provided us with plenty of other Ugly Moments that I am sure I missed. Feel free to let me know what you think should have made the list.
Before ending this thing I will leave you with Ryan Adams’ "Feels like Fire". One of my favorite tracks of the year, off of one of my favorite albums from a guy who was taken far too long to put out a complete album like this. Enjoy and Happy New Year.
Remember to stay you, stay true and stay Ugly in 2015!