It’s tradition around these parts to do a year end wrapup post, and here you go. This was a big year for me — I would say that 2013 was probably more enjoyable, but 2014 was a nice year of growth personally. I did a lot less bouncing around, but did a lot of focusing on my current situation. I ran over 12 races this year, at least one every month, including my first attempt at a full marathon in July. I got promoted in February, and did a whole lot of learning at work in the rest of the year after that, gaining a ton of experience and responsibility. I didn’t travel much this year, but hopefully I’ll do better on that front next year. All in all, 2014 was a year for inner growth for me — I worked really hard at developing myself and my life here, and I think I’ve done pretty well at that.
Every year, I also take a look at the media that I really liked this year. Music I’m taking a pass on — there are a few albums that I could mention (Betty Who, Run the Jewels 2, and Weird Al’s album), but I really haven’t jumped into new music as much as I could this year. That’s another resolution for next year, I guess.
Best Movies of 2014
The Grand Budapest Hotel – I like Wes Anderson in general (I think Royal Tenenbaums and Moonlight Kingdom are my two favorites), but this movie was great even outside of his very clear aesthetic. It’s a movie about gentility and hospitality and what all men, however weird or different, have in common. It’s charming and romantic and generally wonderful.
The Lego Movie – Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have an incredible sense of fun and frivolity, whether they’re making 21 Jump Street sequels, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the great old Clone High show on MTV or this, a corporately sponsored tribute to anti-corporatism. This movie doesn’t worry much about plot or sense or pacing — while it does treat its characters carefully, the focus is on having fun, and the flick is that much better for it.
Interstellar – I went in with low expectations, and I saw the final reveal coming from light miles away, but this movie was clearly created with care and precision, over long nights of chalkboard writing and intense discussions. The film’s range is incredible, zooming from mind-boggling distances across the galaxy down into the intimate space between fathers and daughters. The scenes on the water planet were classics for me, showing just how insane a planet not made for humans can be.
Gone Girl – I went to see this movie with my significant other, and though it was weird and uncomfortable afterwards, that’s just the way I think it was meant to be. They call it the war between the sexes because, as much as we men and women need (and want) each other, it can indeed be a war at the worst of times.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Everyone else liked Guardians of the Galaxy more, and I’ll admit that was a fun one, too. But this is the Marvel movie that I think really expands the universe in the way it should be expanded, taking a well-known character and providing a new, universe-shaking spin on it. A lot was made about how this movie is more of a spy thriller than a superhero flick, and that’s just the way I like it. I’d like to see a great Marvel horror movie, or a Marvel comedy, or a Marvel mystery movie too.
Movies I have on my list but haven’t seen yet: Boyhood, Calvary, Sparks, Under the Skin, Foxcatcher
Best Books of 2014
Once again, these are books I read in 2014, not necessarily books that came out this year. Some of them did, though, I think.
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch – I’m waiting for Patrick Rothfuss’ new Kingkiller Chronicle book, but while I do that, this was a great substitution. It’s great fantasy and excellent worldbuilding, with cracking characters and a modern edge. Looking forward to reading the rest of this series as well.
The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer – This is really three books in one story, though each of them does have a very different tone, a very different theme, and even different points of view (the third book has likely the best use of second person I’ve seen in a long time). I wish Vandermeer gave a few more answers by the end, but also like the TV show Lost (which a lot of people have compared this trilogy to), the questions come mysteriously enough that I kept reading knowing that not everything would wrap up nicely.
Horns by Joe Hill – I read this before the movie came out, and I much preferred it to the movie. It’s a novel with a very, very dark sense of humor, and a nice mix of old religion and mysticism. It will likely freak you out, and make you wonder what the people around you are really thinking, and what would happen if they actually told you.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes – I can’t remember if I read this this year or last year, but it was pretty great. It’s a little slow, and many of the characters are constantly confused about what’s happening, but I really enjoyed reading about Chicago again, and the tale itself is about a time-traveling serial killer and the people chasing after him and being chased by him. It’s fun getting all the threads early on, and then trying to connect them up in a time-travel way. Good read.
Best Video Games of 2014
These, as usual, are in order.
5. The Wolf Among Us – Telltale has definitely carved their niche lately, especially after the success of The Walking Dead, but The Wolf Among Us felt more special than anything else the company released or announced this year. The Fables universe was used perfectly, as a side story that felt like a main tale, and the theme of Bigby Wolf trying to keep his temper down (or constantly lose it, depending on how you played, I guess) fit excellently into the idea of “interactive fiction” that Telltale seems to have perfected. If we never see another Fables Telltale game, I’ll definitely be happy with this. Looking forward to Tales from the Borderlands when it comes to Vita, though I didn’t see a reason to play Game of Thrones or Walking Dead Season 2 at all this year.
4. Dragon Age: Inquisition – I was cautious about this one, though of course I was going to play it no matter what, but Bioware really came through. While the game did suffer a bit from the bugginess that seemed to infuse the biggest game releases in 2014 (looking at you, AC: Unity), and it was perhaps too overwhelming in terms of the amount of content, the world of Ferelden is astoundingly rich. Putting the player in the place of the Inquisitor is a brilliant move, and allows you to make not just a character and not just a city, but an entire world your own. Given this game’s success, I’m interested to see what Bioware does next.
3. World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor – Yes, I am one of those. The expansion breathed new life into WoW for me even before it released, and the idea of garrisons is what Blizzard always said they wanted player housing to be. I’ve wandered away from the game a bit (because there are so many different daily activities to do now), and the expansion has also kind of ruined the idea of alts for me (because there are so many different daily activities to do now), but Warlords is a great sum of everything Blizzard has learned about making excellent, accessible experiences so far. I’m kind of disappointed to hear that the next expansion, whenever it comes, won’t include garrison content. Like Dragon Age: Inquisition, it was fun conquering the world zone by zone.
2. Binding of Isaac: Rebirth – I was a latecomer to this series, and it’s a latecomer for me this year, only really grabbing my attention in the past few weeks. It’s a great, great game, though — I did not accidentally place it above the likes of Bioware and Blizzard. Here’s the recipe that finally sold me on this: Take Edmund McMillen’s wacky taste for poop jokes and anarchy, combine that with simple combat and exploration elements straight out of The Legend of Zelda, and combine that with the random itemization and constant progression of Diablo, of all things. Binding of Isaac (and especially the Rebirth remake) is an exceedingly simple game with a staggering amount of depth and replayability. Seriously. Yes, you shoot poop a lot, and most of the enemies throw blood at you (while you try to cut them down to size with tears, all in an attempt to kill your religiously zealous mother), but despite an unfortunate theme that’s literally covered in crap, the game design here is brilliant and must-play.
1. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor – And speaking of game design, no one did it better this year than Monolith. They’ve deserved this one, too, after doing a great job of Guardians of Middle-earth, an underrated console MOBA that no one but me, apparently, played. This game got a lot of press early on for looking like Assassin’s Creed and Batman, but here’s the real reason it’s at the top of my list (and should be at the top of everyone’s): It not only borrowed gameplay from those titles, but it did those things better. Moving around the world is fun and dynamic in a way that Assassin’s Creed never was able to do. Batman’s combat is great, but even he can’t stab Orcs in gorgeous slow motion, lopping off heads and limbs and gaining more and more magical power all the while. The Nemesis system is what this game will be remembered for (deservedly so — I am looking forward to another title that dynamically creates not just enemies and bosses, but levels, weapons, and even party members and story in exactly the same way), but I remember it as constantly and consistently rewarding. I don’t know if you noticed, but even dying makes you more powerful in this game. Here’s hoping Monolith gets to return to this series, and turns up the two-zone sampler of Shadow of Mordor into a full-fledged masterpiece.
Honorable Mentions: Threes, Destiny, Rogue Legacy, The Last of Us Remastered, Child of Light, Super Time Force Ultra, Don’t Starve (PS Vita)
Haven’t yet played, but they’re probably great: South Park: Stick of Truth, Bayonetta 2, Shovel Knight. Hoping all three of these get ported to platforms I actually play games on these days.