As the year draws to an end, we prepare to farewell our brilliant 2014 Killings columnists. For the second and final day of our KYD Best of, these discerning arbiters of all that is noteworthy and significant in popular culture share their highlights for the year from their fields of expertise. Today, we hear from our Film, Music, YA Literature and Pop Culture experts.
Killings will be taking a little break for the next few weeks, returning January 12 to announce our new columnists and launch our brand new issue, Kill Your Darlings No.20!
Best Film – Rochelle Siemienowicz
You know it’s been a great year at the cinema when you’re struggling to confine your favourites to a Top 20 list, let alone a Top Ten. The key moments in 2014 shine bright and clear for me: Boyhood – Richard Richard Linklater’s sublime meditation on childhood and the passing of time; Her – Spike Jonze’s melancholy and visionary exploration of love in a digital age; and Under the Skin – Jonathan Glazer’s visually and aurally stunning adaptation of Michel Faber’s book about a mysterious seductress (Scarlett Johannson) preying on lonely Scottish men.
2014 saw mid-career Indie auteurs demonstrating that their creative juices are still flowing fresh: Wes Anderson with the perfectly pitched period comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel; Jim Jarmusch withy his languid hipster vampire romance, Only Lovers Left Alive; Darren Aronofksy with his weird and wonderful retelling of Noah; and bad boy Lars von Trier delivering a typically perverse and potentially offensive Nymphomaniac.
Highlights of foreign cinema (or to coin Sean Micallef’s Mad as Hell comic phraseology, ‘films in languages that aren’t English’) included Paolo Sorrentino’s soulful Italian masterpiece, The Great Beauty; Abdellatif Kechiche’s sensuous lesbian love story, Blue is the Warmest Colour; and Ruben Östlund’s acidly-observed marriage crisis comedy set in a skiing resort, Force Majeure.
Despite all the usual Groundhog Day angsting about the state of Australian cinema, the home field provided some of the year’s best (but most criminally neglected) hits: Rolf de Heer’s original and very moving Charlie’s Country, starring veteran Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil; and Jennifer Kent’s stylish, internationally acclaimed horror film, The Babadook. Then there was the genuinely exciting apocalyptic drama, These Final Hours, set and filmed on the wide open streets of Perth and directed by Zak Hilditch.
Sassy and hilarious women made me laugh in fresh romantic comedies like In a World (Lake Bell), set among Hollywood voiceover artists; and Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre) – certainly the only film I’ve ever seen to feature a cute couple bonding over an abortion. Then there was Le Weekend, Roger Michell’s wise and witty portrait of a 60-something couple bitching on holiday in Paris – a small film that left a long afterglow.
Here’s to the next year at the movies – may it be even half as good at this one!
Best Music – Chad Parkhill
Being asked to create one of these lists always generates a small amount of anxiety for me, because the act of saying yes to such a request implies that not only have I listened to enough music from this year, but also that my own taste and biases are, if not universalisable, then at least common enough to speak to others. I’m not sure that either of these things is true. Here, then, is a completely subjective list of musical highlights from 2014:
- Silence: Music is now more accessible than ever before – anyone with an internet connection can curate a soundtrack every moment of their lives. This creates an implicit pressure to spend one’s hours at work, in the gym, and so on, constantly listening. I don’t know if my hesitance to don headphones and listen to the new album or single everyone’s talking about is some high-minded act of resistance or just laziness, but I can say some of my favourite moments in 2014 have not been soundtracked at all.
- Obsession: Conversely, this year I also discovered the joys of becoming obsessed, of listening intently and monomaniacally to the one thing for weeks at a time. I went travelling through Spain and Portugal by myself, without internet, and spent the time listening mostly to Destroyer’s 2008 record Trouble in Dreams and 2013 EP Five Spanish Songs. The accessibility of nearly all recorded music encourages us to listen broadly, which is in general a good thing, but it does also discourage the kind of intense listening experience born of scarcity, where songs are repeated so often they become incorporated into your psyche and sense of self.
- Being in a band: Earlier this year I formed a band with two friends. It’s unlikely to ever be more than a passion project – improvised electronic noise music with jazz elements isn’t exactly racing up the charts right now – but after so many years of writing about music as a consumer and critic there was something enlightening about switching sides and learning to appreciate the immense difficulty of wrangling noise and sound into something approaching a song.
- Ladies everywhere: Music, like so many other fields, has always been something of a boys’ club, even as pop music is culturally encoded as feminine. (Remember how easy it was to mock boy bands like N*Sync as effeminate?) This year saw solo female artists in the top five slots of the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-breaking seven consecutive weeks. Even if some of those songs weren’t great – there’s much to criticise both musically and content-wise in Meghan Trainor’s ‘All About That Bass’ – it’s great to see that a song like Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’, which unapologetically and explicitly talks about female sexual pleasure can perform so well on the charts. I, for one, welcome our new musical lady overlords.
Best YA Literature – Danielle Binks
2014 has seen some wonderfully diverse books in youth literature, and among the most notable are contemporary YA novels from debut Australian authors: Laurinda by Alice Pung, Nona and Me by Clare Atkins, and The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew by Eli Glasman.
I also loved plenty of books by Aussie YA favourites: Every Word by Ellie Marney, Head of the River by Pip Harry, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil and Cooper Bartholomew is Dead by Rebecca James.
In Australia we have been lucky enough to see the establishment of The Readings Children’s Book Prize, which ‘celebrates books that families love reading together’. We’ve also seen a fantastic campaign for diversity, with the creation of The Stella Prize Schools Program – helping to promote Australian women’s writing in schools by bringing an end to gendered reading in the classroom.
From the overseas set I’ve loved The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson (BTW – she’ll be in Australia for Reading Matters 2015!), We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey, Like No Other by Una Lamarche, El Deafo by Cece Bell, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King, Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, and This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. And I was very happy that the Fault in Our Stars movie adaptation was as blubber-snot-cryingly good as the book.
This year the grassroots We Need Diverse Books campaign has picked up real momentum (sometimes inadvertently), and I look forward to this movement continuing its good work in 2015, for youth literature around the world!
Best Pop Culture – Julia Tulloh
The most retweeted selfie of all time? The most liked Instagram photo ever? The months-long furore around whether Kylie Jenner’s incredible lips are surgically enhanced or not? These are only some of the profound pop culture phenomena to have graced our Facebook feeds this year.
Perhaps the most notable celebrity achievement of 2014 is Beyoncé’s continued world domination. She dropped two new songs on us; remixed oldies with Kanye and Nicki Minaj; grossed over USD $100 million through her On The Run tour; simultaneously caused and fended off divorce rumours about herself and Jay Z (which of course, gave her even more media coverage than ever); and continued promoting feminism.
In fact, 2014 was a great year for conversations about feminism and popular culture. Taylor Swift came out as a feminist for the first time; Emma Watson addressed the UN about women’s rights; Lena Dunham’s memoir consciously asserted that young women have much to offer in terms of advice, life experience, humour and art; Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Beyoncé continued to promote the right for women to have control over the representations of their own bodies and sexuality. All of these women had their share of detractors as well as fans – importantly, though, discussions about feminism have become reasonably commonplace in popular media, particularly amongst young people who may not have come across the term before.
Other personal highlights of the year include making the celebrity A-list in the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood mobile game; this Shia LaBeouf-inspired theatrical performance; and enjoying Matthew McConaughey’s renaissance: I hope it continues for years to come.