This is my first blog post in a while (it’s been an interesting few weeks) and also the first end of year post of this platform.
And for many that has meant a traditional “End of Year Awards” post. Basically me handing out awards to points that made this year unique. Stuff personal and worldly that occurred and the fallout accordingly that made me go “Damn, that’s cool/not cool/ a shame”.
I was doing that for almost a decade. But I don’t think here’s the right place for something like that. Instead I’ll pare down the bloated exposition and the honourable mentions and just list the main contenders. It’s like everything these days. We don’t tell people how we feel anymore; these days it’s all done through hashtags. This is progress….
2014. Or 214 as I insisted on calling it. The zero I think is superfluous. What happened this year? The Winter Olympics and World Cup from a sporting point of view. Too many deaths of beloved celebrities for my taste, with comedians taking a special hit with the loss of Joan Rivers, Rik Mayall and tragically Robin Williams.
From an international point Alpha Dog (Putin) put his paws all over Ukraine and no one cared, Isis and Boko Haram emerged, slaughtered thousands and kidnapped hundreds more, Ebola began a continent wide tour of Africa, American law enforcement came under fire from every side for its questionable use of extreme force resulting in the deaths of two men (made all the worse by the dropped charges against the officers in question later on) and Peter Jackson finally laid his Sauron saga to rest with a sixth movie. A Kardashian arse became a water cooler talking point; hackers had their wicked way with virtually every major corporation they targeted and Gaza ignited for the 500th time.
And the X-men travelled in time to save the world. And a racoon and a talking tree scooped big at the box office.
But as I sit here, stricken with labyrinthitis – it’s a recognised problem, google it, find out – I’m just gonna give everyone the short version of my usual 12 awards long blog. Think of it as going from Wrestlemania VII to Wrestlemania VIII. Less filler, more flavour. And a quick note concerning some of the entrants; when I say something is “..of the year” I mean I saw/read/listened to it in 2014. Not that the show/novel/album was released in 2014. Just so we’re clear. And as we’re all sitting comfortably:
TV Show of the Year 2014
By a whisker over OITNB (Orange is the New Black) and Toast of London. Stuff like True Detective and The Knick were also contenders for this, easily the hardest award to pick.
Why? Although its OTT violence is laughable I love the interaction between the cast. There are few stereotypes in this show, everyone’s character is slippery and hard to pigeonhole. A friend gave me the first series on dvd and I watched it in a weekend. The second series was even better. The main reason I like it is I can relate or see myself in almost EVERY main character. Lucas, Anna, Job, Proctor, Burden, Sugar even Rabbit to a degree. In particular the three main characters; Lucas, Anna and Procter defy rational progression. We the audience expect the good guy to be honourable, the heroine to be beautiful and the bad guy to be an asshole. These three are all those things, but Lucas has secrets he chooses to keep private (not to mention he has bedded every woman in the cast in under two seasons), Anna can shoot, drive and fight better than most men in the show and Procter has his own demons that make him, to me at any rate, sympathetic towards his situation (He runs everything, he has all this wealth and power, but is he happy?). I can’t wait for season 3.
Film first seen in 2014
Silver Linings Playbook
Pipping ‘Drive’ by a nose, it’s funny because both films can be seen as romantic movies set amidst dysfunction and violence. Winning Best Actress for Jennifer Laurence in the 2013 Oscars it’s not hard to see why in this bizarre tale of family, attraction, football, love and coping when all the world wants to do is dope you to the gills and turn its back on you.
It gave me hope for my own life. That it isn’t quite so rocky and blind in its journey, and that I might get to a point someday where I can say “Yep, it was just a blip, but I got through it”. what’s overlooked is a stellar performance by Robert De Niro as the football-obsessed father of the main character, played by Bradley Cooper. It would be easy to paint such a character as one dimensional, De Niro channels something in the role reminding us that fathers have a bad rap (often unfairly) in life. Playing the role of disciplinarian and teacher means they have little room for honesty when it comes to the love they feel for their children. Unable to be physical and often lacking the internal connection to vocalise their feeling De Niro sees the football games as the one thing he can have to connect with Cooper, something he sees later than he’d like, and simultaneously tries to make up for it while at the same time worrying about his boy and where his life is heading. I’m surprised De Niro didn’t get an Oscar of his own for his performance in this movie.
Book of the Year 2014
The Golem and The Djinni by Helen Wecker
Winning the accolade ahead of Leon Uris’ ‘Mila 18’ Wecker’s tale about a Golem and a Djinni arriving in New York in 1899 was one of struggle and triumph. Primarily it’s an extreme example of a traditional immigrant tale. One creature created by a rabbi in the old country of Europe loses her owner on the voyage across the ocean. The second; a being of fire is trapped in a lamp by an evil wizard thousands of years ago. A Syrian unexpectedly opens the lamp and viola, welcome to the new world. They find each other, misfits as much as anything else, but they also see the world around them, the people that are so similar to them but the same so different. Wicker draws a wonderful universe of characters, all from the immigrants of the time, from the Jewish Lower East Side to the patrons of Little Syria. Syrian Christians setting up home with tea shops and cafes and the first roots of the city’s famous gold and diamond trade.
By jumping between the present of New York and the Djinni’s forgotten past in the desert she keeps the narrative going at a clip until you’re not sure where the novel with end. A tricky concept, the two main characters being immortal in a city soon to grow, but the ending is perfect, neither saccharin nor sorrow, just reality pervades; the city itself being the largest character without uttering a single word.
Sporting Event of the Year 2014
Tie. Superbowl 48 / World Cup Semi Final Germany V. Brazil
First tie ever, EVER, Primarily because both games remarkably similar, both in their initial presentation, public speculation and subsequent execution concerning the result.
The Superbowl featured the record setting Denver Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks. Denver was the favourite to win, with the pundits talking constantly about Peyton Manning cementing his legacy. The Seahawks were a good team, with a trash-talking chutzpah throwing secondary nicknamed ‘The Legion of Boom’, but Manning had too many weapons for anyone to contend with that year. Business as usual and the bookie odds reflected as such.
On the other side you had Brazil. Favourites to win the Cup, playing at home, and unthreatened throughout the tournament so far. Not as strong as their legendary 1970 squad they were still formidable. It was supposed to be a cakewalk to the final. The German team was young, tall and efficient – cut from the usual mould for the German teams – they were good, they beat England the previous cup in 2010, but they weren’t in the league of the Brazilians and the bookie odds reflected as such.
So what happened?
Germany open with a 5-0 flurry in the first 20 minutes before finally winning 7-1.
In the chilly cold of New Jersey Denver fluff the first snap of the game, fall behind 36-0 before finally losing 43-8.
Both favourites collapsed. In a style rarely seen in recent years in either sport. Nothing went right for either the Brazilians or the Broncos. Every ball bounce went to their opponents, every mistake was theirs, and early on in both games Bronco and Brazilian fans were either streaming towards the exits or sitting in shock, metaphorically lobotomised, unable to process what it was they were seeing.
Spectators are so used to seeing favourites win, which they do roughly 75% of the time. Both teams had an aura about them. They expected to win; their fans expected them to win. It was just that their opponents played like they had nothing to lose, and when you do that in any sport you increase your chances of winning, a lot higher than 25%.
Gone But Not Forgotten of 2014
Sadly, there were so many contenders for this *ahem* prize it was hard to give it to “Emperor Chaz” who passed age 82 in the summer of this year. It’s weird. In 2012 hardly anyone of note passed, making the award somewhat subdued than previous years. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Anyway, 2014 more than made up for such a lean year. great people from actors (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) to authors (Maya Angelou) to comedy legends (Joan Rivers) to some of the most adored celebrities (Robin Williams) all passed this year. To tip my hat to Chuck feels like a disservice to the rest. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially with Angelou and Williams, both of them beautiful people who gave me ideas, the courage to say what I think and be who I am and follow my dreams; as well as giving me a shoulder to cry on and a kind word of understanding when I thought my whole world was falling down. I miss them all terribly.
But Noll made kings.
The coach of the Steelers of the 70’s he arrived with such stillness it caused an inversion of almost seismic levels. Noll listened to long-time Steeler scout Bill Nunn (father of the actor of the same name), he too passing away this year, causing more grief to Steeler Nation. Nunn told him to target the southern, predominantly African-American schools if he wanted to improve. Noll did and harnessed some of the HUNGRIEST talent the game has ever seen. 4 Superbowls in 6 years followed.
But such a move pushed the team to almost unheard of levels of racial integration, in a city at the time not apt to interracial harmony. The economy would collapse in the 80’s as fans clung to the memories of the past but Noll stayed on until 1991. A quiet man who abhorred spectacle he never promoted nor endorsed athletes advertising themselves, nor did he stay connected to the game after he retired resulting in his legacy being forgotten in recent years. But he is the only coach to win 4 titles, quietly, with hard work and without fuss. The Nation mourns his passing.
Personal Times of 2014
Moving, Just Keep Moving…
The only constant [in life] is change. This year that mantra was tested to a degree I haven’t experienced in over a decade, if ever; the biggest instance being the departure, relocation and amalgamation of three separate theatre crews into one; a logistical exercise at times to rival the complexity of the D-day landings. Supposedly possible to achieve in a single weekend I look back now and wonder if the Powers-That-Be reached a point where they said “Stuff it, cross our fingers and let’s just go for it”.
I say this because the planning and subsequent teething problems were less than stellar. Systems didn’t work, doors refused to open, air-con was installed incorrectly, schemes that while they were great on paper didn’t work for a second in practice. Six months of hell commenced from all sides. We are only just coming through the other side of it, casualties falling down like WW1 soldiers from the first day onwards.
It was a trial. Not the first time I’ve participated in the relocation of a theatre suite but the first time with so much at stake. Everyone misses the old places, like immigrants pining for “The Old Country”, the comfy staff rooms, chairs, food, smells, cosiness. Instead we’re all standing in an unfamiliar building of steel and glass, learning new cultures and languages and feeling out of our depth every day we set foot in the door.
It’s a shockingly accurate analogy.
It’s also allowed me to look at myself in a new light. My career is 8 years old and I don’t know if I want to climb the ladder of management. And a lot of people I can relate to and share interests with have begun to push their way into the world. Primarily that of entertainment, which personally has never held any interest for me whatsoever, it still made to sit up and take notice of how these people were doing what they wanted. Not doing what society told them they had to. If they can do it, why can’t I? I’m not gonna lie that a strong percentage of my rationale for choosing a career in healthcare was the attraction of steady work and a union protected wage. I am NOT giving that up, but cossetting can be suffocating as well as protective and I feel like there’s something else in my life as of yet unfulfilled.
I just have to know.
So there we are: My stripped down awards of the year. Not as bloated as some prior but still an honest reflection on what I thought was important to me in the 12 months just gone. 2015 is virtually upon us now, I don’t much about it, but I smell change coming. Big change. I will push through the apex of my thirties, and start the slow – thankfully still a few years away – approach to the big 4-0.
Yep, bloody terrifying to this Brit. But, it happens to us all, alcohol will make it smoother. And if not it certainly won’t make it boring.