2014 in Review: The Year in Episodes

True Detective

This list is exactly what it looks like: a list of one great episode in each of twenty shows that I watched this year. I could have filled the entire list with episodes of The Americans and Hannibal, but I decided to impose a limit of one episode per show. This list is different from a list of my favorite TV shows of the year, though there’s plenty of overlap between the two. And if it’s not on this list, I either didn’t like it, liked it but preferred other things, or didn’t watch it.

And now, in chronological order, twenty of my favorite TV episodes of 2014.

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2014 in Review: Unsung Movie Performances

All too often, film criticism falls victim to what I call the “Oscar Eyes” phenomenon, prioritizing showy performances and actors who make noticeable physical commitments to their characters over work that’s subtle but no less critical to a movie’s effectiveness. Below, here’s my attempt to look beyond the performances likely to be up for awards. These performances are on the margins of Oscar consideration for several reasons: either they’re in movies that rarely attract awards attention, or they’ve been overshadowed by performances with more obvious “award-bait” moments. They’re worthy of recognition nonetheless.

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Of Monsters and Men: “Birdman,” “Whiplash,” “Nightcrawler”

Birdman

Movies don’t come out in a vacuum. Three of this fall’s most talked-about movies follow men as they struggle to balance professional success and occupational fulfillment with personal relationships and emotional connections. In all three stories, the main characters fall victim to the grim realities of the businesses in which they embed themselves. Nightcrawler, Birdman and Whiplash will likely be among this year’s crop of Oscar nominees. Below, my thoughts on these movies and the effect of thinking about them in tandem.

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“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”: At Last, Closure

Hobbit

Sometimes, low expectations pay off.

I skipped the second movie in the unnecessarily protracted trilogy of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies because I found the first one laborious and lumbering. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Jackson & Co. mistake a lengthy running time and an enormous budget for grandeur and momentum. The narrative progresses listlessly, with an endless opening sequence that establishes the characters and plot in painstaking detail, lengthy battle sequences that neither advance the plot nor illuminate the characters, and an inevitably inconclusive ending that left me with little enthusiasm for one more round, let alone two.

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The M&M (Written) Report: Censorship and Diplomacy, post-Sony Hack

Interview

Sony Pictures Entertainment announced on Wednesday that they would not be releasing The Interview, the film depicting a fictional assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The move came in response to threats of terrorism against theaters showing the movie from the group known as Guardians of the Peace. The group stole and released huge amounts of Sony’s internal communications and is believed to be working with the North Korean government in some capacity.

My friend Devin Mitchell invited me to discuss this issue with him. Below, a transcript of our online conversation.

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“Serial”: True Detective

Serial

The story on Serial began with a meditation on the malleability of the truth and ended with a much better-informed meditation on the malleability on the truth. The story of Serial began as a humble This American Life spinoff and ended as a phenomenon of iTunes sales, Slate thinkpieces and metapodcasts. In between, this unique marriage of TV crime drama tropes and investigative reporting instincts led listeners on a journey that plumbed the baffling depths of the American criminal justice system, exposed the blurry line between unbiased reporting and biased speculation, and asserted the audio podcast as a viable storytelling medium. Oh, and Mail Kimp exists.

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