Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best of 2014, Not from 2014

It's the end of another arbitrary year, as if you hadn't noticed, and an opportunity for pathetic blogs to beg for desperate clicks by publishing banal end-of-year lists of some things they are aware were broadly popular within the previous 12 months, without risking revealing too much about their individual taste and putting off the clickers with obscure choices.

This isn't one of those blogs. I'm not interested in your clicks or your opinions, and I don't much care whether something's new as long as it's new to me. I barely bothered to keep up with what the kids were into even when I was one, and now that I live in exile under the tyranny of an 800MB daily download limit, my entertainment options of late have been limited. It's been the year of the low-bandwidth BBC Radio 4 iPlayer and occasionally being spoiled by the fuzzy textures and barely legible text of 240p YouTube videos when my standard 144p isn't available.

So here's a list of things I can remember happening to like in 2014, which invariably weren't made this year. I did enjoy some things made this year too - some of them quite a lot - but what chance does a single year have to stand out among all those multiple decades that preceded it (depending on the medium)?

I was going to do this last year, but abandoned it because it seemed a bit like a pointless waste of time. You can judge whether that means I've grown or shrunk as a person over the past year. You can also let me know your anachronistic picks if you like, I do care a bit.

~ Best Band / Album of 2014, Not from 2014 ~

Radiohead / The Bends (1995)

It's sort of a tradition that each year I get into one non-contemporary band in a big way - or if they are still going, at least their releases from about 20 years ago. Notable Best Bands of Previous Years, Not of Those Years include Led Zeppelin (Not from 2013), Thin Lizzy (Not from 2012), The Who (Not from 2009), The Cure (Not from 2007), Pink Floyd (Not from 2005) and Black Sabbath (Not from 2004), and this year has seen me get with the times by listening to Radiohead a lot, if those times were the mid-1990s.

I'd consciously tried to 'get' Radiohead several times in the past, since they seemed like the sort of band I should like and the prog rock fan in me was superficially impressed by urban legends of their decade-spanning mega-albums, but it never really clicked. This year I tried again, going right from the beginning rather than jumping in at the accepted classics, and I found it much more enjoyable... for an album or two.

Maybe in a few more years I'll be smart enough to understand why I'm supposed to like O.K. Computer more, but for now those less instantly gratifying albums post-Bends are mainly good for background music when I'm working and not really paying attention. Writes the philistine.

~ Best Book of 2014, Not from 2014 ~

Shaun Tan, The Arrival (2006)

Around this time last year, my friend Oliver casually boasted that he'd read 78 book [sic] in 2013, which I found both impressive and irresistibly competitive. Not having much to do in the first few weeks of the year, I opened a Goodreads account to track my reads and set about consuming as many short-ish books as I could find in digital form to shit over his record. It was a very enjoyable, bookish month or so before I burst the apartment bubble to travel again, saw what I was doing with more objective eyes and deleted the account.

During those weeks I discovered plenty of really good fiction and non-fiction books, most of which I've completely forgotten about since I didn't keep an unnecessarily thorough catalogueThe Arrival made a lasting impact though, even if I couldn't remember its title or author - fortunately, Google knew what 'graphic novel foreign land' meant.

For a book with no words (apart from some made-up foreign signage), this tale of a migrant worker entering a strange, new world is extremely affecting, but I guarantee I wouldn't have been so affected if I'd read it before I travelled. Sure, I would have liked the drawings, but since I've been engulfed by exotic lands where communication has been a struggle, and especially now that I know people (vicariously) who might be dealing with similar experiences of alienation, adjustment and homesickness as they work abroad to support their families back home, this was a book I immediately felt passionately compelled to share. Be glad my social networking ended at Goodreads.

And even if it doesn't hold any deep resonance for you, flicking through the wordless pages is a quick and easy way to bump up your annual Goodreads target with minimal effort, rather than waiting until year's end and desperately cracking open the Mr. Men library. It's good that I quit when I did.

~ Best Film of 2014, Not from 2014 ~

Dracula (1958)

Since I don't even bother to be up to date with the year we're in, you can imagine I don't care too much about being seasonal either. But when I fancied watching more of the Hammer Horrors I'd enjoyed as a teenager, I took a break from tradition and joined in with tradition to see whether watching these around Halloween would add any extra atmosphere.

Living in a tropical country, and being a grown man, it really didn't. But the first entry in the increasingly dismal Dracula line was brilliant. Other Hammer hotties include The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Devil Rides Out (1968) and The Vampire Lovers (1970).

~ Best TV Series of 2014, Not from 2014 ~

Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996)

Like The Twilight Zone, this was a series I was formerly aware of only as a lazy description for something weird beginning with the phrase 'it's like something from....' I had no idea what it actually was, and what it actually was is fantastic. Mainly. Sometimes. By the nature of the anthology format, with its perpetually revolving door of actors and writers making adult adaptations of stories from a vintage children's horror comic, quality is going to be all over the place. But when you throw 93 episodes and a few films at a wall, some of that hot shit is going to stick.

The quality waned in the later years, as it tends to do, but if like me you were alive in the 90s and loved to watch shows exactly like this, but were somehow tragically unaware of this one (I'd like to blame British terrestrial TV scheduling), it's well worth checking out. Even if just to catch the occasional cameo from massive stars you'd expect to be above this sort of thing.

Pick a random Tale, and the worst that can happen is you've wasted the equivalent time it takes to watch a Simpsons episode. Sorry about the wasted MB too.

~ Best Game of 2014, Not from 2014 ~

Joe Dever's Lone Wolf Game Books (1984-1988)

I haven't kept up with video games for quite a while. The only one I can remember playing in the last few years was a Mario one on the Wii when staying with childish friends in Australia, which was retro and two-dimensional enough for me to cope with.

But there is still part of me beneath this bitter shell that enjoys imaginative, immature fun, and around this time last year I was delighted to find a retro game book among the dog-eared Danielle Steels and Millennium Bug survival manuals at a local used book shop. It was a treat.

You can play all of Joe Dever's Lone Wolf series online courtesy of Project Aon, and I worked through a couple that way in January before, amazingly, finding the next few books waiting for me on the shelves of a resort in Borneo. My favourite book of the ones I played was probably the third, for its ice cave atmosphere and mischievous traps, and the setting changes substantially between each installment to keep things varied, from forests to deserts and seafaring voyages.

I lost my handwritten notes at some point and lost my enthusiasm to continue, since I would have had to play through the series from the beginning again to get all my cumulative stat bonuses and special items and I couldn't be bothered. No, I couldn't have just guessed or cheated, what kind of scumbag are you? Probably the type who keeps his finger tucked in page 133 in case you want to reconsider your decision to take the right tunnel over the left. You're only allowed to do that twice per book, max.

~ Man of the Year, Who Hasn't Done Anything Particularly Notable This Year (That I'm Aware Of) ~

Doug Naylor

This year (this week, actually) I finally got to see the impressively candid behind-the-scenes documentary 'We're Smegged,' covering the production of the most recent series of Red Dwarf (from 2012) in unforgiving detail. I'd enjoyed that series, and had known there were some 'issues' with its production at the time, but I didn't know quite how disastrous it had been until now.

It's a credit to everyone involved that those six episodes even got made at all - especially head honcho Doug Naylor, who had to turn around plenty of last-second rewrites as locations, spaceship models and chimp actors he'd been promised, and had planned entire episodes around, became unavailable. And after all that, he's still enthusiastic about doing it all again for series XI in a year or two. Maybe it's a case of childbirth amnesia - a biological necessity ensuring the survival of the sci-fi sitcom.

I'm sure there are plenty of other remarkable people I've read about or watched documentaries about this year whose achievements in previous years were arguably greater than making a six-part sitcom for the Dave channel, but since I watched the 'Dwarf documentary within the past week it's the one that's fresh in my memory. Such is the Decemberist bias of year-end lists.

~ Best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (Classic) ~


The thinking man's mutant reptile holds the coveted title for the 25th-or-so year running. What's that? No, I didn't watch the new film. I'm nearly 30 years old for god's sake.

~ Best Decorative Concrete of 2014 ~

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You might notice I didn't bother to credit any image sources in this post. Who cares?


  1. I can't believe I made a mistake in the first line of that post, what an idiot. This year I managed 99 book, so I'm a big failure again. One day I'll learn to stop setting myself challenges. Or maybe just making them easy. In 2015 I'm going for five books.

    1. If it makes you feel better, in the second half of this year - which was characterised by a consistently heavy workload - I probably only read/listened-to-unabridged about ten books.

      It doesn't help my motivation that I can't find anywhere that accepts used books here. Even the used book shops that sell tatty crap for 10 pesos won't take my comparatively decent ones for free, so I already have three to dump at the next international guest house.

      I will definitely buy a cheap Kindle type thing this year.