Jenna’s faves of 2014: MOVIES

best of 2014

This was a pretty awesome year for film, both in terms of big noisy blockbusters and little quiet indies. Bonus points to Tilda Swinton and Chris Pratt, who were in two of these movies each.

only lovers left alive1

1. Only Lovers Left Alive
I knew going in that Jim Jarmusch + vampires was an excellent formula, but I didn’t expect just how weird and lovely this tone poem of a movie would be. Not much happens in the story, and that’s kind of what’s amazing about it: As eternal aesthetes, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston use their immortality to appreciate the world around them, especially its great art and forgotten geniuses. (And I think we can all agree that Tilda does Being a Vampire better than anyone else across all of time and space.)

guardians of the galaxy

2. Guardians of the Galaxy
I love a good superhero movie, but most of them suffer from an overabundance of ponderous seriousness. (The world is ending! Broodbroodbrood.) But James Gunn’s take on the genre is the opposite—funny, warm-hearted, and really fucking fun. And for all the crazy space pyrotechnics, the scale feels real and human; chalk it up to the can-do-no-wrong Chris Pratt and his scuffed little walkman, and Vin Diesel (as Groot) doing his most adorable voice work since The Iron Giant.


3. Boyhood
Richard Linklater almost singlehandedly invented slow cinema (think slow food, but with celluloid) with the Before Sunset trilogy, but he takes it to new heights here. With its staggering timespan, Boyhood is like nothing else ever made. It’s incredibly moving in its portrayal of all the profoundly mundane and mundanely profound moments that make up a human life.


4. Birdman
Talk about virtuoso. Long cuts and endless tracking shots hypnotize me, and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s stunner of a character study is one seemingly endless shot. I’ve been watching Mark Cousins’s documentary series The Story of Film lately, and he talks a lot about how one of film’s most magic abilities is to expand or contract time. Birdman turns time into subjective putty, and it’s incredible. Also incredible: the ensemble cast, acting the ever-loving shit out of this sucker. I will say I hated the stupid subplot about the eeeevvvvillll theater critic on a deeply personal level, but pretty much everything else was gold.

song of the sea

5. Song of the Sea
Earlier this year, my friends Lissa and Julia introduced me to Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey’s The Secret of Kellsa gorgeously rendered piece of Irish animation about Celtic folklore and pleasures of the printed word. Moore’s followup is this even prettier, even more haunting film. Like a Miyazaki movie, every shot of Song of the Sea looks like a painting, and its characters are very human, quirky kids operating in a giant world of myth. And did I mention it’s about selkies?

grand budapest hotel

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I’m a total sucker for Wes Anderson’s oeuvre, even its weakest links. Sometimes, even the shallow pleasures of his movies are enough—the object fetishization, the precision of his camera angles, the excellent soundtracks. But there’s nothing shallow about The Grand Budapest Hotel, which, beyond being absolutely gorgeous, is a minutely realized character study of a man in love with his job.

obvious child

7. Obvious Child
May all the lady gods of ladies bless Jenny Slate for making this movie, which is maybe the first work of fiction I’ve ever seen that doesn’t treat abortion like a dreadful and traumatic taboo. And even feminist implications aside, Obvious Child is a really funny, smartly observed romantic comedy, operating on a small scale. Also, it reminded me how much I love the titular Paul Simon song. Just try not to jump around to those drums.

the lego movie

8. The Lego Movie
As a kid who grew up making my spaceman Legos and underwater-diver Legos fight, make up, fall in love, and suffer bouts of amnesia, this movie spoke to me on a molecular level. Beyond the nostalgia (and the fact that the jokes are a mile a minute and hilarious), I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more perfect or more fun dramatization of the creative process. Emmet’s “The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true” speech to President Business encapsulates my personal belief system in a way that kind of amazes me.

the one i love

9. The One I Love
This is one of those movies where the less you know going into it, the more fun you’ll have. But I will just say—I’m a big fan of stories that deal with identity, doppelgängers, and confronting yourself in a way that surprises yourself. This movie is the first feature for both its director and its writer (Charlie McDowell and Justin Lader), and they come out swinging. Of course, it helps a ton when you’ve got Elizabeth Moss in your corner. (Is Mad Men back yet…?)

veronica mars

10. Veronica Mars
Yes, I donated to the Kickstarter. Yes, I have a Mars Investigations sticker on my laptop. Yes, I love everything Rob Thomas does ever. This movie met my expectations pretty much exactly, scratching that persistent itch left behind by the open-ended 2007 series finale. It’s a testament to how much everyone who worked on the TV show loved it that they returned in force for the movie, which blends all the stuff I loved about the series: whip-clever dialogue, satisfying mystery, class-war undertones. Would I recommend it to someone who hasn’t seen the show? No, dummy. Why haven’t you watched the show yet? Geez.

Jenna’s faves of 2014: BOOKS

best of 2014

Hello! So if you know me, you know that I like a lot of things. Like, a lot of things. I pretty much eat media artifacts like they’re food. (They are food, right?) There’s been a lot of great stuff that’s come out in 2014, and I wanted to gush a little bit about my favorite things across a whole mess of categories. With that in mind, I’m going to come out with one of these every day (or so…) until the end of the year.

First up! BOOKS.


1. Station Eleven [Emily St. John Mandel]
The end of the world, but told ever so gently and humanely. Featuring a post-apocalyptic traveling Shakespeare troupe and a treatise on building your own world. I do not exaggerate when I say that this book made me look at the world with fresh eyes.

wolf in white van

2. Wolf in White Van [John Darnielle]
That guy from the Mountain Goats writes a twisty, fucked-up character study about a super-damaged dude and the world he makes up to cope with everything he’s lost. (I guess I really like books about people making up their own worlds.)

sex criminals

3. Sex Criminals, Vol. 1 [Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky]
So yeah, it’s a comic book series about two people who can stop time with orgasms. But don’t let the title or the premise scare you off—it’s smart, funny, moving, and for all the craziness, super duper real. Fraction and Zdarsky also manage to pull off what I guess I’d characterize as an illustrated music video to the tune of “Fat Bottomed Girls.”

Yes Please

4. Yes Please [Amy Poehler]
I listened to the audiobook of this one, which I would highly recommend to you as well. Walking down the street with Amy Poehler’s voice in your ear telling you about her crazy SNL experiences and why you should do more awesome stuff with your life is a rare pleasure.

This One Summer

5. This One Summer [Mariko and Jillian Tamaki]
A beautifully drawn, verbally spare graphic novel about exactly what it’s like to be 13 years old, on vacation, and confused, amazed and disgusted by the world around you.

Coming up: Albums, movies, theater and TV shows. Stay tuned!