Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

In Winter’s Grasp: Year of Bests – 2014


A couple of years back, I did not publish a year-end piece on those articles I most enjoyed reading for the period. Routinely, my online reading turns up a number authors and write-ups that meet and exceed whatever threshold I have in my head. I promised not to get caught flat-footed again. So, I rectified the issue by gathering them up and presenting them each quarter. This the last remnant for the year with my favorite number in it (no, not 20).

Shall we close out 2013 then?

David Byrne

The artist and musician David Bryne had something to say about digital in his The Atlantic piece. “The boom in digital streaming may generate profits for record labels and free content for consumers, but it spells disaster for today’s artists across the creative industries”:

‘The internet will suck all creative content out of the world’

“Musicians are increasingly suspicious of the money and equity changing hands between these services and record labels – both money and equity has been exchanged based on content and assets that artists produced but seem to have no say over. Spotify gave $500m in advances to major labels in the US for the right to license their catalogues. That was an “advance” against income – so theoretically it’s not the labels’ money to pocket.”

Lord of Illusions_400

I’m not making this up. Halloween was not that long ago. And saying it was last year only obfuscates my point. My friend and colleague from Radiator Heaven was up to his usual fine work once again with a look at a horror noir that didn’t get much notice upon its release. As J.D. noted, it does now:

Lord of Illusions

“I’ve always been drawn to the horror noir subgenre – a hybrid of horror and film noir that features downtrodden protagonists immersed in a nightmarish, shadowy underworld fraught with danger at every turn. However, instead of the antagonists being simple criminal underworld figures they are quite often beings infused with supernatural powers. Some memorable examples include Angel Heart (1987), The Ninth Gate (1999) and Constantine (2005). One of my favorites is Lord of Illusions (1995), an adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story, “The Last Illusion” by the author himself. The protagonist in both is Harry D’Amour, a private investigator and occult detective that has appeared in several of Barker’s fiction, most notably, albeit briefly, in The Great and Secret Show, a short story entitled “The Lost Souls, and also the novel Everville.”


Colin Fleming, also writing for The Atlantic, mused on something near and dear to my heart. The Lads. And when he refutes a notion even some of my fellows Beatles fans firmly believe, it only warmed that almost six decade old organ of mine:

50 Years Later: The Greatest Beatles Performance of All Time

“One of the most pervasive misconceptions about the Beatles is that they were awful as an in-concert act. The myth, as I recall my eighth-grade music teacher putting it, says the Beatles weren’t even playing up there on stage most of the time. They were only pretending to because no one could hear them anyway. And then when they did play, they weren’t much good, relying as they did on on studio time and trickery to make their records sound nice.”


And since I’ve mentioned someone named Colin, might as well look upon another. My colleague over at Riding the High Country who specializes in Westerns and Film Noir. It turned out this was one of his most popular pieces for 2013, which didn’t surprise this regular reader:

Ten of the Best – Western Directors

“Well, I’ve given myself another tough task here. Having tried something similar with actors before, I thought I’d have a go at the men behind the cameras. Once again, the sheer number of westerns produced, especially during the classic era, means that almost every director of note made a few. As such, picking my top ten represents something of a challenge. I decided to stick as far as possible with specialists, those whose names tend to be closely associated with westerns, or those who made a significant contribution to the genre, either stylistically, thematically, or through their work with particular stars.”

the counselor

Writer Thomas Flynn over at The Daily Beast took on what may have been the most contentious work by Ridley Scott, of recent memory for sure. A challenging film that left more detractors than fans. And without a doubt, unforgettable. I still think back on it, and wonder what a Director’s Cut would have in store:

The Best Scenes From Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Counselor’ Screenplay

“The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) goes to a jeweler in Amsterdam to buy an engagement ring. The dealer is played by legendary Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, best known for Wings of Desire and Downfall, but here he has only a few minutes of screen time. In the script the dealer has a page-long monologue that wasn’t in the movie. Director Ridley Scott no doubt cut it for time—rare is the film that features a page of uninterrupted monologuing.”


I freely admit I was late to discover the greatness of the late-Donald Westlake. Hopefully, I’ve been making up for that by playing catch-up with his novels and characters. Certainly, his most remarkable one was known by a single name. Sergio of Tipping My Fedora highlighted why that is with his finely detailed November article:

The name is Parker…

“After re-reading the first book in the series, The Hunter, and comparing the various screen versions adapted from it (including two starring Mel Gibson), I thought it might be worth investigating the other titles in the series and their various movie adaptations… Which has certainly been varied! In chronological order, here a mad dash to the finish and the appearance, after nearly 50 years, of the ‘real’ Parker…”


I’ve written about the troubled genius of Richard Pryor, and why he continues to fascinate. And be appreciated. Writer David Henry and Joe Henry examined one of the comedian’s most famous appearances on Saturday Night Live. A touchy sketch that still has application here and now.

“Saturday Night Live” and Richard Pryor: The untold story behind “SNL’s” edgiest sketch ever

“Even those skits that ventured beyond television’s domain would typically break through the fourth wall to skewer — or at least wink at — the familiar conventions of variety-show sketch comedy. Perhaps that’s why Richard’s turn as guest host proved such a sensation. His stand-up bits were a bracing blast of fresh air for a generation accustomed to peering out at the world through a peephole the size of a TV screen and snickering at what they saw. The characters Richard brought out during his solo spots that night bore little resemblance to television’s stock types.”


History won’t let anything just lay. Not with anniversaries of significant moments still having their say. Author Stephen King’s 11.22.63 imagined a build-up to the assassination of John F. Kennedy via his novel. The one where someone went back in time to prevent it. This edited excerpt in The Independent imagined the result of changed history on the eve of the 50th anniversary of that same event:

Imagine if John F Kennedy had lived… Ahead of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death Stephen King introduces a special extract from his novel ‘11.22.63’

“Some people will protest that I have been excessively hard on the city of Dallas. I beg to differ. If anything, Jake Epping’s first-person narrative allowed me to be too easy on it, at least as it was in 1963. On the day Kennedy landed at Love Field, Dallas was a hateful place. Confederate flags flew rightside up; American flags flew upside down. Some airport spectators held up signs reading HELP JFK STAMP OUT DEMOCRACY.”


Could Drew McWeeny have written about the biggest news in the storied franchise’s history that is James Bond? His mid-November piece for 2013 HitFix‘s Motion |Captured| made for such a case (a 50-year-old one at that). No doubt, I’d say so in my most silky deep voice this was true (as I stroke the white Persian sitting on my lap):

MGM and Danjaq reportedly close deal to secure all SPECTRE and Blofeld rights for James Bond

“”Thunderball” is probably the most important Bond film ever made, although I doubt it’s anyone’s favorite. I would love to know what Ian Fleming was thinking when he tried to Kevin McClory in the first place after they spent a few years working with him to try and turn the still relatively new James Bond character into a potential movie franchise. They started in 1958, and they worked up several treatments and screenplays together. They finally settled on “Thunderball,” which was called “Longitude 78 West” at that point, and they started work on the film. That’s when Fleming figured out that he was low man on the totem pole, financially speaking, and he started trying to kill the deal.”


The year 2013 also became noteworthy for one simple fact. A turntable was put back into my life, and thus began my quest to reclaim those LPs I foolishly gave away back in the 80s. I blame Compact Discs…and perhaps Reagan, for the latter. Of late, I’ve been spending way too much time reading Goldmine magazine online. And because I survived the 70s (leisure-suits, gold chains, and distinct tunes notwithstanding), their staff feature on a certain genre of dance music of the era gave me pause (with only minor points of disagreement):

Rank the good, the bad and the downright ugly of disco music

“They say there’s thin line between love and hate. We suspect that in the case of disco, that line might involve flashing lights a la the “Saturday Night Fever” dance floor — but the sentiment seems to hold true all the same. Goldmine’s writers Mike Greenblatt, John Borack and Dave Thompson share their list of songs that land on each side of the line (and, in Thompson’s case, a third list that appears to be straddling it.) And Chris M. Junior takes the opportunity to shine a light those memorable disco music unicorns known as instrumentals.”


Aurora of Citizen Screen never fails to write something that has historical significance with regard to American cinema. And since I got to meet this wonderful blogger in person at last year’s TCM Film Festival, it only brings more realization when she does this. This time when she recalls a dark time for Tinsel Town, what the acronym HUAC meant, and the injustice it wrought:

Remembering The Hollywood 10

“The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, was formed in 1938 to investigate allegations of communist activity in the country. Using its power to subpoena, HUAC set its sights on the Hollywood community forcing “chosen” individuals who worked in the film industry to testify in high-profile hearings before Congress. The Committee’s “investigation” came to a head in 1947 when verdicts were handed down on ten men who refused to answer questions.”


Easily, the most powerful film I saw in 2013, bar none, was Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. Much has been written on this work by a number of bloggers I follow. One of the best reviews I read was done by Darren on his movie/television site, the m0vie blog. It was another of his splendid Non-Review reviews:

Non-Review Review: 12 Years a Slave

“The most fascinating aspect of 12 Years a Slave is the way that it explores the complicity inherent in slavery. This is something that Tarantino’s Django Unchained touched upon, but John Ridley’s script explores it in almost painful detail. While Northup comes across more than his fair share of sadists – including John Tibeats and Edwin Epps – the vast majority of the people involved in the trade are presented as people just making a living as part of a system that is unquestioned and unchallenged by those within it.”

The appropriately described, A Blog About Murder, Theft, and Other Wickedness by Justin Peter on Slate’s Crime section, brought must needed attention to how old our surveillance society really is. Case in point:

The FBI’s Files on Camus and Sartre Confirm the Utter Meaninglessness of It All

“It’s funny to think of square-jawed G-Men poring over copies of The Stranger in hopes of discovering some secret cipher in Meursault’s musings, or donning turtlenecks and smoking Gauloises to blend in at collegiate lecture halls. But it’s also an aggravating reminder of just how much money and time the FBI wasted—and quite possibly continues to waste—snooping on people who were never a threat to anyone. And in the beginning, at least, the FBI seemed to have little idea of who Camus and Sartre even were.”


Christopher Orr, writing for The Atlantic, hit a nerve, and perhaps reached a tipping point, for the recent holiday season with his piece arguing against a certain romantic film many find purchase in their hearts. Since reading this article, I’ve heard from others I follow that concur with the man’s thesis. Who knew this was brewing?

Love Actually: Still Awful

“When I argued last week that Love Actually was not merely unromantic, but actively anti-romantic, my editors assured me the piece would hit a vein, and it has. But I assumed that responses to it would run somewhere on the order of 10-1, or perhaps 100-1, against my thesis. To my surprise, it turns out there are a great many non-admirers of the film out there, perhaps even an until-now silent majority. Which is tremendously gratifying. I’m fine with the piece being hated by lovers of Love Actually—it’s natural!—but it’s nicer still to see it loved by haters of Love Actually.”

it's the Smaug that's making my eyes water

If the above wasn’t enough for you, then the same writer for the same site (did I go overboard with The Atlantic this quarter? — don’t answer that) took clear aim at another popular film from the last movie season of the year. And hit the mark. But, I’m not citing this because I agree with him…really, cross my heart:

The Hobbit 2 Is Bad Film Fiction

“There are two obvious ways a director can go wrong in adapting a work with a large and ardent pre-existing fan base. He (or she) can feel so constrained by expectations that he makes his adaptation too literal, a book-on-film. Or he can get carried away riffing on the original story, pulling in references from related works and assuming that fans’ appetites for additional material are, for all intents and purposes, insatiable.

As a general rule, I think the former temptation, over-fidelity, is the greater hazard. But Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is proof that when you go the other way—really, really far the other way—the result can be genuinely egregious.”

peter o'toole

Will McKinley of cinematically insane was another writer I began following this year. No surprise, it was after the TCM Film Fest. “…a New York City-based writer, producer and classic film obsessive. He’s been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by host Robert Osborne), Sirius Satellite Radio and the TCM podcast.” His thoughtful piece late in a year already filled with too many from television and film who left this mortal coil way too soon made for a grand epitaph for the annum that was:

A Sad Week for Classic Film Fans

“Much as I love LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, and his fierce yet sympathetic portrayal of Henry II in Anthony Harvey’s THE LION IN WINTER (1968), I think my favorite O’Toole performance is the charming 1982 comedy MY FAVORITE YEAR, directed by Richard Benjamin. O’Toole plays Alan Swann, an alcoholic, over-the-hill swashbuckler who grabs one last moment in the spotlight on a 1950s television variety show.”

The entire series can be found here.

17 Responses to “In Winter’s Grasp: Year of Bests – 2014”

  1. Naomi Johnson

    Ohmigosh, GOLDMINE. I haven’t read it or even seen it in years. But I recall poring over the (then) tabloid-sized issues with print that needed, even for my younger eyes, a magnifying glass. Sending off letters with my bids, and waiting anxiously to learn whether I had won anything. And now I have a digital turntable sitting here, not even hooked up to the PC. What is *wrong* with me?


  2. cindybruchman

    You’ve been busy! Lots to ponder. I will say I somehow missed ‘Thunderball’ and need to change that! Also, I can understand why you find Love Actually un-romantic–it is–but I still love the film. It’s more of a dark comedy for me. Let’s face it, all of the characters do or experience the bad side of love. It’s a strange film high lighting what’s wrong with “love” these days, and despite the porn industry, shag-aholoics, cheaters–the loyal sister–sacrificing personal love for the sake of her brother, pure martydom….at the end you feel good about love–that’s an amazing magic trick!
    I enjoyed your review very much, Michael.


    • le0pard13

      I think this is where the time I used to spend reading books all went. Online. Interesting thoughts about the film in question for the past holiday season, Cindy. Fans and detractors a plenty. 🙂

      Many thanks, Cindy.


  3. Aurora


    Making my blogging year worth it is the kind of support you’ve shown me and all my posts. You’re just terrific and I was thrilled to meet you and spend most of a day watching films together. I think I’ve told you that many times since April, but it’s nonetheless true. I love your passion for film, music and how generous you are. Thank you so much for mentioning me and my blog in your round-up. Let’s have another terrific year!!


    PS – I hope you are able to attend TCMFF this year. I know you had conflicts. Also, that your son can go as well. You know how much I enjoyed seeing his reactions to the classics.


    • le0pard13

      Thank you very much for your kind words, Aurora. It was a highlight of my year, too. You and the TCM Film Fest, along with meeting Paula and hubby, and the films shown!

      My TCMFF schedule is looking better as my daughter’s orchestra recital will not be coinciding that weekend! Looking forward to meeting up once again. 🙂


  4. J.D.

    Thank you for the shout-out, my friend! I am deeply honored to be included with such illustrious company!


  5. Rachel

    I always enjoy your roundups, Michael! You highlight some great stuff. As a Love Actually hater I’ve really been enjoying the round of articles abounding this year (is it some kind of anniversary for this film?) of which my favorite was called Shit Actually but I can’t remember where I read it. It was fantastic. I have never understood why so many people like that film (When will the English Patient hate articles begin?)

    Happy New Year!


    • le0pard13

      It has been interesting to read the number of articles or comments regarding this film. It did just hit its 10 year milestone anniversary. And oh, yes! Let the English Patient hate rain! 😉

      Many thanks, Rachel.


  6. ruth

    Wonderful post and lots of worthy articles to highlight here, even if I don’t necessarily agree w/ their point of view.

    I’m w/ you about 12 Years a Slave being one of the most powerful films of 2013. Just finished reviewing it and though I saw it 3 months ago, it still lingers in the mind.

    Blessings to the New Year and beyond, Michael!


  7. Dan

    Thanks for this round-up, plenty of things for me to catch up on from 2013.

    In regards 12 Years A Slave, I hope it takes home the top honors at this year’s Academy Awards. It is deserving and director Steve McQueen’s talent should be recognised at the highest level.



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