The Honor Roll of 2014


As 2014 comes to a close I happen to be wearing a new pair of glasses through which to observe the entertainment industry, film, pop culture and the like.  I'm still not sure if these glasses are rosier or simply clearer than the ones I have donned in the past. Hopefully that will become more obvious as you read my Honor Roll. And in the next few months join me in my discovery of the supposedly already written tea leaf astrology that is the Oscar race.  It is going to be a different journey from the past couple of years.  If you long for the days of naivety and excitement when it comes to the Oscars, this is the place to be.

But first, back to the year that was.  I still have a bit to chew on before I unveil my top picks of the year in terms of film and television. And I plan on documenting that journey as best I can. No promises I can't keep. That is one of my absolute strongest resolutions for 2015.
The honor and (dis)honor roll has always been a highlight for me so that is what I give you on the first day of 2015. But slightly tweaked.  Honor for certain.  And the there is the questionable. Not quite deem-able as dishonor. At least at this point in my publication.
Here we go. Enjoy the first of the 2014 Awards Wiz Awards.

The Honor Roll

1.  Podcasting.

For the past couple of years a few podcasts have either appeared on the list or been part of my honor roll.  And this year, with Sarah Koenig's "Serial," podcasting has been jettisoned into a new stratosphere in the pop culture world.  If you are unfamiliar, it comes from the creators of "This American Life" and is somewhat a companion of "The Innocence Project."  It follows the story of Adnan Seyed who was convicted of murder in 1999.  "Serial" became a weekly phenomenon and cemented its place in 2014 when an article was published somewhat demonizing Koenig via an interview with the prosecution's "star" "witness."  Take my quotes to mean the obvious.

"Strangers" my favorite podcast of the past few years has continued to be absolutely incredible. This year Lea Thau gave us the "Love Hurts" series, which I first found a bit off putting, until I gave it more of a chance.  Lea explored something that has more than likely affected all of the listeners and allowed us to tap into how love has hurt of blessed us in our own lives. 
And "Pop Culture Happy Hour" over at NPR became a fixture yet again in my life.  After struggling to connect with it in 2013, I was able to listen without judgement in 2014.  I miss Trey Graham as a panelist, for sure, but with a lot less mentions of "schadenfreude" I was able to enjoy it for all the reasons I loved it in the first place.  A wonderful discussion of pop culture that delves a bit deeper than most with the non alcoholic flourish of its namesake. I am not at all a fine of the live shows, which seem to be layered with what is probably an unintentional aura of pomp, but they have been rare enough to not take away from the many hours of delightful fun.

I also love "The Dinner Party Show,"  novelists' Christopher Rice and Eric Shaw Quinn's totally fun and a little Queer take on the week...with my favorite non rant rant on the topics they will not discuss on the show.  Again, a party with no actual alcohol.  Something I am learning to embrace.
And of course there is "Welcome to Nightvale," which was the podcast of the moment before "Serial" came into play and a gem I have loved for years, "The Ipod Witch" and Kurt Anderson and KCRW's "Studio 360" as well as the wonderful "The Business" podcast. And although we lost the wonderful "Oscar Talk" podcast we gained the "Screen Talk" podcast.  Losing Kris Tapley for Eric Kohn (although Kris excitingly visited in the last podcast of 2014) and keeping Anne Thompson, we still have an incredible industry podcast that perfectly balances journalism, film criticism, fandom and prognosticating. 

Looking forward to seeing what "Serial" as well as all of the other great podcasts bring to the table next year.  Hopefully the slew of inevitable copy cats won't launch podcasting into next year's dishonor roll.


2.  Distance

Sure this is a little abstract, but for me one of the absolute best things that could have happened as both an artist and as a writer.   Distance from the Oscar race, distance from the coasts.  One thing is absolutely for certain.  Distance has recharged my battery.

3.  The obvious and the "unexpected"

When I first started working on this list two names popped into my head. Shonda Rhimes and Richard Linklater.   I was wondering how they might connect with each other, and with a dash of "Star Wars: the Force Awakens" it all somehow made sense in my mind.  After the success with both "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal" Rhimes did something that was logically the next step.  She created another show with great characters.  Much has been said, ignorantly by many, about the race and the gender of her leads.  My bottom line:  Her stories are interesting with relate-able exciting and flawed characters.  Sure, I expected her to continue giving the landscape of characters in television a push into the right direction with hot gay sex scenes and leads of any race/gender other than white/male.  Why is this so remarkable.  It is life!

I also wasn't shocked at the idea of the brilliant "Boyhood" by Richard Linklater.  After watching the wonderful character study that is the "Before" trilogy of the past several years it would make sense that Linklater would want to put together an entire film chronicling relationships over time.

And after somewhat disappointing "Star Wars" prequels, it made total sense that someone would suggest finishing out the final trilogy Lucas always intended.  And it makes sense, in retrospect, that the man who created the wonderful characters in the first place would know when the time was right to turn the reins over to someone else.  




THE QUESTIONABLE

Last year I felt this piece went from being a bit of cheeky fun and unfortunately took a bit of a dark turn. Perhaps I should put myself on the dishonor list.  But my living amends to my readers is going to be the removal of dishonor and the addition of questionable.  I am not going to stay in this murkiness for long, but here are a few fleeting thoughts.  There is a theme here.  The studio machine v/s the independent.

1. Sony Pictures, censorship and diplomacy entering the landscape of show business

Whether or not it was an inside or outside job, this entire hack has certainly brought many interesting things to attention.  The power than an outside of Nato nation can have on the superpower that is the almighty United States, for one.  I love that Amy Pascal, the head of the US division of Sony Pictures championed films such as "The Social Network," so I am reticent to even read the damning emails she wrote.  The story I am most interested in is the loss of the Steve Jobs film and how that could possible slip between Sony's fingers.  One thing I have begun to appreciate is the fact that whatever happens to me in terms of my own filmmaking and storytelling, I hope to do it on an independent 
level.


Which leads me to:

2.  Guerilla filmmaking  

I love independent films.  I love low budgets because I feel they can lead to so many incredible choices by filmmakers, often ones that would have been lost with larger budgets and more time.  But when corners are cut at the expense of lives and safety, I obviously must draw a line.  Of course I am talking about the death of camerwoman Sarah Jones on the set of "Midnight Rider."  I am no judge nor jury, but I certainly believe that a death on the set of a location at a time where the crew was denied access...well, there are rules for a reason, people.

3.  The China Effect

Finally...I hope that all the money and soncessions being made to China in order for them to release Hollywood films goes toward the gazillion dollars the United States owes them for bailing us out when our budgeting has failed.  Ahh...the American dream!

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