I am most definitely not one of those cynical old souls who reaches New Year’s Eve, harrumphs with Scrooge-like intensity and balefully glares at the next 365 days, convinced they will be just as awful as I imagine them to be.
While I am old enough, and hopefully wise enough, to know it won’t all be Pollyanna-upbeat and Anne of Green Gables-perky, I also know enough of it will be pretty damn good to be more than worth my time.
And naturally as a pop culture junkie, much of the year will be taken up with the movies, music, concerts, books and TV shows I love, which is why I have plucked 5 particular things or groups or things that I am most especially looking forward to.
Let the fervent anticipation commence!
There are a host of movies I am looking forward to in 2014, many of which I have been monitoring for some time as posters and trailers and snippets of plot synopses etc have leaked out and made their way onto the internet.
But I have picked 5, yes just 5 that have me so excited I just explode in a maelstrom of colour-Danish building bricks.
If that happens, please be careful where you put your feet.
I have played with LEGO all my life – OK not so much in the last 25 years or so but before that a hella lot – and so this particular cinematic offering has me dancing a jig in the streets.
It follows Emmet, “an ordinary, rules-following, perfectly average LEGO minifigure who is mistakenly identified as … the key to saving the world. He is drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant, a journey for which Emmet is hopelessly and hilariously underprepared.” (source: thelegomovie.com)
Packed full of all manner of pop culture references, copious numbers of mirth-inducing one liners, and with voices provided by such luminaries as Chris Pratt (Emmet), Will Ferrell (the tyrant, President Business), Morgan Freeman (Vitruvius, an old mystic) and Elizabeth Banks as Wildstyle who mistakenly identifies Emmet as the would-be saviour, this is one movie that I CANNOT wait to see (but, you know, obviously will have to).
The Lego Movie opens in USA on 7 February 2014 and in Australia on 3 April 2014.
Yes I know I have been fixated on this one for many a long day but you would be too if you fell in love with The Muppets back in the ’70s on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show and craved as much Kermity goodness as you can get.
In this case you get twice as much Kermit as normal.
Well sort of – it’s more like Kermit and his doppelganger Constantine, international criminal mastermind, who manages to get Miss Piggy’s reluctant amour thrown into prison in Russia (with Tina Fey as a guard no less!) while he takes over the Muppets, who eventually, and in the most chaotic way possible cotton on to who he really is and do their best to stop his evil plans and free their pal from the gulag.
It will be riotously funny, madcap, crazy, silly and full of so many brilliant pop culture references that your sides may very well split from all the laughing.
Wocka wocka wocka!
Muppets Most Wanted opens in USA on 21 March 2014 and Australia on 3 April 2014.
If you are lucky enough to be in North America, you will get the latest quirky off beat offering from Spike Jonze before Christmas but here in Australia and the UK it’s a 2014 release, reaching us in January.
I have overheard patrons near me in the cinema when the short for this film has been shown as saying it looks “odd” and “strange” but I think that’s missing out on the wonder, heartbreak and joy of this film which wonders what would happen if a lonely, recently-divorced man (Joaquin Phoenix) were to fall in love with his apartment’s disembodied operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
It looks like it’s a million shades of touching, a deeply human walk through the valley of loneliness and heartbreak and the hopeful emergence into a new and brighter place.
Who wouldn’t want to go on that kind of profoundly emotional journey?
I love me a good sci-fi film and this particular offering from Chris Nolan, who shown time and time again he can create movies that are both action-filled and narratively-rich with compelling characters (imagine that!), looks like being one to watch out for.
Starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, it examines what happens to a team of interstellar explorers when they venture into the nothingness of a rip in space time in search of a way to reverse the downfall of civilisation on Earth.
Details beyond that are sketchy at best at the moment but I have enough faith in Nolan as a director to bet this will be one of the standout films of the coming year.
Ordinarily I find most comedy movies that Hollywood puts out insanely un-funny, with the jokes, set-up and characters all tending to the lowest common denominator (that’s not me being a snob; I simply find them more annoying than funny).
But the Farrelly Brothers seem to have some kind of magic touch because both Dumb and Dumber (1994) and There’s Something About Mary (1998) rank as two of my favourite movies of all time, and while there’s no word on whether Cameron Diaz will get to use some more unusual hair gel any time soon, both Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are back as Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne respectively in Dumb and Dumber To!
If you didn’t think I could be any happier about that news, consider that the Farrelly brothers are back in charge – let’s pretend Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003) never happened shall we? PLEASE – and the joy factor gets ramped up by a ridiculously high factor.
Let the idiocy re-commence … and um guys go to the toilet before you head out on your bike will ya?
Dumb and Dumber To opens in November 2014.
For a lovely, full long list of movies out next year that should be worth checking out, head on over to totalfilm.com.
While there are any number of amazing, exciting musical projects slated for release next year, of which you will hear plenty as I acquire them and play them to death, what has me really excited on the musical front is news that two of my favourite artists in the whole world, Sweden’s Robyn and Norway’s Röyksopp, are teaming up once again to record some new music AND tour together in the northern summer, 2014!
Having worked together before on Royksopp’s “The Girl and the Robot” from 2009’s Junior and “None of Dem” from Robyn’s 2010 release Body Talk Pt. 1, they are back in the studio cooking up some new, exciting music according to this tweet from Robyn:
No word yet on song titles or tour dates or locations (although Pitchfork is saying the tour will include North America and Europe, and hopefully, please music gods, Australia) but the fact there will be new music from this amazing pairing – well trio-ing really but that sounds kinda odd – and actual live concerts is exciting enough for now!
You can find out more about the Do It Again tour at doitaga.in
Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go and get my travel agent on emergency standby to book me in for a flight to whichever city I can make it to!
One gifted performer I know I will definitely be seeing next year, thanks to an unexpected pair of tickets given to me on my recent birthday by my lovely partner, is Miranda Hart.
Ever since I discovered this gifted comedian via her sitcom Miranda, which has the look, feel and good old fashioned humour of the ’70s classic British shows I love so much such as The Good Life and The Liver Birds, I have fallen in love with her goofy, delightfully idiosyncratic take on life, love and relationships and I am thrilled beyond belief to finally see her live in concert in 2014 as part of her Work in Progress tour (which are functioning as warm up shows for her My, What I Call Live Show UK tour).
I will confess here and now that my enjoyment of awards shows waxes and wanes, mostly wanes, with my tolerance for endless backslapping, interminable patter and boring speeches, never great to begin with, diminishing as time goes on.
But there is one pairing of presenters that is guaranteed to have me sitting upright in my air, when I’m not slumped either on it or the floor laughing uncontrollably, and that’s the blessed by the gods coming together of Tiny Fey (30 Rock) and Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation).
They were damn near hilarious at 2013’s Golden Globe Awards, managing to be ridiculously funny without sacrificing the chance to skewer and parody the business of making movies and the people most visibly involved in the process – the actors and directors, screenwriters and producers all seated in their tuxes and evening gowns ready for some fervent self-congratulations.
If you want a great run down on what they said and to whom, check out this excellent recounting of the evening on croweknees.com
Naturally it goes without saying that I am counting the days to the return of The Walking Dead on Sunday 9 February 2014 …
And Falling Skies in the US summer (hopefully with more consistent writing this time around) …
And the bound to be engrossingly impressive second season of Orphan Black on 19 April, 2014 …
And yes, the gloriously dysfunctional dystopian brilliance of Defiancewhich will darken our screens again with a new, more intense season in June 2014 …
But one show that has me really excited, and frightened out of my ever-loving brain (in a good way of course) is Helix, a show debuting on syfy on Friday 10 January, which centres on a virus that runs amuck at a secret research base in the Arctic, and could spell, according to the official synopsis, “mankind’s salvation or total annihilation”.
It has a whole X-Files meets The Thing vibe going on and of course being from the brilliantly fecund creatiuve mind of Ronald D Moore (Battlestar Galactica), it is going to be must see viewing!
* What shows/events/movies/albums etc are you most looking forward to in 2014?
One commercial channel, one government channel and you could only watch as many programs as you had waking hours since PVRs were but a distant twinkle in some yet unborn tech head’s eyes (best not to think that one through too much).
Of course I didn’t know any better then but now the idea of so few stations and limited time in which to watch them, with no concept of time-shifting at all, is anathema with my PVR full to bursting with so many programs that I may have to forgo sleep just to get through them all.
But there’s the rub – finding the time to watch them all.
So I have had to employ a bit of a lifeboat strategy – that is deciding which programs are SO worth my time that they stay on the viewing schedule come what may, while others, no matter how fine they are, are cast off to one side, never to be watched again (or years hence via a weekend of DVD boxset binging; I am looking at you Weeds season 3 onwards and Mad Men).
There are so many high quality programs these days that deciding what is watched and hence stays in the lifeboat and what is ignored and cast to the pop culture-munching sharks is a dilemma of Solomonic proportions.
Even so, I have managed to cull the list down to a workable number and so present to you my 10 favourite programs of the year, both brand spanking new and returning, as well as the programs sad to say that are so far from the lifeboat, the sharks began a-feasting before the first episode had even run its course.
A breathtakingly audacious mythology that includes all manner of source material – the Biblical end times stories from the Bible, pagan dogma, urban legends, actual if creatively twisted history and of course the 1820 short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving – that it somehow manages to meld into an entertaining, enthralling and sustainable world.
The two leads, Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane and Nicole Beharie as Abbie Mills, share remarkable chemistry with Mison particularly embodying enough charisma to fuel a city for a lifetime, and while their circumstances are totally over the top and campily unbelievable, they effortlessly make it seem totally real and natural and utterly possible.
I am overjoyed that it has been renewed for a second season and can’t wait to send where the apocalypse, in the form of the Headless Horseman and his hellish hordes, take Crane and Mills next!
Newly and deservedly nominated for a Golden Globe for her multiple almost-every-scene roles in this story about cloning, genetics and the ethics of playing God, she is able to switch from character to character, giving each of them not just their own look but own persona.
It is an impressive feat by anyone’s reckoning and helps to explain why this audaciously ambitious story has won the legions of fans that it is and why not of them, and that includes me, can wait till April 19th when she is back on our screens again, grappling with the raw, painfully believable existential dilemma of what it means to be you when you are not as unique as you thought you were.
While the concept of this show, and its splashy dramatic trailer had me intrigued from the word go, I was inclined to believe it would simply be another in a long line of FBI procedurals, admittedly one with the talented and unmissable James Spader in it, with ambitions to be nothing more than an exercise on crime-of-the-week solving.
While that is partially true, it has proven that it has the chops to weave in a rich and engaging story arc to the week-by-week catch a bad guy approach (each criminal is plucked off the blacklist of the title) and James Spader has more than fulfiled his promise as James “Red” Reddington, a criminal mastermind with an unusually familial obsession with Special Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) who is wrenched with little notice from profiling obscurity when Reddington requests she be assigned to investigate each and every case.
Add in a possible FBI mole, giant red question marks over the trustworthiness and even identity of Keen’s adoring husband, and collegial rivalries and you have a show that is engaging, compelling and far more deserving of my time than I expected it to be.
While I usually like Chuck Lorre’s sitcoms (Dharma and Greg, The Big Bang Theory), he is not usually known for the complexity of his set-ups or the jokes employed, and I wasn’t sure what to expect since for every The Big Bang Theory there is Two and a Half Men.
But Mom is a real joy, thanks to the superlative comedic talents of both Alison Janney and Anna Faris, whippet smart scripts that don’t always skew to the most obvious punchlines, and a willingness to treat its underlying premise – both mother and daughter are recovering addicts of multiple substances with all manner of issues to resolve – with a solemn seriousness when required.
It’s one of those shows I actively look forward to seeing, a sign that it is doing more than a few things right.
I fall firmly in the former camp, having adored his rapid fire wit and manic energy since his Mork and Mindy days but even I wondered how the rest of the ensemble cast of The Crazy Ones, which features Robin Williams as unorthodox advertising legend Simon Roberts, including most notably Sarah Michelle Gellar as his daughter, would fare up against his ceaseless word playing.
Just fine as it turns out.
Williams largely sticks to the script, the others have their moments to shine, and he does ad lib it’s works a treat, suiting the often comically over the top story lines.
It’s been a delightful surprise, and while it is still only a good sitcom as opposed to a great one, it’s showing every sign it will seamlessly make the transition and soon.
* Commendable mention must also go to Defiance, an adventurous, clever take on one of sci-fi favourite tropes – the dystopian future; Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which features Andy Samberg in one of the wackiest yet serious police precincts in New York City, Super Fun Night, which needs work granted but is sweet, funny and engaging, Marvels’ Agents of Shield, which is a lot of fun to watch but still not realising its full potential, and Trophy Wife, which is way smarter than its premise of a new very young wife dealing with two ex-wives, a sometimes clueless ex-husband and indifferent kids.
It’s handsome male lead, David Giuntoli and his co-stars all of whom shine in their own right, it’s ability to seamlessly meld Wesen-of-the-week stories with an ever more complex but still quite accessible story arc, and it’s willingness to throw any and all mythologies from around the world into the storytelling blender.
It all works, and works impressively well week after week, and it shows no sign of faltering in season 3.
I will confess – I did not fall in love with this immediately and had pretty much consigned it to the depths of the sea, far from the lifeboat, when my housemate, who’d persevered with the show convinced to dive into the PVR and watch the rest of season 1.
I am heartily glad I did because after an uneven start to their premiere season, the show found its storytelling feet and began to really live in the apocalyptic world it called home, a world in which electricity has disappeared and society has devolved back to an agrarian past.
This time because it featured zombies which frankly freak the every living daylights out of me.
But again my persistent housemate prevailed on me to give season 1 a go, in daylight hours, which I did and I loved it.
Season 2 and 3 quickly followed and now with season 4 in full swing – albeit on a hiatus till February 2014 – I am neck deep in this dark dystopian tale of a world gone to the undead and the fight for survival among what’s left of humanity.
How many shows do you know that are not just kicking on well into their seventh season but are thriving?
The Big Bang Theory is as fresh as ever, still delivering interesting takes on its characters and refusing to fall into the trap on trading on and overusing already established characteristics and tropes.
Well all the time anyway.
It’s as vital as ever, keeps me laughing and watching, if only to see if Amy (Mayim Bialik) will ever have “coitus” with Sheldon (Jim Parsons).
Here’s another sitcom with as vitality and zest as it ever had.
Admittedly it is facing some changes in its sixth season with the departure of Rashida Jones (Ann Perkins) and Rob Lowe (Chris Traeger) but with the amazingly talented and seriously funny Amy Poehler still in the box seat, I have every confidence this show, which recently celebrated its 100th episode, will go on and on.
If NBC stays committed to Parks and Recreation, and with its ratings healthy and Amy Poehler’s star definitely in the ascendancy, I expect to see Parks and Recreation around for years to come.
And if somehow that doesn’t happen?
Well, we all know it’s Jerry’s (Jim O’Heir) fault right?
Take every stock standard disaster movie character you can think of, throw them in with 1001 cliches and some dubiously-rendered special effects and dodgy dialogues and you have an impressive concept, with which Stephen King wrote an equally impressive, engrossing book, utterly wasted.
How this merited a second season is completely beyond me.
It could have been the over the top fight scenes, the stilted, awkwardly-delivered dialogue or the insane premise which never really grabbed me.
Take any or all of them but Banshee failed to find favour with me, despite coming from the usually inspired hand of Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, True Blood), and I barley made it through the premiere episode (during I laughed when I am guessing I probably shouldn’t have).
And the fact that I didn’t even bother to review it gives you some idea of the utter indifference I felt towards this half-baked piece of television.
One thing I particularly love are the opening titles of a TV show.
Favourites includes Six Feet Under, Nurse Jackie and Sleepy Hollow, both because of their visual inventiveness and their use of either a piece of quirky music or interesting theme song.
Now these are, as buzzfeed correctly observes, somewhat of a dying art but every now and again, and increasingly on cable where the shows are more daring anyway, the title sequences are works of art unto themselves, with one of my current favourites being Orange is the New Black which features a specially written song by Regina Spektor, one of my favourite artists.
The Circle of Life is just as much a part of TV as anything and Vulture has done a superb job of helping us to remember the shows and characters we lost this year. As they note, some should be eulogised forever, others should be spoken of as little as possible but none should be forgotten.
2013 was not exactly a triumph of book reading quantity over quality.
Not that any year should be of course since it is not how many books you read that matters as whether the books you do read are beautifully written, enthral and move you in some way and leave a beautiful scar of some kind.
But I couldn’t help wondering why I don’t manage to get through as many books as I would like to and it dawned me that reading demands a great deal more time than many other pursuits and in today’s time-poor world with a 1001 distractions, that is an Achille’s Heel that isn’t easily remedied.
Most movies are over and done with in two hours, TV shows in 1/2 hour to 1 hour a week (unless you’re binge-watching in which case, see you next week) and plays and concerts all have a reasonably finite running time.
But books, really good, deeply involving books demanding a huge part of your time and your soul and your attention, and while they are almost always worth it, finding all those things is not always easy.
I plan though to make it work a whole lot better next year because there is an altogether almost indescribable existential bliss that comes from curling up with a great book, meeting the characters within, experiencing them in adventures epically big or intimately small and losing your self in its ebbs and flows for as long as it takes.
But until that happens again and often, I shall content myself with the fact that I read some nighty fine books this year, and here are the five that really made an impact:
Asking what it means to be human, to truly wonder why you, or any of us for that matter, is here, is one of those recurrent themes in literature and understandably so.
It is an almost inescapable question for anyone who has moved beyond the mere fact that we do exist and wants to know the why and it is an essential part of Scott Hutchins gorgeously written, beautifully thought out, funny, sad and just plain uncomfortable (for the characters, not so much the readers) take on life in 21st century San Francisco.
In A Working Theory of Love, Hutchins “attempts through the person of Neill Bassett Jr., a thirty-something divorced San Franciscan, to give voice to the often inchoate longings of the average person for a sense of where they’re headed in life and why.”
He does through a variety of means, most obviously Neill’s job where he is working with others to create the first recognisable Artificial Intelligence program, using the richly detailed, unguardedly honest years-long diaries of his deceased father.
While this project progresses, Neill must confront all sorts of fissures in his life, through which he develops his own imperfect working theory of love.
It’s not a resolution by any means but the journey is suffused with “wit and intelligence, compassion and understanding [and] brought to life by beautifully realised characters who assure us at every turn that while we will never have all the answers, having some of them will do for now.”
This is one book I happily disappeared into for quite some time and you will too, rewarded with prose that sings, characters that stumble but accept that as part of life and down-to-earth intellectual musings on the whys of life, that is neither ponderous nor overworked but accessible and real.
I have long loved Peter F Hamilton’s, one of Britain’s and the world’s foremost writers of epic, clever space operas.
My bookshelves groan under the very welcome weight of his often very lengthy tomes, all of which comes complete with perfectly-realised, richly-detailed worlds, people whose actions may complete sense and so many clever ideas on what the future of humanity may look, sound and feel like that you will abuzz with the imaginative audacity of it all.
To read one of Hamilton’s books is to marvel as someone in complete control of his craft – able to take words and make them into things of descriptive beauty without once losing the ability to tell a gripping, wholly immersive story.
You only have to go a page into one of his wondrous stories and you feel as if you are living in the era he describes, a citizen and active participant every bit as much as the three-dimensional souls he describes, all of whom come complete with lives as fully described as the worlds in which they live.
As I noted in my review, drawing a reader in to that degree is “quite an achievement since Hamilton has a penchant for setting his stories in far off futures where mankind has conquered the stars but not alas, at least for the idealists among us, his inner demons.”
His novels may demand quite a bit of that aforementioned time and effort, Great North Road being a typical example exploring as it does not just a great alien consciousness but a very human murder mystery in its gloriously dense 1087 pages, but they are always worth whatever they ask of you.
I have a great deal of time for any author who can write a post modern novel without falling into plot holes so large and encyclopaedic world building so vast and imaginative that you wonder if they will manage to find their way out.
I understand how tempting it is to take disparate mythologies, ideas and concepts and merge them all together into one intoxicatingly melded storytelling idea since it’s something I have attempted in my own as yet published novel.
But the trick is making all those elements – whether its the gods from Norse mythology or Irish fae folk or Tibetan Buddhist dogma – feel as if they are organic parts of the whole you have created, believable inhabitants of a wholly made up melting pot moment in time and place.
TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grimm and Supernatural have managed it, but Mur Lafferty’s The Shambling Guide to New York City is one of the first books where I felt like all the creatures she pulled into an altogether recognisable and yet most assuredly picture of America’s greatest city – vampires, zombies, death goddesses, water sprites and the myriad of other “coterie” that populate the book – felt as they existed in a believable organically-come together society.
And one which the heroine of the story, if you can call book editor and newly trained coterie fighter (as required) Zoe Norris that, must come to grips with in all its alien complexity, if she is to emerge whole at the end of the story.
Thrown in some humour, wry observations on modern society and together you have a highly enjoyable book that feels like its very own place and time, one you only reluctantly leave at book’s end.
Much like Peter F. Hamilton, newly arrived on the literary scene Hugh Howey, who found a real world publishing deal via e-books in a trend that is gathering momentum as the digital age rolls ever forward in a blizzard of 1s and 0s, knows how to construct a deeply real, expansive world with every blemish, jewel and foible writ large and palpably touchable.
Disappearing into the second part of his sprawling three part epic series that commenced with Wool and concludes with Dust, you are struck almost immediately by the fact that Howey, with minimum fuss and consummate storytelling elegance, has plunged you headfirst into a living, breathing world every bit as the one you are in.
Again like Hamilton that is quite a feat since he asks to imagine a future, somewhat dystopian world where humanity has arguably destroyed what it once was in order to exist at all.
The eternal question though through Shift and the other two books in the trilogy is whether it has been worth it, whether too much has been sacrificed to simply survive.
It’s a question that vexes Troy, a man who awakens in the central silo that controls all the underground silos hundreds of years into the future in which the remnants of humanity, who have had their collective memory as a species effectively expunged, eke out an existence.
And as he remembers who he was, as opposed to who those in the know say he is now, he begins to wonder in earnest if it was all worth it.
It’s an utterly absorbing, gripping read, one of those rare books that fall deservedly into the ” couldn’t put it down” category.
I need to make it very clear from the outset that Sharknado is not one of the 10 movies that most struck a chord with me this year*.
Yes I have used it as the title shot of this post but frankly it was all I could do to get to the end of it.
I know it was a tongue in cheek, gloriously cheesy exercise in self-aware kitsch cinema, and on that level I sort of enjoyed it but it was also painfully cheap, badly acted and annoying.
Even so it made its mark on the pop cultural landscape and for that at least it must be acknowledged.
It stood in stark contrast to the 10 movies I have picked, which were chosen because they were brilliantly written, consummately directed, impressively acted and said either something entirely new, or old in a highly creatively fresh way.
At heart though they were films that I left the cinema thinking about for quite some time afterwards, movies that connected both with my head and my heart and which made me glad I place such a premium on seeing all the cinematic storytelling I can.
* Please note that I have picked movies that came out in Australia this year which is why Silver Linings Playbook made the cut despite its 2012 release stateside.
Beautifully filmed, Gravity is a film without an ounce of storytelling fat on it, gripping and action-packed without once feeling like it has any surplus scenes that are there simply to artificially up the tension, supremely well acted with Sandra Bullock in particular excelling in the role of Dr Ryan Stone and packed with all the searing edge-of-your-seat emotion you could ask for.
I never once wondered when it was all ending or whether I left the iron on at home, testament to its all-consuming, masterful storytelling, a triumph for Alfonso Cuarón, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and Sandra Bullock who richly deserves all of that Oscar buzz.
* In place of the usual movie trailer, here’s the short film Aningaaq, which tells the other side of a particularly tense scene in Gravity when Ryan Stone, desperately trying to alert the world below of her predicament and in the relative safety of the battered Chinese space station, thinks she has reached someone on Earth who may be able to help her.
I have always been a bit take it or leave it when it comes to Woody Allen’s movies, but much like Midnight in Paris before it, Blue Jasmine marks a return to form for the prolific auteur, replete as it is with a flawed, almost delusional main character Jasmine (triumphantly brought to life by Cate Blanchett), an unflinching depiction of the foibles of flawed humanity and a rich spread of witty, incisive dialogue that you wish you could commit to memory.
I particularly liked its less than tidy ending, which was fitting for the story Allen told but hard to pull off in a Hollywood where happy endings are an addiction regardless of whether the movie merits it or not.
Especially quirky characters who are determined to forge their own idiosyncratic way regardless of whether they have any idea what they’re doing or not, and do it with the sort of guileless purity we wish we all possessed, and dialogue so witty and clever you ache to speak with some eloquence and insight afterwards.
France Ha is a delight from start to finish, another thoroughly entertaining, thought-provoking film from Noah Baumbach, which gets you thinking every bit as much as it entertains you.
World War Z surprised me by not being your average zombie tale.
It had an intelligence and narrative elegance I wasn’t expecting, managing to balance whippet-fast action sequences with some genuinely affecting interactions between the various characters, proof that all that talk about a “movie in trouble” before its release was just that – talk and nothing more.
Plus those zombies could move! Scarily fast, in fact.
Tour de force performances by both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (who shared an impressive amount of chemistry), skilled screenwriting and directing by David O. Russell who has shown a knack for bringing flawed characters to life in a sympathetic way, and a pleasing mix of humour and drama made Silver Linings Playbook a movie that had me totally engaged from start to finish.
It’s rare to find characters you like as much as Pat and Tiffany in any movie, but what made them even more compelling was their willingness to get over each and every obstacle placed in their way.
So winningly wonderful to watch were they that you couldn’t even begrudge the little-bit-too-perfect ending.
One of the most realistic coming of age stories I’ve seen, The Way, Way Back manages to accurately capture both the hopefulness and angst of growing up, testament to both the insightful, sensitive and funny script by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash and their commensurately good direction.
Liam James as Duncan is a delight and Alison Janney’s hilariously over the top performance as summer time neighbour and drunken neglectful mother Betty is one to be remembered.
It also benefited from a fittingly realistic ending which resisted the urge for a happily ever ending in favour of one we can all identify with.
I am convinced that Richard Curtis, who gave us the sublimely wonderful classic Love Actually can do wrong.
In About Time, he has given us another funny, poignant touching movie about life, love and both the sadness and joy of the impermanence of our time here on earth.
Ultimately as much a movie about the enduring bonds between father and son as it is about living our life as if we do get a do-over – which of course we don’t but many of us act as if we do a second chance, squandering precious moments in the process – this one for the head and the heart.
And one for the tissues, definitely one for the tissues.
Not because it is deficient in any way – the script, acting (especially the performance by Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant III) and direction are all top notch – but because it is enormously watching a man begin to get his derailed life back on the tracks only to have it cut so tragically and unnecessarily short.
But watch it you should – it is one of those movies that stays with you long after the credits have rolled and reminds you of the importance of cinema in not just telling a story but telling one with meaning and purpose.
I am a man who loves romantic comedies – the Meet Cute as its termed when the two lovebirds cross paths, the courtship, the inevitable misunderstanding, the forever reconciliation – and could happily watch them all day long.
If they’re well made that is and don’t simply tiredly tick all the same old cliched boxes.
Enough Said is as far as box ticking as you can get, with realistic portrayals of falling in love later in life, the awkwardness and joy of finding someone new, and pin point perfect performances by both Julie Louis-Dreyfus and the much-missed James Gandolfini in his second last movie role.
It is a movie you can easily fall in love with and I am fairly sure I already have.
This is a movie that breaks your heart and builds it back again over and over in the most profoundly moving way.
Centred on Maisie (played by the preternaturally talented Onata Aprile), a wise beyond her years child who witnesses the explosive breakdown of her parents’ rocky relationship (tour de force performances by Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan) with a quiet, vulnerable acceptance, it explores what happens to a child when love goes horribly wrong.
And it does without being sensationalist or emotionally manipulative, choosing instead to let you see it all through Maisie’s quietly expressive eyes, which it emerges hide a world of pain behind their all-seeing knowingness.
It is hard to watch at times but ultimately one of the most rewarding, satisfying movies of the entire year.
A “triumph” of style over substance, it was an interminable, artfully stylistic bore with nary a redeeming bone in its storytelling body (save for Kristin Scott Thomas’s powerfully good performance as utterly amoral family matriarch Crystal)
I love, nay adore Sandra Bullock and think Melissa McCarthy, given the right material is damn near hilarious but despite fine performances by both ladies, they were saddled with an absolutely unfunny, narratively chaotic turkey of a movie.
* And for the movie I really liked but which was generally penned, I give you OBLIVION, which I thought was visually imaginative with an engaging, intricate storyline and some damn fine acting from Tom Cruise and Olga Kurylenko. Not the best movie ever made granted, but far better than most people gave it credit for.
Now what would a year end movie review be without the best movie posters of the year.
Flavorwire have nominated their 30 favourite posters, making the point in the process that there aren’t that many standout movie posters, and while I’d agree with them to some extent, I thought the posters for Gravity, The Way Way Back and Oblivion were all particularly eye-catching and worthy of inclusion on the list.
As for Flavorwire’s picks, I loved the suite of posters released for American Hustle, the stark black and white beauty of the Nebraska poster, and the cartoon fun of both The Heat and Spring Breakers.
What are your choices?
The video (above) is an amazing effort by Louis Plamondon who leaves my ample love of movies in the dust with this brilliantly realised six minute mashup of all the trailers 258 of the 2013 film releases.
You can access the full list of all the films featured in this ode to 2013 film trailers at his tumblr site, sleepyskunk.tumblr.com
This year I featured something like 100 songs in my Now This is Music series, and they were only a sampling, yes a sampling,of the 100s of songs that came my way.
If the internet has done one thing (beyond porn and online gambling I mean) it’s the democratisation of opportunity for music artists around the world who can now record their music in their home digital studios, upload it to the likes of Beatport or Soundcloud, and then market it like crazy on Twitter, Facebook, or any of the multitude of social media platforms.
As a result, it’s a truly exciting time to be a music fan since on any given day you could be discovering music by artists from Korea, Japan, Norway, Tunisia or anywhere you can stick a virtual pin in a Google map really.
The one downside to all this musical plenty is that it makes distilling a list of just 10 favourite songs nigh but impossible (which is why – shhhh – there are in fact 11 songs in the selection; but hey you didn’t hear that from me OK?).
However I have given it a shot, basing my decisions on obvious things like how much I played the song, and if it struck any sort of emotional chord with me.
I would love to know which songs you loved the most in 2013 and we can compare notes … haha … yes I know they’re different kinds of notes …
WHO ARE THEY?
“Formed in Stockholm, 2012, Cape Lion is the outcome when producers/song writers Carl-Johan Sevedag and Martin Wiklund put their heads together. Coming from widely scattered musical backgrounds the duo delivers big and uncompromised pop music with timeless hooks and melodies that stick right from the start.” (source: Cape Lion’s profile on soundcloud)
WHY I LIKE THE SONG
This song demands to be heard!
It’s got a massive hook that you can’t help but shout out along with, a big sound overall, and an infectious energy that inspires me no end regardless of whether I’m out exercising and needing a lift after a long day at work.
I just feel enormously good listening to it, and after the rather stressful second half of the year I endured, that became incredibly important.
The fact that I am still listening to it heavily six months later speaks to its musical longevity.
Jennie fairly blasts out of your speakers the first time you hear it, its sense of urgent energy given life by the impassioned vocals of Carl-Johan Svedag and Martin Wiklund and it’s sheen of bouncy, endlessly upbeat art pop.
It envelops you the moment you hear it, one of those songs that overhwlems and consumes in the best possible way.
I found myself calling out to Jennie just as enthusiastically as the Swedish duo who have released one other song before this, “You Kept Dreaming” in advance of their forthcoming EP and album.
I can help but agree with scandipop‘s passionate review of the song:
“It’s a glittering and hyper homage to the 90s. The synths have been tuned to disco house, and the vocals have been spliced and diced into an adhd warning symptom. The production is tres magnifique. That Jennie is a fool for letting go of these guys. But chances are, the resulting song is better than her anyway.”
It’s a glistening mass of distorted vocals, synth beats and frissons of emotional excitement and bound to have you yelling out this mysterious woman’s name over and over.
WHO ARE THEY?
“Grouplove (also typeset as GROUPLOVE) is a US-based indie band that formed in 2009 by Hannah Hooper (vocals, keys), Christian Zucconi (vocals, guitar), Sean Gadd (bass, vocals), Andrew Wessen (guitar, vocals), and Ryan Rabin (drums).” (source: wikipedia)
WHY I LIKE THE SONG
This is a supremely happy, bouncy song.
It’s the sort of song you put on when you want to feel like anything is possible.
And lyrically it seems to be about desperately wanting to be with someone and calling just to hear their name (although the lyrics are obtuse enough that any sort of meaning could be happily applied).
It’s intelligent, fun pop with a playful vocal back and forth that makes me smile.
And in the middle of a crazy, busy day, it’s exactly what you need.
Hailing from both coasts of the USA, and the UK, the members of Grouplove came together during an artists residency in, of all places, Crete.
Launching their career in 2011 with their debut album Never Trust a Happy Song, the band met with almost universal acclaim and fan-lovin’, appearing at festivals like Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and Sasquatch! Music Festival, and selling out tours in Australia, Europe and the UK.
In short, this indie band who knows their way around an infectious, intelligently written pop song, hit success pretty much straight out of the gates and it’s not hard to see why.
Co-lead singers Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi, who kicked the whole thing off when they met the week Hooper was heading to that fateful artists residency, sing with a passioned but playful urgency, with the rest of the band Sean Gadd (bass, vocals), Andrew Wessen (guitar, vocals), and Ryan Rabin (drums) driving the songs forward with skilled musicianship and the same fevered passion.
Clearly these are musicians love what they do, and it’s clearly evident in the lead single of their new album Spreading Rumours (bows September 17), “Ways To Go”, a gloriously upbeat bouncy song that celebrates the impassioned longing of two people to be with each other (and which I have been playing almost non stop for the better part of two weeks at least).
It’s quirky, fun, with a hook as big as Christmas, and the sort of meaty, melodic synth hooks that make you want to get up and dance … and drive all night to be with the one you love.
Playing “Ways To Go” on perpetual repeat, of course.
WHO IS SHE?
Hailing from Hallstahammar in Sweden, Elin Överfjord, at only 18 years old, is already an entertainment industry veteran thanks to spending her life on the road with her musician father.
WHY I LIKE THE SONG
It’s an amazingly accomplished debut single that grabbed me by the short and curlies (well what’s left of them) the moment I heard it and refused to let go.
And I haven’t stopped listening to it on high rotation ever since.
What sets it apart from so many of the cookie cutter dance pop songs released by wannabe popstars is that it’s packed full of the passion and emotional resonance that money and slickly soulless sound production simply can’t buy.
She sounds like she’s living every word she’s singing, investing themwith the sort of emotional authenticity that most upbeat pop songs lack.
That’s why I keep listening – it’s catchy and REAL.
Elin Överfjord has managed with just one single, her first, to make members of the music press sit and take notice.
Witness this typically breathless description of her energetic first tilt at pop immortality “Nu” (“Now”), produced by Sebastian Fronda, from one of my favourite music sites in the world, scandipop.co.uk:
“‘Nu’ is an immense exercise in the poppier virtues of electronica. It’s a fierce, up-tempo tune with a cracking great big melody on it. It’s so good that it has a chorus which goes ‘oooh, oooh, oooh, oooh, ooh, oooh, ooooh’, and a post chorus which trills ‘Nuuuuuu-NuuuuUUUuuuu-Nuuuu-uuuuuuu. And you can’t really argue with that.”
And I’m don’t plan to.
They’re absolutely bang on.
Elin is one of those rare talents that seems to come zooming up from nowhere, lighting up then pop culture firmament like New Years’ fireworks.
The reality is of course she’s been singing for years, first in her hometown of Hallstahammar, a town of some 10,000 plus souls in southeast Sweden, where she lent her energetic vocals to baptisms, weddings and any and all family events.
And then all over Sweden touring with her musician father, gaining the sort of experience and attention that allowed her to compete in Lilla Melodifestivalen, the Swedish national final responsible for selecting Sweden’s in the annual Melodi Grand Prix Nordic junior singing competition and to sing in front of thousands of spectators at the 2009 World Cup.
It all culminated in an invitation to appear on Sweden’s version of the Idol franchise which she declined feeling she wasn’t quite ready at that point to share her talents with the world at large.
Two years later she’s obviously changed her mind and “Nu” is her masterful calling card.
You would be wise to answer since it’s unlikely you’ll hear a better debut single this year.
WHO IS SHE?
The self-confessed “geeky kid of R & B”, Laura Mvula was born in Birmingham, England, and trained at the city’s Conservatoire which informed her sound which her iTunes bio describes as “unique orchestral pop sound — a mix of classic pop, jazz, and soul with creative and accessible twists”.
WHY I LIKE THE SONG
“She” is as smooth as a song comes, the perfect accompaniment to lazy, rain days or those quiet moments when you just want to lose yourself in your thoughts.
There’s a quiet luscious beauty to it that you just want to tumble into and never climb back out to, the perfect salve for frantic days, restless nights and all the chaotic mess of life you try to cram in inbetween.
I just feel calmer, happier, when I am listening to it.
Perhaps it has something to do with the lyrics which speak of a woman’s desperate longing for a better life, which she is willing to do anything to acquire, married to music that grows in intensity throughout, mirroring the optimistic tenacity.
This is such a beautiful, goose-bumping piece of art with a sunlit clip that perfectly evokes the stripped back, vocally rich song that it accompanies.
To say that Laura Mvula, from Birmingham in the UK is a talented vocalist with a gift for not only hitting the notes with pinpoint accuracy but giving them an emotional texture that many other technically perfect singers would envy, is a massive understatement.
The classically-trained composer, who in an interview with The Guardian newspaper described herself as “the geeky kid of R & B”, is joined by a choir that gives the song the most exquisite layering of vocals I have heard in quite some time.
She is being compared to Amy Winehouse and Adele, and while she is happy to accept those comparisons, rest assured she is very much her own person with her own unique sound, and I predict she won’t be little known for too much longer.
WHO IS SHE?
Hailing from Stockholm, Sweden, Julia Vero aka Julia Boman is an arresting new talent with a bewitching talent for hook-laden, utterly-different pop.
WHY I LIKE THE SONGS
If there’s one thing that Swedish singer-songwriters do better than pretty much everyone else in the world, it’s their uncanny ability to mix the light and the dark, the upbeat and the pensive in one beguiling pop song.
Julia vero has this exceptional ability in spades, which make her songs far richer than simply a bundle of bouncy notes and some easily forgettable lyrics.
She pays as much attention to what she’s trying to say as the music she uses to say it, and it makes her music endlessly compelling, and never less than enjoyable.
She manages to keep my mind and feet engaged simultaneously, something that I, a man who’s a contrary mix of the cerebral and the experiential, hugely appreciate.
WHO IS SHE?
A multi-talented artist – she sings! she writes songs! she produces them! – from Århus, Denmark, she is known for creating utterly distinctive one-of-a-kind dance music that says something.
WHY I LIKE THE SONG
It’s rare to find a song that you like right from the get-go, that stays with you and grows and grows in appeal which is why discovering “I Found Her” was such a joy.
It has an amazing message of owning who you are and being happy in that, a pounding beat that sounds like nothing I have heard in a long time, all sung by a woman with a voice that entrances with every note she sings.
It’s haunting in all the good Kate Bush-ish ways, utterly beautiful and one of those songs I return to again and again.
I can’t believe I haven’t discovered a talent as towering as Danish singer Ida Corr before this.
She has a purringly powerful, distinctive voice, eminently catchy beat-laden songs which you love after just one listen replete with meaning heaped upon meaning and a danceable sound all her own that is captivating and beguiling beyond all reason.
” I Found Her” which comes growling out of the starting blocks with a pounding melodic urgency encapsulates her artistry perfectly.
It’s unlike any other dance song you’ve heard before, replete with hauntingly beautiful electronic beats and a story of self-discovery and pride in who she really is, an appealing mix of beats and message that I loved from the word go.
Taking my place as a savior, taking my place as a goddess, taking my doubts to the graveyard hoping that nobody will find them
But I found her hiding in my heartaches tears in her eyes and smiling An angel of love, she sang “child of mine I’m yours to find” I’m so glad i found her
Finding an artist who doesn’t feel the need to dumb down what she wants to say to find an audience is so refreshing – that she has a found a large and growing audience is evidenced by her crazily busy schedule – and there are plenty of other factory line pop starlets who should take a leaf out of this talented lady’s book.
It is possible to get people up dancing with insanely alluring electronic dance music and not have them leave their brains at the bar for the duration and Ida Corr deserves all the success in the world for realising that and acting upon it with songs as rich and rewarding as “I Found Her”.
WHO IS HE?
Pharrell Williams is a multi-talented American performer – he’s a singer-songwriter, rapper, record producer and even a fashion designer. He’s also the winner of four Grammy Awards including two for his production work as part of The Neptunes with partner Chad Hugo.
WHY I LIKE THE SONG
Its joy in one 3 minute pop song!
Pharrell Williams has proven again and again, both as a solo performer and as part of N.E.R.D, a group formed with Chad Hugo and Shay Haley, that he knows his way intimately well around utterly engaging pop hooks but there is something so indefinably, well, happy, about this song that I am compelled to dance around, stupid big grin on my face, abandoned to the kind of who-the-hell-cares joy that is rare in adulthood.
If he was looking to recreate how wonderful it feels to be a kid, unburdened by cares and existential crises, then he did it and then some.
I come across an extraordinary amount of songs as I graze across the vast new digital musical landscape but rarely does a song make me so euphorically, well, happy as Pharrell Williams new single, appropriately titled “Happy”.
It is a joy to listen to, to dance to, to put on when you’re doing something drudgerous like the ironing or washing up – I have yet to find a single domestic activity not given an extra layer of happiness with this bouncy bundle of dance-filled joy.
Lifted from the soundtrack to Despicable Me 2, which I unfortunately missed when it was in theatres, it is being pitched to Academy voters as a song worthy of their Oscar contemplation, and while if nominated it would likely be up against amazing songs from Disney’s Frozen and a host of dazzlingly original songs from The Great Gatsby, I fail to see how anyone couldn’t be moved by the joie de vivre gushing forth from this pop gem.
It is so good in fact that I could happily listen to it for 24 hours which is just as well because via 24 Hours of Happy, Pharrell Williams has loaded the world’s first 24 hour music video which allows you to check out a bunch of ecstatically happy dancers having the time of their lives, one for just about every moment of the day.
The best part is the song remembers where it left off when you left one time and restarts at the exact same place at the next time you choose.
And you can keep going for as long as you want to, which if you’re anything like me, will be quite some time.
Now if you’ll excuse me I am going to attempt all to watch 24 hours of the video without breaking into a silly, hands in the air, head thrown back, gigantic silly smile on my face endless dancing …
Nope, can’t be done …
Don’t care … I’m HAPPY!
Here’s the wonderful clip that goes with the song …
WHO IS HE?
A Melbourne, Australia-based producer, he has four songs under his belt and a bright future as a purveyor of irresistible pop.
WHY I LIKE THE SONG
This up-and-coming artist effortlessly combines bright , consistently upbeat melodies with lyrics that speak of adoration and love from afar mixed in with a sense that the object of his affection is out of his reach.
It’s a very Scandinavian mix of dark and light, of joy and melancholy and it works a treat.
“Good For Me” is never less than compelling, and had me on my feet pretty much from the word go.
Melbourne-based producer Julian Maverick has come up with one of the smoothest, velvety-vocal tracks I have ever heard in quite some time.
Described as a “summer disco song about two cheetahs” – make of that what you will but it can only be a matter of time before Sir David Attenborough uses it in one his famous BBC wildlife documentaries – it’s all bright sunshine, relaxed vibes, and a heady sense that everything will be just fine.
Granted he’s singing about the one he loves likely being “too good for me”, but he also admits that while it’s “cheesy” to be “lost in you” he’s enjoying the experience and isn’t about to give it up anytime soon, despite the sense that he’s in over his head.
Julina has distilled the utter agony and ecstasy of being head over heels in love almost perfectly, both musically and lyrically, with the result that “Good For Me” simply glides across your ear canals and leaves you feeling like a million bucks.
If you’re looking for the perfect summer feel good song, with optional cheetahs, then this is the song for you.
Again, lyrically, the song is full of taunts to a rival referenced only as “bitch” on multiple occasions, and an evocation of new York as the perfect city to commit suicide in thanks to “all the bridges you can jump off”, and should by rights induce tension and a random chills of aggro as you listen to it, but instead the melody, which liberally samples Major Lazor’s “Pon de Floor”, has you wafting up the clouds.
It is a clever musical and lyrical juxtaposition, accented by the clip which features her in full flower power mode (a visual reference to the title of her EP, D.A.I.S.Y. Rage) staring into the twisting refracted light of the chandelier like it will reflect back the answer to all her questions about life, the universe and everything.
Attitude and existential angst she may have in abundance but the music is a delicious, almost warm counterpoint to that, and the whimsy in her voice, which deliver acid-laced raps like they are school girl sing-a-longs is beguiling and attractive and well worth having a listen to.
WHO ARE THEY?
Hailing from New York City, Panama Wedding have taken80s inspired synth-pop and made it wholly, contagiously their own.
WHY I LIKE THE SONG
It takes everything I have ever loved about 80s synth pop, mixes it up with a heady dose of 21st century musical sensibilities and some enormously danceable beats and crackin’ good harmonies to create of the most infectiously danceable songs of the year.
It also makes me feel like a million bucks listening to it which can’t be a bad thing.
The 80s vibe is strong with this one and (perhaps a little 90s too).
In a world where the fluoro decade’s influence is damn near omnipresent, and worn proudly, if somewhat derivatively by every second band to emerge from a dark basement with a synth, Panama Wedding, a New York City band who have taken the music blogosphere by storm of late, carries it proudly.
They are ample proof that all you need is a simple, beautifully played melody, clever lyrics, synth mastery, spot on vocals and enough imagination to make an influence your very own to really stand out.
Which is to say they are the whole glorious pop package who do a remarkable job of standing out from the pack by remembering that an influence is just the start of things.
It’s what you do it with it that counts and Panama Wedding have done a great deal.
With just one song so far.
Can’t wait to see what they will do with a whole slew of pop songs.
Best known for their bright singalong indie rock songs, London-based Bombay Bicycle Club have taken a bold and creative step with the first single , “Carry Me”, from their forthcoming as-yet-untitled 2014 album.
Whether it’s simply an organic step up from where they were or a dramatically different wholesale change is up to the ears of the listener but guitarist Jamie McColl, speaking to NME.com, maintains it was a necessary move:
“People have said contrasting things, that it’s evolution – just continuing on from before – or it’s revolution – completely different. But if we’d have just continued as an indie rock band – I don’t even think we’d still be going.”
Whatever it is, it is mighty pleasing to this fan’s ears, its appealing mix of crunched up distorted sounds and vocals, mixed in with the band’s trademark talent for irresistible melodies and potent hooks, the perfect combination of where they’v been and where they’re going.
With some added vocal assistance from English singer-songwriter Lucy Rose, whose debut album Like I Used To is also definitely worth checking out, Carry Me is the sort of intricately layered song that you want to play again and again.
If this is where Bombay Bicycle Club is headed, then I am happy to throw on my lycra and follow them around their musical velodrome where their pedals may take them.
* I would love to know which songs moved your musical world this year. (And yes you can only pick 10!)
And just in case you’re short of time, the always inspired and endlessly creative DJ Earworm has mashed together the 25 biggest hits of the year on the US Billboard charts and they work awesomely well together as a song! Impressive stuff, not to mention a great time saver!
Right it’s Boxing Day here in Australia and I hadn’t planned on any more Christmas posts but I kept forgetting all sorts of fun festive posts by my favourite TV shows, music artists and movies and had to share them.
You’re Ho! Ho! Ho! welcome.
And finally a trailer for Doctor Who season 12 with Peter Capaldi as everyone’s favourite time lord, which screened during “The Time of the Doctor”…
You are given a brightly-wrapped present from a clearly thrilled and excited family member, and thrilled, yes thrilled (!) at what exciting treasure may lie ahead, you rip off the ribbons and paper (yes I am a destructive present opener) and find yourself face to face, in a manner of speaking, with a pair of undies … or a pack of Ferrero Rocher … or even socks … yes socks.
Try as you might to look as thrilled as you felt mere moments before, you fail miserably (especially if you’re a heart-on-your-sleeve extrovert like myself upon whose face emotions race unbidden before they can be stopped in the interests of harmonious social interaction) and find yourself opening and closing your mouth like a very disappointed goldfish.
Of course everyone in the room knows you hate the gift but engage in a mass group delusion that you in fact LOVED it, ADORED it and will likely tattoo an image of the gift on your arm in the not too distant future and all is well.
But what if you could pretend with the skilled of a trained award-winning actor to LOOK like you LOVE it etc? What then?
Why you would be able to give the very impression of an astonishingly grateful giftee, the family group would be tickled pink at your faked but utterly believable happiness and you would all break into a rousing rendition of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” as you skip merrily to the overladen Christmas lunch table.
OK the last part may be pushing it a bit but the former things could indeed come to pass and it will all be thanks to Miranda Hart and David Walliams inspiring master classes designed to help you to accept all manner of awful gifts with grace, aplomb and yay verily, even giddy delight.
It’s one of the most magical nights of the year, with Christmas so tantalisingly close you can almost taste it – unless you’re a child impatiently waiting for Santa Claus to arrive in which case it’s the longest night of the year – replete with all kinds of traditions that vary from family to family, and culture to culture.
But whether you’re attending Midnight Mass, ringing Nordic church bells, or in the case of my family, watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (which I can recite word for word if pushed) and Carols by Candlelight beamed in from Melbourne, there’s a good chance you’ll also have an irresistible urge to recite the most famous Christmas poem of them all, A Visit From St. Nicholas or as it’s more popularly known, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
It wasn’t until 1837 that Moore claimed ownership of the poem, which he then included in a collected works of his poetry published in 1844.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there; The children were nestled all snug in their beds; While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads; And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap, When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash, Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow, Gave a lustre of midday to objects below, When what to my wondering eyes did appear, But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer, With a little old driver so lively and quick, I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
Even without an attributed author, Moore’s poem became almost instantly popular, with its warm hearted images of festive family life (admittedly they’re all asleep bar the father but their lives have an implied blissful air), and folksy view of St. Nicholas, upon which much of the modern image of Santa Claus is based (including the names of his sleigh-pulling reindeer), appealing to a broad cross section of society.
According to Joseph Walsh, who addressed the origins and inspiration for the poem in his 2001 book Were They Wise Men or Kings: A Book of Christmas Questions, Moore based his version of St. Nicholas on a much-revered historical religious figure from 3rd century A.D. who secretly gave out gifts, with some local flavour provided by a Dutch handyman he knew.
He also drew inspiration from a description of Saint Nicholas from Washington Irving’s 1809 book, A History of New York (Moore was friends with Irving and absorbed many of the Dutch influences in the poem from there, it is said):
“And the sage Oloffe dreamed a dream, — and lo, the good St. Nicholas came riding over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children, and he descended hard by where the heroes of Communipaw had made their late repast. And he lit his pipe by the fire, and sat himself down and smoked; and as he smoked, the smoke from his pipe ascended into the air and spread like a cloud overhead. And Oloffe bethought him, and he hastened and climbed up to the top of one of the tallest trees, and saw that the smoke spread over a great extent of country; and as he considered it more attentively, he fancied that the great volume of smoke assumed a variety of marvelous forms, where in dim obscurity he saw shadowed out palaces and domes and lofty spires, all of which lasted but a moment, and then faded away, until the whole rolled off, and nothing but the green woods were left. And when St. Nicholas had smoked his pipe, he twisted it in his hatband, and laying his finger beside his nose, gave the astonished Van Kortlandt a very significant look; then, mounting his wagon, he returned over the tree-tops and disappeared.”
Setting his poem on his Christmas Eve was also a master stroke by Moore.
A significant number of Protestants still regarded New Year’s Day as the preeminent day for family-based seasonal celebrations, despite Christmas Day’s growing popularity, due largely to the perception that Catholics had overtaken the festive day itself, according to Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace’s 1999 book Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.
By placing the events of his tale the night before Christmas Day, Moore avoided any lingering religious issues, and A Visit by St. Nicholas was almost immediately embraced as an integral part of the modern festive landscape.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name: “Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blixen! To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!” As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky; So up to the housetop the coursers they flew With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too— And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof The prancing and pawing of each little hoof. As I drew in my head, and was turning around, Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound. He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
If we need any proof of the poem’s enduring popularity, we need only to look to the host of imitators and parodies that have sprung up in the years since the poem’s publication in 1823, most notably in the modern era.
Moore’s ode to Christmas has found itself reflected in music (everything from a 1953 recording by Perry Como to a 1987 orchestral presentation by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to, of all things, a track on the Pokémon Christmas Bash album), comics (Garfield and Over the Hedge most notably), and films and television, with the poem’s iconic lines popping up in everything from the original Die Hard movie, a Friends episode, A Muppet Family Christmas, and even a Rocky and Bullwinkle Show episode under the pun-laden title “A Fright Before Christmas”.
“If there is a more parodied poem in the English language than Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas (more popularly known as The Night Before Christmas), I don’t know what it could possibly be. The meter of “St. Nick” is infectious, its rhyme scheme cheery and simple, its homespun, nostalgic imagery ripe for spoofing.”
If the mark of Western society’s regard for its cultural property is the lengths to which it will go to affectionately parody it then A Visit From St. Nicholas is up there with the greats like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and will likely remain a much loved and integral part of Christmas celebrations for many years to come.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack. His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow; The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath; He had a broad face and a little round belly That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly. He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself; A wink of his eye and a twist of his head Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread; He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk, And laying his finger aside of his nose, And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose; He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight— “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” (source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (Random House Inc., 1983 via poetryfoundation.org)
In the episode entitled “Miracle on Jeff Street”, everyone’s favourite lawyer-turned-student-turned-lawyer-again is finding that life outside Greendale Community College is not all babes and margaritas, especially at Christmas where he finds himself drinking alone.
But hark! Is that some Chang the Halls I am hearing?
With nary a care for coming down the chimney, Santa Dean and Rudolph Chang burst through Jeff’s living room window, bringing the entire gang with them including a vomiting Troy, who in the wacky tradition of the Community Christmas videos, is bringing forth presents rather than, well, you know.
It’s short, sweet, insanely festive, and the perfect way to the Greendale hole in your pop culture-lovin’ soul till Community returns on 2 January.
Oh and um, you may want to lock your doors when you sleep at night after seeing this …