Best Arts of 2014

13 January 2015 Katherine Smyrk

Best Arts of 2014

Courtesy of Getty Images

Forget the Golden Globes, The Big Issue Arts Editors have their own ideas about the most outstanding contributions to the arts from 2014. 

 

STANDOUT FILM – BOYHOOD

Much of American director Richard Linklater’s cinema is studies in temporality. His plotless debut Slacker (1991) followed misfits over a day in Austin, Texas. Tape (2001) unfolded in real time in a hotel room, while the series Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight (1995–2013) has seen him return to the same couple every seven years. Boyhood is the culmination of these experimentations, and his crowning achievement. It was shot over 12 years, meaning you see protagonist Mason (Ellar Coltrane) evolve from a wide-eyed six-year-old to awkward teen to curious adult. But the entire family must grow up: single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) returns to college to make a new life for her kids, while father Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) – after absconding to experience a youth of his own – must eventually trade in his Pontiac GTO for a minivan. Time’s advance is ordinary, yet the everyday moments accumulate to create a milestone in verisimilitude, and present a changing nation, too. Like Before Sunrise, there’s a naturalism that comes from co-devised scripts that make these loquacious characters feel very real – sometimes unbearably so. Linklater finds both poignancy and beauty in that most universal of experiences: life itself.

by Rebecca Harkins-Cross

STANDOUT DVD – The Simpsons: Season 17

We’re saluting The Simpsons – not because this is the year’s best DVD release (while it’s one of the better later seasons, there are few people who think The Simpsons keeps improving year after year). No, we’re tipping our cap because, much like DVDs themselves, still being around after all this time is an amazing achievement. Every year we’re told that DVDs are on their way out, thanks largely to the near-total demise of old-style video rental stores. And yet they survive. The DVD kiosk (rental vending machines where you can book films you’re after online and collect them when you do your groceries) has helped, while your local public library now has an extensive range of DVDs to borrow. Combined with steadily dropping prices that mean most movies barely cost more to buy on DVD than they did to rent, it’s a surprise we still have a handful of rental stores left. Downloading (legally and illegally) and streaming are the next frontier for home entertainment, and no doubt they’re already viable options for many. Yet, for now, the DVD keeps on keeping on: the real question is, will they manage to outlast The Simpsons?

by Anthony Morris

STANDOUT MUSIC – GHETTOVILLE, ACTRESS

The fourth and final album released under the name Actress, by electronic producer Darren Cunningham, Ghettoville is billed as the project’s “bleached-out and black-tinted conclusion”. That ominous description doesn’t quite prepare us, however, for the murky depths of Cunningham’s unsettling masterpiece. Ghettoville doubles as the wasteland that awaits if our society continues down a no-return path of environmental self-destruction and crippling wealth disparity. It’s all crackling glitches, blotched melodies and smoggy ambience derailing mechanical rhythms with a human unreliability. Despite the amorphousness of certain tracks, Cunningham excavates recognisable genres here and there, like the snappy hip-hop beat of ‘Corner’, the R’n’B smoulder of ‘Rap’ and the almost hopeful vocal sample pleading Don’t stop the music on ‘Don’t’. In a year that saw Aphex Twin release his first studio album in 13 years and Australians like Ben Frost and Lawrence English turn abrasive noise into immersive ecosystems, Ghettoville stands alongside them in ambition, but feels like a more up-to-the-minute portrait of 2014. Evoking the decay we’re already seeing in cities like Detroit, it candidly reflects our ailing times.

by Doug Wallen

STANDOUT BOOK – FOREIGN SOIL, MAXINE BENEBA CLARKE

Picture the name Maxine Beneba Clarke surrounded by a starry constellation, because Clarke is high-wattage talent. A champion in performance slam poetry, Clarke knows all about rhythm, timing and ellipsis and she applies that to her debut collection of short stories. Foreign Soil comprises 10 tales that explore cultural displacement, refuge and exile. Her socio-political themes are nuanced and complex – no soapbox polemics here. The anthology roams globally, with pit stops in Uganda, New Orleans, Brixton, Melbourne and Sydney. What’s particularly interesting is Clarke’s refusal to buy into the ‘black equals victim’ stereotype. Oppression certainly exists in the hierarchy of colour politics, but there are reprehensible characters here in all shades of skin. In the self-reflexive final story, the narrator receives requests from publishers who want the narrative to have a more “uplifting quality”, saying she should think more “book‑club material”. Perhaps the angry young man at the Tottenham riots shouldn’t actually hurl his Molotov cocktail? Fortunately, Clarke was not swayed by their suggestions.

by Thuy On

 

These reviews were first published in Ed#474.

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