30 December 2014

Favourite New Things 2014

New Year retrospectives seem to be either month-by-month, minute-by-minute accounts of the previous 12 months, or lists. You know the sort of things: 'January saw the worst outbreak of Twitter infections, ever', or 'a list of the most amusing Things That People Have Said Out Loud'.  In the spirit of jumping on a bandwagon, I have opted for the list option, because, you know, it's a list. And I can't really remember what happened in August, let alone January.

My chosen list is My Favourite Things That I Found This Year
These are all things I ran into for the first time in 2014, and either were ridiculously good, and/or changed how I thought about that type of thing. 


Lords of Waterdeep

A board game set in the Forgotten Realms. Each player is a manipulative mastermind trying to achieve dominance of the city of Waterdeep, by gathering groups of adventures and sending them off to complete quests. If you have ever played D&D and wondered why on earth the shadowy wizard wants you to go and get the magic orb from the Dungeon of Elementary Morality, this game has the answer. And the answer is probably that it's not that important. Your paymaster probably just wants to keep it out of the hands of a rival, and the orb just means that the they can hire more wizards to go after this other much more important objective.

I love this game from top to bottom, from its themes, to how the rules take those themes into play. I have played it a lot this year, and enjoyed it every time. Great stuff.


Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll 


A series of graphical stories with all of the trappings of fairy stories, and the menace of a saw and cleaver laid out beside a bathtub. 

I read this book in one sitting. At night. With a torch.

Just brilliant.

Go read it. 


True Detective


Two Louisiana cops investigate a series of killings, in a horror/buddy story split across three points in time.  

Yeah, yeah, some people didn't like the ending, or the hype (because hype always means something is no good, obviously), or the way that the story panned out. But I don't care. For me this was the best thing on television, not just in the last year, but in the last decade. The script is incredible. The performances are brilliant, and the themes run through the show's every inch. 

And that raid in the projects done in a single long take... incredible. 


Argo


The CIA launch an operation to rescue a group of American diplomats from Iran, by disguising them as a film crew.  

Yes, you are correct, it was not released last year. I am behind the curve, OK. 

It won an Oscar, but that can mean a number of things, only one of which is that a film is any good. But it was good, surprisingly so. Slick and perfectly constructed. I knew the ending, and was still holding my breath from tension.


The North Norfolk Coast 


Er... it's the strip of land running beside the sea in Norfolk (the UK Norfolk). 

Maybe through luck, maybe through... no it was luck, I visited in the few weeks of the year when the English weather decided to imitate the south of France. Wow, it was beautiful: sand-flats stretching to blue horizons, seals swimming in a sunlight flecked sea... I mean just look at it:


... Yeah it was great. 

Go. 

But probably only if you're lucky with weather.


Penny Dreadful


A group of public domain characters from Gothic literature join forces to hunt vampires in Victorian London. 

More TV, well spotted, you. I find it both depressing and exciting that more TV shows than books have hit the high mark for me this year. Maybe that says something about the new golden-era of TV shows, but more than likely it just means I have been reading the wrong books. 

In the wider world there seems to be a bit of mixed opinion on Penny Dreadful, but for me it is as though (to steal a line from my friend and colleague Alan Bligh) they decided to make this show just for me. From script, to performances, to the little details of the way that the source material is both followed and disregarded, this is genre drama on the small screen at its best. 


The Library of Birmingham


A huge public library built bang in the middle of Birmingham (UK). Libraries are amongst the best places in the universe, and The Library of Birmingham is just jaw dropping. It's huge, and the building is something worth standing and starring at. It's also filled with books, and covered with roof gardens. 

I visited it by accident, and found myself walking around gawping at everything: the view from the roof, the caged book cases circling the upper levels of the central well, the concert that was happening inside the front doors. 



I also sat down for a bit, and read a book...


That's it for 2014's best bits. 

See you soon.