The Best TV Shows in 2014

I realize I have been AWOL from blogging for the past two weeks, thanks to a busier work schedule, a cold, and getting ready to go on a mini-vacation tomorrow. That said, I’d like to thank everyone who’s taken the time to read the posts I’ve published, as well as who have left comments and feedback. My goal is to get back to my now 200+ feed first thing next week . . . so expect a flurry of likes/comments from me in the upcoming weeks, folks.


Now let’s get back to this post . . . last week I wrote about my favorite books I read in 2014. Now I’m going to mention the best TV shows – some old and some new – that I watched last year.

Best Returning Show

24- Live Another Day

Despite it’s sad and open-ended finale, I totally dug 24‘s (2001-2010) return to the small screen. I think everyone was hoping for some more Jack Bauer, so it was nice to see Keifer Sutherland give in and share some of his alter-ego with us. The idea of the show returning in a mini-series format worked well, offering the same cliff-hanging episodes that kept us on the edge of our seats. Switching the location added to the freshness of the show’s return, and a cast filled with vetted actors and actresses (which included three familiar faces from previous seasons) made longtime fans of the show like myself that much more excited to tune in. And if there’s every a takeaway from 24, it’s that you shouldn’t get close to Jack . . . because you’ll probably end up captured, tortured, dead, or all three.

Best Comedy

While the final season of Arrested Development (2003-2013) arrived on Netflix in 2013, I had never seen a single episode until last year. It’s probably the most off-beat show I’ve ever watched, and yet the writing keeps me coming back for more. Even for a show where multiple characters are unlikable, Arrested Development still knows how to make people laugh. The show runs on a continuous gag reel, forcing new viewers to start from the beginning of the show if they want to appreciate the ongoing jokes. What makes the show work so well is its ability to subtly hint at being funny without announcing the punch line. The fourth season surely received its fair share of criticism for its format, but for me, I felt like the storyline suffered more by not returning to what made everyone laugh about it in the first place. Regardless, I think the first three seasons are worth multiple viewings.

Best Drama

The Killing‘s (2011-2014) final season hit Netflix in 2014, after the streaming service picked up the original AMC show. Perhaps it was all just luck that I discovered the show one day while I was looking through Netflix titles, and I’m so thankful I did. Rarely do crime dramas feel as rough, believable, and original as The Killing. Although it’s based off a Danish show with the same name, this American re-make works as if it was wholly original, at least for American audiences. While I enjoy The Walking Dead (2010-) more than most shows, it was The Killing that had me binge-watching (to my shame) until I completed it. The two leads – played by Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman – is what makes The Killing, particularly the latter. It’s certainly some of the most compelling TV I have seen in a long time. If you want to watch a great crime show, check out The Killing. It’s that good.

Best British Show

So there’s a good chance I created this category just to throw a little of Sherlock into the mix. The third series arrived on Americans’ TV screens in January of 2014, a long two-year wait since the previous series. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat fail to disappoint, attempting to top the series two finale that left everybody’s mouths gaping. There are always shocks and thrills in Sherlock, but never the cheap kind. We find out what’s happened since Sherlock’s fall, and we get to witness Sherlock and Watson’s bromance grow deeper, while yet another one of their major nemeses reveals himself in the third episode. Most everyone is familiar with the show’s lead, Benedict Cumberbatch, who has recreated a modern-day Sherlock whom everyone loves, despite his sociopathic tendencies.

In regards to British shows, I also thoroughly enjoyed the first season of Broadchurch (2013), which appears to have a second season in the works for later this year. I was not the biggest fan of Doctor Who‘s (2005-) latest outing, despite the actors’ best efforts. I am also a newbie to Orphan Black (2013-) this year, so I’ll get to see what all the fuss is about.

Best New-to-Me Show

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what category Gilmore Girls (2000-2007) ought to go in, given its balanced mix of drama and comedy. So I created a category for this show, because it’s absolutely one of my favorites from 2014. (Note – I’m not finished with the show yet [middle of season 5], so please don’t include any spoilers in the comments.) Where to start? The pop culture references, the offbeat townspeople of Stars Hollow, Kirk?!, Lane’s hilarious bandmates . . . Gilmore Girls seems to have that perfect balance of intertwining multiple storylines while still keeping its focus on the two main girls: Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel). Netflix has given the show a brand new generation of fans just discovering it. I highly recommend Gilmore Girls, especially if you want to see a show that has Alexis Bledel’s, Lauren Graham’s, and Melissa McCarthy’s best roles-to-date.

What were your favorite shows you saw in 2014?

Oscar Chatter with Matt and Kristin: Best in the Acting Categories

Kristin: I’ve seen all the nominees except for Demian Bichir in A Better Life. I was surprised Michael Fassbender from Shame didn’t get nominated, and I was disappointed to see JGL miss a nod for his great work in 50/50. I’m rooting for Jean Dujardin from The Artist to pick up this award, especially since he’s already picked up the Golden Globe and the SAG among others. I prefer Dujardin to Clooney, who may be his only serious competition, although I still see Dujardin winning. I’m also happy for Gary Oldman to get a nomination, even though I think he has better work that was previously ignored.

Matt: In the first twenty minutes of The Artist, Jean Dujardin painted a grin on my face that would last nearly the rest of the film–he was charming in every way. It is a unique performance, if not just because Dujardin must convey his character’s thoughts and emotions without the luxury of ever speaking. In short, I would be very surprised if the Academy does not pick Dujardin. Unfortunately, I have yet to see The Descendants, but as Kristin has said, it seems that Clooney would be the only other close competitor to Dujardin. That being said, I found Brad Pitt completely deserving of his nomination for Moneyball. Of the nominations I’ve seen, Pitt was the only one whose role truly carried the entire movie. In my opinion, without Pitt playing Billy Beane, Moneyball simply doesn’t work. I actually forgot I was watching a Brad Pitt movie.

Kristin: I completely agree that Dujardin was utterly charming in The Artist, and you couldn’t help but smile throughout that film. The thing with Clooney is that he’s an Academy darling, even more so than Pitt. I know Clooney didn’t win much of anything for Up in the Air a couple years back (which I actually enjoyed more than The Descendants), but sometimes I think he’s receiving nominations just because he’s Clooney. He was good in The Descendants, but maybe I missed the “greatness” aspect. Glad you enjoyed Moneyball so much. I appreciated the film because I read most of the book it was based off, and I would agree Pitt embodied the Billy Beane. I’ve heard some complaints that Pitt should have been nominated for Tree of Life instead of Moneyball, but I agree with the nomination.

Matt: For me, what made Pitt’s performance golden were subtle things; for example, him constantly grabbing candy from the candy dish in the scene where he first notices Peter Brand. I think Pitt could have been nominated for either role, though a nomination for The Tree of Life would have had to be for Best Supporting Actor. Has an actor ever been nominated for Best Actor/Actress and Supporting Actor/Actress? A quick Wikipedia search yielded this answer: “Thanks to a voting quirk, in 1944 Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way became the only actor nominated in both the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories for the same performance, winning the latter.” Today’s Academy bylaws disallow this, of course. I was unable to find an actor or actress that has been nominated twice the same year for two different roles. That probably won’t ever happen either.

To sum up, while I enjoyed Pitt and Dujardin’s roles immensely, I think it has been a rather weak year for Best Actor. None of the roles nominated hold a candle to other recent years, say Colin Firth’s role in The King’s Speech or Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood. Such performances are ones that I will remember for quite a long time.

Kristin: I saw Glenn Close only in an extended preview for Albert Nobbs, and it certainly looks interesting enough, despite many believing that last spot belongs to Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk about Kevin or Elizabeth Olson in Martha Marcy May Marlene (or others I’m sure!). Previously, I had complaints over Emma Stone’s performance in The Help being completely overlooked, despite my loyalty to Viola Davis. This category is said to be the only real competition this year–between Meryl Streep and Viola Davis. I saw both films and much preferred The Help over TIL, but I think both performances are on equal ground. Honestly, it’s been YEARS since Streep actually won an Oscar, and she keeps getting told “you’ll get one next year.” So I’m rooting for Streep, although I’d be happy if Davis walked away with it too.

Matt: While I did think Emma Stone’s performance in The Help was good, I felt it was one of the easier roles in the film, and hardly on par with Viola Davis’ role. Her performance in the final scene of the film is one of the best (and most heartrending) I have seen this year. As for Streep, while I look forward to seeing her performance on DVD, poor reviews for The Iron Lady stopped me from dropping $8.25 to see the film in theaters. But what are the Oscars without a Streep nomination? After all, with The Iron Lady, Streep receives her 17th Oscar nomination. It would be interesting to see Glenn Close win the award; however, I would be surprised if it is given to anyone other than Davis.

Kristin: I have to agree that Davis had the most moving performance in that film. The Help really had a fantastic ensemble to carry it. I still would have liked to see Stone get some love for her work, even at just the Golden Globes, but I know her role wasn’t quite as dramatic or polarizing as the others. I wouldn’t even recommend seeing The Iron Lady with the exception of Meryl Streep. She gave an excellent performance. The direction of the film was off– it lacked an opinion, had too much focus on Thatcher’s dementia, and just felt too disjointed. That said, Streep’s performance somehow proved that you can have a crappy film and an incredible performance come out of it. I would love either Streep or Davis win, and I’m sure one will. Close and Mara definitely won’t win, and Williams’s nomination reminds me a little of Jennifer Lawrence’s last year, in that the real honor is the nomination.

Matt: I love Streep, but I really hope Davis gets the win. She would be only the second African American woman to win the Best Actress Oscar. I can’t think of a more appropriate role by which to win it.

Kristin: Nick Nolte in Warrior was the surprise addition to this category, and I was very glad to see it. I’m assuming Plummer will walk away with the trophy for his work in Beginners. He gave an exceptional performance, so that would make me happy. I thought Ewan McGregor was brilliant in Beginners and forgotten for his great work. It’s also cool to see a name like “Jonah Hill” join the ranks among the Oscar nominated, although it’s a sure thing that he won’t be winning. I’ve heard great things about Kenneth Branagh in My Week with Marilyn, but I have yet to see that film. I did finally see Drive and think Albert Brooks should have received some kind of credit, although I don’t know if I would have put him in place of Plummer, Hill, or Nolte. The interesting turn in this category is seeing Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close‘s Max von Sydow pick up a nom. I’m curious to see him in that film now.

Matt: I quite liked Jonah Hill’s work in Moneyball. It was nice to see him actually play a role other than the funny, fat kid. While I hadn’t given him much thought before Moneyball, he now is someone I will watch. I enjoyed seeing Nolte in Warrior; in fact, his role may have been the only thing about that movie I truly did enjoy. However, I didn’t think his performance was anything out of the ordinary; it was enjoyable, but not groundbreaking. I will readily admit my lack of knowledge for the other noms in this category, as sadly, I have not yet had the opportunity to view them. It is nice to see von Sydow get some recognition, albeit only his second nomination. Seems rather sad in such a great career that has spanned over six decades, but many great performances are not realized until decades after their release. So, yes, he should have been nominated Best Actor for his role in The Seventh Seal, not that anyone outside of Sweden would have even recognized his name at that time.

Missing from this section is Brad Pitt for his outstanding role as Mr. O’Brien in The Tree of Life. And the little Jack Russel Terrier from The Artist. 🙂

Kristin: I hope Jonah Hill gets offered some better roles in the future with his success from Moneyball. I know he’s in some upcoming silly movie with Channing Tatum, which probably won’t do him much good, but perhaps he’ll make it a point to be in the occasional drama. I’m happy to agree to disagree with you on Nolte. He probably had the best performance in the film, but I would consider his performance groundbreaking in Warrior.

I think it’s interesting that like many years, a lot of the actors nominated in the supporting category tend to be in films that are not widely released until later, or they never get a wide release altogether with the exception of a few big cities. I really enjoyed Beginners, and it doesn’t surprise me that its only nomination is for Christopher Plummer, given who he is and the role he played. My Week with Marilyn, Drive, Beginners–none of these movies scream Oscars at all, despite earning one or two nominations each. It’s movies like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close that work to be an Oscar film, and turn out successful enough (nomination for Best Picture/Best Supporting Actor), and go along a point of view that you hold, Matt–actors like von Sydow missing out in the past for great work and getting nominated currently for more mediocre or just good work. I finally saw The Tree of Life and wasn’t blown away by it in any sense other than cinematography, although I would agree Pitt was the obvious stand-out performance in the film. And I would be perfectly fine with the JR terrier from The Artist making an appearance 🙂

Matt: In regards to Nolte, he’s pretty much always great; I just thought his role fairly insignificant in comparison to his previous performances, in particular Colonel Gordon Tall in The Thin Red Line. In that film Nolte plays, with conviction, a selfish, power-hungry commander willing to sacrifice whatever number of human lives necessary to move his career forward. In regards to “make-up Oscars,” it’s annoying when the Academy chooses to acknowledge an actor they missed out on the first time (or first ten times, as it may be) around. No number of “make-ups” changes that they failed to realize talent in the first place. In reality, a “make-up” nomination is nothing less than degrading.

Kristin: I think the obvious choice is The Help‘s Octavia Spencer, since she’s graciously won the award at about every award ceremony so far. I thought she was brilliant in the film and is well-deserving. Although I wouldn’t mind Berenice Bejo receiving some credit. But I think we all know that Spencer has it in the bag. Oh, and I think it’s kind of ridiculous that Melissa McCarthy got a nomination for Bridesmaids. She’s a hilarious actress, and I’m all for comedy making its mark at the Oscars, but how on earth was that role Oscar-worthy?

Matt: Spencer’s performance in The Help was thouroughly entertaining. I doubt I will ever think about chocolate pie the same ever again, nor will I think of it without seeing Spencer’s face. It is interesting that both Spencer and Chastain were chosen for their roles, as much of their time on screen is spent together. Their chemistry was great, and I loved Chastain’s performance, but I couldn’t help but think two things: 1) As long as we’re doling out nominations for The Help, what about Bryce Howard’s role as Hilly? She embodied pure evil pretty convincingly for me. 2) Hasn’t Chastain been nominated for the wrong role? What about her embodiment of grace and motherhood in The Tree of Life?

Snubbed? Marion Cotillard for her role in Midnight in Paris. Can you think of a sweeter or more charming performance that you’ve seen in recent years? I can’t.

Kristin: I really enjoyed this category because there were so many great performances nominated. Spencer and Chastain both played character roles in The Help, so it doesn’t surprise me that both were nominated. It was nice to see Chastain show yet another side of her acting ability. Bryce Dallas Howard actually received a lot of slack for her role. I’m not entirely sure why, but the common consensus is that she keeps playing the villain (both The Help and 50/50). She completely embodied the evilness needed for the role.

I’m glad that Chastain got nominated for The Help and not The Tree of Life, primarily because I enjoyed her role more in the former. I’m just not Terrance Malick’s biggest supporter in his heavy amount of editing in his films. Perhaps performances could have been stronger if he would have dropped the scissors and let actors just breathe. But that’s a whole other story. As for your snub mention–I never even considered Cotillard as an option, but I think you bring up a great point–she was graceful and lighthearted in Midnight in Paris, and it almost is surprising to see her not nominated.

Matt: Chastain’s roles in The Help and The Tree of Life show just how dynamic of an actress she is. She has had quite a year, and I look forward to catching up on some of her films that I missed. As far as Howard is concerned, I’m not sure how much the Academy likes to nominate villains. Nominations tend to fall on “hero” roles only. Even three dimensional villains rarely get a Oscar nod. I suppose everybody wants the “good guys” to win, even at the Oscars.

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Matthew Roth is an aspiring filmmaker from the Madison, WI area. While his passion is narrative film, he currently shoots and edits promotional and event videos at Inframe. In his free time, Matt enjoys researching and discussing film over a cup of coffee or meeting up with fellow film junkies through Craigslist. Be sure to check out his most recent short film Memoria.

Reaction to Oscar Nominations

Everyone’s going to have their own quips about what film was nominated, what film wasn’t nominated, who got snubbed, who got included who shouldn’t have, etc. Some will and some won’t agree with me on any or many of these.

If you read my previous post, you’ll already have a one-up on this one. In more detail, here are my reactions:

What Disappoints Me

  • Shailene Woodley not making the cut for Actress in a Supporting Role. Who got it instead? Melissa McCarthy from Bridesmaids. I can’t even comprehend how there’s a comparison here. I really don’t care to vote between comedy or drama; in terms of role performance, in my humble opinion, Woodley–not McCarthy–should have been nominated.
  • Drive‘s lack of nominations. With its overall positive reviews, ratings, and plug for Ryan Gosling, I’m stunned that it’s walking about with only a single nom. In my latest post, I mentioned the forgotten Albert Brooks. I feel like Drive is walking away forgotten.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt missing the nomination. I know most people are more upset over Fassbender not on the ballot. I haven’t seen Shame, and honestly, have little interest in seeing it. Although I would like to see it since there’s been a great deal made about it. This disappointment, however, is regarding JGL–and I am disheartened to see that he has yet to get past Golden Globe nods and break through that Oscar glass.
  • Speaking of JGL, how about Will Reiser’s script not passing for Best Original Screenplay? I’m a little hesitant to praise Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig for their Bridesmaids script, and I haven’t seen Margin Call, but I’m still wondering how 50/50 didn’t get nominated.
  • Harry Potter series walks away with zero acting nominations. As discussed with some on Anomalous Material, this isn’t entirely surprising. Actually, considering some of the biggest film series with huge casts, it’s almost not surprising at all. But for us Potter fans, it still hurts a little inside to see not even Alan Rickman get some much-deserved credit, much less a host of other fantastic supporting roles. Oh, and did I mention Daniel Radcliffe? I know I’m not in the majority thinking this, but I can’t help but admit that he did such incredible work, especially in the last film. Not even a Golden Globe nod? What do I say to all that? Boooo.
  • The snubbed Mr. Ryan Gosling. Between DriveIdes of March, and even Crazy Stupid Love, which strangely earned him a Golden Globe nod, Gosling walked away without a single nomination. So I think it’s sad that he didn’t pull through for Drive  or even Ides. With a year that boasted his name more than any other, it’s disappointing.
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close making the Best Picture cut. Are you serious? Here’s a better question: how does a movie with a 48% rating on Rotten Tomatoes get nominated for Best Picture?

What Confuses Me

  • Why is Viola Davis considered the lead actress in The Help? I have no problem with her being nominated. In fact, I support that. But here’s my beef: I watched The Help, and I was under the impression the entire movie that Emma Stone was the lead character. This is lost on me.
  • Why is Emma Stone completely forgotten from The Help? I realize she plays straight to the characters portrayed by Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, etc. I even almost get that most would not consider her performance Oscar-worthy. But that leads me to three more questions–Why does she not get credit at any awards ceremonies this season for her work in the film? Why is her performance in Easy A considered Golden Globe worthy, but not her role in The Help? And finally, why does Melissa McCarthy get credit for her role in Bridesmaids at the freaking Oscars, but Emma Stone doesn’t get any credit for The Help . . . AT ALL?! Anyone?
  • Why is Berenice Bejo in the Actress in a Supporting Role category? Perhaps this one is more obvious. Jean Dujardin is clearly the lead. Understood. But wasn’t Bejo the lead actress in The Artist? It was the same way at the Golden Globes. I’m just really confused about this.
  • Why is everyone making such a big deal about Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? I realize it was a very polarizing, intense role to portray. I get it. And I can even understand the Oscar nomination. What I don’t get? Why is there all this crazy fuss about her? What other work has she given to film that makes her stand apart from the rest? OK, so she’s just getting nominated for TGWTDT. Understood there. But isn’t that kind of a slap in the face to Noomi Rapace from the Swedish version? I mean only two years prior, she played the same role–and fantastically, I may add–and didn’t receive any of this accolade that is being poured on Mara. Why is that?
  • Why can’t the dogs from Beginners and The Artist get nominated? After all, the one from The Artist saved Dujardin’s life. And the one from Beginners? Doesn’t get much cuter than that. Academy, how about we add a new category, eh?

What Makes Me Happy

  • Perhaps the nomination that delightfully surprised me most was Nick Nolte in Warrior. The film itself hadn’t gotten much praise–good reviews, but not great ones. I realize everyone mentions issues with the film from cliche type story line, to boring cinematography, to “we’ve already seen this movie a zillion times in other sports films.” Got it. But I’m incredibly happy to see Mr. Nolte get some credit for his role. With great performances all around in Warrior, Nolte stood out to me, even considering Edgerton and Hardy. What a well-deserved nomination.
  • The Help and Midnight in Paris showing up on the Best Picture list. Although neither film will be a contender for that category, I’m happy to see both get nominated. The Help received a massive amount of criticism, and I wasn’t sure Midnight in Paris would make the cut, even with its growing popularity.
  • Cars 2 didn’t get an Animated Film nomination. Sorry, Pixar, but 2011 was not your year. Glad to see better animated films get nominated.
  • Gary Oldman nominated. I know this will make a lot of people’s lists of things that made them happy for this year’s Oscars. Although I wasn’t blown away by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I will say that I’m happy to see Oldman receive so much-deserved credit.