2014 picks: Matt Mueller
2014 is coming to a close, which means it's time to put my first full calendar year as an official working, adult member of society in the books (well, the jury's still out on the adult part). Here are some of the most memorable moments – both good and bad – from a most memorable year.
Best (off-screen) movie moment: Going to the Milwaukee Film Festival is a bit like collecting trading cards. You want to get to as many movies and guest panels as possible, and you want to share them with others. You want to talk to others – usually waiting in line or sitting in the theater – about what you've seen, hear what they've also seen and trade reviews and recommendations.
Milwaukee Film's 2014 rendition had plenty of memorable moments, from the power of seeing the brave stars of the opening night film "1971" hit the stage (and the opening night afterparty!) to meeting genius critic Wesley Morris to the exuberant creativity of "Man with a Movie Camera," brought to the screen on beautiful 35mm with a terrific live score. But (to torture this metaphor a bit more) if the festival's memorable moments are like collecting trading cards, "The Tribe" was like a holographic Charizard or a Babe Ruth rookie card.
I was at the first MFF screening of "The Tribe," a Ukrainian film following a new student at a school for the deaf. The movie is an incredibly crafted (mostly captured with long takes) and absolutely punishing experience, physically and emotionally – made all the more so by watching it with an audience both horrified and rapt. Everyone walked out brutalized … and absolutely needing to talk about it.
Word spread throughout the festival (aided by the news somebody passed out in that first screening), and soon it felt like all conversations were punctuated by somebody asking, "So … did you see 'The Tribe'?" The movie wasn't a pleasurable experience by any means, but watching and hearing the film flow through the Festival like lightning is exactly what the Festival – and movies overall – are about.
Best (on-screen) movie moment: If we're going for actual in-movie sequences, the creation sequence from Darren Aronofsky's divisive biblical epic "Noah" was breathtaking, freshly telling a familiar story with beautiful imagery and feverous editing. Godzilla belching atomic breath down a MUTO's throat in one of the monster's few cameo appearances brought out the giggly child in me, and, of course, there's little baby dancing Groot from "Guardians of the Galaxy," easily winning the prize for cinema's greatest sentient tree (take that, Grandmother Willow from "Pocahontas"!).
Also, am I allowed to say all of "Whiplash"? No? Alright, well then I'll pick the final spellbinding sequence – a masterclass in editing, rhythm and sustained escalating tension – and move right along.
Best trailer: I mean, this should be easy, right? It should obviously be the "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" trailer that sent nerds into an understandable tizzy and movie websites into insanity making 45-minute long podcasts to talk about 88 seconds of footage. Imagine what'll happen when they see the whole MOVIE!
So yes, the pick here should be "The Force Awakens" … but it's not. It's the double dose of adrenaline that are the two "Mad Max: Fury Road" previews.
My god, these things are sweet, sweet, beautiful insanity. "Fury Road" spent over two decades in development hell; now that we know what it looks like, it can't come fast enough. In the words of the wise Barney Gumble, "Put it in my veins!"
Best concert: I love music, but I'm exceptionally awful at getting to concerts, so most of my concert-going experiences come through Summerfest. Luckily, Milwaukee's annual musical extravaganza usually delivers (despite my occasional griping about the headliners, but who doesn't). A cappella stars Pentatonix were insanely good, their tight, unique harmonies surviving surprisingly well in a loud, outdoor venue. They give a cappella a great name. Fitz & The Tantrums were terrific too, a high energy volt of soul-pop electricity.
Oddly enough, as much as I liked those acts, I'd have to give my pick for best concert experience to Paramore. I went into the Paramore/Fall Out Boy Amphitheater show not dreading it, but not quite off the wall either. I was prepared for a night of faux punk rock that reminded me of how bad my music taste was back in middle school. Instead, Paramore absolutely rocked, led by the band's furiously gleeful tornado Hayley Williams in her Tank Girl meets heavyweight boxer best.
The songs were strong, and the performance was engaging and energetic. With memorable moments like Williams charmingly calling a fan on stage to sing a segment of "Misery Business" and the crazily crowd-pleasing vigor of the closer "Ain't It Fun," the gulf between my expectations for the show and my final enjoyment of it could rival the Grand Canyon. As far as surprises go, it was one of 2014's best for me.
Best album: Though the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson collaboration "Uptown Funk" made a strong final run at the end of the year (honestly, radio stations; please replace all air time dedicated to "Trumpets" with this song), my pick for best album is easily "Run The Jewels 2" from, well, Run The Jewels (aka El-P and Killer Mike). From brooding energy of "Oh My Darling Don't Cry" to the mania of "Close Your Eyes (And Count To F*ck)" to the woozy f*ck-drunk "Love Again," the 11-song mix is an absolute rager, a furious mix of brash braggadocio, stingingly clever wordplay, sick beats and even some heartbreak in the story of police brutality in "Early."
Best sports moment: I used to hate the NBA. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I hated the way the stars could get away with anything on the court. I hated the way travelling was a myth. I hated the way the same five teams were on TV.
Not that all of those things have changed, but somehow, the NBA got me back with a seemingly smarter game, based, yes, on stars but also on spacing, balance and intelligent team crafting. And the game won me back at just the right time, because now Milwaukee has one of the most exciting teams in the entire league. They're not quite good yet – the team is very young with the mistakes and brainfarts one would expect from such youth, and while their record is nice now, the rest of December is a total gauntlet – but the Bucks are entertaining, and the excitement is building.
If I'm picking one moment, it's the game against the Grizzlies last month, in which the Bucks handed the at-the-time undefeated Western Conference giants their first loss with strong D, just enough offense and some game-winning heroics for the hit-or-miss Brandon Knight. But really, my best sports moment of 2014 is merely watching a Bucks team that makes you excited to be a fan. It's been a while.
Worst sports moment: Once again, there seems to be an excess of options for this pick. Do I go with Buzz Williams – the man who gave every new student at Marquette his cell photo number at orientation – bailing on my alma mater for the Hokies of Virginia Tech? Or do I just pick the entire MU 2013-14 season?
How about UWM putting up a great show in the Horizon League and NCAA tournament … just to totally botch up the excitement by getting suspended? And for a team that made the Big Ten championship and features a true Heisman candidate, the past week for Wisconsin football – with the Ohio State game and now Andersen taking the Oregon Trail – feels like it took the air out of a balloon by stepping on it with a pair of spikes.
I think the worst of the worst, however, has to be the Brewers collapse. The team brought up my hopes, merely to dash them away. No amount of Hank could save me from the depression of seeing the Cardinals – why is it ALWAYS the freaking Cardinals!? – stumble into the playoffs and then see the alternate universe Brewers – the Royals, for those not keeping up – play in the World Series.
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