Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. So far we have previewed the essential new music, the essential new television, and the essential new movies in 2014. This week we will turn our attention to videogames, previewing for you our loyal readers the most exciting videogames set for release in 2014.
2013 was a big year for gaming with blockbuster releases like Grand Theft Auto V, but at the same time there has been an increasing trend away from massive studios and back into independent development. Kickstarter and Steam Early Access are now firmly established as viable ways for games developers to fund and develop an ambitious title without the backing (or meddling influence) of a big publisher, and this is a trend we expect to continue in 2014.
It was also the final year of the old generation of gaming, with the Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Wii U now fully in the throes of battle for the next generation of home console gaming. Early signs suggest that Nintendo may suffer the consequences of a number of bad decisions with poor Wii U sales in recent months, but still they flourish in the handheld gaming market where their 3DS had a bumper year that has seen the company firmly retain their title as the king of handheld gaming consoles. That's not to disregard the smartphone gaming market which has developed massively in recent years to approach the level of complexity associated with dedicated gaming machines. Meanwhile the PC gaming market has seen something of a renaissance, driven in part by this new indie scene, and set to go mainstream with Steam's new push for "Steambox" home consoles.
2014 then has the potential to be very exciting indeed as these trends continue and the next generation of gaming continues to take shape. So behold, the top ten list of key videogames to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 10:
10. Titanfall (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC)
Without an established blockbuster franchise on which to ship Xbox One units, it's becoming clear that Microsoft's great hope in 2014 will rest with Titanfall.
This multiplayer only first person shooter, clearly aimed at the Call of Duty crowd, combines parkour-style on foot combat with giant mechs, as players compete across a war-torn planet between two very distinct sides.
A debut project from new developers Respawn Entertainment, Titanfall nevertheless has all the hallmarks of a new killer app in the making. Upon its reveal at E3 it won over 60 awards, and early hype is that this could do for Xbox One what Halo did for the original Xbox.
Release Date: March 2014
9. Alien Isolation (Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
The venerable Alien movie franchise has always had an uneasy status in the videogame world. A few decent Alien vs Predator games aside, the series has never really lived up to its promise, and in particular the most recent effort Aliens: Colonial Marines has gone down as one of the all time biggest flops in videogame history.
Enter developer The Creative Assembly, who began life as a contractor for EA producing sports games, but has more recently seen success as the architect of the Total War series of games. They believe that the problem with Alien games is that they have typically owed more in inspiration to the action-oriented Alien movie sequels than the original horror masterpiece.
Alien Isolation seeks to rectify this with a totally new, horror-focused approach to design. No longer will you play a hulking marine with a machine gun mowing down hundreds of aliens, now you play a single unarmed scientist simply trying to survive and hide. It's a novel approach, and it could be brilliant. Much will depend on the quality of the AI of the alien, which will have to be considerably more sophisticated than what we have seen in previous games in order to create the appropriate level of unpredictability and terror. Meanwhile fans of the series will feel giddy at the love that's being put into replicating the original classic movie here, with a retro art-style taken straight out of the 1970s and a high level of detail into making game environments feel authentic.
Can this ambitious title live up to the hype? We will have to wait until the winter to find out.
Release Date: Winter 2014
8. DayZ (PC)
It's a somewhat remarkable story how DayZ came to be, starting life as an amateur mod for realistic military simulator ArmA2. The game has since on to become something very significant in its own right, and will see release as a standalone title in 2014.
The concept behind Bohemia Interactive's game is simple, take a realistic military simulator, turn it into a massively multiplayer world and fill it with zombies. Players can explore, scavenge for supplies, and do pretty much anything they want in order to survive. DayZ features a massive 225 km2 land mass complete with countryside, towns, and lots of zombies. Everything else is left completely open to the players.
This results in uniquely emergent gameplay that is governed less by its programmed mechanics than by the psychology of real people. Players can team up to survive together or kill each other in order to steal invaluable supplies, making trust a central mechanic of the gameplay. AI opponents can be predicted or manipulated, but people are inherently unpredictable. It's this aspect of human nature that makes DayZ such a compelling project, even as the interface and programming continues to look rough around the edges.
The game is currently in alpha on PC, with no firm release date. The buzz suggests it will be in a complete state sometime late 2014.
Release Date: TBA 2014
7. X (tentative title) (Wii U)
X is an RPG in the classic mold: big open world for exploration, epic world-saving plot, and a heavy focus on characters. Very little else is known about the game other than it is a spiritual successor of sorts to Monolith's highly rated, but hard to find Xeno series, and everything else just comes from the very impressive trailer.
A release date is not know, except that it is mooted for some time in 2014. Could this be the shot in the arm the Wii U needs?
Release Date: TBA 2014
6. Super Smash Bros (tentative title) (Wii U, 3DS)
The newest entry in Nintendo's Super Smash Bros series is coming in 2014. It may not have a title yet, but it's coming, and it will see release on both Wii U and 3DS, with some as yet undetailed inter-connectivity between the two versions.
Nintendo's mascot beat-em-up is a gaming classic, featuring some of the most important characters in videogame history, addictive gameplay, and bucket-loads of references for nostalgic gamers. We don't expect this golden formula to change much and why should it? From Mario to Sonic to Link to Donkey Kong, all the essentials will be here, along with many others.
When it will be released is anyone's guess, but Wii U owners desperate for a taste of Nintendo's celebrated IPs will be hoping it's soon.
Release Date: TBA 2014
5. Broken Age (PC, Mac OS X)
Broken Age, the new project from legendary games designer Tim Schafer's new studio Double Fine Productions, is seen as a landmark game for many reasons.
As one of the first major Kickstarter projects, Broken Age showed that crowdfunding is a viable way to make a videogame. Additionally, the resurrection of the long forgotten point-and-click adventure genre shows that there is still the demand for such titles at a time when few publishers would ever consider such a project. That Broken Age managed to raise millions of dollars from the general public for something few games publishers would take a risk on raises serious questions about the industry.
Whatever way you look at it, Double Fine appear to have produced a fairly exceptional videogame, with a unique and gorgeous art-style, retro gameplay and classic story telling. The first chapter is out now on PC and Mac OS X, with the conclusion due by the end of the year
Release Date: Out Now (Act 1), TBA 2014 (Act 2)
4. Kerbal Space Program (PC, Mac OS X)
Another massive indie hit from a game that studios wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole (seeing a pattern yet?). Kerbal Space Program is not only one of the most unique games in years, but one of the most addictive.
It started out more as a tech demo than an actual game from developers Squad; players design spacecraft and attempt to fly them. But we're not talking about Star Trek here, these are spaceships modeled after quasi-realistic NASA style components, roughly comparable in technology and aesthetic to what we have today. Layered over this is a remarkably accurate model of interplanetary physics; you won't just point your rocket and fire engines, you have to take into account gravity, orbit, exit and entry, proapsis and apoapsis.
For non rocket scientist gamers it may seem a bit daunting at first, but the complex nature of the game, married with the cartoony and lovable artistic style and beguiling sense of scale make for one of the most rewarding experiences in gaming today. You'll cheer as you achieve stable orbit for the first time, marvel as you complete your first moon landing, and then feel giddy as you experiment with space stations, land rovers and many other possibilities.
That we have sunk so many hours into a game that's not even really a game yet, but rather a giant sandbox illustrates just how remarkable this project is. Currently at version 0.23 of alpha, the final game should be ready to play on PC and Mac OS X by the end of 2014.
Release Date: TBA 2014
3. Star Citizen (PC)
The mother of all crowdfunding success stories, Star Citizen has so far rasied over $40 million, and that amount is growing steadily every day. What makes this all the more remarkable is that people are throwing their money at Cloud Imperium Games despite the fact that barely anything in-game has been shown so far.
So why all the excitement and hype? Star Citizen is the brainchild of Chris Roberts, a game design legend from the early days of PC gaming most famous for his space-based combat simulations such as Wing Commander and Freelancer. Star Citizen is Roberts' big comeback to gaming following years in Hollywood with a number of producer credits to his name.
Unapologetically PC exclusive, Star Citizen's mission statement is simple: to be the ultimate space epic, the game that Roberts has always wanted to make. It takes Roberts' trademark quality combat simulation gaming, adds detailed economy and trading elements, and throws it all into one massively multiplayer online persistent universe. A massive online universe populated with thousands of players, in which players can essentially do what they want: they can trade or start a business, they can be a combat pilot, they can become a diplomat, or they can engage in a bit of in-game sports (racing for example).
The sheer variety of gameplay being thrown into this game is matched by the vast efforts that are going into creating a believable, fully fleshed out universe. The official website now is chock-full of literature and back-story for the world they are creating, and even if reading into all that depth is not your kind of thing, that kind of love and detail makes a game world truly engaging, even for the most casual of players. It's this kind of effort that turns a good game into a great game.
Can an independent developer really deliver on such high ambition? That much remains to be seen, but with the talent involved, and the massive funds they are raising, far eclipsing other crowdfunded titles, things are certainly looking promising. Such is the scale of the game that it is intended to be rolled out in a modular fashion, beginning in late 2014.
Release Date: TBA 2014
2. Destiny (Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3)
Bungie are one of the most prestigious developers in gaming, despite only being known for a single games franchise. But when that franchise is a worldwide phenomenon like Halo, it goes a long way. With Microsoft milking that series for all its worth, Bungie were never going to stick around and let their considerable talent stagnate. Destiny is the first major project following their declaration of independence from all things Halo.
So what exactly is Destiny? Destiny is a story driven open world first person shooter with RPG elements, set in a post-apocalyptic world where Human civilization, having dominated the Solar System, suddenly collapses due to a mysterious catastrophic event. Society has withdrawn into a single isolated city on Earth. Players control one of the "guardians" of this last city, charged with protecting the remnants of Humanity and exploring the wasteland of former civilization to uncover the various mysteries.
What makes Destiny stand out is the integration of multiplayer elements. While Destiny is by no means an MMORPG, players' solo characters are very much the center of the story and will take the full focus, other players will be able to drop in and out of each others' games at specified points, encountering one another along the journey. Quite how this unique aspect will be used to impact the singleplayer narrative has yet to be revealed. In the long run Destiny has been confirmed to take a Mass Effect style approach of allowing gamers to carry on the story, importing old characters through a series of games, with players' decisions persisting throughout.
Everything about this game is ambitious, from the mysterious narrative to the quasi-multiplayer gaming, and the persistent character customization. If the gameplay lives up to its promise then we could be looking at the most epic new videogame series since Mass Effect.
Release Date: September 9th 2014
1. Starbound (PC, Mac OS X)
Every game on this list is ambitious to some degree, some look revolutionary in their scope. Starbound might just be the most ambitious game of them all, in spite of its unassuming appearance. Another entry on the list of crowdfunded indie games, Starbound is the debut title of Chucklefish Games, and the team has not been shy about taking on a very complex first project indeed.
It's easiest to describe what Starbound is by reference to other games. Most people will at least have heard of Minecraft, an open world sandbox which enables players to mine blocks of a multitude of materials and use those blocks to build just about anything they can imagine. A few years later came Terraria, which took essentially the same block building mechanic, fleshed it out a bit and presented in a retro two dimensional style.
Starbound takes Terraria's design even further. The game features a procedurally generated universe with a practically infinite number of planets, each of which is the size of Terraria's entire world. Each planet has its own environment and it's own procedurally generated plant and animal life, making each one completely unique. Players explore these planets, mine for materials, and can build whatever they want, but this time they can also hop in their spaceship and travel to any other planet they choose. In addition, Starbound adds a lot more structure and story to the game than either Terraria or Minecraft had. There's a quest system, and a fully crafted backstory to everything, and every planet is full of secrets to discover and NPC characters to meet.
The scale of universe that this design creates is simply unparalleled in gaming, and allows players to play in pretty much any manner they choose. A player can assemble a team (either singleplayer with NPCs or multiplayer) and explore the universe hopping from planet to planet, or build huge houses, military bases, farms, shops, cities, theme parks, anything they can imagine (and the creativity seen in the work the community has produced so far during the alpha testing is remarkable), the possibilities are literally limited only by the player's imagination. This is something no game has ever really achieved, and if Starbound manages to pull it of, the result will be something very memorable indeed.
What makes Starbound stand out even beyond it's ambition is the development team, engaging directly with the community and constantly implementing new features and content based on their feedback. It's quite incredible to see how much direct input the players have had into this game's production thus far, and the commitment of the development team to facilitate such back and forth is very admirable. Hopefully this is a sign of a new era where developers have the resources to produce high end games, and still engage with the users in a very personal way throughout the development process.
Starbound is available in it's very basic alpha state on PC, but the full version is expected by the end of this year.
Release Date: TBA 2014
So there you have it folks: the 2014 Hot List, running a little bit behind schedule thanks to work but finally complete. Here's to a great 2014, and the Hot List will see you again next year!
Friday, 7 March 2014
Head Chef Nuno Mendes
Style American Fusion
Address 1 Chiltern Street, London, W1U 7PA
Telephone +44 (0)20 7073 7676
For anyone reading up on the restaurant scene in London, the past few weeks will have seemed a constant bombardment of hype regarding The Chiltern Firehouse. From the Telegraph and the Guardian to Timeout and the Londonist, you can't look anywhere without seeing it mentioned. The aptly named restaurant is quite possibly the hottest thing in town right now.
There are two main reasons to justify the existence of such hype before anyone has even tried the food: André Balazs, and Nuno Mendes. The former is the noted American hotelier with a penchant for the glamorous and surreal, while the latter is one of the hottest up and coming chefs in world cuisine, who earned two Michelin stars on his first attempt with former restaurant Viajante.
For Balazs, The Chiltern Firehouse represents his first hotel opened outside the United States, the culmination of a drawn out process which almost saw him purchase a site on Saville Row some seven years ago. While the hotel itself has yet to open one can already appreciate the quality and level of detail that has been put into its design. While the Victorian-gothic converted firehouse and gleaming brass kitchen fittings lend an authentically industrial feel to the room, its predominately wood fixtures and lavish furnishing create a suitably warm and rustic feel. The calmly lit room is instantly comfortable in its retro surroundings.
So while Balazs brings his trademark impeccable style to the decor and atmosphere, Nuno brings his to the kitchen. In many ways the style of the Chiltern Firehouse is a drastic departure from Viajante, no set menus, relatively affordable prices (£50 per head vs £150), and a heavily American-influenced menu. But what people adored most about Viajante was the creativity and playfulness of Nuno, each meal treated almost as a carnival of food, and that same flair is apparent throughout the Chiltern Firehouse's menu, creating an array of dishes that are truly unique, and completely unlike anything you will find elsewhere.
The place to be seated is at the counter surrounding the kitchen, taking a page from the "workshop" concept of Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier. Here one can see every action within the buzzing kitchen, offering a truly fascinating look at the care that goes into crafting something artistic from simple ingredients. Sitting here also means you're going to be seeing a lot of Nuno himself, who likes to greet guests and discuss his work openly. A brief chat will be enough to demonstrate just how passionate he is about food, and how seriously he takes the restaurant business.
Through such discussion we learned that the departure from set menus was a very deliberate decision to avoid comparisons with Viajante, and hence the decidedly more reasonable price tag. That £50 per head price we quoted earlier will get you one bar snack (£1-5 each), one starter (£7-12), one main course (£17-30), one side dish and one dessert, a very reasonable return from any central London restaurant, let alone such a prominent one in a trendy hotel with the hottest chef in town. Equally it is entirely possible to get a simple starter/main combo for as little as £25-30, not especially expensive at all by London standards.
As for the food itself (the menu is still being tweaked as we understand), everything comes with a distinctly American twist. The bar snacks menu includes dishes such as crab doughnuts, fried chicken with bacon and maple infused ranch dip, and cornbread fingers. The starters include various types of crudo and squab with grains, chicory and redcurrants, while the main courses include maple-glazed salmon, monkfish cooked over pine with puff barley and fennel, and The "Firehouse" Caesar salad. Meanwhile as a side dish you can find maple-bourbon sweet potato.
The Ephemeric's duo of researchers ordered between them the following:
Aside from an overabundance of beetroot it's hard to find a single misstep in the menu. That all dishes are beautiful to look at is a given, but it's the bold flavours and playful combinations that make them memorable. The crab doughnuts are inspired, the squab is served shockingly pink and succulent to the taste while the mixed grains provide the perfect contrast. The scallop is beautifully served in the shell, and the Iberico pork. an homage to one of Viajante's signature dishes, comes close to achieving the same greatness of its inspiration. But particular note has to be made of the maple-bourbon sweet potato side dish, which was so divine that even days later the taste is stuck in The Ephemeric's head.
With the Chiltern Firehouse Nuno has gone to great lengths to create a distinct experience from his previous restaurant, but without doubt anyone who loved Viajante will find themselves equally enamoured here. The same atmosphere of fun and celebration permeates the setting, while the more casual style ensures comfort; the entire experience is a joy from start to finish, and for barely an above average London price it simply can't be beat. The menu is diverse and of a high enough quality that The Ephemeric is already eagerly anticipating our next visit. The Chiltern Firehouse may be the hype restaurant of the moment, but all signs point towards a new permanent fixture in London, one that will be around for years to come.
Saturday, 1 March 2014
Today we take a quick break from our Hot List of 2014 series to bring you a last minute preview regarding the Academy Awards ceremony this weekend.
This Sunday, Hollywood's famous Dolby Theatre will once again play host to the biggest day on the cinema calendar, the Oscars. People all over the world will tune in for that most tragically popular of pastimes, celebrity watching, followed by four hours of forced laughs and real tears.
The host follows in the footsteps of 2013's very daring choice of Seth Macfarlane with the really quite unadventurous and unexciting Ellen DeGeneres. An especially ironic choice considering her name is plastered all over the internet across leaked copies of this year's films.
As always, I give you my loyal readers some predictions for the big night. You may not have seen the big films this year, or be familiar with the latest hype tearing through tinseltown; if so consider the following a crib sheet for what lies ahead this weekend, and perhaps even a sneak peek at who might just be walking away with the big prize.
- American Hustle
- Captain Phillips
- Dallas Buyers Club
- 12 Years a Slave
- The Wolf of Wall Street
Who Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
A strong and diverse field this year which has seen three different favourites at varying stages following the various preceding awards this year. 12 Years a Slave can count among its accolades the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, while American Hustle took the New York Film Critics award, and Gravity took the Directors' Guild Award, which has typically been a strong predictor. Still 12 Years a Slave has got to be the odds on favourite here, from the fact that it has won the greatest number of best film awards this year, to the fact that it is so unanimously praised by critics, to the fact that it may as well have "Oscar Bait" stamped across the poster, 12 Years a Slave is a shoo-in to win this year.
Who Should Win: Gravity
As great a film as 12 Years a Slave is, it's not necessarily the most widely loved. The reason for this is simply that it does exactly what one expects. It's a gritty, disturbing film about slavery. It's not the first film on the subject and it won't be the last. And while it's very well made and excellently acted it doesn't bring anything new to the genre, and it's highly predictable progression means that the ultimate emotional impact is inevitably going to be lacking. Gravity, more than any other film on this list challenges expectations, showing that science fiction can be significant art in a way arguably not seen since Kubrick's 2001. While the main draw is clearly the innovative film making, the underrated performances and hugely impressive script (it would have to be to make one woman alone in a completely featureless scene so compelling for two hours) come together to make this simply in our view the greatest combination of all merits in film making for 2013.
- David O. Russell – American Hustle
- Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
- Alexander Payne – Nebraska
- Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
- Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street
Who Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón - Gravity
This is set to be one of those rare, but increasingly common years where the best picture and best director awards diverge. Cuarón has taken all the major directing awards, including the highly coveted Director's Guild of America award for best direction, which often predicts best picture, simply by merit of the fact that it virtually flawlessly predicts best director.
Who Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón - Gravity
No arguments here, Cuarón's direction was simply breathtaking. From the cinematography to the stunning Earth vistas, to the unbelievable camera shots (the film opens with a 15 minute single shot scene, set in convincing zero gravity no less!), the incredible attention to detail, and the most powerful emotional payoff at the end of any film this year, Cuarón has long been an underrated director, but this year will see him cement his position as one of the best in the world, and he will win this Oscar.
- Christian Bale – American Hustle as Irving Rosenfeld
- Bruce Dern – Nebraska as Woody Grant
- Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street as Jordan Belfort
- Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave as Solomon Northup
- Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club as Ron Woodroof
Who Will Win: Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club as Ron Woodroof
A few years ago no one in their right mind would have predicted Matthew McConaughey to win an Oscar, but such has been his career resurrection in recent years that he is now near certain to pick up the ultimate prize in acting this year. Up until recently Chiwetel Ejiofor was considered heavy favourite for his turn as abused slave Solomon Northup, but following a string of key award wins and a whole lot of buzz, McConaughey's AIDS victim Ron Woodroof is now dead on favourite to win. Abused minority or AIDS victim, it's a battle of the Oscar clichés this year!
Who Should Win: Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club as Ron Woodroof
Again, no arguments, McConaughey's performance is excellent, throwing everything he has at the role and evidently nearly destroying his body to embody Woodroof. Ejiofor's performance is good too, but nothing mind-blowing and at times even a little overwrought.
- Amy Adams – American Hustle as Sydney Prosser
- Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine as Jeanette "Jasmine" Francis
- Sandra Bullock – Gravity as Dr. Ryan Stone
- Judi Dench – Philomena as Philomena Lee
- Meryl Streep – August: Osage County as Violet Weston
Who Will Win: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine as Jeanette "Jasmine" Francis
The hype on Blanchett's performance has been near constant since last summer when Blue Jasmine first started limited screenings. After all the Academy loves her, she's in a very topical role as a humbled rich person, and yes, she's very good. She has also picked up the vast majority of awards in the run up to these Oscars, making her a very strong certainty to win.
Who Should Win: Sandra Bullock – Gravity as Dr. Ryan Stone
But at the same time, there's nothing great about Blanchett's performance. She does what is required with a character who is deceptively thin really, with very little actual transformation. She starts the film as a miserable cretin and ends in the same way, except a little crazier. In this humble observer's opinion the stand out performance by far this year has been Sandra Bullock. Eyebrows were raised when she won her first Oscar for Blind Side, but no one can question her acting ability after her performance in Gravity. She pulls off the near impossible feat of carrying an entire film, almost on her own for the entirety, very often with the camera right up in her face shining a spotlight on even the tiniest detail of her performance. But most of all, unlike Blanchett's character, there is real progression and transformation in Bullock's Dr. Ryan, and you can feel it through every facet of the performance. Bullock's performance checks every box you could ask for, and then some, and she deserves to win the Oscar, even if she won't.
Best Supporting Actor
- Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips as Abduwali Muse
- Bradley Cooper – American Hustle as Agent Richard "Richie" DiMaso
- Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave as Edwin Epps
- Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street as Donnie Azoff
- Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club as Rayon
Who Will Win: Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club as Rayon
Another category with a heavy favourite. The Academy loves an underdog, and a former pop star turned actor is certainly that when given such a meaty role. It also helps that a tragic AIDS infected transgendered individual is just textbook Oscar material. Jared Leto has picked up all the big awards so far, and looks very likely to add to it with an Oscar. There remains a slight outside shot at Barkhad Abdi causing an upset, after all his is an even more remarkable story of a limo driver turned actor on his debut, and a strong performance to boot, but Leto seems by far the most likely going into this weekend.
Who Should Win: Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club as Rayon
Another agreement, his performance is daring, transformative, and remarkable in a very difficult role.
Best Supporting Actress
- Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine as Ginger
- Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle as Rosalyn Rosenfeld
- Lupita Nyong'o – 12 Years a Slave as Patsey
- Julia Roberts – August: Osage County as Barbara Weston-Fordham
- June Squibb – Nebraska as Kate Grant
Who Will Win: Lupita Nyong'o – 12 Years a Slave as Patsey
It's been a relatively weak field this year, which has made this one of the harder categories to predict all season. However the consensus appears to be building right now around newcomer Lupita Nyong'o for her performance in 12 Years a Slave. The Academy often likes to throw a spanner in the works with an unknown youngster, particularly for roles in such high drama, butt the lack of real standout among the nominees makes Lupita a genuine contender, and The Ephemeric's current favourite.
Who Should Win: Lupita Nyong'o – 12 Years a Slave as Patsey
Another agreement, but don't worry it's the last one! Nyong'o's performance is very powerful for a newcomer in a very challenging role.
Best Original Screenplay
- American Hustle – Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
- Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen
- Dallas Buyers Club – Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
- Her – Spike Jonze
- Nebraska – Bob Nelson
Who Will Win: American Hustle – Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Of the major categories this is a tough one to call. Throughout the awards season American Hustle has been the heavy favourite, due in part to all the hype that has surrounded the film (you often see hype films pick up the smaller awards by default, even if they haven't really done anything to earn it, eg. see Hurt Locker, Kings Speech), but following a lot of last minute buzz generated mostly by word of mouth and a few screenwriting awards, Her has now emerged as a genuine contender. Is it going to win? It's tough to say. American Hustle still has the lions share of the awards so far, and quite crucially has a much larger campaign budget. In addition such has been the hype regarding American Hustle that it is hard to see it going home completely empty handed, and without this award it looks like it very well might.
Who Should Win: Her – Spike Jonze
But there's a reason why Her has suddenly started generating buzz in spite of a complete lack of insider backing or big money campaign budgets; it really is a very good film. Her is visionary in many ways, and much of that is owed to it's excellently understated script, taking a plot that many would otherwise find quite inaccessible as science fiction, and turning it into something that's not only believable, but makes it seem inevitable. Certainly the smartest script of the bunch and a truly worthy winner if the Academy decides to award based on merit.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- Before Midnight – Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke
- Captain Phillips – Billy Ray
- Philomena – Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
- 12 Years a Slave – John Ridley
- The Wolf of Wall Street – Terence Winter
Who Will Win: 12 Years a Slave – John Ridley
One of the few awards that 12 Years a Slave is almost certain to win. This is one of those moments where the Academy votes with their conscience, and even if the dialogue was not always the sharpest, there's very little chance of them not honoring the adaption of Solomon Northup's heartrending memoirs.
Who Should Win: The Wolf of Wall Street – Terence Winter
The Wolf of Wall Street looks to have a very real chance of being completely shut out, and the buzz has it that this is down to the controversy of a film that seemingly glorifies the amoral debauchery of Jordan Belfort and his colleagues. That's clearly not at all what the film does, but we are not brave enough to predict that the Academy voters will be smart (or brave) enough to realize. The Wolf of Wall Street is razor sharp, deeply insightful into the mindset and flaws of a character such as Belfort, and genuinely funny. It's one of the better screenplays in a long while that it can keep audiences so entertained for a good three hours.
Best Original Score
- The Book Thief – John Williams
- Gravity – Steven Price
- Her – Arcade Fire
- Philomena – Alexandre Desplat
- Saving Mr. Banks – Thomas Newman
Who Will Win: Gravity – Steven Price
Remember what I said about hype films picking up the small awards? Well this is one case where the film will deserve it, Steven Price's score is magnificent, one of the best in years, and with several awards already under its belt, looks a dead cert to win on Sunday.
Who Should Win: Her – Arcade Fire
But sorry, despite how good Price's score is, it's not the best score of the year. That belongs to Arcade Fire's mesmerizing score for Her, a big part of what makes that film so special is the atmosphere and aesthetic, and the score plays into it. Add to that the fact that it's simply brilliant. An honorable mention goes to M83's score for Oblivion which absolutely should have been nominated and maybe even won; it's majestic and makes an otherwise mediocre film worth watching.
Best Original Song
- "Happy" from Despicable Me 2 – Pharrell Williams
- "Let It Go" from Frozen – Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
- "The Moon Song" from Her – Karen Orzolek and Spike Jonze
- "Ordinary Love" from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – U2
Who Will Win: "Let It Go" from Frozen – Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
It's rare to see an animated film with so much hype, and lets face it, Frozen is good but it's no Beauty and the Beast or Lion King. But still Frozen will win best animated picture, and with it will probably take best song. After all the Academy loves it's Disney musical numbers.
Who Should Win: "The Moon Song" from Her – Karen Orzolek and Spike Jonze
But the deserving winner is another Oscar for Her. One of the more enchanting and touching songs to pass through the Academy in recent years, but probably loses points for being too understated, the Academy likes its pomp and melodrama. Much like the score, Her also drafted top notch musical talent for this song, in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' lead singer Karen Orzolek, and it shows.
So there you have it, The Ephemeric's picks for the year. Enjoy the Oscars this weekend, and when the results go exactly as we have predicted, remember that you heard it here first!
Tuesday, 18 February 2014
Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. So far we have previewed the essential new music, and the essential new television in 2014. This week we will turn our attention to the cinema, previewing for you our loyal readers the most exciting movies set to hit the big screen in 2014 from March onwards, after this year's Oscars.
Last year was very memorable for cinema with great variety in both subject matter and depth of quality. A cursory look at this year's Academy Award nominations shows everything from artistic sci-fi to historic epics and quirky indies, all of which deserve merit. At the same time it was a relatively disappointing year for the major blockbuster, in particular the hugely anticipated Superman reboot Man of Steel which was a major flop.
2014 has the potential to be another exciting year. A great line up of movies awaits, featuring some of the most talented story-weavers in the business and some excellent up and coming stars.
So behold, the top ten list of key films to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 10:
10. The Imitation Game
First up we have The Imitation Game. Generally considered one of the more promising scripts that has been floating around Hollywood these past years, the film recently topped the "Black List" of unproduced movies in 2011.
The Imitation Game tells the story of famed British cryptographer Alan Turing who was a key figure in cracking the Nazi Engima code during World War II, only to be shamefully prosecuted later on for his sexuality. The wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Turing, and direction is handled by Morten Tyldum, a relative unknown whose films from Norway have nevertheless gathered plenty of international acclaim. In addition the project was recently acquired by the Weinstein Company, a studio with a top record for picking award winners.
It's a movie with great potential, so why has it taken so long to make? Well even in this day and age no studio in America will take on a film featuring homosexuality, and it's fallen to the Brits to handle it. Originally mooted for a late summer release, talk now suggests it may be pushed back until the fall or winter, suggesting at least an aspiration for award nominations.
Release Date: Fall 2014
9. Wish I Was Here
Following his breakout success as star of the TV show Scrubs, Zach Braff was briefly Hollywood's hottest prospect: a Woody Allen styled writer/director/star all in one, whose debut project Garden State garnered critical acclaim. The following decade has seen his star cool somewhat, with Braff bemoaning the state of the industry and difficulty in balancing artistic integrity with the demands of those all powerful studios. His solution to these problems might just be the most significant development in Hollywood for a generation.
Wish I Was Here sidesteps the pitfalls of Hollywood studios by seeking crowdfunding on Kickstarter, effectively funding through the passion and wallets of the everyday public, but leaving creative control with Braff alone. It's the first time such a thing has ever been attempted with a mainstream film, and having raised several million dollars, a new precedent for indie filmmaking may have been set.
This surprise crowdfunding success has allowed Braff to make the film he wants to make; handpicked staff and production crew from the cinematographer to the casting director and composers, and a bumper cast featuring the likes of Mandy Patinkin, Kate Hudson, Josh Gad (fresh from Broadway success with The Book of Mormon), Jim Parsons (he of many Emmy awards), and Donald Faison (Braff's partner in crime on Scrubs).
What remains to be seen is just how well this grand experiment actually works. Reaction from Sundance has generally been positive, enough to be picked up by Focus Features for distribution. The rest of us won't get to see it until September of this year, when advanced screenings begin.
Release Date: September 2014
8. A Million Ways to Die in the West
Lightening things up a bit we have A Million Ways to Die in the West, the newest film from Family Guy and Ted creator/star Seth MacFarlane.
This outing continues MacFarlane's transition from TV to Hollywood, and for the first time will see MacFarlane himself star with a live action performance, as opposed to simply voicing a character. This will be a true test of MacFarlane's star power.
It helps that he has assembled such a talented cast to line up alongside him with Oscar winner Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, and Giovanni Ribisi all household names.
Universal are looking at an early summer release, just in time for people getting out of school. At the very least it should hopefully be worth a few laughs, at best it could be as funny as Family Guy used to be. It could easily suck though.
Release Date: May 30th 2014
Now we're onto some real heavy hitters. Unbroken is the newest film written by the many award winning Coen Brothers, and the directing debut of Angelina Jolie.
Based on the novel by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken tells the war time drama of athlete Louis Zamperini who survived a plane crash and spent years as a prisoner of war. It's a strong, critic-friendly premise for Jolie's first shot at the director's chair, and stars unknowns Jack O'Connell, Garrett Hedlund, and Domhnall Gleeson. The staff also tantalizingly includes long time Coen Brothers cinematographer Roger Deakins, ensuring that if nothing else this film is going to look amazing.
It's also very awards-friendly sounding, boosted by the fact that the film is penned in for release during the prime time of Christmas day 2014. Universal have picked up the rights and seem to be pushing this one pretty hard.
Release Date: December 25th 2014
Transcendence on the surface looks like your average bit of science fiction. The story concerns AI, technological singularity, and all manner of other topics that are largely inaccessible to your average audience. The trailers as well have hardly set the world alight in terms of originality. What makes it especially worthy of note is its debut director.
Director Wally Pfister is the long-time cinematographer of the great Chris Nolan, who is attached as producer. Their collaborations have given us some truly stunning films from the more intimate indie style of Memento to the grand blockbusters that Nolan has since moved into with Inception (for which Pfister won an Oscar) and the Batman trilogy. Now Pfister is branching out as a director in his own right, and the speculation is that if he can capture half the magic that he has in Nolan's films, we could be in for something very special.
To help him along the way he has highly impressive cast that features Johnny Depp in the starring role, along with Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, and long time Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy.
There is a great deal of talent and hype on this project, and Pfister's directorial career bears a lot of promise. The only question remains is Transcendence really the right project? The marketing so far looks disappointingly generic, but we are holding out judgement for now.
Release Date: April 18th 2014
5. Knight of Cups
It may be hard to believe from a director who famously took a twenty year break from the business, but Terrence Malick has a whopping four films scheduled for release in 2014 (but probably a few slipping to 2015), three of which he is directing.
The most exciting of these is Knight of Cups, a drama about celebrity excess. The cast is heavily star-studded, including Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman.
This is Malick we're talking about so don't expect a laugh riot, expect depth, vulnerability, and absolutely gorgeous imagery, the last of which courtesy of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who formerly teamed up with Malick on The Tree of Life, and is himself likely to pick up an Oscar shortly for his work on Gravity.
Originally suggested to be slipping back to 2015, editor Billy Weber now says it will be with us this year, and it won't be as dialogue-free and experimental as some of Malick's recent films. Taking a stab at more mainstream success maybe? Interesting.
Release Date: TBA 2014
4. Inherent Vice
A darkly comic detective novel, Inherent Vice tells the story of a pothead detective investigating the disappearance of his ex girlfriend and her new boyfriend set against the backdrop of the Manson Family murders.
This film is set to make history as the first novel by acclaimed author Thomas Pynchon ever to be adapted into a feature film, and at the helm will be the inimitable Paul Thomas Anderson, whose CV would make any director envious, including the likes of Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will be Blood, and The Master. All brilliant movies. To top things off the film will be scored by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood.
Anderson will be joined by a fantastic looking featuring his The Master collaborator Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, and Benicio del Toro. It's a top notch ensemble with numerous Oscar nominations and wins between them, aside from the excellent Phoenix who is something of a persona non grata with the Academy following past altercations, but if he keeps turning in performances of such quality the Academy will have to take notice eventually. The same goes for Anderson, could this finally be his year at the top prize?
Originally slated for 2013 release, Anderson is known for taking his time in post production, and this is no exception. Expect a release towards the tail-end of the year though.
Release Date: TBA 2014
3. Big Eyes
After many years seemingly in a self-designed Hollywood wilderness, director Tim Burton could be making a comeback to serious movies with his newest project Big Eyes, a biographical film about artist Walter Keane, who secretly took credit for paintings done by his wife Margaret in the 1950s and 1960s.
It has the backing of the Weinstein Company, who more often than not picks a winner, and stars the glorious award winning machines Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. The final cherry on top? Burton is teaming up again to write the script with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, a trio last seen in the classic Ed Wood biopic some twenty years ago.
This is an exceptionally exciting film due to be released in the latter half of the year. The talent involved at every aspect makes this potentially one to watch come awards season.
Release Date: August 2014
It certainly won't trouble the Academy in 2015, unless they invent a new award for 'best trailer' anyway, but the newest American remake of Godzilla still looks absolutely fantastic.
When most people think of Godzilla they just picture a large lizard trashing some buildings, and this was reflected in the awful 1998 American remake. But the original Japanese version had a lot more to it than just this. The original Godzilla was not just some random monster to be blown up, it was mankind's retribution, a punishment (and metaphor) specifically for the horrors of atomic war that mankind had brought upon themselves. Godzilla is less a monster and more a force of nature. This point was completely missed in the 1998 remake, but this new version seems to get it.
The cast is also refreshingly nuanced, starring the supremely talented youngster Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the consistently excellent Ken Watanabe, and the criminally underutilized Bryan Cranston, who after Breaking Bad finally looks set to make a full leap into Hollywood.
But the most exciting name on the call sheet is director Gareth Edwards, a man with only one prior credit on his CV. His acclaimed 2010 indie gem Monsters, while not well known, stands as a mesmerising example that science fiction doesn't require gratuitous action or horror elements, but can be highly intelligent, focus on real people and deep relationships. Monsters was made on a shoestring budget, and yet for these reasons it still stands out as one of the most realistic and believable works of science fiction ever created. This was a hugely impressive feat for a first time director, and it is very exciting to think about what Edwards can do with a full studio budget and a great IP.
Legendary Pictures deserve great kudos for entrusting such a massive franchise with a relatively unknown director, and employing actors with real dramatic gravitas rather than simply pumping out another cheesy monster movie. 2014's Godzilla will finally see a return to the spirit and tone of the Japanese original, and it shows in the stunning trailer. Let us also not forget that it was Legendary who rebooted Batman with Chris Nolan and turned it into a far more impressive work than anyone ever thought possible, all signs point to them repeating the feat with the grand daddy of movie monsters.
Release Date: May 16th 2014
And now for the number 1 most highly anticipated film of 2014, Interstellar.
It's a symptom of our time that we have become more inwardly focused as a society, lost our sense of excitement at the world around us. This generation has no moon landing, and science fiction moved away from movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, full of wonder in the unknown, towards movies focused on monsters and explosions. Chris Nolan wants us to be excited by the unknown once again, and with Interstellar marks a return to this optimistic and idealistic style of science fiction, a movie about pure exploration.
It's the most ambitious film yet in Nolan's glittering career that to date includes both intimate and heart-rending indies like Memento and big budget super-blockbusters like Inception and the Dark Knight Trilogy.
He will be collaborating once again with screenwriter brother Jonathan Nolan, composer Hans Zimmer, and production company Legendary Pictures, while the absurdly stocked ensemble cast includes the likes of Matthew McConaughey, whose remarkable career resurrection has seen him hit a hot streak of critically acclaimed hit after hit, which now looks likely to culminate in an Oscar win in March. He is joined by Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, John Lithgow, and Casey Affleck, possibly one of the best collections of actors ever assembled with a frankly embarrassing number of Oscar wins and nominations between them.
This is one of those rare films where every single detail looks perfect, the talent behind the camera and on it, the production company and crew, and the general premise all point towards a moment of purest movie magic. You should be very excited indeed.
Release Date: November 7th 2014
So there you have it folks: 2014 in movies. Tune in next week to find out what's new and exciting in the world of Videogames this year!
Thursday, 30 January 2014
Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2014 Hot List. We hope you enjoyed our last entry in the Hot List dealing with the hottest new music in 2014. This week we will be turning our attention to the year's line-up of television shows, in particular the brand new series starting in the next 12 months.
The story of television in 2013 is one of renaissance; a new golden age driven by the premium content on networks like HBO which has led many observers to declare that television, once the maligned stepchild of Hollywood's cinema screens, is now to be considered the superior medium of story telling. After all you can tell a much deeper and richer story in 10 hours than you can in 2.
Of even greater interest is the Netflix revolution. The former small-time DVD rental company has grown incredibly in recent years to the point of being considered a direct threat to the conventional TV networks, and this was only further cemented by the company's move into original programming in 2013. Hit shows like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Arrested Development have instantly taken Netflix to the very forefront of television, and the company has duly been rewarded both in financial terms and critical, with particularly notable success coming at this year's Emmys, and even an Oscar nomination to boot.
Both these game-changing factors will be key to what lies ahead in 2014, but whatever happens it seems reasonable to say that we are entering one of the most exciting eras in TV history. So without further ado here are the most exciting television shows, both new and returning, that will hit the airwaves in 2014:
10. Sherlock - BBC
Sherlock has become one of the biggest British TV shows in a decade, and achieved that rare feat of being equally successful across the pond.
With the renowned creative minds of Steve Moffat and Mark Gatiss working behind the scenes, and bona fide Hollywood stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman starring, the show has hit a winning formula, both reverent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic source material while still full of new ideas and cutting edge narrative style.
After a two year hiatus the show returns for its third season, which by the time of publishing will probably have finished. In classic British style the season will only be three episodes long, departing all too early and leaving audiences wanting more. But in such frustration we find comfort in the real prospect that Sherlock could follow in the footsteps of TV shows like Poirot and become a long recurring national pastime, re-emerging every few years with new episodes. As long as Cumberbatch and Freeman are on board, the game is afoot.
Release Date: January 2014
9. BBC First World War centenary season - BBC (New TV Show)
The BBC has some grand designs when it comes to the next four years and the centenary of World War I, a massively ambitious schedule of four years worth of programming which all falls under the banner of the great big BBC First World War Centenary Season.
Programming begins in 2014 and ends in 2018 to correspond to 100 years after the war and will include 130 newly commissioned radio and TV broadcasts, lasting 2500 hours with more than 600 hours of new content. This content will run the gamut from documentaries to dramas, arts and music, debate shows, and even children's programming, and hopefully many reruns of Blackadder Goes Forth.
The season begins late January with a four part Jeremy Paxman documentary Britain's Great War, but watch out for dramas The Passing Bell, and Great War Diary, as well as a two part Gallipoli documentary coming later in the year.
Release Date: 2014 - 2018
8. Gotham - Fox (New TV Show)
TV shows based on superhero comics seems to be the big new thing, with last year's Marvel Universe tie-in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. among the major events in television, albeit a hugely disappointing one. This year DC comics are getting in on the action, first with an adaption of The Flash, but what has us at The Ephemeric most intrigued is Gotham.
Set in the wonderful Batman universe, Gotham tells the story of police commissioner James Gordon, a character notably played by Gary Oldman in the recent movies, though it is yet to be announced who will play him here. The Batman himself will feature here, along with several notable Batman villains, but the main focus will be on the day-to-day of Gordon and the Gotham City police force. If played right it could provide a uniquely relatable and gritty take on a superhero franchise, and one that is well suited to the lower budget realities of television.
No word on a premiere date yet, but as so few details have yet surfaced we can expect it at best for the fall 2014 line up, hopefully not slipping back to 2015.
Release Date: Fall 2014
7. Fargo - FX (New TV Show)
In an extremely unlikely turn, FX has decided to take the classic Coen Brothers film Fargo and turn it into a ten episode TV series. The brothers themselves are only involved as producers and none of the original cast return, but in their stead has been assembled a very fine all-star cast including Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks and Bob Odenkirk.
The original film was highly praised for its dark, violent humour, and it will be interesting to see how this can be adapted onto television. Perhaps then it is not so much of a surprise that it has been picked up by FX, a network known for being edgier and less stringent with censorship.
The episodes are already in post production, but so far a firm air date has not been revealed, aside from the network's vague "sometime in Spring" indications. The smart money says to expect a debut once the current run of shows ends in April.
Release Date: Spring 2014
6. Archer - FX
One of the funniest shows on TV unsurprisingly returns for a fifth season, but with big changes this time around.
In what is being pegged as a sort of reboot for the series, the spy agency setting is to be shed for one reason or another and season five will see the team peddling drugs in order to make ends meet. Like Scarface, only with more laughs. Hence this season has been branded with the title Archer Vice.
Regardless of the setting, the show's trademark wit and satirical humour remain. Indeed it's refreshing to see a series that is not afraid to mix things up from one season to the next. The new season starts in January.
Release Date: January 2014
5. Telemark - FX (New TV Show)
This makes three FX shows in a row on this list, and as a further sign of the network's growing clout in the industry, this one comes with some serious heavy hitters.
Telemark is a dramatized telling of the true story of the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II and their attempts to sabotage the Nazi production of nuclear weapons.
More interesting is the fact that none other than Danny Boyle, the famed British director of Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, is at the reins, and he's bringing with him his frequent collaborator Simon Beaufoy. With such talent attached to the project this is going to be one to keep an eye on.
No firm date has been given, and it's entirely possible that this may slip to 2015, but tentatively we're pencilling it in for later this year.
Release Date: Fall 2014
4. Parks and Recreation - NBC
One of the most likeable shows on TV right now, with an increasingly impressive cast. Parks and Recreation keeps going from strength to strength. Certainly one of the smarter comedies on TV right now, brimming with light political humour and some of the most genuinely hilarious characters since The Office.
It's been a big year for the show, with increased recognition leading to its first Golden Globe award for Amy Poehler, While Chris Pratt is widely tipped as one of 2014's potential break out stars. The fact that all the talent involved are so keen to keep going is a testament to how this show is special.
The 6th season is still running, and has just been renewed for the 7th to commence in Fall 2014.
Release Date: Fall 2014
3. Marco Polo - Netflix (New TV Show)
Now we're getting to the really tasty stuff. Epic historical drama Maro Polo tells the story of the famous Italian explorer's early years in Asia, promising a hugely ambitious mix of martial arts, intrigue and swashbuckling spectacle.
After a prolonged bidding war, Netflix has won the rights to make Marco Polo the latest in a long line of high profile original series, and a very impressive array of talent has since been attached to the project. The show is being co-directed by an Oscar nominated Norwegian director and the director of hit TV series Game of Thrones, and will be produced by the Weinstein Company, a company known for sweeping all the very highest honours in cinema.
All of those details indicate this is shaping up to be something very special indeed. No firm date has been revealed aside from "later in 2014", and as with all Netflix shows all nine episodes will be released at once.
Release Date: TBA 2014
2. True Detective - HBO (New TV Show)
HBO have something of a reputation as the television network known for producing shows of the highest quality, shows which aspire to be more than the typical network fare. Their back catalogue reads like a who's who of the best TV shows in recent decades, featuring names like The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Flight of the Conchords, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Sopranos to name just a few.
The newest original content to come out of the premium cable company is True Detective, a gritty police drama with a superstar cast, starring the duo of Woody Harrelson, a man who has two Oscar nominations, and Matthew McConaughey, whose incredible career transformation now sees him considered the heavy favourite to win this year's Oscar for lead actor. The pedigree is simply remarkable, and up until recently almost unthinkable for a TV show.
The show starts on HBO in January of this year and will run for eight episodes. Definitely the pick of this year's brand new TV shows.
Release Date: January 2014
1. House of Cards - Netflix
Last year's best TV show has been renewed for a second season, set to commence later in 2014. House of Cards is the best political TV show since the West Wing, and the jewel in the crown of Netflix's fledgling original content studio.
Directed/produced by household name David Fincher and starring one of this generation's greatest actors Kevin Spacey, House of Cards' first season was met with critical acclaim and went on to win Golden Globes and Emmys, the first Netflix show to win such accolades.
The release date is set for Valentine's Day, and once again will be thirteen episodes long, all released simultaneously.
Release Date: February 2014
So there you have it folks: 2014 in television. Tune in next week for the essential new movies of the year!
Monday, 20 January 2014
Happy New Year everyone and welcome back to The Ephemeric. Over the next few weeks we will be rolling out The Hot List, the essential guide to your year ahead. This week we begin with a look at the most exciting new music set to hit the airwaves in 2014.
2013 was by all accounts a blockbuster year for music; heavily dominated by established megastars like David Bowie, Daft Punk and Arcade Fire, but arguably lacking when it came to new artists and debut albums. 2014 looks set to be the exact opposite, with some of the most exciting acts coming from newcomers and unknowns.
It's going to be an exciting year for music, so without further ado here is the top ten list of albums to keep an eye on in the coming year, starting with number 10:
10. Brandon Flowers
The Killers may have cemented their position as one of pop music's megastar bands, but when frontman Brandon Flowers decided to bud off into solo work his debut album Flamingo was met with lukewarm reception.
With his notoriously off-the-wall creative stylings free from the shackles of his fellow band mates the result was as variable as one would expect. Some songs were a hit, like Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts and lead single Crossfire, while others smacked of pretention and over-the-top production, case and point: Only the Young.
Mid way through last year Flowers announced his intention to release an as yet untitled sophomore album in 2014. If the promising new tracks on last year's Killers greatest hits compilation are anything to go by then it's certainly one to watch out for. The good news is even if the album is no better than his first, that means it will still have at least one or two great songs on it.
Release Date: TBA 2014
9. Luke Sital-Singh (New band)
This one has been coming for a long time. Luke Sital-Singh first came to our attention in 2012 with his much acclaimed EP Fail For You. Since then the music world has been licking its lips at the prospect of a full album. Many expected it to come in 2013 but no album materialised, just a smattering of new singles.
His music has been described as "soulful", "intoxicating" and "a breath of fresh air in the folk music scene". This high praise that has attained him an unusual level of recognition despite never having released a full LP.
With the long awaited debut album now due in Spring 2014, and with his recently being featured on BBC's Sound of 2014 poll, big things are expected for this young man in the coming twelve months.
Release Date: Spring 2014
8. "Innocence" by Electric Youth (New band)
If this Swedish pop band sounds familiar on first listen that's because you've probably heard them before without realising. Electric Youth collaborated with College on 2011 hit A Real Hero, which was notably featured on the movie Drive and achieved a fair amount of widespread success.
Now the band has signed on with record label Last Gang Records and are prepping a debut LP for release sometime in 2014.
So far only one song has been revealed from the upcoming album Innocence, and it's clear the band intends to maintain their dreamy, 1980s-tinged image going forward. It's also quite a beautiful track, sounding a lot like A Real Hero except better because it has actual music in the background. Definitely a hot property to watch out for in 2014.
Release Date: Spring 2014
7. Girl Talk
The art of the mash-up, creating new songs by piecing bits of old ones together, is hardly a new idea. But few have taken the idea to such an extreme, and such mainstream success, as Girl Talk.
Girl Talk in particular is known for his blending of genres, a rap vocal track with a 1960s pop guitar riff for example, and in particular for his schizophrenic style of production, jumping between different sections of music every few seconds in a way that renders his albums less a collection of different songs than one long single mix.
It's a unique style that hit its peak with 2008's Feed the Animals, a mash-up of such singular quality and perfectly honed production that it simply flows and holds up better than anything else in the genre. Now a new album is due in 2014, but as his most recent album All Day shows it will be difficult to top Feed the Animals.
Rumours suggest this album could see quite a drastic departure for the artist, including potentially writing original songs rather than simply taping bits of existing ones together. Only time will tell if it works.
Release Date: TBA 2014
6. The Avalanches
We're hesitant to even put this one on the list as there have been so many false starts before. A second album has been rumoured ever since the band's critically acclaimed debut fourteen years ago, and its continual delays, allegedly due to copyright issues, have earned it an almost mythical status.
Also a mash-up artist of sorts; but whereas Girl Talk staple bits of songs together in a fairly Frankenstein manner (brilliant though it may be), The Avalances are more like Daft Punk, using samples from existing songs as the basis for wholly original compositions. On their first album they used this to stunningly unique effect with classic tracks like Since I Left You, Frontier Psychiatrist and Electricity. It's no wonder anticipation is so high.
Recently there has been a lot of whispering that this sophomore LP may finally be close to a release. A short demo was released in 2012, followed by numerous collaborators indicating that they have contributed towards new tracks, including rapper Danny Brown and psychedelic pop group Ariel Pink. One journalist even went so far as to suggest that a February 2014 release was on the cards. However the radio silence that has permeated since then leads us to doubt this claim, but nevertheless it does seem that we may be getting closer.
This time last year The Ephemeric made a much derided, audacious claim that a Daft Punk return was on the cards and it came true. This year The Ephemeric is making the same prediction for The Avalanches.
Release Date: TBA 2014
5. RAC (New band)
Once upon a time there was a loose affiliation of DJs and musicians referred to as the Remix Artist Collective or RAC for short. These days that title refers to the solo work of a single man, André Anjos.
RAC has become one of the industry's pre-eminent remix artists, transforming over two hundred songs that vary from chart topping hits to more obscure singles into a final product that's almost always an improvement on the original, often in ways that surprise and delight. Such is RAC's prolificacy that the chances are you've heard some of their work at some point.
Dreamy acoustic track Sleeping Lessons by The Shins converted into a soaring pop gem; Dirgy Theophilus London rap track Why Even Try? transformed into something delicate and playful; and Au Revoir Simeone's introverted pop stylings of Sad Song turned into something with drive and passion. RAC has the knack of focusing the most evocative elements of any song, while adding his own unique twist.
More recently RAC has begun to focus on completely original tracks, often with prominent collaborators, and so far this work has been excellent. Let Go featuring MNDR and Kele of Bloc Party fame is just an instant hit, while Tourist, featuring Tokyo Police Club has made an early claim for favourite song of 2014 so far. The album is due to be released by the middle of this year, and it sounds pretty wonderful.
Release Date: Summer 2014
4. Say Lou Lou (New band)
It seems every year there's some new Scandinavian band threatening to take the pop music world by storm, but Say Lou Lou is not just your average by-the-numbers affair.
The duo's shimmering dream-pop has caught the attention of just about every industry insider and found it's way unanimously into all the most prominent 2014 music previews. Say Lou Lou is arguably one of the most hyped bands in Europe right now.
So far the signs are there that the hype is justified. Only a handful of songs have been revealed and they're all gorgeous, slow-burning pieces of music, beginning with their first single from a few years back Maybe You, and continuing with their more recent EP releases Better in the Dark and Julian.
Say Lou Lou's as yet untitled debut album is due this June, and the buzz is that they are set to make a massive impact on 2014.
Release Date: June 23rd, 2014
Getting a bit speculative now, but massive if true. Coldplay are allegedly due to release their sixth studio album in 2014. I don't think we really need a blurb about what these guys are all about, one of the biggest bands in the world for many years and fine purveyors of both stadium-sized rock and intimate chamber-pop.
Little has been revealed so far, but frontman Chris Martin has suggested that the new album will mark a return to the band's more understated origins, which saw more songs like Yellow and The Scientist, in order to avoid becoming too "pompous", a welcome change in direction.
Otherwise there has been little hint of what we will get or when we will get it. Sources close to the group have indicated "hopefully 2014", which means at best we're looking at a release towards the end of this year. Watch this space..
Release Date: Winter 2014
2. "After the Disco" by Broken Bells
For anyone not familiar, Broken Bells is the collaborative project of Brian Burton, better known as the superstar producer Danger Mouse, and James Mercer, frontman of popular indie rock band The Shins.
Their eponymous debut LP in 2010 was met with critical acclaim as well as decent chart success in America, featuring some pretty great songs such as High Road and Your Head is on Fire.
The highly anticipated sophomore album After the Disco releases this February and so far it sounds like the band could be onto another winner. Out of the two tracks revealed so far, title track After the Disco in particular sounds like an early contender for the year's top songs.
Release Date: February 4th, 2014
1. "Everyday Robots" Damon Albarn (New band - sort of)
Which brings us to our choice for the number 1 most hotly anticipated album of 2014. This year the award goes to Damon Albarn for his upcoming debut solo album Everyday Robots.
While this may be Albarn's first solo album he will no doubt already be known to most of you as the frontman of Britpop group Blur which has produced classics such as Coffee and TV and Song 2, and more recently as the driving force behind experimental project Gorillaz, which has achieved worldwide fame through songs like On Melancholy Hill, Feel Good Inc., and 19-2000. That's not even mentioning theatre and soundtrack work.
So far only the title track, Everyday Robots, has been revealed, and if it's anything to go by it looks like Damon will be aiming for a unique marriage of his steady Blur pop-stylings and more adventurous Gorillaz production. Damon Albarn has truly earned a reputation as one of the most innovative British songwriters of his generation, so it is with great anticipation that we await his first solo LP.
Release Date: April 28th, 2014
So there you have it folks: 2014 in music. Tune in next week for the essential new television shows of the year!