As a populace, we already know what we talked about too much in 2014: Taylor Swift’s music industry takeover; Matthew McConaughey’s ascent from beefy rom-com star to prestige actor; the nude-photo theft that launched a million thinkpieces about consent, privacy, sexism, and celebrity; Ben Affleck’s junk.
But for every overhyped idea, there’s a corresponding underhyped one—a would-have-been national conversation that didn’t materialize, an important work that deserved more appreciation, or a would-be breakout star like Sam Smith or Lupita Nyong’o who never quite managed to yank the spotlight away from the real Sam Smith or Lupita Nyong’o. According to EW staffers, this year, we didn’t talk nearly enough about…
The sex-abuse allegations against Bryan Singer. About a month before the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, former actor and model Michael Egan filed a suit claiming sexual abuse at the hands of X-Men director Bryan Singer and other members of the Hollywood elite. Stories of Singer’s parties emerged; another young man filed a report. While that series of events almost catalyzed a discussion of abuse and Hollywood—the way the allegations against Woody Allen and Bill Cosby did—the question that ended up getting asked more often was, “How will this affect the movie’s box office?” It didn’t. When Days of Future Past scored one of the biggest opening weekends of the year, the story largely evaporated, and Egan withdrew his suit in August because of legal setbacks. By September, Singer had signed on to direct the next movie in the franchise. – Madison Vain
FKA Twigs. Too often, when a story about FKA Twigs gets published, something annoying happens: She gets referred to as “Robert Pattinson’s girlfriend FKA Twigs.” While this label seems to be accurate, it shows that we, as a species, have not spent enough time getting familiar with FKA Twigs in her own fantastically strange right. Over the summer, Twigs released LP1, which is not just an outstanding album (it was shortlisted for Britain’s Mercury Prize and appeared on numerous “Best Albums of the Year” lists, including EW’s) but an outstanding album’s worth of hot, provocative sexytime jams. (See: the radiant “Lights On,” a tender and trippy ode to the “boyfriends only” category of bedroom acts.) You’d think more people would notice. – Ashley Fetters
The music on U2’s Songs of Innocence. The unprecedented release of U2’s 13th LP, which one-upped the trend of superstar stealth releases by sneaking unbidden into half a billion iTunes libraries, sparked a lot of conversations—about the value of the album as a format in an era where the world’s biggest rock band gives one away for free, about the colonialist aspects of U2 and Apple invading our privacy to shove classic rock down our throats, about how to delete the album from your iTunes. What we didn’t talk so much about, though, is the fact that Songs of Innocence is a pretty solid U2 album. Maybe not worthy of the five-star tongue bath and “album of the year” title that Rolling Stone handed it. (Okay, definitely not.) But if the band seems out of touch with the world around it, the members of U2 have at least been able to partially reconnect with the lean, post-punk-pop group that made War and the daring noiseniks behind Achtung Baby. And anything that helps push away the bloated and aimless music they’ve been making for the past decade is a win for everyone involved. – Miles Raymer
The cat in Gone Girl. The cat in Gone Girl wasn’t completely ignored by the media—at least, not as much as it was ignored by the characters in Gone Girl. But, for the record, let’s all just agree to elevate this cat into the pantheon of great movie animals. Vogue‘s John Powers notes that Fincher uses the cat as an “emotional marker”: It’s oddly calm when its house is ransacked and besieged by media. The cat could also be seen as a surreal marker of a domestic life that Nick and Amy Dunne could not maintain. If Llewyn Davis is the cat, perhaps Amy Dunne is the cat too—keeping a cool, watchful eye over her domain as she plots her return. – Esther Zuckerman
Towerfall: Ascension, a thrilling alternative to Super Smash Bros. Super Smash Bros. was finally released for the 3DS and Wii U this year, and it’s great. But the real winner of the multiplayer brawler race this year? Towerfall: Ascension on the PlayStation 4 and PC. Creator Matt Thorson has developed a deceptively simple yet deviously rich fighter that shares much in common with Nintendo’s franchise mash-up, but is even more fun. In a retro-styled, 8-bit game, Towerfall delivers an incredible amount of mayhem even though all that fighters have at their disposal is a quiver of arrows and the ability to jump on their foes.
Rounds are fast and frenetic, and the one-hit kill nature of the game lends instant tension that ensures fun from the word “go.” Smash Bros. has reigned for years, but the next time you want to play a fighter with a bunch of friends, choose Towerfall. – Jonathon Dornbush
The underwear monologue in Obvious Child. Obvious Child mostly garnered attention for the way it incorporated abortion into its plot, and rightly so: The movie put abortion front and center without forcing its protagonist to spend much time agonizing over her choice. (Here, it’s not a laborious decision—it’s, well, an obvious one.) But the chatter about the abortion storyline diverted some conversation away from the unflinchingly honest stand-up routine from Donna (Jenny Slate) early in the film: “There is no woman that ends her day with like a clean pair of underpants that look like they’ve ever even come from the store,” Donna says. “They look like little bags that have fallen face down in like a tub of cream cheese and then, like, commando-crawled their way out and then like carabiner-ed up into a crotch.” Yes, it’s gross, but it’s also startlingly real—and the bit also establishes Donna as someone with no misconceptions. Also great: the callback to that bit, in which Donna wakes up next to Max (Jake Lacy), finds her underwear by his head, grimaces, and surreptitiously moves the pair away. – EZ
Karen O’s Crush Songs. At this point, Karen O is a big name: She’s released five albums, headlined major music festivals as the lead vocalist of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and nabbed an Academy Award nod in 2013 for writing and performing Her‘s “The Moon Song.” Yet her debut solo album, Crush Songs, was released with little fanfare—most likely because it, at first listen, sounds more like something an artist would release at their beginning of their career.
Recorded “in private” in 2006 and 2007 (when O was in her late twenties), Crush Songs has an intimate, relaxed feel that trades fancy production for raw, sentimental sounds. Listening to the album, mostly composed of tracks no longer than two minutes, is akin to finding someone’s long-forgotten diary. O’s signature wails are (mostly) absent, replaced by soft vocals that prove she’s more than the flamboyant showwoman we know her as—she’s also a skilled songwriter who can do just as well with acoustic guitars as she can with electric ones. – Ariana Bacle
The Last of Us: Left Behind. A lot of great, expansive games were released this year, but one of the best interactive experiences of 2014 came out all the way back in March as an expansion to one of last year’s best games. The Last of Us: Left Behind is a focused two- to three-hour experience that fills in the backstory of Ellie while solidifying the real reason The Last of Us has developed such a following. The game was never about the gunplay—it was about the characters and the world, and Left Behind puts those aspects first. It thankfully sacrifices needless shooting sequences for simpler but even more engaging levels of exploration and understanding. Ellie’s story is as captivating in Left Behind as it was in The Last of Us, and the honest and engrossing account of it isn’t just one of the best stories in gaming this year—it’s one of the best in all of entertainment. – JD
GQ’s quietly radical selection of Tilda Swinton as its Woman of the Year. Most of the media hubbub around Swinton’s selection as Woman of the Year focused on the delightfully batshit antics showcased in an affectionate, highly entertaining profile of her by Zach Baron. But it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate that GQ not only honored a woman who, at 54, is practically elderly by industry standards, but who also tends to be described as “fascinating” more often than “hot.” (For comparison, Emma Watson and Lana Del Rey took the Woman of the Year title in 2013 and 2012, respectively, and in 2010, the maybe-equivalent “Babe of the Year” title went to Scarlett Johansson. The U.K. edition’s 2014 selection: Kim Kardashian.) But, then again, 2014 saw several magazines make an effort to recognize women as diverse, three-dimensional, thinking humans. Elle hired feminist writers Rebecca Traister and Amanda Fortini, while Cosmopolitan’s website published lesbian sex tips for the first time and tongue-in-cheek slideshows advertising “sex positions for real people.” Playboy pleasantly surprised many by publishing a flowchart reminding men that it’s actually never okay to catcall a woman and a thoughtful, impassioned plea that its readers not look at Jennifer Lawrence’s stolen nude photos. So perhaps—optimistically speaking—this is what the new normal could look like. – AF
Fargo’s smart, stylish use of a small budget. Fargo looks as sleek and stylish as most films out this year, but it had to do so on a basic-cable budget—and its creators proved the truth of “less is more.” In the middle of the season, director Colin Bucksey crafted one of the year’s most tense sequences by using the white-out conditions of a blizzard to mask and reveal a climactic shootout’s key moments. In the following episode, “Who Shaves the Barber,” director Scott Winant proved how terrifying Lorne Malvo could be with a murderous rampage through an office building. The only indication of the mayhem he caused? The audio and occasional thumping of bodies against reflective windows, windows that otherwise completely masked an extensive—and likely expensive, had they actually showed it—bloodbath. True Detective may have—deservedly—earned praise for its directing, but Fargo proved just as effective in even more fascinating ways. – JD
rose ave. by You+Me. In October of this year, Alecia Moore—better known as Pink—paired up with Canadian folk singer Dallas Green—better known as City and Colour—to release a folk album. Although it debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, it was promoted as a passion project for Moore rather than a big release. However, rose ave. may be the most important album Moore has ever made. The songs are all written by Moore and Green and paired with minimal orchestration, which allows Moore’s powerhouse vocals to shine without the typical distraction of dance or pop beats. But be warned: After you hear her smooth harmonies with Green, there’s a chance you’ll never want her to do an album without him again. – Samantha Highfill
Jimmy and Gretchen’s best friends on You’re the Worst. Most critics and fans who have weighed in on this summer’s excellent You’re the Worst have focused solely on the two leads—but FX’s anti-rom-com-that-could also had some excellent supporting players. Through Desmin Borges’ Edgar, the show managed to find a fresh and funny approach to war and PTSD. And Kether Donohue’s Lindsay may have actually been the worst, but her performance elevated the character beyond simple caricature. (Follow how Donohue plays the disintegration of Lindsay’s marriage over the course of the season, or even just watch her singing in the finale, and you’ll have a sense of how complex she makes the character.) And when Lindsay and Edgar pair—well, that’s a spinoff FX should greenlight immediately. – JD