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The Best Stuff That Didn’t Suck: 2014

Another year, another “best of” list. We know, it’s exhausting. But our list is a little different. We asked our writers to pick the best thing they discovered this year, whether it was old or new. From superhero TV shows to Colombian music, 2014 proved to have no shortage of awesome discoveries. Below, our easily digestible list of recommendations:

Game: Never Alone

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Never Alone isn’t exactly obscure, at least if you’ve been paying attention to the indie scene. From the first scene of its trailer–a young native girl loping through the snow, an arctic fox on her heels–you know you’re in for something different.

Made in conjunction with eight tribal communities, Never Alone is actually the first game made by Alaskan natives. A lot of work, research, and passion was poured into the game, which promises to tell their history and stories. Based on folklore, Never Alone plays as a fairly standard platformer with the twist of allowing players to control both Nuna and the fox, who have separate abilities. The art is ethereal, sometimes a little spooky, and levels are rife with encounters with other creatures straight out of legend. Ultimately though, Never Alone is about community. Whether the game focuses on the bond between Nuna and her fox friend (neither of whom can progress without the other) or on the traditions of the people behind the game, that feeling of connection never goes away. So with that in mind…while Never Alone is perfectly playable on its own, I recommend partnering up with a friend for the real co-op experience.

–Melody Lee

Music: Bomba Estereo’s “Elegancia Tropical”

I will be forever grateful to my friend Oscar for introducing me to Bomba Estereo (something quite strange given the band is Colombian like myself and he’s Mexican) this year, because it made the latter six months a lot more enjoyable. Their 2013 album Elegancia Tropical is the magnum opus of their early career, including great tracks all over and containing so much personality it’s almost unbelievable. Their unique blend of Latin sounds and a special indie-like flair give their music a distinct sound that was so refreshing to hear in 2014, given the pop-music bonanza.

It might be a coincidence, but I think everyone who’s ever heard their songs has liked at least one of them, especially from this last album, my personal top picks being “El Alma y el Cuerpo,” “Sintiendo,” and “Bailar Conmigo.” Definitely take a listen and relish in the sounds of this band I am proud to say are my ‘paisanos’. You might even want to catch them in concert sometime since they tour the U.S. every now and then. Enjoy!

Stefano Llinas

Film: Whiplash

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You may hear about Whiplash as we proceed deeper and deeper into the annual cinema awards season. You may read praise of the performances and direction. You may even see clips aired and awards given out. However, unless you were part of the small minority that contributed to its $4.7 million domestic box office take, you probably haven’t seen it and, to be honest, probably won’t. This is a mistake.

This tale of a student jazz drummer pushed to breaking point in the drive to meet his full potential is the sort of gripping, non-stop cinematic thrill that is rarely associated with jazz–grappling with the nature of greatness and the costs necessary to achieve it. In Terence Fletcher, played by JK Simmons, we have a nightmare to match the worst of horror cinema, a frightening figure who can wrest sheer terror from a simple criticism: “You’re not on my time.”

The film never lets up, going to credits in its climactic moment, and instantly cementing its final 20 minutes as among the finest and most breathtaking in movie history. Whiplash, fittingly enough given its name, will leave you reeling, dizzy and gasping for breath. It cannot be missed.

–Dominic Preston

Art: The Flaminguettes

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Mexico City-based animators The Flaminguettes call themselves the “coolest senoritas in the world of animation.” Formed by Daniela Villanueva and Mara Soler, the girl-girl duo aims to bring a more playful, feminine side to the world of design and animation, one full of hula hoop art, robotic sushi, and dark humor. Specializing largely in glitchy handmade stop motion art, their short videos are experimental yet tongue-in-cheek. Their most recognized work, short film ETEREAS, plays with movement and geometric shapes, while Espacio en Blanco (our personal favorite) takes a clever look at casual girl talk. Leading the new animation scene in Mexico, while also working with major brands like Vitamin Water and Sony, The Flaminguettes prove they’re not only important people in animation–they’re also the coolest.

–The Absolute Staff

TV: The Flash

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The best thing I’ve discovered this year is definitely The CW’s The Flash, a TV show based off the popular DC comic about a young man who gains the power of super speed. While the show isn’t as gritty as its sister show Arrow, Barry Allen (played by Grant Gustin) is a sympathetic hero: his father is wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of his mother, he’s crushing on a girl who is oblivious to his feelings, and he’s delightfully nerdy to boot.

But Barry doesn’t just don the Flash costume and become an insta-superhero–there’s a learning curve, and thanks to a fascinating supporting cast, he’s able to protect his beloved city from “metahumans.” While The Flash will likely deviate from the original DC Comics in the same way Arrow did, the spirit of the source material is still intact and makes for a suspenseful yet fun ride every Tuesday night!

–Amanda Ferris

Book: When Women Were Warriors by Catherine M. Wilson

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Set in an undisclosed country in distant antiquity, When Women Were Warriors tells the saga of Tamras, daughter to a long line of warrior women, who at the age of sixteen is sent to serve in the house of the Lady Merin. While Tamras hopes to be trained as a warrior, she soon finds herself uncertain and isolated, with little guidance to help her weather the hierarchy and politics of her new home.  All this changes, though, when she is assigned as companion to the brooding and mysterious Maara, a foreigner whose combat skills are second to none.

What follows is a story of camaraderie, acceptance, loss, and love as these two women enter into a partnership that will alter their lives forever. When Women Were Warriors is beautifully poetic and completely engrossing. At the forefront is a myriad of deeply complex and rich relationships between women, especially the inspiring bond between Maara and Tamras. The first book of this trilogy, The Warrior’s Path is available for free kindle download on Amazon.

–Marie Anello

Video: Carlos Lopez Estrada’s Music Videos

Three years ago music videos were considered a dying medium. With everyone exchanging their TVs for tiny little smartphone screens, the need for high quality, unique videos seemed unnecessary–and then HD came to town. Since then, music videos have been making a roaring comeback, but no director has delighted me this year as much as Carlos Lopez Estrada. His work with rap trio clipping. is what immediately caught my eye. This year he directed three videos with them, the bizarre “Work Work,” the weirdly simplistic “Get Up,” and the repetitively awesome “Inside Out.”  His work for Faces on Film’s “The Rule” is another of my favorite videos this year and highlights Estrada’s infinite vision and creativity.

In the ’90s it was was easy to list my favorite directors: Chris Cunningham, Michel Gondry, Floria Sigismondi. But the 21st century has been less forgiving, with music video directors losing out on the fame and recognition that used to come with the job. But this year, in 2014, I can now proudly say I have a favorite music video director again.

–Tiffany White

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