Donald Clarke’s cultural highs and lows of 2014

The Irish films of 2014 were ’Out of Here’ and ’Frank’

What were your cultural highlights of 2014?

I very much enjoyed Mark O'Rowe's Our Few and Evil Days at the Abbey Theatre, not least because it flaunted its theatricality by making sinister use of an apparently mundane piece of scenery. A tremendous trio of jazz disinterments offered tasty flavours of the late 1960s and early 1970s: Miles at the Fillmore by Miles Davis, Hamburg '72 by Keith Jarrett and Offering by John Coltrane.

But the closest thing to a classic encountered in any medium was Jonathan Glazer's creepy science-fiction movie Under the Skin. Mind you, Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida and Richard Linklater's Boyhood came close. The best Irish films were, jointly, young Donal Foreman's hypnotic debut, Out of Here, and Lenny Abrahamson's funny yet profoundly serious Frank.

And the year’s biggest disappointments?


Godzilla and Interstellar need not have been nearly so dull. But Wally Pfister's Transcendence – starring Johnny Depp as a malign Max Headroom – was the most inexcusably ghastly film of the year.

What caught you by surprise?

On television Hannibal managed to build on a promising first series to become the creepiest, most unusual mainstream show of the past decade. Faber & Faber's lovely reissues of Robert Aickman's macabre stories confirmed him as the equal of MR James. Obviously, we are all aware of the vibrant genius buzzing about contemporary Japanese noise rock, but Nisennenmondai, a Tokyo feminist trio, scared it out of the park with the cacophonous N. It sounds like Krautrock played by less lugubrious, more tightly wound maniacs.

What will you be glad to see the back of?

The bizarrely extreme reactions – misogynistic, reactionary vehemence on one side; overheated idolatry on the other – to the passably diverting Lena Dunham.

Who or what was 2014’s unsung hero?

Let us pay tribute to Nigel Blackwell, indestructible driving force of Birkenhead's immortal comedy rockers Half-Man Half-Biscuit. They were back with Urge for Offal in 2014 and they were as amusing as ever. Baguette Dilemma for the Booker Prize Guy is this year's title of choice.

What’s your top tip for 2015?

Two films that premiered at Cannes in May must not be missed. Xavier Dolan's Mommy finds the absurdly young Quebeçois director reaching new heights with a funny, touching drama shot in an experimental ratio. Gabe Polsky's Red Army is a gripping, hilarious documentary on the unlikely subject of Soviet ice hockey.

2014 in three words?

Too many Kardashians.