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Tuesday Top Ten: Fictional Pop Culture of 2014

Manuel here bringing a fun list to enjoy the fictional pop culture 2014 has brought us.

I have to admit it; I like my pop culture like I like my ouroboros - constantly eating itself. That is to say, I’m a sucker for meta-fictional drama and particularly enjoy when films, books and TV shows create their own pop cultural world to satirize, comment on and critique (it won’t surprise you that two of my favorite movies, All About Eve and All About My Mother, are twinned images of one another). We’re weeks away from end-of-year Top 10s, but I figured we could begin early by I celebrating the fictional pop culture landscape of 2014.

The criteria? I looked for fictional pop cultural things in the films and TV shows from this past year that I wish were real and we've definitely had plenty to choose from. There was reality TV show Black Face/White Place from Dear White People, “The King in Yellow” (a fictional play embedded in the eponymous novel that featured so prominently in True Detective), the 30 Rock-esque Hammy Bear trilogy from Chris Rock's upcoming Top Five, SNL's amazing-looking The Beygency, not to mention Inside Amy Schumer's spot-on Sorkinean parody The Foodroom. These are, of course, all runners-up to the 10 I've chosen to make up our list. Incomprehensible algebraic equations were designed to rank them all, though I'm eager to hear what I inadvertently missed and/or placed too high. 


10. "Everything is Awesome!!!" from The LEGO Movie
You could say the entire film is a pop cultural kaleidoscope as it is both creating a universe dependent on our own pop culture (Wonder Woman! Gandalf! C3PO!) yet populated entirely by beings unaware of it. Unsurprisingly then, this ear worm of a conformist anthem (written by The Lonely Island, they of “D**ck in a Box” fame) was as ubiquitous in the film as it was in everyone’s minds after watching the film. To assure us of its own pop cultural caché, the song was recorded by, implausibly enough, Tegan and Sara! Shoutout to the wonderfully plausible CBS-like sitcom “Where are my pants?” which fits oh so well in this perfectly mundane yet quirky LEGO World.


9. “Boy With Apple” from The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson's film are ripe with pop cultural idiosyncracies (remember how he actually wrote the books featured in Moonrise Kingdom?). His latest is no different. “Boy with Apple,” is supposed to be a centuries’ old portrait by Johannes Van Hoytl the Younger and it is at the center of The Grand Budapest Hotel’s plot. Always the meticulous director, Anderson commissioned the painting to be done by English artist Michael Taylor, who worked painstakingly to get its Renaissance feel just right. 


8. The Soronprfbs from Frank
How appropriate that Stephen Colbert, in full faux-character mode, couldn’t suppress a smirk when introducing Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllienthaal (sic), Domnhall Gleeson, Carla Azar and Francoise Civil as “The Sauron-prophets” (sic) back in August when they played their “hit” “I Love You All” on his show. Gotta say, Fassbender makes for a magnetic leading man even without the benefit of his showcasing his ruggedly beautiful face. Props to musical director Stephen Rennicks for making this oddball band so hummable.


7. Maloja Snake (by Wilhelm Melchior) from Clouds of Sils Maria
A film I’ve yet to catch (I’m still kicking myself for missing it at NYFF!), but everything I’ve read about Olivier Assayas’s newest film makes the play at its center, Maloja Snake (and its playwright, loosely based on Rainer Werner Fassbinder) the type of deep, complex drama centered on dueling female leads that I can lap up no matter what. 


6. Stolen Waters from Maps to the Stars
There are a lot of things to love (Moore!) and hate (the cinematography!) about Cronenberg’s latest, but throughout it all, I kept wanting to know more about this old school film, Stolen Waters that haunts the plot in ways both figural and (dispiritingly) literal. The film, part Suddenly Last Summer part Splendor in the Grass, is teased enough throughout the film to let us see why it’s both a classic as well as a ready-made remake property. That said, I could've done with less mommy-ghost scenes and more footage from the film that made her a star.


5. Dyke and Fats from SNL
Oh that I could go back a few months to be able to include the wonderfully accurate Wes Anderson-inspired Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders from last year’s Halloween episode. Instead, I’ll choose what has to be a highlight of SNL’s post-Seth Meyers era. Courtesy of Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon comes this hilarious buddy cop show about, well, two lady cops called Les Dykawitz and Chubbina Fatzarelli. The jokes write themselves but it's the physical comedy these two bring to the table that makes this a must-watch: 


4. “Lost Stars” from Begin Again
I considered including the entirety of Gretta's (Keira Knightley) New York City inspired and recorded album, but ultimately it is “Lost Stars” which walks away with the film, not least because it features Adam Levine in full control of his voice cooing as endearingly smug Dave Kohl. Much like John Carney's Once, Begin Again has slowly become my go-to soundtrack for writing and wistfully strolling around the city.


3. Anything and everything featuring Valerie Cherish.
It looks like the new season will focus on Valerie nabbing a role in an HBO show, Seeing Red, vaguely based on, well, Valerie herself! She, of I’m It! and later Room and Bored, has since seen her career devolve, and you gotta hand it to the HBO marketing team, these posters of her IMDB credits since we last saw her are ace. I mean, even I want to see The Suburban Slasher VI, don’t you?
Honorable Mention: The Comeback. I love the format of Michael Patrick King and Lisa Kudrow’s show, but at times I wish they’d go full Queen of Jordan and offer us a full episode where we see exactly how ruthless and merciless Valerie’s editors can get when packaging her persona to the world in the eponymous reality show we see being shot.


2. Amy's diary & The Amazing Amy book series from Gone Girl
We only get short glimpses of Amy’s diary and of her parents long-running Amazing Amy series (both improvements on and unreachable goals for Amy’s own childhood), but it’s enough to whet one’s appetite to read them in their full earnest and corny glory. Yes, we can get full access to Amy's diary from the novel, but it is the Amazing Amy books I'm fascinated with. I felt the same about the Waverly prep series in Young Adult; these are books that would make the best hate-snark reads of the year.
Honorable Mention: The cable shows headlined by Sharon Schieber (Sela Ward) and Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) for looking so frighteningly plausible.


1. Birdman (and its sequels) from Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
Credit goes not only to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and his team of writers for coming up with Birdman, the movie, but to Mike Elizalde and Spectral Motion (the team behind the special effects for the film) who designed the instantly iconic costume. Equal parts 1960s Batman and 2000s Dark Knight, the Birdman character feels entirely at home in our saturated superhero pop cultural landscape as well as kitschy enough that it amps up the hyperreality of AGI’s film. Fox Searchlight, ever the savvy marketing team, have also released a trailer for Birdman Returns which you can watch below.
Honorable Mention: Riggan Thompson's stage adaptation of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love which looks like enough of a vanity-driven mess (those reindeer trees!) to make it a must-watch drive-by. 

I’m sure there are plenty of things I missed, so tell me: What’s your favorite pop cultural product from this year? Or, if we were compiling an all-time list, what would get your vote? 

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Reader Comments (20)

this list is making me drool and wanting to buy a very large stocking in which people could shove these things for my christmas gifts. Where do you register for these?

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Super fun list.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Love this list. Here's three more that would be on my wish list

1. The Babadook book. (I might regret this one once I got it but I can't resist)
2. "Hate the Sport!" from We Are The Best!
3. Tom Hiddleston's music from Only Lovers Left Alive

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks! Too Many Cooks!

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCorey

I want to see Red's list from Blacklist.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Love your list. And Michael C.'s 2 and 3 are brilliant.

I think the mother's famous movie in Maps To The Stars is more like "Lilith" though, where a young Warren Beatty falls in love with mental patient and exquisite mystery Jean Seberg.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Agreed on Lost Stars. I liked Once much better in terms of story and songs but Begin Again has a certain charm to it.

I'm totally blank on fictional pop culture of 2014, but I was all over everything related to Bombshell, Smash's fictional Marilyn Monroe musical. The cast recording was one of my favorite pieces of merchandise in quite some time. I'd kill for a Playbill or a poster.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

"Awesome Mix Vol. 1" from Guardians of the Galaxy on cassette tapes of course.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

God, I should read posts FIRST before posting. You were looking for fictional pop culture stuff. Well, great list! I'd buy the lot of 'em.

Oooh! How about that TO VICTORY poster in Edge of Tomorrow featuring Emily "Full Metal Bitch" Blunt? Yes, I want to go to there.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

I just LOVE how much that Birdman Returns trailer just refuses to ape the "villains, villains, villains, villains, here check out our villains" template of most superhero movie trailers. Dropping sarcasm, I know that almost certainly would have involved spending a bit more money, getting a couple more actors for cameo appearances and coming up with a couple more costumes, but it would have been worth it for Inarritu and crew to produce a parody trailer that comes across as knowing EXACTLY what they're riffing on. Instead, we having something riffing on the rare exceptions, not the norm. If Inarritu didn't realize that he would actually have to do that? Neither him or any of the four writers watched the trailers or the movies themselves to realize what those 90s Batman films were ACTUALLY selling. (Hint: In spite of the titles, only the first one was dedicated to really selling Batman.) Realistically, that trailer indicates their entire knowledge of that series is two things: 1. They were superhero movies, so they're more hero focused like the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe, right? Wrong. The 1989-1997 Batman series was way more successful with the villains and the trailers were very focused on them after the first one. And 2. Having those extreme close-up suiting up scenes having an arm twist in the middle and panning over the body in same extreme close-up are things that are HILARIOUS and cheap to do, right? But those are also wrong. The arm twist thing and the extreme close-up panning over the body? Those are from the SCHUMACHER era. What, was Inarritu embarrassed at the idea of notating hyper-specific research from old superhero movies so he just cobbled together vague hazy memories just so he wouldn't be caught being a dork? To which I say, better a dork than an idiot who doesn't know what he's talking about. So, yeah, I kind of hate that trailer, ESPECIALLY if it's supposed to be a parody of the Batman Returns trailer.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I'm curious about the book in The Fault in Our Stars. I doubt it's particularly good, but the characters describe so much about its structure that I'd like to see how it reads.

I'd also love to see the play in Venus in Fur. I hope it'd be closer to the Broadway play than the movie in terms of quality.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

An all timer is Southwest General, the soap in Tootsie. One Life To Live, the real soap, heavily referenced it in its final months on broadcast TV.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

If we're talking Tootsie, I want to see a production of "Return to Love Canal." Or Michael's Endive Salad. And how about the full production of Richard III from Good-bye Girl.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Evan--"An Imperial Affliction" from "The Fault in our Stars" sounds like an unbearable read. I think John Green was using "Infinite Jest" as a model for the book. I've read "Infinite Jest" and liked it, but I doubt I'll be reading it ever again.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

My wish list would be all the books in Listen Up Phillips

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertombeet

So happy to see Valerie Cherish on TFE. Everyone should be watching The Comeback so we get as many seasons as possible!

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

The book from THE BABADOOK. A film prop so good they're manufacturing it.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

1. Tilda's epic white rasta dreads wig from Only Lovers Left Alive.
2. nothing else.

I was so obsessed with that bird's nest of a troll doll wig that I even considered going as Eve for Halloween.

My real answer tho is "Rebirth of a Nation" from Dear White People. I would've given her an A+++.

November 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

I think all of your hesitations about the trailer are spot-on though I'll point out that's unclear whether AGI and any of the rest of the crew had anything to do with the trailer and thus strikes me as more of a tongue-in-cheek concoction meant to strike as many Batman/Keaton references as possible rather to work as a wholly authentic recreation of the Batman Returns trailer.

Mark the First & Michael C.
I cannot believe I forgot all about Only Lovers Left Alive! Can Hiddlestone's abs also count as pop culture?

November 12, 2014 | Registered CommenterManuel Betancourt


Yes. Yes, they can ;)

Seriously tho, he looked really hot in that movie. And ever since I found out Fassy took the role but later dropped out and was replaced by Hiddleston, I've been wondering how different/better/interesting the film might be. And that's coming from someone who'll surely put it on their top ten for the year.

November 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

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