Well here we are about to close out 2014 and for many of us the end of this year couldn’t come soon enough. We’ve had the invasion of the Ukraine, Gamergate, multiple instances of police officers shooting unarmed black men, Congress has hit a new record for obstructionism, the torture report, Ebola, Pakistan’s recent attack on a school, Michael Bay keeps making movies and people actually pay to see them…it just goes on and on. Small wonder if many of us are facing the New Year with a gloomy outlook.
Yet it’s important to remember that even in the darkest night, one can still find occasional spots of brightness. So let’s take a moment here to consider some things that happened this year that didn’t suck.
1. Marvel treated us to two terrific comic book movies this year in Captain America: Winter Soldier (see my review), the best stand-alone Marvel movie since the first Iron Man, and in the utterly unexpected delight that was Guardians of the Galaxy (who knew an obscure 70’s comic few had ever read could be so much fun on screen?!?) Moreover, The Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer and news that Benedict Cumberbatch has been cast as Dr. Strange gives us geeks reason to be hopeful for more popcorn pleasures in the future.
2. The NASA Goddard instrument has detected methane emissions on Mars as well as the first confirmation of carbon-based organic molecules in a rock sample. While these are not direct signs of life on Mars past or present but lend weight to the possibility that Mars once had the ingredients for life and may indeed still have them.
3. President Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration will not only provide temporary relief from the fear of deportation for 4.4 million undocumented immigrants but will bring significant tax revenues to the states they will (then be legally) working in. Ohio is expected to gain $41 million over the next five years and Texas $338 million.
4. Indie hits like Boyhood and Birdman (see our review) completely redefined what was possible in cinema. The former with its revolutionary approach of following the same performers over ten years became not only the ultimate coming of age story but a meditation on the very nature of life and growth while the latter’s knockout performances and extraordinary directing gave us something utterly new and unlike anything else we’d ever seen.
5. A Bionic Eye allows blind people to ‘see’ again. The Argus II system consisting of a pair of glasses with a small video camera mounted to it. A tiny prosthesis is implanted on the retina and information from the camera in transmitted wirelessly to electrodes on the retina where it is converted to electrical pulses. While it’s been in use in Europe since 2011 it wasn’t approved by the FDA until this year and early trials are showing promise.
6. They say insanity is trying the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Well, over fifty years the U.S. is finally admitting that it’s policy toward Cuba isn’t working and will be trying something new. Break out the cigars and mojitos!
7. On May 2, Belle, directed by Amma Assante child of immigrants from Ghana (see our review) inspired by the true story of the mixed race daughter of a British naval officer and an African woman, hit U.S. theatres mixing the best of Merchant Ivory style movies based on Austen like plots about society with commentary about race relations and being the first such movie to include the perspective of a woman who wasn’t white.
8. On November 12, 2014 the Philae robotic probe made the first ever ‘soft landing’ on the surface of a comet.
9. On October 10, 2014 Malala Youfsazi was announced as the co-recipient, (with Indian child’s rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi) of the Noble Peace Prize for her efforts at fighting the suppression of children, young people, and her support for universal education. At 17, she’s the youngest Nobel recipient in history and as Jon Stewart aptly noted, we all want to adopt her!
10. How to Get Away With Murder (see our review) starring the always magnificent Viola Davis debuts on ABC, thus giving us all a great new guilty pleasure show to text about. It may not be the slightest big legally accurate but deep down you all know you love it. Moreover, Matthew Goode’s arrival as D.A. Finn Polmar on The Good Wife has been another jewel in that excellent series crown.
11. On May 17, paleontologists in Argentina discovered what appears to be the largest dinosaur ever found. Based on its thigh bones it was 40 meters (130 feet) long and 20 meters (65 feet) tall weighing about 77 tons. Cool.
12. The U.S. and China made a historic deal to curb greenhouse emissions with China agreeing to halt growth of its emissions by 2030 and to source 20% of their energy from clean sources while the U.S. pledged to cut its emissions by at least 26% of 2005 levels by 2025. Adding in the effort by 28 countries in the EU to pollution by 40% of 1990 levels and we’re finally taking some action on this issue. We need much more of course, and we need it more quickly but still it’s a start.