Q: What are your five favorite cultural experiences of 2014? They can be movies (or screenings), TV shows (or episodes), music: You name it. (Go back to the beginning of the survey here.)
Mike D'Angelo, the Dissolve, Las Vegas Weekly
Nobody needs yet another reminder that Wes Anderson made a highly acclaimed movie this year, or that the latest Dardennes picture just premiered at Cannes. Rather than pimp the obvious, then, I'll use this opportunity to recommend five films that many people might not bother seeing.
Its theatrical release is just a few weeks away, and I'll likely be reviewing it then, but let me put in an early good word for "Coherence," a no-budget indie set entirely in and around a single suburban house... except that it's actually a dozen or so identical houses, all containing the exact same people. Or are they exactly the same? I popped into this on a whim at the RiverRun Film Festival, where I was serving on the narrative competition jury ("Coherence" wasn't one of the films I was judging), and was rewarded with a fantastically dense headscratcher that plays like a cross between "Primer" and the classic "Twilight Zone" episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street." Seems like shallow brainy fun for a long time, but it has a sting in its tail.
Reportedly, IFC Films is on the verge of picking up Pascale Ferran's sublime "Bird People," which played in Un Certain Regard at Cannes last month. All I want to say about this film is (1) You want to see it, and (2) YOU DO NOT WANT TO READ ANYTHING ABOUT IT BEFORE DOING SO. Just click away every time it's mentioned. The less you know going in, the more potentially magical the experience will be. Trust me.
I've had more arguments about "Proxy" than about any other film I've seen this year, which should be a recommendation all by itself. Some folks consider it inept, though it's hard for me to fathom how anyone could fail to perceive that director Zack Parker is in complete control of every frame. You, too, may very well hate it. Certainly it's not for the squeamish (though the worst part is over right at the outset), and the Plausibility Police have been merciless. But I watched the entire thing in a state of complete disorientation, which is exceedingly rare nowadays. Most movies -- even great ones -- are firmly graspable pretty quickly. Proxy confounded me for a thrillingly long time.
Because I'm concerned that it might never turn up in the U.S., I want to call attention to the delightful French-Canadian comedy "Tu dors Nicole," which played in the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes. On paper, it sounds like every other movie at Sundance, except in French; on film (and it was shot, gloriously, on b&w 35mm), it has a uniquely daffy sensibility that's part "Ghost World," part "Frances Ha," and (a large) part nothing you've seen before. I was absolutely starving when I sat down to watch this at the end of a long Cannes day, and wanted so badly to find a reason to walk out after 40 minutes and go get some food. That I remained in my seat to the end, tummy growling, is maybe the highest compliment I can pay.
One of my biggest pet peeves these days is the way that every critic tends to choose their favorite performances of the year from a carefully vetted shortlist, entirely culled from the major awards contenders. "Lucky Them" will not be a major awards contender (though it's superior to many of the films that will be), and thus few will go to bat for Toni Collette or Thomas Haden Church, seeing them as lost causes. Excellence is its own reward, though, and if you want to see two superb actors at the top of their respective games, in a movie that's a good deal sharper and less formulaic than it looks at first glance, you can find "Lucky Them" in theaters or on demand. Lucky you.
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com, Some Came Running
Movies: "Last of the Unjust," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "Only Lovers Left Alive," "Noah," "Under the Skin," Boyhood. (NB, I have yet to see "The Immigrant.")
Music: Chris Butler, "Easy Life," Randy Ingram, "Sky Lift," Peter Hammill and Gary Lucas, "Other Worlds," Don Cherry, "Live In Stockholm 1968-1971," John Zorn and Abraxas, "Psychomagia," Thumbscrew, self-titled, Plymouth, self-titled, Marc Ribot trio, "Live At The Village Vanguard," Arto Lindsay, "The Encyclopedia of Arto," Peter Brotzmann and Fushitsusha, "Nothing Changes...," Michael Bloomfield, "From His Head to His Heart to His Hands: An Audio/Visual Scrapbook," The Soundcarriers, "Entropicalista," Ned Doheny, "Separate Oceans," Miles Davis, "Miles At The Fillmore."
Books: Mark Harris, Five Came Back, Dan Callahan, Vanessa: The Life of Vanessa Redgrave, Robert Coover, The Brunist Day of Wrath.
Tim Grierson, Screen International, Paste
Since I'm sure more than enough people have sung the praises of superb films like "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "Manakamana," "Under the Skin," "Boyhood" and "The LEGO Movie," I'm focusing on five great movies that I think have been overlooked and underrated so far this year. They'll be long forgotten by the time end-of-the-year lists are out, but these have all helped make 2014 a good movie year already:
"Enemy": I find Denis Villeneuve's films as humorless and preachy as others do, so this side project of sorts was such a surprise. For all its supposed furrowed-brow examination of the duality of man, it's actually pretty fun and creepy in a midnight-movie kind of way. And it's another reminder of how good a dramatic actor Jake Gyllenhaal has become.
"Muppets Most Wanted": I laughed and laughed and laughed. There was no joke too obvious, no shtick too lame, no sentiment too sappy that I didn't fall for. Good night, Danny Trejo.
"Night Moves": The first half is a gripping procedural tenser than anything Kelly Reichardt has ever done. The second half is a morality tale that's trickier and more unsettling, ending with one of the year's most perfectly unresolved final shots.
"The Raid 2": A rare case where the sequel improves on the original. Filmmaker Gareth Evans indulges his every pretension, and even when this second go-round falters it's redeemed by his audacity to try and turn this B-movie muck into a full-blown crime epic.
"The Unknown Known": Errol Morris has said that critics shouldn't compare "The Unknown Known" to "The Fog of War" but, rather, to "Mr. Death," about Holocaust denier Fred A. Leuchter. He's got a point: Both movies are about the way that individuals use incredible intellect and self-delusion to shield themselves from the truths they simply don't want to see.
Peter Labuza, the Cinephiliacs
My top five would be five directors: Frank Capra, John Ford, George Stevens, William Wyler, and John Huston. That is, my favorite film work of the year so far has been Mark Harris's Five Came Back. This is an extraordinary work of film history and war history, seamlessly mixing Harris' storytelling skills as a journalist with intensive research and historical inquiry into the aesthetics of realism, governmental relations in Hollywood, and five psychological portraits. In a time where I've had my own personal interest in looking at Hollywood history beyond anything close to canonical, Harris has reinvigorated my interest through his serious consideration of what World War II meant for not just Hollywood but for these five men personally. It can be easy to look at the films, but Harris's research has beautifully illuminated these directors filmography in a way I never thought. Bravo.
Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com
Movies: "Under the Skin," "Calvary," "Blue Ruin," "Blind," "Ida."
TV: "True Detective," "Hannibal," "Fargo," "The Americans," "Louie."
Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye for Film
Among the films I have seen from January through May, these six left a lasting impression for very different reasons. The first three are films that have not yet had a theatrical release. Rebecca Zlotowski's "Grand Central" screened during the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. It makes my list for traversing the membranes of a power plant and Léa Seydoux's heart in parallel fashion. For sheer beauty, Frederic Tcheng's "Dior and I," which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. First Time Fest (Second Time Around) Grand Prize Winner "Love Steaks," directed by Jakob Lass, because it is the rarest of birds - a love story comedy from Germany that plays as if Joaquin Phoenix met Carole Lombard in a seaside resort's kitchen. Speaking of kitchens, "Fed Up," directed by Stephanie Soechtig, narrated by Katie Couric, is a vital documentary that could and should have great immediate impact on eating habits. Valeria Golino's bold directorial debut "Honey," for the exceptional way it deals with death. Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" for the intemperance that beckons me to indulge in time-traveling hotel fantasies completes the journey for nearly the first half of 2014.
Kristy Puchko, Cinema Blend
April was by far my favorite month for movies in 2014 as it saw the release of three that I found extraordinary. The first was "Dom Hemingway," a gonzo crime-comedy from Richard Shepard that is obnoxious, hilarious, smart and surprisingly touching, thanks in part to Jude Law's shocking and outstanding performance. Next was "Under the Skin," a mind-bending odyssey that demands the audience make sense of strange imagery and strangers soundscapes. It's haunting, daring, and unforgettable, just like the stellar performance of Scarlett Johansson as a succubus who discovers her humanity. Then at long last came the release of Jim Jarmusch's hypnotic vampire-romance "Only Lovers Left Alive," which is completely intoxicating from its deadly cool stars (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston) and soundtrack, to its rich and indulgent art design. Every frame is crammed with detail, ripe with romance, style and melancholy. But just before these came "The Grand Budapest Hotel," the Wes Anderson movie that I'd say is his most ambitious and best yet for its sprawling story, sweet-and-sour humor, complicated themes, and fascinating characters. Last on my list came out first, "Tim's Vermeer," the documentary from Penn & Teller that explored how science and art might dovetail to create something extraordinary. It was an entertaining and whimsical doc that gave me the rare opportunity to truly see the world in a new way. I wish I could concoct some sort of clever theme that ties all five together, but the simple truth is that of all the movies I see from week to week, these were the ones that are still rattling around my brain and heart.
Adam Kempenaar, Filmspotting
The fact that I can't immediately call to mind an assortment of notable albums, books or TV shows (wait, I was a pretty ardent "True Detective" disciple) should disqualify anything that follows -- clearly my cultural perspective is too limited to warrant much consideration. That said, I've seen three movies so far this year where I had that little electric charge run through my body that signifies a response to both the content and form: the sibling rivalry/rock tour doc hybrid "Mistaken for Strangers," which reveals nothing and everything about its ostensible subject, The National; the quasi-real time, single on-screen character, single location (Tom Hardy's SUV) experiment "Locke," which is the best Michael Mann movie Michael Mann never made; and topping the list is Jonathan Glazer's stripped-down, sci-fi subversion "Under the Skin," which incorporates "real life" interactions, non-professional actors and improvisation to fascinating effect.
Jake Cole, Slant, Movie Mezzanine
Even leaving out some of my favorite recent films in favor of those with non-festival US theatrical release 2014 already has a fair share of great films. Best of them is James Gray's "The Immigrant," which consolidates his growing facility with writing for women with a neo-Cimino period piece made for our current environment of late capitalism. There's also Jonathan Glazer's haunting "Under the Skin," in which sex is a powerful weapon, but also a double-edged sword; Wes Anderson's historical travesty "The Grand Budapest Hotel," Amma Asante's "Belle," which perhaps capitulates to condescending rules about period "women's pictures" but also marks itself as one of the few films to examine racism as a system of oppression and not as the most visible and brutal displays of that system; Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive," a film that seems to draw as much from the director's viewing/listening/reading logs as any screenplay; and Eliza Hittman's "It Felt Like Love," a coming-of-age film that owes more to Catherine Breillat's "Fat Girl" than the current crowd of Sundance movies about early- and late-onset adulthood.
My favorite non-theatrical releases so far are Aleksei German's "Hard to Be a God," which is like "Marketa Lazarova" taken ever further into surreal primitivism; Tsai Ming-liang's elegiac feature "Stray Dogs" and short "Journey to the West;" Jafar Panahi's mournful "Closed Curtain"; and Johnnie To's "Blind Detective," the closest anyone has ever come to replicating the speed of "Bringing Up Baby" without doing a Bogdanovich-esque remake. Music-wise, I can't stop playing St. Vincent's eponymous album, nor that of avant-jazz super-trio Thumbscrews (feat. post-Derek Bailey guitar whiz Mary Halvorson), nor the latest in Swans' series of post-industrial ragas, "To Be Kind." I've also occupied myself reading Michael Witt's excellent "Jean-Luc Godard: Cinema Historian," a skeleton key to Godard's "Histoire(s) du cinema," and I'm just starting my copy of "Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television," the long-awaited transcription of Godard's '78 lectures in Montreal.
Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second
In somewhat haphazard fashion here are my five or so favorite cultural items of 2014 so far. As new releases go, a couple of films have really stood out. I've always been a big fan of Wes Anderson but his "Grand Budapest Hotel" has impressed me on another level entirely. For perhaps the first time it feels like he's making genuinely selflessly important cinema that says more about a world other than his own precisely engineered snow globe. An honorable mention goes to Claire Denis' Bastards, which further cements the French filmmaker's reputation as a figure difficult to pin down.
As screenings go none has been as impressive, nor do I suppose I will hold any in quite as high a regard for longer, than that of a one-off performance of Jean-Luc Godard's "Sauve la vie (qui peut)" a specially reconstructed re-edit of the same director's "Sauve qui peut (la vie)," better known as "Every Man For Himself" in the US, and as "Slow Motion" in the UK. The reconstruction, overseen by Michael Witt, aims to present a special cut of the film that screened in Rotterdam in 1980, for which Godard intercut reels from 4 other films in to his own: Andrzej Wajda's "Man of Marble," Visconti's "La terra trema," Buster Keaton's "Cops" and Eisenstein's "The General Line." It makes for a fascinating early prototype of sorts for Godard's own "Histoire(s) du cinema," and I'm incredibly grateful to be given the opportunity to view Witt's laudable project.
On the home video front the Criterion edition of Ingmar Bergman's "Persona" is the disc I've had most fun with thus far in 2014. It's as thrilling and immersive as cinema gets, with its previous exclusion from the Criterion Collection something of a glaring omission. I also discovered the Potemkine release, "The Complete Eric Rohmer" this year, having been gifted it last Christmas. Extensive doesn't even begin to cover it.
Don Simpson , Smells Like Screen Spirit
I'm going to stick with films that have been released theatrically thus far in 2014, in which case writer-director Eliza Hittman's "It Felt Like Love" takes the very top slot. I'm so happy that Hittman's masterful meditation on teenage sexuality, which was one of my favorite films at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, was finally released theatrically in 2014 by Variance Films. If you didn't catch "It Felt Like Love" during its festival or much-too-limited theatrical runs, please do yourself a kindness and track it down on VOD. I am also crushing pretty hard on Lukas Moodysson's "We Are the Best!" which is one of the most honest portrayals of adolescent punk culture that I have ever seen, brilliantly capturing the adolescent desire for self-expression and individuality.
I have got to say that I'm pretty disappointed that Stephen Gurewitz's "Marvin Seth and Stanley" VOD (January 2014) and limited theatrical (April 2014) releases by Factory 25 went practically unnoticed (other than a healthy spattering of critical praise). Playing like a lost classic of 1970s American independent cinema, "Marvin Seth and Stanley" confidently places Gurewitz in the center of the vibrant post-mumblecore/micro-budget movement of the 2010s. In my humble opinion, this is the single most exciting movement in American cinema since the 1970s, and I cannot wait until films like Marvin Seth and Stanley begin to attract the attention of the audiences that they truly deserve and at the very least enjoy a fruitful life on VOD.
My other favorite theatrical releases of 2014 include: "Blue Ruin," "Cheap Thrills," "The Discoverers," "Hide Your Smiling Faces," "Maidentrip," "Proxy" and "Under the Skin." I'm very curious to see just how many of these films will still remain on my top 10 once December rolls around, since I already know that soon-to-be-released films like "Happy Christmas," "Hellion," "I Origins," "Land Ho!," "Obvious Child" and "The One I Love" will be very strong challengers.
Danny Bowes, RogerEbert.com, Indiewire
I've missed a couple titles that historical precedent suggests might have cracked this top 5 (i.e. the new Gray and Ayoade) but nonetheless think I've got a solid list: "Snowpiercer," isn't out in the US yet, but has long since been commercially available elsewhere; due to the former I wouldn't think of spoiling anything, except to say it's really good and everyone should see it when it drops stateside; "Only Lovers Left Alive," which delivers every bit of the promise "Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton in a Jim Jarmusch vampire movie" implies; "Stranger by the Lake," the slow-burn erotic French suspense mindfuck genre's answer to, like, X-Men...."X-Rated Men," there we go; "Blue Ruin," which is an astonishing piece of work given how fallow "masculine insecurity" is as a premise at this point, and has one of the best gunshot effects shots I've ever seen (and I done seen 'em all); and above all others so far is the towering "Under the Skin," which of this bunch is the one we'll still be talking about in 50 years, even if it's because President Johansson had it suppressed due to the nude scenes in The Great Crackdown of 2034. Honorable mention must go to "True Detective," whose highs were as exhilarating as its defaulting to sub-cliche crap were irritating, but which featured two performances for the ages from Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and the way "Game of Thrones" has been driving "A Song of Ice and Fire" fans insane with all the departures from book canon this year.
Matt Prigge, Metro
I should first note that I haven't yet found time to see "Manakamana," and I feel like my top 5 so far list is kind of dull. But here goes: "Under the Skin" is an imperfect but bold art sci-fi whose mood I still haven't shaken off, even months after seeing it. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" may not be the best Wes Anderson film, but it is his most enjoyable and possibly, after a second viewing, his most devastating -- so maybe it is his best film. "We Are the Best!" is undiluted tweenage stupidity, capturing the period when you're angry but not yet self-critical enough to doubt starting a crappy punk band in 1982 Stockholm. "Stranger by the Lake" is a lot of things, but I wound up glomming onto its anxieties of taking a young relationship to the next level -- because who knows if you're new love is really a murderer (or just kind of boring). "The Immigrant" is a sumptuous old school drama that studies faces and places. But what do I know? I haven't seen "Boyhood" yet.
Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder, To Be (Cont'd)
The very best thing about my selections for 2014's best so far is that most are still running/airing at this time. By all means, seek them out for yourself and see if you find them as superb as I do.
"The Immigrant": James Gray's most blatant quote of "The Godfather'" yet also happens to flip its premise on its head. Rather than show the promise America holds for recent emigres if they just figure out how to play the game, Gray introduces a fly in the ointment. His immigrant is female and played by Marion Cotillard as frustrated and well intentioned until the rampant misogyny of turn of the century America corrupts and hardens her. Access to anything above her class is blocked, most significantly by a pimp who's fallen in love with her (Joaquin Phoenix).
"The Grand Budapest Hotel": For a movie filled with Wes Anderson repertory players, it's surprising how much "Budapest" rests on the shoulders of two actors new to his films, Ralph Fiennes and newcomer Tony Revolori. Ostensibly a comedy, "Budapest" is really a mourning cry lamenting the impending extinction of Eastern Europe's cultural class as a result of the two Great Wars to come.
"'Fargo": TV's biggest surprise this season, "Fargo" wisely sidesteps comparisons to the Coen Brothers classic by avoiding the temptation to attempt a straight adaptation of the film. What it does instead is perfectly capture the witty and horrific tone of the movie (and that of other Coen classics) just as it subverts expectations longtime fans might be harboring. Relative novice Allison Tolman is the breakout star of this wicked noir, and this in a stellar cast featuring veterans like Keith Carradine, Martin Freeman, and Billy Bob Thornton.
"Ida": Black-and-white and in a square 1.37:1 aspect ratio, "Ida" is beautiful in its austerity. It's quite appropriate given that the movie's eponymous nun (first-time actress Agata Trzebuchowska) is a stand-in for Communist Poland in the 60s: repressed, stoic, all but oblivious about her past, but with a hidden wild streak raging underneath.
"Only Lovers Left Alive": It's no coincidence that the two vampires at the center of the movie resemble its director Jim Jarmusch, both in appearance and temperament. Reclusive and strikingly androgynous, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) both endear themselves to us because they guardedly suppress their misanthropic tendencies in order to better appreciate the considerable achievements of e humans who have sustained them for centuries. Just don't forget that like all predators, they must still hunt to survive.
Scott Nye, Battleship Pretension, CriterionCast
Even from my limited vantage point (still have many to catch up with), 2014 seems to be off to a rousing start. Wes Anderson's spectacular collage of Lubitsch, Kubrick, Powell & Pressburger, and his own increasingly-off-kilter imagination, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," remains my top pick. I remain, even in memory, impressed with its wit and cunning, the fleetness of its storytelling and the magnitude of its thematic and emotional register. My other selections have no order, but leaping most to my attention at this moment are the acute, carefully-observed portraits of adolescence in Gia Coppola's "Palo Alto" and Lukas Moodysson's "We Are the Best!," which couldn't be more different in every other way. Francois Ozon's "Young & Beautiful" and Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin" both examined the ways a young woman's sexual power can be twisted, serving a predatory goal while also leaving her exposed and completely vulnerable; the former is particularly attuned to the limits of perception inherent to cinema (and life), which the majority of frustratingly-expositional cinema seeks to deny. David Gordon Green has perhaps gone off the deep end with "Joe," but the sometimes-messy result is the odd film that seems to keep perfect pace with star Nicolas Cage's outsized screen persona, while still delivering a surprisingly affecting drama. James Bobin won my loyalty within a few minutes of "Muppets Most Wanted," incorporating both a Bergman and a Busby Berkeley reference before we've even left the first musical number, and the surprisingly irreverent proceedings were a breath of fresh air after the stiflingly nostalgic "The Muppets." Finally, Denis Villeneuve rebounded from the silly-yet-engaging "Prisoners" with the most haunting, mysterious (often totally bewildering), mesmerizing, and subtly emotional film I've seen all year. "Enemy" really understands what it means to be trapped, not by circumstance or economics or status, but within oneself, within one's personal limitations, shortcomings, and fears. I cannot, nor would I particularly desire to, stop thinking about it.
Neil Young, Jigsaw Lounge, Tribune
Keep this to yourselves, but "Seven Boats" is the best new film I've seen in 2014. So far only shown a small handful of times at Copenhagen's Cinematheque -- including as "previews" during the CPH PIX festival in April, which is where I saw it (twice) -- it's ten hypnotic black-and-white minutes, written and directed by a little-known 29-year-old Icelander, Hlynur Palmason. The end credits gratifyingly specify it was "shot on 35mm on location in Hofn, Iceland": more accurate, however, to say it was shot off Hofn, Iceland, as the whole thing takes place in and on the icy water. It's a single right-to-left tracking shot which gradually reveals the watercraft of the title, and parcels out fragments of narrative which gradually coalesce into a nicely nightmarish (and chillingly comic) whole. But -- damnit -- I've said too much already! Those cautious folk at the Danish Film Institute, who co-produced, with the Icelandic Film Centre, would prefer I kept schtum as they're aiming "Seven Boats" towards a berth at Venice's Orizzonti. Quite how my praising Palmason's short as the "best new film" of 2014 could possibly queer their Lido pitch is beyond me, but I'm sure they know their business.
No such cloak-and-dagger caginess surrounds Tsai Ming-Liang's Berlinale wow, the 56-minute "Journey to the West." Arriving only months after the Taiwanese-Malaysian maestro's decade-defining "Stray Dogs," it's the fifth and longest instalment in an ongoing series starring his taciturn muse Lee Kang-Sheng as a scarlet-robed divine who walks veeeeeeerrrrrryyyy sllllllooooooowwwwllllly innnnnddddeeeeeed. This time our nameless protagonist somehow finds himself in one of Europe's greatest (and most snobbishly overlooked) cities, the endearingly scruffy French port of Marseille, where he eventually attracts an unlikely acolyte in the vaguely hobo-ish form of... Denis Lavant! Urban hubbub is ingeniously juxtaposed with the monk's inner beatific calm. Steps are taken; do you follow?
"Boats" and "Journey" --with nary a word of dialogue between them -- are my sole real standouts so far (and this from a critic who's usually allergic to archly artificial wordlessness). But anybody interested in socially-conscious, essayistic documentaries should try to track down a pair of rock-solid European landscape surveys from economically-ravaged nations which have encouragingly bucked dismal EU-wide trends this month by electorally shifting leftward. And you will have to track 'em down, because they're most unlikely to come to you: "Salt Flats" (Ira Dika & Yorgos Savoglou) is from Greece and runs 35 minutes; "Industrial Revolution" (Tiago Hespanha & Frederico Lobo) is from Portugal and clocks in at 72 minutes. Two last picks, both of them meticulously just-so evocations of bygone periods elevated by production-design that unapologetically flirts with the camp side of opulent: Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (no introduction needed) and Catalan oddity "Falling Star"by maverick producer Luis Minarro. The dandyish 64-year-old makes a belated but deliciously auspicious transition to directing fiction by fancifully dramatizing the haplessly brief reign of Spain's King Amadeo I, a milquetoast monarch brought low by perfidious and lackadaisical underlings. If he'd had the services of a Gustave H around his palace, of course, poor Amedeo might still be with us to to this day.