Five years ago, the Urchie Awards had their humble beginnings as a small, low-budget award show with a lot of heart. These days they’re more like the Oscars, BAFTAs, Nobel Peace Prize, and Pulitzer all rolled into one. In fact, this year’s competition was so exclusive, there weren’t even nominees – just winners. Because who has time for also-rans?
Without further ado, your 2014 Urchie Award winners!
Book of the Year
Tenth of December by George Saunders
When Tenth of December was published as a collection in January 2013, the New York Times Magazine rather cheekily dubbed it ‘the best book you’ll read all year,’ and it was only February. The funny thing was that they just happened to be right. Saunders had built up a secret reputation as an inventive short story writer for years and had since primarily enjoyed a cult following.
There was something about Tenth of December that made a difference, and it wasn’t necessarily that the writing was any better or more accessible than his previous collections. It might’ve just been good timing, when fiction readers wanted a short story that stretched their imaginations without breaking anything, somewhere between Lydia Davis and David Foster Wallace on the crazy scale, one that could make you laugh even when it made you very, very sad.
Writer of the Year
When Russell Brand first burst onto the scene, he did so in tight leather pants and a voice some found grating, especially whenever he spoke through his rhinestone-encrusted microphone. He played the part of the fool, the jester, quite well—so well, in fact, that many people regarded him as just that. The Urchin Movement—and, we should assume, much of the rest of the world—realised much more about the man when he wrote the feature article for the New Statesman last October. The piece was a personal, albeit very out-loud, meditation on the idea of revolution in this day and age and whether it was effective or futile. Brand’s writing was provocative, and the Urchins took sides on the many facets of his argument.
What we found admittedly surprising was that Brand had been rather prolific in print media this entire year, from his ruminations on the responsibilites of the media to his rather poignant and unconventional ‘eulogy’ for Margaret Thatcher. Each article bursts at the seams with the kind of multifaceted, passionate, and at-times self-conscious commentary that has come to define a generation searching for truth during interesting times. Whether you agree with his points or not, there is little question of Brand’s belief in the power and ability of self-expression, and he exemplifies it proudly.
Film of the Year
Last night, Spike Jonze won his first Oscar for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Her. Today he is winning his first Urchie. Sometimes, if you work very hard, all of your dreams can come true.
After directing the uber-creative Urchin favourites Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, as well as collaborating with former Exemplary Human Being winner Dave Eggers to adapt Where the Wild Things Are, Jonze made his solo writing and directing debut with the more-philosophical-than-science-fiction picture Her. Jonze’s vision for and successful creation of a world just different enough from our own to make his premise possible, combined with Joaquin Phoenix’s emotionally astute performance, made Her easily the best film of the year. For insight into just how much work Jonze put into perfecting the film, read this Vulture interview where he discusses the toughest scene he wrote.
See it for Jonze’s thought-provoking premise and auteurship, appreciate it for Phoenix’s incredible performance, and love it for the score written and performed by Arcade Fire and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Documentary of the Year
There is no disputing this: if it weren’t for Blackfish, this many people would not be talking about the captive orca debate. Even some of the most animal-sensitive among us had our reasons for believing that something was seriously amiss at SeaWorld, that something wasn’t quite right, but it wasn’t until Blackfish that the exact issues were presented to a broad audience in the most accessible vehicle: a documentary film.
And even filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite would be the first to say that the Urchie goes to more than just herself and her film. The award goes to the trainers who have been injured or killed as a result of SeaWorld’s malpractices. It goes to the brave former trainers who decided to speak publicly about those malpractices. It goes to the research that marine biologists, animal activists, and authors on the subject have done to make a strong case and thus forge a path through which Blackfish could continue. The Urchie also goes to the orcas, in hopes of letting them know that there are people fighting for them.
Exhibit of the Year
With exhibits from Sydney to Brooklyn, Kenyan-born Wangechi Mutu brings her dark dreamland to a world that better be ready for it. Her work, which ranges from paintings and collages to sculptures and film, marries everything from traditional African tribal images to pornography and sports car adverts, resulting in a masterful juxtaposition of the natural and otherworldly. Mutu possesses a talent that seems to border on a shamanistic ability to convey a supernatural world as well as illuminate the real world around us. A steady gaze into Mutu’s Afrofuture and you’ll find yourself peering both back into the past and straight into the future in which Mutu eventually envisions herself inhabiting.
Exemplary Human Beings
Russia’s famous protest performance group has forced the world to take notice of Putin’s oppressive sham democracy. When Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were imprisoned on 3 March 2012 for hooliganism (aka peaceful protesting) and held for nearly two years in prison (they were released just last December), Pussy Riot did not back down. Instead, the group of eleven or so women stepped onto the world stage and continued to speak out for women’s rights and LGBT equality, and against Putin’s retrogressive politics. Interestingly, it has been less about what Pussy Riot has said and more about how Russia’s government has reacted that sparked support for their cause. That and Tolokonnikova’s and Alyokhina’s courage in the face of their government’s not-so-thinly veiled contempt for their rights.
Album of the Year
Yeezus by Kanye West
With every album, Kanye challenges himself to push the boundaries of hip hop and popular music. Despite years of work as a producer and the ability to create a radio hit in minutes, Kanye has never made his records for the sake of air play or album sales. The tonal and instrumental shifts from College Dropout to 808s & Heartbreak to Yeezus show an incredible range of musical talent, while his lyrics continue to champion discussions of race, religion, sexuality, poverty, and politics. Read more about this hometown hero here and here.
Briton of the Year
Sir Ian McKellen
Urchinism is founded on several core beliefs: artistic integrity, collaboration, and the British. It just so happens Sir Ian ticks all of those boxes, plus some. In addition to being one of the best living actors in the world, Sir Ian has spent nearly thirty years speaking out for LGBT rights, long before it was popular. Most recently, he and 27 of his closest Nobel laureate friends (because who doesn’t have them?) together wrote an open letter to Russian president Vladimir Putin condemning the country’s new laws banning “homosexual propaganda.”
What could be better than that, you ask? How about the fact that while Sir Ian’s Nobel laureate friends signed the letter Harold Kroto (Nobel Chemistry 1996), Mairead Maguire (Nobel Peace 1976), Eric Cornell (Nobel Physics 2001), etc., he signed:
Ian McKellen (aka Henry V/Gandalf)
But wait! There’s more! Whilst filming the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films in New Zealand, Sir Ian performed a special tour of a show called Shakespeare, Tolkien, and You! All proceeds went to rebuilding a theatre damaged by the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake. One Urchin happened to WWOOF at a farm just after Sir Ian had stayed there, and even got to wash the special Queen Elizabeth tea cup he never travels without. (Don’t worry, Sir Ian and the tea cup were reunited after his next stint on location.)
Lastly, for now, is this picture of Sir Ian and his BFF and Waiting for Godot co-star Sir Patrick Stewart celebrating the Super Bowl:
Best Television Show
Let’s face it: no one watches live tv anymore. And let’s also face the fact that there are very few reasons to. While there has been a resurgence of quality hour-long dramas over the past five or so years, the sitcom genre has never managed to climb back up to its late-nineties, early-noughties heyday of Friends, Frasier, and Seinfeld. So what to do if you’re in the mood for some light but witty banter and a good dose of literary and cultural puns? Look no further than a Frasier marathon, also known as how the Urchins spent many cold winter days bundled up from the London winter.
During its 11 year run, Frasier won five Outstanding Comedy Series Emmys, eight Best Series Golden Globes, and numerous acting awards for Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce as brothers Frasier and Niles Crane. The show is the perfect and extremely rare combination of the best writers and the best actors working in harmony to create amazing art. If you still need convincing, see some of our favourite Frasier moments below.
Urchin Travel Destination of the Year
For nearly 50 years Burma was ruled by an abusive, oppressive military dictatorship. Many countries imposed travel and trade sanctions and restrictions against the government. In November 2010, Suu Kyi was released from house arrest after over 15 years and in 2012 was elected to parliament. Since then, the US eased travel restrictions and tourists are very slowly starting to make their way into Burma. While military and government corruption, as well as ethnic and religious fighting, still plague the country, it is one of the most incredible places on earth. Relatively untouched by tourism and Westerners for decades, the people, sites, and foods are rare, unique gems in a world that grows more homogeneous every year. Read two accounts of an Urchin’s travels in Burma here and here. While it is certainly not the easiest place to travel, the rewards for your efforts are tenfold.
That’s all folks! See y’all next year!