Happy Holidays friends – as this is our last week of new material.. with one secret exception you will only know about if you are subscribed, I thought I should go back and look at some of my favorite things of the year. Living in a bubble, I absorb a lot of garbage. Television. Books. Games. Comics. Alcohol… it really is a cavalcade of ignoring the outside world in this brain of mine. So, why not take a few minutes and look at the last year and talk about some of the things I’ve really enjoyed.
Books – Sadly, this year was not a big reading year for me. I wish I’d gotten through more books and as I’m currently reading, albeit slowly, Grady Hendrix’s Final Girl Support Group (and if you’ve never read Hendrix, he’s a horror treat) I am at least doing my best to keep books in my life. So what was my favorite this year? That was a title that felt like it was from ten or twenty years ago with kids going to a magical school where magical things happen. It doesn’t hold a candle to my favorite of the genre (and top favorite books of all time) in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, but Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education, which the sequel just released recently, was so much fun.
The school is deadly and alive. Magic attracts all sorts of beasties. The politicks of the students is in every conversation.. it is all very interestingly political, and where the main character could easily turn into an ‘all too powerful Mary Sue’ type – she’s so enjoyably grumpy, I kinda don’t mind.
Shows – The family finished the many seasons of our dinner time Parks & Rec – which was my second time around, and that show… dammit, I miss it. Maybe even more than I miss The Good Place.. but my favorite show of the year comes from an entirely different side of things. I know we had some amazong Mando action and WandaVision was a real front runner to be my favorite, just because of its amazing meta-ness — my favorite is going to Netflix’s Midnight Mass.
I know some people don’t enjoy the genre of gothic horror that Mike Flanagan has brought to the Netflix table with Hill House and Bly Manor – but I really enjoyed them. That said, Midnight Mass is going to be a hard show to top. Every actor is acting their ass off. Every little flinch or nod means something. It’s a masterclass in telling a tight story with a satisfying finish.
Games – My year of video games has been one of massive amounts of Executive Dysfunction. In my giant Steam game list.. I go and play a handful of garbage roguelikes and roguelites – decide to play something meaty – get distacted – forget what I was playing – go back to roguelites… so yeah, there’s a lot of time spent in fun popcorn like SNKRX, Curse of the Dead Gods, and SKUL.. there’s also an inordinate amount of time spent playing Dead By Daylight with Rob & friends. So what game can I put at the top?
First, an honorable mention has to go to Inscryption which, I won’t lie, will probably take the #1 spot by the time the ball drops for 2022… it is just fantastic in every way – and after Rob had played an hour of it, bought it for me because he knew I would fall in love with it.. and it really is a VERY particular James-sized-itch it scratches. That said, my top spot for the year is going to go to Enderall: Forgotten Stories – which, if you haven’t seen.. is free, and worth it. It’s a complete repaint of Skyrim. A new world. New voices. New quests. New magic. Harder, but not brutal… it made me fall in love with Skyrim again, and it’s kinda not even Skyrim.
Movies – I feel like this is ‘the big one’ but, honestly, this wasn’t as much of a year for big movies as it was big television. I could do a list of just my favorite shows and list them off easily… when it comes to movies, I have watched so many ‘webcam party’ horror movies and nose-stuffed-up-their-butt art-horror this year that I really am frustrated with most of the genre. I also, as if there is any surprise, watch a lot of garbage movies with the full knowledge that they’re going to be bad… but dammit I love seeing actors clip through green screen monsters.
So, what was the best of the best? Based on my ratings at Letterboxd, there are only three movies I gave above a 4.. and only one got a 5. The three movies that sit in the 4-star area are Malignant, which I know is a divisive opinion, but James Wan speaks my horror language – Coherence, which.. honestly, is the most interesting budget science fiction movie I’ve seen in years – and Spontaneous, which has flown under everyone’s radar and I legitimately think it could be this generation’s Heathers.
That leaves my one 5 star… the one movie I saw that made me tear up with how beautiful and beautiful sounding it was. It’s a cliche from a living cartoon like me, but it is Pixar’s Soul. I don’t speak in Jazz. I have an ear for music, but I don’t have an ear for any genre of music that includes ‘single-serving noodling’ … but Soul .. man, it was just synesthesia come to life.
So what were your favorite things? You know where to find us and let us know – and if we don’t talk, we hope that you and yours have a wonderful rest of 2021 and thank you for being here and letting us hijack your brain.