As another year comes to a close, it’s become standard practice for aspiring internet writers to put together their reflections on the past year. On the personal end, things are moving along at a good rate. It’s no secret that politics in 2018 were… *frustrating*. This year I learned I had a form of acid reflux and had to cut out a few favorite foods. And we had all the growing pains that come with running a creative young start up. Losing and gaining shows, and trying to put out more great stuff all put me on a roller coaster, but just the little one at a carnival. It was a really exciting year for culture, though, and so much great stuff surprised and inspired me. So I thought I would go through and give some thoughts on my favorite art and artistic moments of the year. And as I sit here, wondering how I can possibly innovate a list like this, my fluffy cat Sora is sitting at my side on the couch, so we talked it over, and this will be a collaboration of both our favorites. Right?
Ok, he doesn’t talk a ton, but when he gets excited about something, he’ll let us know. Disclosure, this is just from what I got to try this year so far. I still have Roma, Spider-Verse, The Favourite, and Red Dead 2 on my wish list, among others. Let’s make a trendy internet list.
Best Ensemble Cast- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
I could never get into the Gilmore Girls, so I was hesitant to try Amy Sherman-Palladino’s new show last year, but found myself very pleasantly surprised. In the past few years I’ve realized that my favorite period to display on film is the 50’s and 60’s, and they nailed it thoroughly. I was into the lead character’s arc of facing divorce and making a name in the male-dominated world of comedy, and really enjoying the supporting characters. Alex Borstein especially was a revelation. This year with the second season, they improved on every imaginable aspect, and went from very good to phenomenal. Rachel Brosnahan’s on-stage banter got faster and much funnier. The parents, played by Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle, went from quirky foils to breakout characters with really moving emotional journeys, possibly the best version of a sitcom giving the parents equal time and attention. Alex Borstein as Mrs. Maisel’s manager got even funnier, and in that way where the writers realize they can put less on the page and the actor will still crush. There’s an extended montage of her simply holding a prop without speaking that has become one of my favorite visual gags. So when you’re picking your favorite ensemble on TV, you think of the show where at any moment, any one of the characters could be the best and funniest, because they all are. Except Joel.
Sora, you stopped licking your paw and looked at me. Did you want to take a turn?
Ok, I’ll let you finish. Just let me know. Sorry.
Best Actress- Daredevil
My other favorite TV show this year was Daredevil, even though full disclosure, I’ll never fully be able to tell how much my nerd baggage is affecting my decisions. Matt is one of my favorite fictional characters, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over that delighted sense that they’re making my superhero stories, but I’m *pretty* sure season 3 was phenomenal. On the action front, it upped the ante again, topping the famous season 1 hallway fight with an unbroken take scene through an entire prison. But that’s not my takeaway. Karen was. Deborah Ann Woll gave a performance so subtle that it only could’ve been built on the collected traumas the character had suffered over three seasons. Her solo episode was an acting showcase that lifted all comics up yet again. Name me another comic project with the guts and the investment in the characters to spend a whole episode with no superheroes. Not only-
Sora: I’m ready. Now.
Uh, ok. Then let me just say-
Ok, she brought an amazing empathy to the kinds of characters that heroes’ and villains’ actions affect. Go.
Ok, really curious how this is going to go. (We feed him the same cat food twice daily.)
Oh yeah. You do really love lettuce, bud.
Sora: It snaps.
Yeah, so we do this thing where if we’re making a sandwich or a salad we’ll toss him a leaf and he just goes nuts and stands up-
Sora: It snaps like a spine. A mouse spine.
Dude. I thought, dude, I thought it was sweet or something.
Ok, I guess he’s done. I… yikes… Where are we?
Best Game- Hollow Knight
I got to try a lot of cool story-driven and artistic games this year, but for list purposes was disappointed to find most of them came out in 2016. Hopefully I can write about them soon, but it sort of left this one by default. That technicality should not detract from how great this game is, though. Hollow Knight is unbelievably the first game from Team Cherry in Australia, and ten seconds of gameplay footage will show you how strong their art game is. To the best of my knowledge, all the animations are hand drawn, and the lighting, rain effects, and layered backgrounds make the moodiest most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a while. The art style is gothic, and sort of grotesque, with eccentric bug characters populating this world.
Yeah, but like cartoon bugs. And they have swords and stuff. Ok, he lost interest. The exploration is vast and rewarding, and the combat is a very restricted, very twitchy set of motions that makes hitting harder, but when you finally beat the varied difficult bosses, you feel like a sword master. This game rules on so many fronts. I’ll be replaying it for a long time.
Best Channels: Art of the Score & Game Score Fanfare
If you follow my work on the rest of our site, you’ll know I’ve been making the move into essays about media this year. There are many sources of inspiration for this, but two discoveries this year were very formative for me. And since they both talk about soundtracks I figured I would mention them together.
Art of the Score is a podcast made in partnership with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and features three top tier musical academics in Andrew, Nick, and Dan. Their analysis of straight forward classics like John Williams and unsettling pieces like There Will be Blood is educational, yet comfortable and entertaining. I’ve listened to most of the episodes several times to re-familiarize myself with the concepts and see what I missed. I’m… frustrated and angry that even their first podcast episode, Raiders of the Lost Ark, starts off so comfortably and makes some amazing points that I’ll never forget. You’re supposed to start bad, guys.
Game Score Fanfare is a Youtube channel that’s a one-man operation by Mathew Dyason. He makes exactly the kinds of stories I want to make. You’ll often hear the very specific emotion or story purpose that a video game soundtrack is going for, including breakdowns of the instruments, use of silence, and the all powerful shifts in dynamics to match player actions. Game music can be hard to notice, since you’re often distracted by your choices or the other sounds, and it has weird rules about when it loops and changes since it’s waiting on you. Mathew cuts the other distractions and presents things in the easiest and most engaging way. One of my favorite video games to introduce people to is Journey, and I always make them watch his video after.
I’m not sure if Sora’s ready for another yet.
Best Scratching Post
You really just have the one, buddy. We got it a few months ago.
Sora: Daddy’s leg.
Ouch, yeah. You know I don’t like that. You already have the other post. Can’t you use it?
Sora: Daddy’s leg is a post I can chase.
Again, I can’t argue with your logic, but… You’re an intense little guy.
Sora: I know.
Best Villain- Thanos
I know, I know. Killmonger is a respectable silver medal here. I think we can all agree Black Panther’s villain did much more for the genre as a whole. Intertwining his motivations with the hero’s, making his goals grounded and relatable. All important.
Thanos should have been awful. The entire buildup had come to be a joke. Another Marvel movie, another post-credits scene of Thanos getting out of his chair. Then Thanos finding his glove. Thanos checking his coat pockets for his keys. Thanos waiting to merge at a Yield sign. Not only was he teased, but he would come to be the big villain for twenty movies with no existing material. That’s a huge amount of pressure. And he’s a fully CG character, not just a painted person, and those have been good about… never.
Thanos tries to get over to the cash lane from the EZ-Pass toll lane.
So to be honest, a lot of my reaction has to be from Thanos not bombing. I expected the worst and he was really compelling right away. He needed to come out this year, not 2015, or we wouldn’t get that HD stubble and the little scars in his head. I loved the way each of his Infinity stones had a signature animation style that you began to internalize as shorthand.I loved that he just… would not… stop. He conjured the same feeling a Terminator, Alien, Freddy, or Jason does. I was terrified of him in the movie, and just felt that mounting hopelessness along with the heroes. And look, a lot of pieces have come out with lazy headlines like “Thanos was right,” and of course the authors don’t actually mean that (I hope). I don’t really need the condescending math on what would happen if you actually wiped out half the life in the universe, either. But in one economical scene he illustrated why *he thinks* he’s right, and I bought it enough to understand his choices more than every other cartoon villain. I can’t wait to see how they wrap this up.
Best Nap Spot
Oh, great, you’re really getting into the rhythm. Whatcha got.
Makes sense. Here we are.
Is that it? Yeah? Ok.
Best Sound- A Quiet Place
This seems logical to anyone that saw the film. A thriller about trying to stay silent would need to and did provide some great sound design. But that’s not actually what I meant.
Best Sound. Single sound. It’s not the crunch of bare feet on sand. It’s not the clicks the aliens make, nor the hearing aid pitch.
Sora: My best nap spot is the sink.
Oh, right. Yeah, you can change it. So it wasn’t any of those sounds. This is a slight spoiler, but at a crucial moment in the film John Krasinski has to shout to attract attention.
Sora: Actually, top of cabinet.
Ok, man. I know you like your spots. John gives this loud scream that I’ve never heard at the movies. It was raw, undignified. His voice cracked like a little boy’s. It had the pure emotion of a desperately protective parent who-
Sora: Windowsill. Where the birds are.
Buddy, please. It was a sound that we’re conditioned to deride. One that all the stoic Rambo screams have banished. The lack of ego that it took for him to leave that in-
Sora: Then the other windowsill, to follow the sun.
Geez, okay. You did it. Everyone watch A Quiet Place.
Sora: My turn
You just went. That whole time.
Sora: No, you did sound.
Ok, dude. You’re still my son.
No argument, there, man.
Best Picture, Best Actor- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
It’s weird for me to write about the Coen brothers. They’ve been my favorite directors since I started paying attention, so there’s bias, and they’re obviously legends, so I can feel redundant at times. But then they miss Oscars they should’ve gotten, or make some smaller movies, and I wonder if they’re actually some hybrid of all time greats and indie darlings. And then they put a movie straight to Netflix? Strange times.
I had no idea what to expect since this is their first straight anthology. Hail, Caesar! had many interwoven storylines, but they were somewhat connected, and I found that movie really ineffective, anyway. And it’s weird to write about why a film is so great when the tones are so varied. The opening short is very funny, if violent, and has Looney Tunes logic and some musical numbers. Then later pieces are tragic, often with heartbreaking endings and bleak looks at greed and violent natures. But they cohere- the order of them matters, too, and the directors know when to inject their signature humor for respite. This collection moved me greatly. If A Serious Man is the culmination of all of the Coens’ sensibilities and experience (it is), then the Buster shorts are them flexing in the other direction. They’re proving in fairly quick succession that they have the genius ability to make the funniest fifteen minutes you saw this year, then the most moving twenty, wait, now the most moving thirty. All new characters and tone every time, and starting from scratch doesn’t slow them down one bit. Part of the fun is just deciding which short is your favorite. And which is the best, and why the difference?
I think “The Gal Who Got Rattled” may age into being one of the great American short stories, but I found a very special attachment to “Meal Ticket.” It was minimalist storytelling at its finest. You’re waiting through long, dreary montages of life on the road for any indication of what the characters feel, about each other, and about their lot in life, but they give you nothing, and you share in the discomfort together. Harry Melling in particular gave an aching but internal performance as the quadruple amputee. Whether in his booming theatrical monologues or his patience from the back of a jostling wagon, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Not a lot makes me sad in movies. I usually can detach, but this character will be weighing on me for a long time.
This movie floored me and I hope it gets recognition this year.
Ok, it looks like the little guy is asleep. I should probably follow his lead and wrap it up. I’m not just saying this, but overall I think it was a good year. I feel like a plane, and yeah I know there’s a plane on the website, but one that you have to turn the crank to get the propellor moving. This year was those turns, the crank resisting, the engine sputtering. I think, I mean I feel, that I’m around the corner from a liftoff.
So thanks for reading, and a Happy New Year.
Sora: Crazy Rich Asians