2018 was an embarrassment of riches in entertainment. This year’s offerings were as wide-ranging as ever, and its central performances equally so. Sure, we had more superhero films, reboots, and spin-offs, and more massive blockbusters. Big budget action films may not all be winners, but the good ones were really, really good. If you need a break from ALL the major releases, take a deep dive into the indie film world instead. Indie movies have always expanded the ways stories have been told on-screen, tackling unique tales and alternative culture with fearlessness. And there were a BUNCH of fantastic films in 2018. In fact it was the trickiest year in ages to compile my ‘Bestest.’
Here are the highlights that give me hope…
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
I’ve been thinking this for a while now. We can all become Spider people, or Doctors, or Thors, or Caps. That was the whole point of Cho-Hulk, Jane-Thor, Sam-Cap, Kamala, Thirteen, etc. Who’s underneath the costume doesn’t matter. What matters is that whoever wears the costume, whoever takes on the mantle, is taking on the promise to fight for a more just, equitable world. And even though we don’t have superpowers in this particular universe, we will still accomplish amazing things once we stop trying to kill and/or dominate each other (physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally). We can all become superheroes, we just have to believe in ourselves. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse made me a believer.
Sorry To Bother You
This movie rules. It’s like one of those low-budget 80’s cult movies that used to get made— the ones that take wild chances and clearly don’t give a solitary eff. The most (only) encouraging thing about it is that it is both eccentrically and insistently a ‘black’ movie, and yet it’s influences and targets are so diverse that it feels equally immediate and relevant to all Americans, and most non-Americans. Sc-Fi at its best. Truth.
Love, Simon is a teen romcom elevated. We don’t often get wide-release, diverse, teen-oriented gay movies, especially when they’re lighthearted (and trust me, the source material is very much a lighthearted teen novel). Add to that that the studio actively marketed this movie, and, well… it’s not groundbreaking for cinema as a whole, but please, don’t downplay its importance. Totally cool if it’s not your thing, but it’s still something really nice to have, and might even help our young queer people.
Honorable Mentions: Black Panther, Annihilation & A Quiet Place.
T.V. does not stop and does not quit. Every year there seems to be more and better episodes of great serialized fictional television pushing the boundaries of representation, diversity and storytelling. Some are calling it the “Golden Age” I just think new voices are getting the chance to create art.
Atlanta “Robbin” Season Two
I really like the connection between the final 3 episodes. In “North of the Border” you see Al reaching an apex of putting up with Earn’s shortcomings as a manager. Earn thinks it’s Tracey that’s the problem, but shocked to learn that Al is thinking about keeping Tracey around and dumping Earn from the group. In “FUBU”, we get a flashback episode that shows how Earn finds himself in these precarious situations and how Al will help him out because they have that familial bond. And finally here in “Crabs”, we see that Al will keep Earn on after all because of that bond they’ve had ever since they were kids. The show ending with Tracey being left out on the street is the bow that ties it all up neatly.
There’s a lot of abstract, off the wall scenarios that Atlanta goes through in its episode but that right there is still a pretty conventional story. How they got there is what makes it so great. Can’t wait for Season 3. Glover is a busy busy man these days so I’ll understand if its awhile before we get it, but I hope its not a long wait.
Daredevil Season Three
There were so many things in Season 3 to love. I loved that Ray took Fisk down from beyond the grave, and that there was no way for Fisk to retaliate. I loved that Matt successfully turned Bullseye against Fisk, and I enjoyed every single moment of Dex’s mental breakdown as he tore through Fisk’s security force while dressed as Daredevil. I loved the final sequence of all three characters tearing into it each other, and almost completely turned on one another. I loved that Matt beating on Fisk sent a blood spatter across that precious painting he and Vanessa love so much. I loved that Matt used pieces from the chandelier to bat away at what Dex threw at him.
It’s also worth remembering that early on in the Season 3, Matt questioned Maggie the idea of someone really changing, and whether or not he could believe Fisk truly loved Vanessa. This absolutely played a role in his decision not to kill Fisk. And that climax played out exactly like I wanted: Matt wins, but chooses not to kill Fisk. Which is an important final step back toward him reclaiming Matt Murdock. If he had completed that pre-meditated murder, it would’ve been affirming only his Daredevil self in ways he could never take back. Choosing not to kill him affirms the side of him that knows that law can still win out.
“This city rejected you. It beat you. I BEAT YOU.”
That was cathartic. Watching Matt reject the Devil side of himself and embrace being Matt Murdock, mercifully, finally, was the right call. An utterly fantastic finale to a brilliant season of television and series.
The Good Place Season Three
It seems almost unfair to the rest of television that a show like this can pack this much forward momentum, while addressing fundamental questions about the nature of good and evil in the universe, while breaking new ground in what is possible narratively, while also being really forking funny. Into a 13 episode season.
I’m not sure any show has so consistently defied my expectations, surprised me, and made me actually feel things like The Good Place has. And that’s in addition to being actual laugh-out-loud hilarious. And this was a show I watched almost semi-passively until that Season 1 twist. All of this has been said, and said better by a ton of people before me – I just wanted to say it to someone, even if it is just to the not-nearly-as-nice-as-Janet’s-void-void of the internet. #AnEmmyForDarcy
So much of human ideology and belief is bound up in how to treat your fellow humans, which itself is so often tied up in what will or won’t distinguish one’s soul as pure enough to get into Heaven (or its general equivalent). So, who made it into the Good Place in 1497? I don’t know (yet). However, I do know this show is comedy LOST and I trust them to the stick the landing.
Honorable Mention(s): Glow Season 2, Legion Season two & Voltron: Legendary Defender (Seasons 7 & 8)
The New New
This was as good as advertised by the early reviews. Is it hard for an actor to pretend to be a bad actor trying to be a good actor, then becoming a good actor? Hader really showed he can handle some drama. In the early eps, Hader’s portrayal reminds me of Elliot Gould’s character in “Little Murders.” Hes’ just emotionally vacant. He’s reached a point where he’s incapable of any significant emotional response beyond depression. Shades of Grosse Pointe Blank? I’m concerned about what they’ll do for S2, but what they did with the *premise* in S1 has made me kind of excited to see what they do with it in S2. Hader and Berg seem painfully aware of the pitfalls a show/premise like this can fall into. It was still the best of the New New that I watched in 2018.
I’m as surprised as anyone that this is compelling TV. The premise is so pointless to terrible, I couldn’t imagine it being worthwhile. The most interesting aspect of this is nothing about Johnny’s person is presented as right. This is no Last Man Standing elegy for the poor, put down white guy. The show knows that he’s not a good guy. But it’s going forward with that anyway -having him rebuild the same dojo where he was shamed with its bullshit macho mantras intact. It does make me curious what direction they’re going to go in. What shape could it possibly take? Making Daniel less than a good guy is a compelling move as well. Youtube has lightning in a bottle with Cobra Kai and I am excited for season two which drops in 2019.
I can’t believe how everybody overlooks “The Terror”, which I consider one of the best shows on TV. The cast, script and direction are simply fantastic. Based on the excellent Dan Simmons novel of the same title, it is a raw, unfiltered look at human nature when it’s only imperative is survival. This is not a straightforward horror series. It is less about its sometimes-corny supernatural elements and more about the dark side of the human heart. The production values are astonishing and surpass many of the big budget movies I’ve seen in the past few years. Weave in some subtle comments about class division, privilege and you have yourself must-see-TV.
Honorable Mention(s): The Dragon Prince, Castle Rock.
Are you looking forward to the flood of podcast adaptations that are sure to be coming to streaming services soon? Well, they are coming. Audio fiction (NOT audio books) has really become something beautiful in these last few years, and people are doing some amazing, incredibly creative and innovative work within it that I really hope more people will see. I watched the entire series of ‘Homecoming’ in a weekend. The last two episodes really did serve as a denouement. I was honestly a little surprised to see the show swerve from conspiracy thriller into more introspective, Sunshine of the Spotless Mind territory. But the actors and direction were all so fantastic, I couldn’t really complain. Sidenote: The music in this show is phenomenal. Shout out to Maggie Phillips. There are 45 different film scores used throughout the ten episodes of ‘Homecoming’. It is a big part of why ‘Homecoming’ works so well. The actors shine in this and Esmail’s aesthetic sensibilities are like catnip to me so I’m ALL in for whatever comes next. A beautiful heartfelt ending. I’m going to watch it again it was so good.
At first I was a little miffed half-way through the show at how it was marketed. The trailers and first few episodes promised me a sad but inventive trip down Sunshine for the Spotless Road and what I got was that but with a comedy turn from Justin Theroux that puts anything else I’ve seen this year to shame. but after a while I learned to love the fact that this myopic vision of our own hellworld’s sister-verse was a knee slapping hilarious comedy when it felt like it and vividly depressing too. Really made it feel more timely. The most impressive make believe worlds are always the ones closest to the one we actually live in. Such was the case with Maniac’s world. I absolutely loved this show. I wish there were more shows this experimental both in tone, world building, and concept being made. I also love that it didn’t shy away from the absurdist. EVERYTHING in this show is Chekov’s gun.
The Haunting Of Hill House
Who needs to upload their consciousness to a bank of computer servers to live in a beach resort town when you can upload your soul to an evil entity in the form of a neogothic house? The show reminded me a bit of shows by Damon Lindelof which are all about faith vs science and although he claims that the Leftovers are Lost are ambiguous in whether it’s more about science or faith, the shows definitely lean towards the faith sort of things. Other than just remaking the book beat for beat, I truly don’t know what more you could want from this show. For me, it was a really terrific watch all the way through that always had me excited to watch the next episode.
So. Many. Books. I am ALWAYS behind in regards to my reading queue. One day I will get caught up…SURE. These three are worthy of discussion and attention.
Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond & Adam Horovitz.
The Beastie Boys Book does not function as a normal biography, auto or otherwise. Instead, the text reads more like a series of short stories and motifs, with no real timeline. Mike D and Ad-Rock take turns writing their thoughts for these mini-chapters, going through the start of the band, the music scene in NY in the 80s, and briefly touching on each album cycle. Reading this is like listening to a new Beasties album for the first time. Extensive liner notes. Lots of strange and interesting pictures. Lots of laughs. New York City as a character. It’s beautifully bound and the pages are high quality. This collection takes the music memoir to a whole new level.
his was the the book of the the year for me. An emotional read, too. I grew up with this band – watched them grow up; they represent a lot to me – they have talent but aren’t extraordinary, so it’s believable, it always seemed achievable – they were flawed too. We heard them mature, musically, philosophically and spiritually across the albums. And the story was never able to be (correctly) finished. So there’s a sadness there. They’re writing it without Yauch. For Yauch. Because of Yauch. He is the real hero of this book and, from what they say, the band. They lived not just their dreams and my own, but the dreams of millions of youths and adults still in awe of their journey and discography. Beastie Boys was a thing that my friends were into. We were white, black, brown, yellow, etc. and no one really cared about that. I miss that. I miss them. I miss Adam.
Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino
When Lemire writes a good story it’s really hard to not want more. Gideon Falls is a comic with 2 storylines that are apart from one another, yet connected. It is a noir feeling, dark, supernatural, thriller that fired for me on absolutely all cylinders. Lemire’s prose is gritty and mysterious and adds a creepy voice to Sorrentino is amazingly inventive with paneling and layouts. Gideon Falls isn’t easy reading – it’ll make you gasp more than once, and it’s constantly pulling the rug out from under you, tying it over your head, and hitting you with a brick. But it’s the kind of comic punishment that you’ll love to endure, because the mystery and the characters are so well done.
Why Art? By Eleanor Davis
A quote from Borges’ This Craft Of Verse: Anything suggested is far more effective than anything laid down. Perhaps the human mind has a tendency to deny a statement… Arguments convince nobody. They convince nobody because they are presented as arguments. Then we look at them, we weigh them over, and we decide against them. But when something is merely said or—better still—hinted at, there is a kind of hospitality in our imagination. We are ready to accept it.” Think less, do more … this one did it for me.
Honorable Mention(s): Creative Quest by Amir Thompson, Adjustment Day: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk.
2018 was a great year for gaming and I have enjoyed playing the following titles more than others. I really do believe that these three are the top of the their respected genres and might be some of the best games of the last decade. Get at me in a decade or so when these are still revered.
God Of War
God of War is a genuine masterpiece to me. It’s a genius story that manages to be both epic and intimate. Strip away the Norse Mythology and immortal Spartans and it’s a beautifully told story about a father and son trying to connect as people after the loss of the matriarch of the family. Add the Norse Mythology and plenty of refreshing humor, references to past games and a willingness to actually mature a ludicrous franchise without outright losing the ludicrous elements and you have a winner. There were many, MANY great games in 2018. However, God of War was an experience.
I don’t think the main story arc of ‘Celeste’ is that hard. It’s punishing but I don’t think it is the hardest hard that’s ever harded. I mean, it’s tough in that you’ll die a lot, but each ‘room’ takes maybe 30 seconds max to do a perfect run-through, so you’re never ‘stuck’ for long. For the main story path, I think you’ll be dying but typically getting further and further each time. I never felt hung up on any one obstacle long enough to get frustrated. I just felt like I was learning and progressing. It’s the optional content and collectibles that will really eat you alive. The graphics are beautiful, the music is fantastic, and the writing is charming. More games like this one, please… It is a triumph on every level.
No saves. No check points. No extra lives. You die you start all over. You get one chance to make it to the end and fight the final boss. However, A complete run of the game only takes about 45 minutes. If you’ve played games like Rogue Legacy or Slay the Spire or any number of other modern Rogue-likes, the base mechanic in Dead Cells will be familiar. Go in, loot up, get as far as you can, die, repeat. But what Dead Cells shares with some of these others, and why it differs from base Rogue-likes, is that you have progression between plays. You are unlocking new weapons and attributes. You start off not being able to get very far, and before you know it you’re facing the first major boss. Then you bang your head against him several times and then you beat him and unlock a whole new challenge. Meanwhile, you’re developing muscle memory and dexterity with the controls to get even better. The visuals are an acquired taste. Some may find the pixel art unattractive. I loved it, and love the game.
Honorable Mention(s): Spider-man, Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon & Florence.
I care whenever a group/band/artist that I like announces new music. Whether that means a song from a movie soundtrack, something off of a tribute album, a legit LP, a banger from a B-sides project or an extended play. The downloading and streaming culture have placed more emphasis on singles and EP’s have been a way to keep the flow of music coming and a way to get music to fans quicker than having to wait for the traditional album cycle. I don’t think the album is dead, or will ever be dead, but attention spans are shorter than ever and a consistent stream of new music (whether that be loosies or EPs) is more likely to keep a band’s fanbase more consistently engaged. This is why hip-hop is still on top: it has managed to not only to cultivate the undivided attention of the youth, but also generate a formula to pump out music on a basis that maintains that attention. Let the mantra for 2019 (and beyond) ring! Give them your best and leave them wanting more.
These were my three favorite releases in 2018. All of them are considered to be extended plays or E.P.’s – two of the three are basically emcee/producer projects (‘Daytona’ & ‘Humble Pi’) and the music created comes off like a beautifully cohesive marriage of beats and rhymes that achieve hip-hop alchemy. The other (FM) is written by an artist that is MUCH more outspoken than any of his peers and the entire twenty two minutes slap. It is an artistic vision that is carefully curated to suit Vince’s particular taste and preferences; cold and no BS.
Vince Staples ‘FM!’
Pusha T ‘Daytona’
Homeboy Sandman & Edan ‘Humble Pi’
2018 Mixtape best songs that can fit on a CD-R
Ice Cube ‘Arrest The President’
Childish Gambino ‘This is America’
Kendrick Lamar & SZA ‘All The Stars’
The Carters ‘APES**T’
David Byrne ‘Everybody’s Coming To My House’
Jack White ‘Over and Over and Over’
Lady Gaga ft Bradley Cooper ‘Shallow’
Carly Rae Jepsen ‘Party For One’
Logic ft Wu Tang ‘Wu Tang Forever’
Pusha T ‘If You Know You Know’
Anderson.Paak ft Kendrick Lamar ‘Tints’
Homeboy Sandman & Edan ‘#NeverUseTheInternetAgain’
Vince Staples ‘Outside’
J. Cole ‘1985’
Janelle Monae ‘Make Me Feel’
Sudan Archives ‘Nont for Sale’
Jean Grae & Quelle Chris ‘Gold Purple Orange’
Kamasi Washington ‘Street Fighter Mas’
NIN ‘Shit Mirror’
What’s NEXT (2019):
The Wizeguy Top FIVE…
Bloodstained: Ritual of The Night
Mr. Robot Final Season
King Of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Karen O & Danger Mouse
Donald Glover a.k.a. Childish Gambino
Czarface Meets Ghostface
The Last Zulu
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Oder
Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course
Disneys Streaming Service
Dolemite Is My Name
Stranger Things S3
Game Of Thrones S8
The Umbrella Academy
The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance
John Wick 3: Parabellum
Star Wars saga ends (?)
The Kid Who Would Be King
Spider-Man: Far From Home
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