2015: We Survived, Somehow

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2015 sure felt like a textbook example of a lousy sequel. It didn’t fix any of 2014’s problems, in stead trying to mask the incompetence that brought forth these disasters with ever more ridiculous plot twists and pointless spectacle. Who directed this crap? Donald Trump? What a waste of time.

Anyway, 2015 was a year in which borders — both physical and ideological — dominated the news. A year in which the relentless arrogance of western imperialism and intolerance came back to bite us in the ass and we just re-elected the same cowards and clowns responsible to keep dragging us further down into a gaping maw of fear, hatred and selfishness. A year in which fascism in the United States became a tangible prospect, in which people proudly marched the streets to defend their right to smugly offend other people and in which many a politician, journalist or internet crank spent tons of time and money on making sure we’re giving terrorists of all creeds and cultures everything they want. But hey, we survived. I survived. I survived, and all I got was this lousy handful of things that got me through these sad, sad 365 days.

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Life is Strange

Games of the year

Or rather game of the year because fuck buying games at full price

Life is Strange showed me once and for all what a game truly needs to immerse players in its world. Not scale, photorealistic graphics, or thousands of sidequests, but the simple pleasure of being able to take in every small detail of the beautifully scenic town of Arcadia Bay, interacting with everyday objects and hearing protagonist Max Caulfield’s dorkily sarcastic thoughts on them even if they have no impact on its story whatsoever. Blessed with well-fleshed out characters, excellent sound design and delightfully clever twists and turns, Life is Strange used its episodic structure to its advantage, keeping me well-invested in its engaging storyline until the very end. While occasionally dulled by the frankly rather ungrateful nitpickings of a somewhat misguided fanbase, ultimately, Life is Strange’s legacy will be one of genuine depth and understated beauty. Most video games drop the ball long before the credits roll, but Life is Strange should have lasted forever.

And also…

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, Tales of Zestiria, Xenoblade Chronicles X

Films of the year

These didn’t make me want to stand up and go do something else after five minutes

Holy crap, guys, we finally got that Star Wars sequel. Sure, it may be a few decades late and produced as little more than a cynical cash grab from Disney, but by the maker, didn’t Star Wars: The Force Awakens resurrect the desperate nerd within me once again. An almost perfect blend of classic filmmaking expertise and modern-day sass, The Force Awakens somehow managed to be more faithful to the original Star Wars (as in, A New Hope) than most actual remakes and get away with it thanks to some clever twists and unexpected subversions of our expectations. Yet most of all, it gave us characters both beloved and fresh, from John Boyega’s twitchy turncoat Stormtrooper Finn to Daisy Ridley’s Rey, a character who will undoubtedly inspire generations to follow. Yet the biggest surprise of them all was Kylo Ren, whose very nature is both the movie’s biggest spoiler — though not in the way you’d expect — and the core of what sets The Force Awakens apart from the original trilogy: It’s a movie that is, essentially, about following up on a heroic, world-changing event that happened over thirty years ago. It’s not a new A New Hope. Of course not. But there is no shame in being at least a worthy successor.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Speaking of great sequels to films made several decades ago, hell yeah Mad Max: Fury Road! A colourful, two-hour long adrenaline rush filled to the brim with ridiculous stunts, gigantic explosions and people proudly named ‘Toast the Knowing’, Fury Road is vile feminist propaganda artistic nonsense that would make Lewis Carroll blush, but most of all, an ode to fun. Hidden beneath its high-octane struggle between good and a rather physically unappealing evil is a megaton (get it?) of world building, which leaves you to pretty much make up the story for yourself while the movie can concern itself with far more important things such as guys in footie pajamas shooting fire out of their electric guitars. Watching Mad Max: Fury Road might drive you a little mad yourself, but don’t worry, it’s quite nice over here. What a lovely day. What a lovely day!

And also…

Spectre, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jupiter Ascending, have I mentioned that I have terrible taste in film yet?

TV shows of the year

Those things you watch on your laptop at one in the morning

Last year, I wrote a bunch of crap about how much Game of Thrones can go die in a pit somewhere and boy howdy, it sure did make sure I won’t be revising my opinion any time soon, huh? Anyway, in stead of watching HBO’s million-dollar argument for why being overrun with invincible ice zombies might be the most favorable outcome for Westeros, you could watch something actually entertaining, like, say, iZombie! How do you shake up the police procedural, one of the most boring, repetitive genres in television history? Simple: You make one of the detectives a friendly neigbourhood zombie who eats the brains of murder victims to relive their memories. Unfortunately, Liv (played by Rose McIver, the yellow ranger from Power Rangers RPM) also takes on the victims’ personality traits and quirks, turning her into a different colourful personage every episode. Throughout iZombie‘s two seasons so far, McIver has played Liv as, amongst others, a trash-talking basketball coach, a troubled stalker, a cheesy local vigilante, a melancholic country singer and a womanizing painter to often hilarious results, yet the show doesn’t shy away from bringing some depth to its constant wit. The rather formulaic murder mysteries are sprinkled with excellent character journeys and a simultaneously ridiculous and surprisingly excellent (Evil energy drinks! Fancy brain carpaccio! Undead rock stars!) arc plot. If you’re looking for an endearing show that can take your mind off the gravity and cynicism that seems to infest ‘quality’ television nowadays, iZombie is your show to go.

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iZombie

Also of note this year, Netflix’s strong serving of exclusive content, ranging from the delightfully kooky yet far too short Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, to Marvel’s first foray into proper live-action television superheroics since, like, that campy 1960’s Hulk show with Lou Feringo. While both blessed with excellent performances, tangible tension, nuanced drama and a gritty atmosphere, Daredevil and Jessica Jones both left me a bit underwhelmed. The former seemed almost scared of being a superhero show, at times feeling like one of those boring crime shows your dad watches in stead of focusing on what makes The Man Without Fear special. Jessica Jones, on the other hand, absolutely nailed the unicity of Brian Michael Bendis’ original series, with its jaded comedy and the disturbing antics of the The Tenth Doctor On Copious Amounts of Cocaine The Purple Man, but suffers from some pacing issues. In stead of letting Jessica deal with some superhero-related mysteries, building up tension, before facing her off against Kilgrave, Jessica Jones revealed its protagonist’s disturbing past (or at least a painfully compressed version of it) and its villain’s perverse nature almost immediately, leaving the rest of the series open for a repetitive game of cat and mouse interspersed with side plots that seem to exist only because the main cast just had to consist of more than three people.

And also…

Hannibal, Bates Motel, Orphan Black, Faking It, Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Music of the year

This is the part where you stop reading

2015 was another stunning year for music, with landmark releases in different genres and the continued breakthrough of good, artsy pop music into the mainstream charts. With its dense jazz arrangements, funk influences and politically-charged lyrics, Kendrick Lamar’s seminal To Pimp a Butterfly managed to be a hit even with my parents. On the other side of the Atlantic, Jamie Smith of The xx produced In Colour, a wonderful debut album filled with melancholic dance songs and murky celebrations of the London nightlife. The Australian Tame Impala combined seventies psychedelic rock and eighties synthpop on their funky, yet introspective third album Currents, while Michigan’s finest Sufjan Stevens awoke from his five-year hibernation with the chilling Carrie & Lowell, a tangibly fragile, heart-rending elegy to a mother he barely even knew.

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Grimes

On the entirely opposite end of the volume spectrum, Deafheaven miraculously managed to make a worthy successor to their breakthrough album Sunbather: New Bermuda is another monolith of brutal splendor and cosmic poignancy, somehow both more gorgeous and more unforgiving than they have ever sounded before. Yet the finest album of the year has to be Grimes’ madly brilliant Art Angels. Not so much an evolution as a revolution compared to her earlier skeletal compositions, Art Angels is an honest-to-goodness pop record, filled from start to end with brilliant melodies from a plethora of different genres, all neatly wrapped up in Grimes’ signature dreamy production and delivered with reckless abandon. There’s an orchestral intro, a nu-metal track with a Taiwanese rapper, a Dolly Parton-inspired torch song dissing Pitchfork Media and an absolutely ridiculous show tune about Al Pacino’s character in The Godfather II, “except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space”, and absolutely none of it is in any way dishonest. Art Angels sounds like Grimes unconditionally embracing every aspect of her own being, and it is an honour, nay, a privilege to get to experience it along with her.

And also…

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett, Every Open Eye by CHVRCHES, Viet Cong by Viet Cong, and Drones by Muse, if only for how utterly ridiculous it is.

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So yeah, that was 2015. As a year, it sucked quite a whole lot. Yet as another 365 days to do the things I love, it wasn’t half bad. Let’s not forget the good stuff — the friends we made, the opportunities we seized, or even just that one time when they played that song you like on the radio, or when you got out of bed and finally had that inspiration you needed to create something — and take it with us as we set foot into 2016. To all the fear-mongering fools and hate-stirring cowards I wish a little bit of love and a lot of common sense, and to everyone the heart and the humanity to make next year one worth living in for everyone. Happy New Year, and may it be better than the last.

Honestly, that shouldn’t be too hard now, should it?

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