So it's been a year since I last asked myself what cool stuff I found during the past year, and I guess I should set about doing it again. As before, this list is entirely personal - not just in being about what I personally liked this year, but also with regards to what qualifies as belonging to the relevant period. If I saw it, read it, or played it this year, it's eligible - regardless what year you might actually be inclined to attribute it to. Hey, they make a lot of cool stuff in a year, and it takes me a lot longer than that to find it all.
Okay, let's go.
---Of the movies I saw:
A perfect evocation of everything great about the era of silent film, and a vibrant fantasy in its own right. I reviewed it here.
Another animated masterpiece from Satoshi Kon, by turns fantastically whimsical and deeply disturbing.
The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan returns to Gotham City for this sprawling comicbook epic, full of compelling, larger than life characters.
---Of the books I read:
Gods Behaving Badly - Marie Phillips
An understated and touching love story - at least until those pesky Greek Gods start meddling with mortal affairs. Since the rise of Christianity, the denizens of Mount Olympus have relocated to a run-down house in London, but they're no less keen on grand acts of selfish omnipotence.
Ubik - Philip K. Dick
A typical mind-fuck from the king of psychedelia. After narrowly escaping death, a group of superhuman psychics find that the world seems to be decaying at a terrifying rate - and one by one, each of them is turning into a dessicated husk.
Aces Falling - Peter Hart
An engrossing book about air warfare throughout 1918. Hart gives readers what they want, in the form of stories about the famous aces, but also sets them into the context of a new combined theatre of war where lone wolf hunters were being subsumed into a larger, more tactically-minded war machine.
---Of the comics and manga I read:
Death Note - Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata
Last year I lamented only having read the first volume. This year I read volumes 2-12, concluding the story. The combination of Obata's flawless artwork and Ohba's intense plotting results in something that should be read by anyone with an interest in fantasy or mystery comics - as a teenager who's resolved to rid the world of undesirables by writing their names in a death god's notebook is pursued by a legendary (and anonymous) detective.
Chiggers - Hope Larson
Although Larson's keenly observed tale of summer camp friendship and preternatural intrigue is aimed at teenage girls, it deserves to be (and probably has been) read by all and sundry. Undoubtedly one of the best western comic artist-writers you'll find.
Batman: Harley and Ivy - Paul Dini, Bruce Timm et al.
Cute beyond words, something about the bright artwork, colourful characters and psychotic cheerfulness of this book reminded me of watching Saturday morning cartoons as a kid and coming to the realisation that I wanted to tell stories as well as experience them.
---Of the TV shows I watched:
Batman: The Animated Series
Well, while we're on the subject, I've been rewatching a lot of this nineties cartoon show. Some of the episodes don't hold up too well now that I'm all grown up, but frequently the snappy dialogue and noir-ish art deco stylings produce quite striking pieces of television.
The only show I actually watched live and gave a damn about this year, Ugly Betty has the perfect mixture of melodrama and comedy, and an entire cast of memorable and lovable characters.
Something else I revisited this year. Despite being about an all-American team of luminaries toppling dictatorships and preventing alliances with dirty communists, Mission: Impossible was for the most part a genial puzzle-box of a show, with a first-rate cast steadily unravelling devilish plans of deception each episode.
---Of the games I played:
A huge, sprawling, engrossing game. The narrative and character interaction are over-simplistic, but I found the allure of exploring this impossibly detailed post-nuclear landscape and making a name for myself as a hero or monster to be quite irresistible.
Resident Evil 4 - Wii Edition
So it took me a few years to get around to it, but this atmospheric, grimly realised action horror game, with its memorably over-the-top characters, has easily become one of my all time favourite games (although I think I still prefer RE2, if only because Ada is more sensibly dressed). I've played it from start to finish three times this year, and got a good way into it for a fourth go on 'professional' difficulty (so far it is very hard).
Often indie games tread new ground, brave new forms of gameplay, tackle storylines that no mainstream studio would ever touch. Iji, a freeware game you can download from here, isn't like that. If you could give it a multi-million budget and the latest state-of-the-art graphics engine, you'd end up with a game that was a lot like the games already out there - only much, much better. Iji is a perfect demonstration of why gaming needs auteurs who want to tell stories and explore characters - rather than shareholders who want to play it safe and get a percentage. Melancholy, evocative, and uncompromising.
---Of the Happy New Years I wished you:
I've got to pick the one just coming up, now haven't I? I hope this new orbit brings you happiness and fulfilment, and your resolutions are both feasible and level-headed. In short: Happy New Year!