Happy New Year! Can you believe the year 2020 is upon us? I remember as a kid thinking 2000 sounded so futuristic. Crazy, isn’t it? When it comes to media, the 2010s certainly had its ups and downs.
Video games got off to a great start with 2010 and 2011 being excellent years for the medium. However, the bottom in the fell out in 2012, and suddenly AAA productions lost their dominance. I’m not sure if it can be attributed to a single incident, but I would probably have to name Mass Effect 3 and the negative reaction to its ending that caused people to be more wary of AAA products. Then there was 2013, which I consider the single weakest year for gaming within this decade, having an inordinate number of hyped games such as Gone Home and Beyond: Two Souls that utterly failed to deliver. While 2014 didn’t have as many bad games, barely anything from that year stood out. Then in 2015, Undertale was released, and that caused a major spike in interest for indie productions, which I think singlehandedly redeemed the medium from the treasure trove of bad games released in 2013. In a twist of irony, fans are now more supportive of independent efforts than the journalists – the exact opposite situation the film industry faces.
Depending on your perspective, the 2010s was either a great or miserable decade for music. While I think it was slightly better than the 2000s, there’s no getting around that the mainstream stuff was fairly weak. Fortunately, like video games, there were plenty of indie artists to pick up the slack.
I think of the 2010s as the decade in which films lost their claim to the artistic high ground to video games. They did get off to a better start than video games, having only a few critical missteps between 2010 and 2017. However, I think the release of The Last Jedi marked the moment film criticism lost its way, leading to the medium being in a bad way for 2018 and, to a lesser extent, 2019. Indeed, I consider 2018 to be the film industry equivalent of 2013 in that there was an inordinate number of films that failed to live up to the hype. However, films are overall worse off than video games ever were because I can safely say the independent game makers are far more ambitious than their filmmaking counterparts. Stuff like OneShot and Undertale are far more innovative than the most acclaimed indie films I’ve seen this decade.
As for other mediums, I can’t claim to be an expert, but from what I’ve seen, it was a great decade for animation – both from the West and the East, though the latter seemed to be more consistently good. Along those lines, it ended up being the decade in which I began seriously pursuing manga and graphic novels, though strangely, despite liking the MCU, I find myself gravitating towards non-superhero stories.
Anyway with that bit of rambling out of the way, let’s dive into the final recap, shall we?
Films watched in December 2019:
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller, 2019)
- Waves (Trey Edward Shults, 2019)
- Uncut Gems (Josh Safdie & Benny Safdie, 2019)
- Little Women (Greta Gerwig, 2019)
- The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)
- Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1973)
- Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island (Hiroshi Inagaki, 1956)
- A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964)
Sometime last year, I ended up watching a documentary about Fred Rogers called Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I never really grew up watching his show, but it made for an intriguing watch. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood thus goes in an interesting direction regarding its subject in that Mister Rogers is more of a supporting character who nonetheless plays an important role in the protagonist’s life. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was probably for the best because a straight biopic would’ve been a little redundant.
Going into the 2020s, I have a new rule regarding A24 films. I’ve noticed that the ones that lost me the most were the ones that had middling/poor fan receptions on Rotten Tomatoes whether we’re talking about Gloria Bell, High Life, or The Witch. All of them were well-received critically, but managed to lose audiences by being largely plotless, mind-numbingly slow, or both respectively. Meanwhile, the A24 films I actually liked, The Farewell, The Disaster Artist, and Good Time, were all crowd pleasers. The only real exception could be Moonlight, which generally fared better with critics than fans if the numbers on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb are anything to go by, but even then, the latter camp still technically leaned positive. Plus, that was before Rian Johnson caused critics (and possibly a good portion of his fellow filmmakers) to go off the deep end in late 2017, so it along with The Lost City of Z were some of the last times I favored critics over the audience.
I know that review bombing is a thing, but in the case of A24, I find it’s a little more valuable to see their films based off of their fan reception because it’s difficult to take what critics say of them at face value when they’ve adopted very fangirlish/fanboyish (Stanish?) attitudes towards the studio. I realize I may miss out on a genuinely good film by doing that, but considering A24’s “Wide releases are for suckers!” attitude, I don’t think that’s too big of a loss.
This brings us to Trey Edward Shults’s Waves. This film right here demonstrates the biggest problem I have with the current wave of critics. From an artistic standpoint, they are shockingly conservative – or at least the ones from the United States. I’m not sure how endemic the problem is elsewhere (any international reader out there, feel free to set the record straight!), but American ones have a terrible tendency to swat down anything that offends their sensibilities. While Waves was well-received, many of them complained about its structure. Specifically, it goes for the two-act model you may have seen when watching films such as Vertigo, High and Low, or (to a lesser extent) Touch of Evil. Considering how many of those same critics praised Rian Johnson for defying their expectations two years prior (not to mention having at least three third acts), it’s downright bizarre that they would take issue with that. It’s almost like “defies our expectations” is code for “conforms to my expectations” or something. Admittedly, it was a little irritating not knowing that going into the film, but once I caught on, I was perfectly fine with it. It is definitely not a problem people should have rewatching it. Either way, Waves is easily one of the better films A24 has issued. It’s a little difficult to say what makes it such a good film without spoiling it, but I can say that it went places I wasn’t expecting. If you’re looking for an underrated drama from 2019, this is the one to see. Also, Trent Reznor was involved with the soundtrack – that also helped.
Sometime after that at home, I dived into The Exterminating Angel. You know those people who insist there are no new ideas under the sun? It’s one of these phrases that sounds legit when you hear them. And then you watch The Exterminating Angel and the works of Luis Buñuel and realize every single person who made that argument clearly threw in the towel long ago. How many surreal satirical comedies in which middle-class people go to a dinner party only to find they can’t leave? Only one springs to mind, and this would be it. I didn’t like it as much as The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, but it is definitely worth looking into.
The following week, I wound up seeing Amarcord. I enjoyed 8½, which I saw earlier in the year, and Amarcord made for an enjoyable watch. Like 8½, Amarcord demonstrates the biggest difference between classic arthouse films and the ones we get today. You know that stereotype of arthouse films being stuffy, pretentious, rubbernecking drivel that normal people find tedious, yet cinephiles can’t get enough of? Well, having seen plenty of them, I have to say it’s kind of like how the butler turning out to be the murderer is a well-known murder mystery trope despite never having really been a trend at all. Sure, some classic arthouse films were exactly that, but most of the time, the directors were actually interested in reaching out to their audience, which made their works feel more human than the manufactured Art™ A24 often produces in bulk. Then you get stuff like Amarcord which is ridiculously raunchy and irreverent – to the point where it wouldn’t be out of place in a double screening with M*A*S*H. Best of all, both it and The Exterminating Angel have actual subtlety to their satirical messages – truly a lost art that needs to be rediscovered.
Fun fact: One of the first scenes in Uncut Gems involves a major character getting a colonoscopy. A metaphor for A24’s collective headspace, perhaps? But no, I kid (for now) because Uncut Gems is well worth watching for one reason and one reason only: it, and I can’t believe I’m typing this, managed to squeeze a great performance out of Adam Sandler. Feel free to reread that sentence in case you couldn’t process the letters I arranged because I still can’t believe it.
Rian Johnson and Alex Garland may pride themselves in their subversive storytelling tendencies but they are rendered total amateurs compared to the twists real life throws at us. I mean, the Transformers film franchise suddenly getting good with Bumblebee, Shia LaBeouf turning in two good acting performances in one year, and now Adam Sandler following in his footsteps? I think we should probably stop calling things because clearly we’ve clearly reached the point where any comeback, no matter how unlikely, is possible. Uncut Gems does have a very stereotypically A24 ending, but unlike the case with Ex Machina, I feel the directors managed to make it fit.
The next day, I ended up seeing Greta Gerwig’s sophomore effort, Little Women. Having never read the book before, I did enjoy her interpretation of the story because of its interesting framing device. It starts off with author Louisa May Alcott pitching the story to a publisher and the film flashes back to eight years ago, allowing the plot of Little Women to play out. Considering that Ms. Alcott based the characters on herself and her own sisters, this was a unique way to present the story. When Papers, Please was released, I mused that Naughty Dog was clearly holding Lucas Pope back because I could never imagine the developer thinking that far out of the box. How I feel about Little Women is somewhat similar in that I think that the A24 style was more of a burden than a boon for Ms. Gerwig when making Lady Bird. Now I know for sure it was their style holding them back because the charisma-free nature of Lady Bird is not an issue in Little Women with leading lady Saoirse Ronan now suddenly able to carry scenes singlehandedly.
Finally, I decided to ring in the new year (and decade) by watching A Hard Day’s Night at home. A strange choice, I’ll admit, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not knowing much about the film beforehand, I was expecting it to be a documentary of sorts similar to Dont Look Back rather than a scripted story – albeit an incredibly goofy one that belies some amazing cinematography. Honestly, it’s worth watching for the soundtrack alone. Basically, imagine what would happen if a French New Wave director made a screwball comedy about musicians, and you’ve got A Hard Day’s Night.
Films reviewed, but not watched in December 2019:
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (J. J. Abrams, 2015)
Scott of the Wizard Dojo brought up an interesting point regarding how I ultimately graded The Force Awakens. He wondered if I did that because I felt that was the grade it deserved or because The Last Jedi retroactively cheapened it. I myself wonder what would’ve happened had Mr. Johnson resisted the urge to gleefully toss aside Mr. Abrams’s notes like that challenged driver we all know who insists they don’t need to ask for help despite taking several hours to navigate a single neighborhood block. It’s possible I would’ve been more forgiving of The Force Awakens, but in all honesty, even I’m not entirely sure which way I would’ve gone. Guess we’ll never know, huh?
What I do know is that I make it a point that I don’t like complacent sequels that fail to accomplish anything outside of wallowing in past successes, and that is something The Force Awakens is quite guilty of. To be fair, it did have a bit more of an excuse to do that than say, Uncharted 3, Far Cry 4, or New Super Mario Bros. It is impossible to overstate that by 2015, the franchise’s goodwill was completely gone. It was to the point where many people cheered the idea of George Lucas selling his franchise – a development that would almost always be met with scorn (or sympathy if the author was in dire straits, but never relief). Fans needed something that restored faith in the brand, and The Force Awakens provided just what they needed. However, once the buzz died down, it was clear it didn’t really have anything practical to offer that wasn’t done better in A New Hope.
Games reviewed in December 2019:
Pokémon X and Y
I think it really says something that Gen VI Pokémon had the first set of games I wasn’t compelled to play through from start to finish. I tried playing it back when it was released, and something about it just wasn’t working for me, causing me to abandon my playthrough halfway. No, it wasn’t because I had been burned out by the franchise by then. In fact, thanks to the generation immediately preceding it, I had been convinced to catch up on what I missed since I abandoned the series after Ruby and Sapphire. Gen VI just didn’t click for me, but I think what finally convinced me to power through was when I knew I would review this series eventually. I therefore revisited these games (four-and-a-half years after the fact) and played Gen IV so I could write a retrospective.
Unfortunately, playing through X and Y allowed me to finally grasp why, exactly, I abandoned my initial playthroughs. Obviously, they’re not bad games by any stretch, but everything they tried to do was done better in previous generations (especially Gen V). Coupled with their overall lack of challenge, and I can safely say they lack the impact of their predecessors. The lack of a need to level grind does place X and Y ahead of Gold and Silver, but they demonstrate how badly a user-friendly feature can backfire when you overcorrect to fix a problem that’s easy to address. Because of these problems, I would say Gen VI was the first incarnation of the series since Gen II to have missed the mark of being good – and that’s without the benefit of the series still attempting to find its footing by that point.
Mega Man is one of those rare instances in which I discovered a video game series long after the fact and actually started with the first installment as opposed to jumping headfirst into the one everyone says is the series’ pinnacle. I was definitely impressed with it, but while I still think it was a perfectly good debut, there’s no getting around that its sequels have offered far more sophisticated experiences. The game bears the growing pains associated with developers going from arcades to consoles, which actively get in the way of the fun. If you’re totally unfamiliar with the series, it wouldn’t be a terrible one to start with, but if you do, make sure the version you get actually saves your progress. It’s not the longest game in the world, but completing it in one sitting is too tall of an order, I find.
Mega Man 2
I didn’t really intend for it to pan out this way, but here is my final game review of the decade. I definitely think it’s a good choice because Mega Man 2 is where the series clicked. It’s amazing to think that it only came out a year after the original because the sheer number of improvements Akira Kitamura and company made to the gameplay is staggering when you take time dissecting the experience. Everything from the music to the gameplay to the art style to the boss fights demonstrates just how much care went into the experience. Whoever believes the medium still needs to prove its artistic merits needs to read up on the development of this game; the medium always has had a real artistic value. It’s when game creators attempt to go out of their way to prove it that they run into problems. All I can say is that if you just want an experience that’s pure, good gameplay and you still somehow haven’t played it, Mega Man 2 will do you no wrong.
The rabbit girl and the obsolete ゐ – To help with his law career, AK of Everything is Bad for You has taken it upon himself to study Japanese. I myself learned a little bit of it back in college, and found it a lot of fun. His article points out one of the many interesting ways in which languages have evolved over the years.
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith Review – Scott of the Wizard Dojo has decided to review all nine numbered films in the Star Wars franchise thus far. The jury may be out on whether or not Revenge of the Sith is considered good, but it is certainly way more memeable than The Last Jedi.
Four games I’d like to finish but probably never will – I think we’ve all run into that game we just can’t bring ourselves to finish. Kate of Musings of a Nitpicking Girl highlights four such games.
Bringing Videogames to the Classroom – As the medium evolves, game creators are going to experiment more and more with storytelling. UnCapt wrote an interesting article about where they stand from an artistic standpoint.
Shadows of Mass Destruction. The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 2-Gameplay – As part of his Persona retrospective, Aether dives into the underlying game mechanics of Persona 3, which is largely guided by artificial intelligence.
Shovel Knight: King of Cards—Farewell to the Indie Masterpiece! – Although I suspect Undertale was the game that led many people to show interest in indie games, Shovel Knight was what convinced me personally that they’re worth looking into. Mr. Wapojif wrote a great article about the game this past month.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Is A Fast, Emotional & Messy Conclusion To The Star Wars Saga – I haven’t seen The Rise of Skywalker yet, but if what I perused from José Soto’s take on the film is any indication, it’s quite sloppy. It certainly gives me an idea of what to expect out of it.
Movie Review – Pet Sematary (2019) – Pet Sematary was one of the biggest cases of bait-and-switch that I’d ever encountered when it comes to film with the critical score dropping like a lead balloon after I purchased my ticket. Seeing Jonny’s of Jaunts and Haunts take on it was a treat.
Favorite Covers of 2019 – As the year draws to a close, many “best of” lists will be written. Way Too Fantasy goes in an interesting direction by highlighting notable book covers. Never underestimate the power of a good cover, I’d say.
Games of the Decade – Here’s another one! Nathan of Gaming Omnivore has written about the best games of the decade. I agree with his notion that the latter half of the decade was better than the former half despite 2010 and 2011 being great years for the medium.
The Farewell – Because A24 can’t distribute films to save their lives, Man in Black of Instant Headache had to wait until now to see The Farewell. It’s a shame too because it really is the film that Crazy Rich Asians tried, but failed to be.
Top 5 Games of 2019 – Scaling things back a bit, 3PStart takes a look at the greatest games of 2019, including a game that does and doesn’t have a title at the same time.
Thoughts on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Yet another interesting take on The Rise of Skywalker is provided by The Night Owl of The Late Night Session. Despite its modest critical reception, it would appear to be quite the crowd pleaser.
DEAR INNOVARE IS HERE! – As an aspiring musician, ospreyshire has made his first album available for streaming. It kind of reminds me of Swans’ earlier LPs such as Filth and a lot of other experimental music from the 1980s.
Watchmen Ultimate Cut (2009) Movie Review – Lashaan Balasingam of Bookidote reviewed the 2009 film adaptation of Watchmen. Makes me want to finally get into the original graphic novel.
My Favourite Reads/Listens of 2019 – Continuing what is a common thread this month, swordsandspectres takes a look at his favorite books and albums from the past year.
2020 Bookish Resolutions – And, of course, a New Year celebration wouldn’t do without making some resolutions. cupcakesandmachetes vows to “spend the minimum amount on books as possible”. As a gamer with a backlog, I can relate.
Little Women: The March Sisters Return – I wasn’t the only one who saw Little Women! After being lost by Lady Bird, it would appear Ms. Gerwig’s sophomore effort won bookbeachbunny over as well.
Book Review: Ninefox Gambit (Machineries of the Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee – As longtime readers know, I’m all for a story that has nuance to the themes it explores, and judging by Sarah’s of Hamlets & Hyperspace take on Ninefox Gambit, it would appear a lot can be found in that tale. The way it’s told is interesting as well – through smaller vignettes.
Still to come:
My first film review of this new year shall be of The Last Jedi, which I have to admit is shaping up to be my longest one yet. This coming Sunday, I intend to see Rise of Skywalker, so you can expect a review of that the following week. Once I’ve gotten back to business, I intend to start this decade off on the right foot (or at least when it comes to video games) by reviewing Dark Souls. I wanted to post it earlier, but my plans changed quite a bit. Depending on how fast I write the review, I will either review Mega Man 3 or Pokémon Sun and Moon next. If I don’t review the latter, it will be done in February. Here’s hoping the 2020s brings us great fortune!
- The most frequent score I awarded the games I reviewed in 2019 was 6/10 (10 times – Ys II, Luigi’s Mansion, Pokémon Gold and Silver, Super Mario Sunshine, King’s Quest IV, Wonder Boy in Monster World, Super Widget, Pilotwings 64, and Pokémon X and Y, and Mega Man).
- The rarest score I awarded the games I reviewed in 2019 was 9/10 (1 time – Pokémon Black 2 and White 2).
- 2019 is the first year since 2017 in which I used every grade at least once.
- 2019 is the first year since 2015 in which I didn’t rewrite any old reviews.
- Persona 4 supplanted Spirit of Justice for the longest review I’ve written to date at 18,000+ words. It also managed to replace Majora’s Mask for the title of the best game I’ve reviewed.
- The PlayStation 2 is the first console to have spawned more than one game I would end up awarding a 10/10.
- As of the end of 2019, I have yet to award a 10/10 to a film.
- Mega Man 2 was the final game I reviewed this decade, which I gave an 8/10.
- The Force Awakens was the final film I reviewed this decade, which I gave a 5/10. It was also the final work to have faced disqualification.
- Going into the new decade, I have reviewed 207 games and 102 films.
Links to my articles:
- Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (5/10) [Disqualified]