It’s been a really good year for me — I set out quite a few personal and professional goals for myself at the beginning of 2013, and I was lucky enough to accomplish most of them. I did a whole lot of traveling this year, going to Vegas twice (and getting extremely sick the first time, unfortunately), San Francisco a few times, France once, Sweden three times, I took a two week, crowdfunded trip up to Denver and Salt Lake City, and I flew up to Seattle for a business trip last month. I changed jobs in July, and moved from LA down to Oceanside, where things are going really well. I met a lot of new people in the move, and I have done a lot of exciting personal things down here, too, including a whole lot of improv with a local theater.
Every year, I put together a list of what I’ve been watching, listening to, reading, and playing, and here is that list! As usual, I will say that these aren’t the best pieces of media released in this year specifically — they’re just what I’ve been experiencing in the past twelve months that I really like.
I finally watched Gravity the other day, and I think it deserves all of the awards it’s going to get. I watch a lot of movies on my couch, and I usually multitask during them — I play games, or write, or just browse the Internet while the movie goes by. I couldn’t do that during this one, though — it grabs you and pulls you right in with the visuals, the audio, the storytelling, the acting, all of it. Just a great film, a fantastic technical and artistic achievement.
Frozen was really amazing, too. I walked into this not really knowing anything about it (which, it turns out, is probably what Disney wanted), and I was similarly just entranced by the art on display. I don’t know if it feels quite as classic as some of the old Disney films, but it definitely stands out as a magical experience, and it fights hard to be extremely unique, and succeeds more often than not.
Thor: The Dark World was pretty good, but I’m including it here just because at this point I am 100% sold on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve been a comic book fan for a long time, and I think Marvel is doing it very right lately. From Iron Man 3 to Agents of Shield to all of the Netflix series they have planned, I am in on this thing, and I can’t wait until The Avengers comes back around for another big team-up.
Kick-Ass 2 did a great job, I thought, sticking with its insane brand of comedy, and heightening the stakes enough to make it meaningful as a sequel. Yes it’s gross and weird, but there’s some tenderness there, too. And boy did they luck out with Chloe Moretz — I thought she was great on 30 Rock too, and I think she’s got a big future ahead.
I can totally see how a person would think that This is the End is a smarmy, full-of-itself smugfest of self indulgence, with a bunch of really rich actors laughing at their own inside jokes and making fun of how popular and funny they are. But I had a really great time with it anyway. Maybe it’s just a result of my years in LA hanging out with that actor/party crowd, but I got all the references, enjoyed all the guest stars and the inside bits, and thought that it was impressively well written and produced for what was essentially a home movie. If you don’t get into it, I can see how you’d think it was terrible. But I had a great, fun time.
This year I finally subscribed to Spotify, so I honestly don’t know what I’ve been listening to lately. Most of my choices here are pretty average, I know, only because in the past few months, I’ve gone after what other people said is good.
Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and Kanye’s Yeezus are probably the best overall albums I’ve heard, though I know both of those choices aren’t that shocking. Daft Punk is great, and this is the year, I think, that I finally realized Kanye is probably crazy for real, but he can make a great album.
Eminem’s Marshall Mathers 2 was a fun listen. I don’t think the beats were quite up to par (what happened, Dr. Dre?) but Eminem can still rap like nobody’s business.
Bastille’s Bad Blood is excellent, and I’m surprised it’s a debut. I guess it’s not really, given how much they’d done before, but still. I expect to give this one many more listens in 2014.
The Heist didn’t come out this year, but Macklemore and Ryan Lewis made the album that I’ve probably listened to the most this year.
Finally, 2013 is the year I will publicly say that I actually like Ke$ha. She’s been a guilty pleasure for the past few years for me, but man, she keeps working with people like Iggy Pop and Ben Folds (and the Flaming Lips!), and I think I’m ready to admit that I like her. Timber, the dance club tune that she did with Pitbull, is probably my favorite song of the year. Maybe it’s because I’m just trying to generally be more mindlessly positive and less mindfully cynical lately, but the older I get, the more valid pop music has gotten for me.
As I said before, I’m sticking with Agents of Shield for as long as they’ll have it on the air. I agree that the series hasn’t found its pace yet (which is a euphemism for “it’s boring,” really), and the writing and the characters just aren’t that fascinating. The idea is so strong, though, and I just like the thought of a weekly network series that uses Clark Gregg chasing superheroes as the lead. I really hope AoS finds its feet before it gets canceled, because I think there are fun stories to tell here, and if the show does find a following and gets its hooks in fan, we could see a ton of fun tie-ins to the movies from week to week. I agree, it’s not great yet, but I still hold out hope that it could be.
Breaking Bad. Duh.
House of Cards was so good, and that was even after everyone (including my brother) told me that it was so good. David Fincher is so great at the lush darkness of luxury and power, and of course when Kevin Spacey gets a role with some meat on it, he can eat.
Hannibal I actually haven’t watched yet, but it’s next on my list. Bryan Fuller has made some great stuff, and I’ve heard this is very good as well.
Parks and Recreation, for my money, is the best comedy on TV at this point. There are some Community fans who will argue, but that show had a down year (because Harmon was gone), and Amy Poehler is just so much more positive and loving. I’ve had a big year working with improv, too, and I’ve been really impressed with her improv work and everything coming out of the UCB theaters (which she helped found).
Finally, RIP 30 Rock and Eastbound and Down. Oh and Hello Ladies, Stephen Merchant’s new HBO series, hit a lot of sour but familiar notes for me. I wouldn’t say it was the greatest show of the year, but it was good despite being so awkwardly hard to watch.
As usual, I haven’t been reading as much as I should. I got heavily into the Warhammer 40,000 universe this year, and the best of those books is the Eisenhorn and then the Ravenor series, both by Dan Abnett. I would recommend you start there if you’re interested in WH40k, except that I did and I haven’t found anything else in the universe nearly as good as those.
I finally read Eoin Colfer’s And Another Thing followup to the Hitchhiker’s Guide series this year, and I have no idea why I hadn’t read it before. It does a fine job of revisiting the tone and humor of the series, but like a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, it’s just not as great as the real thing.
Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life was on a lot of the best books lists of the year, and I agree that it’s great. Slow at times, though, especially if you like a lot of action.
Max Barry’s Lexicon was very good, and sort of a return to form for him, because I haven’t liked his last few books as much as the incredible Jennifer Government. Go read that if you haven’t yet.
I also read Chia Mieville’s Embassytown this year. It was a little tough to get through at times, but definitely very brilliant. It’s a great sci fi book, but it’s really more of a story about language and the art of storytelling than anything else. Some critics say all films are about making films, and this book definitely seemed to me to be about making books.
I am not doing a full top ten list this year for the first time in a while. For the first time in ever, I actually had a hand in some games that might appear on some folks’ top ten lists this year, so I don’t know if I can really recommend a game that I worked with the developer to make. Still, off the top of my head, here are the games I liked most this year.
Hearthstone is technically still in closed beta, but it’s just such an impressive title. I don’t like that it’s essentially pay to win (every time I see a deck shared online, I go into the game to build it and discover that I don’t have the cards necessary to play it), but as a game experience it’s extremely impressive.
My game of the year, if I actually picked one, is probably Grand Theft Auto 5. This seems like I’m piling my praise onto everyone else’s, and I am, I guess, but the honest truth is that the latest Grand Theft Auto game did things that games are not supposed to do. Xbox 360 and PS3 games especially are supposed to have loading times, and are supposed to drop frames when things get crazy, and are supposed to relegate side activities to noninteractive cutscenes rather than turning them into fully playable and immersive experiences. Rockstar took everything they knew about Grand Theft Auto, added all of their great learning from Red Dead Redemption to it, and created the best capstone the last generation could have ever asked for. Sure, some of the game’s violence got to be a bit much, and the satire occasionally got thick enough to wade through — “subtle” doesn’t seem to be in Rockstar’s vocabulary that often. But still: One hell of an experience, all the way through.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was great. I thought the battle mechanics were a little rough, but the graphics were so charming, and the story is very powerful. That soundtrack, too!
Bioshock Infinite, yeah, ok. I think the crowd who railed against the title’s rough FPS mechanics had a valid point, and I think the story faltered quite a bit near the end, with a few too many red herrings trying to jump back into the pot before dinner was served. I don’t think this matches up to the original Bioshock, which I still think is a classic. Taking those first few steps into Columbia, however, was just a crazy, crisply designed experience. There are some problems here, but it’s still a one-of-a-kind game.
If you buy only one game on iOS this year, make it Ridiculous Fishing. If you buy two games, get Device 6 too. You might as well get Pivvot and Mikey Hooks and Icycle, too, because you can afford it. On the iPad, I’ve also enjoyed Eclipse and Lords of Waterdeep, both board games that have been brought over to the tablet.
Guacamelee is just a smart, fun game that I don’t think has gotten enough credit for what it is. The next-gen release will help, hopefully. Gone Home and The Stanley Parable are excellent indie games that represent what I think we will continue to see from the indie scene. Animal Crossing: New Leaf got me to buy a 3DS, finally, and it was well worth it (though lately I’ve been leaving my town to rot). I played a whole lot of Spleunky on PC this year, even though it was released last year. Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is the best of the next-gen titles so far, in my opinion. And I haven’t played The Last of Us yet. Yes, I know I should, and I bet it’s good, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.
It’s been a big year! Hope you had a good one, too, and have a great Christmas and a prosperous 2014!