While we are a community focused on games and how they intersect with our lives, we’ve never shied away from exploring and discussing other media critically and enthusiastically. It only seems appropriate, then, that our End of Year event offer up a space for us to share our own “Waypoints” from 2021.
This topic is dedicated to anything that you watched. As pretty much the whole realm of moving image, that can mean a lot of things! A big blockbuster, a small indie film, a prestige drama, a great anime, or even a YouTube video! Whatever it is, feel free to tell us all about it!
Watching movies was strange this year, again. There was only a brief window, in the summer, where I felt comfortable going to the theatre. During that, I saw The Green Knight, an artsy but surprisingly fun adaptation of a medieval poem that I own three discrete translations of (medieval literature is my thing). Good film.
And of the movies I saw at home, I think my favourite was Judas and the Black Messiah. Biopics are never entirely faithful stories, narratives need a hook and that means focusing on certain parts of a person’s life to the exclusion of others. But I appreciate that this one didn’t shy away from the fact that many of these characters were Marxists, while still portraying them as sympathetic, heroic. Not perfect, but good.
I barely watched any non-anime TV outside of the Marvel guff, and while Loki was occasionally charming, I don’t think any of them really were good enough to bother bolding their names.
There was a lot of good anime, though. Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway was the start of a very promising entry into the UC, a great drama about a character who wants to take down the EFF and protect the Earth without also being a fascist. It only took, like, 40 years! Jujutsu Kaisen was a lot of fun, Heike Monogatari has a great style, Odd Taxi is unparalleled…
But if I’m picking favorites, well, unfortunately, I’m a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure fan. And so Stone Ocean basically won the minute I saw this OP.
One of the sad side-effects of signing up to Disney+ is feeling like you need to justify the monthly expense by watching lots of stuff on Disney+.
However, thankfully we also have free-er to view things in the UK, so my actual big favourites I watched this year were I May Destroy You [which is technically a 2020 thing, I think, but I only watched it this year], a by turns uncomfortable, uncompromising piece of TV… and (for the first time in years), all of the original anime Cowboy Bebop whilst it was still available here on 4oD before Netflix snaffled back up the rights to it. (I do not care either way about watching the live action version, especially now it is cancelled, but the original is still brilliant.)
F&F9 is a glorious piece of cheese. I have not yet seen Spider-Man, so F&F9 is easily my favorite movie of the year. John Cena drives his car off a cliff so he can be picked up by a plane flying by with a giant magnet on the bottom and the movie only goes up from there. In a year where I just desperately wanted to watch something that made me feel good, F&F9 pulled up a chair for me at family dinner and asked me to say grace.
Of the D+ MCU stuff, I think I have to give it up for WandaVision so far (we’ll see if Hawkeye can cash the checks it’s been writing). It starts a whole lot stronger than it finishes, but I think the first two episodes are the biggest swing the MCU has taken since they started the whole thing.
I think…great googly moogly the Snyder Cut was this year too. I was pleasantly surprised by that one! Zack Snyder actually knows what he’s doing kinda! And then The Eternals came along and did that but worse.
This was the year I watched The Sopranos, and it was every bit as brilliant as I had been led to believe. Hilarious, tragic and stomach-churning in all the best ways. And yes, probably the most immaculately aged piece of media I’ve personally encountered. It’s a show whose commentary on decline; decline of life, decline of family, decline of opportunity, decline of the self, feels perfectly suited for the 2020’s. But, there it is, in 1999.
I think I’m always going to resent WandaVision a bit for not at all delivering on the promise of the first two or three episodes, to be honest. (And this was a disappointing trend for all three of the early Disney+ MCU series - Loki, especially, also had a much better first few episodes than ending.)
Not that I necessarily was in the market for six episodes of WandaVision sitcom without some kind of overarching MCU tie-in but it was a hard fall off from those first twoish episodes. The fact that it seems to be a real formula now (4 shows of mystery, big twist, 1.5 episodes of exposition dump, big CG punchup, end credits stinger for the next thing) is also kind of a bummer. I just want one of these shows to change it up a little (and the “look who we brought in!” trick works once, Hawkeye)
Clearly no-one wanted “WandaVision sitcom” with no twists, but a more subversive approach (leaning on the not-really-Lynchean-but-superficially-similar moments of “script-breaking”) without just seeming to give up in Episode 4 with a “so, we know that all of you guys are bored of waiting for the reveal, right?” episode that essentially destroys all of the actual slow-burn stuff would have worked so much better. (They could even keep the Ship of Theseus conversation in Episode 9, it’s already the best thing in that episode anyway.)
I watched “Squid Game,” and like most, I dug it. I think I liked “Hellbound” more, though, and am far more eager to see further seasons of that show that I am of SG.
I’m glad to see Netflix going outside the US for more content, as we’re getting to see things network/cable TV likely wouldn’t produce. I think Korea’s taking the lead here, and I’m eager to see “The Silent Sea” when it comes out next week.
I didn’t watch as much new stuff this year as I maybe should have, was. Lot of rewatching comfort food movies/shows. Of what I did see though?
The Green Knight is a beautiful and somber take on fantastic poem, working as a criticism of the lie of chivalry as a whole but very specifically that which is often applied to heroes of legend. There are few things from this year that will stick with me quite like Winifred responding “Why would you ask me that? Why would you ever ask me that?” in response to Gawain asking for payment for helping her in her time of need. Asking for a prize for the side-quest he has found himself on.
There’s way more to it than that and better writers than me have dissected and shone a critical eye over it. But I just wanted to people to know it’s fantastic.
Also Dev Patel is a goddamn dreamboat
Other than that…Last Night in Soho I don’t feel was one of the best movies of the year but it stuck with me in a way I didn’t expect and I’m going to have to rewatch it.
Succession was the show of the year for me. I binged it over the last month with the release of the third season and it has the potential to go down as an all-timer. The casting of the entire Roy family is terrific with Briax Cox (who gave me my degree when I graduated!) as the threatening, malicious, nasty and manipulative patriarch and Sarah Snook as the vile, superficially calculating but out of her depth Shiv. Keiran Culkin and Jeremy Strong are also great as the clown prince and Adam Sandler’s “I’m so sad I’m so fucked up” Uncut Gems scene respectively. That’s before you even get to Cousin Greg and Tom Wambsgans and their weird little bromance that’s simultaneously affirmative and toxic in equal measure.
If they call it quits after one or two more seasons and retain the quality I think it has the potential to go down as one of the all-time great TV series. Seasons 2 and 3 end in such shocking yet well-plotted fashion that it’s hard to see if they can sustain that momentum only because I ended both seasons punching the air in glee. What a vile collection of characters who are still somehow the tiniest little bit sympathetic (well, some of them, occasionally).
Also it’s got that Peep Show humour courtesy of show creator Jesse Armstrong!
I’ve def got my own reccomends I have to sort out, but would like to chime in with more Green Knight praise.
Visually, it’s a stunning work, it’s worth watching some of the “making of” docs to see how they did it.
The main theme I got from it was an allegory for the transition from childhood to adulthood, not physically but mentally: a journey many of us don’t make for various reasons.
There’s also a playfulness I appreciate, for example it opens with a scene of Camelot, and in the foreground a goose is attacking some farm animals.
Ranking of Kings/Ousama Ranking is halfway through its first season and it’s already easily my favorite anime of the year. It’s absolutely emotionally manipulative at times but fuck if it doesn’t get me. I love all of its characters, who always have at least a bit more depth to them than at first glance. And it does a great job showing its main character deal with ableism while never feeling exploitative or gross. The animation is also leagues above most other TV anime this year. The character designs are fun and expressive, the background art is lovely, and it does incredible stuff with camera perspectives while almost never using CG (and the times that it does it’s barely noticeable).
I haven’t really seen it get that much attention in the west so I imagine not that many people here have seen or even heard about it, but I really cannot recommend it enough.
My favorite movie of the year is Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 and I’ve said far too much about this movie already.
Favorite show isn’t even from this year. I started watching Deadwood many years after I should have watched it already. Been going very slowly through it, only one episode a week, took a long break between seasons too. And I love this. It’s intricate and has thick Shakespearean dialog peppered with profanity. So many rich memorable characters, not a dud in the lot. Al Swearingen should have been the successor to Tony Soprano in pop culture.
I’m on Season 3 now and wish I had five more seasons to go.