Favorite Games of 2019

This list excludes DLC and remasters/ports. Additionally, I kept out games in early access, they needed to have their full launch in 2018.

  1. Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order (PC, PS4, Xbox One): Jedi: Fallen Order is some of the most fun I’ve had playing a video game in ages. Just like Spider-Man last year, Fallen Order isn’t by any metric a perfect game: but it is a fun game set in a universe I adore, with a story that feels every bit as consequential and cinematic as the films. The Souls-like combat is really a joy to play and lends itself to less frustration than the games it mimics. The traversal and exploration feels incredibly engaging, and while rewards are sparse and not very diverse (ponchos galore!), there are just enough of them hiding around that gives players the motivation to pursue them. This is easily the game that brought the biggest smile to my face in 2019, and for that, it earns the top spot.
  2. Resident Evil 2 (PC, PS4, Xbox One): Remaking a classic game from the ground up is perhaps one of the most daunting tasks in current game development. Not only do you have to actually recreate the game, but you also have to recreate what players remember experiencing when they played it This act is incredibly tough to manage, and for Resident Evil, it meant a lot of reworking the foundations of what made the game. However, Capcom doesn’t shy away from modernizing the iconic survival-horror title, and completely rework the experience of RE2 without losing the spirit or charisma of the original. Gone are the overhead camera angles and tank controls, replaced with a surprisingly intimate third-person view.  The addition of new mechanics from RE7 also adds depth and layers to the game that was previously absent and makes this game feel new and feel big. RE2 is a perfect example about how to go about a remake. Don’t be afraid to modernize, don’t be afraid to mix it up, but remember the core of what makes the original piece special.
  3. Kingdom Hearts III (PS4, Xbox One): At this point, Kingdom Hearts is so convoluted that not even it’s most die-hard fans can give a concise description of its central narrative. To be honest, I have not kept up fully with the “side” entries of the franchise, but the major titles (1, 2, Chain of MemoriesBirth by Sleep) are games that were essential to my growth and investment as a gamer. So while the meta-narrative of KH3 may have been lost on me, it just felt good to get back into a new story of Kingdom Hearts. And this entry, for better or for worse, felt undeniably like a Kingdom Hearts game. While I personally found the seemingly endless amount of mechanics and combat gimmicks overwhelming, it didn’t distract from the wonky joy-filled experience that all KH games are. This may not have been the best title in the series, but for having waited almost 15 years for it, it is a title that felt good to play.
  4. Borderlands 3 (PC, PS4, Xbox One): A lot can be said about the post-game content, the ending of the story, and how 2K has failed to keep updates to the game consistent and rewarding. However, I can’t deny that for the majority of my playtime through the main campaign and side quests, that BL3 felt great. As a looter shooter experience, BL3 proves again why it is the king of the genre. It is so smooth and just feels so right. The signature slapstick humor remains predominant, and while the central narrative takes a backseat to gameplay and changing environments, I can’t help but be in awe of the scope of this new title. It is undeniably Borderlands for the next generation, and that’s ultimately what I wanted from this game.
  5. Pokémon Sword/Shield (Nintendo Switch): A lot of the themes for these first five games will feel the same. They represent franchise entries that felt at home in their next-gen systems. And to this end, Sword/Shield is another example of accomplishing that goal. While there has been rhetoric about the lack of substantial changes to the series’ first mainline console title, this game feels at home on the Switch. It undeniably is bigger, better, and a more holistic experience than the Gameboy and DS titles. Was it the earthshattering re-envisioning of the franchise many had hoped for? No. But it’s a traditional Pokemon title scaled up to fit on a home-console and that is something I never thought I’d experience.
  6. The Outer Worlds (PC, PS4, Xbox One): Sometimes simple is best, and this RPG from Obsidian is remarkably nothing new, but also remarkably exactly what I wanted. In a generation of gaming where Fallout has come up short with expectations, this choice-based RPG is exactly what I was looking for from the genre. And the choices, unlike Fallout at times, feel consequential. Tangibly watching the world around you, and relationships you have, change based upon your actions the pinnacle of gaming satisfaction for me. The Outer Worlds doesn’t boast groundbreaking gameplay or visuals, but it does offer that deep gratification of feeling autonomous over a story and a character.
  7. Death Stranding (PS4): In a sense, this maybe isn’t a great video game. You essentially are Norman Reedus walking around delivering packages. Exciting right? But in another sense, there isn’t another gaming experience like Death Stranding. And that experience for me was immensely enjoyable and rewarding. Most of the game is remarkably cathartic. Even though it’s sci-fi/horror story keeps a vibe of atmospheric terror, that backdrop only makes me more likely to go back to the game, even though it’s core gameplay loop I’ve found to be quite peaceful and serene. All of this is said and I haven’t even touched upon the aspects of social engagement in a largely desolate environment, and a game that is meant to be a solo experience. Kojima is able to blend all these elements to truly create that something, that for better or for worse, is uniquely memorable.
  8. The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan (PC, PS4, Xbox One): If you’re looking for a good fright-night story game, this is for you. The developers of Unitl Dawn are back with a smaller title, but one that is just as engrossing. Fundamentally the story isn’t anything new, but it is well crafted. The new mechanics of players being able to swap between characters as the story progresses also adds a sense of social engagement that Until Dawn hinted at but didn’t fully tap into. For a new and smaller experience, the development team really focuses on refining what made their indie-horror title a hit, making this just as enjoyable of an experience.
  9. A Plague Tale: Innocence (PC, PS4, Xbox One): Stories are always what I take away from games, and A Plague Tale is perhaps one of the most haunting and memorable ones of 2019. The story centers around you (the protagonist) leading her brother on an escape from Inquisitors through the French woods during the time of The Plague. The core gameplay mechanic is stealth and puzzle-solving, but the added addition of having to watch out for your younger brother raises the stakes and forces you as a player to engage in those situations differently. The game is packed full of memorable imagery and moments, making it one of the most powerful titles of the year, with my only complaint being that it wasn’t longer.
  10. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 (Nintendo Switch): Sometimes all you want to do is play as a collection of your favorite superheroes and beat up on iconic baddies. Ultimate Alliance has always understood that this is the core ideal of their franchise, and never stray too far from that path, especially in this new title. There are more heroes, more villains, and more abilities than ever before, making this game a perfect mindless experience. The story is even more complex and thoughtful than previous titles, giving the game just a little more gravitas than before, and leaving players wanting more than just the clean and simple gameplay the series is built on.

Honorable Mentions: Apeout, Apex Legends, Metro: Exodus, Tetris 99, Sagebrush, The Blackout Club, Farwell My Love, Sayonara Wild Hearts

Didn’t Get to Play: Disco Elysium, Observation, Gears of War 5, Blood & Truth, Days Gone, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Yoshi’s Crafted World, Trover Saves the Universe, Control, Link’s Awakening, GTFO, Code Vein, John Wick: Hex, Little Town Hero, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Moons of Madness

Biggest disappointments: Madden NFL 2020, Blair Witch, Anthem, Mario Kart: World Tour

Favorite Albums of 2019

  1. Dayseeker – Sleeptalk (metalcore, alternative, electronica). The neon-pink and blue cover of Dayseeker’s newest LP effort perfectly captures the somber electronic soundscape that drives this record. Rather than pushing the focus on harsh vocals and down-tuned riffs that often are the driving force behind the genre, it is much more about an electronic atmosphere accompanied by lighter guitar work and Rory Rodriguez’s soaring melodies. His effortless ability to sing in the highest of registers, and to blend it with his harsh screaming, is a gold standard of alternative vocal performances. That’s not to be said that the record doesn’t still pack a punch, however. Tracks such as “Crooked Soul” and “Gates of Ivory” still incorporate heavy riffage and the occasional guttural vocal, ensuring that we do not forget that this band is still heavy at its core. Sleeptalk will stand as one of the most unique metalcore albums of the 2010s, and the one that propelled a smaller band to the more frontline focus they’ve always deserved. Favorite tracks: “Sleeptalk,” “Drunk,” “Starving to Be Empty,” “Crooked Soul”
  2. Landon Tewers – Withdrawals (hip-hop, alternative, R&B, electronica): Landon Tewers continues to prove why he is one of underground music’s best songwriters. Withdrawals is a quintessential experiment in genre-fluidity, with Tewers using his background in metal and hardcore to influence his electronica and hip-hop sound. Sonically the album will bounce around from anything from huge breakdowns, to screamed vocals, poetic and rhythmic verses, a richly deep and dark atmosphere, and even R&B melodies. Tewers doesn’t play by any rules but his own, crafting an album that explores a wide variety of genres yet remains sonically consistent. What we get with Withdrawals is a wholly unique experience that only Landon Tewers could deliver. Favorite tracks: “Something to Lose,” “Threatening,” “Touched Your Skin”
  3. Ariana Grande – thank u, next (pop). While this album will be remembered for its upbeat radio singles such as its titular track, “7 rings,” and “break up with your boyfriend, i’m bored,” the meat of this album focuses on a lot more than some of the surface-level aesthetics that Grande is known for. To put it simply, the album is shockingly vulnerable. It is full of somber moments such as “imagine,” which intimately describes a relationship that has either changed or is not quite what it was envisioned to be. “ghostin” discusses dealing with the grief of losing a former partner while in a relationship with someone else. Along with Grande’s tender vulnerability, the album features plenty of different musical moments and hints of genre inspiration. The breakdowns at the end of “imagine” and “bad idea” show how she is able to tap into similar concepts yet use them in completely different settings with different results. Sonically, she leans on much more space and serenity than brash pop. While there are still standout and energetic pop performances (“bad idea” and “NASA” are standout singles), the strength of Grande’s newest release focuses much less on producing radio hits and much more on allowing her to explore this darker and more vulnerable side of herself. Favorite tracks: “bad idea,” “imagine,” “NASA”
  4. Apes of the State – Pipe Dream (folk-punk). Apes of the State’s sophomore record is all about growth and throughout the record, both thematically and sonically, the Lancaster folk-punk outfit reflect this theme. While group vocals have always been an important cornerstone in Apes’ music, the addition of new member Max Scott and her harmonies add an important melodic layer that allows songwriter/singer April Hartman to really shine. The contrast of April’s simple and emotive vocal style, underlaid by Max’s more sophisticated harmonies and varying vocal deliveries, allow different moments throughout the record to have their own unique feeling. Additionally, on songs such as “Better Off,” the band shies away from their folk-punk acoustics and break into full electric-punk gravitas. The album is littered with these different movements and sonic changes giving each song their own strong identities. Across the record, we find short acoustic songs (“T-Shirt”), more standard folk-punk (“Toothache”), traditional folk (“Piles”), and even longer progressive pieces (“Dear Mom”). Thematically, April really taps into this idea of growth as well offering us her unapologetically vulnerable and honest thoughts and feelings. With Pipe Dream, Hartman as a writer not only gives us her stories to listen to but invites us to grow along with her. Favorite Tracks: “Moments a Year from Now,” “Toothache,” “Internet Song”
  5. Knocked Loose – A Different Shade of Blue (hardcore, metalcore). “Make me feel, I need you to make me feel,” screeches vocalist Bryan Garris in the first lines of the opening track, “Bellville.” This opening line suggests the central question that acts as the thesis throughout the record: how do we deal with pain and trauma that surrounds us without becoming hollow and cynical? It’s this battle with apathy and jaded anger that Garris and the rest of the band tackle with their signature blend of chaotic hardcore and metalcore. A Different Shade of Blue, much like its portrayal of life, is an unrelenting assault. Chugging guitars interspersed with dissonant chording, electronic noise and feedback provide the sweltering background for Garris’ high pitched harsh vocals. The breakdowns are carefully placed, built-up to, and executed. This ensures that every time they kick in they feel satisfying and earned. It’s an album all about building tension (with frantic guitar work and hardcore rhythms) and releasing that tension (through metalcore-esq breakdowns). But this tension-release concept extends thematically as well. As noted earlier, Garris focuses on life-trauma and pain. The tension is looking around the world and seeing only pain and selfishness. From friends and family to overall society, everything carries this darkness and pain for Garris. His release is deciding that no matter how bad things get, he will always search for himself and find a way to feel better. It’s a fight he’s not sure he can win – but his exploration of these ideas gives us the same hope that maybe things can change. Favorite tracks: “In the Walls,” “Mistakes Like Fractures,” “Belleville”
  6. Whitechapel – The Valley (deathcore). Whitechapel has always been a band about horror aesthetics, often making music about brutal murder and dark fantastical imagery. While one might believe that these are still the major themes based upon the opening track (“When a Demon Defiles a Witch”), what the album is really about is much more horrifying. On its orange and black cover, something reminiscent of a horror novel, read the words “based on true events.” What we come to learn throughout the album is that the lyrical imagery is based upon the schizophrenic visions of vocalist Phil Bozeman’s mother. Bozeman doesn’t shy away from these horrifying images either, and in doing so, creates by far the band’s most comprehensive and darkest album to date. The Valley marks not only Whitechapel’s return to the forefront of deathcore but features their ability to experiment with the sound of a genre they helped shape. For example, the climax of the record is not some traditional deathcore beat-down. Instead, the album builds up to and resolves around its fourth track “Hickory Creek,” which only features heavy guitars and screaming vocals for brief moments. Rather, it’s a ballad focused around Bozeman’s newfound singing voice and tender delivery of it. While instrumentally this may be Whitechapel’s least sophisticated album from riff to riff and from movement to movement, the band’s songwriting has taken a leap into the stratosphere, and their aim with this record is to showcase that. With that said, The Valley not only is perhaps Whitechapel’s best work to date but is one of the most innovative pieces in deathcore’s recent history. Favorite tracks: “Hickory Creek,” “When a Demon Defiles a Witch,” “Black Bear”
  7. The Devil Wears Prada – The Act (metalcore, electronica). While the cover of The Act may invoke traditionally metal aesthetics, and the opening track “Switchblade” features one of Prada’s most aggressive songs in their last trio of releases, The Act is not about a band attempting to return to their metal roots. In fact, this may be Prada’s least metallic record to date, despite all initial impressions. There are plenty of heavy moments to be had (“The Thread” being an unrelenting assault of brutality that is perhaps the highlight moment of the record), but the focus again for Prada is the atmosphere. Even in heavier songs such as “Switchblade”, it breaks into an electronic bridge that for any other band would feel odd and out of place, yet Prada is able to make it feel distinctly them. With it being recorded live, vocalists Mike Hranica and Jeremey DePoyster’s vocal takes are rawer and more unfiltered, and the guitars and drums sound more hallow. This is a purposeful and well-executed approach, which serves in creating an atmosphere of space and emptiness that pervades the record. Songs often feature spoken-word type passages (“Lines of Your Hands”) and poppier melodies (“Please Say No”, “Chemical”) over these “empty” spaces, as well as resting on more electronic elements to carry them through. Prada is able to perfectly balance all of these lines and shows again why they have remained one of the best bands in the genre. The Act serves as a testament not only of a band evolving and maturing their sound, but also reflects the same growth of the scene they came from. Favorite tracks: “The Thread,” “Lines of Your Hands,” “Chemical”
  8. Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind (nu-metal). Slipknot roars back with their first effort in five years and with a release that reminds us why they are the kings of metal. The album is much more refined and focused than 2014’s .5: The Grey Chapters, and overall feels like a stronger output from each member of the band. The album has a big sound, suitable for filling the arenas Slipknot is used to occupying, and one that is much fuller and carries a heaviness that the previous release did not. With We Are Not Your Kind Slipknot holds nothing back, often having songs last 5-6 minutes long, with various movements and progressions inside of them. It is sprinkled with electronic elements and choral work that builds around Slipknot’s iconic atmosphere and aesthetic. This, perhaps their first since Vol. 3, is a record that undeniably feels like Slipknot from front to back. It’s heavy, it’s dark, and there’s an air of factory floor grittiness that is unmistakable to the band that coats everything. They return back to a form of metal that allows them to build their heaviness slowly, while still incorporating spaces for more atmospheric electronics. As always, Taylor’s melodies are catchy and well crafted, with his harsh vocals just as powerful and commanding. Breakdowns pepper the record that will etch grooves into your head for days, and the guitar work replaces older, more frantic Slipknot, with more refined and mature riffage. “That’s what do you best,” belts Corey Taylor in the single “Nero Forte,” and this album is Slipknot doing just that, the things they do best. Favorite tracks: “Soloway Filth,” “Nero Forte,” “Unsainted”
  9. Billie Eilish – Where Do We Go When We Fall Asleep? (pop, electronica). Eilish may be able to make the case as the breakout artist in 2019 with her single “bad guy” becoming a certified hit. However, for all the things “bad guy” does feature and introduces us to about Eilish (her quiet, somber vocal delivery, dark electronic beats, heavy bass, and thematically off-beat lyrics), it also fails to completely capture the emotive depth of her whole record. Moving into the second track “xanny” we already see a darker and more nuanced artist. Her delicate voice is layered in buzzing vocal effects, and minor bass notes hit on single beats throughout the chorus to add a veil of darkness to the song. While these elements are the core of the record, Eilish’s musical inspiration derives from everywhere, from poppy jazz (“wish you were gay”) to darker, piano-driven alternative melodies (“when the party’s over”). Eilish’s goal is to blend these elements together to create a masterful pop painting. One that is far darker and more haunting than traditional radio pop is exposed to, proving that Eilish will be a driving creative force in popular music for the foreseeable future. Favorite tracks: “you should see me in a crown,” “when the party’s over,” “wish you were gay”
  10. Lizzo – Cuz I Love You (pop, hip-hop, soul). While Eilish was able to successfully break into popular music upon entry, hip-hop and power-pop singer Lizzo has been attempting to become a featured artist for years. She finally had her breakthrough success in 2019 with her powerful album debut Cuz I Love You, which finally gained Lizzo the recognition she so rightfully deserves. Some might want to chalk-up Lizzo as more of a cultural icon, with her body, gender, and sex-positivity being a staple part of her personality, and her feel-good singles “Juice,” “Truth Hurts,” and “Good as Hell” dominating the airwaves in 2019. However, Lizzo is an absolute vocal force to be reckoned with. She herself describes the goal of the record as an attempt at seeing “what Whitney Houston would do as a hip-hop artist.” And this is perhaps the best characteristic of the album. The album opens with its title track, where Lizzo belts a powerful and soulful melody as a brass section blasts in. She then proceeds to go into a hip-hop verse, where her poetic writing and sense of rhythm is just as good as any current hip-hop artists around. This sets the perfect tone for the album and for Lizzo herself. While she thematically remains very positive throughout (“Like a Girl” is a stellar pro-woman pop anthem), there is a surprising amount of vulnerability from the new artist, as she not only exposes her fears, sadness, and anxiety but shows us how she copes with them. Favorite tracks: “Cuz I Love You,” “Like a Girl,” “Jerome”

 

Honorable Mentions:

Bridge City Sinners – Here’s to the Devil (folk-punk, gypsy-punk)

Bilmuri – Wet Milk; Rich Sips (alternative, post-hardcore, electronica)

Stray From the Path – Internal Atomics (metalcore, hardcore)

While She Sleeps – SO WHAT? (metalcore)

Oh, Sleeper – Bloodied / Unbowed (metalcore)

nothing,nowhere. & Travis Barker – BLOODLUST EP (hip-hop, rap, emo)

As Cities Burn – Scream Through the Walls (post-hardcore, alternative)

Like Moths to Flames – Where the Light Refuses to Go EP (metalcore)

Hotel Books – I’ll Leave the Light on Just in Case; Equivalency II: Everything We Left Out (spoken-word, alternative, emo)

Lana Del Rey – Norman F*****g Rockwell (pop, singer-songwriter)

Counterparts – Nothing Left to Love (metalcore, melodic hardcore)

Norma Jean – All Hail (metalcore)

Emarosa – Peach Club (pop-rock)

Bounds of Modesty – The Family We Choose (pop-punk)

Fit For An Autopsy – The Sea of Tragic Beasts (deathcore)

Hobo Johnson – The Fall of Hobo Johnson (hip-hop, spoken word)

Tiny Moving Parts – Breathe (math-rock, emo)

Thornhill – The Dark Pool (metalcore)

PVRIS – Hallucinations EP (pop, alternative)

Gideon – Out of Control (hardcore, metalcore)

Spite – The Root of All Evil (deathcore)

Kublai Khan TX – Absolute (hardcore)

Being as an Ocean – PROXY: An A.N.I.M.O. Story (alternative, electronica, post-hardcore)

Sleep On It – Pride & Disaster (pop-punk)

Northlane – Alien (metalcore)

Secret Band – Lp2 (post-hardcore)

 

Favorite Films of 2019

(As per 2015 and 2017, the numerical Star Wars entry is excluded from consideration)

1. Midsommar (horror, surrealist): There isn’t another movie-going experience like Midsommar. This film aesthetically is special. The daylight setting never brings a sense of calm or ease but rather adds to the slow-building dread and panic. Every scene is filled with mystery and an underlying sense of terror that the viewer can’t shake. It is wholly unsettling and mesmerizing, yet patient, and asks a lot of its viewers both as a slow-burning film and as one that pushes the limits of what you will witness on a screen. Aster’s insistence that every frame be packed with meaning keeps the viewer engaged and longing for more, hoping that they can catch a glimpse of what’s to come. The film also opens with one of the most traumatizing exposition stories ever, as well as an earnest look at relationships and what begins to break them apart. Aster also once again is able to get the most out of his leading actress, with the crux of this film being a vulnerable and spell-binding performance from Florence Pugh. With all this said, Midsommar is not for the faint of heart and requires a lot from its audience to stick with it. But if you do, you get to experience one of the most shocking and riveting stories horror has to offer.

2. Joker (thriller, drama): Joaquin Phoenix is completely dominating in his role, and it cannot be overstated how remarkably captivating his portrayal of Arthur’s descent from broken psychosis to murderous mania truly is. This is an actor at the top of their craft. Todd Phillips also excels in his direction, perfectly crafting a dirty and crumbling Gotham falling into a chaos that mirrors Arthur’s similar trajectory. The righteous anger at a political and economic system that is rigged against the everyday citizen fuels a political undertone that makes the rise of Joker understandable but not at all redeeming of his actions in and of themselves (which is far different from the supposed glorification of violence decried by other critics). This political undercurrent creates tension and fury for the audience to attach to and that allows the Joker not only to develop into the villain he is destined to become, but that gives us a reason for engaging in that journey with him. The film and its premise understand the ideological conflict that is at the heart of the relationship between Joker and his main adversary (who’s minimal appearance is well-crafted and riveting), and it’s this understanding that allows for a deep and dark exploration of the Joker in an intimate setting.

3. The Lighthouse (horror, psychological thriller): Robert Eggers’ follow-up to his tantalizing debut is just as captivating, dark, and unforgettable. Not enough can be said about the skill of his direction, as well as the powerful chemistry that is forged between Pattinson and Defoe. The two leads deservedly demand all the attention of their audience and deliver an enthralling dynamic that drives the movie forward. The film is grimy, wet, and bitterly cold, and this universe that Eggers creates perfectly mirrors our own reality. It’s one where your fears and your secrets begin to seep in, and you can no longer tell what is real and what is fantasy. Which is the ultimate point: how we view the world and interpret the events that happen therein, is more about how we choose to believe and interpret them than what actually happens. The Lighthouse is post-modern filmmaking at its highest potential.

4. Us (horror, psychological thriller): With Us, Jordan Peele fully asserts his gravitas as a director, storyteller, and cultural insider. The film is layered in complex storytelling, character building, lore, and social commentary. No two people will walk away from the film with the same interpretation, and Peele readily assumes the film’s role as a post-modern staple. The first third of the film is truly horrifying, and while I believe some of the pacing slips heading into the third act, Peele so firmly holds you in his grasp that you can’t help but be completely invigorated by his tale. With his sophomore film, Jordan Peele shows us that not only is he the face of a new generation of filmmaking, but that he is reinventing the bar for everyone else.

5. The Beach Bum (drama, comedy): Following the thematic ideas of his previous film, Harmony Korine’s latest effort is an even more bombastic and crass exploration of excess and indulgence. The focus, as always with Korine’s films, is all about aesthetics rather than conventual storytelling. In reality, the movie feels like a collection of improvised scenes between Matthew McConaughey and the ridiculous amount of familiar stars rounding out the cast. Korine aims, and succeeds at, capturing the highs and the lows of life-based on pure ecstasy, as well as subverting the mundane aspects of our lives with an over-the-top glorification of psychological inhibition. Also much more unique to his previous work, Korine takes his unique neon and dirt aesthetic into the realm of a character study, charged by a riveting performance from his lead actor. Matthew McConaughey is cut loose and allowed to explore and portray the depths of an artist’s psyche who is never sober and always thrill-seeking, allowing for a much more personable and intimate film from a director who has tended to shy away from such a narrow focus. There is room here to wonder if Korine is projecting much of his own life, philosophy, and insecurities through McConaughey, and the director is surprisingly vulnerable in this regard. When summing up the core ideology of the film, and of Korine, one of McConaughey’s last lines puts it all into perspective: “I just like to have fun.” And “fun” is undeniably what The Beach Bum is. It’s shocking, full of humor, sexually charged, and an exercise in over-stimulation. This is where Korine shines, and his latest film reminds us why he is a master of aesthetic-focused filmmaking.

6. Pet Sematary (horror): Pet Sematary not only faces the challenge of being yet another remake of a classic horror film but is also based on one of the most notorious novels of all time from a beloved author. What this does, is creates expectations and assumptions about the film that may (IT), or may not (The Amityville Horror), work in its favor. What Pet Sematary does remarkably well (aside from its stellar cast and haunting atmosphere) is taking all those expectations and subvert them. The 2019 remake not only captures the spirit of both King’s novel and the original 1989 film but improves upon them. It takes the narrative structure and plot beats and twists them in a way that creates something fresh and unique, even for viewers who will come in with an intimate understanding of the source material. This is something remakes often forget to do. Not only do you need to be true to the heart of the original material, but what can you do to offer a new take, or a new interpretation of, aspects of the original story? Pet Sematary is a perfect example of how to approach that challenge.

7. Spider-Man: Far From Home (actionadventure, comedy): Simply a blast. The charm and character that made Homecoming a special entry into the web-slingers filmography are even more prominent in the follow-up. Rather than playing out like a typical superhero flick, this feels more like a mid-80s teen rom-com in the guise of a comic-book movie, especially for the first two acts. However, moving into the third act is where the film really shines. The modern take on Mysterio and his abilities are absolutely stunning, and the main action sequences with him are mesmerizing. To be frank, they could be some of the best action sequences in the MCU. The whole cast is full of an energy and enthusiasm that is infectious and fills every frame of this movie with joy. While the plot has some pacing hitches in the beginning, as soon as it picks up the film really settles in for a marvelous ride. Once again Jon Watts helms one of the better entries in the MCU and proves why Spider-Man is the quintessential character for Marvel.

8. Toy Story 4 (family, drama): Toy Story returns with a heartfelt story and a resolution fitting for these iconic characters in a stellar franchise. At no point does the film feel forced, or as if it shouldn’t exist, a problem many sequels face. Additionally, the film knows its audience and knows that a lot of the kids who grew up watching the franchise are now adults with children of their own and carries a powerful message for them to take away from the movie as well. It’s not simply a story about friendship or childhood memories, but learning about when to let those go as we move into new phases of our lives.

9. Avengers: Endgame (action-adventure, sci-fi): The immense pressure of being the climatic end of an over decade-long, twenty-plus film series would be enough pressure to crack the most notable of movies. Not only does Endgame satisfy in being the ultimate finale, but it also supersedes expectations and creates bold new heights for how big and bold cinema can feel. It is epic in all sense of the word. However, this movie is little more than a three-hour exercise in Hollywood excess. While Endgame lives up to the hype as one of the most remarkable spectacles in film history, it offers minimal substance to pair with its three-hour fanfare. We do see nice resolutions to some of the iconic heroes’ story-arcs, but their dynamics as characters, and in their relationships, are left at the wayside for more of a surface-level payoff. While the preceding film (Infinity War) is dark, offers new unique character motivations and interactions, and terrifies its audience with its omnipotent, and more importantly, strikingly interesting villain, Endgame settles for more bombastic and simpler aesthetic. There are some nice moments along the way that suppress expectations, offer a slight twist on common tropes, and keep the audience guessing about how the inevitable outcome will sort itself out, but overall the film sticks to what it needs to do, and as noted before, even at times will exceed that. This was a unique moment in pop-culture and something we will likely never see again, and Endgame more than lives up to how it ought to be, and will be, remembered.

10. IT: Chapter Two (horror): Full of nightmarish imagery and startling horror sequences, IT: Chapter Two certainly feels like the more mature and eerie sequel to its 2017 predecessor. The casting is utterly perfect as every adult perfectly personifies and captures their younger counterparts. Bill Skarsgård once again is the soul of the film with his demonic presentation as Pennywise, and the additional screen time only further cements his perfect grasp of the role. The film certainly feels like the novel as well, and while it shies away from some of the more obscure cosmic elements (RIP my giant space turtle dreams), there are just enough of them there to give the story that unmistakable Stephen King flair. It does feel bogged down and sluggish in moments with its nearly three-hour run time, but it is true to its source material in that sense, as the novel suffers from some of the same pacing issues. Additionally, the strength of the story is the narrative surrounding the Losers Club as children, so focusing on the adult narrative leaves the film with less of an identity. That nostalgic feeling of a classic children adventure story is what makes the book (and first film) so memorable. So while the decision to split the films this way on paper makes sense, it does lose a bit of that magic. Overall though, Chapter Two more than satisfies, and is a worthy adaptation and sequel.

Honorable Mentions:

Captain Marvel

John Wick: Chapter 3

Shazam!

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

Aladdin

Biggest Disappointments: The Lion King, Men in Black: International, Ma, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

 

Didn’t get to see: Marriage Story, The Irishman, Parasite, Cats, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Hustlers, Jumanji: The Next Level, Booksmart, The Farewell, Ad Adastra, High Life, The Last Black Man in San Fransisco, Apollo 11, The Lego Movie: The Second Part, Ready or Not, Knives Out, Honeyland, The Dead Don’t Die, Little Monsters

Favorite Games of 2018

This list excludes DLC and remasters/ports. Additionally, I kept out games in early access, they needed to have their full launch in 2018.

  1. Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4): Rationally explaining what this game made me feel is almost impossible. As someone who has loved Spider-Man as a property since I can remember, in the medium of video games, Spidey has had hit and miss representation. While that’s a conversation on its own, what Marvel’s Spider-Man has done cannot be understated. Not only is the best Spider-Man game of all time, but it also taught me what I wanted, and should expect, from Spidey titles in the future. Swinging is magical and fluid. The combat is fast and intuitive. And the story not only returns you to familiar characters and locals but is a fresh interpretation of the character and universe. While I don’t think this game is perfect (the camera gets wonky at times, the side-missions can get repetitive and chore-like), it was perhaps the only game this year that reminded of not only why I love Spider-Man, but why I love games and how that medium can transport me and my imagination in ways that it hasn’t been since I first picked up Amazing Fantasy #15.
  2. God of War (PS4): A lot has been made of this game, and I’m not even sure I have anything unique to say about it at this juncture. But I will say this, what God of War represents is more than just how far the medium has come from in terms of technical advancement. What this game represents is the maturity and growth of the medium as a form of art. God of War has long been lambasted as a blockbuster of series in video games. Shallow characters, lackluster storytelling, and big, violent, ludicrous action just for the sake of it. But what this development team was able to do in crafting the story of an aging demi-god, a withering world, the relationship between father and son…is so far above and beyond anything I could have, and should have, ever expected from this franchise. This is without going into the gorgeous graphics, insanely addictive combat, and the perfectly crafted open-world. What Sony Santa Monica did with God of War was not only show how much video games have grown but they gave us a glimpse into how games can continue to mature with their audiences. We are past the days of games being violent and bombastic just to sell units. We are entering an era where games can become a progressive medium for intense, creative, and unique art.
  3. Detroit: Become Human (PS4): The power of choice and the agency of the player in games is something that makes them unique as a story-telling medium in art. While some games don’t utilize this to their full potential, Detroit not only effectively communicates its story to its audience but it gives them the power to impact and change the direction of the narrative and its characters. While some of the themes are aggressively unsubtle, overall, Detroit is a game that involves players on a deeper emotive and cognitive level than most other games. The ingenious of showing the decision tree at the end of each chapter leaves players feeling like they could have changed the story. Especially in moments of regret, where either you messed up or overlooked something, you feel like you need to go back and remedy your mistakes. But you also feel the need to continue with the story you have created. That is the power in this game, not necessarily in some profound message about race/technology/humanity, but in how it makes the player feel like they contributed to the narrative they are participating in.
  4. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Nintendo Switch): Sometimes in games, we forget the most addictive things are the simple ones. This is something the Smash Bros. franchise has always eloquently remembered about itself. It knows what it is. And what that is, is a game where you can play as some of the most iconic characters in video game history, and fight with your friends in memorable locations with different options of gameplay. No one person plays Smash the same, regardless of what the pro players may say. What is so great is that while the game seemingly has limited options, there feels like endless variety. Every match is unique. No two characters feel the same. Every map offers a different challenge and strategy to gain an advantage. Ultimate not only perfects this formula, but it offers the most variety and complexity of any Smash game to date. Not only can you play as every character from every game to date, or play on every map, but now you can online, and with a system, people actually like (sorry Wii U). Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is exactly what it sets out to be, the ultimate Smash game.
  5. Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee (Nintendo Switch): I have to be honest, even though I was vocally supportive of the idea, I could help but be initially trepidatious about this title. While I was excited for a reboot of the original generation Pokemon to come out on the first Nintendo system I’ve owned since my Gameboy Advance, the idea of introducing Pokemon Go! mechanics into the console game left me nervous. However, this game blew all my expectations away. Not only is an absolutely stunning visual remake of the original Pokemon world, but some of the added elements take the franchise to new and, in my opinion, more accessible and sensible territory. The introduction of seeing Pokemon roaming the wild (and the elimination of random encounters) was absolutely genius. It takes of the most aggressively inaccessible and confusing parts of the original RPG and both streamlines and modernizes the gameplay. Being able to swap Pokemon from your bag into the party anywhere and not having to find a computer also made this the game feel so much less like a chore, and more like an adventure. Other additions, such as shared party XP, and having your partner Pokemon learn the special moves, do the same. Even the elimination of wild pokemon battles, and the replacement with the Go! catching mechanics isn’t as dreadful as I anticipated. It adds a nice flow to the game and there are enough trainer battles that I feel like I’m not losing out on combat opportunities. While I would like to see a deeper game and a more engaging story, overall, if Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee is indicative of where the franchise of Pokemon wants to head, I’m all aboard.
  6. Octopath Traveler (Nintendo Switch): Something about the JRPG’s of old is special. The pixel graphics, the 8-bit music, 100-hour stories, grind-y gameplay. Perhaps it’s with nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses that I see these things, but Octopath Traveler was a promise to reintroduce these things to a modern gaming environment, and it was a promised delivered. While nothing here is groundbreaking, it’s a modernization and refinement of the type of game I grew up on that made me fall in love with this title.
  7. Florence (iOS, Android): A mobile game on my list??? While I’m not as vocal of a critic about games in the mobile spheres as others, mobile games do carry a certain connotation that while I think there are exceptions, they have more or less earned. Florence however, is something unique. It’s not based on a gameplay loop meant to addict you then exploit you so you can continue to progress. It’s three dollars up front, but what you get is a gorgeous and moving experience that is unlike anything we have seen in this space. There’s not complex gameplay, no in-app purchases, no bright flashing gadgets or gizmos. It’s a story that will make you laugh, cry, and remember what it is like to fall in love. There’s something special about the emotional connection Florence makes with its players, and for $3 on your phone? It’s something everyone should experience.
  8. Jurassic World: Evolution (PS4, Xbox One, PC): There’s something about park simulators that has always struck a chord with me. Additionally, Jurassic Park (and dinosaurs more in general), has always been perhaps one of the greatest influences on my life. Mix those two together? Gold. There’s nothing overly complicated about the game, but it does add an element of chaos and unpredictability (on par for the chorus with the theme of the franchise) that most park simulators don’t have. The gameplay is simple and fairly streamlined, but it feels as big and rambunctious as any Roller Coaster Tycoon. It feels like a big-budget Jurassic Park game, and that’s the highest praise I could ever give something like this.
  9. Monster Hunter: World (PS4, Xbox One, PC): Having never played a title in this series before, getting into Monster Hunter: World was rather a daunting task. There are A LOT of mechanics to this game, to the point where even now I’m not sure I can comfortably explain all of them. However, this game is loads of fun. Running around and tag teaming giant beasts with your party is an awfully rewarding experience, and there’s a lot in the game to make you feel like you’re continually progressing. The story is less than captivating, however, and if that is what you’re looking for in a big RPG, look somewhere else. However, if tight gameplay, smooth combat, cool monsters, and a gorgeous environment to explore are all you need, then this is the game for you.
  10. Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4, Xbox One): This is the title I’ve spent the least amount of time with. There is this big, vibrant, and lively open world that certainly feels like the most real open world I’ve ever played in. The random encounters with wildlife, the long traversal, and the weather patterns all feel natural, and make it feel like you’re actually engaging in the cross-country journey. For me though, the story is lackluster. The thing that should be holding this game down and keeping me engaged on a deeper level just isn’t clicking for me. I feel no investment for Arthur Morgan. He doesn’t click with me as a character like the other protagonists do in the more story-central games on this list. While I’m enjoying the journey and can marvel at the technical achievement of this game. I can’t help but wonder how much more I would feel invested if I actually connected with the story on a deeper level. Red Dead Redemption 2 is still great, and I obviously have loved it thus far for it to make my list. But it’s not quite the powerhouse of a game I was anticipating, and hoping, for.

Honorable Mentions: Battlefield V, Super Mario Party, A Way Out, Sea of Thieves

Didn’t Get to Play: Ni No Kuni II: Revenent Kingdom, Frostpunk, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Dragon Quest XI, Dead Cells, Moss, Tetris Effect, Beatsaber, Astrobot Rescue Mission, Assassin’s Creed Odessey, Celeste, Return of the Obra Dinn

Biggest Disappointments: Fallout 76, Mario Tennis Aces, Madden NFL 19

Most anticipated 2019 releases: Kingdom Hearts III, Y2K: A Postmodern RPG, Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order, Resident Evil 2, Anthem, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, The Division 2, Pokemon 2019, Control, Crackdown 3, Gears 5, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Man of Medan, Metro Exodus, The Outer Worlds, In the Valley of the Gods

Favorite Films of 2018

  1. Annihilation (sci-fi, horror): An absolutely astonishing film. Tense, brutal, and thrilling all the way until the last frame. With this, Alex Garland cements himself as one of the best sci-fi directors in the game. While it’s not a faithful adaption of the novel, the elements that Garland does lift help create a unique world and setting that envelopes the viewer. It’s as mesmerizing as it is horrifying. As scary as it is inspiring. Ultimately it’s that dichotomy of wonder and fear that Garland perfectly balances that makes this film special.
  2. Hereditary (horror): In this new wave of horror, a lot of films are really great, but aren’t that “scary.” Hereditary, however, is absolutely horrifying. This movie is a lesson in the art of the buildup. Tension is key, and the film is excellent at leaving you a trail of breadcrumbs that takes you along on a journey you never fully understand until it’s too late. It’s also one of the most unsettling films ever made, not for the faint of heart. Moving at a pace similar to more classic horror (Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, etc) the film leaves space for the scares to really settle in. Hereditary also boasts some of the most remarkable acting in a horror film (Toni Collete needs at least an Oscar nom for her performance), as well as some of the most clever cinematography I’ve ever seen. I say this a lot, but Hereditary isn’t simply one of the best new horror movies to be released, it’s one of the best horror films ever.
  3. Sorry to Bother You (drama, comedy): A wholly unique film. Sorry To Bother You is fresh, engaging, and smart on every level. Led by a superb performance from Lakeith Stanfield and smart direction from Boots Riley, the film takes you on a wild journey through American consumerism and isn’t quite what you expect.
  4. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (comedy, action-adventure, sci-fi): Not only is this one of the best releases of the year, but it’s also arguably one of the best superhero films to date, and most certainly among the best of Spider-Man. It’s funny, bright, and heartfelt in ways that most big action films strike out on. This movie perfectly captures the emotive energy that I remember when reading comics for the first time, but with a modern flair. Visually, this is perhaps the coolest looking animated film in some time. It’s wholly unique and the filmmakers had a clear vision that they executed to perfection. Spiderverse is superb on every level.
  5. A Quiet Place (horror): A thrilling time. Tense from it’s first frame to the last, and even with minimal dialogue, the development and investment you feel for the characters are crafted well. This is a great entry into this new wave of cheap, but polished, horror. This is a unique film-going experience and one that I’m glad I went to a theater to experience. In the age of streaming services, A Quiet Place shows that is still merit and power in being in a theater.
  6. The Death of Stalin (comedy, historical): A smart comedy that perfectly balances it’s cast and it’s content, The Death of Stalin really hones in on it’s material and executes it to perfection. The power struggle of the Soviet was something so absurd and demonstrable, and the way this film approaches that with comedy not only gives perspective to the viewer about that timeframe but gets the viewer invested in ways that can be challenging for a historically-based film.
  7. Avengers: Infinity War (action-adventure, sci-fi): The film handles is ambitious cast-size remarkably well, and due to the careful crafting of the universe beforehand each character really feels as if they belong and are integral to the story, every moment of this movie carries a weight that feels daunting, it really is unprecedented for a movie to feel this big, This movie has fully lived up to its potential as a spectacle of film, and really is a remarkable feat. While it settles for actions and spectacle over more somber character-driven moments, what is there (an aside, but Thanos is a remarkable villain) is enough to compel you to want to go forward and to await the conclusion next summer.
  8. BlackKklansmen (comedy, drama, historical): Spike Lee is back. While there are flaws in the film (namely pacing and the narrative being disjointed) overall, he delivers one of the most powerful films of the year. The political messaging is on the nose, but this is not an exercise in subtly. He captures the terrifying reality of the alt-right, their goals to take over our democracy, and in the end, their success.
  9. Isle of Dogs (comedy, adventure, drama): Wes Anderson never ceases to disappoint, and while this isn’t his most ambitious or groundbreaking work, Isle of Dogs has a lot of heart and soul that I think was lacking in some of his most recent, more technical, films. Animation wise, the dogs look fantastic, and the style is really something that sticks out. Anderson and the animation team worked diligently to create a unique world for this film, and it pays off in a visually captivating display.
  10. Eighth Grade (comedy, drama): Featuring a witty, and all-too-realistic, script, as well as a stellar performance from Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade is a film that not only captures what it’s like to grow up in a digital age, but how we all felt growing up and trying to become our own person. Bo Burnam proves that he is a man of many talents and that he has as much to say in the medium of film as he has in stand-up. Like Lady Bird last year, Eighth Grade is a film that gives every audience member something they can relate to, and really captures a period of all our lives that we can look at and say, “wow, growing up was tough.”

Honorable Mentions: Vice, The Incredibles 2, Halloween, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Deadpool 2, Ready Player One, Tomb Raider

Biggest Disappointments: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, A Wrinkle in Time, The Nun, Solo: A Star Wars Story

Didn’t get to see: Roma, Green Book, Bird Box, The Favourite, Overlord, Boy Erased, Mid90s, Bohemiam Rhapsody, A Star is Born, Suspira, Crazy Rich Asians, Love Simon, Widows, Blindspotting, First Reformed, Searching, RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Favorite Albums of 2018

  1. The Plot in You – Dispose (alternative, rock): Dark, gritty, and spiked with electronic influence, Dispose is not only the most adventurous and diverse the band has been but is also one of their pieces of art to date. With their previous release, we saw a switch from the raw metalcore the band originally sought after to more of a focus on atmosphere, melody, and songwriting. While Happiness in Self-Destruction still leaned into the band’s metalcore roots, Dispose has all but tossed them to the side. Instead what we get is an album that is almost undefinable. Landon is at the top of his game with his soaring vocals that range from R&B, tender pop delivery, falsetto choruses, and even his signature screaming. While the instrumentation has taken a step back in terms of complexity and involvement, they add intricate layers and textures to the record that is mostly driven by an underlying industrial electronic feel. With Dispose, The Plot in You has sought to reinvent themselves, and this album is the culmination of that effort. Favorite Tracks: “I Always Wanted to Leave”, “Rigged”, “Disposable Fix”
  2. Architects – Holy Hell (metalcore): “I’m dismantled piece by piece” screams Sam Carter in the opening track of the metalcore band’s 2018 effort, and that line could not summate the general theme of this record more perfectly. The first album since the passing of founding member and guitarist Tom Searle (also brother to drummer Dan Searle), Architects trades their normal existential anger for a more raw and introspective look at grief and tragedy. This is by far the most somber record the band has written, and that reflects in it’s more patient riffs (which are as monstrous and aggressive as ever) and the more melodic presentation of Sam Carter’s vocals. However, the record is still rife with the band’s signature bone-crushing breakdowns and songs like “The Seventh Circle” still pack that signature punch Architects has built it’s sonic signature on. Favorite Tracks: “Hereafter”, “The Seventh Circle”, “Royal Beggers”
  3. Dance Gavin Dance – Artificial Selection (post-hardcore): No band has seemingly produced more music in the last 4 years than Dance Gavin Dance, and the remarkable thing is that one could argue that the band is still growing in skill and maturity with each release. The Sacramento post-hardcore outfit’s latest release completely sells itself to the soaring pop melodies of clean vocalist Tilian Pearson, who infects the record with his signature voice and delivery. Will Swan’s traditional guitar riffage is still there, but it lies underneath the more melodic tonal quality the album strives to achieve. Jon Mess and the band’s more heavy moments take a step back from being a co-force with Tilian and the sing-along moments to play more of a supporting role. While the songwriting has given itself to more melodic and pop sentiments, that doesn’t stop the band from having intensely prolific musical prowess (listen to the bass line on “Midnight Crusade”), which is where DGD still shines. The album is not only a masterpiece of technical skill, and post-hardcore traditions, but also of pop accessibility. Favorite Tracks: “Care”, “Suspended in Disaster”, “Evaporate”
  4. Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die, and Love Will Bury It (metalcore, death metal, electronica): Aesthetic. That is what Rolo Tomassi achieves with their latest full LP. When bands write records, most of the time it feels like a collection of 10-12 songs that have a loose sonic or lyrical theme that is put together. This album, however, feels carefully constructed from the first note to the last. The album takes the listener through instrumental landscapes, melodic dreams, and even on dark death-metal paths. But none of it feels out of place, in fact, it all feels as if it fits perfectly. This is a sonic journey that Rolo Tomassi wishes to engage the listener in, and they eloquently guide us with through it. Favorite Tracks: “Aftermath”, “Balance in the Dark”, “A Flood of Light”
  5. Silent Planet – When the End Began (metalcore, djent): Silent Planet has quickly asserted themselves not only as one of the top up-and-coming acts in the metalcore scene but also one of the best acts sticking around. With When the End Began the quartet construct one of the biggest sounding releases of the year, one that can rival even seasoned metalcore vets in its sheer veracity and power. Lyrically, the album still carries powerful messages of justice, anti-corruption, addiction, and questioning reality as Garret Russell continues to draw influence (and famously cite) from differing works of philosophy and art. This is Silent Planet’s most definitive work to date and should establish them as the leaders in the heavy music scene. Favorite Tracks: “Northern Fires (Guernica)”, “The New Eternity”, “Depths III”
  6. Emery – Eve (post-hardcore, emo, alternative): Emery continues to define how to grow as a emo/scene influenced band over the decades. This is not only the most mature release from the staple post-hardcore outfit but also asserts their creative dominance and fluidity over almost any band from their era. The album shockingly flows together so well and is so intricately written that songs bleed into each other (listen to “Fear Yourself” blends effortlessly into “Jesus Wept”). Even with their growth, Eve still features elements that are unmistakenly Emery. Soaring melodies, intertwining vocals, glistening melodies, and harsh screams pepper the record, as well as driving riffs, delicate guitar moods, and punching breakdowns. The balance between all these parts is what Emery has always excelled at, and Eve proves not only why Emery has been so successful in their past, but why their best days are still ahead. Favorite Tracks: “Safe”, “Fear Yourself”/”Jesus Wept”, “Everything She Offered Me.”
  7. Tiny Moving Parts – Swell (math-rock, emo): While the record musically hinges on it’s swirling clean guitar riffs frantic rhythms, and odd time-signatures, what makes it special is the vulnerability of the band and their lyrics. Dylan Matthesian has made a name for himself for taking a deeply personable and introspective approach to his lyrics, of which he still leans on making them “sound” good rather than make poetic sense. While somber and reflective in its content, the album overall still feels joyous and energetic due to its reliance on clean guitar tones, upbeat rhythms, and use of major scales (which is antithetical to most emo music). While the band shouts about their insecurities, anxieties, and fears, you can’t help but feel the joy this trio has in playing and creating music together. That feeling is addictive and gives the record and overall sense of hope and joy that permeates even it’s darkest moments. Favorite Tracks: “Applause”, “Feel Alive”, “Whale Watching”
  8. State Champs – Living Proof (pop-punk): After the resounding success of their sophomore effort Around the World and Back, State Champs had the challenge of cementing themselves as the new face of pop-punk, and Living Proof does just that. While lacking the more aggressive bite of their previous releases, the album proves that overall the band still just gets what makes a good pop-punk song, and to not make it feel immature. While these songs still want to make you jump around in the pit on a sweaty Warped Tour summer day, the album still conceptually (and musically) presents itself in a way that more accessible to the bands growing and maturing audience. Lyrically, Derek Discanio still delves into familiar topics of heartbreak and relationships but overall the album (much like one listed above it) still has an overall joy and fun factor that makes you want to blast it with your windows down on a summer evening and sing along. It’s that energy that makes State Champs unique and that they channel excellently in this record. Favorite Tracks: “Lightening”, “Criminal”, “Dead and Gone”
  9. Vein – Errorzone (metalcore, nu-metal, hardcore): Frantic and violent, with Errorzone,  Vein proves that there still is room to explore in metalcore. With riffs inspired by the liked of older Slipknot and other nu-metal influences, the album borders on the manic, but still finds method in its madness. With its visceral imagery and hardcore undertones, the album also had an industrial feel that gives it a girth and weight that doesn’t allow for comfort at any point in the record. That’s not to say there are moments of respite, but those come only to help alleviate the listener of the violent chaos that perpetuates the rest of the record. Favorite Tracks: “Virus://Vibrance”, “Old Data in a Dead Machine”, “Errorzone”
  10. mewithoutyou – [Untitled] (post-hardcore, alternative, emo): Back with a versatile rage, mewithoutyou launches listeners into their new record with a dizzying fury. Leaning into more of their aggressive roots, [Untitled] shows a band that is wholly unsatisfied with where they are as artists and the state of the world as a whole. It’s this anxiety that serves as the underpinning to this record. Still featuring the iconic poetic ramblings of Aaron Weiss, the band focuses less on textures and ambiance and more on driving riffs and crunchy distortion to highlight Aaron’s themes of fear, loathing, and existential (as well as personal) anxiety. Favorite Tracks: “Julia (or, ‘Holy to the LORD’ on the Bells of Horses)”, “9:27A.m, 7/29”, “Wendy & Betsy”

Honorable Mentions:

Impending Doom – The Sin and the Doom, Vol 2 (deathcore)

Jesus Piece – Only Self  (hardcore, metalcore)

Chelsea Grin – Eternal Nightmare (deathcore)

Shortly – Richmond EP (singer-songwriter, alternative)

Tilian – The Skeptic (singer-songwriter, pop, pop-rock)

Crazyeightyeight – Burning Alive (metalcore, rock, alternative)

nothing,nowhere – ruiner (hip-hop, emo, singer-songwriter)

Underoath – Erase Me (alternative, rock, metalcore, electronica)

Currents – I Let the Devil In EP (metalcore)

Stars Hallow – Happy Again EP (post-hardcore, math-rock, emo)

boygenius – boygenius EP (singer-songwriter, alternative)

Fever 333 – Made in America EP (punk, hip-hop, rock)

Belmont – Belmont (pop-punk, math rock, easycore)

Thirty Nights of Violence – To Die in Your Portrait EP (metalcore, hardcore)

Mom Jeans – Puppy Love (emo, pop-punk)

Remember Sports – Slow Buzz (emo, pop-punk)

Fit For a King – Dark Skies (metalcore)

The Wonder Years – Sister Cities (pop-punk, alternative)

 

A Day to Remember’s “Bad Vibrations”: Why Breakdowns need payoff, and the art of being heavy.

Note: I use a lot of colloquies and terminology that is familiar to people who listen to this kind of music, but for those who don’t, you may find a lot of what I say confusing. I do encourage you to explore this scene and some of the terms I use if you are unfamiliar with anything I say.

When one of my favorite artists, A Day to Remember, released their last record, Bad Vibrations, it was exciting news right? A Day to Remember (also one of the biggest bands in the scene of music I subscribe to) has a new album, let’s jam!

It’s odd that I get so excited about ADTR at all though, as I used to enthusiastically hate them. I thought they were everything I thought would ruin heavy music. Fusing it with poppy melodies, bright colors on their artwork, fangirls right and left…I even left a show of theirs early once (I went just so I could see Underoath). However when the band released their album What Separates Me from You I realized the futility of my feelings, opened up to the band, and they grew to become one of my favorites.

The thing that makes A Day to Remember somewhat remarkable though is that they aren’t the most technically savvy band all around. Their guitar riffs aren’t difficult, they aren’t trying crazy syncopated polyrhythms for their breakdowns, they just simply knew how to feel a song. They also always edged the line of being a pop-punk band, and a truly heavy band. They were just as easy to sing along with as they were to mosh too. While that idea wasn’t unique in and of itself, ADTR is seen as the band who more or less perfected this blend of the genres.

But they didn’t ever force that sound, it always seemed so natural. If a song was heavy, it wasn’t just heavy in tuning and constant chug patterns. It was angry. And they wouldn’t be afraid to kick in a sing-along chorus, or a punk beat if felt right. If a song was poppy, they embraced it and attempted to make it as emotional and relatable as possible. But occasionally, that would build to a place where maybe they would unleash something heavy, and they would do this in context if it felt right in the song.

However, with this new record Bad Vibrations (and to an extent, their previous album Common Courtesy) I’ve realized this blend felt different and more polarizing. They presented songs as “here is this heavy one” and “here is the poppy one.” While the record that got me into the group (What Separates Me from You) was criticized for this exact complaint, I feel that album presented the most refined collection of songs for the band. However, I don’t think Bad Vibrations does the same. And there’s a number of reasons:

First thing’s first: building breakdowns. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, the best breakdowns don’t come from the bands with the lowest tuned guitars or who play open note patterns the most. Effective breakdowns are about the build to them. Essentially, you have to understand what a breakdown is, and how to harness it. Breakdowns inherently are a moment in a song where the momentum is taken away, everything simplifies and the song “breaks down” around what you’re doing.

In metalcore, you can have your hardcore/metal riffs driving the song, then interrupt that driving force with a “breakdown.” From a technical standpoint, the most utilized way you see this is by utilizing a half-time cut. That is, if your main song portions are at 180 bpm, you insert a breakdown to feel like the song drops to 90 bpm. This is the feeling you get during breakdowns of you wanting to bang your head, and also why bands are fond of using bass drops as the breakdown kicks in to emphasize that feeling of dropping the tempo.

A Day to Remember used to be a band that knew exactly how to build a breakdown. Take into account my favorite heavy song from them, “Mr. Highway’s Thinking About the End.” The song opens with a dissonant chord being arpeggiated on a guitar. The drums and other instruments then cut in, using a typically building pattern to show that they are about to erupt into something. The build happens, then cuts out to Jeremey shouting, “Wake up!” and a half-time cut kicks in. The breakdown is slow and methodical but sounds massive and devastating. Once it’s over, however, the band quickly regains the tempo and has a driving riff to push into the first verse. Toward the middle of the song the chorus cuts out, you hear a handful of cymbal crashes in the background, one guitar then comes in, then the drums kick in to do a building beat. It sounds almost like the opening of the song. The moment builds on the guitar/bass/drums and just like the song’s opening part, right as the build reaches its climax it stops. Jeremey quickly shouts, “Disrespect your surroundings!” and a breakdown immediately kicks in. There is a bass drop which provides the backdrop for a halftime cut, and the band uses a quick polyrhythm over that which keeps the “build” happening before the true half-time cut kicks in. It does, with Jeremy seemingly panting, “You won’t make it out alive,” before the quicker rhythm kicks back in. They build you up and tear you down again. And it’s done euphorically.

In this breakdown, it isn’t the drop of the tempo that sounds heavy, but rather the tease of the drop and its unrelenting drive that causes it to sound so violent. They have set you up to think you know what it’s going to sound like, and they then use that to their advantage to get the listener to feel like their in utter chaos.

Then, the breakdown ends. We hear the main chord notes from the chorus again, and Jeremy comes back softly singing the chorus. The song never picks up, and softly lets the listener recover from the destruction of the breakdown as the chorus fades away and the track ultimately ends. Not only was the breakdown well built, it has ramifications for the rest of the song. There is what I call “payoff” from the breakdown. It doesn’t just happen to have a heavy moment, the band had a tactical plan on how they wanted to accomplish a feeling, and built the song around it. It’s tasteful and complicated in terms of songwriting, even if the actual instrumental parts aren’t.

Now let’s look at the title song from Bad Vibrations. It tries to capture a lot of what “Mr. Highway” does well, but is nowhere as effective. The song opens with another build, but this time it’s vocal. Jeremey shouts, “Don’t forget that this a choice/pick your poison live with remorse,” twice, then a breakdown kicks in. It’s a halftime cut, but features a more complicated rhythm than anything we see on “Mr. Highway”, it still has a riff progression to it, and then they add a lead part underneath it which for me, colludes the soundscape they’re going after. This breakdown isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just not as well-executed as the opening to “Mr. Highway.” However, it’s the main breakdown in the “bridge” of the song that lacks the payoff. There is again a build musically, and Jeremey is saying, “Toxic,” quietly, then louder and louder until he shouts it and the drop happens.

However, the drop doesn’t quite drop. There isn’t that allusion to what happened earlier, and this breakdown rhythmically feels like the build. It’s not its own entity. There are dissonant chords being played between the breakdown’s rhythm and again, the soundscape is compromised for it. Then as it ends, the chorus comes back in full throttle, as if nothing happened. Rather than being floored and realizing this song is built around this breakdown and seeing the rest of the song is impacted by it, it’s like the breakdown was there, and just kind of glossed over. You miss that “payoff.”

When you’re a heavy band, the worst mistake you can do is to be heavy just to be heavy. You can’t just drop-tune a guitar, play open chord chug patterns, and call it good. You need to be angry. While that seems superficial, being heavy isn’t about the style, tunings, or how much you scream. It’s about the emotion conveyed, that’s what draws you in.

 

Favorite Albums of 2017

  1. Days N’ Daze – Crustfall (folk-punk): Following up a classic is a hard task, their last full length, Rogue Taxidermy, came out nearly 4 years prior and has already been cemented as a staple of the folk-punk genre. Days N’ Daze fight every urge and cliche that a band might face in this situation, however, as this record is neither a copy and past of their last release nor is it such a departure that the band is unrecognizable. Crustfall is still as jammed pack with the raw emotion, energy, and angst that fueled their previous work, but there’s a touch of maturity and self-awareness the band has as writers now that takes them to a different level as composers and as people. Favorite Tracks: “Wholesale Failure”, “Days n Daze of Our Lives”, “Self Loathing”
  2. Silverstein – Dead Reflection (post-hardcore)Silverstein’s resurgence is one of the best things to happen for post-hardcore as a genre. This record is not only an example of how to progress and mature your sound in this scene, but also how to retain a sound that touches into the emotions your earlier work did. Songs like “Aquamarine” and “The Afterglow” could easily be swapped on any old school Silverstein release, but they carry a weight and depth that shows how much more refined they are as a band. “Retrograde”, “Lost Positives”, “Ghost” and other tracks show something else, that Silverstein is HEAVY. The breakdowns on this album are crushing and the riffs take up every sonic space possible. It’s funny that an old-school emo/post-hardcore band understands how to compose heavy music better than some of the “heaviest” bands around. Silverstein is a force. Plain and simple. Favorite Tracks: “Whiplash”, “Ghost”, “Aquamarine”
  3. Paramore – After Laughter (pop)I’m never mad if a band changes their sound. I’m only mad if they do it simply for radio play, and if the music is bad. I just want artists to be honest about their choices, and a lot of the times they aren’t. While Paramore has come a long way from being the pop-punk act I grew up to love, Haley Williams and company haven’t lost a shred of honesty, or creativity. This record feels like the 80’s technicolor pop the cover presents, but underneath is still a band that yearns to put its heart on its sleeve. No matter how dance-y the beat, how poppy the melodies, or how bright the electronics sound, there is another level to this record, one where Haley is searching for happiness and meaning in her life. It’s honestly quite a bleak record, which is odd because most of the songs will plaster a smile on your face until you really digest her lyrics. Teaming up with former drummer Zac Farro also feels right, as it appears that for the first time in a long time, Paramore as a unit is on the same page musically, even if there is dissonance in Haley’s lyrics. Favorite Tracks: “Fake Happy”, “26”, “Rose Colored Boy”
  4.  Neck Deep – The Peace and the Panic (pop-punk)Pop-punk isn’t dead. It doesn’t even need defending because this wave of new era pop-punk has been stellar, and with their summer hit, the boys from across the pond in Neck Deep are now leading the charge. On this record Neck Deep has finally broken into the potential they’ve always flashed but failed to capitalize on for a full release. The lyrics are earnest and clever, the melodies soar, the guitars pack a punch, and the whole album feels great. Neck Deep doesn’t reinvent the wheel here or even reinvent themselves, but they perfect the craft they’ve been meddling with for half a decade or so now. Nothing is out of place and serves a purpose (even the heavy-as-crap breakdown with Sam Carter). The album isn’t bogged down by over-editing and loads of added instruments or vocals. It is simple, effective, and fun. It’s one of those records that once you listen to it, you can’t let go because there is this energy that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s infectious.  Favorite Tracks: “In Bloom”, “Happy Judgement Day”, “Don’t Wait (feat. Sam Carter)”
  5. August Burns Red – Phantom Anthem (metalcore)This album can be summed up in one word: monstrous. August Burns Red isn’t new to the game, and they have consistently been putting out top-tier heavy music for a while, but this album…it’s crushing. Every note on this record just hits you with this weight that you really can’t describe. This isn’t ABR simply being on top of their game, they are forcing the listener to take a mercy rule. It really isn’t fair. The key here is that they truly understand what a breakdown is. The breakdown is a release of tension in the music. Firstly, they are able to concoct a number of ways to build that tension. Whether through blistering riffs, beefy guitar tones, or Jake Lurhs’ throat-tearing screams…they simply create a tension and angst in the listener, which they allow it to fester and build until they drop the floor from beneath you with a breakdown. It’s textbook stuff, but no one does it as masterfully as they do. They are the kings of metalcore, and they’re here to stay. Favorite Tracks: “King of Sorrow”, “The Frost”, “Quake”
  6. While She Sleeps – You Are We (metalcore)This record is nonstop energy. It is clear that the band isn’t happy with the current state of affairs socially/politically/economically in our world, but amidst the sheer anger is a message of hope for humanity. While She Sleeps isn’t exactly a new band to the scene either, but this is finally the record many felt the band was capable of putting out. It’s blistering, angry, and frantic. However, where this record shines is the melodic compositions, something that was lacking in their previous releases. The choruses and guitar leads are so memorable and catchy, not in a poppy way, but in an anthemic way. They soar over the top of the hectic metal/hardcore rhythms that drive the songs forward. You Are We is a stellar release from front to back. It’s one of those albums that comes on and you can’t help but bang your head. Favorite Tracks: “Silence Speaks (feat. Oli Sykes)”, “Feel”, “You Are We”
  7. Currents – The Place I Feel Safest (metalcore)Currents’ debut has taken the heavy scene by storm. Their strength here is building atmosphere for the listener, and I’d be hard-pressed to find an album on this list that does quite the same thing from front to back. The guitars on this record are also mixed perfectly. They carry this weight that makes every breakdown sound absolutely earth-shattering. Another strength is that these songs are composed extremely well. Typically heavy bands struggle creating whole songs, they’ll have a couple awesome riffs and they try to force them together. Currents overcome this by finding a way to perfect way to not just make a riff a “riff” but treats them more like sonic movements. There normally isn’t more than 2-3 riffs a song, but they are so well crafted, and perfectly accented by breakdowns/choruses that it all flows seamlessly. There’s also a groove the overall sonic tone of the album has that this record feels even more unique from other standout heavy releases this year. Currents is a band to watch out for. Favorite Tracks: “Silence”, “Apnea”, “Night Terrors”
  8. Wage War – Deadweight (metalcore): Hype. That’s the word for this record. Saying this record is “full of energy” would be doing it an injustice. This album is a force of fierce momentum, and it seemingly never lets up. It’s almost exhausting to listen to because Wage War seemingly has decided to…wage war…against your ears. There is hardly a moment to breathe, collect your thoughts, or even a hint of sonic respite. The calmer moments only serve to build a tension for the sonic explosion that’s inevitable. Even the “ballad” of the album, “Gravity,” builds to a couple of big breakdowns at the end. Vocalists Briton Bond and Cody Quistad have a dynamic that is undeniably effective as well, and the band plays to their strengths well. Bond serves to make the songs sound of desperate anger and pain, but Quistad often comes in to offer a sense of possible hope or an even more delicate sense of despair. Wage War doesn’t shy away from the record they want to make. This thing is heavy and loud. They don’t apologize, and they don’t take prisoners. Favorite Tracks: “Stitch”, “Witness”, “Never Enough”
  9. Ghost Guest – Ghost Guest (folk-punk/emo): We finally get a full length from the Massachutes folk-punk/emo inspired group, and oh boy does it live up to the hype. This album, in contrast to other albums on this list, is delicate. It’s light sonically, but at times can still sound big and powerful. The band uses the dual vocals of Catilyn and Heru to eloquently build a sense of desperation and longing, themes that pop up frequently on the album. It is also unapologetically honest. It’s one of those records that not only you can easily connect with, but it feels like the musicians are leaving a part of their souls with you. It’s like getting a glimpse into the most sensitive and private parts of someone’s life. The album is so vulnerable that you can’t help but feel everything they are feeling. More importantly, it takes you back to feelings that perhaps you haven’t felt, or have wanted feel, in a long time. But not only does it do that, it offers this unshakable notion that you aren’t alone in those feelings. That other people have been there, that they have gotten through it, and that they feel better. Ghost Guest then makes sure you feel like you will be better too. For an album that edges on being extremely dark, it offers a cathartic emotional experience that borderlines on religious. This is the kind of record that makes you believe in music, and yourself, again. Favorite Tracks: “Hardwood Floors”, “Shakey Knees”, “Lockjaw”
  10. The White Noise – AM/PM (metalcore/hardcore/alt-rock): Sometimes a band is all over the place but in a way that is surprisingly addictive and genius. The White Noise decides to take a fusion of genres: metal, hardcore, punk, California-rock, and decides to give you the finger and jam them all together. This album is all attitude. It isn’t particularly unique, they aren’t creating anything new in their sonic choices, but what they do well is mesh this frantic mess and make it sound like a cohesive collection of songs. Each song can stand well on its own, and it fits on this record, and they feel like this album is the only place where you would hear them. Ultimately, AM/PM and The White Noise feel like something other bands in this scene lack: they feel punk. Favorite Tracks: “Rated R… (feat Landon Tewers)”, “Bite Marks”, “Picture Day”
Honorable Mentions:
Local News Legend – Local News Legend
Veil of Maya – False Idol
Stray From the Path – Only Death Matters
Our Last Night – Selective Hearing EP
Winds of Plague – Blood of My Enemy
Like Moths to Flames – Dark Divine
Ankle Grease – Straight to the Bottom
Counterparts – You’re Not You Anymore
He is We – Fall Out of Line
The Ongoing Concept – Places
I the Mighty – Where the Mind Wants to Go
Hotel Books – Equivalency
We Came as Romans – Cold Like War
Being as an Ocean – Waiting for Morning to Come
Michael Poggioli – I’m Yeah
McCafferty – Thanks. Sorry. Sure.
Make Them Suffer – Worlds Apart
Palisades – Palisades
Oceans Ate Alaska – Hikari

Favorite Games of 2017

No remakes, DLC, or early access games. Which actually excludes a bunch of titles that I spent a lot of time with, namely Fortnite, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, and Kingdom Hearts 1.5+2.5.
    1. Horizon: Zero Dawn: Not only is Horizon my game of the year, but it’s also one of my favorite games in a while. Here’s the elevator pitch: fighting robot dinosaurs with a bow and arrow. And not only is the game just as awesome as that basic description sounds, but it also delivers a captivating story in an immersive world, with a wonderful lead character for you to become. Everything about the game is tight, sleek, and breathtaking. From its controls in combat, its visuals, and its progression systems…Horizon does it all right.
    2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: For me, when I consume art and entertainment, the big thing I love is a good story. What Breath of the Wild did for me was show that a captivating game doesn’t need this nuts and bolts perfect narrative. This game doesn’t focus on that, but rather spends its time on the little moments that help the player create their own story and experience in the world of Hyrule. From the exploration, to the mechanics and details you find on your own, Breath of the Wild is truly an experience you get lost in and that has you begging for more.
    3. Nier: Automata: A title that I haven’t, nor probably will get the time to really get to the bottom of, Nier doesn’t take long for you to digest what is so great about it. The gameplay is this mesh of styles that on paper would seem jarring, but in reality is so smooth and effortless that you can’t imagine experiencing the world and the story in any other way. Speaking of the story, everything about it is so meticulously crafted. The central relationship between the two protagonists is heartfelt and engrossing, that you almost miss the other themes going on in the story. And the fact that the story changes so drastically on each “playthrough”, Nier is a game that you must keep going back to play to fully unravel, but in a beautiful way. Nier is a unique narrative experience that we may never see the likes of again.
    4. Persona 5: This is a game I probably will never beat, mostly because I don’t have 130 some hours to devote to it, but Persona is just so…cool. Everything about it, from the menus, the art style, the soundtrack, the character designs…it just all has this unique energy and feel that is “cool.” There isn’t a better word for it. Add on top a cast of loveable characters, an annoying cat, high school drama, and a fantastical plot, then you have a game that from the outside seems ridiculous, but once you experience it, you realize how special Persona really is.
    5. Super Mario Odyessy: I didn’t necessarily grow up a Nintendo kid, and truthfully other than Super Mario Brothers on Gameboy and Super Mario ’64 on the Nintendo 64, Mario isn’t a character I really spent an obsessive amount of time with. But man oh man, does this game just feel like a nostalgia kick anyways. Nintendo makes this Mario game feel like everything you think a Mario game should be, even if you aren’t insanely familiar with the franchise. Everything this game does is designed to bring a smile to your face. There is so much joy packed into this game that it infects you while you play. As you grow up you can’t help but become more critical and more cynical about the world around you, and about the things you love. But Odyessy makes you forget to become that old cranky man, and simply leaves you smiling like a kid again.
    6. Batman: A Telltale Series, Season 2: Disclaimer, I am a sucker for Telltale Games and any kind of  “interactive movies”/”visual novels” (whatever you want to call them) kinds of games. And while I like Telltale more than I think an average gamer does, something about their Batman saga just feels grander than anything else Telltale has done. Their interpretation of the characters and the twists that they’ve added on some of the old Batman cliches keeps the story fresh and exciting. While your choices don’t affect the plot as much as Telltale would like you to believe, the array of choices that they do give you allow you to build a Batman/Bruce Wayne that can feel drastically different based upon what you want. Not only is this series a unique take on Batman from Telltale’s perspective, but it allows the players to project their own interpretation of the character as well.
    7. Destiny 2 (at launch): At launch, D2 seemed to flesh out the failings of its predecessor, and for the most part succeeded, and it kept the things I loved about the original. The single-player narrative is finally engaging, the gunplay is just as buttery smooth, and the lore is just as deep. It is still a fairly grind-heavy, repetitive game, but the progression felt more satisfying and the story was just there enough to keep me around. I rather liked D2 at launch, but as one got deeper into the end-game, it appeared that Activision couldn’t leave it alone and was gunning for players’ pockets. I almost kept D2 off my list for these things, but the 30 or so hours I’ve poured into it were genuinely a fun time. Running around terraformed planets and fighting aliens using superpowers with my friends was a blast, and I can’t deny that, even if the publisher ruined the game with their predatory monetization schemes.
    8. Resident Evil 7: Another disclaimer: I played this game mostly in VR, and holy crap, what a terrifying experience. It’s so scary, yet so gripping that you can’t seem let it go, no matter how scared you get. I went months not being able to play because I refused to walk into a room in the basement of the house. But the game is so fun, and the atmosphere so engaging that I just had to go back for more. As the game progresses you get more powerful and it gets less “scary”, but the fun doesn’t end. The action parts are just as good as the more straight-forward horror elements are, which makes this really feel like an old Resident Evil game. Add on top a compelling story of a cannibalistic family hunting you down, and RE7 really does it’s best to bring legitimacy back to a franchise that had become lethargic.
    9. Tacoma: Gone Home is one of my favorite titles of all time, and so Tacoma was naturally high on my list of anticipated games for 2017. While the story doesn’t quite have the emotional depth of Gone Home, it is compelling and thoughtful. Tacoma takes you a journey with a cast of characters who have to make some pretty emotionally and mentally tough choices, and you’re left there wishing you could help. In the end, I felt that the story attempted to do too much and lost sight of itself, but ultimately, the journey you go on with the central cast is enough to make Tacoma stick around with you long after the credits have rolled.
    10. Farpoint: By far one of my favorite VR experiences yet, the gunplay is so smooth that you become immersed in ways that other VR shooters can’t dream of. The aliens attacking you are really freaking scary as well, and so Farpoint doesn’t some “shoot ’em up” title either. While yes, some graphical things are still a bit wonky, and PSVR clearly has its limits, Farpoint is by far the most polished, fully immersive, experience on there to date. And what is more perfect in virtual reality than battling spider aliens on a deserted planet?
Honorable Mentions: Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, Kingdom Hearts 2.8, Prey, Outlast 2, Doki Doki Literature Club, Cuphead (which I’ll admit I barely have touched, but from what I have played/seen, it’s awesome, beautiful, and I’m awful at it)
Didn’t Get to Play: Hellbade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, Nioh, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, 2064 Read Only Memories, Night in the Woods, Wolfenstein 2, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, Halo Wars 2
Biggest Disappointments: Star Wars Battlefront II, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Destiny 2 (post a month or so from release, when they started screwing over players)
Most anticipated for 2018: Kingdom Hearts 3, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Dreams, Farcry 5, Vampyr, A Way Out, Agony, God of War

Favorite Films of 2017

Here are my favorite movies that I’ve seen this past calendar year. I have excluded Star Wars: The Last Jedi because of it being a numerical entry into the franchise, and that messes up my ability to be objective. While the movie has some serious problems, I loved it and saw it 4 times so…it is so far above the list that it doesn’t count.

  1. Lady Bird: The movie is not shy about what it means to grow up and trying to find your place in the world, with your friends, and with your family. The script is earnest, the performances are mesmerizing, and the direction is tight. This is a film that everyone can find a little bit of themselves in.
  2. IT: While not that “scary”, the heart of Kings’ coming of age tale shines through in a film that not only startles you but reminds you of your childhood. The nostalgia of the film touches not only on growing up but your childhood fears as well, giving it a unique perspective in the coming of age genre.The acting is superb, to say the least, everything is shot gorgeously, and the scenery of Pennsylvania and the town of Derry are utterly enchanting. IT shines in a colluded genre and stays true to the source material in a way most acclaimed King adaptations don’t.
  3. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri: Filled with a star-studded cast, Three Billboards is a dark tale that, like it’s protagonist, refuses to back down from its questions. Woody Harrelson delivers arguably his best, and most somber, performance to date and McDormand is ruthless in hers as well. In a film about letting go, it too forces you to walk away with questions unresolved and forces you to be okay with that.
  4. The Big Sick: Heartfelt, hysterical, and a joy to watch, the film has a way of tugging your heartstrings that is unique and earnest. While the tale is cliche, the sheer honesty of the story, as well as some inspirational performances from our leads, make The Big Sick a unique rom-com that will delight all of its audiences. 
  5. It Comes at Night: Sharp, entrancing, and emotionally draining, It Comes At Night isn’t the scariest movie ever, but it is among most thrilling. The tension created simply grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go, driving you further into the mystery and atmosphere of the film. It’s dazzling and uncomfortable. It’s sleek and grim. It Comes At Night is a special movie experience, and one of my favorites in years.
  6. Logan: Logan is that rare film that doesn’t work in spite of being a superhero movie, it works because it is a superhero movie. Logan is deep in thematic qualities: death, violence, accepting life, purpose, legacy, and more are discussed at length, but these themes only work because of the characters and the universe it takes place in. The film also is superb on a filmmaking level with both Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman saving their best for last for the franchise, as well boasting the best directing/writing any X-Men film has seen. It’s an engaging, intense, and raging emotional epic that will go down as one of the best superhero movies ever made.
  7. Blade Runner: 2049: Sleek, mysterious, and methodical. Villeneuve not only captures these elements which make the original a cult classic, but he adds a flare of his own. 2049 doesn’t rely too much on its old material as a crutch as much as it attempts to redefine our paradigms for viewing the old movie. It’s bold, rich, and leaves you full of wonder. This is that rare sequel that challenges its predecessor in ways that fundamentally alter how we will remember both movies. 
  8. Spider-Man: Homecoming: It’s witty, awkward, vibrant, and overall one of the best Marvel entries thus far. While it doesn’t re-invent the wheel (sounds almost cliche talking about Marvel films like this) it does what Marvel does dazzlingly well, and offers enough of its own vibe that it stands out among the filmography. Holland is the more classical Peter Parker people have been clamoring for, and his joy and enthusiasm is intoxicating throughout. This is the energy and rejuvenation the Spider-Man franchise was looking for.
  9. Coco: Charming, sweet, and wholly unique, Coco is Pixar redefining their boundaries. Everything about this movie screams about how much love, care, and thought was put into this film by everyone who touched it. And behind their creation is a story of family, heritage, and purpose that we all struggle with in our own lives. Pixar is firing on all cylinders here and it’s wonderful to behold.
  10. The Lego Batman Movie: Using the same wit and charisma that infected The Lego Movie, Lego Batman fires back with a sass and quirk that is not found in other animated films. It is entirely self-aware, self-confined, and self-conscious, but that’s what makes it work. There aren’t too many animated movies or movies in general, that understand what the audience is searching and what it is able to achieve quite like this movie does.
Honorable Mentions: Wonder Woman, Thor: Ragnarok, Beauty and the Beast, War for the Planet of the Apes, Captain Underpants, Annabel: Creation
Biggest Disappointments: Justice League, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, All the Money in the World, Murder on the Orient Express
Films I didn’t get to see: The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, Molly’s Game, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, LBJ, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Downsizing, Mudbound, Dunkirk