Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Ed's Top 25 Films of 2022 (Not a Typo)

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Whereas most people rush to get their best films of the year lists out before the end of the year in question, I decided to take my time, catch up on as much from 2022 as I could, carefully weigh their strengths and weaknesses, and then forgot to write my list for another eleven months. Oops.

Despite this list being comically late, I do think that it was worth taking the extra time to make sure it was as complete as possible, since there are films on here that absolutely would not be if I had got my shit together and written it at the appropriate time. Something like Andrew Semans' Resurrection, for example, wasn't on my radar much last year at all. But I heard good things about it from people whose opinions I respect, I jumped at the chance to see it once it hit streaming, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since. Sometimes truly impressive procrastination is the right move.

2022 felt like the first year since the pandemic started where cinema was truly back. I had been going back to see movies in theatres since early 2021, but generally theatres were still pretty empty, and even when there were busy they tended to lack the thrum of excitement that has always made going to the movies such a thrill for me. In 2022, however, my memories of seeing movies tended to be more about communal enjoyment of big spectacles, whether it was returning to Pandora, seeing Tom Cruise try to kill himself for our amusement but in a plane this time, or seeing Johnny Knoxville get absolutely obliterated by a bull. While there's no one thing that links the films on this list - other than that I really liked them - a recurring motif is maximalism, of people really swinging for the fences, which felt like turning the page on a few quiet, sad years.

Monday, January 02, 2023

The Best Games I Played in 2022

Are ya winning, son?                                                                                                                                                    I don't know.

Considering that I spent most of last year playing through some extremely long games, it's perhaps not a surprise that this year I gravitated towards games that offered a more condensed experience. Not necessarily games that could only be completed in a couple of hours (though there are a few that fit that description), but ones that you can pick up for 20-30 minutes, and then walk away feeling like you got something out of the experience.

That preference for shorter experiences explains some of the major absences on this list, so let's get them out of the way: I did not play Elden Ring, God of War: Ragnarok or Horizon Forbidden West. In part that's because they're all very long games and I was not in the mood for that this year, and partly because I have either a lack of experience with the previous games in those series/genres (I keep meaning to play the Soulsbourne games, and maybe this will be the year) or a lack of interest (I found the 2018 God of War pretty boring and not fun to play so didn't feel the need to run out and play the sequel). As such, those three behemoths of the year in gaming will not be on this list.

Before we get to the top ten, I have a few honourable mentions, which this year are a mix of older games that I played for the first time, games from this year that I really liked but just missed the cut, and ones that I didn't spend enough time with, but was impressed by what I saw. 

Yakuza: Like a Dragon (PlayStation, Xbox, PC) 

Grizzled Yakuza is about to have an extremely bad time

I picked away at this spinoff from the main Yakuza/Like a Dragon series over the course of the year and finally finished it just days before the new year started. While it didn't quite hit the same highs as Yakuza 0 did for me, it's easily one of the best games in the series and the shift from the beat-em-up combat of the earlier games to turn-based RPG mechanics worked fantastically well, adding an extra layer of over-the-top ridiculousness to a series that has always gone big and delivered. I'm glad that I'm all caught up on the mainline series in time for the next installment, the remake of Like a Dragon: Ishin! that comes out in February.

Pentiment (Xbox, PC) 

If you ever wished the Bayeux Tapestry was a game, that's pretty weird, but also Pentiment will suffice

I played some of Pentiment when it came out in November, but didn't really get into it enough to include it in the top ten, but it's a beautifully-realized and engrossing game about history, not just as a setting but as a theme to be explored through point-and-click adventure mechanics. One of the most distinctive games of the year and I'm looking forward to playing it more in 2023.

Super Kiwi 64 (Switch, PC) 

This looks so bad and so good at the same time

A delightful hit of nostalgia that mimics the style and feel of N64-era collectathons like Banjo-Kazooie, which does not overstay its welcome since it takes literally an hour and a half to finish. Not a deep experience by any means, but a really excellent recreation of a specific style and vibe. 

So now, here are the ten best games that I played in 2022. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

The Best (Older) Films I Watched in 2022

While I have done a better job of keeping up with current releases this year, mostly because the films that came out in 2022 are altogether more interesting than those that came out in 2021, it was still another big year for watching older movies for me. In addition to filling in some massive blind spots, including finally seeing one movie that cause multiple people on separate occasions to audibly gasp when I said I hadn't seen it, I tried to dig deeper into the works of filmmakers I was passingly familiar with but felt like I should know more about.

As such, to avoid this list being dominated by John Ford or Frederick Wiseman films, I'm only going to write about one film from each director and bundle the rest up under honourable mentions for each entry, since those directors in particularly have made a huge number of great movies and anyone looking for some suggestions could do worse than check those films out.

So here's the list of the best older movies I watched for the first time in 2022, presented in chronological release order since trying to rank these movies would drive me insane.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Ed's Top 25 Films of 2021


No, that's not a typo. Here, at the end of 2022, I realized that I forgot to actually do a best films of 2021 post last year, in part because I didn't feel like I had seen enough of the major films back in December 2021 to put together a decent list. So I kept putting it off as I caught up until I just forgot to actually write a list at all. And because the completionist aspect of my personality won't let me write a 2022 list without a 2021 list, here is a belated run down of the best films of 2021.

Before we get to the good films, a rundown of the worst films I saw. Usually I only single out one for that honour, but since the worst film I saw last year was Space Jam: A New Legacy and it would be charitable to call that IP car crash a film, I'll skip over that and instead say that Being the Ricardos was the worst film I saw in 2021. A totally inert take on interesting people and a potentially compelling story that doesn't even have the usual Aaron Sorkin saving grace of having memorable lines well-delivered. Over the course of his three films as a director, it has become painfully obvious that he has no idea how to direct actors to deliver his dialogue well or edit them so they play well on-screen. Someone needs to wrest the director's chair out of his hands and sit him behind a typewriter only from now on. Dreadful from start to finish.

And now here's the (very, very late) list.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Best (Older) Films I Watched in 2021

Rebels of the Neon God

Much like last year, 2021 was a big year for watching older movies for me, since the relative slowdown of new releases caused by the pandemic made it a pretty good time to look back and watch things that I'd been meaning to see for a while and never got around to, in addition to revisiting old favourites because they had significant anniversaries (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), new installments (The Matrix trilogy, The Animatrix, cutscenes from Enter the Matrix) or just because they're rad and there's never a bad time to throw them on (Speed, Ocean's Eleven). 

While getting vaccinated and cinemas re-opening meant that I was able to see more newer films this year than last year, and I generally feel better about my current best of the year list than at the same time in 2020, as is tradition, I won't be writing up that list until sometime in February (or March or April or I might just forget to do one as happened in 2019) since I like to spend January catching up on awards movies that expanded into more theatres (or, more likely given our weird reality, on streaming) rather than risk missing out on stuff that came out in November and December but only really starts to become available to most people in January. It feels like I shouldn't put the finishing touches on my list until I get to see Drive My Car at the very least, and who knows maybe Memoria will play within a thousand miles of me.

So this is a list of all the older movies I watched for the first time in 2021. It was frankly a nightmare putting this list together because I watched a lot of really good movies this year, ranging from films I've been meaning to see for years but never got around to, to movies that I only just heard about for the first time a few months ago. Whittling the long list down to this took ages, but these really feel like the films that stayed with me this year.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

The Best Games I Played in 2021: Non-Yakuza Edition


Whereas last year I spent most of my time playing older games that I kept meaning to play but never got around to until the pandemic gave me plenty of time to play through an extremely long game like Persona 5, this year I split my time between playing through the Yakuza series and trying to keep up with some of the more notable titles of the year. As such my list for 2021 consists mainly of games that actually came out this year with a few older titles sprinkled in, and I've split them into two lists rather than the undifferentiated list of all games that I used last year since I feel like I can actually field a decent best of the year list. And I also put all the Yakuza games I played in their own list so that they don't swamp this one.

Probably the biggest absence worth mentioning before getting into it is Metroid Dread, which I haven't had time to play yet but which would almost certainly be on there given how much I love Metroidvanias, and by all account it seems like a great one. Feel free to mentally slot it anywhere in the top five, which I'm pretty sure is where it will end up when I actually get around to it.

Friday, December 24, 2021

The Best Games I Played in 2021: Yakuza Edition

What can I say, this game speaks to me

Every year, I like to set myself little cultural projects. Things I can whittle away at over the course of 12 months like watching 52 films directed by women, or watching more films from India, so that I can force myself to experience new things and step outside of my comfort zone.

This year, I decided that my project would be to play through all of the main games in the Yakuza series. Produced by Sega, the sprawling and long-running series of action-adventure/RPG games encompasses over a dozen titles at this point if you include spin-offs, some of which can only be played (legally) on consoles that are no longer available. So for this, I played through the seven games focused on the story of Kazuma Kiryu, a sentient slab of muscles with an extremely well-developed sense of morality who starts out as a mid-level Yakuza enforcer in the first game, rises to become head of the powerful Tojo Clan, then walks away from it and spends the rest of the series trying to escape from his criminal past with extremely limited success. It's an epic saga that covers 30 years of Kiryu's life, and features some of the best long-form storytelling the medium of video games has ever attempted.

It is also an extremely ridiculous, melodramatic run of games that features over the top characters, wild action, more shirtless rooftops fights than you could possibly imagine, and a dizzying array of side-quests and minigames that add up to a frankly exhausting amount of videogame. The balance the series strikes between how silly its story is and how deeply it cares for its characters makes for an intoxicating mix, and while I started playing them because I'd heard they were unbelievably fun and engrossing, I very quickly found myself being invested in the story and character of Kiryu, and the series' prolonged interest in exploring the inner life (and outer violence) of a man approaching middle-age, reckoning with all the pain he has caused and trying to build something better for the next generation.

I also fell in love with Kamurocho, a fictional entertainment district in Tokyo which provides the main setting for much of the series. Not only is it a very fun place to run around, get into fights, and sample minigames that range from simple (darts and pool) to intricate (slot car racing and running a cabaret club) to extremely seedy ("massages" and softcore video booths), but it feels like a living, breathing city where things change every time you start a new game. Some of this reflects technological advances over the course of the series, but it also underpins one of the recurring themes of the series; the battle between an older way of doing things rooted in loyalty and the messiness of humanity, and a newer, heartless and more corporate way of living. 

It's such a central idea to the games that there is a series-long subplot about how Kamurocho's one big public park, which serves as a home for the city's unhoused population, gets turned into a mall, forcing the people who previously lived there to eke out an even more meagre existence in the sewers. Not to throw all video games under the bus, since there are plenty of games out there that tackle big and complicated issues in innovative ways, but it is rare to see a series of this scale and prominence so interested in fundamental issues that shape modern life.

All that being said, the series is not without its flaws. Probably the biggest mark against it is the strain of transphobia which runs throughout, and while the games get better at handling their trans characters as they go along (to the extent that one of the most egregious substories from the third game was removed entirely when it was re-released as part of the remastered collection of 3, 4 and 5) at best it manages to be awkward at including them. This is not to say that all the violent crooks in this series of crime games should have good politics, far from it; many of the characters in the games are racist against Koreans and the Chinese, in fact their racism is central to the plots of at least two of the games, but there is always a sense that the Korean and Chinese characters in the game are people, whereas the trans characters in the game are, with very few exceptions, depicted as little more than jokes, and that runs counter to the warmth that can be found throughout the rest of the series.

Since these games are all pretty long and involved, and it took me pretty much the whole year to work through them, I thought I would do a whole list ranking them separate from my best games list, rather than have that list consist of seven Yakuza games and Inscryption. So with all that out of the way, here is my ranking of the mainline Yakuza games.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Ed's Top 25 Films of 2020

A somewhat shorter list this year because I didn't see as many newer movies as usual, partly because cinemas were closed for a lot of the year (and even when they reopened I felt like I might as well wait until I get vaccinated before seeing movies in theatres again) and partly because I didn't watch as many movies this year in general. It was just very stressful all round, and if I wanted to relax at the end of a day fretting about how bad the pandemic could get, video games ended up being my go-to entertainment option for much of 2020.

As such I find it pretty hard to gauge what kind of year it was for cinema. There were certainly some really good films released this year, in whatever form that ended up taking, but everything felt so disjointed and scattered. Everything felt impermanent and ephemeral, with nothing to moor all the movies that got out into the ether of VOD and streaming. Was 2020 a good movie year? Was it even a year? Who can say.

Anyway, these were the films that made a mark on me this year, and all but one of them could probably have the addendum "I wish I'd seen this in a movie theatre" attached.

Before we get to the good stuff, let's indulge in a bit of negativity. Easily my least favourite film of the year was David Fincher's Mank, which I found to be a terribly dreary and affected bit of filmmaking about filmmaking that was hamstrung by a terrible Gary Oldman performance and a tin-eared, obvious script. It's not a bad film, but it was a terrible disappointment and I can't think of any film this year that had more going for it that so categorically failed to delivery on its promise.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Best (Older) Films I Watched in 2020

Goodbye, Dragon Inn

As someone who has often complained about how hard it can be to keep up with new releases while also watching the thousands of older films that I've been meaning to see, there was a certain Twilight Zone irony to having a global pandemic shutter movie theatres for most of the year and push many major releases to some indeterminate time in the future. In the words of Mr. Henry Bemis, there was time now, so long as I didn't mind spending so much of it in my own flat.

During the many months of lockdown, I watched a lot of older movies that were new-to-me, and was able to finally check off some heavy hitters that I've had on my to-watch list for years. I didn't manage to complete some of the loftier goals I set myself (such as watching all of Berlin Alexanderplatz) or even some of the dumber ones (like watching Eyes Wide Shut every day of December leading up to Christmas) but since we're not getting out of this anytime soon, I might find time to fit them in before I write next year's post. As ever, though, as great as it was finally seeing movies that I expected to be great, the biggest thrill came from seeing films I knew nothing about, and realising that there is always more to discover.

Before we get to the list, a shout-out to the best film I rewatched this year: Wayne's World. We all needed a little comfort this year, and nothing allayed my anxiety as much as revisiting Aurora, Illinois and seeing that the film is just as funny as it was when I was seven, if not funnier since I understand a lot more of the jokes now. 

Anyway, here are the best older films I watched for the first time in 2020. A good year, but only in this one respect.

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Best Games I Played in 2020


Like many people, I found myself spending a lot more time at home this year. As the Coronavirus pandemic gathered steam in the spring, I started working from home, limiting travel, and looking for ways to occupy the many anxiety-riddled hours each day. Between reading Agatha Christie novels at an alarming rate and making a dent in the ever-growing list of films I've been meaning to watch (which I'll do another post on), I leaned on video games for comfort and escape, broadening my horizons a little by trying genres that I've previously been skeptical of, and ever so slightly reducing the backlog of games I've bought in sales over the years but never had the time to actually play (then buying more games in subsequent sales, thereby perpetuating the cycle). The games listed below (and ranked in no order other than chronological) were the ones that proved especially meaningful, and made the long stretches of worry and isolation a little more bearable.