Okay, so my list will probably be a little bit different than the others. Don’t worry, I confirmed with Cole that I didn’t need to include necessarily new things from the year, only things I engaged with this year. Which is good for me because I am not usually one to keep up with the Joneses, especially when it comes to TV or video games.
It also doesn’t help that two of my colleagues have already talked about some of the stuff that hit me. *stares at Brandee and Cole* But that’s all good. I totally didn’t want to write about how I cried throughout Everything Everywhere All At Once. I don’t even really know if I have a running theme through the different pieces of media that hit me. If anything, it would be the autonomy and the possibility of failure. Perspective is everything, and failure sharpens your focus in ways that success can’t. So let’s go through the stories that have redefined success, both to its characters, and myself.
Yeah, yeah, I never watched Bebop as a kid. I watched a lot of Toonami, but I got hooked on mecha anime faster than a baby on milk. Gundam was my drug, and the various other imitators that tried to slake my thirst for more. Since Bebop didn’t have mechs, I was not interested. The main draw to me seemed to be that Faye was attractive and Spike was cool, and those held no sway as my eyes gleamed for Epyon.
But as an adult, I felt I was missing out, and with last year’s disastrous release of the live action remake, I figured it was time to pick up the 90s classic, and I was not prepared. I was floored by the character work on display. The disjointed and non-linear storytelling focused the narrative in ways I didn’t expect. Each episode was bookended by the unskippable blast of “Tank!” as opener, and the magnetic closer “Real Folk Blues” adding emotional weight, even in the lighter episodes. It felt prophetic, giving the watcher an understanding that the story was going to end, and it was going to end hard.
I really got pulled in, however, when the halfway episodes sharpened the rest of the show. “Jupiter Jazz” parts one and two left me speechless, the last scene replaying itself in my mind as I type this. And from there it was a downhill slide revealing more and more of the crew, along with their desperate attempts to not fall apart. If Cowboy Bebop taught me one thing (though it taught me many), it’s that things end, no matter how hard one tries to keep it together. But one can choose to keep running, or turn and face the end they’ve made for themselves. See You, Space Cowboy.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Since this is a book website, it’s not very often I get to talk about film or movies. I’m not much of a TV guy anymore, but movies are my jam. And Portrait was one of those films I heard about, but I never met anyone who told me to watch it. So I’m going to be that person for you. If you can watch foreign films and not be distracted by subtitles, you need to watch this movie. Hell, learn to do so just for this film. Never have I felt such an intimacy between actors, nor felt so invited to feel the things the characters are feeling in a movie. The unlikely romance between two women in 18th century France is an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish.
There is an undeniable magnetism to the women in the film. It’s impossible to not root for them to admit their feelings to each other in the limited time they have, before they have to return to their own roles within society. The artist and subject framing gets blurred throughout the film as the viewer is pulled into its spell. I found myself enraptured, falling head over heels in the same way that the artist does. A single look from Heloise pierced my heart through the barrier of the screen and I still can’t get it out of my head.
Discussions about the nature of art and the power of stories within pepper the whirlwind romance. It makes love feel like a magic that is impossible to capture, yet one can’t help but try to recreate it. The soundtrack whispers through the movie reminding you of its presence at just the right moments. It doesn’t hurt that one of my favorite Vivaldi pieces is used to end the film in one of the most emotionally devastating moments I’ve ever seen in film. It’s the rare movie that really captures the full scope of what it means to fall in love, choose to admit it and accept the pain that comes with it.
The Outer Worlds
Okay, so I am cheating a little bit with this one. I started playing it in 2021 and technically finished it in early, early 2022. But I still haven’t stopped thinking about it. If you don’t know this game, it’s a sci fi first person RPG with a 50s sci-fi aesthetic gone bonkers. It lights up all the fun anti-capitalist parts of my brain with ease and once I figured out what was happening, I was enthralled to the narrative.
And when I say enthralled I mean fully encased. I have had dreams about the cast of the game, and find myself daydreaming about what their lives might be like right now. Weird, I admit, but the characters just hit me that hard. I took every moment I could to dig a little deeper into who they were, even if I found them disagreeable. The writing felt so dynamic and I wanted to give my “friends” the best shot they had at the lives they wanted to lead. I wanted to help Parvati express her feeling to Junlei. I wanted to change Ellie’s mind on the fundamental nature of humanity, and help Nyoka find peace with her past.
That’s only half the crew and not even the people I engaged with on the planets. My favorite bit at the end of the game was seeing how my choices affected the future of the game. And while I felt proud, I also felt like I failed a little bit. Some of the folks I had aligned with on ideological terms petered out. Though my future self worked every day until their death, there were still unending problems. You can’t escape entropy, but it reminded me I could compromise in a few hardened areas to make life a little better for everyone else and give them the autonomy to do the same. And to me, that’s what the best art does, is remind you of your flaws while cheering on your strengths.
I’ve left the most recently released item for last. I will not provide a summary because I think you should go in blind, if you haven’t already seen it. But I could not describe Jordan Peele’s latest as anything but electric. I came out of the theater vibrating to the point that my girlfriend said “wow, you’re going to ride that high for as long as you can aren’t you?” And folks, I still get a buzz thinking about this movie.
I’m already a fan of Peele’s films, so for me it was a no-brainer to purchase tickets. But even still, this particular movie felt special. It dove into its ideas with gusto, giving the actors so much to chew on. Both Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer were stellar as the leads. Their opposing personalities created a potent mix that ramped the tension up when needed and provided sweet cathartic comedic release to relieve the pressure. They also made you root for them, which I find is a rare quality in a horror film these days. Even the folks who get killed, you feel sympathy towards.
The movie came out as a perfectly blended smoothie of strong acting, beautiful cinematography and deep themes. Peele’s exploration of exploitation within film and entertainment on various levels, but specifically with exploitation of trauma at the forefront felt refreshing and hard hitting. It also tended to turn the camera on the audience in a few places in a way that acknowledged complicity without pure admonishment (well, except in a couple of cases, but those are definitely well earned and rightful judging).
What I really enjoyed though is that characters didn’t feel stupid. I love horror movies and sometimes you want to watch a bunch of dumb people fall to their flaws and stupidity but it’s also good to see people triumph over absurdly horrific scenarios using their strengths and making choices that feel proactive. One can think through something and then make a choice without having to follow the script. You can break through the grinding exploitation and live instead of just survive.