Monday, December 31, 2018
THE YEAR IN MOVIES - 2018
- When I think about the movies of 2018, the main thing that comes to mind is ... wow, it was an amazing year for action. From January through December, we were treated to one great action movie after another - including a number of instant-classics that are absolutely best-in-class in the genre. Action is always a tough category of movie to talk about - we're conditioned to inherently think of it as a "lesser" genre, despite action films being some of the biggest box-office earners and some of the most beloved films by audiences year after year. I know that when I make my year-end lists, I'm never quite sure how to rank the year's best action films. Is an incredible action/adventure movie as worthy of top-honors as a more traditionally critic-friendly drama? Well, the action movies were so damn good in 2018 that it sort of forced the issue. There was no way, for example, that I could omit Mission: Impossible - Fallout from my Top 10 list. It's flat-out one of the best action movies I've ever seen. Same goes for Black Panther - perhaps the pinnacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. Similarly awesome was Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse - it absolutely blew me away. So yeah, the quality of action movies this year - be they live-action or animated, superhero or spy movies - was undeniable. And that goes for big-budget sequels like the awe-inspiring Infinity War, as well as indie gems like future cult classic Upgrade.
2018 was also the year that Netflix became a major factor in my Best of the Year list. Sure, they've had occasional gems over the last few years - like last year's Mudbound - but man, Netflix upped their game in 2018. They delivered some absolute masterpieces, like Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Sure, they still had their share of duds (The Cloverfield Paradox, anyone?), but when Netflix wasn't putting out new films from some of the best directors working today, they were generating massive viewership for movies like Bird Box - going so far as to steal thunder from major studio box office releases. Netflix's ability to generate viral excitement for their films - and to get them in front of a massive audience - felt game-changing in 2018. And hey, I've got to applaud them for getting more liberal with their theatrical release strategies as well. I mean, as nice at is to have instant access to movies like Roma or Buster Scruggs via at-home streaming, it's also great to be able to catch these films on the big screen. As a Coen Bros. die-hard, there was no way I was going to miss my chance to see their latest in a theater.
In terms of the big prestige films ... this is probably going to be one those years where my own tastes don't necessarily match up with the Oscars'. I mean, I enjoyed movies like A Star Is Born ... but I wouldn't put it on the same level as less-hyped gems like Eighth Grade, Searching, Suspiria, or First Reformed. The hype machine on certain movies gets so out of control sometimes. Conversely, the hit squad often comes out for movies that don't deserve it. Sure, there are some movies that are flat-out bad - but that is very, very rare. More often, we need more nuanced conversation about a film's merits - not simply hot takes that pile on a movie that the internet has decided needs to be hated. In any case, that's why I'm here - to set you all straight! Seriously though, there's nothing better than discovering a great under-the-radar film - be it an action movie like Upgrade, a dark comedy like Blindspotting, or a mind-melting doc like Three Identical Strangers.
So here's to seeking out cool new movies and discovering interesting new voices in 2019.
DANNY'S BEST MOVIES OF 2018:
1.) Eighth Grade
- Eighth Grade was the movie that truly floored me in 2018. And I was not expecting it at all. First-time writer/director Bo Burnham absolutely kills it with this one - delivering a movie that's hilarious, emotional, and spot-on in its depiction of life as an eighth grader. Sure, some of the details are specific to 2018 - but the genius of the film is that it hits on universal truths that anyone who's ever been 13 can immediately relate to. Elsie Fischer is phenomenal in the lead role, too. What put Eighth Grade over the top for me is this: it's a dark, at times bleak movie - people have even called it horror because of certain scenes that are so uncomfortable as to be downright nerve-racking. But - the movie also finds hope in the darkness. Not in a cheesy way, but in a way that feels real and earned. The film's closing scenes are perhaps the most powerful statement, to me, that any movie made this year: it's a messed-up world we live in, but maybe (just maybe!) the kids are going to be all right.
- It takes a little time to get into Roma - director Alfonso Cuaron takes his time, more concerned initially with setting up the time and place and vibe of the film than with building any sort of narrative momentum. But soon enough, one can't help but become completely immersed in this movie - more so than almost any film I've ever seen, it feels like a window into another time and place. It creates the effect of watching old home movies, of living a life alongside its characters. Of course, the "home movies" here are among the most gorgeously-shot moving pictures I've ever seen - they're like painted postcards brought to stunning life. What Cuaron achieves here is remarkable - the movie feels both lived-in and alive in a way that will make it a film studies must-watch for many years to come. And the story it ultimately does tell, about a family's housekeeper and her quiet struggles - is both low-key and in its own way incredibly epic. This is life on-screen, captured gloriously.
3.) First Reformed
-Several years ago, I went to see a screening of Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair at the New Beverly theater in LA. The film was preceded by a hand-picked set of vintage trailers, curated by Tarantino as examples of movies that inspired Kill Bill. One of the movies was Rolling Thunder - and it looked awesome. At the time, the movie wasn't available at all on home entertainment, but my friend procured a copy. We watched it, the movie was incredible and badass, and from that day forward, the name Paul Schrader was on my radar. Obviously, I should have known about him sooner - the guy wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, after all. But suffice it to say, when Schrader has a new movie out, I pay attention. And First Reformed is one hell of a new movie from Shrader. It's a pitch-black, jaw-dropper of a film that is a scathing look at the world we live in today. It's a meditation on faith and morality and it's got Ethan Hawke giving an incredible lead performance as a priest experiencing a crisis of conscious. To say too much more is to spoil it, but I can't recommend this one enough.
4.) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
- It's amazing how new Coen Brothers movies can be so good and yet so perpetually underrated. Their more comedic films in particular tend to fly under the critical radar - only to be rediscovered years later and appreciated after multiple re-watches. But I am here to say that Buster Scruggs is the real deal - a legit new Coen Bros. classic that you need to watch right now (and it's on Netflix, so get to it). The film - a Western anthology - is the Coens' version of Weird Western Tales - darkly funny, brilliantly executed parables about life and death and tragedy and violence in the Old West. It's got some of the year's drop-dead funniest moments and some of the year's most shocking moments. As you'd expect, the writing is shamefully good and the dialogue so sharp that it shakes my confidence as a writer. How are these guys this talented? Perhaps the movie is just too strange for some, but man, I feel thankful as a film fan that we are still being treated to new films with the Coens' particular brand of offbeat genius.
- Spike Lee is one of our best filmmakers, and this is one of his best films ever. An often hilarious, often intense, always entertaining look at the real life story of an African-American man and a Jewish man who infiltrated the KKK, BlacKkKlansman is also one of the most angry (and therefore cathartic) movies of 2018. It draws a direct line from David Duke (played as a hilarious Evil Ned Flanders by Topher Grace) to Donald Trump, and pulls no punches in saying that this film's story is part of an ongoing saga that is very much still being told (sadly) in the here and now. Lee's righteous anger infuses the film with an energy and passion that is exciting to watch unfold on-screen. This felt like the movie we needed in 2018.
- I'd heard good things about Searching going in, but I was not prepared for what I got with this movie - which will go down, I think, as one of my favorite mystery-thrillers ever. What could have been a cheap gimmick - the entire movie is told via us seeing what's on the protagonist's various screens (PC, phone, iPad, etc.) - is a slick, highly effective storytelling device, thanks to director Aneesh Chaganty. Chaganty somehow pulls the whole thing off in stunning fashion - giving the film a voyeuristic sense of mystery and a you-are-there sense of immersion and intensity. What's more, the mystery here is told to perfection, with some big twists that hit me like an atom bomb and left me breathless. And John Cho is so good here - if he's not cast in more lead dramatic roles after this, it will be a huge missed opportunity. I don't know if Searching will end up with any awards love, but it should - this one is one of the true surprises of 2018.
7.) Black Panther
- Like I said above, it's sometimes hard to talk about the big superhero movies - especially the Marvel movies that are funny and colorful and comic book-y - as relates to the Best of the Year. How to rank a movie like this? But look, this year, it was a pretty easy choice to put Black Panther in my Top 10. The movie is arguably the best MCU movie to date - while it's still very much a Marvel superhero movie, it also transcends the genre in many ways. It's an epic fantasy. It's a spot-on social/political film, delivering a powerful message about building bridges and fighting for positive social change. And it's also a damn good superhero movie, delivering stunning visuals, locations, and costumes as well as some seriously kick-ass action sequences. Plus: Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger is perhaps the best Marvel villain yet - a nuanced and somewhat sympathetic Big Bad who, in some ways, may just have a point. Black Panther did the legacy of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby proud, and it also delivered an inspirational message that will resonate for generations to come. Wakanda Forever, indeed.
- Here's another one where I went in unsure of what to expect, and came out somewhat floored by what I had just seen. Suspiria is a remake of the classic Dario Argento horror film - and while that movie is legendary for its iconic, hallucinatory visuals - this new version ups the game by adding numerous layers of intrigue to the nightmarish plot and by filling things out with some intriguing social/political commentary to boot. There's so much to unpack from this one - after seeing it, I went down a lengthy rabbit hole of reading reviews, interpretations, and articles about the historical context of the film's 1970's Berlin setting. Aside from all that, Suspiria is flat-out creepy and disturbing as hell. It's a slow burn of creeping dread, punctuated by moments of abject horror, that culminates in a Grand Guignol display of holy-$&%# insanity. This is the kind of movie that people are going to walk out of - as for me, I hadn't been this delightfully disturbed by a horror movie since The Witch. I've also got to mention Tilda Swinton - whose multiple roles in the movie should rocket her straight into the acting hall of fame. I honestly had no idea, until after seeing the film, that all of those parts were played by her. Anyways, take my word for it: Suspiria is a must-watch ... just be warned that you may not sleep for a while after watching.
9.) Mission: Impossible - Fallout
- In year's past, a new Mission: Impossible movie would probably get a glowing review from me, but end up somewhere further down the list. This year, with Fallout, I knew there was just no way I could relegate this one to the bottom of my Best of the Year rankings. I mean, it's one of the best damn action movies ever made. Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie is simply operating on another level these days - delivering some of the most breathtaking action set-pieces ever put to film, with the help of his always-game star Tom Cruise. I don't know if a blockbuster action film has *ever* given us moments like Fallout did. Watching on an IMAX screen, you'd felt like you'd just been on the craziest roller-coaster ride of all time - a full-body, visceral experience. McQuarrie is so good partially because he makes sure that every action set-piece tells a very specific story, and that story and its beats and micro-beats are always paramount. Directors like Michael Bay, who just throw chaotic CGI randomness on screen and call it cinema, should take note. This is how it's done. McQuarrie keeps you hanging on every moment, every punch, every kick, every near-fall into an icy abyss. Awesome.
10.) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
- One more 2018 movie that many of us simply did not see coming. What appeared at first to be a non-essential Spider-Man side project turned out to be one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. It's visually astounding, legitimately hilarious, and bursting with heart in a way that few other movies in the genre can claim. In fact, the film brilliantly deconstructs the very idea of Spider-Man and superheroes in general, and shows us exactly how a regular kid like Miles Morales can go from hapless teen to multiverse-saving hero with the right push. The film is just absolutely cool-as-hell - a mash-up of various eye-melting animation styles, resulting in one of the most dazzling animated movies ever made. It's got a motley crew of awesome supporting characters, from the kick-ass Spider-Gwen to the grimly funny Spider-Man Noir. This feels like a movie that was sent back from the future to rock our worlds. A new all-ages classic.
JUST MISSED THE CUT:
11.) First Man
- I struggled with leaving this one out of my Top 10, partly because it feels like, perhaps, 2018's most strangely underrated film. The fact is: more people should have seen and raved about First Man. Damien Chazelle ... I mean, what an amazing director. He once again dazzles with this one. It's got some incredible, visceral scenes of space travel ... but what may have thrown people is this: First Man is *not* an epic space movie in the vein of Gravity or even Apollo 13. Not really. In actuality, it's a very personal story about one man's quest to find meaning in an at-times cold and uncaring universe. And in turn, it's a profound meditation on humanity's collective quest to do the same. Ryan Gosling is fantastic in this one, too. So don't sleep on First Man - it really is among the year's absolute best.
- Mandy was 2018's surefire future midnight-movie cult classic - a straight shot of unfiltered madness, a heavy-metal fever dream that's like the ultimate 80's action epic that never was. Director Panos Cosmatos taps into something primal here, giving us a movie that's fun to laugh and cheer with (I mean, it's completely insane), and yet is dead-serious in its mission to deliver something unique and unforgettable. And man, in a career of memorable and over-the-top performances, this might just be Nicholas Cage's crowning achievement. This is Nic Cage at peak Nic Cage - completely unhinged and just entertaining af. Mandy demands to be watched with friends who will share in its awe and wonder and pure concentrated insanity. It's an all-timer, that's for sure.
13.) Avengers: Infinity War
- Man, what a year it was for Marvel movies. After the high water mark that was Black Panther, along came Infinity War to raise the bar for just how big and epic and awe-inspiring a superhero movie could be. What's truly admirable about this one is how it so easily could have been a complete mess - with its sprawling cast of characters and ridiculous scope. But the Russo Brothers and their collaborators made the brilliant decision to center the movie on the mad titan Thanos, and in doing so they helped bring to life (along with a shockingly great performance from Josh Brolin) a villain for the ages. This one flat-out delivered on the big moments, giving us amazing battles, "exclesior!"-worthy moments of heroism, and of course the already-legendary Finger Snap of Doom. Basically, the movie more than did its job of making Avengers: Endgame, easily, the most anticipated film of 2019. I can't wait.
- Destroyer - directed by the always-interesting Karyn Kusama - is dark, gritty, grimy, pulpy ... and 100% badass. It's a savage and brutal crime thriller that goes to some very dark and disturbing places. What's more, it features a remarkable lead performance from Nicole Kidman - who plays a strung-out, beaten-up, hard-bitten rebel cop, as well as a younger and less world-weary version from twenty years earlier. It's quite possibly the best acting I've ever seen from Kidman - a tour de force performance in which the actor transforms herself into a blunt-force object that would make the likes of Dirty Harry soil himself. There are also a couple of action scenes here that are just brilliantly directed by Kusama - including a white-knuckle bank robbery bust that left me gasping for breath. This one may end up being too dark, pulpy, and twisted for the Oscars (shades of recent crime films like Zodiac, Nightcrawler, etc.), but it should very much be on the award-season radar. Kidman kills.
15.) Three Identical Strangers
- I sat through Three Identical Strangers in a constant state of disbelief. Was this real?! This truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story is so crazy that it feels like it has to be made up. And it's so expertly told and presented that, at times, it feels more like a Christopher Nolan mind-%$&# thriller than a documentary. But it is true, and it is unbelievable, and I don't want to say too much more for fear of spoiling the film's various twists and turns. Suffice it to say, this story about three separated-at-birth identical triplets goes to some shocking places - so much so that not only is it one of the most gripping docs I've ever seen, but one of the best films of 2018, period.
THE NEXT BEST:
16.) Sorry to Bother You
- What a statement from director Boots Riley. Sorry to Bother You goes to some absolutely crazy places, and ends up in a place I *never* expected going in. But man, this is a must-see - a hilarious and surprising and totally crazy social satire that has to be seen to be believed.
17.) The Old Man & The Gun
- If this is truly Robert Redford's final film, then it's a fitting capper on a legendary career. A charming story about a bank robber who just can't call it quits - this one is a skillfully made and extremely watchable movie that reminds why Redford is so, so good at what he does.
18.) Ralph Breaks the Internet
- I was lukewarm on the first Wreck-It Ralph movie, but wow - this Disney sequel is a major improvement in every way. It's funnier, smarter, more visually dazzling - and it's actually a sort of brilliant take on the internet and the ways it can be used for good and ill. The movie has a lot to say, and it does so with wit and humor and charm. Oh, and it's even got a couple of sweet Tron references. I am now officially a major fan of this franchise.
- I'm a longtime fan of writer/director Alex Garland, and he gives us yet another slice of thought-provoking sci-fi with Annihilation. This one really takes you down a rabbit-hole of weirdness, horror, and existential dread - on a level that so few sci-fi films really reach for. Garland is always interested in the Big Questions, and this one is no exception.
20.) Leave No Trace
- This is another winner from Winter's Bone director Debra Granik - a tale of humans vs. nature that has a lot of interesting things to say about the way we live. It's a moving, thought-provoking film. And it features wonderful performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, as a father-daughter duo who choose to live in the woods, off the grid. Don't sleep on this one!
- This one flew under my radar at first, but I'm glad I caught up with it late in the year. It's a darkly funny comedy about race and class, and one hell of a statement from up and coming director Carlos López Estrada. Actor Daveed Diggs (best known for his role in Hamilton) is also a revelation in this one. His angry rap-rant to a racist cop - man, it's one of the best scenes in a movie this year.
22.) The Incredibles 2
- I wasn't sure what to expect from this one - it had been a long time since the first Incredibles, and I wondered if Brad Bird and co. could recapture their old magic. In my view, not only did they recapture it, but they made an incredibly cool movie that might just exceed the original. This one is funny, it's got amazing action, it's got great characters, and it's got really well done messages about family and responsibility and sticking together. I loved it.
23.) If Beale Street Could Talk
- Barry Jenkins' follow-up to Moonlight is another fantastic film. It suffers a bit from the usual issues of novel adaptations - it tries to cram a lot into one movie, and some plotlines and characters feel short-changed. But even so, Jenkins give us a moving, resonant film filled to the brim with great performances. It's a movie about the positive power of love vs. the destructive power of hate - and while that may be a simple message, Jenkins delivers it with power and grace.
24.) Creed II
- While it was always going to be a challenge for Creed 2 to match the sheer, surprising awesomeness of the first Creed - this one is more than up to the task. The movie gives us a dream match of Adonis Creed vs. Viktor Drago, building on the classic Rocky mythology and giving us some very interesting reunions between old favorites (Dolph Lundgren is a badass in this one). And man, if this is truly Stallone's last go-round as the iconic Rocky Balboa, then it's a fitting final fight - giving us some satisfying closure to the long-running Rocky saga. This one feels like an exclamation point on the Rocky legacy, and kudos to uber-talented stars Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson for injecting new life into this franchise, and giving us a new generation of hard-hitting heroes to root for.
- Here was an indie gem that I really dug - a dark and twisted Hitchcock-ian thriller that features two outstanding performances from some of the best young actresses in the game - Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke. Watching these two square off was a ton of fun. And what a debut for writer/director Cory Finley to boot.
MORE GREAT FILMS OF 2018:
26.) Ready Player One
- Easily the most unfairly-criticized movie of 2018, Ready Player One was, in my view, a total joy to watch. Steven Spielberg is clearly having a blast directing this, giving us some all-time-classic action-set pieces. Sure, the story might have a couple of issues - but in many ways this was vintage Spielberg, at his magic-making best.
- A new action cult-classic that any genre fan should watch asap. Upgrade is an awesomely innovative action film that defies its low budget to deliver kick-ass fight scenes, dark humor, and some really cool sci-fi twists.
- Another excellent collaboration between writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman (together, they brought us great films like Juno and Young Adult), this one is a darkly funny take on motherhood with a couple of big, game-changing twists that also make it into something of a mind-bending mystery. Charlize Theron is absolutely great in this too.
29.) Mary Queen of Scots
- A historical epic with some interesting parallels to modern-day politics, Mary Queen of Scots features a commanding lead performance from the always-impressive Saoirse Ronan - who positively owns this movie in a way that really wowed me. The movie is a fairly epic dramatization of a fascinating historical period, and presents some very interesting between-the-lines commentary on power, feminism, corruption, and legacy.
30.) The Favourite
- Director Yorgos Lanthimos takes a genre that can often be stuffy and boring - the costume period piece - and gives it new life with his unique visual flair, offbeat sensibilities, and darkly biting sense of humor. It's got some fantastic performances from Emma Stone, Rachel Weiss, and Olivia Colman too.
31.) Boy Erased
- Director Joel Edgerton really impressed me with this one - it's an emotional gut-punch of a movie. Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe each turn in incredible performances. The movie is ultimately hopeful, but it also a reminder of the sort of chilling ignorance we need to vote against and fight against here and now.
- Judging from my Facebook feed and various reviews, Aquaman was one of 2018's more divisive movies. And I get it - the movie is unabashedly weird and ridiculous and pulpy and insane - i.e., not for everyone. It's the kind of earnestly nerdy movie I loved as a kid, hearkening back to fantasy/sci-fi pulp like Highlander and Tron. But this made Aquaman a direct hit for me - director James Wan fills the screen with color and action and seems to just be showing off at times. This might just be my favorite DC Universe movie so far.
- This one was a bit under the radar, but I found it to be a fascinating look at a world we rarely see depicted with much detail on screen: that of the Orthodox Jewish community. The movie looks at what happens when a women is excommunicated from a tight-knit Orthodox community after being outed as a lesbian, and what happens when she returns following the death of her father. Great acting from Rachels Weiss and McAdams help to elevate this one as well.
34.) Bad Times at the El Royale
- This twisty slice of pulp fiction from Cabin in the Woods maestro Drew Goddard is another one that should have got more attention. It's overflowing with great actors (including a vintage Jeff Bridges performance) and chock full of assured style. Drew Goddard is a favorite of mine in part because he's a great writer, but also partly because he seems to get away with making movies that feel like they're going against the grain of what's fashionable in Hollywood at the time. This one takes its time and does it's own thing, and I dug it.
35.) Crazy Rich Asians
- Far better than your average rom-com, Crazy Rich Asians was an endlessly entertaining film with a little something for everyone. It had a charming romance at its core, but it also had some very interesting and moving things to say about class and family and tradition and culture. Plus, it was genuinely funny - the jokes landed hard and helped make this a movie to remember.
- Bumblebee was the Transformers movie we should have got all along - a fun, funny, nostalgic dose of pure Spielberg-ian action-adventure. This was WAY better than any previous Transformers movies and one of the best action movies of 2018. And how good is Hailee Steinfeld? She's great in everything she's in, and she helps elevate this film with a pitch-perfect lead performance.
37.) The Commuter
- This one had me leaving the theater feeling giddy - in fact, I gave it the rare five out of five Liam Neesons award. This one, from the fantastic Jaume Collet-Serra (who gave us the awesome The Shallows), shows the director's knack for doing best-in-class pulp-action. The Commuter knows exactly what it's doing, with a tightly-spun central mystery, a fun femme fatale performance from the great Vera Farmiga, and Neeson kicking ass like nobody's business.
38.) The Night Comes For Us
- Do you like kick-ass martial arts movies? Do you like brutal action films like The Raid? If yes, and you haven't yet seen the Netflix original The Night Comes For Us ... then dude, get to it! This one is one of the most insane, hard-hitting, uncompromisingly violent action/martial-arts flicks I've ever seen - with some truly crazy action sequences and some of the most jaw-dropping fights ever filmed. It's got some familiar faces, like The Raid star Iko Uwais (here playing the villain) - but I promise you, this is not quite like anything you've seen before.
39.) Assassination Nation
- This movie is raw and insane and pulls zero punches. It's just a direct katana-sword swing at Trump, toxic masculinity ... and it proved eerily relevant given the recent Brett Kavanaugh discussions/debacle. This may be the most dangerous and unsettling movie of 2018, and it deserves to find a bigger audience.
40.) A Private War
- First and foremost, A Private War features an absolutely powerhouse performance from Rosamund Pike in the lead role, playing real-life war correspondent Marie Colvin. The movie is a powerful reflection on Colvin's life and death, and on the bravery, in general, of journalists who report from war torn areas of the globe. And it is a sobering reminder of the devastation caused by war - it truly took a special kind of person to voluntarily go back to these places again and again to help get the stories of their people out into the wider world.
41.) The Maze Runner: The Death Cure
- Okay guys, hear me out: the third and final movie in the Maze Runner trilogy is legit pretty awesome. It's a great, epic finale to the saga. It's got twists, turns, and real stakes. It's got great set-piece action sequences. It's got a great cast - all of the young actors are really good, and then you've got arguably the three best TV villain actors of the last ten years (Giancarlo Esposito, Walton Goggins, and Aiden Gillen!) in key supporting roles. No shame - I'm a big fan of this franchise!
42.) Hearts Beat Loud
- A really well done, soulful little hang-out movie. Nick Offerman is really fantastic in it, and Kiersey Clemons (who was also great in Dope) shows yet again why it's only a matter of time until she's a superstar.
43.) A Star Is Born
- This is, seemingly, the 500 pound gorilla of 2018 movies - and I really liked it overall. Lady Gaga was fantastic, the music was great, and I loved the first 45 minutes or so. However, I did sort of think it eventually went off the rails a bit, and lost track of the themes it was setting up early on. That said, I highly enjoyed the film, and think it's one hell of an impressive directing debut from Bradley Cooper. And yeah, "The Shallows" has been in my head for months now.
44.) A Quiet Place
- Amazingly shot and directed - A Quiet Place was yet another super-impressive 2018 directorial debut and a great time at the movies overall. Who knew John Krasinski had this in him? And man, did Emily Blunt ever kick ass in this one. No question, one of the best and most fun horror movies of 2018 - and one that, I suspect, will be oft-imitated in the years to come (or months - hello, Bird Box).
45.) Isle of Dogs
- Things that surprised me about Isle of Dogs: a.) Pacific Rim: Uprising was not the only movie out on its weekend of release that featured crazy robot battles. b.) This was sort of Wes Anderson's version of Escape From New York. Seriously. But yeah ... I really liked this movie. It looked amazing, was very funny, had a fantastic voice cast, and a lot of interesting social commentary to boot. Wes Anderson is always a fascinating filmmaker to follow.
- Another really, really good horror movie from 2018 - parts of Hereditary were just incredibly creepy and downright disturbing. And man, Toni Colette goes all-out here, with a performance that will absolutely rattle you to your core. I thought that the ending didn't quite deliver the payoff I was looking for, but still, this one really impressed me.
47.) A Simple Favor
- The latest from Paul Feig was really fun. Darkly funny in a way that reminded me of movies like To Die For. Anna Kendrik and Blake Lively were really great, too (Lively, in particular, just totally killed it - I didn't know she had this in her). This movie was a real treat - one that I think will gain a cult following over time.
48.) Won't You Be My Neighbor?
- This year, stories about goodness and decency were very much welcome. And this moving doc about Fred Rogers and the world of wonder he created was a poignant, earnest look at a man who shaped millions of childhoods spanning multiple generations.
49.) Pacific Rim: Uprising
- I can't understand the hate for this one from certain circles. I mean, Pacific Rim is one of my favorite sci-fi/action movies ever, and this one in my view is a worthy follow-up. I thought it was ridiculously fun. It hit all the big action movie beats to perfection. John Boyega was great. Burn Gorman is once again the absolute best. And the robot designs are all cool as hell. Underrated, in my view!
50.) Bohemian Rhapsody
- This is a tough one. As a movie, I don't know that Bohemian Rhapsody quite came together as well as it could have. On the other hand, there's no denying the out-of-this-world performance from Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, or the overpowering awesomeness of the music of Queen that powers the film from one rocking performance to another - including a fist-pumping recreation of Queen's famous performance at Live-Aid. Because I'm such a fan of Queen, I give this one the benefit of the doubt, and give it the final spot on my list - it was an imperfect movie, but it nevertheless was a powerful reminder of the anything-goes spirit of rock n' roll.
HONORABLE MENTIONS - OTHER RECOMMENDED MOVIES FROM THIS YEAR:
On the Basis of Sex
You Were Never Really Here
The House With the Clock in its Walls
Ant-Man and The Wasp
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn
The Long Dumb Road
7 Days In Entebbe
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
INDIVIDUAL 2018 AWARDS:
BEST LEAD ACTOR:
1.) Ethan Hawke - First Reformed
2.) Ryan Gosling - First Man
3.) Christian Bale - Vice
4.) Ben Foster - Leave No Trace
5.) TIE: Rami Malek - Bohemian Rhapsody, John Cho - Searching
BEST LEADING ACTRESS:
1.) Nicole Kidman - Destroyer
2.) Yalitza Aparicio - Roma
3.) Elsie Fisher - Eighth Grade
3.) Saoirse Ronan - Mary Queen of Scots
4.) Toni Colette - Hereditary
5.) Rosamund Pike - A Private War
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
1.) Adam Driver - BlackKklansman
2.) Colman Domingo - If Beale Street Could Talk
3.) Josh Hamilton - Eighth Grade
4.) Tom Waits - The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
5.) Michael B. Jordan - Black Panther
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
1.) Tilda Swinton - Suspiria
2.) Olivia Colman - The Favourite
3.) Nicole Kidman - Boy Erased
4.) Rachel Weiss - The Favourite
5.) Michelle Yeoh - Crazy Rich Asians
1.) Alfonso Cuaron - Roma
2.) Bo Burnham - Eighth Grade
3.) Spike Lee - BlackKklansman
4.) Christopher McQuarrie - Mission: Impossible - Fallout
5.) TIE: Aneesh Chaganty - Searching / Damien Chazelle - First Man
1.) Eighth Grade
3.) First Reformed
4.) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
5.) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
6.) Sorry to Bother You
10.) Black Panther
And that's a wrap on the Best of 2018. Here's to all the great movies of 2019 - happy movie-watching in the New Year!
THE BEST GAMES OF 2018:
- 2018 was a great year for games. For one thing, this was the year that several long-awaited AAA games finally came out - and many of them more than lived up to the hype. God of War, Spider-Man, and more have been on people's radars for years ... and yet, the games were so good that it ultimately didn't really matter if they'd been overexposed prior to release. For another thing, the amount of great indie games we're now getting is staggering. It's hard to keep up ... but on the other hand, these smaller games are a great alternative to the at-times overwhelming scope and length of the big blockbusters. Going from giant open world game to giant open world game is not necessarily sustainable for most, so the glut of great indie gems is a real boon for people like me. It's allowed me to sample a lot more new games than I otherwise would have in recent years. It also doesn't hurt that so many of these games are available on Switch. While the Switch wasn't exactly an AAA powerhouse in 2018 (after 2017's incredible launch year, one-two punch of Mario and Zelda) - but man, it was an indie-lover's dream. I almost didn't notice or care about the absence of big first-party exclusives on Switch, when amazing indies like Hollow Knight, The Messenger, and Celeste were available.
I've often talked about how it's hard to keep with games as a busy adult who's trying to balance so many things. Especially when we're talking about a world in which the gold standard for blockbuster games is 60 - 100 hours of open-world epicness. More on that in a second. But for now, let me give a shout-out to the always-entertaining Kotaku Splitscreen podcast. This has become one of my favorite podcasts, and has really kept me excited about the world of gaming and attuned to new games I should be playing. The team of Kirk Hamilton, Jason Schreier, and Maddy Myers talk about games with passion and intelligence, and it's not unusual for them to take conversations about games into the realm of the philosophical, political, or abstract (bonus: they have good takes on movies and TV and books as well!). While there are undoubtedly still many toxic elements of "gamer" culture out there, there are also places (like Splitscreen) that are a forum for really smart, interesting discussion about games - and super helpful for navigating what's out there and worth playing.
But back to the subject of these huge open-world games ... it's funny, despite not being a regular purchaser of the Assassin's Creed games, I bought a copy of Assassin's Creed: Odyssey after I saw it highly discounted on Amazon over the holidays (and after it came highly recommended on Splitscreen). Part of me was eager to dive in, but it arrived as I was still finishing up Horizon: Zero Dawn (which I've been playing since early last year), and still working my way through God of War *and* Spider-Man ... among other games. These are all massive games, and there are way too many of 'em. And it's an interesting discussion as to whether we need our games to be this expansive, or this detailed, or this complex. Case in point is arguably 2018's biggest game release: Red Dead Redemption 2. I've played a decent amount of the game so far (and I'll talk more about it below), but you do definitely wonder if the obsessive attention to detail and detailed systems is "worth it." From a player perspective, you have to wonder if the scope and detail in a game like Red Dead 2 truly adds anything material to the gameplay experience, or if it's more a novelty that is better off being streamlined. And you also wonder if it's worth the "crunch" - the insane hours and crazy work conditions that go into making a game like this. Personally, while I can admire the detail of a game like RD2, I also wish that games would stop trying to earn medals for length and complexity. Sometimes simpler is better. Sometimes artistic vision trumps number of side quests. Sometimes we don't actually need crafting systems (let alone multiple crafting systems). And yet this is now the norm. I'm not taking anything away from these games - but I am suggesting that there's a legit discrepancy between what developers think they need to put in games vs. what the majority actually want. Because while a game like Red Dead still sells like gangbusters, it's also the kind of high-profile game that, I worry, helps alienate a lot of people from gaming. I mean, as big as Red Dead is, look at Fortnite - easily the biggest gaming phenomenon of the last few years - in comparison. Fortnite is simple and streamlined. It's pick up and play. In some ways - despite being an online multiplayer shooter - it's a throwback to the kinds of social multiplayer games that have been popular across multiple gaming generations. So my hope here is that Red Dead and games like it are not the new template for what is considered a viable AAA game. I think many of us are okay with shorter, simpler, and more streamlined.
With that in mind ... it's going to be an interesting year for games up ahead. In 2018, I was lucky enough to once again attend E3. The show is still a sugar rush and total sensory overload - but it does feel like this year marked the end of an E3 era. Sony has pulled out of the 2019 show - so it will be the first show without them since the launch of the original Playstation. I'm a total Sony mark, but even I'll admit that they tend to get overconfident and foolish towards the end of console generations that they're leading. Sony is the clear leader right now, but they had better not get too cocky. This year, XBOX bought up interesting developers left and right - developers likely working on cool games that will finally give Microsoft some compelling exclusives. And Nintendo, unpredictable as they are, is getting a lot right this go-round with the Switch. And they likely have some big guns loaded up for next year (Metroid, anyone?). There's still totally a chance that Nintendo could blow it - they could under-deliver on new games and lose major momentum. But still ... Sony needs to end this console era strong. Time will tell if skipping E3 turns out to be a major slip-up or a big nothing. It could very well be the latter ... some of my most anticipated games are Sony exclusives, from The Last of Us 2 to Death Stranding. This competition though ... this is part of why it's so fun to follow the world of gaming. And why it's sad that Sony won't be part of E3. I love the hype and excitement of it all - it's a shame to lose part of what makes this industry special. That said, no question there will be many big surprises in 2019. You never know which big blockbuster may reign supreme, and you never know which under-the-radar indie title could become the next word-of-mouth sensation.
So with that, let's look at the best new games I played in 2018. Keep in mind, I spent plenty of time in 2018 still plugging away at 2017 holdovers like Horizon, Mario Odyssey, and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And keep in mind, I'm still knee deep in games like Spider-Man and Red Dead 2, so opinions could change over time. But let's get to it:
DANNY'S BEST GAMES OF THE YEAR:
1.) GOD OF WAR
- I was pretty skeptical of this one for a while. I was a *huge* fan of the God of War series in its previous incarnation, and was definitely worried that Sony's semi-reboot was going to make one of the best action games of all time just like every other big AAA open-world game out there. When I first started playing it, I felt like my fears might be justified. Gone was the blistering arcade action and button-mashing goodness of the old games - replaced by more methodical gameplay that took a lot of getting used to. But once I did acclimate and accepted that the series had evolved, I found myself enthralled by what is, I think, one of the best action/adventure games of this generation. Sony Santa Monica's new God of War is still action-packed, but it's also got a giant world to explore and a surprisingly deep and affecting story to tell. On the action side, there's a great new axe-throwing mechanic that makes you feel like Thor. On the narrative side, there's a touching story of father and son that adds a lot to the gameplay as well. I guess I should have known not to doubt Cory Barlog and the talented team at Sony Santa Monica - these guys are among the absolute best in the biz, and they made a new classic in God of War.
2.) MARVEL'S SPIDER-MAN
- I'm a longtime fan of Insomniac. The Ratchet & Clank developers have an uncanny knack for combining kinetic action with best-in-class storytelling - and they outdid themselves with Spider-Man. The game takes a lot of what worked about the Batman: Arkham series but gives everything a new level of polish and fluidity. Namely, the web-swinging mechanic is awesome - you truly feel like Spider-Man as you swing through the skies of New York City. Additionally, the story here is not just great, but legit one of the best modern Spider-Man stories, period. Intrigue, romance, and even a great Stan Lee cameo that might just bring a tear to your eye. The voice-acting is universally excellent, and the score rivals that of any recent MCU movie. Between this and Into the Spider-Verse on the big screen, it's been a landmark year for our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
3.) HOLLOW KNIGHT
- Technically, Hollow Knight came out in 2017, but no one played it. It was a PC-exclusive, and ... who plays platformers on PC? In any case, the game got ported to Switch in 2018, became a word-of-mouth sensation, and became perhaps *the* indie game of note this year. Now, so many "Metroidvania" games have come out of late that it's honestly becoming a glut. It's one of my favorite genres, so it's hard to be upset about it ... but man, it's hard to keep up. That said, if you make time for one Metroidvania, Hollow Knight should probably be your go-to. It's amazing. It's got an eye-popping, ethereal, hand-drawn art-style. An incredible, haunting musical score. Tight controls. Tough but not unbearably tough challenge level. And a shockingly huge world that's easy to get totally immersed in. This one doesn't hand-hold, so you need to give it a little time. But soon enough, this game will consume you. And it's 100% the perfect Switch game to boot.
4.) RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2
- Keep in mind: I've still only barely scratched the surface of this one. And I definitely have some mixed feelings overall, as described above. But my experience so far is this: for every annoying thing in this game that feels overly complex or non-intuitive, there are many more things that this game does mind-blowingly well. The level of storytelling here is jaw-dropping. Rockstar has never had a better narrative than this one. When the core missions work, they work amazingly - immersing you in cinematic moments that truly put you in an alternate Old West reality where you're the star of your own personal action-packed Western-adventure.
5.) SOULCALIBUR VI
- I've always loved the Soul Blade / Soulcalibur series of fighting games. Back in college, I spent many, many hours squaring off against friends, family, and roommates as Cervantes, Voldo, Sophitia, and the rest. And now, after a lengthy absence, we finally got a new game in the series in 2018. While not revolutionary, the sixth entry in the series was extremely polished, loaded with single and multiplayer modes, and a ridiculous amount of fun to play. The Soul games have always been distinguished by their weapon-based combat, and that returns in full force here, as good as ever if not better. Namco-Bandai had a winner on their hands last year with the return of Tekken, and now they're two for two with the triumphant return of their "tale of souls and swords."
6.) THE MESSENGER
- There have been a lot of retro, NES-style indie games of late ... but none grabbed me quite as much as The Messenger - a hilariously subversive take on old-school games that has some really crazy twists and surprises. First of all, the game starts out as a Ninja Gaiden-esque 2D platformer, only to become ... well, I won't spoil it. Except to say this game totally subverts what you think it is. Secondly, The Messenger is funny. It's not just an homage to classic games, but a satirical take on them. There's some major winking-at-the-audience going on here. It's a ton of fun. And great on Switch, too. For anyone who grew up as I did in the NES and SNES eras, this is a must-play.
- I got my first new PC in several years this past year, after my old one finally conked out. I didn't spring for a powerhouse gaming PC, but my new computer runs well enough that I finally started dipping my toes back into the world of PC gaming a bit. My first order of business was scouring Steam for old-school favorites. It's crazy how much is available for download, often for insanely cheap prices. But loading up on old-school LucasArts adventure games made me curious about whether there were any really good *new* point-and-click games I should be checking out. Enter Unavowed - a new game that's exactly the kind of thing I LOVED back in the day, in the vein of the old LucasArts or Sierra classics. But it's got some great storytelling too that is decidedly modern (going to some very dark places), and some big twists to boot. If you're looking for a new game that channels the spirit of stuff like Gabriel Knight, download this one asap.
8.) DRAGON BALL FIGHTERZ
- Okay, so I know basically nothing about Dragon Ball Z - so I was probably not the target audience for this new fighting game. However, I am a longtime fan of the insane pedigree of fighting games from developer Arc System Works (creators of Guilty Gear and BlazBlue). I love the way their games look like action-packed cartoons brought to life. And I love their games' over-the-top energy and insanity. Dragon Ball FighterZ my be their craziest game yet. It looks like nothing else I've ever seen - the graphics are truly something to behold. And the gameplay is pure button-mashing goodness. It's no wonder that this one has quickly become an e-sports fave.
- Another really cool indie 2D platformer, Iconoclasts was created completely by one man - Joakim Sandberg, who spent seven years crafting this one from the ground up. And it's clear that it's a labor of love - an ode to the games of yesteryear that still feels fresh and modern due to its eye-catching and screen-filling sprite-based graphics, memorable music score, and innovative gameplay. To top it off, not only is the game just plain fun, but it's got an interesting story that has some surprising thematic depth.
- Rounding out the list is one more 2D indie platformer that garnered a ton of critical acclaim in 2018. I'll be honest, while I really enjoyed the time I spend with Celeste ... I also found it to be challenging as hell. At the same time, I 100% admired the game's devious devotion to meticulously-timed platforming, as well as it's distinct aesthetic, great music, and resonant themes of overcoming adversity. If you managed to beat this one, hat's off - you're a true platforming champion. But for everyone else, this one is still a game that begs to be experienced and appreciated.
Other New Games I Enjoyed in 2018:
- Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon - when the creator of Castlevania makes a loving homage to his own Castlevania 3 - a concentrated dose of old-school fun.
- Mega Man 11 - not quite the masterpiece I was hoping for, but a cool return for the blue bomber nonetheless.
- Gris - a gorgeously-rendered arthouse game for Switch, this Journey-esque experience is a visual delight.
Friday, December 28, 2018
THE BEST COMICS OF 2018:
- I read a lot of comics in 2018 - some of them pretty good, some of them really good, and some of them decidedly not-that-good. But sometimes, even not-so-good comics can be just what the doctor ordered. As I get older and (somewhat) wiser, I realize the value of comfort-food pop-culture. At the same time, I even more so understand the value of broadening one's horizons and continuing to seek out cool new stuff. Because while there is something to be said for the warm blanket that is checking in with old-favorites, there is something even more to be said for the rush of reading something brand new and realizing that you've hit upon something special. This is part of what makes the comics medium in general so unique - it's a breeding ground for new voices and new stories. So going into 2019, I urge you to do two things. One is to read comics if you're not already. If you like good stories, then read comics. If you like new stories, then read comics. If you appreciate amazing artwork, read comics. Second thing is to not just read comics, but seek out new ones. Figure out who your favorite writers are - track down their back-catalog (it's easy now, especially with digital stores like Comixology), and check out their new material too. Pick up something random, and see if you like it. Even in comics - where the new and interesting is celebrated more often than not, it's easy to be a part of the hive-mind. I fall into the trap too sometimes. But it's easier to discover and to do deep dives than ever before. So fall into it and tell your friends (or just shout at the internet!) about what you're into.
Case in point: for several years now, I've been a big fan of the Luna Brothers. They should be more well known than they are - they're ridiculously talented. The first thing I read by them was their series Girls, and then Alex + Ada (not technically Luna Brothers, but Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn) - which flat-out blew me away. This year, I decided to fill in the gaps in my Luna Brothers reading, and kept a watchful eye for Comixology discounts on their back-catalog. This led me to read what, I think, will end up as one of my favorite comic series ever - THE SWORD. As someone who loves serialized storytelling, I was somewhat in awe of the way each issue of The Sword ended with a cliffhanger so compelling that I literally *had* to keep reading. I definitely took copious amounts of mental notes from it that I then tried to apply to my own writing. But man, am I glad I finally read this one.
Anyways, there are TONS of great comics being published every month - and as with Peak TV it's almost impossible to keep up. So I'm sure there are tons of great books missing from my Best of 2018 list. But it's fun to share the books that I loved reading this year - hopefully I turn at least a few people on to some new favorite writers, artists, and comic book series. So let's get to it ...
WAIT! Before I get to the list, I have to acknowledge the titanic losses that the comics world - and indeed, the entire pop-culture universe - experienced in 2018. In June, Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko passed away. Ditko was a true one-of-a-kind. His art on Spider-Man was legendary - his sense of dynamism and design unmatched, and even today ... the original Spider-Man costume is as iconic and as cool as ever. Ditko also created enduring characters like The Question. His influence will be felt in comics and pop-culture forever.
Then, late in the year, the entire world mourned the passing of the one and only Stan Lee. I could write paragraphs and paragraphs about Stan "The Man" - along with Jack Kirby, he was the architect of the Marvel Universe. And most certainly, he was its voice. Stan Lee became as much of a pop-culture character as the fictional ones he helped create. He was larger than life, and yet he was everyone's jovial, ever-enthusiastic grandfather. He was a champion of social causes, a creator of progressive characters, a one-of-a-kind writer, and in his later years, a king of Marvel movie cameos. I have fond memories of sitting down in front of the TV on Saturday mornings, watching Marvel cartoons introduced by Stan Lee. Nothing could get a kid more excited for some superhero action than Stan's alliterative, exclamation point-punctuated intros. How could one not be a True Believer? Later, I was lucky enough to see Stan speak several times at various Comic-Con events - as recently as last year, when he shared the stage with The Rock at LA Comic-Con. Every time he'd enter a room - even if that room was already filled with huge celebrities - the audience would light up. Stan lived and breathed comic books, and he made comics a cool club that welcomed any and all. His college campus lectures gave his Marvel comics a cult following among adults, and his Merry Marvel Marching Society made kids pledge their loyalty to "Make Mine Marvel!" Stan Lee was an ambassador for comic books and superheroes - but more so than that, for the morals and social justice causes that his heroes fought to uphold. In the 60's and 70's, Stan took to his Soapbox to talk to his readers about the evils of racism, bigotry, and inequality. Still, Stan knew that nobody was perfect - his heroes were flawed. Spider-Man and other Stan Lee characters faced everyday problems and anxieties, which quickly separated them from the "distinguished competition." And Stan Lee, too, was flawed in his own ways. But so are we all, and so are our heroes. And for me, and for many, Stan Lee was indeed a real-life superhero. A man who, even in his nineties, was never lacking in enthusiasm and goodwill. And even behind those trademark tinted glasses, there was always a palpable twinkle in his eye. Stan Lee meant so much to so many of us - and the world is a sadder and emptier and slightly less super place without him. But even as I despair about a world without Stan Lee, I can hear his distinctive voice urging me - urging us all - to carry on and continue to dream, imagine, and to fight the good fight. And so we must soldier on. We raise our fists, we yell "Excelsior!", and we work to honor the vision of Stan Lee as best we can. As the Man would say: 'nuff said!
DANNY'S BEST COMICS OF 2018:
1.) Paper Girls
Once again ... when I think about the best book going today, Paper Girls is the first thing that comes to mind. As Brian K. Vaughan's story about a group of time-lost girls rocketed towards its upcoming endgame - becoming increasingly epic, crazy, and emotionally charged - it also managed to hit a creative high-water mark. The book's narrative momentum led to several vintage Brian K. Vaughan holy-$%&# cliffhangers. At the same time - even as the story's gotten bigger and crazier and more of the book's enigmatic time-travel mythology has been revealed, it's warmth and humor and wit and spot-on characterization of its scrappy protagonists has never been more apparent. Late this year, Vaughan announced that Paper Girls' ending was nigh - it's sad to know that this new classic will soon be drawing to a close, but man, I can't wait to see how it ends. Finally: I've said this before but will say it again ... if you're thinking of trying out a comic book: try Paper Girls. If you like Stranger Things: you'll love Paper Girls. This is the best comic book going, so you've got to read it - trust me!
2.) Kill Or Be Killed
- My #1 comic of 2017 moves down a notch ... not because it wasn't as great as ever in 2018, but because, sadly, it ended in June. But what a series this was. I mean, I've been a huge fan writer Ed Brubaker for ... wow, it's been a couple of decades now. Nobody writes noir or crime books like he does. And Kill Or Be Killed, well, it might just be the best thing he's ever written. It's a dark but thoughtful story about a vigilante plagued by visions of a demon who urges him to find bad people and kill them. And as the series went on, the twists and turns piled up and things got very, very interesting. But through it all, we were kept guessing by the book's not-quite-reliable narrator - brilliantly given voice by Brubaker. If you like hard-boiled crime fiction, pick this one up asap.
3.) Black Hammer (and various spin-offs)
- For a few years now, writer Jeff Lemire has been working wonders with his ever-expanding Black Hammer universe. I think some were skeptical of this one at first - it was yet another superhero deconstruction that showed unexpected sides of various superhero and villain archetypes. But I trusted Lemire to deliver - he's written some of the best comics of the last decade. And deliver he did. Black Hammer is a unique, surprising, brilliantly-written take on superheroes and comic books and it's very distinctly Lemire. What's interesting is that the original Black Hammer book actually ended in 2017, closing the first chapter of the story. In 2018, Lemire started a new chapter with Black Hammer: Age of Doom - focusing on the daughter of the titular character entering the strange world that her father's friends have been banished to. We also got The Quantum Age - a look at a far-flung future inspired by the original series' characters, Doctor Star - a riff on James Robinson's classic Starman series, and Cthu-Louise - a darkly funny look at the daughter of a notorious Lovecraftian supervillain.
- After some fits and starts, Brian K. Vaughan's superlative Saga was back in full force in 2018. Running monthly from February through July, Saga picked up the pace this year, before going out on a shocking cliffhanger prior to the book's year-long hiatus. For those not in the know, Saga is Vaughan's most ambitious and long-running story since Y: The Last Man - since launching in 2012, it's told us an epic sci-fi story of forbidden love in outer space. But what's so brilliant about Vaughan's work is that he never gets too caught up in sci-fi minutiae - he focuses on characters first, and even amidst a backdrop of cosmic war and far-out alien planets, everything feels real and grounded and very much derived from the world we live in. Pair that with the always-amazing artwork of Fiona Staples, and you've got a book that is legendary in its own time. And: you've got a book that has legions of fans counting down until next summer when Saga finally returns. It went out on a jaw-dropping twist that will change the story forever - so you can bet that Saga's return will be one of 2019's can't-miss comic book events.
5.) Captain America - by Mark Waid
- Coming off of Nick Spencer's controversial run on Captain America last year, which chronicled an alt-universe evil Cap who was raised by Hydra and took over the Marvel Universe - fans, I think, were ready for some more traditional tales of classic Cap heroism. Now I actually was a big fan of Spencer's run. But man, old hand Mark Waid came onboard for a short-term run and just absolutely killed it. Things started off solidly, with a few stories about a Cap - traumatized after coming to terms with the whole Hydra thing - traveling across the country and restoring his good name. But then, things took a crazy turn leading up to the landmark Cap #700, with Cap finding himself - again! - frozen in ice, and waking up in a dystopian near-future where Marvel's heroes had been vanquished. This then led to another story-arc about another future - hundreds of years later - in which an ancestor of Steve Rogers has to find a way to vanquish his world's authoritarian regime. It's all just great, clean, classic storytelling from Waid - one of the best straight-up runs on a mainstream superhero books in years.
6.) Royal City
- Even as he was deconstructing superhero universes with Black Hammer, Jeff Lemire was also putting out a very personal project with Royal City. No capes, no monsters ... okay, some ghosts ... maybe. But mostly, this was a moving story about a bunch of adult siblings returning to their rundown factory town after their father's health takes a turn for the worse, and uncovering and coming to terms with various long-hidden family secrets. This was quite simply a great story about families, about home towns, about old ghosts. It was tragic and heartfelt and brilliantly drawn by Lemire - whose dreamlike art style was a perfect fit for this story.
- Lazarus has been one of my favorite comics for several years now - with the only real knock against it being its sporadic publishing schedule. That said, writer Greg Rucka delivered some great stories in the Lazarus universe this year. What is Lazarus, you ask? Imagine Game of Thrones-style warring kingdoms, except in a near-future dystopia where governments have fallen and corporations rule all. The corporations are ruled by families. Those who directly serve the families live comfortably. All others are "waste." Oh - and each family has a "Lazarus" - their symbolic military leader, crafted via genetic engineering and cloning tech, designed to be a human war machine. Anyways, in 2018 Rucka gave us a fantastic story about Jonah Carlyle - presumed-dead member of the all-powerful Carlyle family - who finds himself near death in faraway enemy territory. Jonah creates a new identity for himself, falls in love, and begins a road that could lead him towards direct opposition of his own family.
8.) Hawkeye - by Kelly Thompson
- In 2018, writer Kelly Thompson wrapped up her brilliant run writing the Kate Bishop version of Marvel's Hawkeye. When Thompson first began on the book, it was coming off of Matt Fraction's classic run on Hawkeye, during which he helped make Kate into a beloved character - more so even than the original Clint Barton version. But Thompson did great things with Kate, too. Her take on Hawkeye was funny, witty, action-packed, and just plain cool. It was modern and fresh but also evoked old film noir and made great use of its LA setting. Kate Bishop, as written by Thompson, was flawed but incredibly likable. She was the dorky girl-next-door who could also slay with a bow and arrow. When Marvel announced the book's cancellation, I was genuinely bummed out. But if nothing else, it made Thompson a writer I'll now follow through thick and thin. But man, I hope that, someday, she gets to write more Hawkeye.
- This was my favorite new comic of 2018 - a high-concept sci-fi adventure from Lucifer TV series showrunner Joe Henderson. It's about a near-future where physics have gone haywire and gravity has all but disappeared. People float, fly, and soar. There are new dangers, new evolutions of tech and surprising side effects on mother nature. Amidst this backdrop, one girl discovers the conspiracy to keep things as they are and prevent the restoration of gravity - and is on the run from those who want to keep her knowledge hidden. This is all gorgeously rendered by one of my favorite artists, Lee Garbett - who brings both a sense of humanity to the characters and a sense of awe and wonder to the sci-fi setting. Highly recommend.
10.) Mister Miracle
- DC Comics' best book of 2018 was undoubtedly Tom King and Mitch Gerads' Mr. Miracle. They took the classic Jack Kirby New Gods character and made him and wife Big Barda a regular, relatable couple faced with problems both mundane and cosmic. They told a story about marriage and parenthood and relationships and responsibility, but also about crazy Fourth World gods and going into battle against the evil forces of Darkseid. They did this all with humor and heart and more than a bit of trippiness thrown in for good measure. Gerads' art humanized Kirby's cosmic characters and King's writing made them more than just colorful space gods. This was one hell of a series.
THE NEXT BEST:
11.) Ms. Marvel
- G. Willow Wilson's groundbreaking run on Ms. Marvel - now confirmed as coming to an end in 2019 - continued to be one of the best things in comics this year. Wilson writes Kamala Khan with such warmth, humor, and heart that it's no wonder that this relatively new hero has become arguably the most beloved in the modern Marvel pantheon.
- This one was a real sleeper from DC Comics. Imagine the DC Universe version of John Wick, except this time you've got a former assassin for Talia Al Ghoul's secret Leviathan organization - forced back into action when she's hunted by her former employers. Writer Dan Abnett (truly one of DC's MVP's this year) has made this a consistently fun book month in, month out.
13.) Batman - by Tom King
- Aside from Mr. Miracle, Tom King was also busy writing the continuing adventures of The Dark Knight. Now, I'll be honest - King can be a hit-and-miss writer for me, and there are times where he's lost me during his run on Batman. A story-arc this year involving Booster Gold and alternate realities, for example, really fell flat for me (and this coming from a die-hard Booster fan). And yet ... just when I become frustrated with King's take, he does something that really wows me. Case in point: a phenomenal story-arc from late this year in which Bruce Wayne has jury duty, and has to help decide the guilt of Mr. Freeze in a crime that he may actually not have committed. King's take on Batman can at times be frustrating - but man, when he hits a home run, he really is the best in the biz.
- Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley's oddly endearing comic Snotgirl continued to surprise me in 2018. O'Malley somehow takes characters that should be completely unlikable - a clique of self-absorbed, self-loathing twenty-something fashion bloggers - and makes them into characters who, well, maybe you don't *like* them per se, but you do find yourself becoming absorbed into their strange and vapid world. It helps that our main protagonist - green-hairedm runny-nosed Lottie - finds herself wrapped up in a surreal murder mystery. And it helps that Lottie - full of insecurities - is rendered with funny and self-effacing nuance by O'Malley. Snotgirl is definitely not quite like anything I've read before. but it's fascinating and funny and uniquely O'Malley. Check it out.
15.) Mera: Queen of Atlantis
- For the last couple of years, writer Dan Abnett has been doing a bang-up job with DC's Aquaman. He's taken a character who's had precious few memorable stories in his long history, and really crafted a long-term epic that nicely set the stage for the character's high-profile big-screen debut. Picking up on some of the world-building that Geoff Johns had done previously, Abnett has been telling a pretty kick-ass story about an Aquaman who's been removed from the throne of Atlantis and forced into anonymous exile. But I think the high point of Abnett's run was actually his spin-off Mera miniseries, detailing the warrior from Xebel's quest to restore peace to Atlantis in her husband's absence. This was just great stuff - and awesomely illustrated by Lan Medina to boot. Abnett gave us twists, turns, betrayals - and he made Mera truly badass in a way that not even the recent movie could match.
- Okay, so Jeff Lemire killed it this year with Black Hammer, and with Royal City. And somehow, he also found time to wrap up his epic space-saga Descender (evocatively drawn by Dustin Nguyen) in grand fashion. Descender - the story of a future world in which humans and robots wage war following a mysterious invasion - was a somewhat Spielbergian take on a Mass Effect-like sci-fi setting ... focusing its story on a child-like robot named Tim 21 and his quest to figure out the mystery at the center of the human/robot conflict. Lemire really went for broke with the ending - which, in a surprise twist, set the stage for an upcoming sequel series titled Ascender. Bring it on.
17.) Gideon Falls
- But wait, there's more! Lemire did one other really cool comic in 2018 - this one brand new! - that I feel obligated to mention. Gideon Falls is his take on Twin Peaks-esque existential horror. It's about a group of seemingly unconnected people who have nightmarish visions of a mysterious Black Barn - and about how these people gradually come together to understand the nature of the Barn and the evil it portends. Moodily rendered by Andrea Sorrentino, Gideon Falls was another new favorite in 2018 - and yet another feather in the cap for one of the best writers working today.
18.) Batman: White Knight
- Sean Murphy is one of those unique voices in comics whose work I'm always curious about. He's a writer/artist who always brings a dark, punk-rock, rule-breaking tone to his comics - matched by art that's at once retro and cutting-edge cool. Anyways, his take on Batman, "White Knight," kicked off in 2017 and reached its thrilling conclusion in 2018. This was one hell of a Batman story - it told of an off-the-rails and hardened Bruce Wayne, suddenly confronted with a reformed, cured Joker who usurps Batman as Gotham's most beloved hero. It's a great read, and one of the best Batman stories of the last few years.
19.) The Walking Dead
- I may have officially dropped the TV series a while back, but I still look forward to each new issue of The Walking Dead comic. Why? Because Robert Kirkman still knows how to craft a page-turner. And while the nature of the comic occasionally forces him to slow the pacing a bit in order to set the stage for the next big conflict, you can always count on Kirkman to ratchet up the intensity at just the right moment. Case in point: the current story arc, which sees Rick and company visit the seemingly utopian community called The Commonwealth. At first, Kirkman takes his time - giving us some interesting commentary on the hidden cost of forming a society with a comfortable upper and middle class. But after some slow-build, Kirkman finally blows things up and sets the stage for another of his trademark, ultra-intense epic. Bonus: Carl is still alive in the comics.
20.) Oblivion Song
- This is a new comic that launched from Robert Kirkman in 2018, and I've been really digging it. It's about a world in which a reality-bending science experiment went wrong, opening up a portal to a Lovecraftian universe and trapping large segments of the populace within. Now, years later, a man tasked with rescuing survivors still trapped in the monster dimension has to come to grips with the full scale of what happened and his role in it. It's compelling stuff, and Kirkman has me very curious where it's all going.
21.) Penny Dreadful
- So I was a huge fan of the too-short-lived Showtime series Penny Dreadful - but like many, I was thrown by it's abrupt ending following its third season. Surely, there was more story to tell and numerous dangling plot threads still to resolve. Well, the recent Penny Dreadful comic - a continuation of the series from some of its writers - helped give some much-needed closure to the events of the series. If you were at all a fan of the show, you 100% owe it to yourself to check out this comic - a de facto Season 4 that, thanks to it being a comic, gets to go to some pretty crazy and epic places with no TV budgets to limit its scope. Just beware: there were some earlier, not-very-good Penny Dreadful comics - don't bother with those. Seek out the most recent, 12-issue series and enjoy!
22.) Jimmy's Bastards
- From Garth Ennis, the man who brought you Preacher and The Boys, comes Jimmy's Bastards - and if you liked those series, you will very much also like this one. It's Ennis taking the piss out of James Bond - that's the short version. But if you like Ennis, you know that behind his over-the-top humor and ultraviolence usually lies some astute commentary on politics and pop-culture - and that is definitely the case here. The book's also got fantastic art by Russ Braun, whose work I loved on comics like Jack of Fables. His cartoonish, expressive art is a perfect match for the story Ennis is telling. This one is a quick, addictive read and any fans of Ennis should immediately check it out.
23.) Eternal Empire
- I wrote above about my love for all things Luna Brothers, and Eternal Empire (which kicked off in 2017 and wrapped up in 2018) was the latest from the Alex + Ada team of Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn. Truth be told, I don't know if this one 100% matched the quality of their previous work. Still Luna and Vaughn's latest was a really interesting take on the epic fantasy genre - telling the story of two long-lost siblings blessed with mysterious powers, destined to help overthrow their kingdom's tyrannical queen. And as per usual, they give us big, high-concepts made palatable thanks to grounded characters. Well worth a read. And of course, that Jonathan Luna art is always striking with its elegant simplicity.
24.) Darth Vader
- I didn't really read most of Marvel's Star Wars line of comics in 2018, but I carved out time for Darth Vader. Why? Because following a great run on the title from Cullen Bunn, writer Charles Soule carried the torch and delivered great story after great story - skillfully filling in gaps from the films, drawing new connections between the original trilogy and the prequels, and just giving us some really badass Darth Vader stories in the process. Soule is a reliably great writer, and he worked his magic again with Vader, seemingly channeling the full powers of the dark side to give us a truly notable run. Sadly, the recent issue #25 served as the series' grand finale. But if you missed it and are in any way a Star Wars nerd, definitely track these issues down.
25.) Sex Criminals
- This one was right on the line between being included here and being relegated to my "Great Comics With Too Few Issues In 2018" category below. But writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky's surreal sex-comedy-caper series churned out just enough new issues this year to make the cut. And the fact is, Fraction is so good that, when this book does come out, it's always a must-read. And I know, the name is a bit daunting, perhaps. But trust me, Sex Criminals is so great. It's a funny, weird, endearing. Give it a shot.
- Justice League Dark
- Mystik U
- Deathstroke - by Christopher Priest
- The Flash - by Joshua Williamson
- Aquaman - by Dan Abnett
- New Super-Man
- Suicide Squad - by Rob Williams
- The Magic Order
- Detective Comics by Bryan Hill
GREAT COMICS WITH TOO FEW NEW ISSUES IN 2018:
- Southern Bastards
- Black Magick
ONES TO WATCH IN 2019:
- Writer Bryan Hill's dark crime thriller - about a light-skinned black man who's gone undercover in a white supremacist organization - just kicked off late in 2018. But it's off to a fantastic start, and I'm telling anyone who will listen to get onboard with it now. This one is going to be one of 2019's best, no question.
The Fantastic Four - by Dan Slott
- This is another one that's just revving up, but I can already tell that Slott is going to bring the same sort of whimsy and wonder and adventure that he's brought to other Marvel books (like his sorely missed Silver Surfer) to Marvel's first family. He's started things off with a bang - returning the FF to the Marvel Universe proper and finally giving us the wedding of Ben "The Thing" Grimm and Alicia Masters. I still felt like it was too early to include this in my official Best Of list above ... but it's likely a sure thing for 2019.
- And then there's Doomsday Clock. Geoff John's ambitious maxiseries is both a pseudo-sequel to Watchmen, a massive DC Comics continuity-reshaping crisis event, and a dark, ominous commentary on current political and social issues. It's A LOT. And honestly, halfway though, I still have no idea what to make of it. There've been some really great standalone issues, and some that felt like feet-dragging. But it still feels impossible to tell what the endgame of all this will be. But because so much of the final judgement of this series will rest on its conclusion, I'm holding off on assessing it until I can see the forest for the trees. To be continued ...
Shazam! - by Geoff Johns
- Meanwhile, Geoff Johns just kicked off a new Shazam! series - his first regular DC ongoing in quite some time. This is the kind of things that Johns excels at, and his previous Shazam stories (backups in the pages of his Justice League run) were really great - so I've no doubt that this will be at minimum really good and at best amazing. Or maybe I should say "marvelous." No doubt, Johns and all of DC are motivated to do right by Captain Marvel (not the Brie Larson one) prior to the Shazam! movie's release in the Spring.
Wonder Woman - by G. Willow Wilson
- Lastly, it will be interesting to keep an eye on Wonder Woman. G. Willow Wilson - who's put Ms. Marvel on the map over the last several years - is now the writer of DC's flagship Wonder Woman book. So far, it's hard to exactly gauge where Wilson is going with the character - but I have faith that, if nothing else, it will be a unique and different sort of WW than we've seen before at DC. We'll see if Wilson can bring the sort of fun and sense of, well, wonder, that she brought to Ms. Marvel to the iconic Amazonian hero.
WRITERS OF THE YEAR:
1.) Brian K. Vaughan (Paper Girls, Saga)
2.) Jeff Lemire (Black Hammer, Royal City, Descender, Gideon Falls)
3.) Tom King (Mister Miracle, Batman)
4.) Mark Waid (Captain America)
5.) Ed Brubaker (Kill Or Be Killed)
6.) Dan Abnett (Mera, Aquaman, Silencer)
7.) G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel, Wonder Woman)
8.) Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead, Invincible, Oblivion Song)
9.) Kelly Thompson (Hawkeye)
10.) Joe Henderson (Skyward)
ARTISTS OF THE YEAR:
1.) Mitch Gerads (Mister Miracle)
2.) Cliff Chiang (Paper Girls)
3.) Sean Phillips (Kill Or Be Killed)4
4.) Lee Garbett (Skyward)
5.) Fiona Staples (Saga)
6.) Leslie Hung (Snotgirl)
7.) Lan Medina (Mera: Queen of Atlantis)8
8.) Gary Frank (Doomsday Clock)
9.) Sean Murphy (Batman: White Knight)
10.) Ricardo Federici (Aquaman)
Thursday, December 27, 2018
- I listened to a lot of great music in 2018 - new music from long-time favorite bands, new music from recent-favorite bands, and new music from new (or at least new to me) bands that could become future faves. It definitely felt like rock music was on the upswing in terms of pop-culture presence this year. One of my favorite bands from 2017, Greta Van Fleet, became a full-blown sensation in 2018. A band I've been a big fan of for a few year s now, The Interrupters, blew up in 2018 ('bout time!) with their kick-ass song "She's Kerosene." And classic rock was everywhere, be it a well-received new album from Sir Paul McCartney or the smash-hit movie Bohemian Rhapsody that celebrated the life of Freddie Mercury and the music of Queen. A couple of new albums from staples like Weezer disappointed - but at the same time, there were some real surprises ... like Smashing Pumpkins' coming out with a pretty rocking new album that evoked their 90's heyday. Music is weird now - you mostly have to proactively seek out the good stuff, and good curation can be hard to find. But I still find taking time to follow favorite bands and to seek out new ones to be rewarding. Discovering a great new song is always an awesome experience.
- I was also lucky to see some fantastic live music in 2018. I didn't go to quite as many big concerts as I did in 2017, but I did see some real gems. Maybe the best one was seeing the man, the myth, the legend - Weird Al Yankovic - as part of his The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour (yes, it really was called that). I'd seen Weird Al in concert a few times already, but man, seeing him at a smaller venue - the Ace Hotel in downtown LA - playing only (mostly) his original songs and more obscure tunes ... it was awesome, and a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. I mean, I got to hear songs like "Albuquerque" and "Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" live. Amazing. I also saw an all-time favorite rock band - The Scorpions - live once again, but this time at an outdoor venue (The Five-Points Ampitheater in Irvine). I took friends who'd never seen them live, and man, it was a great show. The Scorpions always rock like a hurricane, and I will never not nerd out when they do their classic "Coast to Coast" performance, with all members of the band wailing in sync on the most epic of epic guitar solos. I also saw another all-time fave - Alice Cooper - once again, this time at the famed Greek Theater in LA. I've seen some amazing Alice shows before, but this one was up there with the best I've seen. Alice was in rare form, and guitarist Nita Strauss was absolutely phenomenal - there were clearly a lot of fans there to see her as much as to see Alice, and with good reason: she freaking rocks. It was also really cool to see former KISS member Ace Frehley open the show - seeing him perform "New York Groove" live was a rock n' roll dream come true. Finally, I finally did the LA bucket-list thing that any LA resident worth his or her salt has to do ... I saw Jeff Goldblum's live jazz show! This is a must-see treat for anyone living in or visiting LA ... you get the full Goldblum experience, with tons of patently oddball audience interaction and a guaranteed photo with the man himself. Plus some cool jazz music to boot, courtesy of Goldblum and The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. Like I said, you must, uh ... find a way ... to see - nay, *experience* - this, if you can.
So without further ado ... here are my top rock picks of the year. And for those about to rock in 2019, I salute you.
DANNY'S TOP ROCK SONGS OF 2018:
1.) The Interrupters - "She's Kerosene" / "Room With a View"
- I first became aware of The Interrupters a few years back, when I saw them open for The Offspring. They killed it at that show, and I was an instant fan (even more so when I realized that their lead singer was actually Aimee Allen, who I'd been a fan of since college when she did the kick-ass theme for the quickly-cancelled Birds of Prey TV show). The Interrupters just deliver simple, classic, catchy punk rock anthems like nobody's business - and that feels even more special in a world where this sort of music just isn't made that much, and definitely doesn't enter the mainstream consciousness. But you know what? When the music is this good, this undeniable ... it will rise to the top of the charts. And "She's Kerosene" is quite simply an instant-classic rock song. You can't help but love it from the first second you hear it. I actually really loved the band's latest album as a whole, and so I'll also give a shout-out to "Room With a View" - the rare punk rock song that's genuinely both rocking and emotional - a feat rarely accomplished since the days of The Ramones. Anyways, I can't say enough about this band, so if you're not already onboard the bandwagon - jump on it.
2.) Andrew WK - "Music Is Worth Living For" / "Ever Again"
- It was a long time coming, but with his latest album You're Not Alone, Andrew WK has finally produced a worthy follow-up to 2001's breakout I Get Wet. I Get Wet is a top-to-bottom modern classic, but You're Not Alone has a number of vintage WK rockers (it also has some odd spoken-word motivational mini-sermons, but I'll reserve commentary on those). Notably, "Music Is Worth Living For" is the kind of epic, earnest, joyful rock ballad that only Andrew WK could create. It's awesome. Similarly, "Ever Again" is another concentrated dose of motivational rock that that personifies the album's message of using the power of positivity to life oneself up from the lowest of lows. Corny? Maybe. Party-worthy rock that demands to be played as loud as possible? Most definitely.
3.) Greta Van Fleet - "Brave New World" / "When the Curtain Falls"
- I'll cut to the chase - as a whole, Greta Van Fleet's first full album of original music - Anthem of the Peaceful Army - feels like a bit of a step down from their holy-$%&$-this-is-good debut EP, From the Fires. That said, there are still some real gems to be found on it - namely, in my opinion, the hard-driving rocker "Brave New World." It's a slower and more methodical song than we're used to from the band, but man, it's got some power behind it. "When the Curtain Falls" is more the speed that GVF fans are used to - and it's a catchy barn-burner in their classic, Led Zep-tribute style. And hey, to those who've been hating on the band of late - please. Maybe this album isn't quite the sonic force of nature as From the Fires was, but these guys are still doing more to re-popularize rock n' roll than anyone. And they can play. I am still very much a fan, and can't wait to see what they do next.
4.) Ghost - "Dance Macabre"
- Ghost is a crazy goth metal band that I was turned onto this year. And while I don't know that I would have become an uber-fan based on their past output, their most recent album - full of 80's-tinged rockers with more of a pop-feel, hit a lot of my rock music sweet spots. I'm guessing some of their longtime fans may not love "Dance Macabre" - as it's a dose of pure, synth-accompanied 80's hair-metal cheese. But man, do I dig this song. It's the throw-your-hands-up-and-dance goth-rock anthem I didn't know I needed, but glad we got.
5.) Meg Myers - "Numb"
- I discovered this one late in the year - but man, what a great song. Meg Meyers has a unique, powerful voice and style to burn. And this song captures an 90's alt-rock style that you don't hear much of anymore ... this song would have been HUGE back in the day, but I'm glad I discovered it here in 2018. I hope to hear more from Meg Myers, and I hope that this isn't just a blip ... give us more great alt-rockers and I will be there for them.
6.) Dead Sara - "Unamerican "
- Dead Sara has been one of the best rock bands out there for several years now, and they're a band whose new music I always look forward to. And "Unamerican" is a return to the loud, angry, pull-no-punches vibe that first put them on the map with "Weatherman" a while back. Not only that, but it's one of the first big rock songs to directly and angrily go after Trump. It felt like this song - or a song like it - has been a *long* time coming. So if you're feeling some rage about the current state of America (and who isn't?), this is the song you've been waiting for.
7.) Paul McCartney - "Come On To Me"
- It's sort of amazing that Paul McCartney, after all this time, is still making really, really good rock music. In fact, I'd argue that his last couple of albums have been genuinely excellent in a way that his music, prior, had not been in quite some time. I mean, give a listen to "Come On To Me" - this is a great pop-rock song, the kind of song that in a different era would probably be (and probably should be) a huge crossover mainstream hit. I think there's also something to be said for Sir Paul's unwavering positivity - now is an era when I think many of us long for the utopian dreams of the Beatles' 1960's - and with songs like this one, Sir Paul is keeping those dreams alive.
8.) The Raconteurs - "Now That You're Gone"
- Late in the year came a nice surprise: Jack White's garage-rock band The Raconteurs were back, with new songs and an upcoming all-new album. I quickly gave a listen to - and really dug - the song "Now That You're Gone." It's exactly the kind of bluesy rock song that made me a fan of Jack White and his various musical projects to begin with. As a bonus - the music video for this one is super cool - a stylish film-noir odyssey that is a great compliment to the song.
9.) The Smashing Pumpkins - "Solara"
- People are often quick to write off Billy Corgan - and I get it, the guy is not exactly the easiest person to like or to root for. And the various dramas around his band make it easy to be skeptical about their music. But I dare any fan of classic Smashing Pumpkins to listen to their new song "Solara" and tell me that it's not exactly the kind of grunge-y, goth-y rocker that made you a fan of the band in the first place. It totally is. This song rocks.
10.) Twenty One Pilots - "Jumpsuit"
- I was an uber-fan of Twenty One Pilots' debut album - but I definitely think there have been diminishing returns since then. For whatever reason, the band seems intent on drastically changing up their musical style with each new album - even as I'd love to see them return to the unique, up-tempo, ear-worm blend of rock, rap, and techno that characterized their early songs. That said, I give credit to the song "Jumpsuit" from the band's third album - if their goal is to pioneer a new sound with each new album, then this one definitely has an undeniable sound-of-the-future vibe. There's an apocalyptic theme to the new album, and this song fits in with that to a T - it's a dystopian banger that starts methodically but ends in full-on screamo panic. It's the kind of song that we're going to see in a lot of movie trailers next year.
THE BEST OF 2018 - The Best TV Shows of The Year
- Hey guys - I'm back! While I'm no longer posting regular reviews here on the ol' blog, I'm still keeping it going as a forum to post on special occasions. And certainly, one such occasion is my annual set of BEST OF THE YEAR posts. And since I've not been writing regular reviews (save for the occasional quick take on social media), man, I've got a lot to say. So let's get right into it and talk about TV.
- 2018 was a really interesting year for TV. For the last few years, we've seen the balance of power in the TV world shift towards the big streaming services - not just in terms of overall volume of content, but also in terms of the likes of Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu having many of the industry's buzziest and most critically-acclaimed series. In past years, other than the occasional standout like Stranger Things, I'd often de-prioritize streaming series vs. those on more traditional networks. I'd clean out my DVR first, then get to whatever people were binge-watching on streaming. But this year, I definitely noticed a shift in my own habits. More and more, a lot of the best TV (not to mention movies - but that's a whole other discussion) was on streaming, and it felt like there was less and less on the major broadcast or cable networks that could compete. At the same time though, I think we are seeing some of the cracks show in Peak TV. It feels like we are still waiting for the next Breaking Bad-level phenomenon that is both a buzzy audience fave and a critical smash. And a lot of the big "next big thing" series that launched this year didn't quite meet expectations. I'm thinking about series like Altered Carbon, that promised to do for cyberpunk what Game of Thrones did for epic fantasy. The show was entertaining, but was more B-movie TV than prestige TV. I'm thinking about a show like Maniac, that seemed to promise a must-see, mind-bending journey from True Detective helmer Cary Fukunaga, featuring A-list talent Emma Stone and Jonah Hill. It was another mixed bag - an interesting but overindulgent series. And I'm thinking of a show like Castle Rock, which promised the ultimate take on the Stephen King connected universe, but which delivered an all-over-the-place story that had a couple of standout episodes (hello, Sissy Spaceck spotlight ep), but somewhat underwhelmed. And so while the Netflix's of the world could probably stand to reign some of their creators in a bit more, the opposite is probably true of many more traditional nets. They seem to largely be ceding the big, high-concept stuff to streaming - going for safer fare aimed at the older audiences still tuning in.
Anyways, we'll see how this all shakes out. There's way more content out there than anyone can possibly watch. I regularly hear about series - that people really like, and that have been out for a while - that I've not even previously heard of (and I'm pretty in the know!). How this is sustainable, I don't know. But I do think it's overwhelming. At the same time, it's all sort of fascinating. To see a show like The Haunting of Hill House become a viral, word-of-mouth sensation upon release ... I mean, when you think about the careful (and costly) marketing that goes into more traditional series, and then Hill House just drops out of seemingly nowhere and becomes the talk of the internet ... it's nuts.
- So here is my list of the Best TV Series of 2018. There was some amazing TV this past year. Some old favorites came to a close and some new shows rocketed to the top of my must-watch list. And of course, there's a metric ton of TV I've not seen - I'm behind on Mrs. Maisel and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I need to watch Bojack Horseman. I still haven't seen The Crown. So with all those disclaimers out of the way ... here we go:
DANNY'S TOP TV SHOWS OF 2018:
1. THE AMERICANS
- The Americans has been near the top of my annual best-of lists since Season 1 ... that is, until 2017's Season 5, when it felt like it lost its sense of urgency and became way too much of a slow burn. So there was a question of whether the show could rally for its sixth and final season and go out strong. Personally, I felt confident that it could - because while Season 5 was a bit of a drag, it nonetheless set up a lot of dominoes for Season 6. And when you think about the talent both behind and in front of the camera on this show - well, I had a feeling they were going to give us something special for the final season. And give us something special they did. The Americans' final season was an absolute all-timer - one of the best final seasons of a prestige TV drama ever, culminating in a final episode that was arguably the greatest series finale of all time (and yes, I might even rank it higher than the lauded finales of shows like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and Justified). This is where the series' slow-burn pacing really paid off - the show would often tease a confrontation between Russian spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings and an increasingly suspicious Stan Beeman, but always held back on blowing up the show to deliver it. That is, until the absolutely explosive finale - a wrenching episode of TV that brilliantly delivered on six seasons' worth of story and emotional payoffs. The acting on this series was so, so fantastic - Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell deserve all of the awards for their nuanced performances. As does the criminally underrated Noah Emmerich, who absolutely made the finale with his acting. Holly Taylor, too - as conflicted Jennings daughter Paige - went from token daughter character in S1 to heart-and-soul of the series by the show's end. The Americans had so much to say. It was a nuanced commentary on both what makes America great and what makes some resent it. But ultimately, it was both a critique of and a celebration of the American Dream. It was a show that was both of a specific time (1980's, Cold War America) and very much for our time. It was also a show about morality and about how far one can go in the name of a cause. And at what price for one's soul? The final season of The Americans cemented it, to me, as one of the Great TV Shows ever made. And yeah, I put that in all caps because it really was that damn great. If you've not seen it, you need to watch it. There will be a void in the TV landscape now that this show is done - but man, I won't forget the series - or its haunting, intense, poignant finale - not now and not ever.
2. AMERICAN VANDAL
- To sort of follow-up on the preamble above ... this era of Overwhelming TV is bound to have some unfortunate casualties, and one of those is, sadly, American Vandal. Somehow, despite being universally beloved by anyone who watched it, American Vandal got the axe by Netflix after two brilliant seasons. But guys: you have to watch this show. It's one of the funniest series I've ever seen, and also a spot-on satire of both true-crime documentaries and of high school life. Season 1 was absolutely brilliant, but I maybe liked Season 2 even more because it had even more depth and nuance in its portrayal of high school clique culture and classism. The location shifts in S2 to a prep school - and the mystery shifts to a mysterious prankster known as the Turd Burgler. It's crazy and absurd - but the show (and its high school sleuths) treat it all with absolute straight-faced sincerity. And that's what makes it all work so well. This show was amazing. I hope its creators get to do more comedy in this vein.
- Speaking of dark comedy, Atlanta was so, so good in Season 2. And it had an unpredictability-factor that made it a must-watch, must-discuss each and every week. The cool thing about Atlanta is that an episode can pretty much be anything. And that means that we got all-time gems in S2 like the genius "Teddy Perkins," in which Darius (the hilarious Lakeith Stanfield) runs afoul of a creepy, Michael Jackson-esque musician and gets trapped in his house of horrors. Yep, for one episode, Atlanta became, almost, straight-up horror ... and it was awesome. Atlanta also pulls no punches when it comes to tackling issues of race, and that leads to moments like in "North of the Border", when Earn and his crew end up hanging with a bunch of low-key racist frat boys while on a college concert tour. It goes without saying, but Donald Glover is consistently fantastic here, as is Lakeith Stanfield, as is Brian Tyree Henry, as is Zazie Beetz. More, please.
4. THE GOOD PLACE
- The Good Place is pulling something off that's almost never been done: it's a half-hour sitcom (and a really funny one at that) that's also a high-concept, serialized sci-fi/fantasy series. Mike Schur and co are giving us a consistently funny show filled with hilarious characters (and the cast just gets more funny, more assured, and develops better chemistry with each passing episode). But they're also giving us a crazy plot filled with twists, fake-outs, and cliffhangers - one where I can't wait to see how things develop over the course of each season. When I think about the latter half of S2, and now S3, I think about how Jason Mendoza (as played by Manny Jacinto), has developed into a legendary comedic supporting character - delivering some of the most quotable lines on TV. I think about how D'Arcy Carden has done so much with Janet - going so far as, in a recent S3 episode, doing Janet as every other character on the show in a tour de force performance. I also feel like, as good as The Good Place has been - it's only just getting started. I can't wait to see where it goes.
5. BROOKLYN NINE-NINE
- I'm going to move this one up substantially on my 2018 list vs. where it's been in the past. Don't get me wrong - I've been a B99 fan since Season 1. But I honestly feel like the show reached a level of comedic brilliance in 2018's Season 5 that it had never hit before - at least not this consistently. The show was quite simply firing on all cylinders this past season, producing a string of classic, hilarious episodes. The whole cast is so great, but once again I'm just going to single out Andre Braugher. Not to beat a dead horse, but it's insane that Braugher has not been an annual Emmy winner for his portrayal of Captain Raymond Holt. He's one of the funniest characters ever on TV, period. Anyways, it was quite the rollercoaster when this show was cancelled by FOX - right as it was coming off a series-best season - only to then get picked up by NBC for a Season 6. But a cool side effect of all the drama was that, it seems, a lot of people *finally* got on the B99 bandwagon and started binge-ing the show. Good! This show is toit!
6. BETTER CALL SAUL
- Better Call Saul, when it's at its best (which is usually), is pretty damn amazing. Vince Gilligan and co are geniuses, and every time you think there's no way to milk more story out of the transformation of Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman - they find ways to twist the narrative knife just a little more and deliver Breaking Bad-level "holy $&%#" moments. Personally, I missed the presence of the irreplaceable Michael McKean after the events of Season 3. But ... the show did a bang-up job of delving deeper into the relationship between Jimmy and Kim (a better-than-ever Rhea Seehorn), as well as slowly amping-up the presence of Breaking Bad big bad Gus Fring, whose shadow loomed over the entire season. This led to some really cool stuff with Mike, now in Fring's employ. I loved everything having to do with Mike working to get Fring's secret drug lair built. My only hope here is that the show heads towards its finale sooner rather than later. Breaking Bad always had a major sense of urgency to its storytelling - Saul is starting to feel, just a little, like its trying to stretch things in order to fill out six seasons worth of content. My longshot hope is that there's only one more prequel season, and then one final epilogue season that takes place post-Breaking Bad. Now that would be exciting.
- Okay, I know a lot of people were down on Westworld in Season 2. But come on - while the season had its ups and downs, it also delivered some of the best individual episodes of TV I've ever seen. Yes, the show still has a macro issue of figuring out what it is. And I'll acknowledge that the week to week plot this season could meander - it got too confusing for its own good at times, and certain characters (Delores, The Man In Black) felt directionless after their fantastic S1 arcs. That said: Westworld delivered some of the best standalone eps of sci-fi TV since the days of "The Constant" from Lost. I mean, "Kiksuya" - you know, the episode all about Ghost Tribe member Akecheta? - that was holy-$&%# good. Same goes for "The Riddle of the Sphinx" - a jaw-dropping flashback episode that focused in on the mystery of James Delos. Westworld can be a frustrating show, no question - but when it can deliver episodes this memorable (and when it's got knockout performances from the likes of Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, etc.), it's still a must-see (and one of the year's best) in my book.
8. BIG MOUTH
- So just recently I've gotten aboard the Big Mouth bandwagon, and I am now sort of obsessed. This show is just so ... freaking ... funny. And in a year with no new Rick & Morty, this filled the void nicely (and as I say that, I'm picturing the show's grotesque Hormone Monster appearing over my shoulder and whispering "yeah it did."). Big Mouth is hilariously, almost shockingly vulgar at times - but it's also a very sweet, sincere animated comedy about the trials and travails of a bunch of middle schoolers going through puberty. It's actually sort of amazing to me the balancing act the show manages to pull off - it tackles very tricky issues, like consent, with intelligence, but also is not afraid to get completely weird and random to get a big laugh. The voice work on the show is also so good - Nick Kroll just kills it playing a variety of characters. John Mulaney is hilarious, and Jesse Klein is too. But I have to give a special shout-out to Jenny Slate as awkward nerdy girl Missy. Slate makes Missy so consistently funny and such a consistently amazing character - she almost steals the show away from everyone else (and her conversations with imaginary Nathan Fillion - oh man). Anyways, this is one of Netflix's 5,000 recent originals so people (like me) are still discovering it. But add this one to your list.
- One of the breakout new series of 2018, Barry was a showcase for the immensely talented Bill Hader - a guy who is absolutely hilarious, but who also has legit dramatic chops. Barry is a great vehicle for Hader because it's a dark (i.e. pitch black) comedy that isn't afraid to deliver moments of genuine, nightmarish terror. I mean, it's about a hitman trying to leave that life behind and pursue his newfound dream of acting ... so the premise is inherently dark. But Season 1 genuinely shocked me a few times with the places it went. This can be a seriously &%$#'ed-up show. And that, I think, is what put Barry over the top for me - it was wholly unpredictable. Just when it lulls you into thinking you're watching a sweet show about an awkward dude trying to turn his life around - the show reminds you that, nope, Barry is that but he's also a stone-cold assassin when he needs to be. This show is not messing around, and it's going to be very, very interesting to see where it goes in Season 2.
10. THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE
- As always, it was a tough decision to narrow down my Top 10. There were a few shows I wanted to include for various reasons, but ... I'm giving this final slot to Hill House, because it had a string of episodes that were just off-the-charts good. Hill House is, I think, one of the best Season 1's, pound for pound, that Netflix has yet released. It takes a few episodes to really get rolling, but by the time I got to Episode 3 ("Touch"), I could sense that this was shaping up to be something special. By the time I got to Episode 5 - the creepy, mind-bending tour de force that is "The Bent-Neck Lady" I was all-in. What an episode of TV. Now, I could write paragraphs about why I didn't love the ending, etc. But I want to focus on the fact that Hill House was one of the best seasons of horror TV I've ever seen. It was a moving family drama, a poignant story about addiction and love and loss, and also a creepy af ghost story. Creator Mike Flanagan really showed me something here (though, hey, I've sung his praises since Ouija 2!) and he's 100% a person to watch. No question: Hill House was one of the most memorable and affecting things I watched in 2018.
The Next Best:
- Man, I wanted to put this one in the Top 10 because it's such a cool, endearing, underappreciated show. Seriously - whenever I meet a fellow "Humans" fan I get way too excited and immediately commence nerding out about the show. But yeah, there's a reason why Humans has been steadily producing a stream of breakout stars - from Black Panther's Letitia Wright to Crazy Rich Asians' Gemma Arterton. It's a great show filled with talented actors, and often I wonder if it does Westworld one better when it comes to its science-fiction take on robots becoming sentient and trying to co-exist with often hostile humans. Anyways, Season 3 was by far the best season of Humans yet - it raced right to the brink of robot-human war, and had some very intriguing twists and turns. Sure, the show throws in a bit too much CW-ish soap opera at times, but it never skimps on the sci-fi. Bonus: it's got the coolest opening credits sequence / theme music in the biz. If you love sci-fi stories about robots and AI as much as I do, then you need to be watching Humans.
12. WHO IS AMERICA?
- Back in the day, I was convinced (and still am!) that Da Ali G Show was one of the most brilliant pieces of comedy I'd ever seen. So it was pretty damn exciting that Sacha Baron Cohen was returning to TV with a surprise Showtime series, that would again see him go undercover as a motley crew of fake characters designed to fool unsuspecting targets. This felt like the show we needed in the age of Trump, and in many ways, it delivered on its promise. There were segments that were absolutely jaw-dropping - some unspeakably dark and messed-up, some more silly and random. At the same time, there were certainly some segments (and even whole characters) that sort of bombed. But nonetheless, the show was perhaps *the* conversation-starter of 2018. And while some may now reject Cohen's shock-TV sensibilities, I more than welcomed the return of his unique, brazen brand of brilliance.
13. KILLING EVE
- I was late in checking this one out, but very quickly became a big fan. I had heard about how good Sandra Oh was on this show, but man, I was not prepared for Jodie Comer as the oddly lovable psycho-killer Villanelle. Comer kills on this show (in more ways than one), and is already on my list for all-time great TV villains. I loved the way the show never took the easy way out with her and made her too much of an antihero - she was a villain through and through (just one that you can't help but root for). And the cat and mouse, Batman/Joker-esque relationship with her and Oh's Eve was full of great moments, including a jaw-dropper of a finale. This show - with its mix of action, oddball humor, great characters, and slowly-unraveling mythology definitely helped to fill the Orphan Black-sized void in my TV viewing diet.
14. THE HANDMAID'S TALE
- Season 1 of The Handmaid's Tale blew me away last year ... but getting through it took a toll. The show was so bleak and harrowing (especially given its unsettling parallels to current real-life politics), that it took me a long time to hit play on Season 2. And when I did, I found the same visually-stunning, incredibly-acted series that I'd praised in Season 1. Elizabeth Moss is, again, amazing - and I liked the expanded scope of the storytelling that shined a spotlight on characters like Alexis Bleidel's Emily. I think, perhaps, that S1 was so much of a gut-punch that getting an even darker, bleaker S2 almost felt like too much. Nevertheless, this remains a high mark of quality TV, and a constant reminder of what our not-so-implausible darkest timeline could look like.
15. THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
- Everyone (rightly) got up in arms about Brooklyn Nine-Nine's cancellation this year - but let us not forget the other painful casualty of FOX's show-slashing in 2018, that being the often hilarious and brilliant Last Man On Earth. Unfortunately, unlike B99, there was no last-minute renewal for Last Man. Even worse, this past season ended on a huge cliffhanger (!!!) that will remain unresolved. And worse still, the show was cancelled after making a remarkable creative comeback in Season 4. After a bit of a slump, the show rallied in Season 3 and was back to full strength in its final season - with sharp writing, some of the funniest banter on TV, and a totally amazing (and totally underappreciated) lead performance from Will Forte - who should have won all the Emmys for his funny-af work on this series.
16. THE GOLDBERGS
- Yes, The Goldbergs is what I call comedy comfort food, but what makes it great is that it combines aw-shucks sweetness with genuinely inspired jokes and comedic dialogue. The show can be saccharine, but it's also sharp-as-hell - it's one of the most quotable comedies on TV. And the show was really killin' it in Season 6 - with classic episodes like the one about Barry's Bachelor Party - an ep that rang particularly true after having just planned my own brother's bachelor celebrations. So please, don't dismiss the Goldbergs as a run-of-the-mill sitcom. It's schmaltzy but also doesn't skimp on the comedy. An underappreciated gem.
17. AMERICAN HORROR STORY: APOCALYPSE
- Well, this was a huge surprise. I've bailed early on the lat few seasons of AHS - the last one I really got into was Hotel. And when Apocalypse began, I almost bailed again. The season's first two episodes were campy and awkward. As the story - about a bunch of people trapped in a bunker following apocalyptic disaster - was initially set up, I assumed this would be a not-so-good season of a show whose quality can vary wildly. But soon enough, the season did a 180. It morphed into a gleefully insane epic that brought back characters from Coven and Murder House, and wove a grand unifying season of AHS that was chock full of comic book-y awesomeness. In fact, for all the crazy places the story went, this ended up being a surprisingly coherent season of AHS. And it was filled with an all-star cast of AHS all-stars to boot. This was hugely fun.
- I liked Season 1 of Crashing, but Season 2 really upped the show's game and got really, really good. This biographical comedy about comedian Pete Holmes working his way up the stand-up comedy ladder got funnier and more ambitious in S2. It had some fantastic guest appearances from people like Bill Burr and Artie Lange. I also really liked the introduction of Jamie Lee as a new love interest / foil for Pete - her character Ali was a strong addition to the series. Highly recommend this show.
- This one is hard to talk about in any rational sense. Is Riverdale a good show? I'm honestly not sure. Is Riverdale the most entertainingly insane show on TV? Hell yes. Somehow, Season 3 has been the show's craziest yet. I can't even describe the main plotline coherently, except to say it's about a Dungeons & Dragons-like game called Griffins & Gargoyles that turns teens into culty murderers and is part of an evil Hiram Lodge master plan to rule Riverdale and its populace. I ... think the show's writers know what they're doing? Or they're just doing some really hardcore drugs. I don't know. But one thing is clear: if you're not watching Riverdale, you are seriously, seriously missing out.
- I marked GLOW as one to watch last year. I enjoyed Season 1, but felt like there was further room to improve in Season 2. And the show did definitely improve. It got a little meatier - grappling (see what I did there) with issues like sexual harassment and gender politics. It gave a little more nuance to the central Ruth/Debbie relationship. And it had a little more fun with the wrestling of it all as well. I'd still love to see the show more fully embrace its pro-wrestling backdrop - it's such a unique world that I'd still love to see explored a bit more. But even so, the so is highly watchable thanks to a combination of humor, style, and a great cast. Alison Brie knocks it out of the park in each and every episode.
- I'm a huge fan of the Preacher comics, and Season 3 of Preacher captured more of the tone of Garth Ennis' modern classic series than ever before. This season doubled down on the kind of dark, out-there humor that made the books a cult favorite - and the way in which it adapted the "All in the Family" story arc was really well done. At the same time, the show has carved out its own identity. Case in point: Ruth Negga as Tulip O'Hare. Negga has taken an already-iconic character and made it her own - she's a force of nature on the show and is the lynch-pin of a kick-ass cast.
22. NEW GIRL
- New Girl is an all-time comedy fave, and I really thought it was done following Season 6. But lo and behold, we got a surprise S7 that wrapped up the show in a less-rushed fashion, and got to fully explore the Jess-Nick relationship and bring it to a satisfying end point. I really liked this final season! It had some super funny episodes, and man, this cast was just so great together. Jess, Nick, Schmidt, Winston - they're some all-time great comedic characters. I will miss this show.
23. THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA
- The new kid on the Netflix block is off to a really fun start. Sabrina recreates the anything-goes vibe of its sister series Riverdale while going a bit darker and grittier and, um, Satanic. I was surprised at how all-in this series goes in this respect - it doesn't shy away from getting into some pretty, well, evil territory - and hey, that's really cool. And yet - the show still manages to somehow be uber charming and witty and funny all the same. It's a tightrope walk, but the show seems intent on walking it (rather than just going off the rails all the time like Riverdale). I'm curious how this show evolves and if it has staying power, but I seriously dug the overall tone and vibe of the show. My main complaint: the episodes are too long. A show like Sabrina does not need 1 hour plus episodes!
- Another favorite that bid farewell in 2018. It felt like the time had come - as the hopeful hipster age of Portlandia felt sadly obsolete in our current, more dire era. But this show kept the dream of the 90's alive and well for eight seasons - and while the show didn't always hit a homerun with its sketches, its best bits were often instant-classics. Even in its final season, there were a few random sketches that just killed it - like an absurdist take on escape rooms, or a series about online dating featuring Rachel Bloom. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein were truly a match made in hipster comedy heaven. Fred is everywhere these days, but I hope we see more of Carrie in the years to come - she was an unexpected comedic powerhouse on Portlandia and I'll miss her on my TV.
TIE: 25. LEGION
- Legion occasionally lost me in Season 2, but its highs were uniquely awesome. Creator Noah Hawley is a master of acid-trip surreal storytelling - and from the first crazy dance number on the S2 premiere of Legion, you knew you were once again in for a ride. Now, I think the show got a bit lost in its own labyrinthine ideas in S2 - there were stretches in the middle part of the season that felt nigh-incomprehensible. But the show rallied late-season and delivered one hell of a finale - it was enough to get me legit excited again about the series and about Season 3.
TIE: 25. DISENCHANTMENT
- Here's a show that got off to a solid start - but that I'm VERY excited about going forward. Disenchanment launched with sky-high expectations - after all, it was the first new series from Matt Groening since Futurama. I was lucky enough to see the first look at the show this past summer at Comic-Con, and the clips killed with the audience in the room. When I actually got to see the full episodes, things proved a bit more uneven. The voice-cast was amazing, but the jokes occasionally fell flat, and some of the characters didn't 100% pop in the same way they did on Futurama. That said, the more I watched of Disenchanted, the more I liked it. By the end of S1, I was a big fan. The show grew on me, the humor began to really click, and I became excited by the possibilities of the series. Well worth a watch, says I, if you're a Simpsons or Futurama fan.
- 2018 marked the end of an era for Conan O'Brien. After decades of hosting a late night talk show, Conan did his final traditional-format episode for TBS this year. He'll be back in 2019, but with a new half-hour format that will focus on comedy bits and remotes, and (presumably) eschew the usual monologues and guest interviews. While I'm excited to see the evolution of Conan's series, I have to admit it's also sad to see his tried and true late-night format end. Conan is one of my comedy and entertainment industry heroes - I've watched him for years, am a former Late Night intern, and liked the fact that Conan seemed so reverent of the old-school style of late night show. Sure, his humor has always tried to put a unique, absurdist spin on the format - but there was still, behind it all, an ongoing tribute to late night TV and the likes of Johnny Carson, etc. I loved the way Conan brought a wink and a sense of self-deprecation to his monologues. And I loved the interviews with Conan regulars like Jeff Goldblum, Marc Maron, Patton Oswalt, Aubrey Plaza, Will Ferrell, and Norm McDonald. That said, Conan has of late found an amazing forum for his comedic sensibility with his travelogue specials. Conan's been doing these for years dating back to the NBC days, but they've become a regular event on TBS and they're always gold. In 2018, Conan did specials from Italy and Japan - and both were instant classics. The Japan special might be one of my favorite things on TV from 2018 - it was drop-dead hilarious. So I definitely look forward to more travelogue specials, more offbeat remotes, and more absurdist sketches that will, perhaps, hearken back to the golden-era Late Night days. Conan's 2019 return is going to be a TV comedy event, no question. But I'll still pour out a proverbial glass for the end of an era - Conan's long tenure as TV's best, funniest, and often most underappreciated late night TV talk show host.
b.) SUPERGIRL / THE FLASH / DC on the CW
- You guys probably know that I'm a huge DC Comics nerd, and so I consider shows like Supergirl and The Flash to be great comfort-food TV - they are basically my adult version of Saturday morning cartoons. That said, my patience was definitely tested with these two series heading into their summer 2018 season finales. (as an aside: I don't watch Arrow, am behind on Black Lightning, and couldn't get into Legends - and yeah, I know people love it now!). I love a lot of things about Supergirl and The Flash - they exude charm, they embrace a lot of the comics' more out-there concepts, and they both have a ton of heart. At the same time, these shows - at their worst - can be a drag. Forced to run for 22+ episodes per season, both series continuously saddle themselves with season-long villain arcs that seem constantly stretched out to their breaking point by season's end. It makes the shows repetitive and frustrating - and that's not even getting into the templates that they strictly adhere to that are par for the course with the DC TV series (ex: the constant "balcony talks" - inherited from Smallville - that pop up on every. single. episode.). So I was on the verge of a "break-up" with DC TV ... but decided to give both Supergirl and The Flash one more chance going into their new Fall 2018 seasons. And I've got to say - both made admirable comebacks. Supergirl doubled down on political allegory in its new season - and while heavy-handed at times, it's a welcome change from the constant romantic soap-operatics that weighed down the previous season. The Flash, meanwhile, surprised me with how fun its "Barry-and-Iris'-daughter-from-the-future visits the present" storyline has turned out to be - and XS is yet another uber-charming addition to the Flash cast of characters. So, I'm still onboard with these series. They're comfort-food, like I said. But I will be watching to see if both shows can attain even higher heights as their current seasons roll on. With these legendary characters, the sky should be the limit.
The Best TV Heroes of 2018:
1.) Akecheta - Westworld
2.) Eve Polastri - Killing Eve
3.) Sabrina Spellman - The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
4.) Cordelia Goode - American Horror Story: Apocalypse
5.) Princess Bean - Disenchantment
The Best TV Villains of 2018:
1.) Villanelle - Killing Eve
2.) Aunt Lydia - The Handmaid's Tale
3.) Father Faustus Blackwood - The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
4.) Noho Hank - Barry
5.) Herr Starr - Preacher
The Best TV Anti-Heroes of 2018:
1.) Barry Berkman - Barry
2.) Niska - Humans
3.) Tulip O'Hare - Preacher
4.) Madison Montgomery - American Horror Story: Apocalypse
5.) Delores - Westworld
Best Actress in a Comedy:
1.) Alison Brie - GLOW
Runners Up: Kristen Bell - The Good Place, Zooey Deschanel - New Girl, Carrie Brownstein - Portlandia,
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy:
1.) D'Arcy Carden - The Good Place
Runners Up: Stephanie Beatriz - Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Melissa Fumero - Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Best Actor in a Comedy:
1.) Bill Hader - Barry
Runners Up: Donald Glover - Atlanta, Will Forte - The Last Man On Earth, Andy Samberg - Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy:
1.) Andre Braugher - Brooklyn Nine Nine
Runners Up: Manny Jacinto - The Good Place, Joe Lo Truglio - Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Lakeith Stanfield - Atlanta
Best Actress in a Drama:
1.) Keri Russell - The Americans
Runners Up: Elizabeth Moss - The Handmaid's Tale, Sandra Oh - Killing Eve
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama:
1.) Jodie Comer - Killing Eve
Runners Up: Thandie Newton - Westworld, Kate Siegel - The Haunting of Hill House, Rhea Seehorn - Better Call Saul
Best Actor in a Drama:
1.) Matthew Rhys - The Americans
Runners Up: Bob Odenkirk - Better Call Saul, Dan Stevens - Legion
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama:
1.) Noah Emmerich - The Americans
Runners Up: Jeffrey Wright - Westworld, Jonathan Banks - Better Call Saul