Hello, it’s that time of year again. Let’s talk about my favorites of 2020.
For those new to the rodeo, for my last article post on 2020 I talk about my favorite things of the last year, and for my first post of 2021 I talk about my ‘State of the Union’, which you’ll find out about soon enough. Of course, you might also notice that this is coming out on January 4th. Well, uh, that’s just how scheduling works sometimes.
Typical rules apply: the categories are movies, books, video games, and music. I’ll be talking about my top 5, but the 5 themselves are not in order (e.g. the first one I list isn’t the #1 favorite or the #5 favorite, it’s just ‘a top 5 favorite’). These are things that I’ve played/watched/read this year, but not necessarily came out this year. Basically, take this as a set of recommendations in across a series of mediums.
Without further ado, here are the favorites:
Marriage Story – I like subtlety in storytelling. Marriage Story is full of it. Just place two high-quality actors in a room with a basic plot, and that’s really all you need for a good movie.
Ghost in the Shell – The best anime film I saw this year. Yes, obviously I’m talking about the original. I slept on this movie for quite awhile, but I decided this was the year to break into anime that wasn’t directed by Satoshi Kon. This lived up to its promise!
La Jetee – Ok, I said Marriage Story was great for its simplicity. But could you make a 20 minute long slide show a good film? As it turns out, yes. Just get a killer soundtrack and some fantastic writing, and you’ll be glued to the screen regardless of what the hell it is.
F for Fake – Favorite documentary of the year. To be fair, I hate documentaries — it really is just this and Crumb. But wow, was this an adventure! People often complain about Orson Welles’ pompous nature and while I can certainly see it I can’t help but love it.
The Battle of Algiers – An excellent test of amorality in film, as in setting up two sides and letting the audience decide who is right and who is wrong. A few of the films that didn’t make the list this year cough cough were so desperately worried that the audience wouldn’t agree with their opinion that they made their side look really good and the other side look really bad. None of that is visible here.
Dubliners – This is a short story collection by James Joyce. After reading Portrait of an Artist and thinking it mid-tier, then reading Ulysses and hating it, I assumed that there wasn’t much hope for Dubliners. Nope — turns out Joyce just happens to be much better at short stories than feature length novels. But really, some of these stories really live up to their reputation as some of the best short fiction ever written.
Einstein: His Life and Universe – From my reading list: “This used to be Steve Jobs, but after reading Einstein I think it’s the superior Isaacson book. It’s not really a decision I make based on quality of writing — Isaacson’s research and prose is excellent in both — rather, I just think that Albert Einstein is a better overall role-model than Steve Jobs. So I’d rather people read his book.” Also worth noting that I almost cried at the end of this book, which is stupid to think about for a biography but also goes to credit the quality of Isaacson’s writing.
The Remains of the Day – From my reading list: “Began having next to zero expectations of this book, ended with it being one of my favorite fiction pieces. A beautiful look into the dangers of obsession.”
Mythology – From my reading list: “The essential book on Greek mythology. Poetically written in such a way that really gives these old stories their due.”
Almanack of Naval Ravikant – A collection of all the (smart) things Naval has ever said. Is this man even a role model at this point? Who the hell knows. The important thing is that this is a collection of the good stuff.
DOOM (2016) – While cleaning out my Steam account I noticed that my only recommendation is a negative one against DOOM 2016. It was actually written for the public beta of the multiplayer (which was in fact terrible), but it now looks like it was written for the base game. To clarify, the singleplayer campaign is really, really good. I’m writing this in my favorites as an apology letter to DOOM. Sorry, DOOM — you’re still my favorite shooter franchise of all time 🙂
Halo 2 – This and the next listing were virtually the same experience for me. Hear about game series that’s supposed to be good for years, finally get a chance to play it, go through the first game and am thoroughly disappointed, go through the second game and — Holy shit! It is genuinely impressive how much stuff they fixed in Halo 2 that was broken in Halo 1. This entry is also where the story finally kicks up. I could put Halo 3 here as well, but I wanted to continue following my rule of one entry per franchise.
God of War 2 – As I mentioned above, same story. Played God of War 1, thoroughly disappointed. Played God of War 2, holy shit moment. Like in Halo, virtually everything is fixed in God of War 2 coming from God of War 1. Story also kicks up. I can’t recommend God of War 3 only because I haven’t played it yet — watch out for it on the 2021 list!
Batman: Arkham Asylum – This game was a surprise. I don’t really care about Batman, nor do I care about action superhero stuff. But I was greatly enjoying this game pretty much the whole way through. Basic? Yes. But fun? Definitely.
Resident Evil 4 – One of the worst control schemes ever made. An absolute mess of a plot. Graphics that look like they were made by a middle schooler. Also, one of the greatest games ever made. It’s… hard to explain, and you really gotta go in and play it in order to understand. This game also finally cemented myself as a self-proclaimed Resident Evil fan.
Everywhere at the End of Time – A lot of this year was me struggling with finding the soul back in music — that is, why I loved music in the first place. There are many, many albums I listened to this year that did not make this list and were very, very… not good. Bland, perhaps. It wasn’t a time thing either — I was listening to records all the way back from the 60s and 70s that felt just as draining to the psyche.
In comes The End of Time. This, by technicality, is not actually an album. Rather it is an art piece segmented into 6 different parts, made over the course of many years. The near 7 hour long epic is meant to be a symbolic allegory to the mental deterioration caused by dementia, with each of the 6 parts representing the 6 different stages of the disease.
Listening to this album in full I would recommend only to the most diehard of art-consumers. And yet… it was an experience. A full experience. I really don’t think you could get a full understanding of what exactly is going on by just listening to Part 1 or Part 6, the most popular parts in the album. Though then again, I don’t think the average listener has to get the full experience. Still… god damn. In a year where I forgot the soul of music, where I forgot what real art could feel like… this reminded me. This is easily one of the best artistic journeys I have been on, one which opened my eyes to the true danger of neurodegenerative disorders, and yet also their strange dramatic, almost-romantic elements. I can feel this album influence my work holistically from now on, and I’m sure it will come off in the future.
Live at Cornerstone – The Avalanches are my favorite band of all time, and I think this album perfectly encapsulates why that is. If we want to talk about the “soul” of music, in my opinion — its eclectic nature, its strange familiarity, it’s child-like charm — this mix is the perfect example. Also don’t forget to listen to Since I Left You, while you’re at it!
Song Machine, Season One – This album is a series of collaborative singles made by the Gorillaz. The Gorillaz used to be one of my favorite bands, but honestly I fell off after they released a couple of mid-tier albums. This singles list however is full of some of their best work yet, and I can’t help but highly recommend.
What’s Your Pleasure? – Perhaps this can go towards the biggest surprise in the music category. I’ve never heard of this artist, nor this album — I just saw the cover and thought that at some point I had heard someone say good things about it, and decided to listen to it. Despite this blatant shot in the dark, this really is one of the best nu-disco records I’ve listened to!
We Will Always Love You – The Avalanches are my favorite band of all time, and I think this album perfectly… wait, I’m just saying the same thing again. The main difference here is that WWALY came out this year (as opposed to Cornerstone which came in 2001) and the beats here are much more club-centered in nature. For those diehard plunderphoners this might be a bad thing, but I can see beauty in both styles.