Discoveries of 2016

Movies
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

I enjoy the hell out of Mike Meyers work and The Spy Who Shagged Me is no exception. Meyers uses the kind of visual humor that is desperately missing in comedy today outside of Edgar Wright’s films. And with the prospect of a new Austin Powers on the horizon, perhaps we’re in for more comedic magic.

The Babadook

This film could have been shrill in the worst way possible, but it hits that sweet spot where it’s just abrasive enough to be uneasy, but you still find the characters relatable even if they do lots of horrible things to each other. The film is more about the horrors of parenting than the titular boogie man, making it one of the freshest and best horror films of recent years.

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

Far out, dude! Hanging out with these radical dudes is a fun time. It’s the rare smart stupid film that is ridiculously clever and funny while dealing with a couple of absolutely idiotic dudes who want to save the world through rock and roll. It doesn’t reach the quality level of the first film, but the whole thing is damn charming.

Constantine

Maybe it was my low expectations, but I enjoyed the hell out of this film. Constantine deals with evils from hell while trying to unravel a murder mystery. Keanu Reeves is great here as this smarmy asshole who doesn’t care. And the whole piece oozes with atmosphere. And when Peter Stormare shows up, it gets even better.

Flight

One of the most accurate depictions of addiction I’ve ever seen. A lot of that comes through in Denzel Washington’s magnificent performance. There’s also the smart writing and the brutal character arcs that hammer home how deep and dark addiction can go.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

I didn’t care for Ghost in the Shell. I got its importance and influence for the medium, but the story never clicked for me. This one got its hooks into me and the deeper down the rabbit hole we went, the more mind-bending and creepy the film became. It’s surreal and cerebral in all the right places and a much smarter film than its predecessor.

Nightcrawler

An uneasy, creepy descent into the morbid gaze of the camera. Sort of a modern day Blow-Up, Nightcrawler examines man’s relationship to the camera and involves its protagonist recording a crime. The likable Jake Gyllenhaal turns in an unnerving performance as the crime vulture capturing all the nasty details even if he has to make some of them up himself.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

A fine western. Sure, the plot is meandering, but there are so many immaculately crafted moments and lines. It’s clear Eastwood paid attention to Leone’s technique because he uses some masterful camerawork in this film. I’m not much for Eastwood’s modern output, but this film makes me want to go back and watch his early directorial efforts.

Pather Panchali

I can always use some more Ray in my life. The beginning of this trilogy proves to be its strongest outing as a young boy grows up as the son of a poor priest. It’s got the warmth and tenderness I’ve come to expect from Ray and inhabiting this world with these characters is a delight.

Ronin

It’s a simple heist, except no heist is simple. Heist films are a dime a dozen, but this one stands out by having some damn fine dialogue. Robert De Niro relishes every line and Sean Bean is this great, sniveling foil for him to play off of. Jean Reno also does some great work here and the entire thing is slick all the way to the credits.

Tremors

I’m a big fan of sandworms and this tale of a small town held hostage by the beasts is a blast. Kevin Bacon turns up the cheese factor to 11 and everyone involved has fun with their roles. Anyone can make a bad b-movie, but it takes a lot of skill to make one as funny, entertaining and endearing as this one.

Wayans Brothers Comedies

While I’ve seen and appreciated the magnificent racial commentary that is White Chicks, I hadn’t gone any farther with the Wayans Brothers’ comedies. For shame. Their takedown of slasher flicks in Scary Movie is an absolute riot and they give the black crime genre a similar treatment with Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. A lot of people blow off their movies as dumb, but they’re the best kind of dumb.

TV
IT Crowd

This criminally short series is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in years. Two geeky IT guys get a new supervisor who doesn’t know a thing about computers. Hilarity ensues. But while the workplace hijinks are easy, it’s the moments outside work where we see these people in absolutely ludicrous displays that makes this show amazing.

Person of Interest

While it did end this year, I watched most of the previous seasons this year and it’s a magnificent show. What could easily be passed off as a police procedural is actually one of the most interesting and compelling explorations of artificial intelligence. One of the most gripping sci-fi shows in years.

Video Games
Bulletstorm

It takes a lot for an FPS to hook me, and this game has a lot of hooks. Instead of being built around killing enemies in the most efficient way possible, it’s about killing them in the most creative way possible. It makes every level a sandbox of carnage instead of an alley to get through. Add in a pitch perfect, over-the-top takedown of the dudebro shooter and this game is a keeper.

Resident Evil 2

What a masterful piece of design. A tightly interconnected series of rooms that slowly unlock into more and more dangerous spaces makes for a horror experience where having a gun feels like beating off a dog with a ruler. Except there are three dogs, and one of them is on fire, and you’re on fire, and oh God, what is that thing? Only one thing to do: run!

Comics
3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man

I read a lot of Matt Kindt this year and out of all of them this is the one I’d recommend the most. I’m wouldn’t call it the best, but it’s the best entry-point into Kindt’s work. The art is gorgeous and the story is more straightforward than Kindt’s usually mind-bending style. It’s a lovely little book with just enough of Kidnt’s sense of secrecy and subterfuge.

Aliens: Salvation

Had to slip some Mike Mignola art in here somewhere. Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame writes this fantastic story of a missionary space crew falling prey to the titular Aliens. It’s a bizarre mix of ethnographic faith and pulp action and horror. It’s a brisk read, but a beautiful one, and any fan of Mignola or Alien should read it.

Habibi

A wondrous, heartbreaking story about two slaves who escape and live in the desert. It has a mystical, almost fairytale quality, but this is a dark story with little magic. The magical moments are Craig Thompson’s depiction of stories from the Koran. They’re some of the most visually arresting, majestic images depicted in black and white comics.

Saga of the Swamp Thing (Alan Moore run)

What a series. I’ve had a soft spot for Swamp Thing since reading the first run, but Alan Moore was the one who wrote what is considered the definitive run, and for good reason. What starts as the traditional environmental commentary evolves into something wondrous and cosmic. This is easily the best thing I’ve read from Moore.

© 2016 James Blake Ewing

  • John Kloosterman

    I followed Moore’s Swamp Thing for a little while, but it was too blatantly–though skillfully–political and new-agey. Wonderfully creepy, though. And to be perfectly honest, what actually made me stop reading was the part where he beats up Batman. I don’t care how cosmic you are, that doesn’t happen.

    • http://creativecriticism.net/ James Blake Ewing

      Haha, well Batman can’t beat everyone. They team up in some later comics, though. I enjoyed the political stuff, but hte series really evolves once you get past that stuff.

      • John Kloosterman

        The political stuff wasn’t so bad–it was pretty well integrated. I actually really liked the zombie movie one and the werewolf one. The political commentary was obvious, but also integrated really well. And the cosmic stuff was more interesting.