So, 2012, that happened. A year that started off without much of a bang but that was at least expected to end with an endless screaming nightmare fury of a bang. Nice one Mayans, way to get us all excited for nothing. Instead we had to settle for a year where, in spite of not developing in any way, Justin Bieber has managed to stay bafflingly huge and a dancing oriental fat-man has become the BIGGEST THING EVER. Some Canadian also encouraged people to impulsively pass their digits around and Snoop Dog became Jamaican all of a sudden. A man also jumped from very very high and another man who was very very high died. And no, unfortunately, it wasn’t Charlie Sheen. I could fill this with a personal account of how I’ve grown as a human being and transformed into a beautiful butterfly this past 12 months but instead have some lists. Here’s my impersonal list of the top things of 2012:
When trying to piece together this list I became startlingly aware of the fact that, in spite of listening to a great deal of music in 2012, I hadn’t listened to a great deal of 2012 music. Instead I latched onto a few and became slightly obsessed with them. I’m hereby resolving to listen to more 2013 music in 2013. Here are the chosen few I fell in love with this year:
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Pyramids. It’s all I need to say really, that song was absolutely stunning. That mid song volta is just mind-bogglingly good and is the peak of an hour of thoroughly boggled minds on Ocean’s breakout release. Oh, he was gay too. Which is a massive deal and one that people had to constantly dismiss when lavishing praise on him. Just to clarify, he isn’t getting all this love because of his man-love admission, it’s because he made a bloody brilliant album. Honourable Sad Hip-Hop Mention: The Weeknd. A crazy good voice but seriously repetitive songs. You can’t have three mixtapes of sad, ambient sounding hip-hop. Please increase your bpm at least a fraction man.
Tame Impala – Lonerism
As the year ends initial doubts about Kevin Parker’s sophomore effort have been well and truly quashed. It is better than Innerspeaker, it just is. It’s steps forward rather than leaps but they’ve still produced a masterful psych-rock trip that rarely, if ever, falters and contains some truly bombastic moments. I know he records it alone in his bedroom but I would appreciate if Parker could move on to more diverse lyrical matters than how lonely he is though. Seriously, we get it now. Honourable Fuzzy Sounding Guitar Mention: Crocodiles. Their album didn’t actually come out this year but fuck it, here’s more words about them. They have a really great album and could be brilliant if they cut loose. A statement that could be applied to so so many artists.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend!
I can forgive the pretty mediocre filler tracks on this purely because they accompany such mind-blowing main attractions. Mladic and Their Helicopters Sing are quite simply stunning in every sense of the word and I can thank them for introducing me to the majesty of Godspeed. At this stage I listen to them so much on journeys anywhere that I’ve started measuring them in ‘Godspeeds’. Also known as 20 minutes since every song of theirs worth hearing is that length. It also makes journeys sound significantly more awesome as it is a pretty spectacular sounding measure of time, i.e. ‘I walked to the Tesco for some chips in two Godspeeds’. Also the album cover says ‘God’s Pee’ which is brilliant.
Radio Radio – Havre De Grace
The Canadian French/English hip hop collective who stole my heart and, for extended periods of time, my ears. An eclectic, eccentric exercise in excellence from an exemplary example of erm….existence….? Alliteration aside they’re pretty awesome, even if you can’t understand them most of the time. But neither can French people so I’m not even sure what language they’re speaking in, other than the universal language of great music. A musical oddity but one that I’m glad exists.
Liars – WIXIW
Apparently that Roman numeral mash up is meant to be pronounced ‘Wish You’. I don’t see it. Fortunately the rest of the album is a tad more accessible. Both phonetically and, when compared to Liars previous work, musically. Throwing a dash of electro into the mix has created a wonderful combination with their already pretty solid drum-heavy sound and formed a brilliantly distinct vibe, one that elevates it far and above previous efforts and satisfies an electro-rock itch that’s hung around since Kasabian ditched Chris Karloff. Faced off stiff competition from Django Django’s eponymous effort for the final slot here but won out by the skin of it’s teeth. Both are well worth a listen.
Brats – Liars
Introduction/Hail Bop – Django Django
Their Helicopters Sing – Godspeed
Pyramids – Frank Ocean
Feels Like We Only Go Backwards – Tame Impala
Comment Ca Va – Radio Radio
Amanita – Animal Collective
Glass Table Girls – The Weeknd
Myths – Beach House
Able-Bodied Seamen – Jonny Greenwood
My film coverage has been remarkably lacklustre of late and that’s something I ended the year with regrets about. Partly this is because I, as was the case with music, missed out on a lot of stuff. That’s another thing I regret, looking at Metacritic I see some great stuff that I really wanted to see but never did which disappoints me. Nonetheless I consider this a pretty good year for film, one with plenty of surprises and plenty of great films, many of which I had intended to review here but somehow never got around to amidst the chaos of uni deadlines and pistachio-eating. Here are the pick of the bunch:
A dark, intelligent, gripping sci-fi film? But I thought they had died out years ago? The elders speak of their kind but they were thought long extinct, what is this sorcery?? Yes, the thinking man’s sci-fi film is emphatically back. First heralded with Moon a few years ago and now solidified by Source Code and Looper. Looper is probably the pick of the bunch. Joseph Gordon-Levitt may look bloody ridiculous as a young Bruce Willis but he covers with a pretty good performance alongside the man himself. It doesn’t dabble in the specifics which may grate some but I found it refreshing to have a film just lay its cards out and say ‘This is a fun premise. Either accept that it exists or piss off’. Wish there was some more Paul Dano though, he eats so much scenery but I somehow love him.
The Master –
A film of true ambition and cinematic scope that, much life Tree of Life before it, elevates it to such a degree that the flaws seem irrelevant. This is pure, bold cinema and captivates throughout. Joaquin Phoenix puts in my performance of the year and is one half of my scene of the year. Sure the plot is loose as hell but it’s honestly a minor quibble in the grand scale of things here. Complimented by majestic cinematography and a typically discordant dream of a score by Jonny Greenwood, this is probably the most interesting and intellectually invigorating film of the year. No other film this year had me talking so much afterwards.
Moonrise Kingdom –
Wes Anderson can be a divisive fellow but if I wanted to bring anyone round to loving him this is the film I’d use. With its distinctive colour pallete and stately, nostalgia-soaked style as well as it’s brilliant soundtrack and Bill Murray-ness, this is the definitive Wes Anderson film. The teen acting can be fairly inconsistent, especially Suzy, and the abundant semi-nudity can be a bit awkward but it’s a pretty well-rounded film, with strong performances across the staggeringly all-star cast. Especially Bill Murray. I think every assessment of every Wes Anderson film ever has included the statement ‘Especially Bill Murray’ at some point. It’s just a fact of life that he’s brilliant in his films and is somehow almost undersold when called an indie demi-god. The scenery is also pretty spectacular throughout, like Last of The Mohicans for teens or something. But less serious and more fun, like most Wes films are. An innocent, charming, light-hearted film that makes for easy-watching and comes highly recommended.
It speaks volumes of a film when it can maintain tension even when the audience already knows the outcome. Such is the case with Ben Affleck’s Argo, the latest in a series of directorial masterclasses that have dragged his career from the dregs. It’s incredible how far he’s come since Gigli. A thriller that, as art mimics life, goes in and gets the job done quietly, quickly and efficiently. It doesn’t innovate and it doesn’t reach beyond it’s means, it just is what it is. And it succeeds overwhelmingly at being that. All in all a thoroughly entertaining film that also gets brownie points for casting my man-crush Bryan ‘He Who Knocks’ Cranston.
Javier Bardem and Roger Deakins add true star quality to Bond again. This is a film that transcends the franchise formula and is a compelling re-invigoration of the series. It’s not on the same level as the other films on this list but it’s still great in it’s own right. It hints at something more meaningful by touching on the dark side of Bond but ventures hesitatantly into such territory, which is still more than you can say about any other Bond.
Again with games my experience has been somewhat limited this year, what with uni taking up my time and my Xbox breaking right as games season rolled around in November. It’s meant that what few games I’ve played have either been PS2 relics or cheap PC indie titles. It’s led to some surprising experiences with games I might not otherwise have played as well as regrets about the ones I never got to. Games like The Walking Dead and Journey are considered priorities that I need to get my hands on but for now here’s my favourites from the past year. Note that I seriously struggled to pull together 5 games that I played to completion, or at least played enough to judge, from this year.
Hotline Miami –
Hotline Miami is a game about killing. Most games are, but not quite like this; this is literally only about killing. It is all you can do and you do it well. You do it in horribly brutal fashion, stringing together death like some whirlwind of hate and baseball bats, invincible as you blast through room after room of lookalike henchman and end them in blood-curdlingly horrific fashion and…oh, wait, no you”re dead. That guy just shot you from across the room. Back to the start. Rinse and repeat for 6 hours and you have Hotline Miami at it’s core: endless death. I killed about 6000 people in this game and died about 2000 times. That is frightening, especially since the game gets all post-modern up in your shit and asks you why you kill like you do. All that is then filtered through a neon haze by way of the chaos realm of David Lynch’s mind. What I’m trying to say here is that it’s awesome.
I’m going to lose XCOM. I’ve come to terms with that. I play on but I accept that I’m almost certainly going to condemn the world to an endless dawn of enslavement and destruction at the hands of our alien oppressors. One thing I can’t come to terms with is the fact that that means my men are all but certain to die; men like Captain Pena and ‘Hex’, my bitch-tacular sniper god. Because all it takes is one shot, one shot to the face is enough to ruin my day and call the curtain on months of heroism from those brave folks. The threat of insta-death and the scale of the game has meant I’ve become more attached to these voiceless, cookie-cutter marines than most games protagonists. They’ve created their own story and, though it is certain to end in defeat, I can still reflect on it with pride. Like Thermopylae and the 300 but with lasers and aliens. That’s what I’ve taken from XCOM; beneath all the menus and gamey-ness it’s ultimately about stories, your stories, and they’re fucking awesome.
Max Payne 3 –
Max Payne 1, you strafe-filled son of a whore. For so long I hated you and your ridiculous addiction to sideways movement and occasional dramatic leaps into walls. But this year that changed, I finally opened up and embraced Max and all his Payne. Partly this was because I really bloody wanted to play Max Payne 3, Rockstar’s sepia-seeped reboot of gamings premier jump-shoot fest, and partly because I’d gotten really into the band HEALTH, who were scoring it. Lo and behold Rockstar do it again, this time re-inventing third person shooting to feel as seamless and fluid as first person. All thanks to the majesty of the Euphoria engine, which is clearly the creation of some kind of higher being because it’s so far ahead of anything else out there. The story was pretty good too as usual, but mostly it was the jumping and shooting that made it. And the soundtrack. Opening up in an airport as HEALTH rips out of the speakers was a personal highlight of the year in gaming. But mostly I’m excited at the prospect they’ll apply that shooting to GTA V and thus fix one of its age-old flaws.
I have completed precisely two missions from Dishonored, including the tutorial. That has taken me about 6 or so hours. Such is the beauty of open-world games; where you can lose yourself in hunting down every little note and dusting off every trivial sidequest, where you can waste hours of your precious time in existence trying to jump onto areas that you clearly can’t get to just so you can say you’ve explored every nook and cranny and thus ‘completed’ this area. I initially wasn’t particularly interested in Dishonored, blame that on the terrible marketing campaign which seemed to advertise only that knives can be inserted into necks over and over again, but, once it became clear that there was more to it than an abundance of throat stabbings, I was hooked. Or at least as hooked as someone with little time to play games can be, which is relatively unhooked but with the feeling of being hooked. I could talk about the neat art style or the immersive world or the slightly contradictory approach to murder but instead I’ll leave it with this: This is a game where a man can shoot at you and you can respond by stopping time, possessing him, and then moving him in front of his own bullet. And then have him devoured by plague rats. I rest my case.
I’ve ran out of games. There aren’t any other games from this year that I’ve played enough of to merit an entry. So here’s this one: It’s Bioshock. It’s like the best game ever, I don’t really need to say much more than that about it. Other than that Bioshock Infinite is out soon and my expectations for it are on a par with the Second Coming.
So yeah, end on a high and all that. That was a pretty terrible review of the year to be honest, I realised that fairly quickly. All the same that was my year from a completely impersonal perspective, which probably leads people to believe it was just another year when actually it’s probably, barring my birth, the most important year of my life so far. Which means I have to brace myself for the almighty anti-climax that 2013 almost certainly will be, and considering this is coming off a year that had an anti-climax of literally apocalyptic proportions that’s saying something, so Happy New Year and stuff.