Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Top Crabs #8

Another year in the life of this blog, its eighth, is over. The time has come yet again to look back, analyse the year that past, and award the best of the year's crop.

Best Film:
Over the past few years films seem to have been growing out of favour at this household. It comes down to us being inundated by average material that's there to make money or fill a spot at Netflix' shelves but not much more. Add to that us having less and less time on our hands to spare on mediocrity and the conclusion is foregone.
In this non favourable climate there was only one movie that we have watched this past year to make the grade. This movie is Gravity, a science fiction analogy from outer space of a woman getting back on her feet following a depressing situation. It may be scientifically inaccurate, but it is already inspiring moviemakers with its style.
It is interesting to note Gravity represents director Alfonso CuarĂ³n's second time on top of this podium in as many feature films. Clearly, this guy knows how to make a movie.

Best Book:
Another revolution has hit my reading consumption this past year. Whereas 2010 brought me firmly into the realm of the ebook through the acquisition of an Amazon Kindle ebook reader, this year saw the acquisition of a personal iPad. This iPad is responsible for me spending more time reading than I ever did since school. I have all but abandoned paper based reading, with both comics and magazines now consumed through the iPad. Alas, between those, my RSS feed and the Internet in general, "normal" books are having a hard time competing. My book reading throughput was thus been reduced.
It is perhaps befitting that in year, the year I got to carry an additional tracking device (aka an iPad) in addition to the veteran tracking device (aka a smartphone), Edward Snowden came out and significantly changed my views on this world we live in. As far as I am concerned, this past year has been Snowden's year. It is therefore befitting to note the best books I have had the pleasure of reading this year were directly related to Mr Snowden's escapades.
Following the revelations, I found myself intellectually forced to have another go at reading the book that foresaw it all, George Orwell's 1984. Clearly, this is the best book I have read this year; however, the book I am going to award here is the book that drew much inspiration from Orwell in its account of how the Edward Snowden revelations came to be and its analysis of what these revelations imply to the society that we live in. That book, of course, is Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide.
Events of recent months have demonstrated how leaders all over the world, from Putin through those leading Hamas to Binyamin Netanyahu are failing their people and the world around them. No Place to Hide, however, points at Obama as the one who beats them all to the title of World's Most Disappointing leader.

Best Music:
I might betray my age by constantly lamenting at the lack of the likes of Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd calibre musicians in today's scene, but I will also admit that today's music offers a lot of variety and complexity that the musicians of yore whom I view through those pink tainted glasses have never achieved. That said, there is nothing in the large crop of fine recordings from the past year that stands out as much as, say, The Beatles did at their time. Maybe it's because it's much harder to stand out from a vast background of music creation as today's.
As hard as I tried to find that standout performance, armed as I am with various online music detection tools and a Spotify Premium account, I still failed. But when the dust settled I was fairly happy with the results of my effort, finding many a pleasing album along the way.
Amongst these it was Arcade Fire's Reflektor that proved to be the one album that survived the longest as the album I come back to again and again. Many factors stand in favour of Reflektor, including much variety is styles and songs that are not afraid of getting away from convention. Thus Reflektor is a truly fine album.
Allow me to indulge you with the title song, including a guest appearance of an old high calibre megastar David Bowie (on vocals only):

No, they don't make music videos like they used to.

Best on TV:
If in past years we got to notice how much better it is to consume TV series by watching one episode straight after the other, instead of waiting for the slotted air times, this year we went full on with this trend.
The nice thing about it is that TV show producers seem to have noticed where we are coming from. Some of them have clearly stopped producing shows that are mainly there to air advertisements and lure you to come again the following week so you can watch even more advertisements. Instead, they are using the freedom granted to them by this "viewing in the age of the Internet" to develop their messages and characters to levels much eclipsing the hour and a half to two that the movie platform allows. Those lucky enough to have enough funds are therefore able to create shows overtaking the movie world to create what we consider to be the superior motion picture artistic experience of this era.
Netflix' House of Cards represents the classic example for what I am talking about here. Quality A list actors, well sharpened scripts, and all the time in the world to push forward messages that a movie simply cannot cram into its scope.
However, the title of best of the breed goes to another series. That series, Breaking Bad, took more than 60 episodes to tell the story of a man going to the dogs (and back again). It's the detail that counts, and oh how those details shine. From that first episode sporting his white undies in the New Mexico desert till the very end, Walter White has enshrined himself as a household name all over Australia and the world.

Best Video Game:
Before discussing the best games I have had the pleasure of acquainting myself with this past year, I would like to point at the elephant in the room. More than two years after I first bumped into Mass Effect 3, this game and its prequels are still dominating my video gaming world. There may be newer stuff out there, but as far as I am concerned I know which Mass Relay to go to when in dire need of video game escapism.
With that in mind, I have spent the bulk of this year trying to find games that may relieve me of my Mass Effect addiction. I tried various Game of the Year award winners, but from Skyrim to The Last of Us I found myself ultimately disappointed. Of those, Tomb Raider was the only one that managed to pull me through to truly wanting to go back for another go (instead of going back to Mass Effect).
It wasn't all disappointing. That iPad I was talking about earlier also opened a new gaming venue for me, with plenty of interesting opportunities. Of those, Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 was probably the one I spent the most time on, at least when it wasn't crashing on me. Ultimately, though, I regard gaming on the smartphone/tablet as nothing more than a filler for a few empty minutes; when I have the time and ability, the bigger guns are almost always better.
Eventually, my quest for games worthy of Mass Effect succession did prove winnable. Child of Light combined a wonderful story, great and unique visuals, and gameplay reminding me of ye olde Dungeons & Dragons mechanics to create a wonderful gaming experience that looks awesome on the PS4.
As far as addiction, fun, and the need to come back for yet another round are concerned, there was one new title and only one new title to truly convince and occupy me and the rest of my family. That new title is a remake of an ancient title for the much malingered Nintendo Wii U, Mario Kart 8. Between playing on my own against cheeky opponents, playing online against savage fellow humans, or playing multiplayer with the rest of my family, Mario Kart has it all.
If you are after the most challenging mode of Mario Kart, have a go at playing the wingman for your young child. The challenge of helping my son push up the ranks and then keeping just behind him so as to absorb the barrage of red shells coming from behind and allow him to win is the toughest offered to me by far. And the funnest.

One other thing:
There is another trend from this past year that did not get explicitly mentioned in all of the above, and that's the complete and utter digitisation of our media consumption. With the exception of some hard bound comic books, where the presentation is of particular importance, as well as children's books, we've steered away from both paper and plastic media. Blu-rays may offer superior picture and sound quality, but they're a pain to acquire and return. They are also fairly unreliable. DVDs are even worse, taking up space but offering poor returns; they truly belong to the by now gone era of Standard Definition video.
Which bring me to thank all those who helped me in this digitisation movement that's been making our lives so much easier and so much richer: to the Netflixes, iViews, SBS on Demands and the Spotifys, I thank you from the bay of my heart. You kick ass, too.