Birds Of Prey
DC Comics finally cracked the code and made a good movie with last year’s Shazam!, but their real finest work to date can be found here, in Birds Of Prey. It’s a hilarious joy ride from start to finish that takes its characters seriously while having fun at every possible moment. Harley isn’t just the punchline here, this is her main event. Margot Robbie really swings hard and delivers a memorable and charming performance. Mary Elizabeth-Winstead is a tremendous joy whenever she’s on-screen, as is Jurnee Smollett, and Ewan McGregor chews up every scene he’s in, as the devilish and sexy Black Mask.
Blue In Green
Every once in a while there is a collaboration in comics that embraces the medium and utilizes it in an exciting and fresh way. This year, that book was Blue In Green. This is not only one of the best books I read this year, but one of the best of my entire life. To have a team that are as in sync as Ram V, Anand RK, and Aditya Bidikar, is an incredibly rare and beautiful thing. The whole book was improvised, each member of the team working on the fly just like jazz musicians. The finished product flows like jazz, in a way that transcends the genre. The beautiful package tied together by Tom Muller’s always-excellent design work is a terrifying, insightful, and most of all memorable work that transcends comics, and is an achievement the likes of which most creators will covet their entire lives.
X Of Swords Destruction
It’s been one hell of a ride with the X-books since the beginning of Hickman’s era, and this epic-as-fuck crescendo by master storytellers Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, Clayton Cowles, and Tom Muller, is one for the history books. The conclusion to a 22-part story somehow delivers such a successful and mind-blowingly additive end, you have to read it to believe it. Hickman and Howard go for making Apocalypse the most interesting he’s ever been and totally get away with it. Throw in unbelievably gorgeous art from Larraz and Gracia, at the absolute top of their games, and you have one of the best X-books I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
Not far into the run of Jonathan Hickman on the core X-book, there lies this treasure of a comic, X-Men #7 by the aforementioned Hickman, Leinil Yu, Sunny Gho, Clayton Cowles, and Tom Muller. The promise of this era of X-books is a new way, a mutant way. Long gone are the days of human traditions and rituals, they now make their own. This book is a celebration of that idea and has a story that hits so brutally hard, you will be in joyous tears. The implications of this comic and the story it tells will resonate throughout this entire era and is a beautiful example of how the mutant metaphor can be applied and make readers feel seen and understood in a profound way. It’s overwhelmingly excellent.
Eurovision: The Story Of Fire Saga
I may not have come here to take a dig at Will Ferrell, but I’m going to anyway because this is his first good movie in what feels like forever, but what a joy it is. Eurovision: The Story Of Fire Saga is a joyous celebration of the Eurovision song contest, even featuring many talents who have won the contest in real life, and also Dan Stevens in ridiculously fine form. Ferrell is funny here, at times, but Rachel McAdams’ comedic chops are what really give this movie its spark. Everyone’s accent is mostly laughable, but there is a mash-up performance in this movie that is without a doubt, one of the coolest and most fun things I have ever seen performed, and even that would be worth the price of admission alone. This movie felt like a diamond in the rough.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
How do you satisfy several generations of gamers after years of teases and development? I have no idea, but Final Fantasy VII Remake has some very solid ideas on making that happen. While this is only “part one” of an as yet-to-be-revealed amount of parts, it captures what made the original game fun and memorable and cranks the dial up, and brings it to modern systems in glorious fashion. Combat has changed fairly drastically, but scenes are recreated in almost 1:1 detail at times, and the story largely remains the same. The parts that do not, however, are incredibly promising for the future of this title and what its further potential can be. This is a blisteringly awesome and fun start that is sure to leave you wanting more and is a worthy successor to a legacy of RPG-excellence.
Greek mythology can sometimes feel played out in modern pop culture, but Hades has come along to prove that there is still an untapped well of potential there. The main character Zagreus is a lovable himbo, just trying to get out, away from his ruthless father, lord of the dead, Hades himself. Along the way you encounter a bevy of Greek gods looking to aid you in your journey, as you fight against your father’s forces for freedom. It’s a rogue-like game that maintains a story as you die repeatedly, using that as a storytelling mechanism rather than simply a chance to have you start over each run. It’s immeasurably satisfying, and features the most beautiful and fresh takes on these old gods, truly a triumph of modern gaming.
Palm Springs is genuinely even better than its premise suggests. It’s a time-loop movie, but it has plenty of humor and charm to spare, giving you a unique take on an old style of film. Aside from stellar performances and great chemistry from the two leads, the story itself is witty and amusing. Stories that embrace the messiness of their characters, treat them as actual human beings with agency, always ring the truest, and feel the most satisfying. The conclusions they come to feel more natural and that’s exactly what this movie manages to achieve. It’s heartfelt, it’s funny, and you’ll want to watch it again and again.
It’s no surprise that the mind behind Adventure Time would conceive something the likes of Midnight Gospel. It takes the culturally-ubiquitous art of podcasting and brings it to a level made for stoners and nerds that want to be dealt epiphanies via TV show. And I say that with the absolute highest of praise, this show goes genuinely deep into some heavy-ass subject matter. The podcast itself is happening as the world just melts and distorts in ways that feel like an acid trip that just won’t relent, showing you visions of things you can’t understand nor do you feel like you have to. The message always gets across and packs a punch that has the potential to knock you upside the head with a revelation of something so meaningful and profound, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to come to this new head-space. It’s a lot.
DuckTales Season 3
This poster right here, seen above, was a threat and a promise for what the future of DuckTales had in store for us going into season 3. It was a vision of a new kind of Disney Afternoon-universe, lead up by Matt Youngberg and Frank Angones, and they succeeded in its execution at every step. Never has a reboot so dutifully honored legacy and still tells new stories that change and develop these old characters into something that people can see themselves in and relate to in the modern day. Stories of courage, of family, of heart, drive this show to be one of the very best that modern animation has to offer. DuckTales is a testament to what can be done in the hands of people who have reverence for the source material, and the ambition to revitalize it in a meaningful way. It is near-impossibly good by every metric.