While 2020 became one of the most unusual and terrible years in recent memory, there were some bright spots. Being home more often than usual allowed me to finally clear out some stuff I’ve been meaning to watch/play for a while now. Below are the top 10 things I enjoyed in the year 2020.
Before we begin, however, there was some stuff that I enjoyed this year that just missed the cut. While they missed the cut, these are still things I enjoyed that are worthwhile mentioning. In no particular order, they are Control, Sonic the Hedgehog, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, Hamilton, Over the Moon, and the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
Without further ado, let’s begin:
10. Schitt’s Creek
This probably wouldn’t have popped up on my list this year, as this would have been one of those shows I add to the ever-growing backlog. Then the Emmys happened, with Schitt’s Creek winning in all four acting categories and every other category it was nominated in. Because of this, it immediately jumped to the top of the pile and piqued my interest.
And yeah…the hype was real on this one. Not only is the show incredibly funny, but this show does so much for LGTBQ representation. The show presents an understanding and accepting a world that could be a reality if people just opened up and let go of old prejudices. The scene where Patrick comes out to his parents is such a beautiful and touching scene.
This will definitely go down as one of the best sitcoms in recent memory and possibly of all time.
All memes and jokes aside, Bugsnax is one of the most genuinely fun gaming experiences I’ve had all year. The gameplay itself is genuinely a blast, but its strongest aspect lies in the characters and story. Every character and their story is genuinely fascinating to learn, making the lore and worldbuilding that much interesting. Also, like Schitt’s Creek, Bugsnax does so much for LGTBQ representation. I was pleasantly surprised by how many mature themes were represented in a game aimed primarily at children.
Although let’s be honest…..that Kero Kero Bonito song still slaps.
8. Power Rangers (BOOM Studios)
This was the year I really started getting back into reading comics more (Hoopla has been a LIFESAVER). For years, I’ve heard so many good things about BOOM’s Power Rangers run that it jumped to the top of my list (it also helps I’ve been a fan since I was five).
Y’all….this series. This SERIES. It adds so much to the lore of the Rangers and what was established in the series, while simultaneously putting the Rangers in a global spotlight. I love the idea of Rangers being global peacekeepers, rather than just Angel Grove.
I also love how we get to see more of the personal struggles that these characters go through, and the relationships the team has with each other. It feels like everyone here gets a chance to be fully developed, there’s really not a weak link in the bunch. In addition, the villains themselves are even more interesting. Rita herself feels like more of a threat here, rather than just someone who just devours scenery. Finstock also feels less cheesy too, as he gets some of the best monologues of the series.
And holy shit we got to talk about Shattered Grid, the series’ first big crossover event. Picture a DC Crisis level story….but for the Power Rangers. You’ll get a sense of the massive scope and scale that this story embarks on, and the team behind this does it beautifully.
Genuinely can’t wait to see how the rest of this series plays out.
I’m ashamed to admit that there are a lot of blindspots in my nerd knowledge. One of those blindspots was, for years, I never got around to seeing any of the Alien movies. Not out of being scared or lack in interest, I just never got around to it.
Once quarantine began, I figured it was high time to finally check the entire series out. Alien 3 Producer’s Cut was a fun time, Alien Resurrection was….a movie.
But the first two….those first two films are absolutely masterful. The original Alien is a genuinely terrifying horror sci-fi movie, that makes great use of its limited location. Its sequel blew the doors wide open not only in terms of spectacle but in scope as well. It was easy to see why both are highly lauded as such classics, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t check them out sooner.
6. The Before Trilogy
This next discovery wouldn’t have been possible thanks to the incredible generosity of fellow GateCrashers writer Amir M. So, thanks homie.
The Before Trilogy, directed by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, had been on my radar for years. Each film focuses on our main characters, Jesse and Celine, wax poetic about love, life, and all other kinds of philosophical topics over the course of one night, with a nine-year time span between each film. What makes the films so interesting is how the characters’ viewpoints change over time. We see them grow as characters and their viewpoints change. This can be especially noticed in the second film, Before Sunset. Gone are the idealistic twentysomethings, and instead we get to see their viewpoints from a jaded and cynical perspective (having this come out three years after 9/11 probably had an influence here).
The films are all genuine masterpieces and not a weak link in the bunch. The Criterion Collection put out this GORGEOUS box set with all three films that are absolutely worth your money.
So I’ll be honest right now: I don’t have easy access to HBO. Because of this, most of the shows that people heap endless praise on to no end I usually have to wait until at least until the local library gets them. With Watchmen, I bypassed all that and just bought the Blu-Ray directly. The idea that Damon Lindelof (of Lost and The Leftovers fame) was gonna “remix” the groundbreaking graphic novel was enough to warrant the purchase.
Just…..wow. This may well be one of the greatest pieces of superhero media I’ve ever seen. This miniseries not only expands on the source material and its ideas, but also takes it in fascinating new directions. The idea of framing it around the Tulsa Massacre and the idea that vigilantes work as part of a task force is such an interesting one. Watching this right around the time of the George Floyd riots felt eerily relevant, especially when seeing the image of cops using masks to protect their identity. Lindelof and crew managed to perfectly balance so many relevant and cultural topics, while also delivering some genuinely good superhero satire. Could honestly see why the hype was so justifiable.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (IDW)
Like BOOM’s Power Rangers, the IDW Turtles run was something I’ve heard nothing but praise about, but never had the chance to get into until now. What I really love about it thus far is how it maintains some of the grounded reality that the original black and white run brought in, but gives it a modern sensibility.
I also love how Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, and Bobby Curno not only introduce all these new characters, but give different twists on old classics (Hun being Casey’s dad, Casey himself being a struggling college student, the Purple Dragons, and Krang being a benevolent war dictator, to name a few). I also love the idea of the Turtles not being perfect, especially Leo. His struggle to regain his humanity after being brainwashed by Shredder is a fascinating arc to see him go through.
Like Rangers, I’m genuinely excited by what comes next, especially with how mature this comic keeps getting, and how seriously it treats the source material.
3. The Last Dance
I’m not the biggest sports guy. I used to swim a long time ago, yes. But I never really followed other sports that well, especially basketball. I just knew that if the team I like getting the ball in the hoop, then go team goes. However, I did grow up knowing that Michael Jordan was one of the biggest people of all time. And yet, I still didn’t know how much of an impact he had on the sport and the world.
This documentary captivates you with that story from the word go. It felt so accessible and easy to get into for those like myself who knew very little of the sport. Not only does it present Michael as the man, myth, and legend, it also presents his teammates and how they impacted Michael’s final season. Legends like Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman have really interesting histories themselves. It was great to hear their stories and how they’re woven into this greater dynasty.
Also, there’s an episode that features behind-the-scenes footage of the cinematic masterpiece known as Space Jam. 10/10 best documentary ever.
2. The Last of Us Part II
Yes, I know everything under the sun has already been said about this game, especially in a negative sense. The story gets too dark and convoluted, the gameplay is the same as all the other Naughty Dog games, the characters aren’t that interesting, the twists are too stupid yada yada yada.
However, I think what makes a game so impactful and memorable if you’re able to think about it for days on end after the credits roll. If a game can make you do that after you’ve finished, then it’s done a great job. However, there are those rare games where you think about it MONTHS after you played it. To me, that’s when a game hits masterpiece status, and TLOU2 has hit that status.
While I understand a few of the criticisms mentioned above, (especially about how downright taxing this gets emotionally), I think this game is incredible. It still gives you so much to think about. The idea of how far one will go to satisfy their revenge, and what happens when you get said revenge. Do the actions you take justify in the long run? I think this game explores that concept beautifully, and I genuinely do like the writing. The acting here is TOP NOTCH, and this game is GORGEOUS to look at.
As I said, if a game can still make you think on it for months at a time, it’s hit masterpiece status. And one other game that did that masterfully is…
1. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
This might be the most emotionally rewarding game I’ve played all year. Taking an admittedly simplistic story and adding this idea of mental sickness and psychosis adds so many layers to it. The game even begins with a warning that lets you know that experts in the field of psychosis helped with this game. In massive letters towards the beginning, the game tells you, “If you let the rot spread, you will die permanently.”
The game becomes less about the story and more about caring for our protagonist. We feel for every bit of Senua’s journey and for her as a person. You become protective about what happens, feeling with her at lows, and cheering at her absolute triumphs. The ending of this game might be one of the few times I’ve absolutely cried at a video game. To say much more would be spoiling the experience, but I would HIGHLY recommend playing this with headphones.
There’s supposed to be a sequel coming out for the Xbox Series X, and I can not WAIT to see where Senua goes next.
So, yeah, even though this year was an absolute dumpster fire, at least it gave way to some absolutely great discoveries and moments. Here’s hoping 2021 will be a better, brighter year.
Unless we, like, you know, get invaded by underground crab people. Then it’s game over.