2020 has been pretty rough, but there was still plenty to be thankful for–especially in the world of pop culture. For your reading enjoyment, some of the AIPT staff share their favorite things from otherwise awful year.
It was a great year to be a Star Wars fan. We got a proper final season to The Clone Wars that concluded in the most powerful and appropriately heartbreaking way imaginable. As if that weren’t good enough, we’re right in the middle of The Mandalorian’s second season that has so far been even better than the first.
For us toy collectors, Hasbro has finally started paying attention to the 3.75” Vintage Collection again. In addition to some fantastic new releases (like the ARC Trooper 3-pack), we also got a Haslab campaign for the Razor Crest (the Mandalorian’s ship) that ended up being their most successful project to date.
Combine that with all the great Marvel Legends Hasbro has put out, and there’s plenty of cool plastic to fill our shelves heading into 2021.
This year also gave us some phenomenal book-to-television adaptations, many of which were based on some of my all-time favorites. HBO knocked it out of the park with Stephen King’s The Outsider and Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country. In both cases, the best parts of the source material were retained and enhanced by surprisingly good/inspired alterations. It also looks like both series will be getting a second season, which should be all types of fun to watch.
With Watchmen, HBO took the original story and created a sequel that was way better and more socially relevant than anyone expected. Also, they had the guts to show the psychic squid that the movie thought wouldn’t work on screen.
My favorite book adaptation, however, was AMC’s NOS4A2. Joe Hill’s novel of the same name is one of my all time favorites, but I never thought it would work on screen (especially on basic cable). Then showrunner Jami O’Brien went and made the two-season television series even better.
As someone who normally dislikes the changes movies and television make to their source material, it was a real treat to see it done successfully with such great stories.
On the comic side of things, Nailbiter (my favorite comic series) is back with Nailbiter Returns…although it might have some competition for that title from another Image Comics title. The Department of Truth took a premise that could have been predictably interesting and turned it into something even better and more terrifying.
I also managed to snag one of the first 100 of those nifty Department of Truth pins that author James Tynion made. Considering that I always miss out on that type of stuff, I’ll consider getting some merch related to what’s ended up being one of my favorite comics a definite win.
Many film fests were understandably scaled back in 2020. Genre fests led the way with the Chattanooga Film Fest, Fantasia, and Fantastic Fest doing their best to recapture the festival feel through a virtual world. They provided film fans some many needed hours to get away from the Hell that was this year.
Many genre movies stood out this year. La Llorona and Impetigore have been submitted by Guatemala and Indonesia respectively to the Academy Awards for best International Feature. Lucky used the language of horror to tell a strong story about domestic violence. Films like Hunted took the old rape and revenge plots of the 1970s and actually made them watchable. Dinner in America was a fantastic coming of age story and Mandibles was one of the funniest movies of the year. In short, there was something tremendous for everyone.
Feeling like we’re living in a horror movie during this global pandemic, I actually consumed a load of horror media as a way to escape myself as whilst AIPT did their 31 Days of Halloween (which I took part in), I did my own personal 31 Days where I watched familiar horror movies like The Shining to newbies like Saint Maud (a strong contender for my Film of the Year).
Due to lockdown causing many cinemas being closed down, I didn’t see as many films as I would have liked to have seen–though I managed to see Tenet on IMAX, delighting my Christopher Nolan fandom.
Staying home during this time, I got to binge a number of shows including Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Disney+. Following The Rise of Skywalker, which left me in a frustrated state, I’ve been looking for anything that reignited my Star Wars fandom. Committed to watching all seven seasons, there were certainly ups and downs, but that final season ended on a high note that was definitely tragic, but I could not have been more happy.
The biggest thrill I got was playing the long-awaited The Last of Us Part II, released on the PS4, one week after the PS5 reveal. As a fan of its masterful predecessor, the storytelling decisions behind this game were no doubt shocking and generated plenty of controversy.
Apart from just being an incredible piece of survival horror gameplay, it is both a personal tale of revenge told through two perspective. An epic exploration towards the greyish morality within a post-apocalyptic world that began with a viral outbreak. It gives us answers we may not like, but we need these stories that challenge us and there may still be snobbery, in terms of negating video games in general being an art form, but with both parts of The Last of Us, video games shouldn’t be treated as a lesser form.
What a tough year, but when it comes to entertainment there has been respite in a lot of different TV shows and comics. Aside from revisiting comfort-food content like Back to the Future and Indiana Jones I rediscovered Star Trek The Next Generation. I watched it starting in season 3 or 4 with my mom growing up, but never watched it in order starting with episode 1. What a hopeful show revealing humanity can act rationally, calmly, and with incredible empathy. It’s a show that has given me a little hope for us all.
Adding to those feel good vibes, Ted Lasso has been an incredible find that I didn’t expect to love. I’m not a sports guy, nor do I care for soccer, but Jason Sudeikis’ American football coach with a big heart brings so much good vibes to Britain. It’s one of the most feel-good shows you’ll ever see and it came at the perfect time to help sprinkle a little positive energy on us all.
Raised by Wolves is another show that has given me plenty to think about as it’s a puzzle-box sort of program making you ponder more questions than it gives answers.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that this year has me really thankful for streaming services. While 2020 saw the delay of many highly anticipated big screen releases, that’s made for more opportunities for smaller films and TV shows to shine. I also really doubt that we would have all been as fascinated by Netflix Originals like Tiger King if we hadn’t all been cooped up.
Netflix did come out with some top-notch releases too, though. Unorthodox, a 4 episode mini-series starring Shira Haas, told the moving story of a young woman fleeing to Berlin from an arranged marriage and her ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn with style and tension. Likewise, The Queen’s Gambit, a 7 episode mini-series starring Anya Taylor-Joy, featured an incredible performance, beautiful sets and costuming, and a gripping story about a young woman finding her way. Also on Netflix this year was Charlie Kaufman’s thought-provoking I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a welcome distraction that left me with just as many questions as answers.
For straight to streaming/VOD releases, there were some excellent directorial debuts this year. Zu Quirke’s Nocturne on Amazon Prime, Dave Franco’s The Rental, and Dean Kapsalis’s The Swerve were some of the best films of the year. Alex Garland’s science-fiction/thriller series, Devs, on Hulu, is the standout of that streaming service’s TV offerings this year. In contrast with the somber series about a mysterious tech company was Palm Springs, an unexpectedly fun science-fiction comedy starring Andy Samberg.
HBO came out with some excellent series this year; Raised by Wolves, The Watchmen, The Outsider, Industry, The Third Day, and The Undoing are all stellar, but the one that really stands out to me is Michaela Cole’s boundary pushing drama series I May Destroy You.
What I’d been looking forward to most this year, though, was Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time on Playstation 4. For a lifelong fan of the Crash Bandicoot franchise such as myself, this game is a dream. The vibrant graphics are incredible, and the game provides plenty of new challenges.
I’ve yet to beat it, but there’s still a little bit of 2020 left.
This year was marked by the end of a lot of shows and franchises that I enjoyed. Steven Universe ended for the third time, but really hit me this time around. The Skywalker Saga ended with mixed reactions, though I left the theater feeling mostly okay about it. But the hardest hitting finale for me was the finale to one of my all-time favorite television series, animated or not: BoJack Horseman.
A lot of people were upset about the show being cancelled by Netflix, but for me, six seasons is the perfect amount of seasons for any series. We saw characters fall in love, get married, get no-longer-married, discover their sexuality, discover parenthood, and face their inner demons.
This season was more of what we’ve come to expect from the show — great comedy with heartbreaking storytelling — only now it came with an overarching feeling of finality that adds a little more intensity to things. Relationships that fall apart with only a handful of episodes to spare feel so much more important because you know there will be no Season 7. With the writers making it clear that they wrote the season with its ending in mind, you have to deal with the fact that the status quo will not be returned to like an episode of Horsin’ Around.
One of my writing nightmares is having a project that I’m passionate about get flogged by my higher-ups, whether that means tearing it down before it gets going (e.g. the original Young Justice run) or having it be dragged on well past its expiration date (e.g. The Walking Dead, and I’m not sure if that’s a hot take). The fact that Netflix cut the show down at a solid six here and gave the writers an extra couple of episodes to end things right makes me incredibly happy. Even though there are loose ends that could be tied up, that makes this show — with its anthropomorphic animals all about — feel real to me.
If you haven’t, watch the show. I spent the month of October rewatching all six seasons, and aside from a rough-impression of a first episode, it’s so, so great.
Back in the spring, I got a free trial subscription to Shudder with my Blu-ray of The Color Out of Space — which also slaps (check out Nathaniel Muir’s review of it here). My plan was to use this brief window to check out a few indie gems I’d been looking forward to, like Blood Machines and Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street.
However, I quickly became a huge fan of Shudder’s original content, as well as its exhaustingly curated movie collections. Looking for old school slashers or creature features? They’ve got you covered. Interested in documentaries covering such wide-ranging topics as cursed films and the history of Black Americans in horror cinema? There’s a section for that, too.
Shudder’s content has weirdly become comfort food for me in the year 2020. I’ve always been a horror fan, but Shudder has found a way to appeal to different niches within the genre, and has in turn introduced me to so many movies I’d never have discovered, otherwise. Thanks to Shudder, I’ve been able to chase a long, anxious day with a campy dose of Vincent Price or an atmospheric Dario Argento film. Also, I’ve probably watched Blood Machines four times at this point, and the soundtrack has become my favorite album of the year. This may sound like a shill, but I’ve been so glad that I signed up for Shudder.
As a huge Cyclops fan, the last year of X-Men comics has been a bit of a letdown when it came to his characterization. X-Men: Marvels Snapshots #1 was the perfect Scott Summers comic, encompassing everything a Scott fan could possibly wish for. Edidin’s writing is superb and Reilly’s pencils are perfect for the job. Perfect comics are hard to come by, but this one came pretty close.
X-Men/Fantastic Four was a mixed bag at times, but Chip Zdarsky’s witty writing was a great fit for the title, proving that if he ever wanted to write more of either teams, fans would certainly welcome his presence. Another big comic highlight was the recently-released X-Men #15. Not only is Mahmud Asrar one of the best artists in the industry, but Hickman’s writing really shined –and he finally delivered on providing an excellent Cyclops moment in the current era.
It’s certainly an exciting end to the 2020 landscape for the X-Men, leaving me (and probably many other X-Men fans) excited and hopeful for what’s to come.
Outside of the X-Men comics-sphere, Ta-Nehsi Coates’ Captain America run has been a great one for Sharon Carter fans. Coates finally de-aged her after a seven-year plotline following her Dimension Z escapades–something Sharon fans have been clamoring for for a long time now. Power Pack #1 also came back, delighting my inner Power Pack fan with what I’d consider the best #1 all year. I truly can’t praise the issue enough.
In the video game landscape, two of my childhood faves came back, giving me Crash Bandicoot 4 and Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory. Crash captured all the charm of the original series, serving as a wonderful, long-awaited sequel. Melody of Memory filled my need for a great rhythm game since the heyday of Guitar Hero ended, answering some longstanding questions about the series and painting an exciting picture for where the series is headed.
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