Ramble No 68: 2018 Retrospective – top watching

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It’s coming toward the end of the year and it’s time for some of those retrospective rambles lamenting where all the time went. But I know where it went – I spent it watching a heap of films (around 110 in fact), hours of TV, hours of gaming, reading around 65 books, and very little writing my next book.

In this post I talk around some of the best things I’ve watched this year. Every film or TV show comes highly recommended and I’ve provided some links to older posts where I might have talked about them in more detail.

My top 5 films that I’ve seen this year are:

  1. Thor Ragnarok
  2. Avengers: Infinity War
  3. Ready Player One
  4. A Ghost Story
  5. The Shape of Water

It strikes me as highly amusing that in the equivalent retrospective post I wrote at the end of 2017 I had this to say about comic book films:

“… my love affair with comic book superheroes is on the wane. I think the market (let’s call it what it is) is super-saturated and I’ve not seen any news iterations from the Marvel or DC stables that have really blown me away.”

Well, let me tell you that Thor Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War really blew me away. The Thor film was funny, exciting and visually great, and Infinity War was a close second – how they managed to give all the MCU heroes moments in the spotlight was a great feat of screenwriting. I’m not falling over myself to know more about Endgame but it feels Marvel Studios has certainly turned a corner in terms of the way their latest films have been written, with Black Panther and Ant-Man and the Wasp also being pretty solid instalments in the franchise.

Not seeing Ready Player One at the cinema when it was theatrically released is one of my regrets of the year. More chock full of Easter eggs than a supermarket after Christmas, it was geek-fest of the highest order and specifically aimed I think at my age group more than any other. The sequences involving The Shining were audacious and huge thrill for me since it’s one of my favourite Stephen King adaptations.

A Ghost Story was an entirely different kettle of fish to the first three films in my list. A quiet, understated story with one central premise that stayed with me for weeks after I had seen it on Netflix. Once you get over the fact that the man character is a guy with a sheet over his head it’s a lovely slow-paced film.

The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s quadruple Oscar-winner was a joy to watch. The story is one of the love between a mute cleaner (Sally Hawkins) and an amphibian man (Doug Jones) held against his will in a military laboratory. It’s an adult fairytale so there’s a need to suppress some of the questions that might naturally arise and if you can do this, then you’re in for a great ride. Time passed strangely while I was watching it; before I knew it  two hours had passed and I was left thinking ‘wow!’.

Honourable mentions go to Bohemian Rhapsody more for its massive entertainment power than its accurate portrayal of facts and It for being bloody scary despite me knowing pretty much what was going to happen – as The Beatles would say ‘having read the book’.

Top 5 TV shows I’ve seen this year:

  1. Narcos (Netflix)
  2. The Vietnam War: A film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novik (Netflix)
  3. Taskmaster (on Dave)
  4. The Man in the High Castle Season 3 (Amazon)
  5. Maniac (Netflix)

Narcos is the story of drug traffickers in Colombia, Pablo Escobar in particular, and then also in Mexico in the recently released Narcos: Mexico. The fact that’s it’s based mostly on real-life happenings set against a back-drop of America’s war on drugs gives it an extra edge. The show reaches Godfather-like levels in its portrayal of the machinations of the driven characters as they build their empires under the noses of the DEA frustrated by corrupt police and government officials.

The Vietnam War is a stunningly well-constructed and super-educational documentary shown over 10 long episodes. It’s everything you need to know to understand the Vietnam war from a multitude of viewpoints (79 interviewees from various allegiances) and acknowledge it’s significance in shaping the USA through several decades.

Taskmaster couldn’t be more different – a British comedy show on Dave in which five comedians are set fun tasks, usually completed individually or in teams, by task master Greg Davies with the help of little Alex Horne (of The Horne Section). They compete over each season to earn the highest score and win a golden bust of Davies’s head in the final episode. It’s comedy gold and quite possibly the funniest thing on TV in the UK.  Here’s a typical (short and simple) task:

Season 3 of The Man in the High Castle was the best one yet with something of significance happening in every episode. The idea of ‘travelers’ (those who can move from one parallel reality to another in the multiverse) is fleshed out. A couple of important characters get the chop and the Nazi’s special project is revealed – perhaps stealing some thunder from Mr Robot Season 4 if the fan-theories are to be believed.

Sci-fi comedy drama Maniac appealed to me in so many ways, not least because the subject of mental health is combined with AI and virtual realities. Emma Stone and Jonah Hill are excellent as the main characters who enter into a drug trial to try and fix their brains. The supporting cast in the form of Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina), Justin Theroux and Sally Field are also great.

Honourable mentions should also go out to the hugely funny James Acaster – Repertoire on Netflix, the BBC’s breathtaking nature show Dynasties, the clever dark comedy show Inside No. 9 on BBC (again) and the BBC’s sometimes melancholy fishing show Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing (I’ll have more to say about Mortimer in a later post before the end of the year). I also watched Amazon’s Mr Robot seasons one to three again (this time with Siggy) which was great, and of course the awesome Game of Thrones.

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