This year has felt like it’s lasted ten years. The stress of an election year is now our daily life as we watch the government systematically undo everything the previous administration put into place. There’s almost nothing we could do this year, so its a good thing that our entertainment was at the top of its game this year.
If the world is going to end, let it be known that we were watching some of the best movies and tv, playing some of the best video games, on our way out. Top 10 lists are hard, and I had so much fun doing my year in review last year, so I’m back for another month by month look at my favorite pieces of storytelling in the year. I haven’t watched everything, so if your fave isn’t here I apologize, but hopefully the ungodly amount of pop culture I consume will be enough.
Come on 2018, keep up the momentum.
A Series of Unfortunate Events Adapted the Books Right
Netflix’s adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s book series is playful. The production design gives the series a sense of unreality that lets you buy into the more outlandish elements of the books. The casting breathes life into, and diversifies, characters seen before in the 2004 movie. It adds a new conspiracy plot that lets you be surprised even if you’ve read the books. But more than all of that, they let you feel the despair of the Baudelaire’s when you think Will Arnett and Colbie Smulder’s “Father and Mother” are coming for the children, only to learn they were never their parents at all. But hey, at least we get Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket so that’s nice!
The Good Place Dropped a Twist Literally Nobody Saw Coming
In case you’ve somehow avoided the twist in this series, leave now and catch up, because for once to spoil it here is to rob you of the experience of discovery. When Eleanor realized in The Good Place’s first season finale that she and her friends were actually in the Bad Place all along it re-contextualized everything that came before. That the episode ended with Michael’s heel turn and wiping of our heroes memories was even harder to process. Season two couldn’t come fast enough, because nobody knew where the series would go next. Hint, it’s later on this list.
Split is a Straightforward Shyamalan Thriller, Until the Final Moment Changes Everything
I didn’t plan for the first couple titles on this list to be so spoiler-centric but here we are. The resurrection of M. Night Shyamalan’s career continued this year with Split, where three girls are kidnapped by James McAvoy who has multiple split personalities. The ones in control summon his secret persona, the beast, who has actual super-strength among other crazy powers and a taste for human flesh. But the real kicker comes in the final moments of the film when several people in a Philly diner watch the news report on this. Finally landing on a shot of Bruce Willis, as David Dunn from Unbreakable. The twist was it was a shared universe the whole time! Bring on Glass, the upcoming crossover sequel.
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is the Dumbest (for the Best) Action Movie of the Year
Within the first five minutes this movie teaches you logic doesn’t apply here. From there Vin Diesel skis down a tropical mountain, rides a motorcycle that turns into a jetski, and somehow decides massive fur coats are still in style. They took everything they learned from the Fast & Furious movies to build off two so-so action movies and make one beast of an action movie for the world’s greatest hype man (of himself). Don’t worry about the plot. You’re not here for the plot. You’re here to watch a lot of ass-kickers (Donnie Yen! Tony Jaa!) kick a lot of ass.
Riverdale Premiered and So Did My Podcast
I knew Riverdale was coming, but nobody could have anticipated it becoming such a runaway success so quickly. I started a podcast recapping it with my friend Kaitlin because we though we would enjoy it, but it turned out Archie Andrews and his friends in a dark murder mystery was something we were all looking for. Between the cruelly attractive cast, sumptuous color pallet, and the dangerous levels of haze in Riverdale, the show grabbed onto us and has kept us with it throughout the rest of the year.
Jane the Virgin Broke All Of Our Hearts
When Michael survived a gunshot at the start of season three of Jane the Virgin, we thought we were out of the woods. It turned out the show just wanted to save his death so it would hurt that much more. While the characters in the show got to jump ahead three years to overcome the loss of Michael, the rest of us are still coming to terms with the death of the beloved character.
Legion Arrived as the X-Men Series for the Psychedelics Crowd
I had personally sworn off the entire X-Men franchise after X-Men: Apocalypse, but peer pressure got me to check this show out and I’m so glad I did. With a lead played by Dan Stevens who can’t tell the difference between schizophrenia and actual mutant powers, Legion plays with how superpowers can be portrayed, especially the age old psychic mind fight. Finally we get one better than two people screaming at each other, the only difference is this one takes a full season and requires a lot of help from friends. Amid all of this the standout winds up being Aubrey Plaza’s best performed character to date.
The Lego Batman Movie Takes the Piss Out of the Caped Crusader
When Will Arnett’s Lego Batman dropped into 2014’s excellent The Lego Movie, we were finally treated to a version of the character willing to make fun of his own absurdity. Thankfully Then Lego Batman doubled down on all of that, giving us literally every single Batman villain no matter how ridiculous, insane visuals and bat themed vehicles, and somehow within all of that the touching story of a man growing to accept the family he has made for himself. That and admitting the Joker is the true love of his life.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is, Bar None, the Best Action Movie of the Year
Usually when a sequel is just a bigger version of the first that’s a detriment. Not so for John Wick, where they’ve discovered the secret might be to diversify more. New kinds of fights, including a demolition derby and a shootout in a mirror maze. New standout characters like Common’s Cassian and Lawrence Fishburne’s Bowery King. With a deeper look into the series mythology, but the same rules, this second outing brought us to an end so huge Chapter 3 can’t come soon enough. Plus no dogs die in this one!
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Declared War
Rebecca was so close. But then again she always is. In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s second season finale she was about to marry Josh Chan when he ran off to become a priest. In the wake of that Rebecca found comfort in her friends and decided that “Josh Chan must be destroyed.” Finally the cycle was complete and the show was bound for another massive shift in its direction. Somehow amid dragons and zombies, this little show about a woman in desperate need of diagnosis was one of the most exciting shows on TV.
This Is Us Did What It Does Best in “Memphis”
We all knew Ron Cephas Jones’s William was dying from the very first episode, but that didn’t help when he passed away at the end of this episode entirely focused on Randall and him. The story of a man trying to make peace with his long life before he passed away was touching to say the least. That he took the son he barely knows along for all of it is what made it truly special. Well that and the fact that Sterling K. Brown is one of the most emotionally engaged actors currently working in television. It was hard coming back for the next episode after the emotional journey this one took us on.
Agents of SHIELD Proved You Can’t Trust Anyone
Stony Stark first mentioned Life Model Decoys in The Avengers, but it wasn’t until season four of Agents of SHIELD that one actually arrived. Aida quickly propagated until suddenly most of the cast was replaced with evil doppelgangers. The last humans in SHIELD had to fight their way out of their base, trusting no one, in the most thrilling episode the series has ever produced. SHIELD found new life over this year by changing the rhythm of its seasons to allow for multiple separate arcs instead of one big villain for the year, and it was all the better for it.
Get Out is the Most Important Movie of the Year
No seriously. If you haven’t seen Get Out then you are part of the problem. The movie from Jordan Peele came out and said everything about race that’s been bubbling under our society for years. It made me rethink my own actions and choices in a way I would have been uncomfortable with, had the movie not also been massively entertaining. This is one you really need to see with a crowd of all races because you’ll all be reacting to the moments differently. This one will be a part of pop culture for a long time. Now you’re in the sunken place.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a Great Concept Refined by Excellent Gameplay
A post-apocalyptic cavewoman takes on robotic dinosaurs in an effort to discover who she is and how the world actually ended. Just about any gamer could be brought on with that statement alone, but the fact that the game is just so much fun to play is what makes it great. Tracking, trapping, and fighting the robotic beasts that have overrun the world is so much fun here that you’ll be bummed out when you have to take on humans. This game could have been the game of the year, if not for the game next on this list.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s Magnum Opus
This is the game that sold the Nintendo Switch. A Legend of Zelda game (arguably Nintendo’s best franchise) without boundaries, both in its world and its gameplay. Puzzles that can be completed multiple ways and a set of tools that allow for boundless creativity make this game truly special. You’re set loose on a whole continent with only one goal. Eventually you have to take on Ganon. Otherwise, do what you want. It’s an incredible achievement that cannot be understated. It’s also the only game on this list I haven’t played! Yet.
Logan Encapsulates Everything We Feel About Wolverine
I’ve already written about this movie, but it’s worth mentioning how this superhero-western totally disregards the continuity of the X-Men films and entirely runs on the core ethos of Wolverine as a character. It doesn’t matter what did or didn’t happen in the timeline. Wolverine is wolverine and that’s all you need to know. Add in X-23 for the best gory action in a comic book movie this side of Deadpool and you get the best finale Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine could ask for. If this is the future of the X-Men films, disregarding continuity in favor of story (and just looking at The New Mutants this seems likely) then things are starting to get interesting.
Kong: Skull Island Gives You the Damn Monkey
The biggest complaint I heard about 2014’s Godzilla was that it withheld the King of Monsters for too long. Well Kong: Skull Island, part two of Legendary’s Monsterverse, gives you King Kong within the first five minutes. From there the feature length allegory for the Vietnam war gives you all the needle drops, John C. Reilly, and beautifully vibrant and colorful money shots you could ask for. Kong: Skull Island is just a solid giant monster movie with Tom Hiddleston running around in the tightest shirt possible. They know. They checked.
Trial and Error was the Best Comedy You Missed This Year
Trial & Error premiered on NBC in March and proceeded to burn off two episodes a week until the season was done. They tried to bury it, and I won’t allow that. The series was delightful with tons of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it jokes, fantastic runners, and one woman with so many specific syndromes its a wonder she’s alive at all. John Lithgow is phenomenal as a man who can’t stop looking guilty of murder, but it’s important to note the whole cast here is on fire. If you didn’t catch this series when it came out it’s all on Hulu now and, thankfully, there is a season two coming next year.
Iron Fist was the Worst Defender (Series)
Sigh. Iron Fist could have been great. It could have been built around great martial arts fights. It could have had an Asian American lead. It could have been weird and mystical. Basically, it could have been Into The Badlands. Instead it’s the blandlands (I’m not proud). There are two fights across thirteen episodes that stand out, the mythology doesn’t get interesting until the back four or five, and it muddles The Hand so much they stop making sense at all by The Defenders. Iron Fist’s showrunner would go on to create Inhumans. He has not repented for any of this as of yet.
Mass Effect: Andromeda Misses the Mark by a Whole Galaxy
The fourth Mass Effect title attempted to sidestep the definitive ending Mass Effect 3 gave the franchise by telling a story about people who left our galaxy right before things got crazy. However, in crafting a story about exploration the game loses the best part about the original series, the well developed society of the galaxy. Most races are removed and all of the history the rest shared is swept under the rug so you can relentlessly kill the first alien race you meet in the Andromeda galaxy. Yes, they’re evil, but so were the Geth and we at least attempted to get to know them.
Supergirl & The Flash Teamed Up for a Musical Episode
In an altogether shoddy season of The Flash, this musical crossover with Supergirl was the pick-me-up everyone needed. It’s not great, in fact most of the songs are covers, but the Rachel Bloom penned “Super Friend” is worth the price of admission. Both shows were bursting with musical talent from the moment their casts were announced, which is why fans had been demanding this episode. I’m not sure if those fans wanted it to be set inside of a movie musical but hey, whatever cuts costs. Besides, the Music Meister was the villain, and he was played by Darren Criss!
Arrow Slowed Down for One Long Brutal Interrogation
In which Oliver Queen admits he just really likes killing. “Kapiushon” is a brutal episode where Oliver is beaten and broken until he stops lying to himself and admits just that. Luckily the subdued present is made up for by an action packed flashback in which Oliver truly becomes The Hood for the first time. In a staggeringly good comeback season, it’s heartening to see a superhero show break from its usual rhythms and tells a very different story, and one that examines its lead so closely no less.
Power Rangers Morphed Into a Good Teen Drama, Okay Superhero Movie
As a longtime Power Rangers fan, I had basically accepted this one would be bad when I went to see it. That’s why I was so surprised to find myself vibing so well with it, but mostly as a breakfast club type teen drama. When it came to all of the iconic elements associated with Power Rangers, they didn’t appear until the final half hour and did not do nearly enough. This movie bombed in China too, which means it’s unlikely it will get the sequel it desperately needs. That being said, keep an eye on the five leads from this one. I expect they’ll all be getting good work in the years to come.
13 Reasons Why Made Us Confront Teen Suicide
13 Reasons Why is a hard watch as an adult. It’s hard to get into that mindset of a teenager and objectively judge acts that, to our eyes, aren’t a the big of a deal. But they were enough to break Hannah Baker. Still, I found myself yelling at the screen during the final episode, furious more than anything that Hannah put all of the blame for her death on everyone around her and none on herself for now seeking out the help she most desperately needed. Despite any problems I had with Hannah’s story, however, Clay’s is excellent. I for one am very excited to see where his leads in season two.
Rick and Morty Surprised Us All on April Fool’s Day
After an agonizing wait for season three, Adult Swim randomly started airing the season premiere over and over again on April Fool’s Day. A joke that’s also a reward, either you believed somebody when they told you and tuned in or you missed it and found out it was real the next day. In one episode Rick and Morty blazed through the cliffhanger they had ended season two on . and created the huge McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce meme. Which of course boiled into awful fans screaming at McDonald’s employees. Because Rick and Morty fans are kind of the worst. Anyway, speaking of shows with long hiatuses…
Attack on Titan Returned After a Four Year Hiatus
Attack on Titan was the breakout anime hit of 2013, but high production costs mixed with a fairly new studio forced the series to take a long break before coming back with season two. Both a blessing and a curse, season two had better pacing, more horror elements, and tons of reveals, but by the same token the audience was significantly smaller. One thing it kept in common with season one, however, was an excellent theme song. Happily a season three is in production and will come out next year.
Persona 5 Has More Style in its Battle Menu Than Most Games in their Entire Runtime
Persona 5 already has a cool concept. What if you could enter conceptual space and actually fight people’s perverted desires? Their greed, pride, and lust? But Atlus’s game decided to build on by putting effort into every aspect of the game. The menus, targeting, and animations all stand out from the crowd in a game that feels like you’re playing an anime. Although this is the fifth in a franchise, each game is self contained and stands on their own. That being said, this is also the last one and a great high note to go out on.
Agents of SHIELD Became Agents of Hydra In An Artificial Reality
Nobody could have predicted that the season that began with Ghost Rider would pull off an extended riff on The Matrix. Our heroes are logged into The Framework, an artificial reality where Hydra reigns supreme and Inhumans are corralled and killed. Most of the cast can’t remember their old lives and the show found yet another excuse to bring Grant Ward back. The arc played a lot on the rise of nationalism in our society and aped a most of the president’s talking points. Ironically, the Marvel comics did a similar arc on paper and it was nowhere as good. All because it forgot something very simple:
Call a Nazi a Nazi.
Colossal is a Different Kind of Giant Monster Movie
Anne Hathaway’s refusal to be typecasted in her career continues in this film where she plays an alcoholic who returns home to discover that, at the right time and place, she can control a giant monster in Seoul, South Korea. And that’s not even the biggest (hah!) twist in the movie. It’s a surprisingly small scale (somebody stop me) story with deep and complex characters who’s conflicts just happen to play out on an impossibly grand stage. It’s crazy that both this and Kong could come out the same year, be so different, but both be good.
Your Name Raises the Bar for Anime Films
Another film I’ve already dedicated an entire piece to, Your Name technically came out in 2016 but didn’t get any US distribution until this year which is all the excuse I need to put it here. With beautiful composition and animation, phenomenal music, and simple but relatable characters, Your Name tells a grand and epic story you might not expect from a body swapping story. It’s now the highest grossing anime of all time, and rightly so. Hopefully we’ll see more like this in the years to come.
iZombie Fed Major Teenage Girl Brain
In iZombie, the zombies take on personality traits of whomever’s brain they consume. Liv has become a dominatrix, a school teacher, and a bro. But in season 3 Major was officially a zombie, and the show gave a gift none of us knew we needed. Major on teenage girl brain, with all of the selfies, starbucks, and insecurities that comes with. Robert Buckley got to swing big and walk away with the whole episode. He may have been cured of the zombie virus partway through the season, but we’ll always have this.
The Fate of the Furious Needs to Turn the Engine Over
Let’s be clear, this movie and franchise are amazing, from Vin Diesel driving an exploding junker in Cuba to Vin Diesel being surrounded by his friend’s cars to protect him from an entirely different explosion on an ice field. But something was off this time around, be it the absence of Paul Walker or the obvious beef between The Rock and Vin (an apparent candy ass). F8 may add the Scott Eastwood nobody wanted, but the series needs to fundamentally shift (I’m not planning these) what it is to continue being the juggernaut it is. Last time they did that, they produced Fast Five, still the best in the franchise.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 Returned Us to the Satellite of Love
Mystery Science Theater was off the air for decades, but the Netflix revival didn’t miss a beat. Everything still feels refreshingly cheap, even with real money and a cast of far more experienced actors at the forefront. The jokes come faster now, a little more ADD for the internet crowd, but the idea remains the same. A man and two robots have to watch the worst movies, and the only thing keeping them and you sane are the excellent riffs they make throughout. That’s all anybody could ask for.
The Handmaid’s Tale Showed How It All Comes Crumbling Down
Easily the most harrowing series of the year, The Handmaid’s Tale’s third episode stands out. It’s flashbacks detailing how a complicit populace allowed the world to change, it’s present shows how a handmaid could be saved by the mere idea of being pregnant, but it’s real power comes through in Ofglen’s story. Alexis Bledel gives the performance of her career as she’s stripped of everything when the government learns she’s gay, then has to watch (as we do), when he lover is taken and hanged in one long painful “how did they do that” shot.
American Gods Began a Road Trip for the Ages
Two men drive across the country, one is driving for the other, and along the way they keep on meeting supernatural people who claim to be gods of myth, legend, and religion. Neil Gaiman’s book is expertly brought to life by showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green with incredible production design, cinematography, and an absolutely stacked cast. Even from episode one it’s clear this series will be special. Though both showrunners are off the series for season two, hopefully it can continue being just as good.
The 100 Rang the Bell in a Battle Royale
The 100 found its focus again in season four by pitting its heroes against an impossible to fight enemy; the literal apocalypse. Instead they sought a means to survive, but once they found a bunker capable of keeping a small selection of people alive it had to be decided which human tribe would take it. That led to the conclave, where Octavia had to take on, and defeat, the warriors from the twelve other grounder tribes. It’s an exceptional episode that takes her character full circle from the girl hiding under the floorboards, to the girl using that skill to win and save everybody underground.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Grows the Team Both Emotionally and Literally
James Gunn clearly understands his characters on a deep emotional level. They always feel consistent and that’s a strength, the problem with this sequel is not everything is conveyed to the audience so they get it like he does. With a meandering middle, a not great Ravagers subplot, and jokes that don’t land as well as you’d hope, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 still shines in its incredible final act. It’s the movie unafraid to end on a shot of a crying raccoon then give you FIVE scenes in the credits.
Sense8, The Gayest Show on TV, Got the Cluster Back Together
After last year’s single Christmas special, Sense8 finally came back for a proper season two. The plot was still weird and nonsensical but when the cluster came together for a party nothing else mattered. Lito came out and the show went to pride, Wolfgang met another Sense8 and we got to see what two clusters fighting looks like, and Sun hunted her brother down like the terminator. All hope seemed lost when, after the finale, Netflix pulled the plus on the admittedly very expensive series, but good things do happen in this world. Sense8 will be getting a two hour finale next year.
Riverdale’s First Season Ended with an Epic Climax on a Frozen Lake
Riverdale turned in a solid first season, but it really brought its A game when, in the season finale, the gang has to save Cheryl Blossom from drowning herself in the frozen over Sweetwater river. I have no idea how they intended to keep everyone safe on this shoot but KJ Apa acted so hard here he actually broke his hand punching through the ice and Madelaine Petsch was actually dangerously freezing by the end. From there it seemed unlikely the show could hit harder, but it did the surprise shooting of Fred Andrews in Pop’s diner.
Master of None Came Back for a Sumptuous Second Season
When season one ended with Dev flying to Italy, I wondered how the series would avoid the cost of filming there. It turns out they just didn’t, and the first couple episodes of the season are entirely shot on location internationally. In fact, the premiere is an extended homage to The Bicycle Thief filmed in black and white. Other standouts of the season are the multiple short stories of New York, I Love You and the multiple time periods of the Emmy winning Thanksgiving. Just about the only thing that wasn’t adored about this season was the central love story.
Alien: Covenant is a Testament on Life, Worship, and Autonomy Wrapped in a Monster Movie
Look, at a certain point you’re either on board for Michael Fassbender teaching a second Michael Fassbender to play the recorder or you’re not. If you are, then you’ll like Alien: Covenant’s story of horribly unprepared colonists landing on the wrong planet and encountering David from Prometheus, all so he can use them to invent the Xenomorph. It’s his story, his first moments where he met his creator and saw how pathetic he was, that’s driving this new trilogy. It’s the inevitable ending of this one that makes the prospect of the next so exciting.
12 Monkeys Used Time Travel to Air Its Third Season Across Three Days
In a strange new experiment, SyFy decided to air all of 12 Monkey’s third season in blocks across three days instead of weekly. One wonders if this was done to create a binging experience on TV but it ultimately shortchanged a pretty good season of TV. The high point of which would be a heist episode spear headed by the certifiably insane Jennifer Goines. Even more characters got in on the time travel action and reality even unraveled for a little bit (as these things do). The next season will be it’s last and hopefully after they fix time they can stop that stupid virus that started this whole thing.
Supergirl Ended its Second Season with Epic Fights and One Huge Sacrifice
In the first couple minutes of Supergirl’s second season, she defeats Superman. He may be brainwashed, but he clarifies he was fighting at full strength. She beat him. She’s stronger than him. The episode only builds from there to a rooftop final battle between Supergirl and Terri Hatcher. But it ends with our heroes irradiating the atmosphere for the invading Daxamites and Supergirl sending Mon-El, her true love, off planet so he could survive. Props where they’re due, the show spent the whole season making us love him only for this to happen, and it worked.
Arrow Cuts Ties with Its Flashbacks in One Big Explosion
Arrow’s fifth season was a fantastic return to form, but its finale which saw both the flashbacks and present converge on Lian Yu was truly the icing on the cake. Deathstroke came back to help Oliver while Black Siren stood with Prometheus against them. All leading up to the mother of all cliffhangers when the villain uses his final act to blow up every square inch of the island with nearly the entire principal cast on it. After five seasons and 10 years in the show, the time had come to move on from that place.
Wonder Woman is the Superhero Movie of the Moment and the Year
I still feel a rush when I watch Diana climb out to no man’s land. I still get excited when I hear her theme song. I still can’t entirely remember the final act. Wonder Woman was a movie a lot of people needed, a hero for women and the first (and only) good movie in the DC Extended Universe. The fact that it was great is owed in no small part to director Patty Jenkins, who’s WWI era superhero movie has a lot to say about the warlike nature of mankind and the power of love. In a year that began with the women’s march and ended with massive outcries against sexual harassment in the workplace, Wonder Woman was the perfect tentpole to stand in the summer.
My Hero Academia Showed Off in the Anime Fight of the Year
My Hero Academia followed up their first season with a tournament arc to start the second with added focus on Japan’s very own Prince Zuko, Shouto Todoroki. In episode ten of the second season, he and “Deku” Midoriya squared off in their tournament fight. It was more than a beautifully animated clash of powers, it was an emotional clash of ideals. Where many anime would take several episodes to cover this story, My Hero Academia did it in one, further cementing it as an adaptation done right. Even if you’ve never seen the show before, this fight could convince you to watch. It did for me.
The Leftovers Ended with a Beautifully Performed Understated Finale
Confession: I didn’t discover The Leftovers until this year, but now I would die for it. As a gripping series about belief, loss, and grief, it told stories no other series would go near. Whether in its first season about living in a small community where everyone has lost someone, its second about learning that there’s no such thing as a miracle, or its third about understanding the difference between the end of the world and the end of your world, the series knocked it out of the park over and over. Plus, my god, Justin Theroux is such a beef cake.
The Big Sick Makes You Want to Fall in Love
The true story of how Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon met and started dating is the rare case where a dinner story is entertaining enough to fuel a real movie. This one just happens to be a better romantic comedy than any released this year, with the very real problems of Kumail’s parents not allowing him to date a white girl, Emily’s terrifying mystery illness, and standout performances by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents. Their story will make you want a (much less dramatic) meet cute of your own.
GLOW Entered the Ring
A comedy series that’s a fictionalized version of the making of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling should have been a harder sell. But the amount of talent both in front of and behind the camera brought in a sizeable audience for this Netflix underdog. We knew Allison Brie would be great as Ruth, but it was Betty Gilpin’s amazing turn as Debbie that made the series soar, or at least leap gracefully off the wire and onto her opponent. By the time Debbie realizes wrestling is just a soap opera, the series will already have its hooks in you.
iZombie Blew Up Its Premise In Its Third Season Finale
It’s my own personal belief that after about three seasons, a series has to fundamentally change itself to remain fresh moving forward. Buffy did this by graduating from high school, Battlestar Galactica did this by revealing the final five Cylons, and now iZombie did this by revealing zombies to the entire world. The series will never be the same again, with tons of recurring characters now zombies and a new world order at hand. The question isn’t whether or now Liv and Detective Babineaux will get back to solving crime, it’s what will all of that look like now.
Baby Driver is an Action Movie with a Soundtrack Decades in the Making
It shouldn’t have taken this long for an action movie to be relentlessly timed to the beats of an extraordinarily well curated sound track, but thank god when it did happen it was directed by Edgar Wright. Kevin Spacey aside, the film is bursting with good talent and the action all stems from character. Those characters may be simple, but that allows the style of the movie to overtake everything, and let’s be honest that was always the selling point. Baby Driver starts with one of the best car chases (bar Mad Max) put to film and keeps on racing from there.
Doctor Who Fell as Two Masters and an Army of Cybermen Rose
Multiple iterations of The Doctor have met, but the season ten finale of Doctor Who market the first time multiple Masters have convened. John Simm’s scenery chewing evil matched with Michelle Gomez’s more conflicted evil, forcing her to choose between her old ways as The Doctor’s own attempts to sway her to good. It was a hell of a way for the 12th Doctor to go, completing his arc from someone who needed others to care for him to the man who would risk it all for a group of strangers. Not to mention Bill’s story, one of the most heart-wrenching ways a companion has departed.
Spider-Man: Homecoming Finds Peter Parker’s Place in the MCU
Spider-Man works best as a part of a greater whole. Instead of protecting all of New York, he protects the little guy in Queens. He also works best as a little guy from Queens, a teenager. Spider-Man: Homecoming recognized all of this and gave Peter Parker a fun coming of age story set against a superheroic backdrop. The movie has its flaws, most of them stemming from Tony Stark’s inclusion, but it makes up for them with a great villain turn by Michael Keaton as The Vulture. The film proved his appearances in Civil War weren’t dumb luck, Marvel just gets Spider-Man better than Sony.
War for the Planet of the Apes Concludes Caesar’s Story with Cinematic Majesty
Nobody could have predicted Charleton Heston’s monkey costume movie to eventually spawn the thinking man’s blockbuster. These last three Planet of the Apes movies built around Andy Serkis’s Caesar are marvels of performance, technology, and storytelling. With War for the Planet of the Apes they brought the full weight of Caesar’s life down on him to send him on a dangerous mission of revenge. Successfully mixing character based storytelling and continuing to change the world until it becomes that of the original is hard, yet these movies make it all look easy.
Dunkirk Keeps You on the Edge of Your Seat the Whole Runtime
Dunkirk is a stressful trip to the movies. Across three separate timelines, this epic wartime story plays out with a the constant sound of a ticking clock in the background. The Miracle at Dunkirk is a well known story in Britain but not in the US, which allowed us to see the story completely fresh. It surprised, it impressed, and it terrified, but most importantly it left a feeling of hope. Miracles are possible. That and a sense that Harry Styles is a much better actor than expected.
Atomic Blonde Gives Charlize Theron Her Own John Wick
The cold war era set Atomic Blonde is drowning in neon glow and period pop music, but its greatest strength is Charlize Theron, completely willing to throw herself into the action. The whole film comes together in an incredible long take fight that begins on a staircase and ends out on the street in a car, Charlize kicking ass the whole way. Oh, there’s also a plot but that’s not why you’re there. Extra props to James McAvoy, who has managed to use the shaved head X-Men forces him to have to easily look like a psychopath in his other roles.
Game of Thrones Gave Us the Moment We’ve Been Waiting Years For
A Song of Ice and Fire. Jon Snow was ice and Daenerys Targaryen was fire. Both of their stories were always the most removed from that of Westeros at large. Then in season seven, all of Westeros’s attention turned their way, and they turned to each other. Episode three saw them meet for the first time, something we had been waiting for since the beginning, but instead of getting along the meeting was tense. Luckily it didn’t turn bloody, and they spent the rest of the season bonding with each other. This episode also gets honorable mention for Olenna Tyrell telling Jamie Lannister she killed his son as she died. Olenna always wins.
Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later Closed the Circle
In yet another herculean feat of scheduling, (most of) the Wet Hot American Summer cast got back together to make good on their promise to return to Camp Firewood ten years later to see how they blossomed. In one of those cases, Bradley Cooper grew up to look like Adam Scott. There’s love, drama, resurrections, and a plot by Ex-President Ronald Reagan to destroy Camp Firewood altogether. The series may not be Wet Hot American Summer at its best, but it’s still a satisfying finale for the characters. #JaiBless
Orphan Black Ended Not With a Bang, But With the Terror of Normalcy
For the five years the Clone Club fought to survive against conspiracies (yes plural) to control them. In the end they got their freedom, but that’s when things get hard. In a moving finale, Sarah Manning has to learn to stop running and live a life. It’s her sisters who steady her, telling her about their own struggles with everyday life and raising children. Bringing Sarah full circle from where she was when the series began. She ran when she was alone, but now she had her family. Then the last lines of the series point out that the title makes no sense.
The Defenders Had Great Character Moments but a Weak Plot
The Hand is a mess as far as villains go. Their motivation is unclear as are their methods. Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra had simple interests; she wanted to live. But for the sake of a twist she’s dispatched before the final episodes and so is her simple motivation. Luckily Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist are all well drawn enough for their interactions to carry the series. If you didn’t like Iron Fist one episode opens with everyone else fighting him. If you love Jessica Jones, she spends the whole series insulting the plot and Daredevil’s suit. It’s not the epic crossover we hoped for, but when it works it’s absolutely worth it.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy One Ups the Series’ Greatest Set Piece
A sequel to the “final” Uncharted adventure would have been a bad idea, but a spin-off sequel starring Chloe and Nadine is a great idea. The Lost Legacy only takes about a third of what a normal Uncharted does (if even), but still manages to deliver the vistas, puzzles, and action set pieces it’s known for. Which brings me to the climax, a redux of the train set piece from the second Uncharted that’s even better than the original. You’ll never feel more like an action hero than when you leap off a moving train onto a speeding car, take out some guys, and then get back onto that train by any means necessary.
Game of Thrones Went Beyond the Wall, Then Brought the Dragon and the Wolf Together
Where were you when you learned Jon and Dany were related while they had sex? In the last two episodes of Game of Thrones so much happened that they strained our collective understanding of time in Westeros. A dragon died, the entire cast shared a scene for the first time, Littlefinger was killed, Jamie split off from Cersei, Jon Snow was confirmed as the true heir to the Iron Throne, and then the White Walkers brought down the wall. No matter what flaws the series had this year, it’s a hell of a way to lead into the final season.
It Proves Pop Horror is Still Possible
This September, Pennywise scared massive audiences so much that Los Angeles became covered in clown themed billboards for haunted houses and hayrides. It wasn’t just talk though, It is legitimately good and scary. The opening is pitch perfect, but for me the biggest scare was for once CG enabled, as Pennywise bursts from a projector screen to terrify the Loser’s Club. Unlike most horror films, It teaches you the rules through character and action. We don’t know what Pennywise is, but we know he can be hurt, and we know he can be killed. In a fight for survival that’s all you need.
American Vandal Was the Best Series Netflix Has Produced, Don’t @ Me
The genius of American Vandal is that it takes its premise entirely seriously. Someone drew twenty seven dicks on twenty seven teachers’ cars, and while it looks like it could be Dylan Maxwell, we need all the facts to be sure. Jimmy Tatro is perfectly cast as Dylan, embodying every idiot in your high school class. The cast all look and act exactly like real high schoolers, they reference real apps, and nothing about them is over the top like in other “sexier” teen dramas. Once you’re in on the joke you’ll be shocked by the deeply moving finale.
The Good Place Followed Up Its Twist With a Pitch Perfect Second Season
Look its getting really hard to discuss the Good Place without dishing on the spoiler so I’m just going to talk about it. They’re in the bad place! But when Eleanor figured that out Michael wiped everyone’s memory and reset everything. The second season premiere gives you that plot into Eleanor realizing again in record time, but it’s episode two, “Dance, Dance, Resolution” that’s a hilarious cavalcade of reset after reset of our heroes learning the secret of where they are. By the end Michael is ready to take the series in another brand new direction, proving all you can predict about The Good Place is how funny it will be.
Teen Wolf Ended After a Shocking Return to Form Season
Teen Wolf had been in a slump since season four, but in the final stretch of episodes the series really found its groove as Beacon Hills finally became aware of the supernatural in their midst. The big monster was yet another case of prioritizing mystery over character but the individual episodes focused on throwing the pack into impossible situations and seeing how they fight their way out, just like in the good old days. In the finale they got as many actors from the series as possible to return for final epic clash and its a joy to see. If only the whole series had worked like this season.
Star Trek: Discovery Boldly Went Online
Star Trek fans are still waiting for the newest series in the franchise to make its mark. Visually, Discovery is a treat, but its storytelling has been messy from a two-part premiere missing almost all of the principal cast to the bizarre choice to make the series a prequel set ten years prior to The Original Series. What military goes through such a technological shift in ten years!? Why won’t anyone write a Trek series set after The Next Generation? Discovery won’t answer those questions, but as the first proper serialized Trek it may tell you how the Klingons got their grooves back after losing them in time for TOS.
Curb Your Enthusiasm Proved Some Things Never Change
After a years long hiatus, Larry David’s return to TV was welcome to say the least. Curb’s unique brand of calling out society’s weird hangups while vehemently defending Larry’s own is what has allowed it to stand the test of time. In the premiere alone Larry ruined the engagement of a lesbian couple, foisted his terrible assistant onto Susie Greene, and pissed of the Ayatollah so much a fatwa was declared. After all these years nothing has changed, lets all hope it never does.
The Gifted Turned Out to be Good
Again, the X-Men franchise surprised this year with their first network drama. In it, the Strucker family discover both of their kids are mutants and must go on the run, eventually meeting up with the Mutant Underground. Some of the powers in the series are cool and new, like force fields and teleportation. Unfortunately Andy Strucker’s powers are angry blow stuff up, blech. The Gifted gets extra points for Amy Acker as Kate Strucker, but if they choose not to use her right those points will be rescinded. This series could have been a literal power drama, but instead opted to be about family and low odds. That’s why it works.
Legends of Tomorrow Returned, Somehow Now the Best Arrowverse Show
It took Legends of Tomorrow over a season to realize it was a comedy. By the time season two ended Legends was good, but in season three Legends has been great. Most of the credit falls to Caity Lotz as Sarah Lance, the single best performer and character across all of the CW’s superhero shows. In season three the team broke time a smidge and now have to find people displaced in it and take them back where they belong. For example, Julius Caesar in Aruba, crashing a college toga party. God I love this show.
Riverdale Broke in for Season Two, This Time With a Serial Killer
Wow, yeah, Riverdale is on this list three times. While season one kept to a murder mystery, season two decided to step it up with an all out killing spree. It was a hell of a way to start, with Fred Andrews fighting for his life in the hospital, Veronica’s dangerous father Hiram coming to town, and Archie and friends grappling with a safe place suddenly being, well, not. The stand out moment had to be at the end when fan-least-favorite character Ms. Grundy became the second victim of the killer. And there was much rejoicing.
Geostorm is this Year’s God’s of Egypt
I know, we all thought it would be The Great Wall, but we shouldn’t have underestimated just how dumb Geostorm is. Gerard Butler (a common thread) has invented a space station that can control the weather, but now someone is using it for eeeeeevil. Even the natural born Americans in this movie sound like they’re fighting back an accent, no disaster ever affects someone we know, and the movie refuses to give us the titular planet wide geostorm we all signed up for. Can’t wait for the sequel.
Stranger Things 2 Went Bigger and Deeper
The little 80s series that became a smash hit came back for a second season they approached more like a movie sequel. The upside down wasn’t done with Hawkins yet, with Will being possessed by the Mindflayer, Dustin raising a mysterious creature he should know better than about, and the new Red Ranger popping up as the scariest/sexiest kid in Hawkins High School. One questionable trip to Chicago aside, Stranger Things 2 succesfully pushed its mythology further and used its characters love and affection to save the day. They even got justice for Barb.
Thor: Ragnarok Saves the Franchise with Comedy
After two movies we all kind of slogged through waiting on the next Avengers, Marvel knew they had to shake things up for the third at-bat for Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. This time they brought in Taika Waititi of What We Do In the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople to direct. Taika is a very different voice than most Marvel directors with a great eye for comedy, and he created a farcical buddy comedy for Thor and the Hulk that easily outpaces the previous films. After this people are going to be much more excited to see the God of Thunder in Avengers: Infinity War.
Lady Bird Recreates Every Girl’s Relationship With Their Mom
This is a movie I went to see entirely based on word of mouth. I hadn’t seen a trailer or even a poster, I just knew everyone online and in life said Lady Bird is amazing. And they were all completely right. Gretta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a delightful year in the life of a high school senior in the early aughts, as disconnected from her mother as she can be. It’s funny and emotional, a stand out role for Saoirse Ronan, and apparently the best reviewed movie ever on Rotten Tomatoes. If you haven’t seen Lady Bird yet you are doing yourself a disservice.
Mr. Robot Uploaded an Entire Episode as One Long Take
Mr. Robot still has the confidence and swagger in employed in its first season. It’s also still allowed to do whatever it wants on USA. This season their fifth episode was entirely commercial free and made to look like one forty five minute long single shot. As a tense real-time thriller, Elliot must evade security in the E-Corp building attempting to fire him all while working to prevent a dangerous hack by the Dark Army. Then rioters break into the building and everything goes to hell. Mr. Robot continues to be the most honest and realistic apocalypse on television and this episode is a microcosm of the entire series.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Found Hope
Of course Rebecca’s war on Josh didn’t go according to plan. Instead Rebecca’s own past brushes with mental instability came to light and she lashed out at her friends before going full tilt into the “crazy” part of her story. Eventually she ran back to her mother’s fully intent on giving up. But when her mother drugged her to make her happier, Rebecca ran away again. On a plane to West Covina, thinking there’s nothing for her there either, Rebecca takes every pill in her bag with the intention to end it all. Only she doesn’t. She reaches out for hope. It’s a powerful moment in yet another powerful season.
This Is Us Finally Gave Kevin an Incredible Episode
Kevin Pearson has never been the strongest character on This Is Us. His plots are champagne problems for a talented enough actor who also happens to look like Justin Hartley. In season two his story has mostly revolved around an opium addiction tied to his recently revealed massive football injury he suffered in high school. But everything about his character finally clicked together in a powerhouse scene from the fifth episode of the season. All of the Pearsons are in a dark place (except Randall, he’s the best) by the end of the year. But it’s nice to finally understand the most imperceptible of them.
Future Man Arrived on Hulu
Future Man, a comedy about a young janitor being chosen as the savior of the future, could have been a movie, but we all would have missed out if that were the case. While the first few episodes are fairly predictable, everything changes once Derek Wilson’s Wolf learns to cook. From there each character goes down a deep emotional journey to be fundamentally changed by the action packed season finale. In case it needs to be stated, the series is also deeply funny, with a standout episode taking place almost entirely in James Cameron’s future home.
Justice League is… (sigh) I Just Can’t You Guys
Oh look a poster with Superman on it! Look, Justice League is bad. It’s not bad in the aggressive way that Batman v Superman was bad, it’s just disappointing. This shouldn’t have been hard, but with the worst supervillain ever, two directors, and Henry Cavill’s cg upper lip, Justice League wound up missing the mark at nearly every level. The best moments are all Wonder Woman’s and Superman’s, almost like getting to know the character in their own movie helps during the team-up. Of course the moment that really irked me is a Green Lantern’s appearance in a flashback. If that ring isn’t coming back around within the same movie then don’t tease it in the beginning. This is chekhov’s power ring type stuff!
The Punisher Had More to Say Than Simple Violence
In Daredevil, Murdock & Nelson discovered there was a conspiracy to cover up the circumstances of Frank Castle’s family’s death. Well in The Punisher Frank discovers there was another completely different conspiracy to kill Frank and his family. It’s back to the vengeance for Frank! The Punisher takes time to talk about soldiers and how they’re treated when they return home. It’s much more intelligent than anyone expected and a slew of strong actors anchored by Jon Bernthal, perfectly cast as The Punisher himself, made for by far the strongest Defenders (adjacent) series of the year.
Runaways Was Both Good and Bad
Runaways has perfectly casted teens who match their comics counterparts, fun and quippy dialogue, and great source material. But it’s also diverged from that source to focus more on the parents in a move that may very well betray the whole point. We’ll know more by the time the season ends. Individual episodes can be really good, but the series is unwilling to come out and say its most comic book elements. All of that being said, they did give us a big Velociraptor (Deinonychus if you’re fancy), achieved principally through puppetry. Suck it, Inhumans’ Lockjaw.
Coco Will Make You Cry, So Basically Classic Pixar
Pixar knocked it out of the park yet again with Coco, the story of a young boy being trapped in the underworld during the day of the dead. He must get the blessing of his ancestors to return to the real world before the night ends, but that’s easier said than done. Once you find out what the meaning behind the title is, the film sinks its hooks in. When it reaches its end, you’re a teary mess. Or you have no soul, in which case Pixar films aren’t really for you. But how about that Frozen short? Their Christmas tradition is Elsa refusing to build a snowman with Anna!
Call Me By Your Name Captures the Feeling of a Summer Romance
For my cisgendered ass, it was a little difficult to connect with this movie about a Jewish-American kid living in Italy during the eighties and his gay romance with Armie Hammer. However, what I did connect with was the way the story unfolded, beautiful summer day after beautiful summer day with nothing to do but hang out and have fun. We’ve all had those summers and the movie has the same meandering quality of those days. It’s a beautifully filmed and acted romance, and if you haven’t heard about the peach thing I’ve already said too much.
Crisis on Earth-X Was the Real DC Superhero Team-Up of the Year
Unlike previous Arrowverse crossovers, Crisis on Earth-X treated it’s adventure as one massive four hour blockbuster and it was all the better for it. Barry and Iris’s wedding is ruined by an invasion from an alternate reality where the Nazis won WWII. The fuhrer is Oliver Queen, Overgirl is the epitome of the master race, and The Reverse Flash is more than happy to help them attack our heroes. With bigger and better action than ever before and all the little character moments you could want. It all builds up to one massive fight with every hero these shows have that blows out every single moment of Justice League. Every action series needs to do a fight in wedding attire, and yes Alex Danvers hooks up with Sarah Lance.
The Disaster Artist Doesn’t Insult Its Subject
Tommy Wiseau is more of a mystery than a man. Nobody knows where he came from, where his money came from, or how old he is. He’s also very weird. The Disaster Artist could have spent its time making fun of such a strange person and their terrible movie, but instead it takes a much more objective stance. Tommy is weird, but he also makes Greg Sestero a better actor and we emphasize with him since he’s such an outcast. Tommy may be an outcast, but he also lashes out at his crew and screws over his friend. He’s a complicated man, it’s a complicated story, but its also a pretty funny one.
Agents of SHIELD Went to Space for Season Five
Agents of SHIELD managed to pick up right where it left off in season four. The team has been kidnapped and sent through an obelisk into a strange space station. Forcing our heroes into space would have been a cool story on its own, but SHIELD takes it one step further by revealing they’re not just in space. They’re in the future, over the destroyed remains on Earth. Oh and also Daisy might have ended the world. That’s a pretty great list of problems and mysteries to solve in the new season.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is All About the Making and Unmaking of Legends
There’s a moment in The Last Jedi where Luke Skywalker milks a strange animal and it produces blue milk, something that’s been a part of Star Wars since the beginning. It’s kind of a metaphor for the whole movie. This thing we’ve built up over such a long time is actually ordinary and a little ugly to look at. Luke failed as the legendary jedi master, Snoke isn’t as important as you think he is, sometimes the hair brained scheme fails. It’s a rebuttal of many core Star Wars principals in the best ways. There’s also a moment when a guy licks the ground and proclaims, “salt.”
Beyond Skyline Lets the Guys From The Raid Fight Aliens
Late in Beyond Skyline, Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, and Frank Grillo have to protect a little girl who could have the power to stop an alien invasion. In that moment that child becomes the safest person on the entire planet. Technically a sequel to 2010’s Skyline, Beyond Skyline refuses to even acknowledge the other movie’s existence. Instead we get a tight man vs monster story that leaps from Los Angeles to an alien space ship to the jungles of Southeast Asia that throws every dollar the movie has on the screen.
Jean-Claude Van Johnson Made Perfect Use of Its Lead
Something about JCVD in his older age has made him more endearing. Maybe it’s just that adding wrinkles made us all realize he’s human just like we are. It’s this fallible Jean-Claude who leads Jean-Claude Van Johnson, where actors are also assassins using their fame as a cover, where eastern European villains build weapons of mass destruction, where one character time travels and all they hear are time cops jokes. Jean-Claude Van Johnson knows its dumb, but it never stops taking itself seriously, which allows it to transcend stupidity to greatness.
Pitch Perfect 3 is Exactly What You Thought It Would Be
Pitch Perfect 3 has a fun musical number every fifteen minutes, sweet moments with the Bellas, and enough laughs to keep you riding high throughout. If you expected much else then this isn’t the franchise for you. This time the film is incredibly low stakes, with the Bellas never once failing with a musical number, then suddenly it becomes incredibly high stakes, with a kidnapping plot late in the game, then suddenly low stakes again riding a wave of good emotion to the end. But what can I say? I liked it.
Bright Isn’t That Bad, But It’s Creators Are
Maybe I’m naturally in the bag for the fantasy elements of Bright, but the movie worked in its own strange way for me. The depictions of Orcs and Elves in this deeply strange cops run-all-night movie are coded racism to the extreme. The writer has destroyed careers because girls wouldn’t date him. Will Smith works as hard as he can to save the movie, but it’s Joel Edgerton in monster makeup who forms the backbone of the film. While we should all swear off films written by Max Landis, I can’t tell you what to do. Proceed with caution.
Black Mirror Brings the Year to a Close
In a year that felt like one long episode of Black Mirror, it’s nice to know things could be worse. Six new stories dropped onto Netflix mere days before the year ended. If you’ve seen them all already then you need to binge TV less, if you haven’t than let these lead you into 2018. I recommend USS Callister, the first of the season, which is an excellent homage to Star Trek and its fans while also taking a hard look at them both. Black Mirror is still the ideal science fiction series, using the technology we have to extrapolate a cautionary tale in the near future. If you’re not watching it you’re missing out.