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My Best of 2018Sun, 30th December 2018
Every year, I like to create a list of my favourite books, movies, games, and music. I try to keep the items as current as possible (i.e. from this same year), although that does not always hold true (due to me missing stuff from past years or only just getting around to something I've neglected for quite a while). Below are my favourites from 2018.
Best Book: We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
Honourable mentions: American Psycho - Bret Easton Ellis, Age of Assassins - R J Barker
We Need to Talk About Kevin was one of those books that I had heard about for years, but had never gotten around to reading. Over the summer, I then heard Lionel Shriver host a slot on BBC Radio 6 Music and remembered the novel. Although I knew that the book involved a problem child, I wasn't quite prepared for the story that would follow. Shriver has written a masterful and heartbreaking tale of a mother recounting her life before and after having Kevin, and everything she faced while bringing up the boy. It's powerful and beautifully written, the characters and events strong and believable, and the style just perfect. The novel kept me awake the night I finished reading it and it stayed with me for many days thereafter. I doubt I'll ever read it again, as I don't know if I could put myself through it once more, but it is definitely one of my favourite stories of all time.
American Psycho was another book that I had heard a lot about over the years, but never gotten around to reading. I decided to give it a go upon seeing the film adaption pop up on Netflix and figured I should read the book first. I found the book just as incredible as others have said; I have my own opinions of what was actually going on and that's something that makes the novel so remarkable is that everyone will come to a different conclusion. The book is extremely violent, though the violence soon starts to become so extreme it's as though it's making a paradoy of itself.
Finally, I picked up R J Barker's Age of Assassins. This is a wonderful fantasy debut about an apprentice assassin called Girton, that's well-written, engaging, and featuring plenty of likeable characters. I've heard many good things about the sequels, so I'll be sure to be getting into them in the near future.
Best Album: Every Valley - Public Service Broadcasting
Honourable mentions: Ruins - First Aid Kit, The Vaccines - Combat Sports
I'm ashamed to say that I missed Public Service Broadcasting's latest back in 2017, only picking it up around March of this year. I'd heard a few song played on the radio, but of course the full experience lies in the album. Set around the Welsh coal mining industry, the songs tell the story of hope and optimism for its future, only to be dashed by the closures that followed. As per PSB's style, the tracks use a great deal of samples to bring things alive and there is a lot of variety on offer. Standout tracks include Progress, All Out, and They Gave Me a Lamp. And that's not to say the others are filler, far from it! If you've never heard of PSB or have yet to pick up any of their music, Every Valley would be a great place to start.
An album that did come out this year was First Aid Kit's Ruins. Again, I had heard the sisters' music played a lot on 6 Music and so decided to give their latest album a go. As with all their songs, I loved it immediately. Their vocals are, as ever, beautiful and the Swedish folk goes from upbeat to melancholy and everything in between. You should absolutely check out First Aid Kit if you haven't already.
Best Song: Bells and Circles - Iggy Pop and Underworld
Honourable mentions: Fireworks - First Aid Kit, White Star Liner - Public Service Broadcasting
Bells and Circles was first played at BBC Music's Biggest Weekend. It was a song that I loved from the moment I heard it. Telling the story of what it was like to be able to smoke on airplanes back in the golden age of air travel, Iggy Pop's vocals gel perfectly with Underworld's beats. At 7m 30s, it's a long track but doesn't feel like it and doesn't make me want to skip on after a time. Amusing, profound, and informative, this is one hell of a collaboration.
Another song that I loved this year was First Aid Kit's Fireworks. The duo describes this one themselves as being about dreams and expectation, and how they can get in the way of ourselves; sometimes we set our goals too high and expect too much of ourselves and other people. This can really be felt in the lyrics and the song itself is quite sad. But, as with their album, the vocals are beautiful and fit the tone of the tune perfectly.
And while on the theme of high expectations, another song I loved is Public Service Broadcasting's White Star Liner. First played at the BBC's Biggest Weekend in Belfast, the song is one of optimism for the future of the Titanic. Upbeat and featuring samples from the period of its construction and launch, one gets a true sense of just how proud all involved in the ship were before tragedy struck.
Best Film: Avengers: Infinity War
Honourable mentions: Solo: A Star Wars Story, War for the Planet of the Apes
Nothing quite prepared me for what I was about to experience when I came to watch Infinity War. This is the culmination of 10 years of work by Marvel, bringing together some of their most recognizable characters in one great movie. Even with the vast number of characters featured in the film, they were all given a reasonable amount of screen time. None stole the scene more than Thanos, however; Josh Brolin delivered an incredible performance as the Mad Titan. And though I had considered that Thanos might actually win, I didn't expect it to really happen. The closing acts of the film were like nothing I had ever seen and I literally had to put my hand over my mouth to stop myself from shouting at the screen when Thanos reversed time to grab the mind stone from Vision. I left the cinema feeling utterly gutted, and while it remains to be seen if Marvel will be brave enough to stand by the events of this movie with the sequel in 2019, Infinity War for me stands as the best film of 2018 and one of the greatest superhero movies of all time.
A movie that took me completely by surprise was Solo. I have no love for The Last Jedi, and so I decided to not bother seeing Solo in the cinema. This was a mistake. I caught it on the plane coming back from holiday and was greeted with a movie that vastly exceeded my expectations. The movie was entertaining, it was well acted, it felt like Star Wars, and there were lots of nice touches (such as explaining the Kessel Run and 'I know'). Do watch it if you've been on the fence.
Best Game: God of War
Honourable mentions: Nier: Automata, Hellblade
Without a doubt, for me the best game of 2018 was God of War. At its core, the game tells the story of a man heading out to scatter his late wife's ashes, fulfilling her dying wish, while at the same time having to connect with a son he barely knows. For its setting — Norse mythology, having moved on from Greek — it's an extremely touching and human story, full of powerful interactions and relatable moments. When I first read about the reboot coming to the PS4, I was sceptical. There was to be no hack and slash gameplay like in the original trilogy, the mini games were gone, and Kratos now had a son. It all sounded far too radically different and, with the original trilogy being amongst my favourite games of all time, I was worried. Upon playing the PS4 game, however, I found I had nothing to fear. The gameplay was solid, the controls and combat tight, the graphics and sound absolutely mind blowing (probably the best the PS4 has to offer), and the writing and acting of the highest quality. There is so much to do and see in the game, even after the main story has finished. And you'll want to do all of it, just to learn more about Norse mythology. If you've not played this, do yourself a favour and get a copy right now!
Nier: Automata was a game that slipped under my radar in 2017 (I think it's slipped under a number of people's radars, even today). The game was highly recommended on NeoGAF, and so I took the plunge, not really knowing what to expect. The game is an utter gem and such a joy to play. Featuring the fast and fluid gameplay that Platinum are known for, Nier casts you in the role of androids sent to Earth to reclaim it from an alien invasion. As already said, the combat is fast, fluid, and responsive, there are 26 endings(!), multiple characters to play as, and a number of different gameplay styles to enjoy. Don't overlook this one.
Finally, Hellblade was quite an experience. Playing as Senua, a Viking who is suffering from psychosis, the player must navigate a hellish landscape to help Senua rescue her dead lover's soul from Helheim. The depiction of psychosis was done very, very well, and at times I felt quite uncomfortable playing the game knowing that much of everything that was happening to Senua was all in her mind. Indeed, the game won awards and earned much praise for its handling.
My Best of 2019
My Best of 2017
My Best of 2016
My Best of 2015