The Best of 2019 in Media
2019 was a year.
It was an interesting year in terms of what things seemed to come to an end perfectly. Everything from Game of Thrones to the new Star Wars trilogy finished neatly into the year, allowing the next decade to breathe with whatever new phenomenon it wants to. Though come on, let’s not kid ourselves. We will likely get more Game of Thrones and Star Wars and we will waste time debating about its merits while ignoring much better content like we usually do.
I feel calling it interesting is a bit of a cop out. It really depends on what we’re examining to decide if it was a strong year or not. Like anything, it depends on what I was into at the time and what I devoted my time to. In previous years, I had spent less time on videogames and more on film while music and television got their cut. This year I spent more time playing videogames while dropping a few hours on a movie just didn’t happen much. I also stuck to just the television shows I was committed to finishing instead of jumping into a dozen new shows. Music was a fun trip, and making music lists every month on Spotify certainly helps me remember what was good and what wasn’t.
So let’s get on with it!
Best of 2019: Videogames
Honourable Mention: Untitled Goose Game
I’ll keep this pretty simple. Developer House House’s sequel needs to be called Untitled Geese Game. It needs to be an online multiplayer where you play as Canadian geese (who come together in gangs. No seriously, there’s a ton of articles out there about gangs of geese in Canada making things unfortunate for everyone) and as a Canada goose, you now get to play with others as you wreck shit across the Canadian countryside. Less clever puzzles, more carnage with a beak. Honk.
Best of the Year: Telling Lies
Telling Lies is the spiritual successor to Sam Barlow’s Her Story, which is likely my game of the decade. Telling Lies tries to take Her Story and do more with it, with extra character perspectives and Hollywood actors, as well as a story about hidden identities and corrupted agendas. While I didn’t enjoy it the same way as Her Story (the rush I got from piecing that together is untouched) it was still a fantastic playthrough with me having almost a dozen pages of notes as I pieced the story together. The next time Sam Barlow puts a project like this together, I have a small tip: if I’m not playing as myself but playing as a real person, give me more to care about them.
Best of 2019: Pro Wrestling
Honourable Mention: Jon Moxley vs. Tomohiro Ishii from NJPW G1 Climax, July 18th
You ever watch something so simple it makes you wonder if everyone else is doing it wrong? There was an indie game that came out called Baba Is You where you just push blocks around, but the blocks you push around can change the mechanics of the game itself. It’s so simple you wonder if the developer stumbled on something revolutionary. Mox and Ishii do that at the G1 Climax. Jon Moxley is returning from the indentured servitude of being controlled by World Wrestling Entertainment now wearing black trunks and in the best shape of his life. Tomo is continuing one of the best “twilight eras” of any wrestler, in which despite being in his mid 40s and never much of a star in his 30s, he’s consistently having the best wrestling matches night in and night out. Moxley plays the crazy man pulling Ishii into the arena and having a steel chair duel where they just smash the chairs at each other like bats until one of them busts apart. Ishii answers the craziness with a top rope splash into a table. But aside from those moments? Nothing they do is complicated. Nothing they do someone else can’t replicate. There isn’t some incredible technique one can’t touch. But the way they use the crowd’s emotions, the way they connect, and the way they answer each other is pro wrestling at its best. Almost every wrestler in the world should be watching this match and asking what they do that they can’t, and then figuring out how to do it themselves. Simple. Effective. What is everyone else doing wrong?
Best of the Year: Kota Ibushi vs. Jay White from NJPW G1 Climax Final, August 12th
The best stories, whether it be in fiction or reality, are about watching someone you don’t like lose to someone you like. It’s good versus evil. It’s justice versus injustice. “The Switchblade” Jay White is injustice personified, the leader of the dreaded Bullet Club, having just earlier that night added KENTA to their ranks at the demise of his mentor Katsuyori Shibata in the hottest angle of the year. White earlier had been IWGP Heavyweight champion despite only being 27 and is only in year three of shedding his Young Lion image. With the departure of Kenny Omega, the “Best Bout Machine” who refused to play the role of most hated man in New Japan, we now have two men filling in his boots. White as the heel Omega could never be, and Kota Ibushi as the babyface Omega wished he was.
Ibushi, 37, is the perfect millennial story. Once an independent wrestling darling in Japan working for DDT Pro and various indies, Kota Ibushi finally entered NJPW as a junior in 2009 but was never committed to the cause. He even made an appearance in WWE in 2016 where he famously had no idea who Vince McMahon was. Often treated like a unicorn that flies by his own wings, Ibushi was fine becoming Tiger Mask W when folks looked at him and wondered if he could fill The Ace Hiroshi Tanahashi’s boots one day. People wondered why he wouldn’t commit. Was he lazy? Was he distracted? Did he lack the confidence? It’s hard to see that from a man chiseled out of diamond and never looking his age (He looks a decade younger than his age and moves like it too), but nobody could figure out why he was happier to just be Kenny Omega’s tag partner or find himself losing the NEVER Openweight championship to Will Ospreay in the opening match of Wrestle Kingdom 13.
But then Omega left NJPW to help start All Elite Wrestling, and at that point, Kota Ibushi decided to commit 100% to New Japan. And it’s important to know that, as to why the fans were now 100% behind Kota Ibushi. He was the sailor lost at sea for so many years, never committing to anything. And once his Golden Lover left to North America, he’s finally ready to goto the top of New Japan. And with that he faces Jay White, the greatest evil in the company, for a chance to win a shot at Wrestle Kingdom 14.
I’ve already gushed and haven’t got to the match. The match is everything you want in a battle of good and evil. The good guy isn’t dumb but he’s willing to fight what seems like impossible odds. The bad guy takes every cheap shot he can fit in, every corner he can cut, even though he absolutely has the talent to win on his own. And it is all those attempts to cheat his way to victory that Kota Ibushi eventually wrestles right through, eventually winning the G1 Climax and getting to the top of a mountain people thought he was never interested in climbing.
Best of 2019: Film
Honourable Mention: John Wick 3
John Wick 3 reminds me a lot of what Robert Rodriguez does with his El Mariachi series. The first film was a simple story being told. Desperado is that same story expanded. Once Upon a Time in Mexico is the story getting so convoluted and exaggerated it needs more than one protagonist to make sense. John Wick 3 feels like we’re telling the first story but getting bigger than ever, with John Wick globetrotting and losing a finger, becoming almost unstoppable in the process. Despite my giddy excitement of Yuyan Ruhian of The Raid fame being in it, as well as Halle Berry fitting it very well, it ends up that Mark Dacascos of Iron Chef/Double Dragon fame ends up stealing the movie right from under John Wick himself. Half the excitement is trying to figure out how they could ever continue this series, which swiped the, “Old people kick ass” genre right from Expendables and Red and made it art cinema.
Best of the Year: Knives Out
I admit that I did not watch too many films in 2019, and I’m sure in 2020 I’ll watch some movies later that would have been a much better choice for best of the year. That’s not to take away from Knives Out being an effective whodunit that I took my mom to see (she’s the reason why I love solving everything except my own life) but just me admitting that I’m sure there was better this year that I just didn’t see. I read that director Rian Johnson has seriously considered making sequels where Daniel Craig’s accent changes to something random (he told Neil Gaiman on Twitter he wanted to do cockney. Oh dear) and I’m all for that. Don’t sleep on Ana De Armas. She’s really great in this despite her character being a bit… angelic? Either way she makes it work.
Best of 2019: Album
Honourable Mention: Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part I by Foals
I didn’t listen to a lot of albums this year because Spotify is creating a world where the album is sort of dying. I think if Chain Gang of 1974 released a proper album instead of just releasing songs individually with only a four song EP that didn’t even include all the songs done in 2019, that would have scored top for me. But then you had Foals creating two giant albums of material in Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost with parts I and II. Dropping 20 songs in one year is Use Your Illusion ambitious and I’m glad that enough tracks put it in the back of the net. “Exits” and “In Degrees” gives the edge for Part I.
Best of the Year: Bots Don’t Cry by Trevor Something
“Trevor! You’re back Trevor! Tell me you love me Trevor!”
Trevor Something is… something. He certainly knows his way around various subgenres of synthpop and new retrowave, and releases music at the speed of a 60s pop artist. Not only did we get Bots Don’t Cry but we also got the chillwave Escape EP and a Halloween track in The Ghost. Bots Don’t Cry ends up being stronger than Ultraparanoia from 2018 by cutting out a lot of the filler and going straight for making good singles. Trevor is great at starting an album and “I Want Your Love” and “Confessions of an Addict” are strong kickers, with “The Chemical of Love” being almost as good as those two. I’m sure he has something ready for 2020, just don’t know which way he’ll be going. Which is refreshing for an artist.
Best of 2019: Song
Honourable Mention: Gravity by W O L F C L U B
When it comes to new retrowave, W O L F C L U B went above and beyond, hitting “Gravity” out of the park in a way I haven’t heard someone do for pure retro pop since The Midnight cracked “Sunset” out of the park in 2016. It’s only pushed to honourable mention due to sentimental value in the best track, which might lead me to later on feeling like “Gravity” has legs that it didn’t. Also I hate spelling out W O L F C L U B and that’s probably a mark down. When he sings, “More than it ever was” it melts my heart.
Best of the Year: “Ordinary Fools Pt. 2” by The Chain Gang of 1974
“Ordinary Fools Pt. 2” is the rare “sequel song” that is miles better than the original. The original, the first song from Dream Forever feels a little empty and might have worked better for Kamtin Mohager’s previous band Teenage Wrist. It still sticks to the guitar to carry it where Mohager is a bit passive. Part 2 takes what might have worked in the original and washes it in synthesizer and stronger lyrics. It’s one of the best love songs I’ve ever heard, to the point where I was going through a breakup a few weeks after it was released and I wasn’t as sad about it as I might have ended up because I had this song to make me think of the good moments. Chain Gang released songs that work for breakups this year as well (“YDLMA” is literally an abbreviation for “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” and “Such a Shame” fits the feeling of looking back on a relationship not working for disappointing reasons and instead of being mad, just shrugging it off) and if all of these songs were combined into an LP it would have no doubt been my album of the year. Instead it scores the best song of the year. There’s always 2020.
Best of 2019: Television
Honourable Mention: I Think You Should Leave
I was tempted to put The Watchmen here, and it probably deserves it just for that first episode opening being one of the best I’ve ever watched. “This Extraordinary Being” might be my best episode of the year if I wanted to catalog that alone. But there’s no show I rewatched more times than “I Think You Should Leave”, a show that in the first season was able to dunk at a ferocity only the Eric Andre Show has pulled off in the decade. Tim Robinson created characters and sketches that’ll last the test of time the way the best of Key and Peele and Chappelle Show were able to accomplish. If only Bart Harley Jarvis was Baby of the Year I might have put it at tops.
Best of the Year: Mr. Robot (Season 4)
Mr. Robot kicked off the darling of television in 2015, a huge hit for the USA Network which these days is just a vessel for WWE programming. Unfortunately, it lost audiences in season two, seeing the viewership numbers be cut in half and never recovering, just going on a steady decline for live viewers. But that didn’t mean the show got bad. It just wasn’t as great, and people weren’t willing to stick with the story. Season three got back on track in the narrative, with season four taking everything to overdrive. While the season ended in a way I wasn’t a huge fan, episode’s seven and eight are some of the best produced on television, with seven getting me emotional in a way I haven’t been since “Below the Belt” from season two of Masters of Sex. All through the show you know Elliot has a personality order but there’s so much going on you don’t consider why he would aside from the traumatic experience of being pushed/falling out of his window as a kid. This episode gets to way, and it takes the show to another level. Even with a weak ending, I can’t give anything the jump over Mr. Robot.