Largely prompted by Trump’s ascension to the highest seat of office in American politics, my prevailing emotional state of this year has been one of barely contained anxiety. It’s been a year where my faith in humanity has been shaken. A year in which I watched a nation vote on whether or not gay people would be afforded the same basic marriage rights as everyone else and honestly wasn’t sure which way the pendulum would swing. That it swung in their favour was only briefly encouraging for the margin between the yes and no vote was nowhere near as decisive as I would have wished. There are a lot of people out there shackled by ignorance and ruled by their fear of the unknown. It makes me sad. It also makes me angry.
Even within my own family and friendship circles, I found people espousing racist, sexist, or just plain stupid rhetoric. If nothing else, Trump’s win and the subsequent barrage of fear-baiting and hate-mongering public missives enabled a lot of people to celebrate their own misguided prejudices. Racism was no longer something to be ashamed of. Anyone who felt sceptical of climate change could openly deny it without fear of recrimination. If the President of the United States could be openly racist and refute the conclusive findings of environmental scientists the world over then anyone could.
More than ever I believe, we need to hold our elected officials up to higher standards. Most importantly kindness needs to be the value celebrated above all others in our leaders. Not charm, not unearned confidence, not economic acumen, nor brute strength. Simple kindness. It seems to be in short supply during these dark days.
But, at least across our movie and television screens, and within the pages of books or filtered through our ear buds, there were bright spots to be found. Pockets of peace and beauty in which one might shelter from the shitstorm raging elsewhere.
These are the things which gave me pleasure in 2017.
The Last Jedi
After J.J. Abrams’s expertly casted though wafer-thin remix of the original trilogy, The Force Awakens, I thought I was done with Star Wars. Even the quite good Rogue One didn’t manage to rekindle the flames of my fandom. I thought I was too old for Star Wars. That it was for kids or emotionally stunted adults. I was wrong.
The Last Jedi is fantastic. From the opening scene which introduces a healthy dose of humour – something that the Star Wars films have never been known for – I was caught off the guard. This wasn’t the staid fanservice pandering I’d expected. This was something new. This was a filmmaker taking a beloved property and trying to do interesting things with it rather than suffocate beneath reverence.
The director, Rian Johnson, displays an almost prankster’s delight in subverting expectations. And I couldn’t be more thrilled. For the first time in my adult lifetime, the Star Wars series feels relevant again. Even a little dangerous. Bafflingly, I seem to be in the minority of this opinion. A lot of my friends’ reactions range from disappointment to outrage. While I understand the subjectivity of appreciating art I can’t help but feel very strongly that these negative reactions are, well…wrong. Really fucking wrong. The Last Jedi is at least as good, and may even be better than, The Empire Strikes Back. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
I’ve already written in length about my love for David Lynch’s (and Mark Snow – mustn’t forget him!) revival so I’ll keep this brief – Twin Peaks is the closest thing to a communal dream I’ve experienced. Those of you who slumbered along with me and walked its red curtained hallways, understand.
An exemplary character study with some of the finest acting on the small screen. Better than its parent shows Breaking Bad which is about the highest praise I can level at a television show.
Typically sublime and occasionally transcendent. Pop culture slept on this prestige HBO Show. I’m here to tell you to wake the hell up and prioritise watching this thematically rich, humanist work. You won’t regret it.
A big difficult book that nonetheless contains within it some of the best page-turning scenes of sheer terror and dread that I’ve ever come across. This is horror literature as high art and why the hell not?
Silly, unabashedly pulpy, frequently juvenile in its love of the scatological and sneakily brilliant. The Goon is the bar brawling heir to Mignola’s Hellboy.
Striking in its art and imagination and deeply affecting in its emotional complexity. Also, the Robot Prince with a television for a head is pretty great.
Beautifully designed and a joy to play. Killing orcs never looked so good nor felt so fun.
A fantastic blend of interactive movie and survival horror. More of these movie-as-game experiences, please.
A sequel to one of the most influential sci-fi movies of all time that not only manages to justify itself but also might even be better than its predecessor. A miracle of a movie.
The most essential TV show of 2017. No show disturbed and upset me as much. Depressingly, feels less of a parable and more like a glimpse into tomorrow. The Handmaid’s Tale reminded me constantly how much our current political climate sucks. I felt galvanised after every episode. I wanted to rush to the window and scream into the street that we need to be better. We all need to be better but certainly our elected officials need to be. Especially, if they’re men.
The best damn concert I’ve ever seen. Apparently, it doesn’t matter how old a Beatle is they can still rock an arena better than anyone. I knew these songs but I’d never heard them until I saw them performed live.
A hilarious and brutally honest observation on marriage and parenthood.
A horror film that even people who look down on horror films can’t help but celebrate. Works as an elegantly structured mystery, social commentary, and kickass thrillfest.
My new favourite podcast. Adam Green and Joe Lynch are low budget genre filmmakers and this podcast chronicles their experiences on the fringes of Hollywood. Their interviews with celebrated film folk are candid, revealing and often hilarious. A must listen to anyone interested in filmmaking.
As always my absolute favourite thing this year continues to be my family. I don’t care if that sounds sentimental or maudlin. It’s the truth. And I think we all need to be a little more sentimental these days, a little more earnest. Cynicism is fun and all but it gets old fast.
My wife Greta, my kids Bailey and India are a constant source of joy – strained joy sometimes (I do not cherish those early morning wake up calls to make the kids breakfast – damn you daylight saving!) but joy nonetheless. I love them dearly and consider myself the luckiest guy on earth to be able to share my life with them.