Friday, January 1, 2016

Greg's Favorites of 2015

 

Welcome to 2016.  Let's once again resurrect this dead format so I can document my favorite things from 2015.

Music

Another weak year for me music-wise.  Part of that is my own fault because I found most of my listening time is now dedicated to podcasts rather than music.  So without dedicating much time for listening to music, my hunt for new albums and bands has ebbed a bit.  That being said, there were a few good things that I found this year.

I'll start with myself again.  I didn't do mush musically this year, though I continue to keep song ideas brewing in the back of my mind.  I'm sure more will be coming soon.  In the meantime, I did do another Christmas instrumental arrangement this year for "We Three Kings."  This one is done in an upbeat, Mannheim Steamroller-style mixed with a swashbuckling-adventure feel.



Michael Sherwood & Christian Nesmith - Groovy Lemon Pie
By far the best album I found this year was this amazing pop-rock album that sounds like Peter Gabriel joined up with XTC and his old Genesis bandmates.  It honestly sounds like the spiritual successor to Peter Gabriel's "So."  Similar to how Gotye sounded just like Sting a few years ago.  I found and brought this album with us on our giant summer trip this year of over 3000 car miles.  We listened to it almost exclusively through the amazing scenery of Yellowstone National Park, and it was the perfect soundtrack to that beautiful background.  The album is available on Bandcamp where you can listen to the album in its entirety.  If you are limited in time, skip the first couple tracks and listen to tracks 3-6.  Each of those is amazing and sound like a long lost Genesis album.  Track 11 "Two Words" and Track 15 "This Day" sound the most like Peter Gabriel solo.



Muse - Drones
I really enjoyed the new Muse album this year.  I had to edit a couple tracks (particularly Psycho) to make them listenable, but overall I enjoyed the overblown dramatic rock that Muse always brings.

FFS - FFS
This was a collaboration piece between Franz Ferdinand and Sparks.  Two bands I would never specifically put together in my head, but somehow the album works as both a new Sparks album and its own thing.

The December People - A Classic Rock Christmas
Thanks to my brother who let me know about this album that came out just in time for Christmas.  I really enjoy the mashup of classic Christmas songs with classic rock bands that these guys do.  This time they do Eagles, Toto, Van Halen, and Dire Straits, among others.  It works in nicely with their previous albums.

Darkness - Last of Our Kind
I enjoyed this new Darkness album, and most of the songs are good, but it never quite dug into me enough to make a long lasting impression.

Hoosiers - The Secret Service
See the paragraph above but replace Darkness with Hoosiers.

Special Mention: Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds (1978)
The first track from this album was playing during an episode of Fargo Season 2, and I was vaguely familiar with it, but had never looked into it before.  I found it was from this album which is a musical retelling of the War of the Worlds.  It's really quite an amazing and fun work which sounds like a cross between ELO and Moody Blues.  While there are songs, or occasional singing throughout, I would say it's a good mix of instrumental and singing, with some bits of narration and dramatic acting to carry the story along.  Justin Hayward, the lead singer from Moody Blues sings a few times and it fits right in with other Moody Blues songs from the late 70s.

A few other albums of note this year that I listened to: A new Toto album (XIV) that had a few good songs, a new Ben Folds album (So There) that was mostly to show off his orchestral stuff that I didn't really care for, and an album from the guy behind the YouTube Bret Domino Trio, Rob J Madin which I supported via IndieGogo, but sadly didn't really get into.  And Chateau Marmont, who put out my favorite album a few years ago, put out a new one that was headache-inducingly terrible.  I never could listen all the way through.

Movies

In looking towards 2015, people were expecting a legendary year, and I think they got it.  The biggest opening weekend ever happened several times this year, and at this moment three movies from this year are in the top 10 of all time.  And of course, Star Wars nearly took over Christmas this year along with everything else it got near.  At this moment Star Wars is just 1 million behind Jurassic World which it will obviously pass today, and 7 million behind Titanic which it will also likely pass today, or this weekend for sure.  It's still 110 behind Avatar, so it's unsure whether it will overtake that juggernaut.  Surprisingly, it was not my favorite of the year.  Another weird thing about this year: there was an abundance of spy movies, and who would have guessed they all would have been better than James Bond's SPECTRE.  Skyfall was one of the best Bonds, but this new one was just okay.  Interestingly, at the beginning of the year the movies I was most looking forward to were Avengers and Tomorrowland, neither of which were as good as I'd hoped.

Also new for this year: several local theaters were refitted with Luxury Recliners and started reserved seating.  It is so nice to have room and be able to put your feet up while watching a movie.  This trend makes me happy. 

Here's what I watched and liked this year in movies:

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
I did not think lightning could strike three times with this movie series, since every movie has been directed by a totally different team.  But this was just as enjoyable as the last two from JJ Abrams and Brad Bird.  Oddly this had the same story as SPECTRE, but was far superior.

The Martian
I had no expectations for this film.  I certainly didn't need to see another movie with people rescuing Matt Damon.  But on its release there was so much buzz, I had to go see, and found one of the most enjoyable, smart, moving films of the year.

Mad Max Fury Road
Like the Martian, I had no specific interest in this film until it came out and people started throwing hyperbole all over the film.  It was definitely an intense ride, and unlike anything else I've seen in a long time.  I just wish the last act/ending were a bit more satisfying, but otherwise definitely an amazing film.

Inside Out
Finally Pixar puts out a new film that can rank right alongside their previous great films.  What I find most amazing about this film is it introduces a whole new vocabulary to talk to kids about their feelings and trying to understand their behavior.  Sadly, my son had to leave twice throughout the film for potty breaks, so I missed a few key moments from the film that I had to wait several months to finally get the whole experience.

Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
These were three biggest movies of the year, all sequels to huge franchises, and I enjoyed all of them. However, each of them was disappointing in some way.  Jurassic World and Star Wars were essentially telling their earlier stories all over again.  Avengers' issue was that they set up a villain that never really paid off and ended up being like pretty much every other comic book bad guy.

Ant-Man
I really enjoyed Ant-Man, even though it was essentially a retelling of Iron Man.  I was really scared when Edgar Wright left the project, but the finished film turned out fun, albeit a bit light.

Kingsmen, Man from UNCLE, Spy, SPECTRE
Along with Mission Impossible, there are the other spy movies that I saw this year in order of how I enjoyed them.  Kingsmen was just crazy, and UNCLE had a great sense of style and humor.  Spy was mostly just silly, but it made more sense than SPECTRE.  The opening to SPECTRE was pretty great, but the overall story just didn't make enough sense to carry the action scenes.

The Visit, The Walk, The Martian, The Gift
These are four films I saw in a row, completely coincidentally, that were all good, but had completely generic and similar names.  All of these movies would be improved with better titles.  For example, Eric D Snider suggested changing "The Visit" to "Something's Wrong With Nana and Pop-Pop."  I'd go see that movie!

It Follows, Krampus, Crimson Peak
These are the best horror movies I saw this year.  "It Follows" had the best premise of any horror movie.  Krampus was a great throw back to Gremlins-style 80s films.  And Crimson Peak had an amazing style.  Sadly I didn't feel like any of them managed a satisfactory ending.

Creed
Another movie I was not looking forward to, but saw after reviews started coming in.  Like several other movies listed above, this was essentially a retelling of the original film (Rocky), but somehow I got caught up in it.  The single-take fight in the middle of the film was amazing.

Hunger Games 4
I'm not going to bother looking up the correct title to this movie.  It was a nice completion to the series.  I enjoyed it better than the last book. 

Special mentions:

This year after the death of Wes Craven, people started talking about his movies.  I'd seen the Scream series and first Nightmare on Elm Street, but nothing else.  In searching for a guide to some of his movies, I found a podcast called "Now Playing" (more down below) that stepped movie by movie through various movie franchises.  So I figured I'd watch the Nightmare on Elm Street series (all 9 films.)  When I finished that, I decided to watch the Friday the 13th series (12 movies--one of the which was the Elm Street crossover Freddy vs. Jason.)  Finishing that, I figured I'd complete the trifecta and watched the Halloween series (10 films.)  And for good measure I watched the Texas Chainsaw films (7), Children of the Corn (9), Blair Witch (2), and Silent Night Deadly Night (6).  Needless to say, that turned into a very busy Halloween season.

Speaking of marathons, I also watched all the Bond films leading up to SPECTRE (26 films, including 2 unofficial films), all the Star Wars movies (7 including Clone Wars movie), the first four Rocky films, and nearly all the Die Hard films (we couldn't get through 5.  It's just awful. And looking at the films I've watched in the paragraph above, I've watched some truly bad films this year.)

One last mention, I watched "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" in full this year.  I had seen bits in the past, but this was the first time watching the whole movie, and I think it's one of my new favorite comedy horror films.

TV

There seems to be a trend toward amazing short series but not so much regular long-lasting shows.  There was very little on the regular networks that I watched this year, and almost nothing that I wasn't watching already.  Here are my favorite shows I watched this year:

Wizard Wars/Penn & Teller Fool Us
I really enjoy seeing good magic on TV.  The pseudo-improvised style of Wizard Wars with the occasional mistake, and the live stage-style presentation on Fool Us shows off impressive magic without camera tricks and without the overblown style that other magicians have used.  

Face Off
I continue to really enjoy seeing the creature creations come to life in this show.  Even though I really only watch to see the last 10 minutes of the episode.

Simpsons/Brooklyn 99
Yup, I still watch the Simpsons, and Brooklyn 99 is the only live sitcom that we regularly enjoy as a family.

Last Week Tonight
After seeing a few segments of this show, I got hooked and watched regularly.  John Oliver has a way of taking an issue that you never cared about (like FIFA) and suddenly make you care while being highly entertained at the same time.  I just wish this weren't an HBO show, since I don't think the casual adult language improves anything.

The Jinx/Making a Murderer
Speaking of getting caught up in issues.  Both of these mini-series got me hooked portraying two opposite crime stories.  The first, about a rich guy who gets away with everything, and the second about a poor guy who absolutely doesn't.  I watched a couple episodes of Making a Murderer just a few days ago and then found I couldn't stop.  I was debating hard when I was getting near the end and it was past midnight whether to push through or get some sleep.  I think in this case I should have pushed through since I was too agitated to sleep anyway though I tried.

Broadchurch
Another murder mystery, but this time a fictional one.  This was the second series of the UK show, and though I figured catching the murderer was all that needed to be said in the first series, the second series gave plenty of reasons to justify coming back one more time.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt/Wet Hot American Summer
These two Netflix comedy shows were two of my favorites for the year.  The first has made it impossible to say the word "Unbreakable" or anything that sounds similar ("Unmistakable," "Unshakable," "Incapable," etc) without breaking into that ear-worm theme song.  The other show was great in recapturing that strange off-the-wall style of the original film.

Ash vs. Evil Dead
This series wraps up tonight, I believe, so I haven't finished it, but it's been a strange trip.  I loved Army of Darkness, and really liked Evil Dead 2. The pilot, by Sam Raimi, started things off pretty promising, but then it's been hit or miss along the way.  Still, it's pretty crazy seeing Ash back on the screen--especially when you compare him to the chubby Bruce Campbell of Burn Notice.

America's Got Talent/Britain's Got Talent
This is still the place to occasionally see something you've never seen before.  This year the American finalists included several magicians and a regurgitator.

Inside No. 9
A British dark-humored anthology show.  You never know if you're gonna get a farce, a murder mystery, or a pull-at-your-heart-strings drama.  It's somewhat hit or miss, but I appreciate the effort and the fact that you never know what you're going to get.

Muppets
As a huge Muppet fan, I would have assumed this would be at the top of my list going into last year.  It's what I've been wanting from the Muppets for years.  The Office-style pseudo-documentary behind-the-scenes style seemed perfectly matched for putting on the Muppet Show.  And it probably was in 2008.  In 2015, it didn't work, and I quickly got bored.  I'm not even sure what the last episode was that I watched because it didn't hold my attention strongly enough to remember.  This makes me sad. 

Special mention:

With "Friends" streaming on Netflix, we watched the entire series all over again.  We'd bought the series on DVD a long time ago, but then sold or gave it away.  It was fun re-watching it as a historical piece on the late 90s and seeing which guest stars are now huge or have gone on to other things while many of the Friends themselves have started to disappear.

I watched a couple other online series including "Other Space" and "Community."  I was sadly very disappointed with "Community."  With a reduced cast list from the original show, it never seemed to reach the heights of the earlier series.

Online:
Not counting Netflix, since I included that with the regular shows above, some of the other things that I enjoyed watching online were:
  • RedLetterMedia (Half in the Bag, Best of the Worst, Wheel of the Worst)
  • Screen Junkies (Honest Trailers, Movie Fights)
  •  Bored Shorts
  • TomSka (asdf, skits)

Podcasts

As I mentioned in the music section, I listen almost exclusively to podcasts these days.  My favorites this year were:
  • "Now Playing Podcast" -- as I mentioned in movies, this show goes movie by movie through nearly every franchise out there from horror to comic book to action. If there's a sequel they've either reviewed it or will get to it eventually.  I've had a lot of fun with discovering this podcast with around 6 years of back log to catch up on.  It's encouraged me to watch and/or re-watch quite a few movies this year to play along.
  • "Movie Fights" -- This one hasn't been going very long, and when I got into it early this year, I binged through the episodes I missed to catch up.  At first I thought the point was establish things like "Who was the best Batman" or "Which Avenger would win in the Hunger Games" with a definitive answer.  But once I realized it was purely about the debate, not the answer, then I softened to it and really got into it.  We even got a card game called "Superfight" which works similar to this show in pairing up fighters and then debating who would win.
  • "Movie BS" -- I provided another new theme song for this show, my favorite movie review podcast.
  • "Empire"/"Slashfilm" -- These are my two other favorite movie news/review podcasts.
  • "Smegheads"/"James Bonding" -- These two podcasts step through each Red Dwarf show/James Bond movie and review them in a very entertaining way.

Games

I played a lot of games this year.  As usual.  We added a PS3 to our game library, now that the system is last generation and cheap, and we could find lots of games for a good price.  My boys have taken to PC gaming and we've got a lot more games through Steam than through consoles this year.  Here are the games that I enjoyed the most:

-Trials Frontier/Simpsons Tapped Out (iOS) -  These were my top two last year and I continued to play them throughout this year.  I almost got fed up with Trials and deleted it off my phone for a week, only to discover a massive update that fixed all the things I was upset with and added a ton of new content.  Both of these are Freemium games, but I do put a few dollars in here and there mainly to express appreciation for the many hours I've spent on them.  With Trials, I have regularly been ranked in the top 100 in the world for most of the year.

-Her Story (iOS) - This was one of the most unique and fascinating games this year.  The premise is that you are watching clips of a series of interviews on a police computer for an old crime.  You are given no information and can only access the clips by typing in words from the interview transcript -- which you don't have.  So you start by typing in words like "crime" or "murder" and see what comes up.  Bit by bit, you piece together the story that you learn in a completely random order.  It's also unique in that it's mostly video with real people--or, actually, one actor.  I strongly recommend finding this.  I think it's available on several different platforms.

Hyrule Warrios (WiiU) - I didn't  understand this Zelda-themed game when I first tried it.  You are on a big battlefield surrounded by hundreds of monsters and you just jump in and start killing everyone.  Slowly I found that mass murdering people was very addicting and could be done while watching a movie or doing other things at the same time.

Splatoon (WiiU) - This was a really clever and very unique multiplayer game on the Wii.  The premise makes no sense, but the gameplay is really fun. You are a person who has ink-based weapons like brushes or paint sprays, and you try to spread your color of ink over the playing field while stopping the other team from spreading their ink.  And you can turn into a squid to swim through your color of ink.  Weird, but fun.

Mario Maker (WiiU) - We had a lot of fun designing Mario levels with this game.  It's laid out in a very ingenious way, while only giving you a few tools at a time and making you earn more by making levels and trying out the tools you have.  There's an amazing library of other levels that people have made and many of them are unbelievable.

Lego Jurassic Park (XBox 360) - Yup, another Lego game.  This one has dinosaurs.

Geometry Wars 3 (Xbox, iOS) - Geometry Wars 2 was my favorite Xbox 360 game.  I never expected a new game in the series, since I'd believed the company that made it went under.  So I was shocked a new one was released with new ideas that lived up quite well to its predecessor.  The only reason it doesn't overtake it is that there's almost too much to do, which takes away the intense, but simple focus of the previous one that only had a few different types of stages.

Unfinished Swan (PS3) - This was an older game that was exclusive to the PS3 so I was finally able to play it this year.  I'd seen a demo several years ago and was blown away by the concept.  You start out with a completely white screen and after hitting random buttons on the controller you discover one of them throws a ball of paint which lands in front of you splashing on the wall or ground.  As you throw paint, you can begin to distinguish your environment which you have to traverse by continuing to throw paint balls to find your way around.  There are other mechanics that come into play in this short game, but that first part is just amazing as an invisible world suddenly starts to take shape in front of your eyes.

A few other games that I played this year:
Captain Toad's Treasure Tracker, Rayman Wii U, Pocket Mine 2 (iOS), Shadowmatic (iOS), Talos Principle (PC), Shovel Knight (PC), Batman:Arkham Origins (XBox), The Sly Cooper Collection (PS3), Katamari Forever (PS3), You Must Build a Boat (iOS)

Books

 I made a goal to read more this year.  I only sort of succeeded, but there were a few things I made it through:

  • "As You Wish" - A behind the scenes book of "The Princess Bride" written by Wesley himself, Cary Elwes
  • "Vortex"/"Catalyst" - Books 2 and 3 of the terribly named "Insignia" series.  A series about a world where they put computers into the heads of potential child soldiers in a cross between "Ender's Game" and "Ready Player One."
  • "Armada" - Speaking of "Ready Player One," this was the new novel from Ernest Cline about an alien invasion on earth that was a cross between "Ender's Game" and "The Last Starfighter."  It was a fun read, but not quite the instant classic that his previous book became.
  • Book of Mormon - I spent a significant amount of time re-reading the Book of Mormon in a short span of time in the middle of the year, starting with 3rd Nephi and wrapping around back to the end of Helaman.
  • "The Da Vinci Code" - I re-read this book when we found a cheap copy of the illustrated version that contains images of all the paintings and places that were referred to in the book.  It was nice to have the reference material right there as you read it.
  • "The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries" - I just got this for Christmas so I'm only a few stories in, but I've enjoyed it so far.
  • "Goosebumps #1: Welcome To Dead House" - I had an idea to try and read some Goosebump books since there was a Goosebump movie coming out this year.  I only made it through this and halfway through the second.

And so 2016...

Now that we're done with 2015, here's what I'm looking forward to this next year.

I'm still looking forward to all the Marvel films.  This year is Captain America Civil War and Doctor Strange.  I'm looking forward to the next Star Wars movie, Rogue One and the next Star Trek as well.  I'm hesitant about Batman V Superman or Suicide Squad. And then there's Ghostbusters.  Could be amazing, could be like this year and be too close of a remake to the earlier film.  Who knows.  There's also a Harry Potter pseudo-prequel Fantastic Beasts... that could be really interesting.

On TV there's a new Sherlock special airing today.  Otherwise, who knows.

In music, I think the Feeling have new album coming out and  I'm willing to give them another shot.  Tears for Fears may have a new album if we're lucky.  Otherwise, I have nothing much that I'm anticipating for this year.  Maybe I'll finally start getting more of my own music down as I work toward my second album.  We'll see.

In games, we may learn about a new Nintendo platform this year, and maybe get a new Zelda game?

At the moment we have no big plans for 2016.  There are a few international trips for work that are coming up between now and early 2017 which I may get to go on.  Otherwise, we intend to just keep on as we've been doing.

See you all in 2017!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Greg's Favorites of 2014


It's that time again!  Time to blow the cobwebs off this old blog thing and post my favorites of the past year: 2014.  Here we go!

Music

It's getting harder for me to find music I really like.  2014 was another difficult year.  I need a new big brother to show me all the cool bands, but I haven't been able to find one in a while, so it's hit and miss.  Here's what I listened to and really liked this year:

Greg Whitehead. Let's start again with me, since I'm my favorite subject.  I recorded several songs this year, 2 songs and 2 instrumentals.

"Goodbye Today" - In the style of 60's vocal sunshine pop (a la "The Association")

 "Apricot Jam" - 70's style instrumental funk jam (a la Air's "La Femme d'Argent")

 "The Rain" - Rock/pop inspired by Jellyfish

 "Little Drummer Boy" - Christmas arrangement with my brother Jeffrey Whitehead on guitar. Mix of rock, disco, and Beatles psychedelia

Rob Cantor  - "Not a Trampoline" - Solo release from a member of one of my favorite bands, Tally Hall, this album was probably my most listened to of the year.  It contains all the hallmarks of a great Tally Hall album, including appearances by most of the band in some capacity.  Lots of quirkiness, great harmonies, and catchy melodies.  "Perfect" became a huge viral hit, but my favorite from the album is "Garden of Eden"--though there are quite a few others I could have picked.


Dowling Poole - "Bleak Strategies" - Rising from the ashes of Jackdaw 4, this pairing of Willie Dowling and Jon Poole is the best Jackdaw 4 album since "Bipolar Diversions"

"Weird Al" Yankovic - "Mandatory Fun" - Supposedly Al's last studio album, this is just as great as any other Weird Al album.  I actually recognized some of the songs he parodied this time and the ones I didn't were still great songs.  There was a great week earlier this year when Weird Al released one video a day from his album.  That was a great week.

St. Vincent - This is the second time I saw an artist on SNL and sought out more of their work.  (The first being Gotye a couple years ago.)  St. Vincent is very weird and quirky and Maria didn't enjoy it much when I played it, but it reminded me of the cool alternative music from the late 80s and early 90s when alternative meant weird and quirky and not loud and harsh.

Piano Guys - "Wonders" - Another year, another Piano Guys album.  We really enjoyed playing this one in the car this year.

Nicole Saboune - "Must Exist" - This is the album I started the year off with.  She's a Scandinavian artist that I don't really know much about, but her album had a really great early 80s female artist sound akin to Pat Benetar mixed with Joan Jett

Other albums/artists that I listened to this year (that may or many not have come out this year):
-Polyphonic Spree - "Yes It's True" (2013)
-Neon Neon - "Praxis Makes Perfect" (2013)
-Evil Arrows - Eps 1-3 (Bryan Scary side project)
-The Hoosiers - "News from Nowhere" - I was excited about this album, but it made no impact on me.
-Space - "Attack of the 50ft Mutant Kebab" - This album was a surprise that Space actually put out a new album.  But sadly, nothing was anywhere near as good as their 90s albums.
-Eno * Hyde - Brian Eno and Karl Hyde (Underworld) put out an album together.  I really liked elements of it, particularly hearing Karl's voice again since I haven't listened to Underworld since they turned Techo.  But none of the songs stuck.
-Boston, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Yes - These three classic rock bands put out brand new albums this year, all were listenable, but none were great.  I was particularly disappointed in Yes since their previous album became one of my favorite Yes albums ever made.

I'm unaware of any upcoming music in 2015 to look forward to, so this year will be a complete surprise.  Crossing my fingers it will be a good one.

Movies

I enjoyed quite a lot of the movies from 2014.  I initially thought this would be an off year, since 2015 is preparing to be the GREATEST MOVIE YEAR OF ALL TIME*.  (*According to everyone on the Internet.)  Here are the ones I liked the best this year:

The Lego Movie/Guardians of the Galaxy - I'm lumping these together because they both star Chris Pratt and they were both better than they probably should have been.  Both of these were a ton of fun and were completely enjoyable on re-watch.

X-Men - Days of Future Past - I haven't been a big fan of X-Men movies, but this entry made me a fan again.  There's one scene in particular where time slows down that was the scene of the year for me and took this from a great movie to an amazing movie in just 1 minute. 

Edge of Tomorrow/How To Train Your Dragon 2 - I'm lumping these together because these were both really, really great movies that seemed to have failed theatrically.  I can't understand why.

About Time - I believe this was a 2013 movie, but saw it this year.  I really loved the time travel concept and how it played in a very mundane, yet moving way.

Captain America: Winter Soldier/The Hobbit: Battle of 5 Armies/Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - These are all lumped together as great sequels that I liked.

Big Hero 6 - This is the first theatrical movie that Jaden sat through its entirety. (Except for a bathroom break mid-way) We all had fun with it.

What We Do In The Shadows - A New Zealand mockumentary about vampires.  Very dry and very, very funny.  Possibly the funniest movie of the year.

Other movies I liked this year: Muppets Most Wanted, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Veronica Mars

Next year will be the big one with Star Wars, Avengers, Terminator, Jurassic World, Ant Man, Tomorrowland, 2 Pixar cartoons, and many, many more.  Wouldn't it be great if they were all good?  

TV

We didn't find much new to watch this year.  Our network viewing has been diminishing more and more each year, though there's still a few regular shows that we watch.

Face Off/Jim Henson's Puppet Challenge/Wizard Wars - I found the first two earlier this year when I was home recovering from surgery.  Face Off had 8 or so seasons and this was the first for Puppet Challenge and Wizard Wars.  All are essentially the same show, a template used on many, many other reality contests.  Face Off is a make-up challenge (which is why I avoided it for so long.)  What it really is, though, turning a model into a new creature each week.  Puppet Challenge was about creating very, very elaborate puppet creatures each week.  And Wizard Wars is about magicians being given specific items and creating a magic routine with them. I ate up all these shows.  I love seeing amazing artists and their creativity and the process of realizing their ideas.

Studio C/SNL/Birthday Boys - I love a great sketch comedy and all three of these had some really good comedy.

Brooklyn 99 - Probably the best current comedy that we actually look forward to watching

Comedy Bang Bang/Review/Nathan For You - All three of these were great non-traditional comedy shows.

Community - The last season was pretty good (still waiting for the online follow-up season.)  Makes me really miss the old NBC Thursday night comedy block (with the Office and Parks and Rec)

Sherlock - The year started off immediately with three episodes of Sherlock.  I barely remember watching them since it's been so long.  But luckily I wrote it down so I would remember by the end of the year!

Inside No. 9 - A British comedy anthology series.  Each episode is unrelated except for the fact that they take place in a building marked "No. 9."  The first two episodes were really good.  The rest were hit and miss.  But good overall.

@Midnight/QI/Would I Lie To You - I love a good panel show, particularly with good comedians.

America's Got Talent/Britain's Got Talent/Fake Off  - I enjoy a good talent contest, and I really enjoy watching the first two each year.  The last one is a new one where they seemed to have taken all the really great original performance artists that I enjoy the most from the first two shows and created a new competition for them.  It featured groups performing with shadows, puppets, black light, acrobatics, projection screens, and all sorts of creative concepts.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Yes, this is not a 2014 show.  But I'm putting it here, because I finally watched every episode from Netflix--including most of the last season that I had never seen.  So now I can finally say I have seen the entire series.

Online - Some of my favorite shows this year were from on-line only outlets.  Here's a few:
-The Nerdist Channel, 
-RedLetterMedia (Half in the Bag, Best of the Worst, Wheel of the Worst), 
-Screen Junkies (Honest Trailers)
-TomSka (asdf)
-Static Videos (my nieces/nephew's comedy channel)
-Brett Domino
-Claudio O'Doherty - What is England

Podcasts

I found a few new podcasts this year, and phased out a few old ones.  My favorites this year:

-Movie B.S. with Bayer and Snider - I wrote these guys a new theme song this year.  I was very happy they liked it.
-James Bonding - Reviewing James Bond movies one by one.
-Empire Podcast - British movie new/review podcast
-No Such Thing As A Fish - a QI-related podcast.  Full of interesting facts.
-We Have Issues - Short comedy topical podcast
-Serial - Great start, but sad they didn't end anywhere satisfying.  That's what happens when you start a story without knowing if/when it will end.

Games

Most of my games were on my iPhone this year with a few Xbox and other games here and there.  This is still a transitional year when games are coming out on the old and new generation consoles.  We got a Wii U for Christmas and caught up on a whole lot of games that we'd missed the past two years.  But we have no foreseeable plans to get an Xbox One or PS4 yet.  The big theme this year is "freemium"--games that are free to play but have lots of incentives or penalties if you don't then give the game more money.  I gave in and played a few this year and got hooked on some.  Here's what I played and enjoyed the most this year:

-Trials Frontier - (iOS) - A bike racing freemium game.  It's fun, but very, very hard.  It has a lot of freemium tropes like timers and multiple forms of currency.  Yet it's kept me playing.  So much so, that of the more than 1.8 million players, I'm currently ranked just under 120.  At one point I got up to the 88th ranked player in the world:




-Simpson's Tapped Out - (iOS) - Another freemium game.  I started this last Christmas and have now been playing it for an entire year.  I've designed and built an entire Springfield, populated by hundreds of characters and the game keeps pulling me back in.  They have regular events with regular rewards that keep the game interesting and keep you playing.  This is one of the games that helped me survive my stay in the hospital earlier this year.

-Rogue Legacy - (Mac) - A platforming game that I purchased on my Mac.  Very, very hard, but a lot of fun.  You go through a randomly generated castle and take the money and rewards you earn to upgrade a new random character.  At first you can only go through a few rooms, but by the end you have a super-upgraded character and can actually survive the castle.

-2048/Threes - (iOS/PC) - A sliding puzzle with a very simple concept of combining numbers to make bigger numbers.  It wins the "just one more try" award for the year.

-Mario Kart 8/NintendoLand/Smash Bros Wii U/Hyrule Warriors/Donkey Kong Freeze/Wii Party/Captain Toad Treasure Tracker/New Super Marios U/Super Mario 3D Wii U - (Wii U) - We got all these since Thanksgiving.  Most we haven't been able to spend a lot of time with, but I foresee playing them well into 2015.

-Geometry Wars 3 - (Xbox) - This was a surprise.  The second is my all-time favorite Xbox game.  I thought the series had died since the creators had gone out of business.  But someone else picked it up and put out a worthy successor.  Very hard, but very fun.

-Thief - (Xbox) - This was both a great reboot of the series and a terrible one.  I played this while I was sick and recovering from surgery.  I was upset by the language and surprising nudity that this game contained since my son was anxious to play it as well.  It didn't need it and it ruined a pretty good game.  The story didn't make much sense either, but it was fun stepping back into the stealthy boots of Garrett the master thief.

-My Muppets Show - (iOS) - Another freemium game where you make Muppets and then add them to a stage or scene.  As you add more, they contribute to a song, making the song longer, more complex, and more interesting.  The game was regularly updated at the beginning of the year, but seems to be abandoned now.  Sad, especially since they had promised another new stage in the summer.

-Zelda: Link Between Worlds - (DS) - This was a great return to the "Link to the Past" style Zelda game.  I played it really early in the year, so I only remember playing this because I wrote it down!

-Lego: Marvel Superheroes/The Lego Movie/The Hobbit - (Xbox) - Technically, I didn't play the last one.  Maria did.  But I played the other two.  These are the same Lego formula adventure games that they regularly put out.  The Lego Movie was surprisingly short, but the Marvel one was so big, I was never able to complete it, which is rare for a Lego game.

Books

I didn't read much this year.  So here's what I read, good or bad:

-"Serenity: Leaves on the Wind" - A comic book follow up to the Serenity movie.  Had some interesting progress with the characters.  
-"Serenity: Those Left Behind" - This was a comic book that was intended as a gap filler between the Firefly series and the Serenity movie.  It explains why Shepherd and Inara were no longer on the ship, what happened to the guys with the Blue Gloves, and how the Operative was set after Serenity.
-"Allegiant" - The third in the Divergent trilogy.  I actually gave up half way through when I learned the Big Reveal and decided it was not worth completing.  I read the summary of the rest of the plot from a wikipedia page.
-"A Billion Jokes: Part 1" - From Peter Serafinowicz, just a quick joke book with only one line on each page.  But some were very funny.
-"Swift Programming Language" - Apple introduced a new language for programming for their devices.  I have yet to use it, but I read about it.
-"Matched" - Another teen post-apocolyptic anti-utopia book.  It was interesting enough to finish, but I quickly gave up into the second book.

2015

And that's it, I guess.  As I mentioned above, 2015 is the BIG one for movies.  I'm probably most looking forward to the Avengers.  I'm cautiously optimistic about Star Wars and Jurassic World.   My wild card bet is on Tomorrowland which is from Brad Bird who has yet to make a less than excellent movie.

I'm unaware of any upcoming music.  And as for games, Nintendo has a lot promised, but nothing specifically dated.  We're all excited for a new console Zelda game, but I highly doubt it will make it out this year.  We'll see.

Happy 2015 everyone!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Greg's Favorites of 2013

It's been a year.  We've pretty much abandoned our blog, but I still like to keep a record of my favorite media items of the previous year.  2013 has passed, and overall not an amazing year, but there were a few good things that I saw/heard/read/played this year.

Music

2013 was overall a disappointment musically.  Few of my musical sources provided much new or novel and few of the artists I regularly listen to put out anything noteworthy.  Podcasts have replaced most of the music listening that I usually do but I still love the thrill of finding a new great album.  If there's a musical trend that I followed this year, then 2013 was the year of the retro electronica:  bands like Chateau Marmont and Daft Punk among others using analog synths and robot vocals from the late 70s early 80s.

Here's a list of bands and albums that I listened to this year:

Greg Whitehead - Please excuse my vanity for a moment, but I recorded three songs this year that I'm quite proud of.  One new song I wrote earlier in the year, one new version of an older piece that I wrote years ago, and one classic French Christmas Carol done in a Mannheim Steamroller-esque style.

"Again Tomorrow"

"Eric The Song"

"Noel Nouvelet"


Chateau Marmont - The Maze
This electronic French band put out a couple amazing EPs a few years ago and I've been anxiously awaiting their debut album. It did not disappoint. Their first single, "War Games" is easily my favorite track of the year. The band and album remind me a lot of Air and this is the best sequel to "Moon Safari" that Air never recorded. Sadly, I can't see that this album was ever released in the US though some of the album's singles are available.

Justice - Audio, Video, Disco
Another French electronic band.  This album actually came out in 2011, but I just discovered it this year.  Their first album (Called "Cross" or just the cross symbol) was a bit harsher, but this one is excellent and makes a great companion to the other electronic albums on this list.

Starcadian - Sunset Blood
Starcadian makes "Ear Movies" according to his bio.  This is a soundtrack to a fake 80s John Carpenter/Steven Spielberg movie with some great 80s era sounding synths and songs that hearken back to Neverending Story, E.T., Thriller, and Big Trouble In Little China.


Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Electronic band #4.  I've never liked Daft Punk but always felt I should.  Most of their songs have a great hook, but are too repetitive.  This particular album is a bit better because everything is supposedly played live.  Though there are a few too many track skippers, the overall album was pretty enjoyable.

Chrome Canyon - Elemental Themes
Electronic band #5.  This album came out late 2012, but I found it this year after Chateau Marmont did a remix.


Space March - Mountain King
Space March is an australian synthpop band that I found and enjoyed a bit this year.  The title track to this album is an amazing synth version of the classic "Hall of the Mountain King" mixed with the quirky sensibilities of Sparks.

Duckworth Lewis Method - Sticky Wickets
The one non-electronic album on this list.  This is Britpop at its most simple and classic.  This is the second album by the cricket-themed group and, with the exception of the both overly catchy and yet unlistenable final track, an improvement on the first.

I was sad to not find any other great Britpop this year.  My current favorite group, The Feeling, put out a surprisingly lackluster album without a single good song.  I listened to the album many times and can't remember any track.

The Piano Guys - 1, 2, A Family Christmas
As a family we've listened to and watched The Piano Guys quite a bit this year.  I particularly enjoyed their Christmas album.  Spencer is currently learning a couple complicated John Schmidt pieces on the piano from seeing them played on YouTube.


Movies

The biggest trend I found in 2013 movies was that I watched a lot of films that the critics whose opinions I normally agree with hated and I enjoyed.  And a few they loved that I didn't care for.

Here are the films that I liked the most in 2013:

Gravity - Based on the hype, we made sure to see this on the biggest screen and in 3D.  It lived up to the spectacle, although I'm not sure it will live up to future rewatches. 

Captain Philips - A week after Gravity, I saw this and felt like an amazing double feature of edge-of-your-seat thrillers.

Iron Man 3 - A great follow up to the Avengers and much improved over Iron Man 2.  I saw this on a plane trip later in the year and they cut out the whole Air Force One rescue scene.

The World's End - The one movie I watched twice in the theaters.  The first time I was disappointed in this follow up to Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (which has become one of my all time favorite films.)  After reading several reviews that said that the film improved upon re-watch, I went again, and it was true.  This film definitely rewards multiple viewings.  There are so many foreshadows, callbacks and Easter eggs, it is impossible to take it all in on one viewing.
 
Ender's Game - This was my most anticipated film for 2013.  In the end it made for a good film, and an excellent companion to the book.  Sadly, there wasn't quite enough to make it an excellent stand-alone film.  Like many others, I believe that an extra 10-15 minutes of the games in Battle School are needed to make Ender's journey make sense.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire - I really enjoyed the first book and the first movie.  I liked the second book a little less, but the movie actually improved the book.  I hated the third book and am interested to see if the next two movies can find a way to improve it or make me appreciate it better.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug - I'm not completely onboard with Jackson that we need to have every single character and encounter in the book realized on screen, but there was a lot to enjoy in this middle chapter, particularly the river barrel sequence and Smaug himself.

Movies that I enjoyed watching in the theater that many critics seemed to hate:
-Warm Bodies
-Jack the Giant Slayer
-Oz: The Great and Powerful
-Incredible Burt Wonderstone
-Oblivion
-Star Trek Into Darkness

Other films I saw and enjoyed:
-Now You See Me
-Man of Steel
-World War Z
-Monsters U
-Pacific Rim
-Conjuring
-Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2
-Thor Dark World
-Frozen
-The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


TV

On TV we found a few new shows to enjoy this year, though very few of them were regular network shows.  Here's what I watched in 2013:

Uncle Grandpa - A cartoon we all enjoyed in our house.  I liked it so much, it became my Halloween Costume for the year.  No adults got it, but plenty of kids did.

Adventure Time - After discovering this great cartoon last year, the kids and I have been anxious every Monday for the release of the next new episode.

Studio C - I'm still having trouble reconciling this quite hilarious sketch comedy show and the fact that it's made by BYUTV.  We went and sought out the actual Studio C on our trip to Utah this year.

Arrested Development - I was anxiously awaiting the new season that debuted on Netflix.  It was almost too complex a plot to follow all the way through, but it was still really funny.

Brooklyn 99 - The one new network show that we all enjoy.  Andy Samberg is one of my favorites (see: Hot Rod) and the rest of the cast are great.

Comedy Bang Bang - Returned for a second season this year.  A great surreal fake comedy talk show.

Doctor Who - I finally caught up and am current on modern Doctor Who.  I even saw an episode in the theater.  Next year brings a new Doctor, and I'm interested to see where it goes.

Broadchurch/The Escape Artist - Speaking of Doctor Who, former Doctor David Tennant appeared in two British drama mini-series.  The first about a murder mystery in a small town that affects everyone, and the second about a lawyer who successfully defends a murderer which ends up coming back to haunt him.

QI, Would I Lie To You, Was It Something I Said - While we're on British shows, these were the British comedy panel shows that I watched an enjoyed this year.

IT Crowd Special - I was sad that there wasn't a final season or movie, just an extended episode.  One of my favorite sitcoms, I'm glad it at least said goodbye.

Nathan For You - A comedy series about a "marketing expert" who comes up with some strange new ways to attempt to market businesses.

NTSF:SD:SVU::Children's Hospital - Wonderfully bizarre and short send-ups of action TV and medical dramas.  NTSF is definitely my favorite of the two.


Since a lot of our viewing options have moved on-line, some of my favorite on-line shows this past year include:
-Nerdist YouTube Channel
-Newest Latest Best (successor to Totally Rad Show)
-Half in the Bag/Best of the Worst (Red Letter Media)
-ASDF cartoons and Tomska's YouTube channel
-StaticVideos (my neices and nephew's YouTube channel)


Podcasts

I listened to a lot of podcasts this year.  Here is a quick list of my favorites:

-Empire
-Movie B.S.
-Comedy Bang Bang
-Nerdist
-Slashfilm
-James Bonding
-How Did This Get Made


Books

 I didn't read much this year, but I did read:

-Divergent/Insurgent
-Insignia
-S. (Only started reading this since getting it for Christmas, but am very intrigued.)
-Crap Kingdom
-Can You See What I See: Out of This World

Games

I played a lot on my iPhone this year, but not much on the regular consoles.  We've just now enterred the next new console generation and so far there has been little reason to join up yet.  We'll see if that's still the case at the end of 2014. 

2013 favorite iPhone games:
-Stack React (my first published iPhone Game)
-Tilt to Live 2
-Super Stickman Golf 2
-The Room: Pocket
-Angry Birds Star Wars II , Angry Birds Friends
-Giant Boulder of Death
-Plants vs Zombies 2
-McPixel (2012)
-Pocket Mine
-Tiny Thief
-Sudoku Quest+
-Say the Same Thing
-Heads Up
-Draw Something 2
-Songpop
-Nimble Quest
-Indiana Stone: The Brave and the Boulder
-Ridiculous Fishing
-84 Logic Games
-My Muppets
-Knightmare Tower

Consoles/Computer games:
-Runner 2 (XBox arcade)
-Luigi's Mansion 2 (3DS)
-Battleblock Theater (XBox arcade)
-Star Wars Pinball (Xbox & iOS)
-Return To Dark Castle (Mac)

2014

Looking forward to 2014, here's what I'm anticipating:

Music: The Hoosiers.  More music than 2013.  Not much else that I'm anticipating at the moment.  Hopefully I'll make some more music as well.

Movies: "Edge of Tomorrow" - Tom Cruise does Sci-Fi Groundhog Day.  "How to Train Your Dragon 2," "Lego Movie," the Hobbit finale, and "Guardians of the Galaxy."

TV: New Sherlock!  New Doctor.  New Community with Dan Harmon.  Also interested to see more online competition to traditional TV.


Well, that's it for now.  See you all in a year if not sooner.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2012 Newsletter

Click here for pdf
(It's a little late, but we finally got a newsletter out to sum up our past year.  The post below contains the text of the document which you can find here.)

The Whitehead’s newsletter for 2011 2012!

For some people Christmas cards and letters are the first thing they do for the holidays.  For others, it’s the last thing.  And for still others, it gets put off and then becomes the Valentine’s newsletter, the spring newsletter, the mid-year newsletter, and finally the let’s-just-combine-it-with-next-year’s newsletter.  Somehow we never got to 2011 and here it is 2013 already!  This is what’s been going on with our family:

Jaden, our youngest, is now firmly in his twos.  He is the entertainment center for our home.  He wants to be a part of every single thing all of us do, which can be very frustrating for us and him due to obvious age limitations.  He loves coloring.  Coloring on paper, books, walls, other people--it doesn’t matter.  He loves balls and it wouldn’t surprise us if we actually finally had a sportsman in our family.  He also loves whatever any of us is currently holding—iPhone, DS, phone, game controller, remote control—which can lead to some interesting tug of wars.  He is amazingly cute and so (usually) well-mannered, that we worry about spoiling him when he can ask for yet another piece of chocolate so politely.  He is pretty proficient with his ABCs and his colors, and he’s a pretty good parrot at the moment which means we need to watch what he hears.  Will Smith taught him a few interesting words when we watched Men In Black 3 the other day.
Spencer ended the year at 10 but will be 11 just a week later.  He’s been working on his Webelos activity badges for Cub Scouts and earned his Arrow of Light.  He’s looking forward to joining Boy Scouts this year (while we parents are looking forward to a break from Cub Scouts for a while).  Spencer continues to love anything that you can ride around on and has quite a collection of skateboards, rip-sticks, pogo-sticks, and other odd gadgets that we find at occasional yard sales.  He also has been fascinated with survival kits and his built several of his own including many that fit in an Altoids tin that can fit in your pocket.  He also loves origami and has invented many of his own paper airplanes.  He has also essentially taught himself how to play piano this year, which is quite amazing both how good he is, and that it has come without formal lessons.  He has been learning Greg’s piano songs and has several of them completely memorized.  He and Greg played a duet at our church for this year’s Christmas program.
Colin is now 12 and became a Deacon this year at church.  He also has joined the regular Boy Scout troop and has earned all his ranks up to Star Scout.  He got to go on a weeklong Scout Camp this summer in Arkansas.  We realized this was the first time he and Spencer had ever been apart for this length of time and this far apart.  Colin enjoys drawing, doodling, and animating.  He is becoming quite proficient at flip-book style animations on a program on his DSi.  He is also really into knives, swords, and guns right now.  We got him a BB gun to chase unwanted raccoons, possums, and foreign cats from our yard which he guards vigilantly.  So please be careful if you want to sneak into our back yard at night uninvited.
Maria is currently kept busy raising the kids and being their homeschool teacher.  She has been serving in the Young Women’s presidency at church for the past year and a half and loves working with them (and getting to do some GIRLY things).  She has gotten back into scrapbooking much more over the past year, including going to a weekend retreat, and has set up a nice scrapbook station that we had to relocate from Jaden’s room (formerly our office) to our bedroom. She still enjoys reading, video games, and shopping (mostly for toys for the kids!), and is hoping to make some life changes to make the transition to 40 a little less painful next December.
Greg is still working at Lockheed Martin for his 11th year.  Looking ahead, it always seems nebulous whether he’ll still have a job there the next year, but somehow they keep paying him.  Here’s hoping we can make it through 2013.  Greg currently continues his trend of church calling collecting.  He is the ward organist, Boy Scout Committee Chair, primary teacher (for Colin then Spencer’s class), and was the 11-year-old Scout assistant leader.  This past year he had the opportunity to perform magic shows for the Cub Scouts at two pack meetings and then again for the Cub Scout Day Camp and another show at his Mom’s school in Utah.  He continues to try and be active and added biking to his routine this year.  Greg had the opportunity to fly out to Utah for a few days for his 20-year class reunion and was able to catch up with many of his old friends and Utah family.
As a family, we decided we wanted to stay nearby this year for our vacations.  We went to a time-share presentation to get a free stay at the Wolf Lodge and ended up with a time-share instead.  We’ve had fun using some of the getaway privileges that have come with it and have visited a water park near Tyler, Texas a few times as well as stayed overnight at four different resorts.  (We still have yet to get to the Wolf Lodge.)  We stayed for most of a week in the Texas Hill Country in October visiting Austin and some of the touristy areas down there where we had a lot of fun.  
Since 2012 came and went without an apocalypse, here’s hoping for a great 2013 for everyone!

Greg, Maria, Colin, Spencer and Jaden Whitehead

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Greg's Favorites of 2012

Well, this my first post since last year's version of this same list.  Seems like blogs have lost some steam with Facebook and other things out there, but I like having these posts to look back on.  So here is my annual look back at my favorite music, movies, TV, games, and other media from the previous year.  They are ordered from most favorite on down.  I sort of kept them to around 10 or so, but not strictly.
All in all, it was a fairly decent year.  I didn't have to scrape to find things I liked in most categories like I may have in the past.  I think the only slight disappointment this year was in TV.  While there were some great shows, there were no new "must watch" shows that emerged in 2012--though there were a lot of great short runs. 

Music
For 2012 in music, there were a lot at the start of the year and a lot on the back half-especially at the end of August when I found myself with more albums than I could listen to properly.  Then it was just finding a hidden gem or two along the way.  While new music is still very important to me, with most of my commuting and exercise time spent listening to podcasts, my music listening time descreased dramatically this year. 
As far as trends, there were a lot of progressive/classic rock comebacks this year and a lot of "supergroups" or members from other bands combining to make new projects.
Here are my favorite albums.  I started to add pictures, but then eventually gave up as this new blogger composer seems to just mess everything up.  So there's a few, but I gave up after six:
Gotye - Making Mirrors -Technically this came out in 2011, but the song "Somebody That I Used To Know" really hit it big this year.  This was probably the most listened to album by the entire family this year, along with Gotye's previous album "Like Drawing Blood."  Gotye now has the sole distinction of being the first and only artist I have ever seen perform on Saturday Night Live that actually convinced me to seek out the rest of his work.  He reminds me of a cross between Sting and Peter Gabriel and his album carries a really strong mid-80s vibe of both those artists.  Good stuff.
Muse - The 2nd Law - I've always been a big fan of Muse's crazier stuff, and this album has more of that than their previous albums, making this my new favorite Muse album.  It starts off with what should have been the newest Bond movie theme and keeps going from there through five tracks to the 2012 London Olympics theme.  The rest is a little more typical Muse until the end when it gets interesting again.
Darkness - Hot Cakes/Foxy Shazam - The Church of Rock and Roll - This is sort of a 2 for one.  The Foxy Shazam album came out early this year and it seemed like it was essentially a preview for the Darkness album that was coming later in the year. "Hot Cakes" itself was a great return from the Darkness.  With the exception of the awful opening track, the rest of the album is really good.  Nothing quite as good as the best stuff on their previous albums, but nothing as bad as the worst stuff on those either.
The Producers - Made In Basing Street (Deluxe Edition) - This was the album I was looking forward to the most this year.  It is Trevor Howe (Buggles, Yes) teaming up with some other famous producer friends for a sort of supergroup album.  They released the song "Freeway" early which is probably my favorite track of the year and got me really excited for the rest.  The rest was good, but not as great as the first track.  I was initially disappointed in the rest of the album; however, after finding the extra tracks on the 2nd bonus disc, adding them to the first disc, and then rearranging the track order (the original track listing makes for a slow album) it actually turns into a great album.
Faded Paper Figures - The Matter - My high school friend and former Narrow Escape bandmate R. John Williams with his current band released their third and best Faded Paper Figures album.  It's still weird hearing a "real" album and recognizing the voice singing and thinking "Hey, I know that guy!"  The album gets my seal of approval purely from all cool synth stuff throughout.
ミラクルミュージカル - Hawaii: Part II. Joe Hawley with a few cameos from from other Tally Hall guys made this album.  The band name means "Miracle Musical" in Japanese (supposedly).  And though it is super difficult to do Google searching for, the album is a lot of fun.  Everything one might like from the Joe Hawley songs on the other Tally Hall albums is here.  It also reminds me a bit of a Gorillaz album in that it can be a bit experimental and weird in places, but the overall experience is great.
Squackett - A Life Within A Day.  Steve Hackett (Genesis) and Chris Squire (Yes) formed their own little supergroup and put together this progressive album that I quite enjoyed.
Django Django - s/t - One I've just discovered here at the end of the year on someone else's top of the year list.  I'm still in my early listening stage, but I really like the pscyhedelic-style crossed with the Association-esque harmonies.
Stefan Zuner - Zeigefuehl - The lead singer of the German band Freiheit apparently left the band this year and put out his own solo album.  It pretty much sounds just like Freiheit, but that's a good thing.
The Prog Collective - s/t - Another supergroup with members from Yes, Asia, XTC, and many others put out this album that sounds just like a progressive rock album! 
Some other albums I listened to this year, some were good, some were bad, and some I just wanted to mention: Jackdaw4 - Dissectacide, Kidsof88 - Modern Love, Ben Folds Five - The Sound of the Love of the Mind (very disappointed this wasn't better), Mika - Origin of Love, Adam Lambert - Trespassing, Scissor Sisters - Magic Hour (almost unlistenable), Gaz Coombes (Supergrass) - Presents Here Come The Bombs, Ian Anderson - Thick as a Brick 2, Ladyhawke - Anxiety, Air - Le Voyage Dans La Lune, Bryan Scary - Daffy's Elixir (was on last year's list, but officially came out this year.) 

Movies

Movies in 2012 were about par for the course.  Some good.  Some bad.  A few great starts to some new franchises, and few ends of others.  Here's some of my favorites for the year:
The Hunger Games - This was my favorite movie-going experience of the year.  My wife was supposed to go with a group of other girlfriends to see this as a girl's night out, but she got sick.  Since she prepurchased the ticket, I took it in her place intending to go alone to the screening.  When the other women arrived, they accepted me as one of their own and let me invade their girl's night out.  The movie itself was really fascinating and a great start to what I fear will be a progressively worse franchise. We'll see.
The Avengers - This was my second favorite movie-going experience of the year because I ended up getting early passes to see this a week before it was officially released--for free!  One of two amazing movies by Joss Whedon this year.  It had just about everything one could want from the guy who made Buffy.
Cabin in the Woods - The other movie from Joss Whedon.  Essentially this is his answer to the question: If you could make only one horror movie, what would you do?  Answer: put everything in one movie.  Scary, funny, and completely original while being completely derivative.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - We were very much looking forward to this while wondering how Peter Jackson could turn one book into three movies.  Seeing this, I can understand.  Also, it's Peter Jackson--he can make anything lengthy.  Not sure why critics were so harsh on it; I mean it could have definitely used some editing, but it was still entertaining.

Dark Knight Rises - Speaking of needing some editing...This was long, with surprisingly little Batman.  And there were way too many plotholes.  But in the end, I liked how it wrapped up many of the elements from the previous two Batman movies.

Wreck It Ralph - This was my favorite animated movie of the year.  Loved all the video game in-jokes.

Brave - Beautiful.  Story was surprising, but it seemed to be missing a final act.

The Amazing Spider-Man - I like this new Peter Parker way better than the last.  I liked how he actually still looked like the same guy when he was wearing the Spider-man costume.  I hated the villain and the promise that we'd learn more about Peter Parker and his family's back story but didn't.  I wish I could combine elements from the previous series with this and make a really good movie.

Skyfall (Bond 23) - I watched every single Bond film leading up to this film.  Many for the first time ever.  Overall, I'd say it was really good for a Bond film.  Parts were absolutely beautiful, and some of the action scenes were amazing.  However, I still don't care for Daniel Craig as a Bond.  I liked him better in this than his last two, though.  I also loved how they pulled together a lot of the history of Bond for this on his 50th anniversary.

Les Miserables - Maria and I were both crying at the end of this film.  It was very powerful.  I just wish they did more with the camera than leave it sitting close-up on the actor's faces while they sang.  Except for the few musical numbers where they went too overboard ("Lovely Ladies" in particular.)

Men in Black 3 - Good enough that I've watched it three times and totally makes up for Men In Black 2.  However, the inconsistent use of time-travel--particularly at a key scene at the end--drove me crazy!

TV

As I said up top, TV was a bit disappointing this year.  First, there were no new "must-watch" shows.  We tried a few like "Once Upon a Time" and "Awake" but we lost interest in most.  Secondly, the best series of the year was over almost before the year began!

Sherlock - The second series of the BBC show consisted of three episodes that started on January 1 and was finished two weeks later with a cliff hanger that won't be resolved until maybe 2014.  Benedict Cumberbatch is our new favorite actor, and I've liked almost everything Martin Freeman has done since the British Office.  Looking forward to Star Trek and the next Hobbit movies to fill the gap.

Comedy Bang Bang - Derived from the podcast, this surreal comedy talk show was a lot of fun while very random.

Adventure Time - We finally discovered this series this year even though it's been out for a few years now. Also very surreal and random.  Much of what I like about this series is the surprise.  The outcomes of the situations the characters find themselves in are almost never what you would ever guess.

Legend of Korra - This sequel animated series to the "Avatar: The Last Airbender" was the perfect example of how to do a sequel follow up in a fantasy world (take note Star Wars!):  Evolve everything, bring in new characters, pay homage to the old--but not slavishly.  If they hadn't resolved what was looking to be a fairly serious cliff-hanger at the last moment of the series, it would have been nearly perfect.

Red Dwarf X - I was shocked that a real old-fashioned Red Dwarf sitcom actually came out this year.  After the disappointing last mini-series, this is back to the studio with a live audience and just the core group. I don't think any of the episodes measured up to Red Dwarf's best, but it was still nice to revisit.

QI - The British panel show is still one of my favorite shows. I have to hunt them down on YouTube to watch.

Go On/Neighbors - These are the only two new shows of the fall season that I'm watching.  Matthew Perry has always been a favorite, but I've never enjoyed anything past Friends.  This one is works and is funny, but I'm not sure where they plan on taking it in the long run.  "Neighbors" is about a normal family living in a community of aliens.  It's very lightweight and often dumb, but it feels like a nice return to simpler sitcoms of the past with silly premises.

Halloween Wars/Stephen Fry Gadget Man/Heston's Fanstastical Food/United Stats of America/Penn and Teller Tell a Lie/Unchained Reaction - A bunch of quick documentary or reality game based series that I enjoyed.  Most were only six episodes long.  Just enough to get a nice snack, and to want more later.

Derren Brown - Always entertaining, the mentalist/illusionist/trickster Derren Brown staged an apocalypse among other things.  The premise was a bit better than the execution, but it was still fairly entertaining.

Other shows I watched:  America's Got Talent, Community, Office, 30 Rock, Big Bang Theory, Doctor Who (still catching up, not quite current yet), SNL, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead.

Podcast/Internet

This year there seemed to be an explosion of Internet-based shows, while a few big shows came to an end or changed format.

Movie B.S. with Bayer and Snider - My favorite podcast with Eric D. Snider and Jeff Bayer.  I save this one for my running as incentive to go out.

Totally Rad Show - My favorite geek internet show ended it's run this year.  I was very sad.

Nerdist/Nerdist YouTube Channel - Nerdist always has interesting guests on their podcasts.  This year they launched a YouTube channel with daily content from people like Weird Al, Kids in the Hall, Alex Albrecht (from Totally Rad Show), and many others.  Some were more entertaining than others, but I really enjoy having a little something every day to watch--especially since work hasn't blocked YouTube!

Comedy Bang Bang - Already mentioned in TV, the regular podcast can get very silly but still entertaining.

Empire - British movie podcast.  It's been interesting listening to the UK point of view.

Games

I'm cooling a bit on console games.  Most of my game playing continues to be on my iPhone, and there's a brand new Nintendo console that just came out and I barely care.  The kids and I all got 3DS handhelds for Christmas and it's been fun playing some of those Nintendo games again, but the 3D doesn't work for very long without giving you a headache.  Here's a few of my favorite games for the year:

Angry Birds Star Wars/Angry Birds Space/Bad Piggies (iPhone) - Three spin-offs from Angry Birds this year and all of them were great.  Particularly the Star Wars one which managed to twist the formula just enough to fit with the Star Wars theme and still provide something new.

Lego Batman 2/Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7/Lego Lord of the Rings (Wii/Xbox) - Three Lego games, all stuck to the basic formula, but they continue to be fun.

Batman Arkham City (Xbox) - I had a blast running around this large open world as Batman, finding all the riddles and beating up bad guys.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Xbox) - Second sequel to one of my all-time favorite games.  Better than the first sequel.  Sadly I usually had to play with the sound off due to the language.  It seems harder and harder to play serious games without them being full of bad language.

Rayman Origins (Wii/iPhone) - We had this game for quite a while, but I after an iPhone version of the game went really cheap, I dusted off the Wii version we had and found a really fun platformer that I had overlooked.

Behind the back runners (iPhone) - The new craze this year in the app store are behind the back runners.  It started off with "Temple Run."  Then more and more showed up that I've played including "Temple Run: Brave," "Pitfall," "Subway Surfers," "Agent Dash," and my personal favorite "One Angry Knight."

Zombies, Run! (iPhone) - Combines an exercise tool for running with an audio game where you are a runner tasked with finding supplies for an outpost in a zombie apocalypse.  Makes running from zombies fun and healthy!
Other games I really enjoyed this year: Need For Speed: Most Wanted (Xbox), Super Hexagon (iPhone),  10000000 (iPhone), Ticket To Ride (iPhone), Settlers of Catan (iPhone), and Draw Something (iPhone).

Books

I didn't read very much this year, which isn't much of a change.  However I did read a couple books that I really enjoyed.
Ready Player One - A story set in the future where the world spends most of its time in an faux online world.  It's a really great blend of sci-fi, 80s nostalgia, video games, and a fun treasure hunt.  Looking forward to the eventual movie.
World War Z - I read this because of hearing about the upcoming movie.  It's essentially an oral history of a future zombie war as an interviewer gets the stories from all sorts of random people and their small stories in a larger event.  It's a fairly ingenious format that takes the whole idea of a zombie apocalypse seriously while analyzing what types of things would or could actually happen should it ever occur.  Many things I'd never even thought of such as zombies attacking submarines, make this a really interessting read.  Unlike "Ready Player One", though, I am not looking forward to the movie as it seems to have nothing to do with the book.

2013

I don't think I've done a look forward before, so I'll try something new this year.  Things I'm looking forward to in 2013:
Music: A full album by Chateau Marmont: "The Maze", maybe new stuff from The Feeling, The Hoosiers, Delays, maybe Josh Fix?
Movies: Ender's Game, Star Trek Into Darkness, Pacific Rim, Hunger Games - Catching Fire, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
TV: Interested to see the return of "Community" after they fired the person who ran it.  "Arrested Development" returns to Netflix.
Games: Nothing specific, I'll just have to wait and see.  I wish there was something I was looking forward too--especially with the new WiiU, but nothing at the moment.  Maybe GDC in March will reveal some titles.