Sunday, January 1, 2017

Greg's Favorites of 2016

Hey.  What do you know?  Blogspot is still alive.  And so am I.

2016 is done so let's review my favorite things:

Music

This was a terrible year for music.  Probably the worst ever.  I'm sure good music is out there, but with my attention turned to other things, I didn't put forth the effort to find the diamonds in the rough that I normally do.  So instead, I found a few shiny coins and called it good.

Greg Whitehead. First, here's my Christmas song for 2016.  It's a piano medley of "Gabriel's Message" and "Angels We Have Heard on High":

"Gabriel's Angels"


I didn't get to do much more music-wise in 2016.  I've got several songs bouncing around in my head so hopefully some of them will get out for 2017.

OK Go - Hungry Ghosts
Technically this album came out 2 years ago in 2014, but the band is still releasing videos for it.  They did two amazing videos this year and it made me rediscover the album and it ended up being my most played album of the year.

"Upside Down & Inside Out"


"The One Moment"


Yukon Blonde - On Blonde
Technically this album came out in 2015, but I didn't discover them until this year.  I was happy to discover one new band this year that I really liked.  Or at least had an album I really liked. This has a nice classic rock feel with a bit of glam, new wave, and psychedlica mixed in.  Highly recommended.


Dowling Poole - One Hyde Park
This is the second album by this group that came out of Jackdaw4.  I like it better than their first album. Dowling still has a tendency to over-complicate things and change the songs too much over the course of their running time.  But it's still a great rock album which is getting harder and harder to find these days.


Justice - Woman
This electronic album came out in November and I saved it for my trip to the UK so it could provide the soundtrack to my sight-seeing.  I think their last album "Audio Video Disco" is superior, but this makes a really good companion to that one.  Lots of great funky synthesizer songs which makes me happy.


And the rest.  That's it for albums I liked this year.  There were a few other bands and songs that I listened to but weren't good enough to list individually above.  Of note, Joe Hawley, my favorite member of Talley Hall, released a solo album, but it was too weird for me to really get into.  My brother introduced me to a band The 1975 which I tried to get into, but despite some great songs, never really hooked me.  However, they did release one of my favorite songs of the year, the David Bowie-esque "Love Me":


2017 is wide open.  No idea what's in store music-wise.  Possibly a new Tears for Fears album.  That's about all I know.

Movies

I normally keep track of all the newer movies I see each year.  This year I decided to keep track of all the movies I saw new, old, in the theater and out.  I saw 24 movies in the theater (23 actually, one I saw twice in the theaters.)  73 new movies at home (as in came out in the past 2 years).  201 new older and classic movies (as in before 2015). And 90 old old moves (as in older movies I'd already seen before.)  Altogether that's about 388 movies.  I'm sure there's more.  These are just the ones I'd remembered to note after watching.  That's about one movie a day plus a few extras on weekends.

Many of the older movies I watched are typically bad movies that I watch in association with several of the podcasts I listen to including "How Did This Get Made" and "We Hate Movies."  So I've crossed a ton of bad movies off my bucket list this year.  A few were good movies that I just had never got around to seeing yet.  Also, early on this year I saw a documentary on Cannon Films, the studio that made so many terrible action movies in the 80s and I decided to try and watch as many of those as I could, so that's where a significant number of "new old" movies comes from.  I only made it through about half.  I'm still working on the rest.

As for theatrical and new 2016 movies, there were a number of good ones, but it was crazy how many that should have been great were either mediocre or completely terrible.  More on that later.  For now, here are my favorite new movies for 2016:

Captain America Civil War (vs. Batman v Superman) - I was shocked at how similar this was to the other big Superhero movie this year, "Batman v. Superman: Blah Blah Blah."  Both had superheroes turning against each other to the point of fighting, and both had more super-powered people in it than were necessary.  But where BvS was depressing, obnoxious, and tone-deaf, this one was fun, exciting, and funny. It also was the only movie I saw twice in the theater this year.  The actual Batman/Superman showdown scene was awful, but the airport fight scene in this film was the best scene in any Superhero movie ever.

Rifftrax MST3K Reunion show - This was actually my favorite movie-going experience of the year.  It was a one-off Fathom event that included all the old hosts and side-kicks of the original MST3K (including Mike & Joel all the various mad scientists and puppet handlers and other writers) and even the new host for the upcoming revival Jonah Ray.  They took turns riffing on various educational shorts and I laughed for two hours.

Doctor Strange - I like Benedict Cumbernickle better as a Brit.  Here he's doing his best impression of Hugh Laurie in House.  However, this film has some of those most amazing visual set pieces of the year.  And it solved the problem of the bad guys blowing everything up at the end of the film and causing giant messes with tons of collateral damage.

10 Cloverfield Lane - This was a nice tight thriller with a crazy twist that somehow ties into the original Cloverfield movie.  I used to watch the director of this movie on the Totally Rad Show, so it was fun seeing his first real Hollywood film.

Don't Breathe - Speaking of thrillers, this is one and it lived up to its name.  Some kids break into a house of an old blind man to steal some money and learn that just because he's blind, he's not someone to mess with.  There were moments where the entire audience were holding their collective breaths along with the characters in the film and the room was completely silent.

Arrival - Following the weird new tradition of releasing adult-oriented, Sci Fi drama films at the end of the year (Gravity, The Martian, Interstellar, etc.) "Arrival" presents an interesting tale of trying to learn to communicate with a completely alien species.  The ending was too smart for me and went over my head.  I had to go home and read a few articles to figure it out.  Will it work better if I see it again?  Maybe.

Zootopia - Apparently this is my favorite animated movie of the year.  I didn't see "Moana" yet. "Finding Dory" was okay.  "Secret Life of Pets" was meh.  "Kubo and the Two Strings" should have been great, but it didn't really hold my attention the way it should have.  So this wins by default.

Some other films I liked that were new(ish) that I didn't see in the theaters:  "Bridge of Spies," "Pee Wee's Big Holiday," "Sing Street," "Tickled," and "Mascots."

Movies I thought I would really enjoy and didn't: "Star Wars: Rogue One," "Ghostbusters," "Star Trek Beyond," "Fantastic Beasts and...," "Independence Day Resurgence," and "X-Men Apocalypse."

Movies that everyone hated, but I actually kind of liked: "Suicide Squad."  I can't figure out all the hate.  It wasn't great, but I found myself having a good time in spite of all the stupidity.

One film of note:  I've tried move than 7 or 8 times throughout my life to make it through the movie "Dune."  This is the year I finally got through it.  I'm proud of me.

Looking to 2017, I'm awaiting Star Wars Episode VIII, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spider-Man Homecoming, Lego Batman, The Mummy with Tom Cruise, and Thor: Ragnarok -- because the director did "What We Do In The Shadows" and has an amazing dry sense of humor.

TV

I watched mostly the same stuff this year as previous years.  Not a lot of new shows that the whole family got excited about.  Here's what I liked the most:

-Black Mirror - Netflix debuted the third season/series of this anthology show and I love the techno twilight zone that each episode brings.  It's dark, but it almost always has something interesting to say.

-Stranger Things - Another Netflix show.  This series came out of nowhere and was amazing.  It grabbed the 80s version of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven and mixed them in a blender to create this sci-fi/fantasy/horror series.  I liked it so much I dressed up as the wall for Halloween.

-American Crime Story: People vs. OJ Simpson - This was amazingly cheesy and over-the-top, and I could never buy Cuba Gooding Jr. as OJ, yet somehow I couldn't stop watching.  Even though I lived through the trial, I missed the start while out of the country on my mission, and missed the rest because I was just not interested.  So there was a lot I didn't know and so it was educational and entertaining!

-America's Got Talent/Britain's Got Talent - Still my favorite performance reality show series.  I can't even remember who won this year, but I still love watching.

-Last Week Tonight with John Oliver/SNL -With the election year, I found the exasperation and horror through comedy of these and other similar shows as we got closer to Trump winning each week both entertaining and scary.

-The Good Place - The one new network show that we found and loved this year.  A show about a woman who dies and goes to "The Good Place" rather than the "Bad Place" but it turns out she doesn't belong.  Lots of great surreal humor in this life-after-death comedy.

-Angie Tribeca - The first half-hour slapstick cop show since "Police Squad" in the early  80s.  It has all the same anything-goes Zucker-style comedy from "Airplane!" and "Naked Gun."  Yet somehow is better than any parody movie from the past 15 years.

-Red Dwarf - The series came back from the dead with a new set of episodes this year and a second set this year to come.

I also watched a lot of the shows out there that people were always talking about like Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Westworld.  I seldom liked any of them and only watch half-heartedly so I can follow the conversation.

Looking forward to 2017 for new Sherlock (debuting Jan 1st.  I won't even remember it by next year!), new Mystery Science Theater 3000, more Black Mirror and Stranger Things possibly, more Wet Hot American Summer, maybe, and possibly a new Star Trek series.

Podcasts and Online

Here are the regular podcasts and online (i.e. Youtube) shows that I watched and enjoyed this year categorized by theme:

-Movies: Movie B.S., Movie Fights, Honest Trailers, Mr. Plinket Reviews, Half in the Bag, Slashfilm, Empire, I Was There Too
-Bad Movies: How Did This Get Made, We Hate Movies, Best of the Worst, Nostalgia Critic, Loose Cannons
-TV Series: Smegheads Red Dwarf Podcast, Monkey Tennis Alan Partridge Podcast, Knocking Dead, Watching Thrones
-Misc: No Such Thing As a Fish

Video Games

Normally I just call this section "Games."  But this year I'm breaking out a separate section for Video Games and Board Games.

This year we got an XBox One so we could enter the current generation and play some newer games.  I was still going through the catalog of PS3 games I got when we bought the PS3 last year.  And of course, I had my phone with me most of the time.

Here are my favorite that I played this year this year organized by platform:

 XBox One:
-Tomb Raider/Rise of the Tomb Raider - XBox One - I had a lot of fun with this new version of Lara Croft.  I'm still playing through the first one which I got for Christmas, but spent a lot of time with the sequel that we got with the console in August.

-Also: Rare Replay, Rocket League and Mirror's Edge Catalyst

PS3:
-Ratchet & Clank 1,2,3, Sly Cooper 3,4, Jak & Daxter 1,2,3, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.  As I mentioned above, I spent a lot of time burning through PS3 games that we'd missed over the past 10 years or so once it became obsolete and thus affordable.  Of all those, I probably liked the last Sly Cooper game the best.

iOS:
-Simpsons Tapped Out - iOS - I've been playing this for three years now(?!) and it still keeps giving me stuff to do.  They finally quit adding stuff to the main game, but the special events are regular enough there's usually something new going on.

-Bloons Monkey City - Another town builder game, this one attached to a Tower Defense Bloons game.  Two of my boys and I all started building our towns this year.  I've upgraded just about all I can in the game, but had a lot of fun getting there.

-Also: Hungry Shark Evolution/World, Rodeo Stampede, Super Stick-man Golf 3, Bejeweled Stars, Bloons Super Monkey 2, Burrito Bison Launcha Luchador, and The Room 3.

Wii: 
-Star Fox Zero, Pikmin 3, and Captain Toad's Treasure Tracker. Star Fox was the only new game this year for the Wii U that we played.  Nintendo has pretty much abandoned it and are moving to the "Switch" in 2017.

PC: 

-JackBox Party Games.  My brother brought these games to my attention over Christmas.  They are a series of party games by the people who made "You Don't Know Jack."  We set it up on our computer on our TV and then every player logs in with their phone, pad, or laptop and uses a web interface to play along.  We were able to Skype with my brother's family in Utah and play with them simultaneously as well.  They were amazingly fun.  "Drawful," "Fibbage," and "Quiplash" were our favorites.

-Day of the Tentacle Remastered.  Love old LucasArts games.

My boys play much more on the PC than I do.  Plus I don't really have my own computer powerful enough to play most newer PC games.

For 2017, looking to see what Nintendo does with the Switch.  They seem to be merging the Wii U with the 3DS and making a completely portable gaming system that can also play on your TV.  But the real question is, where are the good games?

Board Games

This is the first year I'm adding this category.  Last year at Christmas time we bought a lot of board games and had a lot of fun playing at the table every night.  We continued doing it occasionally this year as well as having some friends over semi-regularly during the first part of the year.  Here are my favorites that I played:

-Mysterium - An interesting cross between Clue and Dixit.  One player is a ghost who tries using strange picture cards to lead the other players to discovering the murderer.  It's a really unique game structure with a unique communication method.  I really love this game.

-Betrayal at the House on the Hill - an old friend of mine sent me this game and I love it.  You play as a group who goes to an old creepy house to explore.  Midway through the game one of the players is revealed to be a betrayer and you start a completely new game that changes every time you play.  You suddenly find yourself stuck in a house trying to defeat crazy zombies, vampires, demons, cannibals, werewolves or any number of different scenarios.  I love that you never know how this game will play out when you sit down.

-Other games I really enjoyed playing and recommend: Codenames, Concept, Superfight, Munchkin, and Imagine.  Also, see Jackbox Party Games in the previous section.

Books

Well, I kind of let things slip here.  I did read a few, but nothing I need to mention here.  I'll try to do better next year.  But if you need a recommendation, ask Maria.  She'll hook you up.

And so...

That's about it for 2016.  I already put most of the things I was looking forward to in 2017 in each of the sections were applicable.

One of the reasons I watched so much TV & movies this year was that I picked up a new hobby of crochet--specifically amigurumi or crochet figures--which was a great thing to do while watching a show.  Or a great excuse to watch a show while working.  I may do another post related to that later on.

 I'll be doing some traveling for work early this year as we finish up testing the F35.  That'll keep me busy up through the middle of the year. Who knows what I'll be doing at the end of the year though.  Hopefully I'll still have a job.

Either way, I'll be back again in a year to look back at 2017.

Cheers!

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