As usual, my Year End list doesn’t include much released in the current year, because I’m a slow mover with a tendency to look back over my shoulder. But here are some things I discovered this year that I recommend. I would like to thank Kanopy for many of the interesting films I’ve seen, and Goodreads for helping me keep track of what I’ve read! So here we go:
“They Call Me Jeeg (Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot)” (2015)
This gritty Italian film is the ultimate anti-hero story with plenty of style and odd, dark humor. It’s the tale of Enzo, a small-time crook who does nothing but watch porn in his spare time, until he suddenly (and violently) receives superpowers that cause him no end of trouble. They also lead him to the love of his life, however, in the form of the psychologically damaged Alessia, and create in him a new found sympathy for others, and sense of purpose. Violent and twisted, yet still uplifting.
This Polish film is a gripping story of supernatural possession, based on the mythological dybbuk, but steeped in the history of WWII. A young man unearths a skeleton the night before his wedding on his future in-laws’ farm and gradually becomes possessed by the ghost of a young Jewish woman. It’s a trainwreck of a transformation that derails the wedding ceremony and dredges up the history of the rural town before and after the war. Thoroughly creepy and riveting. Watch out that for that hand under the bed . . .
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” (2018)
I’m late to the game on this Harry Potter world with adults instead of kids; I saw this sequel first and then went home and watched “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.” But I’m now sucked into it completely, largely due to Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of the likeable creature-lover, Newt Scamander. I think anyone who loves animals and who would prefer to duck out of mankind’s world of politics and drama, would identify strongly with him. Also, I love Jude Law as young Dumbledore!
“Night Tide” (1961)
Is the lovely seaside carnival girl Mora really a killer mermaid or just a confused, lonely girl?? Don’t be thrown off by the silly premise; you could watch this just for the young, handsome Dennis Hopper and his engaging expressions, but it’s also gorgeously filmed, mysterious, maddeningly inconclusive and makes you want to go walk around a quiet pier or boardwalk at night.
“Everything Beautiful is Far Away” (2017)
This is one of the most peaceful movies I’ve ever seen. Set on a planet that is apparently not Earth, a young man roams the desert with the head of his out-of-service robot friend, having left behind an unpleasant life in the cities. He comes across a girl who has done the same and teaches her how to survive out there; he then learns from her how to have joy in little moments and be content—despite interruptions from the naggingly practical robot friend who they manage to revive, and then decide to ignore.
“The Haunting of Hill House” (2018)
Despite being only loosely based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, this Netflix series is completely absorbing, heartbreaking and often terrifying—I’m still shuddering at the scene when Luke is trapped in the dumbwaiter in the basement. And the Tall Man ghost looking for his hat! Gah!! Watch with a buddy. The cast is excellent, especially Victoria Pedretti as Nell, who nearly brought me to tears several times. Very well done, although I thought the ending was just a little bit weak.
“She-Ra & The Princesses of Power” (2018)
I went into this expecting to be so distracted by the strikingly different animation style from the original that I wouldn’t get very far. But, surprise! This version of She-Ra is downright awesome, with seriously good characters, clever humor and plenty of action. I’m hoping He-Man shows up at some point down the line, just for an episode or two. The only misstep in my opinion is Mermista’s dumb valley girl voice. I know this is a reboot, but that accent does not belong in Etheria.
“Saga Book One” by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples (the hardcover collection, 2012)
Someone recommended Saga to me several years ago, but I was put off at first by the contrast between the beauty of the space opera artwork and the contemporary, occasionally crass dialogue. The opening line, after all, is someone yelling, “Am I shitting? It feels like I’m shitting!” while giving birth. Luckily, I gave it a second chance this year and got sucked into the story of odd couple Alana and Marko and their miracle baby, fleeing across the galaxy from their two warring species. I love the wild mix of alien races, ghosts, robots, planets and spaceships!
“A Madness So Discreet” by Mindy McGinnis (2015)
“Kingdom of Ash and Briars” by Hannah West (2016)
I was thrown off a bit by the fast pace at the beginning, but quickly became fascinated by the story of Bristal, a shapeshifting member of a magical race, who finds herself embroiled in the politics of several kingdoms, adopting multiple personas to protect them from evil. It’s a Young Adult series, but feels more grown-up in the way that she struggles to hold onto her own identity, as well as in the action scenes and the layout of the fantasy world. The plotline morphs unexpectedly into part of the Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella fairy tales, but still works. Part 2 came out this year: “Realm of Ruins.”
This year, I spiced up my usual diet of 70s/80s rock, punk, New Wave and goth with these two recent synth-heavy releases:
“Screen Memories” by John Maus (2017)
John Maus makes magical, darkly whimsical, synth-rock with distorted baritone vocals and strange, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. My favorites are the busy head-boppers, “Over Phantom” and “Pets,” despite the latter’s morbid message. (He says “Your pets are gonna die” over and over again. Thanks, John.)
“Stranger Things, Vol. 1” by Survive AKA Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein (2017)
Obviously, much has already been said about Survive’s score for “Stranger Things” and how much it helped create the show’s atmosphere. The album on its own is perfect background music for writing, painting, thinking or driving at night. My favorite is the short, beautiful “A Kiss.”
Image via Takashi Hososhima on Flickr