“Witness,” by Makthaverskan
“Stuff the Turkey,” by Alien Sex Fiend
“My Love, I’d Do Anything For You,” by Morrissey
“Country Grammar,” by Nelly
“Dead Moon Night,” by Dead Moon (RIP Fred Cole)
“In a Silent Way,” by Nico Niquo
“Our Dance (feat. Charlotte Savary),” by Wax Tailor
“Flim,” by The Bad Plus
“Madness,” by Muse
“Saint,” by Bjork
“No ‘I’ in Team,” by Pulley
“Line of Sight (ft. Wynne & Mansionair),” by Odesza
“Don’t Let It Get to You,” by Rostam
Selected by Stu Horvath, Ken Lucas, Erik Weinbrecht, Alyse Stanley, Michael Edwards, Levi Rubeck, Sara Clemens, Gavin Craig, William Coberly, Matt Marrone, Sam Desatoff, Taylor Hidalgo and Melissa King
The Stay-Awake Men, by Matthew Bartlett
The Great and Secret Show, by Clive Barker
The Road Beneath My Feet, by Frank Turner
Dark Knights: Metal #2, by Scott Snyder
Baldur’s Gate II, by Matt Bell
Everything Matters, by Ron Currie Jr.
Full Body Pleasure Suit, by Elsbeth Pancrazi
The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner
The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein
Golden Hill, by Francis Spufford
It, by Stephen King
What Remains of Me, by Alison Gaylin
Kingdom Hearts II, by Alexa Ray Corriea
Selected by Stu Horvath, James Fudge, Erik Weinbrecht, Alyse Stanley, Austin Price, Michael Edwards, Levi Rubeck, Sara Clemens, Gavin Craig, William Coberly, Matt Marrone, Sam Desatoff and Taylor Hidalgo
They Remain – A horror movie, directed by Phil Gelatt and based on the short story “-30-” by Laird Barron, we join two corporate scientists researching the remote wilderness locale one (still?) haunted by a Manson-esque hippie murder cult. The discovery of an impossibly large and slightly diabolic-looking horn marks a shift into decidedly cosmic and hallucinogenic territory. Not your typical slasher in the woods horror flick, They Remain is a quiet and dense exercise in dread. Fans of films like The Witch should seek it out when it hits its release in the spring. [Full disclosure: I’m friendly with both Phil and Laird.]
The Invitation – I may be the last on the hype train, but oh man, this movie. Old friends reunite for a dinner invitation, only to discover that two of them have joined a cult. There’s enough tension and doubt thrown in to keep you hooked during its lulls and the ending exemplified what I love about horror done well: the silent, slow realization.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Martin McDonagh is one of my favorite filmmakers and, being a Southern exile, I’ve got a strong love of Southern gothic, so I’ve been anticipating his spin on the genre for a while now. And while I think the messaging at the end is a little pat, it’s another excellent addition to his body of work with some fine acting from Frances McDormand that does as much to realize her character as McDonagh’s spot-on dialogue. Don’t believe the ads you’ll see on TV: this is no endorsement of kick-ass, tough-as-nails vigilantism but a brutal take-down of the self-righteous, self-serving morality that damaged people often use to hide their pain.
Thor: Ragnarok – Fun times! It scratches that dumb distraction itch while also being well-made. It did new things while also being a funny, action-packed, fast-paced and eye-popping adventure with an awesome cast.
Pretty sure this is my favorite non-Captain America MCU film.
Rear Window – Grace Kelly, you deserve way better than this dingbat.
Get Out – Get Out caused me to have my first bad trip in a lake house in Lake Placid, NY, in zero degree weather, surrounded by white people. I’ll have to write down that story sometime.
Not a comedy.
The Lion in Winter – Sometimes you have to remind people about the best movies from 1968. The Lion in Winter is one of the best movies ever made, with dynamite performances from Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, and one of the best scripts ever filmed. If you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to fix that. Every TV/film portrayal of an Old Warrior King Who is Confronting the End is indebted to Peter O’Toole’s Henry II in this movie and none has ever surpassed it.
Addams Family Values – As a mall goth teenager, the Addams Family were my idealized family. Delightfully weird but ultimately supportive, even if their specific values were more attuned to murder than being on time to a meeting. Rewatching this film as an adult, I find that not much of my initial opinion has changed. Wednesday and Morticia still dominate, and the real tragedy of the story is that Debra will never realize that she had found a supportive family even in her murderous intent.
Star Wars – Too often I rely on memories to form opinions on things fresher. It’s worthwhile for me to delve back into the archives and bounce the ideas I think I have against the things I formed this ideas on, and see how both have changed (and how I have changed). Revisiting Star Wars was something I felt I should have done years ago, just a blindspot in my experience too worn over the years to be worthwhile. Though it’s seemingly aged more than I have since I first watched it, I still find it has something to show me, even if it’s just how much I’ve grown too.
Star Trek Discovery – The newest Star Trek series is a prequel to the original series, featuring a black woman protagonist who isn’t a captain and a design sense that lifts heavily from the aesthetics of the Mass Effect videogame series. There is a lot here that doesn’t feel like Star Trek (no matter how you choose to define Star Trek) but I’ll be damned if the mid-season finale wasn’t some of the most exciting television I’ve seen in a long time.
The Flash – I’m curious about this season. The last few seasons were a non-stop rollercoaster ride but things seem to have simmered down a bit. Or maybe it’s a slow build to something world-shattering. Maybe a Crisis? Who knows. If you are not watching The Flash, you’re doing yourself an injustice. I don’t usually watch this type of show nor am I really a fan of the character, but I have been hooked since episode one. It deserves all the praise it gets. Grant Gustin and the rest of the cast shine in their roles and, despite all the times Barry screws up, it’s still a feel-good show.
No Game, No Life – A brother and sister duo of elite gamers get transported to a world where everything’s decided through play. The writing’s fast and quick-witted and the art style is gorgeous, reminding me of Madoka Majica mixed with the strange explosion of color that was Me! Me! Me!. Though I could do without the gratuitous panty shots, the deep cut anime references almost (almost) make up for it.
Big Mouth – I’m bored outta my gourd by coming-of-age stories, particularly those set in or around middle-and-high-school, but this is a surprisingly funny, and even sometimes disarmingly emotional, little look at all the horrors and attendant hilarity of adolescence. A lot of this is likely due to the top-notch comedic and acting talent they’ve assembled, but I’m also consistently surprised at how well it nails the absolute worst of growing up (and, in one particularly spot-on episode, the social attitudes of New York City’s social “elite”).
The Orville – It’s actually not bad! Sure, when I get around to watching it, Discovery will most likely be better, but at the end of the day this is basically a Go-Bots/Transformers comparison. Something is a little off about The Orville, but the basic enjoyable ingredients are there and it’s a little cheaper to obtain than getting a CBS All Access subscription. Now if they could just not feature that smug guy who plays the captain as often as they do. How’d he even get that role and why does he sound like Brian from Family Guy?
The Good Place – This show is so good that I could probably spoil its main twist and it wouldn’t hurt the experience. It’s a deceptively smart, hilarious show that uses brightly lit sitcomy sets to stage morality plays and develop character relationships that approach the emotional warmth of a show like Parks and Rec. Also: Janet is everything.
The Punisher – Look, it’s the Punisher, so if you don’t like the Punisher, don’t watch it, because in The Punisher, the Punisher does Punisher things. Jon Bernthal’s take on Frank Castle was the best part of the second season of Daredevil, so I was excited to see what he got up to as the star of his own show, but I was also worried, because often, Punisher-centric media is boring, gross, vaguely fascist torture porn. The Punisher is, after all, a man who executes and tortures people without due process, and I’m not super into that sort of thing. This show manages to pull off the difficult feat of making Frank Castle seem human, as a man consumed by PTSD and grief, without sugarcoating the things he does. You root for Frank, because the people he’s fighting are even worse than he is and because Bernthal’s amazing performance is impossible to look away from. But I don’t think the show ever lets you get entirely comfortable with who he is or the choices he makes.
Samurai Gourmet – Samurai Gourmet follows a retired Japanese businessman as he lives the life of an imagined, masterless samurai who strides the lands and lives, drinks and eats to his pleasure. It is an unabashed and decadent journey built on the love of food, its preparation, and the joy of eating. Without the burden of a significant story, it is instead an itemized list of relished small moments and the food that accompanies them.
Secret World Legends – I returned to Secret World Legends again with the release of the entirety of the endgame Tokyo storyline, which I never had the patience to slog through in the original iteration of the game. I was met with some obnoxious areas and puzzles, but excellent writing. The recent introduction of a new power allocation system also frees the game from tedious equipment management. Items used to be tied to a particular purpose – healing, damage or survivability (read: extra hit points), requiring you to build up separate sets of items if you wanted to be able to switch roles. Now they have a general power rating, which you can allocated on the fly to any of the three poles, with no penalty, from encounter to encounter. Is the game easier now? Yes. Is that a problem? Not for me!
Guns of Boom – I can’t remember the last time I powered up one of my game systems. I no longer have the time needed, so I’ve turned to mobile gaming. I downloaded Guns of Boom on a lark and found myself hooked. It has an art style similar to Team Fortress and is a fun, fast paced online FPS. Currently most match types are Team Deathmatch, but occasionally a tug-of-war style mode pops up. There are daily and never-ending game quests and drop boxes that unlock new skins and patterns. Super fun for a gamer on the go!
Crypt of the Necrodancer – Every play a roguelike and think “You know what would make this better? Dancing!” The split-second decisions and frantic pacing allowed by this game’s DDR-style controls made the D&D genre of monster hunting tolerable for me for the first time.
Starfox 2 – This is a weird one that can be found on the SNES Classic Edition mini-console. Never released, it’s a pretty fascinating look at how the Super Nintendo still had legs in the mid ‘90s and could have possibly continued as a system longer than it did. It’s an ambitious game hampered by odd graphics and done better on later editions, but it’s still fun to play.
Netrunner – Been participating in an online Core 2.0 tournament, mostly as a way to commit myself to playing. Doing OK, about 50/50 at this point, which is surprising especially since the deckbuilding aspect of this game is not my cup of tea (yeah, yeah, sue me) but I did my damndest with some meager assemblages. I love piloting, playing buffs as Jinteki, executing surprise turns as Shaper, running hail marys as a self-destructive Anarch. I should really try to get out to the friendly local gaming store’s casual night more often.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp – All of the characters are just as cute as in previous installments, but this mobile version is lacking the heart that made those earlier versions of Animal Crossing so charming. Fishing, fruit-picking and bug-catching are no longer meditative pastimes, but straight-up chores. Chatting with your animal friends is reduced to them mostly giving tips on how to use the pay-to-play features. It’s not even fun decorating a campsite, since each animal requires you change the furniture to suit their needs before they visit. I’ll keep playing as long as people are sharing their funny antics on Twitter, but I have a feeling Pocket Camp is not long for my rotation.
Hidden Agenda – Yes, the story is trash, the characters are trash and the uncanny valley has somehow gotten deeper since the studios earlier game, Until Dawn; but having an entire room full of people screaming at the top of their lungs as we attempted to overturn each others final decision was perhaps the best gaming moment of 2017.
HQ – I’ve started writing a column for Unwinnable about this live game show, played daily via a smartphone app at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., several times but it just hasn’t come out right yet. The host is hokey but he almost – almost – grows on you and the idea is fantastic. It’s also become a regular bonding ritual with family members. And maybe I’ll actually get past Question 6 someday.
The Quest for El Dorado – A runner up for the Spiel des Jahres last year, El Dorado is exactly what I’m looking for in a family game. It combines deckbuilding with racing into an elegant and easy to learn package. With just a handful of rules, you’ll be hacking your way through the jungle just a few minutes after opening up the box, and the modular board makes every expedition unique. No shade to Kingdomino but after a handful of plays, I can’t help but think that El Dorado got snubbed in the game of the year voting this year.
Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth – When I was playing the PS4 version of this game a few years ago, I remember a friend coming over and being completely aghast and what I was playing. Looking back to my screen made me feel like my eyes had been reopened to the horror that had elluded me before – I was a near naked baby, running around the halls of a blood soaked dungeon fighting literal monsters of shit with my tears. Afterbirth does more of the same, but now I can play it on the Switch.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – I mean, I’m probably alone out here, right? The faint echoes of gunfire in the distance seem to promise that this little slice of island is mine for the moment. I don’t feel like I need to cower inside, I should be pretty okay for the most part. I still crouch-walk everywhere I go, careful not to sprint unless I need to. (Noise, y’know?) But it’s quiet, an empty space that feels a lot like visiting campgrounds in off-seasons. It’s familiar, but empty, like nature has reclaimed the worst of the rat race and we’re taking a moment to enjoy the intersection. There are guns on the floor, we have the opportunity for security here, but also the knowledge that we’re not in the thickest of it. For more than a few moments, there’s an oasis here in the swaying weeds and hungry grasp of the blue. The moment, at least for as long as it lasts, approximates perfection.
Then the gunfire starts.
Final Fantasy XV – No spoilers, but the emotional impact of the story’s second part hit me harder than expected? Also, props for the clever use of the Yoshitaka Amano art at the end.