2018! Thank the lord it’s all over. Coming out of 2017, there was a sense that the worst had passed, surely the next year couldn’t be as bad, right?
I don’t think I’m the only one whose 2018 was filled with anxiety and a general sense of dread that we won’t make it to another generation. And the continued farce in the White House, the ongoing rise of right nationalism across the world, and the age-old gripe of “the numbers say everything’s on the up but I’ve got no money!” didn’t help matters. But there was reason to celebrate in 2018. The raucous celebration and camaraderie of CEO was a highlight of my year and the love and support of new and old friends was what i needed to keep going.
Oh! And the freaking games! The music, the radio, the movies, the art and entertainment that brought real joy! Say anything else, but 2018 was a great year to stay tuned to pop culture. Don’t think too hard about the ranking
of things, if you ask me what my favorite 10 things were tomorrow this whole list would probably change.
10. 10 Things That Scare Me: Brooke Gladstone [Podcast: WNYC Studios]
Brooke’s anxieties are our collective id. 10 Things That Scare Me had the genius format of short interviews getting quick to the point of what people fear the most but it didn’t elevate to this list until Brooke Gladstone’s episode. Her stories of confronting her unbridled need to control the uncontrollable, and her constant battle against her inner imposter syndrome make not just great radio, but a pure distillation of the anxieties of the times. It is simply jaw dropping how raw this interview is and how visceral the imagery provided by Brooke and the accompanying sound design feels. A real bang to end the new year.
9. Crazy Rich Asians [Film: Jon M. Chu/Warner Bros. Pictures]
I want to clear the air and say this is not an asian film. This is especially not a SIngaporean film and to bill it so brings out the film’s absence of real Singaporean representation.
No, this is an Asian American film. For Asian Americans. And to see one come out of a major Hollywood studio brings tears of joy to my heart. Maybe I didn’t grow up in a rich clan that throws out fuck you money like it’s confetti but there’s so much that mirrors my story on screen that I’ve seldom seen before. The war between my and older generations, the expectation to continue traditions, and a disdain for what is thought of as western society are all conflicts I’ve seen in my own experiences and though they may have been portrayed in other ways in other movies, none of them felt like they were speaking directly to me, the Asian American who struggles to navigate those two identities. (I wrote a review here.)
8. Serial Season 3 [Podcast: This American Life]
Leave it to who else but Sarah Koenig to craft the most comprehensive view into the American justice system. Given the dark and terrible circumstances the podcast delves into it would’ve been easy for this season to become intolerably gloomy, like an even longer Deer Hunter– suffer porn is a term I’ve heard about a lot of true crime shows that started in Serial’s shadow. But Serial’s third season is structured like an anthology, giving you funny, bewildering, righteous moments between the gloom. It’s not afraid to laugh at the absurdity of the infernal contraption it attempts to disect and it’s not content with giving listeners only one side of the story. This is the best Serial’s ever been, even better than the blockbuster first season.
7. Sorry to Bother You [Film: Boots Riley/Annapurna]
If Jordan Peele shocked everyone last year with his first film, Get Out, then Boots Riley blew us away with Sorry to Bother You. What a terrific debut that is also one of the best surprises of the year. No other film this year dared to get as weird as this one and we’re all the better for it. This film’s mind keeps darting around to different concepts: is racism inherent to society or is it the powerful’s way of keeping the poor white man content with his place? WIll the growing power of tech companies really make our lives better or is this just Sharecropping 2.0? And when we are ready to unionize and stand up for our livelihood, will we stand against the power of corporate? It’s a dizzying amount of concepts that the movie juggles like a pro with inventive visuals and raunchy humor.
6. Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides [Album: SOPHIE]
This is the Sophie album I’ve been waiting for. Fully elevated from the PC Music trappings, Sophie’s first original album is truly something brand new, while still being a full-armed embrace of all that is pop and kitch. Whole New World/Pretend World is the finale track to end all finale tracks. A fearless mix of noise, pop, bass, and punk that will be this year’s Meishi Smile moment, it is impossible to remove from my mind.
5. Onrush [Game: Codemasters EVO]
I shouldn’t enjoy this game this much. The lag, the bad matchmaking, the dripfeed of content, and the fact that you can’t play casual matches and ranked at the same time should be enough to infuriate me and make me quit. But Onrush is too fucking good and I keep coming back for more. Did you ever want DOTA and Overwatch blended into a Burnout game? Maybe not, but doesn’t that sound so fucking cool? Good news, because Onrush is that game and it is so fucking cool. Forget racing to the finish, Onrush puts in a team of tricked out rides and lets you go nuts on a stampede of fodder and the opposing team of suckers. Onrush whisks me back to endless nights of payload TF2 and Gun Game in Counter-Strike. It’s the trappings of the best competitive games but with none of the toxicity, or seriousness. And the Ninja Tune soundtrack is like the best festival you’ve ever been in, with pumping drum & bass and good old rock and roll. It’s here to have a good time and it wants you on the ride. Why would you pass up on the offer?
4. Pop Team Epic [Anime: King Records/Kamikaze Douga]
Pop Team Epic was a collective mindtrip. When given the task of adapting something as ephemeral and slippery as the original 4koma cartoons, Kamikaze Douga made the right choice of setting aside the text and harnessing the wild, anarchist spirit of the comics. There is no one defining moment of Pop Team Epic. You ask different people and they might cite the insane pop-up performance by AC-bu, others the trip to an unfinished fantasy anime, or the absolutely jaw-dropping finale that I dare not reveal here where any description I could make of it would do it no justice. Defining Pop Team Epic by one moment is a fool’s errand as the show is a kaleidoscope of different artists and energies that have collectively revealed their balls in the name of paying tribute to Pop Team Epic’s maniacal soul. Is it funny? Does it make sense? These are not the right questions to ask, as Pop Team Epicis simply a sight to behold.
3. Deltarune Chapter One [Game Demo?/Toby Fox]
Is it too early to put this on any year-end list? Maybe, but the thought of having to wait longer to give Deltarune the praise it deserves is unthinkable. The three hours I spent in Deltarune were some of the most magical moments this year and represents Toby Fox at his peak. The music is emotionally arresting when they’re not busy being the sickest jamz of the year. Ralsei, Susie, and the gang took no time at all becoming some of this year’s most beloved characters. And the mystery of lies ahead for Deltarune is unbearable. It kills me to think it’ll be years before I can set foot in this world again. If that’s not the highest praise for what is ostensibly a demo, I don’t know what is.
2. Tetris Effect [Game: Enhance/Monstars/Resonair]
It's the greatest show on Earth and you're the conductor. Tetris Effect is proof that you can make something far greater than the sum of its parts because when you get right down to it some cool VR viz, cheesily earnest trance, and a 34 year old puzzle system should not become one of the greatest games of the year. But it all works so spectacularly in tandem with each other. The Tetris is therapeutic, almost instinctual, and the VR assists in opening up yourself to emotionally resonate with the visual and music. There’s nothing for hesitation to hold onto, the game invites you to jump in and embrace its soul. The final level in Journey, Metamorphosis, is one this year’s most unforgettable moments. It’s the culmination of the game’s themes of unity and love and as corny as it sounds you can’t help but let the game overtake you.
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse [Film: Bob Persichetti/Peter Ramsey/Rodney Rothman/Sony Imageworks]
If not the best Spider-Man film, the most Spider-Man film. In some ways, Spider-Verse picks up where Sam Raimi left off in that it is a celebration of every fantastical, timeless, and plain weird aspect about the original comic-books Spider-Man leapt off from. The film revels in the dizzying multi-verse of Spider-Man, the ridiculous captioned sound effects, and the improbably death-defying action. It is unafraid to proclaim it’s love for Spider-Man, from minute one with a bold seal of approval from the Comics Code Authority to minute 117 with its gut-busting post-credits sequence. Spider-Verse also feels like a continuation in the Lord-Miller mythos, a duo who made their name in turning kitsch commercialism into meaningful expressions of humanity. There’s a thru-line you can follow from 21 Jump Street to The Lego Movie to here and each one has been a testament that you can make great movies out of seemingly suspect ideas if you put your heart into it. But amongst all that, Spider-Verse feels something wholly its own- a meditation on the expectations that are thrust upon black youth, a celebration of diversity, a prayer in the faith of every person’s capacity for heroism. And that is all ignoring what people really go to see superhero movies for- the action! The jaw-dropping animation, with its rhythmic keyframes and intricate details is enough to make up for the ticket value, even if the movie had nothing to say. And the score by Daniel Pemberton is the best I’ve heard all year- to the point I actually went out of my way to purchase the soundtrack. It’s an eclectic blend of surf rock, orchestral, and TURNTABLISM! Flawlessly supporting the action while not being afraid to be bold and bring attention to itself. Every part of this movie is firing on all cylinders I can’t think of anything I didn’t actively love about it. It’s not just my favorite movie of the year, it is my favorite piece of media I’ve experienced all year and was a great cap off to 2018.