This will be a “living list” meaning that I will come back to edit it whenever an alteration occurs in order to keep it up-to-date (whether that is an addition, subtraction, replacement, change in entry order, or whatever else may occur with the list). The title of the post will be updated to reflect the date of the most recent update.
Every release from every form of art and entertainment was considered for this list: music, movies, video games, board games, television shows, books, paintings, sculptures, and so on. I have experienced thousands and thousands of releases in my lifetime but only the top 25 can make the cut.
So without further ado, let’s kick this list off…
What I Said About Season 2 (and 1, kinda):
I’m sure many critics have already pointed out the similarities between ‘Dark’, ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Twin Peaks’ so I won’t get into it beyond this sentence.
If you watch the show, you know that time travel plays a central role in the development of plot and characters. While many shows/films incorporate time travel (and similar concepts) quite poorly and thoughtlessly, ‘Dark’ is clever, thoughtful and consistent with its incorporation. ‘Dark’ follows consistent rules of time travel to develop its characters and expand our understanding of the story. As of the ending of season 2, I believe that ‘Dark’ follows the rules of a deterministic universe where all of time happens simultaneously yet separately. Characters go into the past to stop events from happening but their very actions are what caused the events to happen in the first place (such as Claudia killing her own dad while meaning to stop his death) or the act of traveling through time is what causes events in other times (such as Elisabeth being her own grandmother).
While season 1 felt a little more contained (likely due to the time it had to spend familiarizing us with its setting and characters), season 2 goes off the rails as it throws countless reveals and twists at us. Generally, I think that there is an over-reliance in art/entertainment on plot twists and surprise reveals. In most art/entertainment, reveals usually feel empty or manipulative. The audience has little to no investment in whether a reveal happens or not. However, all of the reveals in ‘Dark’ feel natural due to the sci-fi nature of the show. I get the feeling that (almost) everything was thought out beforehand and the creators left breadcrumb trails throughout the series that we can look back on afterwards and realize how obvious it was (when Adam was revealed to be elderly Jonas, I realized how obvious it should have been).
The series has a fairly Lynchian feel to it as it takes place in what seems to be a beautiful little town but underneath all the pleasantries there is betrayal, murder, cheating and people not being good to one another (think ‘Twin Peaks’ (I know I said I wouldn’t bring it up again, but who cares?) or ‘Blue Velvet’). However, I love most of the characters despite some of the shitty things that they do sometimes. It took me most of season 1 to grow attached to the characters but season 2 really made me feel for them on a whole other level. In particular, Claudia is quickly becoming one of my favourite characters.
Overall, ‘Dark’ season 2 delivers on most of the potentials and promises of season 1. ‘Dark’ has easily become one of my favourite television shows of all-time (I’m generally not a fan of television shows so anything around this quality easily makes it into my top 10 at the very least) and I can not wait to see the third season. Apparently the show was written with 3 seasons in mind which means we will get to see how it all ends very soon. My prediction? We watch Jonas become Adam and then the show ends where it pretty much started: with Mikkel’s disappearance. It’s all one big deterministic loop. Or maybe the creators have some surprises up their sleeves. We’ll just have to wait and see.
What I Said About Season 3:
Take note Hollywood and television writers / executives, this is how you write a sci-fi story. This is how you create a living, breathing world full of interesting characters. This is how you write an ending.
Leading up to season 3’s release, I re-watched the first 2 seasons with my spouse (it was her first time watching the show). While a lot of the mystery had disappeared on the second viewing, it felt more rewarding as I was able to pick up on a lot of things that I wasn’t able to the first time around (mostly due to the fact that I knew the twists so I knew what kinds of clues to look out for). Even though I rated season 2 quite highly (an 8/10), I felt like I underrated it quite a bit. After all, very few shows match the vision and execution of ‘Dark’. Especially its fantastic second season. Re-watching the show made me wish that I had given the show’s second season a 9/10 and placed it on my end of the year list for 2019.
Admittedly, I found season 3 disappointing on my initial viewing. I appreciated and enjoyed a lot of what they did: the depiction of its post-apocalyptic world, the importance of Claudia in undoing the knot, the symmetry of Adam and Eva, the scenes from 1888 and subsequent years (the scene in which Jonas murders his mother is terrifying, as he begins to look and act more like the Adam we know), “The Origin”. However, there was a lot that I wasn’t a fan of as well: the Tannhaus story-line felt a bit too forced, the quantum world that Jonas and Martha enter towards the end gave me ‘Interstellar’ flashbacks, the ending dinner scene felt awkward and unnecessary, the way that the loop was broken didn’t make sense to me.
But then I re-watched the third season with my spouse (I watched it alone the first time since she was gone the weekend it came out). And yet again the show managed to make more sense the second time around as the connections between people, places, and things became more obvious. I wouldn’t say that all of my questions were answered but being able to go into the third season again with an open mind and a willingness to take it for what it was helped in my overall understanding and enjoyment of the show’s final season. The Tannhaus story-line felt like a natural conclusion to the story’s themes, the quantum world towards the end was executed far more brilliantly than in ‘Interstellar’, the ending dinner scene was a nice way of summarizing the outcome of the events that we have witnessed as well as hinting that the old worlds exist in some ghost-like manner in the origin world, and the way the loop was broken still didn’t make sense to me. Seriously, I don’t understand how Claudia managed to avoid acting in the way that she always had. If she can discover the loophole this time around, doesn’t that mean she would have discovered it every other time as well?
That being said, getting hung up on every little detail would be missing the point of the show. The show’s brilliant creativity should be commended. Sure, there are faults. But unlike creators such as Nolan, ‘Dark’ does not collapse under the sheer weight of its ambition. Instead, ‘Dark’ upholds its ambition through its execution. It is exemplary in its building of character in order to instigate an emotional and philosophical reaction in the viewer. It uses its sci-fi elements to strengthen the human elements, telling a story that is only possible through a depiction of the unbelievable.
In summary, ‘Dark’ season 3 serves as a fantastic closer to a brilliant series, cementing the series as my second favourite show of all-time (behind the one and only ‘Twin Peaks’).
*Explanation to come at a later date*
The Seventh Seal
What I Said About It:
One of the greatest philosophical films ever made, ‘The Seventh Seal’ contains many iconic images that have been parodied and imitated since its release (for example, the image of Antonius and Death playing Chess, as pictured above). ‘The Seventh Seal’ is a meditation on faith, death, suffering, and (in some ways) love. I have always seen ‘The Seventh Seal’ as Bergman being his own version of Shakespeare and the film’s aesthetic lends itself very well to that reading. Less cinematic than some of Bergman’s other films, ‘The Seventh Seal’ is filmed as if it were a stage production with very little motion happening on screen at any point. ‘The Seventh Seal’ makes heavy use of allegory, symbolism, and philosophy in order to craft something that is deeply poetic and beautiful.
2001: A Space Odyssey
What I Said About It:
Probably the most well-known and beloved art film in Western societies, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is one of the most perfect films ever made and shows Kubrick at his absolute peak. ‘2001’ is an extremely ambitious film that could have easily collapsed under its own weight, as most attempts at making an art film do. Instead, ‘2001’ delivers on its ambitions with flying colours: it is a philosophical statement about the nature of man, the nature of machine, and man’s place in the universe; it is a portrayal of human history from prehistoric apes who come into contact with a mysterious black monolith to a species capable of space travel (perfectly captured visually when a bone (bones being shown to be used as a weapon for a murder) is thrown into the air and transforms into a space shuttle); it is a contemplation on the potentials of human evolution (perhaps we will all become a Star Child some day).
Syndromes and a Century
What I Said About It:
‘Syndromes and a Century’ is Weerasethakul’s most beautiful and emotionally provocative film. Dedicated to Weerasethakul’s parents (who were both physicians), the story is centered on a male and female doctor. However, these doctors work in two separate hospitals (one in rural Thailand, one in Bangkok), 40 years apart. It is a story about transformation, memory, identity, and love (of the platonic type). The film is not only about memory but is also constructed like a memory as there is no cohesive plot, instead relying on the weaving of small details of distant memories past.
The film does a fantastic job at capturing the beauty of human existence without prejudice for any particular time or place. The jump from the rural (the more personal) to the urban (the more sterile), or from the past to the present, would have been far too simplified in the hands of a less competent director (most directors would descend into the far too easy “rural = good” and “urban = bad”, or “things were better back then” mentality). Instead, Weerasethakul (in his masterful approach and execution) creates images that dig deep into your soul, making you feel what he feels.
The scene with the dentist, the scene with the child playing tennis against the door, the scene with the old ladies drinking alcohol while hiding in a storage room, the final scene in which a large group of people are seen dancing… Weerasethakul finds extraordinary beauty and gives incredible insight into the little things. It is a film that continually shows us the good and the bad in all things, over both times and between both places.
‘Syndromes and a Century’ is ultimately an optimistic film about human connection – we exist in these tiny moments and our life is simply the amalgamation of these moments. How wonderful it is to be anything at all.
The Tree of Life
What I Said About It:
Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life’ is probably the most well-known art film of the decade and maybe the most watched art film of all-time (aside from maybe ‘2001’). Much like Tarkovsky’s masterful ‘The Mirror’, ‘The Tree of Life’ is semi-autobiographical, often feeling like a dream within a dream as it impresses its emotions and images on the viewer. It is a case of an artist disregarding the conventions of cinema and ignoring any notion of being marketable in favour of creating something that is equal parts moving, challenging, and immensely personal.
As Ebert proclaimed in his review, ‘The Tree of Life’ is the boldest film since ‘2001’ and I think that this is due to its extraordinary vision. It is a film that tries to say a lot about a lot of different things. But instead of being a jumbled mess of philosophical garbage (like in ‘Arrival’, ‘Blade Runner 2049’, and ‘The Revenant’), ‘The Tree of Life’ is astonishingly thoughtful and provocative. Malick is not just a visual poet but a philosophical one too. And while his films sometimes suffer from hammy dialogue, this exact same dialogue always serves a greater purpose as it is loaded with metaphysical contemplation.
Malick’s films can be described as “spiritual searching”. Malick reflects on the nature of things (i.e. the Universe, being, time, consciousness) in his search for meaning and purpose in a complex and difficult world. In his searching, Malick often finds great beauty in the world despite all of the suffering. Take the main character Jack, for example: he loses a brother, he has a difficult relationship with his father, he feels ashamed and confused by his sexuality after stealing a woman’s night-gown (or whatever it was)… yet he finds great purpose within all of this. These moments of suffering and unknowance are juxtaposed by moments of great beauty (whether these moments are personal or universal).
‘The Tree of Life’ is a spiritually heavy film that demands the viewer’s complete attention. It is unlike any other film ever made barring a few similarities to some of the aforementioned arthouse films and anything else inside Malick’s own oeuvre (mostly his later works). It is near unparalleled in its vision as it jumps from the Big Bang, to the age of dinosaurs, to living life as a young boy in Texas during the 1950’s. A triumph of modern arthouse, Malick shows other directors how it is done.
Knight of Cups
What I Said About It:
If ‘The Tree of Life’ was Malick in a state of “spiritual searching”, then ‘Knight of Cups’ is Malick feeling completely lost. Bale plays Rick, a screenwriter living in L.A., who has had a successful career but feels completely empty. He distracts himself with the excesses of Hollywood life yet the feeling of emptiness remains.
Stylistically, ‘Knight of Cups’ extends Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life’ style and surpasses it with flying colours. Malick employs a wide variety of different cameras (35mm, 65mm, digital, GoPro) and mixes the resulting shots together in way that is inharmonious and clashing. With most directors, this would be a criticism, but Malick does this with a masterful touch. Malick’s modern films are exemplary of his phenomenological, impressionistic trappings, none more so than ‘Knight of Cups’. “Form and content intertwine effortlessly, saturating the films abstractions with deeper meanings” applies as much here as it did for ‘Cemetery of Splendour’. ‘Knight of Cups’ is always at odds with itself in the same way that Rick is always at odds with himself.
Conceptually, this film kind of reminds of Fellini’s films (most notably ‘La Dolce Vita’ and ‘8 1/2’) in that it is an existential examination of the artistic soul. Rick is likely difficult to relate to for most viewers but I would argue that this works in the film’s favour (side-note: Malick is often criticized for making movies with white people doing white people things and having white people problems – who would have expected that from a white man that grew up in Texas during the 40’s and 50’s?). As with ‘The Tree of Life’, Malick has not gone to great efforts to make his protagonist relatable or likeable… the film wasn’t created to pander to the largest audience possible. The creation of the film was likely a very deep spiritual experience in which Malick tries to find himself and his place in the world (just like Rick). If we give up the ridiculous idea that we need to understand or like characters in order for a film to be good, we can come to appreciate films like this. Films that commit themselves to finding some universal truth in a confusing world.
I think that misterie’s review on RateYourMusic summarizes my feelings towards this film perfectly: “The impossible culmination of all of Malick’s imperfectly searching post-millennium pictures. In other words, the caterpillar has finally turned into a butterfly. Get the superlatives out: this is some kind of next great evolution in cinematic language. One of the most sensual, tactile films ever dreamed up. An out-of-body experience. Magic. No words.”
Link to where misterie’s review is:
Obscura by Gorguts
What I Said About It:
For me, ‘Obscura’ is the pinnacle of metal. It is one of the most chaotic and dissonant albums ever made, often being described as the ‘Trout Mask Replica’ of death metal. While I can understand the comparisons to Captain Beefheart’s bizarre album, it is a disservice to ‘Obscura’ to simplify it in such a way. From the opening moments of its title track to the final moments of its closing track, ‘Obscura’ delivers some of the most forward-thinking, heavy, and inventive music ever recorded.
The atonal and noisy guitar playing contribute to a dense atmosphere that is both cathartic and spiritual (Hurdle’s guitar-work is out of this world and has had a massive influence not only on the way I approach guitar playing, but also in the way I approach song-writing); the drums are in a world of their own as they step away from their usual purely rhythmic duties and offer something more intricate, working in tandem with the other instruments (I have often described the drums on this album as being “drum riffs” because you could isolate the drum parts and it would still be a blast to listen to); the vocals by both Lemay and Hurdle rip into your soul as they deliver some of the most terrifying performances in extreme metal history (like his guitar-work, Hurdle’s vocals are also out of this world – the dude had such a unique yet amazing style in everything he did).
‘Obscura’ is the greatest metal album of all-time and metal bands today are still trying to catch up to what Gorguts did 22 years ago. I hope that one day, we will see another metal album with the same level of creativity and forward-thinking that can be found on ‘Obscura’.
Yeezus by Kanye West
What I Said About It:
From the harsh opening of “On Sight”, to the notable (and often imitated) drums of “Black Skinhead”, to the croissant line in “I Am a God”, to the beautiful sampled outro on “New Slaves”, to the mesmerizing guitar solo on “Hold My Liquor”, to the dog barking samples on “I’m in It”, to the hard-hitting Nina Simone samples on “Blood on the Leaves”, to the strings on “Guilt Trip”, to the humourous lyrics on “Send It Up”, to the phenomenal closer in “Bound 2”, this album packs a powerful punch.
Compared to ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and ‘The Life of Pablo’ (both run near-70-minutes), ‘Yeezus’ is an incredibly concise and focused album with its almost exactly 40 minute run-time. But unlike ‘ye’ and ‘Kids See Ghosts’, which felt a bit insubstantial despite being great albums (both run just over 20-minutes), ‘Yeezus’ retains its substance due to its length. In this sense, ‘Yeezus’ is probably Kanye’s best album as it occupies the happy middle-ground between the absurdly short and the overly long (‘The College Dropout’ is his best long album and both ‘808s’ and ‘Graduation’ could be improved by removing a couple of songs). Kanye fills these 40 minutes efficiently and effectively. I would argue that there isn’t a single song on here that could be cut. Every song serves a greater purpose and every song is good enough to justify being on here.
Musically, Kanye’s sampling and production is better than ever on this album. A lot of people have compared this album to Death Grips (with some people even saying that this is Kanye’s Death Grips rip-off) but these comparisons are only surface level (the only notable similarity between this album and the work of Death Grips is the industrial aesthetic which is employed in an entirely different way by each artist (also, industrial hip-hop existed way before Death Grips)). The harsh sounds and minimal production work in tandem to create something simple yet effective. It is difficult to execute music that is this simple, usually because there aren’t enough ideas to push the ideas along, but Kanye makes it work through his sharp, personality-filled lyricism and his ability to string ideas together in a uniform way.
Never has a musician’s entire existence been more perfectly encapsulated in their music than on Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’. As the great Lou Reed once said about this album: “There are moments of supreme beauty and greatness on this record, and then some of it is the same old shit. But the guy really, really, really is talented. He’s really trying to raise the bar. No one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet”. Coming from Lou Reed himself (arguably one of the most influential + greatest musicians of all-time), that is one hell of a compliment.
Link to Lou Reed’s write-up for Yeezus:
The Velvet Underground by The Velvet Underground
What I Said About It:
One of the most bare-bones rock albums ever created, ‘The Velvet Underground’ is a major change from the bands previous 2 albums which were noisy, experimental, artsy proto-punk masterpieces (the debut wasn’t quite proto-punk though it had elements but ‘White Light / White Heat’ is definitely proto-punk). However, it is still reflective of The Velvet Underground as being so far ahead of their time that even 50 years later, these songs feel like they are pushing boundaries.
From the beautiful opening moments of “Candy Says” to the gentle ending of “After Hours”, The Velvet Underground’s self-titled album is packed full of fantastic yet simple ideas that are executed to perfection: “What Goes On” is a joyous romp with an excellent instrumental break; “Pale Blue Eyes” is saccharine-sweet in its straight-forward sentimentalism; “Beginning to See the Light” is a highlight of the album with Lou delivering some of the most memorable vocal ad-libs ever recorded; “The Murder Mystery” is another highlight of the album with its opposing vocal sections working in tandem with the rolling guitar and haunting organ, eventually culminating in an aural overload.
While not as genre-breaking and boundary pushing as their first two albums, ‘The Velvet Underground’ is reflective of a band that is still clearly at their peak in terms of song-writing.
What I Said About It:
While there have been thousands of versions of ‘Tetris’ created since the original, with varying design choices (i.e. the pieces can be randomized through different methods such as pseudo-random, 4 piece history with 4 rolls, 7-bag (much more common today due to higher predictability), etc.) and different gimmicks (i.e. ‘Tetris Effect’ and ‘Tetris 99’), the basic idea and execution of ‘Tetris’ is perfection: the player must move and rotate descending tetrominoes into the desired location on the game board, a row disappears when it is filled (if 4 lines are cleared at once, it is called a “tetris”), and the player loses when a new descending piece can not fit onto the game board (or, in some multiplayer variants, the player beats another player).
‘Tetris’ has 3 requirements for decent performance: intelligence, skill, and experience. Over the hundreds and hundreds of hours that I have played ‘Tetris’, the game’s extraordinary depth revealed itself to me: stacking for “tetrises”, clearing garbage, even stacking, well placement, T-spins, combos. For a game as simple as ‘Tetris’, it offers an endless amount of replayability that is entirely dependent on how willing you are to improve on your previous best. Go watch any of the recent Tetris World Championship finals to see the extraordinary peaks of this beautiful game called ‘Tetris’.
The New World
What I Said About It:
Malick has a remarkable filmography: ‘Badlands’, ‘Days of Heaven’, ‘The Thin Red Line’, ‘The Tree of Life’, ‘To the Wonder’, ‘Knight of Cups’, ‘Voyage of Time’, ‘Song to Song’, ‘A Hidden Life’…. any director would be happy to have made any one of these fantastic films. But ‘The New World’ reigns supreme over them all.
This is the film where Malick’s phenomenological obsessions were taken to another level as the camera is constantly in a state of searching – searching for life and beauty, forever in awe of the harmony and conflict between people and nature, people and people, nature and nature. ‘The New World’ creates impressions on the viewer in its union of style, form, content, and substance, pushing us towards feeling instead of simply observing – and it works. The asynchronous editing works in tandem with the wandering shots of people, places, and things in order to capture a dream-like passage of time, flowing like a river, reflecting the inner depths of the human soul, reaching outwards to find love and connection.
‘The New World’ is a meditation on people, nature, violence, destruction, love, civility, and greed. It is a re-imagining and interpretation of the story of Pocahontas, reflective of Malick at his peak as a masterful visual artist and a great philosopher. ‘The New World’ is one of the greatest films ever made – an impressive work of visual and auditory splendor, matched by great philosophical depth and elegance.
The Turin Horse
What I Said About It:
Shot in beautiful black & white with an average shot length around 5 minutes, Tarr displays the heaviness of human existence in a way that few directors ever could. The film depicts the repetitious lives of father and daughter as they try to get by in a dying world. As the film goes on, the atmosphere begins to weigh you down and there is an approaching inevitable destruction (a falling apart). This destruction, the ending of the world, the Armageddon… it remains ambiguous until the end of the film. Thematically, it makes sense to read into it as a human-caused destruction but there is also a higher power at work. Tarr seems to be suggesting that destruction is inevitable. All things must end.
As Tarr once said: “In my first film I started from my social sensibility and I just wanted to change the world. Then I had to understand that problems are more complicated. Now I can just say it’s quite heavy and I don’t know what is coming, but I can see something that is very close – the end”. And so ‘The Turin Horse’ is Tarr coming full circle as he brings his oeuvre to its logical conclusion. The end is coming whether we want it to or not. The father and daughter’s refusal to eat their potatoes appears to be a choice but it is not. It is a co-fated event. We are doomed to the throes of fatalism. Where a film like ‘Arrival’ struggled in its inept notions of fatalism, ‘The Turin Horse’ succeeds in its simplicity and focus.
For what it is worth, I think that ‘The Turin Horse’ is the greatest film of the last 40 years. Very few films reach the level of absolute perfection that ‘The Turin Horse’ does, both conceptually and in execution. ‘The Turin Horse’ is pure cinema.
What I Said About It:
The great Ingmar Bergman had this to say about Tarkovsky:
“Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language,
true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”
Although ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ is a fantastic film, ‘Andrei Rublev’ is the film that saw Tarkovsky going from “exceptionally talented film school student” to “cinematic auteur”. At the early age of 34, Tarkovsky showed near-unlimited potential in his depiction of the life of renowned icon painter Andrei Rublev in the world of medieval Russia. It is a meditation on art, artists, faith, human suffering, and the ability to endure in a bleak world bent on destruction. Tarkovsky’s visual poetry (his “sculpting in time”, as he called it) is on full display here, pushing the film towards the transcendent.
What I Said About It:
Supposedly, Tarkovsky’s ‘Solaris’ was a response to Kubrick’s ‘2001’ with Tarkovsky telling an interviewer in 1970 that he thought ‘2001’ was phony. Tarkovsky’s goal with ‘Solaris’ seemed to be making a more emotional and less cold science-fiction film without the pretensions and “phoniness” of ‘2001’. While I don’t fully agree with Tarkovsky’s hot take, ‘Solaris’ is certainly my favourite of the two: it has deeper philosophical roots (themes of existentialism, identity, truth, love, and epistemology are all explored deeply), it is far more gorgeous (Tarkovsky is head and shoulders above all other directors when it comes to visuals), and its electronic score is one of the greatest ever written (it is the perfect auditory representation of the planet Solaris).
If the transition from ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ to ‘Andrei Rublev’ saw Tarkovsky going from “exceptionally talented film school student” to “cinematic auteur”, the transition from ‘Andrei Rublev’ to ‘Solaris’ saw Tarkovsky going from “cinematic auteur” to “cinematic genius”. Anyone who refuses to acknowledge Tarkovsky’s genius after watching ‘Solaris’ can not be trusted – it is a masterpiece.
What I Said About It:
‘The Mirror’ is a loosely structured, semi-autobiographical film about a dying poet recounting key memories from his life. The film flows like a river, putting the viewer into a para-oneiric state, as its visuals shift between colour, black & white, and sepia. Tarkovsky pushes his visual language to the extreme with some of the most beautiful, dream-like imagery ever captured on film. ‘The Mirror’ is one of the most personal, introspective films I have ever seen; it unfolds as if we were watching what was happening in Tarkovsky’s mind as he meditated and reflected on his own life, as he philosophized about life, the Universe, and everything. Continuing on with the semantics of Tarkovsky’s career progression, ‘The Mirror’ saw Tarkovsky going from “cinematic genius” to something nearly indescribable, becoming something of a “cinematic God” whose cinematic prowess reaches towards the Divine. ‘The Mirror’ is perhaps the most beautiful and perfect film ever made.
What I Said About It:
Revolving around the central theme of “Who watches the Watchmen?”, the ‘Watchmen’ graphic novel from the 1980s (written by Alan Moore with art by Dave Gibbons) was a maturation in the world of superhero storytelling (even today, ‘Watchmen’ stands above every other superhero story in terms of maturity). The situation between the U.S. and Soviet Union is tense in this Cold War-era graphic novel where superheroes exist – however, the superheroes are controversial (“Who watches the Watchmen?”) and become outlawed. Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian act as government-sanctioned agents while Rorschach is a vigilante. The rest of them give up the superhero life and decide to live normally. The graphic novel opens immediately after The Comedian has been murdered in New York, pushing Rorscach to investigate his death.
What ensues is a deconstruction of the superhero genre which forces the reader to reflect on the nature of superheroism, authority, power, nihilism, existentialism, motivation, morality, ethics, and truth. The superheroes in Moore’s world are not ideal nor are they empowered, they are just as rotten as the world they are trying to save and they are egotistical enough to use their power to enforce their morality on the world around them. It is a condemnation of overt authorities that use violence and threats of violence to achieve their own goals. In the year 2020 in a world filled with police brutality and militarization, ‘Watchmen’ is as relevant as ever. One of the greatest genre-benders ever written and it still feels fresh today, even in a world over-populated by superhero-themed films, video games, and TV shows.
Star Wars Prequels
What I Said About ‘The Phantom Menace’:
‘The Phantom Menace’ is perhaps the greatest ‘Star Wars’ film ever made: its idiosyncratic CGI stylings (anticipatory of the digital age to come) are used to create some of the most beautiful digital paintings imaginable (CGI is used to craft a world filled with life and detail – this was also one of the first uses of a high-definition digital camera and digital projectors to screen a film… let the importance of that sink in for you), the menacing Darth Maul (and the extraordinary Duel of the Fates which is by far the greatest lightsaber fight in the entire film series), Jake Lloyd as a young and entirely innocent Anakin Skywalker (people criticize Lloyd for his acting, people criticize Lucas for his decision to make Anakin this innocent… but I respectfully disagree with these people), the excellent Qui-Gon Jinn who tries to be a father-figure for Anakin, pod-racing is just straight-up dope, Jar Jar Binks is a CGI masterpiece and excellent comedic relief (his creation was influenced by Disney’s Goofy and silent film actor Buster Keaton, and was the first entirely CGI character ever shown in a film… let the importance of that sink in for you).
‘The Phantom Menace’ could be considered a masterpiece solely because of its technological innovations and its influence on Hollywood film-making in the 21 century. But that wouldn’t paint the whole picture. ‘The Phantom Menace’ is a masterpiece because it is a film about an innocent little boy whose downfall and eventual demise is fated. We, as the audience, know this. We know that Anakin becomes Darth Vader. The child prodigy with so much potential will one day become a terrifying monster capable of doing horrendous things. And so Lucas crafts a visually-stunning, heavily stylized film (that is free from the nostalgia of the original series) to tell us a simple story of a boy who lost it all.
Lucas isn’t here to please fans of the original series. In fact, every interview with him seems to reflect his lack of care for the obsessed fan boys of the originals. He cares about the kids. Lucas exists on planet Earth to give hope to kids – something he achieves through his extraordinary vision and his desire to push the medium forward. And there is no better example of this than the masterful ‘The Phantom Menace’.
What I Said About ‘Attack of the Clones’:
Far less focused than both ‘The Phantom Menace’ and ‘Revenge of the Sith’ (the former focused on the child Anakin while the latter focused on the becoming-Darth-Vader Anakin), ‘Attack of the Clones’ overloads the viewer with so much visual and story information that it can be very overwhelming.
While ‘The Phantom Menace’ saw the marriage of form and content (for example, the sun-baked visuals matched the dryly stated trade negotiations – structurally, ‘The Phantom Menace’ was as dry as you can get), ‘Attack of the Clones’ continuously sees the clash of form and content – it is volatile and uncomfortable, constantly in a transitional state. In terms of its content, ‘Attack of the Clones’ can be accurately described as “things happening” – detached, disconnected events that play out beyond the control of those involved. In a strange way, this clash of form and content is reflective of the thematic meanings found within as the aimlessness and purposelessness of the film’s form is mirrored through Anakin’s character (after all, the prequel trilogy is a character study through and through).
While people often lambaste the film for the usual mainstream reasons (i.e. wooden acting, poor scripting, etc.), I feel like these people are often missing the point. If you think that Lucas was going for something that would be considered “perfect” in some mainstream sense or to give the fanboys of the originals exactly what they wanted, I feel like you are judging the film for what you want it to be rather than for what it is.
Sure, viewing ‘Attack of the Clones’ can be an alienating experience, especially when you hold it in juxtaposition to something far more uniform and mainstream friendly (i.e. ‘The Empire Strikes Back’). However, it is this alienation that makes ‘Attack of the Clones’ such an amazing film. It is a singular piece of film (as was ‘The Phantom Menace’) that is so convinced and sure of itself (in its story, characters, digital backgrounds, etc.), it is difficult to not see it as a great cinematic achievement (plus, it was the first major Hollywood film to be captured digitally and to use an almost fully digital pipe-line in its creation).
What I Said About ‘Revenge of the Sith’:
Following the sun-baked visuals and dryness of ‘The Phantom Menace’ (which depicted Anakin as an innocent child with limitless potential) and the disorienting volatility of ‘Attack of the Clones’ (which depicted Anakin as a turbulent teenager), ‘Revenge of the Sith’ closes out the prequel trilogy in remarkable fashion.
‘Revenge of the Sith’ integrates potent action sequences into its highly tragic narrative and Lucas shoots these sequences in a way that captures everything altogether (i.e. character, action, emotion, setting). While ‘Attack of the Clones’ saw the dissimilation of form and content, ‘Revenge of the Sith’ is a re-marriage of form and content (the marriage of form and content played a significant part in the greatness of ‘The Phantom Menace’). However, it strays away from the dryness and straight-forwardness of ‘The Phantom Menace’, opting instead for something darker and more emotional.
In both ‘Attack of the Clones’ and ‘Revenge of the Sith’, Anakin feels disconnected from the Jedi, feeling their lack of trust in him and feeling resentful towards them (an astonishing change of heart since ‘The Phantom Menace’: “No one can kill a Jedi”). In ‘Attack of the Clones’, this disconnect is represented through the separation of form and content – it is uncomfortable, volatile, and unpredictable. In ‘Revenge of the Sith’, this disconnect is represented through the marriage of form and content – it is a pure tragedy in which Lucas perfectly captures the strong emotions of every character involved, forcing the audience to feel the loss rather than witness it from a distance.
Choosing the best ‘Star Wars’ film is surely a difficult task but I feel like ‘Revenge of the Sith’ slightly edges out over ‘The Phantom Menace’. While not as idiosyncratic and mysterious as either ‘The Phantom Menace’ or ‘Attack of the Clones’, ‘Revenge of the Sith’ is the film where Lucas’ vision for the ‘Star Wars’ universe reached its peak in every imaginable way – visually, aurally, conceptually, and in terms of execution. ‘Revenge of the Sith’ is arguably the greatest action-adventure film ever created.
The Velvet Underground & Nico by The Velvet Underground & Nico
What I Said About It:
Brian Eno once said that although the album initially only sold 30,000 copies, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band”, speaking to the intense influence that ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ had on underground music in the 1960s and beyond. Far ahead of its time, ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ is still as listenable and forward-thinking as it was when it came out 53 years ago: drug abuse, sadomasochism, prositution, and other forms of deviance are discussed over the course of the album; the band experimented with drones, de-tuned guitars, distortion, and feedback; and the opposing vocals of Lou Reed (in his dispassionate coolness) and Nico (in her atonal bizarreness) gave the album an even more undeniably unique atmosphere beyond the already unique instrumentation.
From the opening track “Sunday Morning” (which I would argue is the greatest opening song on any album ever) to the epic closing track “European Son”, the album takes you on a magnificent journey of raw coolness (“I’m Waiting for the Man”, “Heroin”), emotional flamboyance (“Femme Fatale”, “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, “I’ll Be Your Mirror”), and abrasive torment (“Venus in Furs”, “The Black Angel’s Death Song”). Arguably the greatest and most influential album of all-time, bands are still trying to catch up to what The Velvet Underground were doing 53 years ago. The greatest band of all-time and their best album… almost.
White Light / White Heat by The Velvet Underground
What I Said About It:
The Velvet Underground continue with the socially transgressive lyrics, the dispassionate vocal performances, and the experimental instrumentation found on their debut album, but expand on these things in meaningful ways and push them to their absolute limits.
Over the album’s meager 6 tracks, The Velvet Underground achieves more than most bands do in their entire careers: inventive, genre-creating, iconic instrumentals laden with some of the most interesting dead-pan vocals ever recorded (Lou Reed’s vocal performance on “Lady Godiva’s Operation” is noteworthy with his interruptions of John Cale to deliver darkly humourous lyrics) as well as some of the most memorable lyrics imaginable (the entirety of “The Gift” is one of the best examples of story-telling in a song, as John Cale recites a story written by Lou Reed over the left speaker while a basic but enjoyable instrumental plays out in the right speaker).
From title-track album opener “White Light / White Heat” (a piano-driven rock and roll song similar to “I’m Waiting for the Man”) to epic album closer “Sister Ray” (a song about drug use, homosexuality, transvestism and a giant orgy), The Velvet Underground deliver some of the most unique and energetic songs ever recorded (the guitar solos on “I Heard Her Call My Name” are some of the most mind-bending, chaotic, noisy solos that I have ever heard; I wish I could be as cool as Lou Reed, but nobody is ever as cool as Lou Reed – in fact, everyone seems like a loser compared to Lou Reed (speaking of losers, Nirvana once recorded a cover version of “Here She Comes Now”… and, as expected, they completely butchered it)).
While not quite as notable or as influential as their debut album, bands are still trying to catch up to what The Velvet Underground were doing 52 years ago on “White Light / White Heat”. The greatest band of all-time and their best album… definitely.
Fanny och Alexander
What I Said About It:
Immediately following my initial viewing of Bergman’s 5.5 hour ‘Fanny och Alexander’, I was certain that I had just watched the best movie ever made. It may not be as tightly woven or as deeply philosophical as some of Bergman’s other films (i.e. ‘Persona’, ‘The Seventh Seal’), but it is his most personal and grandiose.
It bathes in visual extravagance, framing gorgeously created sets filled with beautifully dressed people. It is filled with a child-like wonder, appreciating the small things in life, laughing with family and friends, in this miracle we call life. This is all broken when Fanny and Alexander’s mother marries the Bishop and they move in with him. From that point on, Fanny and Alexander are in Hell (and Bergman makes us feel like we are stuck in the Bishop’s house with them). Nykvist’s masterful cinematography and Bergman’s masterful direction (and writing) pulls us into both the Heaven of the Ekdahl family Christmas and the absolute Hell of the Bishop’s house. Bergman does not shy away from strong emotions or difficult scenes, instead embracing them fully which renders the audience powerless in having a say in what they would rather watch (the audience must watch what Bergman wants them to watch, harshness and all).
Magical realism, family conflict, religious devotion – the film covers a lot of ground. It is ambitious in all of the right ways and delivers on all of those ambitions in satisfying ways. Ultimately, it is Bergman’s excellent craftsmanship that propels this beautiful yet haunting family drama into the masterpiece that it is. Arguably the greatest film ever made but there is one other film that stands in the way for me…
What I Said About It:
The greatest film ever made and Tarkovsky’s masterpiece (okay, he has a lot of masterpieces but this is the masterpiece). There has never been a film as profound, as beautiful, as mysterious, and as endlessly fascinating as ‘Stalker’.
It is a film that gets better and better with subsequent viewings as its hauntingly beautiful imagery and atmospheric score feel more and more natural (‘Stalker’ makes you wonder why all films aren’t made like this – in comparison, every other film feels forced and plastic). It is a film that sits with you long after you watch it, digging its way into your soul and leaving a deep mark, forever changing the way you think about this fleeting thing called life. There has never been a film that has captured the truths of the Universe in the way that ‘Stalker’ does. Deeply contemplative and introspective, ‘Stalker’ is a meditation on what it means to be human.
I don’t think that there has been a day that has gone by where I did not think about ‘Stalker’ in some way. Whether I am thinking about its masterful score, its perfect cinematography, its deep philosophical themes, or even specific scenes (i.e. when they are traveling to the Zone; when they sit outside the room while it is raining; Porcupine’s story; the final scene with Monkey), I doubt there will ever be a film that matches the sheer depth and intensity of ‘Stalker’.
Zack Snyder’s DCEU Trilogy
Includes ‘Man of Steel’, ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, and ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’.
*Explanation to come at a later date*
Twin Peaks (series)
What I Said About Seasons 1 + 2 + ‘Fire Walk with Me’:
‘Twin Peaks’ is far and away the greatest show in television history. Nothing else comes close to the characters and stories that Lynch imagined for his weird little world of Twin Peaks. Campy detective fiction with Lynchian supernatural elements, ‘Twin Peaks’ stars the great Agent Dale Cooper (one of the most recognizable, funny, cool, and likable protagonists ever created) who is investigating the death of Laura Palmer.
The show is home to one of the greatest scores ever written (by the fantastic Angelo Badalamenti) and set a new standard for decent cinematography in television although Lynch and Frost’s lack of control over some of the later episodes of season 2 saw a downfall in quality. Luckily, Lynch and Frost returned for the final episode of the original series with the mind-blowing “Beyond Life and Death”, one of the all-time great television episodes, unsurpassed until Lynch’s very own ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ in 2017.
A year later, Lynch followed up the original series with a prequel film titled ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me’ that would set the tone for the series that would come 25 years later. It is both haunting and heartbreaking to see Laura’s life before her murder as she finds herself in the company of bad people. As tragic as it was, her death was the only thing able to remove her from her own suffering. In the end, Laura sees her angel and is happy again. After everything she has endured, after all the pain and suffering, Laura is safe. Lynch gives us optimism in a decaying world.
Despite its occasional downfalls, the ‘Twin Peaks’ series of the 1990s is one of the greatest creations of art to ever exist.
What I Said About ‘The Return’:
‘Twin Peaks’ has always been a special television show. Prior to seeing this limited series, I considered ‘Twin Peaks’ to be peak television. Sure, the second season ended up stumbling quite a bit but how many television shows have an episode as powerful as “Beyond Life and Death”? How many shows had a character as awesome as Agent Dale Cooper? How many shows had a villain as terrifying as Bob? How many shows have a location as recognizable and as iconic as the red room, with its backwards speaking inhabitants? Some shows have just 1 of these but I can’t think of a show that surpasses ‘Twin Peaks’ in each of them.
After 25 years, ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ had seemingly insurmountable expectations. Many shows have returned after long periods of time but many of them failed miserably, either because they fell into the “nostalgia trap” or they tried to update their aesthetic to no avail. Clearly, I don’t believe that ‘Twin Peaks’ suffered the same fate. In fact, ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ is so damn fine that it completely surpasses the original series. Lynch is a phenomenal director/writer and I absolutely love that he was given so much creative control over this series. It is so unheard of in television that a show has the same writer(s)/director(s) over their entire run, but this show proves that it should be way more common (although to be fair, a lot of limited series have consistent writers/directors).
‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ refuses to indulge in nostalgic fan service in both form and content, instead taking the opportunity to do something new and creative. The original run’s distinct grainy filmic look is gone in favour of an extremely digital look, we are deprived of Agent Dale Cooper, old cliffhangers are left hanging and new cliffhangers are introduced. And as in every one of Lynch’s works, questions are often more important than answers and feelings are more important than explanations. By making the choice to do something completely different, Lynch & co. gave themselves a huge amount of space to experiment.
Given this space, Lynch & Frost have expanded on the original series in meaningful ways: the supernatural aspects are fleshed out and elaborated on in a way that serves the plot on hand, characters are given appropriate arcs based on their stories in the original, its metaphysical contemplation’s are deepened and amplified. But the new series also evolves what was already there in the original series as it becomes even more terrifying, even more funny, and even more intelligent and engaging. ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ is equally one of the best horrors, one of the best comedies, and one of the best dramas I have ever seen on television.
There is a specific episode that I want to talk about and fans of the new series can probably already guess which one it is: Episode 8. Episode 8 is a masterful piece of experimental film-making + meaningful story-telling that pushes the absolute limits of what television can be – ‘Twin Peaks’ meets Stan Brakhage. Episode 8 adds so much to the ‘Twin Peaks’ lore with its digital abstractions and is perhaps the most emotional episode of television ever filmed (Laura is created as an anti-thesis to Bob, so her existence is consequently sacrificial in nature). Not only is this arguably the greatest episode in television history, it is also one of the best hour long sequences ever recorded on video.
As I said earlier, Lynch is a phenomenal writer/director responsible for many amazing films such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway (my personal favourite), Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire. And yet, I consider ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ to be his magnum opus. Whether you consider it an 18-hour film or a television series, it doesn’t matter because very few works can go toe to toe with ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.
What I Said About It:
‘Dota 2’ is so good that every other video game I have ever played feels empty in comparison. Featuring nearly 120 heroes (with over 500 unique abilities, combined), over 150 unique purchasable in-game items (some with active abilities), nearly 70 unique droppable items (some with active abilities), ‘Dota 2’ is absolutely exemplary for a free-to-play game (the entirety of ‘Dota 2’ is completely free aside from the limited time events, Dota Plus, and Battle Passes, which are all extras and don’t affect the in-game results at all).
The first version of the original ‘DotA’ (Defense of the Ancients) came out as a ‘Warcraft III’ mod 17 years ago before Valve picked up IceFrog to make the sequel. And with 17 years of changes, improvements and additions comes a game that is extremely streamlined and polished while creating and retaining a ridiculous amount of depth (8 years later and I still suck).
Mechanics such as creep denying and jungle stacking/pulling work to add an incredible amount of depth to the game. Furthermore, the game’s map has evolved over the past 17 years to something nearly unrecognizable from the original but completely masterful in execution (especially when they started to really change fundamental parts of the map (i.e. placement of high-ground and low-ground, introducing shrines, moving Roshan, introducing bounty runes, and so on)).
On top of its fantastic gameplay and incredibly designed map, ‘Dota 2’ also features some of the best graphical and audio design in video games (‘Dota 2’ is a gorgeous game and has amazing colours). Visually, there is a lot of distinction between different objects with every active ability and item ability having distinctly recognizable visual effects as well as extremely distinct neutral creeps. The same thing applies to the audio design as well. Whenever I watch professional ‘Dota 2’, I can tell exactly what active abilities and items are being used based on their sound effects alone which is impressive considering the fact that the combined number of active abilities and active item abilities is likely 700+.
‘Dota 2’ also has amazing character design … all incredibly distinct and full of personality both in terms of their physical designs as well as their voice lines and animations (attack, ability, movement animations). Some of my favourite characters in all of gaming are in ‘Dota 2’: Earthshaker, Pudge, Lion, Crystal Maiden, Juggernaut.
Nowadays, I watch ‘Dota 2’ far more than I play ‘Dota 2’. Professional ‘Dota 2’ teams exemplify the very best in ‘Dota 2’ gameplay and show the true depth of the game in their drive to master it. Watching OG beat PSG.LGD in the ‘The International 2018’ grand finals in a best of 5 was one of the most exciting moments of my life. Staying up all night every night and sleeping during the day to watch ‘The International 2019’ (which was hosted in China, hence my altered sleep schedule) was one of the most enjoyable weeks of my life.
Whether I am playing ‘Dota 2’ or watching professional ‘Dota 2’ (as I have been for the past week since there is currently a DPC Major underway), there is no feeling quite like it. Almost all of my greatest gaming experiences come from this masterpiece of a game. I’ve spent several thousands of hours playing ‘Dota 2’, watching professional ‘Dota 2’, watching ‘Dota 2’ videos on YouTube, reading about ‘Dota 2’, and talking about ‘Dota 2’ with friends…
‘Dota 2’ fully deserves the label of “Best entertainment release of [all-time]” because nothing else compares. ‘Dota 2’ has become, and will continue to be, an integral part of my life.