- Django Unchained
First with Inglourious Basterds, and now with this movie, Tarantino has shown an impressive ability to take sensitive subject material and show it in a way that feels fresh and irreverent, while still somehow being respectful. The mix of very serious, even hard to watch scenes on one hand, and clever humour on the other, can't be an easy one to pull off successfully, but I think this movie does it, and does it well.
- Cloud Atlas
A really ambitious movie idea, funded mostly independently since the Wachowski's couldn't get a studio to back it, and they totally pulled it off. Shame that the lack of publicity pretty much killed it, certainly here in Australia. Some people don't like the use of actors in multiple roles with exotic makeup, but I thought it was a great idea, and perfectly suited to the subject matter of this movie in particular. And in a way it's almost more ambitious than the book, since not only does it follow six stories across six different time periods, but it switches between them constantly in a way that ties the individual narratives together even more closely, and makes the set of stories properly feel like one big intertwined narrative.
- The World's End
(If you haven't seen this movie, there are SPOILERS below. Stop now and just go see it!)
Being a fan of all Edgar Wright's movies, I went into this one knowing absolutely nothing about it. I was assuming it would be something related to an apocalypse, but then we get into the movie and it appears that it's going to be a comedy drama about friends helping their friend move on from the past and overcome his addiction problem. It went just long enough to have me totally convinced that this is what the movie was going to be about.
And then the scene in the pub bathroom happened.
I was shocked, and initially my thought was that Gary had actually just killed someone and was hallucinating the head popping off and the blue blood as some sort of addict coping mechanism. Then the excellent first fight happens, I realize it's going to be a body snatchers comedy action movie after all, and it was awesome.
One of the best surprises I've had while watching a movie, and a great movie in it's own right.
Honestly, what did I expect? A shameless rip off of Men in Black, but not as good. And none of the MIB movies are that good to begin with. Not even Jeff Bridges could save this one.
- Star Trek Into Darkness
Okay, this certainly isn't a bad movie. It's watchable and there's plenty of action and great visuals. But it's such a disappointment. It takes a lot of balls to remake the best of the original Star Trek movies, and you damn well want to be sure you know how to do it right. If they had just tried to make this an original story, and not shoehorn Khan into it (it really wasn't necessary to the main story, and added nothing), it would probably have been on par with the first Star Trek reboot.
There were so many little things that just didn't work in this movie, and I think it was because they tried to take iconic scenes and ideas from Wrath of Khan and spice them up (with a twist!), but it meant nothing to new audiences, and just pissed off old audiences. It reminded me a bit of the problems that Prometheus suffered because Ridley Scott took a movie that was not originally meant to be set in the Alien universe, and then shoehorned it in, poorly, pissing off Alien fans, and confusing everyone else.
Go see Star Trek Into Darkness, but then call JJ Abrams bad names afterwards.
- The Last of Us
Easily the best game of the year for me, and quite possibly the best game of this console generation. I was always a fan of the technical and artistic aspects of Naughty Dog's Uncharted series, but found the story and gameplay lacking in various ways. This game changes all of that. Story, gameplay, characters, visuals, sound, everything was damn near flawless in this game. Stealth and survival gameplay where you don't feel forced to avoid fights, but feel that it's a genuine option, and one that you actually can take without feeling like a pussy or that you're missing out on important things. Plus it actually succeeded in making zombies interesting to me, which is a feat in itself!
- Assassin's Creed IV
I've enjoyed all of the Assassin's Creed games to various degrees, but this one feels like they finally nailed the formula. Despite having uninteresting characters and storyline, there was just such a good variety of gameplay here, with the open world format that lets you choose what you want to do. Addition of the sea battles, with exploration of islands, diving wrecks, butchering poor innocent whales, was a nice complement to the standard hand to hand combat and assassination gameplay. All the real world stuff set in the games company was quite funny and meta, and thankfully didn't overstay its welcome.
- Grand Theft Auto V
Possibly the most visually impressive game I've seen on a console, certainly in the open world genre. I was stunned at the amount of detail they were able to pack on to the screen, and how seamless (within reason of course) the detail transitions when flying, skydiving, or just moving between areas.
The ability to switch between three different characters was a great mechanic, and makes sense in an open world game. Would have been better if there were stronger differences between the characters that made a bigger difference as to which one you were currently exploring the world with.
The game definitely has flaws, such as a lot of repetitive and unimaginative story missions, though there are still some good ones, and the heists are fun. The side activities are also a bit lacking, with crap like tennis, darts, yoga, that just aren't very interesting. I also found their retro HUD annoying, particularly the lack of good indication of low health, which caught me out way too many times. Not being able to easily store and retrieve cars was a stupid move, and ends up making you just stick with default cars most of the time. Since games like Sleeping Dogs have shown how to do car storage right, Rockstar has no excuse for not figuring this out.
- Remember Me
This wasn't a terrible game so much as a bait and switch, or at least so it felt. We bought it solely on the strength of watching a video of the cool looking memory remixing gameplay that the game features. Unfortunately, this ends up only being a very small part of the game, with the majority being a fairly generic beat-em-up style of play. It was done well enough, and the visuals and atmosphere were nice, but they needed to put in a lot more of the gameplay that represented the only really unique aspect of this game.
- Call of Duty: Ghosts
It makes me happy to see that these chest-thumping, America Fuck Yeah style first person shooters are finally started to be rejected by mainstream audiences. I played this one as a rental over Christmas break, and it was pretty much as uninspired and boring as I was expecting. I've been a sucker for FPSes for quite a few years now, but there's only so many times you can have the same gameplay, fighting the same types of enemies, using the same types of weapons. And like with the deplorable Medal of Honor: Warfighter, the attempts to depict the American military as any kind of underdog have gone past being on the nose in these games, and are now just straight shameful.
- The Psychopath Test
A very entertaining and interesting book by author/journalist Jon Ronson, that looks into psychopathy and the diagnosis of mental illness in general. I know it sounds bleak, but Ronson has an extremely compelling writing style that makes all of his books enjoyable. I listened to the audio version of the book, narrated by Ronson himself, and that was fantastic. If you don't have time to read the book, then this talk he did at the Sydney Opera House is a neat summary and highly entertaining in itself: Psychopaths Make the World Go Round
A fascinating book about introversion and how the modern office workplace is poorly designed for introverts. As an introvert myself I obviously had a personal interest in this book, but I think it's an interesting book for anyone to read, particularly people in management roles since they're probably managing more introverts than they realize (especially in IT), and almost certainly creating an environment that is far from optimal for them.