You’re not getting my top 10 albums of the year yet. I am on record that the first week of December is way too early for me to publish that list. That’s coming next week. But there are a ton of other things I watched, played, and read this year. A fun fact about this list is that on multiple occasions I had to google things to see if they actually came out this year because it has been an eternity since the beginning of the year. Most of the things I was thinking about came out this year. Some of them didn’t. I’m not perfect.
Birds of Prey
One of the only movies I actually saw in a theater this year is also one of my favorite films from 2020. Birds of Prey is everything fantastic about Harley Quinn as a character, the good parts from Suicide Squad, and truly comic book-like action all rolled into one movie. It’s perfectly cast, with Margot Robbie turning in another great performance as Harley, Ewan McGregor having a great time as over-the-top villain Black Mask, and Rosie Perez doing excellent Rosie Perez things as Montoya. It’s colorful and visually interesting while still leaving plenty of room for more adult humor and violence. Chris Messina’s Victor Zsasz is a style god even if he’s a horrible person. This is how DC should make movies going forward. Forget an overarching connected world outside of some small references, and just let each film showcase what’s special about the characters. Birds of Prey thrives off of Robbie as Harley’s charm, gleeful nature, and questionable moral compass. Give me five sequels.
Working in a bookstore, I’ve read a lot of books this year. None immediately captured me like Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic. Set in 1950s Mexico, Moreno-Garcia’s tale of main character Noemí Taboada digging into her cousin’s tale of insidious events in the home of her new European husband’s family is everything I look for in a book. As the title implies, this is a horror novel to its core, and Moreno-Garcia perfectly balances the supernatural elements with the real life horrors of racism and generational exploitation and oppression. Noemí is a delight, funny and insightful while containing a kind heart and determination. Moreno-Garcia can paint a visual picture with the best of them, giving the central mansion an eerie sense of decay and foreboding that is extremely my shit when it comes to horror. If 2020 hasn’t scared you enough, Mexican Gothic will give you the chills you need.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake
I talked about Final Fantasy 7 Remake on here a few months ago when I had recently finished it. Everything I said then still holds true, from the excellent battle mechanics and stunning graphics to my love of Cloud once again turning into a lovable dumbass. The more I’ve sat and thought about it though, what Square Enix has done with the story keeps growing on me. When we say “remake,” for so long the expectation has been to not touch anything with the story, just make the game prettier and make it run better. That’s fine, but narratively it’s not that interesting. Introducing the ghosts of fate into FF7R and alluding several times to fate’s changeable nature is a brilliant move. It makes the game itself more interesting, as classic moments and fights are balanced with these new enemies and encounters to spice things up. And the ending of the game opens up so many possibilities for where the next installments of the remake can go. It’s a refreshing take on a classic story, and one that has stayed with me all year.
Star Wars: Clone Wars - The Final Season
We can probably put “Final Season” in quotes here, as we’re clearly going to get loads of Star Wars content from Disney, including from characters who are key parts of the Clone Wars series. Still, this 2020 season was billed as the last one, and if it truly is final, the show went out on a high note. Everything that made Clone Wars spectacular in its original run is present here. Deep looks at the nuance of the war and how it affects all of the combatants are still a core part of this 12 episode run. We also learn a little bit more about what happened to Ahsoka after she leaves the Jedi, which helps establish more of the character she becomes in Rebels and other appearances. And the increase in quality of animation after a decade is noticeable, as some of the last episodes centered around Maul are awe-inspiring in their crispness and the amount of action happening at any one point. The Clone Wars will always have a special place in my heart, and the final season caps it off with the farewell it deserves.
X of Swords
Another series I’m on record enjoying, the new empire of X-Men comics Jonathan Hickman has built has been one of my favorite parts of 2020. In the last couple months this new “Dawn of X” era had its first major crossover across the various series, X of Swords. Centered around a tournament of swordplay and endurance between the newly expanded mutant nation of Krakoa and a group of mutants from a brutal dimension of war has embodied everything that’s been great about the Hickman run. It’s beautifully drawn and colored, with each group of artists bringing their own small touches to each issue. Thematically, it continues the question of what the X-Men should do now that they can cheat death forever and have to run their own nation. It combines the heavier stuff with just the right amount of charm and humor to not make the story drag, and each character gets a moment to shine. There couldn’t have been a better major event to headline the first year of the X-Men’s new run.