As we approach the final hours of 2012, it’s always customary to reflect upon the highs and lows of the past year, and I have made it one of my traditions to bestow praise and scorn on the entertainment I have consumed over the year. Those of you who came here from Facebook have probably seen the previous entries, but in case you don’t remember how it works, the process is simple. To be nominated for an “Evie” a movie, TV show, or video game must have been released in 2012 (or have a currently running season in the case of TV) and have been seen by me. So films like Argo or whatever the last Twilight was can’t win or lose, since I haven’t bothered to see them.
Each category has a “Best” and “Worst”, as well as a spirited runner-up, since a lot of times, the race is close. As well, there’s a (usually) short list of coming attractions that have caught my eye for the next year.
In the tradition of most awards shows, let’s start with the least interesting category:
Best TV Show: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
When I moved to Alaska, I was moving away from cable TV, and for the most part, I was okay with that. But my one concession was to digitally subscribe to this gem of an animated series. To be fair, the show has had its ups and downs, but lately it’s been quite good, adding new and interesting characters to the Star Wars mythos, resurrecting Darth Maul, and offering a glimpse into the early years of Jedi training. Now that Disney owns the Star Wars brand, it will be interesting to see what becomes of this show; if it moves to Disney’s lineup, gets redesigned, or lost altogether.
Another perennial favorite, this comedy mystery show had another great year, though it has been a while since there have been new episodes. We’ve been promised a new season this spring, but I fear the late season slumps, when writers start to run out of ideas and retread some of the same territory. The show has stayed sharp, with the classy themed episodes I always love, including a film noir reference, a Shining-themed episode, and, best of all: an Indiana Jones episode, where Shawn learns that whip swinging is not exactly easy.
Worst TV Show: Alcatraz
Since I missed the Lost boat, the opportunity to get in on what looked like the next great J. J. Abrams TV thriller was one I had to take. Throw in time travel (I guess?), Sam Neil, and San Francisco, and I was sold. I learned something very important watching Alcatraz: I probably wouldn’t have liked Lost anyway. Raising two questions for every one the show answers started to drive me nuts: I like my television straightforward, thank you very much. And while I can appreciate the need to tell interesting stories, as well as avoid offending the families of those involved, filling Alcatraz island with fictional serial killers and shady guards and wardens kind of rubbed me the wrong way. There were plenty of interesting stories you could work with in the real Alcatraz, fictionalizing it further just seems unnecessary.
There aren’t any TV shows I am currently looking forward to, since I’m not sure I’d get the chance to see them anyway.
Best Video Game: Assassin’s Creed III
I have been a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series since the second game, which was actually three games ago. So, they may not know how to count, but the historically-set running-jumping-stabbing gameplay remains as fun as ever, though I notice we are spending significantly less time running on the rooftops in colonial America than we did in renaissance Italy. The conceit of the series, that memory is stored in our genes, and with a special machine, we can relive the experiences of our ancestors, is rubbish, but a decent framing device for having a historical setting. Here, that setting of America during the Revolutionary War feels more alive and organic than any before. The world is revealed to you slowly (too slowly for some, judging by the criticisms), but I think that means you appreciate it more. There’s so much to do between exploring the wilderness, hunting wild animals, crafting, side missions, and good old messing around, that I’m still playing this game even as new titles come and go. The ultimate goal for the characters in the present (to somehow prevent the global catastrophe scheduled for 12/21/12) already seems dated, but it’s easy to overlook and just lose yourself in the past. I thought it was clever, though, that the modern action in the game begins on the date it was released.
Runner-up: Mass Effect 3
Yes, it’s another “3” game, though this one actually uses the Arabic number. The Mass Effect series is probably one of the most important video game franchises in recent history, the Pac-Man or Mario of its time. The first game fundamentally changed how we play role-playing games, separating them further from their Dungeons & Dragons roots, and taking more of a cue from film. As the series has progressed, players have been able to carry their Commander Shepard character from game to game, along with all the baggage and choices that comes with that. The result is a character we are extremely invested in, because it is ours. And Mass Effect 3 is the payoff. The final act. All the decisions you made, all the characters you befriended (or didn’t) matter in some way in this finale. The subplots are all brought to extremely satisfying conclusions, though the ultimate end of the game was a kind of weird, nonsensical thing that confused and angered a lot of people. I have flip-flopped my opinion on the so-called “Mass Effect ending controversy” several times, but I now believe, thanks to the updated “extended cut”, that they had a good idea there, and just didn’t quite stick the landing. 10 minutes of weirdness cannot unbalance 30 hours of awesome.
Worst Video Game: Major League Baseball 2K12
This is not a particularly strong entry for “worst”. There were a lot of great games this year, and some bad ones, I’m sure, but I never got stuck playing those. I love baseball. And I like this baseball game franchise well enough, but it does have some problems. Most noticeably, at the time of writing, I have to basically trick my XBox into playing it at all. Nothing appears to be physically wrong with the disk, but it just doesn’t load unless I ask very nicely. The purported “live season”, where you played along with your favorite team, was also a bust. The game apparently tries to download all the information for every team for the whole season at the same time, so by July it would just overload and crash the system. But when it’s not crashing all over the place, it is pure baseball bliss.
Looking Forward To:
Grand Theft Auto V
For the uninitiated, “DLC” is “Downloadable Content”, video game material that doesn’t come on a disk, but is pulled from the Internet to your system. It can be additional content for a retail release or an entire game itself.
Best DLC: The Walking Dead
This game was given Game of the Year for a reason. It has raised the bar for what a character-based video game can be like. Set in the zombie apocalypse of the comic and TV series, this is a different kind of zombie game. Rather than giving you a shotgun and saying “here are some zombies”, this is an adventure game in the spirit of the 90’s classics like Monkey Island, with important plot decisions a la Mass Effect, where zombies just happen to be a factor. The real threat is the other survivors and starvation, now that society has collapsed, but the zombie action is suitably gruesome. Most importantly, it’s about two characters: your character, Lee Everett, a good man, convicted of murder, who never made it to jail thanks to the outbreak, and Clementine, the 9-year-old girl who helps him first escape from the horde. In a medium where child characters almost never work, Clementine is a revelation, a child you don’t feel obligated to protect, but want to. Not just her health is at risk, but preserving her innocence and childhood becomes a concern as the world around her crumbles. This is one of the most interesting, moving, and heartbreaking games I have ever played.
Runner-up: Mass Effect 3: Leviathan
Mass Effect DLC has a history of making this list, and this year’s entry is no exception. This DLC gets special mention because it actually clarifies, foreshadows, and answers questions about that infamously confusing ending. In fact, if it had been included in the retail release of the game, there might have been much less furor. Commander Shepard receives reports of a mysterious something that has been killing Reapers, the giant mechanical squids that are trying to wipe out all civilizations. Is it a powerful ally or a dangerous enemy? SPOILERS: It’s the last of the giant space squids that built the Reapers in the first place. With that fact alone, this mission does a better job of setting up the ending than anything else in the game, and it had to have been in the works before the Internet exploded about the ending, but it might have been nice to have seen it in the game all along.
Worst DLC: I AM Alive
Stuck in game production limbo for a long time, this game with a strangely declarative title is another post-apocalyptic adventure, focusing on exploration and climbing, with a “climbing meter” limiting the amount of time you can hang from your fingertips from the edge of a cliff. It’s a good concept for a game mechanic (it worked for one of the best games on the PS2, Shadow of the Colossus), and this game manages it well, but other than that, it’s rather dull. I don’t think I even bothered to finish it. The entire color palette is greys and browns, making the game look almost like it was made in black & white. A lot was made of the fact that every encounter with other survivors was a chance to gauge intentions and act accordingly. You had a pistol, but extremely limited ammo, so each shot was a costly one. However, in reality, there are only two kinds of people in this apocalypse: people who need your help and people who want you dead. You could theoretically bluff aggressors by just brandishing a gun, but the minute you stopped pointing your gun at them, they’d attack again, even if you had just shot their buddy. So, for all the claimed strategy, it was basically still “kill all the dudes”.
Best Movie: The Avengers
Well, duh. Let’s do a head count, shall we? We’ve got a massive crossover between the characters of five awesome Marvel movies, written and helmed by Joss Whedon, finally getting the due from mainstream Hollywood that he’s had with geek culture for years, that turns out to be a cohesive, exciting, funny action-adventure. What’s not to like? The most amazing thing about this movie, which has been said many times, is that there are so many ways it could have gone horribly wrong, or at least fallen flat. But all the effort that was put into movies like Thor and Iron Man 2 to set this up payed off, in one of the most successful and enjoyable movies of the year. It wasn’t perfect, and it may not win anything from the “real” awards shows, but it cannot be overlooked for its ambition and ability to actually live up to that ambition.
Runner-up: Wreck-it Ralph
This was a strange year for me in the animation department. There were several good films, but I never thought I would see the day when a Disney film would place higher than a Pixar film. I liked Brave fine (in fact, it would probably be a second runner-up), but it wasn’t as memorable as Wreck-it Ralph, the story of a video game villain who’s grown tired of being the bad guy. It is very much the Toy Story of my generation, which seems a little strange to say, but it’s true. Just as all the toys in Toy Story were classics that parents remembered, but kids didn’t really see anymore (like Slinky Dog and Mr. Potato Head), the games in Wreck-it Ralph were all old-school arcade titles. Beyond the gaming history references, the heart of a Pixar film is there, with a good take-home message for the kids that isn’t too blunt for the adults. I am as charmed by the idea that video game characters are just doing their job as I was when it was toys just doing their job.
Worst Movie: The Amazing Spider-Man
Honestly, this seemed like a movie doomed to failure. Made out of a need to keep the Spider-Man rights from returning to Marvel/Disney, rather than any real artistic motive, this gritty reboot could actually have been much worse. If we ignore the fact that we’re talking about a reboot of a movie made in 2002, and the fact that it pretty much stomped on the Spider-Man mythos to be grittier and more Dark Knight-like, it’s an alright film while you’re watching it, but once you start thinking about it, it just looks worse and worse. This Peter Parker is perhaps the worst at keeping a secret identity I have ever seen, and definitely the worst at keep his damn mask on. He starts as a marginally nerdy skater kid and becomes a marginally nerdy skater kid with super powers. Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben is a good choice, but they didn’t give him enough to do, and he didn’t say the one line that he’s supposed to say! Maybe they figured they’d used it up in the movie they were rebooting.
Looking Forward to:
Iron Man 3
Thor: the Dark World
Star Trek Into Darkness
Man of Steel
So, that’s it. My entertainment memories of 2012. I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year’s, and I wish you all the luck in 2013.