Annual Recap: 2018’s Best TV, Movies, and Video Games

Daredevil (Season 3)

In many ways, Daredevil’s third season delivered what we’ve come to expect from the show, with its engaging writing, striking cinematography, brutal action sequences, and captivating performances. If you haven’t seen the third season yet, perhaps because you were disappointed by the inconsistent second season, let me assure you that it is 110% worth your time and attention. If you haven’t seen the third season yet for other reasons, or if you haven’t seen Daredevil at all, let me assure you that you need to reevaluate your priorities in life.

Daredevil’s first season was great at building the rising action into an explosive climax, and this holds true for its third season. There are many jaw-dropping reveals, monologues, and character moments, and all of these are boosted by the excellent performances. Yes, the performances have always been good, and yes, despite some serious hiccups in season two, nearly every aspect of the show has been good, but the acting in season three of Daredevil is some of the best that you will find on television, and it’s what I really want to applaud here.

Newcomers Jay Ali and Wilson Bethel maintain that same level of quality that we’ve come to expect from the more veteran cast, but it is the veteran cast that I need to praise. Protagonist Matt Murdock/Daredevil is in the darkest place he’s ever been in during season three, and actor Charlie Cox channels that angst, anger, and animalism brilliantly, and better than he ever has before. I would praise Cox’s performance more if I didn’t also want to praise Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance, who plays Matt Murdock’s nemesis, Wilson Fisk. For someone playing a murderous criminal mastermind, D’Onofrio brings a remarkable amount of vulnerability to the role. His character feels so human due to D’Onofrio’s subtle body movements and facial gestures that hammer home that this is indeed a person with fears, desires, and insecurities, despite the fact that he spends most of his screen time planning the murders of innocent people.

In the end, Daredevil’s third season becomes greater than the sum of its parts, and it is not often that I can say that about a television show, nevertheless a superhero show. There’s a reason that I put Daredevil first on this list, so do yourself a favor and just watch it. You won’t be disappointed.

***

The Haunting of Hill House

I watched this entire ten-episode show in less than a day. That is 576 minutes, or just under ten hours, of television. I have literally never binged a show in this way, with so few breaks and with such consistent viewing, but the mystery and terror of the plot dug its claws into me and refused to let go until the very end.

What is so effective about Hill House’s horror is that it is rooted in character. Each member of the Crain family has their own personal demons haunting them: Luke wrestles with his drug addiction, Theo struggles to be emotionally close with people, and so on. These metaphorical demons often take the form of ghosts, monsters, or hallucinations, but Hill House never overplays its hand and reveals too much. The viewer is often left to ponder if the supernatural incidents are entirely real, or if some of it is happening solely inside the characters’ heads.

The titular house is intensely atmospheric, the characters’ pasts are appropriately haunting, and the many mysteries are unflinchingly gripping. If you’re able to put The Haunting of Hill House down once you start, I’d be more shocked than I was during the many memorable twists throughout the course of the show.

***

Atlanta (Season 2)

Harboring a more serious tone than its debut season did, season two of Atlanta hits just as hard and harder as it did in its freshman year. Don’t get me wrong: Atlanta still delivers with its comedy in spades, but I think that this tonal shift is appropriate given the characters’ journeys this season. Protagonist Earn, played by creator Donald Glover, is more successful but more vulnerable than ever, and his cousin Alfred is struggling to handle the consequences of his rising fame. The brilliantly executed visual gags are all still here, and all still induce belly laughs, but more mature themes permeate this season’s narrative overall.

Atlanta has never been afraid to dip into the absurd, and it brilliantly utilizes its surrealism to boost both its comedy and its drama in this season. In one episode, Alfred seeks only to get a haircut, but he is dragged around by his barber on increasingly ridiculous errands before his haircut is completed. In another episode, Al gets mugged by a group of teenagers and ends up lost in the woods both literally and metaphorically. Season two is more than willing to stretch the boundaries of reality, but never self-indulgently, as this rule-bending is always in service to exploration of character.

The standout episode of the season is undoubtedly “Teddy Perkins”, which left me feeling physically shaken after watching it. It’s not often that I’m able to say that about a comedy show. Atlanta has always taken risks, and these risks have only continued to pay off in its sophomore season. If you haven’t already, you owe it to yourself to check out Donald Glover’s masterpiece.

***

Spider-Man (PS4)

The reason why this game is on this list isn’t because of the enjoyable combat or the thrilling webslinging, although it certainly gets points for both of those. Insomniac Games, the developer, has put an enormous amount of detail and depth into the game world and its systems, but that’s not why Spider-Man is on this list either. The reason this game is on my list is because of its exceptional storytelling.

There are tangible consequences to the player’s actions in Spider-Man, with stakes that become more and more palpable as the narrative progresses. Insomniac has a clear understanding of what makes the character of Spider-Man special: that he will do the right thing even when it makes life harder for Peter Parker, and what’s great is that this story element is often reinforced through gameplay, which is almost unheard of in an open-world game.

This all culminates in a gut-wrenching emotional finale that legitimately made me cry, which is not something many video games can lay claim to. Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man is a must-have for any PS4 owner and especially for any fan of Spider-Man.


***

Celeste

Celeste is a 2D platformer with simple mechanics and brutal difficulty. There are only three actions that the player can perform besides running: jumping, dashing, and climbing. Celeste gets so much mileage out of these minimalistic movement options, however, because of its environmental hazards. Features such as traffic lights, bubbles, movable platforms, and more can all manipulated to work for or against the player, and Celeste’s true achievement is how it blends its mechanics together.

Once you learn how one mechanic works, another is soon introduced, and then another, and by the end of each level, you’ve mastered moving fluidly across the screen in mere seconds thanks to your understanding of the game’s systems. Of course, it will take you hundreds of deaths to get there (I died nearly 2,000 times before completing the main game), but with each failed attempt, you learn a bit more and become a bit stronger.

To top it all off, Celeste offers a surprisingly heartfelt story about a girl learning to overcome and better cope with her anxiety. The emotions that this game can tease out of you with its gorgeous artwork, tough but fair challenges, and beautifully composed soundtrack range from melancholy to fearful to exhilarating to triumphant, and it’s not an experience that I will be forgetting any time soon.


***

Deltarune (Chapter One)

Before we discuss Deltarune, we need to address its predecessor, Undertale, Toby Fox’s acclaimed 2015 indie release. In my opinion, Undertale deserves all the praise it gets and then some, as it’s my favorite video game of all time. It combines unique, turn-based gameplay with brilliant writing, exhilarating music, lovable characters, and more, and this all gels together perfectly to form a beautifully crafted story and gaming experience.

Deltarune, while still developed almost solely by one person (the aforementioned Toby Fox), isn’t a true sequel to Undertale; I’d say it’s more of a follow-up, offering a new story, new characters, and a revamped combat system that has no problems living up to Undertale’s grand legacy. The game world and its characters ooze charm and humor all over the place, and that charm and humor is infectious. Many game writers struggle to land their jokes or even don’t attempt to make jokes, as they either aren’t talented enough, aren’t confident enough, or are worried that too much comedy will compromise the overall tone of the game. Yet Deltarune’s many jokes land, and they never conflict with the more serious, heartfelt story beneath the surface.

Seeing as how only the first chapter of the game was released, Deltarune is only about three hours long, but it says a lot in that short amount of time, and I can’t wait to see what developer Toby Fox does with this game next. Also, a quick PSA: if you’re thinking about playing Deltarune, it’s free! Just make sure you play through Undertale first, as Deltarune is intended to be played by those who have completed Undertale.


***

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies

Surely, I can’t be serious. But with full sincerity, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is a genuinely well-made and immensely entertaining film that kept me smiling and giddy from the first scene until the last. Although this film does contain a more substantial story arc for its protagonist, Robin, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies never takes itself too seriously. It’s more than happy to delight with its catchy musical numbers and over-the-top voice acting, and it creates an undoubtedly delightful experience.

Speaking of voice acting, it’s clear that the actors are having a blast performing here; the Teen Titans themselves are as iconic as ever, as the actors have been successfully voicing these characters for over a decade. Will Arnett once again proves himself as one of the best voice actors in the business with his performance as Slade Wilson, the film’s primary antagonist. Constantly shifting between campy menace and childish glee, his character is a joy to watch onscreen.

I watched this movie while on an airplane, and it was so funny that my brother, sitting next to me and only reading the subtitles, couldn’t keep himself from laughing out loud. Neither could I. While it’s certainly the dark horse of this list, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is well worth your time if you’re looking for a fun, silly, and thoroughly enjoyable film.


***

Sorry to Bother You

I can say without a shred of doubt that Sorry to Bother You contains the single most unexpected plot twist I have ever witnessed. You know how people say that if you put a monkey in a room with a typewriter it would eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare? Well, if you attempted a similar feat with the script of Sorry to Bother You, the monkey’s hands would fall off before it was successful. This is all for the best though, as this film’s unapologetic weirdness is one of its greatest qualities.

The movie centers on Cassius Green, a down-on-his-luck telemarketer who manages to rise through the ranks of the company. On his journey up the socio-economic ladder, Cassius faces dire consequences in his personal and professional life, both positive and negative. Beneath its bizarre, enchanting aesthetic, Sorry to Bother You has a lot on its mind, and I have no doubt that it will surprise you in the best ways possible just as it did me.


***

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Have you heard about that visually striking, action-fueled superhero movie that came out in December of 2018 and shattered expectations? If you think I’m referring to Aquaman, then shame on you. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is without a doubt my favorite movie, and I would argue the best movie, of 2018 (that I saw).

It truly has it all: complex characters, inventive fight scenes, unique, psychedelic visuals, absurd attention to detail, a ton of heart, top-notch voice acting, and so much more. I could go on, but what’s the point? You’ve probably heard all of this before. After all, every human being on planet Earth and their mother agrees that Into the Spider-Verse is a darn fine film, and I am no exception. If for some reason you haven’t seen this movie yet, make time for it, because it will not disappoint.

2018 was probably the best year ever for Spider-Man in terms of representation of the character outside of comic books. We got Spider-Man on the PS4, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse on the silver screen, and Spider-Man even played a key role in the year’s biggest movie, Avengers: Infinity War (which also deserves a spot on this list). It’s the quality of these adaptations, not the quantity, however, that leaves such an impact on their audiences. I can only hope that we can expect a similar level of quality from Spider-Man media in the coming years.

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