Friday, 4 February 2011

2010: Year In Review

Like a lot of people, I like to make lists. This list in particular ranks my 'Top 5' things from 2010, ranging from songs to technology. They might not necessarily be the best by anyone else's measure, but they are things I either enjoyed most or, for me, defined 2010.


2010 looked to be a good year for movies, with blockbusters such as Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, Harry Potter - not to mention the new found fascination with 80s remakes in the form of the A-Team, TRON and the Karate Kid - all promising to blow audiences away. What ensued however was a mildly disappointing and mediocre execution of projects which never really lived up to their hype. That is not to say 2010 didn't spawn any great movies - indeed, many were highly enjoyable affairs. Rather, true greatness was difficult to highlight in a sea of sequels and remakes.

1. Inception - Much hype surrounded Christopher Nolan's non-Bat project. Given the success of his rebooted Batman franchise, there were fears this would give him license to go all pompously artsy. Fortunately Inception wasn't like that. It proved to be the most intrinsically interesting, creative, exciting and stunning pieces of cinema of 2010. Nothing came close to how brilliantly ostentatious it all was. Film of the year by a country mile.

2. Shutter Island - 2010 was really Leonardo Di Caprio's year as he gave two career defining performances in both this and Inception. While Shutter Island was a reasonably predictable psychological thriller, the artistry and execution which Scorsese brought to it, coupled with Di Caprio's performance, made this one of the stand out films last year.

3. Monsters - Many came out shouting and hollering after seeing this low-budget indie-movie, largely on account that Monsters hardly featured, well, any Monsters. But that was never really the point of Gareth Edward's mini-masterpiece. A highly believable, character driven plot against a remarkable scenario, Monsters was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2010.

4. Kick Ass - Based on Mark Millar and John Romita's comic book of the same name, Kick Ass follows the exploits of one idealistic teen's desire to become a super hero. What ensues is a hilarious, awesome film featuring one of the most memorable characters of the year, Hit Girl. Kick Ass most certainly kicked ass.

5. Four Lions - Just when you thought Chris Morris had faded into obscurity after his taboo-shattering parodies of The Day Today and Brass Eye, back he pops with his latest piss-take of societal norms. While Four Lions may not necessarily be in most people's top five, or even top ten films of 2010, for me it was one of the more interesting and different narratives of the year.


Whilst I probably listened more to music from previous years, I think it more pertinent in the context of this list to put songs that were actually released in 2010. They are ranked in accordance to my iTunes number of plays throughout the year:
  1. Baby I'm Yours - Breakbot
  2. Gotten - Slash feat. Adam Levine
  3. Hey Soul Sister - Train
  4. Meet Me Halfway - Black Eyed Peas
  5. Waka Waka (Time For Africa) - Shakira
This list is actually quite surprising to me. I thought it might add some credence to my musical taste. Alas, it probably doesn't. 'Baby I'm Yours' is a highly addictive, happy song by French electro outfit Breakbot, which had far more plays than any number deemed reasonable. Slash's return in his collaborative album, while not brilliant, did feature some genuinely good songs and the one I couldn't stop listening to was the mellow 'Gotten', featuring Maroon 5's Adam Levine. However, perhaps most embarrassing is Train's 'Soul Sister', which, having received the amount of airtime it already has, probably now pisses off any number of people. Yet it struck a certain resonance with me for some reason and, bizarrely, evoked memories from the past few years. The Black Eyed Peas were also in form again this year, creating highly addictive tracks which you play the shit out of, only to get sick of them. Finally, we have Shakira's World Cup theme tune. Whilst once again caught up in the media hype that England might actually win the tournament this time, it appears that out of all the theme songs from an otherwise crappy World Cup, this was the one I listened to most.

Video Games:

2010 was once again a great year for video games across all platforms. Suffice to say I'm not tool enough to say "OMG, Black Ops!" (more like Black Cocks, badum-tsh) was the best game of the year, and neither am I going to bum Grand Theft Horse, otherwise known as Red Dead Redemption, like every other publication. Instead, my criteria considers things that I found innovative, how much time I squandered playing the game and, most importantly to me, the storyline. With that in mind, forward!

1. Mass Effect 2 (360) - This was by far my most highly anticipated game of 2010. I absolutely fell in love with the world BioWare created in the first Mass Effect and was eager to see how the story would progress. The added brilliance was the ability to use the same character you created from the first game, which gave an even greater sense of continuity and epicness. Everything from the scale of the game, to the choices which make you feel as if every decision matters (and they do, impacting on how you will play the third installment) is absolutely astonishing.

2. Alan Wake (360) - I wasn't sure what to make of Alan Wake upon first glance. The graphics looked incredible for sure, but it had been in development for so long, and had been so hyped up, that I was dubious. Further compounding my preconceptions was that it was a psychological thriller, not usually my cup of tea. But 'Oh My God' did my fears prove unfounded. While critics may argue it is a rather linear experience, Alan Wake is one of the first games which makes the gamer feel as if he is in an interactive movie, seamlessly blending between the two mediums. This could very well be the turning of the proverbial corner in a new direction for gaming experiences.

3. Civilization V (PC) - Sid Meier's over-glorified board game returned this year, simultaneously overhauling everything while maintaining a familiarity that kept veterans happy. Aspirations of global conquest once again took hold, keeping me up into the small hours as I watched with twisted glee when my army of giant death robots crushed everything in their path.

4. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (PC) - The thinking man's Call of Duty, the Battlefield series placed even more emphasis on teamwork with its latest incarnation. The new 'Rush Mode' actually required squads to work toward an objective and while some may not have liked the consequent bottlenecking of action, I thought that the confined space in which the action took place not only made for a tenser experience, but the feeling that far more than your own personal survival was at stake. And, for the first time, DICE threw in a semi-decent single player campaign as an added bonus.

5. Star Trek: Online (PC) - Now, I know this is far, FAR from being technically at least a good game, but hell, I couldn't contain my excitement upon first hearing they were making an MMO brimming with Klingons, Romulans and Borg. Even if it was shit, I had to play it. While the list of problems beguiling STO are extensive, I actually had a good few months playing this, able to overlook the problems on account of being Picard's number one fan. For a while there was nothing more satisfying than watching quantum torpedos slam into the side of a Borg Cube.

I must also make notable mentions to a host of other games that didn't quite make the list. Fifa 11 was of course further refinement on the beautiful game, impossibly improving upon Fifa 10. The same is also true for Football Manager 2011, which I can't bare thinking how much time I've wasted on this venus flytrap. But they were, by and large, more of the same, and didn't add anything particularly distinctive to warrant a place on the list. Likewise the same can be said for Napoleon: Total War, which was basically a re-skinned Empire: Total War. Two games however that just missed out on the list, which probably more than deserve a place, are Heavy Rain and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. While Heavy Rain was perhaps the most innovative and different game I had played all year, it just missed out on account for being a series of set pieces in which you had to time correctly when you pressed a button. As for Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, I have not yet played it so it would be unfair for me to award it a place. Disappointment of the year however goes to Final Fantasy XIII, hands down.


Upon purchase of a new computer, phone, laptop or other assorted piece of crap you think you need, it is immediately obsolete. Yet, we all like shiny things with flashing lights that sound like a transformer when you switch it on. These be the top five, now defunct, pieces of kit that caught my wonderment.
1. iMac - It is difficult to do justice to such a beast of technology. While the first two Macs I received from Apple both came with a screen flicker bug, it was third time lucky when I finally got a working one. But my, does it now work. Sporting an Intel Core i5 processor at 2.66GHz, 8GB 1067MHz DDR3 RAM and an ATI Radeon HD 4850 gfx card with a maximum resolution of 2560x1440, things run at a breeze. It helps that you can also partition the 1TB harddrive to run Windows 7, meaning your gaming experience is no longer limited by Mac OS X.

2. iPhone 4 - As is customary with Apple, each year sees a newer and better iPhone released. Having been taken in by all the hype, I became one of those stupid bastards who went and queued to get one on the first day, only to inevitably end up disappointed. But it was worth the wait. There really is an app for everything, and now I see this piece of kit not just as a phone, but a handy companion in my day to day life.

3. 3DTVs - Having only just got used to the idea of HDTVs as the future, some clever clogs went and got the idea to make everything 3D. While I don't actually own one of these, I have had the pleasure of experiencing them. While the technology is new, and consequently still a bit pricey, this is definitely the future. Still find the prospect of donning 3D glasses a minor annoyance however.

4. Kinect - While I'm not a fan of standing up in my living room and waving my arms in the air like a lunatic, I can appreciate the Kinect for the technology that it is. While I remain a traditionalist in the sense that I consider gaming all about lazing about infront of the television, the potential for changing this is immense. If the technology evolves and matures to a point beyond merely being able to pet your virtual dog, then this could well revolutionise how we play games.

5. iPad - Perhaps you are sensing a theme. Three Apple products in a top five list might make me appear like a fanboy, but there's no denying what a fun piece of kit the iPad is. First let me start by saying that I was this oversized iPhone's biggest critic. I could not really see the point of it, especially with the kind of price tag it holds. To an extent, I still can't. It is an utterly superfluous object which one could easily do without. But it is a luxury good, and having received one for Christmas I have had a lot of fun playing around with it. It's even become quite sociable when taken out with friends. Moreover, the idea of reading books, papers and magazines on this beautiful device is incredibly appealing. I've already stopped buying hard copies of one publication in favour of downloading it straight to the pad, which comes with the added bonus of interactive elements such as videos embedded into the articles.

TV Shows:

There were a lot of great television moments in 2010, particularly with the long-awaited climax of Lost. Fantastic new shows appeared, as well as the older stalwarts moving in new and exciting directions. Indeed, 2010 was a great year for TV, and it is to the Americans that I am thankful for this.

1. Lost - As a newcomer to the show that provided more 'WTF' moments than any other show in history, I had just about caught up with the past five season's happenings by the time the highly anticipated sixth season aired. This was the season the promised to answer everything, but in true Lost style, it only left one with more questions. Some saw the grand finale as an anti-climax, left unsatisfied without knowing as to why there were even polar bears present on a tropical island that shifted through time. For me however the ending was perfect, answering some things and, in truly great storytelling style, leaving much to be pondered upon. This really was the greatest television show of the last ten years and it will be sorely missed.

2. Sons of Anarchy - The third series following the exploits of a biker gang from a small town in the USA began with a bang, gave off even more bangs, and ended with an almighty satisfying bang of a climax to the culmination of events over the three series. This was by far the most entertaining and exciting viewing pleasure I had all year.

3. Rubicon - Rubicon was a rarity. This was complex, intelligent and thoughtful, often qualities missing for sake of entertaining the masses. Unfortunately, this was also probably its downfall as it failed to get funding for a second season. It's a shame really as it really was one of those shows where next week's episode honestly couldn't wait.

4. Fringe - You can't help but love Walter Bishop. While starting out as a 'monster of the week' type affair, Fringe really got going in season two where all the odd happenings started to come together. The final third season, having just began before Christmas, promises a more and more dramatic conclusion each week as shit gets realer. Now in the final run in to the finale things are starting to pick up pace as it makes for incredibly compelling television. 

5. Breaking Bad - The genius (Vince Gilligan) behind the idea of a dying school teacher pairing up with a high-school dropout to cook meth should be commended. In terms of originality, Breaking Bad cannot be topped as the third season saw Walter White delve ever deeper into the dangerous meth dealing business. In terms of drama there isn't any better television.

As stated, there was a lot of great and original television this year. Notable mentions must also go to The Walking Dead, Dexter and Boardwalk Empire. The Walking Dead however is still in its early days, with the first season only lasting six episodes. Since, the entire writing team has been fired so it will be interesting to see how it develops. So far it has remained relatively faithful to the comic, but the television series has shown it is not afraid to add 'improvements'. As for Dexter, while season five was solid, it also proved a little underwhelming after the events of the trinity killer last season. Hopefully they'll be able to ramp it up a gear with season six, which interestingly has not been touted as the final season, opening the possibility to a seventh. Finally, it was very difficult to leave Boardwalk Empire out of the list. I have enjoyed Steve Buscemi's portrayal of kingpin 'Nucky' Thompson immensely throughout and do not have a bad word to say about the series. At the end of the day however it all came down to a matter of personal preference, and that is the only apology I can make for excluding it.