Author Archives: knightrider42

Birds of Prey Review

Starring Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Chris Messalina, Ella Jay Basco and Ali Wong.

Spoiler-free.

Following Infinity War and Endgame, there is definitely an opportunity for DC to take on Marvel, which has arguably hit its apex. Spiderman: Far from Home was a big indicator that the Avengers may struggle to stay relevant and interesting post-Thanos, and was the worst MCU film since Iron Man 2 in 2010. However, Marvel still has a big advantage in terms of reliability. DC’s record has been hit and miss since The Dark Knight Trilogy – Man of Steel and Wonder Woman were excellent, but Batman v Superman and Justice League disappointed, while Suicide Squad was an unmitigated disaster and a contender for worst blockbuster film of the decade. However, DC has two big ways it can edge out Marvel: it goes darker and it has more variety. Birds of Prey employs both of these strengths, and while its not as epic as Man of Steel, as uplifting as Wonder Woman or a breakthrough like Joker, its a bloody good entry in the Worlds of DC.

Birds of Prey is considerably more violent than your average superhero film – realistically so. Its played for laughs to some extent a la Deadpool, but still is unremittingly brutal like Dark Phoenix or Batman v Superman. Black Mask and Zsasz are a very nasty (if comical) set of villains, and Harley, Huntress and Black Canary have never been characters that shy away from the dirty side of being vigilantes or anti-heroes. Bones break, blood is drawn and the (surprisingly few) deaths are pretty gruesome. Marvel never goes there (at least not in the MCU), but DC has always been unapologetic about realism in its action scenes, and it plays well here. Given the film is from Harley’s perspective, it makes sense that its violent tendencies are remorseless and played for laughs – that’s what Harley does. She’s not a hero. She’s just someone trying to survive in a world full of monsters. Robbie is as good as ever as Quinn, and its clear the scriptwriter and director are more competent and comfortable with her character than in Suicide Squad. The character is believable and true to the comics here in a way she wasn’t before, getting much better dialogue and put-downs, and there’s no leering shots of Harley in skimpy clothing like David Ayer had plastered throughout Suicide Squad. For those who care, the film is very much a feminist and diverse piece, but unlike in say, the Star Wars sequels or Chibnall’s Doctor Who, its done in a natural way, not shoved awkwardly in – no virtue signalling or preaching here.

The cast does well, with Ewan McGregor a standout as Black Mask – he may be a third-tier Batman villain (i.e. one with little name recognition to people who haven’t played the Arkham games, read comics or watched the cartoons), but McGregor’s chilling yet maniacally flamboyant performance makes him memorable and a fitting antagonist, if not one who is really in Quinn’s league. However, the focus on Harley does sideline a few of the other members of the Birds of Prey, like Winstead’s huntress, who get cool action scenes and laughs but little else to work with. Overall though, the cast gels well and there’s no obvious miscasting here, so I won’t be too critical. The direction and production is strong (there’s very few cuts in the fight scenes – unlike in MCU films – and few CGI fights – unlike in Justice League or Dawn of Justice) and while the plot is nothing special, its a damn sight better than Suicide Squad’s and still more interesting than say Deadpool, which is probably is closest equivalent in Superhero terms.

Overall, Birds of Prey isn’t the best DC can do, but its a step in the right direction, and proves that a female superhero (or anti-hero) ensemble works (not that this needed proving, but maybe misogynists on YouTube can shut up now). Good acting, production meshes with lashing of slapstick violence and humour to make a really fun film – if not one you’ll speak of in the same terms as Joker or Endgame. But then again, that’s not what this film was meant to be – compared to similar anti-hero films like Deadpool 1 and 2… it’s a cut above the rest.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The next film I review will probably be No Time to Die in early April. Stay Tuned!

My Top 10 Films of the Decade

Here we go… my picks for the top 10 films of the last decade.

All films on this list, barring 10th place, got a solid 5/5 from me. 10th gets a 4.5/5, but was pretty borderline – had it’s first hour been as good as its second, it would have got full marks.

10: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Of the five Star Wars films released in the last decade, Rogue is the only one universally liked by critics and fans. Darker and more intelligent than Force Awakens, more action-packed than Last Jedi, less of a garbled mess than Rise of Skywalker and with more compelling characters and plot than Solo, this is a proper Star Wars film that has a story to tell and gets on with telling it. With lashings of humor throughout to alleviate its darker tone, Rogue One finds the balance between Light and Dark. The action scenes look amazing, particularly the combined space and ground battle on Scarif at the climax. But ultimately, its the characters that make this work so well. Jyn Erso is arguably the best female character the Star Wars franchise has ever given us, thanks to her key role in events and Felicity Jones’ wonderful acting. The supporting characters, such as K2S0, Cassian, Saw Gerrera and Krennic are all memorable – to the extent that you will care when they die (and its not a big spoiler to say most of them do) – this film does what few action films do – portrays a suicide mission realistically – the rebels know that they probably aren’t making it out, but risk their lives anyway. The villains are also a cut above, with Krennic a much more interesting character than say, General Hux or Captain Phasma, while Darth Vader gets two brilliant scenes which reaffirm why the character is such an iconic villain. Ultimately, this should be in everyone’s top 5 Star Wars movies – and i’ll wouldn’t blame you if it was your favourite.

Highlight: With major character deaths, space battles, AT-AT attacks and THAT Vader scene, The Battle of Scarif is thrilling from start to finish.

9: Avengers: Endgame: It was inevitable… that this made my list. While I still wish Thanos got more screen time in this one, the finale to the first 11 years of the MCU was everything fans could have wished for, with an epic storyline, great performances from Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth and some awesome action scenes. Throw in fan-pleasing moments like Tony spending time with his father in the past, Cap lifting Thor’s hammer and Thor finally getting to say a proper goodbye to his deceased mother, and you have a classic. The humour is dialed down but still present (fat Thor threatening a video gamer was hilarious), the script finds a way of giving all its characters something to work with and the special effects are awesome from start to finish – great job Marvel – this was a hell of a send off for some of your most loved characters – we can only hope phases 4, 5 and 6 can live up to it.

Highlight: The Portals scene. Had to be. Seeing every single hero onscreen at once… epic. Hard to see Marvel ever outdoing it. The final battle which follows is the icing on the cake.

8: Logan: The best film from the X-Men universe (narrowly eclipsing First Class) and Hugh Jackman’s last performance in the role of Wolverine had to be on this list. A dark glimpse into a future where mutants have been all but eradicated, Logan has a distinct western vibe of ‘old gunslinger taking up arms for one last battle’. Hugh Jackman puts in one of his best performances as a world-weary, bitter, more vulnerable version of Wolverine. Patrick Stewart and Stephen Merchant are good value as Xavier and Caliban, two of the only other surviving mutants, but the real plaudits must go to Dafne Keen as Laura, a young mutant who forms a bond with Xavier and Logan and brings them back into action. With some truly brutal yet epic fights scenes, this is the Wolverine film we always deserved – and probably the darkest one we’ll ever get now X-Men has gone over to Marvel.

Highlight: The final scene between Logan and Laura is utterly heartbreaking and features a great pair of performances from Hugh Jackman and Dafne Keen. If you don’t cry at this, your heart is made of stone.

7: Skyfall: After the disappointment of Quantum of Solace and a 4 year break from screen, the next Bond needed to be good. Craig, the writers and director Sam Mendes duly delivered with this back to basics approach. Introducing new versions of Q and Moneypenny was done seamlessly, and both are perfectly cast. After the forgettable Bond girls in Quantum, this film puts Judi Dench’s M front and centre of its female characters, and is far better for it. Meanwhile, Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva makes for one of the most memorable villains in Craig’s run (so far anyway – come on Rami Malek). Skyfall also takes its time whether other Bond’s might have rushed from action scene to action scene – it feels like a more realistic, plausible spy film than most Bonds – probably as an apology for what seemed like a bunch of action scenes that had been randomly plastered together with the first plot that came to hand in Quantum. It was also refreshing to have Bond have an adventure mostly set in the UK, which is extremely rare in Bond films. There are a few plot holes, but overall, this still stands as the best of Craig’s 4 films – and boy, what an opening number from ADELE!!!

Highlight: The climatic attack by Silva’s men on the Skyfall estate. Given the overblown finales Bond films can sometimes get drawn into, this is refreshingly smaller scale, with real tension. The effects are pretty good too (now that is how you do a helicopter crash Suicide Squad!).

6: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Catching Fire is the best of the Hunger Games films, with a more engaging plot than Mockingjay’s two parts and better direction and set design than the first film. The core cast of Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are all settled into their roles, while newcomers like Sam Claflin and Jena Malone add a lot to proceedings. The special effects, music and direction are all solid, and overall this is an extremely enjoyable adaptation which actually outdoes the book its based on, which is very impressive. Overall, its one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen this decade, and one I’m more likely to re-watch than the previous 3 on the list, hence its position.

Highlight: The Victory Tour scene in district 11. From Katniss’ tribute to Rue to the show of solidarity by the citizens (and the guards ruthlessness execution of a dissident), this scene is heartwarming, emotional and brutal all in one go, and gives Jennifer Lawrence some great stuff to work with.

5: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2: Once I remembered this came out in this decade, I knew it had to make this list. With all the weaker parts of JK Rowling’s book out the way in Deathly Hallows Part 1, Part 2 is free to give us a spellbinding depiction of the best two bits of the novel: i.e. the raid on Gringotts Bank and the Battle of Hogwarts. Both are vividly brought to life and the cast and crew all give their best at making this a memorable send-off. Alexandre Desplat provides a great soundtrack that’s up there with the best efforts of Williams and Hooper, while the special effects, particularly for the scenes in the Room of Requirement, are superb. Few film franchises have ended on the best film in the series, but this is perhaps a rare exception to the rule.

Highlight: While the action scenes may be more memorable, my favourite scene is still Harry and McGonagall confronting Snape in the great hall and forcing him to flee Hogwarts. Daniel Radcliffe in particular is at his absolute best during this scene.

I couldn’t split the next three films no matter how hard I tried, so they are all coming in joint second. All three are DC movies I rate extremely highly, but all offer something different in their approaches, styles and themes.

2= Man of Steel: The only film on this list that wasn’t critically renowned, but I make no apologies – I bloody love it. Henry Cavill makes a great Clark Kent and superman, and the supporting cast is excellent, particularly Amy Adams as Lois Lane an Michael Shannon as General Zod. A shade darker than most superman films but still light in tone compared to Batman, this equals Batman Begins as an origin story and features some epic action scenes, particularly Superman’s clashes with the Kryptonian warriors. As for the controversial choices the film makes in its final third – this is an origin story – Superman is going to make mistakes – it makes narrative sense to show something that instills his disdain for killing, even as a last resort, and his desire to save people above all else – and the destruction of much of metropolis and Zod’s fate set that up perfectly.

Highlight: There’s a lot of good scenes here, but Jonathan Kent’s death is one of the most dramatic and heartbreaking, backed up perfectly by ‘Tornado’ one of Hans Zimmer’s most emotionally wrenching tracks. Also features Cavill’s strongest acting in the whole movie – I really don’t get why he comes in for so much criticism.

2= The Dark Knight Rises: Nolan makes it three out of three with this epic conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy. Tom Hardy’s Bane does the near impossible job of following Heath Ledger’s Joker as a main villain, while Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard make the most of their roles as Catwoman and Talia. The action scenes are probably the best in the whole trilogy, particularly Batman’s two bouts with Bane and the final chase sequence. Hans Zimmer’s bombastic soundtrack really adds to the intensity, while the story neatly ties all three films together in a way few trilogies manage. Its spirit is closer to Batman Begins than the Dark Knight, but that’s no bad thing in my book. All are five star films, and this one was a fine send-off.

Highlight: The scene where Bruce finally climbs out of the pit. Backed by one of Hans Zimmer’s best tracks (that’s saying something!) and the catchy as hell Deshi Basara chant its a epic scene that kicks off the films final act on a real high.

2= Joker: Todd Philips broke all the rules of comic book movies with this intense, character focused tale where there are no heroes, just villains and victims, and cinema is all the better for it. Joaquin Phoenix gives an Oscar worthy turn as the man who becomes the Joker, and interprets the role in a way even Hamill and Ledger would be proud of – and one that hopefully relegates Jared Leto’s version to the scrapheap. With superb supporting actors like Robert de Niro and Zazie Beetz backing up Phoenix, there isn’t a weak link in this whole film. While it may not be to everyone’s taste, its a remarkable achievement which doesn’t shy away from important themes, brutal violence and stark messages about mental health. It’s one of the most intense films you’re ever likely to see, but I’d encourage everyone to do so.

Highlight: Arthur’s climatic interview with Murray. A masterclass in scripting, creating tension and acting from Phoenix and de Niro, who help the scene build to a brutal kick in the teeth for the audience. Amazing stuff.

1: Rush: The story of James Hunt’s (Chris Hemsworth) battle with Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) for the 1976 F1 World Championship is my film of the decade. As biopics go it takes a few liberties, but crafts a very compelling story of rivalry, tragedy and triumph as the arrogant but passionate playboy (which Hemsworth excels at playing) clashes with the methodical, socially awkward Lauda. If it wasn’t for Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, I’d have given my best actor award to Daniel Bruhl, who owns this film as Lauda and increasingly wins your support as the film goes on. The racing scenes are vividly recreated, backed up by some of Hans Zimmer’s best work from the past decade, but the character stories and recreation of the 70’s atmosphere is where this film’s heart truly is, and it couldn’t be any better – its the only one on this list which I can watch and not highlight a single thing, however small, that I’d change. The best film Ron Howard has ever directed, and not one only F1 fans or car nuts can enjoy. Puts other racers like Ford vs. Ferrari to shame.

Highlight: The horrifying depiction of Lauda’s Nürburgring crash and its aftermath has to be the films strongest segment – you will definitely flinch at both the accident and the treatment Lauda has to go through afterwards.

My Film Awards 2010-2019:

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

Best Actress: Felicity Jones (Rogue One)

Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin (Avengers Infinity War)

Best Supporting Actress: Judi Dench (Skyfall)

Best Young Actress: Dafne Keen (Logan)

Best Director: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises, Dunkirk)

Best Composer: Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Interstellar)

Best Animated Film: Toy Story 3

Best Comedy: Kingsman: The Secret Service

And on the other side of things…

Worst Film: The Last Airbender

Worst Actor: Miles Teller (Reed Richards – Fantastic Four)

Worst Actress: Julianne Moore (Poppy – Kingsman: The Golden Circle)

Worst Supporting Actor: Mickey Rourke (Whiplash – Iron Man 2)

Worst Supporting Actress: Leslie Jones (Patty – Ghostbusters)

Worst Young Actor: Noah Ringer (Aang – The Last Airbender)

Worst Director: David Ayer (Suicide Squad)

Worst Script: Suicide Squad

Worst Composer: Alan Silvestri

Worst Soundtrack: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams)

Worst Reboot: Fantastic Four/Ghostbusters

Worst Sequel: The Rise of Skywalker

Worst TV Adaptation: The Last Airbender

That’s it, the last of my ‘best of the decade’ articles done. Hope you found them interesting, and hope this decade’s highlights will be even better!

I’ll take a break from blogging for a while now – I’m still mired in a job search now into its fourth month – but i’ll be back later in the year with reviews of the new Bond and Wonder Woman films, along with any other films, TV or games that catch my eye – see you all then.

My Top 20 Video Games of the Decade

Rules are simple – any game released between 2010 and 2019 is eligible. Remasters are allowed – but only if they added something substantial to the original game/games or required a lot of work to update.

The majority of games are from PS4/PS3 or are available on all platforms, because PlayStation is what I mainly play on, but let’s face it, there aren’t that many good Xbox exclusives from the past decade anyway, so its not exactly a problem. If you’re a PC gamer I’m sure you’ll have some picks I missed, but as always, this is based on my opinion, not a definitive list, so feel free to comment your own.

20: F1 2019: The Formula One sim by Codemasters has come on leaps and bounds over the past decade. Since F1 2016, the series has found its sweet spot, with each new release focusing on refining experiences rather than radically changing them. F1 2019’s changes add a Formula 2 mode, a mid-season driver swap system and a new starting rivalry mechanic to make things feel more immersive than ever. Easily one of the best sport sims out there.

Highlight: Austria, Canada, Bahrain, Italy, Brazil and Russia are great tracks with excellent overtaking opportunities.

19: Alpha Protocol: From Obsidian (makers of Fallout New Vegas), this is a spy game with a great story, with plenty of freedom in what kind of agent you make main character Michael Thornton. Stealth expert, gadget master, gunslinger or hand-to-hand brawler are all viable playstyles, as is a mix of all. Your conversation options are a mix of Jason Bourne’s professionalism, James Bond’s suave and Jack Bauer’s aggression, and there are multiple endings available. A globetrotting adventure which travels to the Middle East, Italy, Russia and beyond, this is as good a spy game as you’re ever likely to play.

Highlight: The boss fight with Russian playboy/mobster Konstantin Brayko, who is high off his ass and wielding a knife, while ‘turn up the radio’ plays on a speaker system in his mansion, is perhaps the most memorable bit of the game.

18: Dragon Age Inquisition: Bioware’s third dragon age game is a revelation in places. It’s more ambitious with locations than its predecessors with some beautiful graphics which make every area to explore feel really distinct. Whether the foreboding bog of the Fallow Mire, the serene desert forming the Western Approach or the snowbound dragon lairs in Emprise de Lion, you’ll remember this game’s settings. Interesting companions, a plethora of romance options and plenty of replay value make this classic Bioware.

Highlight: The Battle of Haven is one of the most awesome sequences in gaming. Occuring around the 1/3 mark of the game, it introduces the main villain and sees the Inquisitor desperately fighting to save their home base from a massive army and a corrupted dragon…

17: Warhammer II: Total War: The only PC exclusive on this, Warhammer II is without doubt the best Total War game this decade. Its exploration of the Age of Sigmar’s New World will have you fighting through lush jungles, vast deserts and tropical islands as four new races including the High Elves, Dark Elves, Lizardmen and rat-like Skaven. DLC adds the Tomb Kings and Vampire Coast factions, who have some really fun unique mechanics. The sheer variety of units, including wizards, monsters and undead make for some epic battles, while the Mortal Empires mode (if you own both Warhammer 1+2) allows you to pit the New World factions against the Old in the largest campaign map in total war history.

Highlight: The Tomb Kings unique mechanic of not requiring upkeep costs drastically changes your playstyle. Armies of skeletons, chariots, Giant Serpents and statues make them a very cool faction to play as.

16: Hitman 2: Hitman 2 may have a forgettable story, but is a game sandbox assassin sim. You just have so many ways of dispatching targets, be they at a race in Miami, hiding in a drug lord’s estate in the Colombian jungle, in the Mumbai criminal underworld or a hostess at a castle on an isolated island. You have complete freedom to approach missions how you see fit, though stealth is the main point, you can and will have to go loud if things go sideways. With disguises galore and a host of improvised weapons, there is a ton of replay value here.

Highlight: The mission in Mumbai is a great one. Some of your options include maneuvering your targets into position so another assassin takes them out for you, sabotaging an industrial fan to blow a creepy film mogul off his own tower block or disguising yourself as a tailor or barber to catch your targets off guard.

15: Spyro: Reignited Trilogy: One of the best remasters of the last decade, the Reignited Trilogy features loving recreations of the first three Spyro games, all of which look and feel amazing and are perfectly brought into the modern game. With a host of minigames to play, collectibles to find and enemies to defeat, you’ll have a whale of a time here, with some great level design which has really stood the test of time.

Highlight: The flying challenges are sometimes frustrating, but they are the best minigames this trilogy has to offer, and your effort will be rewarded by the sheer elation you feel when you finally master them.

14: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Origins may have been the first AC game to start fully embracing RPG type mechanics (particularly with quest selection) but Odyssey is the game that truly made the jump to being an RPG-lite hit. You can chose your skills, gender, romances, gear and get multiple endings. The quests are mostly engaging, and the sheer wealth of islands, forests, mountains and tombs to explore leaves you with a game you can easily put 100+ hours into. The best in the series so far.

Highlight: Navigating the Labyrinth before taking down the f*cking minotaur itself… as epic side quests go, you can’t get any better.

13: Mass Effect 3: It’s ending may have needed some dlc to fully work, but Mass Effect 3 still is a high note for the trilogy and gaming in general. Your decisions in the previous 2 games will have a major impact here, with the fates of characters, planets and entire races up in the air. Romance options are far better implemented, there’s a better variety of weapons and abilities, and the game still looks great now for something designed for the 360 and PS3.

Highlight: The Battle of Rannoch. Not only do you get an epic one-on-one boss fight with a Reaper destroyer, but the Geth – Quarian conflict provides one of the biggest (and best) dilemmas in the game…

12: Batman Arkham City: The sequel to Arkham Knight builds on its predecessors strong foundations in every way, with more enemy types, more gadgets and combat moves for Batman, a larger area to explore, side quests featuring major and minor villains, and of course, even more Riddler trophies to collect. With a huge selection of challenge maps for combat and predator modes, a New Game Plus mode and Catwoman focused content, this is an amazing game even 8 years later.

Highlight: The final confrontation between Batman, Joker, Talia al Ghul and Clayface is easily the best final level of any game in the Arkham Series, featuring sterling voice work from Mark Hamill (Joker) and Kevin Conroy (Batman) in particular.

11: Detroit Become Human:  The latest Quantic Dream game is perhaps its best, featuring three intertwined narratives of Androids in Detroit, where humans treat androids little better than slaves and a rebellion is brewing. Its hardly the most original concept, but its so well done and builds up to a great finale. Character deaths and complete failure are entirely possible, and there’s enough branching pathways to encourage up to half a dozen playthroughs here. As narrative focused games go, this is a great one.

Highlight: Markus’ raid on a local Newsroom at the top of a skyscraper, which sees him hijack the broadcast to give a speech to humanity condemning their treatment of androids, is a great level, and one which can have major consequences moving forward depending on the decision you make.

10: Fallout New Vegas: New Vegas took everything good about Fallout 3 and asked… what if everything was a little bit wackier and a lot crazier? A hugely increased variety of weapons? Check. 4 distinct main factions to pick from? Check. Side quests with cross-dressing super mutants, cannibal cults in casinos and a Quarry overrun by deathclaws? Check. This game was epic from start to finish. Its too buggy and prone to freezing on consoles, but when its working, god its good.

Highlight: Old World Blues DLC. Giving you a crater full of rogue scientific experiments to explore, run by scientists who are now just brains in robotic platforms, this dlc embraces Fallout’s wackier side and never let’s go. Heck, you have a talking stealth suit and a boss fight with a giant Robotic Scorpion. Enough said!

9: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End: A masterpiece of storytelling, Uncharted delivers one of Nathan Drake’s best adventures as he and his long lost brother search for the lost pirate city of Libertalia. With vehicular set pieces, sprawling environments to explore and a kick-ass pirate storyline underpinning everything, this is a great Uncharted game and the best one to release this decade.

Highlight: Drake and Elena’s levels late in the story are exceptionally well designed, particularly their gunfights in the pirate HQ of New Devon. Great soundtrack too.

8: Ratchet and Clank (2016): This reboot makes Ratchet and Clank fun again after a few mindless spin-offs and the mixed Nexus game brought the series to a relative low point. Tying into the animated movie (which isn’t half as good as the game), this reworks elements from the original game and reintroduces key characters like Dr. Nefarious and Captain Qwark. The difficulty is a cakewalk, but its so damn fun you won’t care. With R+C’s signature mix of ridiculous guns, gadgets and minigames, this is just a smashing good time, if not anything particularly revolutionary.

Highlight: A side mission where you have to jet around a fiery landscape collecting brains for a Blarg scientist is both fun as hell and downright hilarious, and absolutely classic Ratchet and Clank.

7: Horizon Zero Dawn: One of the most imaginative games of the past decade, Horizon Zero Dawn blew me away the first time I played it with its beautiful game world, film worthy main story and compelling main character. A post-apocalyptic game like no other, I won’t say too much in case you haven’t played it yet, but its a must have, and I can’t wait for a future sequel.

Highlight: Aloy’s discovery of just what Project Zero Dawn entails is a game changing revelation that sees several pieces of the puzzle finally slide into place – as gaming eureka moments go, its one of the best.

6: Shadow of Mordor: What do you get if you cross assassin’s creed climbing and platforming with Arkham style combat mechanics and Lord of the Rings lore and enemies? One of the best damn games of the decade! Seeing your character take on entire hordes of Orcs with stealth, archery and close combat, this game has an excellent combat system and a revolutionary nemesis mechanic – fail to dispatch an Orc Boss or get wounded by one? They’ll not only remember, they’ll get stronger for it!

Highlight: The first major boss fight with an enemy called the Hammer is epic, with him and the player character Talion pretty evenly matched in a straight fight – just make sure your timing is on point…

5: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit: Easily the best Need for Speed game, even if its lack of split screen is a major oversight. The Seacrest county map lets you race through exotic beaches, snow covered mountain passes, thick forests and over a rain drenched dam, just to name a few highlights. With a wide variety of modes for both racers and cops, I’m yet to find any racing game half as fun as this one was on PS3.

Highlight: Hot Pursuit mode is a blast whether you play as a racer or a cop – the takedowns are extremely fun and satisfying to pull off.

4: God of War (2018): The God of War series moves into a more open-world, story focused territory with a fantastic combat system and new abilities for Kratos and his son, Atreus. The story and world-design is amazing and the enemies provide a real challenge even on normal (particularly the optional Valkyrie bosses, who are REALLY tough to take down). With collectables to find, side quests to complete and numerous areas to explore, there’s a lot to keep you interested here, while the games use of Norse mythology is a great innovation and makes it a must have for anything into that kind of thing. The best God of War game, bar none. Hopefully, any future follow ups maintain this level of quality.

Highlight: The combat challenges in the fire realm of Muspelheim are a great way to hone your skills and are some of the most difficult combat encounters in the game. The realm of fire looks bloody epic too.

3: The Last of Us Remastered: One of the most renowned games of the decade, The Last of Us is a masterclass in storytelling, world design and emotional moments. Joel and Ellie are two of the best characters I’ve played as in game, and you’ll care about their journey as they make their way through deserted towns, evade zombie-esque enemies and fight humans who are so depraved they’re easily the real monsters of the game. Some elements of the gameplay could be improved, which is why it misses out on the top two spots, but overall, its one of the best games I’ve ever played. The sequel is only a few months away too…

Highlight: The final mission is dramatic, tense and heartbreaking all into one as Joel attempts to rescue Ellie from the Fireflies. Games can rarely make you cry – but this is just one moment of many The Last of Us is capable of inducing just that.

2: Skyrim Special Edition: Skyrim had to up here. I’ve probably put more hours into this fantasy RPG than any other game this decade. The sheer volume of quests, playstyles and possibilities will keep you going back for more, with the DLC providing even more locations to explore and abilities to learn. With Combat, Magic and Stealth all viable, you’ll have plenty of fun deciding what you want your character to be – an Orc Berserker playing mercenary in Skyrim’s civil war? Check. A Breton Mage burning enemies to ash and resurrecting the dead? Check. A stealthy Khajiit assassin working for the Dark Brotherhood? Check. There’s so many different things you can do here. The game had a few flaws on release, but the special edition has fixed the vast majority of annoyances and got me back into the game just as my interest began to wane. Hopefully Bethesda can overcome their recent failures and make a sequel to this that wins the fanbase back to their side. Even if they do, Skyrim will still be a game we’ll all go back to at some point.

Highlight: Hard to call, but I’ve always been a big fan of the Dawnguard questline, particularly the excursion in the Soul Cairn, one of the most distinct environments in the game. Serana has to be the best companion in the game as well, which greatly adds to proceedings.

1: Mass Effect 2: This released in 2010, yet still topped my list. Despite almost every game that came after it having better graphics, more powerful hardware to work with etc. Yeah, its just that brilliant. It expands on everything the original did well, and while the side quests aren’t as memorable, the DLC, companion stories and main quests are amazing. A great soundtrack, good visuals for its time, excellent voice acting and fun gameplay make this something I’ll keep coming back to again and again. Its final mission is legendarily good, and that alone made it worthy of topping this list. But everything that builds up to that final mission? There’s very, very little I’d change, which speaks volumes for how well designed this was.

Highlight: The Suicide Mission. Unparalleled in gaming, its easily the best finale to a game ever. Rushed through things? Good luck getting your squad out alive. Everyone can die here if you mess things up. Commander Shepard’s assault on the Collector Base remains the standout sequence of the trilogy – and the last decade in gaming.

There you go – my full list of games I’d recommend to anyone and everyone who’s into gaming. Hope you enjoyed it (BTW, if you’re wondering where The Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2 are, I still haven’t played them so couldn’t place them anywhere – blame my ridiculous gaming backlog – we’ve all got one). As a bonus, I’ve also included some awards I’d give to particular games, characters, actors and companies.

Gaming Awards 2010-2019:

Best Character (Male): Connor (Detroit Become Human)

Best Character (Female): Aloy (Horizon Zero Dawn)

Best Console: Playstation 4 (No contest – PS4’s vast amount of exclusives has swept Xbox aside this generation – hopefully Sony can make the PS5 a similar success story).

Best Racer: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

Best Shooter: Star Wars Battlefront

Best Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered

Best Strategy Game: Total War Warhammer 2

Best Looking Game: Horizon Zero Dawn

Best Combat: God of War (2018)

Best Soundtrack: Mass Effect 2

Best Writing: The Last of Us Remastered

Best Remaster: Spyro Reignited Trilogy

The final one of my best of the decade series should be up tonight, as I examine the best of what cinema has had to over the past 10 years.

My Top 10 TV Shows of the Decade

No major spoilers – so don’t worry if you haven’t seen these shows yet.

Rules: I set myself two rules when making this list: that only shows with at least 3 seasons would be counted (2 excellent seasons, while notable, can’t really make something a standout from the whole decade) so don’t expect to see stuff which only started in 2019 like The Witcher or limited miniseries like The Bodyguard. Secondly, nothing from before 2010 counts – so while Merlin ran until 2012, a lot of its best episodes come from 2008 or 2009, so it won’t make this list (not that it necessarily would have anyway – it’s just a nice example to use).

Also, obviously, this is my personal list, so feel free to comment your own – I haven’t watched a lot of shows like Breaking Bad or Daredevil so other people’s lists may be entirely different. Anyway, without further preamble, here’s my picks from the past decade:

10: iZombie: iZombie at its best is hilarious, heartfelt and a good detective story, often all within the same episode. Boasting an excellent cast headed by Rose McIver as Liv, the show is further boosted by writing that is pretty consistent and villains who remain compelling throughout the shows run. While there’s been the occasional cringeworthy episode, the majority have been good and a significant proportion great (particularly in seasons 1 and 2). Its neat main concept (Zombies gain memories and personalities temporarily from the brains they eat) allows the Zombie cast to play around with a wide variety of personas, often to great comedic effect (Liv can be on the brains of a D&D player one episode, a shameless gossiper the next and a wannabe superhero the one after). The shows wider plot, examining how Zombies would try and survive undetected, a black market for brains, and how human characters react when they discover zombie’s exist, is all done in a very interesting way, and with more intelligence than is common for this genre. If you’re interested, it’s all on Netflix.

9: Homeland: Homeland was essential viewing at the start of the decade. Billed as ‘the thinking man’s 24’ and a favourite of none other than president Obama, Homeland stars the wonderful Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a gifted CIA analyst who struggles with bipolar disorder and frequently crosses ethical and personal lines trying to foil terrorist plots. Initially focused on the USA, the series has had seasons set in Pakistan and Germany, and featured some great actors in its supporting cast, mostly notably Damien Lewis, who was a key feature in the early seasons as an American POW who Carrie was investigating, in fear of the possibility he’d been ‘turned’ during captivity. While Homeland isn’t quite as good now as it used to be, its still been something I’ve followed thorough the decade, and the strength of seasons 1, 2, 4 and 6, as well as a fair few standout episodes from the other seasons, still leaves it as one of the best spy thrillers around.

8: Jessica Jones: I’ve watched a lot of Superhero TV shows over the past decade, and it was perhaps inevitable that one would get on this list. Deciding which one was hard: after all, many had strong starts (The Flash, Arrow, Black Lightning) only to fall apart later on. Others have been very good recently, but had difficult starts (Supergirl, Luke Cage). In the end, only three of the ones I’ve seen have been good the whole way through: Jessica Jones, Legends of Tomorrow and Gotham. Legends probably would have won that contest two years ago, but its last two seasons, while hilarious, have got a bit too silly and lost their edge. Gotham has had some real bright spots, but lacked Jessica Jones’ focus – its need to have 22 episode seasons meant there was often too much filler or strung out subplots. Jessica Jones may have felt padded in places, but overall did the best job of any Marvel Netflix series in terms of justifying its runtime. Krysten Ritter has been one of my favourite actresses since I tuned into JJ, and like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, its hard to ever see someone else playing the role now that she’s absolutely nailed the character. If that wasn’t enough, David Tennant’s Kilgrave remains one of the creepiest supervillains any show has given us, and one no one will forget anytime soon.

7: Stranger Things: Just when Doctor Who started to falter, Netflix stepped up to the plate with this great sci-fi series. Acting as a homage to numerous 80’s films, including classics like Aliens and The Terminator, it still remained very much its own thing. It has one of the best young casts you’re ever likely to see, including Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown, backed up by established veterans such as Winona Ryder and David Harbour. The special effects look brilliant and the direction is consistently strong, while an excellent soundtrack coupled with classic 80’s hits adds to the atmosphere in a way that Guardians of the Galaxy would be proud of. The three seasons so far have provided a entertaining mix of sci-fi, horror, coming of age stories and comedy, and I for one can’t wait for season 4 – particularly after all the cliffhangers season 3 ended on… don’t make us wait too long eh Netflix?

6: Orange is the New Black: One of Netflix’s most consistent shows, OITNB’s mix of drama and comedy has been a winning combination since the get go. With a superb cast, most of whom get their own episodes to shine in as we get frequent flashbacks to prisoners and guards pasts, this has been one of my go to series for a while. Which season you’ll think best is hard to judge, some take a lighter tone, some darker, some are more political than others etc. The good thing is that there’s no season in the run of 7 I’d give a bad score too. Given how often the cast and plotlines get shaken up, its consistency is remarkable. It touches upon big issues frequently, and isn’t always an easy watch, but it makes you care about the characters, whether ones you love, sympathise with, or the antagonists you just plain out hate. If you haven’t checked it out already, i’d always recommend trying it – it won’t necessarily be to everyone’s tastes, but its one of Netflix’s most successful shows for a reason.

5: Doctor Who: This would have been much higher up the list had I made it in 2015, but Matt Smith’s excellent run, the 50th anniversary special and Capaldi’s stellar first two series mean it still makes it despite a lacklustre series 10 and Chibnall’s catastrophe of series 11. We’ve had some great series arcs during the decade, including The Cracks in Time and Missy, renowned writer like Neil Gaiman contributing scripts for the first time, and fantastic episodes like The Pandorica Opens, The Doctor’s Wife, Listen, Heaven Sent and The Day of the Doctor. Its made household names of Karen Gillan, Jenna Coleman and Arthur Darvill, as well as making Capaldi and Smith two of the most sought after actors in the business. Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner, while divisive, is still in my opinion one of the best in the shows history. The only pity is that it may be the last one I watch… hopefully the 2020’s will see it recover from its current nadir.

4: The Crown: Netflix’s series on the royal family is one of the most lavish, beautifully shot productions you’re ever likely to see. The direction, set design and production values are second to none. The show dramatically brings events from the Queen’s reign to life, including several, such as the Aberfan tragedy, that my generation would not otherwise have heard of. The show also touches heavily on political history, with the various prime ministers of the Queen’s reign depicted in detail (particularly Churcill and Wilson, with Thatcher set to be a key part of season 4). If you have any interest in recent history, British politics or the Royal family, this is definitely a show worth checking out. The fact its cast was completely reshuffled between season 2 and 3 and there was no discernible drop in quality (if anything its arguably got better), speaks volumes about its appeal. With such superb actors as Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Olivia Coleman, Helena Bonham Carter, Charles Dance, Jon Lithgow and Derek Jacobi all appearing in the first three seasons, its one of the finest ensembles on Netflix, which is usually a sign of a great show.

3: Black Mirror: Starting on channel 4 then taken over by Netflix, Black Mirror is the brain child of Charlie Brooker and has provided some of the best hours of television in the past decade, earning it a spot in my top three, a big achievement for something that has only had 22 episodes and one movie length special. Episodes can vary between highly tense drama and pure sci-fi horror at ease, sometimes within one episode! While the show has the occasional misfire (The Waldo Moment, Bandersnatch), it has a very high strike rate. Its nature (an anthology of stories with similar themes but no overt connection to each other) gives it the freedom to experiment and tell any story it wants. It has starred some huge acting talents over the past decade, including Andrew Scott, Antony Mackie, Maxine Peake and Lindsay Duncan, not to mention plenty of lesser known actors who its helped bring to the fore. While everyone will have different favourite episodes, I would say the highlights include Series 2’s Be Right Back, 3’s San Junipero and Hated in the Nation, 4’s USS Callister and Black Museum and Series 5’s Smithereens. If you don’t like the first episode you watch, keep going – because they vary so heavily, there’s bound to be one that’s to your taste!

2: Game of Thrones: When season 4 finished, this would have come first on this list, without a doubt. But while I did enjoy large parts of Seasons 5-8, its reduced complexity and lack of input from George R. R. Martin did cause some significant issues with pacing, character arcs and the overall direction of the series. I still liked the final product for the sheer spectacle it provided and the wealth of talent the show maintained in its actors, directors and effects department. We may never see a TV show with quite the worldwide impact of this one again. But, to those who have cursed its ending, ask yourselves, how many shows maintain their quality for 8 seasons? Virtually none. Think about Lost or the Walking Dead: Game of Thrones may have stumbled in its last few seasons, but it didn’t fall off a cliff the way those other blockbuster TV shows have. Overall, Game of Thrones is still an immense achievement for all involved, and one of the best fantasy TV shows of all time. We may never see its like again…

1: The Americans: My show of the decade – and I’ll be surprised if even a third of my viewers have heard of this, much less watched it, as it hasn’t aired on free UK TV since season 2, and is only available on Amazon Prime now. The Americans follows Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, two Russian spies embedded in 1980’s America at the height of the cold war – to the extent that they have American jobs, American friends and American children of their own. Elizabeth is a stone cold loyalist who rarely flinches from what is asked of her – Philip a more open minded type – equally driven, but more questioning of what they do and more open to American ideas – it creates an underlying tension between the pair which rears its head frequently, despite their love for each other. Homeland may be a more popular spy drama, Game of Thrones may be far more entertaining, The Crown may have more famous actors, but none have held a candle to this in terms of either quality or consistency. I’d give 3 episodes out of 75 a score of 3.5/5. Everything else is a 4 or above – at least half would garner a 4.5/5 or above. Not even Thrones has that kind of strike rate. The two leads, the writing, the music and direction has never wavered. Of its 6 seasons, five were excellent, one merely good. Its a real slow burner of a spy drama – you need patience and intelligence to properly appreciate it – I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone – its like Joker, brilliant but not to everyone’s taste. Subplots and character arcs can take 20 episodes to fully play out, while earth shattering moments are usually the result of discussions or confrontations instead of action scenes, not that the show shies away from those when it needs them. It has the occasional flaw – most in season 5, which lacks a main plot as compelling as the others, but these flaws are few and far between. Even if Thrones’ final season had blown everyone away, I’d probably still have put this in first – its final season, by comparison, was faultless and the best of its run. I’m going to miss it – spy dramas this clever are very, very rare.

My TV Awards 2010-2019

Best Actor: Matthew Rhys (The Americans)

Runners Up: Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Peter Capaldi (Thick of It, Doctor Who)

Best Actress: Keri Russell (The Americans)

Runners Up: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Claire Foy (The Crown)

Best Supporting Actor: Andrew Scott (Fleabag, Sherlock)

Runners Up: David Tennant (Jessica Jones), Tom Cavanagh (The Flash)

Best Supporting Actress: Jodie Comer (Killing Eve)

Runners Up: Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black), Winona Ryder (Stranger Things)

Best Young Actor: David Mazouz (Gotham)

Runners Up: Noah Schnapp, Finn Wolfhard and Gaten Matarazzo (Stranger Things)

Best Young Actress: Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things)

Runners up: Sadie Sink (Stranger Things), Dafne Keen (His Dark Materials), Camren Bicondova (Gotham)

Best Director: Miguel Saponchik (Game of Thrones)

Runners Up: Rachel Talalay (Doctor Who), Neil Marshall (Game of Thrones)

Best Showrunner: Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Killing Eve S1)

Runners Up: The Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things), Steven Moffat (Doctor Who)

Best Writer: Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Sherlock)

Runners Up: Charlie Brooker (Black Mirror),  Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag)

Best Season Finale: Victory (Spartacus Season 3)

Runners Up: The Winds of Winter (Game of Thrones Season 6), START (The Americans Season 6)

Best Episode: The Rains of Castamere (Game of Thrones – i.e. The Red Wedding)

Runners Up: Be Right Back (Black Mirror), Heaven Sent (Doctor Who)

Best Composer: Ramin Dwajadi (Game of Thrones)

Runners Up: Blake Neely (Arrowverse shows), Murray Gold (Doctor Who)

Best Theme Tune: Game of Thrones

Runners Up: The Defenders, Stranger Things, His Dark Materials

And now some of the disappointments… (I’ll keep these brief – prefer to keep this article positive!)

Worst TV Show: Britannia

Worst Episode: Finish Line (The Flash Season 3 Finale)

Worst Actor: Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Divis/Weird Driud Guy – Britannia)

Worst Actress: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor – Doctor Who)

Worst Supporting Actress: Candace Patton (Iris West – The Flash)

Worst Showrunner: Chris Chibnall

Worst Writer: Chris Chibnall

I’ll try and get my Top Games and Films of the Decade finished sometime tomorrow. Hope you all tune in then!

 

 

My Top 10 TV shows of 2019

Here’s my annual top ten list of the shows which have most impressed and captivated me this year. As is becoming increasingly common, a lot of them come from Netflix, but not all.

As usual, I will keep the spoilers to a minimum – only oblique references to events, no details included.

10: His Dark Materials, Series 1: With a fantastic cast, His Dark Materials succeeded where the Golden Compass failed and did justice to the first book of Philip Pullman’s renowned trilogy. Dafne Keen proved, just like she did in Logan, that she’s arguably the best young actress out there at the moment (perhaps only rivalled by Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown). Backed up by great turns from Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda, His Dark Materials takes a few episodes to get going but eventually starts delivering great hours of TV, particularly episodes ‘the daemon-cages’ and ‘betrayal’ which was one of the best series finale’s I’ve seen in a while. It’s decision to bring forward elements of book 2 does slow things down a bit too much, but ultimately means that series 2 should hit the ground running. Can’t wait for it!

Rating: 4 out of 5

9: The Grand Tour, Series 3: The Grand Tour’s third outing (and final one – only specials from this point onwards) is by far its best. Its standout episodes involve Clarkson, Hammond and May building their own RV’s in America, going Wildlife Photographing in Colombia and, most memorably, building an off-road vehicle and driving across the great empty expanse of Mongolia. While not flawless, the series made several positive steps, including better use of test driver Abby, more reliance on natural rather than scripted humour and more diverse topics during episodes. There’s the occasional bit of naff banter or an overly scripted segment, but overall i’d happily rewatch most of these episodes again, which I couldn’t necessarily say about series 1 and 2. As the last run which will feature power tests, studio audiences, and the studio setup itself, it feels like Clarkson, Hammond and May ended things on a high. I’ll check out future specials, but if this was indeed the last full series for the trio, it was a fitting one.

Rating: 4 out of 5

8: Killing Eve: Series 2: Killing Eve might be the next spy drama I get hooked on, now that the Americans has finished and Homeland is winding down. Its superb leads Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are very compelling, flawed characters who its easy to root for. Their increasingly will they, won’t they relationship and mutual obsession makes for great television, even if series 2 perhaps gets a bit too bogged down by the emotional side of things – the plot isn’t as good as series 1’s, even if the characters are just as gripping. Quality varies between episodes, but overall series 2 was a good follow up, if a slight step back in quality, but with a new showrunner taking the reins in series 3, I’m definitely excited to see where Villanelle and Eve go from here… assuming they survive each other’s company that is…

Rating: 4 out of 5

7: Orange is the New Black, Season 7: Orange is the New Black may have increasingly split fan opinion since Season 5, but I’ve always found it to be an enjoyable, consistent Netflix series. Focusing on some issues we haven’t seen before (dealing with such difficult topics as FGM, treatment of illegal immigrants in the US, dementia etc.) it remains a hard hitting drama. There were plenty of lighter moments to balance out the seriousness, and new characters to complement the old. Ultimately I can’t say this season was a perfect send-off, but it was a good one which did justice to its characters and tied things up well, and didn’t cop out and give everyone an unrealistic happy ending (3 things a far more high profile TV show failed to do this year…). Orange is the New Black has always had one of the best ensemble casts on Netflix, and remains one of the best female-led shows you’re likely to have seen, with particularly good work from Taylor Schilling, Taryn Manning and Natasha Lyonne – though if you asked, I wouldn’t pick out a single weak link amongst the wider cast. The highest compliment I can give this show is that I’ll miss it now that its gone, but I’m glad it ended on a relative high.

Rating: 4 out of 5

6: Black Mirror, Season 5: Despite only having a three episode run this year, Black Mirror remained a highlight, as all three episodes were of very high quality, if not the very best that the series is capable of producing. Starring such talent as Anthony Mackie, Andrew Scott and, bizarrely, Miley Cyrus, all three have a star quality feel to them, but remain grounded as lesser known talents round out the casts in all three cases. All touch on different issues, from the possibilities of advanced VR to the tragic side effects of social media to auto-tuning and exploitation in the music industry. Striking Vipers and Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too are quite easy to watch despite a couple of darker scenes, while those after the classic Black Mirror tension and sting in the tail should check out Smithereens – which features a masterclass in acting from a mentally tortured Andrew Scott. After the disappointing Bandersnatch, this was a timely return to form for Black Mirror, and I can’t wait to see what season 6 has in store, whether it comes with 3 episodes or 6. Hopefully Netflix doesn’t make us wait too long.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5: Swamp Thing, Season 1: Swamp Thing was unjustly cancelled before episode 2 had even aired, which is both baffling and a crying shame, as its pilot was the best I’ve ever seen from DC, and the first season as a whole was a cut above the arrowverse’s recent efforts. Crystal Reed is excellent as lead character Dr. Abby Arcane, who gets drawn back to her hometown to investigate a viral outbreak, only to become increasingly tangled in local criminal machinations and the supernatural events occurring in the swamp, where she encounters the titular character. Swamp Thing himself is wonderfully realised onscreen and while the action scenes aren’t as common as you might expect, they are very strong when they occur. A darker tale than most superhero shows, this is definitely geared more towards adults rather than CW’s shows are, while its shorter episode count works wonders – there’s very little padding here, though perhaps 1 or 2 subplots could have been streamlined slightly. Overall I was very impressed, and disappointed that we probably won’t get a resolution to some of the cliffhangers the show ended on. But if you have Amazon Prime, I’d highly recommend checking it out anyway!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

4: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 3: The third and final season was leaps and bounds ahead of the first two. Freed from the need to play a different version of Count Olaf in disguise every story, Neil Patrick Harris is better than ever here, while Esme and Carmelita are fabulous supporting villains. The episodes reduced runtimes also do the show a massive favour – whereas some installments in seasons 1 and 2 felt padded and stretched, everything feels tight and pacey here. Given the plots of books 10-13 all vary far more than 1-9, it feels like every story is its own special – not just variations on a recurring theme like the stories in the first two seasons. The show also adds flashbacks which fill in some of the gaps in the books narrative and show some of the events leading to VFD’s schism, which I found utterly enthralling. Overall, the show ended on a real high, which given its slow start, was quite impressive.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5:

3: Jessica Jones, Season 3: Jessica Jones’ third season is arguably the best of the three, with a stronger villain than season 2 and better pacing than season 1. The new characters are interesting, Jessica’s development goes in a different direction than before and Trish, Malcolm and Jeri get good material for their individual arcs. The direction and writing are as good as ever and while the main villain is less flamboyant than David Tennant’s Kilgrave, he’s far creepier and challenges Jessica in different ways. Trish arc’s is what the season hinges on, as her conflict with Jessica varies between reluctant cooperation and open hostility between the two, with the series good at keeping you guessing which way things will go till the last 3 episodes. Overall, it’s my favourite superhero show from this year, just edging out Swamp Thing.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. The Crown, Season 3: The latest series of the Crown switches out most of the main cast, but remains as compelling as ever. Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies and Helena Bonham Carter nail the roles of Elizabeth, Philip and Margaret just as well as their predecessors. It has a very strong run of episodes in the early part of the season, until ‘Moondust’ which is quite dull, but the only damp squib in the 10 episode runtime. The new cast-members playing Charles, Anne and Prime Minister Harold Wilson are all superb additions and steal the show at times, and left me eager to see how the show will handle Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher, both of whom will have key roles in Season 4. The show visually looks as good as ever, with excellent direction, location filming and editing. The new composer perhaps isn’t quite as good as his predecessor, but still does a solid job. Series Highlights include the Margaret’s visit to America, the Royal Family and the Government reacting to the Aberfan tragedy (which I must admit I knew nothing about previously) and Charles being sent to study in Wales and learn the language and history. This might just be the best of the three seasons so far. Keep it up!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1: Fleabag, Series 2: I wasn’t hugely enthralled by Fleabag’s first series, which started well but had an underwhelming second half. Nevertheless I decided to give S2 a go, and the premiere blew my socks off. Andrew Scott’s sweary, charismatic (and according to most women who’ve seen it, extremely hot) priest was just the addition needed to bring the best out of the existing cast, who all perform extremely well. Funnier and a touch more upbeat than series 1, this was great from start to finish, mostly due to Waller-Bridge’s performance and excellent writing. At a time when classic BBC series like Doctor Who and Top Gear have completely lost their appeal, it’s nice to know the national broadcaster can still sometimes produce the goods. Though that may just be because Waller-Bridge is working with them. For god’s sake BBC, don’t you dare lose her! Or the licence fee might as well be scrapped. But, thinking positively, this is the first time since 2015 that a British TV show has topped this list, so that’s an encouraging sign. Hopefully Waller-Bridge’s input reaps similar rewards for the upcoming James Bond film…

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Shows which narrowly missed out on this list included Big Mouth (lacked cohesion), Stranger Things (too light hearted), Game of Thrones (too divisive + weak finale), The Witcher (confusing timelines + boring Ciri plotline), Gotham (inconsistent) and iZombie (could’ve ended more strongly).

Best Actor: Henry Cavill (Geralt of Rivia – The Witcher)

Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)

Best Supporting Actor: Andrew Scott (The Priest – Fleabag)

Best Supporting Actress: Jodie Comer (Villanelle – Killing Eve)

Best Young Actor:  Lewin Lloyd (Roger – His Dark Materials)

Best Young Actress: Dafne Keen (Lyra – His Dark Materials)

Best Ensemble Cast: The Crown

Best Hero: Jessica Jones (Played by Krysten Ritter)

Best Villain: Lex Luthor (Played by Jon Cryer)

Best Direction: The Crown

Best Writer: Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag)

Best Special Effects: Game of Thrones

Best Composer: Lorne Balfe (His Dark Materials)

Best Soundtrack: The Long Night (Ramin Dwajadi – Game of Thrones)

Best New Theme Tune: His Dark Materials (Lorne Balfe)

Best Animated Show: Big Mouth

Best Episode: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (Bryan Cogman – Game of Thrones)

Best Scene: The Hound vs. The Mountain (Game of Thrones – The Bells)

Best Finale: Fleabag – Episode 6:

Next Up: You’ve had my film, video games and TV picks for the year, now it time for my thoughts on the best the past decade has had to offer…

Starting with my top ten films of the decade! Featuring Superhero smackdowns, cerebral character studies and fierce competition between the hits of DC and Marvel, hope you all check it out. Should be up in the next 3 days, depending on hangover status.

 

 

My Favourite Video Games of 2019

As people familiar with my end of year blogs will know, my top video games list always features a mix of games from the year in question and the couple of years preceding it. My reasoning? No one can play every game the year its released – even if you had the money, you’d probably lack the time and vice versa. All gamers buy releases and don’t get round to them for a while, myself included. So I always highlight recent games that have had as large an impression on me as current ones this year.

Hope you enjoy my highlights of the best games I’ve been playing this year. Most are releases from the previous couple of years, but that’s mainly due to my sustained (if futile) attempts to get through my backlog of games.

6: The Council (2018): The Council is an odd one. Its a story led game which sees you interacting with famous historical figures such as George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte, all of whom are part of a mysterious ‘council’ secretly manipulating the direction of Western society in the late 18th century. Set on an isolated island owned by the mysterious Lord Mortimer, you’re tasked with not only navigating political intrigue, but also finding your missing mother and deducing the identity of a murderer at large. Playing main character as Louis de Richet, you gain experience which can help you unravel clues, decode ciphers, persuade others to assist you or enable you to retrieve items from hard to reach areas. You can develop Louis as an Occultist, Diplomat or Detective style character, each with their own benefits and drawbacks i.e. detectives will notice things other styles won’t, but might be unable to persuade important figures to reveal crucial information the way a diplomat can. You can mix and match talents, but this will often leave you struggling to maximise your abilities. The game is a mix of mystery, puzzles, diplomacy and, especially later on, supernatural elements which really turn things on their head in episode 4 of 5. While initially an episodic release, its all available as one now, and has considerable replay value. If you love story-driven games, I would whole-heartedly recommend this. Some puzzles can get frustrating, but persevere. And try not to screw up, lest Louis loses a hand. Or worse.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5: GreedFall (2019): GreedFall was a conspicuous attempt to fill in for the lack of Mass Effect/Dragon Age games at the moment. With Bioware’s star diminished after the mixed response to Andromeda, the critical mauling of Anthem and the seemingly never ending wait for Dragon Age 4, Spiders bravely stepped into the breach with this back to basics, pseudo-colonial fantasy RPG. Colonial era settings are somewhat rarer than medieval inspired ones in RPG’s, but Spiders did a good job here of imagining a plausible fantasy world where gun-wielding colonists come into conflict with magically skilled natives. You have complete freedom in how you approach things – you can side with the natives, the colonial powers or try to build some kind of accord between the various factions. While the game is geared towards finding diplomatic solutions to things, there’s no clear cut best way to handle things, with extremist factions amongst the natives and family ties to the colonists blurring the lines between where your loyalties should lie. Combat isn’t hugely in depth: you have choice about whether you play as a magic user, expert swordsman/woman, or gun-wielding trap expert, or indeed a combination, but there are only 6 or so abilities per style. Enemies do present a welcome challenge even on normal (I would not recommend Hard difficulty on first playthrough, that’s for sure) with a mix of humans, natives and creatures providing different problems to deal with. There are some limitations due to the small size of the company producing the game (invisible barriers, area exploration rather than open world environments etc.) but it has more to offer in terms of content than say the base version of fallout 4. Overall this is kind of a barebones Bioware game – you get 5 companions, 4 of which are romanceable – but it gets more right than wrong. You can craft and upgrade gear, choose between using stealth, diplomacy and combat and resolve missions in a variety of ways. A bit slow and talky for some people, but overall, a good first effort from a company with way, way less resources than the companies its trying to emulate.

Rating: 4 out of 5

4: F1 2019: F1 games have now made this list 4 years running, mainly because they have been slowly refining what was already a very good game in F1 2016. The 2019 version makes the interview mechanic more bearable, wet weather more challenging and enables AI driver swaps between teams to make it feel more immersive and ensure you aren’t constantly competing with the same 2 drivers over multiple seasons. Its main additions however, are a Formula 2 mode, where the cars feel slower but are much easier to control, and two invented drivers who serve as rivals to your one in campaign mode – both of which help make career mode feel like more of a journey rather than just a co-ordinated set of races. As usual, it isn’t worth a full price upgrade from 2018, but if its on sale, it adds enough that you should check it out.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3: Modern Warfare Remastered (2016): It’s very rare for me to go 3 years back on this list, but since Modern Warfare Remastered came out free on PS PLUS in March, I checked it out. While the multiplayer has been slightly revamped with classes and new modes, the single-player and maps are all the same, just with better graphics. The campaign still ranks as one of the best in the Call of Duty Pantheon (and I’ve played through 4 this year with Black Ops 3, Infinite Warfare and the new Modern Warfare – none came close to this original) with famous highlights like the stealth mission in Pripyat, the AC-130 gunner sim, the cargo ship raid more vivid than ever in HD. But the main draw for downloading this was the multiplayer, which crushes games like COD:WW2 into the dirt. The maps, including classics like Shipment, Vacant and Showdown are very good and allow most playstyles to have a pretty even difficulty (snipers can’t dominate too easily, while campers are easy to flush out or outflank). The old-school killstreaks, limited to UAV, airstrike and helicopters, leave things way more balanced than in more recent COD games, and being on the worse team isn’t always a death sentence for strong players. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend getting this now, as the player base is likely to fall off a cliff with the rebooted Modern Warfare’s release, but its good enough to make my games of the year nonetheless.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2: Total War: Warhammer II (2017): Now I finally have a PC capable of running it, I’ve put some serious hours into Warhammer 2, and I can safely say that its the best Total War game of the past decade – perhaps the first since Medieval 2 that I can see myself putting hundreds of hours into. With 4 main races you get to play as Elves, Dark Elves, Lizardmen and Skaven (sneaky, untrustworthy ratmen with a genius for artillery) while DLC adds the pirate factions of the Vampire Coast and the Egyptian inspired Undead hordes of the Tomb Kings. The sheer variety of units, artillery, magic users and monsters make this, like its predecessor, immensely fun during battles, while the campaign design has been greatly improved, making this both easier to get into that Warhammer 1, and more involving during the middle part of the game: whether you’re scouting ruins for treasure, performing rituals or fighting quest battles, you’ll rarely just be spamming the end turn button. The Mortal Empires campaign, available for people who own both Warhammer 1 and 2, is a great addition, as many of the original factions have been revamped in the sequel and play better than ever. Overall, its still perhaps not the best TW game for newcomers, but for series veterans its a must have. Be sure to get the Tomb Kings DLC – they are one of the coolest factions I can remember playing as!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1: Spyro: Reignited Trilogy (2018): The Spyro trilogy was originally released on PS1, hence remastering it to play and look as good as modern games was a Herculean task. Fortunately, the developers proved equal to it – all three games are brilliantly recreated. Whether you’ve played the originals or not, this will be entertaining – every level and enemy has been lovingly remade, with a host of collectables to find, and platforming and combat challenges aplenty. Difficulty varies from level to level and boss fight to boss fight – you might initially think its a cakewalk geared at kids – halfway through you won’t think that – getting to 100% completion will take serious work, as will earning all the skill points and trophies – these games really reward full exploration. All 3 games bring something different to the table too, with different mini-games, enemies and mechanics – it’s hard to pick which ones best to be honest – 2 was the hardest to get into but had a superb 2nd half. As someone who never played the originals, I was pleasantly surprised by how well this remaster works and the trilogy – sold as one item (which is a great deal as you’re getting tons of hours for not much money) – was very high quality. Overall, while some elements are a bit frustrating or simple, its easy the most fun I’ve had gaming this year, so tops my list.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Feel free to comment your own lists – there’s plenty that could have been here – I’ve elaborated on some glaring omissions below for those who are curious.

There are plenty of games I’ve played from this year (Man of Medan, The Outer Worlds, Catherine Full Body) that I felt weren’t quite good enough to get on this list.

There were also some I’ve started playing but haven’t put enough hours into to recommend yet, such as Control, Borderlands 3, Modern Warfare and Rage 2 – expect to see some of them on next years list (particularly Control and Rage 2).

There’s also plenty I still haven’t got round to, like Devil May Cry V, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Jedi Fallen Order – again, you’ll probably see them on a future list if they live up to their reputation.

If you enjoyed this, keep an eye out for my upcoming post: My Top 20 games of the decade – featuring my favourite games from 2010-2019 on PS3, PS4 and PC, which i’ll upload in the next few days, along with similar lists for Film and TV.

But before that: tomorrow will see my Top 10 TV shows of 2019 – which features some shows I’ve never put on that list before – see you all then.

My Best and Worst Films of 2019

First of my annual end of year posts – my thoughts on the films that have come out this year. I should note I haven’t seen as many as I’d hoped – Shazam and Toy Story 4 being the main omissions – but here’s my take on the rest of the years best – and worst – offerings in cinema.

No Major Spoilers. Some minor ones.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: If this was just any old Star Wars film, both me and other reviewers may have been kinder to it. In many ways it suffered because of bad decisions Disney made during Force Awakens production (i.e. not setting out a clear plan of where the series was going or focusing on innovation and decent world-building). As a result this overstuffed mess tries to do far too much in 2h 30, with leads to the first hour being a confusing garble of ideas and set-up likely to leave its audience with whiplash, so quickly does it jump from scene to scene and planet to planet. It jettisons most of what Last Jedi accomplished and will doubtless annoy most fans of that film (particularly its needless marginalisation of Rose and its dull revelations/retcons of Snoke and Rey’s origins). The score by John Williams is surprisingly lacklustre, and while several of the new and returning characters shine, none get the kind of screen time they deserve. The film emerges with some credit for Leia and Kylo Ren’s arcs, but ultimately fails on too many levels. Too generic by far, it plays out like a limp rehash of Episode VI, with boring fetch-quest taking up much of the first half, silly death fake outs punctuating the second and a conclusion which is a insult to both any audience goers with intelligence and the character and gravitas of Emperor Palpatine, who’s return goes unexplained. As the end of a trilogy and something meant to cap off the entire Skywalker Saga, this needed to be good. It isn’t even close. Come back George, all is forgiven… even the prequels had far more cohesion, imagination and spectacle than this mess.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Spiderman: Far from Home: The seconding most disappointing film of the year, Far from Home has echoes of Iron Man 3 – i.e. good first half, misguided plot twist, terrible second half. Like the Mandarin twist, Mysterio’s predictable (to literally anyone who knows 1 thing about the character) mid-film revelation derails things and they never recover. Some things are positive – Jon Favreau is at his best here as Happy, Peter and MJ’s relationship is nicely done and Ned’s romance with Betty is hilarious. But the problems are far more numerous – first off, you should never make the villain’s real plot less interesting than their fake plan the heroes expect to deal with. Samuel L. Jackson puts in one of the worst performances of his career here, but that’s due to how badly the script writes Nick Fury. The main problem is this film completely misses what Spiderman should be about – he isn’t an Avenger, he’s his own hero protecting his own city, who works with the Avengers when needed to stop cataclysmic threats. He’s certainly not Tony Stark mark 2, so please stop trying to make him so. Great final scene though – its about time that a certain character returned to the Spiderman films – and what a way to do it.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Zombieland 2: Double Tap: On a more positive note, Zombieland 2 was a fun, amusing follow-up to its predecessor. The cast, including Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin and — are as good as ever, and the interplay between them is once again, the core of the movie. The best jokes involve Columbus’ new love interest Zoey Deutch, the categories of zombies (ranging from fast, smart killing machines to the dumb, virtually harmless Homers) and various hilarious zombie kill methods – most memorably involving a monster truck. Not as good as its predecessor, some jokes don’t land and the finale isn’t as memorable, but still a good effort and something you’ll enjoy.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

How to train your Dragon: The Hidden World: The only animated film I’ve seen in cinema this year, The Hidden World capped off a very consistent trilogy of HTTYD movies. All have been entertaining, heartfelt and lovingly designed, and while they aren’t a patch on stuff like the Incredibles or Toy Story, they’re very enjoyable. The story of this one is less dark than film 2 and feels like a good way to end things. Given how other, far more important, films have shown how easy it is to muck up the third film in a trilogy, The Hidden World should be commended for providing a satisfying conclusion to Hiccup and Toothless’ story. It’s probably my favourite of the three.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Captain Marvel: Samuel L. Jackson gets his best role in an MCU film here – as a digitally de-aged version of him plays sidekick/guide to Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel – one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. Her powers make for some great action sequences, Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos is a superb supporting character and the story is one of Marvel’s better origin stories (only Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are better). The humour is on point throughout, with some laugh out loud moments, mainly involving Nick Fury and the Flerkin. There’s a good soundtrack and a touching tribute to Stan Lee too. The only drawbacks are some 2 dimensional alien characters, lack of development for lead Carol Danvers and predictable plot lines. Its a very fun Marvel film, but isn’t quite up there with their best.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Avengers Endgame: Now this is how you conclude a saga. Avengers Endgame gives its characters room to breath and commits a lot of screen time to its set pieces and key events, and comes out all the better for it. The special effects, direction and acting come together to form an epic conclusion to the third phase of the MCU, and gives central characters like Iron Man and Captain America fitting ends to their arcs. There’s lashings of humour but its far more restrained than normal, to the films credit (though a few crap jokes – i.e. America’s ass – probably should have been cut). It succeeds in its quieter moments, such as Cap’s regret over a missed life with Peggy or Tony spending some time with his father. It has a few flaws – Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack and Thanos reduced screentime among them – but frankly who cares – the film nails its final act and produces one of the best onscreen battles in cinematic history – its up there with Pelennor Fields in Lord of the Rings. Any other year, this might have topped my list… but not this year…

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Joker: Joker has to come out on top. With interesting themes, an intelligent, focused script, no CGI or effects to distract you, its a full-blooded character exploration of one of the most interesting DC comics characters, as you’ve never seen him before. With a heavy, almost oppressively intense soundtrack and masterful direction by Todd Philips, everything comes together to form one of the best films I can remember in a long time – if not one you’ll what to watch too frequently – its too damn draining. While there’s sterling work from the likes of Robert de Niro and Zazie Beetz in the supporting cast, the film hinges on its lead: Joaquin Phoenix. If he doesn’t get an Oscar for this then its a serious miscarriage of justice. The man owns and inhabits the role in a way even Heath Ledger didn’t, and is possibly the only live action portrayal that can hold a candle to Ledger’s take on the character. To say too much would spoil it, but this film will have you gripped, horrified and delighted throughout its entire runtime. Its that good. Even the spectacle infused Avengers Endgame isn’t on this level of film making – if anyone wants to argue that film is a medium of art… Joker is exhibit A. You may not like it, it may not be your kind of film – but you need to see it and decide for yourself.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

My film awards 2019:

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

Best Actress: Scarlet Johannson (Avengers: Endgame)

Best Supporting Actor: Robert de Niro (Joker)

Best Supporting Actress: Zoey Deutch (Zombieland 2)

Best Director: Todd Phillips (Joker)

Best Script: Joker

Best Soundtrack: Joker

Best Special Effects: Avenger Endgame

And the less deserving..

Worst Actor: Oscar Isaac (The Rise of Skywalker)

Worst Supporting Actor: Samuel L. Jackson (Spiderman Far from Home)

Worst Director: JJ Abrams (The Rise of Skywalker)

Worst Script: The Rise of Skywalker

Worst Soundtrack: The Rise of Skywalker (even John Williams didn’t bring his best)

There you have it, my view on some of the year’s biggest releases. I’m sure some of you will disagree, but that’s the good thing about cinema – there’s something for everyone.

Next Up: My Top Video Games of 2019