The GardenDespatches from The Satyrs’ Forest

Posts tagged as “annual recaps”

The 2023 Satyrs’ Forest Horny Awards™

I would like to kick off the second annual Satyrs’ Forest Horny Awards™ with an epigraph from myself, at the end of 2021, predicting what lay ahead. I wrote, and i quote:

Avatar 2 will bomb and possibly kill James Cameron’s career. Really: who on earth is actually excited by the idea of an Avatar sequel? Someone? Anyone?

Hahahaha oops!!!

The Laurel Wreath Award for Annual Achievement in Film

And the award goes to… Avatar 2: The Way of Water!
It came out in December and i watched it in January of 2023 — i’m counting it.

Look. Look. I’m not happy about this either. But he got me. That fucking James Cameron boomed me. I’ve never even seen the first one!

Everything about Avatar: The Way of Water puts our decade-long glut of superhero movies to shame. The visuals, thirteen years in the making, are indistinguishable from reality. (You will believe the sexy blue cat people are real, and you will rewatch it three times in Imax and still never figure out how they composited the scrawny human kid in.) Every tiny anthropological detail envelops you in the world of Pandora, meticulously constructed by the new god-king of worldbuilding. But most of all, it’s sincere. There are no tiresome quips of ”well, that just happened”. The characters never make fun of how silly this all is. It just lets itself be itself.

Some might shunt the film’s story and characters to the back seat, and in many ways, that’s fair: nobody goes to see an Avatar movie to find out if Jake and Neytiri get a divorce. But that’s just the James Cameron style, man! He paints with a broad brush, and because of that, his stories connect with everyone from Chicago to Chittagong. Noöne ever complained about Titanic just being Romeo and Juliet on a boat, after all.

So, much as it might bug the poser in me to heap praise upon the fourth-biggest film in history, congratulations to the best film of the year: the one with the smurfs.

The Zoetrope Award for Classic Cinema

And the award goes to… Synecdoche, New York!

I have too many thoughts about Synecdoche, New York and i’ve never been able to organise them all into anything coherent, so i’ve set a timer for fifteen minutes and i’ll just stop when i stop. This is going to be a mess.

So, first of all, this film is only two hours long. I say “only” because it feels like four when you’re watching it. This takes place over, god, what, thirty or forty years? And you feel time slipping away just as Caden does.

Oh, uh, Caden Cotard is our main character, a hypochondriac playwright with ambitions of dizzying scale, played masterfully by the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’m not sure he’s meant to be a real person; rather, just as his fictional play (the size of the actual city of New York) balloons to its own world with its own Caden and its own play, he is just the creation of the unseen Ellen1, one world up, somewhere in between him and Charlie Kaufman.

There’s a moment halfway through that might be the best single second in a movie ever. Caden goes to Berlin to find his long-lost daughter Olive working as a prostitute — and as he enters the brothel, the door creaks behind him… sounding just like a baby’s cry.

I put off watching this movie forever because i knew it was bloody depressing, and indeed, i spent the last half barely containing a film of salt water behind my eyes. Two main candidates for best scene (spoilers!) — Sammy (the stalker who Caden hires to play himself)’s heart breaking, and the very end, where everything fades to grey.

Jon Brion’s score is incredible, by the way.

That shot, when Caden finds out his dad died, and Sammy’s shadow looms behind the curtains like the Grim Reaper? Brilliant.

The one piece of the puzzle i still can’t figure out is what’s up with Maria. She’s this corrupting influence on everyone Caden loves, but bears the name of the Virgin Mary — which makes it difficult to slot her in, as i tried, as the Devil to Ellen’s God. Hm.

It’s funny how Caden never really gets any sicker, but the world around him does. (There’s some gender identity stuff in there too, but honestly it all seems like the type of thing that could be attributed to other stuff to me. I don’t think Caden’s literally trans, he just happens to be the self-insert of a woman.)

That’s my fifteen minutes up. Synecdoche, New York! Greatest movie ever made.

The Pebbledash Dildo Award for Cinematic Disappointment

And the award goes to… The Congress!
Again, not a 2023 film, but i actually quite liked every 2023 film i watched, and i was annoyed enough by this one to put it on here instead.

It all started so innocently. It was a family movie night, and me and my mam were in the mood for something uplifting. I’d asked on Reddit for movies with the same manic exuberance as The Fifth Element or Elvis, where some strange new colourful thing is thrown at the screen a mile a minute and the viewer is ripped along for the ride.

Mad Max: Fury Road? Seen it. Mandy? Not in the mood for horror. But The Congress? Now that sounded interesting. The reviews were coy, but all praised the psychedelic, mind-bending world crafted by director Ari Folman.

Count us in, i suppose. And so began my journey into hell.

To get the “coveted” Pebbledash Dildo, you don’t just have to be bad. It is, after all, an award for disappointment. You must have a kernel of a great idea within you, one that is so simple to make something good out of, and fuck it all up anyway. That kernel can be found in a single brilliant scene, a diamond within this pile of filmic zirconia.

A live-action Robin Wright stands in the centre of a sphere of cameras blaring at her

The premise of The Congress is more relevant now than ever, in this age of digital doubles, deepfakes, and AI actors. Robin Wright plays herself, who reluctantly decides to scan herself into digital form, so the studio can use her likeness forevermore without her having to break a sweat. As she stands among the blaring lights of the scanner, her agent recounts to her the story of how they first met, bringing tears to her eyes. It’s a genuinely touching moment, and a springboard off of which so many ideas could dive, a trunk from which so many stories might branch.

Then it all goes to pot, and thirty years later, everyone is permanently on drugs, and so the film switches to oh god what the fuck is that get it off get it off get it off my fucking screen

So Robin Wright, now in a world of terrifying Newgrounds Betty Boop clones, attends the titular congress, where the CEO of the subtly named Miramount does a Hitler rally for his new drug. Then she meets generic Prince Charming man, the very person who scanned her in to the system — an interesting idea that they do absolutely nothing with — and they have ugly cartoon sex, she gets locked in a freezer for 300 years, and she goes in a balloon to find her terminally ill son… or… something?

I have never seen a film fumble the ball this badly, and be such an assault on the senses to boot. You won, Ari. Enjoy the money; i hope it makes you happy. Dear lord, what a sad little life, Ari. You’ve ruined my night completely.

Miscellaneous awards

  • The Golden Lyre Award for Excellence in New Music: Edinburgh-based Young Fathers’ euphoric senior album Heavy Heavy stole the show this year.
  • The Broken Link Award for Best Use of Hypertext: The best “miscellaneous thing” i saw online was Atlas Altera, an absolutely ludicrous worldbuilding project dedicated to the surgical maximalisation of global diversity.
  • The Fred Figglehorn Memorial Award for Online Video: Spanning the end of 2022 to the start of 2023, Geowizard’s “How not to travel America” series brightened up my day every time a new one appeared on my feed. People are just nice!
  • The Hubert J. Farnsworth Award for Good News, Everyone!: This one may be a wee bit controversial, but i have to go with the rollout of a new generation of obesity drugs (most famously semaglutide) — which not only finally work to combat obesity, but seem to dull all sorts of other harmful impulses too. One step closer to true freedom of form?

The 2022 Satyrs’ Forest Horny Awards™

Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, but they both have ram’s horns crudely drawn on

Welcome, one and all, to the 2798th annual Horny Awards! Every year since humans figured out how to count them, the Satyrs’ Forest has presented hand-made, custom trophies to the best works of the year that was. It’s an astoundingly long-lasting tradition, and definitely not something i made up just now.

2022 was one of the years ever. Things, i’m told, occurred. People were born; people were taxed; people died. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard released several albums. It will go down in the history books as “the year between 2021 and 2023”. On with our show.


The Laurel Wreath Award for Annual Achievement in Film

Our first category marks all the wonderful movies that were made in this past year — which is quite a lot, so my apologies to all those films who i either didn’t mention or didn’t have time to see!

There can only be one winner, but i’ll start off with a lightning round of honourable mentions. Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis was like being locked inside a room with an insane person for two and a half hours, and i loved every ridiculous, extravagant, kinetic minute of it. Tom George’s See How They Run and Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery were brilliant and funny throwback mysteries which really needed more time and appreciation in the cinema. And i dearly hope David Letich’s Bullet Train becomes the new Fast and Furious2Bullet2Train! Bullet Train 3: This Time it’s a Plane! Bullet ISS! The possibilities are endless.

An especially honourable mention goes to Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All, a tender horror romance which almost made it to the main list before i realised that i hadn’t actually all that much to say on it. It’s a metaphor for something, i tell ya hwat…

It could have done with less of the hot-dog fingers, but anyone who would leave our first “official” runner-up off of their year-end list is a heartless bastard. On paper, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a recipe for everything everywhere to go totally wrong: a riff on The Matrix with a tenth of the budget, directors whose last work was a movie where Daniel Radcliffe farts a lot, and a sense of humour firmly dated to Reddit circa 2012. Yet it pulls it off.

This is a movie where people beat each other up with dildos, where a hallway of people literally explodes into colour and light, and where the equivalent of the Death Star is an everything bagel. It is also one of the only movies to have made me bawl like a baby in the cinema. Everything Everywhere is an anti-cynical, anti-nihilistic manifesto for our time. Yes, nothing matters! and yes, you might not write the next great American novel or paint a masterpiece! but the world has so much joy and beauty, so many minuscule details that you pass by every day, so for goodness’ sake, even if you’re just doing laundry and taxes, take your time to enjoy the little things in life.

I need to go hug my mum.

Blockbusters aren’t what they used to be, are they? Ever since Endgame, Marvel have been running on autopilot, releasing a steady stream of snarky CGI sludge made more out of obligation than passion. They don’t even work as escapism anymore — the fantastical isn’t fantastic when every billion-dollar release is set in a world of superheroes and sci-fi.

Like Everything Everywhere, our other runner-up is a prime example of a movie that just shouldn’t work. It’s a sequel to a 40-year-old film so mediocre i turned it off halfway through, made as a cynical cash-grab recruitment ad for the navy, with a topic and plot designed to appeal exclusively to Your Dad.1 Yet, through sheer dumb luck, Paramount hit the jackpot on Top Gun: Maverick.

Obviously, Tom Cruise is an absolute charisma magnet and the best part of every movie he’s ever been in. But that seductive Scientologist smile only goes so far (just look at The Mummy), and that’s where our director comes in. Joseph Kosinski doesn’t have a particularly long track record; it would be easy to mistake him for a typical director-for-hire. His dialogue scenes don’t stand out from the pack, and he’s not particularly creative with the camera, but that doesn’t matter. What he excels at is spectacle.

2010’s Tron: Legacy is a profoundly middling film in terms of its plot and characters, but it gained a cult following thanks to the delicious combination of Daft Punk’s killer score with Mr Kosinski’s brilliant visuals and action. He took that computerised world of bits and bytes and gave it stakes, weight, and a sense of scale, where a Marvel hack would have told the VFX guy to just press render and go with whatever comes out.

So you take a director whose most known work is a spectacular CG effects-fest and a lead actor famous for his insistence on doing all of his own stunts, and what do you get? The best blockbuster film of the decade, that’s what. The original Top Gun’s plane scenes drag and drag with no real purpose; in Maverick, every flight has something at stake, with non-stop action — but the film still knows when to pull back and take a breather to give its characters heart. My icy, cynical heart knew that i was being manipulated every step of the way, knew that every pull of the strings was planned out in advance, knew that this film was made for money and nothing else… but i’ll be damned if i didn’t start crying at that Val Kilmer cameo.

Go and see Top Gun: Maverick on the biggest screen you can, whether that’s a 1080p computer monitor or an Imax cinema. You won’t regret it.

Our two runners-up were films that i would recommend to anyone, anywhere, of any age, and at any time. They have something for everyone. First place, on the other hand…

If you believe the lame-stream media, our winning film was the result of arthouse horror hero Robert Eggers being given a blank check by Universal to make a big period action movie. This is false. It was created by scientists in a lab in Durham to appeal to me and me specifically. (You can tell because i was the only person who actually went out and watched it.)

Based on the Norse legend behind Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Northman is an epic following Large Scandinavian Man as the viking Amleth, son of a deposed king, on his journey to avenge his father with the power of Odin and testosterone2 on his side.

When i call Amleth a viking, i do not mean that all-too-common sanitised Hollywood depiction of a 20th-century Christian in pagan clothing. No; his society and its ways are portrayed as they were, warts and all, regardless of what the audience might feel about it. The vikings of this film keep slaves, burn down houses, consult witches (memorably played by Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe, and Björk, in decreasing order of screentime), mock Jesus, and pray to Gods as a fact of life. (The film never particularly demeans them for the latter three, which i found a welcome reprieve from paganism’s usual relegation to the villains of horror schlock.) The only concession to modern mores is the absence of polygamy, because splashing people with period blood and cutting off heads is okay but good heavens a second wife?????

Mr Eggers and his crew schlepped all the way to Iceland for filming and made good bloody use of it. Whether its long shots are focused on nature’s rolling fields and bursting volcanoes or humanity’s flame-lit funerals and grimy oarsmen, the result is consistently one of the most beautiful things of the year.

It’s not for everyone. It’s long, and those just there for the action will find themselves asking when they’re going to get to the fireworks factory. It’s gory. It’s grim. But it’s definitely for me.

The Zoetrope Award for Classic Cinema

Hey, did you like the Matrix sequels? Do you want to watch a three-hour-long film where every character is played by the same six actors? No? Well, too bad, because the best film i watched in 2022 that wasn’t released that year was the Wachowski sisters’3 Cloud Atlas.4

There was a point, about 60% of the way through this three-hour-long movie, where i started to wonder if it was all worth it. I’d seen Tom Hanks attempting a Cockney accent, Hugo Weaving in unconvincing Asian prosthetics, and a lot of people saying “tru-tru” a lot of times. Surely it was impossible to tie this all together into a satisfying conclusion.

I started having flashbacks to The Matrix Resurrections, an endlessly creative film plagued by its own self-obsessions and Lana Wachowski’s inability to not put the first thing that came into her head into the script. Was this going to be the same? Are the sisters trapped in an endless cycle of almost-but-not-quite?

And then there was a point, about 90% of the way through, where i started crying. They’d squared the circle, tied all six stories up into a neat bow; an epic told on the scale of centuries, where actors cross boundaries of time, nationality, race, and gender; a film that would be their magnum opus were it not for the long shadow of The Matrix. I don’t know how they did it, but they did — and thus nudged their record of hits against misses slightly to the positive side.

The Pebbledash Dildo Award for Cinematic Disappointment

2022 was a good year for bad movies. Moonfall was the peak of so-bad-it’s-good Emmerichian excess. Morbius morbed all across the internet. And the usual Marvel schlock was even shlockier than usual. But nobody thought those films would be any good anyway — it’s hard to be disappointed when you don’t have any expectations in the first place.

So, by God, was i disappointed in Nope. From Jordan Peele, critics’ favourite rising star, this sci-fi Hollywood horror brims with so many creative ideas and metaphors that they all boil over and don’t go anywhere. I can only imagine that a quarter of the script got sucked up into a UFO and they decided to just keep shooting. There are so many great ideas in this film, and it’s a darned shame they wound up such an anticlimax.

The Comfy Sofa Award for Peak Television

I don’t actually watch much television; i’ve always found it hard to get invested for the “long haul”. Ben Stiller’s Severance, made for Apple’s floundering streaming service, is a slow burner, the sort of thing i despise — but its slowness is methodical, carefully drip-feeding you bits of information whilst never wasting its time on fluff and filler.

It’s strange. It’s puzzling. It’s brilliant. And the final episode is some of the best TV i’ve ever seen. If i could, i’d sever myself — just to watch it all over again.


The Golden Lyre Award for Excellence in New Music

It’s The 1975.

Well, no point in dragging that out. They may not be the best band in the world, but they are my favourite band in the world; their eclectic pop-rock sensibilities are what got me into music, and i’ll always appreciate them for that.

This isn’t just a sentimental pick. Being Funny in a Foreign Language sees the band trim away the fat and bloat of their previous works and hold back on the eclectic experimentation of the Music for Cars era, settling on a distilled, refined version of the sound that defined their first record. There are no bloated instrumentals, no experimental noodlings; just, as their international tour proudly suggests, The 1975 At Their Very Best.

No album came close to blowing them out of the water — because i’m a soppish fanboy — but to whet your appetite, here are some more of my favourite songs of 2022. (In no particular order.)

The Hurdy-Gurdy Award for Enduring Musical Resonance

It was with some trepidation that i typed the word “Pagan” into RateYourMusic’s charts function, knowing the reputation that explicitly religious music has. The words “Christian rock” have always been accented with a sneer, and the most well-known Pagan musician of the modern age is an unrepentant church-burning neo-nazi.

Right at the top, after i’d filtered out all of the metal (apologies, metalheads; it just isn’t my bag), sat XTC’s Apple Venus Volume One. You won’t find it on streaming — frontman Andy Partridge has few kind words for the likes of Spotify — but i made do with a pirate Youtube playlist until i tracked down a physical copy at the shops.

Apple Venus is the group’s penultimate album, and even knowing nothing about them, I could tell. It drips with aching sincerity, the kind that dips into corny pastiche, in that particular way that only happens when a band who have spent their whole career dripping with snark and cynicism realise that they’re getting too old for this shit.

And that’s all i wrote.

Some other favourite old songs i discovered this year:

The Sad Trombone Award for Most Disappointing Music

I’ve been getting into post-rock recently, and there are a few albums which seem to be near and dear to fans’ hearts. Sigur Rós’ Ágætis byrjun, a surprisingly accessible masterclass. Godspeed You Blank Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists, the best soundtrack for a movie that never existed. Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, a bit too jazzy for my tastes. A few more that i’ve yet to listen to.

Then there’s The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place.

Explosions in the Sky’s third album is widely beloved. It tops lists with the big guns. It often shows up on genre “starter pack” lists. There is a teensy, tiny problem with this: it’s shite.

Well, alright, i thought, two tracks in. Maybe it picks up by the end? Everyone is raving about that closing track, “Your Hand in Mine” — and then that was shite too!

This is music for a car commercial. It is the Imagine Dragons of post-rock. It’s the sort of music a TV network might play as inspirational backing for their Paralympic coverage. It is sappy, insipid, and uninspired dross of the purest and vilest sort, and it boggles the mind to think how it ever got the reputation it now has. See me after class.

The electronic arts

The King’s Dice Award for Interactive Entertainment

Just one game found its home amongst my digital shelves this years, and i have yet to find the opportunity to complete it. Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn wins by acclimation — so far it’s stylish, intriguing, and fun to solve, but again, i’ve not finished it! We’ll see if it sticks the landing.

The Broken Link Award for Best Use of Hypertext

Homestuck isn’t very good. It has an undeniably appealing cast of characters and charmingly naïve art — you don’t get millions of fans without doing something right — that are sadly weighed down by its author’s baffling decision, faced with all the sprawling multi-media possibilities of the web, to tell its story entirely in walls of unreadable monospaced text.

Wired Sound for Wired People isn’t my thing. It has undeniably mastered a medium: its flickering pink pixels and eerie soundscapes build an unmistakable mix of intrigue and unease, beckoning you to follow it down the rabbit hole. But it lacks a message to go with it — there’s no story to speak of, just a collage of strange and trippy scenes.

So what if someone were to combine the best bits of both, and undo their shortcomings? Idiosyncratic, eerie audiovisuals, with relatable dramatis personæ, and a compelling story which uses the power of hypertext to its fullest?

Enter Linked to me by someone whose homepage i’d complimented — with no other comment than that it was a friend’s “personal site” — Corru puts you in the seat of an archæologist(?) some decades(?) in the future(?), trying to piece together the memories of an alie… i’ll let you find out the rest. There’s only an “episode” and a half out right now, and i can’t wait to see where it goes.

The Fred Figglehorn Memorial Award for Online Video

2022 was not short of epically un-short videos. Internet Historian put together a fully animated retelling of the story of Floyd Collins, a 1920s farmer who found himself stuck upside down in a treacherously narrow cave. It clocks in at an hour and ten minutes. Kevin from Defunctland’s weirdly emotional investigation into the Disney Channel theme runs an hour and a half. Stuart Brown’s Xcom retrospective? 1:40.

But in the age of Tiktok and Vine, it pays to be succinct. Our winner by no means reaches the six-second nirvana of those two platforms, but at 25 minutes, it would fit comfortably into a half-hour broadcast slot on telly — not bad on a site increasingly dominated by 7-hour videos about people watching sitcoms for children.

That winner is Michael Stevens’s video on the origin of selfies. In it brief runtime, it answers every question i never knew i had about the selfie, while spinning in a number of fascinating tangents and eyebrow-raising questions (in the typical Vsauce house style). It even got me to renovate the gallery just to add that photo by Anastasia. Cheese!

The real world

The Spruce Panflute Award for Outdoor Splendour

I perused many places during my walks out and about this year, but none so consistently provided me with so many new sights as the Ouseburn, a small but mighty stream which winds its way in the east of Newcastle from suburbs to leafy woods to industry to hipster vegan cafés. Every time i thought i’d seen it all, the Ouseburn revealed a new cranny, some quirky establishment or warp in the city’s fabric, something different to explore.

Dusk falls on the river Tyne as all five bridges which span it are seen in the background
This is what we in the industry refer to as “the money shot”.

The Crackling Heath Award for Indoor Wonder

Affleck’s Palace is the beating heart of Mancunian counterculture; a labyrinthine maze of shops which across their three floors sell everything from rose ice cream to bath bombs to incense to Hatsune Miku–themed fizzy drinks… and i can’t tell you any more than that, because i haven’t finished my post about it yet!

Really, though — Affleck’s has it all and more, and i’ll be sure to stop by next time i go down south.

The Hubert J. Farnsworth Award for Good News, Everyone!

Day in, day out, we are flooded with the latest news of disasters and terrors from around the globe. It gets the views, it gets the hits, and it gets the clicks; it’s no wonder journos love to accentuate the negative.

The Hubert J. Farnsworth Award is an antidote to doom and gloom, honouring the best thing that happened in 2022. It was a late entry, but it could hardly be anything other than…

…The National Ignition Facility, the U.S. government lab who reported that, for the first time, they’d gotten more energy out than they put in via fusion power. There are hiccups, of course; the facility’s magnets guzzled dozens of times more power than the reactor itself. But every stepping stone has its imperfections, and this is the first great step to a truly prosperous future — where energy is too cheap to meter, where power is so abundant that there will be hardly a grain of economic sense in the idea of tapping any more of Gæa’s precious little black gold.

Happy belated new year, everyone. And as always — may it be better than the last!

My favourite things of 2021

2021 has come and gone, and i dare say it was a fucking relief compared to the previous year. Yes, it was still a bit shit in parts, but overall, vaccination rates are up, restrictions are down, that awful man is no longer president of the United States, and poverty’s probably down again i don’t know i haven't checked. Here are some of the things that made me happy last year (in no particular order).


I’m not usually the EDM type — too much meaningless soulless wub-wub for my taste — but Porter Robinson’s Nurture brings some much-needed heart to the genre. So much of it resonated with me and helped me get through some tough times, be it “Get Your Wish’s” finding a reason to keep moving forward, “Mirror’s” teardown of anxious thoughts, or “Musician’s” struggles with creativity. Cheers, Mr Robinson.

I’m a Geordie boygirl born and raised, so i was predisposed to enjoy the new Sam Fender record, Seventeen Going Under— there’s a reason he’s already done two sold-out arena shows in Newcastle, after all. This album was the perfect companion to my walks throughout the region (more on those later); representing the north-east in all its many facets, from deprivation and government neglect to a proud history and modern culture.

“Aye” is like a supercharged, upgraded version of the frankly embarrassing “White Privilege” from his last album — think that “Daniel vs the cooler Daniel” meme; “Spit of You” brings me back to memories of my family in the Netherlands, and makes me wish i’d appreciated them more; Not to mention the final track, “The Dying Light”, which shows Mr Fender at his most Springsteen, tugging at heartstrings with a soaring anti-suicide power-ballad.

Wolf Alice’s third record, Blue Weekend, shows them at their anthemic, genre-fluid best. It opens with “The Beach”, which soars to highs so high you’d think they’d never top them — but the quality is so consistent throughout that it’s hard for me to pick out just a few. “How Can I Make It OK?” is an enchanting throwback about feeling unable to care for a loved one; towards the back of the album, the thrashing “Play the Greatest Hits” and emotional “The Last Man on Earth” feel completely at home together, despite only having a single track between them.

Some honourable mentions go to Chvrches, Silk Sonic, and Will Wood, all of whom have produced some bloody brilliant music in the past year.

Film and television

It might not have been the best film of the year — or even the best superhero film of the year, for that matter — but my pick for my favourite film this year can hardly go to anything other than James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, simply by the merit of being the first film i saw in cinemas since Þe Before Times. It’s raucous, gorey fun which i wouldn’t have experienced any other way.

Independent of viewing-place — and you know this is true because i watched it on my computer — i’d say the best film of the past year would have to be Censor, a stylish indie horror from first-time director Prano Bailey-Bond. Set in the shadow of the “video nasty” panic, this moody mystery takes its time — but it’s worth every second.

Shawn Levy’s Free Guy was unapologetically shlocky, but i had fun with it, even if i did roll my eyes when that scene at the end happened (yi kna the one). I enjoyed Pig, with Nicolas Cage — check out the restaurant scene. Dune was the most gorgeous thing i’ve ever had the privilege of seeing on the big screen. The French Dispatch is Wes Anderson at his Andersonianest, and you’ll either love it or hate it — one thing we can all agree on, though, is that Jeffrey Wright should be the voice of every audiobook. Capping off the year was Spider-Man: No Way Home; of which, despite me having never seen any of his films, Andrew Garfield was absolutely the best part.α

I didn’t watch much TV this year, but what i did watch i rather enjoyed. Inside №9 was the absolute highlight; a distressingly bingeable horror-comedy-drama-thing anthology series with big names and bigger twists. So hard to pick, but my favourite episodes, if you want to start somewhere, are “The Riddle of the Sphinx”, “The Devil of Christmas”, “A Quiet Night In”, and the delightfully meta live special.

Dark is a brilliant German time-travel twisty-mystery with a ridiculously talented casting department and (thank the heavens) an actually satisfying conclusion that keeps you going all along the ride. Go in blind — you’ll regret it if you don’t!

I finally got around to watching Chernobyl, too, and it was just as good as everyone said it was. More effective horror than anything James Wan’s ever made, that’s for sure!

The “real world”

On the last day of 2020, i wrote up some predictions for 2021 — and one of them was that live sports and concerts would remain off limits until at least 2022. How happy i was to be proven wrong when i got dragged to an Elbow gig one September night. Guy Garvey, methinks, is one of the unsung heroes of Brit-pop/rock — so many artists have taken after Elbow, but they have a comparatively diminutive presence in the popular conscience compared to your Blurs, Oases, and Radioheads.

In more physical terms, this was the year i started (long December nights have gotten in the way of finishing it) my project to walk the Blyth and Tyne railway before it reopens, which has given me a fascinating look at the current fabric of this urbanised corner of Northumberland. I haven’t much more to say on that except that it’s been so, so lovely being able once more to get out and about more often — and ticking something off my bucket list too!

Well, that’s your lot. I’ve had a nice enough 2021 — i hope yours has been too.