Archive for December, 2015

Best of 2015: Top 10 Movies

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So another year of countdowns comes to an end, and inside the calendar year this time!

2015 was the first year this decade where movie-watching dropped low enough on my list of my priorities to ensure I didn’t once go out to the cinemas without knowing exactly what I wanted to see. As a result I saw fewer new releases than any other year in which I’ve written this list. It was pretty much just major blockbusters and films with word-of-mouth hype amongst my friends.

That still put me in pretty good stead, however. Looking back at what I missed in 2015 I can’t really complain too much, as I only really missed The Martian and maybe, at a stretch, Crimson Peak in terms of movies people really seemed to be talking about. And regardless of how much thinner the blockbuster offering of 2015 was compared to previous years, what does it matter when Star Wars was so good?

Let’s count down some movies.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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10. Pitch Perfect 2

So Pitch Perfect was a thing. A fairly notable thing, as it turns out. Three years ago Hollywood darling Anna Kendrick sat down, put a cup on the ground and lit the internet on fire, drawing crowds to the movies to see a comedy musical for the first time in several years. The oddball movie about competitive college acapella singing was a fine example of what can happen when you electrocute a painfully cliched sports movie plot with a current of pure enthusiasm, witty, politically incorrect dialogue, spectacular all-vocal song arrangements and Rebel Wilson. Much like 2000’s Bring It On, Pitch Perfect challenged my own ability to judge a movie by its marketing. Unlike Bring It OnPitch Perfect’s sequel doesn’t suck. In fact it may be even better, as it drops a lot of the necessary shackles by which it was bound as a new franchise and sets up some even more ridiculous – and hilarious – sequences, scattering cameos left and right as it does so.
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Best of 2015: Top 15 Games

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I just couldn’t do it.

There was just no way that this year, with the incredible quality – and indeed quantity – of videogame releases throughout 2015, I could possibly restrict this annual list of mine to a mere top ten. So I cut one of my earlier lists down to a top five – particular as I am about these sorts of things – and expanded this baby.

Not only is this the 2015 list that took me the longest to write, it’s also the one that took me the longest to order. I’ve gone through dozens of rearrangements of this one – especially in the top four – and though I’m happy with how it reflects the past year, what is on this page to some extent only indicates how I feel about things right now – ask me again in a week and it may have shuffled around.

The platform on which I played each game on this list appears in parentheses. A game only qualifies for my list if I either a) finished its “main story”, or b) played at least five hours of it – whichever came first. I restrict myself this way to ensure I’ve given a game a fair go, though the rule does disqualify a number of games in which I dabbled, such as Kirby & The Rainbow Paintbrush, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Code Name S.T.E.A.M, Just Cause 3 and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, all of which probably would have made the list had they not come out at really awkward times for me personally. Additionally, remasters and remakes don’t count this year, because, well, you’ll have to see.

Without further ado, let’s reminisce about the embarrassment of riches to which gamers were treated this year:

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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15. Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4)

The fact that I finished the main story of Batman: Arkham Knight is the greatest compliment I can pay the game. The weekend that I lost to the caped crusader initially involved other plans, and those plans promptly dissolved once I began to lose myself in Rocksteady’s incredibly good-looking open world vision of Gotham City, not to mention its intensely personal story of a mentally deteriorating Bruce Wayne. I even liked the Bat-tank stuff – for a few hours at least. After a while the game’s over-reliance on the tank sections did wear me down enough to keep Arkham Knight out of my top ten, but I couldn’t leave it off the list altogether, because despite its flaws the final chapter of Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy is a quality package.

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Best of 2015: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

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Another year, another dual-pronged countdown for the uncommon – and much appreciated – K-Pop album fan. If you’re reading this you’re probably either looking for some recommendations to expand your music horizons, or you are in very, very deep with Korean pop music. Sometimes the flashy K-Pop surface singles aren’t what you feel like listening to, and you want to see what weird and wonderful B-sides/album compositions are out there in the K-Pop world.

Well the good news is that 2015 was just as good a year for Korean albums as it was for the MV tracks, and I’m here to give you my opinion on some of the better ones. This time around, you might actually be able to listen to these in full, because 2015 wasn’t just a big year for K-Pop albums in terms of quality, but in terms of accessibility.

That’s right, the advent of Apple Music back in June was a pretty sizeable game-changer for album fans living outside of Korea. Due to the California giant’s insane worldwide reach, most K-Pop releases make it onto iTunes, and that phenomenon translates to Apple Music streaming availability almost one-to-one. So if you have a membership you can now browse the delights and the duds of K-Pop’s longer form to your heart’s content. For real.

As usual the list is split into two top fives – one for Mini Albums (your EPs, basically) and one for Full Albums, which qualify when they contain eight or more tracks (like LPs, yo). Also, there are a couple of albums that would have made this list – Big Bang’s MADE and iKon’s Welcome Back – had their labels not insisted these releases “aren’t complete yet”. So I gave them the benefit of the doubt for next year.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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MINI ALBUMS
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5. Pink Funky – MAMAMOO

MAMAMOO’s early momentum continued in 2015 with a huge number of individual member collaborations, MV releases and infectiously energetic live performances, and they backed it all up with a strong mini-album that can sit nicely next to their incredible debut EP. The songs plug into MAMAMOO’s duelling styles with panache, leading off with brazen brass loops and Moonbyul hip-hop on Freaking Shoes, sailing through squeaky synths on Um Oh Ah Yeh , syncing up with their flagship retro concept on No No No and then hitting it out of the park on the Sunday afternoon jam Self Camera. Even the comparatively generic ballad A Little Bit and the hook-lite Esna vehicle Ahh Oop! are improved by rounding out this fun sophomore effort.


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Best of 2015: Top 10 Gaming Moments

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It follows that an insanely good year for games means an insanely good year for gaming moments, and that was definitely true for 2015. From incredible story beats that stuck in the heads of many, to smaller touches that blew away expectations, to personal milestones unique to each player, this year bred positive videogame talking points at a wonderfully consistent rate. Here are the ten that stuck out the most for me.

Most of these are not story-related, but there are spoilers here for certain games.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

SPOILERS DEFINITELY FOLLOW.
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10. What Makes You S.P.E.C.I.A.L? – Fallout 4

I didn’t get very far in Fallout 4, for a swathe of complicated reasons that can easily be summarised in the phrase “It wasn’t for me.” But that doesn’t change the fact that the game handles its weirdly lengthy install in a classy, fitting and very entertaining way. Armed with a grainy filter straight out of a 1950s movie theatre and some superbly drawn black and white animation, the game introduces you to each of the seven sections of your in-game skill tree via a series of whimsical – and brutal – vignettes that are great fun to watch. Depending on the speed of your hard drive and the platform on which you play, you may find that the length of these consecutive clips matches up almost exactly with your install time, which is a nice bonus.

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Best of 2015: Top 10 Movie Scenes

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Even in a year when my free time was spent on more games than movies, this still remains my favourite list to write. 2015 delivered some genuinely amazing movie scenes that stayed long in my memory, and I know I’m not alone in feeling that way. From short-and-sweet bursts of stunning cinematography to long, drawn-out stretches of nerve-shredding cinema, this past year brought us plenty of moments worth talking about.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

SPOILERS DEFINITELY FOLLOW.
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10. Day of the Dead – Spectre

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An entertaining opening action sequence in a James Bond movie is hardly unusual, even in the less popular movies from the franchise. The one that kicks off Spectre sticks with the trend, presenting the illusion of a single tracking shot that follows Bond and his local companion through the streets of Mexico City. Only diegetic sounds and a simple, steady percussion track score the build-up as Bond moves into a hotel room and out of his disguise, triggering a gloriously over-the-top sequence of explosions, falling buildings, an intense hand-to-hand battle inside an airborne helicopter, and a ludicrous moment involving a well-placed couch that sets the stage for the kind of 007 movie in store.

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Best of 2015: Top 5 Game Consoles

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Here we go again with my opinion on how the big videogame consoles stacked up against one another over the calendar year. It was a hell of a year for console gaming, and as someone who has access to them all these days, I’ve got to say it was tough at times to choose where I wanted to spend my time playing.

This is a difficult list to explain, as it largely comes down to how I feel about what each console offered to consumers that was unique from its contemporaries. That said, the main quantifiable factors that usually go into this list are volume and quality of console-exclusive games (read: Steam not counted), major console-exclusive features in multi-platform games and any relevant improvements to the experience of using the console made year over year. There’s a lot to say, so let’s go.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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5. Playstation Vita

(LAST YEAR: 5th)

In a year that saw Sony admit its first-party support for the PlayStation Vita was all but dead, the company’s third-party relationships really came through for the beautiful console in a big way. If you’re a fan of high-profile indie games and/or interesting Japanese fare, the Vita had you covered in spades throughout 2015. A PlayStation Plus subscription was just about enough to keep Vita owners covered for fun and intriguing experiences over the course of the year, as exclusive or not, there are few digital games I can bring to mind that don’t improve just by being on Sony’s magnificent handheld. I played Broken Age, Grim Fandango Remastered, Lost Dimension, Hatoful Boyfriend and Stein’s Gate on Vita in 2015 and couldn’t imagine playing them any other way.

Of course the bona fide exclusives were few and far between – pretty much just Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls and Persona 4: Dancing All Night in terms of exclusives that made any waves whatsoever – and the Vita-playing experience didn’t really change in a meaningful way. So unfortunately I can’t match my enthusiasm for the handheld in 2015 with a high position on this list. It sucks that the Vita also suffered a discouraging number of delays this year, both in the port and original game categories. I just want Severed to come out, already!

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Best of 2015: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

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It’s really difficult for me to keep up with K-Pop these days. The scene moves through songs, groups, soloists and promotion cycles as fast as ever, and as I keep harping on about this week, I have far less free time these days to take any of it in. I thought I might need to drop the music out of my life in order to keep doing the other things I enjoy throughout 2015, but luckily I didn’t have to, thanks to a little podcast called This Week in K-Pop (plug time), a twice-monthly audio show put together by two Americans living in Korea that showcases and critiques new K-Pop releases of both mainstream and a slightly lesser-known nature.

Combined with a meaty morning and evening commute, this meant I was able to keep building my usual K-Pop single countdown list throughout the year, and even do so from a wider pool than ever before. As a result I actually had a full top 15 ready to go way back in early August. From then on, it was a bit of a headache to decide what new additions would leave and what would stay, leaving me with possibly my most carefully constructed list since I started doing this three years ago.

By and large, it was the beats that defined 2015’s Korean pop music output. After a constantly tumultuous, frequently uninspired, often dull and occasionally tragic 2014 for the Korean popular music industry, 2015 proved that the wildly successful, still-young subsection of world music was more than capable of reinventing itself and delivering surprises. K-Pop’s so-called “identity” is now more difficult to categorise in Western terms than ever, as it continues to stretch its tendrils into heavier contemporary EDM backing tracks, quirky samples and widely spreading subgenres while refusing to back away from the ’90s-inspired idol group structures, creative knife-point choreography and insanely high production values that have defined it from the very beginning.

Short version: K-Pop was back in a big way in 2015.

As always, no album B-sides or non-Korean language songs from K-Pop artists are eligible for this list – generally only songs with MVs (music videos) appear, even though that meant I had to scratch some really good Infinity Challenge/Unpretty Rapstar songs this year. As always I have taken said MVs into consideration when ordering the list, but ultimately the song itself is the biggest contributing factor, and I tried to keep that in mind at all times. Also, this year I just went ahead and made my previous “unwritten rule” an official one – no more than one song from an artist or group can make it on. Now I’ve waffled on long enough, so let’s watch some K-Pop videos.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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15. Wiggle Wiggle – Hellovenus

We might as well kick things off with the earliest song of the year to appear on this list – It dropped on January 8th 2015, hot on the heels of a viral video featuring the girls of Hellovenus practicing a dance cover of Jason Derulo’s Wiggle. And despite how opportunistic and cynical the move was, it resulted in an incredibly catchy song with a thumping club beat that would set the stage for similar bass-dominated hits in the year to come.

And yeah, this isn’t the “real” music video, because the actual one is easily of the tackiest, cheapest quality, most poorly edited MVs I have ever seen (it’s here if you really want to watch it).
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Best of 2015: Top 10 Movie Characters

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I entered this year’s run of countdowns resigned to the somewhat depressing knowledge that my schedule would prevent me from watching any Boxing Day films, but at the very least that allows for one positive: I no longer have anything stopping me from spreading out my movie-themed countdowns throughout the ten day period, rather than bunching them up towards the post-December 26th half. So I’m going to cling to that positive, and show you my favourite movie characters from 2015.

This isn’t a lengthy or particularly competitive list – Out of what I watched this year I could only come up with one honorable mention – but I do think it’s a strong list nonetheless. Hollywood put some pretty magnetic characters onto the big screen in 2015, and it’s good to see that for once, it wasn’t just the villains that got all the good moments and lines. There are more “good guys” and morally ambiguous folk on my character list this year than any previous edition, so take that how you will.

Also, give that I’m talking about what makes characters memorable, mild spoilers will come up.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

SPOILERS FOLLOW.
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10. M – Spectre

Ralph Fiennes is one of those actors who tends to improve the quality of most movies he’s in, which made him a fine choice to replace Dame Judi Dench in a role that she had well and truly made her own for almost two decades. Fiennes’ M is just as visibly affected by outside pressures in Spectre as Dench’s ever was, but his penchant for keeping up appearances is more prominent, making his seething rage at both his political situation and the cocky young upstart at its head tremendous fun to watch. He bares his troubles through gritted teeth and then, when he finally gets to take action, the catharsis is palpable.

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Best of 2015: Top 5 Gaming Trends

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Time for a brand-new list. As much as I’ve enjoyed writing the list that has been in this slot for the last three years, my Top 10 Game Cases, I found that I had to come up with a smaller list this time around to make up for the forced expansion of another list later on. And on that intentionally vague note, let’s talk about some of my favourite trends that defined 2015 in videogames.

No real qualifying conditions to mention here – These are just some of the patterns that I noticed forming in and amongst all the announcements, news and actual content that found its way onto gaming machines all around the world this past year.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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5. Games Actually Worked

2015 wasn’t just a massive improvement over 2014 in the videogame sphere because of the sheer volume of great releases. It was also a gigantic improvement in the way said games performed. Perhaps it was a product of all the big-name delays out of last year, but the titles to which gamers were treated this year actually ran fairly smoothly with very little catastrophic bugs to speak of. Sure, there was the odd exception, but they were just that – exceptions. Compared to the veritable parade of dead-set unfinished late 2014 games, 2015 was a breath of fresh air, and as much as it sucks that this is worth talking about at all, credit where credit is due.

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Best of 2015: Top 10 Disappointments

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Let’s get this 100-mile-an-hour time of year started with some good old fashioned negativity, shall we?

It doesn’t really feel like 2015 was a particularly disappointing year in entertainment media, at least not in terms of things that weren’t my own fault (such as the fact that I barely saw any movies this year due to the relative lack of gigantic blockbusters). I can’t really think of too many releases that fell far below my own expectations quality-wise, but there was enough ancillary stuff going on around those releases to fill a list. The list is very heavily skewed towards videogames this year, but when there were so very many big ones released, you might say such a trend was inevitable. Maybe. Anyway, here we go.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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10. The Order’s Beautiful Failure

After a 2014 that saw Microsoft’s lead console trounce Sony’s in the exclusive games department – despite lagging behind in sales – 2015 looked set to be the year that Sony hit back. And it was going to hit back very early. February saw the release of The Order: 1886, quite simply the best-looking game that had come out on either major console at the time. The story was intriguing, the weapons looked cool, and the game received a ton of marketing support. And it was over very, very quickly. A game with a largely repetitive combat loop that I finished in a single day – something very rare indeed – The critical consensus on The Order: 1886 was not particularly kind. The general internet reaction was, predictably, much worse. I don’t think it was a bad game per se – The story and gunplay were decent enough to pull me through the whole game, after all – but no replay value or extra content to speak of is pretty hard to justify with a full-priced retail game in today’s climate. The Order: 1886 certainly failed to live up to its billing as the PS4’s first exceptional exclusive title – nope, apparently that came a month later with Bloodborne.
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