Not Everything Is Terrible: My 2016 Year In Review
I’ve had enough of hearing about death and politics and war and ignorance. 2016 was more than that. So here’s all the things I enjoyed most…
I’ve had enough of hearing about death and politics and war and ignorance. 2016 was more than that. So here’s all the things I enjoyed most in 2016, what I learned, and the moments I’ll remember for years to come.
Favorite Movie of 2016: Moana, by Walt Disney Animation Studios, directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. This movie had a greater scope and bigger stakes than any Disney film in recent memory, or most recent animated films for that matter. When Moana looked up at the stars, I felt the massiveness of the world she was in. When she sang, I felt the longing and the fears and the dreams she had. And then there was a breathtaking lava monster and an epic battle to top it all off. Bravo, Disney.
Biggest Movie Surprise of 2016: The fact that I didn’t really care for Kubo and the Two Strings, or at least not nearly as much as I thought I would. The trailers made it look to me like the beautiful, epic, and narratively daring animated film I’d always wanted. After leaving the theater, though, I felt largely disappointed. Of course, visually it was beautiful, and the music was great, and I generally had a good time. But the story felt too generic and done-before for me to really get swept up into it. Everything I thought would happen, happened, and the things I didn’t expect to happen weren’t very interesting or satisfying to me. I could see the same argument made about Moana, but the difference for me was in the characters, who I found far more interesting, sympathetic, and three-dimensional in Moana — not to mention its basically flawless pacing and overall execution. Ultimately, Moana ended up being for me what I had hoped Kubo would be.
Number of Movies Watched This Year (Including Rewatches): 70
Memorable moments from throughout the year:
Seeing The Big Short with my mom at a fancy theater with electric reclining chairs
Seeing 10 Cloverfield Lane in New York City with my dad
Watching Coraline for the first time with a bunch of my friends in the basement of one of the university dorms
Watching Into the Abyss on Netflix and hearing Werner Herzog say “Please describe an encounter with a squirrel.”
Finally getting a fantastic Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War.
Being very pleasantly surprised by Zootopia.
Completely adoring Finding Dory and getting to see it with my family near the ocean.
Laughing at the absurdity of Grease.
Finally watching Rushmore and thoroughly enjoying it, especially its soundtrack, and especially “Ooh La La” by Faces.
Finally seeing Spotlight and adoring it even when taking into account the subject matter.
Enjoying a Tarantino movie for the first time with Django Unchained.
Watching Oliver Stone’s JFK and writing a satisfying blogpost about it.
The surprise of hearing Foo Fighters’ “Home” played completely straight, in its entirety, in a genuinely moving scene from Shaun the Sheep: The Movie.
The heartbreaking beauty (and equally beautiful score) of The Imitation Game.
Falling in love with Moana, singing Lin Manuel-Miranda’s praises once again, learning that Dwayne Johnson can totally sing, etc.
Deciding to watch Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice out of boredom and finding it to be my favorite comedy of the year.
Getting a completely satisfying, fun, and thought-provoking Star Wars movie with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
The incredible opening scene and the following twenty minutes of music and cinematography from Damien Chazelle’s La La Land.
Favorite Show of 2016: Gravity Falls on Disney XD, created by Alex Hirsch
Favorite Show I Finally Caught Up With in 2016: Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Cartoon Network (S1–5) and Netflix (S6), created by George Lucas and supervising director Dave Filoni
Most Surprising Show I Watched This Year: Over the Garden Wall on Cartoon Network, created by Patrick McHale
Finally getting “Weirdmageddon, part III” and with it the brilliant, beautifully executed series finale of Alex Hirsch’s Gravity Falls, now one of my favorite television series of all time. (Bonus: the Bill Cipher statue ARG that happened later in the year, which I got to experience basically in real time via Reddit, Twitter, the community Discord chat, and Periscope.)
Season two of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil, which in my opinion wasn’t as good as the first but basically made up for it with Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of The Punisher.
The excellent season 2 of Star Wars Rebels, ending with what is now one of my favorite episodes of television ever…
…which led me to finally discover the brilliance of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Netflix, especially the season 5 finale and pretty much all of season 6.
Netflix’s surprise hit Stranger Things, which obliterated my fears of it being a lazy nostalgia-driven retread of movies like Stand By Me and ET, instead acting as a loving tribute to those films with a good helping of horror (poor Barb) and plenty of heart and unique characters to call its own.
Discovering the brilliant art, music, and storytelling of Cartoon Network’s Over the Garden Wall. Not something I expected to love so much.
New episodes of Steven Universe, especially the Lapis and Peridot-focused “Same Old World” and “Barn Mates”; the all-musical “Mr. Greg”; the unexpectedly dark episodes “Lost at Sea” and “Bismuth”; the two-part season 3 finale “Back to the Moon/Bubbled”; “Kindergarten Kid,” a great Peridot-centric homage to the classic Road Runner cartoons; “Mindful Education,” an emotional episode with one of this year’s best new SU songs, “Here Comes a Thought,” set to a beautiful sequence of animation by Studio Trigger; “Gem Harvest,” which gives us an interesting look at Greg and Steven’s human family and how cultural differences between humans and gems clash; and the Greg flashback episode “Three Gems and a Baby,” which gives us some more backstory on the crystal gems in particular, as well as how they have changed since the early days without Rose. (I promise I didn’t just list every episode, this show is just that good.)
Netflix’s Luke Cage, especially the soundtrack, Mike Colter’s consistently charming performance as the titular character, and that ROCKET LAUNCHER OUT OF NOWHERE.
HBO’s Westworld, which kept me guessing and provided plenty of good conversation and debate with classmates in my Writing for Games and Interactive Media class this past semester.
Most Listened-To Song of 2016: “Warning Call” by CHVRCHES, from the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst soundtrack
Favorite Album of 2016: the Moana soundtrack by Lin Manuel-Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina
Clapping along to the unbelievably skilled musical stylings of John Batiste and Stay Human during a taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on a trip to New York with my dad
On that same trip to NYC, seeing a show on Broadway for the first time with Jersey Boys
Listening to “Heroes” and “Starman” the day David Bowie died
Hearing a live outdoor orchestra play one of my favorite-ever pieces of music, John Williams' “Cadillac of the Skies” from Empire of the Sun, on the Fourth of July
Getting obsessed with Steam Powered Giraffe’s “Captain Albert Alexander”
The Roots’ version of “My Shot” on The Hamilton Mixtape
Discovering Jessica Curry’s beautiful score to Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Henrik Oja and Frida Johansson’s amazing score to Unravel
Having my breath taken away by the beauty and scale of Lin Manuel-Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina’s soundtrack to Moana. Particular standouts include Auli’i Cravalho’s “How Far I’ll Go,” my favorite song of the film, and finding out that Dwayne Johnson has a great singing voice.
Pretty much the whole soundtrack from La La Land, but specifically the opening number “Another Day of Sun,” the incredibly catchy “Someone in the Crowd,” and Justin Hurwitz’s score to the film’s ending sequence.
Favorite Game Released This Year: This was a weird year for me. It’s a combination of not having played many of my more anticipated games this year (No Man’s Sky was panned, I haven’t yet felt like I’m in a place where playing Inside wouldn’t stress or depress the heck out of me, Final Fantasy XV was only released on consoles that I don’t yet have, I played the beta for Overwatch and enjoyed it but not enough for me to invest $40 in a genre I don’t really care for, and the potential for a Switch port kept me from diving into Pokemon Sun and Moon), not finishing some of the 2016 games I did start (Fire Emblem Fates was fun for a while, but the characters and story didn’t grab me nearly as much as Awakening, and SOMA was fascinating and beautiful, but I couldn’t quite handle the horror aspects), finding that the games I finished were very good in some ways but largely disappointing or frustrating in other ways (Firewatch and The Witness, the latter of which I sunk more hours into than anything else that came out this year, were both amazing games marred by frustration and odd design/narrative choices, at least to me), and using most of my gaming time to catch up on somewhat older games like Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Fallout 4, Batman: Arkham Origins, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (which I still haven’t beaten), and Katamari Damacy. So my favorite game of 2016 is a short, free twine game called The Temple of No! by Crows Crows Crows, which was completely charming, funny, and more innovative and creative than many games twenty times its length. The musical number was particularly great. Runner-up: Jonathan Blow and Thekla Inc.’s The Witness, which, while consistently infuriating in its absurd difficulty spikes, odd design decisions, and complete disappointment of an ending, I have to admit was still full of brilliant puzzle design and beautiful art direction that kept me coming back.
Favorite Backlog Game Played This Year: Fallout 4 by Bethesda — with the caveat that I heavily modded it. I actually already played the main story on a friend’s Xbox One last year, but didn’t branch out into any sidequests because of how much I disliked the new simplified dialogue system and voice-acted protagonist. For my 2016 playthrough on my PC I modded those features out and added some higher-res textures, a weather mod, more music for Diamond City Radio, and some bug fixes and ultrawide monitor visual alterations. Once I made it my own, Fallout 4 was a blast. Runner-up: Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, the game that convinced me the KH spinoffs can be just as good as their mainline counterparts. Awesome combat, great new characters, and Leonard Nimoy and Mark Hamill in the same game.
The unexpected, but beautiful and elegant, text adventure-style opening to Campo Santo’s Firewatch
The series of final boss battles in the Keyblade Graveyard in Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
Getting to try both the Oculus Rift (DK2) and the HTC Vive before consumer versions of either one were released. (Bonus: realizing how terrifyingly huge GlaDOS actually is)
The wonderful musical number sequence in The Temple of No! by Crows Crows Crows
Getting to visit Nintendo NY (formerly Nintendo World Store) and buying my first and currently only Amiibo (for shovelry!)
Playing through Illusseed’s YouTube video game personality high school dating sim Asagao Academy with my friends
Doing a double take upon hearing Florence + The Machine cover “Stand By Me” for the Final Fantasy XV trailer
Successfully singing the bridge from “Hook” by Blues Traveler on Rock Band 4
Running down the street with my older brother the night of Pokemon Go’s North American launch to catch Caterpies
Assembling my first PC build and in the process opening up practically half of my Steam library that my old computer couldn’t handle
Getting dropped right into a pirate ship combat sequence at the beginning of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
The feeling of euphoric, take-that-Jon-Blow triumph after beating “The Challenge” from my most infuriating/innovative/frustrating game of the year, The Witness.
Finally getting the official Nintendo NX/Switch reveal trailer(!)
Installing and playing Batman: Arkham Origins just as the holiday season was starting, not knowing that the game takes place on Christmas Eve
Finally forging the Ultima Weapon after ten years of procrastinating in Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix HD.
The satisfaction of being able to play a game as beautiful and graphically intensive as Batman: Arkham Knight on all the highest settings at 60fps
Becoming the Silver Shroud in Fallout 4
These are the more personal things that happened to me this year that I’m truly grateful for.
I fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams and traveled to New York City, getting to see amazing sights and try lots of delicious food with my dad. The highlight of the trip was probably getting into a live taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. We had to wait in line for a long time, but it was worth it. I also got to have a good visit with one of my oldest friends, who’s been studying theater in NYC at Pace University.
It was suggested to me by an advisor at school that I register with Services for Students with Disabilities on campus, in order to help with my academic difficulties stemming from my struggles with anxiety and depression. This was honestly one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It was the first time I considered that a mental illness, even one like generalized anxiety disorder (my diagnosis) that doesn’t directly affect learning, could be a disability. Even that subtle a shift in perspective proved to be a drastic improvement to my life — I could ask for extra time on assignments without feeling guilty about it, I could arrive late to class without fear of penalty (rather than not going to class at all, out of anxiety about walking in late), and I could more easily accept my academic slip-ups as products of my mental illness instead of some perceived inherent personal inadequacy. All my teachers this year have been kind and accommodating, and without registering my disability I likely would have failed out of college.
Over the summer I went to a renaissance fair for the first time with a bunch of my best friends. It was super awesome.
I moved into my first apartment this year, marking the first time I’ve truly lived by myself. While there have been some persistent maintenance issues involving a leaking ceiling and other miscellaneous repairs, overall I’ve loved the newfound freedom and security I’ve found now that I always have a place entirely to myself. Plus, my balcony has a nice view of the Austin sunset.
Academically speaking, I finished all my lower-division major classes this past summer, and have finally moved on to upper-division courses in topics that interest me — this past semester alone I took a drawing class for fun, a computer graphics class where I got to dabble in animation and building video games, and a class titled “Writing for Games and Interactive Media” where I had an awesome professor with lots of experience writing for successful and acclaimed games — and made a bunch of like-minded friends with whom I had great conversations and debates about game design and narrative.
Speaking of which, this year also marked the first time I ran a tabletop RPG as GM, a Star Wars themed game about smugglers and refugees, played by good friends who were more than willing to let me stumble through our first few sessions. It was challenging and intimidating but crazy fun.
Now that I’m 21, I drank beer, wine, rum, and hard cider for the first time, and also found out I’m not big on alcoholic beverages. I also tried to grow a beard. It was okay at best. Back to shaving! Oh and I also built a PC with my dad and a good friend.
In 2016 I voted in a presidential primary and the November election for the first time, which was awesome. For the sake of my happiness and sanity I won’t address the outcome.
After seeing Rogue One on opening night I was interviewed by a local TV news cameraman about it, and woke up the next day to find that I had been officially designated “JACK FORD: STAR WARS FAN” on television. Year = made.
This Christmas I donated money to a charity that’s become pretty close to my heart, and that has actually helped me personally in the past. Crisis Text Line provides a free 24/7/365 service for anyone that just needs to talk and get help moving from a state of crisis (in my case, a panic attack) to a state of calm, armed with the knowledge and resources they need to continue forward, and get further help if necessary. On a related note, in dealing with my own struggles I’ve found a new empathy for people with disabilities and a sort of passion for promoting accommodations for and diverse representation of them. Of us? Of us. (I’ve created a YouTube playlist of videos I like surrounding these topics, if anyone wants to check it out.)
2016 was a tough year for so many people — a year of tragedy for culture, for politics, for refugees, for victims of violence and discrimination. But even at the darkest times I was blessed to be surrounded by hope, surrounded by the kindness of family and friends and professors and strangers alike, surrounded by the beauty of nature and art and human achievement, surrounded by the unassailable hope of individuals fighting for what they believe is right in the face of daunting odds, surrounded by people caring for other people above all else. In 2017, I resolve to surround other people with the same love and hope and beauty and determination to preserve it all that I witnessed this year. In 2017 I refuse to give in to the odds against love. In 2017 I will keep going. I will fight. And love will win.