Stephan’s Top 10 Movies of 2020

Obviously, 2020 sucked ass- especially for moviegoers.

The theatre is one of my favourite places to be and the optimal setting to experience a film. In 2019 I was spoiled, I saw over 40 movies on the big screen (all with my amazing girlfriend), and thought the good times would roll on. But this year, despite our own movie fan prime minister winning reelection at the end of 2019 and the correct rapist winning the election south of the border in 2020, we were still only able to see a few films in theatres at the start of the year and a brief window in the summer when Nova Scotia had zero cases for several weeks… but it didn’t last.

Our very nice Prime Minister in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020).

So I, like many film fans and film studios, turned to streaming services to salvage the year. While I’d never pay $30 to see another bastardized live action remake of an animated Disney classic (with all the great songs taken out) I did subscribe to Disney+ and shared it with my mom to start paying back the decade of Netflix I’ve mooched. Between Disney+, Netflix and Prime Video I still managed to watch a lot of 2020 movies, and I’m bending my rules a little to include a few films from the very end of 2019 I only got around to this year because they’re just so goddamn good.

So here are my top 10 films from the hellish year we’ve had, and fingers crossed for another unprofitable year for the morally bankrupt, monopolistic Disney corporation in 2021.

Oh, and if you don’t like reading then here’s a video I spent way too much time on.

Enjoy reading, nerd!

Like most filmgoers of taste, I enjoy British culture at an arm’s length, ideally through the lens of a self-absorbed British director and definitely not set during the nation’s weird hat era (sorry, Emma). That made The Gentlemen, a crime thriller about a druglord’s attempt at retirement, the perfect big blockbuster British film for me. The action slaps, the lads are chads and it’s all retold through the silky voice of Charlie Hunnam. Well, that right there’s a good time.

The Gentlemen has some style, and some cringe which I’ve been informed isn’t so much cringe as mainstream British hip-hop culture but uh, be warned. I really dug the action in this movie, it’s dumb it’s fun and I’m also partial to Matthew McConaughey ever since Interstellar so that might be clouding my judgement a little but hey, it’s on Netflix, give it a watch.

This is essentially the 2-hour version of that vine of the football coach asking what’s better than this? Filmed right here on the East Coast, The Lighthouse is a mind-warping dive into isolation and insanity that hit a little close to home being viewed during the self-isolating year many of us had. Don’t let the arthouse, black and white and 4:3 aspect ratio turn you off, there’s so much depth (get it) to this perilous tale of two men trapped in their own little hell under the ever-watching eye of the Lighthouse.

William Dafoe wins my unofficial award for most amazing facial expressions in a movie (most likely ever) and I loved how easily and jarringly he could transition from endearing and funny to terrifying and bone-chilling in a single scene. Robert Pattinson is cool too, a young foil to Dafoe’s old madman vibes. I don’t know how it ended, I don’t think I fully understood everything that happened, but I definitely know I loved it.

Chadwick Boseman’s last two performances of his career were released in 2020. The first is as Stormin’ Norman in Spike Lee’s meandering Da 5 Bloods, a movie I struggled to get through but that’s no fault of Boseman. The second is as aspiring blues band composer and trumpeter Levee in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which released posthumously this December and in so many ways adds a bittersweet tone to Boseman’s final performance.

Directed by playwright George C. Wolfe, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom really feels like a play in how its scenes are set and its many monologues delivered. Across just a few sets Boseman puts everything into each word, each movement. He slides across the room and pushes through every scene with such charisma and captivating delivery I cannot believe he filmed this whole movie while he had stage four colon cancer.

Carried by Boseman and an amazing cast in Viola Davis, Colman Domingo and the hilarious and heartbreaking Glynn Turman as Toledo, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is in no way an easy watch and nor should it be. I also can’t help thinking how fitting that Boseman was able to get his acting career started at the Oxford Summer Program in 1998 because of donations from Denzel Washington, and then ended his career in a film Denzel produced. It’s almost poetic.

It took Pixar twenty-five years but they seem to have finally realized black characters can exist outside of a side character for comic relief. With Soul, the prolific animation studio has finally delivered a story not only about a black character and his lifelong dreams of becoming a famous jazz pianist, but a story about the black community that surrounds him. While they still won’t let this black character be himself for the majority of the movie, presumably because black men aren’t as marketable as cute blueish blobs or adorable cats named Mr Mittens, and they only let audiences experience blackness through the lens of a white-coded perspective, they still delivered a visually stunning film exploring the dreams we set for ourselves and the challenging yet worthwhile process of reexamining who we want to be at all parts of life.

Soul resonated with my girlfriend and I, touching on conversations we’d had many times about why we’re doing what we do, what we want out of life and whether or not it matters if we know the answer to either. I’ve always loved Pixar’s standalone films more than their watered-down sequels, and Soul further cemented my belief this studio is at their best when they’re pushing new ground, exploring new perspectives and giving the mic to new voices.

Okay well not new voices, it stars Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey… but new characters, rather than cashing out on nostalgia.

I’d recommend further reading Charles Pulliam-Moore’s piece Soul Feels Like Pixar’s First Black Movie Made With White People in Mind for a better critique about the way this film treats its black characters than I could ever make.

Pitched as a loose retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, The Half of It is another cheesy, heartfelt teen rom-com that I’ve found myself enjoying more and more the further I get from my own high school years. For those who’ve followed my Top 10 Movie lists in recent years you’ll remember the dumb fun I had watching Netflix’s To All the Boys I Loved Before, and while that film had a sequel this year I found myself drawn to this highschool drama instead.

Starring Leah Lewis as Ellie Chu, a highschooler picking up the slack for her widower immigrant father, Ellie helps her dad pay the bills by writing papers for her peers, filling in for his job at the train station and cooking small pies she can reheat in the evenings. She has a crush on a girl Aster in her class but lacks the confidence to do anything about it, so when another classmate Paul asks Ellie to write love letters for him to give to Aster she initially refuses until Paul offers to pay just like his peers pay for papers. The tangle of love, lies and growth that follow warmed the cockles of my cold, cynical heart- and maybe it’ll do the same for you.

Lindsey Ellis argued in one of her last essays of the year that Borat as a character works even better in 2020 than he did in 2006. Truth be told I didn’t even see the first Borat until earlier this year when my friend Chris found out neither my girlfriend or I had and I got to see where all those memes and quotes I’d been seeing my whole life originated.

There’s some truth to Ellis’ argument. After the election of Trump and the complete breaking down of any legitimacy our political and cultural “leaders” (including Borat) actually have there’s no way to satirize a world like ours anymore, really. So with Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Cohen and his new companion rip across the US of A reminding us all these are just people. We’re all just people and how we treat one another that matters.

I kept thinking of this quote I heard on a podcast earlier this year:

“The great unasked question in our public life is, ‘Given my role here, how should I behave. Given that I’m a journalist, politician or a parent, what should I do in this situation.’

That’s the question I bet that the people that you most respect seem to ask that question, in moments of decision. And the people who most drive you crazy seem like they never ask that question, and everything they do makes it clear they didn’t asked that question first.”

Everyone in this film either asks, or doesn’t ask, this question. These contrasts expose the division more than who voted for who. I think the lesson of this film is that we should all try to ask this question a lot more.

Oh, and the holocaust definitely did happen.

As I’ve seen Jeremy Kaplowitz say time and time again when Christoper Nolan comes up, “he just makes big fun goofy blockbusters,” and I couldn’t agree more. The common theme throughout Nolan’s work is time, from Momentos to Tenet I’m amazed he finds new ways to play with this theme in bigger and bigger budget ways. And while most of the shots in Tenet that I thought were dope was basically normal footage played in -1x, I still hung on every shot like my cat when a bird is on the TV.

There are so many stupid lines in this movie that have been pointed out on Twitter ad nauseam by now and I won’t pretend this script isn’t dumb as balls at times. To the point I can say lines before the character on screen does, a habit I think pisses off my girlfriend more than anything else I do at the theatre. But I simply don’t care. This blockbuster is big, goofy and fun and coincidentally stars another Robert Pattinson foil character I really loved, he’s just killing it lately.

I relentlessly mock the anime fans in my life for their poor choice in entertainment. It’s not fair and needlessly cruel but they understand. After all, anime was a mistake. But where underage girls in school skirts turn many like me away from anime shows, I’ve watched a few anime movies that managed to really hit me in a way a real movie would (just teasing). One such film was CoMix Wave’s 2017 bombshell Your Name. So when I learned the studio’s next film was releasing and actually showing in my local theatre, I hopped on it without even seeing a trailer.

Weathering with You didn’t hit me nearly as hard as Your Name., but it still sported an endearing and funny script (enjoyed best with subtitles, of course) and magical animation that played with wet and water in some really beautiful ways. I’m out of my element in anime and I think that might contribute to my enjoyment of the few I do watch, but even the anime aficionados in my life spoke highly of this film so I’d encourage you to check it out if you’re an anime sceptic like myself or weeb trash like my friends.

Bending the rules cause it’s my list and I dunno, I’ll do whatever I want, I want to give a huge shoutout to all the Pixar shorts released this year for being some of the most gorgeous, heartwarming bits of animation I had the pleasure of watching this year.

Loop captures the frustration of trying to communicate to those who are different than us, and how it can be immensely rewarding to find common ground.

Out is a rollicking look at the struggle of being yourself with those you love most, and the fear they won’t accept us.

And Burrow, especially after the year we’ve endured, showed me that only through working together with those around us can we all thrive.

They’re all on Disney+, and I hope you’ll cuddle up to someone you love and give them a watch.

It might not mean much for some when I say this, but gambling addict Howard Ratner is unequivocally Adam Sandler’s best performance in his entire career. I think Sandler’s been coasting on his few early hits and pumping out abysmal Netflix movies in recent years, but he fucking nails it in this nerve-wracking, incredibly compelling roller coaster of stressful, tense standoffs and devilish cons.

I did experience Uncut Gems incredibly high which may or may not have impacted my enjoyment of it, who’s to say. I will never watch this film ever again in order to preserve my one, perfect viewing experience but I have it on good authority the film still owns sober so check it out if you like risky wagers and/or want to understand all the Sandler memes you may have seen and not understood this year.

Oh, and that ending, come on!


Thank you so much for reading! I’d love to know what you think of my list, if there’s a movie you’re going to check out now or one you think I missed that I should try and watch. I really appreciate every person who takes the time to read my work and I’d love to know what you think in the comments below!

Stephan’s Top 10 Games of 2019

2019 was a year of conflict in the games industry and community. We witnessed the start of a war for the very heart of PC Gaming’s soul as fiery Steam fanboys fought tooth and nail against clicking a different icon on their desktop. We saw developers endure horrific online abuse for accepting financial support from Epic to help create their games in exchange for timed exclusivity. I personally don’t care what launcher my games launch from, as long as they launch and they’re good but what do I know. There’s also amazing indie titles free on Epic every week so maybe Steam users just get off on dumping money into Gabe’s bank account…

The games industry is reaching the place the film industry did in the 40s and 50s when growing workplace mismanagement and abuses pushed workers to form labour movements that led to film crews and actors unionizing. We’re seeing organizations like Game Workers Unite have huge groundswells of support and official trade unions being established, most notable being Game Workers Unite UK which has received support and solidarity from other long-standing unions in the incresingly not-united United Kingdom.

The first official Game Developers Union in the world! 🇬🇧🎮💪

All of this will continue into 2020, as big money from companies like Epic disrupts the Steam monopoly and union-busting efforts from studios like EA and Activision push a deeper division into the heart of the games industry. But while all this is happening, studios are still making games. And a lot of the ones made by indie developers are actually good!

So through all the muck and drama of the past year, I want to highlight the top-notch games I got a chance to play. Experiences that I think show off the best of this medium and anyone who hasn’t heard of or tried should notice. I played 50 video games released this year and curated a selection of my 10 favourites to share with you.

I also tried making a video this year to accompany this post, and ended up spending way too much time on it.

I hope you enjoy!

~ 10 ~

If you put Super Metroid in front of someone for the first time, after that person has played a platformer or Metroidvania developed with more modern design sensibilities like Guacamelee! or Hollow Knight, they probably won’t enjoy it. But what Super Metroid, and the nostalgia it carries for so many people, represents is the isolating feeling of exploration, the gradual powering up of one’s abilities and the tense boss fights won with a sliver of health remaining, barely achieving victory after failing so many times before. All of that is captured in Gato Roboto, and it actually feels good to play.

You’re a cat, you’ve crashed your captain’s ship by sitting on the keyboard and now you’ve got to suit up and save the day. Dive into the beautiful monochromatic laboratory on which you’ve crashed and explore the winding corridors, one platform at a time. Gato Roboto doesn’t fuss around, you know what you’re doing from the get-go and it delivers tight platforming, great little boss fights and an hilarious script I think anyone can appreciate. Platforming sections are mixed up by forcing players to exit their cat mech suit to progress through certain areas making you incredibly underpowered and the game becomes a bit of a bullet-hell. It’s tight, cheap and well worth your time, especially if you love speedrunning or finding every collectable in the world’s many nooks and crannies.

~ 9 ~

You don’t really understand what you do in Superliminal until you see it in action. By moving objects around a space from a first-person perspective you change the size of those objects relative to where you moved them from. This is the core mechanic you’ll then use to solve increasingly bizarre, brain-busting and sometimes hilarious puzzles through the game’s 2-3 hour playtime.

I beat Superliminal in one sitting, and in an industry increasingly valuing quantity over quality when it comes to what you’re doing moment to moment one of my favourite things a game can do is present an interesting premise, mechanism or style (in this case all three) and deploy it in a game that doesn’t drag on for 50 fucking hours to justify price of admission. It’s interesting, it’s deliberately designed not to waste my time and it gets in and out before it can become boring. Bravo.

~ 8 ~

I forgave this game’s abysmal performance on my Xbox One because of how awesome it was. I sat through minutes-long load times, a stuttering frame rate and a few crashes because this game is fucking rad (and I’ve seen how it’s supposed to work on PC). I loved just floating around the Bureau of Control, discovering each of this game’s amazing side-missions, collecting and reading redacted company files and mowing down the game’s antagonists called “the hiss” with Control’s exceptional third-person combat.

I’ve never seen Twin Peaks, the television series everyone keeps comparing this game to, but I think I’d enjoy it if the story is nearly half as engaging as Control’s psychedelic, 4th wall breaking adventure through a pseudo-FBI headquarters. I’ve also heard that Twin Peaks closes off with a disappointing, unsatisfying conclusion to its story… and it also shares that with Control– although with the teased Alan Wake crossover DLC I think they’re prepping something more interesting to close out with.

~ 7 ~

I’m hard-pressed to name another game this year that had me laughing out loud all by my lonesome the way this one did. It’s an incredibly sincere and almost childish game that bares the personality and wit of its writer and designer: Grace Bruxner. Now, I hate the way our industry creates “auteur” game designer celebrities like Hideo Kojima, David Cage, Tim Schafer and others. While they have all created prolific games, yes, they were aided by teams of dozens and sometimes hundreds of incredibly talented artists, programmers and designers. But Frog Detective, I’m quite comfortable saying, is a Grace Bruxner game- co-developed with Thomas Bowker, of course.

Frog Detective is genuinely one of the most endearing, witty and delightful games I’ve played in years. While I solved the first case back in 2018, Frog Detective returned this year with a new thriller… the case of the invisible wizard. It’s short, about an hour or so to complete, but as I say again and again- games should strive for quality, not quantity. And that hour I played was Quality with a capital ‘Q’. Brilliant writing, terrific characters and an hilarious climax- Frog Detective 2: The Case of the Invisible Wizard applies the old addage “brevity is the soul of wit” to everything but its title.

~ 6 ~

Ah, Grindstone, you beautiful bastard of a game. Free from the multiple premium currencies that plague the matching genre. Unbound by the level design geared to force players into shelling out cash for progress. Untainted by advertisements upon each and every death. You, dear Grindstone, are a beacon of hope in a genre I thought was lost to the freemium marketplace. Only you, Grindstone, could provide me with refuge from the droll of day to day activities like bussing and going to the bathroom.

Grindstone… you gorgeous, disgusting game about strategic monster slashing and satisfying skull bashing. I’ve never put more thought into a loadout in a game but you, with your simple 3 slot setup and dozens of weapons and armours, provide so many strategic options. I shall sing your praises until the end of time! And I shall not renew my AppleArcade subscription until your sequel releases. You’re a damn fine videogame, dear Grindstone, the best mobile game released this year- no matter what The Game Awards say.

~ 5 ~

There’s a point in Untitled Goose Game where you’re instructed to steal a child’s glasses. It seemed simple enough, but to acquire this child’s glasses I had to get him to trip- by untying his shoes. And not only did I trip him, but where we were standing he fell face-first into a puddle. Drenched, battered and now blind I tormented this child, chasing him into a telephone booth so he had to call his mother for help, stealing his toy and putting it back on the store shelf so he had to buy it back from the store owner. This would most definitely be the point in his life a therapist 20 years from will fixate on, drawing all of this person’s anxieties, pain and self-doubt back to this one traumatic day a goose fucked his shit up.

And that’s just one person. Goose fucks up an entire town’s day, and I still don’t know why. The science shows geese aren’t actually that antagonistic, that this aggressive persona is something we’ve projected onto them. So then why? Why traumatize the villagers. Why destroy a priceless vase, push a bucket onto a man’s head, honk to make someone hit their finger with a hammer… for the fun of it? For the fantasy of ruining the lives of so many people and facing no legal recourse? For the thrill of stealing someone’s valuables and hearing the smack of webbed feet as I flee the crime scene, just out of arm’s reach? Yes, actually. That’s exactly why.

~ 4 ~

Before someone starts whining “yOu CaN’t CoUnT A dLc As A gAmE oF tHe YeAr” you should know there’s over 40 new levels in Celeste Chapter 9: Farewell, an entirely new original soundtrack composed by IGF award winner Lena Raine and if you suck as much as I do roughly 20 hours of new content here. That’s enough to be one of those filler, in-between AAA games where the publishers consider it low stakes enough to put black people on the cover.

Celeste Chapter 9 is aptly named “Farewell” as it’s a goodbye from the small team of developers bewildered their 2018 platformer touched as many lives as it did- including mine. But it’s not a goodbye you can receive unless you truly demonstrate you know this game as well as they do. That you understand how wavedash chains and almost pixel-perfect jumps are what make this game one of the tightest platforming experiences ever crafted by mere mortals with computers.

If you’re persistent enough to perfect every screen section by section, almost like a pianist perfecting each bar of a song through repetition, then you will be rewarded. Every time I land at the end of a screen I’ve spent half an hour rehearsing is such an amazing feeling of accomplishment. This chapter is platforming perfection, and with every screen cleared you’ll understand why it’s so deserving of its own spot on the list.

~ 3 ~

You can’t buy a soundtrack for APE OUT– that’s because there isn’t one, or rather no soundtrack composed in the traditional sense. Instead, YOU are the composer- the Ape is your pen, the stylish environments and vistas of this unsuspecting world are your staff and the splattering blood of thrown enemies your ink with which you put the notes down.

Every action you take in APE OUT feeds into the game’s reactive music system, deploying frantic symbol clashes, screeching trumpets and driving drum fills as you ramp up your destruction. At the end of APE OUT you haven’t merely beaten a game. You’ve composed an entire jazz album wholly unique to your playthrough. Every level a one-of-a-kind recording created by your route to freedom, littered with the percussion, bass and brass of your warpath.

This game doesn’t rest on its laurels, although it does feature a gorgeous scratchy art style and frenetic, exhilarating combat. It instead takes a genre that I’ve become oh so familiar with this past decade, top-down action-arcade games, and strips away everything except the pure, unadulterated core. APE OUT puts the primal power of an ape wronged in your hands and begs you to go apeshit on everything and everyone.

~ 2 ~

Late-stage capitalism is truly a hellscape. A growing unstable gig economy, rampant wealth inequality and a laughable housing market where my landlord thinks a 25% rent increase is “appropriate to meet the demands of the current housing market.” But it’s also birthed one of the most polished, most perfect FPS experiences I’ve laid my hands on in Apex Legends, a game I’ve sunk 250+ hours into and haven’t spent a cent on.

That’s right, this fantastic game that gave me so much cost me NOTHING. It gave us the ping system, something I’ve instinctively tried to do in every multiplayer game I’ve played since and been disappointed every time when it was absent. The mid-game respawn that lets you be the clutch teammate who brings it back against all odds (something Fortnite ripped off within weeks, along with the ping system). And who could forget the cast of endearing, hilarious and at times intimidating characters whose personalities struck a chord with my friends and I so hard we still recite lines to each other, even in other games?

If this mecca of diegetic game design served to me for $0 down, subsidized by a microtransaction-fueled marketplace where gamers buy skins for guns they’ll forget about in a year, is another symptom of late-stage capitalism well damn, maybe constant housing anxieties are worth it…

Just kidding they’re absolutely not. Nova Scotia please pass rent control laws soon I’m scared.

~ 1 ~

The world of A Short Hike is not unlike many games I’ve played before. With a range of activities and pastimes very obviously riffing on Animal Crossing, a cast of weird and interesting anthropomorphic characters who very much reminded me of Night in the Woods and a thematic platforming premise serving as an allegory for personal growth that reminded me so much of my favourite game of last year, Celeste. And what a lineup of games to reference.

A Short Hike is Comfort Food: The Game. I know that anytime I feel down or need a pick me up, this game will be there. This is a game I’ll be booting up many times throughout my life to escape the cruel world to fly around its scenic mountainsides and babbling brooks. To fish with my animal friends, dig for treasure and explore the beaches for shells.

A Short Hike is also the game that I think could serve as one of gaming’s great ambassadors to those uninterested in traditional genres like shooters or MMO’s. This game holds a place on my proverbial shelf where I pull off games to recommend to those in my life who want to get into games but can’t master the first-person controls I find instinctive after using for years. A Short Hike earns the top spot on my list by being the very best games can be, and it’s a game that will stand the test of time, looking and feeling just as good in 2029 as it did in 2019.


Thank you so much for reading! I’d love to know what you think of my list, if there’s a game you’re going to check out now or one you think I missed that I should play. I really appreciate every person who takes the time to read my work and I’d love to know what you think in the comments below!

Stephan’s Top 10 Movies of 2019

Over 80% of the 2019 box office revenue went to The Walt Disney Company. The Big Mouse’s Movie Monopoly is proving to be a pretty huge detriment to the film industry, as they churn out so many “live-action” (which I guess means soulless, hyper-realistic animation) remakes of their animated classics to cash in on our collective nostalgia. Or banking on the decade long money-extraction project that has become the Marvel Cinematic Universe, stooping to have Thor sit down for a round of Fortnite©, have Iron Man roll up in his new Audi E-Tron GT Sportscar (available for pre-order now at your local Audi dealership) and have Ant-Man notice Tony’s AXE™ Body Spray for Men.

Even Star Wars wasn’t spared from Disney’s greedy mitts. There was an exclusive setup for Episode IX you could only see in a limited time Fortnite in-game event. Fuck you if you think I’m going to hop into a lobby with a bunch of 12 year-olds to hear Palpatine set up Rey and Finn’s next adventure. I’d have been more pissed if the movie was actually good and I missed out, but…

It’s just a little hard not to get cynical about the state of the movie industry under Disney’s chokehold, you know?

Monopoly: Entertainment Edition

But in that other 20% of the box office this year, in the care of a few bold production companies and innovative filmmakers, there were some fantastic movies released. Some films came from creators whose work I’ve followed and adored for years. But other films I hadn’t heard about before showing up at the theatre that day looking for something to see, and they blew me away.

In total, I saw 40 movies released in 2019, ate probably 2,000 metric tonnes of movie theatre popcorn and many smuggled cheeseburgers. And I did all this to find for you, dear reader, the best films released this year. There’s no need to thank me, for this is my cross to bear. I merely hope you appreciate the immense sacrifice I’ve undertaken to deliver you this definitive list… otherwise known as Stephan’s Top 10 Movies of 2019.

Also I tried making a video this year to accompany, and ended up spending way too much time on it.

Anyways, enjoy reading, nerd!

~ 10 ~

Breaking Bad ended in 2013. I was just entering grade 11, and having binged the shows first 4 glorious seasons to catch up I eagerly anticipated every episode of its final season- including what remains one of my favourite show finale to this day. But in that last scene with Jesse Pinkman speeding away from his life as a meth-making slave I wanted to know: what would he do next? While Better Call Saul filled some of those in-between years with the same high-quality, beautiful television I’d come to love from Breaking Bad– it was missing risk. Prequels never land as hard because you know who lives, who dies, where this all lands. El Camino, retaining all the quality of the show, recaptured that tension with Jesse’s story in the days after Walt’s daring rescue.

I never suspected we’d get a Breaking Bad movie, I thought the show ended with a purposefully ambiguous conclusion to Jesse’s story. And to be honest I was sceptical the film would be as good as the show’s glorious last episode. To be honest, it wasn’t. But it also wasn’t the obvious cash-in I suspected. With flashbacks touching moments all throughout the series and return performances that made me pump my fist like a fan seeing their favourite athlete knock one out of the park, El Camino puts to rest one of my favourite storylines ever to grace the television.

~ 9 ~

Stop-motion animation will never cease to amaze me. Ever since Coraline scared the hell out of an 11-year old Stephan back in 2009 I’ve been amazed by Laika’s ability to create hand-crafted (quite literally) worlds and characters that carry an emotional weight traditional animation can never quite achieve. With Missing Link, Laika and director Chris Butler handed us a delightful little expedition across the globe that, while it wasn’t as tight or memorable a story as Coraline, still delighted. I also can’t stress enough how much I loved Hugh Jackman and Zack Galifianakis bouncing off each other in this film, a severely underused duo in Hollywood.

~ 8 ~

I feel like Booksmart is the movie Good Boys wishes it was. Both coming of age stories, both released in 2019 and both making as much use of their R-rating as possible. But one featuring a witty, insightful perspective on growing up and the other having, well, just weed and dick jokes. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I enjoy both. But why not have weed, dick jokes and a witty, inclusive story featuring a cast of characters that are more than the two-dimensional tropes of fat kid, nerdy kid and main kid?

Booksmart sets itself apart from the raunchy teen party movies I’ve seen dozens of times over by riffing on those films it knows have been done to death. Booksmart opts to celebrate this upcoming generation’s progressive attitudes and mindfulness that has started to define it. Booksmart also marks Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut and if this is what she can whip up on her first go I sincerely hope she gets another shot because I’m sure her filmmaking will continue to be refined and improved.

~ 7 ~

Pain and Glory, or Dolor y gloria in its native language of Español, tells the story of a director looking back on his life and career, contemplating how he wants his story to end. Does he become a drug-addicted tragic artist who dies in an overdose? Does he reconcile with his long lost lover? Does he pick himself up and get back into filmmaking like those closest to him so dearly wish? And does any of it matter anyway? I think these questions, and the introspective story within which they’re explored, hold a lot of value and taught me a great deal about what some struggle with near the end of their life. I (probably) will never be a famous director, nor a beloved actor, but their struggles and pain in pursuit of meaning and purpose are things I struggle with as well. Pain and Glory made me think. I admire movies that make me think.

~ 6 ~

An hour and a half into The Irishman my girlfriend asked “How much time is left?” to which I replied, “2 hours” at which point she groaned and rolled over, pulling out her phone. The Irishman is very, very long. But where other movies this year used their 3-hour runtimes to cram in fanservice and fabulously expensive CGI setpieces, The Irishman used its 3 and a half hour runtime and also fabulously expensive CGI to tell a story of one man de-aged through the power of modern animation, spanning decades of American history and illegitimate dealings. The Irishman makes me wonder what the difference is between the self-serving dealings of the mob, the unions or the government, aside from which side of the law they take place on?

I truly adored this movie. It made me feel like I was back in my living room in 2014, thinking I was so smart and cool for watching The Godfather trilogy. In a way, I think a lot of the discourse this year around Scorcese vs Marvel was really just about people wanting to think they’re smarter than they actually are. Marvel fanboys assigning all this deeper meaning to the superhero films they adore and Scorcese diehards feeling morally superior because the star of The Irishman is a geriatric ex-mobster coping with the loneliness his life of crime has left him in and that’s pretty deep if you think about it.

Pouty Robert DeNiro 😦

But Scorcese was wrong when he said Marvel movies aren’t “cinema,” mainly because, well, they’re released in cinemas. He’s right in his wariness of the Marvel behemoth, something I share and explained at the top of this post. The MCU is low-stakes, tried and true stories regurgitated every couple months to fill seats and sell plastic collector’s cups. Scorcese explained in a New York Tiems Op-Ed that, “If people are given only one kind of thing and endlessly sold only one kind of thing, of course they’re going to want more of that one kind of thing.” So I’m glad he’s out here making different things, things he admits wouldn’t get greenlit without Netflix support, another production behemoth except they don’t challenge Disney at the box office.

I’m not sure Scorcese has that much of a claim to being bolder or riskier than Disney when The Irishman stars two veteran, award-winning actors and is based on a successful book… but no one pulled up in a sportscar wearing Axe to play Fortnite and tease the next 10 years of “The Irishmen” cinematic universe, so, there is that. Based on my own personal bias I liked The Irishman more because of all the mobsters. I fucking love mobsters.

~ 5 ~

Midsommar wins the award for movie of 2019 that made me say “what the fuck” the most. Anyone who’s seen director Ari Aster’s previous film Hereditary (2018) shouldn’t be surprised. When you think back to Hereditary, to “the car” scene and all the creepy fuckery that transpired you get an idea what you’re in for with Midsommar. There are scenes from this film permanently seared into my brain like a hand pressed onto a hot stove… But any movie can make these moments, the Final Destination franchise is infamous for them and I wouldn’t consider them “good” movies. Where Midsommar stands apart is channelling these moments into an allegory for relationships, and how devastating it can be when they all fall apart.

According to Aster, Midsommar is a movie about a breakup. Breakups are often horrific events, and I think this genre provides a space for dissecting the range of emotions that happen during a breakup better than any other. Midsommar is a teeth-gritting, stomach-turning film with that doesn’t rely upon cheap jump scares or gore for the sake of it. Instead, Aster uses the steady building horrors to slowly unravel the human cost of dishonesty, of selfishness and emotional abuse.

There was a joke going around during the time Midsommar was in theatres that you could tell how a couple’s relationship was doing by looking at each of their reactions to how the protagonist was being treated… and I’m sure there are several relationships ended in the days and weeks after this film released because of what it revealed. That’s some powerful cinema.

Another horror director I admire a great deal, Jordan Peele, said in an interview that “The reason [horror films] work, why they get primal, audible reactions from us is because they allow us to purge our own fears and discomforts in a safe environment. It’s like therapy. You deal with deep issues that are uncomfortable with the hope that there is a release.” Midsommar builds to the most grandiose, fantastical moment of release I saw on the big screen this year.

~ 4 ~

I’m 22 years old. But in my short time in this life I’ve sat by the bedside of several dying members of my family. I’ve held their hands and looked into their eyes. Some couldn’t speak to me, they just stared as tears rolled down their cheeks. Others commented on how quick the time goes, how I should treasure every second I have left. It was devastating, and also created some of the most vivid memories of my life so far.

Movies… are bad at death. Or rather, they make death seem way cooler then it actually is. No one gets to say something quippy first, no one gets to clutch their loved one’s hand while they whisper their final words of wisdom. People just die, unceremoniously and without most people noticing.

Paddleton is about death, and it understands death better than any film I’ve ever seen. The film opens with best friends (and neighbours) Michael and Andy living their totally average lives. Eating oven-cooked pizzas while watching their favourite Samurai movies, arguing over films and music, solving puzzles and walking to the abandoned lot where they play their favourite made-up game: Paddleton. But Michael has cancer and it’s terminal. So he decides to get a prescription, a prescription for some drugs he’ll take at home to end his life. The only pharmacy that’ll provide the drugs is a few days away, so he asks Andy to go with him.

The premise is simple, and it’s heartbreaking. What ensues is a painfully ordinary road trip to a pharmacy, with two grown men struggling to come to terms with what’s coming. For Michael, his death. For Andy, the loss of his best and only friend. The film balances this painful tone against the sarcasm and at times resentful discussions the men have. And when the time comes it isn’t a grand moment with a grand speech or a profound statement. It’s a human moment, one of the best in film and makes Ray Romano as Andy my pick for most underrated performance of 2019.

~ 3 ~

I saw Knives Out twice in theatres and it’s the only movie this year I appreciated even more upon a second viewing. From the very first screen, themes are being foreshadowed. Pitched to audiences as a “whodunnit” wherein a quirky detective reminiscent of Poirot without a moustache or Holmes if he wasn’t an asshole, the film stars Daniel Craig as the delightful detective Benoit Blanc. Every moment of Blanc onscreen put a huge smile on my face, it’s probably my favourite performance in a film this year. 

But his stellar performance isn’t the reason I enjoyed this movie so much, even more so the second time around. Director, producer, writer and general movie magician Rian Johnson put so much care into every line in this film, every set and scene is deliberate, trying to tell you something more about the characters on screen and their motives. The way he telegraphs events to come through what seems like a throwaway line or simple prop makes me feel like there’s still more I missed.

And on top of all that Johnson manages to sneak in a scathing critique of our culture’s elites. The family at the heart of this whodunnit, the Thrombey’s, skewers every type of wealthy, privileged jerk at the heart of our world’s problems. The liberally educated self-pity feminist, the selfish playboy, the dreaded “I just think they should come here legally” middle-aged uncle… they’re all here. And they all come apart, in a cathartic, delicious romp through Blanc’s brilliant and bumbling process.

~ 2 ~

I’ve seen every single Key & Peele sketch ever aired. I went to see Keanu day one with all my friends right before we graduated highschool. I eagerly awaited Jordan Peele’s directorial debut with 2016’s Get Out. After seeing that film, I thought to myself, “Ah, this is the calibre of cinema he’s been waiting to create.” So I sat down to watch Us expecting more Get Out. More terrifying cinematography, tense and humourous moments of shock and gore, littered with thought-provoking subtext (and not-so-subtext). And all that was there. Yet somehow Us still felt… different.

I don’t want to just compare Us to Get Out, but I know I wasn’t alone in having my expectations subverted. And I know this because walking out of the theatre with all my friends we all just looked around saying “I don’t think I get it” to one another. We know what we saw was rad- we just weren’t sure why. We sat in the parking lot Googling explainers and theories, trying to make sense of what we’d just witnessed. For me, this continued for several weeks. I scoured written and video essays as the collective internet poured over every tiny detail of this movie trying to suck the meaning from Peele’s sophomore horror film like a toddler given a juicy orange slice. This collective, obsessive dissection is the hallmark of a brilliant film.

Uh oh…

On its surface, Us seems like a bizarre horror story about a family vacation gone awry. But if you look deeper, this is a film about so much more. Us is at its core about privilege- and the consequences of ignoring it. That’s not some genius interpretation I came up with, Peele says in the film’s director’s commentary that “For us to have our privilege, someone suffers. That’s where the Tethered connection resonates the most- those who suffer and those who prosper are two sides of the same coin.” Us is about class privilege. It’s about white privilege. Us is about those who got left behind by a string of racist policies going back to Reaganomics and beyond. Us is about, well, it’s about us. Or maybe it’s about the U.S.?

Nah that’s dumb… If you take anything from this, know that Us is scary, Us is thought-provoking and Us is really fucking funny- sometimes all at once. Go watch it.

~ 1 ~

Tom Quinn said in an interview with Variety when discussing Parasite that, “You may live in Korea, I might live in the U.S., but we live in the country of capitalism.” After walking out of the theatre muttering “holy shit” over and over while my girlfriend echoed a simple “right?!” I see the truth in that. Parasite is set in South Korea and stars Korean actors I’ve never seen before, depicts a culture I’m unfamiliar with and a country I’m very uneducated about. And yet, the story told with these characters, this setting and this city across 182 minutes of captivating cinema felt so familiar. These characters and I, we all live in the country of capitalism.

Audiences could just as easily see themselves as either family in this film: the well-off Parks’s or the struggling working-class Ki-taek’s. I’ve met both families before. From the McMansion-dwelling colleague who I met in university, living a lifestyle afforded to them from inherited family wealth to one of my childhood friends who lived in a basement apartment, their parents delivering papers and walking dogs on top of their 9-5 to get by. The two families in Parasite are real, they exist just as much here in Canada as they do in South Korea. Director Bong Joon Ho gives a simple answer when asked why the film connects so well: “The story is very universal. It’s a story about rich and poor.”


As for why I loved this film more than any other I’ve seen this year, quite simply it surprised me. This dark comedy-thriller features twists no one, and I mean absolutely no one, could see coming. As YouTuber Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Yang put it, “Bong Joon Ho has a knack for creating genre films and making them feel like art pieces.” Parasite delicately rides whole wave of human emotion with moments where I laughed out loud- and others so tense I shuffled to the edge of my seat. But through it all, Joon Ho weaves a poignant narrative of class struggle, of what the need to survive under the cruel heel of capitalism can push people to do. It’s a story whose twists shock, whose shifting tone mesmerizes and whose story I’ll remember for a very long time.


Thank you so much for reading! I’d love to know what you think of my list, if there’s a movie you’re going to check out now or one you think I missed that I should try and watch. I really appreciate every person who takes the time to read my work and I’d love to know what you think in the comments below!

Stephan’s Top 10 Games of 2017

I think 2017 has been the best year for video games in over a decade. There was such a deluge of exceptional gaming experiences from every facet of the industry. Every genre and platform felt like it had a must play game, if not multiple. The Switch’s Zelda and Mario Odyssey, PlayStation’s Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Xbox’s… well… Cuphead. Even VR finally started to have games I got way too invested in. Continue reading →

Stephan’s Top 10 Movies of 2017


While 2017 was a year of big losses for minorities and underrepresented groups in the real world, the opposite is true for movies in 2017. I was delighted to see the big winners of 2017 be films starring underrepresented groups. From Jordan Peele’s Get Out becoming the highest-grossing original debut ever to Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman becoming the highest grossing superhero origin film at the domestic box office, this year was full of record-breaking moments for non-white, male directors, actors and actresses. Continue reading →

Stephan’s Top 100 Video Games

I’ve been blessed in my short time on this planet to have played hundreds and hundreds of video games. From a very young age, my interest in video games was sparked by my Aunt who moved in with us and brought her Nintendo 64. My parents then indulged my obsession over the years, getting me games for the holidays and my birthdays. My Dad sat next to me on our living room couch from the beginning, through so many different adventures. From Portal 2 to Ratchet & Clank and Don’t Starve he always showed a huge interest in my passion which made me feel more and more excited to explore video games, write about video games and ultimately work in video games. Continue reading →