Year-end Miscellany 2006

I usually name a favorite book, movie, and game of the year. This year none of the books I read were recent enough to qualify, so I’ll just do the other two:

2006 Movie of the Year: Brick
There wasn’t a standout film in this category, but I think Brick was my favorite of what I saw this year. (There are many reportedly excellent movies that I haven’t seen yet as well, such as The Departed.) Brick puts a classic detective noir in a high school setting, and does an excellent job of blending the two genres, much as Buffy did with horror. (The movie is definitely influenced by Buffy and works in a subtle but unmistakeable reference.) All the elements of the classic noir movies are present, from the convoluted plot to the familiar character archetypes to the eerie soundtrack. The juxtaposition with high school students is sometimes funny, sometimes striking, but never cheesy or over-the-top.

2006 Game of the Year: Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria
I didn’t play a large number of video games this year, but there was a clear winner, the sequel to one of my all-time favorite games. The original Valkryrie Profile was a great dungeon crawler with beautiful visuals and complex and interesting characters. It only suffered from somewhat repetitive combat, which was completely reworked in the sequel to one of the most interesting and engaging systems I’ve ever seen in an RPG. The signature side-scrolling dungeons (hence “Profile”) were preserved with a couple new twists—the ability to switch places with monsters, and sealstones that alter the mechanics—that gave the puzzles more depth. Overall I found the gameplay addictive in a way that I hadn’t seen in years, and the only flaws I found are by comparison to the original Valkyrie Profile (mainly in the aesthetics and the character development).

Later this weekend, I’ll post my favorite albums of the year.

28 thoughts on “Year-end Miscellany 2006

  1. Mason

    I still need to do my movies of the year post. I’m seeing one more tomorrow, so I might wait until after then… or I’ll feel like writing it tonight and count that as part of next year’s class.
    As for standout movies, while I may have trouble picking the #1 out of my top N films, I felt this year was particularly strong for movies. There are several films that I consider to be fantastic.
    I need to see Brick. I passed on it initially but your glowing review (before and the reminder now) makes me want to see it.

  2. Lemming

    I’ve been planning on making a similar post myself, but I’m really having trouble deciding on an absolute favorite in either category.

  3. Josh

    My #1 is up for grabs, but among my favorites include The Prestige, Casino Royale, The Last King of Scotland (mainly for Forest Whitaker’s work), The Descent, and maybe The Departed.
    Movies I wish I’d seen include: A Scanner Darkly, An Inconvenient Truth, Babel, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima (though there’s still time for this one).
    And here are the movies that bothered me with their existence, some I saw and some I did not:
    United 93, Apocalypto, The Omen, Superman Returns, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Mission: Impossible 3

  4. Josh

    Best TV show of the year is easy for me. The Shield: Season 5. Forest Whitaker for Emmys and Oscars and Golden Globes all around!

  5. Zifnab

    Josh: I’m interested in seeing Letters from Iwo Jima as well, let me know if you’re going sometime. :)
    My picks:
    Movie: Ten Items or Less. Honorable mention to Casino Royale, and I wish i’d seen The Prestige.
    Game: This is a very hard category to pick a single winner. With that said, I’ll nominate Gears of War for the XBOX 360, with the disclaimer that I didn’t play the single player, but rather the co-op game on Hardcore, with Lemming as my cohort in crime. Prolly the most distilled fun per hour played of any game this year.
    Best RPG: Final Fantasy XII, with Neverwinter Nights 2 a close runner-up (which may pass as I get further into it).
    Best FPS: Gears of War for co-op. F.E.A.R. for single player. Not sure yet on multiplayer, though since i’ve played very few it’s likely to go to Battlefield 2142, being the one i’m currently playing.
    Best RTS: Dawn of War: Dark Crusade. I love the Dawn of War games, and the latest expansion had exactly what I desired: standalone campaign mode playing any of the seven races.
    Best Racing: Excite Truck. Except that Lorian keeps beating me because I race too cleanly.
    Best Sports: Madden ’07 (Wii). The controls make this a real winner. Using the remote to toss the ball or punch a defender as you run past changes the whole feel of football games. I even have been able to get Lorian and Tim to play it!
    Best Shooty Game: Geometry Wars Evolved (XBOX 360). Pure blasty goodness. Now if I could only beat my high score of 310000 points.
    Best Simulation/Builder: Sid Meier’s Railroads: They added a new twist with train routing in this game, compared to many previous iterations, and it makes the entire strategy of the game change.

  6. Zifnab

    Oh, I didn’t notice you also mentioned favorite book, i’ll try and see what books i’ve read this year qualify. :)

  7. Arcane Gazebo

    Zifnab: Man, I should get one of these next-generation systems so I can try some of those games. :) (Actually I’ll be at least getting the Wii at some point soon.)
    Josh: The “for” makes it sound kind of charmingly old-timey.

  8. Mason

    I’m still trying to get a Wii without the getting-up early thing. :)
    Re: Prestige: It was good but not great. I was a bit disappointed simply because I thought I’d like it better than I did.

  9. Mason

    On that note, the listed ‘story highlights’ on CNN’s article about the execution are currently the following:
    • NEW: Hussein refused to wear black hood
    • NEW: Hussein told witness, “Don’t be afraid”
    • NEW: Bush praises Iraqis for giving fair trial
    • Celebrations break out in Baghdad and Michigan
    Not to make light of things, but I can’t help being amused by the 4th highlight. It sounds like the punchline to a joke.
    On a separate note, Lemming and I just saw Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s very good (and my third forein language film in a row, with the 4th to come tomorrow) but not even remotely for the faint of heart. I definitely recommend it highly for Travis and Josh.

  10. Zifnab

    The comments section displays way too wide on the wii browser, have to scroll side to side to read each line. The main page works pretty well though. I think it suffers from not using HD output so it really has to be zoomed to actually read text.

  11. Lanth

    At the moment, I’d classify being able to surf the web on the wii as a cute gimmick that isn’t quite good enough to be actually used on a regular basis. (Although if we didn’t have a computer in the living room already, I might use it to display recipes or gamefaqs.) If they make the text readable without zooming in, then it would be far more useful.

  12. Anonymous

    Josh: I’m not sure whether you have seen United 93 or not. I’ll assume you have not seen it, because I would defy anyone who has seen it to group it with movies like MI3, Ice Age, etc. Please don’t judge this movie be it’s trailer. I too was skeptical about it. Luckily I was pretty much forced to watch it, otherwise I’d never have gone to see it and would have missed what was, in my estimation, the most powerful movie of the year.

  13. Lemming

    I am going to make a movies post, really. I finally finished my games post (2006 was a killer year for both categories), so I can start thinking about that now.
    I’ve heard United 93 was actually quite good, but quality of movie aside, the trailer is burned into my mind. Mason knows.
    My thoughts thus far for movies also just had a massive monkey wrench introduced — I just saw Pan’s Labyrinth, and it tore me a new one.

  14. Zifnab

    Anonymous: If you’re going to defy anyone who groups it with those other ones, go ahead and defy me also. I was also bothered by United 93’s existence, so it seems quite possible that Josh was as well. Hence it’s a natural grouping to put it with other movies which were bothersome, regardless of whether or not it was the same elements which caused that feeling.
    Your point about the movie’s “powerful” nature is in no way threatened by whether other people were bothered by it. I, for one, refuse to see that movie regardless of its power, or perhaps because of it. I want my memories of that day to remain in my viewpoint, not to take someone else’s or to have a different one overlaid on mine, as that is what surely would happen given my emotional response and memory connections.
    Returning back to the thread topic, the best books of the year are always hard for me to pick, mostly because whether they came out this year and whether I read them this year are very hard to disentangle. With that in mind, i’ll just bring up my top four I read this year, I believe the first three were actually published this year, and the fourth was not.
    #1: The Sharing Knife, Lois McMaster Bujold. A completely new book/series with an interesting universe. As always, I really like/identify with her characters which is what made this book enjoyable.
    #2: The Android’s Dream, John Scalzi. Excellent setting, protagonist, and the whole constructed religion theme were the high points of this book.
    #3: To Ride Hell’s Chasm, Janny Wurts. I’m a sucker for most fantasy epics and this one is no different. It’s a difficult question of whose characters I like more between Wurts and Bujold. Luckily I can read both and not have to choose.
    #4: The Liaden Universe (collection of Conflict of Honors, Agent of Change, Carpe Diem), Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. Jonathan just gave me this for Christmas and now I need to go searching for more books in the series. Psychics, empaths, spies and mercenaries are all excellent in my book. Err, their book. :)

  15. Zifnab

    Oh, I should also note that my book picks are highly biased towards those which i’ve read in the last 2-3 months. Those which i’ve read earlier than that are starting to fade on me and are due for another re-reading. I can think of several which i’ve recommended on here that are also strong contenders for my favorite book this year, but since my media-memory-span for fiction books extends only a few months they’re not being included. Sorry.

  16. Mason

    Pan’s Labyrinth is pretty damned powerful (and excellent as well)…
    Yes, I can confirm Lemming’s statement that United 93’s trailer was extremely memorable. I probably won’t ever be allowed to forget it, even if I cared to try…
    I also specifically have no desire to see that movie. And I’d like to put my checkmark by Zifnab’s point on this — Josh’s grouping is perfectly reasonable. The genre, potency, etc. of the movies in question don’t make any difference.
    The main reason I see movies is as a form of escapism and United 93 by its very nature blows that entirely in the water. Therefore, I don’t want to see it.

  17. Lemming

    Oh, hey, books! I’m trying to remember what I read this year… I finally pulled Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and A Handmaid’s Tale out of the queue, both good. I especially liked the essays/backstory in the back of the former — the Gilliam flick is incredibly true to the book (though somehow Depp’s excellently-delivered monologue still doesn’t even hold a candle to reading it…). Reading the about the actual current events and paranoia at the time, and getting a bit of a peek at really happened when those two ran off to Vegas was really something else, unexpected and good.
    I read through The Giving Tree again, but every year is a good year to do that. Can’t seem to recall what else (hope that wasn’t it!).

  18. Josh

    My opinion on United 93 is about the same as Zif’s. Add onto that the notion that I don’t find the goal of the movie to be “art” in any way, though I don’t mean that in a pretentious sense.
    It may very well be a powerful, emotional movie, and in fact I’m betting it is, since the event itself was both of those. But I find little difference (besides money) in the presentation of a movie like United 93 and the dramatization done of the Michael Jackson trial. It’s not a documentary, nor is it a work of art, it’s just a reinactment. And I have about as much use for a 9/11 reinactment as Civil War families would have had for seeing people of today dress up in powdered wigs and shooting fake muskets at each other.
    It’s possible that the moviemakers wanted to instill some sort of cathartic cleansing with this movie… but I’m certainly in no need of that anymore. Had the movie come out when seeing these things would have been cathartic for me, I believe that everyone else would have considered it “too soon”. Now, I think of it as “too late”.

  19. Josh

    Aha! I’m late to the game, but I think I may have decided on my favorite movie of the year!
    Shakespeare Behind Bars

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