Wednesday, 18 January 2017
Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. So far we have covered the biggest news in television and videogames. This week we will be looking at the most exciting new movies set to hit the big screen in 2017 from February onwards, after the cutoff point for this year's Oscars.
2016 in cinema was really a story of one film, La La Land, which long time readers will have heard about first right here on last year's Hot List. LLL has become a worldwide phenomenon, sweeping the Globes this month, and looking set to repeat this feat at the Oscars come February. This places a great deal of pressure on me to pick the winner again, but what the hey, we're on a roll so let's do this.
2017 looks like it's going to have a bit of everything, some hard sci-fi, some family friendly adventures, and plenty of artistic passion projects from Hollywood's greatest creators. First time directors, long-awaited sequels. I say this every year, but this was a very difficult selection to make, whittling a longlist of more than fifty worthy entries down to just fifteen.
So behold, the key films to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:
Let's start off on the lighter side: new comedy Downsizing. This film has got a lot of buzz surrounding it, and an awards season friendly Christmas release date. So what's all the fuss?
Well first it features an embarrassingly well-stocked cast that includes Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Alec Baldwin, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jason Sudeikis. It also comes courtesy of Annapurna Pictures, a production company famous for its high quality and for producing films which go on to earn awards and critical acclaim.
Despite this, the plot itself sounds faintly ridiculous: a husband and wife decide to shrink themselves down (literally) to escape the stress of life, and the wife backs out at the last minute, hijinks presumably ensue. Sounds like just another silly movie, until you realise that it's being written by two time Academy Award winner Alexander Payne, who is also directing. Payne has considerable credit to his name as the writer/director of weighty, sophisticated fare including Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska, so on the surface this seems like a strange project for him. Still, given his track record we can probably give him the benefit of the doubt for now. Somehow, he'll probably find a way to make this work.
Release Date: 22 December, 2017
Next we have Wonderstruck, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Brian Selznick, who you might know as the writer of the novel that would eventually go on to become the film Hugo. Selznick has also written the screenplay. Hugo has given him a reputation for the whimsical and wonderful, and from the sounds of the plot, split between two time periods, Wonderstruck will deliver much of the same.
The impressive cast includes Academy Award winner Julianne Moore, and multi-Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams, while directorial duties have been handed to another Academy favourite in Todd Haynes, director of Carol, I'm Not There, and Far From Heaven.
Strong talent and well regarded source material suggests for a potential awards contender, or at the very least a film worth watching. No release date has been announced as of yet, but we can conjecture a release towards the end of 2017.
Release Date: TBA 2017
Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the 2018 Oscar for Best Animated Feature, Coco. A new Pixar film comes with such expectation that anything other than another critical and commercial success would come as a major shock to the industry.
The studio's latest is still largely shrouded in mystery. A 12 year old boy, an ancient curse, there seems to be some kind of a Mexican, day of the dead motif going on. It'll probably be good.
Probably most interesting is that this is being helmed by a first time director in Lee Unkrich, and first time screenwriter in Adrian Molina. Both have experience on other Pixar projects, but this is the first with their names at the top billing. Given Pixar's track record at bringing through successful talent behind the scenes, it will be interesting to see how they get on.
Release date is set for Thanksgiving 2017.
Release Date: 22 November, 2017
12. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Alright, this one might be bad, and usually when I say that, it ends up being bad. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on a beloved French science fiction graphic novel. As you can see from the trailer, it's going to be a bit of over-the-top sci-fi ridiculousness, the style of which brings to mind two films in particular: The Fifth Element, and Jupiter Ascending.
These two films illustrate just how difficult it is to get the balance right with these kinds of film, to make something that's ridiculous in a fun way, rather than just stupid. The Fifth Element is a cult classic, Jupiter Ascending was a train wreck.
The comparison is important, because this is being written and directed by Luc Besson, director of The Fifth Element, so the key talent is a man with a track record of making these kinds of films and making them work. Still, some might argue The Fifth Element worked because it had the everyman grounding of Bruce Willis, whereas Valerian stars the questionable talent of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne.
Film hits in the summer, will it be another Fifth Element style classic, or a Jupiter Ascending flop?
Release Date: 21 July, 2017
Suburbicon potentially marks a new phase in George Clooney's career, as the first film that he has directed without also starring in. No matter, he has brought along a stellar cast to do the dirty work in Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Josh Brolin, and Oscar Isaac. Meanwhile the Coen Brothers have written the screenplay. Formidable talent indeed.
The film itself is apparently a mystery comedy, but little else of the plot is known. Clooney's directorial efforts have so far been a mixed bag, but with the weight his name carries and the level of talent he'll be working with, it's hard to see this one passing quietly. It's going to be one of 2017's big releases.
No release date has been announced as of yet, but it's rumoured to be dropping in the fall of 2017, with an apparent eye towards the awards season.
Release Date: TBA 2017
A big comeback in 2017, Darren Aronofsky with his first film since 2014's Noah, and hopefully his first good film since 2010's Black Swan. The project is Mother, a film currently shrouded in mystery aside from the brief synopsis of a couple's relationship being tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home. Sounds very The In-Laws so far, but somehow I doubt the man who directed Pi and Requiem For a Dream is putting together a light comedy about family awkwardness.
Then there is the cast, wonderful cast including Hollywood favourites Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, and Ed Harris, all highly regarded, award winning talent.
Aronofsky is one of the most brilliant directors in the business when he's on form, and even his duds are highly interesting pieces worthy of artistic merit. Then again maybe he's just re-making the in-laws with Bardem in the Peter Falk role, now who wouldn't want to see that?
Release Date: TBA 2017
9. Blade Runner 2049
Well it finally happened, a sequel to the Ridley Scott sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049. It's been discussed on and off for years, and now it is finally coming.
Scott himself is not directly involved, but Harrison Ford reprises his role as Deckard, and he is joined by the abundant talent of Ryan Gosling, fresh from his stunning success in La La Land, while Robin Wright of House of Cards fame also joins the cast along with Jared Leto. Directorial duties meanwhile have been bestowed to another 2016 success story, Denis Villeneuve who is currently riding high from the critical acclaim for his last film, Arrival.
Exciting stuff, but always a huge risk to try and follow up such an iconic movie, especially so many years later. This will be an event for sure, so get ready for October 2017.
Release Date: 6 October, 2017
8. The Greatest Showman
This one is generating quite a bit of hype, the musical biographical film of legendary showman P. T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman.
The title role is taken by genuine star and surprisingly excellent singer Hugh Jackman, a man with plenty of musical pedigree from his time on Broadway and more recently the film adaptation of Les Miserables. Joining him in the cast is Michelle Williams and Zac Efron.
Hollywood loves a biographical film, and the musical genre sounds a perfect fit for the extravagance and over-the-top nature of a showman like Barnum. That this is the debut film of director Michael Gracey is certainly enough to give pause, but a Christmas day release suggests the studios are confident that they have a success on their hands. Definitely one to keep an eye on.
Release Date: 25 December, 2017
Now for something which should excite fans of high quality, intelligent science fiction, Mute.
This is the latest film from director and screenwriter Duncan Jones. Sure, that's David Bowie's son, but more importantly he's the director of the critically acclaimed Moon and Source Code, both of which were utterly brilliant.
Mute is a spiritual sequel to Moon, one that has been in production for years, held up only by Jones' brief foray into making dumbass summer blockbusters. Adding to the film's intrigue is the fact that Netflix of all studios have ultimately picked up distribution rights, which presumably means an online premiere, and probably being ignored by the Hollywood establishment. Whatever the case, this is a big first for Netflix to release such a major film, it will be indicative to see just how that plays out.
Getting to the detail, the cast includes Alexander Skarsgard, Justin Theroux, and intriguingly Paul Rudd. Little additional detail has been revealed, and no release date has been finalised, but if Mute is half the film that Moon and Source Code were, it will be one of the highlights of the year.
Release Date: TBA 2017
6. Molly's Game
Don't let the tacky book cover fool you, this is a big deal. Molly's Game is the film adaptation of the book Molly's Game: From Hollywood's Elite to Wall Street's Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker, and if the loquacious title doesn't give it away, it's a wild tale. All they need is an equally loquacious writer - enter stage left Aaron Sorkin.
But as much as I love Sorkin, this project has more going for it than just his script. This is Sorkin's debut as a film director (which is quite funny for anyone who remembers his cameo on Entourage), and he has assembled quite the cast, featuring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, and Michael Cera. I for one can't wait to hear Elba speak Sorkin's dialogue.
It will be very interesting to see how Sorkin's talent translates to the role of director, which makes this certainly one to watch for 2017.
Release Date: TBA 2017
Between Blade Runner 2049, Mute and Annihilation, 2017 is looking like an incredibly exciting year for intelligent, complex science fiction. Annihilation could be the best of the bunch.
This is the latest film of legendary writer/director Alex Garland, and the follow up to his brilliant directorial debut Ex Machina. Beyond this last film, many of you will know Garland for his work with famed director Danny Boyle on 28 Days Later and Sunshine, as well as his novels The Beach and The Tesseract.
He is joined by the Academy Award winning Natalie Portman, Academy Award nominated Jennifer Jason Leigh, and following up their collaboration on Ex Machina, the up and coming Oscar Isaac.
Production is underway, and release is expected towards the end of 2017. .
Release Date: TBA 2017
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I'll say with very little hesitation that Martin McDonagh is one of the very best writers alive today. Fans of his movies In Bruges, and Seven Psychopaths, or his theatrical productions Pillowman and Hangmen will know exactly what to expect; McDonagh's trademark is deliciously dark comedy that is as terrifying as it is side-splittingly hilarious. Unfailingly violent, hilarious in a messed up way. You will laugh even though you know you shouldn't.
His latest, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri probably will be no different. The plotline of a Missouri woman going to war against the police after her child is murdered sounds like your classic set up for a revenge tale, and it doesn't take a genius to see it culminating in a suitably absurd denouement, nor should that be a problem in any way if the writing is as razor sharp as his other work.
McDonagh favourites Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson return to the cast, along with Coen Brothers muse Frances McDormand. Filming began at the start of 2016, with release expected later on in the year. Not for the faint of heart, but for everyone else this is going to be good.
Release Date: TBA 2017
3. Darkest Hour
Surely this is far too obvious Oscar bait to actually be any good?
Darkest Hour, not to be confused with the 2012 Russian film of the same title, is a Winston Churchill movie, with the great Gary Oldman in the starring role. The film will be directed Joe Wright, director of Atonement and Anna Karenina. The release date is set for November in the States, Christmas in the UK.
What more can one say? It's a World War 2 period drama about one of history's most famous characters, with a release date and talent that suggests a very deliberate play for next year's awards season. This doesn't mean it won't be good, but plenty of films have gone gung ho in the past only to fall short. Either way, this is going to be one of the bigger 2017 releases.
Release Date: 24 November, 2017
2. The Mercy
There is a lot of buzz about this one. The Mercy is based on the true story of the disastrous attempt by the amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst to complete the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in 1968 and his subsequent attempts to cover up his failure.
Interesting subject matter, bolstered by the considerable acting heft of Academy Award winner Colin Firth, David Thewlish and Rachel Weisz. Even more excitingly is the attachment of director James Marsh, an Academy Award winner for his documentary Man on Wire, and directing his first film since 2014's excellent Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything.
Plenty of reason for the hype then. I have a hunch this is going to be a big player in 2017. Expect a release by year end.
Release Date: TBA 2017
And lastly, because 2017 seems to have a thing for World War 2 movies, Dunkirk. Anyone who knows their history will know what the film is about: the Allied forces' painful retreat from Dunkirk after the fall of France.
This is a good old fashioned war adventure epic, direction by Chris Nolan, music by Hans Zimmer, and a cast which features Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and intriguingly in a starring role the relative newcomer Aneurin Barnard. Another intriguing addition is cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who has previously worked on films including Interstellar, Her, and The Fighter.
It's a particularly interesting move for Nolan, a man who started his career in small scale indie projects, before becoming the go-to guy for high concept sci-fi blockbusters. A switch to a more grounded, more traditional war epic marks new territory for the director.
So all the ingredients are in place then for this to be one of the biggest releases of the year, with a muscular July release date set. It's an exciting list, but this one takes the top spot.
Release Date: 21 July, 2017
So there you have it folks: 2017 in movies. Tune in next week for the essential theatrical productions hitting the stage in 2017!
Saturday, 14 January 2017
Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. This week we will turn our attention to videogames, previewing for you our loyal readers the most exciting videogames set for release in 2017.
2016 was a notably strong year for gaming, and unusually so in just about every area of gaming, from the single-man indie miracle of Stardew Valley, to Planet Coaster's small dev team taking on the established giant of Roller Coaster Tycoon and winning. And there were equally exceptional results from the big money AAA producers as well, including the excellent XCOM2, the much hyped Dishonored 2, and very surprisingly Battlefield 1 with it's wonderful story telling. But of course no summary of 2016 could be complete without mentioning the culmination of the decade-long productions of Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian, at least one of which turned out to be worth the wait.
If gamers were truly spoilt for choice in 2016, 2017 looks to be a rather quieter year for the industry, with some notable exceptions. Most significantly, 2017 is the year of Nintendo's newest gaming system, the Switch. You might be thinking, "didn't they just release a new console, the Wii U?" and you would be correct. Suffice it to say the Wii U has not been doing very well, and while on the surface the Switch does not fix the most glaring issues of the Wii U (it is still a significantly weaker piece of hardware than its competitors, which means it will again lack the major third party titles), there is no denying that it's a pretty smart looking bit of gear. If it really works as smoothly and as seamlessly as advertised, it will be a hugely impressive achievement.
So here it is, the 10 key videogames to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 10:
10. Prey (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
Prey is a reboot of sorts. The original title was something of a cult classic, and after many years of troubled development, the long-awaited sequel was eventually canned. Step up Arkane Studios of Dishonored fame, and the sequel was turned into a complete reboot, a "reimagining" of the original game.
The result has been quite controversial, a game which carries the "Prey" name, but bears little resemblance to the original. Fans have been up in arms. Despite this, the actual game looks rather decent if you can look past the name. A classic mix of first person action/shooter and horror elements in a smartly realised sci-fi setting. The gameplay looks as solid as one would expect from the Dishonored developers, and the immersive presentation bears many familiar hallmarks.
We won't have to wait too long to get our hands on this one, the release is currently pencilled in for a Q1/Q2 2017, which usually means you'll have it by Spring barring any further delays.
Release Date: Spring 2017
9. Sea of Thieves (Xbox One, PC)
Now for something a bit different, an entirely multiplayer game, Sea of Thieves. This game is notable for two reasons, one it's the newest game from what was once the legendary game development company Rare, two it just looks like a lot of good silly fun.
This is a multiplayer pirate game, you and a few friends design your pirate, get a pirate ship, and take to the seas finding treasure and getting into naval battles and the like. Sailing one of these ships is no simple point and click job though, it takes teamwork, with one man steering, one man on the sails, another operating the cannons, and if you take damage, someone needs to place wooden boards over the holes to prevent your ship taking on water and sinking. You can also do all manner of silly piratey things like drinking grog and, just for the hell of it, playing musical instruments. There's something delightfully over the top about charging into battle with one guy on the wheel, another firing cannons, and another in the crow's nest blasting out Flight of the Valkyries on an accordion just for atmosphere.
This seems like the type of game that I have zero time to get into these days, but 10 years ago would have been a blast to waste some time with a few friends. Rumours suggest a Spring release date, but at the moment there's no confirmation.
Release Date: TBA 2017
8. Friday the 13th (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
Another multiplayer game, which is weird because I don't usually play multiplayer only games, but this is just a great concept. This is Friday the 13th, the game based off the famous horror movie franchise. It's an asymmetrical multiplayer game, with elements familiar to fans of Evolve or Left4Dead.
One player takes control of the supernatural killer Jason, while the others control the campers trying to make their escape. As in the Left4Dead series, there are a series of items that need to be acquired and objectives that need to be completed in order to escape, which presents an array of strategic elements to be considered, and requires the co-ordination of an entire team. As fans of those other series will know, these kinds of teamwork-based games always end in some good chaotic fun, particularly when horror and jumpscares are added to the mix.
This has actually been in development for a while, originally on Kickstarter as a generic horror game before surprisingly acquiring the licence for the Friday the 13th series. There is in fact a trailer for this game, but a bunch of clips showing Jason brutally killing someone doesn't really tell you much about the game, which is why I've linked some actual gameplay. Should land sometime in the Spring.
Release Date: Spring 2017
7. Kingdom Come: Deliverance (Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac)
It's back again! This has been on the Hot List for a good long while. One of the more notable Kickstarter success stories, Kingdom Come: Deliverance started with a simple observation. Publishers typically refuse to release games with historic settings unless it features magic, dragons and silly things like this, so why not break the mould by making a game in an actually realistic historic setting?
That's the idea behind Kingdom Come: Deliverance. A roleplaying game set in 15th Century Bohemia, with period-accurate clothing, technology, culture, and even going so far as to bring in medieval combat experts and historians to program realistic tactics and fighting styles. But this is not just a period combat simulator, it is a truly sandbox world in which players can pursue their goals as a warrior, a trader, or take a more diplomatic approach.
Depending on how these different gameplay elements come together this could be a very unique experience. There aren't enough games that display an interest in real history and show the kind of attention to truly bring alive such a setting. All the signs so far are that Warhorse Studios are very committed to this vision, and judging by the millions of dollars raised there are a lot of gamers who are as well. After many delays, the developers have at last finalised all the publishing contracts and this game should hopefully see release at some point in 2017.
Release Date: TBA 2017
6. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
Originally teased during the Switch announcement video, Nintendo have finally given us an official name and some more details. The next Mario game will be Super Mario Odyssey, and it looks like some classic Nintendo magic.
Details are thin, but from the trailer we can see some typical Mario platforming action, albeit with some new tricks such as the ability to use Mario's hat as a tool, while there appears to be some kind of flying vehicle that Mario uses to get between different levels, implying more of an open-world design. We also catch sight of a realistic city setting, which on first glance looks really weird in a Mario game, especially as all the people have normal proportions compared to Mario's cartoonish size, though as a short guy I can relate.
Mario Odyssey will supposedly be released for the holiday season this year. Not a release title for Switch then, which seems a strange risk to take.
Release Date: Xmas 2017
5. Star Citizen (PC)
Another long recurring member of the Hot List. Star Citizen is the mother of all crowdfunding success stories, having so far raised over $100 million, and that amount is still growing. What makes this all the more remarkable is that people are throwing their money at Cloud Imperium Games despite the fact that only a few conceptual game-modes have been made available so far after years of development. So why all the excitement and hype?
Star Citizen is the brainchild of Chris Roberts, a game design legend from the early days of PC gaming most famous for his space-based combat simulations such as Wing Commander and Freelancer. Star Citizen is Roberts' big comeback to gaming following years in Hollywood with a number of producer credits to his name.
Unapologetically PC exclusive, Star Citizen's mission statement is simple: to be the ultimate space epic, the game that Roberts has always wanted to make. It takes Roberts' trademark quality combat simulation gaming, adds detailed economy and trading elements, and throws it all into one massively multiplayer online persistent universe. A massive online universe populated with thousands of players, in which players can essentially do what they want: they can trade or start a business, they can be a combat pilot, they can become a diplomat, or they can engage in a bit of in-game sports (racing for example).
The sheer variety of gameplay being thrown into this game is matched by the vast efforts that are going into creating a believable, fully fleshed out universe. The official website now is chock-full of literature and back-story for the world they are creating, and even if reading into all that depth is not your kind of thing, that kind of love and detail makes a game world truly engaging, even for the most casual of players. It's this kind of effort that turns a good game into a great game.
Can an independent developer really deliver on such high ambition? So far the signs are good. The modules that have been rolled out so far show promise, and with the single player campaign set to begin this year, with the online persistent universe soon to follow, it's time to get excited.
Release Date: TBA 2017
4. Sonic Mania (Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch)
A little bit of a nostalgia trip for our next entry. The fall of Sonic the Hedgehog games from gaming icon of the 1990s to the industry's biggest ongoing joke is the stuff of legend. To recover its form, the series is going back to its retro roots with Sonic Mania.
Not much to explain here, it's classic 2D Sonic fun, with new stages, a few modern twists and new gameplay elements. Sega have tried going back to the series' 2D roots in the past, but generally without success. No one of the original team remains on staff, and few of the current organisation appear to really have a handle on what makes these games worth playing. So this time, they are wisely tapped the fangame community to helm the project, with the creator of the very warmly received "Before the Sequel" series placed in charge.
It all looks like exactly the kind of sugary fun you'd expect from the series. Trailer says Spring 2017, let's go with that.
Release Date: Spring 2017
3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U, Switch)
Nintendo have got a lot in the pipeline this year, but by far the most hyped of their mega-franchises has got to be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. To be released simultaneously on the Wii U and Switch, this will be the first original Zelda to be designed in HD.
Nintendo are taking very clear inspiration from The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and BotW will contain a truly massive, fully explorable open-world, chock full of quests, crafting skills, and secrets. The new Zelda is being designed with the idea to allow players real freedom in how they explore and complete quests, suggesting a much more open-ended structure to the game.
Notably, this will be the first game to feature full voice acting for its characters, a very bold move for a game series for which the silence and careful punctuation of voice samples has become very much an expected feature. The suggestion is that BotW will place a much greater emphasis on its characters and their relation to the narrative. Recent games in the series had shown a trend in this direction, but this promises a whole new level of storytelling.
Release date has been confirmed as 3rd of March, 2017, launch day of the Switch.
Release Date: 3 March, 2017
2. Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
I love the Mass Effect series. The quality of writing and storytelling has consistently set the pace in the industry, and its world is one of the best realised in any medium of fiction. Mass Effect: Andromeda is the latest entry in the series, and as the name suggests, it's a complete break from the preceding trilogy.
This of course means that Shepard is gone, as are all the characters you know and love. More than that though, it seems the galaxy and locations you know and love are gone too, and Andromeda sees you travel to a whole new galaxy. Quite why that was necessary when the last game made a point of telling us that the Milky Way is 98% unexplored in Mass Effect is besides the point, surely not as a convenient way to avoid having to deal with the array of different endings one could potentially have chosen at the end of the original trilogy? But lets not quibble over poor writing.
A new galaxy means a focus on exploration. Andromeda gives players a much more open-ended world to explore, more akin to the open nature of the original Mass Effect than its sequels, and will allow players to scout out new systems, colonise new worlds and presumably stumble across some form of ancient evil. It can be also be assumed that your ship is staffed by a menagerie of well-written characters with daddy issues. All sounds good, though let's hope this isn't the last we've seen of the Milky Way we know and love.
Release Date: 21 March, 2017
1. Read Ded Redemption 2 (Xbox One, PS4)
But as excited as those last two entries were, none of them can take the top spot away from the surprise reveal of Red Red Redemption 2, a sequel to 2010's Red Dead Redemption, which was itself a spiritual sequel to a previous game.
RDR was probably one of the greatest games ever made. It had the quality of storytelling and production that one would expect from Rockstar, developer Grand Theft Auto series, but married that with an open world that to this day can't be matched for character and detail, and at the time was simply unprecedented in the variety and depth of its procedural content. Through its random events, ambient challenges and mini-games embedded throughout, this was a game world you could truly play endlessly, even once the main story and side quests had been completed.
For the sequel, I'd expect more of the same, and the leaked map suggests a world that is even bigger and more varied than its predecessor's. Due by the end of the year, I can't wait to get lost in this one.
Release Date: Winter 2017
So there you have it folks: 2017 in videogames. Tune in next week for the essential movies set for release this year!
Tuesday, 10 January 2017
Hello and happy new year one and all! Welcome back to The Ephemeric, and let me be the first to introduce you to 2017, a year that will surely be an improvement on the last one. Yes, it is indeed a new year and that can only mean one thing, it's time to break out The Hot List.
So welcome The Ephemeric's 2017 Hot List, your ultimate guide to the year ahead. In this first entry we will be looking at the hottest things happening in the world of television over the next 12 months, with a particular eye cast over the brand new shows hitting the airwaves in 2017.
2016 continued many of the trends we had been seeing in recent years. The big three of HBO, FX, and Netflix dominated the critical plaudits and awards, while the other streaming networks Amazon and Hulu continued to catch up to the other major players in terms of the quality and ambition of their original programming.
Going forward, all signs had been pointing towards an increased prominence in the industry for these companies, and worrying times for the more traditional networks. However, recent political upheaval in the US and UK has thrown into doubt the viability for new media companies like Netflix, with information equality laws now potentially on the chopping block. I don't like to talk politics on the Hot List, but it will be interesting to see how things pan out as the old establishment continues to up its online streaming game.
In terms of the content, we've had a couple of years in a row now where the big show of the moment has been an entirely new series. Seemingly gone are the days of the ongoing epic like Breaking Bad or Curb Your Enthusiasm coming along and scooping up all the plaudits year after year. Now it's True Detective one year, Mr Robot the next, then maybe Stranger Things or The Crown. Increasingly the fashion seems to be moving towards the limited series, or the new idea in town. Whether this is some "shiny new toy" effect or speaks to an increasing taste for short, complete story telling is up for discussion. It could simply be that the quality of the shows on television really is improving year after year. The coming year sees the exciting return of some major favourites, which could put that theory to the test.
So without further ado here are the top 10 essential television shows, both new and returning, that will hit the airwaves in 2017:
10. Sherlock - BBC
After a long three year hiatus, Sherlock is back. It returns to the airwaves with its star Benedict Cumberbatch amongst the hottest actors in the world, with co-star Martin Freeman's star very much also on the rise after a strong turn in Fargo.
Still, major doubts remain about whether the show's writers can regain the magic of the first two seasons. The plots seem to be veering increasingly far away from the mysteries and capers that one expects from Sherlock, and more towards an over-the-top action romp that more befits James Bond.
The first episode of the new season was a new low, resembling absolutely nothing of its source material. Forced melodrama, overly self-referential dialogue, and a plot focused entirely on the muddled backstory of an original character (rather than the titular Holmes) was a stunningly poor way to return to the series, and give the impression of an adaptation that is altogether just a little bit too far up itself. Fingers crossed the remaining episodes mark a return to form.
Start Date: 1st January 2017
9. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 - Netflix
Finally making a comeback after all these years is a firm favourite of the 90s kids: Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
The award winning cult classic MST3K was one of those shows that you either never heard of, or you've heard of it and pity those who haven't. The premise is simple: they put on a really bad sci-fi or horror movie, and make jokes about it as it plays out. The result was something that was far funnier than it had any right to be, especially if you're the type who enjoys watching these cheesy movies and laughing at them.
So imagine the joy of fans everywhere when series creator Joel Hodgson launched a Kickstarter to bring the show back as an online webseries, eventually securing a Netflix distribution deal. Initially asking for $2 million, they raised $5.8 million, becoming the most crowdfunded television series of all time. Now we wait. The new episodes started filming last year, and were announced at last year's Comic Con to be available for viewing sometime in early 2017, although the smart money says it won't be until the summer.
Release Date: Summer 2017
8. Westworld - HBO
It had been a long time in production, but from the stellar cast featuring Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, to the writing of the award winning Jonathan Nolan, the first season of Westworld was well worth the wait.
Now season two is on the way, and promises to depict what had been the climax of the original Michael Crichton cult classic; the robots are out for revenge.
HBO have a new smash hit on their hands that will certainly feature prominently in next year's awards circuits. But most significantly, Westworld scratches a specific itch in mysterious, addictive sci-fi that hasn't been seen arguably since Lost aired all those years ago. Many shows have tried to hit that sweet spot, but Westworld is the first that has succeeded.
Release Date: TBA 2017
7. His Dark Materials - BBC (New TV Show)
For those not familiar with the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman, try to picture something with the magic and adventure of Harry Potter, but fewer pantomime villains, more philosophical deconstructions of Man's need for spirituality and a scathing critique of the abusive nature of religious dogma. Intellectual fare for a children's book then, but what made the books so special was the way they were able to convey such complex meaning without sacrificing any of the fun, excitement and engaging characters that make kids want to read. For that, it remains widely considered among the absolute pinnacles of children's literature.
It's not surprising, then, that the series has thus far proved notoriously difficult to adapt. The attempted film version was appalling, while the National Theatre's excellent stage production only succeeded by dividing it into two separate plays of 3 hours each.
For the past several years it has been considered to be unfilmable, but the BBC are betting that it could work as a miniseries instead. This would offer the necessary running time to fully flesh out the detail of the original text, but can the BBC really provide the budget to bring such an ambitious project to life? We have our doubts that this one will even see 2017, but fingers crossed.
Release Date: TBA 2017
6. The Crown - Netflix
Another of 2016's debutants returning for season 2. Netflix's The Crown has broken all kinds of records for being among the most ambitious and expensive productions in television, and that high aspiration has paid off, with the series collecting a number of plaudits.
Word has it that each successive season will jump to another decade as the story follows the royal family through the years of Elizabeth's reign, with the core cast changing periodically as required. If true, this would place season 2 in the 1960s.
Whatever direction Peter Morgan chooses to take this show, we are excited to keep watching if he can maintain the current level of quality. The Crown returns in November of this year.
Release Date: November 2017
5. American Gods - Starz (New TV Show)
This one is promising. American Gods is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman (author of Stardust, Coraline, among others), and produced by Bryan Fuller, a man with an enviable track record of smart, wonderful television.
The plot is classic Gaiman weirdness: gods are real and live among humans, and a conflict is shaping up between the old gods of mythology and the new gods of money and technology. The cast has a wonderful depth to it, most notably Ian McShane, but also Emily Browning and Pablo Schreiber, with Crispin Glover, Gillian Anderson, and Peter Stormare in smaller roles, but then the choice of relative unknown Ricky Whittle for the main role is a strange one considering the quality of talent elsewhere. Still, with this production team and source material, we are very hopeful.
America Gods is now expected to debut in April of 2017.
Release Date: April 2017
4. Curb Your Enthusiasm - HBO
Legendary comedian Larry David has dominated television comedy for decades, first with Seinfeld, the iconic "show about nothing" much of which had been loosely based on David's own experiences, then Curb Your Enthusiasm, which took the format to the next level with a semi-fictionalised version of the comedian himself in the central role.
At its best, Curb was just about the funniest thing on television; as clever as Seinfeld, but with more modern production sensibilities, and the creative freedom offered by a premium network like HBO.
At long last, Curb is coming back to television in 2017. It's been six years now since the show was last on air, and many had begun to doubt whether the show would ever return. David had remained on the fence when asked in recent years, citing a need of genuine inspiration, a reluctance to write new episodes just for the sake of it. Fortunately for the rest of us, that inspiration appears to have finally struck. We can't wait to see what he has cooked up in that crazy mind of his.
Release Date: TBA 2017
3. Star Trek: Discovery - CBS (New TV Show)
Science fiction fans all over the world rejoice! Star Trek is finally making a return to its spiritual home of television with a new series Star Trek: Discovery. The movies have been fine, but Star Trek's distinct brand of cerebral sci-fi has always worked better in an episodic format, with less pressure to go broad and dial up the sex and action.
Discovery is an entirely new series, with a new setting and cast. Little has been revealed so far in terms of story, but the rumour is that the show works as a prequel series, set around the same time of the original crew (and rebooted movies). Earlier rumours had suggested that the show might follow an anthology format, with a new setting every season, but that is as yet unconfirmed.
Little of the cast has been confirmed, but we do know that the main protagonist will be played by Sonequa Martin-Green, best known from The Walking Dead, and The Good Wife, while other core cast members will include Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, and Michelle Yeoh.
Probably the most exciting news had been the attachment of legendary show-runner Bryan Fuller at the helm of the series, but recent developments seem to suggest he is taking a step back into a more detached role. Trouble behind the scenes? We'll have to wait and see.
Release Date: May 2017
2. Fargo - FX
Far too often you get a hit new TV show with a great debut season, which then goes on to suffer from second-season syndrome and lose the magic. Fargo is not an example of this. Fargo's second season was every bit as much a triumph as the first.
Unsurprisingly, the televised adaptation of the classic Coen Brothers film has been confirmed for a third season. It's confirmed to be set in the present day, and looks to be bringing in a strong cast with Ewan McGregor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jim Gaffigan. The return to the present day setting also leaves open the possibility of returning characters from earlier seasons.
If the first two seasons are anything to go by, whatever they come up with will be brilliant. A start date is pencilled in for Spring 2017. We look forward to it.
Release Date: Spring 2017
1. Stranger Things - Netflix
One of 2016's runaway success stories, Stranger Things is coming back for a second season. The Netflix adventure/horror series won over a huge fanbase with its pitch perfect blend of nostalgia and childlike fun. This time, however, it comes with the additional weight of expectation that success brings.
Aside from the episode titles, little is known of what season 2 will herald. It is confirmed to be set about a year after the events of season 1, and will focus on the first season's main characters as they attempt to return to a life of normalcy, whilst exploring more of the mythology behind the world the writers have built. Getting too deep into the dirt is always a risk with these types of shows, but if the first season's superb writing is anything to go by, we should give them the benefit of the doubt.
Season 2 of Stranger Things is due for release in fall 2017, and it is The Ephemeric's most hotly anticipated TV series for the year. Time to get excited!
Release Date: Fall 2017
So there you have it folks: 2017 in television. Tune in next week for the essential new videogames of the year!
Friday, 30 December 2016
Welcome once again to this most glamorous and esteemed of events. It's the definitive epilogue to a year gone by, considered by some to be greater than Spiderman, Superman and Space Ghost combined. It is of course The Ephemeric's famous annual tradition. It's The Debbie Awards: the year ends when we say it does.
Congratulations, you made it through 2016. This is not a year that will be missed by many, and with good reason. I've made my own feelings perfectly clear as to where things are headed, and it's not good. But for one night we will forget about all that and take a moment to appreciate the good things in this world, and indeed there is still much to be excited about. For all its ills, 2016 has been another year of great cultural achievement, and tonight we will look back on the best examples.
So without further ado, let the curtain fall upon 2016 as we begin our definitive review of the past 12 months:
2016 Debbie Awards
Cinema & TV
1. The Debbie for TV Show of the Year
Winner: Stranger Things
Runners Up: The Crown, Black Mirror
The easiest Debbie to award this year. Stranger Things has won critical acclaim from all corners for its nostalgic tribute to the 1980s and the movies that filled the formative years of so many of today's generation. But the inherent sense of fun, the quality of writing, and excellence in its production has universal appeal, and that makes this an obvious winner for the best TV of 2016.
Picking a runner up, however, was a very tricky decision, and honourable mentions must be given to the second season of Mr Robot, as well as the wonderful Hulu miniseries 11.22.63, both of which missed out on my top three. Ultimately the closest competitor for this award has to be Netflix's spellbinding The Crown, a show with absolutely unparalleled production values, quality in every part of its conception, from Peter Morgan as writer and creator to a cast that features big name stars in Claire Foy, Matt Smith, and John Lithgow, among many others. Excellent TV and a huge statement of the spending power and ambition of Netflix's original content team.
Following in third place is the return of Charlie Booker's excellent Black Mirror. As always, Black Mirror prides itself on inventive speculative plotlines that carefully straddle the line between real and fantastical, creating situations that boast some of the finest writing on TV today, and are all the more terrifying for their believability.
2. The Debbie for New TV Show of the Year
Winner: Stranger Things
Runners Up: The Crown, Westworld
We're seeing this a lot lately, the best shows of each year often being newcomers. Whether it's the increasing prominence of the miniseries format, the success of the new-media video streaming networks, or simply the freshness of their ideas, for the second year running we have a double winner of best TV show and best new TV show, this year in Stranger Things.
The Crown, naturally, also makes the top 3 here, along with another newcomer, HBO's newest mega-hit, Westworld. It's been a long time in production, but from the stellar cast featuring Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, and many other hugely acclaimed actors, to the writing of the award winning Jonathan Nolan, the first season of Westworld was well worth the wait. The pace may drag in certain places, and certain side stories seem a bit inconsistent, but the concept and production are so excellent, and the surprising crescendo of its finale so masterful, that one can't help but be won over. But most significant, Westworld scratches a specific itch in mysterious, addictive sci-fi that hasn't been seen arguably since Lost aired all those years ago. Many shows have tried to hit that sweet spot, but Westworld is the first that has succeeded.
3. The Debbie for Film of the Year
Winner: La La Land
Runner Up: Sing Street, Weiner
A richly deserved win this year for La La Land, the great passion project of Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Riding high on the success of his previous film, Chazelle had the freedom to pursue his audacious vision, a modern broadway musical, a tribute to the artistic process, the sting of ambition, and life in Hollywood. La La Land is a storming success against all expectations, and the nailed on favourite to sweep awards this year.
I've picked something a bit different for the first runner up, 2016's indie darling Sing Street. Another musical of sorts, but of a very different style. Sing Street follows a group of state school children in inner-city Dublin forming a rock band in the 1980s. This is a film about all the great exuberances of youth: wanting to break out of a dead end town, win the girl, and the importance of brotherhood. A treat of a film, and a very lovely surprise to see this pick up a well deserved Golden Globe nomination.
And if that wasn't different enough, just you wait! Weiner is the documentary about the fall of rising political star Anthony Weiner. A tale of hubris, addiction, and pure self destruction. The documentary itself is rendered with great style in an entertaining production, but the real meat is in the behind-the-scenes scrutiny of the mind of Weiner; what made him simultaneously a great politician and a flawed person. Weiner's fall is compelling not so much for the scandal itself so much as the sheer inconceivability as to why someone with seemingly the world at their finger tips could screw up, not once, not twice, but repeatedly, and still to this day. An astonishing character piece.
4. The Debbie for Variety Show Host of the Year
Winner: John Oliver, Last Week Tonight
Runner Up: Jerry Seinfeld, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
At first I was tempted to award this Debbie to our runner up, but the troubling events of the past 12 months have made clear now more than ever just how important a figure John Oliver is in the world today. His show is remarkable not just for being hilarious, but for his tackling of the major issues of the day, often delving into the sorts of topics that mainstream journalists and other talkshow hosts won't touch with a 10 foot pole. Essential, influential television.
But a worthy runner up this year is Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. 20 years after Seinfeld, here at last is the ultimate 'show about nothing'. A series of laid back interviews with other funny people, actors, comedians, politicians alike, often insightful, always highly watchable. Perhaps most notable for the calibre of interviewee, which often includes some of the legendary names of the industry, and for one glorious episode extends its purview to the President of the United States, Barack Obama.
5. The Debbie for Hollywood Rising Star of the Year
Winner: Adam Driver
Runner Up: Idris Elba
This is always a fun one to pick. There's no obvious choice as there has been in the past few years, but it's fair to say that 2016 has been a particularly strong year for Adam Driver. Just a year or so ago he was the star of some silly TV show, being taunted as "a joke" in leaked emails from certain Sony producers. Now he's the star of Star Wars, and in 2016 he finds himself starring in a Jim Jarmusch movie, as well as the new Martin Scorsese film. Nominations for various awards are likely to follow soon, as surely enough Driver is becoming seen not just as a serious actor, but a bankable one.
Another good shout would be Idris Elba, a man who has forayed into films as of late, but is perhaps still best known for his exploits on TV. Now, however, he is becoming recognised as a bona fide film Star Trek film, as well as a slew of huge Disney films, including Zootopia, Finding Dory, and most notably The Jungle Book. His $5 billion or so grossed may in fact be a record for a single year. A good year for sure, and hopefully some more meaty roles to follow in the future.
Music & Theatre
6. The Debbie for Best Theatrical Production of the Year
Runner Up: Groundhog Day
A return to greatness for the Donmar Warehouse with this year's excellent production of Elegy. Written by Nick Payne, of Constellations fame, the subject matter is both timely and uniquely insightful, with an emotional quandary that sticks with you long after the final curtain. A highly memorable production.
Also worthy of note is the new Groundhog Day musical. Writer Tim Minchin, of Matilda fame, continues to go from strength to strength with a beguilingly inventive new stage production of something that few would ever have imagined would make a good musical. Yet this is every bit as solid a production as you are likely to find on the London stage this year, with the original source material's depths brought to life in new and evocative ways.
7. The Debbie for Album of the Year
Winner: Wildflower - The Avalanches
Runner Up: Love & Hate - Michael Kiwanuka
It was enough of a shock to see The Avalanches make their long rumoured comeback after 15 years, but surely no one expected such a strong return. Wildflower was a stormer of an album, a critical and commercial success, and a testament to the artists' strength of vision and will to push this thing through over such a long, drawn out battle. From the gorgeous psychedelia of Colours, to the more Beatles-infused Harmony, or maybe you prefer something a bit folksier like Saturday Night Inside Out; this is an album with great individual songs that gel together into a mesmerising celebration of different influences and musical eras. Easily the essential album of the year.
Honourable mention to Love & Hate, the sophomore album for London songwriter Michael Kiwanuka. If his debut four years ago was the toast of the UK music scene, the follow up, sublimely produced by superstar producer Dangermouse, will cement his name among the royalty of popular music. Opening track Cold Little Heart is an epic journey, but there's more classic understated folk here in I'll Never Love, while title track Love & Hate and Father's Child are emotionally wrought masterpieces. A Mercury Prize contender, but more importantly, a Debbie Award runner up. Fantastic album.
8. The Debbie for Debut Album of the Year
Winner: Do Hollywood - The Lemon Twigs
Runner Up: Chaleur Humaine - Christine and the Queens
In a year with only a handful of notable debuts, our pick of the bunch goes to The Lemon Twigs, the brother-brother duo from Long Island, New York, who peddle in low-fi pop, heavy on the retro influences. Their debut album, Do Hollywood, wears these Beatles/Beach Boys/Wings influences so clearly that for every note the listener might well think they were listening to an authentic recording from the 1960s, right down to the amps and hardware used. Some might say it sticks too closely to the old masters, but ultimately there's no denying the quality of the songs, key tracks being Baby, Baby, How Lucky Am I? and These Words, but really the whole album is excellent.
Also worthy of note was the English release of French band Christine and the Queens' debut album Chaleur Humaine. Long time readers will recognise this as one of our picks for 2016 from the start of the year, and it pleases us to say that they did not disappoint. Definitely check out Tilted and Jonathan, but there's plenty to like on the album. A strong success then, both critically and commercially, and I look forward to seeing what they produce in the future.
9. The Debbie for Song of the Year
Winner: Burn the Witch - Radiohead
Runners Up: Cold Little Heart - Michael Kiwanuka, Odyssey of the Streets - Gypsy & The Cat
Always a tough category, but with the long-awaited return of Radiohead, they were always going to be in with a shout. The clear standout is the brilliant new single Burn the Witch, a manic whirlwind of strings and falsetto that's every bit as bold as the very best the band have ever produced. A mesmerising descent into madness.
Going in a different direction for our first runner up is Cold Little Heart, the opening track of Michael Kiwanuka's excellent new album. A 3 part journey stretching over 10 minutes in the mould of a Pink Floyd epic, employing expansive strings and intimate soul choirs, an extended intro, and Kiwanuka's vocals at their very finest. There are many great songs on this album, but perhaps none as stunningly beautiful as this one.
Lastly, and along the same vein is Odyssey of the Streets by Gypsy and the Cat. The Australian duo are typically known more for their catchy, traditional pop songs, but Odyssey sees them in a dizzying, orchestral piece over three movements that might just be their most impressive work yet.
10. The Debbie for Live Performance of the Year
Coldplay are past their best as a band, there's little question of that. The new albums are decent, sure, but not a patch of their old work. Despite that, they still put on a hell of a live show. 2016's tour had everything from confetti, huge glowing inflatable balls, fireworks, and perhaps most ingeniously, light up wristbands for each audience member that connect wirelessly and flash in different colours in time with the music. In a 90,000 seater stadium like Wembley the result is a dazzling array of colours and energy. An unforgettable experience.
Videogames & Technology
11. The Debbie for Greatest Technological Innovation of the Year
Winner: Driverless cars
It's been coming for a long time, but finally Driverless cars are here. From early attempts with Tesla's autopilot mode, to the Google car and now more fully functional models in production among the industry's major parties, the technology is here and has been tested. Over the next few years driverless technology will be rolled out in major cities all over the world. This is a world changing technology, from the impact on public transport and taxi services, to big businesses like Uber which will certainly move away from human drivers, and presumably pass the savings on to the consumer. Most important of all though is the effect this will have on road safety, removing human error, which is by far the most common cause of road accidents. It's not far fetched to believe that in 50 years time dense city centres will only allow driverless cars.
12. The Debbie for Greatest Scientific Discovery of the Year
Winner: First ever detection of gravitational waves
When the LIGO observatory announced the first ever recording of gravitational waves in February of this year, it made world headlines for a few days and then faded away. Most people probably didn't even realise the significance of the story, just that it was some kind of a breakthrough. This is a big deal, this is like the discovery of the camera or the microphone. Just as a camera records light, and a microphone records sound, the ability to record gravitational waves gives us an entirely new way to observe the universe around us, a new sense. I can't wait to see what this entirely new form of perception teaches us.
13. The Debbie for Videogame of the Year
Winner: Stardew Valley
Runners Up: XCOM 2, Final Fantasy XV
It's been a year full of excellent videogames, and as such this was arguably the most difficult Debbie to award for 2016. Let's begin with an honourable mention for Starbound, Battlefield 1, and Stellaris, all excellent games that any other year would have made the top 3. But in this year's packed field they did not make the cut.
So let's get to it. The award of the 2016 Debbie for videogame of the year goes to Stardew Valley, giving us an indie winner for the second year running. Stardew will be familiar for anyone who has ever played the Harvest Moon series; players build a farm, grow crops, tend animals, sell their produce, and make friends with the locals. But this is much more than simply a Harvest Moon clone, with a depth of world building, character development and endless charm that puts even its illustrious inspiration to shame. Delving into this game world feels almost like a vacation, peaceful and relaxing in a way that few games have ever been. Add to that a robust quest system, a surprising amount of backstory, secrets and other surprises, and Stardew is simply a joy.
In stark contrast, our two runners up are some very high quality, big budget, AAA titles. First is XCOM2, the sequel to 2012's excellent reboot. XCOM2 takes the series into an entirely new area of turn-based strategy, beginning with the premise that the player in fact lost the previous XCOM game and is now in charge of the resistance movement to overthrow alien rule. It's a novel idea that adds a new dimension of clandestine tactics, and the ability to move around the battlefield in the shadows. Carefully preparing and executing a perfect ambush in XCOM2 is one of the most satisfying gaming moments one can have.
Runner up number 3 is Final Fantasy XV. The series has been on the wane for many years now, but what a comeback, finally putting right all the mistakes of FFXII and FFXIII. Open world in a way the series has never been, with a near endless amount of radiant gameplay. But the key thing here are the characters, Final Fantasy has always been about the core characters and the friendships that develop between them, and FFXV finally seems to have remembered that, with wonderful group of stars that talk and banter with one another, take selfies, and much more. At the same time an entirely new battle system, and an abundance of clever game design ensure that this feels like much more than a rehash. A beautiful game that truly understands what makes Final Fantasy great without being too stuck in the past.
14. The Debbie for Videogame Console of the Year
The PC gaming renaissance remains in full swing. Particularly now with today's streaming capability and wireless peripherals, there is increasingly less and less reason to focus on console gaming so long as your computer is powerful enough. Steam remains the key app for gaming, a position strengthened by Steam Link and the new generation of TV-compatible Steam Boxes, but even similar competing platforms like EA's Origin are becoming usable. Bottom line: as gaming hardware becomes increasingly decentralised, the difference between one box of hardware from another becomes less distinct, and the superior kit is determined by which has the best software, which is the most customisable, and which has the access to the greatest range of games. Right now that's PC.
15. The Debbie for Company of the Year
It started off as just another fast food delivery company, but Deliveroo ended up changing the entire face of the industry in London. The master stroke was figuring out a way to deliver not just food from your typical takeaway places, but real restaurants too. While just a few years ago your delivery options in London were limited to cheap pizza and Chinese, now even the high end restaurants can be delivered right to your door. I myself have Deliveroo access to Kurobuta, Sophie's Steakhouse, Brinkley's, and many other extremely high quality places in my neighbourhood, while at my office I can get Burger & Lobster among others. It's a golden age for getting food without having to pick your lazy ass up off the couch, and I for one welcome it.
16. The Debbie for Gadget of the Year
Winner: Amazon Echo
Apple may have gotten the ball rolling with Siri and its still incubating range of Home products, while Google are hot in pursuit with the purchase of Nest, but right now Amazon look to be on the front foot when it comes to intelligent personal assistants with Alexa, the software interface of the Echo system. Like Siri, Alexa can set your reminders, bring you real time information, and respond to voice commands, but what Echo currently has above its competitors is powerful multimedia compatibility, meaning you can use the system to control all your devices, television, music, videogames, all from a single point of contact. Impressive though this kit may be, the most significant takeaway this year is the proof of concept for how such a system can work. A few years from now this will surely be commonplace, whether its through Amazon's system or one of their competitors.
17. The Debbie for Footballer of the Year
Winner: Luis Suarez - Barcelona
Is there a front three in all of football as impressive as Barcelona's trio of Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Luis Suarez? Between the latter two in particular it's hard to choose a winner. I'm going with Suarez as The Ephemeric's player of the year. For whatever else you may think of him there really isn't a more lethal player in the world, with an astonishing 59 goals in 53 games last season and 20+ assists. Suarez showed at Liverpool that he's the sort of player that wins you games singlehandedly, and while at Barcelona he may get somewhat more overshadowed by his superstar famous teammates, he remains just as effective. He contributes as much to the team as even Messi, and is arguably the more complete player with a brute force, strength and physicality that his teammate lacks.
18. The Debbie for Under-21 Footballer of the Year
Winner: Renato Sanches - Bayern Munich
Renato Sanches is shockingly talented for a 19 year old. Signed by Bayern Munich for 35 million in the summer and a part of Portugal's European Championship winning squad, Sanches plays with the polish and consistency of a more experienced player, but the swagger and panache of a young star in the making. Can play centrally or on the right, in a deep playmaking position or more advanced. High on the stamina and power. This man will be a big name for years to come, for both club and country.
19. The Debbie for Football Manager of the Year
Winner: Claudio Ranieri - Leicester City
This really has to go to Claudio Ranieri after his crazy title win with Leicester City. No one in their right might would have expected the relegation-threatened club to win a league that had previously only been won by a small selection of elite clubs, but Leicester blew apart everyone's expectations and completely rewrote the rules of domestic football. It's a sporting accomplishment the likes of which will likely not be seen again for a long time, and indeed this season finds Leicester struggling in the league, but nevertheless this success will not lose its lustre any time soon.
20. The Debbie for Football Club of the Year
Winner: Leicester City
A double prize for the most remarkable achievement in modern football. Leicester City was more than just a one man success story of the manager, it was a team production with a number of players really performing well above expectation and as a unit. Certain key performers like Jamie Vardy, N'Golo Kanté and Riyad Mahrez are now household names and worldclass stars. It's a great story with many individual success stories, and a team which as a whole deserves great recognition.
21. The Debbie for Politician of the Year
Winner: Sadiq Khan
Through this whole Brexit mess there's little in the way of heroes or anybody escaping with even a shred of respect. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is one of the few to have enhanced their reputation during this time, becoming a unifying voice for those who feel betrayed by the decision to even hold the referendum or outraged by the Government's disingenuous conduct since the vote.
His popularity has risen so high that at one point there was even a (only half serious) petition to create an independent London with Khan as President. Khan has managed to win over a lot of his doubters in the capitol just by doing a good job as Mayor. Lord knows I didn't vote for him, and I remain hugely disillusioned by his party, but Khan's genuine, even handed approach to common sense governance is exactly the type of progressive leadership of which this country needs more. Open and inclusive, pro-business, forward thinking. The sooner we ditch the fake liberals of the Corbyn Labour party and move more towards Khan's brand of modern progressivism, the better.
22. The Debbie for Scandal of the Year
Winners: Donald Trump
Well this is an obvious one. Much has been written about Donald Trump's litany of scandals, probably-crimes, misdemeanours and various pending court cases that he has desperately been trying to settle before taking the Presidency. It's a bit like the three stooges syndrome, each of them individually is enough, but all put together prevents any single one from having an impact. So really in giving this award I can't just pick a single one. The fraud trial, breaking the Cuba embargo, Trump University, Trump Foundation embezzling funds, sexist videos, racist videos, questionable connections to dictators... all of these are well worth a Debbie, so instead I'll just give one blanket award to Donald Trump.
23. The Debbie for Cause of the Year
Winner: Resisting the return of radical right wing politics
Pretty much a summary of the last two Debbies. From Brexit to Trump, to Le Pen, to the unbelievable normalisation of racism and extremism, reactionary right wing politics is making a big comeback in the developed world, and really, truly, that is something to be frightened about. The Ephemeric published a piece on this situation recently and it bears reading for anyone who needs a little background. For sure there are many crises in the world that could rightly take this award, but not one of them can be adequately dealt with if we continue to trade in our humanity for the frothing insanity of hatred and division that currently threatens to overwhelm civilised society.
24. The Debbie for Person of the Year
Winner: Vladimir Putin
As a reminder, the Debbie for Person of the Year doesn't necessarily go to someone who earns the award by doing good things, it's in recognition of influence and singular impact during a year. This year that man is without doubt Vladimir Putin.
As loathsome as his actions in world politics may be, there is no doubt that Putin has returned Russia to prominence in the world stage for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. An economy that was growing prior to the recent sanctions, increasing power projection in theatres of conflict, most prominently the Middle East. But his crowning achievement of course was his victory in the US Presidential election. America has spent decades installing puppet leaders in countries all over the world, but never has any nation succeeded in swaying the election of such a powerful rival. The leader of one of the most powerful nations on Earth, now with one of his lackeys in charge of the other most powerful nation on Earth presents Putin with a level of power unparalleled in the world. Time Magazine chose to name Trump man of the year, somehow ignoring the man pulling the strings, the rightful winner of this award.
Social & Lifestyle
25. The Debbie for Restaurant of the Year
Winner: The Sportsman
Despite having been open a couple of years now, The Sportsman is a restaurant whose star has rapidly been on the rise in just recent history, and seemingly out of nowhere has begun featuring on "best restaurant in the UK" lists all over the place. As was my duty, I decided to go under cover in order to figure out exactly what was going on here, and my word.
A tiny, nondescript pub just a few feet away from the beach on the north coast of Kent; the setting is charming enough and the pub has that old fashioned allure about it, but once you sit down and taste the food, you'll see exactly what the fuss is about. These are exquisite, Michelin star quality dishes right up there with any restaurant in the world. A delightful shock, and one that I can't wait to experience again, if only one didn't need to book several months in advance (as of 2 weeks ago their next available Saturday lunch is in April).
26. The Debbie for Nightclub/Bar of the Year
Winner: Kona Kai
The award for good times, good dancing, and fruity cocktails with little straw umbrellas (I think, it's a bit hazy). Kona Kai has all this, and friendly service to boot, whilst not charging the customary arm and two legs that one expects from a drinking and dancing establishment in central London, much less Chelsea. The fact that it's only a stone's throw away from my flat is a bonus.
27. The Debbie for Mixologist of the Year
Winner: Alessandro Palazzi
My annual shout out to The Duke's Bar owner Alessandro. Famous across London for making Ian Fleming's drinks, and in particular his flair for unique martinis turn heads. Whether he's making his signature Fleming 89 or whipping up some original creation on the spot, there's no finer cocktail around. This year's special creations include the white truffle martini, and now for the first time, actual snacks with which to line your stomach.
28. The Debbie for Destination of the Year
Winner: Algarve, Portugal
A high tension year such as this calls for nothing more than sun, a good beach, and some quality R&R. The Algarve in Portugal has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with calm waters, gorgeous caves and rock formations, and soft golden sand. Add to that a climate which is pleasant and sunny right up until at least October, and a fantastic array of fresh local cuisine, and it makes for a difficult to beat vacation destination.
29. The Debbie for Wine of the Year
Winner: Lamole di Lamole Lam'oro
The vineyards of Lamole di Lamole are a long-time favourite, despite being among the hardest to reach in Tuscany, way at the top of the hills around Greve, requiring a lengthy drive. Boy is it worth it though, and this year's pick of the lot is their esteemed Lam'oro selection. A blended Sangiovese/cabernet sauvingon wine, as with many Tuscan reds, but produced only in certain years when the conditions are suitable to produce the required complexity. Strong berry flavour with an extremely elegant finish.
30. The Debbie for Champagne of the Year
Winner: Guy Charlemagne, Cuvée Charlemagne
And lastly, to the champagnes. Many strong contenders, but this year I'm awarding the Debbie to Guy Charlemagne, specifically the Cuvée Charlemagne. An up and coming champagne factory, the Cuvée Charlemagne is their grand cru blanc de blancs, meaning 100% chardonnay with a crisp, dry finish. This is a fantastic champagne, finessed with delicate bubbles, like drinking a glass of stardust.
Well there you have it. 2016 will go down as a troubled year for sure, but here's to the next one being better!