End-of-Year Awards 2020

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for some of the films, games, and television shows listed below.

Welcome to my first annual End-of-Year Awards! These are the best (and worst) entertainment events of the year – in my subjective opinion! Rather than writing a top ten list (like I did last year to mark the end of the decade) I’m instead choosing a few categories and awarding my picks for the best entertainment experiences of the year.

I’m including a few titles from the tail end of 2019 on this list simply because many people will have only got around to watching or playing them this year. These decisions are always difficult and I often feel that – because people put these lists together weeks or months before the end of the year – titles released in December tend to miss out. As such you’ll find a few titles from the final few weeks of 2019 being given an award – and perhaps next year there may be a title or two from the end of 2020 featured!

Most categories will have a runner-up and a winner; a few only have one, and in those cases that title wins by default.

A note about exclusions: if I haven’t seen or played a title for myself, for reasons that I hope are obvious it can’t be included. I’m only one person, and I don’t have every moment of the day to dedicate to entertainment. As such, some titles others may consider to be “massive releases” for 2020 aren’t going to be given an award. In the gaming realm, this also applies to titles that I haven’t completed. The exclusion from these awards of titles like Ghost of Tsushima and Tenet isn’t to say they aren’t good; they may be – but I have no experience with them so I’m unable to comment at this time.

With all of that out of the way let’s jump into the awards! If you like, you can try to imagine a fancy stage and some celebrity presenter handing out statuettes. That may or may not be what I’m doing as I write!

Web Series:

Nowadays many of us get at least a portion of our entertainment away from big-budget productions on websites and apps like YouTube. There are a number of top-tier YouTube shows that may have started off as typical amateur productions, but have since become far more professional. As better cameras and microphones become readily available, even low-budget YouTube productions can offer impressive audio and visuals.

Personally I watch a video or two on YouTube most days, and there are a number of channels which have produced top-quality entertainment this year. When the pandemic hit, many YouTube shows were able to keep going despite the chaos engulfing the wider entertainment industry. They had the means and the technology to do so, and that’s fantastic.

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Linus Tech Tips

Linus Tech Tips is one of the first YouTube channels I began watching regularly, having stumbled upon it when looking for PC building tips a few years ago. Though some of what they do is complete overkill (what YouTube channel needs $20,000 cameras?) they have a lot of fun while doing it. Linus Tech Tips explores the high-end and cutting-edge of computers, cameras, and other technologies, and the presenters manage to make it entertaining.

The channel has continued its steady growth and now boasts a number of regular presenters in addition to the titular Linus, most of whom specialise in particular topics. There are also several other channels produced by the same team, including TechQuickie, Short Circuit, and TechLinked. The combined output of the main channel plus its subsidiaries means there’s at least one new video per day, which is great. Even less-interesting topics can be made fun when presented well, and the team at Linus Tech Tips manage to be interesting and entertaining every time.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
SORTEDfood

I love a good cooking show. Not only can they be entertaining but also very relaxing. SORTEDfood has a usual output of two videos per week, and while in recent years they’ve stepped away from purely doing recipes and into things like kitchen gadget reviews, everything is food-themed and the enthusiasm that the five presenters have is infectious. During the coronavirus pandemic, London (where the show is recorded) was in lockdown. Despite that, the team found creative ways to get around it, and even incorporated it into their videos. In addition to recipes there were helpful things like reviews of food delivery services, which at the height of lockdown here in the UK was actually really useful. I was able to use a couple of the services they recommended to send gifts to people I couldn’t see in person; gift ideas I would never have had were it not for SORTEDfood.

Their pandemic programming was good, but when lockdown was lifted it was nice for the team to come back together and get back to their regular output. I’m a huge fan of their “ultimate battles” in particular, which pit the presenters head-to-head to create the best dish. The “pass it on” series, where all five take turns to create a single dish, is also fantastic – and often very funny. SORTEDfood manages to be both informative and entertaining, and their output during lockdown was phenomenal and undoubtedly helped many viewers during a difficult time. For all of those reaons, I’m crowing SORTEDfood the best web series of the year.

Documentaries:

I’m setting aside a whole category for documentaries because I’m a big fan. There have been some great ones in 2020, both standalone films and series. Netflix has surprised me over the last few years by growing to become a huge player in the documentary genre, funding many productions – including some Academy Award nominees. Disney+ joined the streaming wars late last year – or in March this year if you’re in the UK – and has also brought some fascinating pieces of documentary content to the small screen. It’s a great time for documentaries at the moment!

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
We Need To Talk About A.I.

This documentary was fascinating, if perhaps somewhat alarmist. Looking at the possible creation of general artificial intelligence, and the potential for such an AI to surpass humanity, it was a truly interesting peek behind the curtain at what researchers are doing on the cutting-edge of AI research. The documentary was presented by Keir Dullea, famous for his role as Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey. That film saw his character go up against an out-of-control AI, and Dullea brings a gravitas to the role of narrator as a result.

The film made reference to a number of sci-fi films which look at rogue AI, most significantly Terminator 2: Judgement Day, whose director James Cameron was interviewed. From my perspective as a Trekkie, having just seen Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 and Star Trek: Picard Season 1, which both look at the potential for out-of-control AIs, the documentary brought the world of fiction uncomfortably close to the world we inhabit today. While most of the interviewees offered a fairly bleak look at future AI, particularly in the military realm, others did paint a more positive picture. The biggest thing I took away from it, though, it how little consensus there is among researchers and scientists not only on whether AI is a good idea, but whether it’s even truly possible, or how long it will take.

The film is a fascinating, slightly unnerving watch.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
The Imagineering Story

Though it isn’t a subject I’ve talked about often here on the website, I have a great fondness for Disney’s theme parks. It’s doubtful given my health that I’ll be able to go any time soon, but I have fond memories of visits to several parks with both family and groups of friends. Combine that love of Disney with my aforementioned love of documentaries and I got what was one of the most underrated yet fascinating entertainment experiences of the year!

Prior to the launch of Disney+ in the UK in March, there was already a Disney-branded streaming platform here. I wasn’t sure what kind of an upgrade to expect when the new service arrived – except for The Mandalorian there didn’t seem to be much new. The Imagineering Story was one of the few documentaries on Disney+ at launch, but it’s absolutely fascinating, detailing the behind-the-scenes work that went into building Disney’s various parks and themed lands.

The addition of some National Geographic documentaries to Disney+ over the last year or so has made the platform into a good home for the format, though I would like to see more films and series either added from Disney’s extensive back catalogue or better yet, commissioned exclusively for Disney+.

But we’re off-topic! The Imagineering Story was beautifully narrated by Angela Bassett, and as a series made by Disney itself was able to get the perspectives of many senior people who worked at the parks and on many of the projects it covered.

Video Games:

Despite the all the chaos and pandemonium in the world in 2020, many new games – and two new consoles – managed to make it to release. While it’s true that some titles have suffered delays, by far the majority of planned and scheduled releases made it, and that’s no small accomplishment!

As a new console generation gets ready for its centre-stage moment, it’s often been the case that we get a quieter-than-average year as companies shift their focus. Despite that, though, we’ve seen some pretty big titles in 2020, including a couple that will likely be heralded as “game of the generation” or even “game of the decade!” If I’m still alive and kicking in 2029, by the way, check back as I may have a thing or two to say about that!

Though it’s far too early to say which of the two newly-launched consoles will do best in the years to come, 2020 has given all of us some great gaming experiences… and some crap ones.

Worst Game:

Let’s start by getting the worst games out of the way. 2020 has seen some stinkers, including big-budget titles from successful developers and publishers. They really ought to know better.

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Marvel’s Avengers

Marvel’s Avengers is the Anthem of 2020. Or the Fallout 76 of 2020. Or the Destiny 1 of 2020. Or the The Culling II of 2020. Pick any of those live service, broken-at-launch disasters, and that’s what Marvel’s Avengers is. The “release now, fix later” business model has condemned what could have been a popular and successful title to failure. But Marvel’s Avengers hasn’t even failed spectacularly enough to be forever etched in the annals of gaming history alongside titles like 1982’s E.T. Instead it’s slowly fading away, and in six months or a year’s time, nobody will even remember it existed.

Disney and Square Enix looked at a long list of crappy video game business ideas, including paid battle-passes, console-exclusive characters, corporate tie-ins with unrelated brands like phone providers and chewing gum makers, in-game currencies, and microtransactions for each of the six main characters individually. They then decided to put all of these into the game, robbing it of any soul or heart it could have had and turning it into a bland corporate cash-grab. As soon as I heard the company planned the game as a “multi-year experience,” the writing was on the wall. If, underneath all of the corporate nonsense, there had been a halfway decent game with fun gameplay, perhaps more players would have stuck it out. But, as usual with these types of games, there wasn’t. I’m not the world’s biggest Marvel fan. So I’m not horribly offended by this game in the way some folks undoubtedly are. But I can sympathise with them, because fans deserve better than this steaming pile of crap to which Disney and Square Enix have attempted to affix the Marvel logo.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
The Last of Us Part II

The Last Of Us Part II’s cover-based stealth/action gameplay is fine. Though better than the first game, I didn’t feel there was a colossal improvement in terms of gameplay – but that could be said about countless sequels over the last couple of console generations. Where The Last Of Us Part II fell down was its story. This was a game I was sceptical of from the beginning; the first title felt like lightning in a bottle, something that neither wanted nor required a follow-up. In 2020, though, practically every successful title ends up being spun out into a franchise.

With a theme of breaking the cycle of violence, The Last Of Us Part II considers itself “artistic” and clever. Unfortunately that theme led to a horribly unsatisfying narrative, with players not only forced to take on the role of the person who murdered Joel – the protagonist/anti-hero from the first title – but ends with Ellie letting her escape and refusing to take revenge. Had the same concept been part of a new game with new characters, it could have worked better. But crammed into this title it fell flat. I stuck with it out of stubbornness as a fan of the first title, but it was a profoundly unenjoyable ride, and that’s why The Last Of Us Part II is the worst game of 2020.

Best Casual Game:

How do we define a “casual” game? It’s a difficult one, and it’s one of those contentious topics where fans of a title who may have spent hundreds of hours in the game world will get upset at hearing their favourite game referred to as “casual.” When it came to choosing titles for this category, I looked at games that could be easily picked up for a short burst, then put down. Games that can be played for a few minutes and that have gameplay suited to that was one of the main criteria. Games in this category also had to be pick-up-and-play. Some casual games can indeed be hard to truly master, but for my money, any game to which we assign the “casual” title has to be accessible and easy to get started with.

So that was how I came to my shortlist. Now let’s look at the runner-up and winner… though if you’ve been a reader all year I doubt you’ll be too surprised!

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Fall Guys

Fall Guys seemingly came out of nowhere in August. It wasn’t a title I’d heard of, let alone one I was looking forward to, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Taking a format inspired by television game-shows like Gladiators or Total Wipeout, the basic gameplay consists of running a series of obstacle courses, looking to be the last one standing at the end to win a crown.

I’m not usually interested in online multiplayer titles, but Fall Guys was something so genuinely different that I was prepared to give it a go. And what I found was a game that was shockingly fun. Each round lasts barely a couple of minutes, meaning even if you don’t qualify it’s not a big deal. Just jump into the next game. Though there are microtransactions, at time of writing they aren’t intrusive and the game is quite generous with the in-game currency given out simply for playing. There are fun cosmetic items to dress up your adorable little jelly bean character in, and the whole game is cute and lots of fun. Though it did have a cheating problem for a while, the addition of anti-cheat software appears to have fixed things. I’m probably about done with Fall Guys as I move on to find new things to watch and play, but I had a wonderful time with it this summer and autumn.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Animal Crossing: New Horizons

With over 120 hours played, I’ve spent more time this year with Animal Crossing: New Horizons than with the next two games on my list put together. That’s no small accomplishment – even if my 120 hours seems paltry compared to the amount of time some players have put into this title. Time alone doesn’t make a title worthy of winning an award, though. Why Animal Crossing: New Horizons deserves the title is because practically all of those hours were enjoyable.

It’s true that the base game at launch was missing features from past entries in the series, notably 2013’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf. And I find that disappointing, even if updates have since improved the game. But despite the missing content, what the game did have was fantastic, and there really isn’t anything like New Horizons on the market. It’s cute wholesome fun, and the kind of game that can be played for even just a few minutes at a time. It doesn’t demand a huge commitment in the way some titles do – but if you get stuck into it, you’ll find yourself wanting to spend more and more time on your island.

Best Racing Game:

There’s only one game in this category this year, simply because the other racing games I’ve played in 2020 were released in previous years. I had a lot of fun with Forza Horizon 4 in particular, but as a 2018 title it can’t be included here for obvious reasons.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Hotshot Racing

Congratulations to Hotshot Racing for winning by default! Jokes aside, this game is a lot of fun. An unashamed arcade racer that makes no attempt at realism, it’s fast-paced, exciting, and ridiculous in equal measure! What attracted me to the game when it was released in September was its deliberately mid-90s aesthetic; a beautifully simple art style inspired by racing games of the Sega Saturn and PlayStation 1 era.

At a time when many games feel overpriced, the Β£15 I paid for Hotshot Racing actually feels cheap! For how much fun the game is, even when simply playing against the AI, it could arguably ask for a lot more money! Speaking of playing against the AI, that’s something Hotshot Racing encourages, and considering how many titles that supposedly offer a single-player mode still try to force players to go online, I appreciated that. In the mid-90s, some games could do four-player split-screen, but many titles were limited to just two players at the most, so racing against the AI was something all gamers had to do; that was just how those games were meant to be played!

As a visual throwback to games past, Hotshot Racing caught my eye. But there’s more to it than just the way it looks, and what’s under that cute retro skin is a genuinely fun arcade racer.

Best Star Wars Game:

It’s unusual for two games in a single franchise to release within a year of each other, but that’s what happened! There was even supposed to be a third Star Wars title this year – Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – but it was delayed until 2021.

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-up πŸ₯ˆ
Star Wars: Squadrons

Though Squadrons is less arcadey than classic starfighter titles like Rogue Squadron, it’s a remarkably fun game. If you’ve ever dreamed of being a pilot in a galaxy far, far away, this is about as close as you can get! Though I don’t play in VR, the option to use a VR headset – as well as to set up a proper HOTAS or other flight controller on PC – surely makes this the most immersive Star Wars experience out there. Even just with a control pad, though, Squadrons truly transports you to the cockpit of an X-Wing, TIE Fighter, or one of the game’s other starfighters.

The single-player campaign was fun, giving players the opportunity to fight on both sides of the war as the New Republic seeks to defeat the rump Empire – the game is set in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi. I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer, so the fact that there is an AI mode, allowing me to continue to have fun just playing against the computer, is fantastic. I had a truly enjoyable time with Star Wars: Squadrons, and I keep going back for more.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Jedi: Fallen Order was released in November 2019, so including it on this list is a bit of a stretch, I admit. But I got to play it this year, and it was the first game where I fully documented my playthrough. Jedi: Fallen Order managed to feel like a cross between Knights of the Old Republic and the Uncharted series, with protagonist Cal taking on a quest to visit several ancient worlds in search of a Jedi Holocron.

There were twists and turns along the way, but the whole time I felt like I was taking part in a Star Was adventure all my own. After the disappointment of The Rise of Skywalker, playing through Jedi: Fallen Order convinced me that the Star Wars franchise was going to be okay, and that there were still new and original stories worth telling in this universe.

The gameplay was great too, with lots of exciting action and lightsabre-swinging as Cal took on the forces of the Empire. I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t played it for yourself, but Jedi: Fallen Order was a wild and incredible ride, and one I heartily recommend.

Best Action or Adventure Game:

This category ended up with two first-person shooters, but I’m keeping the name the same! There were many great action, adventure, and first-person shooter titles released this year, and I didn’t have time to play all of them. Here are the two I enjoyed most.

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-up πŸ₯ˆ
Doom Eternal

The sequel to the wonderful 2016 reboot of Doom is just fantastic. Gone is the horror vibe that Doom 3 mistakenly introduced, and instead what you get is action and excitement – with some interesting platforming sections thrown in for good measure. There is a story, of course, but unlike many games I’m not really all that interested in it. I come to games like Doom Eternal to feel like a demon-killing badass, and that’s precisely what the game offers.

There was a lot of fun to be had in the days leading up to Doom Eternal’s launch, as it coincided with the launch of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I greatly enjoyed the memes and artwork created by folks on the internet, depicting Doom Guy and characters from the Animal Crossing series together! All in all, this is just a fast-paced, fun shooter that doesn’t try to be anything more. It isn’t a jack-of-all-trades; it does one thing and does it to perfection.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Throughout 2020, developers 343 Industries have brought the Halo series to PC. Halo: Reach arrived late last year, and in the months since we’ve gotten every other title in the series – except for Halo 5! It had been a long time since I played Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox, and I had a lot of fun rediscovering the series and enjoying it all over again. The updated graphics improved the experience in a lot of ways, but it was also fun (and innovative) to be able to switch between visual styles on the fly.

I hadn’t played either Halo 3: ODST or Halo 4, so I not only got to recreate my Halo experience from years past, but expand on it too. The setting the series uses is as unique and interesting as any sci-fi video game I’ve played, and I’m very curious to see what Halo Infinite can bring to the series when it’s eventually ready.

Television Shows:

There have been some wonderful television shows this year. While the pandemic led to the shutdown of cinemas and a delay in many films being released, a lot of television shows were able to press ahead – at least, those that had completed filming before the worst effects were felt. I hoped to include more categories, such as best miniseries, but time got away from me and I have a number of shows still on my list of things to watch!

Worst Television Series:

Luckily there’s only one in this category! If I’m not enjoying a television series I tend to just stop watching – unless there seems to be a real prospect of improvement. Likewise, if I feel something won’t be to my taste I’ll just skip it; life is too short, after all, for bad entertainment. That said, there are exceptions, and I found one in 2020.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Supernatural

Supernatural is the king of running too long – a crown it inherited from The Big Bang Theory! Fifteen years ago, when it debuted, there was a great premise as brothers Sam and Dean Winchester set out to hunt ghosts and monsters, all the while keeping an eye out for the demon that killed their mother and Sam’s girlfriend.

But by the time the show reached its third season, many of its ongoing storylines had concluded. The writers began reaching for new and different demons and creatures for Sam and Dean to tackle, and the quality dipped. By the time the show crossed over into the self-congratulatory fan-servicey mess it has been in recent seasons it had just become ridiculous; a parody of itself.

As the seasons dragged on, writers began pumping more and more Biblical themes into Supernatural, transforming its protagonists into invincible prophets anointed by God. An episode a few seasons back saw Sam and Dean cross over into a world where their adventures are a television show in what has to be one of the worst examples of fan-service I’ve ever seen.

Thankfully Supernatural has now wrapped up its final season. I tuned back in – against my better judgement – to see if the impending end of the series would make a difference to its quality. But it didn’t, and I stand by something I’ve been saying for years: many television shows have a natural lifespan. Supernatural had maybe three decent seasons, and should certainly have ended a long time ago.

Best Animated Series:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-up πŸ₯ˆ
Rick & Morty

We got five episodes of Rick & Morty in 2020; the back half of Season 4, which had premiered last year. The show’s entire premise is wacky, sometimes over-the-top humour, and that doesn’t always stick the landing, especially when the creative team have been working on it for seven years already. So with that in mind, I consider four episodes out of five being decent to be a pretty good run.

When the show stopped flying under the radar and really hit the mainstream in 2017, there was a fear perhaps that the newfound popularity would lead to changes. But I don’t really think that’s happened, and I wouldn’t say that this year’s episodes were substantially different to those in past seasons. They weren’t necessarily any better, but certainly no worse.

There were some great jokes, some hilarious moments, and some weird and wonderful aliens as Rick and Morty (along with Summer, Jerry, and Beth) took off on their interdimensional adventures.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Star Trek: Lower Decks

It could hardly be anything else, right? Building on the success of both the Star Trek franchise and animated comedies like Rick and Morty, Star Trek: Lower Decks represented the franchise’s biggest attempt to try something new – and arguably its biggest risk – in a very long time. Despite the controversy surrounding Lower Decks’ lack of an international broadcast, judging the series on merit it was a very enjoyable ride.

There were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in Lower Decks, but more than that, the show paid homage to my personal favourite era of Star Trek – the 24th Century. There were so many callbacks and references to events in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager and the series managed to feel like Star Trek while at the same time having an overtly comedic style.

While its sense of humour won’t be to everyone’s taste, there’s no denying that Lower Decks was made by fans for fans, and I’m really excited to see its second season whenever that may come – especially now that the show’s international broadcast has been settled meaning that fans everywhere can enjoy it together.

Best Live-Action Television Series:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-up πŸ₯ˆ
Cobra

Right at the beginning of the year I watched Cobra, a British thriller about a government dealing with the aftermath of a disaster. Such an interesting fictional concept, I thought. How innocent we were back then, eh?

Cobra wasn’t what I expected. Having read the pre-release marketing I was expecting a disaster series, something dealing with an apocalyptic event. Instead it’s much more of a thriller with elements of political drama. Even though that was completely not what I expected, I had an enjoyable time with the series.

Robert Carlyle – who plays the role of a British Prime Minister clearly inspired by Tony Blair – is an actor I’ve always felt was underrated. I saw him a few years ago in a miniseries called Hitler: The Rise of Evil, and ever since I’ve found him to be a decent actor who can take on a variety of roles. He was the star of Cobra – but didn’t overwhelm the series. It was an entertaining ride with some truly tense moments.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Star Trek: Picard

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed my articles and columns this year! Star Trek: Picard did something I’d been desperately wanting the franchise to do for basically twenty years: move forward. Since Enterprise premiered shortly after the turn of the millennium, Star Trek has looked backwards, with all of its attention focused on prequels and reboots. Many of those stories were great, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to know what came next, and Picard scratched that itch.

But its premise alone would not make it the best television series of the year! Star Trek: Picard told an engaging, mysterious story as the retired Admiral Picard set out on a new adventure. The story touched on contemporary themes of artificial intelligence, isolationism, and mental health, and was an enthralling watch. Though it stumbled as the first season drew to a close, the first eight episodes were outstanding, and have hopefully laid the groundwork not only for future seasons and more adventures with Picard and his new crew, but also for further Star Trek stories set at the dawn of the 25th Century.

It’s difficult to pick out one individual episode and say it was the best the season had to offer, because Star Trek: Picard is designed to be watched from beginning to end as one continuous story. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try!

Star Trek Episodes:

2020 was the first year since 1998 with three Star Trek productions, so there’s a lot of episodes to choose from! As Trekkies we’re spoilt for choice at the moment – long may that continue! This year I reviewed every single Star Trek episode that was broadcast. The year began with Picard in late January, then Lower Decks came along in August, and finally Discovery premiered in mid-October.

Worst Episode:

There weren’t a lot of options here, because the quality of modern Star Trek has been high. That said, every Star Trek show has misfires and duds from time to time, and this year was no exception.

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-up πŸ₯ˆ
Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 (Star Trek: Picard)

After an incredibly strong start, Star Trek: Picard stumbled as its first season drew to a close. My primary complaint about Et in Arcadia Ego as a whole (aside from that godawful gold makeup they used for the synths) was that it introduced too many new characters and storylines, most of which didn’t get enough screen time to properly develop. The first part of a finale needs to bring together everything that’s already happened, not dump an awful lot of new things onto the audience, but that’s what Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 did.

The episode was also very poorly-paced, which is down to a combination of scripting and editing. The story jumped from point to point without sufficient time for the audience to digest what was going on. It also skipped over what should’ve been massive emotional moments, like Picard and Soji learning Hugh’s fate, or Elnor learning of Picard’s illness. Dr Soong and Sutra in particular needed more development and more screen time – though Isa Briones’ terrible, one-dimensional performance means that’s something I’m half-glad we didn’t get!

Overall, this was Picard’s worst episode by far. The aesthetic, editing, and pacing were all wrong, and if the story of Season 1 wanted to include all of these new characters, factions, and settings, we needed not only more episodes, but to have brought them in much earlier.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Envoys (Star Trek: Lower Decks)

Envoys’ opening sequence, in which Ensign Mariner kidnaps a sentient energy lifeform “for a laugh,” was the closest I came to switching off Star Trek’s second animated series and not going back. Where Lower Decks succeeded was in making the regular goings-on in Starfleet comical. Where it failed was in attempting to set up Ensign Mariner as Star Trek’s answer to Rick Sanchez (from Rick & Morty). This sequence encapsulated all of Mariner’s worst qualities, and was about as un-Star Trek as it’s possible to get.

It’s a shame, because the episode’s B-plot starred Ensign Rutherford in what was one of his better stories as he hopped from role to role aboard the ship, trying out different postings in different departments. The main story stuck with Mariner and Boimler, and derived much of its attempted humour from her mean-spirited selfishness. The ending of the episode did go some way to humanising Mariner, and arguably set the stage for her becoming a much more likeable character across the remainder of the season. But that opening sequence in particular is awful, and is the main reason why I’m crowing Envoys as the worst Star Trek episode of the year.

Best Episode:

This is a much more fun category than the one above! And there are plenty of candidates. All three shows managed to have some real gems, and picking just two was not an easy task.

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-up πŸ₯ˆ
Far From Home (Star Trek: Discovery)

After Michael Burnham arrived in the 32nd Century in the season premiere, Far From Home saw Discovery and the rest of the crew arrive too. We were treated to an excellent crash landing sequence that was reminiscent of Voyager’s fourth season episode Timeless, and we got an interesting storyline which saw Saru and the crew forced to adapt to a very different and difficult future.

Saru and Tilly both stepped up, and the dynamic between these two characters has been continued through the rest of the season. As two main characters who hadn’t spent a huge amount of time together before this episode, their relationship was somewhat new and very interesting. Saru stepped up to become the captain we all hoped he could be in Far From Home, and Tilly showed us that there’s more to her than mere comic relief.

As the second half of the series premiere, Far From Home does a lot of world-building, establishing the violent, chaotic nature of the 32nd Century. It was also rare in that it was a Star Trek: Discovery episode with practically no input from Burnham – something which allowed many other crew members to shine in unexpected ways.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Remembrance (Star Trek: Picard)

I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a Star Trek episode than I was for Remembrance. This was the moment Star Trek returned to the 24th Century for the first time since 2002’s Nemesis – and it was the first time the overall story of the Star Trek galaxy had moved forward since we heard about the destruction of Romulus in 2009’s Star Trek.

Children of Mars – the Short Treks episode that served as a prologue to Picard – had been somewhat of a let-down, so there was a lot riding on Remembrance as far as I was concerned! And I’m so happy to report that it delivered. It was mysterious and exciting, with moments of tension and action, and although the now-retired Admiral Picard was not exactly the same as he was the last time we saw him, flickers of the man we knew were still there.

Remembrance set the stage beautifully for Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. It took things slow and didn’t overwhelm us with storylines and heavy plot all at once. By the end of the episode we’d only really met two of the season’s principal characters. Perhaps seen in the light of the rushed finale this could be argued to be a mistake, and that we needed to get a quicker start. But I don’t think I agree with that assessment; Remembrance is perfect the way it is, and probably the best single episode of television I saw all year.

Films:

Let’s be blunt for a moment: 2020 has been a catastrophic year for the film industry. So many titles that should have been released simply didn’t come out due to the pandemic, and as a result it’s been slim pickings. A few bigger titles managed to premiere in January or February before the worst effects hit, but since the end of February very few titles have come out. We’ve missed out on films like No Time To Die, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Dune, all of which have been delayed to 2021. And there will be ramifications for years to come, as titles planned for 2021 are being pushed to 2022, and so on.

There have been some titles that managed to come out this year, and from my selfish point-of-view, I’m happy that more have come straight to streaming! My health is poor, and one thing that I sadly can’t do any more is get to the cinema (I haven’t been able to for several years). So in that sense I don’t feel that I personally have missed out in quite the same way! However, the massively-curtailed release schedule has had an effect, and as a result I don’t really have a lot of titles to choose from for this section of the awards. In another year I might’ve split up the films into several genres, but instead we just have three categories.

Worst Film:

Luckily there’s only one film in this category this year. If you recall my review of it from the spring, it perhaps won’t be a surprise!

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker is saved from being the worst Star Wars film solely by the existence of The Phantom Menace – and it’s not always clear which is worse. The clumsy insertion of Palpatine into a story that was clearly not supposed to have anything to do with him is perhaps the worst example of corporate-mandated fan service I’ve ever seen. Not only does Palpatine ruin The Rise of Skywalker, but the revelation that he’s been manipulating the entire story of Star Wars from behind the scenes undermines every other story that the cinematic franchise has tried to tell. It was a monumentally bad decision; the worst kind of deus ex machina. And his presence wasn’t even explained.

But while Palpatine stank up the plot, he wasn’t the only problem in The Rise of Skywalker. The ridiculously choppy editing meant no scene lasted more than a few seconds, leaving the audience no time to digest what was happening. There was some truly awful dialogue. General Hux’s story makes no sense at all and was totally out of character. Rose Tico was sidelined, despite her character being a huge part of the previous film. Palpatine’s plan – and his decision to announce it to the galaxy before enacting it – makes no sense. The stupid limitation to his fleet also makes no sense. Rey’s character arc across the trilogy was ruined by the decision to listen to bad fan theories. Poe and Finn basically did nothing of consequence. And the scenes with Leia – I’m sorry to say given Carrie Fisher’s untimely demise – were so obviously lifted from another film that it was painful.

JJ Abrams ran around undoing so many storylines from The Last Jedi that The Rise of Skywalker felt like two films haphazardly smashed together, but cut down to the runtime of a single picture. There was an occasional moment where either something funny happened or perhaps the nostalgia hit hard, but otherwise it was a total failure, and by far the worst film I’ve seen all year.

Best Animated Film:

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Frozen II

Disney does not have a good track record when it comes to sequels. Most of the time their big animated features are one-offs, with any sequels being relegated to direct-to-video offerings. But Frozen had been such a cultural landmark after its 2013 release that a sequel was, perhaps, inevitable. And far from being an afterthought, Frozen II was a film that equalled – and occasionally surpassed – its illustrious predecessor.

There was some fantastic animation work in Frozen II, such as the effects used for the fog. There was less snow than in the first film, and the snow in Frozen was beautiful, so that’s a shame in a way! The soundtrack was fantastic too, with several catchy songs that are well worth listening to.

Frozen II’s story was engrossing and genuinely interesting, and unlike some Disney sequels managed to avoid feeling tacked-on. The parents of the two sisters at the heart of the story had been killed early in the first film – and Frozen II saw them learn more about what happened to them, as well as discovering the source of Elsa’s powers.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe

Phineas and Ferb went off the air in 2015, and as Disney Channel shows are usually one-and-done affairs I didn’t expect to see it return. But Candace Against the Universe premiered in August on Disney+ and was absolutely amazing.

After a five-year break the film brought back practically everything that made Phineas and Ferb great. There was a wacky but fun plot that brought together the kids and Dr Doofenshmirtz, there were some great musical numbers, and above all a deep story that had heart. Candace – the sister of the titular Phineas and Ferb – took centre-stage in a story that made depression accessible to even the film’s young target audience. It ended by telling a story that showed kids that they don’t have to be the centre of the universe to matter, and I think that’s an incredibly powerful message.

I’m a big advocate of sensitive depictions of mental health in entertainment. Not every story has to touch on the subject, of course, but Candace Against the Universe did – and it did so in a way that was relatable and understandable. But beyond that, it was a fun return to a series I thought was over. It’s possible the film could be the springboard for more Phineas and Ferb, but even if it isn’t I’m still glad we got to see it.

Best Live-Action Film:

Ordinarily I’d try to split up films by genre, and at least have sections for comedy, sci-fi, and maybe one or two others. But so few films have staggered out the door this year that there’s not really a lot of choice. As I’ve seen so few new films I just picked my top two. It wasn’t even all that difficult.

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Sonic the Hedgehog

In any other year, Sonic the Hedgehog wouldn’t have got a look-in as one of the best releases. But this is 2020, and as we’ve already discussed, there aren’t a lot of options. After receiving backlash for its visual effects when the first trailer was released in 2019, the creative team behind Sonic the Hedgehog went back to the drawing board and redesigned the titular Sega mascot, bringing him closer to his video game appearance. The willingness of the studio to delay the project in response to fan criticism is appreciated, especially when many other studios have chosen to double-down in the face of such backlash.

The film itself is surprisingly fun, though as with 1993’s Super Mario Bros., features a storyline quite far-removed from the video game franchise it’s inspired by. Jim Carrey hasn’t exactly disappeared in recent years, but has been nowhere near as ubiquitous as he was in his late-90s heyday, so his performance here feels like a return to form. And that’s all I have to say, really. It was a fun film, and an enjoyable way to kill a couple of hours. Is Sonic the Hedgehog going to be hailed as a classic of modern cinema alongside Lincoln and Bohemian Rhapsody? Of course not. But out of the available titles this year, it’s one of the best.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
1917

Now for a complete change of tone! 1917 was released in December last year, and is a truly epic war film that missed out on winning any of the top Academy Awards. However, despite the snub by the Oscars, it’s an outstanding piece of historical cinema, and though its novel “one-take” style of editing was perhaps less impressive than I expected it to be, it was nevertheless interesting.

I fully expect 1917 to be considered a classic of the war genre in decades to come, such is its quality. At its core is an emotional story of two young men thrown into a gut-wrenching situation. The First World War was one of the worst and bloodiest in history, yet few films have depicted that horror with such brutal accuracy as 1917.

Though it isn’t the kind of popcorn flick you’ll want to watch a dozen times in a row, 1917 is artistic and inspired in all the ways that matter. From the performances to the costuming to the camera work, every tiny detail has been honed and perfected. Director Sam Mendes deserves a lot of credit for putting together this masterpiece.

Announcements:

In this final section I’ll briefly cover a handful of announcements for upcoming productions that got me excited in 2020. There are so many interesting projects in the works, and while some of these may not see the light of day until 2022 or even later, they’re still genuinely appealing and I’m keeping my ear to the ground listening for news!

Video Games:

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

I’d been hoping for an announcement of the remastered Mass Effect trilogy ever since rumours of its existence began to swirl earlier in the year. Though EA and Bioware kept us waiting, the remaster was finally announced a short time ago and is due for release in 2021. Whether it will really tick all the boxes, and whether enough time has passed for a remaster to feel like a substantial improvement are both open questions… but I’m very interested to find out!

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Hogwarts Legacy

It’s been a long time since a video game announcement got me so excited – and an even longer time since anything in set in the Wizarding World did! Hogwarts Legacy looks like a game with great potential – telling a new story set decades before the Harry Potter books. It also seems to be a game that offers a great degree of player choice. That combination worked very well for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and I think it could do wonderful things here.

Television Shows:

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
Alien

There’s a television show based on the 1979 classic Alien in development! Practically everything is being turned into a streaming television series right now, so perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I’m truly interested to see what the Alien franchise can do with more than a couple of hours. Television as a medium allows for longer and more complex stories than can fit in a two-hour film, so there’s a lot of potential here.

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Almost since the moment he beamed aboard Discovery at the beginning of the second season, fans had been clamouring for a Captain Pike series, and Alex Kurtzman and ViacomCBS listened! Strange New Worlds was announced in May, along with a short video from its three principal cast members. The show has already begun production, and while I doubt it’ll see the light of day before 2022, it’s one of the things keeping me going right now!

Films:

πŸ₯ˆRunner-upπŸ₯ˆ
The Matrix 4

Though I have no idea where the story of The Matrix 4 could possibly take the series, I’m cautiously interested. Filming has already begun, but was disrupted by – what else – the pandemic. The two sequels to 1999’s The Matrix didn’t quite live up to the first part of the saga, but nevertheless were solid action-sci fi titles. I’m hoping that, after the series has taken a long break and with access to better CGI than was available in the early 2000s, The Matrix 4 will be just as good as the first. Could this be the beginning of a greatly expanded franchise?

πŸ†WinnerπŸ†
Dune

The first part of this new Dune duology should have been released this month, but because most cinemas remain closed it’s been pushed all the way back to December next year. Dune has previously been difficult to adapt, with at least one attempted film version never making it to screen, but this adaptation has clearly been a labour of love. It seems to feature a great cast, and based on the trailer will have some stunning visual effects. Here’s hoping that it can get the cinematic release that the director and studio hope for.

So that’s it!

Those are my picks for the entertainment highlights of 2020. It’s been a very unusual year in terms of what all of us have been able to watch and listen to. A number of big titles weren’t able to make it to release, especially in the realm of cinema. We’re also going to be feeling the knock-on effects of this disruption well into 2021 and 2022, even if things get back to normal relatively quickly – which hopefully will be the case!

2020 brought Star Trek back to the small screen in a huge way. There literally has not been this much Star Trek to get stuck into for decades, and as a big fan of the franchise I think that’s just fantastic. It’s also been a year which has accelerated the move toward streaming as a main way of accessing content. I wouldn’t like to guess how many cable or satellite subscriptions have been cancelled in favour of Netflix, Disney+, CBS All Access, and the like!

I hope that you managed to find some fun things to watch and play this year – even as the outside world seemed to be falling apart. Entertainment is great escapism, and we all needed some of that in 2020. This may be my last post of the year, so all that remains to be said is this: see you in 2021!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective company, studio, broadcaster, publisher, distributor, etc. Some promotional images and artwork courtesy of IGDB. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten things we learned from Maps and Legends

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Maps and Legends and Remembrance, as well as for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

Maps and Legends was a solid episode, and a good continuation of the story that Remembrance set up. Despite not quite reaching the same heights as the first episode of the season, it was enjoyable nevertheless, and we got a lot of new information that, while setting up story elements for later in the season, also tells us about the Star Trek galaxy in the final year of the 24th Century.

You can read my full review of Maps and Legends by clicking or tapping here, and in this article I’m going to look at ten points of interest from the episode as we wait impatiently for the next one!

Number 1: The Romulans seem to be doing better than we thought.

One of the Romulan guards aboard the Artifact.

Because Picard has at least two Romulans working with him at the ChΓ’teau, and because of the total destruction of his planned rescue armada, I surmised after watching Remembrance that the Romulan situation was pretty bad. Though I wrote then that “they aren’t completely out of the game”, it seemed that things were rough for the surviving Romulans.

But we learnt a lot more in Maps and Legends about the status of the Romulans, and it seems things aren’t actually as bad as we’d thought. Obviously the supernova and the loss of their capital has caused significant upheaval, but the Romulans seem to be doing remarkably well despite this.

The Romulan Free State – which I’m assuming is a successor to the Romulan Star Empire based upon its control of the Artifact and that it seems to have a strong military – remains an independent faction. While there is cooperation with the Federation at least, as seen from Soji and other non-Romulans aboard the Artifact, they seem to be in a pretty good position all things considered.

Not only are their operatives – now known to be a new Romulan faction called the Zhat Vash – able to freely operate on Earth, even at the heart of Starfleet, but Romulan intelligence agents have penetrated Starfleet itself.

My personal belief at this stage is that Commodore Oh, despite what was hinted at in Maps and Legends, is actually a Vulcan who’s simply a co-conspirator. But Lieutenant Rizzo is absolutely confirmed to be a Romulan agent. The goal of the Zhat Vash is seemingly to track down and eliminate synthetic life, but I’m sure having an operative strategically placed within Starfleet intelligence brings the Romulans other dividends! And if they managed to get one person in, given an organisation the size of Starfleet it’s at least possible that there are others.

The Romulans have always been a secretive faction, and their power plays in other iterations of Star Trek have tended to be more covert than overt, so this really fits nicely with what we know about them and how we might expect them to behave.

For a more detailed look at the Romulans, I wrote an article before Star Trek: Picard premiered which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Suffice to say, however, that this isn’t their first tussle with Starfleet, nor their first time using undercover agents to try to gain the upper hand. The Khitomer conspiracy, which Kirk and his crew managed to stop at the last moment, had heavy Romulan involvement. Indeed, this seems to be one of the inspirations for the Starfleet conspiracy aspect of Picard’s storyline.

Number 2: The Borg survived the events of Voyager’s finale.

Endgame saw a time-travelling Admiral Janeway infect the Borg with a virus and provide future technology to Voyager’s crew.

It was always a bit of a long shot to think that Admiral Janeway’s actions in Endgame, the finale of Star Trek: Voyager, would have wiped out the Collective entirely. After all, they survived the loss of one Borg Queen during the events of First Contact, and that barely seemed to affect them at all. Not to mention the war they fought against Species 8472 that was said to have cost them thousands of ships and millions of drones.

One of the reasons that the Borg are so dangerous is their adaptability. And the virus that future Janeway introduced, as well as the upgrades she provided to Voyager, may have worked in the short term, but once the Borg have adapted they essentially become useless. This makes me wonder very much about the grey badges worn by Soji and others aboard the Artifact – will they lose their effectiveness, and if the remaining Borg on that “graveyard” were to wake up, would they be able to adapt to the technology the Romulans and others have deployed?

Borg stories can be difficult in Star Trek for the simple reason that the Borg Collective, in theory, is an overwhelmingly powerful opponent for our heroes. A single Borg cube was able to destroy almost 40 Federation ships in their first engagement, and a second cube came very close to assimilating Earth a few years later. In Voyager we saw them deploy dozens of ships against a Delta Quadrant species, conquering and assimilating the planet very quickly. If they used similar tactics against the Federation they’d surely be successful. So just knowing that the Collective still exists, that they’re out there waiting, is dramatic in itself.

Ever since the Enterprise-D first confirmed the existence of the Borg more than thirty years prior to the events of Star Trek: Picard, Starfleet has maintained a tactical division working on technologies and strategies to defeat them. But as we saw in The Best of Both Worlds and in First Contact, Federation technology lags far behind what the Borg are capable of. If they could so easily shrug off a devastating war against Species 8472, the damage inflicted upon them in Endgame would have scarcely registered. The lost ships and complex could be easily rebuilt – the Borg control so much Delta Quadrant territory as to have near limitless resources – and the virus that future Janeway used would be rendered harmless once an adaptation could be found. Adaptations to the virus and the technology she brought from the future would be rolled out to the entire Collective in a short span of time, and it would all be essentially useless thereafter.

The Artifact is cut off from the Collective, and given it has been under Romulan control for a long time (possibly even a couple of decades depending on how we interpret the number of “cycles” that the Romulans claim to have had it) it seems unlikely that the Borg are coming back for it anytime soon. But there could still very well be dangers lurking in the “grey zone” – and as I said in my review, I have a feeling that Soji’s new friend, the Trill doctor, isn’t going to last very long. There was too much foreshadowing for that not to happen!

Number 3: It’s looking increasingly likely that someone hacked the synthetics and compelled them to attack Mars.

The moment F8 turns on his human colleagues – was he hacked?

I wrote previously that the attack on Mars was not random. It was a calculated, deliberate action against a well-chosen target. For the synths to all malfunction at once, and all decide to go after Mars instead of, for example, other Federation targets, or instead of simply killing nearby humans or going on a rampage, strongly suggests that they were being controlled by an outside force.

F8, the synthetic who the first part of the episode focuses on, appears to receive a transmission, or to be processing something. He stops what he’s doing, his eyes change, and then he begins to take down the Martian defences in his sector. It’s only when the humans on his work crew attempt to interrupt him that he fights them; if he and the other synthetics had suddenly been overcome with a simple urge to rebel, it seems more likely that he’d have just attacked the people in his vicinity rather than performing the complex task of compromising the shields and defensive weapons around Mars.

Because the entire attack unfolds in a matter of just seconds, whatever happened to F8 had to have affected all of the synths practically simultaneously. This adds further credence to the idea that they were hacked, as does F8’s suicide. If this had been some kind of synthetic rebellion, a terrorist attack to highlight the plight of synthetics or to inspire rebellion among others, it wholly failed because as a consequence of what happened on Mars, synthetic life was banned and synthetic research largely shut down. The suicide of F8 – and presumably the other synths as well – would make sense if an outside hacker were covering their tracks. By destroying the synths after they’d achieved their goal of destroying the fleet and shipyard, there was no evidence to understand what happened, nor point to any culprit other than the synths themselves.

When it comes to who was responsible for the hack, however, we can only speculate as there’s basically no evidence to go on at this point in the story.

Number 4: Starfleet has been infiltrated.

Lt. Rizzo and Commodore Oh are co-conspirators.

I mentioned this above when discussing the Romulans, but at least one Romulan agent has managed to infiltrate Starfleet, and not just any branch of Starfleet, either. Commodore Oh appears to be a senior officer in Starfleet security, specifically the department of Starfleet security responsible for security on Earth.

There were a couple of elements in play here that I felt riffed off past Star Trek storylines. Star Trek: Picard has been great at that so far; throwing the audience little hints, names, visual details, and now thematic elements that harken back to previous iterations of the franchise. In particular, the Commodore Oh-Rizzo-Narek group of characters plays on themes we saw in The Undiscovered Country. In that film, Romulan agents, including undercover agents in Starfleet, attempted to disrupt Federation-Klingon peace efforts. There were also very subtle hints, I felt, at The Next Generation’s first season, particularly the episodes Coming of Age and Conspiracy – a duology of episodes dealing with parasitic organisms which were attempting to gain control of the Federation.

Playing up these themes is great; returning fans get further confirmation that this really is Star Trek, taking place in the same timeline, and for new fans it’s so subtle that it doesn’t get in the way of the story one iota.

From a story point of view, I have a suspicion that Commodore Oh is in fact a Vulcan, not a Romulan, and is simply a co-conspirator. Perhaps the Zhat Vash, because they have centuries’ worth of experience in tracking down synthetics, are a natural ally for someone like Oh as she tries to enforce the “galactic treaty” banning synthetics.

Lt. Rizzo, however, is very much a Romulan agent. Whether she’s the only one of the Zhat Vash undercover in Starfleet isn’t clear, but she definitely has it in for Soji.

Number 5: The show has broken viewership and streaming records.

The logo for CBS All Access original shows.

Star Trek: Picard was the most-watched series ever on its channel when it premiered on Canadian television. More than 1.1 million viewers tuned in to the CTV Sci-Fi Channel to watch Remembrance last week, which is a new record for the channel. Great job, Canadian Trekkies!

Additionally, CBS All Access broke the 10 million subscribers mark in the week leading up to Picard premiering. It’s possible that, due to the way CBS All Access reports subscriber numbers, not all of those are paid subscriptions as some may be a free trial, but it’s good news regardless. CBS All Access is the platform for Star Trek in the United States, and if the franchise is to survive long-term we need CBS All Access to succeed. This is a good indication that it’s on track to do well at least for now.

Finally, both Remembrance and Maps and Legends are among the most-pirated television episodes right now. While this of course means that CBS and others aren’t making money from those views, it does indicate that there’s a huge number of people interested in seeing Picard right now. Discovery, by the way, never came close to being the most-torrented or most-downloaded show, not even its premiere. Other shows that have been massively pirated in the last twelve months include Game of Thrones, The Witcher, and Chernobyl – all of which were hugely successful for their parent companies. Piracy should be seen as a reflection of how much interest there is in a series, so seeing Picard right up near the top is, despite what ViacomCBS might be inclined to think at first, remarkably good news.

The level of excitement for Picard was sky-high before Remembrance premiered. I’ve had friends and family who didn’t watch Discovery and who may not have watched any Star Trek property since the 1990s asking me about Picard and telling me they’re going to tune in, so I think that the show is really riding high right now. Hopefully the interest and excitement can be maintained over the whole season and the series can continue to be the biggest hit – so far, at least – for this new generation of Star Trek shows.

Number 6: The rank of Commodore still exists!

Commodore Oh in uniform.

In The Original Series, and I want to say in The Animated Series as well (but I’m not 100% sure on that), there were several characters who held the rank of Commodore. Starfleet ranks imitate United States Navy ranks, where a Commodore is essentially a nonspecific rank offered to senior Captains. Previously the rank was used for a Captain who was in command of more than one ship – a kind of half-step between a Captain and an Admiral.

But since the era of The Original Series we haven’t seen anyone in Starfleet holding that rank (at least not in canon). It was possible that, as in the United States Navy today, the rank was less commonly used or only honorary, but this is evidently not the case.

Commodore Oh is clearly a senior commander in Starfleet security on Earth, and may even be wholly in charge of Earth’s security as she seems to report directly to Admiral Clancy, who is in charge of Starfleet. This is a serious responsibility, and her rank reflects this.

Her uniform is a point of note, however. Red has been the colour of command officers since the The Next Generation era, yet she is wearing the yellow/gold of security. Her uniform is also the same as Lt. Rizzo’s, and not the same as Admiral Clancy’s, despite both a Commodore and an Admiral technically being flag officers. She has a single rank pip, which presumably denotes her status as a Commodore, and her rank pip has a background to it as opposed to the pips Lt. Rizzo has, which are plain.

I looked at the combadges used in the new Starfleet uniforms in my review of Maps and Legends, but hopefully as we see more of the uniforms in the next few episodes I’ll be able to do more of a breakdown. One thing I did spot, though, was that the coloured portion of the uniform features a Starfleet logo pattern, similar to the uniforms of the Kelvin-timeline films.

Number 7: There may be more Sojis and Dahjs out there.

Picard with Bruce Maddox – the man who we assume built Soji and Dahj – aboard the Enterprise-D.

This was implied during the conversation between Rizzo and Oh. They talk about finding a “nest” of synthetics, and interrogating Dahj and Soji to learn where they came from so they can be tracked to their source.

It makes sense that, if it was possible to create Soji and Dahj three years ago, there could be more that have been built subsequently. When Soji said, at the end of Remembrance, that she had a sister I wasn’t convinced that she was referring to Dahj at first. I thought it might’ve been an interesting story point to learn that she was talking about someone else, but Dahj’s last name being confirmed seems to put that particular theory to bed.

However, it’s possible that there are still others out there like Soji, and that she and Dahj weren’t the only ones created by Dr Maddox – or whoever it turns out is ultimately responsible.

Number 8: The Artifact may have been under Romulan control for decades.

The Romulans have controlled the Artifact for a long time.

I hinted at this above, but three moments in Maps and Legends suggest that the Romulans may have been holding onto that Borg cube and its technology for a very long time.

Firstly we have the sign hanging in the checkpoint area. It says, in English and in Romulan, that the Artifact has “gone 5843 days without an assimilation”. 5843 days is around sixteen years, so the Romulans must’ve had control of the Artifact for at least that long.

This ties in closely with the next scene, where Soji is assisting with the dismantling of Borg drones recovered from the Artifact. The drone she and her Romulan colleagues are working on – that the Romulans call “Nameless” – is said to have been in regeno-stasis for fourteen years. Depending on what precisely regeno-stasis means (a combination of stasis with Borg regeneration?), this drone has been inactive for some time. However, the most recent assimilation aboard the Artifact took place longer ago than the drone has been inactive – so that raises the question of what was happening aboard the Artifact at that time. Were there still Borg alive and working on board when the Romulans first arrived? If so, were they still connected to the Collective at that time? The Collective currently sees the Artifact as a “graveyard” according to Narek, but if there were still Borg alive for potentially two years after the Romulans captured it, could the rest of the Collective be aware of what’s going on?

Finally, back at the checkpoint scene, we have the number of “Ops Cycles” stated by one of the Romulan guards. Maps and Legends takes place during or at the beginning of Ops Cycle 9834. If Ops Cycles are equivalent to standard Earth days, that would mean that the Artifact has been under Romulan control for almost 27 years – which would put them capturing the Borg vessel sometime around the year 2372. This would coincide with the second season of Voyager and the fourth season of Deep Space Nine, prior to the outbreak of the Dominion War. While this is a possibility, I think it’s more likely that we’re looking at a 14-16 year timeframe for the Romulans’ capture of the Artifact, which would place it not too far away from the attack on Mars. Could the Borg have been involved with that?

Number 9: The Romulans have a new emblem.

The Romulans’ new emblem.

This was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair, but the Romulans do indeed have a new emblem. It appears to be a stripped-down version of the one we’d seen in The Next Generation era. That emblem featured what appeared to be a winged creature gripping something in its talons, and this design, in a dark red/maroon colour, is a similar shape with a spread-wings design.

It can be glimpsed briefly behind Soji while she’s working on the Nameless Borg drone, and if I had to speculate – which you know I do – I’d say it’s the emblem of the new Romulan Free State.

The new emblem can also be seen – though much less clearly – on the railings in the checkpoint scene aboard the Artifact. There may have been other appearances that I didn’t notice!

Number 10: Picard is dying.

Dr Benayoun brought Picard the worst possible news.

This was arguably the biggest revelation of the episode. Picard asked his doctor – who happens to be an old crewmate from the Stargazer – to certify that he’s fit for duty to Starfleet as part of his plan to get reinstated. But his scans revealed something in the parietal lobe (a section of the brain).

Dr Benayoun isn’t sure exactly what the abnormality represents, but all of the conditions it could cause “end the same way” – i.e. in Picard’s death.

In The Next Generation’s finale, All Good Things, Picard learned that he would suffer from something called Irumodic Syndrome, and this was clearly a reference to that. Picard tells Dr Benayoun that he had been told this parietal lobe issue could become a problem, and Benayoun refers to the collection of conditions that could afflict Picard as “syndromes”. Irumodic Syndrome looked to be something similar to Alzheimer’s disease insofar as it was a degenerative condition.

Later in Maps and Legends, Laris sarcastically asks Picard if he’s suffering from “dementia”, which I think is another reference to Picard’s age and state of health.

This diagnosis, such as it is, changes the tone of the show. No longer is Picard merely coming out of retirement, overcoming his depression, and finding a cause worth getting involved with. All of those elements are still present, but in addition is the sense that his time is running out. Whatever condition he has – presumably Irumodic Syndrome – is terminal. And, if Dr Benayoun is right, it won’t be a pleasant death.

Picard is now a man facing his own mortality, and more than that, he’s facing the prospect of losing himself before the disease kills him. This is clearly an allegory for degenerative conditions faced by many people today as they enter old age – I mentioned Alzheimer’s disease but there are many others. Many of us will have known someone who suffered from such a condition. There are several people I can call to mind in my family and among friends and neighbours. There will be consequences for Picard as a result of this diagnosis. We may not see his decline and death on screen – though that may be something the showrunners have in mind for later seasons – but as Picard assembles his crew and ventures into space, at the back of our minds we’ll be wondering if this really will be his final mission. Unlike in the past, when he’d been able to escape even what seemed to be insurmountable challenges like being assimilated by the Borg, this time there is no escaping his own mortality.

So that’s it. Ten things from Maps and Legends. Despite being two episodes in already, Star Trek: Picard is still playing its cards close to its chest; we have far more questions than answers right now. The biggest answer we got from Maps and Legends, or at least the closest thing to an answer we got, is that the synthetics on Mars were almost certainly hacked or otherwise interfered with. Who did it and why, however, remains unknown.

As I said last week, I’m glad that we’re getting the episodes on a weekly basis instead of having the whole season at once. Star Trek: Picard has a lot going on, and I think if I’d binge-watched the full season I would have missed a lot of things, especially little references, throwbacks, and easter eggs.

I’m incredibly excited to learn more about the conspiracy in Starfleet, Soji and Dahj’s origins, and to finally meet the rest of the main cast – we’re almost certainly going to meet Santiago Cabera’s character next week and I’m a fan of his. There’s so much still to come, and The End Is The Beginning can’t come quickly enough!

Maps and Legends, the second episode of Star Trek Picard, is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Obligatory end-of-the-decade list #3

As the decade draws to a close, I’ve taken a look back at some of my favourite television series and films of the 2010s. Now it’s the turn of video games, and it’s been a good decade for the medium overall.

I used to work in the games industry, writing marketing blurb and website content for a large games company, so I might look at things slightly differently than the average gamer. I’ve also found that, due to a combination of my health worsening and just getting older, my ability and desire to sit down and play games isn’t the same as it used to be ten years ago. As a result, there are some titles which people hold up as being absolutely fantastic that I just haven’t played this decade – including games like Red Dead Redemption II, The Witcher 3, and God of War. That they aren’t included on this list doesn’t mean they aren’t great games, it’s simply that they aren’t titles I have any personal experience with.

With the rise of on-demand streaming for films and television, it’s safe to say that in most cases, most people can watch any film or TV series that they want to. There are even, shall we say, ways to get around pesky restrictions for those who sail the high seas. Ahoy, mateys. So in that sense, TV and film is one platform that everyone with a screen can access. Not so for games, where different titles are released on different systems – some being exclusive to just one. A person’s preference for games is therefore going to be tied to the platform they use to play and the titles that system has available. My primary gaming machine is PC, but I’ve been lucky this decade to play on a variety of others.

Let’s look back briefly at the systems we’ve seen this decade. Obviously PC has been there for the whole decade, chugging away in the background. In 2010, the main consoles that were available were the Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. These consoles were into the latter half of their life by this point, having been released in 2005 and 2006. In 2012, Nintendo launched the Wii U, which didn’t sell particularly well, and in 2013 Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were released. Following the failure of the Wii U, the Switch came out in 2017, and these three consoles are the primary ones in use today. The 2010s also saw the mass adoption of smartphones, which are a legitimate gaming platform in themselves, and finally just a few weeks ago, Google jumped into the gaming market with its streaming service called Stadia. There were also a couple of handhelds, the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita.

As I said for the previous lists I’ve made, everything here is wholly subjective. These aren’t games I’m saying are “objectively the best”, they’re simply the titles I personally found to be the most interesting, entertaining, or memorable over the last ten years. And aside from my number one pick, which is my favourite game of the decade, the rest of the list could really be in almost any order. So with that out of the way, let’s jump in.

Spoiler Warning: There may be spoilers ahead for the story-focused titles on this list. If you don’t want to see spoilers for a game you haven’t yet played, feel free to skip that entry and move on to the next.

Number 10: Minecraft (Multiplatform, 2011)

Promo artwork for Minecraft.

I came to Minecraft quite early in its life, when it was still in beta. I was with a girlfriend at the time who had got into it through watching YouTube videos of playthroughs and wanted me to try it out. The early versions of the game lacked a lot of features that are available currently. When I first played, there was no Creative Mode option, no villager NPCs, no End portal, and a lot of other elements. But it was nevertheless a fun game, and one that was great to play together with other people.

Minecraft took me by surprise by blowing up the way it did. I didn’t expect this scruffy little game, with its incredibly outdated pixel graphics and that seemed to be all about building mud huts and chopping trees, to become a global gaming phenomenon. Shows what I know, eh?

The core appeal of Minecraft is that in its randomly-generated world, players can basically do anything they want. People have done everything from using Creative Mode to make incredibly detailed artwork to redstone-powered in-game computer systems which actually work. Schools have even started using Minecraft as an educational tool, teaching kids how to interact with and use computers. And Minecraft is everywhere, on every platform and system from consoles to phones to PC and even the Raspberry Pi mini computer. And it’s picked up a worldwide fanbase that must number in the hundreds of millions.

The combination of exploration, collecting resources, building, and fighting monsters has been incredibly alluring, and while Minecraft may seem simple on the surface, there’s so much to do that it’s easy to lose many, many hours in its simple, pixelated world. I’ve had great fun taking an empty world and building castles, digging huge caverns and tunnels, travelling to different realms, and fighting off some of Minecraft’s iconic creatures. And compared to a lot of players, I’ve barely scratched the surface.

The PC version of Minecraft has also benefited from a very active modding community, with some incredible mods that completely change the game. One such mod is even credited (at least by some people) with spawning the battle royale genre that has taken the gaming world by storm in the last three or four years.

All in all, Minecraft is a rare, genre-defining title and its success has been imitated by many other games – so much so that “Minecraft clone” is a legitimate game genre in itself at this point – but never bettered. That it still has such an active playerbase over eight years after its official release is testament to its place in the history of gaming.

Number 9: The FIFA series (Multiplatform, annual releases)

Promotional screenshot for FIFA 18.

In 2010, I picked up the World Cup edition of FIFA. I’d played several FIFA titles in the 1990s – FIFA ’97 on PC, World Cup ’98 and FIFA 99 on the Nintendo 64 – but I hadn’t touched the franchise since the turn of the millennium. It had changed hugely in that time – not just graphically, but the AI too.

Though it’s probably fair to say that FIFA games this decade haven’t made such groundbreaking changes as they did in the previous one, for me as someone coming back after such a long hiatus, I was absolutely struck by how much better World Cup 2010 was than the titles I remembered from years prior. While FIFA games absolutely can be enjoyed in single-player, where I had the most fun was playing against friends one-on-one.

I’m not a big online gamer, but if I have two control pads and someone to play with on the couch, FIFA is definitely one of my go-to series for a fun time – assuming, of course, that the other person is a football fan. For non-fans, there’s obviously much less enjoyment to be had.

The most recent edition of FIFA I played was FIFA 18, which has some minor improvements over games earlier in the decade, but nothing that I’d say that majorly changed the game experience. What I find the most fun isn’t playing as my favourite team with my favourite players, but picking a less-known team in a different league, building a team of players, and challenging for the league title or a cup. FIFA is a surprisingly adaptable series in that respect – there are a lot of options and ways to play. Depending on how long or short you want matches to be, and how much input you want to have in the management of your team, you can spend either hours in the backroom playing with different tactical choices and player options, or just blitz through a campaign of short matches all the way to the end of the season and the cup final. There’s something for everyone – or at least, for every football fan.

There are some absolutely legitimate criticisms of the FIFA series for the way it charges players for random in-game content in its Ultimate Team mode, and the way that recent iterations of the game – especially on platforms like Nintendo Switch – haven’t really brought any new gameplay to the table for a full-priced title, and I don’t want to ignore those. But for me personally, as someone who doesn’t play online and doesn’t buy in-game items, FIFA is a lot of fun and offers a lot of content for people who enjoy football. And the massive improvements made since I first played it in the 1990s are still impressive, even if the pace and scale of gameplay and graphical improvements has fallen away in recent years.

Number 8: Shenmue I & II (PC and PlayStation 4, 2018)

Ryo Hazuki (left) faces down an opponent in this promo screenshot from Shenmue I & II.

I was a huge Shenmue fan when I had a Dreamcast, so when this remaster was announced I was incredibly excited to jump back into that world. It’s a little bit of a stretch to call this a remaster, though, as while the game is upscaled to fit modern widescreen displays, and there were some minor changes to controls to better suit modern control pads, the games are essentially identical to their respective 1999 and 2001 releases – including, so I hear, some of the same bugs and glitches as were present two decades ago. Though I did encounter a few bugs in my playthrough (the same cutscene repeating, getting stuck in the environment, etc.) I can’t say for sure whether those are bugs which were carried over from the original versions or not.

Though Shenmue I & II haven’t really aged all that well from a gameplay perspective, it was absolutely a nostalgic treat to be able to replay these classic games I enjoyed years ago. And the first game in particular was a landmark in the history of gaming – for me personally as well as the industry. Prior to playing Shenmue, most of my gaming experiences had been in flat, 2D worlds. The few 3D titles I’d seen or played had been games like Super Mario 64 – which is a great game in its own right, but not what you’d call cinematic. Shenmue completely changed the way I viewed games; no longer just digital toys, they could tell stories that would be just as at home on television or in the cinema. I love that about games, and my favourite titles ever since have been ones that told great, immersive stories. The chance to recapture some of the way that felt was too tempting to pass up, so I couldn’t wait to replay Shenmue.

Shenmue I & II was a return to a game world I hadn’t visited since the early 2000s when I traded in my Dreamcast for an Xbox when that console failed, and as a piece of nostalgia, getting to enjoy these titles again was wonderful. Shenmue is a series all about telling one story, and the unique world it created – with characters and businesses operating on a day-night schedule, variable weather conditions, and the freedom to ditch the main quest and just explore the environment or play games in the arcade – was groundbreaking for its time and still something special today.

In a post earlier this month, I wrote how I was very disappointed that Shenmue III won’t be completing Ryo’s story, despite having what is almost certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so. I still haven’t bought that game, and I’m not sure whether I want to until I know whether there will be a sequel – or any other conclusion to the story. But that disappointment hasn’t detracted (much) from my enjoyment of this rerelease of the first two titles.

Number 7: Mario Kart 7 (Nintendo 3DS, 2011) & Mario Kart 8 (Wii U, 2014; Switch, 2017)

Being able to race underwater was new in Mario Kart 7.

Ever since I played Super Mario Kart on the SNES in the mid-1990s I’ve been a fan of Nintendo’s fun and silly racing series. Both of the main entries this decade – 2011’s Mario Kart 7 and 2014’s Mario Kart 8 – have been absolutely amazing. The less said about Nintendo’s money-grabbing mobile version the better, though. I got to play Mario Kart 8 months before release at a press event, and I was in awe of the game’s hugely improved graphics. For a while it seemed like the Wii U tanking would mean fewer people would get to play this great entry in the series, but Nintendo repackaged the game for Switch in 2017 – where I’m not ashamed to say I bought it for the second time.

A racing sim this ain’t, so leave your $500 sim cockpit at home, and pick up a controller (or a pair of Switch joy-cons) because Mario Kart is pure arcade racing goodness. When I was working in a big office, a group of colleagues and I would regularly play Mario Kart 7 via the Nintendo 3DS’ Download Play feature, and those races could get very competitive! Mario Kart 8 is also a great multiplayer game, and on one occasion I had a birthday tournament with some friends. As a split-screen game, it’s absolutely perfect. Its simple controls mean anyone can jump in and play, with races being easily accessible to a newcomer – even someone new to gaming.

My favourite character is Dry Bones – the skeleton version of Koopa Troopa – so I was pleased to see him (or her, I suppose) return for the Switch version of Mario Kart 8. It’s always nice to be able to play as your favourite – and I’d been playing as Dry Bones since Mario Kart Wii. The expanded roster of characters this time around should give players plenty of choice, as will the variety of customisation options for karts. Putting together the best kart – with a combination of body, wheels, and glider – to win races has become an important strategic element of the game!

At the end of the day, Mario Kart 7 and Mario Kart 8 are just good, solid fun. With Nintendo’s typical high quality, these really are games anyone of any age can have a fantastic time with. Whether you want to kill five minutes with a single race, or spend hours trying to unlock all the characters and vehicle options, there’s something for everyone to do in this fun, casual title.

Number 6: The Last Of Us (PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, 2013)

Ellie and Joel in an atmospheric piece of promotional artwork for The Last Of Us.

The Last Of Us was the PlayStation 3’s swansong – one of its final titles that really showed off what the system was capable of. In 2013 the games industry was gearing up for new consoles, but famed studio Naughty Dog had one last hurrah for the departing generation, and released what is arguably the PlayStation 3’s finest game.

Set in a post-apocalyptic environment where most of humanity has fallen victim to a fungal infection that turns people into zombies, The Last Of Us is really a character-driven story, a road trip game where main characters Joel and Ellie cross a hauntingly beautiful rendition of an overgrown, largely deserted United States. There’s a variety of enviroments, from crumbling cities to open areas of countryside, and to call the world “atmospheric” wouldn’t do it justice.

Joel is the game’s main protagonist, and while players get a turn playing as Ellie, The Last Of Us is really Joel’s story. The ending is gut-wrenching, and whether or not you agree with Joel’s decision to save Ellie’s life – and in so doing, rob humanity of the chance to cure the cordyceps disease – it’s an incredibly powerful ending. I’m not sure whether the game really needs a sequel; you can’t usually get lighting to strike twice. But regardless, a sequel is due out next year and I’ll be interested – if cautiously so – to see where it takes these incredible characters.

The best post-apocalyptic fiction, whether in the format of a game, book, film, or television series, takes relatable, down-to-earth characters and throws impossibly difficult situations at them. For me, The Last Of Us is right up there with films like I Am Legend and TV shows like The Last Ship as a standout piece of work in the post-apocalyptic genre. By focusing so much on two characters, their journey, and their growth, the game takes everything great about storytelling and makes it an interactive experience. The best games, at least in my opinion, are the ones that manage to do this. And The Last Of Us is absolutely among the best games of the decade for that very reason.

Number 5: Banished (PC, 2014)

An example of a town players can build in this Banished promo screenshot.

Banished is a complicated town-building and management game. Players take control of a group of citizens who are starting a new life after being banished from their society. Aside from planning and building the town, it’s important to manage resources like food, clothing, firewood, tools, medicine, and citizens’ happiness, and getting the balance right between all of these elements is incredibly tricky to master even after hours of trial and error.

The amazing thing about Banished, considering how much there is to do, is that it was all created and programmed by one person. Every aspect of the game was designed and put together by just one guy, and that’s just incredible to me. There have occasionally been other indie titles with just one creator, but none have come close to being on par with Banished. This game would still have made this list even if it had been the work of a team of developers or a whole studio, but considering only one person worked on it, I’m speechless, truly.

The world that players’ citizens inhabit is randomly generated each time, meaning no two towns will be alike. While it’s relatively easy to get started, scavenging available above-ground resources, in order to maintain a town that will be viable for 50+ years of in-game time, it’s important to put sustainability at the heart of playing the game. Forests can be replanted, but if players clear the map from end to end it’s easy to run out of other resources like iron or stone. And striking the right balance to keep everyone in town fed, clothed, equipped, healthy, and happy is a task that is difficult to get the hang of, and one that varies with each map and each playthrough, giving Banished almost unlimited replayability for people who really get into it.

Number 4: Super Mario Odyssey (Switch, 2017)

Cappy and Mario in New Donk City in a promo image for Super Mario Odyssey.

For a few years in the 2010s, it seemed as though Nintendo was only interested in 2D Mario games, titles which imitated the character’s NES and SNES heyday but with up-to-date graphics. Those 2D platformers were okay, but Super Mario Odyssey is on a whole other level.

Playing out like a massively expanded version of classic 3D platformer Super Mario 64 – complete with a version of that game’s iconic castle – Odyssey takes Mario on an incredible journey all across the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond. There’s plenty of nostalgia here for returning fans, including throwbacks to previous titles in the franchise, but there’s also loads to do for new players, and you don’t have to be a Mario fan to have an amazing experience.

For what is I believe the first time, it’s possible to customise Mario’s outfit. This simple change alone provides tons of fun, and an additional incentive to collect all the hidden coins throughout Odyssey‘s expansive levels. I’m a big fan of character outfits and customisation, and being able to style Mario in such a wide range of outfits was great fun.

There’s a range of different environments in Odyssey, with no two levels being alike. From a cityscape to a dark forest all the way to the moon, there’s a lot to see and do. The game revolves around collecting moons – which replace the power stars from Mario 64 – and while a couple of hundred is enough to unlock all the levels and defeat Bowser, there are literally hundreds more available. 100% completion of the game is possible, but difficult – and requires a heck of a lot of time. This is a title to come back to over and over, and an undoubted classic of the genre and the generation.

Number 3: Grand Theft Auto V (Multiplatform, 2013)

Promo artwork for Grand Theft Auto V featuring protagonists Michael, Franklin, and Trevor.

For a lot of people, Grand Theft Auto V will be the game of the decade, and understandably so. Rockstar’s most recent entry into its action/crime franchise is a juggernaut – regularly appearing in top ten sales charts and on Steam as one of the most played games even six years after its initial release.

The main reason Grand Theft Auto V has been so successful is its online mode – though as a predominantly single-player gamer this isn’t a mode I’m familiar with. Instead, what I like about this game is its single-player campaign. The characters are great to interact with, and watching them team up and work together is more rewarding because players get to spend time with each of them. In previous Grand Theft Auto titles, players took control of a single protagonist. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, Grand Theft Auto V‘s approach, having multiple protagonists, has arguably led to more immersion and the feeling that missions have higher stakes. Watching two or three characters you’ve played as interacting with each other is a very different experience than watching a sole protagonist interact with NPCs. There’s a personal connection that exists between player and character – one which Grand Theft Auto V uses to great effect.

While the story is a fun, over-the-top parody of America as it was in the early 2010s, where Grand Theft Auto V really shines is in letting players loose in a huge open world. Half of the fun of any Grand Theft Auto title is in taking time off from story missions and roaming around, blasting the soundtrack from the radio of your stolen car, and just soaking up the atmosphere of the world that has been painstakingly created. And that’s just as true here as it was in Grand Theft Auto III, which was the first title in the series I played back on the original Xbox, or in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which first featured the city of Los Santos.

Los Santos is a parody of Los Angeles, and the city is created in absolutely amazing detail. Even more than six years after release, this open world’s scale is impressive and it looks great to boot. There’s a lot to do even when not taking part in a mission, far too many side activities to list here, and it’s quite easy to see how people have sunk thousands of hours into this game. Grand Theft Auto V is a title which has lasted from the end of the last console generation right through the current one, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see it ported to next year’s PlayStation 5 and next-gen Xbox. How will Rockstar possibly be able to follow its success? I wrote a post about that.

Number 2: Civilization VI (PC, 2016)

Promo screenshot of Civilization VI.

Civilization VI might be the game I’ve spent the most time with this decade. It’s certainly my most-played game of the last three years, that’s for sure. It’s a game that hooks you in and keeps you coming back for more.

My first experiences with PC strategy games back in the 1990s were real-time strategy games like Age of Empires and Command and Conquer. Early games in the Civilization franchise didn’t really appeal to me because they were slower and, in my opinion at the time, less exciting as a result. So when Civilization VI came out in 2016, I wasn’t particularly interested at first. But after reading some very positive reviews online I decided to give it a try – and I’m so glad I did.

Playing out like a digital board game rather than a video game, Civilization VI lets you build cities, colonise the world, and defeat your opponents through a variety of victory conditions: cultural, domination, religious, scientific, or simply by having the highest score at the end of an arbitrary time limit or turn limit. Each of these victory conditions requires a different play style to achieve, and which one seems best to pursue can change depending on the outcome of wars and diplomacy with other factions in the game.

Despite some glitches here and there, including one introduced by an update at one point, the AI in the game is very good and plays to win. On harder difficulty settings, you’re in for a real fight! There are also some great custom scenarios – shorter games with different factions and specific victory conditions. I also had great fun trying to unlock various Steam achievements – some of which required oddly specific circumstances like capturing an oil well in the final turn of a game, or building districts in a city in a specific pattern. Achieving some of the more obscure ones – especially ones that hardly anyone else had – became a fun game in itself for me.

The game takes players from the stone age through to the near future (as of the most recent expansion pack) and various technologies can be unlocked along the way, improving your cities, units, and abilities. There are plenty of civilisations to choose from, with the number almost doubling thanks to several expansion packs. Unfortunately, the price for the game plus all its current expansions can be a bit steep – but it is on sale on Steam from time to time, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for those sales to get the game at a discount.

Civilization VI converted me from a real-time strategy fan to someone who appreciates a slower turn-based game. And I’ve spent hundreds of hours in this game, customising everything I could (I like to give my cities names) and having a whale of a time. The randomly-generated maps, and the fact that there are far too many civilisations and leaders to play against in a single match, means that Civilization VI has huge replayability potential once you get stuck in. And I really, really did get stuck in for a while there.

Honourable Mentions:

For every title on the list above, there was at least one other I could’ve picked. It really has been a great decade for games, and with more people than ever now owning a console and playing games regularly, things can only get better as the 2020s roll around. Just before I crown my favourite game of the decade, here are a few titles which almost made this list (and one bonus subscription service – let’s look at that first!)

Xbox GamePass (Xbox One and PC, 2017) – GamePass aims to be the “Netflix of video games”, and that’s exactly what it is. A huge number of titles can be played for a single subscription fee, and I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone on a budget. An Xbox One S with a GamePass subscription (and an internet connection) is enough to get you stuck into this generation’s games without spending a huge amount of money up front.

Star Trek Online (PC, 2010; Xbox One and PlayStation 4, 2016) – It wouldn’t be one of my lists without a Star Trek title, and Star Trek Online is a lot of fun – provided you can tolerate playing with thousands of other people. I can’t, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognise it’s a good game.
Fortnite (Multiplatform, 2017) – As a title that has brought millions of new people into the hobby, and changed the way companies approach charging for games, Fortnite is a landmark in this decade’s gaming landscape.
Plague Inc. (iOS and Android, 2012) – I didn’t expect to find a mobile game so genuinely different and interesting, but this fun strategy title – in which you play as a virus trying to wipe out humankind – is just that.
Victoria II (PC, 2010) – A massively in-depth grand strategy game that must take years to master, set during the 19th Century. Notable for allowing players to play as literally any country in the world – and expand to colonise and conquer it.
Planet Coaster (PC, 2016) – A spiritual successor to the classic Rollercoaster Tycoon series, this surprisingly detailed theme park builder is difficult, but a ton of fun.
Meow Motors (Multiplatform, 2018) – It’s basically Mario Kart with cats. What’s not to love about that?
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One, 2019) – I can’t rank this game because I haven’t been able to play it yet, but everything I’ve read sounds amazing and I can’t wait to jump back in to a galaxy far, far away.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Multiplatform, 2011) – I’d been an Elder Scrolls fan since Morrowind, and Skyrim did not disappoint – a massive open world, tons of NPCs, several factions, and hundreds of missions and quests to get stuck into.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, 2011) – Another franchise I’d long been a fan of, Human Revolution is a well-built prequel with fun gunplay and interesting ways to genetically and technologically modify your human character.
Halo: Reach (Xbox 360, 2010; Xbox One and PC, 2019) – It’s funny to be ending the decade replaying a game from the very start, but Halo: Reach is a fantastic story-driven FPS and was original developer Bungie’s final entry in the Halo series.

Number 1: Mass Effect 2 (PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, 2010)

Jacob, Tali, and Commander Shepard in a promo screenshot for Mass Effect 2.

What can I say about Mass Effect 2 other than “wow”? This game’s incredible story of a no-hope mission to stop nefarious aliens from abducting human colonies is without equal in gaming, and would be at home in any big budget television series or film franchise.

I came late to the Mass Effect party, only playing the first game in the series several years after its 2007 release. I must confess that I wasn’t impressed at first. Mass Effect 1 struck me as a poor rip-off of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic; a generic clone of Star Wars from a studio that didn’t have the license any more. But after running out of things to play, I gave the first Mass Effect 1 a second chance, and second time around it hooked me into its world. By then, Mass Effect 2 was due for release and I picked up a copy on launch day. To say I was blown away would be an understatement – the game is such a massive improvement on its predecessor.

Gameplay is fantastic, a cover-based third-person shooter with a few different weapons to choose from and a variety of powers, including technological and the fantasy-based biotics (which I felt on my initial look at Mass Effect 1 was a poor clone of the Force from Star Wars). There are numerous planets to explore, and players get their own ship to command. Planets and missions don’t have to be done in the same order every time, giving some variety to additional playthroughs.

But what really shines in Mass Effect 2 are the characters and the story. Essentially, Mass Effect 2 is a team-up story: players must recruit the best team possible for an incredibly dangerous mission into uncharted space. Each team member needs to be recruited, then have their loyalty to you and the cause cemented by completing an additional optional mission, usually to resolve part of their backstory. Once these missions are complete, and the Normandy (the player’s ship) has been suitably upgraded, it’s time to take the fight to the evil Collectors (revealed to be pawns of the series’ main antagonists the Reapers).

The final mission of the game – dubbed the “suicide mission” – is one of the most intense sequences I’ve played in any game. The characters we’ve spent so long with can die, permanently, if the mission doesn’t go exactly right. First-time players will probably need a walkthrough to complete this final mission successfully. It’s an incredibly powerful story, with consequences for the final part of the trilogy (which came out two years later).

Mass Effect 2 also included some great expansion packs, adding additional story content which paved the way for Mass Effect 3 nicely. These expansions were well worth the money, and added hours of extra gameplay to what was already not a short game.

Being able to play the game as a nice guy or evil badass, as well as deciding who to recruit, whether to bother with their loyalty missions, and whether to try to keep everyone alive or make sacrifices in the endgame all combine to make Mass Effect 2 a game well worth revisiting. I must’ve played all the way through half a dozen times. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a long game!

The Mass Effect series was also unique, at least at the time, for letting players choose to play as a male or female Commander Shepard. Both options were fully-voiced, meaning there’s even more reason to come back to the game after beating it the first time.

Mass Effect worked so well as a trilogy, despite its controversial and somewhat lazy ending, but the standout part has to be Mass Effect 2. It built on the universe its predecessor created, streamlining the gameplay to really shine a spotlight on its amazing story. Mass Effect 3 would round out the trilogy, and unfortunately since then, the franchise hasn’t been able to recapture the magic of its second instalment. This is definitely a series worthy of a next-gen remaster, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that some time in the 2020s.

When it came to choosing one title to top this list, Mass Effect 2 was the first one that came to mind. And when I stacked it up against other games, even ones I’d played a great deal more of, Mass Effect 2‘s amazing story won out, and I’m happy to crown it my game of the decade.

So that’s it. Those are the games I personally had the most fun with over the last ten years. If your favourites didn’t make the list, please keep in mind that there are a lot of recent games that, despite wanting to, I just haven’t got around to playing yet. And as I said at the start, this whole thing is entirely subjective. It’s been a wonderful decade for games, one which has seen the medium grow beyond all recognition. Thanks to the almost universal adoption of smartphones, and the ease of smartphone gaming, millions of people who wouldn’t have ever called themselves “gamers” are getting into the hobby for the first time. And blockbuster titles like Minecraft and Fortnite have done wonders for the industry.

There have been some drawbacks and issues – loot boxes and random in-game monetisation is, despite what companies claim, akin to gambling, and I fear that some young people are going to have issues as a result of that in future. We need to keep a weather eye on some of these companies, and be unafraid to call them out when they misbehave.

But overall, the 2010s will be remembered as a decade which, though it didn’t see such a radical improvement in graphics or available computing power as the 1990s or 2000s, took gaming as a medium forward, pushing the boundaries and finally breaking into the mainstream as a legitimate entertainment form. Gaming is no longer looked down on by the majority as a nerdy hobby for sweaty teenagers. More and more people have become gamers themselves, and the decade has rewarded them with some absolutely incredible titles, both in terms of single-player story experiences and online multiplayer titles.

All of the games listed above are the copyright of their respective developers and publishers. All screenshots and promotional artwork were taken from IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Obligatory end-of-the-decade list #2

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for all of the shows mentioned on this list. If you haven’t seen one, or haven’t seen up to the most recent season, feel free to skip ahead to the next entry.

In this second part of my series looking back at some of the entertainment highlights of the 2010s, I’ll be taking a look at television series. A couple of these may have premiered in the 2000s, but the criteria here was that they had to have new episodes (not re-runs) broadcast sometime between January 2010 and December 2019. So now you know not to complain that “technically this series aired in 2009”.

As is the case in cinema, television series this decade have benefited greatly from a huge increase in the quality and availability of CGI and other special effects. The result is that for a series with a sufficiently high budget, visuals and effects bordering on (and in some cases surpassing) the big screen have been possible. Additional technological changes like the availability of drones have meant that even low-budget shows have been able to get dramatic, sweeping aerial shots, and the move from standard definition (480p) to high definition (720p or 1080p) as well as the move from DVD to Blu-Ray has meant the visual quality of television series this decade is higher than ever. And that’s great, because television screens have been getting larger and larger. A few shows are even available in 4K resolution (2160p), pushing visuals even further.

The decade has also seen a major shift away from broadcast television channels to online on-demand streaming. Netflix and Amazon Prime end the decade in pole position in this new market. It’s funny to think that at the beginning of the decade I was still buying DVDs and watching them on a 4:3 CRT television. Going back to that setup today, after experiencing the convenience of Netflix and 4K visuals, would be one heck of a downgrade.

As more and more companies have tried to capture for themselves a piece of the streaming market, television budgets have skyrocketed. The result has been an exceptional decade for television storytelling. Some series have focused on telling a single story over multiple episodes and seasons, and this serialised format has become increasingly popular, largely replacing episodic television (or the “monster-of-the-week” format) across many genres. Personally, while I like some serialised shows and the format can suit some stories, I miss being able to jump into any random episode of a show I enjoy without having to remember everything that happened that season – or several seasons prior. But that’s really just a matter of personal taste.

Speaking of personal taste, this entire list is completely subjective. I’m in no way saying these shows are “objectively the best”; they’re simply the ones I personally enjoyed most over the last ten years. My number one pick is my favourite show of the decade, but the others could really be in almost any order – they’re all so good. So let’s dive in!

Number 10: Elementary (2012-19)

Elementary took Holmes and Watson to New York City.

While the BBC won almost universal acclaim for their series Sherlock, a second modern-day take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective premiered in the USA. Elementary stars Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Holmes and Watson respectively, the latter being “gender-swapped” to be female. I’m not usually a fan of changing the fundamentals of a character in this way, but this take on Sherlock Holmes was so altogether different from its source material that here, it worked surprisingly well.

One of the main reasons why I found Elementary to be preferable to Sherlock – and I’m afraid the comparison is an inescapable one – is simply that there was much more to watch. Sherlock, at time of writing, has had a grand total of 13 episodes over four seasons, and while most of them were good, there wasn’t actually a lot to get stuck in to as a viewer. Elementary, in contrast, ran for seven seasons and has a grand total of 154 episodes. While quantity over quality is not a good argument, if the quality is good then I’ll always be happier with a series that delivers more to watch. And as good as Sherlock was, Elementary just offered so much more.

Miller and Liu lead the cast, but there are great performances from guests such as Rhys Ifans and Natalie Dormer, the latter playing Sherlock’s nemesis Moriarty in earlier seasons. These recurring characters add an extra element to the show and allow for character development and arcs over multiple seasons, in addition to the episodic nature of much of the show. Indeed Elementary is one of the few series this decade to primarily stick to an episodic format, allowing Holmes and Watson to solve a huge variety of cases over the course of all seven seasons. As with some shows that run for a long time, toward the end the quality dipped a little as storylines became overly complicated, but overall Elementary is a really enjoyable crime drama/detective show that brings Sherlock Holmes firmly into the modern day.

Number 9: The Terror (2018-19)

CiarΓ‘n Hinds on a promo image for The Terror‘s first season.

I’m always more than a little sceptical when it comes to an entertainment product using real-world people and historical figures without their permission or knowledge. And The Terror, at least in its first season, uses the crew of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition as its cast of characters. I’m also not a fan of horror in general, but the story of the Franklin Expedition was too tempting to pass up, so I gave The Terror a chance. And I’m so glad that I did.

Sir John Franklin – portrayed by CiarΓ‘n Hinds as a somewhat pompous and ill-prepared leader – takes command of two ships on an expedition to find the northwest passage at the very end of the Age of Exploration. Almost all of the world had been mapped by the 1840s, save for some of the most northerly arctic regions, and the Franklin Expedition was aiming to find a way to cross between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This serves as the backdrop for the series, which is ultimately about the increasingly desperate attempts of the crew to survive, as well as fend off a soul-devouring monster.

Luckily the monster didn’t get too much screen time, and in the vein of classics of the monster horror genre like Jaws was the better for being largely unseen. Both Tobias Menzies and Jared Harris give incredible performances as naval commanders, and the story plays out across a single season, leaving practically the entire cast dead by the end.

The second season picks up a completely different story, set this time in a Japanese internment camp in the USA during WWII, and The Terror thus becomes an anthology series. The second season wasn’t as strong as the first, but did feature Star Trek’s George Takei among its cast – noteworthy because he was, in his youth, interred in such a camp.

An interesting premise gave The Terror the foundation upon which a truly interesting series was built, and as a horror show that didn’t focus too much on jump-scares or gore, it was something different in the 2010s. Finally, as a character study of individuals dealing with incredibly difficult, almost unimaginable circumstances, The Terror has certainly earned its spot on this list.

Number 8: The Last Ship (2014-18)

The U.S.S. Nathan James on a promo image for The Last Ship.

Post-apocalyptic settings have been common in entertainment this past decade, but few series nailed it the way The Last Ship did. Rather than an alien invasion, like in Falling Skies, or something supernatural, like in The Walking Dead or The Strain, the threat here is something down-to-earth and real: a viral pandemic. To me, that sense of realism heightened the drama – the premise of The Last Ship feels like something that could actually happen some day, and I found that to be absolutely gripping.

At the heart of it, though, The Last Ship is about characters, as the best shows often are. The crew of the U.S.S. Nathan James go through a heck of a lot, first to find a sample, then to create and distribute a cure, before finally facing the impossible task of rebuilding civilisation. There are some great ship-to-ship battles here, for fans of such things, and despite a lot of modern series and films having a military focus, modern-day naval combat isn’t something there’s been a lot of on television. So in that sense, those sequences are as interesting to watch as they are nervewracking and dramatic.

The show isn’t afraid to take risks – splitting up its cast at numerous points, often for multiple episodes at a time, as well as killing off key crew member and scientist Dr Rachel Scott at the end of its second season. The latter is an especially bold move given the focus The Last Ship had on the work undertaken to cure the virus and synthesise the cure in a form which was easy to distribute.

As in many post-apocalyptic settings, a significant part of the drama comes from human beings facing unprecedented situations for which they were not prepared. Many of the show’s antagonists – such as a government official illegally burning the bodies of the dead to fuel a power plant – are created by circumstance, and while in the context of the show we root for the crew of the Nathan James to bring them down, in more thought-provoking moments we’re left wondering just what we’d have done in such a situation.

Number 7: The Vietnam War (2017)

Title card for The Vietnam War.

As I mentioned in my previous list, which was about the best films of the decade, I’m a big fan of documentaries. And Ken Burns has produced some absolutely outstanding documentaries about the United States, with his latest work tackling the Vietnam War.

I studied the war quite a bit when I was at university, so the overall story is well-known to me, as I’m sure it would be to a lot of people. But that didn’t mean that the way it was presented here, complete with interviews given by soldiers on both sides, and many others who were involved with or affected by the war, was in any way less interesting. The Vietnam War is a masterpiece, telling the story from the American side, but not with malice or bias toward the Vietnamese – who did ultimately win, of course.

The soundtrack is also outstanding, featuring many classic songs of the era, including a number of protest songs. In many ways, the societal divisions we’re living through today have a parallel in the Vietnam era – pro-war and anti-war activists would frequently clash, and there was no middle ground and no civility between the two sides. Sound familiar?

What was great about The Vietnam War is that Ken Burns didn’t treat the retreat from Saigon as the end of the affair. Instead the documentary continues, exploring in detail the consequences of a communist victory for the south – and the country overall. In many ways, Vietnam was a turning point for the Americans, who’d never been on the losing side of a war since 1812, and a reality check on their foreign policy. The legacy of that conflict persists today, both for the Americans and Vietnamese, and The Vietnam War explores the issues as carefully as possible while trying to remain balanced.

Number 6: Hannibal (2013-15)

Mads Mikkelsen in a promo image for Hannibal.

Sir Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of the famous cannibal was always going to be a difficult act to follow, as his performance in 1991’s Silence of the Lambs is iconic. But to my surprise, Hannibal actually managed to bring something new to the table – pun absolutely intended – and in a positive way, showing off Thomas Harris’ serial killer in all his devious glory.

The premise is interesting – a police procedural where the killer is already known to the audience and is hiding out among the cast. Known to us but unknown to them. It’s something which is incredibly hard to get right, because it risks the story becoming either boring or over-the-top. Luckily, at least in its first two seasons, Hannibal avoids that trap and instead tells a fascinating, if somewhat complicated, story.

The two leads, Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, give outstanding performances as Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter respectively, and the chemistry between the two of them carries the show forward. Unfortunately, the show’s ratings were never great, partly due to its heavy, overly artistic style (a scene which is literally just a slow-motion teacup shattering and then coming back together is always going to have very limited appeal) and it had to be saved from cancellation after both its first and second seasons. The third season was much weaker, at least in my opinion, and I’d have preferred if the second season’s finale – where Hannibal walks away from a wounded Will Graham into the night – had been the series’ end. The first two seasons, however, were fantastic, and there really isn’t another series quite like Hannibal.

The level of gore was very high, but much of it was treated in a very artistic way. Hannibal himself, at least this version of the character, tends to display his victims in a variety of poses, often imitating art or making a point. In one famous sequence, the brain and heart of a judge are cut out, and his corpse is displayed with the two organs balanced on a scale in a brutal display. For some viewers, such content would be shocking and enough to stop watching. In that sense, Hannibal is much more of a niche product than its big screen cousins.

Number 5: Game of Thrones (2011-19)

The end of the title sequence of Game of Thrones.

It’s not in the slightest unfair to say that television in the 2010s was dominated by Game of Thrones. It’s a seminal work, rightly hailed as a classic, and one which will be a joy to return to even in twenty or thirty years’ time. At some point in the future I’d like to do a full retrospective of Game of Thrones, including its controversial and disappointing final season, but there’s far too much to go into on this list.

I hadn’t read George R. R. Martin’s fantasy epic before I watched the show – but that’s okay, because he still hasn’t finished writing it. It took me a while to get into Game of Thrones, because despite loving the fantasy setting, the sheer volume of characters introduced in the first few episodes is hard to keep track of at first, especially for a total newcomer.

Game of Thrones changed the way television was produced in three key ways – firstly, it wasn’t afraid to kill off regular cast members. Soaps had been doing this for years, it has to be said, but most prime time shows simply didn’t have a disposable cast until Game of Thrones came along. Secondly, it made multi-season serialised storytelling mainstream for the sci fi/fantasy genre, which had previously been much more episodic in nature. And finally, it demonstrated to television companies that it can be worth investing cinema-level money into television.

Speaking as a fan of science fiction and fantasy, Game of Thrones took what had been a fairly niche, geeky genre and pulled it firmly into the mainstream. People who, a few years ago, wouldn’t have been caught dead watching something like this were drawn into the realm of fantasy – many for the first time – and from the point of view of ensuring more fantasy and sci fi will be produced, and with bigger budgets, that’s a really great thing.

There are too many great individual performances to cover here, but as a whole the cast did a fantastic job bringing these characters to life. And in terms of visual effects, Game of Thrones really does throw cinema-quality visuals at viewers. There are a small number of awkward CGI moments, especially in earlier seasons, but these don’t really notice when taking the series as a whole. As a landmark in the history of television, and a truly outstanding fantasy epic that rivals greats like The Wheel of Time and even Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones is absolutely unmissable. And with prequels and spin-offs set to premiere in the coming years, we haven’t seen the last of the land of Westeros.

Number 4: Chernobyl (2019)

A promo image for Chernobyl.

After Game of Thrones went off the air, I was legitimately wondering how HBO could possibly follow its success. It didn’t take long to get the answer – Chernobyl, produced in conjunction with Sky here in the UK, is probably the best miniseries I’ve ever seen.

The aesthetic of Chernobyl is perfect. I’ve talked before about how nostalgia for the 1980s has been big this decade, but Chernobyl nailed the mid-80s look and feel better than any other show or film. Even the smallest details were perfectly replicated, and while some of the green screen special effects stray a little into the “uncanny valley”, overall the way Chernobyl looks and the way it captures the feel of the 1980s is outstanding.

Telling the story of the 1986 nuclear disaster, Chernobyl might seem like a weird choice for a big-budget production, but as with other entries on this list, what makes it such gripping television is its characters. Jared Harris features in a leading role for the second time on this list, and for good reason. His work in Chernobyl – as whistleblowing scientist Valery Legasov – is one of the best individual acting performances of the decade. A conflicted man, trying to do the right thing while being hampered by the corrupt and ineffective Soviet state, Harris puts his heart and soul into the real-life Legasov, and though there are only five episodes, by the end of the series his death really hits hard. And feels like it matters.

Though the story takes some liberties with the facts of the Chernobyl disaster – supporting character Ulana Khomyuk is a “composite” representing dozens of scientists, the helicopter crash is moved to much earlier after the initial explosion, and the risk of another explosion causing a much more widespread disaster seems to have been overstated – the majority of it is firmly grounded in fact, and Chernobyl is one of the rare drama shows that the audience can learn a lot from. Not just the history of what happened, but some basics of how nuclear power is made. “Now I know how a nuclear reactor works,” says Boris Shcherbina (played by Stellan SkarsgΓ₯rd – father of It actor Bill SkarsgΓ₯rd) and I think the audience feels the same way.

The show explores all aspects of the disaster, from the faults in the design of the nuclear reactor, all the way through to the culling of animals in the radiation zone and the disposal of the horribly radioactive corpses of those who died in the immediate aftermath. Chernobyl is both grim and gripping, detailing the story of how individuals rose to the occasion to deal with one of the most challenging moments in recent history.

Number 3: The Expanse (2016-Present)

Title card for The Expanse.

Based on a series of novels, The Expanse is one of the most unique and interesting science fiction settings I’ve seen in a very long time. It takes many sci fi tropes – like faster-than-light travel, a united human species, and a galactic community of aliens – and ignores them, charting a path for itself that is completely different than anything else on television.

The Expanse is set in a near-future solar system where humans have colonised Mars and parts of the asteroid belt, but Mars has broken away to become a fully independent power, and “The Belt”, as it’s known, is far enough removed from Earth as to be practically autonomous. There’s a cold war going on between Earth and Mars, and it’s with this backdrop that the drama of the series unfolds.

For a SyFy channel original, I was impressed with the production values, visuals, and acting. Across the board, The Expanse delivered an exciting and cinematic story. When SyFy cancelled the series in 2018, fans started a campaign to have someone else pick it up, and Amazon stepped in. A fourth season will premiere in only a few days time. A modern-day version of the Star Trek letter-writing campaign of 1968, this success in bringing the show back shouldn’t be understated. It would have been a great shame to leave the story incomplete – especially as it had reached such an interesting point – and the fact that Amazon was willing to step in and pay for a fourth and fifth season is testament to the power of online fan communities.

There are some great performances in The Expanse too, notably from Thomas Jane, Dominique Tipper, and Shohreh Aghdashloo. The series starts with several completely separate story threads – a police detective in The Belt looking for a missing girl, the crew of a freighter transporting ice receiving a distress call, and a UN representative questioning a terrorist. Subsequent episodes bring in additional characters, like a marine from Mars and the crew of a space station run by The Belt. The way these stories play out and slowly work their way together is narratively brilliant, and the way the books have been adapted for television has been hugely successful. Casting choices were on point, and the aesthetic is great. It can be difficult to visually convey something as radically different as an extraterrestrial, but The Expanse manages to do so in an interesting way. In many shows and films, aliens end up looking just like people with a funny prosthetic, or puppets, or variants of animals or people from Earth. The weirdly ethereal way that The Expanse treats its alien element is unique and fascinating to see. There’s a heavy reliance on CGI at times, but generally it’s well done.

Rather than treating alien life as commonplace, as other sci fi series tend to do, The Expanse shows it off as something radically different and unique, and highlights the incredible danger even a molecule could do to us if we’re not prepared for it. Now that the show has been saved and its future on Amazon looks secure, it’s going to be fascinating to see what’s in store for the crew we’ve come to know.

Number 2: Phineas and Ferb (2007-2015)

“Mom! Phineas and Ferb are making a title sequence!”

I firmly believe that Phineas and Ferb is one of the best cartoon series ever made. A Disney Channel original, the show ran for four seasons across seven years, and even spawned a feature film. The characters have since cropped up in episodes of Milo Murphy’s Law – created by the same team behind Phineas and Ferb – so while it went off the air in 2015, the characters are still kicking around over at Disney.

What Phineas and Ferb does well is that it throws in little jokes, references, and easter eggs which adults can enjoy, while still being 100% kid-friendly. The best kids shows and films do this, and the little inside jokes between us and the creators that kids wouldn’t necessarily get is part of what gives the show its near-universal appeal.

Unlike many cartoons, which tend to follow a single story thread, Phineas and Ferb uses its ten-minute runtime to tell three distinct stories. The formula of each story doesn’t really change all that much from one episode to the next: Phineas and his step-brother Ferb build something or invent something, often with their friends; their older sister Candace tries (and fails) to get them in trouble with their mother for their dangerous activity; and all the while family pet Perry the Platypus is actually a secret agent who disappears to battle an evil scientist. Simple, right?

The two wholly separate elements – the boys’ invention and Perry’s battle with the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz – don’t interact much with each other, essentially making the series two shows rolled into one. The voice acting is great, and the plot, while silly and totally aimed at kids, is a perfectly fun distraction. Practically every episode also features a song, and many of the songs are catchy and downright hilarious. There are also some touching moments, notably in the Christmas special and in the series’ finale. Phineas and Ferb also attracted some great guest stars over the course of its run, including boxer Evander Holyfield, the cast of Top Gear, actor Ray Liotta, actor and producer Seth MacFarlane, and singer Kelly Clarkson.

On a personal note, Phineas and Ferb has been a show I drift back to when my mental health is poor. The happy tone, the musical elements, and the bright colours can absolutely take the edge off when things seem dark. It’s really for that reason that I’m putting it here on the list.

Honourable Mentions:

Before I end the list I wanted to briefly highlight another ten shows, which could’ve easily been the top ten themselves. As I said at the beginning, it’s been a great decade for television, and there’s certainly way more than ten or twenty series worth watching. I have a pretty long list of shows I’ve been meaning to watch but haven’t gotten around to yet – including highly-recommended ones like Breaking Bad, Stranger Things, and The Orville. I know, I haven’t seen The Orville yet. Sue me.

The Simpsons (1989-Present) – It may surprise some of you to know that this classic cartoon is still running, but it is. After years of declining quality, recent seasons have improved greatly and the series is well worth a second look.
Page Eight (2011, 2014) – AKA The Worricker Trilogy, this political thriller was gripping from start to finish, and features a wonderful performance from Bill Nighy.
Terra Nova (2011) – A fun dinosaur/time travel series that was unfortunately cancelled after one season, just as the story was looking to get even more interesting.
Turn – Washington’s Spies (2014-17) – Telling the history of a spy ring that aided the Americans during the War of Independence, this show was entertaining and exciting, with some fun moments for a history buff like me.
Rick & Morty (2013-Present) – A hilarious animated show that satirises the science fiction genre, and plays fast and loose with its timeline and canon to great effect.
Short Treks (2018-Present) – Designed as a way to keep Star Trek on the air in between seasons of Discovery, these short-format episodes have told some amazing and occasionally very funny stories of their own.
The Strain (2014-17) – A vampire apocalypse comes to New York City in this show created by Guillermo del Toro. David Bradley gives an incredible performance as a seasoned vampire hunter.
The 100 (2014-20) – Set 99 years after a nuclear war, the show follows survivors who return to Earth after spending their whole lives in space. While it can be a bit “teenager-y”, it’s a solid work of post-apocalyptic sci fi.
11.22.63 (2016) – Based on the Steven King novel of the same name, this time travel thriller follows an attempt to prevent the assassination of JFK, and comes with a great twist.
Black Sails (2014-17) – Imagined as a prequel to classic novel Treasure Island, this series takes a more serious look at the Golden Age of Piracy than the recent Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

Number 1: Star Trek: Discovery (2017-Present)

Promo image for Star Trek: Discovery.

It couldn’t possibly be anything else at the top of this list, right? After a twelve-year period in which the Star Trek franchise received three decent, but imperfect, action-heavy films, I was longing for it to return to the small screen where it belongs. Star Trek: Discovery is the reason I signed up for Netflix (we don’t have CBS All Access here in the UK) and it’s been well worth it.

As with most Star Trek shows, the start was rocky, but it picked up over a solid first season, with a great performance from Jason Isaacs as Capt. Gabriel Lorca. The second season improved greatly, and Anson Mount’s portrayal of legendary Star Trek character Capt. Christopher Pike has justifiably spawned a campaign for him to get his own show – seemingly catching the creators off-guard.

Discovery has taken a serialised approach to Star Trek, following the trend of many shows this decade, and that has allowed it to tell two season-long stories. The visuals have been updated massively; even the original Enterprise got a redesign. Some fans have felt the aesthetic was too similar to that used in the Kelvin timeline films, but taken as a standalone show, I think there’s nothing wrong with that. And the special effects and CGI have been fantastic.

Though we haven’t spent as much time as I’d have liked with all of the characters, there have been some wonderful character moments and relationships. A show like Discovery needs that, and the character development that has taken place over the first couple of seasons has been a joy to watch for the most part. Characters like Saru and Stamets have come into their own over the course of the series so far, gaining in confidence and going above and beyond for their crew.

Unfortunately, as with Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, this return to the Star Trek franchise hasn’t sat well with some fans, and in that sense that show has been divisive in the wider Trek fanbase. That’s a shame, but it’s a natural consequence of studios playing on nostalgia. There are some people who just don’t want anything new – if they want more Star Trek at all, they want to see carbon copies of what’s come before, not a show that tries to take the franchise to new places. Personally I’m just glad to see Star Trek back on our screens, and I hope it stays around for a long while yet.

For me to rank Star Trek: Discovery so highly considering that two of its key narrative elements in its first two seasons – the Mirror Universe and time travel – are generally not my favourite Star Trek stories is testament to just how good this series has been, and how happy I am to have Star Trek back after years in the wilderness.

Star Trek legend (and future Star Trek: Picard guest star) Jonathan Frakes stepped up to direct several episodes of Discovery across its first two seasons, further cementing its connection to the franchise. His episodes were actually among my favourites, and I look forward to seeing more from him in both Picard and the third season of Discovery when they premiere next year.

Star Trek: Discovery aimed to breathe new life into a franchise that had started to run out of ideas, and it has succeeded beyond all expectations. Its success has paved the way for Star Trek: Picard, as well as Lower Decks, Section 31, and other future Star Trek projects, and while it may not be everyone’s all-time favourite, in that sense it’s been great news for the franchise. I’m more than happy to crown it my favourite show of the decade.

So that’s it. Those are my picks for the decade’s best television shows. As I indicated, there have been a number of series that I just haven’t found the time to sit down and watch yet, despite meaning to. But that happens, life gets in the way sometimes! There will be plenty of time to get caught up and binge-watch them in future. If your favourite series didn’t make the list, please just remember that this is all subjective. These are just the shows I enjoyed, it doesn’t mean what you like isn’t just as good. In case you missed it, you can check out my picks for the decade’s top films here. And stick around, because coming up next will be the final part of this series where I’ll look back at the decade’s top ten video games. See you next time!

All television series discussed in the list above are the copyright of their respective studios and distributors. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Obligatory end-of-the-decade list #1

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for each of the films on the list. If you haven’t seen one and don’t want to have it spoiled, skip that entry and scroll to the next.

It’s December 2019, and with the 2020s just around the corner, it’s time to look back at some of the entertainment high points of the decade as it draws to a close. In this first list, I’ll be looking at my personal picks for the decade’s top films.

The 2010s saw some rather impressive technological leaps in cinema, particularly in the realm of special effects. The CGI of the 1990s and 2000s looks incredibly amateurish by today’s standards. Going back to some earlier films – even big-budget blockbusters – which rely heavily on CGI can seriously detract from the experience, especially on today’s large format 4K displays.

Narratively, the decade has seen franchises and sequels firmly dominate the box office, inspired by the success of Marvel in particular. It’s also been a decade where nostalgia and throwbacks to past films and franchises has been important. Many films have gotten sequels years or even decades after release – the revival of the Star Wars franchise being most notable.

By the way, the numbering here isn’t necessarily in order. The number one film is my favourite film of the decade, but the others could really be put in any order. All are great and while some have flaws or weren’t perfect, these are the films I enjoyed most. If your favourite(s) don’t make the list, just remember this is all subjective. You like what you like and I like what I like. And that’s great!

Number 10: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 & 2 (2010 and 2011)

Herminone, Ron, and Harry in the promotional poster for Deathly Hallows Part 1.

This is kind of a cheat because it’s two films, but it’s my list so that’s just tough. Looking back to the beginning of the decade, it’s hard to imagine that the Harry Potter series hadn’t yet concluded. But Deathly Hallows was split into two parts, coming out in 2010 and 2011, and they brought the series to an explosive conclusion. The decision to split up Deathly Hallows – which was, of course, a single book – into two films got a lot of criticism at the time for being a fairly obvious and shameless money grab, but the thing about the Harry Potter series is that there was always a lot of cut content from the books. So while it certainly was a moneymaking ploy on the part of studio Warner Brothers, it wasn’t one which damaged the films. If anything, the extra runtime makes Deathly Hallows a more enjoyable and fully-rounded experience.

Prior to JK Rowling messing with the characters (did you hear Dumbledore is gay now?) Deathly Hallows marked the end of the Harry Potter saga, which had been running since 2001’s The Philosopher’s Stone. Subsequent attempts to pull fans back in, with the two Fantastic Beasts films and the Cursed Child stage play haven’t managed to be anywhere near as successful, either in terms of story or financial results, so it would’ve been better in many ways if this had been the final entry in the series.

By this point in the film series, we’ve been with the characters for a long time, we’ve got to know the actors and watched them in a very literal sense grow into their roles. Deathly Hallows doesn’t shake up the formula or the aesthetic of the Harry Potter world. It’s more of the same, building on previous films and drawing the story to a satisfactory conclusion. The climactic fight against antagonist Voldemort had been building slowly over several films and when he was finally vanquished – with Harry’s trademark disarming spell, no less – it was a great and emotional moment. Aside from the awkward epilogue with several key characters having been “aged”, both films accomplish what they set out to. And as a fan of Harry Potter overall, it was a good way to say goodbye to the series. Or at least, to this iteration of it with these actors. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if Harry Potter returns as a big-budget television series in a decade or two.

Number 9: Frozen (2013)

Promo poster for 2013’s Frozen.

In the autumn of 2013, when Disney’s Snow Queen-inspired Frozen was released, I was living in a different country, and perhaps it’s for that reason that I missed out on almost all of the advertising and hype for this film. It was only when browsing local cinema listings for English-language films that I even heard about Frozen, and decided from that to go to see it. Disney films have always been decent, so I wasn’t expecting to be disappointed, but I really was surprised at just how good Frozen was.

We could do a whole article on how the animators created the incredible snow for the film – important, obviously, in a film with such a wintry setting – because honestly the amount of work that went into that aspect alone is amazing. The snow in Frozen looks and behaves like real snow, right down to its powdery consistency, and the level of detail really took me by surprise. I understand that animators spent months working on just this one aspect of the film, and that attention to detail shows in the finished product. Frozen wouldn’t be half as good if it looked like Anna and her sister Elsa were trekking across a flat sheet of paper.

As a story, Frozen stands out for breaking the typical Disney Princess mould. Rather than being a story of a damsel in distress being rescued by a dashing prince, Frozen turns that on its head by having the central characters be two sisters, and the ultimate act of love be one of sisterly love. In addition, the dashing handsome prince featured in the early part of the film turns into a villain in what is, by Disney’s standards at least, a shocking and unexpected twist.

Despite being played perhaps more than a little too often in the years after Frozen‘s release, the soundtrack is also amazing. Let It Go, the main song from the film, is undoubtedly one of Disney’s best, and there are several others throughout the film which are memorable. It’s always nice to be surprised at the box office, and Frozen definitely did it for me this decade.

I’d like to give an honourable mention to Disney’s other great film of the decade, Moana. When I was writing this list I debated including Moana, but when it came down to a choice between the two, Frozen just edges it for me. Still a great watch though, and with Disney+ coming soon, there’s no excuse to not see both!

Number 8: A Brony Tale (2014)

Ashleigh Ball on the promo poster for A Brony Tale.

I love a good documentary. I’d have put more docs on this list if I had more space, but considering the theatrical documentaries of the decade, A Brony Tale definitely earns its spot. The film could’ve easily descended into ridiculing the so-called Bronies (a portmanteau of “bro” and “pony”) but manages to stay away from mocking its subject matter, instead telling a more nuanced story.

The film follows My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic voice actress Ashleigh Ball as she prepares to attend a Brony convention. Prior to watching the film, I was loosely aware of Bronies – largely from internet memes – but I hadn’t really spend any time investigating the cartoon or its fans. Bronies, if you’re unaware of the term, are adults (usually men, but the community includes women too) who have become fans of the 2010 cartoon series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Obviously the odd thing about this, for anyone who knows their cartoons and toy brands, is that My Little Pony is aimed at girls, specifically girls aged 6-12, so for adult men to be interested in this series raises a lot of questions.

The documentary tackles its subject matter in a respectful way, letting fans of the show speak for themselves without being overly judgemental or preachy. One story, recounted by the father of a fan, explained how someone dealing with depression and mental health had found an artistic outlet after being inspired by My Little Pony. And the fans themselves come from many walks of life as well as different backgrounds.

At the centre of it all was Ashleigh Ball and her decision to attend a convention. She specifically talks about how she’s used to being anonymous as a voice actress, and how it will be an unusual experience to be the star attraction and have so many people knowing and recognising her. The film documents her struggle to understand and come to terms with the phenomenon of adult fans. And again, the way it’s presented and the way the film explores both the fandom itself and Ball’s reaction to it was done tastefully and respectfully.

It’s also a reminder that any fandom can be seen as odd from the perspective of an outsider. Something like Star Wars is practically mainstream nowadays, but when I was at school, Star Wars was very much a nerdy franchise to be associated with, as was Star Trek or something in the fantasy genre. It’s fascinating to me to see how something like Game of Thrones became as popular as it did as a fantasy series, when not that long ago it was something mainstream audiences would’ve looked down on. The overall message of A Brony Tale seems to be: “let people enjoy whatever they want and try not to judge”. I like that message, and that’s what I took away from the film.

Number 7: Lincoln (2012)

Daniel Day-Lewis won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the titular American President in Lincoln.

Now for a complete change of pace. The American Civil War – and American history in general – has always interested me, so Lincoln had been on my radar for a while prior to its 2012 release. And it was absolutely worth waiting for.

Telling the story of the last few months of Abraham Lincoln’s life, as he struggled with Congress to end the Civil War and emancipate southern slaves, the film and its spectacular cast do an amazing job portraying the complexities of negotiations and political manoeuvring. Sometimes a story can be uninteresting if its ending is known – and we know, of course, that Lincoln successfully freed the slaves and won the war – but in this film, how it played out is a joy to watch.

Aesthetically, Lincoln does a great job portraying Washington DC as it would’ve looked in the 1860s, and the costumes and set designs are absolutely on point. The dirty, gritty reality of life in those days is conveyed beautifully on screen, and supplements the story and acting greatly. People often downplay these aspects of a film, and while its true that some minimalist productions can do well – especially on the stage – as well as low-budget films that don’t necessarily have money to waste, in a title like Lincoln getting the look right definitely adds a quality to the film that just wouldn’t exist even if all other factors (the script, acting, direction, etc) were identical.

Lincoln stands up among other great works of cinema, and I think in future will be hailed as a must-watch classic of the history and drama genres. With Steven Spielberg directing and producing, alongside fellow producer and future Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy, there was so much to this film that even after multiple viewing I still find new elements to enjoy and new moments to revel in. Overall a really stunning piece of cinematic history.

Number 6: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

A different look at the Starfleet logo on the poster for Star Trek Into Darkness.

Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t my favourite Star Trek film. It’s probably not even in my top five, but it’s definitely the better of the only two Star Trek films released this decade. As a follow-up to 2009’s Star Trek reboot, Into Darkness builds on its predecessor and is a solid action flick with a twist (some) fans will have appreciated, and a flickering of that elusive “Star Trek-ness”. It’s also notable for being Leonard Nimoy’s final film role; unfortunately the decade has claimed many Star Trek actors.

So I have to admit that as a big Star Trek fan, it would’ve felt wrong to not include a Trek film on this list. That’s 100% my own bias coming through rather than a commentary on Into Darkness, which is a decent action film but probably not one of the best ones I’ve ever seen. What Into Darkness did, however, as with its predecessor and sequel, is keep the Star Trek franchise ticking over, giving it some breathing room while keeping it alive in the popular consciousness. It’s hard to see how we’d have got to see Discovery, Picard, or Lower Decks next year if the JJ-verse films hadn’t given the franchise a breath of fresh air. In that sense, Into Darkness – as arguably the best of the reboot films – is a key stepping stone in the franchise’s continued success. And while the film stands up on its own merits as a piece of Star Trek storytelling, in my opinion at least, its biggest accomplishment is paving the way for what’s come since.

The twist Into Darkness springs on fans was clever, but also had been rumoured to be happening, and the result of that rumour being all over the internet in the weeks before release detracted from it somewhat as I wasn’t surprised. Central villain John Harrison (played by Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch) is revealed to be famous Star Trek baddie Khan, and what follows is a film which pays homage to The Wrath of Khan without going overboard. As a JJ Abrams film, in that sense I greatly prefer it to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which went too far in copying its 1977 predecessor.

It’s become a recurring theme in this list, but the special effects and visuals were great in Into Darkness, and the difference between this iteration of Star Trek and what we’ve seen previously is huge. While some of the aesthetic changes haven’t sat well with fans of TOS, and I understand that, the effects, particularly in big set-pieces, look fantastic even six years later.

Number 5: The Hobbit trilogy (2012, 2013, & 2014)

Cover of the DVD or Blu-Ray version of The Hobbit trilogy.

Realistically I should’ve just put the first two parts on this list, because the third film isn’t all that great. Indeed, The Hobbit is overall a poor relation to the previous decade’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, but nevertheless was an enjoyable return to Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth.

Martin Freeman is the standout here, a perfectly-cast lead as titular Hobbit Bilbo Baggins. It’s through his eyes that we see Middle-Earth as we follow his adventure to The Lonely Mountain with the Dwarves, and Freeman’s strong performance carries what would otherwise be a much more underwhelming trilogy of films. Part of the criticism these films got is due to comparisons to Lord of the Rings, but that was inevitable, and other criticisms of the runtime, effects, and dialogue are valid.

When I saw the first and second parts in the cinema, I was able to see the “high frame rate” version, shot in 48 frames-per-second – a novelty for the big screen. While this seemed gimmicky and even offputting at first, once I got used to it it did make for an interesting experience. Disappointingly, the films have not been released anywhere in this format, as the DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital releases all stick to the standard cinematic 24 fps.

While the plot of The Hobbit suffered as a consequence of being dragged out across three films instead of one or two, and some of the added new characters fell flat, any time fantasy makes it to the big screen with such a big budget is going to be a positive thing. The plot of The Hobbit is certainly less exciting than Lord of the Rings, at least in the sense that nothing world-ending is threatening our protagonists. Peter Jackson tried to compensate for that by throwing in a lot of “foreshadowing” for the rise of Sauron in Lord of the Rings, but in this case it would’ve arguably been better to stick to the core story.

The final film is a rare example this decade of sub-par special effects, perhaps due to their overuse, and while there are some great moments (such as a Dwarf played by Billy Connolly) overall the first two films do a much better job of telling an interesting fantasy story. Some of the highlights for me included the creepy, claustrophobic time the party spends travelling through Mirkwood in a perfectly-shot sequence, the portrayal of Radagast by former Doctor Who actor Sylvester McCoy, and above all, being back in Middle-Earth once more.

Number 4: Ready Player One (2018)

Lead actor Tye Sheridan on a promo poster for Ready Player One.

The second film on this list to be directed by Steven Spielberg is a geek’s paradise thanks to countless references, easter eggs, and nostalgic throwbacks to films of the 1980s in particular. The story is centred around players in a massive online world who are racing to gain control of that world by solving a series of puzzles its creator left behind when he passed away.

Ben Mendelsohn plays a truly nasty villain, giving the story much more weight and raising the stakes for the main characters. Ready Player One is laden with special effects, and because (most of the time) the effects aren’t trying to be hyper-realistic and imitate reality, but rather imitate a futuristic online game, many issues present in other titles simply vanish here. Because we know that what’s being shown on screen is taking place in a virtual world, there’s no expectation of it to be perfect, and thus none of the “uncanny valley” effect which some CGI-heavy films can fall victim to.

The plot is exciting – and it’s always great to root for an underdog in a fight or race against a big corporation. I have to confess I haven’t read the book upon which the film is based, and I have heard some criticism of the film from fans of the book. But as someone going in with no expectations, I was very impressed and found Ready Player One to be a very entertaining film.

Number 3: Source Code (2011)

Jake Gyllenhaal on a promo poster for Source Code.

I didn’t know what to make of Source Code at first. It’s a complicated film – as time travel stories often are – and it took me a while after leaving the cinema to fully process what I’d seen. Some of the implications are actually a little disturbing – like whether lead Jake Gyllenhaal’s character actually stole someone’s body and identity.

Usually I’m not a big fan of time travel as a concept. It works in some instances, but in too many films and stories it gets convoluted and some stories completely tie themselves in knots either with inexpiable paradoxes or trying to over-explain the rules of time travel in their world. Fortunately, Source Code manages to avoid those traps for the most part, and what results is a genuinely thought-provoking film.

The basic premise is that a secret government programme has given an injured soldier a way to travel back in time to find out who was responsible for a terrorist attack. He only has a few minutes in the past before the explosion occurs and then the operators have to reset the loop and send him back again. It takes multiple visits to the past (or simulated past) before he gets the hang of things. To explain the entire thing would take more time than I have on this list, but suffice to say it’s a fascinating concept that is, for once, well-executed.

Strong performances from leads Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan carry the film, as their characters slowly work out what’s going to happen. It’s perfectly paced, well shot, with a couple of unexpected twists and revelations which keep things interesting. The real-world, modern day setting is a change of pace from a lot of science fiction films of this decade, and I found myself rewatching Source Code multiple times.

Number 2: Deadpool (2016)

A promo poster for Deadpool.

Though it may seem heretical to some, I’m not really into superheroes. As a kid I didn’t read comic books, and the big-budget superhero films I’ve seen over the years – the likes of Fantastic Four or X-Men – just didn’t hold my interest. Even the Marvel films of the last few years haven’t really interested me all that much, and I found myself seeing them more out of obligation than enjoyment. Deadpool was different, however, as a comedy film and with Ryan Reynolds masterfully portraying antihero Wade Wilson.

Not knowing much about Marvel or any of its characters outside of Iron Man and The Avengers, I didn’t really know what to expect going in. I’d heard the film was funny, but it had some real laugh-out-loud moments that I didn’t expect.

I think the problem many superhero films have is that they simultaneously take themselves very seriously while having storylines, characters, and an aesthetic that is childish and inherently un-serious. That disconnect is jarring for me, and takes me out of it. In addition, as I’ve mentioned previously, much of the appeal of Marvel films – as with Star Trek, Star Wars, The Hobbit, and other franchises this decade – is nostalgia. The films appeal much more to people who grew up with these characters in the various comic books, and as someone who just didn’t have that experience I don’t have the same connection to those characters.

What was great about Deadpool, to get back to my original point, is that the whole point of the character is that he doesn’t take himself or his surroundings seriously. That was true in the comic books and it’s carried over to the film perfectly. Reynolds was an absolutely inspired casting choice, as his comedic range fits the character so well. The frequent breaking of the fourth wall – apparently a Deadpool trademark going back to his comic book days – was done perfectly and provided many fun moments.

The over-the-top action was great, as were the gory deaths which earned the film a more restrictive rating than it otherwise would’ve. But it’s hard to see how Deadpool could’ve worked as a film marketed at kids and teenagers; it needed to have the freedom to offend in order to accomplish what it set out to. Overall, I don’t really care whether it stayed true to its source material, but Deadpool was a hilarious send-up of the whole superhero genre.

Honourable Mentions:

Just before I declare my favourite film of the decade, I want to look briefly at a few other titles that almost made this list. I’ve picked ten – which absolutely could’ve been the top ten themselves. Obviously there are way more than ten or twenty films to enjoy from the 2010s, and while the decade has been dominated by sequels and franchises, there have been some great original and standalone works too.

Oz The Great And Powerful (2013) – A fun return to the Land of Oz, fronted by James Franco.
Jurassic World (2015) – An interesting attempt to reboot the Jurassic Park franchise. It was nice to see a fully-operational park.
Tomorrowland (2015) – An underrated film loosely based on the Disneyland attraction. Great performances and an interesting concept.
Bohemian Rhaposdy (2018) – Perfectly acted by Rami Malek, who won an Academy Award, this biopic of Queen’s front man is an entertaining look at the band’s rise.
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) – Controversial and unfortunately divisive among fans, Rian Johnson’s film tried to shake up Star Wars after JJ Abrams played it very safe two years prior. And it succeeded.
Joker (2019) – I can’t rank this because I haven’t seen it. But everything I’ve heard has been great and I can’t wait to see for myself.
Moana (2016) – As mentioned above, a great Disney film with an inspirational story. And some catchy songs.
World War Z (2013) – Less a horror film than an action flick with zombies, it stands up as an interesting and different take on the zombie genre in a decade overrun by The Walking Dead.
Game Change (2012) – I fully admit this is a niche film (especially outside the USA) as it documents John McCain and Sarah Palin in their unsuccessful campaign. As someone who finds such things fascinating it was an interesting – if supposedly inaccurate – film.
Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension (2011) – What can I say except I really enjoy Phineas and Ferb? The film is based on the longest-running Disney Channel original cartoon, and is more of the same, playing out like a feature-length episode of the show.

Number 1: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

The Death Star looms over the beach on the plant Scarif in this poster for Rogue One.

When it came to naming my favourite film of the decade, I didn’t need to think twice. Rogue One took everything great about Star Wars and condensed it into a single standalone piece of cinema. Though I would argue the scenes with Darth Vader were unnecessary, the full power of The Empire is on full display here, and after The Force Awakens successfully took the story forward by a generation, Rogue One brought fans back to where it all began.

Jyn Erso is such an excellent protagonist; selfish and completely jaded when we first meet her, she becomes conflicted and eventually rises to inspire hope in the Rebellion over the course of the film. Each of the characters we meet is interesting and could reasonably have a whole film or series dedicated just to them. Rogue One is, in that sense, a perfect team-up film, bringing together a diverse array of characters from the Star Wars galaxy in a no-hope plot to steal the Death Star’s plans.

Ben Mendelsohn is on this list as a villain for the second time, and while he was great in Ready Player One, this is truly his outstanding performance. Though unfortunately his character is ultimately overshadowed in the final cut of the film thanks to Darth Vader’s appearances, Krennic is a kind of Star Wars villain we haven’t really seen – the career man who takes far too much glee in his work.

The CGI recreations of both Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing were very, very close to being perfect. And I think in that sense, Rogue One has paved the way for technology that will become increasingly common in future.

Everything from the music, the aesthetic, the return to the era of the Original Trilogy was everything I wanted from a Star Wars film, and the decision to kill off basically the entire cast was an incredibly bold decision in such a franchise- and sequel-focused era of filmmaking. We need more films like Rogue One.

So that’s it. My top picks for films of the decade, and while there are undoubtedly lots of enjoyable films I missed, these are the ones that were, at least, the most memorable. I’ll also take a look back on the decade’s best television series and video games in upcoming lists, so be sure to check back for those before 2020 rolls around.

All films mentioned above are the copyright of their studios and distributors. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.