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The Pixel Chat 2005 Year in Entertainment Awards
sponsored by Mountain Dew: Code Red and the new 2007 Chevy Tahoe: An American Revolution

  5) Hustle & Flow : I'm really not much of a moviegoer. I mean, I go to an actual theatre probably 2 or 3 times a year, my DVD collection is only about 5 or 6 deep, and it's extremely rare that I'll sit down and watch a movie on television. I never watched many movies as a kid, which may have been the catalyst for my current apathy towards cinema, but when I do go, it has to be because I'm really intrigued.

  Hustle & Flow hooked me by the promise of a hip-hop-themed movie that wasn't, oh, what's the word....horrible. I mean, seriously, rap music and celluloid have had a water/oil relationship since the 70s. Wild Style? Great document of the genesis of hip-hop culture, horrible movie. Krush Groove? Great performances by just about every major 80s hip-hop artists, but again, as an actual piece of narrative, crap. Belly? Well, it looks interesting I guess, like a gotham Lisa Frank folder, but the actual story probably covers about 3 sheets of paper, and let's try to forget the "performance" given by Nas.

  H&F, however, manages to escape the trap of becoming a performance piece or a long-form music video and weaves a simple but deeply compelling story of a reluctant pimp (Terrance Howard) trying to find his way into the rap game. The heart of the movie is it's dialogue, which feels real, and not as though it's trying to fit into some MTV-cast mold of "urban" style, which is impressive, seeing as how a white dude wrote it. Plus, it's set in the south, Memphis to be exact. Hip-hop movies are always set in the fervor of New York or the gangland-trappings of LA. The slow, steamy southern setting naturally slows the pacing of the film down and lets characterization overcome cliche. And the music is great, especially with the bass being handled by a massive theater sound system.

  H&F drops on DVD next week, so don't let biases keep you away from a thoughtful, character-driven movie.

  4) Wonder Showzen: Ohhh, how I love television. So much crap, but the short, serialized nature of the medium gives creative people the opportunity to make things that wouldn't work delivered in any other form. Seeing characters grow over years, instead of hours, long-form storytelling, and in the case of Wonder Showzen, 22 minutes of complete and utter anarchy.

  I mean, seriously, if any widely broadcast television show better captures the bratty, subversive, middle-finger waving spirit of punk, then I want a videotape.

  Basically, WS is like the short-lived TV Funhouse (a combination of cartoons and sketches that blend puppetry with live actors), but unlike Funhouse, the puppetry here works, and is really the hilight. Plus, it has way more balls. On one installment of "Beat Kids", the "man on the street" segment featuring trenchcoat-clad "K-6"ers, a boy asks a butcher "Who's going to pay for all of this meat". As he begins to form a response, the kid interjects to further clarify: "No, I mean spiritually". In another, a young black girl asks a businessman walking around Wall Street "So, where are you going to hide when the revolution comes".

  I need to stop, because I could spend hours writing out all of my favorite WS skits, but I would only be dilluting their greatness, and I wouldn't be getting across just how brilliantly disturbing this show can be. I mean, how do you verbalize the surreality of the "Patience" episode without making it sound positively bland.

  All I'll say is Arrested Development be damned: Wonder Showzen is the best show on television. Catch it late, late night (I mean BET Uncut late) on MTV2.

  3) World of Warcraft: Man, I need to abbreviate these write-ups. These are become Pitchfork-like in their size and hyperbole.

  So yeah, WoW came out last year, but it came out late, and I didn't play it until early this year. And besides, 2005 is really the year that the game managed to capture the imagination of seemingly all of gaming culture. Plus, it was my first (and at the moment, only) MMORPG.

  And having played this one, I can see why Koreans die attached to their keyboard playing these things.

  I've been playing games probably since I was 6 or 7, and no game has consumed more of my time, thought and effort than this one did, and it's not even close. When I stopped playing around June, I had logged something like 17 or 18 days of time into my level 56 Human Paladin. And that's not "playing the game 17 days in a row", that's 17 full, 24-hour periods during which I had the game turned on and logged into Azeroth. And that was over a period of only, like, 3 or 4 months. Sad, I know.

  But I haven't even talked about what makes the game great yet, but that stuff is pretty rudimentary. It looks beautiful, it's absolutely massive, the combat is entertaining (even as a Paladin), and the feeling of grouping together with some people you have no previous experience with and slowly becoming a real team over the course of a 3 or 4 hour trip to the very depths of the Deadmines, retrieving the head of Van Cleef, then hearthing back to Stormwind to log off and call it a night at 6 in the morning...nothing in gaming is equal to that. And yes, I am in fact a massive nerd.

  2) Kanye West: Late Registration: This is without a doubt the best piece of new music I heard this year. I guess I could probably stop right there...but what's the fun of that?

  I really loved College Dropout when it first got released, but over time, it just lost it's luster to me. It's a great album, but it's so inconsistant. There were some absolute classics, but some of the tracks felt pointlessly tacked on, and Kanye's lyricism ranged from good to embarassing: "Now does that make me Rude as Jude?". Now, dude, seriously, did you just reference a lame Jenny Jones recurring guest in a rap? I'd rather you just start the song off "Well my name is Kanye and I'm here to say..." and let me know from jump that you just don't care.

  Mini-rant aside, Late Registration takes everything great about CD, cuts out all the pork, and shows a more focused Kanye, with a range of content that goes beyond just his wired jaw and the no-longer-shocking "backpacker with ice" imagery. "Roses" is probably the most poignant song I've heard in recent memory, and will instantly resonate with anybody who's ever had a grandparent fall ill. "Crack Music" is like the logical progression of Chuck D. "It's like we got Merrill Lynched, and we been hangin from the same tree ever since". That, my friend, is lyricism. And of course, "We Major" takes the celebratory rap and raises it to such grandiose levels that it becomes more gospel than gloating. Plus, hearing Nas (and a dope Nas at that) on a Rockafella song, before the whole "I Declare War" treaty signing, was one of those double-take moments that a lot of hip-hop has been lacking of late (although seeing "Laffy Taffy" as the #1 single ellicits a similar reaction, with dread replacing glee).

  If you protect your hip-hop hate with the "All they talk about is guns and bling" shield, this record sold 2.5 million copies. You no longer have an excuse not to dip your toe into rap music.

  1) Resident Evil 4: See, my top choice was a video game. I came back around in the end.

  And man, if anything was deserving of my top spot, it was this. Now, I should preface this by saying that I hate(-ed) the Resident Evil series, and just about all of the insipid "survival horror" games that spawned from it's severed head Athena-style (or Naota from FLCL-style; your choice). I've tried to give them a chance, over and over and over again. Resident Evil 2, the REmake, Silent Hill 2 and 3, Fatal Frame. I've tried playing alone, at night, with the lights off, all that good stuff, and nothing. They never scared me, and the "atmosphere" always struck me as more an excuse for the terrible controls, moronic "puzzles", smothering camera angles and mindless ammo-depository enemies than a justification.

  But RE4 had to come along and morph itself into something barely even recognizable anymore. Instead of a shallow 4 hour adventure, I was getting a deep, engrossing 15+ hour quest. Instead of lame excuses for scares, I was finding myself jumping out of my seat on a regular basis. And that I want to elaborate on, because the fear delivered by RE4 is the true fear created by legit surprise and unpredictability. It's not pre-scripted enemies dropping out of the static scenery. It's thinking you have a pack of Ganados at bay with your shotty, only to have your back hacked up by a villager that snuck up behind you. I don't care how many times I play the game, it still freaks me out. Similar is hearing the purely-evil chug of a chainsaw rapidly approaching your position, and scrambling to figure out where it's coming from and trying to find cover in the process.

  Equally amazing is the fact that RE4 managed to make the escort mission fun. Now, people don't give this the credit that it deserves, because the escort mission has, since the advent of 3D gaming, been the kryptonite of quality gameplay mechanics. And yet RE managed to center a good deal of the game around it and made a better game because of it. Even though she's weak and weaponless, Ashley is smart. When you aim your gun in her direction, she'll duck. So obvious, but I've never seen another AI character do it before. And really, that's what RE4 is driven by: simple, obvious things that nobody else ever took the time to implement. I mean, the game is essentially played with 3 buttons (A, B and R on the Gamecube) and the analog stick, and yet Leon can do way more than most game characters with way less. The context sensitive nature of the A button is just so flawlessly implemented. You can jump over fences. You can jump out of windows. You can block off doors and windows with tables and dressers. You can kick or shoot open doors with locks. No other game of this or any other year features such logical interaction with the environment. Traditional, cheap means of corraling or hindering the player were made obsolete, and similar to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time from a few years back, it showed how much further 3D gaming has to grow, beyond just prettier graphics and shinier, even more "normal mapped" textures.

  And talking about looks, I want to note that I just now am getting to RE4's visuals. With the game looking so amazing, it's easy to assume that it's more about looks than content, but what makes RE4 so ungodly is it's ability to combine genre, hell, medium redefining gameplay elements with visuals aeons beyond 95% of the competition. It's technical prowess mixed with it's style puts the majority of Xbox 360 games to shame, and the realism escapes the overly-shiny candy-coated gloss that seems to pass for "stunning visuals" nowadays. Plus, the violence is so shockingly visceral as a result of the realism. It's one of the first games to make murder feel like, well...murder. It's not pretty or glamorous. It's gross, and disturbing, and perversely satisfying. You don't blast off heads in this game with the sort of unabashed glee that you run over pedestrians in GTA with.

  RE4 is the best game of this rapidly fleeting generation of consoles, and it happened at the very end on the least popular system. Figures

© Kerry Daniszewski 2005 - 2008.  The character Bubsy is property of Accolade, or whatever still exists of it, and Mai Shiranui is property of SNK Playmore.