I don’t much care for the calendar. I’m bad at making schedules but also there’s too much credence placed on a fairly arbitrary system. You had a good year? Must be because you had a fantastic January 1st, huh, and no other reason.
2017 seems like an exception, though. The induction of the current president of the United States of America pretty much marked the end of 2016 and the following 365 days was a nonstop shitshow. Except for a few things. We had some political pushback to the debilitating stupidity of the GOP party and that was great, but we’re not a political site. No, we’re here to talk about a year of, well, authenticity.
It was a year where some of the most unabashedly heartfelt products of entertainment succeeded not despite their authenticity but because of it. The film industry is perhaps the one most emblematic of it. Stuffed with huge releases like Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Thor: Ragnarok (I guess, really, Disney’s releases), it could look superficially like any other list of the highest-grossing blockbusters.
But if you look closer, you’ll see something special to have taken hold: movies that aren’t afraid to feel. They hedge zero bets. The most obvious example is Wonder Woman, a film that somewhat rightly had little expectations. Director Patty Jenkins had no experience with a project of this size, star Gal Gadot was otherwise known for being exotic eye candy in The Fast and the Furious series, and the film itself was tied to a shared universe that was drowning in bad decisions, bad movies, and bad vision.
What exactly, then, set apart this underdog? The answer is that it wasn’t afraid to be what it needed to be. There were no reshoots to add jokes after Deadpool ate a whole bunch of people’s lunches. It didn’t turn characters into unrecognizable piles of plot devices. It took an honest look at a character that could only mirror the experience that those involved needed to share, and put it down for everyone to see, culminating in one of the most powerful scenes in recent film history.
You can also see it in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the first standalone return of the web-slinger to the MCU after Sony’s death grip on the license for years and years. And not only is it one of Marvel’s best, it’s also one of the best movies of 2017 straight up. A lot of it had to do with Tom Holland’s raw, youthful performance as Peter Parker, but it’s also because director/co-writer Jon Watts wasn’t afraid to tell an honest coming-of-age story that also happened to be about a deeply conflicted Spider-Man.
There are a lot of choice moments to point at, but the one that stands out is in the final act of the movie. After an encounter with the Vulture goes terribly awry, we find Spidey stuck under the tremendous remains of a collapsed warehouse. It’s bad. It’s dire. We know he’s pretty much untouchable—almost invincible—in most situations, but we also know this is different. He’s physically, emotionally, and mentally broken.
But he rallies. He summons the strength to lift literal tons of chips on his literal shoulders, and he does so triumphantly. And then he just stands there. He soaks it in. We soak it in, mimicking one of the most powerful scenes of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. It is the antithesis to so much of what we’ve seen in blockbusters of late: bathos. Not once does this scene or any scene in Homecoming undercut the emotionality of its characters out of fear or insecurity. Doctor Strange’s cloak doesn’t come to wipe away some dirt on his face this time.
The year is full of this artistic movement. Get Out is a determined and thoughtful and funny examination of existing as a minority in a simultaneously outwardly and secretly racist society. It builds a terrifying and moving story atop a cast of beautifully truthful characters. Hell, The Fate of the Furious caps off a long-running franchise that has only ever been upfront about how much it values family.
It’s a shift that also can’t be missed in video games. The biggest titles were only the best if they brought something weighty to the table. Call of Duty: WWII, as perfectly acceptable as it is, was just as perfectly acceptable as it has been for many recent years. Hell, it was better than most in a lot of ways, but it was missing a critical ingredient.
And it was something that many other games found and used. It was what Super Mario Odyssey beamed with for well over 50 hours. Here was a game that wholeheartedly showed its affection. Not just for one of the most iconic franchises in the world but for you, the player. It tenderly shows you that it values your time, the single most precious resource any one of us freely—perhaps irresponsibly—offers. But what do you value?
It was what Nier: Automata toyed with its 60 hours, asking difficult, painful questions about things you’d perhaps never been asked before. Sure, we always poke at the question of AI sentience in sci-fi, but you’ve never been asked what is the nature of your gaming decisions. What informs your life that moves your thumbs across these sticks? It reaches deep inside of you and demands answers for its quandaries.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice does it with questions of mental health. What Remains of Edith Finch does it with questions of earnest (if occasionally psychedelic) heartbreak. And Night in the Woods does it with questions of trust and introspection.
What is the point of all this? The point is that 2017 gave to us games that were already well underway in years of relative prosperity that also gave us heavy, uncomfortable, necessary examination. Sometimes it was pointed friends. Maybe it was pointed at family. But it was always pointed at ourselves. These were things that these creators needed to ask, and only then did we realize they were things we needed to answer.
And now we’re under duress. We’re fighting back—hell, we’re even winning every once in a while—but it’s tough. Smiles often hid a broken core underneath, and heaven forbid if we ever let them find the crack. But these and so many more projects in a year of trying, challenging moments gave us reasons to smile, even if it was because we recognized that it was important to be sad. It’s vital that we cry. It’s survival that we feel.
There are no atheists in the foxhole. This is true. But we don’t believe in a higher power. Not this time. Not this year. We will continue to believe in each other—in ourselves. As our estates begin to fall and pillars tumble around us, being brought down by the unmoving, the uncaring, the unnecessary villainy in power, we know we can smile. We will smile.
In this year of genuine enjoyment.