This year was pretty low key for me in terms of highly anticipated releases, but on the plus side, I finally got around to some great stories that I missed out on in the past few years!  I certainly have a lot to anticipate in 2019 (particularly Fruits Basket and Star Wars), but first I’ll share my best finds from this year.

Kubo and the Two Strings – I was wary of this one, since I’d been burned by all the other Studio Laika movies which had received similar praise but just didn’t work for me.  This one is really as good as everyone says.  It’s simply a masterpiece, using the creepy imagery they clearly love to support a beautiful story about loving and losing, and also about how story can shape identity.

The Breadwinner – This is another animated film from the folks behind The Secret of Kells, but it’s a rather mature story – still for kids, but as the PG-13 rating implies, for older kids.  It’s as beautifully animated as you’d expect, but with a much more bleak atmosphere, looking and feeling like a post-apocalyptic dystopia…except that it’s based in reality (that is, Afghanistan under the Taliban).  Like The Kite Runner, it manages to give a face to the people and culture of a region that had just been a name in the headlines to me for most of my life (just, you know, a little more appropriate for a younger audience).

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – If you ever watched Mister Rogers as a kid, watch this documentary.  It is a warm hug from an old friend.  Even if you never watched the TV show, watch this for the true story of a quiet man finding his voice and changing the world with love and kindness.

Undertale – Yes, it took me this long to finally check out this game, but it did not disappoint.  This is one case where I really do believe you should go in as spoiler-free as possible, so I’ll just describe the premise with the tagline: An RPG where no one has to die.  I fell in love with the story and characters, and the gameplay wasn’t too difficult for me as a very casual gamer (I just needed a little patience and occasional peeks at the wiki).

Christmas Songs (Jars of Clay) – I have a soft spot for this band, and even if I don’t love all their music, I still appreciate what they’re aiming for: A blend of the secular and sacred that highlights the best of both.  I guess it kind of makes sense that they would get closest to that vision in their Christmas album.  They seamlessly move from traditional hymns and carols to Charlie Brown to a blessedly uncontroversial alternative for “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (“Hibernation Day”), all presented with passion and their own unique sound.  If you enjoy alt-rock with an emphasis on orchestration, definitely check this out next Christmas (or whenever you’re in a mellow Christmas mood).

The Mind of the Maker (Dorothy Sayers) – I started looking into the less famous Inkling-related authors this year, and thus I discovered Dorothy Sayers.  This book was something of a revelation for me, as it perfectly describes the theology I’ve come to embrace over the years.  Sayers explores God by exploring the human creative process (with a dash of snark on the side), and in so doing managed to clarify my own thoughts on both.  I’ve been fascinated by the intersection of faith and art for years, but this is the first book of that sort which I found myself in more or less complete agreement with.

Until next year…

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