Favorite books, films, television series, music, websites and whatever else of note I encountered in the past year.
1 January 2020
While I like lists, I’m not that interested in best-of lists. Making them, at least. I never feel I’m capable of making one both comprehensive and correct enough to earn the title; not only it is virtually impossible to absorb every single item in a category in order to rank it, such rankings can hardly be objective enough to reflect a platonically pure “best.” Best then to just avoid it all and make a list of deeply subjective, gloriously biased favorites. In that spirit, here are a bunch of things I liked in 2019.
- My favorite film of this year is Transit, all the more so because it led me to the rest of the work of director Christian Petzold. Something about his way of building stories from emotional logic, operating with individuals but echoing collective desires and fears, resonates with me. Transit is a particularly effective and unfortunately timely story.
- I also very much liked: The Irishman, Parasite, Her Smell, Uncut Gems, The Lighthouse, Midsommar, Us, Booksmart, Hustlers and Little Women.
- I’m giving Under the Silver Lake my Stealth Favorite Award: I mostly felt bewildered upon seeing this, but it’s stuck in my head since. A love letter to and an indictment of a heartbroken generation obsessed with finding some significance amidst distraction and chaos.
- And my Better than It Has Any Business To Be Award goes to Crawl, a hugely satisfying monster movie that does a lot with a simple premise and a taut storyline. I enjoyed it far more than certain large-budget epics.
- There was so much good television this year. It’s hard to beat the second season of Fleabag, but I also liked: Russian Doll (Season 1), Barry (Season 2), Mindhunter (Season 2), Fosse/Verdon, Gentleman Jack (Season 1), The Act (Season 1), Dark (Season 2), Harlots (Season 3), Kingdom (Season 1), Superstore (Season 5), What We Do in the Shadows (Season 1), The Good Place (Season 4) and The Mandalorian (Season 1).
- This year I watched far more movies than read books, and I didn’t read many newly published books. But I managed a decent list of new-to-me books. My favorite find was Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, and the two subsequent Claire DeWitt books.
- I also enjoyed reading: The Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, Zeroville by Steve Erickson, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix, Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood by Katrina Longworth, Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman, The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan and The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara.
- In the realm of new music, I particularly liked listening to: The Highwomen by the Highwomen, Remind Me Tomorrow by Sharon Van Etten, Norman Fucking Rockwell by Lana Del Rey, Western Stars by Bruce Springsteen and Thrashing Thru the Passion by the Hold Steady.
- I came across the Creative Independent, a collection of interviews and guides on creativity and creative work, and I’ve appreciated the accumulated perspectives and advice.
- The Criterion Channel launched earlier this year and I think it keeps getting better and better. Not only do they offer their consistent array of classic art films, but they regularly feature new collections, including a lot of work by women. It’s become essential.
- I didn’t see as much theater this year as I would have liked, but I did get to see the Chicago premiere of Ghost Quartet, a sort of musical mixtape for the stage that weaves together ghost stories and love stories, jazz music and fairy tales, drinking songs and funereal dirges. It’s an unique experience I would recommend to anyone who finds the opportunity to see it staged, but you can also grab the Ghost Quartet audio directly from the show’s creator.
- I went to the International Museum of Surgical Science, a sometimes strange collection of medical history housed in a lovely old Chicago lakefront mansion. I liked the mansion as much, if not more, than the collection. And they showed me, upon my request, the 100-year-old working elevator.
- In 2019, I also liked: spending more time thinking rather than producing, being comfortable with practicing rather than excelling and dismissing the limited viewpoints of cynicism.
- And, in 2019, I liked Baby Yoda.
(If you really like reading lists, you can also read the list of things I liked in 2018.)