kottke.org posts about best of
It’s just the beginning of December and the lists of the best books of the year are already starting to stack up like so many clichés about nightstand book piles. Here’s what book editors, voracious readers, and retailers have to say about the year’s top books.
Tyler Cowen almost never steers me wrong, so I’ll lead with his best fiction of 2016 and best non-fiction books of 2016 lists. Cowen seems more enthusiastic about the year’s non-fiction than fiction, recommending The Age of Em by Robin Hanson and Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History. He also recommends Atlas Obscura, which arrived in my book pile and was immediately commandeered by my 9-year-old who has read it straight through three or four times now.1
The NY Times somehow narrowed down the entire year’s output to The 10 Best Books of 2016. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad made this list and many others for good reason: it was an excellent and essential read. Also on the list is Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer.
From Buzzfeed, The 24 Best Fiction Books Of 2016. Includes The Vegetarian by Han Kang and The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan.
Amazon’s editors selected their top 100 picks for the year. Included are The Girls by Emma Cline, Nathaniel Philbrick’s Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a book that came out very early in the year and was well-regarded but got lost in the shuffle a little as the year went on.
For their list of the best books of 2016 (part two), The Guardian asked writers what they had enjoyed reading during the year. Yuval Noah Harari (whose Sapiens I’ve been yapping about all year) recommends Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie picked Hisham Matar’s The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, and Taiye Selasi “adored” Swing Time by Zadie Smith. Oh and my fave Hilary Mantel (where’s that next Cromwell book?!) recommends Ian McGuire’s The North Water.
The Telegraph’s top 50 books of the year is a wider-ranging list than most, with picks ranging from the Man Booker prize-winning The Sellout by Paul Beatty to several books about sports, including an autobiography by FC Barcelona’s star midfielder Andrés Iniesta called The Artist.
On its list of the Top 20 Fiction Books of 2016 The What recommends Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett and The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie.
See also 2015’s best books. Ferrante and Ta-Nehisi Coates were the clear favorites last year. I haven’t read Between the World and Me yet, but the Neapolitan Novels were fantastic.
Time Magazine has selected the 100 most influential photos of all time, from the first permanent photograph taken (in 1826) to the heartbreaking photo of the body of a 3-year-old refugee washed up on a beach from last year. As you might expect, many of the images are tough to view, but history and our good conscience compels us not to look away.
I was pleased to see Josef Koudelka’s photo Invasion of Prague included (it’s the one above with the wristwatch); it’s one of my favorites.
Josef Koudelka, a young Moravian-born engineer who had been taking wistful and gritty photos of Czech life, was in the capital when the soldiers arrived. He took pictures of the swirling turmoil and created a groundbreaking record of the invasion that would change the course of his nation. The most seminal piece includes a man’s arm in the foreground, showing on his wristwatch a moment of the Soviet invasion with a deserted street in the distance. It beautifully encapsulates time, loss and emptiness — and the strangling of a society.
The photos are also available in book form.
The editors of GQ have selected their picks for The 21 Documentaries from the 21st Century Everyone Should See. Ones I’ve seen and recommend: The Fog of War, No Direction Home, The Two Escobars, Grizzly Man, Going Clear, Capturing the Friedmans, The Jinx, Citizenfour, and O.J.: Made in America. I would consider adding Zero Days and Making a Murderer to the list.
The Information is Beautiful Awards have announced the shortlist of nominees for the best infographics, data visualizations, and data journalism for 2016. Literally hours of exploration here. Some well-deserved shouts out to Polygraph (multiple projects, including their breakdown of film dialogue by gender and age), Nicholas Felton’s Photoviz, climate spirals, FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 election forecast map, and many other projects you might have seen here or elsewhere.
The images above are from Adventures in Mapping, Polygraph, and Shipmap.
Rolling Stone polled actors, critics, producers, and showrunners about their picks for the greatest shows ever to air on TV and aggregated the responses. Some random results:
87. Doctor Who
57. Fawlty Towers
43. The Americans
27. Arrested Development
12. Game of Thrones
That’s really high for Thrones, isn’t it? It’s no spoiler to say that the top two picks are The Wire and The Sopranos…you’ll have to click through to see which order they put them in. It’s been awhile since I’ve thought about what my list of favorite shows would look like, but just off the cuff, maybe (in no particular order):
The Wire, Seinfeld, Arrested Development, Transparent, Mad Men, Deadwood, The Simpsons, Iron Chef, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Doctor Who, The Americans.
A couple of those are definitely not great shows, but they are favorites all the same.
Over at Vulture, Kathryn VanArendonk ranked 36 Netflix original series from worst to best. It’s not a spoiler to say that Orange is the New Black is #1 (I haven’t seen it yet and guessed that it would be right at the top). Personally, I would rank Stranger Things and Kimmy Schmidt lower and Narcos, Making a Murderer, and Chef’s Table higher.
6. Narcos. An appealing, gripping, smart drama. The first episodes of Narcos sweep across decades and spend way too much time waving the exposition wand, but it somehow makes those tropes feel confident rather than tiresome. Yes, the story of Pablo Escobar covers well-trod Difficult Man territory, but Wagner Moura’s performance is charismatic and layered, and Narcos’ deadpan tone is a bracing way to frame Escobar’s often gruesome life.
What’s interesting is that Amazon’s best original show (Transparent), several of HBO’s original series, and at least 2 AMC shows are better than anything on this list (aside from possibly OITNB).
The Architectural Record recently chose the 125 “most significant works that defined architecture” built in the past 125 years. Included are the Morgan Library, the old Penn Station, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, the Eames House, the Seagram Building (a particular favorite of mine), the Salk Institute, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the High Line.
In addition to Kanye West’s poem about McDonald’s, Frank Ocean also published a list of his 100 favorite films in his popup magazine, Boys Don’t Cry. Here’s a sampling:
ATL (ATL is not the best movie lol but ok)
Un Chien Andalou
The Bicycle Thief
A Clockwork Orange
Overall, a very solid list. Ocean and I could definitely go to the cinema together.
The Playlist has compiled a list of the top film scores of the 21st century (so far).1 Tron: Legacy should be much higher than #49…it is perhaps my favorite Daft Punk album. And I don’t know how they left Philip Glass’ fantastic score for The Hours off. Glad to see Upstream Color, There Will Be Blood, and Requiem for a Dream so high on the list though.
I love film scores — I listen to them while I work — so here are a few of my favorites that are available on Spotify:
Not available on Spotify but worth seeking out elsewhere: The Fog of War, Sunshine, and Her.
The editors of BBC Culture polled 177 film critics from around the world about the best films made since 2000 and compiled the results into this list. The top film? David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Here’s the top 20:
20. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
19. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
18. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009)
17. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
16. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
15. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
14. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)
13. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
12. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
11. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
Eternal Sunshine, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Zodiac seem too high on the list but I’m not sure what I would move up instead. It’ll be interesting to see how the consensus changes as these films age. Also, I’ve seen exactly half of the films on the full list…time to get watching.
The Playlist lists their picks for the 50 best sci-fi films of this century. Unlike the list of 50 best animated films I posted the other day, there are many movies on this list I haven’t seen or even heard of, so I’m eager to dig in. Here are picks 6-2:
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3. Upstream Color
2. Under the Skin
Good choice for #1 too. I really didn’t care for Under the Skin. Nice to see some love for Edge of Tomorrow, Sunshine, Donnie Darko, Primer, and Snowpiercer as well. I would also have included Cloud Atlas, which I know not a lot of other people liked but I loved, and the first Hunger Games movie.
The Playlist has decided on their list of the 50 best animated films of the 21st century (so far). Here is 50-46:
49. The Pirates! Band of Misfits
48. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
47. Tokyo Godfathers
5. The Triplets of Belleville
4. It’s Such a Beautiful Day
2. The Incredibles
I’ll give you a hint about #1: it is somehow not Wall-E, which didn’t even crack the top 10. And come on, Up? The opening of that movie is damn near perfect, but the rest of it is good but not great.
The AIGA and Design Observer have announced the results of the 50 Books/50 Covers competition for books published in 2015. The competition recognizes excellence in design of books and, separately, book covers. Here are a couple of my favorite covers:
Oreo by Fran Ross was designed by Erik Carter and Moon-Kie Jung’s Beneath the Surface of White Supremacy was designed by Anne Jordan and Mitch Goldstein.
From Cinefix, a list of 10 movies (plus dozens more runners-up) that broke the rules of filmmaking most effectively by using jump cuts, nonlinear narrative, lack of plot, surrealism, and breaking the fourth wall.
Slate gathered a panel — made up of people like film critic Dana Stevens, Selma director Ava DuVernay, and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. — to choose The Black Film Canon, the 50 greatest movies by black directors.
We must recognize that even with the financial and systemic odds stacked against them, black filmmakers have long been creating great and riveting stories on screen. The academy’s failure may have inspired a memorable hashtag, but that failure is deeply linked to the way nearly all movie fans remember cinematic history. In our never-ending conversation — or argument — about which films deserve to be remembered, which films are cultural touchstones, which films defined and advanced the art form, we habitually overlook stories by and about black people.
Included on the list are 12 Years a Slave, Boyz n the Hood, Killer of Sheep, and Do the Right Thing.
In 2015, BBC Culture polled critics around the world and came up with a list of the best 100 American films. The video above offers a visual look at the list. Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Spielberg each have several films on the list. Although many of the films were edited by women, only one was directed by a woman.
Fifty films critics weighed in on their favorite movies directed by women and Fandor tallied the results into a top 20 list.
On the occasion of the release of Radiohead’s latest album, Consequence of Sound has ranked every album and every song by the band. I won’t tell you the exact order, but Kid A, In Rainbows, and OK Computer are their top 3 albums (spot on…Kid A is my #1) and Airbag, The National Anthem,1 Fake Plastic Trees, and Everything In Its Right Place make the top 10 songs (mine is Everything In Its Right Place or maybe the live version of True Love Waits).
There are spoilers galore in Cinefix’s look at the best ever plot twists in movies, sorted into categories including It Was All a Dream, Not Dead, and Unexpectedly Bad.
Um, spoilers. Their picks include 2001, Gangs of New York, The 400 Blows, and Inception. I really thought Cache would be on the list.
I like how Cinefix does these videos. They pick the ten films, but they also mention other films that take similar approaches. In this case, the picks are also more populist than usual, which I appreciate.
From Complex, a listing of the best rapper alive for each year since 1979, from Grandmaster Caz to Biggie to Nicki to Drake.
Christopher Wallace was only alive for 67 days in 1997, but with a talent so immense, that’s all it took for him to be the most dominant rapper of the year. In the months after Biggie’s March 9 death, it’s almost as if his stock rose. The untimely loss of someone so young, with so much heft in the language of hip-hop, was like a call to reflection. Infatuation with his wit, wordplay, and delivery soared, and 1997, in spite of tragedy, was Biggie’s biggest year.
Life After Death was released just over two weeks after Biggie passed and peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The album was an ambitious two-disc set with a tracklist comprised of every type of song imaginable. While the diverse styles and subject matter — his daughter’s college plan, kinky sex, hotel heists, a fully-sung ballad — were an organic product of Biggie’s incomparable range, the strategy of Life After Death’s sequencing has become the de facto approach for rap albums in the years since. It’s an incredibly influential project, before you even press play.
Kathryn Schulz, who wrote the now-infamous New Yorker piece about earthquake that will devastate the Pacific Northwest, shared a list of the best facts she learned fron books in 2015. Two stuck out for me. The first is from Sarah Hrdy’s Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species and provides some necessary context for the debates over birth control and abortion:
In the era before women had any control over their fertility, child abandonment — a de-facto form of infanticide — “affected not tens of thousands, not even hundreds of thousands, but millions of babies,” according to the anthropologist and primatologist Sarah Hrdy. In Florence, for instance, the average annual rate of infant abandonment between 1500 and 1843 ranged from twelve per cent to forty-three per cent. In response, societies eventually began establishing foundling hospitals, but the mortality rates at these were equally high. Two-thirds of babies left at a Florence foundling home between 1755 and 1773 died before their first birthday; in 1767, mortality rates in foundling homes in St. Petersburg and Moscow reached ninety-nine per cent. While contemporary readers may find these statistics shocking, many people at the time knew exactly what was going on. In the town of Brescia, in northern Italy, residents proposed carving a motto over the entrance to the foundling home: “Here children are killed at public expense.”
And from Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future by Lauren Redniss comes the realization that London’s poor visibility was not limited to outdoors:
Having read my share of Victorian novels, I was familiar with the phenomenon of London fog, but I was surprised to learn, from Lauren Redniss’s “Thunder & Lightning,” that the combination of atmospheric conditions, factory emissions, and coal fires sometimes made the city’s air so impenetrable that visibility was reduced to just a few feet even indoors. That was bad news for theatregoers, who could not see the stage, but good news for thieves, who could not be seen. Worse, ambulances got lost, trucks accidentally drove into the Thames, and at least one airplane overshot its runway. Conditions began to improve only in 1956, with the passage of England’s Clean Air Act.
Pete Souza’s job for the past seven years has been to take photographs of the goings-on at the White House, including its inhabitants, staff, and guests. Behind the Lens: 2015 Year in Photographs is a selection of more than 100 photographs that Souza and his staff took last year. A few favorites:
That’s the Obamas beginning a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on the 50th anniversary of the brutal police attack of peaceful march to Montgomery accompanied by some of the original marchers. I love the looks on the faces of the various marchers: the dignified determination of John Lewis, the appropriate solemnity of the President and First Lady, and the carefree expressions of Sasha and Malia.1
Obama’s like Subzero from Mortal Kombat but with rainbows.
I’m not sure there will ever be another President in my lifetime I love as much as this one.
Because I hate fun, cute and funny animal photos are something I don’t usually get excited about. But I will make an exception just this once for the inaugural Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. (via colossal)
The winner of the 2015 Small World in Motion competition is Wim van Egmond’s video of a single-celled organism consuming a smaller single-celled organism. The winners of the photomicrography contest are worth a look as well.
This video is 20 minutes of the best YouTube footage from 2015 of extreme sports, marriage proposals, cute kids, funny animals, fast cars, groovy dancing, dronies, and more slow-motion GoPro footage than you could ever want to see in one lifetime. I’ve linked to a few of these videos, but generally my list of cool videos of the year would be a bit less X-TREEM. If you want to watch all 506 videos in the compilation, check out this playlist.
Alan Taylor at In Focus has shared his list of the Top 25 News Photos of 2015.
As I have in past years, I’ll share more lists of the year’s best photos as they come in.
Update: The AP shares their Top 100 News Images of 2015. Very few of these photographs show anything good, so fair warning.
Update: In Focus has published all and three parts of a three-part series of 2015: The Year in Photos.
Update: One more from In Focus: Hopeful Images from 2015. A reminder that the good in the world vastly outweighs the bad…even if it doesn’t often make the news.
Update: Nature has a collection of the best science images of 2015. The WSJ presents their Year in Photos 2015.