kottke.org posts about lists
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).
From Nylon, Kristin Iversen compiled her list of the best pieces of nonfiction — books, essays, memoirs — from every state in the US (plus DC and NYC). Here’s a sampling:
Alaska: Coming into the Country by John McPhee.
Connecticut: The Story of How, and Why, Martha Stewart Became the Queen of Living Well by Margaret Talbot.
Florida: The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. (Love this choice!)
Illinois: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Strong runner-up here is the amazing The Warmth of Other Suns (which I reviewed here).
Vermont: Where the Roads Have No Name by Geoff Manaugh.
From the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins comes this list of 100 things that have “made their mark on public health”, good and bad. Here’s a sampling of the objects:
Horseshoe crab. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the helmet-shaped horseshoe crab, whose ancestors date back 450 million years. From vaccines to needles to pacemakers, any IV drug or medical equipment that will come in contact with the human body must first be safety-checked using a test that comes from a clotting compound in the crab’s blood. This compound can detect even the smallest amount of deadly bacteria and is sensitive enough to isolate a threat equivalent to the size of a grain of sand in a swimming pool.
Vaccines. Immunization is one of the most important public health achievements in human history. Vaccines helped eradicate smallpox globally and eliminate polio in the United States. The introduction of effective vaccines has also drastically reduced deaths from measles, diphtheria, rubella, pertussis (“whooping cough”) and other diseases that sickened hundreds of thousands of Americans in the early 20th century.
American Cheese. Food processing was actually developed to make food safer. Milk is pasteurized to kill harmful organisms, and canning and freezing foods such as meats, fruits and vegetables helps them last longer. But the food industry has taken processing well beyond these early origins. Often, to extend a food’s shelf life, manufacturers increase fats, sugars, and salt and add in chemical flavorings, emulsifiers, and other additives — taking foods that could have been healthy and making them much less so.
Pap smear. Since its introduction in 1955, the Pap smear has reduced death from cervical cancer by more than 60 percent. Invented by Dr. Georgios Papanikolaou, the Pap smear is a diagnostic procedure in which a health-care professional swabs a cell sample from the cervix and sends it to a lab to see if any of the cells are malignant. Before the invention of the Pap smear, cervical cancer was one of the leading causes of death for women of childbearing age in the United States. Today, it comes in at number 14 on the list of cancers found in women.
Spittoons. Spittoons were developed centuries ago as receptacles for spitting — think ashtrays for saliva. These brass or even porcelain repositories were everywhere: In homes, train stations, saloons and even the U.S. Congress. They were meant for men to dispose their chewing tobacco and the abundant phlegm that accompanied the habit. Convenience turned to concern in the late 19th century when a global tuberculosis epidemic took hold and scientists realized that spittoons might actually spread diseases. Some argued that when people spat in the general direction of a spittoon and missed the target, they caused a greater health threat than if the spittoon hadn’t been there at all.
Vaccines. And now my kids don’t die.
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.
When Ashley was a kid, she was legally blind. Her friends and family described colors to her in a wonderful way.
Yellow. I didn’t touch anything for this, they just told me that whenever you laugh so hard you can’t stop, that that happiness is what yellow looks like.
Green. I held soft leaves and wet grass. They told me green felt like life. To this day it is still very much my favorite color.
I love this list. (thx, nicholas)
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.
From Accio to Wingardium Leviosa, this is a supercut of every spell uttered in the 8 Harry Potter movies. Lots of Expecto Patronum, Expelliarmis, and Stupefy. As supplementary reading, here’s a list of spells in Harry Potter from Wikipedia.
Martin Pedersen recently reread Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities and came away with ten lessons.
3. Jacobs was remarkably prescient on gentrification.
She didn’t invent the term or even use it. But she observed (and I don’t know how, since most cities were in decline at the time) that lively diverse neighborhoods are always at risk for becoming victims of their own success, because newcomers invariably alter the characteristics that made these neighborhoods appealing to them in the first place. Today this seems obvious and self-evident, but that’s largely because of Jane Jacobs.
Yeah, it’s time for a reread…it’s been more than 12 years for me. (via @michaelbierut)
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.
George Dvorsky at Gizmodo highlights 10 Predictions About the Future That Should Scare the Hell Out of You. My, uh, favorites are:
1. Virtually anyone will be able to create their own pandemic
5. Robots will find it easy to manipulate us
7. The antibiotic era will end
8. Getting robots to kill humans will be disturbingly routine — and dangerous
From the manipulating robots section:
“Human empathy is both one of our paramount gifts and among our biggest weaknesses,” Brin told Gizmodo. “For at least a million years, we’ve developed skills at lie-detection…[but] no liars ever had the training that these new [Human-Interaction Empathetic Robots] will get, learning via feedback from hundreds, then thousands, then millions of human exchanges around the world, adjusting their simulated voices and facial expressions and specific wordings, till the only folks able to resist will be sociopaths — and they have plenty of chinks in their armor, as well.”
Many of the things on the list seem to have a similar potential for mischief as the discovery of nuclear fission chain reactions in the 1930s. On the other hand, humans have at least temporarily turned that possible civilization-ending technology into a major source of clean energy and 75+ years of world peace (relatively speaking) so maybe there’s some room for optimism here? Maybe? Hello?
Jan Chipchase is the founder of Studio D Radiodurans, which is sort of a modern day A-Team, except with more field research and fewer guns. For example, Chipchase is the sort of person who, for vacation, does not sip pina coladas in Bali but heads for “Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan’s GBAO region and China’s western provinces”. At the conclusion of the trip, which was actually only partially a vacation, Chipchase jotted down 61 Glimpses of the Future. A few of my favorite observations:
7. A white male travelling alone in interesting places, will always need to disprove they are a spy. Thanks Hollywood.
24. There is only one rule for driving in the GBAO: give a lift to every local that wants one, until the car is full. It’s common to travel main thoroughfares for a day and only see a couple of vehicles.
33. People wearing fake Supreme are way more interesting than those that wear the real deal.
34. An iPhone box full of fungus caterpillar in Kham Tibet sold wholesale, is worth more than a fully specced iPhone. It’s worth 10x at retail in 1st/2nd Tier China. It is a better aphrodisiac too.
38. Tibetan monks prefer iOS over Android.
53. Visitors to Tibet proper are supposed to go in a tour group and hire a local guide. With the right agent you can become a tour group of one and on arrival tell the guide you don’t need their services. It helps to look like you’re going to behave.
This is, as Tyler Cowen might say, interesting throughout. (via @themexican)
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.
Vintage/Anchor Books recently tweeted out a photo of a Most Stolen Books shelf at a bookstore. Some of the books on the shelf include The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (one of many Murakamis), Charles Bukowski’s Hollywood, and On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
According to research by Candice Huber, books by Bukowski and Kerouac are indeed popular targets for theft from bookstores, along with those by Hemingway, David Sedaris, and The Great Gatsby. All of the books listed are by men, and most by “manly” men. This 2009 list from the UK is slightly different: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book both rank high.
Libraries are a different story. According to Huber, the most frequently stolen library books are the Guinness Book of World Records, which is a favorite around our house,1 and The Bible. Thieves could use the Good Book’s wisdom more than many, I guess. Art books, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and test prep books are also popular with the light-fingered. Judging from my personal experience hanging around garages and auto mechanics when I was a kid, Chilton’s Auto Repair manuals were also lifted quite often.
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.
In a conversation last year with Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates recommended that readers of his acclaimed Between the World and Me check out a baker’s dozen other books, including his mentor David Carr’s The Night of the Gun, The Half Has Never Been Told (previously mentioned here), and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.
I could have imagined Isabel Wilkerson’s excellent The Warmth of Other Suns on this list too; it’s the most eye-opening American history book I’ve read in years. (Paging Lin-Manuel Miranda to make a play out of this.)
When a show spans 27 seasons and almost 600 episodes, you’re bound to hit your futuristic mark at least some of the time. Here are ten instances in which The Simpsons predicted inventions which have since come to pass, including smartwatches you can talk to, baby translators, and left-handed stores.
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).
From the nonbinary.org wiki, a list of gender identities that aren’t male or female.
transgender is an umbrella term for all genders that go beyond society’s ideas of gender, which includes some kinds of binary gender people. Some call their gender identity simply “transgender,” as a nonbinary identity itself.
genderfuzz. Coined by lolzmelmel in 2014. “having multiple genders that are fuzzy and blurred together, making it impossible to identify each one individually or separate one from the rest. alternative names: blurgender (not to be confused with genderblur)
cosmicgender. Coined by dragon-friker in 2014. “A gender so vast and complex that you are only able to process a small bit of it at a time. like viewing the night sky through a telescope you cannot hope to see all of it at once however you may gain more knowledge about parts of it the longer you focus on one part. may contain any number of sub genders within it that may present themselves to you. it is infinite in its possibility. name from the vast reaches of space filled with things we cannot begin to imagine.”
hijra. In south Asian countries including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the Hijra are people assigned male at birth who have a feminine gender expression. This is a very ancient tradition. Today, Hijra are legally recognized as a gender other than female or male.
nocturnalgender. Coined by passengender in 2014. Any gender that feels more intense during the night, “but weak/nonexistent when it is light out.” Syn. batgender, owlgender, moongender. Counterpart: flowergender.
Update: Sam Escobar answers some frequently asked questions about non-binary gender.
The gender binary separates those who identify as male or female, simple as that. Non-binary genders, however, don’t fit neatly within these two-they can be a combination of male and female, a fluid back-and-forth, or totally outside of the binary. Cisgender people, on the other hand, are folks whose identities align with the gender they were assigned at birth.
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.
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.
From Steven Pinker’s book, The Sense of Style, here are some of the most common words and phrases that trip people up.
Bemused means bewildered and does not mean amused.
Correct: The unnecessarily complex plot left me bemused. / The silly comedy amused me.
Data is a plural count noun not, standardly speaking, a mass noun. [Note: “Data is rarely used as a plural today, just as candelabra and agenda long ago ceased to be plurals,” Pinker writes. “But I still like it.”]
Correct: “This datum supports the theory, but many of the other data refute it.”
Enormity means extreme evil and does not mean enormousness. [Note: It is acceptable to use it to mean a deplorable enormousness.]
Correct: The enormity of the terrorist bombing brought bystanders to tears. / The enormousness of the homework assignment required several hours of work.
A deplorable enormousness!
The person I listen to the most regarding books I should be reading is Tyler Cowen…he has never once steered me wrong. So when he wrote about the best fiction of 2015, I perked up. I’ve been hearing many good things about Elena Ferrante’s series (Cowen himself flagged her The Lost Daughter as a favorite back in 2008) but his assertion that her recent series of novels ranks as “one of the prime literary achievements of the last twenty years” puts it solidly on my holiday beach reads list. The New World by Chris Adrian & Eli Horowitz and Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty also sound particularly interesting.
Update: Cowen recently shared his list of best non-fiction books of the year as well. Biographies rule the list: on Elon Musk, Henry Kissinger, Margaret Thatcher, and Genghis Khan. What a list…but I have to say that reading biographies of Thatcher or Kissinger doesn’t appeal at all.
Update: The NY Times weighs in with their list of 100 Notable Books of 2015. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates makes an appearance, as do the latest installments by Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Update: From Buzzfeed, The 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015 and from Slate, The Overlooked Books of 2015.
Update: The NY Times Sunday Book Review names their 10 Best Books of 2015. Coates and Ferrante feature. By my count, 7 of the 10 books are written by women.
Update: From Slate, a list of the best audiobooks of 2015. The Economist’s best books of the year, including SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome and Steve Silberman’s NeuroTribes. For part one of their best books list, The Guardian asked writers for their favorite books of the year; Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers got multiple mentions (but is not yet out in the US).
Update: Amazon’s editors picked their 100 best books of the year and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies topped the list. The top non-fiction book is Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family.
Update: A design-oriented list from Michael Bierut, including The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.
Update: Bill Gates shared his favorite books of 2015, including Randall Munroe’s Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words.
For The Millions Year in Reading 2015, they asked a bunch of writers for their reading recommendations. Joyce Carol Oates recommends the Didion biography The Last Love Song while Celeste Ng read The Suicide Index.
The Atlantic asked their editors and writers to share The Best Book I Read This Year. This is one of several lists to include The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf.
Update: The NY Times book critics weigh in with their favorite books of the year. Moar Ferrante! Moar Coates!