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Wes Anderson’s Movies, Ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2018

Rushmore List

For NME, Sophie Charara ranks Wes Anderson’s nine feature films in order of greatness. Her top 3 picks are correct, I think, but I’d shift the order a little. Here’s my list, which is a tiny bit objective but mostly really really subjective.

1. Rushmore
2. The Royal Tenenbaums
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Fantastic Mr Fox
5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
6. Isle of Dogs
7. Bottle Rocket
8. Moonrise Kingdom
9. The Darjeeling Limited

Honestly, 4-8 could have gone in any order for me and The Darjeeling Limited is not that far off.

A List of the 100 Most Important Books of the 21st Century (So Far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2018

After consulting dozens of authors, critics, and voracious readers, Vulture has come up with A Premature Attempt at the 21st Century Canon, aka a list of the 100 most important books of the 21st century (so far).

Any project like this is arbitrary, and ours is no exception. But the time frame is not quite as random as it may seem. The aughts and teens represent a fairly coherent cultural period, stretching from the eerie decadence of pre-9/11 America to the presidency of Donald Trump. This mini-era packed in the political, social, and cultural shifts of the average century, while following the arc of an epic narrative (perhaps a tragedy, though we pray for a happier sequel).

The top vote-getter is somewhat surprising: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt. Also represented high on the list are The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Elena Ferrante’s The Neapolitan Novels, and Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. I spotted a bunch of my other favorites on the list as well: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, My Struggle: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard, and The Harry Potter books. You can imagine the rest of the list as well: Roth, Franzen, Jesmyn Ward, Didion, Atwood, Marlon James, etc.

Would love to see a similar non-fiction list. Off the top of my head: The Warmth of Other Suns, 1491, Sapiens, The Emperor of All Maladies, The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks, The Black Swan, The Sixth Extinction, The Devil in the White City, Between the World and Me, and Moneyball would all deserve consideration.

The best designed maps from the past two years

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2018

Published by the North American Cartographic Information Society, the upcoming 2018 Atlas of Design showcases 32 of the best maps made over the past 2 years. Atlas Obscura has a selection of maps featured in the book.

2018 Atlas Of Design

2018 Atlas Of Design

You can preorder the book here or view a list of all the maps and their designers included in the book.

The 23 best films of the 2000s

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2018

The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday proposes a list of movies made in the 2000s that should be added to the canon of the best films ever made. Many of my favorites are on there — The Royal Tenenbaums, The Fog of War, Spirited Away, There Will Be Blood, Children of Men.

Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation of the P.D. James novel evinced the perfect balance of technical prowess, propulsive storytelling, complex character development and timeliness when it was released in 2006. But its depiction of a dystopian near-future — what we ruefully now call the present — has proved to be not just visionary but prophetic. Its predictive value aside, it stands as a flawless movie — a masterwork of cinematic values at their purest, with each frame delivering emotion and information in equally compelling measure.

Dunkirk, from just last year, is a bold inclusion…I love that movie but it’ll be interesting to see how it holds up. You can compare this list with two older lists: Dissolve’s and BBC Culture’s.

Update: The NY Times did a similar list last year, with There Will Be Blood and Spirited Away taking the #1 and #2 spots. (thx, paul)

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2018

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards

Culled from thousands of entrants from more than 140 countries around the world, here are the winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards. What’s really interesting is that many of the winners were not shot on iPhone 8 or iPhone X but with iPhone 7s and 6s and even 5s. That’s a good reminder of Clayton Cubitt’s three step guide to photography: “01: be interesting. 02: find interesting people. 03: find interesting places. Nothing about cameras.”

That said, the increase in photo quality from the first contest in 2008, just a year after the iPhone launched, is welcome. The initial iPhone had just a 2 megapixel camera with a mediocre lens while the iPhone X packs a 12 megapixel resolution and an incredible lens.

Photos above by Huapeng Zhao and Alexandre Weber.

Winners of the 2018 Audubon Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2018

The 2018 Audubon Photography Awards

The 2018 Audubon Photography Awards

The 2018 Audubon Photography Awards

The National Audubon Society has announced the winners of their ninth annual photography contest. The winning photos, which “evoke the splendor, resilience, and ingenuity of birdlife”, were drawn from over 8000 entries from all over the US and Canada.

The photos above are a great grey owl by Steve Mattheis, a long-tailed tit by Diana Rebman, and a flock of cobalt-winged parakeets by Liron Gertsman. Gertsman swept the youth category with the winning image and both honorable mentions. Here’s what he had to say about the parakeets:

Three days in a row I waited in a blind near a clay lick that Cobalt-winged Parakeets and other birds of the Amazon frequent. When hundreds of the birds finally descended from the tree canopy to the mineral-rich forest floor on the third morning, I was ready. I used a slow shutter speed to accentuate the blues in their wings. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of the birds or the deafening roar of parakeet chatter.

A list of the top 100 photos is available here. (via in focus)

Winners of National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year competition for 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2018

Nat Geo Travel 2018

Nat Geo Travel 2018

Nat Geo Travel 2018

National Geographic recently announced the winners of the Travel Photographer of the Year contest for 2018. You can look at the winners here and the people’s choice awards here.

You can also download the winning images as wallpaper for your computer, phone, or tablet.

The 100 best one-hit wonders

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2018

Today’s playlist is The 100 Best One-Hit Wonder Songs:

You can read the rationale behind all 100 picks on Consequence of Sound.

The standard definition (determined by who, Right Said Fred?) of a one-hit wonder is a band who has cracked the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 only once. What, you had a late-career single make 41? Sorry, thanks for playing, but charting 41 isn’t the same as 40, right? Um, no … maybe? It gets no easier when you have to wade through dozens of other Billboard charts that count for everything except, apparently, determining a one-hit wonder. And what about all those charts in other countries — yeah, we ignored them. Great, this list is making us xenophobic now.

But that’s getting pretty damn technical, and we’re not numbers people here. Because, technically, Beck is a one-hit wonder. As are the Grateful Dead and even Radiohead if they hadn’t snuck in at 37 with “Nude” back in 2008. Very lucky, Mr. Yorke. Can you imagine if you scrolled through a list of the 100 Best One-Hit Wonder Songs and found Beck sitting at the top spot? You’d collectively crash our site’s server in a contest to see which commenter could say the cruelest thing about our music knowledge, mothers, and cats.

“Technically, Beck is a one-hit wonder.” Also, I feel that Sir Mix-a-Lot should have made the list.

The top 100 stories that changed the world

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2018

BBC Culture recently polled authors, journalists, and other literary types from 35 different countries and asked them “to nominate up to five fictional stories they felt had shaped mindsets or influenced history”. From the responses, they compiled a list of 100 stories that shaped the world. Here’s the top 5:

5. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958)
4. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)
3. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852)
1. The Odyssey (Homer, 8th Century BC)

The Harry Potter series, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Jane Eyre are also included in the top 20. Oddly, the Hebrew Bible, Christian Bible, Koran, and other religious texts are nowhere to be found on the list. A story like the four gospels of the New Testament has surely changed the world much more than all of the other titles on the list combined. (via fave5)

The Great American Read: a list of America’s 100 best-loved novels

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2018

The Great American Read is an upcoming eight-part PBS series about books and reading. The show is built around a national survey that asked a group of “demographically and statistically representative” Americans what their most-loved English language work of fiction was. Here’s the trailer:

The full list of available books is on the web site. Along with the usual suspects of Great Literature™ (The Catcher in the Rye, 1984, Little Women) and beloved children’s classics (the Harry Potter series, Where the Red Fern Grows, Charlotte’s Web), there are some interesting and not-so-surprising choices as well: The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah, the Fifty Shades of Grey series, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and Another Country by James Baldwin.

The best title sequences of 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2018

I know it’s almost May of 2018, but I missed Art of the Title’s Top 10 Title Sequences of 2017 when it came out back in January, so here you go. Come on, it ain’t so bad…nothing in the preceding four months has made these sequences any worse. For example, the opening credits for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are still delightful:

Or the spooky credits for Mindhunter, which remind me of the opening titles for Six Feet Under & Se7en and the rolling tape footage used extensively in The Fog of War.

Winners of the 2018 Underwater Photographer of the Year contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2018

Underwater 2018

Underwater 2018

Underwater 2018

The winners of the 2018 Underwater Photographer of the Year have been announced and In Focus has a nice selection of the winners and runners-up.

Top photo by Filippo Borghi and the bottom two by Greg Lecoeur. Said Borghi about his photo:

During springtime, from April to June, on the coast of Baja, California, we can witness one of the most impressive migrations of the sea. Thousands of mobula rays migrate along this coast. I tried many times to find this incredible behavior but never was able. This year, during a morning safari on the sea, we saw a different group of beautiful mobula rays. I jumped in the water and we followed them for a couple of hours and a small group moved into a shallow area where I was able to shoot in great light.

Great stuff if you’ve been watching Blue Planet II. And if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?!

My picks for the 2018 Oscars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2018

It’s been yeaaars since I watched or even paid much attention to the Oscars, but this year I’ve somehow managed to watch all nine movies nominated for Best Picture, along with most of the films featured in the other main categories (actor, actress, director, cinematography). Here’s my completely subjective ranking for Best Picture:

1. Dunkirk
2. Call Me by Your Name
3. The Post
4. Lady Bird
5. Phantom Thread
6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
7. Get Out
8. The Shape of Water
9. Darkest Hour

Dunkirk and Call Me By Your Name are my definite 1 & 2 (same as David Ehrlich, just reversed), but the next three could be in any order…putting Phantom Thread in the fifth spot doesn’t do it justice. Three Billboards, The Post, and Phantom Thread all share the same problem — a significant shift in a main character’s behavior/character without the onscreen action properly selling it — but there were other things to recommend them. I don’t know why I didn’t like Get Out or The Shape of Water more, but they just didn’t do it for me. I don’t get the love for Darkest Hour…Oldman as Churchill shamelessly chews scenery and The Crown & Dunkirk were much better recent takes on Churchillian times. I don’t expect Dunkirk to actually win — nor perhaps should it — but it was my favorite.

For Best Lead Actress, I have not seen I, Tonya yet, but it would be difficult to top Frances McDormand in Three Billboards. For Best Lead Actor, I haven’t seen Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq. but among the others I would go with Timothée Chalamet. For Best Director, Jordan Peele should get the nod for somehow creating a coherent socially conscious horror satire documentary, although I would happily cheer either Greta Gerwig or PT Anderson winning. And for Best Cinematography, I have not seen Mudbound, for which Rachel Morrison is the first ever woman to be nominated in this category, but Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 are two of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen in the past few years; I would give it to Hoyte van Hoytema in an upset over Roger Deakins, who inexplicably has never won this category.

The top 5 sequels, adaptations, remakes, and original movies of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2018

Lately, Cinefix has been examining movies based on their sources. First they chose the top five remakes of all time, including the expansion of La Jetée into 12 Monkeys:

They looked at sequels, including The Godfather Part 2, Logan, and Creed:

Then they chose their favorite adaptations, including Adaptation (from The Orchid Thief), Apocalypse Now (from Heart of Darkness), and O Brother Where Art Thou (from The Odyssey):

And finally, their top five most original movies of all time, including Holy Motors and Enter the Void:

I love watching these Cinefix videos. They don’t always pick the most obvious choices for these lists and I’m always so jazzed to watch more films afterwards.

Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2018

As he did in the years when he was President1, Barack Obama shared a list of his favorite books that he read in 2017:

The Power by Naomi Alderman
Grant by Ron Chernow
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Five-Carat Soul by James McBride
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

As I’ve said before, Obama was our most widely read President. See also more lists of the best books of 2017.

  1. Remember when we had a grownup in the White House instead of an insecure and petulant manbaby? I barely do…

The year in photos 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2018

Photos 2017

Photos 2017

Photos 2017

Photos 2017

Photos 2017

Photos 2017

One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year is look back on the best and most newsworthy photos of the year. As I wrote last year:

Professional photographers and the agencies & publications that employ them are essential in bearing witness to the atrocities and injustices and triumphs and breakthroughs of the world and helping us understand what’s happening out there. It’s worth seeking out what they saw this year.

Indeed. I’ve selected six of my favorites culled from lists published by the following media outlets:

The Atlantic: Top 25 News Photos of 2017, 2017 in Photos, Hopeful Images From 2017
The New York Times: The Year in Pictures 2017
National Geographic: Best Photos of 2017
Agence France-Presse: Pictures of the Year 2017 (part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5)
Reuters: Pictures of the Year 2017
Associated Press: The Year in Photos 2017
Time magazine: Top 100 Photos of 2017
CNN: 2017: The Year in Pictures
Petapixel: The Top 15 Photos on Flickr in 2017

Photos by Matthew Pillsbury, Joseph Eid, Ricardo Arduengo, Ariana Cubillos, Mohammad Ismail, and NASA (Cassini spacecraft).

The best kottke.org posts and links of 2017

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 02, 2018

[ As a tease for the first issue of the just-announced Noticing newsletter coming up on Friday, here is last week’s newsletter that we previewed for kottke.org members. It’s a review of the best kottke.org posts and links from 2017. You can sign up for Noticing if you find this kind of thing appealing. Ok, I’ll let Tim take it from here. -jason ]

 
2017 Through the Lens of Kottke.org

If 2016 was chaos, then 2017 was catastrophe. In the middle of an ongoing disaster, the world reckoned with bills long overdue. Kottke.org has never been a terribly political blog, but it’s always been one that’s grappled with history, the problems of art and media, self-reflection, and the long trajectory into the future. The site couldn’t help but reflect that catastrophe back to its readers. At the same time, it continued to offer some small oasis by selecting and presenting the best of the World Wide Web.

 
Messages in Bottles

One of the most exciting weeks of 2017 for me was when I asked Kottke.org readers to help me build a time capsule for the World Wide Web. It felt particularly important this year to try to save the best parts of the things we loved. We had to have something to show the future, despite all this destruction and heartache, that we were still capable of making things that surprised and delighted.

The entire “best of the web” series paid homage to the 20th century technologies that have defined so much of the 21st. It also showcased the deep knowledge and generosity of Kottke readers, who contributed and helped curate all of the entries. If you missed it, or are looking to refresh yourself, the web’s best hidden gems and the web’s funniest stories are good places to start.

Jason on Halt and Catch Fire

Jason as gas station patron on Halt and Catch Fire. Photo courtesy of AMC.

One of the most exciting weeks of 2017 for me on Jason’s behalf was his appearance on Halt and Catch Fire. Jason wrote this wonderful love letter to the show and the moment it tries to capture:

When I was a kid, there was nothing I was more interested in than computers. My dad bought one of the first available IBM PC-compatibles on the market. I’ve read and watched a ton about the PC revolution. I used online services like Prodigy. And the web, well, I’ve gotten to experience that up close and personal. One of the reasons I love Halt and Catch Fire so much is that it so lovingly and accurately depicts this world that I’ve been keenly interested in for the past 35 years of my life. Someone made a TV show about my thing and it was great, a successor to Mad Men great. Getting to be a microscopically tiny part of that? Hell yeah, it was worth it.

Recently, I saw The Farthest, a wonderful documentary about the Voyager missions. In it, Timothy Ferris, producer of the famous Golden Record, laments the fact that so much wonderful music was left off, but says something like, “who would want to live in a civilization that only ever produced 90 minutes of great music?” It made me feel better about leaving off so many wonderful parts of the web in my time capsule; who would want to honor a technology whose entire set of great achievements could be documented in a week of blog posts?

 
In Search of Deep Time

In 2014, it was easier to believe in the future. For The Future Library, an art project by Katie Paterson, a thousand trees were planted. In a century, the trees will become part of an anthology of books, written by Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell, among others.

Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until the year 2114. Tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the one hundred year duration of the artwork finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.

Deep Time, conceptualized in the eighteenth century but coined in the twentieth by John McPhee, is bigger than centuries; it’s really about time on the geologic scale. Even the time of human civilizations (Stone, Bronze, Iron, etc.) is too small. Deep time is deep.

Something like “The Earth’s five energy revolutions” gets us closer to it: all life on earth begins with geochemical energy, then augmented by sunlight, and finally, oxygen, flesh, and fire. The life and death of entire forests of trees, of entire species and kingdoms, is dwarfed by the history of an entire planet and all the life that’s ever been on it. This point of view has always been a powerful perspective, but in 2017, the cosmic telescope of time was almost a comfort. Even if nations fall and species fail, this too will pass.

Coleman's Cafe in Greensboro, Ala.

Coleman’s Cafe in Greensboro, Ala., in 1971. By William Christenberry

But deep time has its own human counterparts. Consider Teju Cole’s essay “The Image of Time,” on photographer William Christenberry. Christenberry photographed buildings in small towns in the American south over time: seemingly the same photograph, of the same object, from the same distance, with the same framing, shows the object’s subtle or radical transformations, its non-identity.

Time is photography’s illusion. Almost every photograph appears instantaneous. But of course, there’s no such thing as “instantaneous”: All fragments of time have a length. In a photograph, the time during which the light is refracted by the lens, enters the aperture and is allowed to rest on the photosensitive surface could be 1/125th of a second, one-eighth of a second, half a second, a whole minute, much more or much less. What is intriguing about a practice like Christenberry’s is that it employs time elsewhere in the photograph too: as a source of narrative.

Or look at Jon Bois’s magnificent “17776: What Football Will Look Like in the Future,” which dives right into the familiar — maps, calendars, printer readouts — and estranges it, exactly to make the reader experience time. (I can’t even blockquote or screenshot it. It’s one piece you have to read for yourself.)

 
Time Collapsed

In 17776, the angel of history is a far-flung space probe that’s absorbed all of human culture, emotions, and sports statistics through radio transmissions. For Walter Benjamin in 1940, the Angel of History was a thought-experiment to try to understand all of history as an ongoing catastrophe.

These are chaotic times. But to the angel of history, it’s not a sudden eruption of chaos, but a manifestation of an ongoing vortex of chaos that stretches back indefinitely, without any unique origin. When we’re thrust into danger, in a flash we get a more truthful glimpse of history than the simple narratives that suffice in moments of safety. As Benjamin puts it, “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.”

For James Baldwin, there were no angels, and no robots; only fallen, imperfect beings who’d likewise absorbed the surrounding culture, but hadn’t necessarily been humanized by it. “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction,” writes Baldwin, “and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”

Baldwin and Benjamin were the two writers that best helped me understand this year, because they’d already seen how fascism and Jim Crow could fold time over on itself. Had he not been murdered, Emmett Till would have turned 76 in 2017; instead, a new book revealed what was long known, that he died because of a lie.

And in 2017, in a different sort of lie, Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who self-identifies as black, changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo. When Baldwin wrote “the world is white no longer, and it will never be white again,” I don’t think this is what he was talking about.

It was not the first time that the curiously stagnant nature of time made me wonder if we were all dead and in Hell. It would not be the last.

 
The New Callousness

In 2017, knowing how to apologize properly is an essential skill. (You might even call it a new kind of liberal art.) The essential components of a genuine apology, according to Beth Polin:

1. An expression of regret — this, usually, is the actual “I’m sorry.”
2. An explanation (but, importantly, not a justification).
3. An acknowledgment of responsibility.
4. A declaration of repentance.
5. An offer of repair.
6. A request for forgiveness.

Most of 2017’s public apologies whiffed on one or more of these. It was a year filled with soul-searching, but also much rejection of any real contrition. We might remember individual acts of selflessness, but the year was fueled by selfishness.

This photo by Kristi McCluer of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest became a metaphor for the summer, and the whole year.

Summer 2017 Fire

A man golfs with a wildfire raging behind him. One of the defining images of 2017.

The New Callousness, swept into power in the United States and elsewhere, led to widespread physical and political fatigue: Kayla Chadwick’s “I Don’t Know How to Explain to You That You Should Care About Other People” reflects the prevailing mood of exhausted incredulity.

It is probably fair to say that in every direction, 2017 involved a lot of human beings writing off other human beings. But pushing back against this were great technologist-humanists like the legendary Ellen Ullman, explaining why hackers need the humanities:

Algorithms surround us, determining how we get mortgages or apartment rentals, or whether we get hired. It is crucial that we open up those algorithms and take them apart, and then either put them back together or scrap and rewrite them. Algorithms may run our lives, but I really believe people make the future.

 
Sharp as Possible

Trying to figure out how to live through this year, I often thought about Thelonious Monk’s advice on how to play a gig:

Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.

Don’t play the piano part. I’m playing that.

Don’t play everything (or every time). Let some things go by.

Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important than what you do play.

Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.

What should we wear tonight? Sharp as possible!

I also tried to remember Richard Feynman’s advice that if you can’t explain something simply, you probably don’t really understand it. I admire complexity, but whenever it’s possible, simplicity is better.

The best of all things may be to be able to ratchet the explanation’s complexity up or down depending on who your audience is: neuroscientist Bobby Kashturi explaining a connectome to a five-year-old, teenager, college student, grad student, and scholarly peer is a great example of that.

It all builds from the foundation. As Richard Hamming observed, knowledge and productivity are like compound interest. You grow from work you put in over time, simple things repeated until they become (or appear to become) complex. Learning effects, network effects, path dependence — over time, they all roll up, and who you’re becoming overtakes who you are.

 
The Great Eclipse

In August, after a jab step into Nebraska, Jason drove to Rayville, Missouri to witness and photograph the solar eclipse.

As totality approached, the sky got darker, our shadows sharpened, insects started making noise, and disoriented birds quieted. The air cooled and it even started to get a little foggy because of the rapid temperature change.

We saw the Baily’s beads and the diamond ring effect… When the Moon finally slipped completely in front of the Sun and the sky went dark, I don’t even know how to describe it. The world stopped and time with it. During totality, Mouser took the photo at the top of the page. I’d seen photos like that before but had assumed that the beautifully wispy corona had been enhanced with filters in Photoshop. But no…that is actually what it looks like in the sky when viewing it with the naked eye (albeit smaller). Hands down, it was the most incredible natural event I’ve ever seen.

Eclipse 2017 by Mouser

A view of the eclipse from Rayville, MO. Photo by Mouser.

Jason also collected the best photos and videos of the eclipse, this NASA map showing the eclipse’s path across the continental United States. and eclipse maps of the United States from 2000 BC until 2117 AD. Even for those of us who just sat under a tree and watched the shadows turn into scallops, it was a special experience this year.

 
Did Someone Say Maps?

Talk about visualizing deep time! Here we go:

A Tapestry of Time and Terrain shows the ages of rock in different parts of the continental US.

Another map shows the hometown of nearly all of the warriors from Homer’s The Iliad.

This map of the Roman Empire c. 125 AD shows the major Roman roads as if they were London’s tube.

A collection of miniature metro maps shows world cities with smaller systems, from Bangalore to Tblisi.

There’s a timeline map of US immigration since 1820, a set of hand-drawn infographics made by W.E.B. Du Bois and his students at Atlanta University, auto-generated maps of fantasy worlds, a topographical map of Venus (with geographic features named for historical and mythological women), and even an interactive map of personal debt.

There’s also The Atlas for the End of the World, which looks at critically endangered bioregions worldwide, and NASA’s striking nighttime map of the world, complete with a patch of void separating China from South Korea; the one nation, that, light-wise, may as well be open ocean.

 
So What Was Good?

There were so many essays and features and pop-up op-eds and shameless resistance grifters and rust belt whisperers that all tried to explain what was really happening in 2017. Almost always reporting either from a small red-state town or the comforts of one’s own imagination. And almost always thoroughly ignoring what was happening in the wider world in favor of warmed-over anecdotes and armchair realpolitik. All that noise nearly drowned out a few moments genuine insight. That’s always the case, but it all felt sharper this year.

I’ve already listed a lot of what I loved about this year — and everything I’ve mentioned appeared as a blog post or a Quick Link on Kottke.org. But two pieces of documentary art stand out for having a different set of ambitions, in search of a different kind of truth about 2017.

Flamingos in Planet Earth II

A flock of flamingos in Planet Earth II.

The first is Planet Earth 2. We already know that when the BBC breaks out Sir David Attenborough, they deliver the goods: a respite from our overweening humanity, with cutting-edge photography and cogent commentary. But PE2 went further, because it was just so goddamned beautiful.

The tracking shot of a lemur jumping from tree to tree is one of the first things you see in the first episode and it put my jaw right on the floor. It’s so close and fluid, how did they do that? Going into the series, I thought it was going to be more of the same — Planet Earth but with new stories, different animals, etc. - but this is really some next-level shit.

The second is Whitman, Alabama. Jennifer Crandall’s serial documentary benefits enormously from the fact that it didn’t set out to explain what happened politically in 2016 or 2017. The filmmaking began much earlier as a meditation on the longstanding problems of democracy and diversity in America.

It’s a very different kind of film from Planet Earth 2. It’s not state of the art. It’s relentlessly human. It manifests the spirit of Walt Whitman: his generosity, his capaciousness, his gentle but insistent concern on the public and private lives of his fellow Americans.

The first time Crandall read “Song of Myself,” it was 1990, and she was sixteen, standing in a bookstore in McLean, Virginia, having just moved back to the United States. Because of her father’s job, with U.S.A.I.D., she had spent most of her childhood in Bangladesh, Haiti, and Pakistan. “My mom is Chinese, from Vietnam, and my dad’s a white dude from Denver, and at that moment I just felt that I did not understand America,” she said. She pulled a paperback anthology of poetry off the shelf, and Whitman stuck out right away. “Though I wouldn’t have articulated it then, what I responded to was this idea that everyone embodies diversity, not just the country. That many people are negotiating multiple social contracts, the way I’d been doing since I was born.”

Somewhere between those two, between the whole planet and just one town, between the deep time of the age of fire and the quickfire moments of the post-web internet, between the human and the indifference to humans, is where we are. It’s where we’ve been in 2017 and will be again in 2018, no matter what comes. It’s where we’ve always been, careening between catastrophe and epiphany, callousness and generosity, the divine and the mundane. With luck, we will not destroy ourselves. With luck, and grace, and hope, and because we have no choice, we will find a way to make it through.

The Most 2017 Photos of 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2017

Summer 2017 Fire

So 2017

So 2017

So 2017

I’m hoping to do my annual roundup of the photos of the year soon, but I wanted to separately highlight Alan Taylor’s list of The Most 2017 Photos Ever, “a collection of photographs that are just so 2017”. There’s distracted boyfriend, wildfires, fidget spinners, protestors, predatory men, the eclipse, kneeling, praying, shooting, and many photos of Trump looking dumb, bewildered, or both. Yeah, that about sums it up.

I am a little surprised though that the photo of the guy mowing his lawn with a tornado in the background didn’t make the cut…perhaps a little too metaphorically similar to the golfing photo above.

Man Mowing Lawn Tornado

The top 25 films of 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2017

Nothing makes me want to quit my job and just watch movies all day than David Ehrlich’s annual video countdowns of the year’s best movies. Although I’m still a little irritated at him for leaving Arrival off of last year’s list, I’m looking forward to seeing Phantom Thread, The Post, Columbus, Lady Bird (which has been difficult to come by living in a rural area), and many others from this year’s list.

At Indiewire, Ehrlich explains his picks. I wasn’t as keen on Baby Driver and Get Out as Ehrlich and seemingly everyone else was, but here’s what he wrote about Dunkirk, one of my favorite films of the year:

“Virtual reality without the headset.” That’s what Nolan has called the experience of seeing this film’s aerial sequences in their proper glory, and he wasn’t kidding — “Dunkirk” is the ultimate fuck you to the idea of streaming a new movie to your phone. The director and his team customized an IMAX rig so the camera could squeeze into the cockpit of a WWII fighter plane, and the footage they captured from the sky is so transportive that every ticket should earn you frequent flier miles. One shot, in which we share a pilot’s POV as they make a crash landing on the water, singlehandedly justifies this entire portion of the film long before Nolan inevitably converges it with the other two for the rousing final act.

I might splurge on a bigger, better TV just to watch this one in 4K at home.

P.S. Also from Ehrlich: Wreath Witherspoons. LOL.

The best books of 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2017

Best Books 2017

If you’re anything like me, there were so very many books published this year that looked amazing but you didn’t get around to reading. Well, thanks to all the best-of-the-year lists coming out, we’re getting a second crack at the ol’ onion. (Yeah, I don’t know what that means either.) Without further ado, etc. etc…

Tyler Cowen, who samples (but doesn’t finish) over 1800 books a year, shared his Must Reads of 2017, a list that is mostly nonfiction and dominated by male authors. He recommends Rob Sheffield’s Dreaming the Beatles (“this book teaches you to think of John and Paul as a management team, and was the most enjoyable read I had all year”), Ge Fei’s The Invisibility Cloak, and Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla.

The NY Times whittled down their long list of 100 Notable Books to just The 10 Best Books of 2017, including The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us by Richard Prum and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (which Roxane Gay declared her favorite book of 2017).

Lee’s stunning novel, her second, chronicles four generations of an ethnic Korean family, first in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century, then in Japan itself from the years before World War II to the late 1980s. Exploring central concerns of identity, homeland and belonging, the book announces its ambitions right from the opening sentence: “History has failed us, but no matter.”

From the longer list, I noticed The Idiot by Elif Batuman, George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, Masha Gessen’s The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (the National Book Award winner for nonfiction), and Priestdaddy, a memoir by Patricia Lockwood.

Amazon’s editors picked their top 100 books of the year and then narrowed that list down to 10. Their tippy top pick appeared on several other lists as well: Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, which I read and very much enjoyed. Also on their list was Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Robin Sloan’s well-reviewed Sourdough, and Ariel Levy’s The Rules Do Not Apply, the rawness of which had me on the floor at one point.

From Bustle comes a list of 17 Books Every Woman Should Read From 2017. Their picks include The Power by Naomi Alderman and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, both of which I’ve seen on several other lists…the latter won the National Book Award for fiction.

More to come as the lists roll in.

Update: Bill Gates famously loves to read and has published a list of five “amazing books” he read this year. Not all of his choices were published in 2017, but The Best We Could Do, a graphic novel by Thi Bui about her family’s escape from Vietnam, and Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil sound super good in completely different ways.

Tyler Cowen followed up his mostly nonfiction list for Bloomberg with one of just fiction. He highlights Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation. He also calls out Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem trilogy as his favorite sci-fi reading of the year. I read them earlier this year and while I enjoyed them at the time, my esteem has grown steadily throughout the year.

Publisher’s Weekly’s top 10 includes White Tears by Hari Kunzru and The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein. For their kids picks, they recommend A Different Pond by Bao Phi and Thi Bui (her second book…see Gates’ picks above), Fault Lines in the Constitution by Cynthia and Sanford Levinson, and Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage (the first in The Book of Dust trilogy).

Update: I’m never going to get around to all of the book lists, but here are a few more that caught my eye.

The book critics of the NY Times offer their top books of 2017. The picks include Richard Nixon: The Life by John Farrell (“the parallels between Nixon and our current president leap off the page like crickets”), John Green’s well-reviewed Turtles All the Way Down, and Robert Sapolsky’s Behave (“my vote for science book of the year”).

For their Year in Reading 2017, The Millions asked some of their favorite readers and writers for their book recommendations. They returned with the likes of My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris and Morgan Parker’s collection of poetry, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce.

The Goodreads Best Books of 2017 is a bit different than the other lists in that the books are chosen exclusively by readers, not critics or writers. The very well-reviewed The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas topped both the debut author and young adult fiction categories while the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them dominated the fantasy category.

At GQ, Kevin Nguyen highlighted Alissa Nutting’s Made for Love (that cover!). Nylon’s Kristin Iversen rec’d Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose. Among Pitchfork’s favorite music books of the year is, yes, that book on the Beatles mentioned above but also Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011. Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 made the Guardian’s list of the best science fiction and fantasy of 2017.

Update: A quick addition of two more lists. Quartzy combined 21 best-of-2017 books lists to come up with the most popular picks by reviewers. For fiction, Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, and Exit West by Mohsin Hamid got the most mentions. For nonfiction, David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon and We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates topped the list.

The Smithsonian magazine chose the ten best history books of the year, which includes One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps by Andrea Pitzer.

The best panoramic photos of 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2017

Pano Photos 2017

Pano Photos 2017

Pano Photos 2017

The winners of the 2017 Epson International Pano Awards have been announced. In Focus has a round-up of some of the best ones. It was tough to choose just three to feature here, so make sure and check out all the winners. Photos by Francisco Negroni, Paolo Lazzarotti, and Ray Jennings.

The top 10 bestselling Kindle books of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2017

Top Kindle Books All Time

The Kindle debuted 10 years ago this month and Amazon marked its anniversary with top 10 lists of the bestselling fiction and nonfiction books for the device. The fiction list is fairly predictable (I’ll get to it in a moment), but the nonfiction list is a little more interesting in spots:

1. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
2. Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo, Sonja Burpo, and Lynn Vincent
3. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
4. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
5. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
6. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman
7. Bossypants by Tina Fey
8. American Sniper by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, and Jim DeFelice
9. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
10. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

It’s really nice to see The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on there…I would not have guessed that one, although with HBO and Oprah involved, perhaps I should have. Here’s the fiction list, dominated by Shades of Grey and Katniss Everdeen.

1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James
2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
3. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
4. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
5. Fifty Shades Darker by E L James
6. Fifty Shades Freed by E L James
7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
8. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
9. The Help by Katherine Stockett
10. The Fault in our Stars by John Green

There are some fine books on both lists, but looking at them, you get an inkling of why the IRL Amazon stores are a bit lackluster.

Jonathan Harris’ ten favorite non-fiction works

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2017

Ox Herding Pictures

Jonathan Harris recently shared his picks for his personal top 10 works of non-fiction. His list includes a couple that would go on my list (the Eames’ Powers of Ten and Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi) as well as all of YouTube (surely that’s cheating a bit!) and one that I’d never heard of before, the Ten Ox Herding Pictures (shown above).

As a way of introduction, here are the famous “Ox-Herding Pictures,” composed by a 12th-century Chinese monk, describing the stages of practice leading to the Buddhist notion of enlightenment (and my favorite top-ten list of all time).

(via @amandahesser)

The 2017 National Book Awards finalists

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2017

National Book Awards 2017

The National Book Foundation has announced the finalists (and the longlist) for The 2017 National Book Awards. Among the nominees in the categories of fiction, non-fiction, young people’s literature, and poetry are The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen, The Book of Endings by Leslie Harrison, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

I’m excited to see David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon on the list. I read it earlier this year and it was excellent.

The Astronomy Photographer of the Year for 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2017

Astronomy Photo 2017

Astronomy Photo 2017

Astronomy Photo 2017

Put on by the Royal Observatory Greenwich, The Astronomy Photographer of the Year is the largest competition of its kind in the world. For the 2017 awards, more than 3800 photos were entered from 91 countries. It’s astounding to me that many of these were taken with telescopes you can easily buy online (granted, for thousands of dollars) rather than with the Hubble or some building-sized scope on the top of a mountain in Chile.

The photos above were taken by Andriy Borovkov, Alexandra Hart, and Kamil Nureev.

The top 10 cinematographers of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2017

Cinefix celebrates the best cinematographers in film with a 15-minute video packed with gorgeous visuals from movies like Citizen Kane, Rear Window, Apocalypse Now, Rashomon, Schindler’s List, Creed, and Fargo.

As the video notes, male domination in cinematography is worse than in directing…a woman has never even been nominated for an Oscar in the Best Cinematography category. Last year, Jake Swinney shared his list of 12 Essential Women Cinematographers working today, including Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Maryse Alberti (The Wrestler, Creed), and Rachel Morrison (Dope).

2017 Underwater Photo Contest winners

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2017

Underwater Scuba 2017

Underwater Scuba 2017

Underwater Scuba 2017

Scuba Diving magazine has announced the winners of the their 2017 Underwater Photo Contest. Photos by Eduardo Acevedo, Marc Henauer, and Kevin Richter, respectively. Worth noting that the top and bottom photos were taken in the Lembeh Strait, The Sea’s Strangest Square Mile.

See also the winners of the 2017 Underwater Photographer of the Year awards.

100+ exceptional works of journalism from 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2017

Each year, in one of my favorite media traditions, Conor Friedersdorf picks dozens of articles, essays, podcasts, and stories from the previous year “that stood the test of time”. Here’s his just-published installment for this year.

Friedersdorf has a keen eye (and ear) for good stories. Shamefully, I’ve read maybe 10% of the articles listed here…I’ve dropped my longform reading in recent years in favor of books, TV, and being out in the real world. Maybe on my next vacation, instead of a book, I’ll tackle this list instead.

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest winners for 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2017

Each year, in honor of English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who once began a novel “It was a dark and stormy night”, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest attracts hundreds of entrants who attempt to craft the worst opening sentence to an imaginary novel. Kat Russo won the 2017 contest with this line:

The elven city of Losstii faced towering sea cliffs and abutted rolling hills that in the summer were covered with blankets of flowers and in the winter were covered with blankets, because the elves wanted to keep the flowers warm and didn’t know much at all about gardening.

I was also fond of this one, by Anna MacDougald:

There’d been six of us at the outset, but after Smythe took a poisoned dart to the chest, Buddlestone fell from the top of a cliff, Stevens and Mayhew were swallowed by quicksand, and Tait-Harris was eaten by ants, only I remained to bring you our amazing tale.

See also Charles Morris’ 10 Winning Intros to Solve That Boring Cover Letter:

1. “The Confederacy’s biggest problem was messaging.”

9. “A train is traveling at 100 mph. A child is tied to the track. I have a switch in front of me. If I pull it, the train will switch to another track, and instead of hitting the child it will hit ten convicted felons. What do I do? Trick question: I’m not even there. I’m at your company helping you make record profits.”

The most beautiful shots in film of the 21st century

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

Ignacio Montalvo compiled a list of the most beautiful scenes pulled from dozens of movies from the first part of this century and edited them into a succinct video less than 3 minutes long. He included scenes from movies like Spirited Away, Kill Bill, Sunshine, Mad Max: Fury Road, Moulin Rogue, Children of Men, Wall-E, Melancholia, and Interstellar.