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The Best Best Picture Lineups in Oscar History

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2020

Using their extensive database of member ratings, Letterboxd averaged the ratings for the Best Picture nominees for each year to determine which years ranked highest. The top five are (official Academy winners marked w/ an asterisk):

  1. 1975 (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest*, Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Nashville)
  2. 2019 (Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite)
  3. 1976 (Rocky*, All the President’s Men, Bound for Glory, Network, Taxi Driver)
  4. 1974 (The Godfather Part II*, Chinatown, The Conversation, Lenny, The Towering Inferno)
  5. 1994 (Forrest Gump*, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption)

1975 was apparently the clear winner but 2019 in the #2 spot is a very strong showing, especially considering there are the ratings of nine nominees to average instead of just five. But as this analysis shows, the Academy and Letterboxd users do not often agree on which Picture is “actually” Best:

It is often said that The Academy doesn’t always choose the nominee that *actually* deserves Best Picture. And according to the average ratings of the nominees on Letterboxd, that is true about 76% of the time!

I’d guess there’s also a recency bias at work (newer films tend to get rated higher), as well as age-related (I’d guess Letterboxd skews young-ish?) and gender-related (majority male, but probably not as much as IMDB) biases. It would be neat to see how controlling for those effects would affect the average ratings. (via @mrgan)

Winners of the Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2020

Underwater Photos 2019

Underwater Photos 2019

Underwater Photography Guide has announced the winners of the 2019 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition. The top photo is by Adam Martin and the bottom one is from Petr Polách…check out the site for all the winners. (via in focus)

The 100 Best Books Written By African American Women

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2020

The editors of ZORA, a publication for women of color, have published a list of the 100 greatest books written by African American women: The ZORA Canon.

To our knowledge, however, no one has ever compiled a comprehensive list specifically featuring the finest literary works produced by African American women authors. We decided to undertake that effort both to honor that still underappreciated group of writers and to provide ZORA readers — you — with a handy reference guide to their work.

Here are a sampling of the books on the list — click through to peruse them all.

Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson. “The first novel written by an African American woman, Our Nig focuses on the fictional character Frado and her servant-girl life in New England during antebellum slavery.”

The Red Record by Ida B. Wells. “This tome by the groundbreaking writer, Mathis says, is ‘an exhaustively researched publication about lynchings in the U.S. after the abolition of slavery.’”

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. “This groundbreaking novel by the Harlem Renaissance novelist and anthropologist focuses on the emerging autonomy and maturation of Janie Crawford as she endures multiple marriages, poverty, and various other associative trials to reach a state of clarity.”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. “The first of a multivolume series, this much-loved autobiographical tale recounts Maya Angelou’s early life…”

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. “As he grows up, Milkman Dead strives to take flight as he sets out on a pilgrimage to reclaim his family history…”

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. “The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist traces the lives of three people — a sharecropper’s wife, an agricultural worker, and a doctor — who embark upon one of the greatest movements of African Americans within American history: the Great Migration.”

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. “This series of poems chronicles Woodson’s experiences in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and ’70s under Jim Crow and with the civil rights movement.”

I have read several of the more recent books on this list but not enough.

Flowing Data’s Best Data Visualizations of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2020

Nathan Yau of Flowing Data picked his ten favorite data visualization projects for 2019. All the projects listed are worth a look … but maybe, just maybe, this post is really just an excuse to let my eyes feast upon Scott Reinhard’s historic topographic maps once again.

Scott Reinhard

Designer Scott Reinhard takes old geological survey maps and combines them with elevation data to produce these wonderful hybrid topographic maps. From top to bottom, here are Reinhard’s 3D versions of a 1878 USGS Yellowstone map, a 1904 USGS map of Acadia National Park, and a 1899 USGS map of the Grand Tetons.

The Best of the Best-of-the-Decade Lists

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2019

Rex Sorgatz has been compiling a collection of lists related to the 2010s decade — best movies, worst TV shows, top inventions, the defining memes, that sort of thing. There are over 500 lists in the collection, so Sorgatz has helpfully posted the best of these lists in a Twitter thread.

From this list of the most popular baby names, we learn that the top boys names tend toward the biblical and traditional (Noah, Jacob, William, Elijah) while girls names are less so (Emma, Olivia, Ava, Mia, Madison).

Among the top 20 scientific discoveries of the decade is CRISPR, detecting gravitational waves, and fleshing out the human family tree.

Serial and Missing Richard Simmons were two of the podcasts that defined the 2010s. Not sure how you can leave Slow Burn off of here though…

The 100 Best Shoes of the Decade. Counterpoint: almost all of these shoes are terrible — gaudy celeb-driven collectables about as classy as commemorative plates.

The Tesla Model S and the Chevy Volt both made it on Car & Driver’s list of the 10 Most Significant Cars of the 2010s.

Check out the thread for all of the best lists.

Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 29, 2019

As he does every year, President Obama has shared his favorite books of the year for 2019. His picks include Sally Rooney’s Normal People, Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror, and The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. I wonder what he reads that he doesn’t like.

He also did a list of his favorite movies (Parasite, Booksmart, Little Women) and “TV shows that I considered as powerful as movies” (Fleabag!).

The 25 Best Films of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2019

Hey, Merry Ehrlichmas! David Ehrlich’s video countdown of his top 25 films of the year is one of my most anticipated end-of-the-year thingers. Viewing it always makes me want to watch movies for three straight days. As a companion, Ehrlich listed the movies here, along with the most memorable moment from each.

Watching “The Irishman,” especially for the first time, you get the sense that it’s teeming with hidden moments that will cling to you like barnacles for the rest of your life. Some of them are more apparent than others: Pacino chanting “Solidarity!” Pesci saying “It’s what it is.” Ray Romano asking De Niro if he’s really guilty at heart. The film’s most indelible treasures are lurking a bit deeper under the surface. On my second viewing, nothing hit me harder than the rhyme between two distant confrontations: As a child, Peggy suspects that her father is hiding some demons, but Frank directs his daughter back to her breakfast. Years later, Peggy wordlessly confronts her dad with daggers in her eyes, and Frank is so far beyond salvation that his only recourse is to keep eating his cereal like nothing ever happened.

Some random thoughts on the list and the year in movies: Surprised to see Ad Astra so high — I didn’t hear great things so I skipped it. I thought I saw a lot of movies this year, but this list once again proves me wrong. I can’t wait to see Uncut Gems. No Booksmart? I really loved Booksmart. I did not like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Knives Out as much as everyone else did. I mean, they were fine, but… Great to see Hustlers on the list — when Jennifer Lopez gets good roles, she knocks the cover off of the ball. Give Jennifer Lopez more good roles!

See also these two 2019 movie trailer mashups:

(thx, brandt & david)

The Year in Photos 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2019

Photos 2019

Photos 2019

Photos 2019

Photos 2019

Photos 2019

Photos 2019

From top to bottom: Hong Kong protests by Vincent Yu, Greta Thunberg by Maja Hitij, the first image of a black hole, dog sled in Greenland by Steffen Olsen, Megan Rapinoe by Franck Fife, Hong Kong protests by Kin Cheung.

What a decade this year has been, right? Here are some year-end photo lists that look back on the most inspiring, memorable, and distressing moments of 2019.

In Focus at The Atlantic: 2019 in Photos (part 2, part 3). The Top 25 News Photos of 2019. The Most 2019 Photos Ever.

NY Times: The Year in Pictures 2019.

Reuters: Pictures of the Year 2019.

Science: Our Favorite Science Photos of 2019.

Time: The Top 100 Photos of 2019.

CNN: 2019: The Year in Pictures.

Associated Press: Top Photos of 2019.

I was surprised (but also not surprised) that none of these lists included photos of the Chilean protests on violence against women that have since spread around the world (see HuffPo and Quartz for coverage). So I’m including one here (by Pablo Sanhueza):

Photos 2019

136 Mindblowing & Groundbreaking Internet Videos

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2019

Joe Sabia is a VP for Conde Nast Entertainment and he and his team have been the creative force behind some of the most interesting video series of recent years, including Vogue’s 73 Questions (Sabia is the questioner), the Billie Eilish time capsule interviews, Wired’s Autocomplete Interviews, and Gourmet Makes.

Recently Sabia shared a list of 136 internet videos which he says “left some sort of impression on me since the dawn of the internet video explosion (which I’ll define as 2006)”. So the collection is personal, but it’s also an expert’s record of creative people & orgs playing around with the internet video form, breaking new ground, or contributing significantly to culture.

I’ve spent my entire career inside internet video. If I didn’t mess around with it in college, I’d be a law school drop out. Back then, so much of YouTube began as a bunch of weird hobbyists making things we were curious about. Meeting people who saw the same popular videos you did felt like meeting someone who genuinely shared a bit of your identity. It was special. It was authentic. It was unusual. Everywhere you looked was some sort of bizarre concept that may have existed in weird avant garde museum galleries decades before, or from DVD curations like Wholphin — and most certainly never in shareable form on your computer.

I’ve posted a lot of these videos over the years, which is not surprising — while I’m not a video creator, Sabia and I are often on the lookout for stuff that is new or creative in some way. Fair warning: this list could occupy your attention for hours. HOURS. Here are a few videos I pulled out:

If this were my list, I would have included Primitive Technology. Even though it’s such a simple premise, I’d never seen anything like it before: a long-ish silent how-to video that felt tight and never boring.

52 Things Learned in 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2019

One of my favorite end-of-the-year lists comes from writer, consultant, and curious human Tom Whitwell: 52 things I learned in 2019.

8. Drunk shopping could be a $45bn/year industry, and only 6% of people regret their drunk purchases.

25. In the US Northwest, rain can damage the fruit on cherry trees. So helicopter pilots are paid to fly over the orchards, using their downdraft to dry the fruit as it ripens. For the pilots, it’s a risky but potentially profitable job.

31. Using machine learning, researchers can now predict how likely an individual is to be involve in a car accident by looking at the image of their home address on Google Street View.

52. Asking ‘What questions do you have for me?’ can be dramatically more effective than ‘Any questions?’ at the end of a talk.

I will add a 53rd item: Whitwell used a machine learning tool trained on his lists from previous years to find a couple of the interesting stories this year. I’ve often wondered if I could do the same with kottke.org…sort of a bot’s-eye view of the daily link zeitgeist.

The Best Books of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2019

Best Books 2019

I made an effort to read more books in 2019 and mostly succeeded (I think). But there are so many good books out there I couldn’t get to, which is at once both panic-inducing (OMG, the endless bedside stack of books) and exciting (so much to look forward to reading). It’s in this spirit that I went through a bunch of end-of-the-year books lists to pull out some of our collective favorite books of the year for 2019.

The NY Times has published two lists so far: The 10 Best Books of 2019 and 100 Notable Books of 2019 (I think their critics’ picks are forthcoming). Ben Lerner’s third novel, The Topeka School, is on both lists and almost all of the others linked here as well. I read Lerner’s 10:04 a few years ago and really enjoyed it. Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist made the longer list and is on my to-read-soon list as well.

As many others did, The Times Literary Supplement recommended The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong made the Washington Post’s Best Books of 2019. I pick up Vuong’s book every time I see it on a bookstore shelf…one of these days I’m going to actually buy & read it.

Book Riot’s list of the Best Books of 2019 includes Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski & Amelia Nagoski. Their talk at XOXO 2019 about the stress cycle was my favorite — it seemed at times they were talking directly at me.

In their Best Books of 2019 list, Kirkus Reviews highlighted Exhalation by Ted Chiang and Internment by Samira Ahmed.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk is on Time magazine’s 10 Best Fiction Books of 2019 list.

Library Journal has a number of lists in many categories — Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown and Mira Jacob’s Good Talk appear on their graphic novels list.

The lists from Goodreads always present a broader view of what’s being enjoyed by readers. See for instance: Most Popular Books Published In 2019 and Best Books of 2019. On the list of books for kids are Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo and Taffy Brodessner-Aker’s Fleishman Is in Trouble both made the New York Public Library’s list of Best Books of 2019.

Two lists from Five Books: Best Science Books of 2019 and Best Math Books of 2019. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez topped the first list and Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus by Steven Strogatz made both lists. I wrote about Perez’s book back in February.

The Guardian selected the best science, nature and ideas books of 2019. Among those mentioned are Greta Thunberg’s No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference (which oddly didn’t make many other lists) and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff.

The Guardian also asked a number of writers and celebs for their 2019 favorites. Hilary Mantel highlighted Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout, comparing the author favorably with Jane Austen. Anand Giridharadas picked Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, the only book on any of these lists in which I am quoted (as far as I know). Yotam Ottolenghi liked The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland.

Speaking of cooking, I couldn’t find a good list of the year’s best cookbooks, but I’ll update this if Eater or someone else publishes one. (see update below)

The top two books on Amazon’s Best Books of 2019 list are The Testaments by Margaret Atwood and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. I haven’t gotten around to Whitehead’s latest (The Underground Railroad was great) but I did read The Testaments and loved it.

Voracious reader Tyler Cowen weighs in with two lists: favorite fiction of 2019 and best non-fiction books of 2019. He mentions Sally Rooney’s Normal People, which I really enjoyed, and Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power by Pekka Hämäläinen.

Update: Alright, we’ve got a couple of lists of the year’s best cookbooks, In her list of the best baking cookbooks of 2019, Melissa Clark highlights Tartine: A Classic Revisited by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson. On the SF Chronicle’s best cookbooks of 2019 is Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s I Can Cook Vegan and Alison Roman’s Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over. And Samin Nosrat (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat) recently published a selection of her favorite fall cookbooks as a gift guide, including Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Bricia Lopez and Javier Cabral. (thx merrill & connor)

Update: NPR has updated their Book Concierge for 2019, adding 369 books spread out over a variety of categories from “Love Stories” to “The Dark Side”. I jumped right to the “Staff Picks” (the best section of any bookstore for people who like reading blogs) and found Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, a finalist for the National Book Award this year. I also spotted Mary H.K. Choi’s Permanent Record.

The NY Times Critics picked their Top Books of 2019, including Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise (the winner of the National Book Award).

Not all of the books on Boing Boing’s 28 favorite books in 2019 were actually published in 2019, but Olivia Jaimes’ Nancy: A Comic Collection was. So was Arcade Game Typography by Toshi Omigari.

Update: Along with Oprah and President Obama, Bill Gates has somehow become known for his reading. He periodically publishes lists of what he’s been reading on his website, and to his credit, he seems to be reading a bit more widely than he used to. Compare 2019’s list with this one from five years ago. The 2014 list (and the 2013 list) is mostly business & economics, almost all nonfiction, and all written by white men. This year is still mostly non-fiction but the majority of the books are by women (like These Truths by Jill Lepore), mostly not about business, and includes An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Perhaps it’s a low bar to clear, but it’s definitely progress for the world’s ur-nerd.

The 50 Best Nonfiction Books from the Past 25 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2019

Slate recently compiled a list of the 50 best nonfiction books published in the past 25 years and it could not possibly be more up my alley. Let’s take a look at some of the books on the list:

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. “Through his reporting of McCandless’ passionate and foolhardy journey into transcendence — and writing about his own, similar youthful experiences — Krakauer explores our modern relationship to the wilderness and the deep desire many young people feel to seek out unthinkable danger.”

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace. “His editors at Harper’s sent him to a state fair and on a holiday cruise, pastimes whose reputations for carefree, middle American fun seemed hopelessly alien to Wallace himself, a hyperactive observational machine desperate to shed his own self-consciousness but incapable of doing so.” A personal favorite of mine, my book-length introduction to Wallace.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. I loved this when it came out. I wonder how it holds up…

The Night of the Gun by David Carr. “In 2008, David Carr had been a respected New York Timesman for years, the paper’s media reporter and a beloved mentor of countless young journalists. But two decades before that, Carr was a junkie — a crack addict who washed out of journalism jobs, who was rung up by the Minneapolis cops nine times, and whose twin daughters were born 2 1/2 months premature to a mother who’d smoked crack the night before their delivery.”

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. A wonderful masterful book, one of my all-time favorites.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. “Barbarian Days is a masterpiece of sports writing, focusing its lens on the smallest unit of both athletic and artistic achievement: the single human body, attempting to do something difficult and beautiful.”

I’ve read fewer of the listed books than I would have thought. Time to remedy that.

Winners of the 2019 Small World Photomicrography Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2019

Nikon has announced the winning entries in the 2019 Small World Photomicrography Competition. Here are a few of the winners that caught my eye:

Photomicrography Contest 2019

Photomicrography Contest 2019

Photomicrography Contest 2019

From top to bottom, cells undergoing mitosis by Jason Kirk, a frozen water droplet by Garzon Christian, and a housefly eye by Razvan Cornel Constantin. Check out the rest of the winning entries here. (via in focus)

The Winners of the 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2019

The winning images in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2019 contest have been announced by the Natural History Museum in London. Here are a few of my favorites (by Audun Rikardsen, Max Waugh, and Shangzhen Fan):

2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Here’s how Rikardsen got that incredible shot of the eagle:

Audun carefully positioned this tree branch, hoping it would make a perfect lookout for a golden eagle. He set up a camera trap and occasionally left road-kill carrion nearby. Very gradually, over the next three years, this eagle started to use the branch to survey its coastal realm. Audun captured its power as it came in to land, talons outstretched.

You can check out the rest of the winners here. See also First Look: 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year, featuring a selection of entries from the contest. (via in focus)

The Most Important Pieces of Code in the History of Computing

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2019

Bitcoin Code

Slate recently asked a bunch of developers, journalists, computer scientists, and historians what they thought the most influential and consequential pieces of computer code were. They came up with a list of the 36 world-changing pieces of code, including the code responsible for the 1202 alarm thrown by the Apollo Guidance Computer during the first Moon landing, the HTML hyperlink, PageRank, the guidance system for the Roomba, and Bitcoin (above).

Here’s the entry for the three lines of code that helps cellular networks schedule and route calls efficiently and equitably:

At any given moment in a given area, there are often many more cellphones than there are base station towers. Unmediated, all of these transmissions would interfere with one another and prevent information from being received reliably. So the towers have a prioritization problem to solve: making sure all users can complete their calls, while taking into account the fact that users in noisier places need to be given more resources to receive the same quality of service. The solution? A compromise between the needs of individual users and the overall performance of the entire network. Proportional fair scheduling ensures all users have at least a minimal level of service while maximizing total network throughput. This is done by giving lower priority to users that are anticipated to require more resources. Just three lines of code that make all 3G and 4G cellular networks around the world work.

The 100 Best Books of the 21st Century (So Far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2019

Best Books 21st Guardian

The Guardian recently compiled a list of the best books of the century (with a British bent). Here are a few of the picks that caught my eye:

87. Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood — “This may not be the only account of living in a religious household in the American midwest (in her youth, the author joined a group called God’s Gang, where they spoke in tongues), but it is surely the funniest. The author started out as the “poet laureate of Twitter”; her language is brilliant, and she has a completely original mind.”

82. Coraline by Neil Gaiman — “From the Sandman comics to his fantasy epic American Gods to Twitter, Gaiman towers over the world of books. But this perfectly achieved children’s novella, in which a plucky young girl enters a parallel world where her “Other Mother” is a spooky copy of her real-life mum, with buttons for eyes, might be his finest hour: a properly scary modern myth which cuts right to the heart of childhood fears and desires.”

78. The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin — “Jemisin became the first African American author to win the best novel category at the Hugo awards for her first book in the Broken Earth trilogy. In her intricate and richly imagined far future universe, the world is ending, ripped apart by relentless earthquakes and volcanoes. Against this apocalyptic backdrop she explores urgent questions of power and enslavement through the eyes of three women. ‘As this genre finally acknowledges that the dreams of the marginalised matter and that all of us have a future,’ she said in her acceptance speech, ‘so will go the world. (Soon, I hope.)’”

71. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware — “At the time when Ware won the Guardian first book award, no graphic novel had previously won a generalist literary prize. Emotional and artistic complexity are perfectly poised in this account of a listless 36-year-old office dogsbody who is thrown into an existential crisis by an encounter with his estranged dad.”

42. Moneyball by Michael Lewis — “The author of The Big Short has made a career out of rendering the most opaque subject matter entertaining and comprehensible: Moneyball tells the story of how geeks outsmarted jocks to revolutionise baseball using maths. But you do not need to know or care about the sport, because — as with all Lewis’s best writing — it’s all about how the story is told.”

32. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee — “‘Normal cells are identically normal; malignant cells become unhappily malignant in unique ways.’ In adapting the opening lines of Anna Karenina, Mukherjee sets out the breathtaking ambition of his study of cancer: not only to share the knowledge of a practising oncologist but to take his readers on a literary and historical journey.”

13. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich — “In this modern classic of reportage, Ehrenreich chronicled her attempts to live on the minimum wage in three American states. Working first as a waitress, then a cleaner and a nursing home aide, she still struggled to survive, and the stories of her co-workers are shocking. The US economy as she experienced it is full of routine humiliation, with demands as high as the rewards are low. Two decades on, this still reads like urgent news.”

11. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante — “Powerfully intimate and unashamedly domestic, the first in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series established her as a literary sensation. This and the three novels that followed documented the ways misogyny and violence could determine lives, as well as the history of Italy in the late 20th century.”

Ok, that ended up being more than a few, but there’s so much good stuff on that list! You’ll have to click through to see the #1 choice but needless to say, I was pleased.

The Finalists for the 2019 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2019

The internet is 97% hilarious animals and today we have the best of the best. The finalists for the 2019 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards have been announced. Among them are this well-timed shot of a bird who’s really hauling:

Comedy Wildlife 2019

A small chimp kicking back at his desk after a hard day at work:

Comedy Wildlife 2019

And then there’s this dramatic fellow:

Comedy Wildlife 2019

You can check out the rest of the finalists on the website. (via digg)

Update: See also this enraptured squirrel smelling a yellow flower.

First Look: 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2019

Wildlife Photo 2019

Wildlife Photo 2019

The Natural History Museum has released a sneak preview of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition for 2019, sharing several “Highly Commended” photos from the exhibition.

Photo credits: Peter Haygarth (top) and Thomas P Peschak (bottom).

The 25 Most Important Characters of the Past 25 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2019

I love cross-disciplinary lists like this: The 25 Most Important Characters of the Past 25 Years.

We polled critics and other culture obsessives from Slate and beyond to assemble an enormous master list of influential characters. They were animated and live-action, wizard and Muggle, human and avian, fictional and based on actual persons, living and dead. They came from movies, books, TV series, video games, tweets, podcasts, comics, songs, and (in a surprise to us) more than one musical. Reflecting our franchise-driven time, many of them came from many of those media at once. The only rule was that they must have originated in a work of culture sometime in the past quarter-century, which meant no Simpsons or hobbits or diner-dwelling New Yorkers who argue about nothing. Then we ruthlessly winnowed down the list to the most crucial of those characters, the ones who have left an outsize mark on our planet circa 2019, to assemble this new pantheon.

Hermione Granger

Many of my favorite characters made it on there: Thomas Cromwell from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies; Omar Little from The Wire; Tracy Flick from Election; and Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, a much more inspired pick than the titular hero for reasons I’ve already articulated. The full list is worth a read.

The 100 Best Movies of the 2010s

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2019

Indiewire is early out of the gate with their list of the 100 best movies of the decade, betting that anything coming out in the next 5 months will not be worthy of inclusion. There are a few eyebrow raisers on there — 75. A Star Is Born? 26. Magic Mike XXL?? 5. Inside Llewyn Davis??? 2. Under the Skin?????!!? (reader, I didn’t like it) — but mostly this list is a goldmine for good movies I haven’t seen. Here are some that I have seen and enjoyed seeing on the list:

92. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
78. Inside Out
72. The Handmaiden
63. Inception
60. Black Panther
37. Roma
32. The Grand Budapest Hotel
23. O.J.: Made in America
13. The Tree of Life
9. Mad Max: Fury Road
7. Carol

I love that Fury Road made its way into the top 10…it might be my favorite film of the past decade.

Update: Also from Indiewire, the 25 Best Movie Scenes of the Decade.

Oh, and I thought of some films that definitely should be on that list but weren’t: Arrival, Dunkirk, Selma, Upstream Color, Senna. And I will continue to stubbornly go to bat for Cloud Atlas.

Winners of the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2019

Audubon 2019 01

Audubon 2019 02

Audubon 2019 03

The National Audubon Society has announced the winners of the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards competition. Photo credits from top to bottom: Kathrin Swoboda, Kevin Ebi, Shari McCollough. Here’s Swoboda describing how she got her amazing shot of a red-winged blackbird blowing smoke rings:

I visit this park near my home to photograph blackbirds on cold mornings, often aiming to capture the “smoke rings” that form from their breath as they sing out. On this occasion, I arrived early on a frigid day and heard the cry of the blackbirds all around the boardwalk. This particular bird was very vociferous, singing long and hard. I looked to set it against the dark background of the forest, shooting to the east as the sun rose over the trees, backlighting the vapor.

Ebi shared some of his other photos of the eagle stealing a rabbit from a fox in this blog post.

You can see the Audubon’s longlist of 100 images here. Birds are awesome! (via in focus)

25 Essential Artworks of the Past 50 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2019

The NY Times convened a group of curators and artists to decide on a list of the 25 artworks made since 1970 “that define the contemporary age”. At various times, the panelists objected to the futility of such an exercise, but eventually ended up with a list that’s highly subjective, grossly incomplete, and full of great work.

Essential Artworks

Essential Artworks

Essential Artworks

Nan Goldin, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, and Kara Walker all made the list. Jeff Koons is listed, somewhat reluctantly both by the panel and himself: “The artist did not grant permission for the named work to be published.”

Perhaps just as interesting as the artworks is the panelists’ discussion, a mini-tour of recent art history. Artist Martha Rosler said of Walker’s “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby”:

“A Subtlety” made lots of people furious because it was about the history of labor and sugar in a place that was already about to be gentrified. It was this gigantic, mammy-like, sphinxlike, female object, and then it had all these little melting children. “A Subtlety” is part of a very longstanding tradition that began in the Arab world that had to do with creating objects out of clay but also out of sugar. So it’s the impacted value of extractive mining, but it’s also the impacted value of the labor of slaves. And it’s also on the site where wage slavery had occurred — sugar work was the worst. The Domino Sugar factory was once owned by the Havemeyers, and Henry Havemeyer was one of the main donors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The sugar king was the art king. So it had all of these things — and then there’s the idea of all these people taking selfies in front of it. It was extremely brilliant without having to say a thing.

(via @sippey)

The Most Influential Black Americans in History

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2019

Influential Black Americans

The Undefeated has complied a list of some of the most influential black Americans — 44 African Americans Who Shook Up the World.

This is a list of The Undefeated 44, a collection of dreamers and doers, noisy geniuses and quiet innovators, record-breakers and symbols of pride and aspiration.

A dashing lawyer who redefined fearlessness and broke Jim Crow’s back. The most gravity-defying, emulated athlete the world has ever produced. A brilliant folklorist of fierce independence who was a proudly “outrageous woman.”

This is not a list of The Greatest African-Americans of All Time or The Most Influential Blacks in History. Or even The Dopest Brothers and Sisters Who Matter Most This Week. It is a list — fervently debated among our staff, chiseled and refined — of 44 blacks who shook up the world or at least their corner of it. We recognize that this is not a complete list of jaw-dropping black achievers; we know that such a list would never run out of names. Why limit ours to 44? It’s an homage to the first African-American president, whose own stunning accomplishment was something our mothers and grandfathers and great-grandmothers never thought they’d see in their lifetimes.

The list includes many household names like Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou, and Jean-Michel Basquiat but also some lesser-celebrated people like Dr. Charles Drew:

After becoming the first African-American to get his doctorate from Columbia University in 1940, Drew was the world’s leading authority on blood transfusions and storage, just as the United States and Great Britain were becoming deeply involved in World War II. His research established protocols on how blood should be collected and refrigerated, how donors should be recruited and screened, and training methods for people who would collect and test blood.

As medical director of the American Red Cross National Blood Donor Service, Drew led the collection of tens of thousands of pints of blood for U.S. troops. Some historians say his work might have saved the world from Nazism, since battlefield blood storage and transfusions didn’t exist before he was asked to manage two of the largest blood banks during the war.

And Madam C.J. Walker:

As she traveled throughout the United States, the Caribbean and Central America, teaching her Walker System and training sales agents, she shared her personal story: her birth on the same plantation where her parents had been enslaved, her struggles as a young widow, her desperate poverty. If she could transform herself, so could they. In place of washtubs and cotton fields, Walker offered them beauty culture, education, financial freedom and confidence. “You have made it possible for a colored woman to make more money in a day selling your products than she could in a week working in white folks’ kitchens,” one agent wrote to her.

The 50 Best Memoirs of the Last 50 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2019

Best Memoirs

The NY Times has compiled a list of the best memoirs published since 1969. Here are a few that caught my eye:

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. “At the age of 6, Marjane Satrapi privately declared herself the last prophet of Islam. At 14, she left Iran for a boarding school in Austria, sent away by parents terrified of their outspoken daughter’s penchant for challenging her teachers (and hypocrisy wherever she sniffed it out). At 31, she published ‘Persepolis,’ in French (it was later translated into English by Mattias Ripa and Blake Ferris), a stunning graphic memoir hailed as a wholly original achievement in the form.”

Hold Still by Sally Mann. “The photographer Sally Mann’s memoir is weird, intense and uncommonly beautiful. She has real literary gifts, and she’s led a big Southern-bohemian life, rich with incident. Or maybe it only seems rich with incident because of an old maxim that still holds: Stories happen only to people who can tell them.”

Boyhood by J.M. Coetzee. “The child of Afrikaner parents who had pretensions to English gentility, he was buttoned-up and sensitive, desperate to fit into the ‘normal’ world around him but also confounded and repulsed by it. He noticed how his indolent relatives clung to their privileged position in South Africa’s brutal racial hierarchy through cruelty and a raw assertion of power. Out in the world, he lived in constant fear of violence and humiliation; at home he was cosseted by his mother and presided like a king.”

Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin. “Grandin, a professor of animal science who is autistic, describes the ‘library’ of visual images in her memory, which she is constantly updating. (‘It’s like getting a new version of software for the computer.’) As Oliver Sacks wrote in an introduction to the book, ‘Grandin’s voice came from a place which had never had a voice, never been granted real existence, before.’”

Barbarian Days by William Finnegan. “William Finnegan, a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, recalls his childhood in California and Hawaii, his many surfing buddies through the years and his taste for a kind of danger that approaches the sublime.”

The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2019

It started in mid-April, barely 3 and 1/2 months into the year. To hit expectant readers before Memorial Day with suggestions for beach reads, summer reads, roadtrip reads, and just plain read reads, publications started rounding up the best books released in 2019:

Best books of 2019 so far (The Guardian)
The Best Books of 2019 (So Far) (Vulture)
The Best Books of 2019 (So Far) (Real Simple)
The Best Books of 2019 (So Far) (Glamour)
The Best Books of 2019 to Add to Your Reading List (Marie Claire)
The Best Books of 2019 (So Far) (Esquire)

I love that almost everyone uses the same title — it’s economical and the “(So Far)” is a wink that, yes, it’s a more than a little absurd to be talking about the best books of the year in freaking April. Of course, I couldn’t resist using it too.

But never mind the meta crap, what books are actually on these lists? Here are some that caught my eye or featured on one or more of these lists.

Normal People by Sally Rooney. This one is going to be on all the year-end lists, so it’s almost required reading at this point.

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon. “This contemporary story mirrors the ancient legend of Antiochus, whose love for the daughter of his dead wife was discovered by the adventurer Appolinus of Tyre. The tale appeared in many forms through the ages; Apollinus becoming the swashbuckling Pericles in Shakespeare’s eponymous play.”

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi. “Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories — equal parts wholesome and uncanny; from the tantalizing witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can — beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.”

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes. A retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of the women in the story. In the same vein as Circe and Emily Wilson’s The Odyssey, both of which I loved.

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. I wrote about Cirado Perez’s book back in February. “In her new book, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez argues that the data that scientists, economists, public policy makers, and healthcare providers rely on is skewed, unfairly and dangerously, towards men.”

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. “A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous breakup.”

Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas. “Giridharadas asks hard questions: Why, for example, should our gravest problems be solved by the unelected upper crust instead of the public institutions it erodes by lobbying and dodging taxes?”

The History of the Bible by John Barton. “In our culture, the Bible is monolithic: It is a collection of books that has been unchanged and unchallenged since the earliest days of the Christian church. The idea of the Bible as “Holy Scripture,” a non-negotiable authority straight from God, has prevailed in Western society for some time. And while it provides a firm foundation for centuries of Christian teaching, it denies the depth, variety, and richness of this fascinating text.”

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang. “Opening with the journey toward her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, Wang discusses the medical community’s own disagreement about labels and procedures for diagnosing those with mental illness, and then follows an arc that examines the manifestations of schizophrenia in her life.”

You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian. A collection of stories from the author that broke the internet with Cat Person. Included in the collection is The Good Guy, also very much worth a read.

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl. Reichl’s memoir about her time at Gourmet magazine. “This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat.”

Update: Here are a few more lists I’ve run across, along with the books recommended therein.

Best books of the year so far (Amazon)
5 good books I read this spring (Austin Kleon)
Most Popular Books Published In 2019 (Goodreads)
Best Books of 2019 So Far (Book Riot)
The 10 best books of 2019…so far (Entertainment Weekly)

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. “His new collection of nine stories — theming free will and choice, virtual reality and regret — is so provocative, imaginative, and soulful that it makes Black Mirror look drab and dull by comparison.”

Internment by Samira Ahmed. “This book inspires me to be more active in my engagement with the struggle for equality. Change can happen. In that respect, despite its horrifying moments, Internment is a hopeful dystopia. Layla, in defiance of being imprisoned in the first internment camp for Muslim Americans and living under dehumanizing conditions, maintains enough hope and resolution to protest.”

How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. “Nothing is harder to do these days than nothing. But in a world where our value is determined by our 24/7 data productivity… doing nothing may be our most important form of resistance. So argues artist and critic Jenny Odell in this field guide to doing nothing (at least as capitalism defines it). Odell sees our attention as the most precious-and overdrawn-resource we have. Once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine humankind’s role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress.”

Update: Book Marks compiled their own meta-list: The Best Reviewed Books of 2019 (So Far). The runner-up to Normal People on the list is Marlon James’ Black Leopard Red Wolf.

Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written a novel unlike anything that’s come before it: a saga of breathtaking adventure that’s also an ambitious, involving read. Defying categorization and full of unforgettable characters, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is both surprising and profound as it explores the fundamentals of truth, the limits of power, and our need to understand them both.

The Most Influential Academic Books in the Last 20 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2019

The Chronicle of Higher Education has assembled The New Canon, a list of the most influential books written by academics in the past 20 years or so. The books were chosen by a panel that included sociologist Eric Klinenberg, classics professor Johanna Hanink, and professor of business Sheena Iyengar.

Their picks included Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined:

It was a best seller, discussed and praised and criticized by both scholars and public intellectuals. Better Angels defends, at great length, a controversial claim, which is that violence is declining, both in the short run and the long run — and so, in a very important way, the world is getting better. Pinker is far from the first to make this argument, but he presents the most persuasive case. Better Angels also explores, at equally great length, psychological and social theories for why this is so, and illustrates that an evolutionary-psychology approach to the mind can give us considerable insight into how societies change over time.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander:

Michelle Alexander, a legal scholar, activist, and now a columnist for The New York Times, argues that the “war on drugs,” beginning with the Nixon administration and flourishing under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, shifted antipoverty resources into an infinite war on crime that disproportionately targets black communities and robs the majority of black men in urban areas of their full citizenship. Fusing legal studies and history, Alexander demonstrates how America’s prison-industrial complex is the latest chapter in the nation’s tragic racial history. Her thesis not only touched scholars but also transformed the public’s understanding of structural racism in the American justice system.

Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality by Elizabeth Armstrong & Laura Hamilton is a timely choice given the unfolding college admissions investigation by the FBI:

The book is an ethnographic account of the lives of first-year women college students living on a “party floor” at a selective public university they call Midwest U. Varied in their social-class backgrounds, the students have profoundly different pathways through college. Poor and working-class young women face formidable obstacles to completing their degrees, while the children of upper middle class professionals pursue meaningful majors and vocations. At the same time, the daughters of the wealthiest, socialite families join sororities, and party their way through easy majors, graduation, and, beyond that, socially connected jobs.

If this were a book about no more than individual-level educational inequalities, the story might end there. But this is not that book. Instead, the authors use a cultural and organizational lens to show how the university itself is complicit in shaping students’ academic pursuits, social lives, and job opportunities in socially patterned ways.

Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community:

Americans participate less in group activities that entail coordination and cooperation toward a common purpose. Instead they engage more in activities that take place less regularly, in smaller groups or in isolation. They are less likely to play sports on teams, more likely to watch sports or to exercise at home. The book identifies trends that scholars and journalists continue to analyze and dissect 18 years later, culminating in the recent avalanche of books and essays describing how handheld devices now contribute to the breakdown of community.

Bowling Alone inspired my pal Scott Heiferman to start Meetup.

The Healthiest Vegetables, Ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2019

MEL Magazine’s Ian Lecklitner talked to clinical nutritionist David Friedman (author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction) about which vegetables Friedman thinks are the healthiest. Happy to see that asparagus is #1:

“This tasty green stalk comes in first place on my vegetable ranking,” Friedman says. “Asparagus is a great source of vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting and building strong bones.” Friedman also mentions that asparagus provides vitamin A (which prevents heart disease), vitamin C (which supports the immune system), vitamin E (which acts as an antioxidant) and vitamin B6 (which, like vitamin A, also prevents heart disease).

Asparagus is also loaded with minerals, including iron (which supports oxygen-carrying red blood cells), copper (which improves energy production) and calcium (which improves bone health). “Asparagus increases your energy levels, protects your skin from sun damage and helps with weight loss,” Friedman continues. “It’s also an excellent source of inulin, a type of carbohydrate that acts as a prebiotic, supporting the growth of health-promoting bacteria in the colon.”

Personal faves brussels sprouts, beets, and broccoli also rank pretty high.

A List of the 100 Most Important Technologies Ever

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2019

From Paleofuture, “Technology, Ranked”, a list of the 100 most important technologies ever invented by humans. Among the items on the list (one of which is the top pick) are the fork, the electric guitar, cotton gin, nuclear weapons, anesthesia, GPS, Prozac, and the wheel. Fire is #2:

Ancient peoples harnessed fire in ways that allowed them to control their environment. For example, aboriginal Australians were able to keep bushfires under control by shaping and manipulating what they destroyed-reinvigorating the land and limiting the number of fires that had the potential to get out of control.

It’s fire. It’s kinda important.

The Year in Photos 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

From top to bottom: Christine Blasey Ford by Win McNamee, Emma Gonzalez by Jonathan Ernst, White House rally by Carolyn Kaster, Indian LGBT activist by Abhishek Chinnappa, Nakosha Smith of the Caramel Curves motorcycle club by Akasha Rabut, and a young churchgoer at Orthodox Easter service by Mikhail Svetlov.

That’s just a tiny slice of 2018…check out these sites for many more photos from the year that was:

2018 in Photos (part 2, part 3), Top 25 News Photos of 2018, The Most 2018 Photos Ever, and Hopeful Images From 2018, all from The Atlantic.

Best photos of 2018 from National Geographic.

Pictures of the year 2018 from Reuters.

These Are The Most Powerful Photos From 2018 from Buzzfeed.

Year in Pictures 2018 from Bloomberg.

The Year in Pictures 2018 from the NY Times.

2018 Year in Photos from Associated Press.

2018: The year in pictures from CNN.

Top 100 Photos of 2018 from Time.

Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2018

As he does every year, President Obama shared his favorite reads of the year on Facebook, books that he found “thought-provoking, inspiring, or just plain loved”. Among them are:

Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen.
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje.
How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

This year, Obama also shared his favorite movies and songs. The movie list contains some pretty interesting entries: Annihilation, The Death of Stalin, Shoplifters, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. I wonder if he sees these in the theater or via Netflix/Apple/Amazon or he just gets a ton of screeners from the studios?

And Mr. President, let me know if you ever want to contribute a guest media diet post…I will try to squeeze you into my editorial calendar.