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The 25 Best Films of 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2021

Because the pandemic (mostly) shuttered US movie theaters for the duration of 2020 and studios reduced or redirected their output accordingly, you might be excused for thinking that it was a bad year for film. As David Ehrlich’s masterful video countdown of the 25 best films of 2020 demonstrates, there was plenty of good stuff out there if you knew where to look.

I didn’t end up seeing many of the films on Ehrlich’s list — I’ve been stuck rewatching old favorites and meaningless garbage during the pandemic — but I’m going to make some time for several of these soon. Two documentaries that I was surprised to see omitted: My Octopus Teacher and The Painter and the Thief. The latter is one of the best movies I’ve seen in ages — I can’t imagine that Ms. Americana (for instance) was better. And I’m Thinking of Ending Things? Did not do it for me at all. *shrug* (thx, brandt)

The Year in Photos 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

How will we remember this pivotal year in human history? Many of us won’t want to, but in doing so we risk repeating what got us into this mess in the first place. Photography is always a powerful way to document events and this year was particularly suited to it: these photos vividly tell the story of 2020. You can check out many more of them here:

The embedded photos above, from top to bottom: Black Lives Matter protests by Dai Sugano, hospital staff by Sarah Lawrence, Black Lives Matter protests by Matt Rourke, empty grocery shelves by Justin Sullivan, Black Lives Matter protests by David Dee Delgado, California wildfires by Noah Berger, Covid-19 vaccine by Graeme Robertson.

The Best Book Cover Designs of 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Well, what an unprecedented year that was! *sigh* 2020 is not a great year for ledes, so let’s skip right to the chase: many books were published this year and some of them had great covers. Lit Hub has the best roundup, with a selection of 89 covers chosen by book cover designers. Mark Sinclair’s ten selections for Creative Review are excellent as well. Electric Lit and Book Riot shared their cover picks as well.

I chose a few of my favorites and shared them above. From top to bottom: Zo by Xander Miller designed by Janet Hansen, the UK cover for Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates designed by Jamie Keenan (the US cover for comparison), Anger by Barbara H. Rosenwein designed by Alex Kirby, Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener designed by Rodrigo Corral, and Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch designed by Rachel Willey. Looking at great work like this always gets my “maybe I should have been a book cover designer” juices flowing…

See also The Best Books of 2020.

Update: Oh good, the annual list from The Casual Optimist is here: Notable Book Covers of 2020. A cover that he highlighted that I particularly liked is from Michael Nylan’s translation of The Art of War by Sun Tzu designed by Jaya Miceli.

Best Book Covers of 2020

The NY Times list of The Best Book Covers of 2020 is out as well.

The Northern Lights Photographer of the Year for 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2020

The best photos taken of the northern & southern lights in 2020

The best photos taken of the northern & southern lights in 2020

Capture the Atlas has collected some of the best aurora borealis and aurora australis photos taken this year in their 2020 Northern Lights Photographer of the Year competition. I’ve highlighted two photos from the competition above, by Ben Maze & Nico Rinaldi respectively. Maze’s photo, of the aurora australis in Tasmania, is stunning — one of the best astronomy photos I have ever seen. Here’s how he captured it:

Captured in this image is a trifecta of astronomical phenomena that made for some of the best astrophotography conditions one can witness in Australia, namely, the setting Milky Way galactic core, zodiacal light, and of course, the elusive Aurora Australis. On top of this, a sparkling display of oceanic bioluminescence adorned the crashing waves, adding the cherry on top to what was already a breathtaking experience.

Having been out of reception and civilization for over a day, fellow photographer Luke Tscharke and I had no idea the aurora would strike on this night. We’d just heard rumors of a potential solar storm. We could barely contain our excitement when the lights first showed up on our camera’s screens. We later realized we were in the best place on the entire continent to witness the rare show, with Lion Rock being on the southernmost cape of Tasmania and much more cloud-free than the rest of the state at the time.

The colors that our cameras picked up were incredible, too. Rather than the classic green, the display ranged from yellow and orange to pink and purple. When I’d captured enough frames that I was happy with, I simply stood by my camera with my head tilted towards the sky, occasionally swirling my hand around in the sparkling water by my feet. I’m forever grateful for moments in nature like this that show us the true wonders of our planet.

The aurora, the Milky Way, zodiacal light, and bioluminescence all in one image — what a magical conjunction. You can check out the rest of the winners here.

The Best Books of 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2020

The Best Books of 2020

I’m guessing that for most of you, reading books was either a comfort or a near impossibility during this unprecedentedly long and tough year. For me, I got some good reading in earlier in the year and then, as my focus shifted to writing about and researching the pandemic for this site and managing the logistics of safely navigating this new world, my energy for books waned. The last thing I wanted to do at the end of most days was more reading, especially anything challenging.

I also kinda didn’t know what to read, aside from the few obvious choices that were impossible to ignore. As I’m sure it is for many of you, a big part of my “getting the lay of the land” w/r/t books is seeing what my favorite bookstores were putting on their front tables — and that’s been difficult for the past several months. Looking through a bunch of end-of-2020 lists for what books everyone else recommended was especially valuable for me — there really were so so many good books published this year that are worth seeking out. So, here’s a selection of the best books of 2020 and links to the lists I used to find them. I hope you find this useful.

Let’s start with the NY Times. Their 10 Best Books of 2020 includes Deacon King Kong by James McBride while their larger list of 100 Notable Books of 2020 has both Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff and The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack on it. The Times’ critics have their own list for some reason; one of the books they featured is Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley.

Isabel Wilkerson’s masterful Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents and The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel (two books I actually read this year) deservedly made almost every list out there, including Time’s 100 Must-Read Books of 2020. Those two books are also, respectively, on Time’s lists of The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2020 and The 10 Best Fiction Books of 2020.

The Guardian breaks down their list of the Best Books of 2020 into several categories. The list of the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2020 includes The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson and Kacen Callender’s King of the Rising.

The year-end lists on Goodreads (Best Books of 2020, Most Popular Books Published In 2020) typically cast a wider net on what a broader audience is reading. Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett made their lists this year.

Kirkus has a bunch of categories in their Best Books of 2020 as well, including the timely Best Fiction for Quarantine Reading in 2020 — I found What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez (“Dryly funny and deeply tender; draining and worth it”) on there.

The NYPL’s Best Books of 2020 has separate lists for adults, teens, and kids. For adult poetry, Nate Marshall’s Finna made their list. And for teen historical fiction: We Are Not Free by Traci Chee.

Some recommended books for kids from various lists (NYPL, NY Times, NPR): Shinsuke Yoshitake’s There Must Be More Than That!, Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (my daughter is reading this one right now for her book club), and Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk.

YA novel Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo and Homie by Danez Smith both made Book Riot’s Best Books of 2020. Oh, and I’d missed that Zadie Smith published a book of pandemic-inspired essays called Intimations.

NPR’s Book Concierge is always a great resource for finding gems across a wide spectrum of interests. Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile and The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante both made their Seriously Great Writing list and their Cookbooks & Food list includes Ottolenghi Flavor by Yotam Ottolenghi & Ixta Belfrage and Eat A Peach by David Chang.

Speaking of cookbooks and food, among the top titles for 2020 were In Bibi’s Kitchen by Hawa Hassan & Julia Turshen and Falastin by Sami Tamimi & Tara Wigley. (Culled from Food & Wine’s Favorite Cookbooks of 2020 and The Guardian’s Best Cookbooks and Food Writing of 2020.

I saw Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia on several lists, including Library Journal’s Best Books 2020.

The Book of Eels by Patrik Svensson and The Alchemy of Us by Ainissa Ramirez both made Smithsonian Magazine’s The Ten Best Science Books of 2020.

Hyperallergic has selected Some of the Best Art Books of 2020, including Kuniyoshi by Matthi Forrer.

For the Times Literary Supplement’s Books of the Year 2020, dozens of writers selected their favorite reads of the year. Elizabeth Lowry recommended Artemisia, the companion book to the exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi’s at The National Gallery and sadly the best way for most of us to be able to enjoy this show.

More lists: Audible’s The Best of 2020 and Washington Post’s The 10 Best Books of 2020. I’ll update this post a couple of times in the next week with more lists as I run across them.

If you’d like to check out what I’ve read recently, take a look at my list on Bookshop.org.

Note: When you buy through links on kottke.org, I may earn an affiliate commission. This year, I’m linking mostly to Bookshop.org but if you read on the Kindle or Bookshop is out of stock, you can try Amazon. Thanks for supporting the site!

“52 Things I Learned in 2020”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2020

Every year around this time, Tom Whitwell shares a list of 52 things he’s learned over the course of the year, complete with references so you can drill down into each one. Here’s 2020’s version — fascinating as usual. A few favorites:

3. The hold music you hear when you phone Octopus Energy is personalised to your customer account: it’s a number one record from the year you were 14. [Clem Cowton]

18. 10% of the GDP of Nepal comes from people climbing Mount Everest. [Zachary Crockett]

30. In Warsaw’s Gruba Kaśka water plant there are eight clams with sensors attached to their shells. If the clams close because they don’t like the taste of the water, the city’s supply is automatically shut off. [Judita K]

44. A micromort is a one-in-a-million chance of death. Just being alive is about 24 micromorts per day, skydiving is 8 micromorts per jump. [Matt Webb]

52. British clowns register their unique makeup patterns by having them hand painted onto chicken eggs. The eggs are then stored either at the Holy Trinity Church in Dalston or at Wookey Hole caves in Somerset. [Dave Fagundes & Aaron Perzanowski]

You can check out the rest here.

The Winners of the 2020 Weather Photographer of the Year Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2020

Weather Photos 2020

Weather Photos 2020

Weather Photos 2020

The Royal Meteorological Society has announced the winners and runners-up in the 2020 Weather Photographer of the Year competition. I shared some of my favorites above, but somehow none of the cloud pics made the cut? Am I feeling alright? *feels forehead* Ok, just one — I can’t resist cumulonimbus mammatus:

Weather Photos 2020

Photos by (top to bottom) Vu Trung Huan, Alexey Trofimov, Andrew McCaren, and Boris Jordan. (via moss & fog)

Winning Shots from the 2020 International Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2020

2020 International Landscape Photographer of the Year

2020 International Landscape Photographer of the Year

2020 International Landscape Photographer of the Year

The International Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards have announced their results for this year and you can see some of the winning photographs at In Focus. Photos by (top to bottom) Shashank Khanna, Vikki Macleod, and Nikhil Nagane.

The Winners of the 2020 Close-Up Photographer of the Year Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2020

2020 Close-Up Photographer of the Year Competition

2020 Close-Up Photographer of the Year Competition

2020 Close-Up Photographer of the Year Competition

The winners of the second annual Close-Up Photographer of the Year competition have been announced. You can check out the winners and the finalists on the competition website. The photos above were taken by (from top to bottom) Don Komarechka, Bernhard Schubert, and Gerd A. Günther. (via in focus)

The Winners of the 2020 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2020

2020 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

2020 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

2020 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The winning photographs in the 2020 Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest have been announced by the Natural History Museum in London. Photos above by Shanyuan Li, Weiwei Zeng, and Greg du Toit. (via in focus)

Winning Images from the 2020 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2020

2020 Nikon Small World Photomicrography competition image

2020 Nikon Small World Photomicrography competition image

2020 Nikon Small World Photomicrography competition image

Nikon has announced the winners of its Small World Photomicrography competition for 2020. From top to bottom above, the development of a clownfish embryo by Daniel Knop, crystals by Justin Zoll, and a bogong moth by Ahmad Fauzan. You can check out the competition winners from past years, all the way back to 1975. (via @dnabeck)

The Winners of the 2020 Drone Photo Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2020

Drone Photos 2020

Drone Photos 2020

Drone Photos 2020

Lots of good aerial photography in the 2020 Drone Photo Awards in several categories (abstract, urban, people, nature, wildlife). Photos above by Paul Hoelen, Azim Khan Ronnie, and Paul McKenzie.

Winners of the 2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2020

2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year

2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year

2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year

2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year

2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year

The winning entries from the Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020 competition are here and they are spectacular. As longtime readers can attest, I will never get tired of looking at photos of the sky and space.

Above from top to bottom: Nicolas Lefaudeux’s tilt-shift shot of the Andromeda Galaxy, Alain Paillou’s ultra-contrasty photo of the Moon, Kristina Makeeva’s aurora shot, Evan McKay’s self-portrait under the Milky Way, and Olga Suchanova’s 3-month exposure of the Sun’s path through the sky using a beer can pinhole camera. You can read a little bit about how Suchanova got that shot on 35mmc:

If exposure times on the order of minutes seem long, try months. Olga Suchanova (London, UK) used a pinhole camera made from a beercan — and not just any beercan, but a Peter Saville design for the Tate Modern — to record the solargraph below.

She used Ilford paper, exposed for 3 or 4 months at an art residency in Almeria, Spain. The long exposure traces the sun’s path across the sky over multiple days — sunny days make brighter lines, and as spring turns to summer, the sun rises higher in the sky. The fantastic colours — another consequence of the long exposure — are created spontaneously on black and white paper, without the need for development or any other chemical processing.

The Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2020

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Each year, photographers entering the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards capture animals in various hilarious (and often anthropomorphic) situations and this year’s finalists can hopefully provide you with some relief from the absolute shitstorm that’s raging outside our skulls here in 2020. [Uh, how about something a little more upbeat next time? -ed] (via digg)

The 2020 International Garden Photographer of the Year Macro Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2020

Tulip petals

Peeping frog

Flower vortex

Rainbow lily

The International Garden Photographer of the Year has announced the winners of their macro competition, featuring some of the best close-up photography of the botanical world. My nature-loving daughter and I picked out a few of our favorite entries above. Photos by (top to bottom) Anne MacIntyre, Minghui Yuan, Bruno Militelli, and Ecaterina Leonte. (via moss & fog)

The Winners of the Malofiej International Infographics Awards for 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2020

Malofiej Awards 2020

Malofiej Awards 2020

Malofiej have announced their 28th International Infographics Awards for 2020, which they refer to as “the Pulitzers for infographics”. You can check out some of the top infographics here, culled from newspapers, magazines, and online media from around the world. The full list is available here, complete with links to the online winners.

The 2020 Audubon Photography Award Winners

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2020

Audubon 2020 Contest

Audubon 2020 Contest

From more than 6000 submissions, the National Audubon Society has selected the winners of The 2020 Audubon Photography Awards, featuring some of the best bird photography of the year. The top photo, of a cormorant diving for dinner, is by Joanna Lentini and the second photo, of a thirsty hummingbird, was taken by Bibek Ghosh.

Update: They’ve released the top 100 images form the competition; so much good stuff in there.

The Winners of the 2020 BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2020

2020 BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition

2020 BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition

2020 BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition

In Focus has a selection of the winners of the 2020 BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition organized by the California Academy of Sciences. Here’s how Andy Parkinson got that amazing photo of the hare:

To get this intimate shot of a mountain hare (Lepus timidus) curled up against a Scottish winter storm, Andy Parkinson endured weeks of ferocious cold and wind that drove shards of ice into his face. Britain’s only native rabbit species, on the other hand, is utterly at home in these inhospitable conditions. Groups of twenty or more hares gather each winter to nibble heather on leeward slopes, where the snow tends to be shallower. Before resting, they jump away from their tracks to confuse predators. And while some ride out storms in burrows or depressions, this female created her own shelter, tucking herself into a ball to conserve heat and minimize exposure to the elements. It’s a nifty strategy for surviving the kind of weather that drives most creatures indoors or underground.

You can view the winners and category finalists on the BigPicture Competition website. Photos above (top to bottom) by Andy Parkinson, Jes Stockhausen, and Amy Vitale.

Some Dazzling Early Entries from the 2020 Sony World Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2019

The World Photography Organization has shared some of the early entries for the 2020 Sony World Photography Awards with In Focus. Here are a couple of my favorites (from Khanh Phan and F. Dilek Uyar respectively):

2020 Sony World Photography Awards

2020 Sony World Photography Awards

Pros and amateurs alike can enter the competition on the WPO site…deadlines are in January 2020. And check out their blog for more of their favorite early entries.