What are your #2018top5 picks for movies, TV, books, music, or games?

If any of your favorite lists line up too perfectly with award show nominees, ask yourself why.

Every site writes a too-long preamble to their year-end top-whatever lists, so I won’t. But I will say that I particularly like constricting lists to top 5 because a) they fit well on Twitter, but also b) for the sake of conversation. Whittling your list to 5 makes it hurt a little bit. Which it should! Especially when we talk about what really, truly impacted you, personally, and is gonna stick with you long after the year ends.


1 – SORRY TO BOTHER YOU – Wildly original, dense with ideas, perfectly performed, and hilariously weird, but never loses its anti-capitalist thread (even at the point everyone seems to think it does, and I will fight on this).
2 – A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE – David Wain directs an extraordinary cast, led by an outstanding Will Forte, in a funny, moving origin story to the particular sense of absurd humor that has shaped my entire life.
3 – WIDOWS – An artful, thoughtful, politically aware (but still badass!) take on the heist genre that deserves to live alongside Heat and other classics, but with the visual care and performances of a Terence Malick film.
4 – BLACK PANTHER – A ripping Marvel blockbuster that still takes on ideas as big as colonialism vs revolution, and where every supporting character is as memorable as the lead.
5 – ANNIHILATION – Wonder and beauty mix with dread and horror to create an unsettling and surprising feast of unforgettable images and philosophical quandaries to chew on long after the film ends.

NEARLY MADE IT – Eighth Grade, The Favorite, Into the Spider-verse, The Death of Stalin

#2018top5 TV SHOWS

1 – THE GOOD PLACE – Even in its not-best season, a deeply kind show this joke-dense, intelligently written, and in which every character is so lovable and expertly performed, is 100% still the best thing on TV.
2 – HIGH MAINTENANCE – No other series shows such a deep empathy for such a wide range of characters just trying to get through a life that can be lonely and sad but never without moments of beauty and joy.
3 – WILD WILD COUNTRY – This (almost unbelievable?) cult documentary confronts viewers with its conflicting ideologies, forcing us to examine our own beliefs, whose side we’re on, and why, like nothing I’ve ever seen.
4 – AMERICAN VANDAL – How this show pulls off a cutting true-crime satire AND a genuinely heartfelt story about teenage life, while remaining an actually-compelling mystery story, continued to blow my mind in year 2.
5 – ALTERED CARBON – The premise of portable identity unlocks so much, but the future-noir setting, martial arts action and gorgeous production sealed the deal. Thoroughly enjoyable and constantly thought-provoking.

NEARLY MADE IT – Killing Eve, Succession, Atlanta, Legion, Better Call Saul, Big Mouth (whoa I watch too much TV)
DEFIANTLY ABSENT – Sharp Objects, The Americans, Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War (I know that wasn’t this year but man I want those 20 hours back)

#2018top5 BOOKS

*note: I do not read fast enough to make book lists by year of release, so this, like most normal people’s I imagine, will be books READ this year instead.

1 – EXIT WEST by Moshin Hamid – Profound yet lighthearted, a pleasure to read while tackling the toughest challenges of refugee living, this magical realist world and the love story at its heart moved me deeply. A must read.
2 – THE POWER by Naomi Alderman – In a world where men have to fear women for once (they can electrocute through touch), everything changes, and this story digs deep into the many myriad effects that has. Loved it.
3 – MS MARVEL VOL 1 by G Willow Wilson – I haven’t fallen so hard so quickly for a main character in ages. Quirky, nerdy, teenaged Kamala Khan dealing with newfound powers in this punkish, witty comic is a delight.
4 – ALTHOUGH OF COURSE YOU END UP BECOMING YOURSELF by David Lipsky – Spending time with a genius offers you the privilege of a peak into his incredible mind, but also forces you to face your own insecurities as someone who will never be one. DFW was a treasure.
5 – SEA OF RUST by C Robert Cargill – This pulpy Mad Max-but-with-robots future story also conceals all kinds of questions about the conflicts that arise when AI start governing themselves. (I would love to see an anime adaptation.)

NEARLY MADE IT – IQ by Joe Ide, LESS by Andrew Sean Greer, THE VISION by Tom King

#2018top5 GAMES

*similar note applies because damn are almost all games too long, meaning one can only play so many the year they’re released.

1 – RETURN OF THE OBRA DINN – Unique stippled art and elegant design made this game beautiful. Clever plotting and an ingenius mystery-solving mechanic made it unforgettable. A tight, intriguing, somber masterpiece.
2 – INTO THE BREACH – Removing the element of chance makes each tactical mech battle a perfectly intellectual puzzle-solving exercise that’s so satisfying to play and eventually conquer that it’s impossible to put down.
3 – MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN – The most gorgeous game of the year. Not just for its city, its fluid web-swinging animations, and its thrilling action set-pieces, but for its earnest hero and sympathetic villains. One of the best Spidey stories ever put to screen.
4 – FEAR OF LOATHING – Game writing tending to the eye-rolling, this stick-drawn western RPG succeeds on its laugh-out-loud (honestly! the jokes are that good!) writing but gets extra points for balancing depth with fun.
5 – WHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH – More games should be comfortable with the artistic, the abstract, and the emotional in their storytelling. This beautiful short story of a game tries weird, crazy things and opens new doors to what games could look like.

NEARLY MADE IT – God of War, Goragoa, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
DEFIANTLY ABSENT – Red Dead Redemption 2

#2018top5 ALBUMS

1 – HISTORIAN by Lucy Dacus – The mix of introspective lyrics, beautiful voice, and loud-quiet-loud guitars are what I look for in most music, and this album stayed in my rotation all year long for nailing it so well.
2 – HOPE DOWNS by Rolling Blackouts, Coastal Fever – When most straight-up indie rock is either seemingly absent or sad bastard dad stuff, a power-pop record with this kind of energetic bounce is so, so welcome.
3 – HEAD OVER HEELS by Chromeo – These dudes are unapologetically horny and I love it. Every song is about wanting to make sweet love in a charmingly silly, totally catchy, perfectly pop way.
4 – FUTURE ME HATES ME by The Beths – Girls and guitar riffs was a huge theme of most of the music I loved this year, and this one just happened to do that wonderful mixture the best out of many. Punky good fun.
5 – LP5000 by Restorations – The best songs off this short album were the ones that got stuck in my head the most this year. A throwback to full-throated, unapologetic feeling in simple, soaring indie rock shout-alongs.

DEFIANTLY ABSENT – I’ll forever love both of them, but the new albums by CHVRCHES and DECEMBERISTS didn’t reach their previous heights, for me.

So, what were your #2018top5 picks?

How should we treat morally challenging art?

See the Top Ten Quotes that Prove You Worship the Wrong Classic Movie Characters!

In The New York Times, Wesley Morris asks the difficult question, in a long but well-reasoned essay: are we too concerned with the moral correctness of art (and creator) to fully engage with its quality or worth as art?

The real-world and social-media combat we’ve been in for the past two years over what kind of country this is — who gets to live in it and bemoan (or endorse!) how it’s being run — have now shown up in our beefs over culture, not so much over the actual works themselves but over the laws governing that culture and the discussion around it, which artists can make what art, who can speak. We’re talking less about whether a work is good art but simply whether it’s good — good for us, good for the culture, good for the world.

I tend to come down about two thirds toward correctness, personally. There is so much art out there, it’s totally fine to go through life ignoring the works of people who’ve done terrible things, or art that fails in its attempt to condemn the terrible things it depicts. I doubt I’ll watch another Woody Allen movie in this life. I am the rare person who thinks Wolf of Wall Street and Goodfellas are not that great, because despite being expertly made, they spend too much time glamorizing terrible people to be effective condemnations of the monsters whose eventual downfall they depict (as evidence, look at how their worst, biggest fans react to and hold up those works as aspirational).

What acclaimed works of art do you object to morally?

Do we owe these works attention despite, or because of, the moral reactions they provoke?

Or is a better world of art on the other side of engaging with fewer “problematic” works?

Review: Ingrid Goes West – Are Instagram ‘influencers’ the real monsters?

Tap twice to heart this post. #cinefile #nofilter #bestlife

My frustration at not seeing Ingrid Goes West sooner is matched only by my delight at having finally done so. Aubrey Plaza, whom I love (Parks & Rec!), plays unhinged one moment, socially awkward the next better than anyone else I can think of (have you seen Legion!?). The knowing portrayal of a certain type of California social media bohemian by Elizabeth Olsen manages both pinpoint accuracy and razor parody.

But the way the writers/director/cast refrain from fully picking a side makes this movie special. They could have fallen into the trap of stalker movie cliché pretty easily, and this could have ended at bad melodrama. Lonely weird girl tries way too hard to befriend internet obsession, craziness ensues.

Instead, this film shows sympathy for Ingrid. She’s not well, ok, but she really just wants some friends. Meanwhile Olsen’s Taylor is no innocent; she’s manipulative, insincere, and most of all a hollow mask of perfection. Her social media life cries out for constant attention, asks for you to “follow” her, to “feel” like her friend along for the perfectly bourgeois ride. But then Taylor the person pushes away anyone who gets too close if they’re not good for her diligently curated “brand”.

Ingrid suffers from depression and could get better, though the film’s ending suggests otherwise. Taylor, on the other hand, will likely only ever get worse. If that’s the case, who’s the real villain?

Are social media influencers monsters?

Do they sort of have to be to become one in the first place?

Is it possible to befriend someone you start off following on the internet, or with someone who starts off following you?

Review: Sea of Rust – What will robots fight over once we’re gone?

Guys? Little help? Trying to maintain the primacy of the individual over here.

Lately I’ve been gravitating toward sci-fi stories, no matter the medium. The way good sci-fi focuses so clearly on asking an interesting question, then exploring the implications of the answers that come back… strikes some chord deep in my brain.

Looks at website description above.
Oh. Right.

Sea of Rust doesn’t strive for literary prose or nuanced character study. But it does explore a specific potential version of a post-humanity world with a surprising depth of thought and feeling.

In this version, humanity created AI, and AI destroyed humanity. In the aftermath some AI are individuals, former servants or laborers scrounging for survival in a robotic Mad Max-style future. And they live in fear of hive-mind-style OWIs — skyscraper-sized “One World Intelligences” fighting to be the one and only being left on earth. OWIs want to subsume every other mind in existence; or use their mind-linked automaton armies to wipe out anyone who still clings to independence.

What it means to be an individual, what it means for a machine to have a soul, the long-term purpose of any “thinking thing” in the universe; these are big questions for a fun genre book full of robot gun fights. Instead of stopping at Terminator‘s Skynet, this book wonders what comes next when the artificial intelligences that outlive us start having conflicts among themselves.

What will the robots fight over once we’re all gone?

Is there anything essentially human they’d value enough to maintain in our absence?

Which band has made the most albums you truly like?

Cool bands don’t look at explosions.

One of my favorite bands (The Decemberists) releases their 8th full-length album this week (I’ll Be Your Girl), and I received it a few days early in the mail. After a few listens (it’ll take more to be sure), it’s safe to say that as with all their previous albums, I like it more than I don’t. Even if it isn’t their best, or my personal favorite, it’s still an album I’m glad to have.

Then I realized that this may also make them my definitive, quantitatively-provable favorite band of all time — because of those 8 albums, I like all their albums more than I don’t. Despite any small variances, there are none I would rather they had skipped, none I wouldn’t gladly put on over most other albums even in my own library (at least after removing mood from the equation). And I can only think of one, maybe two other bands for which this is true — particularly for eight albums versus two or three.

Even if there are bands I’m more passionate about, or whose one or two best albums have a vastly bigger place in my heart, by the most measurable metric, The Decemberists win out.

Which band has released the most albums you genuinely like?

Does that make them your favorite band by default?

Are you okay being someone who calls that band their favorite? 

If not, what metric is better for determining your true favorite?