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.

#2018TOP5 MOVIES

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
DEFIANTLY ABSENT – Roma

#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
DEFIANTLY ABSENT – THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion, MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan, ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer

#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.

NEARLY MADE IT – ORDINARY CORRUPT HUMAN LOVE by Deafheaven, DANCE ON THE BLACKTOP by Nothing, SOME RAP SONGS by Earl Sweatshirt, EVERYTHING MATTERS BUT NO ONE IS LISTENING (QUIET SLANG) by Beach Slang (the best band working)
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 do you choose your favorite artist’s best album?

Because the desert island question is too easy.

Because the desert island question is too easy.

 

If you asked most people to name their top 5 albums, they probably have a rough list in their head ready to go. But why? My theory is that the albums you will love the most for your whole life only come at important times in your life that allow you to 1) relate to them deeply, as well as 2) spend a lot of time listening and re-listening to them.

But what about your top 5 bands? If you settle on a few of those after a lifetime of listening to music, how do you choose which album by those bands is your favorite? Again, a theory: it is very, very hard for any album, even by your favorite band, to surpass the connection you have with the one specific album that cemented them as one of your favorites.

This means that rarely is it the first album you hear (though sometimes it is, if that one speaks most to you and is a fully realized version of that artist). More often, you will be introduced to a band with an album and start to love them. But a later album will be the one that seals the deal. And once that happens, no other album will ever quite live up to that mark.

However, that is more a function of your relationship to the band than the actual album’s quality. The album you love the most is not necessarily their best work, objectively.

For example, I am a huge fan of The Mountain Goats, a band with a huge catalog and literally dozens of albums. I discovered them in college, well into their career, and heard enough of their early tracks to grow interested. But with the release of Tallahassee, the first full album I owned, I had a musical step forward from a band I already liked, a tight thematic package about a crumbling relationship, that I could play over and over as I read, wrote, or studied — as well as sulked, as I went through various relationship troubles of my own.

If you polled all Mountain Goats fans, the majority opinion might be that an earlier album like All Hail West Texas may have some of the most poignant and memorable songs in their whole catalog, and capture them at the peak of their lo-fi period. Or they might say that The Sunset Tree was the most personal, intimate, and moving while capturing both a totally coherent sound and emotional narrative. It may be their real masterpiece. But for me, it will always be Tallahassee. It’s the work that cemented their place in my heart, and so my relationship with that album supersedes any discussion of objective merit.

So instead of just sharing favorite albums — which doesn’t lead to a very long or interesting conversation, really — ask yourself:

 

What is your favorite band’s best album? Why do you think so?

 

What personal connection do you have to that album that might make it your favorite and not the consensus pick? What’s the story behind your choice?