Our Staff Picks from 2018 & Looking Ahead
Each year, we ask our staff writers and editors to recall the past twelve months and identify a key piece of media—ranging from books to movies to video games—that resonated with them. Something that became poignant and memorable. We also asked what they’re looking forward to enjoying in the upcoming twelve months of 2019. After any given year, it’s safe to assume fatigue on some level—with school, with work, with the world. However, upon looking back on all the wonderful artistry and work that sustained our team this year, it’s hard, if not impossible, not to feel somewhat hopeful about what’s to come. Enjoy—
Staff Writer Channler Twyman recommends:
2018 was the year I discovered writers who have been producing some great work for a while now. One of the writers who I became enthralled with was Ocean Vuong. His work touched me in places so deep I had no idea they existed. I have not read a poem by him that hasn't struck a chord with me and I think that's pretty special. This summer he will be releasing his first novel titled after one of his most prolific poems, "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous." It is a letter written by the son of a Vietnamese refugee to his mother, who cannot read. I am incredibly excited to read Vuong's debut in the world of fiction.
Film Correspondent Julian Garcia recommends:
I was filled with admiration for South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo for most of last year, partly because of his prolific output (he made three films in 2017 and two in 2018), and partly because the quality of the films he pumps out never falters. I explored his filmography in a flurry last year, and the film I think about and feel most intensely about is his melancholic, funny, devil-may-care work Oki’s Movie (2012). Hong tends to deal with uninspired artists in his films. They fool around, philosophize, and get themselves into painfully awkward situations by way of a clumsiness and inability to see past themselves and their own issues, but Hong himself is rarely, if ever, uninspired, and he does not bring about the same awkwardness in the making of his own films; in fact, they are precisely and confidently realized but made with a free-wheeling, audacious, unpredictable, and quick approach that resembles the bewilderment that both the characters and the audience experience as they make their way through his films. These qualities are exemplified best in Oki’s Movie, which ingeniously connects four short stories revolving around the same characters to form a small paean to the rhythms of the everyday, but filled more with comedic misfortune and inelegance, rather than the typical poetic renderings of the small things in life. Random encounters, uncontrollable urges, and impulsive words brought about by the situations Hong creates reveal a world in which the characters live outwardly quiet but inwardly tumultuous lives. From a narrative and formal standpoint, Hong is a true radical and one of the best filmmakers working today, and whatever he releases in the coming year is the thing I’ll be most looking forward to in 2019.
From Junior Editor Arushi Sethi:
July 2018 was an exhilarating month for me. Not only did I travel to a new country all alone, I also experienced the writing of Amy Harmon for the first time. Making Faces was the first of her books that I experienced. Set in a small town, it is a riveting story of loss. Many call it a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast. Amy Harmon’s writing made the simple story magical and managed to touch my heart in all the right places. Imagine traveling to a new place, all by yourself, with an author who is doing wonders for you—I could not ask for more. I went on to experience more of her fantastic writing but Making Faces remains my absolute favorite. In 2019, I look forward to her new book, What the Wind Knows, due for release in March.
Senior Editor Lizzy Sobiesk recommends:
I did not expect to read my favorite book of the year in one of my college classes, but here I am (thanks Professor Mohan). Although Kamila Shamsie’s Kartography has been out since 2001, it blew up my 2018. Shamsie’s novel chronicles the complex relationship between two kids growing up in post-Partition Pakistan. Not only is the writing fantastic, but the relationship dynamics are intensely authentic and raw. Shamsie’s stunning portrayal of intimacy parallels an honest investigation into familial and national history. Kartography rocked my world and really whatever I say could never truly convey the love I have for this book.
Junior Editor Varun Ramaprasad recommends:
Anand Gandhi’s film, Ship of Theseus, explores and interrogates the Greek myth through a triptych of carefully chosen stories set in India. Gandhi takes stories of an experimental photographer, an ailing monk, and a young stockbroker, and weaves them into a single philosophical theme. Through relatively light dialogue, occasional humour, and crafty cinematography, Gandhi provides the viewer time and space for pampering profound enquiries about identity, justice, and beauty throughout the movie. Although this movie explores universal issues, it nonetheless preserves the Indianness in its style of narration and choice of characters.
Music Correspondent Andrew Becker recommends:
There were a multitude of themes sewn into the fabric of popular music in 2018—isolation, humanism, and the #MeToo movement were just some of the topics artists touched on last year. But if I had to pick a "word of the year," Merriam-Webster style, to define 2018 in music? That word would be "technology." It felt like every one of Gen X's pop culture depiction of the 21st century focused on the futuristic, and last year, Millennials finally delivered. Janelle Monáe's Dirty Computer—the best record of 2018 per NPR, the AP, the New York Times, and yours truly—is the best concept album to come out in years, taking technological themes and using them to highlight other modern issues, like the ever-evolving spectrum of modern sexuality. And if Monáe's embrace of technology is more metaphorical, that of her frequent collaborator Grimes is as literal as it gets. The devil queen of futuristic indie pop broke a three-year music drought in November with the release of "We Appreciate Power," a thrashing industrial anthem that's all about A.I.: artificial intelligence. It's supposedly the lead single from her followup to 2015's Art Angels, expected to be released this year, and without a doubt my most anticipated album of the next twelve months. And as we enter 2019—the year of Blade Runner, after all—it's only fair to expect musicians to employ technology in even more creative ways. I just can't wait to see who comes up with what.
Junior Editor Sarah Nachimson recommends:
I can't stop thinking about Eighth Grade (2018). The movie, written and directed by comedian Bo Burnham, focuses on the life of an middle schooler portrayed by Elsie Fisher. The movie's honest and raw representation of adolescent life was truly astounding At a press conference for the movie I attended, Burnham said "I felt like both of them. I felt like a nervous kid on the internet and I felt like an out of touch dude who had no idea what she’s going through. So in those scenes I could kind of stand between them; mediate.” Although the movie was unconventional and didn't have a high budget, it was certainly one of the year's best.
Staff Writer Rachel Dean says:
In 2018, I was assigned to read Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway for a literature theory class. It was one of those novels that I was embarrassed to admit I'd never read. I was working on my graduate thesis—a varied collection of nonfiction writing—and was struggling to find the grit, or the compelling thread, of those essays. I haven't led that interesting of a life, I kept thinking, over and over. Reading Mrs. Dalloway redirected me to the obvious, which is that good writing can expose excitement and climax in even the most mundane of settings, and that there is plenty of emotion in even the smallest daily details of a woman's life. After finishing Mrs. Dalloway, I read To The Lighthouse. I felt inexplicably close to Clarissa Dalloway and Mrs. Ramsay and the many other multilayered women characters in Woolf's fiction. I wanted to write odes to those characters, and to Woolf herself. Woolf's prose allowed for the accessibility of those characters' consciousness through a gorgeous specificity that I've never before experienced. I think of those books whenever I am stuck in a cycle of self-doubt, believing that women's stories, and women characters, aren't interesting enough.
In 2019, I’m looking forward to Maggie Roger’s new album, Heard it in A Past Life. On an afternoon spent procrastinating writing an essay, I discovered a Youtube music video by the artist Maggie Rogers. I had never heard of her before. Rogers is a graduate from NYU, and her EP, Now That the Light is Fading, was released in 2017. I was enamored while watching Rogers dance around in her music video for Alaska, in her white ripped white t-shirt and loose jeans. She looked like the embodiment of free-spiritedness. Rogers writes all of her own songs and has a lively Instagram, where she often posts snippets of her personal journals. Her voice is somehow haunting and hopeful all at once. In “Alaska,” Rogers sings, "Cut my hair so I could rock back and forth without thinking of you", and I wrote the lyric down and pasted it the wall in my room, imagining it would be my 2019 mantra. Roger's new album will be released in its entirety on January 18th. I cannot wait to let my hair loose and dance around to her songs in my bedroom.
Junior Editor Anishi Patel recommends:
The world of YA has seen it all, but author Stephanie Garber offers something entirely unusual to the mix. In Caraval, two sisters participate in an annual, twisted game where most are players, some are performers, and all are Caraval Master Legend’s puppets. As the sisters progress, they find that their real lives have become intermingled with the game. No place or person is entirely safe, and a lie is a diamond of endless facets. NPR put it best: “Caraval is a dark circus where the clowns don't like you.”
In May 2019, as if following up with a more-than-satisfactory sequel wasn’t a marvel in itself, Garber has promised that the conclusion to the series, Finale, will transcend the foundations upon which it was crafted. Finale is bound to ooze the same luscious imagery, petrifying romance, and masterful plot-churning that have marked the entire series thus far.
Senior Editor Eleanor Bennett recommends:
Even though I'm hardly a regular gamer, two of my favourite pieces of media for last year had to be games after I was so engaged by the backstory of both Detroit: Become Human and Life Is Strange. As a massive sci-fi fan, Detroit: Become Human was the first game I have ever completed in full. The game explores what it is to be human and borrows a lot of themes from civil rights activism to humanity's relationship with technology. We follow three different lives of the characters from the outset which touch on many classic tropes; my favorite had to be Conner's, which followed the good cop, bad cop formula in a hilarious and yet heart-touching way. As I was so new to gaming, I made some wrong choices which strained relationships inside the game (which the game never let me forget!).
I also enjoyed Life Is Strange, a stunningly animated and beautiful game that explores many dark themes of corruption, bullying and even themes of sexual violence through the eyes of a young photographer, Max. Going through the game as a journey, I felt connected in such a way to the main characters that the ending left me more upset than any movies that had been released in the same year. It is wonderful to see games like this exploring queer storylines and making the heroes of the story complex female characters whose experiences resonate with my own.
Editor-in-Chief Kat Neis recommends:
2018 was an odd year. Fragmented. Filled with women, both loud and silent, always lurking in the darkness of my mind. I found myself returning again and again to Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose as a kind of salve for all the fragmentation and confusion of the year. I carried Chew Bose’s collection of essays with me everywhere—to an island in Greece, to a studio apartment in Chicago, to an overnight layover in an unreasonably chilly Zurich. It buoyed me. Because, as Chew-Bose writes, “there is trust too, in feeling small. The letting-in that comes from letting go. Gazing up at the taut tract of cables on a suspension bridge and never worrying Will this hold?” I feel as though I’m always worrying. That how I am suspended right now will not hold. That the only antidote is to read and keep reading. To write and keep writing.
Other favorites included re-reading Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be? for what must be the fourth or fifth time. I also found myself drawn to the characters in Mary Gaitskill’s classic, Bad Behavior. In terms of soundtrack, it goes without saying that Mitski’s Be The Cowboy was resonant, rallying. I was also incredibly drawn to the lyrical power of Lucy Dacus’ Historian—“I fight time / It won in a landslide / I’m just as good as anybody / I’m just as bad as anybody.” The relentless of time should be enough to unite us, after all.
Creative Director Betsy Neis recommends:
When I was asked to write this blurb about what I liked most in the arts of 2018, I initially thought to myself, what did I even see in 2018? Well, 2018, as I feel every year has been, was about discovery. So let me take this time tell you about a tv series that Amazon Prime finally nudged me into watching—along with Julia Robert’s help, of course. Originally an experimental fiction podcast by Gimlet Media, written by Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz, Homecoming is a masterful television series thriller with an ode to Hitchcock and other classic members of the genre. The cinematography in this series is unconventional. What truly excites me is that it’s not only beautiful and interesting, everything is completely in touch with their visual style and how it motivates the story. I think, in some ways, it’s a bit tame for a thriller–especially along the ranks of the thrillers and horror films that have come out in the past years. Yet that’s what I love about it. Yes, there’s a crazy storyline, but mostly it’s about humans. And it’s not trying to give you nightmares. What am I looking forward to in 2019? Season 2.