February 15, 2023


Here I'll review the best Books/Films and other bits I had the pleasure of experiencing this past year, and why they were so impactful. I won't order them by category, but instead by enjoyment.

  1. BOOK: Matrix, by Lauren Groff

I read Matrix 3x during the year, and gifted it to numerous people. The story of a disgraced young French noblewoman in the 12th Century who is sent to an Abbey in dingy, grey England to spend the rest of her years, it hit just the right notes of feeling historically rigorous yet contemporary in its themes. I especially liked how it focused solely on women in a period of history in which they seem to have had to fight for any minutiae of power and influence. Male pronouns are not mentioned once in the book. It also manages to balance feelings of lust, resistance, intransigence, and ultimately cunning, and places them all in the mind of a remarkable protagonist, who is fictionalised, but one can imagine in various different powerful women in the world today.

Very curious to see if it ends up having a big screen adaptation. I know Gwendoline Christie is my choice of protagonist.

  1. Movie: The Green Knight

Rewatched numerous times while writing my series on its themes and continued relevance, David Lowery's Chivalric Romance inspired a spate of further research into folklore, folk horror, fairy tales, and the muddled sense of Britishness that has influenced something as modern as Brexit. The movie, starring Dev Patel in the lead role and Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, and Ralph Ineson, is also a unique work of art which does what the best stories do: confound expectations and create a new category for themselves.

  1. Short Film: Jibaro

Alberto Mielgo, an animator I've been following for some years now, produced two stunning short films this year. His first was The Windshield Wiper, a short film about love which won the Oscar for Best Short Film earlier this year. But Jibaro, his short for the latest season of Love, Death, and Robots, was truly something to behold. Set in an unnamed Latin American country around the period of the Conquistadors, the story sees a mysterious dancer rise up out of a lake and, akin to a Siren in Greek Mythology, coax a passing troop of knights into her waters, where they all meet a watery end. All but one, the eponymous Jibaro, who is deaf and partakes in a push and pull romantic battle of seduction with the girl in the water. Contrary to what many first thought (myself included), that Jibaro was a commentary on colonialism, Mielgo has stated in interviews that "Both the girl and Jibaro are based on myself. I am the one that chooses this sort of person that perhaps is not treating me very well. I think that we usually do that a lot, sort of like it's a strange punishment that we choose...". In the end, for Mielgo, it's all about love.

  1. Movie: All Quiet On the Western Front

Without a doubt, Edward Berger's film, produced for Netflix this year, is one of the finest, and most horrifying war films ever made. The film achieves everything it sets out to do. When it wants to be beautiful and touching, it does this, starting with a fox mother nursing her pups, as incoming shells vibrate her nest; When it wants to be terrifying, it does so also, bringing you more directly than I think any war film has done since Spielberg's opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan into the minds of soldiers who are preparing for an attack that will almost certainly take their lives. What it does best however, is create a creeping and terrible sense of dread which permeates almost every moment. I saw it in the iconic Kino International in Berlin on a cold October evening, and left feeling quite convincingly like I was having a panic attack brought on by being required to "go over the top". It shook me to my core on both watches I gave it.

  1. Book: Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung

This collection of short stories contains some of the weirdest short stories I've ever read... But I couldn't put it down. They range from disgustingly absurd, as when a woman's faeces and tampons emerge from a toilet to taunt her, to magic realism, to mythology and fairy tale. I loved every story for different reasons, and can't wait to see if anybody decides to adapt it for the screen. It has Na Hong-jin's style (see below at number 17 for his film The Wailing) written all over it.

  1. Movie: Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins remains an enduring classic, but I was re-introduced it by my girlfriend on a trip to Budapest in August. I fell in love with the story and songs once more, and find myself randomly singing them (mostly in her presence) when I want to raise my spirits.

  1. Movie: Triangle of Sadness

Ruben Östlud is a director whose career I've admired since his breakout, Force Majeure, appeared in 2014. I was finishing off my Masters at the time, and looking for influences to bring to my debut short film, Cabrón. It was in Östlund's elegant, simplified camera work and art direction, and downplayed simmering tension that I used to bring a cinematic style to my own work. In Triangle of Sadness, he works with a larger budget, and on a larger scale than before, and it plays off. The performances of all the main cast, especially Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean, are all impeccable, and the film doesn't feel more relevant than today, in which Oligarch superyachts crowd major European Ports, the poor suffer through economic and heating hardships, and politicans continue to obfuscate away from environmental and social responsibilities, while the rich continue getting richer. The scenes once the storm hits the boat are gleefully disgusting too.

  1. Movie: RRR

This epic by S.S. Rajamouli, starring N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan Teja is a magical example of where something clicks and an "international" (always hated that definition of movie categorisation) hit goes worldwide. This one is completely deserved, and its critiques and skewering of British imperial India I found particularly interesting. And... you know, the most crazy action sequences put to big screen cinema.

  1. Book: Lord of the Rings

Doesn't need an introduction. It has remained as the most popular fantasy book in the world since its publication, and will remain there for many years to come. I had never read it, but the movies are my favourites. Decided to read it, and found it deepened my love of the lore and characters I already knew and loved. The fact that the destruction of the shire was never added to the movies is a great shame, considering how relevant it is to our current destruction of natural and regenerative places all over the world. See the Tolkien episode of The Rest Is History podcast for more on this.

  1. Movies: Cleo from 5 to 7 / Double Life of Veronique

The sorta movies that completely justify a Mubi membership. Both of these are real gems of French cinema, and are very watchable today. I really recommend seeking out each one. Cleo has the best of the irreverence and playful fun that came out of the 1960s Nouvelle Vague movement, and was directed by famed documentary-maker (in later life) Agnes Varda; Veronique contains Krzysztof Kieślowski's eye for detail and love of presenting interesting and deep female characters, alongside an absorbing story.

  1. Book: 4000 Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

Four Thousand Weeks has been reviewed by many already this year, and what I find most fascinating about its success is that for me it heralds a new age of thinking about productivity. Post-Pandemic, I've watched a lot of my life-optimisation heroes (Tim Ferriss being the most prominent) have changes in their output and demeanour, reducing their focus on finding perfect habits and doing as many things in as short a space of time as possible, and starting to slow down and contemplate more. We're exhausted by the rules of time management that Capitalism has given us, and Burkeman articulates why brilliantly here.

  1. Short Films: The Black Cop / All The Crows in the World

I wanted to include short films in this list as they can be such an art form in their own right. The Black Cop made me cry, and spoke to me in such a powerful way that I had to put it high up on this list. I really recommend taking 20 minutes in a lunch break and watching it. Crows I saw on Mubi one evening, and was struck by its sensitivity to a really interesting and alien ritualistic evening in a culture I've never visited or been much exposed to.

  1. Movie: Everything Everywhere All At Once

It's already a cult classic. I've followed the Daniels for years now through their music video and short film work, and am delighted to see that their work is going leaps and bounds in terms of scale, emotional depth, and... well... absurdity. Need to see this one again.

  1. Book In The End It Was All About Love by Musa Okwonga

Musa is an author I've always seemed to miss anytime we have the potential to be attending the same social events in Berlin. His breakout book, a poetic autofiction about his struggles with living in Berlin, sexuality, racism, and getting older, rightfully seemed to be on every shelf in every friend's home at the same time. It gave us a voice of what it's like to be an expat struggling in this city, but in an incredibly personal, sometimes funny, sometimes wretchedly honest way.

  1. Movie: The Wonder

I watched this in early December, and then again over Christmas time. It's my type of movie: slow-burning intrigue, potential supernatural involvement, historical trauma worked through using clever allegory, and Florence Pugh in a lead role. Sebastian Lelio's first english language film is a real triumph, and its confidence to deconstruct movie-making as a whole (watch and see) I found particularly thought provoking. One I'll be thinking about for a long time to come.

  1. Movie: Cinco Lobitos

I saw this at the Berlinale in early 2022 and found it such a close, personal look at what millennials who are approaching or juggling parenthood today are having to go through. High house/rental prices, career juggling, relationship struggles, and a bleak outlook on the future are all confronted in the film, which also displays a no-holds-barred depiction of a decades long marriage beginning to disintegrate. For some reason, despite all the doom and gloom, it's a very watchable and well paced film that doesn't leave you feeling rubbish.

  1. Book: A Swim In a Pond In the Rain by George Saunders

I learned a ton about writing and a lot more than I knew about some of Russia's best writers from this book. It's an adaptation of a class Saunders teaches to students at Syracuse University, and his analyses also forced me to think about storytelling, what is said and unsaid, in a new way. I absolutely loved a lot of the short stories presented, and am eager to dive deeper into Russian novelists in 2023 (my reading of Dostoyevski's The Double, however, wasn't so pleasurable).

  1. Movie: The Northman

Robert Egger's third feature displays his usual attention to historical detail and arthouse flare, and this time finds him in Scandinavia, taking on a Viking revenge thriller. He does it without holding back. The movie contains brutal, blood thirsty battle scenes, Alexander Skarsgard looking a little too ripped and a little too broody for a good portion of the film, and some fun devilish psychedelic confusion. It also convinces me, between this and The Lighthouse's homoerotic leanings, that Eggers is destined to shoot the definitive gay male sex scene in his next film (wait till the ending of this one). I won't expect it to be soft and cuddly though.

  1. Movie: The Wailing

The Wailing is a South Korean horror/thriller/comedy film from 2016 directed by Na Hong-jin. I include all those genres because that's what it contains. Somehow South Korean cinema, at least its best output, continues to amaze me at showing off how you can really manage to contain multitudes and still produce something very coherent. This film has all the markings of a good horror: witchcraft, zombies, gruesome murders, but I found myself sleeping peacefully afterwards. Because it feels very centred on the people and places in question, I think, it keeps us in its grasp for the duration, then lets us go with a wry smile.

  1. Book: What White People Can Do Next by Emma Dabiri

In his short non-fiction I learned a lot more about the way in which race was used in British and American history for exploitation and segmentation of poorer classes than I ever did in school. The fact that the differentiation of "black people" from "white people" was done in order to separate black slaves from Irish indentured servants wowed me. The fact that these terms are still very much in use today as a way of choosing to separate one person from another is even more shocking.

  1. Movie: The Circus

Watched when my dad visited Berlin. A classic Charlie Chaplin slapstick comedy caper, you can watch old movies with a live orchestra at The Babylon cinema in Berlin for about €20, and it's worth every cent. We were in a packed cinema with adults and children falling about laughing at all the loveable mishaps Chaplin's character gets into in this.

  1. Book: A Muse and A Maze by Peter Turchi

This book is a rambling take on the way in which games, puzzles, mazes, and illusions have been important and useful to great thinkers for centuries. It was enormously dense, and enormously entertaining to dig into. I came away with a thousand little notes and jots on the pages and in my mind. One to go back to again and again for story inspiration and exploration.

  1. TV Show: Andor

I've been toying up writing a comparison between the Rings of Power, Amazon's awful prequel series to The Lord of The Rings, and Andor, Disney's fantastic prequel series to Star Wars Rogue One. Both contain original plots using lore inspired by previous material, yet RoP seems to squander it with poor character decisions, shocking dialogue, and a cringe-inducing "Big Reveal" ending, while Andor keeps things small and tight by having the plot revolve around a contained plan to destroy a small empire base in a small world, by a rag-tag group of rebels. It has a more experienced cast (Diego Luna & Stellan Starsgard to name two) and a much more interesting plot. I'll definitely check out a season 2 if it arrives, whereas I'm out of LoTR until someone new buys the franchise (which is a strange way to endorse the weird world of corporate purchasing of intellectual property).

  1. TV Shows: Top Boy S4 / This Is Going To Hurt

Top Boy: My pick for the best crime show currently on TV keeps on delivering. I find it uncomfortable to be celebrating something that seems to so accurately depict a major problem in London right now, which is underprivileged kids from black and brown families being recruited into and operating gangs, but Top Boy is just so well shot, written and acted that I can't stop myself.

This is Going To Hurt: Loved the book, it was such a barnstorming success when it came out, that I couldn't not watch this series starring Ben Whishaw and written by the original author Adam Kay himself. This was a piece of mature comedy television that is going to set a precedent for more in the future. It contained a real cynicism that, as much as it might be a blown up and harsh depiction of the NHS and its current staffing, cultural, and funding failings, is definitely based in a good deal of reality. The plotline involving junior doctor mental health couldn't be more relevant today given news that medical and care staff are much more likely to commit suicide than other members of the population.

  1. BONUS Comedy Special: Nate

"C'mon Nate, Express yourself!" is something my girlfriend and I say to one another maybe one out of three conversations. Nate by Natalie Palamides is so weird and unexpected that it takes some time to get into it. It asks you to look at our expectations of gender roles, sexual harassment, rape, and male mental health in a way that could only be done through the fake moustachioed absurdist, amped up, beer-guzzling, American lumberjack over-compensational personality that is Nate. Check it out on Netflix.

Currently watching into 2023 : Severance.

Damn. This will be in my 2023 list. What a watch.

For fun: Ads (also both kinda music videos):

  • Mark Rebillet Edeka Ad: Insanity
  • Nike Juku: Also, insanity

More Work
February 19, 2024

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