I often think back to previous years about the best movies, games, and books that I find and wish I had recorded them somewhere. For 2019, I’m finally doing it - so here’s my biased, semi-organized, and somewhat late list of media that I really loved from 2019!
Book: Why We Sleep
I’m a pretty unabashed fiction addict, and I regularly devour fantasy and science fiction, so a nonfiction book really needs to grab me in order to keep my attention. Why We Sleep is a fantastic book that is applicable to any human being given the universality of sleep. The book is one of those that you wish you had read earlier in life - the studies and health implications related to sleep are worth knowing.
The overall message of the book probably isn’t hard to guess - sleep is important, and should be a priority when considering your personal health - but what elevated the book for me was how comprehensive and well-presented the scientific evidence was. I was actually so impressed with the book that I picked up some more nonfiction after finishing this book, but had such high expectations for studies, research, and evidence after reading Why We Sleep that I couldn’t finish them. The research and scientific studies in Why We Sleep are that compelling.
Like I mentioned, Why We Sleep almost certainly applies to you, as a human who sleeps, so I highly recommend it. The information here is useful for any age or profession and is bound to be useful (and probably explains some health malady that is related to your sleep habits).
Movie: Jojo Rabbit
In the past few years I’ve expanded my consumption of various types of movies (from horror, to foreign, to older classics), so my standards have become a little higher. I still don’t know how Jojo Rabbit works so well, but it really does.
Jojo Rabbit was the funniest movie I watched in 2019, but also the most gut-wrenchingly sad, and probably also the most poignant. That Waititi can swing the pendulum of emotion so far and so frequently in this movie but retain a well-structured narrative is really impressive.
Even though there were some films in 2019 that exhibited some truly impressive performances (I think particularly of The Lighthouse), the actors and roles in Jojo Rabbit really stuck with me. This is my favorite role I’ve seen Scarlett Johansson in, and Sam Rockwell as well as Stephen Merchant were perfectly cast as well.
If I were to think of some selling point to convince you to see Jojo Rabbit, it would be that the film just felt good to watch. The story felt meaningful, I laughed a lot, and left grateful that I was able to experience a movie like this.
There was a flurry of excitement about Chernobyl when it was first released, and I sort of ignored it initially. When I finally took the plunge into the series, I watched the first episode and couldn’t stop until I binge watched the entire series in one night.
Sure, there were some narrative liberties taken with the story, and it’s obviously dramatized. But the entire series - from screenplay, to the story, to the acting - is phenomenal, and the fact that the events actually happened push the series over the top into something that really just must be seen. The first episode of the series might actually be some of the best horror I saw in 2019.
The story of Chernobyl isn’t too foreign, since most people are familiar with the events, so the most compelling recommendation I can make for the series is just how well-executed it is on all accounts. I don’t pretend to be a historian, but I’ve had casual conversations with people intimately familiar with the social environment of the region and era who have vouched for its profound accuracy.
Video Game: Outer Wilds
I’ve become more picky about video games over the years, having now been a regular gamer since childhood, so a game really has be special to be distinct in my mind. I beat Outer Wilds only a few months ago but still think about it often, and usually with the kind of nostalgia you might feel after completing a good book: I wish I could experience this game for the first time again, but won’t be able to.
You can’t talk about Outer Wilds too much without spoiling it, which is something I absolutely do not want to do. What I can say is that, as long as you’re the type of person who is happy to play non-traditional games - this is a puzzle game without a linear path, which may be frustrating at times, but is certainly achievable - Outer Wilds is worth exploring. I played lots of great games this year that could fit here (Hollow Knight, Celeste, Undertale, Horizon: Zero Dawn) but Outer Wilds captured some nuance that is really impressive and elicited some truly novel moments that felt special to me.
I’m a sucker for assets in general (from art to music), and the musical themes in this game are really beautiful. They still pop into my head regularly, and we whistle the theme pretty regularly in our house.