Oh wow, I somehow fell out of the habit of doing my Top Nine Movies, probably on account of, y’know, the pandemic. So we’re bringing it back, but this time it’s not just movies. It’s nine things I really enjoyed this year. Some of which are movies, others, well, you’ll see.
As ever, it’s nine because I’m saving a spot for a dark horse that shows up later that knocks its way on. And this list isn’t necessarily the best nine things or most important, it’s just nine things I liked a lot and wanna tell you about. As ever, I reserve the right to disavow this list at any moment, starting tomorrow.
Top Gun: Maverick, movie directed by Joseph Kosinski
Pure pulp excellence, the movie captures everything that made the original so great while still making a story that feels new. Kosinski pulls out every trope in the book for this sort of story and it’s all executed with utmost excellence.
Horizon Forbidden West, video game
The first game, Horizon Zero Dawn, is one of my favorite games from the PS4, so jumping into the sequel on the PS5 was an assured delight. That Forbidden West is a sequel that somehow manages to continue an excellent story without invalidating the first one while being a wildly fun game to play is an enormous success. It’s so good and I can’t wait to play the DLC coming out in a few months.
PEP, album by Lights.
Lights is an artist who is able to reinvent herself with near every album she puts out, each one feeling entirely different and yet totally in line with what’s come before. PEP is no different, going for a more electro-pop vibe with every song on the record earning its place. To wit, “Okay Okay” is a great bop that makes you want to dance while “Voices Carry” is pure anthemic wonder.
Everything Everywhere All At Once, movie directed by Daniels
This movie is frickin’ weird, but nestled in that weirdness is a heartfelt story about existentialism, love, and family. Michelle Yeoh is at the top of her game throughout, anchoring every emotional beat in this outrageous movie that still feels so intimate. Plus, I am here for odd science fiction and I am here for stories centered around an Asian cast. Mix the both? My only complaint is I didn’t do it first.
Speaking Bones, novel by Ken Liu
The entire Dandelion Dynasty is excellent fantasy, drawing on East Asian traditions for its world-building while crafting a story about nation-building, invention, and the rise of modernity. It’s tragic, epic, romantic, and sweeping all at once; Speaking Bones is the kind of book you can’t put down but can’t bear to finish lest it be over.
Relient K and Semler, Concert in New York
Relient K was my favorite band during my teenage years and they remain a band I love dearly. I had the opportunity to see them during a reunion concert in New York, which would have been a delight in itself. But they chose Semler to open for them, a beautiful decision that rebutted conventional evangelicalism in the best possible way. The best way to describe the concert was a bunch of former church kids getting a group therapy session followed by pure catharsis. And getting to see Grace Baldridge join Relient K on stage for “Sadie Hawkins Dance” living their dream was wonderful.
Andor, tv show
When I say Andor is my favorite Star War since The Last Jedi I don’t say it to invalidate The Mandalorian, I say it because it simply is the best Star War since The Last Jedi. Able to be a decidedly serious and ‘dark’ show while still carrying that spark of hope that makes Star Wars Star Wars, Andor manages to pull off an incredible first season about revolutionaries and what might radicalize someone against a fascist leadership. There’s never a bad time for a show to glorify fighting space Nazis.
Chongqing Yaomei, restaurant in Pasadena, CA.
Look, I love hot pot, and Chong Qing Yao Mei here in Pasadena does it really well. Any time I have any excuse to have a decent meal out, it’s here. There’s a joy in having a good meal, especially with friends — and hot pot does both very well. It doesn’t hurt that the leftovers make for good fried rice.
Glass Onion, film directed by Rian Johnson
Is Rian Johnson one of my favorite directors? Maybe! But regardless of that, Glass Onion is an excellent follow-up to Knives Out, doing what the original did so well then throwing in enough of its own wrinkles that play with the whodunnit genre while still offering up a terrific mystery story. Plus it’s just so well made that you can’t deny its quality. That it’s a lot of fun too certainly helps.
A damn good thriller that does what Predator did so well while offering up a new take on it. It’d be on of the list were it not for its competition.
The joy! The warmth! It might be my favorite Disney+ Marvel tv show depending on the weather!
We need more NASA-punk science fiction and Lightyear delivers.
Mitski’s latest album is (slightly) more upbeat than her other stuff, but the 80s-influenced “The Only Heartbreaker” might be my favorite song of the year.
The Woman King
I know there’s some historical questionability around this movie, but screw that, this movie rules. Everyone’s acting on the top of their game and it’s great time. There are a few hiccups but overall it works.
I’m not a huge Trekkie got really into this show this year. It may seem like a sci-fi sitcom, but it regularly hands out excellent sci-fi stories that rival anything else.
Sheer bonkers Tollywood action. What more do you want from a movie that puts it all out there and commits to the hilt?