Read Watch Listen 2017
I'm exceptionally bad at ranking things. I screened short films for a film festival once and they kept telling me my ratings were too high and my comments too forgiving. I'm no critic; I'm a fangirl. I know what I like, what I've been gushing about. I know what rings true to me. I know the books and movies and music that have settled into my life and made my year. Here they are, in no particular order.
I haven't been much of a reader for the past few years but I'm fighting to get that habit back. Here are a few books and authors I spent time with in 2017.
One of my favorite authors, Patrick Ness, wrote a book stemming from a story idea by fellow YA author Siobhan Dowd. Her life was cut short before she was able to write the book she imagined. In his forward to A Monster Calls, Ness writes: "If you haven't read [her books], remedy that oversight immediately."
This year, I read two. What struck me most about both Solace of the Road and A Swift Pure Cry was the compassion and attention with which she treated her young heroines. These are girls who would be considered troublemakers in society. Despised, forgotten, ignored. But fully alive in the skillful hands of a writer the world will miss.
I have a list of books I never got around to reading when I was a kid, several of which my brother recommended but didn't interest me at the time. This year I finally caught up on a few. I read A Wrinkle in Time in anticipation of the upcoming movie directed by Ava Duvernay. I enjoyed the forward about Madeleine L'Engle's unconventional life almost more than the book itself. I also read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, which was as funny and touching as I was hoping. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan wasn't what I was expecting but it was better.
I finally started the series! The story begins with the birth of a mixed-species child born of parents on opposite sides of a long-fought war. It's a colorful space adventure that tackles topics of racial tension and the ethics of war, with imaginative creatures and a vivid thread of romance running through it – and the art is gorgeous.
Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too
Jomny Sun can make me cry in 140 characters so you better believe I laughed and sobbed through his poignant illustrated book about an "aliebn" sent to earth to study humans. Only this Twitter personality – who's a brilliant modern Rennaisance man and warm human being IRL – could craft a book that melds silliness and puns and deep existential observations and emotional nuance into an unassuming volume resembling a children's coloring book.
I liked a lot of movies this year, and I want to mention all of them! But a few in particular found me right when I needed them most.
I saw Moana on the second day of 2017 and sobbed through the entire movie. I've seen it four times since then and the soundtrack has brought me to tears on the way to work more times than I can count. It's a story about the painful tension between digging deep to discover your true calling and wanting to live up to the expectations of the people you hold most dearly. I'm in that process now: Craving the freedom to be who I'm meant to be and giving myself permission to dream big while trying to differentiate between wise advice and the opinions of cynics. Moana set the tone for my year and I'm bringing it along with me into 2018.
I left the theater with a headache and to this day I'm not entirely sure if I liked it. While I don't think Silence is a perfect movie, the questions it explores have stuck with me all year long. It only seems fair to include it in this list.
Logan broke my heart for people struggling with mental illness, addiction or other difficult circumstances. Some people have hard lives, and sometimes it never gets better. And that takes a toll on everyone around them. An X-Men movie, of all things, drove home those emotional stakes. Then again, that's what the best X-Men movies do.
While it's hard for me to choose favorites, this is usually the movie I name off the top of my head. This anime masterpiece is an achingly beautiful sci-fi romance (pretty much everything I want in a movie) but its most impressive accomplishment is capturing the secret pangs of longing we all feel in our gut but don't know how to put into words.
A Ghost Story
This uniquely quiet film is slow in parts but that's its brilliance: it encourages you to be present in every long, uncomfortable moment. The story becomes increasingly engrossing, seeming to speed up as you go along and shooting off in directions you had no idea were coming. But the mastery of this film (especially the score and sound design) is how it manages to strike a precise tone that, if missed, would have ruined the experience completely.
This Thai indie film happened to be playing in Nashville when I visited my brother this summer. It's a road trip movie with an elephant, traveling from Bangkok to rural northern Thailand where we grew up. The farther north the story moved, the more familiar the landscape and language became - a welcome return to the country of our childhood.
I cried while watching the trailer: The sight of John Cho, an Asian American man, treated with the same honor and nuance as any other A-list star. I cried while watching the movie itself: Each frame composed by the masterful Kogonada who gained his following by first being a student of film. Every moment vulnerable, quiet, poignant, and true.
Blade Runner 2049
The highest praise I can give this decades-later sequel is that I didn't like the original but this movie made me want to rewatch it. Denis Villeneuve earned his place in my heart-collection of favorite directors after Arrival (my favorite movie of 2016), and this movie has only cemented that attachment. Villeneuve is able to deliver gorgeous visuals and epic world-building without losing emotional subtlety or the impact of individual moments.
Set in the rarely-explored Jim Crow era, Mudbound gives equal voice to two sharecropping families struggling to survive on the same muddy land. The moving use of poetic voiceover invites us into their drastically different experiences, and we watch as their lives inextricably entwine. The Q&A I attended at the Austin Film Festival added to the power of its message: We're stuck in the mud - this complicated history we share as U.S. citizens - and the only way out is together.
This South African film combines the pure-hearted, hand-crafted whimsy of Moonrise Kingdom with the dark emotional magic of The Secret Garden to tell a mesmerizing fairytale all its own. Meerkat Moonship (Meerkat Maantuig) premiered at Austin Film Festival and as yet has no U.S. distribution (someone please fix this, please). I'm desperate to enter its world once again.
Where Kubo missed the mark, Coco hit the target. Kubo and the Two Strings, though a beautiful Japanese-inspired animated film, was written and directed by non-Asians who by definition lack the cultural experience to tell a truly Japanese story. Coco, however, was penned by a Mexican American screenwriter and Pixar hired a designated team of advisors to make sure the film remained culturally authentic. Coco has reinvigorated my affection for Pixar and renewed my confidence that studios can take practical steps to tell diverse stories well.
Here's a list of a few more movies that are well worth a watch:
- I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore
- Get Out
- The Big Sick
- Spiderman: Homecoming
- Baby Driver
- The Incredible Jessica James
- Logan Lucky
- The Florida Project
- Lady Bird
- Thor: Ragnarok
- Chee and T
- The Shape of Water
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Chance the Rapper
No artist has defined my year of listening more than Chance. He is woven into my memories and I've returned to him for courage in countless moments throughout the year.
Are you ready for your blessings?
Are you ready for your miracle?
Sleeping At Last
I found a life song in Sleeping At Last's "Venus" this year. It's the soundtrack to my spiritual journey. He has two ongoing series: In Atlas: Year Two, he's exploring the Enneagram types, and in Astronomy, he's composing soundtracks to observable astronomical events as they occur (including the total solar eclipse this past summer). I'm also loving his podcast that dives into the craftsmanship of the songs he makes.
I was a billion little pieces
’til you pulled me into focus
Astronomy in reverse
It was me who was discovered
New Albums by Old Friends
A lot of my favorites released albums this year! It's always reassuring to hear new songs by old friends and realize your obsession with them wasn't just a phase.
- Tremendous Sea of Love by Passion Pit (especially "Hey K")
- Don’t You Worry, Honey by Sir Sly
- I See You by The XX
- ZILLA by Fenech-Soler
- Ti Amo by Phoenix
"...be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit..." (Eph. 5:18-19) No artists this year have more fully embodied this verse for me than the ones below:
- All Things Work Together by Lecrae
- The Beauty Between by Kings Kaleidoscope
- Crooked by Propaganda
I used some of my Christmas money to buy a small collection of CDs from Austin musicians to keep me company in traffic. Still looking for albums from a couple of these artists:
- The Oh Hellos
- The Wild Now
- Duncan Fellows
- Cilantro Boombox
- Sip Sip
Thanks for reading! Find me on Twitter to fangirl with me in 2018.