There's something deeply pleasurable about making a list. It is a way of exercising a little bit of control, of organization, to a fundamentally chaotic world. But it's an illusion. The list can never capture the totality of the thing, all description is reductive, sure, but the ranked list – Best of the Year, Most Anticipated, whatever it is, is a special illusion. A matter of taste, or votes, or sales. A tiny glimpse into a subjective view of a person's experience.
Yet we rely on critics. We rely on individuals with their biases, their modes of analysis, and their taste. I love a good piece of criticism. Ideally it is a work of art in its own right, possessed of a deftness, a thoughtfulness, and a point of view. To have that work too reduced to a list, bullet points, numbers, SEO optimized... I don't know it's a bummer.
And it creates anxiety in the creator. What does it mean to be on a list? To be left off? Do I deserve to be there? Is it a sign of failure that I'm not?
The reality is, who can say? A list is a list. The map is not the territory. It means as little and as much as you want it to. So, I say celebrate being on it and if you're not, move on. It is nice but not determinant.
Anyhow, here's my best of the year list. It's about what I experienced this year, not what was released. Though most of it came out in 2022. I didn't play many games or listen to much music or watch much tv or watch many movies or read many books. I did very little but I wanted to tell you about what I liked anyways.
A list means as much or as little as you want it to. But I had fun making this one.
- Elden Ring - FromSoft
How could I not? I have put over 600 hours into this game across two platforms. I have platinumed it twice, seen almost every ending, tried dozens of builds. I genuinely lost my mind over this game. Completely unhinged. I worked, slept, ate, and played Elden Ring from like February through May. I can't fully explain it. It's not even my favorite FromSoft game. In fact, if I had to rank the Souls series it'd come third, probably. (For the record Dark Souls II, Bloodbourne, Elden Ring, Dark Souls, Dark Souls III, Demon's Souls).
But there is something special about Elden Ring. It has the open world exploratory draw that pulls me back to Skyrim over and over. It is mechanically the most accessible that From has ever been, fast-paced like Bloodbourne, thoughtful like Dark Souls. And the storytelling is both more vast and more tight than they've ever been before. GRRM's involvement shows in a rich, deep world and Miyazaki and his team bring the unsettling decay, recurring themes of growth and rot, the drive for self-actualization.
And we finally got characters that charmed us, romances to root for, friends to mourn. My prawn loving buddy Blackguard Big Boggart, my beloved Blaidd, my wife Malenia, my king Miquella, my boy Iji. From made a world that felt lived in, deep with loves longed for and lost. Radahn breaking the world for the love of his horse. Malenia sacrificing herself to the rot for her brother. Radagon and Rennala. Even small moments like your jellyfish friend Aurelia longing to be reunited with her sister just so they can see the stars together.
There's a sweetness that underpins the horror and tragedy of the Lands Between. There's a sweeping heroic journey and a true, real choice that will determine the fate of this world. Burn it all down or continue the cycle of oppression or leave for the cold embrace of the void. Faith, belief, politics, power all rendered in the brutal, simple mechanics of the game.
I love Elden Ring and feel loved by it in return.
2. Citizen Sleeper - Fellow Traveller
A tiny perfect gem of a game. Another one I replayed over and over to see the branching paths and different narrative endings. The story of an android struggling to survive in a world that only seeks to exploit them, it is ultimately about the power of community, the importance of human connection as the only antidote to systems of oppression. A game of chronic illness, of transness, inextricably about bodies as well as relationships, it spoke to me in a deep and profound way. It made me think about the things I want to build in my life, the communities I long for, the friends I have, and the friends I've lost. It made me cry and laugh and agonize over difficult choices. A stunning game I can't recommend enough.
3. Midnight Suns - Firaxis
This one caught me by surprise. I adore the modern XCOM games, a perfect blend of tactical strategy and base management, but the previews of this Marvel branded superhero take on the genre that swapped skills and stats for cards felt like a cheap cash in. I was worried this was Firaxis chasing a payday and leaning on the oh so popular card game tools (okay okay Snap is very fun, I get it). I was so wrong. This game is a labor of love. It is much more narrative than anything I expected from Firaxis and the focus is on the team dynamics and relationships between these characters. Clashes between the young occultists and the elder Avengers form the root of the dynamics. The game pulled in so many of my favorites from the old New Mutants and X-Men days. Magik, Nico, Scarlet Witch, Ghost Rider, all squabbling with an imperious Tony Stark, an out of touch Stephen Strange. It feels like a CW drama version of the old Claremont days paired with a satisfying tactics game that fulfills the power fantasy of being a tortured teenage witch capable of obliterating wave after wave of faceless Hydra goons. It's the coziest game about the end of the world I've ever played.
4. Destiny 2: The Witch Queen - Bungie
This is the best Destiny has ever been. Playing the Witch Queen campaign on legendary was a truly all-time great gaming experience. Bashing my head against the difficult encounters over and over, sprinting in the dark away from hordes of scorn, running and gunning as Savathun taunted us, appearing and disappearing, scrambling desperate for survival over and over again. I felt pressed, forced to dig deep into my skillset, into my weapons vault, learning new playstyles. And the introduction of the void 2.0 – smashing an enemy with my glaive, vanishing into the void, and dashing around to find another susceptible target– it was as much fun I've had as the old devour warlock days. And then spending hours raiding on day one, finishing it in the first week. An incredible high. Fantastic writing, encounter design, skills and weapon designs. Witch Queen is some of the most fun I've had in a game ever.
5. Pentiment - Obsidian
I don't know how to explain this game or even how and why I love it. It's a love letter to history, to illuminated manuscripts. It's made with such a deep sense of humor and an embrace of the full range of human experience. It's a dark game in many ways full of murder and violence. But also one where you help an old woman gather sticks for a fire. Where you break bread with anyone in the village from the charcoal burners to the viciously hateful miller to the pompous abbot. It's a game about not knowing and about wanting to know. A mystery of sorts with few answers. A game haunted by its own concerns and obsessions. It's a treasure that feels impossible that it even got made, much less celebrated to the extent that it has been. It's not to be missed.
(Contenders I missed: Immortality, Signalis, Monkey Island, Neon White, Tunic Norco)
I love Star Wars. Have since I was a kid. I've watched the movies countless times, read the books, played the games. I will rant at the drop of the hat about the genius of Clone Wars (if you can just look past all of the clumsy missteps). I suffered through the Book of Boba Fett and mourned the wasted potential of the Rise of Skywalker.
Andor is the best Star Wars has ever been. These twelve episodes made me feel like I had been trying, for years, to make a meal out of crumbs and then I was served a feast. A show about the Star Wars that was implied by the rest of the media I had seen. A world that lived just out of sight, in the margins of the existing canon. A world that only existed in my heart until I saw it rendered on screen.
A Star Wars that cared about the people who live in this world. Not the Skywalkers, not the Emperor, not the Jedi. The people who suffered under oppression. The people who resisted, at enormous cost. The people who worked, and made community, and loved each other, and the people who fought.
It's some of the best television I've ever seen, up there with The Wire and Breaking Bad and all the other tentpoles of "prestige television." I spent hours mulling over the show, yelling with friends in group chats and dms. Quoting it incessantly to myself and to everyone who would put up with me. And listening obsessively as soon as the new episode of AMCA dropped, just so I could dig deeper into the subtext of the show, the meat of it, and truly savor every last drop.
I am not normal about this show and you shouldn't be either.
2. Better Call Saul
The idea that the last season of BCS isn't number one on this list is insane. The idea that we had such a banner year of narrative TV that there was something, anything, even in the same league as this show is breathtaking. Because the last season of Better Call Saul is a capstone to years of some of the most daring, thoughtful, brilliant, and caring storytelling that has ever graced the screen. It's a masterwork that takes the bones of Breaking Bad and builds a soaring mausoleum out of them. A testament to the difficulties of becoming a better person, of trying and failing and succeeding to be your best self, and of finding salvation, meaning, and survival in the enduring, overwhelming, power of love.
I watched this in one night and then the next day started over. A gorgeous puzzle box of a show filled with deep character work and unsettling weirdness. It hits on so many levels from one of the most endearing queer romances to an endless series of intriguingly mysterious questions. It's a kind of storytelling that has annoyed me so much in the past and yet here is paired with such careful and thoughtful character drama that I will happily pick at the puzzle box in between the moments of deep pathos and warm connection.
4, The Bear
A fantastic portrait of grief, ambition, and artistic creation. Of a man breaking down and pulling himself together, of a business on the verge of collapse. It's a fantastically told story with tense, hilarious, delightful pacing. I felt the ending was a little too narratively convenient for a show that was so committed to the messiness of it all. But I loved the interest it had in competent people doing difficult things, of a careful and caring portrait of addiction and the impact it has on people, and of a family coming together in spite of insurmountable challenge.
5. Cyberpunk Edgerunners
This one caught me by surprise. I have an inexplicable love of the hot mess that is Cyberpunk 2077, but still did not expect to be so charmed by a Studio Trigger anime set in the same universe. But it was propulsive, violent, and always stunning to look at. I reveled in the gonzo aesthetics, in the simple but clear and well-told character arc. It tapped into the core of what makes cyberpunk an enduring aesthetic and one that will always have a special place in my heart. Flawed but joyful, I had such a good time that it edged out so much other great TV I saw this year.
(Contenders I missed: Barry, Interview with a Vampire)
This is probably going to be the weirdest category. So much of what I listened to this year wasn't driven by discourse or buzz, but by stuff I found on TikTok and recommendations from friends. It was a year of exploring and discovering and maybe those are the best years for music. I felt my taste expanding and evolving and I don't even really know how to talk about these records other than to say I loved them and listened to them a lot.
- SOS - SZA
We've been waiting years for this and she delivered. A brilliant lyricist, aesthetically and sonically fascinating. Smooth and prickly all at once. Sad and funny. A late entry into the year, but one I've been so delighted to luxuriate in in the cold run up to the holidays.
2. The New Faith - Jake Blount
I saw Blount describe this album as field recordings from an apocalyptic future. An album of folk music played around the settlements of Parable of the Sower. It reminds me of Drexciya but make it Appalachian. A gem of an album from a thoughtful and talented creator.
3. The New History of Warfare Vol I - Colin Stetson
Hey, do you ever want to just sit and feel bad? Do you want to feel like you're living inside a panic attack? Do you want a horrible grinding droning noise to drown out every other emotion you might possibly be forced to experience? A lone musician with a bass saxophone, circular breathing - he mics the valves so their opening and closing sounds like percussion, sings through the reed into the sax all to create one of the most singular, maddening sounds I've ever heard.. A brilliant piece of work that I am obsessed with.
4. Pink Soda - 自決 9 6
I know nothing about this band or where it comes from. I saw it referenced as vaporwave and, sure, I think that fits. But it's also jazzy and relaxed and has perfect chill vibes. This is music to cook dinner to, to drive to the beach to, to sit and work to. It's a gem of an album and one I've listened to on repeat for months.
5. Break My Soul - Beyoncé
This irrisistible, dancey collaboration between Big Freedia and Beyoncé is one of the most joyful, furious, captivating things I heard this year. Delightful to see Big Freedia get a big moment on an international stage, a thing she's deserved for ages and ages. Two titanic talents working together to create an anthem of defiance and joy in the face of the world today.
(Contenders I missed: idk everything?)
- Everything Everywhere All at Once - The Daniels
This is such an obvious choice, but irresistible. As a queer Asian person struggling with my family it hit so close to home as to be laser targeted on my heart. This movie devastated me and delighted me in equal measure. The frenetic mad aesthetics of it might not age well, but in the moment they felt like a revelation and I'm going to hang on to that feeling as long as I can. The stellar performances, the delightful action, the gonzo sense of humor and style – an immensely lovable movie that doesn't flinch away from the dark truths of the human condition.
2. Nope - Jordan Peele
A perfect monster movie and a fantastic thriller one one level, a deep, difficult introspection into what it is to make art and participate in a creative industry as a person of color on another. Another movie that felt to me like a home invasion, Peele crawling into my house and attacking me where I live and making me wrestle with the complicated feelings I have about monetizing trauma, about engaging with a capitalist enterprise that hungers endlessly for stories about suffering immigrants, about dead queers, about exploitation. And the ways in which we all find ourselves participating, rehashing, telling the story of our own tragedy replicated on SNL with a laugh and a smile and an indifference. It's a movie that refuses to resolve into clean answers, into clear narratives, into explicability. It is numinous and difficult in the way that Jean Jacket unfurling over the hills of California is. In the way that a raging chimpanzee reaching out for a fistbump can be. What are we supposed to do with these questions? Sacrifice ourselves for artistic ambition? Fight to grab that brass ring – the Oprah shot? Make a circus of our own exploitation and try and tame the rapacious predator? I don't have answers and I'm not sure Peele does either. But god I loved the asking.
3. After Yang - Kogonada
A beautiful meditation on race, family, and memory. A cipher of a movie that is also one of the most earnestly sentimental things I've ever seen. A movie that is quiet to the breaking point but so frank and open about it's emotional core that I found it impossible to look away. I adored it.
4. Prey - Dan Trachtenberg
This movie rules. It's lean and mean and fucking cool. The Predator is scarier than he's been since the original and Amber Midthunder is a revelation. The silence of this movie, the quietness of her journey to becoming a hunter to rival the Predator is perfectly paced, thoughtfully laid out, and done with a deep love of the franchise and a seeming respect and admiration for the culture on display here. This is the year of the margins of franchises being filled out in interesting ways and Prey is a taut joy of an action movie.
5. RRR - S. S. Rajamouli
A three hour epic that is one of the most bonkers things I've ever seen on screen. A maximalist feast that makes Everything Everywhere look restrained and cool by comparison. A man throws a tiger at his enemy and and that's probably in the lower half of top ten most bananas things that happens on screen. At no point was I not delighted, cackling with glee and amazement. Get snacks, know there's an intermission for a bathroom break, get settled in for the night. It's worth it.
(Contenders I missed: Tár, Banshees of Inisherin, Pinocchio, Barbarian, The Northman)
My books of the year list is strange. I read so much for work that I make very little space to read simply for pleasure. And this year was a hectic and chaotic one that left even less time for that than normal. I won't list any projects I worked on even though, almost definitionally, I adore those books and they'd probably comprise most of my tops books list any year. But, I read some truly fascinating things this year and almost all of them about gender in one way or another.
- The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin is a titanically important author for me personally and I was genuinely afraid to revisit this book. I had last read it in college, probably, and my views on the world have evolved since then, particularly around gender but also in my relationship to duality, to Buddhist ideology. I was so happy to find that this book felt like a homecoming. It was the kind of read where I don't know where I stopped and where the book began. Maybe it's because I was shaped so thoroughly by reading this book in my youth or maybe it's because it fit like a key in a space I had already made for it. I don't know. I just know that I loved it as much if not more than I ever had. It's so important to me and it's so precious to me. Le Guin is an unparalleled genius who becomes more and more essential to my worldview with every passing day.
2. Berserk vol 1-6 - Kentaro Miura
Listen, I played a lot of Elden Ring this year, okay? No, more seriously, I saw the anime in college and deeply, viscerally hated it. But hearing people talk about the manga I became curious about what questions the series was asking and how it was contending with its difficult subject matter. I got the first volume and immediately became obsessed. I don't know that I can ever recommend it in good conscience. The amount and type of violence in this is one that I almost invariably find objectionable to an extreme degree but somehow the way it is handled here, captivated me. Like looking at a car wreck, like finding beauty in a decaying rat cooking in the summer sun, like picking at a scab there's something so rich, thoughtful and entrancing in these pages. It feels like losing your mind, reading these pages. It feels like falling into a pit. I'm obsessed with it, even though I had to take a break at some point. I'm dreading reading the next four volumes and I can't wait.
3. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl - Andrea Lawlor
A complicated book that I don't know how to feel about. One that hit me in all my gender feelings but in ways that I can't parse. It's a slippery book that resists analysis, that resists easy conclusions. I see why it's so important to so many people. I wonder if it's a book for people in their twenties, but as someone who was on the cusp of forty I could marvel at what it was accomplishing but didn't feel it set its hooks into me the way it did so many of my friends. I loved reading it and wonder what I'll think of it in ten years. A book to be revisited, I think.
4. Light from Uncommon Stars - Ryka Aoki
This book felt like a warm hug from an old friend. I don't have a ton more to say about it than that, but I loved it and felt bouyed and uplifted by it. It felt like community, it felt like care, it felt like a place to rest.
5. Trans Care - Hil Malatino
I found this by accident stopping in a used book shop on the walk back from my therapist's office. The title caught my eye and I bought it on a whim. A small monograph from a university press, it's a meditation on queer community, on the care we provide and are provided as part of these communities. I had two different friends tending to people recovering from facial feminization surgery that week and I thought about the work they were doing. The sacrifices made for our friends, for acquaintances. I thought about the hours I spent talking to folks on the cusp of transition, the dms, the chats, the texts, the phone calls with people trying to figure out what they want and need from their bodies. I had no answers and am still asking myself those questions, but a voice to say "I hear you" and "I understand" and "I get it" is sometimes all you need to provide care. I want every queer person I know to read this book because we need to be better at caring for ourselves and for each other. In a year where I watched communities tear at each other and at themselves over and over and over again, this book felt like a roadmap, a signpost to a better world. It gave me hope that things can be different than they are.
That's it. That was my year in media. I hope the next year is as rich and exciting and challenging as this one was. I hope I find stuff to fall in love with, to hate, to struggle with. I hope to be tested and pushed and cared for and loved. And I hope you get to experience all that too.