To my surprise this list is television heavy – I didn’t find any incredible new board games, and I was disappointed in most video games. It’s somewhat in order – my favourite is roughly last.
Thanks everyone who recommended these to me – you know who you are! I’m not going to link to where to watch things – for TV and films I use JustWatch to find a suitable source.
Community – Seasons 1-3
Rick and Morty is a dense, witty yet also often smart, hard science-fiction, at least for the first couple of seasons. Lots of people always recommended Dan Harman’s earlier hit, Community, whose premise set in a US local college was never very appealing.
It’s brilliant – each bundle of twenty happy minutes is laugh out loud funny, while at the same time building up the characters, universe and connection. That is even before you get to the clever-clever high concept episodes, often based on films.
Not really worth watching after season 3 as Dan Harman was fired as show runner. He comes back later like Steve Jobs, but alas doesn’t create the iPhone.
Undone – Season 2
It seemed hard to make a second season of this beautiful, rotoscoped, ambiguous story about reality and the mind (article on the creator Kate Purdy’s own schizophrenia – she made Bojack Horseman), yet they managed it.
The trick of having warm, rich, real acting, cast into a cartoon form, so that visual memory and hallucination feel real, continues to work (video on how they do it).
I fell again for the emotions of Alma’s family, watching the rainbow song later on repeat. The seventh episode had me bawling, howling about the grandmother’s story, and subconscious connections to my own family.
It blurs fantasy and who we really are, in a way that is utterly relevant and bright.
The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben
Each snappy chapter is an astonishing insight into the complex, social and diverse way trees live.
At first it is simple things – that leaves partly vanish in winter to reduce the surface area to storms. That some species are pioneers in empty ground, others work only in exsiting forests.
Later it gets more shocking – individual trees vary genetically between each other as much as species of animals vary between each other. Our human heartrate measurably changes according to the health of a forest, probably reading the chemicals the trees signal to each other with.
There is a whole world here, hitherto hidden from me, and its scientific detail barely studied and understood.
No need for an alien planet, look closer at ours.
Better Call Saul – Season 6
Somehow, this spin-off ended up being better than Breaking Bad. The first season didn’t seem much when I first watched it, but by season three the reviews were so good I went back.
It’s now one of my favourite shows ever. This final season has more astounding cinematography, and a cathartic and earned ending.
The subtle detail in expressions, tone and mood of Jim and Kim’s relationship have been the heart of the show for years.
There’s a peacefulness, and human and adultness to it. A few years ago it was extremely valuable to me – the only art that truly connected to the complexity of emotions and depth of relationships in my life.
Breaking Bad – Seasons 1-5
After watching Better Call Saul, I felt parched for high quality television, and decided to rewatch this ten years after it finished. I don’t normally do this at all.
Incredibly well made – beautiful and interesting cinematography, compelling acting, plotwise just so so clever. Everything ties up well and resonates well. It doesn’t have a single bad episode.
Even aspects I didn’t like the first time – notably Marie’s kleptomania – now that I understand mental health better, were utterly on point.
This show’s themes don’t especially resonate to me personally, however its quality is ludicriously high, and it is engaging and authentic. It deserves every praise.
Dirty Dancing – Secret Cinema
A friend unexpectedly took a group of us to see this classic 80s film at a kind of festival in a park in the west of London. I hadn’t seen the film before!
The whole experience was delightful. Bars and a fun fair in 60s upper New York holiday camp style, including feeling like you illicitly got to an actual back stagehands party. Dancing!
Then the film itself turns out to be really really joyous, full of energy and love. Morals and ethics that are subtle and powerful – who can refuse a main character who pours water on somebody who reads the Fountainhead! Dancing that was hot without cliché, so confident it is simply powerful.
Best of all – on entry to the festival everyone’s mobile phone was put in a locked bag and given back to us so we couldn’t use it. This added a tangible presence to the whole experience. I hope more events use this!
Rise (En Corps) – Hofesh Schechter
Not that I’ve many to compare, but Hofesh Shechter is by far my favourite dance troupe. Their mailing list led me to go and see this at the Institut Français’s cinema in London.
A beautiful film told in a straightforward yet neat way – suitable jumps in time and setting which are clear and add to the feeling.
I cried when the woman running the retreat centre in Brittany conveyed to the injured protagonist classical dancer how when you’ve fallen it lets you raise in a new way. Directly personal – I’m stuck in a local low due to fear of being injured, just as she was.
Care and support from her sisters and her friends are shown lovingly, such as introducing her to just the new friend she needed at just the right moment.
Then Hofesh’s company – his style of dance takes her in her weakened state, it doesn’t just accept but relies on her not hiding that, not trying to make perfection. This warmed me to the core.
I can’t be perfect and I shouldn’t be. I should live each of my lives that I have.
The world of Stonehenge – British Museum
I’m still a member here years later because the exhibitions are shockingly well curated. This one (exhibition tour video, book) wasn’t really about Stonehenge. It was about a Northern European civilisation that lasted a couple of thousand years and yet doesn’t really even have a name.
Many intricate carved stone balls, almost mathematical in form and regularity, that unwarned you would say were made last week.
Preserved wood randomly unrotted in peat for millenia, revealing glimpses of wood henges and cross-marsh walkways we will never know.
Gold mined in Wales making a gorgeous glimmering shoulder garment for a woman, her source of social power a mystery.
A peat grave with the items so tangible to you she is as real as a modern girl – her woven basket, her wooden earrings, her bear-skin coat, her valuable beads.
This civilisation had no written language and most of its treasures have dissolved away. It was clearly incredibly sophisticated, it is just all hidden from us. Fragments of information accidentally preserved, or forensically deduced by modern material origin tracing.
Spellbinding. I went twice.