The Friday High Five: Year-End Edition
My favorite things from 2023
Every Friday I share 5 things I enjoyed this week. Also, high fives are inherently cool, and I think we can all agree Friday is the bestest day. Hence the Friday High Five. 🙏🏻
This week's edition is extra special as it includes some of my favorite things from 2023, in groups of fives. It's an orgy of High Fives.
One of my favorite things about this time of year is how everything just sort of unwinds of its own accord, as though the natural state of things is not a maniac pace of work-work-work, but one of leisure and introspection.
As you read this, I have already started my holiday.1 And, in that spirit, I’ve decided to take off the last week of December from anything resembling work. Most times, writing does not fall in that category. Writing is the thing I do when I’m not working. It is my escape from work.
I genuinely enjoy this newsletter, but sometimes a break is in order to keep everything fresh and exciting. Thus, I won’t be publishing anything new for the next 10 days or so. This is the last Friday High Five you’ll receive from me in 2023.
I’ll still be doing writerly things on holiday. Like two love-sick cowboys, I can’t quit it. Not even when I’m supposed to be relaxing.
I plan on spending time revising (read: rewriting) a bunch of essays intended for a Star Wars book I’m publishing in 2024. Editing is actually my favorite part of writing, so much so that I often can’t stop myself from editing while I’m writing. That’s a definite no-no according to anyone with opinion about the proper way to write. I guess that makes me Frank Sinatra.2
Oh: You will get a surprise from me next week! (Does preemptively declaring it invalidate the surprise? Whatever—I’m the guy who likes to wrap presents early so I can put them under the tree and taunt my loved ones. I do it mostly because the tree looks so naked and forlorn without gifts; making my family yearn for the shiny preciouses is just a perk.3)
Wednesday you’ll receive a fun story that came out of my review of A Disturbance in the Force: 7 Extraordinary Things I Learned From 'A Disturbance in the Force'. I don’t use ‘extraordinary’ lightly. One of the items shocked me to my core. I’m still not over it. Consider the article a belated Christmas gift for all you fine people.
In case I don’t get a chance to say it to you directly: Merry Christmas and the happiest of New Years. God bless you all.
❗️Time is running out to lock-in the cheapest annual plan I will ever offer: 30% off FOREVER
I will be raising prices January 1 and they will never be this low again.
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Paid subscribers receive free copies of every book I publish. The Star Wars book will be published first, and then a general pop culture one. Those are 100% locked in and coming out early in 2024. 📚
I’m starting to feel a bit like an informercial. But they say honesty is the best policy, so I want to be as clear as possible. 😇
If you’re looking for a last-minute gift, a paid subscription will do fine. 🎁
My Favorite 2023 Things
5 groups of 5 follow: Movies, TV Shows, Books, Games, and Articles.
Note: There are a bunch of stories linked below. You just need to use your email address to sign-in if prompted.
5 Favorite Movies
Fair warning: Oppenheimer isn’t on this list because I still haven’t seen it yet.
That omission might be a problem if I’d positioned myself as a cinephile or student of film. I’m the furthest thing from that. I’m the guy who would usually rather rewatch something I’ve already seen and look for strange and unusual tangents than roll the dice on a new release. So if you start thinking, “How could he leave off XYZ,” it’s almost surely because I haven’t seen it.4
For pure pop culture spectacle, Barbie is hard to top.
It’s an unforgettable movie. I can’t say I’ll be rushing to rewatch it, but I’m glad I’ve seen it, with my daughter no less.
Guardians of the Galaxy 3
My favorite MCU film in years, though that’s honestly not saying much.
The trilogy ties up in a satisfying fashion that avoids cliché and melodrama. The third film is frequently funny and often quite moving. I laughed, I cried. Definitely my least-favorite Guardians film though. (I rank them 1, 2, 3.)
Air is movie about basketball shoes. Not about basketball. About shoes. More specifically, about the middle-aged people working for a shoe company. And somehow it works.
Air is an entertaining docu-drama about how Nike landed a young Michael Jordan and made history (as well as literal tons of money). The nostalgia factor in this film is off the chart. If you were cognizant at all in the 80s, you will probably love it. Even more so if you loved basketball.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
I didn’t love-love Across the Spider-Verse (my abridged review: funny, heartwarming, mind-bending, incomplete. B+) but it was still easily one of my favorite movies from 2023. Most of my frustration stemmed from how abruptly the film ends. Up until that point, it’s amazing.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
This movie did the impossible: It brought the magic of D&D to the silver screen in thrilling fashion.
Honor Among Thieves wasn't the first attempt at a D&D movie. Previous films had been campy and nonsensical. It was D&D from an outsider’s prospective, which was basically: This nerd shit is really dorky.
Honor Among Thieves is a celebration of what makes playing D&D such an engrossing experience. It has heart, laughs, adventure, shenanigans, and even dragons.
5 Favorite Shows
Another banner year for prestige TV.
This list originally had 10 shows on it. Whittling it down to 5 was painful.
The Last of Us (HBO)
The Last of Us is really good. Like, "it shouldn't be this good" good. The video game was exceptional. This is something else. Shows like this don't come along often. Don't miss it.
Silo (Apple TV)
As a fan of the books, I was disappointed with how and where season one ended. But taken on its own, Silo’s first season was a total win. An atmospheric mystery that unravels in surprising ways and kept me guessing.
Ted Lasso: Season 3 (Apple TV)
Season 3 is not Ted Lasso’s best season. It’s a bit bloated and unfocused. But when Ted Lasso is good, it’s the best show on television.
Most importantly, they nailed the ending.
Shrinking (Apple TV)
I didn’t realize the one thing missing from my life was Harrison Ford telling people not to ‘raw dog’ him. Shrinking is a hilarious, heartwarming show, and Ford steals every scene he’s in.
Apple has cornered the market on feel-good prestige TV. And is making a serious move on prestige TV in general.
Justified: City Primeval (Hulu)
No, it wasn’t Justified. How could it be? And why would you want it to be Justified, again? We’ve already seen that. Gimme something new.
I thoroughly enjoyed the newly mature version of Raylan Givens, and I hope we get to see him again real soon. (Word on the street is Timothy Olyphant is down.)
5 Favorite Books
These aren’t necessarily books that came out in 2023, I just read them this year. I think we can all agree books occupy a special place in our culture. They’re almost timeless. Thus, does it really matter if a book from 10 years ago made my list? I say no.
This Is How Your Lose the Time War
Forget 2023—this is one of the best novels I have ever read.
The story involves two rival agents on opposite sides in a never-ending war across time, space, and the multiverse. Half of the story is told via 3rd person present tense (e.g. Red stands and loads her gun) and the other half is an epistolary, as the characters write letters to one another (again, across space and time). It is wonderfully inventive and beautifully told.
Business memoirs have no business being this good.
Shoe Dog is a riveting read of Nike’s earliest days, but what I didn’t expect was it would also be a Good Book. The writing is often sublime. Highly recommended!
An incredibly thorough deep-dive into all things 90s. I came of age in the 90s and therefore remember all of it. This book gave me a fresh perspective on what I already knew, and introduced me to tons of stuff I had no idea about.
Here’s a fun anecdote from the book, regarding Smells Like Teen Spirit:
The song’s title derived from Vail’s friend (and eventual Bikini Kill bandmate) Kathleen Hanna, who drunkenly wrote the phrase “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Cobain’s bedroom wall in Olympia, Washington. The joke was that Vail wore Teen Spirit deodorant, thus implying that Cobain and Vail were sleeping together.
Doc / Epitaph
I am a total sucker for a good western; in my opinion, True Grit and Lonesome Dove are two of the finest novels ever written. So this two-book series by Mary Doria Russell was 100% in my wheelhouse.
The books tell a history-inspired story of Doc Holliday and, of course, the Earp brothers. The O.K. Corral features in the story, but it’s only a piece of the whole. We also get Doc’s earlier days, as well as a sad stretch at the end when the legends literally fade away.
The Book of Basketball
I’m on record as being a huge Bill Simmons fan. But somehow, I’d only ever read his columns. I’d partly avoided his basketball book due to the sheer size. I love basketball but the idea of 700-page book about it was unappealing.
I was so wrong. It’s a riveting read, especially for fans who grew-up during basketball’s golden age (80s & 90s). The fact that Simmons can make such long-form writing interesting and accessible—and hilarious!—was an inspiration, and an encouragement.
Coming soon: a 700-page book on bromances.5
5 Favorite Games
I didn’t play as many video games this year for reasons I can’t quite understand. I spent plenty of time with my Xbox, but I often gravitated toward older releases like Skyrim.
I know for certain Baldur’s Gate 3 definitely would’ve been here if it had released on the Xbox months ago. I’m also waiting for Santa to bring my son Tears of the Kingdom so I can also play it.
If you’ve played one Diablo, you’ve played them all. That’s painting crudely with a broad brush, but it’s absolutely true. I’m doing the same stuff in the fourth iteration that I did in the first.
That said, IV has one of the most memorable stories in the series. I totally got sucked in.
I’m gonna keep this short because I’ve already written two freaking articles about this game. The gist: it’s unlike either Skyrim or Fallout, but I love it.
There’s nothing quite like flitting around the galaxy in your own spacesuit, doing some light piracy or maybe helping some stranded people. I honestly can’t tell you if the game’s story is good or not—I’m too busy making my own.
Few things are more exciting than playing as a Jedi in a video game and all that entails: separating Stormtroopers’ arms from their bodies, using the Force to push and pull objects, and trying to square the narrative of the game—that you are a Jedi, publicly and brazenly doing Jedi things, during a time in which Jedi are extinct—with the canon of the films.
Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.
Mega Axis & Allies
This is a strategy board game. It’s not actually called Mega Axis & Allies—that’s a moniker I gave it, as it employs two separate board games (the European / African theater and the Pacific) into one massive world war, for real for real. I thought I’d played Axis & Allies before, but I was so wrong.
My son and I started playing in August. We finished our first game last weekend.
Can’t wait to play again.
Here’s the original post from August talking about the game in more depth.
This game came out in 2017 but whatever—be glad I’m not using this space to talk about how wonderful Skyrim is again.
I started playing Darkest Dungeon recently and I’m addicted. It’s like a dungeon-crawler version of Final Fantasy with permadeath (characters die and don’t come back), without Final Fantasy’s showy powers and angsty storytelling.
There’s probably a better example I could use for turn-based games with random encounters, but I grew up playing Final Fantasy, so there you go. It’s the Kleenex of the genre.
5 Favorite Things I’ve Written
This category feels a bit self-serving, maybe. I don’t know—I like my own shit.
I’ll be moving all of these behind the paywall as of January 1, so read them while you can!
The Point Break Bromance piece (May 2023)
I don’t know what’s more impressive: That I’ve written 3 long-ass articles about Point Break, an action movie without much going on under the surface, or that this bromance angle produced a 6100 word article that takes 24 minutes to read.
There’s a good chance some of you missed this one; I only had about 40 subscribers when I published it.
The Mando-Verse Alien piece (August 2023)
There had to be at least one Star Wars piece on this list. Otherwise, what am I even doing here?
This piece was one of those I’d been thinking about for a long time, and finally decided to write.
The Predator Bromance piece (September 2023)
This started as a lark after I realized the men of Predator were quietly affectionate with one another. And then what was going to be a funny piece became a bit serious (though with plenty of phallic humor).
It was about this time that I realized I had a thing for writing about bromances and should maybe lean into that.
The White Men Can’t Jump piece (November 2023)
In counterpoint to Point Break, White Men Can’t Jump has a lot of juicy subtext to explore: racism and stereotypes, relationships, our self-destructive natures, plus whatever Wesley Snipes was doing with his wardrobe.
This is another long article (3900 words, 15 minute read) with strong bromance energy.
The Steve Rogers and Bucky Bromance piece (December 2023)
Oh, look—another bromance.
This 4100 word, 16-minute article explored something I have always secretly known: The MCU is far more interesting when Bucky is around.
How the Steve Rogers & Bucky Barnes Bromance Defined the MCU (This is a paid post and thus only about half of it is free to read. Which is still quite a bit, considering its a long article.)
I’m always curious if my favorite pieces resonate with other people. Let me know if you thought something else I published was even mo’ better.
For that matter, what were your favorite 2023 things? Drop a comment so I can check them out.
I’ve always been a bit jealous of how Brits don’t go on vacations but take holidays. It sounds so much more joyous and fulfilling. Merry Christmas is vastly superior to Happy Christmas, though.
I did it my way.
When my kids were in elementary school, I invested in some light security to keep them honest at Christmas: motion-detecting Star Wars ornaments. We have Darth Vader, Yoda, and a Stormtrooper. Vader makes menacing statements about taking the presents away, Yoda giggles about the whole deal, and the Stormtrooper actually shoots while klaxons go off (it doesn’t really shoot, alas, but would it matter if it did?)
They’re pretty much my favorite ornaments.
Other notable 2023 movies I still haven’t seen: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, The Creator, Killers of the Flower Moon, The Holdovers, and Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning (I know, blame my daughter—I do!).
I’m totally kidding. If I write a 700-page book, it would obviously be about Star Wars.