selfaware soup

Esther Weidauer

Best of 2023

2023-12-29

Collage of cover art from: Godzilla Minus One, Electric Sun by VNV Nation, Resisting AI by Dan McQuillan, Badur's Gate 3, and the TV show The Last of US

There’s been quite a few good pieces of media in 2023 and it’s not always easy to pick a favourite. But I shall try.

Movie: Godzilla Minus One

Trailer on Youtube

Ok, this was an easy pick. A late entry into this year’s movies, Godzilla Minus One is a truly outstanding film. Out of over 700 movies I’ve only given a 5/5 star rating to a total of ten and this is one of them.

It’s rare that a movie affects me so deeply as this one which was very unexpected, it’s a Godzilla movie after all. Sure there have been really good ones before. The original 1954 Godzilla, 2015’s Shin Godzilla, and some of the recent American “MonsterVerse” incarnations all do something good with the character, although each in very different ways.

Minus One is probably the closest to the 1954 original in some of its themes, being set in post-WW2 Japan. But it also takes a very different path by focussing on its human characters and giving them a very rich and deep treatment. It’s often seen as a negative when a monster movie does this, putting the humans front and center, but here it really works.

Godzilla Minus One is a radical view at how people deal with suffering and seemingly insurmountable challenges. It refuses to give in to cynicism or despair and carries a powerful message of unrelenting optimism.

The last film that affected me this intensely was 2016’s Arrival, and that’s saying a lot.

Overall 2023 didn’t have that many good movies for me, especially with the massive disappointment that was Oppenheimer. Although I also haven’t watched many others that were released this year.

An honorable mention goes to Cocaine Bear.

Album: Electric Sun by VNV Nation

Full album on Youtube

Album on various streaming services

VNV Nation is one of those artists who just seems to get better at that one thing they do with almost every album they put out and Electric Sun continues that trend following Noire, Transnational and Automatic.

It’s great synth pop. leaning more and more into lyrics, supported by an iconic sound. This was definitely my most played album of the year.

Honorable mentions this year go to Cateria Barbieri’s Myuthafoo and Bleed Out by Within Temptation.

Game: Baldur’s Gate 3

Trailer on Youtube

This game shouldn’t exist. The chances of this coming together and being released at all in today’s gaming market are vanishingly small. And that it turned out to be really good was practically impossible. A turn-based role-playing game based on Dungeons & Dragons, a pretty dense system of rules, with large amounts of hidden story content that most players will probably never see? And it also looks really good, and has great music, and outstanding voice acting?

This game is such a convergence of just the right conditions and I’m glad it was made. It is the actualisation of the idea that basically every western RPG video game has been chasing for decades: having a sufficiently good emulation of what it’s like to play an RPG with an actual human storyteller. Of course it’s still obviously a video game, but it has just enough systems complexity, well written characters, and opportunities for creative player interaction that the immersion actually works.

I have a strong suspicion that Phantom Liberty, the expansion to Cyberpunk 2077, would end up on this list as an honourable mention but I haven’t finished it yet. Diablo 4 was another good game this year that I played a lot but it’s seasonal content ended up disappointing.

Book: Resisting AI by Dan McQuillan

Book on Open Library

The “AI” hype feels unstoppable in 2023 with seemingly everyone praising its capabilities and imagining near magical use cases being just around the corner. That second part is business as usual in the field of “AI”. The bright (or terrifying, depending on who you ask) future is always just a little bit ahead.

In 2023, the public has latched onto tools that can generate bland emails and ad copy text and that is apparently enough to ignore all negative externalities and the destructive consequences of this technology.

Dan McQuillan gives a different view, looking at the history of automation and how it rarely ended up serving anyone but the few rich and powerful, and calling out the downright fascist ideas embedded into “AI” tech.

It’s a short-ish read that’s absolutely worth it, if you want to hear a different perspective that the ever-present tech hype cycle.

TV show: The Last of Us

Trailer on Youtube

I’ve enjoyed both parts of The Last of Us as games, although I’m not sure if “enjoyed” is really the right word. Read my article on Part 2 if you want to know why.

So, I was excited to see a TV adaption. A serialised format is perfect for a story that already comes told in chapters in the games. But with video game adaptations there’s also a history of unwatchable junk so it’s always a gamble.

This time it paid off though. The Last of Us season one nails the two main characters and their journey as well as makes some additions that were notoriously missing from the game, like properly acknowledging Bill’s and Frank’s gay relationship which gets an the entire third episode dedicated to it. And that episode it some of the best TV I’ve ever seen.

I’m very curious how they will deal with Part 2 in this adaptation.

Honorable mention here goes to For All Mankind season 4. It continues to be a great show and seeing it explore labor rights as a core topic is very welcome.