I don’t usually look back on the events that took place in a particular year as it comes to a close but this time I decided to do a retrospective on 2018 regarding my favorite works in different artistic genres.
I do not usually read books the year they’re published unless they are written by an author whose work I enjoy. For that reason, I will write about the books I read in 2018, rather than those published during that year.
2018 began with the publication of “La Belle Sauvage”, the first book from “The Book of Dust” trilogy. When I was younger, “His Dark Materials”, alongside the “Earthsea” series by Ursula K. Le Guin and “Harry Potter” by J. K. Rowling, were life-changing books. I read it after the four first books of the “Harry Potter” series, and my perspective about the fantasy genre changed completely. For the first time, I read a book with a bittersweet ending and difficult themes, such as religion and philosophy, that made me really think. I was confronted with doubts and difficult and controversial characters in the sense that they could’t clearly be labeled as simply “good” or “bad”. For that reason, I was very excited when I learned that Philip Pullman was writing a new book about Lyra, the Dust and the parallel world of “His Dark Materials” trilogy. Although I enjoyed revisiting this world, it was a bit of a disappointment, mainly because its ending felt a bit rushed. Nevertheless, stood out and I cannot wait for the next books.
I also made some progress on the “Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge” (inspired by the beloved character Rory Gilmore from the TV show “Gilmore Girls”), which I originally started in 2017. This year, I read five books from this challenge, which, considering its 319 books, isn’t exactly a great rate. My favorite book from this challenge was “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez, one of the greatest writers from the 20th century.
This year I also completed a course on medical communication, so I read several non-fiction books regarding that theme. I had never thought I would read so many books about this particular theme and have such a great time talking about them with my colleagues on a small lecture about literature and empathy in medicine that I had the pleasure of promoting. My favorite companion regarding this topic was “What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine”, by Danielle Ofri, which I have explored in this article.
Regarding picture books, my favorites were “Franklin and Luna Go to the Moon”, the second title of the “Franklin and Luna” series written by Jen Campbell and illustrated by Katie Harnett, and “The Lion and the Bird” by Marianne Dubuc, both read in their Portuguese versions which I found at my local bookstore.
Before revealing my favorite movie from 2018, I must start by saying that as I am writing this, I’m not taking into account movies that have yet to premiere in Portugal’s movie theaters . This includes “The Favorite” by Yorgos Lanthimos, “Shoplifters” by Hirokazu Koreeda and many others.
I loved Alfonso Cuarón when he directed the amazing and underrated movie “Children of Men”. “Children of Men” is, in my opinion, one of the best dystopian movies ever made. The direction, photography and screenplay are just phenomenal - there is so much to say about it (if you want to learn a bit more about this wonderful movie, watch this movie essay - beware of spoilers!) So I was excited when I learned he was going to direct a new movie called “Roma”.
For me, “Roma” is the greatest movie of 2018. Why? First, the movie is visually rich and compelling. The long tracking shots are just breathtaking, they will leave you both powerless and astonished. The cinematography is wonderful, an authentic piece of art, and though there is no soundtrack, the sound editing is superb. Technically speaking, it is a wonderful movie. It draws the viewer to a place and setting very different from his own and makes it easy to empathize with the characters, especially Cleo, a character based on the housekeeper who worked for Alfonso Cuarón’s family. There are violent scenes, desperate scenes, hard scenes; but the quieter ones are also astonishing, and their meditative tone is unforgettable.
I have never watched many live-action TV series - I used to watch many more anime series instead - in part due to a lack of good TV channels, something which changed after subscribing to Netflix.
One of my favorite 2018 TV series was “Maniac”. I would not recommend it to a lot of people I know, because it is a rather unconventional show. I decided to watch it for the plot and also the main leading cast: Emma Stone and Jonah Hill. It also reminded me of two other stories that I love: the anime “Kaiba” from Masaaki Yuasa, a largely unknown and underrated gem, and also “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, one of my all-time favorite movies. Owen and Annie are two people with many complicated issues: they both share some mental health issues, addictions and unresolved familial troubles. The show provides follows their journey as they are drawn to a pharmaceutical trial that will supposedly solve all of their problems.
The show has a strange plot, eccentric characters and even some gore and bloody scenes. But I loved how they portrayed the characters’ mental and family struggles. I also enjoyed some particular themes, such as the popular “do machines feel emotions” theme, which I initially thought might have been boring, but fortunately was proven wrong. There is psychology, philosophy and sci-fi elements. I am sure many won’t appreciate it because it is not a linear plot, and it is a surreal show. I even struggled watching some episodes because I had no idea what was happening, but eventually I started to go along with it. The original soundtrack is absolutely gorgeous, and often reminds me of Icelandic tunes and melodies. The ending episode is amazing - it made me appreciate the show even more.
But my favorite show this year was “My Brilliant Friend”. Unlike many book lovers, I usually enjoy watching movies and series based on books. I usually see these works as different concepts with the same or similar background. For instance, I love how Peter Jackson portrayed “The Lord of the Rings” story and world, but I accept he had to change many aspects, and I don’t really mind that. Obviously, there are some adaptations I cannot enjoy, but I would not like them even if I hadn’t read the book first.
“My Brilliant Friend” is somewhat different, and I must confess I was a bit afraid when I learned Elena Ferrante’s books were being turned into a TV show. I think this happened because these four books had a great impact on me (I will write about that later). I didn’t know if I was going to be moved again - it is well known that Ferrante thinks she does not own her work once it is adapted by another person. An author is somehow different from their books. But I could not help wondering how they’d do it, how they’d cast Elena, Lila and the other characters.
But I immediately felt in love with “My Brilliant Friend” again. It is an Italian-American co-production between HBO, RAI and TIMvision. It is a quite different experience from reading the original novels, but I’d recommend it to everyone.
Animated TV series
I have always loved fantasy series, especially with children. This year, I watched an amazing animated series, which I profoundly loved: “Hilda”. Luke Pearson created a wonderful world that is full of magical elements and Scandinavian influences. It features not only humans, but also interesting creatures, such as giants, tiny elves who love paperwork and a funny and talkative crow.
Both children and adult viewers will certainly enjoy Hilda’s adventures and their friends stories. Also, how could you not love Twig, Hilda’s cute deerfox companion?
Regarding the anime department, 2018 wasn’t a very prolific year. Unfortunately, I have started to feel somewhat detached from the anime industry, and I find it hard to resonate with current series, which are great when it comes to special effects but lacking in story and character development. My favorite show began in 2017, but ended in 2018, when I started to watch it, so I decided to include it in this post, and it is the second season of “3-gatsu no Lion” or “March Comes In Like A Lion”.
This is a mostly unknown series, forgotten amongst the popular ones such as “Naruto”, “Attack on Titan” and so on. It is based on a manga series written by Umino Chika, who also wrote one of my favorite anime series, “Honey and Clover”. At first, I was hesitant to watch it, since it is often considered a sports show, because it follows Rei, a 17-year-old shogi player. Shogi is a strategy board game also known as Japanese chess that is the most popular chess variant in that country. I knew nothing about shogi and frankly could not care less about the game. Surprisingly, this show goes way beyond shogi; it is about a young man’s personal troubles, bullying, mental health diseases and family issues. I found it hard not to resonate with these character’s problems, even though we’re talking about different cultures and backgrounds. The animation is just breathtaking, and the story is often both healing and heartbreaking. It reminded me why I have always enjoyed watching Japanese series so much.
I didn't explore many albums released in 2018, but my favorite was “Hundreds of Days” by Mary Lattimore. I didn’t know Mary Lattimore’s work until I listened her new album, and I was pleased to hear something new and different - a harpist album. Hundreds of Days is Mary Lattimore’s third solo record, and it includes many serene and quiet tracks.
It is mainly an ambient album featuring various instruments and elements, such as synthesizers, guitars and choirs echoing on the distance. Her music is full of emotion, a rare thing in a world full of pop tunes and predictable lyrics. I would recommend listening to every track back to back, maybe while traveling or staring at the window. Your thoughts will flow and you’ll see many things you had never noticed before.
On May 11 2018, a two-disc version of “The Blue Notebooks” by Max Richter was reissued. For those who don’t know him, Max Richter is a West German-born British composer with post-minimalist compositions. This album includes re-recordings, remixes and two alternate arrangements of "On the Nature of Daylight", one of Max Richter’s most famous tracks. This year, we were also gifted with a new video clip that illustrates this beautiful song, which turned out to be my favorite from 2018.
The video clip is astonishing, and so it is Elisabeth Moss’ performance. This song was used in several media formats, including movies (my favorite one would be “Arrival”), but this video clip is just breathtaking. Her breakdown always gets me, and every time I watch it I feel deeply involved and moved by Elisabeth Moss’ expression and gestures.
Regarding original soundtracks, “First Man” was an amazing work by Justin Hurwitz and also one of my favorites of 2018. “First Man” is a Neil Armstrong biopic directed by Damien Chazelle, who has previously worked with the composer Justin Hurwitz. “La La Land” was his most famous work, and it is difficult to imagine a collaboration so different from the jazzy tunes of “La La Land” or “Whiplash”.
Justin Hurwitz started to work in this soundtrack several years ago, when he was invited by Damien Chazelle to participate in the project. Ryan Gosling, the actor who portrays Neil Armstrong, found it difficult to incarnate the American astronaut and even understand him; but Justin Hurwitz literally managed to transform Armstrong’s humanity into musical compositions. It is an astonishing work, especially how he used the theremin, one of Neil Armstrong’s favorite instruments.
At last, I simply loved the “GLOW” soundtrack. “GLOW” was one of the most surprising series I watched this year, and its second season premiered on June 2018. “GLOW” revolves around a fictionalization of the characters of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW), a women’s professional wrestling promotion of the 80s. “GLOW” soundtrack features several famous songs from the 80s, so it is a great compilation for anyone who enjoys tunes from this time period.
A personal note
2018 brought me several personal challenges. I traveled alone by plane for the first time - which was a great deal for a person who is absolutely terrified of flying - and I participated in an abroad exchange project all by myself. I traveled to Madeira Island again, the place where my flying phobia started. I finally bought my dream trip to Japan, which I’ll visit in 2019.
I completed a post-graduate course in Clinical Communication and applied for a Master Program regarding that theme. I went to a Postcrossing meeting for the first time with a friend and completed 8 years of sending and receiving postcards. I watched several dear friends get married. I bought a bicycle. I watched Nick Cave playing live and went to a music festival for the fourth time with the same friends, thus creating a solid tradition (and with its fifth iteration already planned). We lost Ursula K. Le Guin in 2018.
And I created this blog, which was also a highlight of 2018.
Do you have any personal achievements or cultural highlights regarding 2018 that you would like to share? Feel free to do so in the comments below.