This week I take a look back at some of my favorite books, movies, and documentaries from 2017. These are not necessarily things that were released in 2017, though some of them may have been, but instead are works that I read or watched in 2017. Some may not be recent at all. But the one thing they all have in common is that I really enjoyed them. Perhaps something in this list will catch your interest.
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Favorite Photography Books
This is the greatest collection of Art Wolfe’s photographs I’ve seen. The photographs stretch across his entire career, with examples of wildlife, landscapes, indigenous peoples, and more. Head over to my review to see samples from Earth Is My Witness. It has been published in 2 formats, a larger one which I own and a smaller more affordable version. Highly recommended!
Photographs From the Edge is a great companion to Earth Is My Witness. Where the other book focuses more strongly on the photographs, this book focuses on the stories behind the photographs. It is organized chronologically. Each photograph includes a short story about the creation of the photograph, along with a short photo tip and information about the nature of the photo.
Travels to the Edge is the companion to the television series, containing many of the photographs created on the show. Having watched the series I love going back through this book and viewing the photographs they describe creating. See my review of Travels to the Edge for more details.
This is a great book for any fan of Ansel Adams work. It contains 400 photographs chosen by Andrea G. Stillman, Adams’ longtime assistant, that she feels best represent his work. The book covers his entire career, and includes a notes section in the back with lots of great info on the photos and Ansel Adams. Head on over to my review of Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs for samples from the book.
Annie Griffiths Belt is a National Geographic photographer, and reading this book is very much like reading an issue of the magazine dedicated to one photographer and her story. It is an autobiography of sorts, telling her story through her words and her photographs.
Favorite Non-fiction Books
I received Mozart’s Starling through a goodreads giveaway. I really enjoyed this book. The author had heard the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s pet starling and in a flash of inspiration decided to adopt her own starling. The book weaves in her experiences with facts about starlings and the story of Mozart’s starling. A very entertaining and charming book. Read my longer review of Mozart's Starling.
The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness by James Campbell
I listened to the Audible version of The Final Frontiersman, which tells the story of how Heimo Korth moved to Alaska and started a family while living in some of the more remote regions of the state. This book came before Braving It, which I had already read. I immensely enjoyed both books.
I received this book through a Tor.com giveaway. Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my favorite movies, and this book does a fantastic job of documenting the creation of the film. It is full of visuals, from photographs to storyboards to concept art. Highly recommended for any fan of the film or of Guillermo del Toro’s work. Check out my review of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth to see more.
This was a fascinating look at how large a role randomness can play in the world. The author primarily comes from the world of investing/trading so much of the book centers on examples in this area, but he does add other examples, as well. This can be a challenge to read. The author is very well read and educated and the tone and style he uses in the book expects you to be able to follow along. I often had to lookup some of the words or concepts he brought up, but I still enjoyed the book and look forward to reading his other works.
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Freakonomics has been around a while, but I just got around to reading it this year. And I found it fascinating. It’s written by an economist who uses his skills to address questions that are far outside what most of us would think of as economic topics. Things like finding cheating teachers in schools, or what effect Roe vs Wade might have had on violent crime. Each chapter is a new topic, and there are some interesting ones. Check it out if you’ve never read it.
Favorite Fiction Books
I received Waypoint Kangaroo through a Tor.com giveaway. Kangaroo is the code name for a spy with a special ability making him an important asset to the government. The story is set in the future with the majority taking place aboard a huge interstellar cruise ship. The book has a great sense of humor and sometimes reminded me of Inspector Gadget. Fun read. There is now a sequel called Kangaroo Too.
I received Collecting the Dead through a CriminalElement.com giveaway. This book follows Magnus Craig, nicknamed Steps, who is a Special Agent with the FBI. He is known as The Human Bloodhound, as he is sent in to track down criminals and victims no one else can. But there is more to Steps than meets the eye. See my review of Collecting the Dead.
I received After Atlas through a Tor.com giveaway. It is a police procedural set in the future following Carlos Moreno as he attempts to solve the mystery surrounding the death of a well known individual. There is a cyberpunk aspect to it with some interesting tech. I really enjoyed the character development. This is the second book in this world (Planetfall was the first), but reading the first book is not necessary to enjoy this one. Check out my longer review of After Atlas.
I received The Malice through a goodreads giveaway. This is the second book in a series that began with The Vagrant (which I received through another goodreads giveaway). These are dark tales of a post apocalyptic land where a breach has opened, spewing out a whole range of terrible creatures. The first book followed the Vagrant as he found and carried the great sword, Malice, back to the Shining City. The Malice follows the Vagrant’s adopted daughter, Vesper, as she hears and follows the call of the sword, carrying it back to the breach. There is a third book in the series, The Seven, which I have not yet read.
Lazarus is a comic book series written by Greg Rucka. I’ve read several of his other series and also a couple of his books. Needless to say, I really enjoy his work. This is the 2nd volume of collected works from the series packaged together in a nice hardcover edition. Pick up the first collection before getting into this one. The story is set in the future and follows Forever Carlyle, who is the Lazarus of the Carlyle family, defending her family from harm but also learning her family may not have always been honest with her. Can’t wait to read the third collection, whenever it comes out.
Ashby, played by Mickey Rourke, is a retired CIA assassin with only months to live who unexpectedly befriends a new kid in town who wants to interview him for a school project. Things get a little out of hand.
Train to Busan is Korea’s answer to the zombie apocalypse film. Most of it takes place on a train heading to Busan with a father taking his young daughter to see his mother. It was really well done and appealed to me far more than most zombie films.
Offline: Are You Ready for the Next Level?
The original German title for this film is Offline: Das Leben Ist Kein Bonuslevel, which Google translates as Life is Not a Bonus Level. The movie isn’t rated all that highly but I really enjoyed it. It might appeal to some of the gamers out there as it’s about a group who play an online role playing game, flipping back and forth between scenes in the game and scenes from real life. Yes, it was corny and quirky, but I enjoyed it. It reminded me vaguely of Hackers, another corny film I enjoyed.
This Korean film tells the tale of a sick girl whose family moves to the country to help her heal. But when they arrive they find a wild boy who appears almost more of an animal. This movie was very different than I had expected. It had a lot of heart and a great sense of humor. I enjoyed it far more than I expected to.
The Four is a fun Chinese movie with a cast of characters with special abilities that help them in their roles as constables. It’s full of special effects and the over the top martial arts action sequences that draw me to this sort of movie.
Favorite Anime Movies
This was a beautifully told story based on a Japanese folk tale. It was a sad story in some ways, but also very entertaining. I enjoyed the style of animation, very different from the majority of other anime out there, and different from other Studio Ghibli films you might have seen (such as those by Hayao Miyazaki).
Another beautiful movie from Studio Ghibli about a young girl who doesn’t fit in and is taken to the country to spend time with relatives and hopefully benefit from the cleaner air. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a movie from Studio Ghibli I didn’t enjoy, and this one is no different. The animation is more akin to what you might expect than was that of The Tale of Princess Kaguya. But both are beautiful films.
I have enjoyed every Makota Shinkai anime I’ve watched. The Garden of Words was such a beautiful and sad story, as so many of his other works are. It’s the story of a couple of lonely people who meet one rainy day and slowly get to know one another and begin looking forward to the next time they meet. Check out Makota Shinkai’s other works, such as The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Voices of a Distant Star, and 5 Centimeters Per Second. He is one of my favorite anime directors.
I have always loved the Ghost in the Shell franchise. Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is not a sequel, but instead a remastered version of the 1995 Ghost in the Shell. I loved the original version of this film, and loved this new version, as well. You can see how The Matrix trilogy might have been influenced by this anime and the manga that preceded it. Hollywood has now produced their own live action version of Ghost in the Shell, but I have not yet seen that one.
Another film in the Ghost in the Shell franchise, which also included several anime series. I never tire of these stories of Section 9, part of the police force in a futuristic Japan who handle cases involving technology, computers, AI, and robotics. These can be violent and heavy hitting stories, so don’t confuse them for children’s movies just because they are animated.
Tales By Light
Tales by Light is a series available (at the time of this writing) on Netflix in the US. Each episode focuses on a photographer, telling some of their story and showing them work in the field. Photographers include: Darren Jew, Richard I’Anson, Krystle Wright, Art Wolfe, Jonathan and Angela Scott, Eric Cheng, and Stephen Dupont. There are 2 seasons of 6 episodes each. The second season spends 2 episodes on each photographer. This is a very well done series. Check it out if you have access to it.
I really enjoyed this documentary about a group of birders who frequent New York City’s Central Park throughout the seasons. This will likely appeal most to birders or photographers who enjoy capturing images of birds. Check out my review of Birders: The Central Park Effect for more details.
Bill Cunningham was a photographer who captured fashion and street life in New York City. I had not been familiar with him prior to this documentary. Even if you aren’t interested in fashion you might enjoy this film. It captures a very humble but interesting man who died not that long after it was released. See my review of Bill Cunningham New York for more details.
Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters tells the story of the creation of Gregory Crewdson’s Brief Encounters body of work. It follows him as he plans and creates several of the photographs. Initially I was not interested in Crewdson’s work, I just didn’t get it. But the more I watched, and the more I studied some of his photos, the more I found myself really enjoying them. His images are small self-contained stories. Look him up if you’re not familiar with his work.
Chasing Ice documents photographer James Balog’s project to place time-lapse cameras around the world to capture changes in the world’s glaciers over time. It is a fascinating story, and a more immediate way of visualizing some of the effects of climate change.
Well, those were my favorites of 2017. What were some of your favorites from the year?