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STRAND Magazine Arts and Culture Roundup 2023: Our Top Picks From This Year


Image courtesy of Ian Schneider via Unsplash (licensed under Unsplash License)


It's the most wonderful time of the year, as I'm sure the recent adverts on the TV, radio, or supermarket tannoy haven't let you forget. Whether you've been dreaming of a white Christmas, thinking about walking in a (Hyde Park) winter wonderland, or complaining that (baby,) it's cold outside! to anyone who will listen, the STRAND has been whiling away the few weeks before the festive period by rounding up our favourite arts and culture picks from this year.


Pull up a chair, grab a warm drink, and read on to find out our writers' and editors' thoughts on the best books, films, albums and games to come out of 2023. And from all of us at the STRAND, thank you for lending us your ears for the last twelve months. We wish you a very happy holiday season, and a wonderful new year — and we can't wait for you to read more from us in 2024!


Introduction by Talia Andrea, Editor in Chief





Best Films and TV Shows of 2023


Past Lives (dir. Celine Song)


"It's rare that a film will leave me feeling both happy and sad at its end. Past Lives does exactly that. It's unbearably tender, truly a must-watch."


Barney Nuttall, Deputy Editor-in-Chief


Bottoms (dir. Emma Seligman)


"Much like many people, I've felt rather uninspired lately in regard to the content I've been consuming. Yet, I've genuinely not felt so excited when leaving the cinema as I did when leaving Bottoms: CINEMA IS BACK. Truly a film made by queer women for queer women, I loved every second of it; I wish I could bang my head against a wall to forget about it so I could watch it again for the first time. The 'Complicated' needle drop? Incredible, literal chills."


Mali Jones, Staff Writer



Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (dir. Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson, Kemp Powers)


"Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse is a testament to the artistry of animated films, and the bar for what they can achieve. The film sweeps you up in gripping action and vibrant landscapes from start to finish, from fights in a Caribbean-owned corner-store to parties on graffitied rooftops, set to the thumping tune of Afro-Latin dance tracks ('Silk & Cologne', EI8HT & Offset).


Whether the characters are swinging through the crowded streets of Mumbattan, or proving punk's not dead in an explosion of gloriously colourful newsprint cutouts, Spider-Man: ATSV has something to offer everyone. I'm certain it's one of those films you can watch repeatedly, and notice something different each time. Or just watch repeatedly."


Talia Andrea, Editor in Chief



"I don’t even like Marvel (or spiders for that matter) but this film was somehow even more incredible than its predecessor. Watching it in the cinema I was completely stunned by the quality of animation once again; how much it packs a punch! It left me breathless! And the soundtrack is amazing, too."


Lara Mae Simpson, Literature Editor



Succession (HBO series)


"Writing about Succession can feel like a futile act, when the last shot of the show’s last episode feels so utterly final. There’s not much more to say: it’s all laid out in front of us. This series, however, nevertheless merits conversation. This is one of the few shows whose abundant and communal praise is deserved – perhaps even downplayed.


There is something ineffable which makes Succession one of the best TV shows ever written, and its fourth and final season only cements this. I love and miss the show, and the conversations it would garner every Monday after a new episode had come out. I’ve been rewatching it recently and the gripping tension fused with its offhand and often cruel comedy has not gotten old, and perhaps never will.


It’ll be interesting to see how Succession stands the test of time after it marinates in the cultural consciousness for a couple more years, and how it compares to the political and entrepreneurial landscape that surrounds us. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do yourself a favour and start watching immediately – and don’t be too discouraged by that opening scene."


Dan Ramos Lay, Staff Writer



Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (dir. James Gunn)


"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 rocks the screen with its signature zany charm and electrifying action sequences, seamlessly scored with an eclectic mix of tunes that span generations. James Gunn, as always, masterfully crafts a rollercoaster of emotions, giving us a wild ride through tear-jerking character arcs and heartwarming camaraderie amidst all the chaos. The chemistry between the lovable misfits remains the beating heart of this cosmic adventure as they bid farewell on an emotional high note, leaving us longing for more intergalactic antics on their terms."


Gio Eldred Mitre, Gaming Editor





Best Books of 2023


Man-Eating Typewriter - Richard Milward


"Robbed of the 2023 Goldsmiths Prize, the fifth novel by the Middlesbrough-born avant-garde author takes as its premise the memoirs of a cult leader being sent, chapter by chapter, to a Soho pulp publishing house in the late 1960s/70s. The crazed Raymond Novak is planning a ‘fantabulosa crime’ for a fixed date in 1970, but to further contribute to his fame he first sends the story of his life, written in hilarious, pitch perfect Polari, to a cast of diabolical underground literary types who, enthralled by the lustre of a real life maniac, play along with Raymond’s dangerous game, commenting (and often panicking) down in the footnotes.


If this sounds mad and hard to follow, it is, but the joy of the prose makes 500 pages of metafictional pulp in gay slang entirely worth it. Nothing about it is passé or pretentious. Milward has clearly done his research but is also quite obviously having the most fun, and this novel fulfilled all its own criteria: it works as a thriller, as a literary experiment, and as a homage to the chaos and strangeness of the late sixties. A true masterpiece that went shamefully unnoticed."


Samuel Blackburn, Art Editor



Before We Say Goodbye - Toshikazu Kawaguchi


"Another incredible installment from my favourite book series, which also in turn has become one of my favourite books of the year. Kawaguchi's masterful prose never fails to bring me to tears (especially on public transport: school buses, the whole lot), as his books celebrate the goodness of humanity and importance of human connection; rooted in, and honouring the mundane. Despite its heavy elements of magical realism, the series feels so comforting and familiar, and this book is no different."


Mali Jones, Staff Writer



Learned by Heart - Emma Donoghue


"Learned by Heart is not your ordinary historical novel. It’s a reimagining of Anne Lister’s early years — before she became Yorkshire’s infamous lesbian — from the perspective of her first lover in boarding school, Eliza. The relationship that develops between them, brought back to life through Donoghue’s heartbreaking and tender prose, is unbelievably stunning. And not only am I attached to it because it’s set in my hometown (York), but it also tackles themes of both homophobia and racism in the 19th century. I urge everyone to read this beautiful book!"


Lara Mae Simpson, Literature Editor





Best Albums of 2023


The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We - Mitski


"Mitski has given her listeners another vulnerable and beautifully curated collection of songs to cry over! Elements of folk horror, a creative use of nature and her signature stunning vocals make this album a gift to 2023."


Helen Berk, Staff Writer



The Secret To Life - FIZZ


"A fun, funky, fabulous celebration of friendship, growth, and being your own silly self! This album is a collaboration between Dodie, Orla Gartland, Greta Isaac and Martin Luke Brown, all individually established artists, who have come together as friends on an project which overflows with talent. The band's debut album has a flavour of both group and individual style (plus some gorgeous close harmonies), with even stronger vocal performances, particularly from Greta and Orla. Simply put, the whole album is a joy to listen to, especially live."


Julia Curry, Staff Writer



The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess - Chappell Roan


"This album is pop perfection. Every single song is a banger. It’s upbeat, it’s queer; it literally sounds as sparkly as the album’s cover. I can’t wait to see where Roan goes from here."


Lara Mae Simpson, Literature Editor



My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross - Anohni and the Johnsons


"The latest album from a vastly underrated queer icon is as intense as it is beautiful. The brutality of lyrics about climate change and trans survival demands our attention, curating an emotional journey that is sustained throughout. Anohni on this project pleads beautifully to escape from a world that she is already mourning, yet her fearless invitation to be challenged keeps the fight against social injustice very much alive."


Hector Evett, Staff Writer



KAYTRAMINÉ - KAYTRAMINÉ


"Aminé and KAYTRANADA's camaraderie is evident in their collaborative album KAYTRAMINÉ; it shines through, enhancing their established styles while introducing fresh elements. KAYTRANADA's eclectic beats serve as an intriguing backdrop, especially evident in tracks like '4EVA' & 'Westside', while Aminé's assertive lyricism is elevated during more melodic tracks like 'Master P' & 'Rebuke'. Their partnership creates an album filled with both experimental and captivating moments, showcasing their unconventional yet remarkable synergy."


Gio Eldred Mitre, Gaming Editor



the record - boygenius


"the record is the first full length album by the frequently-dubbed "indie supergroup" that is boygenius, following their eponymous 2017 EP. The band, comprised of solo artists Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker combine their individual styles into an album that is equally beautiful and heartbreaking, filled with harmonies and nuanced lyricism that can only be achieved through the collaboration of three individually talented artists. Their clear love for each other and their craft is present throughout the album, setting the project apart from other collaborations and creating one of the best albums of recent years."


Madeleine Didau, Staff Writer



Dead Club City - Nothing But Thieves


"It's not the first time I've put a Nothing But Thieves album forward for an Album of the Year pick, and at the rate they're going, it also won't be the last. The band's fourth album pushes them further from rock and closer to synth-pop, but they haven't lost hold of their winning formula: pithy lyrics, barbed-wire guitar riffs, and the occasional Conor Mason-patented falsetto.


There aren't many bands that can make the apocalypse sound so appealing; Dead Club City is the place where air siren becomes siren's song. It might be a dystopian wasteland of a town, but there's definitely a hit factory tucked away somewhere in there."


Talia Andrea, Editor in Chief



This is Why - Paramore


"In the past few years a number of popular rock bands who dominated the 2000s have been caught between attempting to re-invent themselves (see Arctic Monkeys - The Car), or have attempted to return to the original sound which brought them their initial success (Muse's Will of the People). Very few albums which have followed this trajectory have been consistently met with high praise.


This is why (pun intended) Paramore's latest album is so refreshing to listen to, confidently weaving between a healthy dose of nostalgia and a brand-new concept album. It really sounds like an amalgamation of their best traits, melding the 'edgier' side of Riot! with the softer, beautiful tone of Brand New Eyes, topping this all off with the infectious energy of After Laughter.


I also wouldn't say there are any 'skips' in the album. Perhaps 'C'est Comme Ca' and 'The News' seem to fall a little short, but both are still good songs, which makes this observation more of a testament to the strength of the album as a whole. Standout tracks are 'Figure 8' and 'Liar' which emotionally bookend the album. The project is also mastered perfectly and sounds blissful with all kinds of listening equipment, which only contributes further to its replayability."


Iesa Rahman, Staff Writer



Live at Bush Hall - Black Country, New Road


"After the departure of lead singer-songwriter Isaac Wood, the future of Black Country, New Road seemed uncertain. Nevertheless, the band managed to produce a live album of all-new songs earlier this year. Though very different to their earlier work, the group's musicianship is at an all-time high, and the sharing of vocal and writing duties among the remaining members has brought an eclectic mix of styles and influences to the project. Despite initially feeling sceptical about how the band would fare post-Isaac, listening to this album throughout the year has cemented them as being one of the best British bands in years."


Ellis Riverol, Staff Writer





Best Games of 2023


Final Fantasy XVI (Square Enix)


"Final Fantasy is a series of JRPGs which are beloved by many fans of the genre, but which has never fully broken into the mainstream gaming sphere due to its slightly niche appeal. However, with the release of the newest installment, Final Fantasy XVI, the series has skyrocketed in terms of popularity. In combination with the incredible visuals provided through the PS5, FFXVI has created an entire new generation of fans of the powerhouse series.


In addition to its beautiful graphics, the story is evocative and well-written and serves as a reminder that video games can truly have the capability to be fully formed narrative experiences which can appeal to all kinds of gamers."


Karan Nimsons, Staff Writer



Baldur's Gate 3 (Larian Studios)


"As a long-time D&D fan who would daydream about the perfect video game release within the D&D universe, Baldur's Gate 3 has answered all of my wishes, and then some! For me, the magic of this game boils down to the refined product, lack of microtransactions and near-perfect "tabletop to screen" transition of the average D&D session. This is all thanks to the multi-year early access period, frequent audience surveys and Larian Studios actually listening to fan feedback. It's no wonder the game received near-perfect review scores and is considered a shoe-in for many of the most prestigious end-of-year awards within the gaming industry. If you're always been interested in D&D but can't find a group nearby to roll dice with, Baldur's Gate 3 is a great starting point to learn the rules and basics, getting a feel for the mechanics and what the game is like session-to-session. It's 10/10."


Arjan Mann, Staff Writer



"It was the highest quality game released this year in every regard."


Owen Streett Marburg, Staff Writer



Cassette Beasts (Bytten Studio, Raw Fury)


"Cassette Beasts has gained praise for its standout features like the impressive monster fusion mechanic and a mix of classic and modern exploration, bolstered by a unique cassette-themed style. The game’s combat quality stands out, attracting monster-collecting enthusiasts, and its abundant content, along with a charming narrative and engaging characters, contributes to its appeal. Departing from the traditional formula, the game takes risks by introducing fresh elements, earning admiration despite its imperfections. I'd even argue it outshines Pokémon, offering a more fulfilling collecting experience, while the promise of extensive gameplay and modder support marks it as a revitalizing force in a somewhat stagnant genre."


Gio Eldred Mitre, Gaming Editor



Resident Evil 4 Remake (Capcom)


"Of course this game had to be on a 'best of 2023' list. A remake of one of the most influential games of the early 2000s intended to re-introduce the action survival horror experience to both the same and new generations of players is, frankly, a tall task to undergo. Somehow, Capcom did not disappoint. With much more of an emphasis on horror, the RE4 Remake stands as a proud companion to the original game with its anxiety-inducing inventory system, gorgeous character and environment designs, and heartbreaking narrative retouches. Is it the comprehensive Resident Evil 4 experience? No, but with the Separate Ways DLC, it comes oh-so-very close."


Kiana Kardooni, Staff Writer


 

Edited by Talia Andrea, Editor in Chief

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