Top Media Picks 2021
10 min read

Books, movies, series, YouTube, games, podcasts

When I started this blog almost 2 years ago, one of the first posts I made was Top Media Picks - Recommended websites, podcast, video and more, inspired by kottke.org’s media diet posts.

Here’s a new 2021 edition, with some of the new things I discovered and consumed since then. Enjoy!

Movies and TV Series 🎥

Make sure you're paying attention when you start watching Tenet, you're going to need it.
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Make sure you’re paying attention when you start watching Tenet, you’re going to need it.

I still don’t watch a lot of long-form TV, but here’s a few things I enjoyed.

  • Tenet: Not as good as Inception which it’s often compared to, but still great. Often (rightly) critiqued as over-complicated, but definitely worth watching. And then watching it again, and then again.
  • Outlaw King: We recently re-watched this excellent historic action movie. I especially like the opening scene which isn’t that amazing on its own, until you realize it’s all shot in a single take.
  • The Queen’s Gambit: This chess drama mini-series is worth the praise it gets. Spoiler (not really): the series is not really about chess, that’s just window dressing for an amazing coming-of-age drama series. A+.
  • 1917: Great WWI movie, some of the best cinematography I’ve ever seen. Famous for looking as if it was shot in a single take (which isn’t actually the case). The Behind-the-Scenes is worth watching too.
  • The Last Dance: Excellent docu-series about Michael Jordan’s career and his last, spectacular 1997-98 NBA season. Even if you don’t follow basketball (like me), this is still great.
1917 has amazing cinematography, captivating from the very first minute until the very last.
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1917 has amazing cinematography, captivating from the very first minute until the very last.

  • Billie Eilish docu: I thought Billie Eilish was just the next overdramatic teenager pop star. After watching this documentary I’ve realized she’s not. If you’re in doubt, watch this yearly recurring interview with her from Vanity Fair first.
  • Das Boot: When I was younger I always wanted to like this movie about a german U-boot during WW2, but I really just found the movie slow and long. Only when I rewatched it recently, I understood why it’s considered such a classic. Great drama pic.
  • Greyhound: Where Das Boot is a drama/thriller movie about u-boats with some supporting action, Greyhound is the polar opposite. This 2020 war movie with Tom Hanks about a WW2 convoy destroyer escort has great action but little plot. There’s not a lot of movies that can pull this off so convincingly without the over-the-top “macho” action that is so common today.
  • Drive To Survive: This series got me introduced and hooked on F1 (and supposedly a lot of others too!). Technology, engineering, statistics, hyper-competition, drama, excitement, this sport ticks all the boxes. Fun to watch, even if you don’t have anything with cars or F1.
Don't expect over-the-top explosions and action in this german-spoken 1981 cult classic. Just very strong acting and a lot of tense moments.
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Don’t expect over-the-top explosions and action in this german-spoken 1981 cult classic. Just very strong acting and a lot of tense moments.

Greyhound is all about action with great visuals and sound. Tom Hanks does superb, as always.
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Greyhound is all about action with great visuals and sound. Tom Hanks does superb, as always.

Youtube 📺

The time I spend on YouTube still easily surpasses any other video platform. Here’s a few channels I’ve started following since the last post:

  • Ghost Town Living: This might be my favorite new YouTube channel about a guy living in an off-grid abandoned mining town near Death Valley, California. Exploring abandoned mines, restoring old buildings, discovering nature. Interesting, sometimes thrilling and overall very inspiring!

Good overview video of what content to generally expect from Ghost Town Living. I love this channel.

  • MrBeast: As a top YouTuber with over 100 million subscribes across half a dozen channels, I’m sure MrBeast is a household name in every family with teenagers. His channel is mostly about challenges in which he gives away large sums of money. Yes, over the top and maybe a bit fake, but pretty good No Brainer entertainment after a long work day. It’s not all fake though, his background and goals are inspiring.
  • BPS.Space: Model rocketry, the channel trailer should be enough to convince you to subscribe.

Beau Miles' videos are hard to characterize. They usually involve some adventure and endurance, but with a much bigger message underneath.

  • Beau Miles: Aussie doing inspiring challenges, very well produced. Very infrequent videos, but every single one is worth watching.
  • RCLifeOn: Maker channel with lots of 3D printing, electric motors and remote control. Funny too.
  • Everyday Astronaut: My go-to channel for SpaceX (and other) updates and launch streams.
  • Stuff Made Here: Super-intelligent guy building all sorts of cool automated contraptions. This channel quickly exploded over the last 18 months, his unmissable basket ball hoop is probably the most well known video.

This hair cutting machine from Stuff Made Here is really great as well.

  • Undecided with Matt Ferrell: Well produced and researched videos about all kinds of new technology. Lot’s of content on green energy (batteries, solar/wind/hydro, EVs) but also 3D printing, vertical farming, nanotech and more.
  • Tom Stanton: Another maker channel, but this one goes 2 levels deeper on the engineering and science than most others do.
  • Master Milo (Dutch spoken, English subtitles available): If you like hands-on mechanical and automotive engineering, you’ll be able to get your fix on this channel. Their Tank Restoration Project is especially great.
  • The B1M: Very well produced videos on large-scale construction (large buildings, bridge, tunnels, airports, etc).
  • Mark Felton: This one is for hardcore WW2 aficionados: weekly in-depth videos from a renowned British historian on WW2 topics and stories. Every week I wonder where he keeps finding these, some are truly remarkable.

Mark Felton's channel might be a bit too dry for most people, but if you have a strong interest in WW2 this channel is amazing.

Books 📚

I started listening to books in late 2019 and after regularly doing so while walking, driving and doing chores for about a year, I now have an audible subscription and listen to a book a month on average. My latest recommendations:

  • Range and Outliers: 2 similar and complementary books on “what makes high achievers different” and how specialization is not the only (or best) way to become successful. Both are captivating books with lots of anecdotes as well as factual evidence. Outliers was the first Malcolm Gladwell book I’ve read, won’t be the last.
  • Why We Sleep: Excellent book on sleep with great insights based on hard science, so much so that I even wrote a blogpost about it. Best to read 1-2 chapters at a time, as the book itself can be a bit sleep-inducing (pun intended) at times.
As someone with a wide set of interests and more of a focus on breadth than depth, [Range](https://www.audible.com/pd/Range-Audiobook/1984888439) was right up my alley.
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As someone with a wide set of interests and more of a focus on breadth than depth, Range was right up my alley.

If you want to have a good idea what this book is about, I recommend checking out [my blogpost](/posts/why-we-sleep) on it first :-)
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If you want to have a good idea what this book is about, I recommend checking out my blogpost on it first :-)

I especially liked the audiobook version of Ready Player One, expertly narrated by [Wil Weathon](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wil_Wheaton).
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I especially liked the audiobook version of Ready Player One, expertly narrated by Wil Weathon.

  • How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: I really liked Bill Gates’ book on climate change because it’s not a gloom and doom book about how the world is about to end (although the first two chapters on urgency are very poignant). Instead it goes into all the technology we need to get to a zero carbon emission society - which by the way, includes much more than “just” windmills and electric cars.
  • Ready Player One: Great Sci-Fi book. If you enjoyed the movie, you’ll very likely enjoy the book, even though the story details are quite different. The sequel Ready Player Two is decent, but never really gets as good as part one.
  • The Unicorn Project: Recommended a few times before on this blog, this excellent follow-up book to The Phoenix Project is funny, insightful on spot-on in characterising daily tropes of a software engineer.

Podcasts 🎧

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  • Thirteen minutes to the moon: The Apollo 13 story: If you haven’t listened to the first season covering the moon landing, you should start there. The second season of this highly produced podcast from the BBC covers the Apollo 13 mission and is almost as good as the first one. This is as good as podcasts get.
  • The Unmade Podcast: This “meta-podcast” about discussing ideas for podcasts that the hosts will (probably) never make is great because of the hilarious banter between the hosts. Recommended to start with an early episode to pick up on show vernacular and inside jokes.

Games 🎮

Haven’t gotten my hands on a PS5 yet, but here’s a few things I played on the other platforms recently that I enjoyed.

  • It Takes Two: Excellent co-op platform game (no single player). Cute graphics, amazing world building and dozens of different but intuitive game mechanics. Laughed out loud often with this one. Highly recommended.

  • Last of Us Part II: This sequel to the original masterpiece is fantastic. While the story itself doesn’t quite have the depth of the original (still very good), the story telling, game mechanics and world building are objectively better, worthy of the highest praise. Like the original did for the PS3, this might be a console generation-defining game for the PS4.
[Factorio](https://www.factorio.com/) starts simple, but has an extremely powerful game engine that allows you to automate almost every task in your quest to build the ultimate mega-factory.
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Factorio starts simple, but has an extremely powerful game engine that allows you to automate almost every task in your quest to build the ultimate mega-factory.

  • Dead Cells: Addictive action platformer, which I took back up after an 18 month hiatus. I really like I can play this with a PS4 dualshock controller on my iOS devices and easily switch between them. Start on the living room TV, continue on iPad, finish on the bedroom TV. Very handy. Available on almost every other platform as well.
  • Factorio: If you like building or strategy games, you’ll most likely love this game which is universally praised and recognized as (one of) the first in a whole new genre of “factory games”. It starts so simple, but get’s out of hand quickly, and then some more. Be warned, extremely addictive. Great in co-op as well.

I hope you’ll enjoy some of these, I think I might make this a recurring post (yearly?). Meanwhile, if you have recommendations yourself, let me know, I’m always looking for more 🙂