Each year the TechCrunch staff gathers together to make a big ol’ list of our Favorite Things from that year.
As always, we’re keeping the definition of “thing” very… open. Maybe it’s a physical thing. Maybe it’s a thing you listen to, or watch. Maybe it’s a thought, or a genre, or a mode. We didn’t worry too much about it. It’s a list of things that, in a sea of things, stood out to us at the end of the year.
This is our list for 2019.
Greg Kumparak, Editor
THIS MOVIE. Oh wow. It’s hard to write much without spoiling anything — and really, you want to go in knowing as little as possible, so skip the trailer if you can. Director Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer) is really flexing here, showing his mastery of cinema by sneakily shapeshifting this film from genre to genre as the plot unfolds. Be aware that it gets pretty brutal at times — it’s hard to pin any one genre on this one, but a “Family” movie it is not.
The Office Ladies Podcast
The Office is on a near constant loop in my house, and I thought I knew just about everything there is to know about this show. Then Office co-stars Jenna Fischer (Pam!) and Angela Kinsey (Angela!) decided to re-watch the whole thing a decade later and chat about one episode each week, and it’s just an endless fountain of insight.
While there are a few fun surprise appearances from other Office stars in some episodes, the real gems come out when they hop on the phone with the production crew. I could listen to the show’s prop master Phil Shea talk about the work that goes into even the most seemingly simple of props — like, say, a big cardboard box for Dwight to hide in — all day.
I was excited for The Mandalorian, but wary. Would Star Wars work as a live action TV series? Turns out: absolutely, positively, yes.
This is the most “Star Wars-y” a new Star Wars thing has felt to me in decades. Give Jon Favreau more Star Wars, please. I don’t even mind that they’re releasing it weekly instead of letting me binge the whole season at once! To be honest, I … sort of prefer it..
Anthony Ha, Writer
The Criterion Channel
It can be hard to believe that The Criterion Channel exists.
While giant media companies are throwing billions of dollars into acquiring recent hits and creating seemingly endless slates of new shows and movies, The Criterion Channel feels humbler and worthier, a $9.99 per month streaming service designed to keep some of cinema’s greatest achievements in view. In some ways, my Criterion membership can feel like a gentle rebuke to all the bad habits I’ve developed on Netflix — how can I justify spending hours on a dumb reality show when I could be making my way through a great director’s filmography? And if all this sounds forbiddingly arty, I will also note that the service includes fun, smart programming — things like double features and interviews with current filmmakers — designed to make the movies more accessible.
When a friend and I walked into The Void’s Malaysia location back in January, I was pretty skeptical of anything involving VR. Sure, I’d had some interesting and/or promising experiences, but nothing that really made me feel like I understood why some people are so convinced that VR is the future. Then, after signing up for “Secrets of the Empire,” I walked out a believer.
Thanks to The Void’s combination of VR and physical environments, I came closer than I ever have to feeling like I was really in the world of Star Wars, infiltrating an Empire base and trying to dodge stormtrooper laser blasts. Naturally, when I heard that The Void had opened a pop-up in New York and was selling tickets to its newest title (“Avengers: Damage Control”), I had to try again. Some of the novelty had worn off, but the experience was still a delight — once again, The Void succeeded in transporting me to another world.
Bryce Durbin, Illustrator
This Cartoon Network series premiered in 2013, but it wasn’t until this past summer that my kids and I devoured the entire five seasons, then waited patiently till “Steven Universe: The Movie” arrived in the fall.
The series, about a family of aliens with super abilities known as the Crystal Gems (including the titular character, who is half-human) has a delightful mix of humor, action, pathos and downright weirdness while exploring ideas of identity, moral obligations and familial bonds. And any cartoon whose recurring cast includes Tom Scharpling, Charlyne Yi and Joel Hodgson has to be good, right? A separate “epilogue series,” Steven Universe Future, began earlier this month.
Nintendo Labo VR
I reviewed Nintendo’s foray into VR back in April. It’s a fun, affordable introduction to VR gaming, and part of the fun is building the novel cardboard toys that house the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers. The games are whimsical and accessible in the classic Nintendo style. To be honest, I’ve hardly played in the second half of the year, but it was such a memorable experience that I haven’t stopped thinking about it.
Untitled Goose Game
You play a goose whose only purpose is to cause grief for the people in a small town for your own amusement. Nuff said.
Brian Heater, Hardware Editor
Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
Rich, lush and haunting, Natalie Mering’s fourth album under the Weyes Blood moniker has one foot firmly planted in the winding drives of ’70s Laurel Canyon and another unstuck in time. Titanic Rising’s biggest shortcoming is its too brief 40-minute runtime. But that brevity only serves to underscore how much the Southern Californian musician has managed to pack into each of its 10 tracks.
I’m in the habit of caveat gadget recommendations. Every so often, however, devices come along that I feel fully comfortable recommending to just about anyone who asks — even those who already own the original AirPods.
Apple’s first generation cracked the code for fully wireless earbuds. The second gen improved the experience ever so slightly, but these pricey additions to the family perfect it. The AirPods Pro haven’t left my side since I first picked them up.
The perfect TV series for the moment. The Roys are the Murdochs and the Trumps and the Kochs and the Redstones and the Kushners. They’re the ruthless billionaires and the corporate-owned media and the armies of failed sons we’ve inherited amidst the gasps of late capitalism. The family of billionaires flashes the occasional glimmer of likability, but it’s far more the exception than the rule amidst Machiavellian overtones and bumbling decision making, all of which might otherwise be completely insufferable were it not so consistently funny. If the fact that the world was gifted Kendall Roy’s “L to the O.G.” a week after The Righteous Gemstone’s “running ’round the house with a pickle in my mouth” doesn’t convince you we’re living in television’s golden age, I don’t know what to tell you.
On Cinema At the Cinema
This is long-form comedy at its finest.
Spread out over a podcast, an 11-season (so far) Adult Swim series, a four-part mock trial and this year’s feature film Mister America, there’s a strong case to be made that the rich, deep lore of the On Cinema universe is the defining comedic statement of our time.
Natasha Lomas, Writer
Twelve South Curve MacBook Stand
The MacBook Pro’s broken keyboard has had one positive impact this year — forcing me to switch to a (reliable) external keyboard that also convinced me it was long overdue to fix my working screen height by using a laptop stand. But which stand to buy? I wanted something simple that, er, “just works” (to coin a phrase).
Turns out there’s an awful lot of over-engineered product trying to convince you to shell out for fancy, adjustable metal. So I was pretty happy when I came across Twelve South’s Curve elegant single-piece design. It’s a shaped metal bar topped with a little padded rubber to coddle the laptop. Gravity does the rest. The height of the stand isn’t adjustable, but I figured I could always stick it on some books if I needed to (I haven’t). The relative lack of metal in the design is a major plus; less being more from a sustainability point of view. But it’s also just good design, as it allows for free airflow around the laptop. This means it’s helpful in summer for keeping the machine cool. Lastly you get a neat concealed space on your desk, under the laptop, where you can cram some unsightly junk. Win-win all round.
De-aging technology lets Martin Scorsese be a time-thief with “The Irishman,” serving us another choice cut of De Niro, a fillet of Pacino and a full side of Joe Pesci — lured back from unofficial retirement to preside over the 209-minute mobster epic as head of a Philadelphia crime family with his faithful hit man in tow.
I saw the film in the cinema where the de-aging technology was undoubtedly helped by a little fuzzy projection. Suspension of disbelief was quick and easy in such velvet surroundings, even as the film itself ran on and on. If you’re watching on Netflix — the film’s distributor — you’ll inevitably get something a little more uncanny valley; a small(er) screen, detail-filled, more compact and color-saturated view (depending on your TV) lends more of a sickly, otherworldly look to the de-aged faces, at least from clips I’ve seen. But even on the big screen there were moments of disconnect when your brain realizes the younger faces don’t exactly match with how stiffly the bodies of older men move.
Yet it’s petty detail in a masterful tale that sweeps along at Scorsese’s choice of pace, now lingering like a Renaissance painting, now smashing bullet-like through your brain. The best of it were the scenes played for pure absurdity when you wonder whether the genius is really the juxtaposition of such iconic veterans, mellowed and rounded by a lifetime’s experience of telling stories, playing at being young mobsters again but with the lived excess, in brains, bones and bellies, to send up and show up characters wearing digital masks of their younger selves.
There is domestic life before and after (a good) robot vacuum cleaner. After about half a year with the Roborock S6, it would be hard to give it up now. It’s not that the device can do all the cleaning — and you’ll find yourself tidying stuff out of its way, so it does actually create new tasks — but since it can do the floors so well it feels like it buys you the time to sort out the rest of your household mess. Also, if you have pets, there’s added entertainment in watching them try to ambush it.
Zack Whittaker, Security Editor
Peace and quiet/do not disturb mode
Peace and quiet. In this day and age it’s a rare commodity.
Your phone is constantly buzzing. Social media, that person you hate is getting married. News alert, Trump did a thing. Play this game, check-in for your flight. Buzz, buzz. It’s a never-ending stream of anxiety-inducing notifications. But there is solace knowing you can switch it all off. “Do not disturb” mode will silence your phone more than the mute switch ever could.
It’s bliss — it’s the peace and quiet you crave. But wait — what if I miss something? The fear of missing out is almost worse than the constant stream of goings-on. Do not fear. “Do not disturb” keeps you tethered to your phone — your lifeline in the modern age — without having to be bombarded by the outside world. Enjoy the calm, take a moment, breathe, relax and once you’re ready to see the world again, you can switch it off and go back to the world.
Jake Bright, Writer
Harley released its 105-horsepower, all-electric, digitally controlled LiveWire in 2019. With this, America’s oldest motorcycle company became the first big gas manufacturer to sell a production e-moto in the U.S. This put Harley on a competitive footing with EV startups (such as Zero) and pre-empted its competitors to create digital, electric and emissions-free motorcycles in the near future.
Devin Coldewey, Writer
Grovemade Task Knife
I used to reach for some scissors or my trusty switchblade or really anything sharp when I needed to open a package, snip off a label and so on, but Grovemade has replaced them all with this beautiful, elegant little object. It’s “just enough knife” as they say, a solid slab of metal with a satisfying heft and grip that looks lovely just sitting around.
Several waxed canvas bags
I got to review several excellent waxed canvas bags for Bag Week 2019, and man, some of these things feel like they’re going to outlive me.
This game is very good in some ways, and quite bad in other ways, but most importantly it’s totally unique and an attempt to create truly strange and serious Art in the genre of games. Whether it’s successful is a matter of some debate, but there’s simply nothing else like it out there.
Catherine Shu, Writer
OtterBox PopSocket Case
PopSockets are great, but I have trouble getting anything to stay on my iPhone because I live in a humid climate (and also because I tend to use my phone as a fidget spinner). The OtterBox PopSocket case is basically indestructible, so I can continue being really mean to my phone.
This is the only game I have on my phone. I play it because it is visually soothing and the developers constantly release cool new game mechanics. I also enjoy the noises the dots make when you connect them. It’s like popping bubble wrap, but more environmentally friendly.
“Heads Gonna Roll” by Jenny Lewis
I’m not very good at writing about music. It’s hard for me to capture exactly why this track means so much to me. But I’ve listened to it on repeat almost every day over the past year, and each time still feels like the first time I heard it.
The dark and (very) goofy humor of “Derry Girls” is interspersed with just the right amount of tenderness. The show is about teenagers growing up in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, trying to be ordinary teens during an extraordinary and devastating time. I enjoy the Irish slang (keep the subtitles on) and ridiculous dog pee jokes, but the reason I’ve watched both seasons twice is because these kids are trying to navigate crushes, strict teachers and school-bus feuds in the middle of turmoil they didn’t create and perhaps don’t even fully understand yet — something that still resonates, perhaps now more than ever.
Jon Shieber, Editor
It was original while staying true to the source material. Like all good myths, it put a mirror up to current society to show how cracked it is. It exposed the events of one of the nation’s most horrifying acts of racial violence in the twentieth century and grounded the entire enterprise of superhero mythmaking in its aftermath. It was a merger of pop culture and high art that had “revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger” that Martin Scorsese says he finds lacking in comic book films.
The New Yorker
Staring at a computer screen for hours at a time reading and writing for work doesn’t give me a lot of downtime in the reading department (especially in the golden age of television). But reading a hard copy of The New Yorker every week (er… almost every week) is a welcome escape from the digital world. It’s still the single-best weekly collection of long-form non-fiction, short fiction and poetry written in English.
David Hammons exhibit at Hauser & Wirth
Going to art galleries is another chance to reset from the work grind. Of all of the ones I saw this year, the David Hammons show at Hauser & Wirth in Los Angeles was the most memorable. Hammons’ installations and individual pieces are beautiful and thought-provoking. And some of the work (like filling the courtyard space of the gallery with tents to call attention to the homeless population living just a few blocks away from its manicured garden and bustling restaurant) was a welcome and powerful reminder of the income inequalities that confront the city and the country.
“Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X
That song was an earworm. It also was the first hit to encapsulate and highlight the power of all the digital tools creators have at their disposal to make and distribute music. Also… that Nine Inch Nails sample is ridiculous.
Steve O’Hear, Writer
Eurorack modular synthesisers
Nearly 20 years late to the party, 2019 was the year that I really discovered modular synthesisers based on the “Eurorack” standard started by Dieter Döpfer in 1995. Over the last 12 months I’ve assembled a modular synthesiser of my own, purchasing modules from mainly boutique manufactures and one-person shops that mostly sell via independent e-commerce stores and online marketplaces like Reverb and Etsy.
The hardware itself is a thriving example of the maker community, which would find it hard to exist without the internet, and I absolutely love unwinding after work making weird and wonderful sounds (and sometimes music) with my Eurorack synth. The year even ended with a Eurorack module being released with my name on it, quite literally).
Sometimes companies just “get it,” and Dublin-based MyVolts is one such example. The company sells power adapters — or wall-warts — for just about anything, and has a searchable product database to match the correct gear to the correct power supply.
More recently, MyVolts has ventured into original products of its own, including the Ripcord, which cleverly lets you power a range of devices via USB, such as guitar pedals, drum machines and synths. Use a USB powerbrick at the other end and your music gear becomes portable. The small company even sells a special tip for the Ripcord that lets me power my original 1970s Stylophone via USB instead of its intended 9V PP3 internal battery.
Romain Dillet, Writer
UniFi Dream Machine
How much internet is too much internet? If your answer is that you can never have enough internet, the UniFi Dream Machine is a little box that can get you to the next level. It combines a router, a switch and a rock-solid Wi-Fi access point. But the best part is that everything is configurable, making it both wonderful and scary — if optimizing a local network for maximum performance and optimal security sounds like a great weekend project.
Raspberry Pi 4
The Raspberry Pi started as a simple pocket-sized computer for tinkerers. But that thing has grown up tremendously over the years. The fourth iteration is a powerful, energy-efficient ARM-based computer that can easily replace a home server. You can use it as a file server, as an always-on backup server, as a DNS-based ad-blocker or as a media entertainment machine. You can run a VPN on it, host a web service or turn it into a video game emulation console. Even more than what you can do with it, I just love interacting with it using SSH, spinning up a Docker container and learning how computers work.
My local café/bistro/bar
There’s something wonderful about going to my local café/bistro/bar/you-name-it down the street. Sure, I can meet up with startup founders, grab some lunch, work a bit, read a book and drink until very late with my friends. But what makes it wonderful is that you get to see other people going through happy and sad times, you get to invite complete strangers to join your table for a board game and you get to joke with the staff who very progressively become familiar faces. This is a living place where you can find something that rarely happens on the internet anymore — human coincidences.
Darrel Etherington, Writer
Weiss 38mm Standard Issue Field Watch
This hand-wound watch was a gift to myself this year, and it provided welcome relief from years of wearing an Apple Watch full time. I still keep the Apple Watch for workout tracking, but the Weiss is on my wrist most of the time and manually winding it to top off the power reserve periodically throughout the day is intensely satisfying, and an opportunity to steal a few quiet seconds.
Sony’s A7RIV came out this year, and I pre-ordered it on a hunch it would deliver. And deliver it has — I’m a long-time Canon shooter, but after using the Sony A7RIV for a few months personally and professionally, I’ve sold all my old gear to finance an investment in top-notch Sony lenses that really show off the A7RIV’s amazing resolution power.
Samsung’s The Frame TV
Samsung’s The Frame QLED TV doesn’t have its best panel, nor is it really the best value for money, but its wall-mount (which comes in the box) is super easy to install, and allows the TV to mount truly flush with the wall. I basically use mine as a large, expensive digital frame, but the 4K resolution and QLED color is ideal for showing off photos snapped with the camera I also included in this list.
“On The Line” by Jenny Lewis
I’m stealing from my colleague Catherine Shu a bit here as she already shouted out “Heads Gonna Roll” from this album — but the album is my favorite of the year, and already a cherished classic for me. Jenny Lewis has a discography that’s hard to find fault with, including her Rilo Kiley days, but this one really stands out.