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An Honest Fangirl's Best of 2023

It's December, and that means that it's time for our annual Best Of lists. I get to kick us off this year! So without further ado, let's get started.

First Physical Book I've Read in Years - Red, White, and Royal Blue

Okay, so technically I saw the movie first. I adored it, even though rom coms are definitely not my genre, so I impulsively bought the book. I devoured it in an afternoon, and it left me with such a high that I was smiling for the rest of the weekend. There's something almost fanfiction-esque about it, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Part of that is thanks to the plot. The bulk of the book was written following the 2016 election, and it definitely feels like a 'fix-it' fic in that sense. Our protagonist is the bisexual, biracial son of the President, a female Democrat from Texas. He embarks on an enemies-to-lovers arc with the gay Prince of England. A little while ago, I described characters as being "loved by the narrative," and that holds true here. Bad things happen. Traumatic things happen. It isn't all falling in love and non-explicit sex scenes. But I never doubted that the narrative itself loved and cherished our two leads and wanted them to be happy together.

Also for the record, I definitely recommend the movie. It was surprisingly different from the book while still feeling like the same story. The basic moments were the same, but the subplots were wildly different. I'm not sure which I liked more.

Best Documentary - BS High

In 2021, ESPN televised a high school football game between IMG Academy (one of, if not the best program in the country) and Bishop Sycamore High School. To call it a blow out would be generous, and people began to investigate Bishop Sycamore. This documentary began filming weeks after the game. I had heard about this at the time, but didn't know too many details. Since I absolutely adore football, I figured that it would be something to put on in the background while I painted. I stopped painting after 15 minutes.

They managed to get a lot of important people in the saga to sit and give interviews, including Roy Johnson, the coach and orchestrator of Bishop Sycamore. He's very charming. I'll give him that much. The first half of the documentary is very happy to let Roy be its narrator and guide you through what happened, massaging the questionable moments into something more reasonable. But as we go along, we begin to hear from more people, specifically the players. Young men who just wanted to play football and hoped that it would be their ticket to a college education and a better life only to have that dream completely shattered. It's a very gradual and effective switch in POV and left me viscerally angry by the end.

Best New to Me Movie - Savageland

Savageland is something that I have never seen before, and that is a 'found photos' horror movie. It takes the form of a pseudo-documentary (one of my favorite horror sub genres) about a massacre that occurred in a tiny town on the Arizona/Mexico border. The entire population was brutally murdered over the course of a single night, and the only survivor was an undocumented immigrant who was charged and convicted of the crime. Later on, photographs that the alleged murderer took during that night were recovered, and paint a very different picture (ha) of what happened.

This is one of the most effective and clever horror movies that I've seen in awhile. The filmmakers very clearly had no budget, but they wring every penny they can from it. The photos do so much heavy lifting. They're in black and white, and most of them are blurry, but there are still enough details to make your blood run cold. They're haunting, and the last ones that we're shown have stuck with me for months. There's no real gore to speak of, at least no more than a true crime documentary. At only 80 minutes, it's a pretty quick watch as well. Even if you're not a horror fan, this is worth an evening.

Movies I Still Need to See - Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour and Saltburn

I couldn't go to the concert, I never found time to go when it was released, I have no excuses now. And there's extra songs! Maybe waiting was actually the smart thing to do. Either way, I have plans to watch it with my mom during Christmas, and I'll take that over a crowded movie theatre by myself every time.

I will absolutely not watch Saltburn with my mom, given what I've heard about a certain bathtub scene. It was only in theaters for a week by me, and since I was traveling cross country at the time, I didn't have time. Luckily, it arrives on Prime in a few days. I have absolutely zero idea if this movie will be any good or not. It looks like it's going to be something of a hot mess. It's gorgeous judging by the trailers. I am very excited.

Best Show - The Fall of the House of Usher

Was there any doubt that this would be my pick? Every aspect felt handcrafted to appeal just to me. Poe, color-coordinated characters, bloody deaths that pick off our cast one by one, Mark Hamill, generational trauma, flashbacks, Mike Flanagan... I already spent eight reviews talking far too much about this show and why I love it, so I won't go on too much about it here. But this is definitely a show that I will rewatch time and time again.

It also prompted me to rewatch Mike Flanagan's earlier works on Netflix, and I forgot just how much I loved The Haunting of Hill House. I'm so sad that his relationship with Netflix is over, but hopefully he makes some wonderful things with Amazon. I think he's working on a Dark Tower TV adaption? That should be interesting.

Best New to Me Show - Shadow and Bone

I've never read the books and was not in the right state of mind to consume new media when the first episode came out, so I completely missed this. It was only a month ago when I was on a Ben Barnes kick that I finally gave this a watch. I loved all of it. Sure, Mal is kind of boring and Matthias often felt like he was on a very different show, but the rest of the Crows were magical and I loved Alina as our protagonist. I loved the world building. Ben Barnes did what he does best in playing someone both exceedingly attractive while hiding a lot of trauma and darkness. I devoured all of it over a weekend and already plan on picking up the books for Christmas.

Naturally, I have great timing and Netflix officially canceled it and the Crows spin-off less than a week after I finished it. Despite being the 26th most watched show from January to June, even though it only premiered in March. I'm sure price-per-episode was a factor, but still. It's a shame. I was really excited about the plot hooks they had left out.

Most Thought Provoking Video Game - Immortality

I can't call this my best game of the year, because that's Baldur's Gate 3 by a landslide. But Immortality has gotten stuck in my head and it's in a format that I think a lot of people here would enjoy. Your goal is simple. Marissa Marcel was an actress who starred in three movies in three different decades, but none of them were ever released. After her third movie, she disappeared. You're given an archive of film clips and asked: What happened to Marissa? That's about all of the guidance that you get and really all I want to say about the story because this is something that really benefits from going into it as blind as possible.

There are still a few things that I want to note. First, this is a FMV game, or a Full Motion Video game. Basically, it's live action as opposed to animated or computer generated. You really do feel like you're looking at actual film clips from the era that the movie is from, whether it's a shift from the painted backdrops of a studio in the 60s to the handheld, guerrilla style that developed in the 70s as camera equipment evolved to the widescreen and sterile lighting from the 90s. The production is impeccable. As is the acting. Most of the time, FMV means that you're in for some very rough acting and cheesy dialogue, but everyone here is wonderful. Manon Gage in particular is absolutely mesmerizing as Marissa.

Second, the gameplay is very minimal. Your main mechanic is 'match cutting.' As you watch each clip, you can click on different things within the scene, whether it's an actor's face, a prop, or something in the background. This will bring you to a different clip that has the same thing that you just clicked on. It might not be the exact same (for example, clicking on a table lamp can match with a grand chandelier), but it lets you investigate anything that catches your attention. So if you're not normally a gamer, that's okay. You'll still be able to play. If you love filmmaking, mysteries, and/or examinations of gender dynamics within the artist and muse relationship, you'll find a lot worth digging into.

May everyone have a lovely, happy, healthy, and peaceful holidays and an even better New Year's!
An Honest Fangirl loves video games, horror movies, and superheroes, and occasionally manages to put words together in a coherent and pleasing manner.


  1. Happy holidays to you, Fangirl! And it's time for me to start my "gotta try" list for 2024. :)

  2. We still need to finish BG3! We're playing it as 3 of us with Shadowheart as our cleric, but getting us all on at the same time to play has been difficult! We are early on in act 2 so far.

  3. BG3 is a really long game to try and do multiplayer. It's taken me a couple months to get to the end of Act 2 and I'm playing all by myself. I do have a regular multiplayer Gloomhaven game on Sunday afternoons, but at 2-3 hours a week it would take over a year to get through BG3.

  4. Oh, I could never do Baldur's Gate in multiplayer. At least not with people that I don't live with. It's such a meaty game. Of course, I keep getting maybe 10 hours in before I get a new character idea and completely restart, but that's a different problem! I don't even want to check to see how many hours I currently have in it, but it's probably close to 300 if not more.

    1. I'm kind of regretting it now to be honest. We were moving along as we've kept in touch via Discord for years after moving apart, but with everyone having different schedules, we haven't played in a month or so!

      Sigil 2 released recently for Doom's 30th anniversary, and Romero is again giving us great levels with some trolling attached, so that was a nice game release for 2023. Talented is awesome for 2 bucks too, I don't mind the retro look at all, and the random talent tree system is super fun.

    2. Clearly, you just need to start a single player campaign to play inbetween sessions ;)

      I never really got into Doom. FPS in general tend to not be my thing, although I thought Doom 2016 was a lot of fun. Very kinetic.

  5. I'm going to reiterate my gratitude that you got me into Flanagan's work. I'm really excited for the possibility of him doing the Dark Tower series. He's a perfect fit.

    Have you seen his version of King's Doctor Sleep? It's not my favorite King book at all, and Flanagan makes some interesting changes, but I'm tempted to rewatch it now that I've gotten a stronger sense of Flanagan's m.o.

    1. I've only seen some scenes, namely the baseball boy one because everyone was talking about it and I was curious. And oh my, what a scene.

      But no, for a horror girl, The Shining and everything related to it never really grabbed me. To be fair, most of King's stuff doesn't grab me. Outside of It, I don't find his stuff that scary.


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