Best of 2023 


in Best of the Smart Set • Illustrated by Estelle Guillot


In between deliberating over submissions and brainstorming accompanying artwork for the well-crafted memoirs and cultural critiques sent to The Smart Set throughout the year, we also like to discuss and cheerlead for our favorite movies, headlines, books, TV shows — and even dog breeds and reptiles. We skipped reading about Prince Harry’s ‘todger,’ questioned why we’re just talking about nepo babies in 2023, dressed our best for the Taylor Swift Eras tour (and followed her burgeoning romance with Travis Kelce), and found solidarity with the actors in the SAG-AFTRA strike. We experienced the profound societal impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that echoed across continents, and we struggled with the deluge of all-things ChatGPT. And now, at the end of the year, we set debate aside because we just want to cozy up and spill the tea about our top picks for the year.  

Dr. Melinda Lewis – Editor 

Fallen Leaves  

It feels a bit unfair. Aki Kaurismaki has been one of my absolute favorite filmmakers since 2014, when I stumbled upon Leningrad Cowboys Go America. His work finds joy in the human experience while underlining how impossible it is to be a living embodied person. Fallen Leaves is a love story between two people trying their best in shit circumstances — deeply funny and charming with an undercurrent of morose — my absolute favorite cocktail.  

May December 

I always trust director Todd Haynes. Superficially, this film can be one of those that provide people the pleasure of saying “oh, I remember that story” and finding all the bits and bobs from their knowledge of the story (in this case, the film being ever-so-loosely modeled around Mary Kay Letourneau). But the movie is not a biopic as much as interrogation of the nature of truth — our willingness to bend to fit our ends, the exploitive means others will go to obtain details with disregard to others, and the ways we perverse truth for the sake of a story. It could all easily fold in on itself, but Todd Haynes is able to hold space for everything and everybody.  

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh  

I don’t know, gang. There is something to getting stuck in depravity that really did it for me early this year. Maybe it was the grief I was going through that living in this decrepit reality was a perfect segue into this filth.   

Erica Zelinger – Managing Editor 

Demon Copperhead 

It was challenging to find the beauty in a story so depressing, so intense and so vivid as Demon Copperhead, but it is Barbara Kingsolver’s sharp and witty turn-of-phrase, her metaphorical imagery, her character development, and her use of Southern Appalachia as the backdrop to delve into the systematic oppression of rural America, sports injuries, the downward spiral of addiction and the hardship of poverty, that earned her a Pulitzer Prize and top billing on my Kindle reads for the year. 

A Thousand and One 

My mother and I started a tradition during COVID that we’ve tried to maintain when we can find the time — we pore over lists, view trailers, and write down recommendations of films we can enjoy together over Zoom. I, apparently, tend to pick more of the heavy-hitting tearjerkers, the serious and thought-provoking. We mix in feel-good films – A Million Miles Away, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah; foreign films — Past Lives; and based-on-true-story courtroom dramas — The Burial. But what stuck with me was the powerful character Teyana Taylor in A Thousand and One, an emotionally intense film about the foster care system, gentrification and racism and the emotional struggles of a mother-son duo in New York City.  


Wordle was all the rage when it started in 2021, and the fun of the once-a-day game hasn’t let up for me. I admittedly had a 117-day streak going, and only crashed and burned when I started a game one morning while brushing my teeth, forgot to finish and woke up the next morning and realized my grave error; I was irrationally upset. But enter, The New York Times’s Connections, where players group words that share a common thread – bodyweight exercises, email signoffs, fire ___, ways to remove hair — and I take great pleasure at solving the linguistic diversion (sometimes a competition in my household to see who solves it first!).  

Estelle Guillot – graphic design co-op  

Twin Peaks  

I spent much of my free time throughout the beginning of 2023 watching the entirety of Mark Frost and David Lynch’s television series, Twin Peaks. This included all three seasons of the show as well as the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. With its unique brand of both comedy and horror, incredible cast of eccentric characters, and dream-like atmosphere, I truly believe Twin Peaks is a masterpiece. I even enjoyed the notorious silliness of its second season, and the show is now perhaps my favorite television series of all time.  


My family adopted a new dog this year, a three-year-old affenpinscher named Risky. Risky is now one of a trio of affenpinschers that my family owns, the other two being Poplin (AKA PPs) and Pudding. Affenpinschers have quickly become a favorite breed of mine following the adoption of Poplin, our first, but Risky in particular has stolen my heart thanks to her sweet, gentle disposition, excitability, and teddy bear-like face. Risky also boasts a full white beard that stands out against her otherwise black coat, unlike PPs and Pudding who are both a solid black. For this reason, I often affectionately refer to Risky as “little wizard.”  

Deafheaven Concert  

On the night of April 29, I saw post-metal band Deafheaven live at Union Transfer in Philadelphia. It was among the best live shows I have ever been to, second only to the otherworldly performance by legendary drone metal band SUNN O))) that I attended in the same venue last December. The energy that Deafheaven’s lead singer George Clarke brought to the stage was unlike anything I have witnessed, an energy that I could feel especially well with just a single row of people separating me from the stage. The band performed some of my favorite tracks, including “Great Mass of Color” and “Honeycomb.” Ultimately, the night of the show was one that I will not forget for a long time, if ever. 

Joni David – copy editor 

Kelly Reichardt and Showing Up  

I had a professor introduce me this year to the softly spellbinding films of writer/director Kelly Reichardt, and the week I spent throwing myself into her work was a comforting highlight of this year. This was timed well with the anticipation of her new film, Showing Up, which I took myself to see in the theater on my birthday. (Segueing into honorable mentions territory, Showing Up features a lovely supporting performance from André 3000 who has just released one of the year’s most fascinating albums, New Blue Sun. Check that out too.)  

Julia’s War Recordings  
Philadelphia seems to have cemented itself in the past few years as the musical epicenter of the space between hazy and heavy. You won’t find a better roster of exemplars than the independent tape label Julia’s War headed by They Are Gutting a Body of Water mastermind Douglas Dulgarian. From the gothic shoegaze of Her New Knife to the queasy freakfolk of Mormon Toasterhead or blissed-out electronic sounds of God of War. It’s hard to pin down what exactly the musical connective tissue between these sounds is, but it’s felt. And it’s undeniably important. 

Reptilian Parenthood  

About two months ago now, a friend of a friend came home from class and was met with an unexpected package on their doorstep: a shoebox housing a very cold, very dehydrated, and very abandoned bearded dragon. She had been tucked inside this red nike box with just a thin scarf and a crude, handwritten note that read, “Hi my son doesn’t want his lizard anymore. Please take this animal to a shelter.” Instead of following these instructions exactly, this poor lizard was transferred to a mutual friend who then transported her via skateboard to me. I dropped everything I was doing and would need to do in the coming days as a never-before-felt maternal instinct rushed over me. I knew I had to keep her as soon as I saw her: love at first sight. I called her Lisa after my lifelong favorite Simpson, as well as the alliterative property of ‘Lisa the Lizard,’ or as a friend pointed out recently, there’s a phonetic segment thing happening within “this major development to my world that showed up when I (least e)xpected it.” Lisa-spected? You have to work for that one maybe, but all of the work these past two months has proved nothing but worth it. She has upgraded my life in so many ways, and in my frugal quest to narrow the diets of two lifeforms into one grocery list, I can say that I’m eating a lot more vegetables too.  

So, I guess by way of year-end recommendation, embrace the unexpected creature that falls into your lap, and follow it on the journey it may want to take you on. You might not think of yourself as ‘a reptile person,’ or “a beardie mom’ (which Instagram’s algorithm has shown me to be a very real niche of person), and certainly not the type of person who melts at the sight of a one-pound lizard pulverizing live roaches with her little fangs. But, you also might think a lot of things about the type of person you are or aren’t. Sometimes, you might need to find those things out for yourself.•

Source images courtesy of macrovector via