A year like no other, 2020 negates the traditional “Best of…” year end lists when it comes to movies, books, music and art. Instead I’ll leave you with a simple sampling of what spoke to me the most. Whether it was through escapism or reflection, here is what got me through this helluva year…
This Film: Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and THAT CLOSING SCENE!
Completely transportive and oozing art in all the best French ways, I said of Celine Sciamma’s searing tale of once-upon-a-time forbidden romance…“Once the tension breaks in the later third of the film, some of the novel magic disappears, but the closing coda is one for the ages, echoing literary allusions from earlier in the film, showcasing the women’s resolve even after parting, forging their own ways in their own way and culminating in that scene at the orchestra that is among the best closing scenes of any film in recent memory…”
This Music: Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters, and let me tell ya something, ladies, ladies, ladies…
Has there ever been a more serendipitiously timed release than when Fiona dropped this bomb (leaving shrapnel permanently embedded in me) at the height of the Spring Pandemic Lockdown? Gobsmacked upon its release, I said…“Fetch the Bolt Cutters plays straight through true and true, not a wasted track. It’s all at once angry and joyous, polished and raw, soulful and angsty, defiant and willful, dark and tragic and funny and honest and blithe. There are themes of self-care, female empowerment, speaking up, acting out, messing up, surviving, and thriving. Her stories, her songs, her words, they are hers but also ours. She is speaking about our times, not as a passive witness, but as a tortured participant crawling through the muck, learning, growing, and trying to pull some of us out of it with her…if only we would listen…”
At the height of the civil unrest and heated protests in the summer, Julie Rendleman’s photograph of ballerinas Ava Holloway and Kennedy George striking a pose in front of a graffitied Confederate monument in Richmond, VA spoke a thousand words.
This Book: Overboard by Ivy Ngeow
This indie novel came out of nowhere. I met the author on Twitter and I downloaded the book on a lark…and this globe-hopping thriller miraculously checked all my boxes. I swooned…
“Like Christian Petzold’s film Phoenix and Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, identity, amnesia, and transforming oneself hang over the proceedings like a pall. Ngeow’s spin on the themes, however, are decidedly modern and channeled through technology and interior design. Her characters foolishly build protective walls around themselves with their possessions and hobbies, often unaware of their true selves and how others perceive them through the veils of technology and language. Ngeow’s sardonic wit and voice echo back to the best of Graham Greene. And much like Greene’s work, Overboard, finds that delicate balance between thrilling entertainment and keenly observant literature inundated with the slippery complexities of human behavior. Overboard is a modern, novel masterpiece. An absolute must-read.”
This HBO Limited Series: The Undoing
Oh, man, where do I even start? The first episode seemed like it might be just another Gypsy-style tawdry therapist-with-bad-boundries psychological melodrama, but it quickly pivoted into a murder mystery, legal thriller, and domestic drama all rolled into one. I loved every aspect of it: the strange accents, the Euro-pall hanging over the Manhattan setting, director Suzanne Bier’s eyeball piercing cinematography, the emo-acting, the David E. Kelly elitism, all the histrionic twists and turns. It turned into the best thing HBO has done since Sharp Objects and a perfectly entertaining distraction from all the post US election drama.
Special Shout-outs to…
- The binge-worthy laughs of Schitt’s Creek and The Good Place, two shows my wife and I probaby would’ve never watched otherwise but happily binge-watched during the pandemic.
- Laurie Metcalf – the unsung hero of character-driven comedy. We just discovered the exceptional (and painfully funny) Getting On, and her work on The Conners (which has re-emerged from the ashes like a modern day Norman Lear sitcom) has been exceptional as always.
- The recently discovered novels of Ru Freeman (On Sal Mal Lane) and William Gay (The Long Home and Provinces of Night).
- The HBO docu-series The Vow…oh the fuckery of Keith Ranier, may he rot in jail forever (and he will).
Portrait of a Lady on Fire was definitely an incredible film, one of the best of 2020. Another that I’d put on the list—and I can’t even believe I’m putting something with Andy Samberg in it near the top of the list–was Palm Springs (on Hulu). It was really inventive in the way it used the “repeating the same day over and over again” storyline.
In lieu of being able to go to the movie theater, a friend of mine and I connected via FaceTime and watched Bill and Ted Face the Music together. Growing up, we loved the Bill and Ted movies and eagerly hoped we could reconnect again when the new one came out. Even though we couldn’t go to a theater to see it together, utilizing the current technology was the next best option. Bill and Ted Face the Music is flawed in many ways, but I still enjoyed it, and I also enjoyed the (digitally provided) time spent with an old friend.
Fiona Apple’s album was stunning. I listened to it on a nearly daily basis when it first came out, though recently, I haven’t felt the need to go back to it. Maybe I played myself out on it. I also really enjoyed the albums that came out from Bruce Springsteen, Hayley Williams, and The Strokes.
How’s this for foreshadowing: I bought Alex Trebek’s autobiography for my mom for her birthday, and then exactly a week later, he passed away. She loaned it to me after she finished, and I found it a pleasant read. Nothing earth-shattering or controversial in it. To me, it felt like a long, warm conversation with an old friend. Jeopardy’s been a staple in my life for as long as I can remember, and it’s definitely going to be weird moving on to a new host.
And just like everyone else, I binged Schitt’s Creek and thoroughly enjoyed it. Sometimes, after watching several episodes at once, I’d find myself reading things in Moira Rose’s voice. I’ve also been making my way through How I Met Your Mother, which is also a really good show. I started Parks & Recreation but haven’t gotten through it yet. I’m enjoying it but I don’t think it’s quite as good as people made it out to be.
Well, that’s just a preview of you and the others who lurk my blog will see whenever I write my 2020 wrap-up. It’s been a weird year, but hopefully, 2021 will be better.
It’s been a weird year indeed. Thanks for sharing your picks. Moira Rose’s voice was one of the highlights. I sometimes think my two-year old has the same accent!