My 2020 Favorites
To cope with the anxiety, frustration, and loneliness that visited us all in 2020, I’ve been reminded to practice gratitude — big or small. So when I feel my chest start to tighten thinking about what comes next, or what’s been missed, I try to take a deep breath and remind myself of the good that came this year. Yes, there was good this year, albeit seemingly not as much or in much smaller ways, but there is always good. For me, and I think for a lot of people, the good this year came in the form of the art and entertainment we used to fill the long days, keep us from doom-scrolling, and keep us out of our own minds.
These are my tiny bits of good, and this year more than any other, I am so so grateful to the creators who made them. Not all of these things were made or released this year, but they’ve all made me feel better and that’s more than enough.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
As I have been taught the book is always better than the adaptation, High Fidelity proves to be an outlier to this rule. Desperate for more of this story after the first (and now only) season of Hulu’s brilliant adaptation, I knew I had to read the book. And while I do think the series perfects the telling of this story, it was good to go back and experience the first iteration and to experience it through the words of the creator, Nick Hornby.
We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson
I’m sure (and hope!) book readers everywhere can relate to the phenomenon of buying a book, but it takes a couple of tries over several years before a book captures your attention. I don’t remember how long I’ve had this book on my shelf, but finally this summer I was able to pick it up and dive into the Blackwood’s world.
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
Say what you like about John Green, but I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It was another that took me a few tries to get into, but as it is a YA novel, it was fairly easy to read and that made it a perfect summer read. My parents had recommended it to me because they saw an interview with Green and he talked about writing his anxiety and OCD into the main character, Aza. They thought reading it might help me, so when I was at the Strand in New York right before the start of lockdown, I picked up a copy. While it definitely did not cure me of my anxiety (if there is any one book which can do that, please let me know!), it did introduce me to the idea of ‘intrusive’ thoughts, which I’ve thought about often in the months since finishing this.
Meet Me In the Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman
I’ve been working on finishing this book for a year and a half, and while I’m glad I finished it, I’m so glad I took my time with it. Written in the style of McNeil and McCain’s oral history Please Kill Me about classic punk in New York City circa the late ’60s and ’70s, Goodman’s oral history follows the rise (and ultimate decline) of New York City as the epicenter of cool music in the late ’90s and 2000’s. She follows major bands like the Strokes and Interpol, more niche bands Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Vampire Weekend, and bands I had never heard of at all like Fischerspooner and Jonathan Fire*Eater. In her acknowledgements, Goodman writes “Thank you to everyone who was there. And to everyone who wishes they had been. This book is for you.” As someone who does wish she had been there, I was very glad to have this book to hold me over until the time machine is invented and ready to board.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
I ended 2020 with my heart being ripped from my chest by this book. Hulu really gave me the stories I needed to see this year, and this was certainly one of them. Once I finished the series, I didn’t think I was going to read the book because I had heard how well the series did in adapting Rooney’s work that I didn’t think the book would add anything to my life that the show hadn’t. I was so wrong. Reading the book not only allowed me to relive this beautiful series in my mind by giving me something to picture as I read, but as I was spending the last days of 2020 reading this book, I was struck by how much I loved the characters, with all their flaws, and how much I enjoyed spending time with them.
High Fidelity (Hulu)
This is what started the High Fidelity rabbit hole for me. The show blew me away with it’s writing, it’s characters, and of course the soundtrack. Now having read the original book and seen the movie, I can without a doubt say that this show does this story the most justice. They were right to set it in New York, they were right to gender bend the character of Rob, they were right about all of it. I wouldn’t have changed anything about this show, except to give it a second season.
Normal People (Hulu)
Another hit-out-of-the-park for Hulu. Everything about it was perfect and true to the book, as I now know, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. And the fact that there was an intimacy coordinator on set, no doubt the show was better for it.
The Good Place (NBC/Netflix)
It’s hard to believe I only started this show early this year, it feels like 5 years ago. When I started watching this show, it was my 20 minutes of relief before running out the door to class or to work at the internship of my dreams. I listened to the podcast on my commutes to the arena and now I cannot hear Marc Evan Jackson’s voice without remembering the feelings of sweating from the hike up Fifth Avenue and strong winds that broke my umbrella on a rainy day. But of all the shows I could have been watching as I went from being the busiest I have ever been to gradually watching the world around me fall apart, I’m glad it was this one to make me laugh, ponder, and walk around my house during March and April saying “This is the Bad Place” every time I read something terrible on my phone.
The Crown S4 (Netflix)
Finally the season many of us had been waiting for — the arrival of Diana. And does Emma Corrin deliver. But what I love most about this show, besides the writing and the scenery, is that it shows us the emotional difficulties of those we would imagine to have no difficulties. And while there are many issues with the Royal Family, many of which I find to be of their own creation, this show reminds us of their humanity and the culpability that comes with being human as opposed to superhuman.
Madam Secretary (CBS/Netflix)
Possibly CBS’ best kept secret is Madam Secretary. Okay, maybe it’s not a secret that this show exists, but it was news to me when I found it on Netflix last summer. Then as I was working my way through it this year, my family caught on and we began watching it every night after Jeopardy! and it became my favorite time of the day that I would look forward to amongst the monotony of life in quarantine.
How I Met Your Mother (CBS/Hulu)
I remember this show being on TV when I was growing up, and while I’ve probably seen every episode already, I decided to go back and watch through the series completley. I’m only to about season 5, but it gave me something to look forward to each day in the fall as I worked through burnout fatigue, pandemic fatigue, and eventually election fatigue to finally arrive at the end of the semester. The time I got to spend with these characters at the end of each eternally long day put me in a good enough mood where I could just possibly do it all again the next day.
High Fidelity (2000)
To complete the trifecta, I had to watch the John-Cusack-starring-Chicago-based version of this story and it’s okay. It pales in comparison now to the Hulu show, which could be because I saw the Hulu show first or because the movie is dripping in white male “nice guy” syndrome, but ultimately I’m glad I watched it and I appreciate it for how it inspired the show. Key highlight: Lisa Bonet singing Peter Frampton
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), Smithereens (1982)
I’m putting these two movies together, partly out of great respect for director Susan Seidelman, but also because they’re both gorgeous in how they show New York City during the ’80s. As someone who can only read about people living in that place and time, I loved being able to see what the city looked like at that time compared to when I visit those spots in NYC now (pre-COVID). While Desperately Seeking Susan is probably most well known thanks to a young Madonna, Smithereens feels like a more honest account of what living in the city was like for many people.
Crip Camp (2020)
This was required viewing for a class during the fall semester, and I was not happy to be assigned it. Doing online school is tiring and it’s hard to find the motivation, even with assignments piling up from professors who seem to think they are the only instructor I have this semester, when in reality I have 5 other who think just like them. But I found myself thinking about this documentary (the first Obama produced film for Netflix) for days after finishing it. This should be required viewing for all people, and Judy Heumann is deserved much more respect than she is given.
Skate Kitchen (2018)
This was another film required for class and I’m still not done thinking about it. We watched it in context of how spaces can be gendered, and in the case of this film, how feminine bodies can go into a masculinized space and make room for themselves in a space they’ve been told by society doesn’t belong to them. But they take up that space without apology, show their worth through their talent and skill, and show how their mutual love for the sport creates a protective bond between them. It definitely requires multiple watches because there’s a lot of different ideas it touches on, but it was another film I may not have picked for myself, but am glad to have seen. And the coolest part is that Skate Kitchen is a real group and all the actors are real life skateboarders !!(minus Jaden Smith who learned for the film)
One Royal Holiday (2020)
I don’t even like Hallmark Christmas movies, but as soon as I heard Aaron Tveit was playing a European prince, I knew I had to watch this one. And while I would be biased towards this movie because I would watch anything Aaron Tveit is in, I was very pleasantly surprised by this movie and enjoyed it very much. What I really loved about this movie is that it’s a perfect feel-good Christmas movie. Sure, there’s plenty of suspension of disbelief that needs to happen in order to enjoy any Hallmark or Lifetime movie, but there’s no evil villain, no jealous partner to raise tensions. At worst, the Prince is a little grumpy at the beginning but it really is a fun and warm movie. Highly recommend.
Love, Antosha (2019)
For anyone who feels a strange sadness when actors or famous people pass away, you’re not alone. It’s happened to me a few times where I’ll read about someone’s passing and for whatever reason, it sticks with me and I can’t shake the feeling. One of those times was when Anton Yelchin passed away. I can tell you exactly where I was when I received the CNN notification despite being unfamiliar with him or his work beyond recognizing his name. So going into this movie, I didn’t have any expectations. I was just there to learn about this man and the life he led and the art he made. And oh my god, this is one of the most stunning documentaries about an artist, about a person, that I’ve seen. It’s a masterclass in how to be a good actor, but it’s also a lesson in how to live your life to the fullest. This film is so beautiful that it makes remembering he’s gone even worse.
After having read Patti Smith’s Just Kids about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, I was so excited to watch this and to see Matt Smith as Mapplethorpe. I feel like I learned a lot about the real person Mapplethorpe was, not just the photographer he was and I loved the beginning showing his relationship with Smith. I’m definitely interested in reading more about Mapplethorpe himself, particularly his interactions with Black men towards the end of his life, to really see a fuller scope of the real person he was opposed to the romanticized version of him in Smith’s book.
Love and Mercy (2014)
Another movie I went into knowing very little and it made the experience all the more enjoyable to be able to learn about this band I knew only through their music.
The Queen (2006)
A must-watch for fans of The Crown, as this was also written by Peter Morgan and covers the period following the death of Princess Diana, which is highly anticipated in upcoming Season 5. It was of particular interest to see the differences in characterization in this than The Crown, especially in terms of Charles. And here’s hoping we may see Michael Sheen reprise his role as PM Tony Blair in upcoming seasons.
This had been at the top of my to-watch list all year and I was very glad to continue my new movie on Christmas Day tradition and cross it off my list. As compared to other 19th century period pieces that have been released in the past year, Little Women remains my favorite but this movie is well worth the watch for the cast and the scenery alone.
Folklore, Taylor Swift
Highlights: “mirrorball”, “seven”, “august”, “this is me trying”, “mad woman”, and “peace”
Evermore, Taylor Swift
Highlights: “gold rush”, “‘tis the damn season”, “tolerate it”, “no body, no crime”, “long story short”, and “ivy”
The New Abnormal, The Strokes
Highlights: “The Adults are Talking” and “Bad Decisions” (particularly their performance on SNL with John Mulaney)
High Fidelity Soundtrack
Highlights: Thomas Doherty’s cover of “I’ll Make Love to You” and Da’vine Joy Randolph’s ode to Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)”
Making A Song in 24 Hours
When I was first adjusting to doing school online in March and April, for some reason I could not stop thinking about this video and this song and have watched it many times. The chaos of this video just screams “2020” to me and so it must be in the 2020 wrap up list.
Chrissy Teigen Made Us Banana Bread
Banana Bread was also a big hit in 2020 and this story about Youtuber Chris Klemens trading romaine lettuce for Chrissy Teigen’s banana bread also got me through the end of spring semester.
Colonial Williamsburg “Created Equal” and on “Deathways”
Colonial Williamsburg has been putting forth great effort during the pandemic to share content and knowledge to people at home through their Facebook and Youtube pages, including a moving piece of theatre entitled Created Equal devised by their African-American Interpreters. After the hard discussions this summer and ongoing conversations surrounding police brutality, violence against Black bodies, and the history of the Black experience in America, this should be mandatory viewing for white people to even begin to understand.
CW has also been going live on their Facebook page during the week to give viewers a chance to ask questions of their Nation Builders like James Madison and George Mason, of their tradespeople like the Brickmakers, of those visitors may see around the city like the Native American Interpreters, and of those who are experts in areas of 18th century life such as how death was handled. This video was one of my favorites they put out this year and I found myself unintentionally watching the whole way through because I was intrigued by the topic, but also in awe of their expertise.
Hey It’s Delilah
After 14 years, there’s finally a response to Hey There Delilah by the Plain White T’s. There’s a few versions on Youtube, but this is the first one I found and I think it’s the best.
Hadestown x Pirates
In a collaboration I never would have guessed myself, Steven Brault of the Pittsburgh Pirates caught the attention of the Broadway Cast of Hadestown and they filmed a COVID-themed version of the show’s big song Wait for Me.
Glass Animals covering Mood
I don’t have anything to say about this other than it’s really good and you should watch it.
I hope as the world slowly begins to heal and we find some new version of normal that we still take the time to find art that excites us and distracts us when we need it to, and I hope we find a way to repay these artists and creators for the solace they brought us with their work.