Well it has been an odd year to say the least. Since movie theaters weren’t open I watched way less new movies than I normally do but I still felt compelled to make a list of mostly movies I had to rent or watch on streaming. I oddly watched less TV than other years as well but I definitely felt their were at least 10 great shows. I mostly watched old movies since quarantine began and if anyone is feeling like a real nerd they can get my takes on all of those on my Letterboxd account. So without further ado here are my lists.
10. The Queen’s Gambit
As a chess lover I was destined to at least like this show but it is really well made. Ana Taylor-Joy is a star, they do a great job with the world building really visualize the games in an interesting way. My one complaint is that I wish they delved deeper into the strategy of her games but I can see why someone uninterested in chess probably wouldn’t care about that.
9. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Great season of Curb, Larry David is one of the funniest human beings alive and he delivered with the newest season. I particularly loved the Jon Hamm episode who really fit perfectly into the show.
8. The Mandalorian
I wish I could watch 25 episodes a year of Mando and Baby Yoda doing the classic western story of the week stories where Mando helps a new planet and Baby Yoda tries to eat stuff and sometimes uses “The Force”. As a Star Wars fan it really delivers everything I could want in a tv show.
7. The Boys
I’ve described the show as both “Superheroes but late capitalism” and the favorite show of 15 year old me. I could probably keep it at that but I do really enjoy the brutality and cynicism of the show, even if it probably isn’t quiet as clever as it imagines itself to be.
6. The Last Dance
I think the proper way to think of a documentary like this is as an autobiography and if you look at The Last Dance in those terms there is really very little more you can ask for. The combination of incredible behind the scenes footage of MJ from the 90s with the interviews today where he is able to layout his perspective and mostly his vendettas against every “rival” is one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever watched.
I am a sucker for the existential sci-fi vibe that Garland pulls off. Ex Machina and Annihilation are two of the best movies of the last decade and this only adds to my appreciation for him. I do think this still probably would have worked better as a film but I was completely engrossed in the strange and sad story that unfolded here.
This year we only got one season of Survivor instead of the standard 2 but the season we got more than lived up to the hype. Survivor Season 40, an all winners edition of the show, truly fulfilled my expectations in almost every way. The cast of all winners was both supremely entertaining and playing the game at a supremely high level from the very beginning. I could quibble about at times confusing editing, the overabundance of twists or a middle stretch of the game that saw multiple of my personal favorites leave. However, this season had real emotion moments throughout, had the single best episode any player has had in the history of the show, was insanely funny at times and left us with a winner that I think in many ways fully encompasses what I and so many love about Survivor.
3. What We Do in the Shadows
I’m not sure if I ever would have expected a show about vampires in Staten Island to be one of my favorite shows but this is the world we are living in. The show is just so funny and delivered the best Mark Hamill cameo of any show in 2020, thank you Mr. Jackie Daytona, regular human bartender.
2. The New Pope
I think The Young Pope might be my favorite single television season ever. I’m not sure any show has every moved me or made me laugh in the way The Young Pope did. I do not believe The New Pope is quite that good, it is still outstanding do not get me wrong, I love Malkovich, I loved the weird world of the Vatican all of it. However, for one episode, episode 7, it becomes transcendent. The entire season feels quite inspired by the brilliant Twin Peaks: The Return and that episode more than any other feels the most of a piece with that. I could go on but all I have to say is:
1. Better Call Saul
What an incredible show. A Breaking Bad spinoff based on a Walter’s sleazy attorney had no business being this good. So many people have said that before but it is worth reiterating. The greatness of the show is mostly due to the fact that Kim Wexler has become the most compelling character in the world of these two incredible shows. I could go on forever about how great Rhea Seehorn is in brining that character to light and making someone who I care about so deeply. On top of that, the rest of the cast is incredible (including obviously Odenkirk as Jimmy/Saul), the direction is probably the best on tv and the writing is brilliant. This show is amazing, everyone should watch it, whether you are a Breaking Bad fanatic or have never seen an episode, the show is just truly incredible.
10. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
VERY NICE! I really don’t have a ton to say about this except Borat is very funny and I’m glad Cohen found a way to make the sequel funny.
9. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
I can’t say that this was a pleasant movie to watch or that I would recommend it to everyone but it is without question an interesting movie. At times I was extremely moved by this very strange Charlie Kaufman movie and at others I’m not sure I really got the point. Buckley and Plemons are really great in it though.
8. Palm Springs
I love Andy Samberg so I was always going to check out his Groundhog’s Day homage but this one really works. Him and Miloti are great together in this, Conner O’Malley is a comedic force of nature that can not be contained and overall it is just a really entertaining movie.
7. The Way Back
This is a classic sports movie and both delves deeply into clichés but also subverts them in a few interesting way. Affleck is great in this and is really the reason I think the movie is worth checking out.
6. The Vast of Night
I am a sucker for a director doing a low budget Spielberg homage but really this is one of the best ones I have seen. This is incredibly well directed, with some of the most uniquely shot sequences I have seen all year and would recommend to anyone who is looking for a great thriller.
MANK! Ok besides the fact that Mank is funny to say, say it out loud it really is, Mank is really great. Fincher basically turns a movie about the writing of Citizen Kane into some vendetta about the 1934 California Governor election and somehow that totally works. Also Amanda Seyfried is amazing in it and I wasn’t sure she had a performance this great in her.
4. Let Them All Talk
Soderbergh is probably my favorite working director and he makes everything so easy. This movie seems like the type that I generally wouldn’t be that interested in based on the topic, it is mostly about 3 older women on a cruise, but Soderbergh’s direction makes it extremely compelling. There are sequences in this movie that I enjoyed more than just about any of his movies this side of the Ocean’s trilogy.
I really miss going to movie theaters. I just watched this within the last 2 weeks and I really had the feeling that this would have been awesome to watch in a theater. Even watching it on tv I thought it was an amazing spectacle the likes of which it so rarely get made today. I can’t claim to fully understand what went on in this movie but I mostly do and I don’t think the rest really matters.
2. Da 5 Bloods
This movie is just pure Spike Lee and one of the most interesting movies I’ve seen in the last few years. Delroy Lindo gives one of the most magnetic performances I’ve ever seen with the most fascinating character in any movie this year. Both an adventure film and a war film, Spike brings his style and vision in a way that no one else can.
1. David Byrne’s American Utopia
Talking Heads are my favorite band ever and so this was something I was always going to be interested in. Seeing the live performance of American Utopia is the coolest show I have ever seen and I didn’t fully no how it was going to be as a concert film. Spike Lee captured almost everything that made the show powerful and what makes David Byrne magical. There is no one I prefer listening to sing or watching perform than David Byrne a miracle of awkwardness and confidence. American Utopia has to live in the shadow of the greatest concert film in history, Stop Making Sense, and it really fulfills its legacy as a worthy successor to that. Also congrats to Spike Lee for making my two favorite movies of the year.