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Favorites of 2020 (Movies/TV/Games)

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Yeah, it's been a weird one. I only saw 22 movies that were released in 2020. I went to the theater six times and two of those were for re-releases in IMAX (The Dark Knight and Inception if you must know). So doing a top ten films post didn't feel right. I did watch a lot more TV, and played a couple of great games. So here are my favorite films, TV shows, and games that I enjoyed in 2020.

But first, some table setting and whatnot.

Movies I was most devastated were not released in 2020 (for whatever reason):

  • Dune - this is the most devastating of them all.
  • Top Gun: Maverick - Tom Cruise in real fighter jets. You have been so cruel, 2020.
  • No Time To Die
  • A Quiet Place II
  • Stillwater - new Tom McCarthy movie with Matt Damon. I don't even know what it's about but I needed it and did not get it.
  • Deep Water - steamy romantic thriller with Affleck and Ana De Armas. Why isn't this already out on Netflix or something?
  • Uncharted - not sure how I feel about where they are going with this, but I still wanted to see it. Not sure if they even finished production.
  • Last Night in Soho - new Edgar Wright, also not sure if it's even done.
  • The Green Knight - pretty sure this one was done. Please release it A24!

Movies I still need to watch (no good excuses for not having watched these already):

  • Da 5 Bloods - Spike Lee movie on Netflix. 
  • Mank - David Fincher movie on Netflix, seriously why haven't I watched this yet?
  • Into The Deep - this was the Danish submarine documentary that Netflix acquired but then was shelved for some reason? Not even sure if this is still being released. There is however a good looking Danish show coming on HBO on this topic that I'm still looking forward to (The Investigation).
  • Small Axe - new Steve McQueen movies (plural!) on Amazon.
  • First Cow
  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always - HBO Max 
  • Happiest Season - Hulu
  • The Vast of Night - Amazon Prime
  • Time - Amazon Prime
  • The Nest
  • Possessor
  • Black Bear
  • On The Rocks - New Sofia Coppola on Apple+
Movie that I was convinced would be amazing but was actually a massive disappointment:
The Last Thing He Wanted - Ben Affleck, Anne Hathaway, directed by Dee Rees based on a book by Joan Didion. This should have been amazing! It wasn't. Sad face.

Delightful surprises on Netflix that were all much better than they had any right to be:
EuroVision: Fire Saga - "The elves went too far!"
The Old Guard
Enola Holmes

Movie that I am really glad exists but not sure if I really liked it:
I'm Thinking of Ending Things 

Best movie with Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham dancing in a pharmacy to Paris Hilton music:
Promising Young Woman - oh my goodness that ending. 

Tenet would have been no. six on my list, but since I'm just doing a top five, here we are. I have complicated feelings about Tenet, but you gotta love Nolan's ambition and that he is always going for it.

Favorite Movies of 2020

5. The Gentlemen

I love Guy Ritchie, and I love Guy Ritchie British gangster movies, with quirky characters, gratuitous violence, and funny one-liners. Is it problematic? Yeah. But I still love it and enjoyed myself immensely each time I watched it. More of Colin Farrell and Charlie Hunnam getting to use their real accents please. 

4. The Way Back

Ben Affleck made The Town and he divorced Jennifer Garner. Proof that the world is a complicated place with no easy answers. Will I watch anything he attaches his name to? Yes, I will. 

The alcoholism plotline (i.e. most of the movie, I guess?) is a bit heavy at times, but this movie really made me feel things. This proves once again that Gavin O'Connor really has a knack for sports movies (as much as I enjoyed The Accountant), and that Ben Affleck just needs to keep on making stuff.

I hope Ben gets back to writing and directing soon.

3. The Trial of the Chicago 7

Okay, so a lot of this didn't happen. But I love Aaron Sorkin, and the fact that his period pieces aren't documentaries has never bothered me before. Is this on the level of A Few Good Men, or The Social Network, or Steve Jobs, or even Molly's Game? Not sure. Probably not.

However, I love Aaron Sorkin, and I love courtroom drama, and in spite of whatever flaws this movie has, I enjoyed the heck out of it. Would I prefer that Fincher and Sorkin just made a permanent partnership, instead of each doing their own things? Yes, I would. But I'll take what I can get (though apparently not Mank. I guess I will never watch that movie. I am a heretic and cannot be trusted).

2. Palm Springs

This is probably the movie I most enjoyed watching all year. I've rewatched it a few times and it's always fun. My friends accuse me of only liking it because of the Groundhog's Day premise (hey, just because Live, Die, Repeat aka Edge of Tomorrow aka All You Need Is Kill is a masterpiece is not my fault! Yes, I also love Russian Doll. Let me alone) but they are wrong, it's just a great movie.

Okay, I'm not sure if it's a great movie. I'm also not sure if I even know what that means. All I know is that I love it. And that I had so much fun watching it. And that I wish more movies were as pleasurable a viewing experience as this was.

The Lonely Island just doesn't miss. Hot Rod. Popstar. The defense rests, your honor.

1. Soul

Another movie that has some issues. I can't speak to it, I'm not the guy for that, and I'm sorry to say that I didn't notice it while I watched it. I have a blind spot there, so I'll have to think about that.

But I also just loved watching this movie. I felt things throughout. I cried at the end. It made me think about lots of stuff. It made me laugh. For whatever its flaws, Pixar made a movie about existential questions that I haven't seen tackled like this... ever? It's not quite Inside Out level, but they are shooting their shot, and I respect it. 

This is a movie for children. Think about that. It should not be as deep, or insightful, or thoughtful, or GOOD as it is. And as a movie, it is very good. So I think it's numero uno... because I still haven't seen Mank. 

And I hate myself every day for it!

Favorite TV I watched in 2020

TV that is still on our to-watch list: Normal People, Better Call Saul, Zero Zero Zero, Fargo Season Four, High Fidelity, Betty, Ozark.

Honorable Mentions: Brave New World, I May Destroy You, The Mandalorian, Follow the Money, Industry. 

Rewatches: The West Wing, Justified, Mr. Robot.

Started but not finished: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fringe, Arrow, Vikings, Giri/Haji, Utopia (UK version). 

I could go on about all of those shows, but let's just get to the top ten, since this is already in danger of being way too long.

10. The Good Fight

The Good Wife was basically my favorite network legal drama. It was soapy, and very episodic, but it was also just really good. Constantly entertaining, with a great set of recurring side characters. They built out their own little universe and it was a delight.

The Good Fight is even better. It does all of the stuff The Good Wife did well, but doesn't have the content or time restrictions of a network, which also seems to have freed them up to be even more topical than before. I don't know of any other show that tackles real world events as well as this one. Can't get enough of it.

9. Upload

This one was a surprise. Amazon Original. Quirky premise. Kind of a genre blending exercise. Funnier and deeper than it had any right to be. Just a pleasure to watch all the way through.

8. Warrior

Based on the writings of Bruce Lee, it follows the gang wars in 19th century Chinatown in San Francisco. Co-created by Jonathan Tropper, who was the main force behind another show called, Banshee. 

Sidebar: Warrior, Banshee, and Justified do the "stand-off" better than any other media I have ever seen or read. Each show borrows Western themes, but this trope is something that they each do to great effect. The main character is flawed, but extremely gifted in their respective combative arts, and each find themselves challenged by outside forces throughout the shows. How the writers/directors build to those moments of confrontation is so incredibly exhilarating and exciting. 

Warrior has great hand to hand action, but I also really loved the crime story it was wrapped in. It does all this, while also addressing immigration in America in a way that is eye opening and important.  

7. What We Do In The Shadows

Two words. One name. Jackie Daytona. Is this the funniest show on Television? I think so. Constantly delightful and surprising. Pretty much always funny. Couldn't get enough of it.

They are all great, but I especially love Matt Berry. Makes me want to go back and rewatch The IT Crowd.

6. The Crown

What to say about The Crown? It is gorgeous. It's compelling. Each season is solid. It's just epically great. 

One thing that stands out is how they really take care to actually craft episodes. A lot of streaming shows treat their stories like "8-hour movies", which certainly can be fun, but The Crown doesn't do that. There is of course an overarching trajectory to the story, but often its strength comes in how well the standalone episodes tell complete stories. Often they dig into specific topics, or the experience of certain characters, and take you on a whole journey. 

Just a fantastic show.

5. Devs

 I love Alex Garland. I love his books. I loved Ex Machina. I loved Annihilation. And when I heard about this show, I was excited beyond belief. It was released weekly, and we would watch the new episode almost immediately.

It was a show about big ideas. At times it almost felt like a vehicle to debate and discuss those ideas, rather than an actual story about characters. But at the same time, that work was on display as well. I was hooked episode to episode and wanted to know how things would unfold.

Visually, it might be the best thing on TV this year (a couple of shows could challenge that). 

I don't know if it stuck the landing for me. I didn't feel as thrilled about the experience as a whole once it was over, but I can't ignore how engaged I was throughout, so it's still high on the list. That is also a function of how much this just ticks my personal preference boxes all across the board.

Whatever he does, I'm there.

4. The Umbrella Academy

This show is underrated at this point, right? We liked season one. It was good. It was enjoyable. I liked the characters and I had a good time. Season two blew me away. I don't want to spoil any of it, but it really rewarded the investment from the first season. Every single character goes on an interested journey here. Similarly, the different character relationships were great, seeing how they each played off each other differently. The overarching story is fascinating and complex. I'm ready for more.

3. Schitt's Creek

What can I say about it? Just one of the most enjoyable TV viewing experiences of the year. Endlessly quotable. Consistently hilarious. Surprisingly heart warming. Sad it's over. Happy it happened.

2. Ted Lasso

Ted Lasso, you magnificent SOB! I think I'm ready to watch this show again. I need the second and third seasons to be made available immediately. Also, I need there to be 30 seasons, not just 3. 

Ted Lasso might be the most wholesome human on earth. This show is just such a delight. I loved every minute of it. It's funny. It's sincere. It's emotional. It's inspiring. Basically a roadmap to how to be an awesome person. WWTLD?

1. The Queen's Gambit

I love this book so much. I didn't even know they were making it into a show. I saw it pop up one day and just got a jolt of excitement. I didn't know if it could actually be good, but I loved the book so much I was ready to go. It's hands down the best thing I watched all year, in any medium. 

They made chess thrilling. Think about that. The writing. The directing. The costumes. The music. The acting. Just the everything! It's all so good. A perfect season of television. A perfect adaptation. I guess I need to watch Godless now? 

Favorite Games of 2020

So I've started a few games this year that I didn't finish. But these three stood out and have provided hours and hours of enjoyment and stimulation (all on the PS4).

3. Assassin's Creed: Valhalla

Basically I've played every Assassin's Creed game (except for the Paris one, and the very first one), and while only a few of them are truly great, I usually enjoy myself. I just like running around in historical locations, collecting resources, and fighting people.

Of course I had to do it as a Viking. That is my heritage. These are my people. 

I'm still playing this one, so I will have to see how the story nets out, but I'm thinking so far that I like it just as much as Odyssey, and better than Origins. The slight tweaks they made to the gameplay have all been enjoyable, and I really like the characters and story. 

It's just fun running around being a Viking. 

2. The Last of Us II

The Last of Us is my favorite game of all time. They took a risk in making a sequel, when the first game's magic really came with that ending. 

I don't want to get into spoilers and go on a rant that so many others have done so much better, so here are just a few quick thoughts:
  • The gameplay was a huge improvement, and it was fun and challenging.
  • The story choices were challenging as well, but ultimately really paid off for me. No other piece of media has put me into the shoes of different characters, and made me feel so many conflicting things, so effectively. I went on the whole journey and really experienced things with each character that opened me up in a meaningful way. This was something that only a video game could do like this.
  • The ludonarrative dissonance was stark. It's not an open world game. There are not multiple endings. You go on the ride they have created. This felt like a conflict with the lessons of the narrative itself. There were choices and acts of violence that I did not want to do as the player, and I felt like were in conflict with what I was learning as the character in the game, yet you didn't have a choice. If you don't do the thing, you can't move on. So there were three or four moments where that took me out of it, and I felt myself saying "[character x] wouldn't do this. I don't want to do this."
That last point aside, it was still a powerful experience, and transporting in a way that few other mediums are capable of. 

1. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

This game is hard. I started it and gave up because it was too hard (it was my first FromSoftware game, and there is no difficulty setting). But the game is so cool. I loved the fantastical Japanese setting. I loved the main character and his motivation. The visuals were absolutely stunning, so I knew I wanted to try again.

Second time was the charm. Once I learned how to play the game, it was one of the most satisfying game experiences I've ever had. Usually I think of games as playable movies, I enjoy the gameplay, but it's really about getting to the next big plot point or progressing the story line (The Last of Us and Uncharted games are especially like that). This might be the first game where I fell in love with the process and gameplay itself. I wanted to master it. I wanted to get better at it, and I enjoyed just playing, even though the story didn't progress in the same way as those other more "cinematic" games.

Don't get me wrong. The story in this game is also extremely good. But you get the idea.

I felt like I was a true shinobi. By the end I got to the end, I had played so much, and I had mastered it. And I was ready to start all over again because it was all so much fun (I ultimately did not play it again, because I have a young child and a wife and a job and that would be impossible, but I really wanted to).

Loved it.

My favorite game should have been Cyberpunk 2077

But it wasn't. I haven't even bothered playing yet. Will need to wait until I get the PS5 and they patch that sucker. Let this be the last thing you stole from me 2020!

So there it is! All the stuff I liked. I hope you liked stuff and here's to a great 2021.

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