With all the upheaval 2020 has brought to cinematic release and TV production, here’s my attempt at a Top 10 of what I’ve most enjoyed this year.
I won’t be ranking the 10 in any particular order because that’d be difficult and I’m not really worried about focusing on what’s ‘the best’ that I’ve seen this year as much as what’s stuck in my head and lingered, and given the depressing world conditions, the valued quality I’ve appreciated is what’s been the most enjoyable.
Off the top, there are a few shows that weren’t necessarily newly released in 2020 but that are maybe new to me, their latest season was something I enjoyed this year, or in some cases just that watching them has proven to be a highlight over the last year where there’s been precious little to look forward to.
‘This is Us’ is only a handful of episodes into Season 5 but I am so grateful for its existence. I love this show, it’s superbly written and acted, throwing twists and turns in the best ways that make it always the most rewarding hour of TV each week. I was so thrilled when they managed to get the season together under new Covid production conditions, and it’s just what was needed. So far, the season has been good, not at its best but setting up some threads that I’m sure will become more fulfilling in a few episodes time. The season has a very different feel, you can tell things have been considerably scaled back out of necessity, but that’s no bad thing as it’s slowed character development down, making meaningful moments out of daily interactions. I love how they’re taking a little more time to build one of the key relationships, though with each great moment I feel the risk growing that things will go wrong and I’ll end up disappointed as I’m very invested in things working out for the characters. That’s a key part of the appeal of this show, despite teasing the future with flash-forward scenes, you never really know what’s going to happen, even if you think you do, and you end up caring deeply.
My lockdown gem has been ‘Bob’s Burgers’, a show that didn’t take long for me to get into, and it’s remained consistently enjoyable for 10 seasons (I’m about halfway through the tenth right now). Having something uplifting that I could rely upon to make me chuckle has been invaluable this year. I’ve formed a habit of watching an episode some days with lunch, and most days before bed, a little half-hour filler that is my default option for ‘something’ to watch.
Following on nicely from that is ‘Central Park’ by the same creators as ‘Bob’s Burgers’. It’s only released the first season so there wasn’t much to watch, the 10 episodes only lasted me a few days, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Another show for which I was late to the party was ‘The Crown’, as I’d only watched a couple of episodes before this year. With the fourth season on the way, I really went for it this time, determined to catch up by the time it was released, with a few weeks break between the second and third to ease the jolt of the cast change. Season 3 included an episode set in my town, which was funny to see the streets and buildings I know so well but haven’t seen with my own eyes for months as I’ve been staying at home. I’m looking forward to seeing how they tackle the more modern history, as what comes next is not just fresher in living memory, but specifically my own.
Considering my personal reaction to the news it was coming to Disney+, ‘Hamilton’, was the closest thing to a big exciting release this year. While cinemas were all closed with little to look forward to seeing, having this finally available to watch safely at home, costing me nothing extra as it was included in Disney+, it was the closest I’d come to feeling as I do when I travel for a midnight screening of a Marvel movie. It’s a near-flawless example of how to film a stage performance and something that I’ll be going back to time and again to enjoy.
‘Tenet’ is the only film I’ve seen in the cinema since March, which has to be the longest time between cinema visits since I became an adult, possibly in my entire life (though cinema trips weren’t very frequent in my youth). I’m looking forward to watching this at home soon, as it will benefit for another viewing and especially in an environment where I can adjust the audio for clarity, but it was made for the big-screen spectacle and I’m glad I got the chance to see it in that way.
‘The Queen’s Gambit’ has been the Netflix hit of the year and has consistently stayed in their top 10 for months since it released (number 5 in the UK today), after binging it in a day it’s not hard to see why. It’s a shame this is a limited series as I’d happily watch another short season with excellent storytelling, interesting characters and the fascinating world of competitive chess.
‘Parasite’, is the film this year that’s most stuck in my mind, there’s been nothing quite like it. It’s superbly put together in every way and has some wonderful twists that had me on the edge of my seat. I know I’ll watch it again at some point and I think that’ll be interesting as knowing where it’s going will change the experience but allow me to focus on all the details.
‘Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga’ is not the best film of the year, not even close, but it’s up there as one of the most joyous. It revels in the exuberance and campiness of the contest, along with some truly great songs. Though it’s not Will Ferrels best, it has plenty of quotable lines and jokes that will make it rewatchable, and it’s worlds apart from ‘Holmes & Watson’ that also came to Netflix this year, which if I was writing one, would absolutely top my list of worst things I’ve watched this year.
Slipping in just under the wire as my last pick is an unexpected one, ‘a 40-minute documentary on Netflix called ‘Speed Cubers’. I’d heard it mentioned in a podcast as a recommendation and I heartily recommend it myself. It’s about the most heartwarming ‘rivalry’ between two world-record speed Rubik’s cube solvers. Though they’re competing to beat each others time, the way in which the older champion supports the younger challenger is one of the most uplifting things I’ve seen. There are tears, it’s emotional, and with such a fittingly short runtime, it’s well worth watching if you want to fill less than an hour with something good.