It it possible to do a top ten for a year like 2020? Let’s see!

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 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. 

Is Disney+ about to release Black Widow? I think so!

Marvel’s ‘Black Widow’ is coming to Disney+ very soon! Before ‘WandaVision’ debuts on the 15th of January. I’m certain of it!

After over a decade of approximately two movies a year, the momentum of the MCU has been severely impaired by the pandemic. Now that they’ve had to push ‘Black Widow’ a few times the whole universe is very nearly a year behind schedule and it’s holding up not just the cinematic side, but also reshuffling the Disney+ series, as there’s near-certain connectivity from ‘Black Widow’ written into ‘Falcon & Winter Soldier’. Marvel’s already having to rethink a section of the universe as it pertains to ‘Black Panther’, working out how best to proceed given Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death. So the one hitherto reliable part of Disney’s movie business is in a terrible state of uncertainty and isn’t making them any of the big box office dollars they’ve become accustomed to. 

‘Black Widow’ being held up is not just a problem for Disney and the Marvel Universe, but there are probably also many product sponsorships and brand endorsements that will surely be coming to nought. I don’t know for sure, but MCU films often feature phones, cars, watches, etc, as product placement that is then intended to tie-in with their own advertising campaigns or even new product releases scheduled and timed for success. For example, there might be company holding on to their big new flagship phone or some other product because it was set to feature in the movie, or maybe just because their ad campaign features Scarlett Johansson. 

Only a few months ago they revealed that there’s infrastructure on Disney+ for ‘Premier Access’, did they develop it for just one single use? I seriously doubt it. They’ve also restructured recently to put more focus on their streaming services, including plans which are set to go beyond just the family-friendly Disney+.

Cinemas are still shut in some U.S. states, and recently many that had reopened closed back down for a few months. That’d be a surprising business decision to make if they’d seriously thought Pixar’s ‘Soul’ was coming in November followed by ‘Wonder Woman ’84’ in December. Within days of exhibitors making that choice ‘Soul’ jumped to Disney+ (at no additional cost to subscribers) and that other hopeful box-office hit while remaining on the schedule has taken a rare multi-platform approach with a simultaneous release via cinemas and HBO Max. That’s practically unheard of for a film of this size. If Warner Bros are able to do that with their 13million HBO Max subscribers (according to a recent Deadline article) in just the U.S. it’s now many times more conceivable that Disney+ with their 70-something million subscribers (rapidly rising and no doubt about to jump up over the holidays) in many more territories, might try something equally bold. 

In the interests of balance, I was going to argue some reasons they won’t do this, however, it’s really hard to argue against. As I see it, the only reason they won’t put it on ‘Premier Access’ for a fee, is if Disney just pop it into the library at no extra cost to subscribers as they’re about to do with ‘Soul’ in a couple of weeks and WB are doing with ‘WW84’. I even think it’s imminent. My prediction is they’re about to announce ‘Black Widow’ is coming to Disney+ in the first weeks of January, before ‘WandaVision’, which would explain why that show was pushed out of the announced end of 2020 into the start of 2021. It wasn’t production delays, it was because of a release schedule rethink. 

Will they charge extra to watch it? Numbers for ‘Mulan’ are not available, Disney are keeping that info to themselves, but still, Disney have said they were happy with the way it performed via their ‘Premier Access’ service, other sources have disputed this, wondering how, as it clearly lost them money. They clearly weren’t convinced by the release strategy as they moved ‘Soul’ onto the service at no additional cost, measuring success with the Pixar film in terms of seeing if it drives a spike in subscriptions. They will then have the data and experience of the two ends of an alternative release spectrum, and feedback in the industry towards WB’s plans, fully able to better navigate their future options, calculating sweet-spot for films like ‘Black Widow’. 

The biggest live-action Disney remake was 2019’s ‘The Lion King’ with nearly.$1.7b. That is low when you remember that ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ made nearly half a billion dollars more, and ‘Endgame’ made $2.8. Maybe I’m focusing on the very top of the scale a little too much. So, a better comparison might be that ‘Beauty and the Beast’ made $1.27b, yet that’s only a little more than ‘Iron Man 3’ and less than ‘Black Panther’, ‘Age of Ultron’, and ‘Avengers’. So, it’s fair to say that ‘Black Widow’ could reasonably be expected to be at least as big an audience draw as ‘Mulan’, though, based off reviews of it, and knowing the general reception of Marvel movies, I think it’s fair to say it would do better, not least in China, where reception of Mulan was at best underwhelming, really closer to unfavourable. ‘Endgame’ was the 4th biggest film ever in China, the biggest non-Chinese. The MCU and other comic-adaptations have done really well there, Disney live-action films haven’t come close. So, even opening ‘Black Widow’ in exactly the same way as ‘Mulan’ with theatrical release where possible and elsewhere a home option with some level of cost, would almost certainly be a success.

Plus, Disney will absolutely gain new subscribers, which is now their primary focus. Families who wanted to see ‘Mulan’ were likely already users of Disney+. People who love the MCU, though they too may be subscribed for easy access to the movie titles on the streaming service, may have been taking a break from it, or waiting for the interconnected series to debut. With no ‘Wandavision’ or ‘Falcon and Winter Soldier’ released they may not have been actively subscribed, biding their time and holding on to their pennies. ‘Black Widow’ would instantly change that, causing a surge of fans who’d then be likely to stay active with those series now imminent. If it’s at no added cost, just the reasonable subscription, that also offers an alternative to illegal piracy, which was rampant with ‘Mulan’.

So in summary, why was ‘Wandavision pushed back two weeks? Simple. They’re going to release ‘Black Widow’ beforehand, maintaining something closer to the original release order, and regaining momentum for the Marvel Universe.

Netflix’s Newest Feature Is A Great Idea… But It’s Not There Yet!

A new feature dropped on my Netflix this week, a new icon that offers to just ‘Play Something’, essentially a random shuffling option, and I see the reason for it, there’s a good purpose for a feature like this, though I don’t think the implementation is quite as it should be yet.

The idea makes a lot of sense, it’s ideal for when you want to just ‘watch something’ but don’t have specifically what that’d be in mind. I’ve wanted something like this, even if I didn’t realize it as I’m sometimes a little overwhelmed for choice, though not considering the Netflix library as a whole.

Personally, I don’t find myself aimlessly scrolling through all Netflix has to offer for something to find. The closest I get to that scenario is when I occasionally know the genre I fancy and look to see if there’s something in that section that stands out. Regularly though, I go to where the best of Netflix has already been curated by someone whose taste I trust, an assortment of things I am likely to enjoy, my watchlist.

When I tried the feature last night, the suggestion was ‘Virgin River’, not something I’ve ever had in my watchlist, and though I’ve never seen it I don’t think it’s even particularly similar to anything else that’s in my watchlist or history. Shuffling and suggesting things I’m not all that interested in will ultimately make me less likely to use the feature, it feels like a waste of time if I just keep skipping to the next suggestion for ages before landing on something (likely already on my watchlist) I might be tempted to stick with to watch. 

I’ve checked my settings and can’t see the option I’m looking for, though if someone else has it on theirs please let me know as I’ll be interested to hear about it. Essentially, all they need to do is give options to narrow down the selection the ‘something’ could be chosen from, one for the whole Netflix library for those who want that, one that narrows it to just the profile watchlist, and possibly another popular categorization. 

It’s a interesting first version of the feature, a promising idea that, if Netflix refines it a little, could become a popular feature I’d use regularly.