For What It’s Worth: An Obligatory 2020 Best of List
2020 was a strange time. (Understatement, I know.) As far as entertainment goes there wasn’t as much released (or at least not as much as had been scheduled) for obvious reasons including distribution problems, lack of attendance, etc. That being said there were some very interesting and brilliant movies, novels, and TV shows released through alternative means like streaming and digital formats. Unfortunately, I didn’t indulge in very many.
Funny thing, with lockdown and quarantine you’d think I had an abundance of time on my hands to consume everything released as a matter of course. Alas, no. I spent the majority of my free time getting caught up on old stuff. I watched old noir films, read 70s comics, re-read novels, and watched more Doctor Who than is probably healthy for a typical human. So I am probably not the expert on what was truly “best” this year, but of what I did watch/read/listen to I can tell you what I enjoyed the most.
Okay, so without further ado, here’s my list:
The Glass Hotel
by Emily St. John Mandel
A complex story of crime, greed, guilt, and international shipping. This took me by surprise. I picked this up knowing nothing about the story ahead of time other than a colleague saying, “Read this, it’s good.” And it was. A character study of people in unusual situations doing things you wouldn’t expect. To say more would give away the best parts – but suffice to say it is a beautifully written book that tells how we struggle to find meaning in our lives. Highly recommend this.
by Susanna Clarke
This is the story of a house that is filled with infinite corridors and endless rooms, a labyrinth of statues, staircases and, an ocean. Piranesi explores the house seeking to uncover its mysteries, but when The Other visits looking for Secret Knowledge a terrible truth is revealed! This is Susanna Clarke’s follow-up to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel and it is written in that same magical style. A captivating book, I had a lot of fun with this one.
A Promised Land
by Barack Obama
Let’s get this straight right up front: I really don’t care about your politics. Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative – simply don’t care. The bottom line for this book is the fact that Barack Obama is a talented writer and a gifted storyteller. He tells us of his contentious time in office with humor, humility, honesty, and pathos. Every page of this 700+ memoir is riveting and revealing. So put your politics to the side and just read a good book.
by Jeremy Haun & Danny Luckert
This was a surprise. I love a good horror comic and so was just bopping around on the internet looking for suggestions when I came across the Boom Studios site. On it, there was a solicitation for Red Mother. The art looked great and Boom has been knocking it out of the park recently so I thought I’d give issue 1 a shot…I was not disappointed. This comic is creepy and compelling, a ghost/possession/conspiracy story that keeps ramping up the tension every month. Good stuff for horror fans.
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen
by Matt Fraction & Steve Lieber
Old school comic book fun. Matt Fraction nails the Silver/Bronze age style of storytelling while still delivering on modern sensibilities. And Steve Lieber does the same with the art; he conveys a classic old-timey feel while still feeling like a modern comic. This is just good, wacky fun, and proves that you don’t need to be dark and gritty to tell a compelling and entertaining story.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Not sure if this is a controversial pick – a lot of fan-boys online hated this – but I smiled all the way through. Margo Robbie absolutely nails her portrayal of Harley Quinn and leads us through a romp of a comic book movie that is bright and colorful and rude as all get out. Is it a great movie? No. Did I have an absolute blast watching it? Oh hell yeah.
Its Pixar, what can you say? The animation is stellar -as always – and the story is sweet, and funny, and makes you feel good inside. You might not think that would be the case from the premise: An aging jazz musician finally gets his big break then immediately dies in a ridiculous accident. Not wanting to go to the great beyond without being fulfilled he struggle to get back to his body and his life. Hilarity and hijinx ensue. Pixar hits all the right beats and knows how to bring the feels. This was a nice way to end a not-so-wonderful year.
Mandalorian (Season 2)
Boy, oh boy this is a good show. If you’re not into Star Wars there is plenty to like about it, and if you are into Star Wars holy cow this is a Lollapalooza of fan service done right. Its action adventure space fantasy magical goodness. And it has Baby Yoda!*
Star Trek: Discovery (Season 3)
I have been enjoying Discovery since the beginning (I may be in the minority there) and I really like the way the show has progressed. In season three the crew is thrown far, far in the future where the Federation is in tatters and the Star Trek universe is in disarray. It’s something Trek hasn’t done before and I’m loving it.
Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. (Season 7)
Maybe the most controversial on the list? I know not many fans liked this show – but I kinda love it. (Yes, even the first season!) The show has had bumps and misuses for sure, but it was always trying new things and new situations and the characters continued to grow and the world continued to expand. The 7th season was a joyful time-travel romp that ended the series in a fitting and satisfying way. Forget the haters, this is a fun show.
by Neil Gaiman
How do you do an audio version of a visual medium like a comic book? Well, simply get a stellar cast, then add brilliant sound design, and then use some of the best stories comics have to offer, and then have it narrated by one of the best storytellers of the modern era. Sandman is one of the seminal series in comics and the stories compiled in this collection work surprisingly well as an audio drama. I’m really hoping this group continues and tells the entire Sandman saga.
So that’s it, that’s my list. Like I said I didn’t consume a lot of “new” stuff in 2020 and there are probably (definitely) so many things I missed that would have gone on this list that I will no doubt catch up on in the future. If you have any suggestions let me know in the comments. Otherwise, have a wonderful and safe, and healthy 2021.
*yeah, I know his name is Grogu, but he’ll always be Baby Yoda in my heart.