2020 Favorites

Some really great Video found our screens this year, and while it’s getting much harder to narrow down, I’ve managed a Top 10. That’s partly because there is so much more available, but also in this year, there was so much more time available to watch.

But first, music. I love exploring new sounds and artists, hearing new perspectives through soundwaves and lyrics, and this year took me places unexpected.

KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic has been a great source of new music.  They live in a future I’m always behind – in fact I discovered 3 of my top 2020 albums this year from KCRW’s Best Albums of 2019.

I’ve made a Spotify 2020 Playlist from these, but they don’t play very well together. Each album is so different, i was disappointed to be auto-shuffling through songs from each of these albums, trampling over each other like ice cream and avocados: all great foods but definitely not meant to play together. Instead, skip the shuffle and explore them each as albums.

(If you’re looking for one cohesive and fun playlist to shuffle play for your next pickleball outing, I highly recommend Zach’s Top 2020 list on Spotify: full of college rock vibrancy and good times.)

2020 Top 5 Albums

Peter Cottontale – “Catch”: This gospel album topped my list this year: it worked everyday and Sunday mornings too. Before Catch, creator Peter Wilkins was mostly a background producer for Chance the Rapper (from my 2019 list) and Jamila Woods. Both appear on this brilliant album that fuses gospel and hip-hop into a beautiful new creation. This album steered me back toward spiritual music and introduced me to a vibrant Chicago music scene that I’m still exploring. Give it a try! Says Wilkins in the Chicago Tribune: “Jesus and God say come as you are. This is me presenting myself as I am.’ Amen.

Helado Negro – “This is How You Smile” If there ever was a vacation morning album this is it. Relaxed and spacial, let its acoustic guitar serenade you into a lazy day where you barely notice that most of the lyrics are in Spanish. This album understands you’re just waking up and gently welcomes you to the day.

Brittany Howard – “Jaime”: This catchy but deep album found itself on repeat in the Before Times and was sadly my first concert cancellation of the pandemic times. Howard – the lead singer of the Alabama Shakes – sings about growing up in South, and tames its beauty and scars together into a wildly varied piece of art. The work contains both sweet crush songs (“Georgia”) and challenging recollections of racism (“Goat Head”) – a range as wide as Howard’s vocals.

Sault – Albums 5, 7, and Untitled (Black Is): What started as a fun, upbeat experience with Sault’s albums titled “5” and “7”, turned into something more at just the right time when Untitled (Black is) was released in June. I enjoyed all three of these albums for different reasons. For dance-in-the-kitchen moments listen to “5” and then, when racial upheaval fills your evenings with books “to understand” and movies “to educate”, consider music as another channel to broaden your perspective. UK-based Sault’s album “Untitled (Black is)” is great music, period. But it also speaks to the broadness of the Black Experience by declaring not just protest-triggering challenges, but also the joys, hopes, quirks, and collective comforts of granny, food, and life in general. There’s more to this story, and Sault has captured it in a rhythmic and melodic way that will keep your toes tapping.

Lana Del Rey – Norman F. Rockwell: If you’d told me LDR would show on my top list this year I’d have laughed. But the heart does what the heart does, and when I wanted a mood, she was already in my head and I had to hear it out. Like everything on this list, this needs to be experienced as a full album, top to bottom, no interruptions. Oh, and if someone tells you they liked Taylor Swift’s Folklore album dare them to explain how half of its songs weren’t a derivation of this.

That’s the Top 5, but I have to give an honorable mention to Mimi Gilbert’s album, “Grew Inside The Water”. What a gentle but honest journey this work travels through, from Gilbert’s early homelife (she is from Ojai, CA) to the seeming peace she is finding . We saw Gilbert play a small venue in Seattle after our daughter introduced us to her, and the quality of texture on this album will surely take her music into every living room. Don’t wait for a power outage – light all your candles, turn off the lights, put on this album, and curl up to let your ears absorb this piece of art.

2020 Top 10 Shows

The Queens Gambit (Netflix)

Quickly moving from orphanage to adoption to world-ranked chess player in 7 episodes, Beth Harmon breaks stereotypes of the 50’s and makes chess great again in our time. Nothing is overstated in this stylish drama which subtly addresses substance use and coming of age.

Unorthodox (Netflix)

Drop deep into a foreign culture in the heart of Brooklyn. Feel Esty’s pain in leaving legalistic religion behind while appreciating the richness of community she ultimately loses in exchange for her freedom.

Ted Lasso (AppleTV)

The warm-hearted escape we needed in 2020, Jason Sudeikis’ bumbling coach learns that soccer games do not have “quarters” and that cleats are called “boots”. Despite the manly promo pictures, I thought the women (Hannah Waddingham and Juno Temple) stole the show in this production and can’t wait for season 2.

Thirteen (Netflix)

If you only watch one movie this year on racism’s history in America, make it this one. And then go watch Just Mercy again ;-). Like a connect-the-dots documentary, Thirteen flows through the decades showing how today’s state of affairs is no surprise.

Our Time is Now (The Restaurant) (AmazonVideo)

Starting at the close of WWII in Stockholm, the Lowander family’s 3 children shuffle control and modernization of the family’s historic restaurant while fighting against their darker impulses. We see the roots of social change through this historically stylish and endearing show. In Swedish, with English subtitles.

Tehran (AppleTV)

Suspenseful, clean, and well-paced; Tehran’s sense of location (Israel & Iran) was but one of its strengths. It juxtaposed humans on both sides of a historic hate by showing us how similar they actually are.

The Morning Show (AppleTV):

A drama centered around a TV news show’s ratings and morale after a sexual misconduct scandal, I appreciated the complexity present in its various characters and the challenge to draw our own conclusions.

Wonderland (AmazonVideo)

Like the characters of Friends, these Australian 20-somethings find their way into adulthood in this scenic seaside town that starts with an embarrassing and hilarious wedding scene. A light and fun escape.

State of the Union (AmazonVideo)

Captivating conversations expose relational insights in this series of ten-minute episodes with Chris O’Dowd and Rosamund Pike. Yeah, it didn’t sound great to me either, but it was, and made me laugh too.

Honorable Mentions: The Flight Attendant (AmazonVideo) starring Kelly Cuoco, Atlanta (hulu) created by and starring Donald Glover, Dickinson (AppleTV), Poldark (AmazonVideo), and winning a continuation from last year, Schitt’s Creek.

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