2020 in Review
22 of My New Favorite Things
A friend of my father’s once said to me, “There is no ice water in hell.” I was 10 and had no clue what he was talking about. That phrase came back to me recently, as I realized that even in this annus horribilis, there are some things worth celebrating.
A few notes regarding this list:
- While there are links in this post, none are affiliate links, as I find myself almost completely unaffiliated with any money-making concern. If you are “I own the color blue” wealthy and wish my affiliation, my email is at the bottom of this post.
2. The art on this list was made in 2020.
3. The recommendations come from personal experience.
And now, with a minimum of further ado: Stuff That Made Me Happy This Year
- Best Song: Bob Dylan, Murder Most Foul
In late March, as the lockdown in the USA took full effect, Bob Dylan casually dropped this almost seventeen-minute opus about the Kennedy assassination, with Fiona Apple on piano. Apparently, it had been kicking around, unreleased, for awhile.
2. Best Music Video: Billie Eilish, my future
The animation work in this piece is remarkable and fits the lyrics perfectly.
3. Best New Artist: Nandi Bushnell
Nandi came to prominence when she challenged Dave Grohl, her musical idol, to a drum-off. What happened after is one of the sweetest stories of 2020. The below video is the original challenge, but the entire tale goes on for 5 or 6 videos.
4. Best Established Artist with a New Album: The Avalanches, We Will Always Love You
Funny story. One day I woke up with a song I hadn’t heard in forever, Frontier Psychiatrist, stuck in my head. That very day, in an email from the New York Times, there was a mention that the band who had released Frontier Psychiatrist, The Avalanches, had just released a new album. As well, I learned that there was a video for Frontier Psychiatrist, which was news to me. I’m posting both here and breaking my own “only music created in 2020” rule because I can. So there!
5. Best Earworms: The Go! Team, Cookie Scene, Breland, My Truck These songs are what got stuck in my head this year. May they now get stuck in yours.
6. A free gift: I had heard the name John Prine, but I couldn’t have named a song of his until he died of COVID this spring. He’s now one of my all-time favorite musicians. Here’s one of my recent favorites:
(Note: Since I spend so much time staring at screens, I’ve switched to audiobooks in order to preserve my eyes)
7. Lucy Ellmann, Ducks, Newburyport read by Stephanie Ellyne
Ducks, Newburyport is a 1000+ page inner monologue delivered by a middle-aged, middle-class housewife in suburban Ohio. The privileging of the quotidian, the fluidity of the writing, and the stellar delivery of Ms. Ellyne all add up to a must-listen experience.
Check out this great listen on Audible.com. Baking a multitude of tartes tatins for local restaurants, an Ohio…
8. AUTOBIOGRAPHY Barack Obama, A Promised Land, read by the author. Spanning the period from his first election to the Illinois Statehouse through to the midterms of 2010, Barack Obama tells his story clearly and well while giving us a first-person account of the experience of being President of The United States of America. The greatest achievement of A Promised Land is his ability to humanize epic events.
A Promised Land
Check out this great listen on Audible.com. A riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making - from the…
9. SCIENCE FICTION Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future: A Novel, Narrated by Jennifer Fitzgerald, Fajer Al-Kaisi, Ramon de Ocampo, Gary Bennett, Raphael Corkhill, Barrie Kreinik, Natasha Soudek, Nikki Massoud, Joniece Abbott Pratt, Inés del Castillo, Vikas Adam.
If you despair over the future of the planet, this book is for you. It is the most hopeful cli-fi dystopia I have ever heard. Mainly utilizing 2nd-person and written in the style of a series of TED Talks, the book focuses on the possibility of a change in our relationship to the natural world after a series of horrific climate catastrophes. The performers are uniformly solid, and the variety of people and accents makes it feel as if the whole world is represented in this book. A truly remarkable achievement — unlike anything I’ve ever read.
The Ministry for the Future
Check out this great listen on Audible.com. From legendary science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson comes a…
10. Lawrence Wright, The Plague Year
An incredibly important (and equally long) essay detailing the history of COVID-19 and how we got to where we are. Essential reading for anyone interested in the history of COVID-19.
The Plague Year
1. "An Evolving Situation" There are three moments in the yearlong catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic when events…
11. Garrett M. Graff, The Man Who Speaks Softly — and Commands a Big Cyber Army
An incredibly well-fleshed out portrait of General Paul Nakasone, the director of both the NSA and Cyber Command.
The Man Who Speaks Softly-and Commands a Big Cyber Army
In the years before he became America's most powerful spy, Paul Nakasone acquired an unusually personal understanding…
12. Sandra Upson, The Devastating Decline of a Brilliant Young Coder
A fascinating and ultimately heartbreaking piece about Lee Holloway, one of the founders of Cloudflare.
Video (non-music division)
13. Dorktown, The History of the Seattle Mariners (produced by Secret Base) A loving, encyclopedic, and deeply felt examination of the complete history Seattle Mariners baseball franchise. Possibly the best sports documentary not just of this year, but of all time.
14. Twinsthenewtrend A set of 20-something twins who react to music they have never before heard. Charming, honest, and funny, this series gives old people like me hope for the future. I am linking to both their channel as a whole and my personal favorite video of theirs.
15. Paul Hibbert, Hibbert Home Tech
If, like me, you dream of controlling your house from your bed, you will have already realized that most videos on the subject are well-intentioned and deadly dull. Enter Paul Hibbert. Paul has managed to make videos that are both informative and funny. While I don’t believe the channel started in 2020, I’m including him anyway because you need Paul Hibbert in your life. The video down below is a recent example of his style, but do take a wander through his back catalog.
16. The Great, Hulu
Hysterically funny, raunchy, and farcical, this series is extremely loosely based on the life story of Catherine the Great. Elle Fanning is a revelation. The Great made me laugh harder than anything else in 2020.
17. Tehran, Apple TV Plus
From the creator of Fauda, this thriller takes a deep, penetrating look into the life of a Mossad agent in Tehran. Primarily in Farsi and Hebrew, with some dialogue in English. Good subtitles make it easy to follow.
18. Murder on Middle Beach, HBO Max. The incredible yet true story of Barbara Hamburg’s murder, this documentary was made by her son over a period of seven years and features interviews with her close friends and family members. A remarkable story, well-told.
19. EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: The Story of Fire Saga, Netflix This one is most definitely for Will Ferrell fans, so if that isn’t you, give it a pass. If Semi-Pro or Blades of Glory is your jam, you will dig this. It’s the same basic storyline, only this time applied to the Eurovision Song Contest, with hysterically absurd results. The movie stars Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, though Melisanthi Mahut (here playing rival diva Mita Xenakis, but better known to gamers as the voice of Kassandra in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey) almost steals the show.
20. SLOW BURN SEASON 4: DAVID DUKE
. The fourth season of SLOW BURN returns to politics, with a new season about the rise and eventual fall of Louisiana white supremacist David Duke. The season has a very gradual arc but is ultimately devastating. Without the host ever saying so, it becomes clear that the success of David Duke made the rise of Donald Trump possible.
Slow Burn on Apple Podcasts
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a white supremacist became an American political phenomenon. David Duke's rise to…
21. The Thing About Pam, Dateline NBC
Although TTAP *technically* came out in September of 2019, it deserves inclusion here. Hosted by Keith Morrison, The Thing About Pam is one of the most unique and serpentiform true crime podcasts I’ve ever heard. Impossible to describe, it’s worth a listen.
Full Disclosure: TinyKris is my fianceé. However, she wouldn’t make this list if the stream wasn’t funny and smart. TinyKris presents her audience with an (often bawdy) stream-of-consciousness monologue while painting minis, playing video games, and occasionally destroying gingerbread hoses with a meat tenderizer. Welcome to my world.
Finally, since I can once again ask, as the Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus wrote at the end of The Prisoners: ”… Applaud!”
I can’t wait to be amazed by new art and artists in: