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Can’t Make Film? What’s Been Great on Our Small Screens in 2020

Stuck at home? Aren’t we the lucky ones though?  

So many people have had to keep working during the pandemic, and I don’t mean the ones working from home, I mean the delivery drivers, the nurses and doctors, the people who run the city, the grocery stores and the restaurants that have survived. 

How can we ever thank them all enough? Maybe by not being assholes and wearing our bloody masks.

So in place of writing about what may or may not happen to independent film in the coming year, since next to nothing has happened in 2020 in that regard, I thought a list of what came out on our telly’s and was really really good this year, was in need.

I’ve watched a lot of TV.  A pretty high proportion of this has been news based.  CNN for me is still king, Anderson Cooper the best.  But of course there has been an enormous amount of entertainment binging and not just cake shows.

So here is my list of favorite TV and film in 2020, in no particular order of excellence.

“Star Trek Picard”

If you are a bit of a trekkie, or just a general sci-fi nerd then “Picard” is what dreams are made of.  Set a couple of decades on from when we last met him, Captain Picard is thrust into the latest universal struggle and impending doom.  Older and more driven than ever he assembles his own “crew” and the whole adventure is just about as perfect as any “Star Trek” could be.  It excels at the extraordinarily difficult balance of bitingly new and deeply reverential. I happily confess to watching the entire season twice, at least.

“Lovecraft Country”

Another sci-fi adventure, but this time entirely new and set in the fifties in the south.  This is a beautifully written and gorgeously produced show. It’s full of wisdom, innovation and the darkest time of our history.  It follows a black family discovering their place in an ancient line of witches.  The performances are superb and there are many many moments of “what the heck,” but in the best possible way.

“The Queens Gambit”

An excellent story about a chess genius discovering herself through beating the poop out of pretty much everyone she plays.  Such a stunningly stylish show. With long stretches of zero dialogue, which I found refreshing. Our imaginations are left to do their thing and its distinct and blissful lack of exposition makes it a joy to watch.

“The Mandalorian”

Of course “The Mandalorian” is on my list.  It should be on everyones list. Brilliant, exciting, slowly unwinding, retro futuristic melodrama.  With a hero who many consider their favorite of the “Star Wars” saga.  The Greekness of its tragedy is matched only by the dryness of its wit. I loved it, couldn’t fault it honestly.

“The Trial of The Chicago 7”

I thought I would probably love this given that it’s written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. But brilliant dialogue aside, the story of what actually happened to these guys is a lesson worthy of each and every cracking line and fantastic performance. Excellent cast, too, lots of Brits! A stand out film of this year for sure and for a filmmaker a masterclass in construction.

“The Social Dilema”

This documentary should make you very, very afraid.  As if we don’t have enough to be scared of right now I hear you cry.  But really, everyone should see this film, if only to understand what is happening in our crazy political world.  It’s also exceedingly well put together, it educates and astounds you with each additional person’s account of their terrible role in our undoing. It will blow your mind, in fact, and, honestly, our minds really do need to be blown.  Basically it explains why you keep getting ads for shoes you looked at once on Macy’s popping up in every feed you are on. And how that is actually just a segway to the end of civilization…not kidding.

“The Umbrella Academy”

This is season two, we had to wait a while for this and, to be honest, I was a bit nervous, I though “how could it get any better than season one?”  Well, not better, but more is the answer to that. Incredible story, surreal and gorgeous performances, fascinating storyline, lovely, big budget effects and lots and lots of humor.  More sci-fi but who doesn’t need to escape right now, even when the end of the world is its central theme?

“Soul”

Where do I begin? This will make you cry. But in the best way.  It is about death, which you might think we don’t really need at the moment. But this is Disney death, so death lite?  It also has a great soundtrack and Tina Fey is in it….cartoon in it.  I love this, everyone I know who’s seen it does. It’s very deep but beautiful and profound and funny.  Watch it.

“Enola Holmes”

The game’s afoot!  Lovely, silly adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes’ story, but from the perspective of the younger sister, Enola.  Rollicking fun, danger at every turn, beautiful period film set in my beloved England of course.  Funny and carefree entertainment.  Boy do we need this! 

“Mank”

A genius filmmaker, David Fincher, examines the genius of screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz.

Black and white, as stylish as the “Third Man,” it follows our alcoholic hero through the trials of his own fire as he attempts to save himself and Orson Well’s “Citizen Kane.”  It’s pretty astonishing and the history it tweaks as it tells is remarkable.  Art house, comic, revealing and revelatory. Miss it at your peril.

“Borat Subsequent Movie Film”

Not for everyone, but definitely brilliant.  I love Sacha Baron Cohen. Some do not, but then I feel very strongly that he doesn’t give a toot about that.  And nor should he, you can’t make something for everyone, especially not insightful, caustic, hilarious and rivetingly real stuff like this.  If you have a stick up your butt, you might not like it. Everyone else will see its beauty.

“Let Them All Talk”

What a cast – Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest, Candice Bergen.  Directed by Stephen Soderbergh and set on the QE II.  Brilliant, funny, painful, witty, striped back and clear. It’s about friendship and perspective and the lies we all tell ourselves to sleep at night…but in a good way.  The performances are electric, the story full of pathos and oh so real.  It’s a joy to watch them all in through the same lens.

“Watchmen”

This is like nothing you have ever seen.  It’s hard to describe because although its clearly sci-fi, it feels as if it could be happening somehow right out side your door.  The characters and their reason are perfectly and exquisitely expressed in every single frame.  It’s opera, it’s fable, it’s reality TV, it’s home movies and “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  A continuation of sorts from the original Watchmen film, this carries on through the prophecy, letting the world unfold and unravel.  Many many awards will be bestowed.

“Perry Mason”

Exquisite. Achingly beautiful and profoundly sad. How this got made is a miracle. Thank you HBO. Los Angeles in the 30s is a star in and of itself, but the performances, well really, just  so incredible. It’s sort of a prequel to the original show. How Perry became Perry so to speak.  But it stands alone and I love, love, love it.

“I May Destroy You”

This is English.  I’m actually not sure it could every get made in the US, although it did end up on HBO.  It’s comedy drama I suppose but in the way life is comedy drama.  Harder to define than you might think and truly excellent. Created, written, co-directed, and executive produced by Michaela Coel.  It ran on BBC in the UK.  It is extraordinary and tells the true story of a sexual assault and the consequences, as it effects the central figure and her friends. It’s artful and hilarious and gorgeously done. Riveting storytelling with no limits and no boundaries. It’s why art exists.

So that’s my list.  I probably could go on, add a few more, but these ones were the most resonating with me, the most memorable and important in this year of “the rapture.”

But 2021 is here. Dare we let it in? Do we have a choice? This does feel a lot like the beginning of the third act.  Just when we see a light at the end of the tunnel, when the mist clears, the audience can finally take a breath.  Isn’t that when the whole story takes another turn and the masks are truly removed, so to speak.  I’m holding on for our hero to save us as we take our last gasp and drag ourselves across the dusty floor toward the one remaining gun with it’s one remaining bullet. 

Let’s hope we don’t have to use it on ourselves.

Happy New Year!!!! May 2021 bring with it our salvation.

Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros

Author: Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros

Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros is a British writer and filmmaker living In Los Angeles.

Samantha Simmonds-Ronceroshttps://www.imdb.com/name/nm4303729/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0
Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros is a British writer and filmmaker living In Los Angeles.
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