2020 in lists: concerts & shows, theatre, books, movies, TV

(A work in progress…)

Movies (seen in the cinema)

  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Enjoyable enough and hit the mark, I thought. I would have liked to see Rose get more screentime. I enjoyed seeing Carrie Fisher. I got mixed up and expected to see Baby Yoda in this film.
  • Jojo Rabbit: Whoah. I don’t even know what to think of this one. A superb performance by the lead and the director playing Adolf Hitler was hilarious and charismatic. But I’m still kind of taking it in.
  • Joker: Joaquin Phoenix is so intriguing and compelling, I was really drawn into the film, even though the main plot seemed to be ‘How did the Joker become who he is?’, basically a set-up for the Batman myth. So, not much of a movie in the end, but a performance. Interesting to read the reviews: critics seemed to hate this (or at least the hype or huge praise it got). 
  • Tenet: Watchable and even enjoyable, but does it make sense? No. 
  • The New Mutants: I was such an X-men fan as a teenager and I *thought* I remembered the New Mutants, but so many years later, I didn’t remember any of these characters or the storyline. I found it a bit flat and badly written and wasn’t drawn into any of the characters, so this would be a *meh* for me. Surprised though that one of the main actors, Anja Taylor-Joy, turns up in the TV series, The Queen’s Gambit, and with some great acting skills (I thought she was one-dimensional in the movie). 
  • Lucky Grandma: A number of reviews mention that this is a simple and straightforward movie, and as a gangster heist film, I would have liked a twist or two. But the lead performance is really amazing, and I quite enjoyed this film. 

Movies (seen on TV, like on Netflix)

  • Frozen II: How could I be bored during the world’s highest grossing animated film? I guess I’m not the target audience (though I liked Frozen).
  • The Marriage Story: Meh. I think I read too much of the hype and was distracted by it. I thought it was fine, but didn’t love it.
  • The Irishman: Uh oh. Again, the critics have been raving about this. I think the acting is magnificent but in one of the longest films I’ve seen in recent memory, the storytelling wasn’t exactly tight, and the dramatic hooks took a long time to come.
  • Judy: I quite liked this one. Amazing performance by Zellweger and I liked the story enough: a look behind the legend.
  • Fyre: The Greatest Music Festival that Never Happened: They sort of make this out like this is a particular sign of the times, instagram influencers combining with the young wealthy and technology, but compulsive liars and fantasists have been the subject of literature and art throughout history. Some surprising similarities with Tiger King (see below).
  • Michelle Obama’s Becoming: Loved it. What an incredible woman.
  • Snowpiercer: Inspired by watching the current TV series, this movie, the first English-language film by Oscar-winning Bong Joon-Ho, was great. Gripping and suspenseful but makes a point too (like Parasite). Tilda Swinton was unrecognisable!
  • Circus of Books: I found this character study, of the filmmaker’s parents, a conventional Jewish couple, one of them devout, who happen to own a famous gay porn store and get into producing gay porn, to be fascinating.
  • Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas: What an interesting mind Gadsby has, and this show is a perfectly constructed look inside her brain, with unusual connections, some discomfort, some outrage and some deep laughter. I really liked it.
  • Tickled (documentary): I thought this was going to be a comic exploration of a sexual fetish, and it turned out to be much, much darker. Recommended.
  • Boy, Erased: Some very beautiful moments and made with hearts in the right place. But I could never forget that the parents were Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman, instead of believing they were Baptist parents in … wherever it was set. 
  • Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen: Interesting and engaging and powerful, I’m glad to have watched this. 
  • I’m thinking of ending things: Umm. It’s not like I don’t like to be challenged and I did appreciate the way the film drew you in during different parts of it just because of the narrative, the story, the way we tell stories. But parts of this really dragged for me.
  • The Half of It: Oh, I was charmed by this. The writing in the second half was not as good as it could have been, but great characters and yup, if someone had told this gay middle-aged Chinese-Canadian that in 2020, there would be a movie, available to be seen by millions of people, with a Chinese-American lesbian as the protagonist, I would NOT have believed them. 
  • The Boys in the Band: I’d heard about this, part of our gay cultural history, but never read it or saw the play or movie. There are parts that feel dated, surely, but what surprised me is how much in the characters I can see in people around me today. The 1968 play was criticised of portraying gay men as self-hating, and that it was dated within only a year, after Stonewall in 1969, but much of the way human nature was portrayed in the play is not something that changes so easily. 

Documentaries and Reality Television

  • Flirty Dancing UK, Season 2. We were utterly charmed by this show, that seemed to be sincere about trying to match up couples and set them up for a first date where they dance together, a routine they’ve practised all week with trainers. They don’t even know each other’s names. It’s sweet and romantic.
  • Queer Eye, Season 3. For some reason, this season didn’t grab me as much. Was it that there were no standout heroes? Or am I getting bored of the boys? It’s still good TV but we weren’t as into it this time around.
  • Queer Eye in Japan. Wow, was this weird. I do enjoy the show in general, but there were so many moments that I cringed at, well-meaning Westerners walking into another culture and giving advice that probably is inappropriate. Here’s a really interesting commentary on the show.
  • Project Runway, Season 18. I am loving that this show is back with its original production team. The focus is on talent and skills and that is here in abundance. Of course there was drama, inevitably, but it doesn’t feel manufactured as in some previous seasons. Christian Siriano has really hit his stride, and I like Karlie Kloss and the judges too. Happy with the decision on who won!
  • Don’t F#ck With Cats: Netflix is making crazy documentaries these days, and this was so compelling, engaging and disturbing. I couldn’t look away.
  • Next in Fashion: We’re huge fans of Project Runway so wanted to watch its competitor. There were drawbacks: like the Chef’s Table competition, pairing randoms together and eliminating these teams of two seems unfair and brutal. Yet the quality of talent was so much higher that it was great to watch, and the focus was all on the talent and skills, rather than interpersonal drama (though the current Project Runway is doing a good job of this as well). With a truly international cast, it felt a whole step up from Project Runway in terms of diversity. On Project Runway, German blonde supermodel host Heidi Klum has been replaced by American blonde model host Karlie Kloss. Here, South Asian Tan France and part-Chinese Alexa Chung are refreshingly short and non-blonde. All in all, we loved it. Good television!
  • Australian Survivor All Stars (Season 5): So much Survivor. So much TV. So much time in my life that I’ll never get back. And really, half the cast aren’t really ‘All Stars’. They didn’t make it far in their own seasons or were very good at the game. It’s just that viewers seemed to like them. But I can’t stop watching. In the end, I was happy enough with the winner (though would have preferred Moana to win).
  • Survivor Season 40: Winners at War: Bringing back winners from 20 seasons. OMG. Am loving this season. Every player is interesting and knows how to play. I don’t love the Extinction Island thing. But it’s a great theme for one of our favourite shows. In the end, it was one of the best seasons ever with a worthy winner. Why did no one take him out earlier, knowing how good he is?
  • Tiger King: Like it seems everyone else in lockdown, I watched this. Oh my god, this was good TV. A trainwreck that you could not look away from.
  • Making the Cut: The long awaited return of Tim and Heidi features Amazon’s plumped up budget, and a set of designers with more experience than in Project Runway. The producers still love their drama though; I’d rather just enjoy the fashion, which teaches me what’s in style and what works and doesn’t. There are little interludes during the show of Tim and Heidi hanging out in Paris which are completely bizarre and not very enjoyable. But in the end, enjoyed watching the designers and see their (generally) beautiful creations.
  • Googlebox Australia, Season 11: I dipped into this here and there, and missed some of the cast that had left (or are taking a break because of the COVID). But it’s still great TV. Much more enjoyable than watching the shows themselves to instead see the commentary. ‘We watched it so you don’t have to.’ And it confirms my belief that Aussies are really some of the most naturally funny people, ever. I dipped into the Celebrity Googlebox USA that they started showing in June, and am bemused that they are so less interesting and funny than the Gogglebox Australia cast.
  • Masterchef Australia, Winners at War: Oh, was that the name of this season of Survivor? It’s pretty much the same. Super enjoyable. Love the new hosts. Enjoy people being celebrated for their talents and they are supportive of each other. The producers don’t stir up any interpersonal drama. Am not as inspired to cook the dishes, as I have been in the past: they’re too complicated. But yup, we were hooked on this.
  • More Rupaul: Mama Ru just churns out more and more of these. The celebrity four-parter was a bit odd, and not that engaging. The idea of anyone doing drag is great (including women and men and folks of different shapes and sizes) but something about this mostly didn’t work for me. Uh, we got through the last regular season (12) which was interesting for some wrong reasons (the Sherry Pie scandal, the finale under lockdown) and while I respect Jaida, the winner, and understand that the other two finalists were too similar to recent winners, I did like them a bit better. Also finished the latest All Stars season (5) and felt oversaturated. And now onto Canada’s Drag Race, which also is not catching me, even though I’m Canadian.
  • Queer Eye Season 4: A little better than the last, for me, and I find it raises really interesting cultural questions.
  • Survivor South Africa Season 6 & 7: Channel Ten here has started showing foreign Survivors. Hurrah. I love this show and it’s fun seeing it in a different cultural context. Season 6 was weirdly predictable until it wasn’t but enjoyable enough to watch; Season 7 was pretty good & husband was in love/lust with one of the players!
  • My Octopus Teacher: Beautiful images, charming story. 
  • The Vow: While I was really drawn in and engaged with some of the episodes and storyline, about the NXIVM cult and efforts to take down its leader, Keith Raniere, perhaps that’s why I was so disappointed at the end of nine episodes. I thought it was going to finish! And we’d find out what happened to everyone. Instead, there’s going to be a whole another season. This series really lost itself, many times, repeating stories, introducing new people without a dramatic arc, focusing on the guilt of the whistleblowers, when there is SO much fascinating about this whole, crazy and sordid story. Not sure if I’ll be able to stomach the 2nd season when it comes out. 

Other television

  • The Good Place, Season 4. I really did love this show. I thought it was so funny and witty. I fell in love with the characters. I loved that it offered wit and intelligence as well as a lot of silliness. The finale was lovely.
  • Crashing: OK. Who’s watched Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s predecessor to Fleabag? I loved Fleabag so it was fascinating to see a first draft. Instead of the uptight contrasting character to Fleabag being her sister, in this case, it’s Phoebe’s childhood best friend (and unrequited love)’s fiance. Waller-Bridge’s character is wild and shocking and sexual. But what doesn’t work is that, unlike Fleabag, where there’s a rationale for the protagonist’s coldness, fucked-up-edness and wild behaviour, here, there is none. It’s pure id. Scenes often end in a mass fight verging on an orgy involving liquid (food, wine, paint, bodily fluids). They often go too far, because the sake of it seems to be to go too far. It was watchable and has some great bits, but all in all, is a promise of what’s to come.
  • El Camino: Six years since Breaking Bad. I remember being obsessed with it, captivated by it, and yet I’m surprised now how much I’d forgotten. I read a catch-up summary online and here we were: ready to watch El Camino, which basically tells us what happened to Jesse Pinkman after the final episode. As before, the filming, the angles, the storytelling: all top-notch and the characters were always uniformly fascinating. So, I’m glad they made it! And I’m glad we watched it.
  • Killing Eve, Season 3: Oh boy is this ever good.
  • Schitt’s Creek, all seasons: I found this show just got better and better after an uneven first season. Funny, heartwarming, amazing. 
  • Hollywood: There was something about Ryan Murphy’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace that I found both compelling but just a bit too tawdry. It was so dark. The pace was all over the place. So, I worried about Hollywood, which was pilloried in every review I found in major newspapers. But I found it like cotton candy. I couldn’t eat it more than once in a blue moon, but it was sweet and it sure was pretty.
  • The Politican, Season 2: I have to report I’m bowing out of this one. I loved Ben Platt in Evan Hansen. And pretty much on that basis watched Season 1. But by the second episode of season 2, I found the whole thing so cartoonish and so lacking in some emotional grounding or reality, it’s unpleasant. The story, the characters: everything just seems to be begging for attention.
  • Snowpiercer: The reports on this series, a variation rather than based on the movie, were really mediocre, but I really enjoyed the vibe and was completely willing to suspend my disbelief.
  • Normal People: I find this just a really, really beautifully filmed and acted story with two compelling lead actors. Loved it. 
  • Alias Grace: As a Margaret Atwood fan, who read this book years ago when it came out, I’m surprised it took me this long to get around to seeing the mini-series adapted from the novel. It was a pleasure to hear Atwood’s voice coming through loud and strong (as I understand much text came verbatim from the book). The acting is beautiful, the leads charismatic, and the style of storytelling is engaging. Also: good to see a bit of Canadian history portrayed on screen, that’s not too usual. 
  • Years and Years: Art is not only meant to entertain, and this show I found harrowing, a scary look into the near-future, which is not that different than today. Great characters, great ideas, and as I said: harrowing. 
  • My Brilliant Friend, Season 2: I loved the books so was mostly interesting in seeing how they were brought to life. I’m not sure how compelling the series would be to those who haven’t read the books!
  • Emily in Paris: It is filled with stereotypes, but what strikes me is that in my time, I’ve encountered them and made anecdotes about nearly each one. I find the lead character annoying and the French boss  a one-dimensional caricature, but I can’t stop watching it.
  • Giri/Haji: An interesting, melodramatic, genre-blending Japanese-British production with memorable characters, some great acting, and a fantastic conclusion. 

Books

  • André Aciman’s Find Me (fiction). Boy did I hate this book. Here’s my review.
  • David Sedaris’s When You Are Engulfed in Flames (humour). Here’s my review.
  • Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (novel). Here’s my review.
  • Shaun Tan’s The Arrival (a ‘pictorial work’). Here’s my review.
  • David Lebovitz’s Drinking French (recipes and more). Here’s my review.
  • Lydia Davis’s The End of the Story (fiction). Here’s my review.
  • Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks in the Time of Saviors (fiction). Here’s my review.
  • Ian Young’s London Skin & Bones (memoir). Here’s my review.
  • Milan Kundera’s The Festival of Insignificance (fiction). Here’s my review.
  • George Ilsley’s The Home Stretch: A Father, A Son, and All the Things They Never Talk About.

Concerts, Shows, Theatre, Exhibitions & Words

  • Dodecalis Luminarium. This art installation apparently took six months to make. It really is beautiful and I love how it engages people (especially kids). By the Architects of Air, this was part of the Sydney Festival.
  • The Life of Us, Hayes Theatre. A homegrown Australian musical, where the two young leads were the writers and are partners (in a musical about the trials of a long-distance relationship). Such great talent. Amazing songwriting. I think the book might need a little adjustment if it’s going to make it to bigger stages, but we were really impressed.
  • Conchita Wurst & Trevor Ashley in Concert, for Mardi Gras 2020. A rainbow sparkly evening with not two but three amazing performers (Kate Miller-Heidke was a guest).
  • Hamilton (television). I might have seen this on TV but have to count this as a show, for what a show it was. Finally, after reading about it all these years, I got to see it and it was perhaps even better than I expected. Wonderful.
  • Next to Normal, NIDA. Finally out to see theatre again, this is the only show that NIDA opened to the public this season. Great to see the young talented performers, Australia’s new musical theatre stars. I saw this show in NYC years ago, and remembered I liked parts (tuneful melodies) and not so much others (confusing messaging about mental illness). 

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