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

(A work in progress…)

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).

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). In progress.

Movies (including those shown on TV, like Netflix documentaries)

  • 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.
  • 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). 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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’re 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. Now we’re onto the latest All Stars season (5) and I have to say I’m oversaturated.

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, Seasons 1 to 3: I like this, eh? It gets even better the more seasons you watch.
  • 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.

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