Well, it's that time of the year when everyone is doing their 'best and worst of' lists, so here is mine. I'm going to list the books and movies and records I read/watched/listened to in 2020 and then pick my favourites. This isn't restricted to what was new in 2020, but what I actually watched and read and heard - some of these items might be very old indeed.
I read the following in 2020:
Rachel Smith – Artificial Flowers
That's worked out at 51 books this year, up ten from last years 41 so pretty good, and much helped by Covid-19 which meant I was reading a lot more in the day job for a month or two. My target is generally 50 books a year, so I'm happy with this. I should mention that I also proofread and copyedit and adding those novels into the mix would increase the list by about 25 books this year.
I can count the number of books I've ever given up on before finishing them on one hand, and unfortunately this year that includes "Ilano In Flames", a collection of short stories by Juan Rulfo which I just couldn't get into. Other books I weren't keen on included "On Chesil Beach" by Ian McEwan (so appalling British, so righteously sneering, so dumbingly anal), "Honeybones" by Georgina Bruce (which I desperately wanted to connect with, but just couldn't - try it though, others love it), "Moon In A Dead Eye" by Pascal Garnier (one-dimensional, run-of-the-mill), "Remember You're A One-Ball" by Quentin S Crisp (which I found passionless and unengaging), and "Rabbit Pie", a collection of short stories by Brian Clemens which was ok but which has dated considerably from when it was written.
I made an effort again this year to read more books by authors that I know personally and out of the 51 books this included 22 from such folk (including a few books read for review and those in an editorial role). Overall, the following deserve special mentions across the board: "Humanagerie" edited by Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle (an animal-themed anthology of poetry and prose), "The Dying Animal" by Philip Roth (typical white middle-class male perspective, but bang on the nose with it), "New Fears 2" edited by Mark Morris (some brilliant horror stories here), "Exquisite Corpse" by Poppy Z Brite (exquisite!), "Doctor Brodie's Report" by Jorge Luis Borges (a strong collection of his later short stories which are primarily realistic in nature, although in some instances proving realism is equal to the fantastical), Nina Allen's "The Rift" (a writer who also mixes the mundane with the fantastical in this great novel), "Engine Beneath Us" by Malcolm Devlin (great novella with some interesting ideas), and another novella, "The Arrival of Missives", by Aliya Whiteley. I'd also recommend "Terror and the Tortoiseshell" by John Travis (noir detective story, with animals), "The Planet Suite" by Allen Ashley (the expanded version of his earlier novel of the same title: inventive and brilliantly written), "W, Or The Memory Of Childhood" by Georges Perec (a powerful treatise on both memory and remembrance), "Hebdomeros" by Giorgio de Chirico (one of the most immediately engaging surrealist books that I've read), "The Memoirs of Jerome Berger" by Marcus Reichert (an existential jailbreak novel with a dash of authentic narrative surrealism), "The Quarantined City" by James Everington (almost made my top three, brilliant central conceit), Douglas Thompson's endlessly inventive "Barking Circus", Eugen Bacon's vibrant "Ivory's Story" (and her collection, "The Road To Woop Woop"), and finally Deborah Harry's autobiography, "Face It".
However, as usual, I'm going to base my top three from my Goodreads reviews. Four books received my 5/5 rating, and so I'm edging out "Behind Union City: The Making of an Independent Film" by Amos Chan, Deborah Harry and Marcus Reichert, which is a sumptuously beautiful book about the film Union City containing both stills and original photographs, as I tend to stick to fiction in these round-ups. However, without further ado, here are my favourite reads of 2020:
In reverse order:
"The Bones of the Moon" by Jonathan Carroll
"The Names" by Don DeLillo
And the winner is:
"Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" by Haruki Murakami
I watched the following in 2020:
That's 120 movies this year, a staggering 49 up from last year which is just what I wanted! Mostly this is due to my partner's working hours realigning with mine, renting about 25 movies from our library during the first Covid-19 lockdown, buying a larger TV to make the experience more enjoyable, but also making time each Friday to watch kid-friendly movies with my eight year old. From those, "Onward" won our hearts this year. All of us were crying.
As usual, however, I'm discounting movies I've previously seen. So this knocks out one of my favourite films, Jean-Luc Godard's "Une Femme Est Une Femme" which I've seen half a dozen times or more, "Alphaville", also by Godard, which was much better third time around, Peter Jackson's "Bad Taste" (clearly his best movie), the sublime "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (which I could watch on repeat and cry every time, Gene Wilder and the whole cast are brilliant), and films as diverse as "Animal Crackers" and "The Shining". Not to forget either the final two films on the list by Krzysztof Kieślowski which are sublime.
Those movies which I found annoying or awful are easy to chronicle, and this includes "In Fabric" (I've loved Peter Strickland's other films, but I almost physically and mentally recoiled from this it was so bad), "High Life" (director Claire Denis and actress Juliette Binoche should have been a match made in heaven, but I just couldn't engage with this film), "Sharknado" (which is so obviously awful, but I still had a lot of fun with), "Parasite" (the Oscar-winning South Korean film which I thought opened with some good ideas but which finished up all over the shop), and "Jojo Rabbit" which I really wanted to enjoy but which I found vacuous and derivative.
One of my favourite platforms for movies is Mubi, and I loved that they showed a variety of Isabelle Huppert movies this year, as I would rate her as my favourite actress. These included "The Trout", "Things To Come", "Malina" and "8 Women", all of which I thoroughly enjoyed, and all of which could have made this year's top three.
Other favourites included "Solaris" (the Andrei Tarkovsky original, particularly the driving sequence), "The Idiots" (Lars Von Trier's provocative - aren't they all - early feature), "The Wild Goose Lake" (a Chinese neo-noir thriller directed by Diao Yinan), "The Man From London" (Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky's almost inexorably slow but ultimately rewarding black and white masterpiece), "Night Train" (the 1959 Polish film directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz which was very engaging), Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Querelle" based on a Jean Genet novel (visually stunning, a dynamic work), "Hiroshima Mon Amour" directed by Alain Resnais (beautiful, realistic love story), Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette's sprawling, metamodern film which probably requires two views to completely love it), "The Consequences of Love" (the best of five early films I watched directed by Paolo Sorrentino with a surprising ending, and a great opening sequence to a song by Lali Puna), "Endless Poetry" (Alejandro Jodorowsky's brilliant and visually inventive auto-biopic), Jean Cocteau's "The Blood of a Poet" (so far ahead of its time), the quirky "Redoubtable" directed by Michel Hazanavicius which takes a chapter in the life of Jean-Luc Godard and gets it just about right, "Baxter, Vera Baxter" directed by Marguerite Duras (who also wrote the screenplay for "Hiroshima Mon Amour" mentioned above, a semi-solipsistic musing), "Midsommar" directed by Ari Aster (a riotous horror film of unnerving skewed logic which narrowly misses on a top three place through being slightly ridiculous), "Theatre of Blood" (a tremendous Vincent Price vehicle which also narrowly misses out on my top three due to an aversion with forced feeding), "His House" (extremely affecting horror film very relevant to today's society, one which resonated deeply), "Calibre" (taut British crime thriller with great realism that skillfully sidesteps expectations), and "The Platform" (another intriguing horror film which posits a social dilemma at its heart to create an interesting dialogue).
So, as usual, I get the feeling that another day might produce marginally different results, but – today – here are my top three movies I saw for the first time in 2020.
Again, in reverse order:
"Border" (2018) - Ali Abbasi
"Phantom Thread" (2017) - Paul Thomas Anderson
And the winner is...
"Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood" (2019) - Quentin Tarantino
I listened to the following full-length albums in 2020:
The Talking Heads – ‘77
That's 80 albums which isn't bad considering I used to mostly listen to music on headphones whilst cycling to and from work and I haven't had to do that since March as I've been working from home. I also haven't been writing fiction to music this year so haven't heard any that way either. So, headphones on and bopping around the kitchen making dinner it is, then.
I revisited my favourite band, The Stranglers, following the unbearably sad death of keyboardist Dave Greenfield from Covid-19. Both "Black and White" and "The Raven" would be within my top ten albums of all time, closely followed by many of their other records. And as usual I played some Blondie, X-Ray Spex, Maximo Park, and The Residents (digging into the pREServed editions from Cherry Red there is much Residents' material I haven't heard or has been reworked there, to my delight. "Not Available" and "Eskimo" being the best of these).
"Fabula Mendax" (2019) - The Monochrome Set
"Metal, Meat & Bone" (2020) - The Residents
And the winner is...
"folklore" (2020) - Taylor Swift
So that's it, my summary of what I read, watched and listened to in 2020! Drop back in next year, but in the meantime, here's Lali Puna's "Scary World Theory" which I mentioned above from the soundtrack to "The Consequences of Love" and which would be good to play out to.