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The best movies, television and books of 2020 – so far

UPDATED: Sun., Aug. 9, 2020

“First Cow” is a timely and heartwarming look at the American dream from the perspective of societal outsiders.  (A24)
“First Cow” is a timely and heartwarming look at the American dream from the perspective of societal outsiders. (A24)
By Jared Rasic For The Spokesman-Review

As the halfway point of any given year passes, it’s nice to look back at all the pop culture shenanigans from the first six months to see how the year is shaping up.

With movie theaters closed, new books going directly to digital and TV shows halting production, 2020 has been a bit of an entertainment wasteland.

There’s more streaming now than ever before, but quantity has taken over for quality. And it’s a trend that’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

With all that said, let’s take a look at the best 2020 has offered so far in books, television and movies.

Books

Emily St. John Mandel’s “The Glass Hotel” is the book of the year so far, with her taking the haunting and elegiac prose of her earlier masterpiece, “Station Eleven,” and applying it to a much larger canvas. I won’t say anything about the story, but those who loved Peter Heller’s “The Dog Stars” will find a lot to connect with in “The Glass Hotel.”

“Weather” by Jenny Offill, the remarkable author of “Dept. of Speculation,” follows a librarian who becomes a therapist of sorts in this beautifully humanist exploration of the similarities we carry between us overpowering our differences.

If you need books that remind you of the goodness of humanity, then these two are a perfect place to start.

Shows

Nothing has made me laugh harder than FX’s hysterical “What We Do in the Shadows,” which expanded the mythology so deeply in Season 2 that it has even surpassed Taika Waititi’s film as far as wackiness goes. There’s nothing else like it, and if you’re willing to surrender to its rhythms, it only gets funnier as it goes.

For hard sci-fi fans, Amazon’s “Tales From the Loop” is part anthology show about a mysterious small town full of scientists and part profound study of reality and the interconnectivity of society. It’s like if “The Twilight Zone” episodes all took place in the same small town.

Hulu’s “Devs” is the perfect balm for anyone missing the speculative excitement of early “Westworld” but looking to avoid the navel gazing of the current “Westworld.” From the creator of “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation,” “Devs” takes on some of the biggest science-fiction ideas since Asimov.

Movies

The second half of 2020 will hopefully see the releases of the dozens of movies that have been delayed so far this year, but luckily, we’ve still been given a few bangers.

“Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix) is a big, messy swing for the fences from Spike Lee released in the perfect moment sandwiched between COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter so perfectly that it feels tailor made to our national consciousness. It’s not a perfect film (Lee wears his influences a little too broadly on his sleeves), but it’s a damned beautiful one.

“Shirley” (Hulu) is a mesmerizing psychological study of author Shirley Jackson, writer of “The Lottery” and “The Haunting of Hill House.” The film isn’t an average biopic; instead, it’s a deconstruction of an artist’s obsession with her own muse that is at turns perversely romantic and deeply disturbing. Elisabeth Moss deserves an Oscar.

My favorite movie of the year so far, however, is much gentler than “Da 5 Bloods” and more humanist than “Shirley.” A24, the film’s production company and distributor, and Oregon filmmaker Kelly Reichardt have teamed up for “First Cow,” which follows a white drifter and a Chinese immigrant in 1820s Oregon who are stealing milk from the area’s only cow to start a pastry business. Sweet, subtle and tender, “First Cow” is a timely and heartwarming look at the American dream from the perspective of societal outsiders. A masterpiece.

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