We don’t need to tell you how tough 2020 has been and yet, it would seem flippant if we didn’t address the elephant in the room that has re-established how we process time, handle grief and nurture relationships. Aside from being a decent human being, wearing your mask and adhering to social distancing rules, there’s no right way to handle what was, in all senses of the word, a devastating year.
The majority of us spent 2020 just trying to get by — to entertain ourselves and keep us from crawling up the walls. In my own small orbit, the idea of buying a villa in Italy was (jokingly… kind of) tossed around. In that same hive mind group chat, we built a sprawling, 46-hour playlist named “Quaranteamed” based on daily prompts — such as the best closer to an album, best song with a sad club vibes, and best movie music moment — that will give us the perfect score to our inevitable, earned road trip. I bought Animal Crossing, convinced it would be the thing to entertain me and played it for 30 minutes before immediately growing bored and lost every round of Fall Guys I ever played. I contemplated cutting my own bangs and bought acrylic paints to follow a Youtube tutorial with but didn’t use it out of embarrassment. I never, ever baked any bread but tried to grill every single vegetable I could to varying degrees of success. I didn’t become a long distance runner, and I didn’t whip my body and mind into the shape I’d been eager to. I didn’t even really write much. I got by though, relatively speaking.
There were some pieces of media though that absolutely gave me a lifeline. Myself along with my fellow editors wished to share with you the media that gave us something to look forward to: the absurd along with the meaningful, and all that falls in between. Perhaps this will give you an idea of where to allow your mind to escape to next.
100 Years of Cinema and Sports Anime
By Allyson Johnson
I say this with all the grace I can muster: I’m something of a disaster and when I hyperfixate on something, anything, I give it my full focus. I tasked myself with a project this year when I realized that, even more so than usual, I’d be spending an increasing amount of time with films as one of my sole companions (husband and cat too, yes.) As a writer tends to do, I gave myself homework and made a handwritten list (re-written because the first draft was too messy) of one film from each year from the past century that I hadn’t seen. There was no rhyme or reason to which films I picked – and it wasn’t even the only list I made for myself this year in terms of what to watch (I have a large animation one I’m working on too), but it has been a profoundly impactful experience. I still have about half left to tackle but, as someone who has occasionally felt out of step with her peers because I didn’t truly commit to studying film in school, this gave me a chance to “catch up” (whatever that means to you). I discovered films I’m now positively enamored by. From the the 1949 drama “Bitter Rice” to Jean Cocteau’s “Orpheus” to finally filling some Alfred Hitchcock blindspots with “The 39 Steps,” “North By Northwest” and most recently “Rear Window,” this silly, color-coded list gave me something to accomplish; it gave me that satisfactory feeling of crossing something off as done. No matter the size of the goal, setting them for yourself is important. It also was a stark reminder of why I love movies in the first place – the discoveries are always endless.
When it wasn’t classic cinema, it was anime. For quite some time I was a one-anime-series-per-year kind of gal. From the starter pack kit of Cowboy Bebop and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood to the fully immersive fun of My Hero Academia to the not so fun but emotionally devastating Neon Genesis Evangelion, I’d glacially been making my way through what many called the “must-sees.” 2020 changed this, and, on top of barreling through new anime at lighting speed (check out this year’s Jujutsu Kaisen and Tower of God adaptations please), I’ve discovered the pleasure of sports anime. Haikyuu!, an anime based on a down-on-their-luck volleyball team was the main draw, known for setting the highest bar in its genre. One of the greatest appeals was how many seasons there were when first climbing on board, but the kinetic animation style, loveable characters and wickedly engaging stories cemented the addiction to it. Soon, when I finally caught up and had to wait in between seasons, I discovered more sports anime, all with similar underdog throughlines that nevertheless hooked me. There’s tennis in the short-lived Stars Align, traditional Japanese archery in Kyoto Animations’ Tsurune, and long distance running in the better than it had any right to be Run with the Wind. Anime is the perfect means of escapism, and this year it’s provided me with some of my new all-time favorite shows as well as a way to sign off for the night an instant balm to ongoing anxiety.
Binging Frasier and getting lost in TikTok
By Gabrielle Bondi
For a long while, I wanted to do a full re-watch of a 90s sitcom. I had also been looking for new ways to waste time on social media. Frasier and TikTok couldn’t have arrived in my life at a better time than 2020. In all seriousness, both the series and video-sharing social platform have made a year full of stress, grief, and uncertainty more bearable for me.
I watched Frasier as a kid, catching the last few seasons that aired in the late 90s and early 00s. I found it funny but was more enamored by the romance between Niles and Daphne in those later seasons. I never expected to be revisiting it at home in my 30s with my mom and brother as we sheltered in place during a global pandemic. For us, Frasier was a nightly refuge, a moment where we could laugh and escape the world. It also allowed us to sit back and reevaluate the roles we play in each other’s lives. The familial dynamics we saw onscreen sometimes reflected the differences we felt at home. While we are a far cry from the Cranes, we found comfort in their highs and lows, as hilarious, ridiculously pretentious, and sincerely moving as they can be over 11 seasons.
TikTok, on the other hand, helped me stay connected with strangers. Staying home and not going out was hard because I couldn’t see friends, co-workers, and the other people in my life. But I also missed just being around people, whether I directly interacted with them or not. Through TikTok I was able to sort of simulate that feeling, only this time I was engaging with strangers’ stories; whether fictitious or real, they often made me laugh, feel impressed, taught me something new or made me feel understood. The best TikTok videos hone in on something that is entirely specific but also universal, and then either exaggerate or downplay it to a certain effect. I joke that being on TikTok is wasting time. However, unlike doom-scrolling on Twitter and Instagram, this year I never felt guilty for losing time to TikTok.
Star Trek: The Next Generation and Virtual Concerts with Phish
By Ryan Gibbs
During the pandemic, I have fallen back on a bad habit I have when it comes to streaming services. Instead of watching something new, I have instead re-watched episodes of shows I have seen countless times over the years. In particular, I have kept coming back to Star Trek: The Next Generation, whose 178 episodes I have watched countless times due to its ubiquity on syndicated television and just about every major streaming service. This go-around, I hadn’t been watching the show in chronological order, instead picking and choosing favorites like “The Inner Light” and “Clues,” and hopping between seasons. The rewatchability of the show, over 30 years after its debut, comes from the strength of its ensemble cast and the quality of its scripts (Well, except for some real clunkers in the first two seasons). By the third season, the actors had become familiar enough with the characters and world of Star Trek that they bring to it a sense of dramatic flair that had sometimes been missing in some earlier iterations of the franchise. It’s been good to return to something so familiar and escapist in a year where familiarity and escapism have been things I desperately need.
On a different note, for the first time since their 2009 reunion, there was no summer Phish tour this year. In fact, there weren’t any tours by anyone after March. And yet, for eight Friday nights this fall, Phish’s lead singer and guitarist was on stage at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, performing to an empty house with his solo band for a residency on Twitch. These shows were an absolute joy and a momentary break from the chaos of the year. Aside from just hearing live music again, it was a thrill to see and hear how Anastasio used his unique circumstance to create memorable moments: A stunning, stripped down version of the Phish epic “Divided Sky” with just Anastasio on guitar and his collaborator Jeff Tanski on piano, or his acoustic version of “Harry Hood” accompanied by a string quartet. Throughout, Anastasio maintained his sweet, down-to-earth nature, often joking with his band and the Twitch chat between songs. And it was all for a good cause – over $1 million in donations were raised for the Divided Sky Fund, which will go towards the building of an addiction rehabilitation center in Vermont. I can’t wait for Anastasio and Phish to return to the stage next year(?), but his Beacon Jams series was more than enough to tide this fan over until then.
Emeli Sande and Living Single
By Mae Abdulbaki
2020 has been a difficult and anxiety-filled year, to say the least. To get through the daily and overwhelming stress, bouts of sadness, and worry, I found that listening to music helped to calm my nerves a lot. I’ve found a lot of artists this year, but my go-to album has been Emeli Sande’s Our Version of Events, which is just a powerful compilation of songs that brings me down to earth every time I hear it. Sande’s voice is mesmerizing, and the album covers a range of songs about heartbreak, fear, happiness, and the daily struggle that is always timely, especially this year. Besides music, I’ve been binging Living Single on Hulu. The series stars Queen Latifah and Erika Anderson alongside an ensemble cast, and it never fails to make me laugh — be it Max and Kyle’s amusing banter, Regine’s antics, or the witty dialogue. There’s something so genuine about the sitcom, and I’ve been able to throw it on in the background no matter what it is I’m doing. It holds up upon rewatch and it has brought me a lot of comfort and joy throughout the hard and stressful days of quarantine.
Lord of The Rings Extended Edition Appendix Discs and Studio Ghibli Nights on Discord
By Evan Griffin
Each year shortly following New Year’s, my family and I settle in for a marathon of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a series that has become a major part of my family’s life ever since the first films release in 2001. This year after already making our way through picks such as The Dark Knight Trilogy, Star Wars and Mad Max, we began asking when we were going to rewatch The Lord of the Rings earlier than usual, knowing we needed to pay attention to something that gave us nostalgic comfort.
In the past, I’ve dabbled in digging through the bonus discs of special features on the extended editions but had never gotten the chance to see each piece they offered. This trilogy’s bonus discs are the most earnest, lovingly detailed production diaries I’ve ever seen on a film. Any other movie behind-the-scenes features pale in comparison, and I grew up watching the ones for Star Wars multiple times over, even more than the movies themselves.
Anyone who has ever had even a minor interest in film production will be floored by the sets built, the miniatures, the tricks of editing and compositing pulled off. You’ll adore the stories from the cast like Sean Bean refusing to take a helicopter and opting to, in Borimier costume, scale the side of the cliff. You’ll love the cast ripping into Sean Astin for being a whiner, Elijah Wood and the Hobbit lads sharing a rowdy trailer with Sir Ian McKellen, the mystique of Viggo Mortensen going fishing on an overnight shoot or shopping in town costumed as Aragorn and famously breaking his toe kicking a helmet, John Rhys-Davies screaming in agony over the rashes on his face from makeup.
In a year where the film industry has been in a rocky place and personal creativity felt stifled, these nearly 20-year-old production diaries lit the inspirational fire in me that I needed.
Elsewhere in cinema, I hadn’t quite realized just how few Studio Ghibli’s films I’ve seen until I saw them all listed on HBO Max (the best new streaming service with the worst ownership). I’d seen the staples such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke but hadn’t gotten the chance to dig deeper into their eclectic library.
My brother and I — pre-Covid 2020 — had built up a community of fellow artists through Discord where we were thankfully able to keep up a routine of socializing while social distancing. As everyone seemingly began using services like Discord, and our other, non-Discord friends, started co-mingling with our online friends, we began duplicating friend gatherings to watch movies over the internet, and Discord so far has been the easiest, most reliable place to do it.
We began these digital gatherings with some not particularly uplifting films like David Lynch’s Dune and cult classic Train to Busan and of course the cheerful The End of Evangelion. When HBO MAX came around, we got a little more positive, timeless and tasteful.
I got to rewatch Mononoke and Kiki’s Delivery Service as an adult. I saw films that passed me by, like Porco Rosso and The Cat Returns. We were enamored with the unique tonal and visual styles of My Neighbors The Yamadas and Ocean Waves, and finally, I watched my new personal favorite in the catalogue, the 1984 adaptation of the manga Nasucaa of the Valley of the Wind.
I’m now delighted to have an understanding of the chronology of these movies’ productions, their distinct styles between Isao Takahada and Hayao Miyazaki, and even more excited that there’s still more for me to sink my teeth into. Heck, I’ll watch Tales from Earthsea even, I don’t care. What else are we doing?