The final part of our 2020 Entertainment Top 10 as chosen by the entertainment fanatics at Red Bee.
5) THE VANISHING HALF
At number 5 is new source material for an upcoming HBO limited series, The Vanishing Half - a story of twin girls growing up in a fictional town in the Deep South in the 1950s. It’s a town inhabited only by light-skinned black people, and the girls run away at 16 only to be separated and lead two very different lives. One returns to her hometown with her black-skinned daughter, the other ‘passes over’ to be white and raises her daughter as such. You will find it immediately engrossing, exploring the lives and identities of all four female characters tackling race and gender in different towns and cities of the United States all the way to the 90s.
Based loosely on Deborah Feldman’s experiences leaving her Hasidic Jewish community, Unorthodox follows Esty, a young Jewish woman who flees her recently-arranged marriage and ultra-orthodox Williamsburg community for Berlin. It was one of Netflix’s triumphs of 2020, but for different reasons than we’ve come to expect. Unlike sprawling dramas and docu-series that require a serious level of commitment, the mini-series is only four episodes long, and what a powerful decision that was. It is over before you know it, and the suddenness leaves you feeling emotionally exposed but deeply reflective. In lieu of all-star ensemble casts, Shira Haas manages to make it feel like a one-woman show. She is utterly captivating: graceful, expressive and human, and a truly memorable female lead. And, it’s also the first Netflix series to be primarily in Yiddish. Unfortunately, writer Anna Winger has poured cold water over the idea of a series two, so if you’re lucky enough to have not yet watched it, do so. And savour it.
Featuring in many of the agency’s most-listened-to Spotify streams, Taylor Swift’s recent surprise release, Folklore, was written and recorded entirely during lockdown. The album takes a completely different approach to her previous work, as the genre shifts from synth-pop to an alternative, folky sound, written without the pressure of stadium expectations. Using mostly guitar and piano, Swift creates an authentic and intimate atmosphere, as she tells engrossing stories intertwining fact and fiction. This collection of fantastical narratives give a vivid insight into her unique imagination during a time of crisis, with her talent for storytelling more poignant than ever.
2) NORMAL PEOPLE
It felt like for those hot summer weeks it was all we talked about on the agency WhatsApp chats. The sublime adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel, which seemed to say new things about timeless emotions. Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal’s performances were both revealing and vulnerable. The direction by Room’s Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie MacDonald was intimate, sensitive and luminous. Small touches sent electric shocks through the screen. The whole series seemed to be shot in close up, and with sound design that allows you to hear individual breaths. It created a desire to return to the depth of feeling of first love, while simultaneously reminding you of the pain of all those misunderstandings and things not said. A truly pitch perfect drama.
Worthy of every single one of its multitude of five-star reviews, Rocks is of course our film of the year. A heart-rending, uplifting, visceral, vivid portrayal of what it is to be a young girl in London in 2020. The movie was nurtured to life by director Sarah Gavron, writers Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson and their largely female crew over 18 months of casting, workshopping and shooting with an almost exclusively unprofessional cast of young people. It has an authenticity that bursts out in every beat of dialogue. Bukky Bakray and Kosar Ali shine as Rocks and best friend Sumaya, trying to duck and weave from social services after Rocks’ mother leaves home. And special mention must go to an astonishing performance by 7-year-old D’angelou Osei Kissiedu as Rocks’ young brother. Life-affirming art at a point when we all need some life affirming. Vibrant, indie British cinema at its best. Check it out on Netflix now.