It’s been a long, tough year – and yes, we are as tired of hearing that sentiment as you are. That is why we suggest taking a much-deserved break from, well, the world this Thanksgiving and just living your best life for a few days. If you are anything like us (and we suspect you are), that means following up your Zoom family dinner with a nightcap of creative nourishment that you can keep on sipping the whole weekend through. To get you started, we have put together a list of some of the creative works we are thankful for in 2020, in no particular order, and selected as much for their entertainment value as for the ingenuity their makers demonstrated in a year when it was really hard to make much of anything, let alone brilliant art that mesmerized and delighted us in equal measure.
Even during a year of devastating lockdowns, violent upheaval, and near-constant environmental disaster, our beloved creative communities just kept on making things. The resilience and continual brilliance of America’s filmmakers, musicians, authors, video game designers, photographers, and other artists filled us with joy and hope in 2020, even during our darkest hours.
We are thankful for all of you and wish we could share all of it. Have a happy Thanksgiving and we’ll see you on the other side, when the work begins anew.
Creation: Tales from the Loop
Creatives: Amazon Prime Video, Nathaniel Halpern (creator)
Why We’re Thankful: Inspired by the hypnotic sci-fi paintings of Simon Stålenhag, Prime’s Tales from the Loopwas the cool, quietly intimate television show we needed in a year plagued by fire and upheaval. Set in a small Ohio town, the series tracks the lives of various locals affected by “the Loop,” a mysterious machine housed within a nearby experimental physics center. But while a quirky contraption lies at the center of Tales, creator Nathaniel Halpern and his co-writer Stålenhag have little interest in solving its mystery. Instead, they mete out an array of delicate, stand-alone portraits gorgeously rendered by directors such as Jodie Foster and Andrew Stanton. At a time when we have never been so divided as a nation, Tales from the Loop offers a tonic of shared humanity. Drink it and be calmed.
Creation: American Utopia
Creative: David Byrne
Why We’re Thankful: We gratefully inhaled joy wherever we could find it in 2020 – and David Byrne’s American Utopia was here to provide. Collaborating with the great Spike Lee, Byrne adapted his recent hit Broadway show of the same name into a kinetic masterpiece of a concert film for HBO. In it, a battalion of suit-clad dancers and musicians swirl around Byrne as he romps through some 20 songs – including hits such as “Once in a Lifetime” and “Burning Down the House” – with the energy and spryness of a man half his age. Given its Byrne, there is some social commentary here, but it all moves toward uplift, with the ultimate goal of getting you up on your feet and dancing (barefoot) in your living room.
Creation: Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Creative: Fiona Apple
Why We’re Thankful: 2020 brought us all kinds of excellent album releases, as artists as wide-ranging as HAIM, Dan Deacon, and Future Islands (to name just a few that we loved) continued producing incredible work while on lockdown. But perhaps no new musical work captured the spirit of the times like Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Daring and wildly imaginative and brimming with all the poetic fury that is Apple’s signature, it is also a literal pandemic album – the unbound sound of a singular musician and songwriter working in isolation both in and with her Venice Beach home. Apple bangs on her house’s walls, stomps on its floors, and whispers, screams, breathes and tells jokes in random rooms and corners. There are five dogs credited in the album’s liner notes, whose barks, whines, and toenail scratches are heard throughout. It all adds up, as Pitchfork put it (after giving Bolt Cutters a nearly unprecedented perfect 10 score), to “a wild symphony of the everyday,” and it’s captivating.
Creation: “The Great Realisation”
Why We’re Thankful: Of all the surprises in store for us in 2020, perhaps the most surprising was the realization that a work of poetry can still move millions of hearts and minds. Fittingly, the poem, by British spoken word artist Tomfoolery, happens to be called “The Great Realisation”. Crafted as a deceptively simple nursery rhyme and packaged in a video with soothing bedtime storytelling vibes, its verse frames the coronavirus pandemic as a turning point in the by-no-means-guaranteed arc of human history. A moment when, forced to change our destructive ways to avoid getting sick, we learned we liked it when our “car keys gathered dust” and the skies were “less full of voyagers”. Looking into a hopeful future, Tomfoolery reports back that “when we found the cure and were allowed to go outside / We all preferred the world we found to the one we’d left behind”. It’s a sweet and hopeful sentiment that we all could use a lot more of.
Creation: The Seagull on The Sims 4
Creative: Celine Song
Why We’re Thankful: The Venn diagram of video game enthusiasts and Anton Chekhov enthusiasts that you never knew you wanted came together on October 28, when playwright Celine Song took to Twitch to debut a brand-new production of The Seagull… starring Sims characters. If you are unsure about watching a theater nerd/gamer build a cast of avatars from scratch, and then try to goad them into interacting with each other in an extremely loose improvisational riff on a 125-year-old Russian drama – that is understandable. But more than 10,000 Twitch users (and counting) would beg to differ. They tuned into Song’s innovative piece of performance art with gusto, chiming in with a steady stream of comments that were frequently both witty and profound, kind of like Chekhov himself. Perhaps more than any other artform, theater needs a jolt in the era of COVID-19, and while Song’s contribution was very much a work in progress, it was also unlike anything that has ever been tried before. The end result is weird, rambling, occasionally fascinating, and kind of feels like, as Vulture put it, “a brand-new genre, confident and fully formed at birth.”
Creation: Drive-In Dance Performances
Why We’re Thankful: Much was made of the resurgence of the drive-in movie theater in 2020, and for good reason, but there was also no shortage of vehicular viewing experiences involving live performance. Leading the charge into this bold new terrain, the dance community showed a stunning ability to adapt its output to unlikely places. In a Santa Monica parking lot, Jacob Jonas The Company staged an ethereal evening of eerily beautiful movement illuminated by nothing but the audience’s car headlights. Elsewhere in Los Angeles, the L.A. Dance Project’s series of Drive-In Dances were, and continue to be, must-see events. In Ohio, the Cleveland Dance Project filmed its annual showcase in an isolated environment then screened the film as its own drive-in movie. This year, the San Diego Ballet will bring its annual performance of The Nutcracker outdoors – and the list goes on. The dance world may be reeling but the good news is that pandemic restraints cannot stop the human body from moving through physical space.
Creation: The Last Dance
Creatives: Jason Hehir (Director), ESPN Films
Why We’re Thankful: For many of us, live sports aren’t just an endless source of entertainment – they serve as a kind of connective tissue that can bind us together even when we disagree with one another. That’s why, as the pandemic closed in around us and polarization ascended to toxic levels, ESPN’s 10-part documentary series chronicling the juggernaut that was the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls felt like more than just a riveting piece of filmmaking upon its April release – The Last Dance felt like a lifeline. In our unexpected and painful void of NBA basketball, director Jason Hehir’s expert weaving of archival video and intimate interviews with the likes of Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, and His Airness himself, Jordan, was the ultimate comfort food. But it’s also an indelible historical document in its own right, an endlessly fascinating chronicle of perhaps the greatest dynasty in all of sports, and of the complicated man who made it all possible. And, glory be, the music in this thing…
Creation: OREO Proud Parent Campaign
Why We’re Thankful: With all the vitriol coursing through society in 2020, it was easy to forget that despite it all, we have come a long way. We now live in a world, for instance, where the biggest cookie brand in the world is willing to use its mighty marketing arm not just to sell sugary treats but to make the world a better place. Collaborating with PFLAG and the 360i agency, OREO’s “Proud Parent” film is a powerful and urgently needed celebration of Pride, of tolerance, and of the power of creative storytelling to foster inclusivity and champion acceptance. We will end this round-up of the creative works we are thankful for in 2020 with a double-dog dare: Try to watch this thing all the way through without shedding a tear. Just try…