Cast Against Hype

Reflections on film and other forms of storytelling from a Swedish wannabe-storyteller…

Popes, Parasites and Portraits – My Favourite Films of 2020

Yes, I am going to cheat now and then this time. Some of these films arrived in Sweden late 2019. However, I didn’t get to see them before I provided last year’s compilation. And if there is one year in recent history where it could be allowed to – yes – cheat a little, 2020 could be it, right? Surprisingly you might say, quite a few films actually opened though not always in cinemas, but you knew that already. 2020 was the already infamous year when I got to watch exactly one (1) film in a venue we used to call a movie theater. Intermittently it was possible. Though like for most other people, the rest came down to streaming platforms and a few rentals like physically rented DVD or Blu-ray copies. Nevertheless, aware of the fact that there are still a few contenders available that I should watch as soon as possible, this is where I’m at right now, February 2021:

1. Parasite (Directed by Joon-Ho Bong). Yes, that one. the South Korean Oscar winner that simply manages to combine an alarming amount of different genres in one package. And is almost without interruption thoroughly engaging, surprising and thought-provoking.

2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma). Like my Number One above, it reached Sweden late 2019 but it’s part of the cheating aspect here. A beautifully realized and intimate drama about friendship, love and art.

3. Tenet (Christopher Nolan). The one I actually saw in a theatre, for which I’m thankful. Maybe it’s true what they say: it needs rewatching. And maybe I will. But it is one heck of a ride whatever else you might say about it. Always intelligible and easy to follow? Perhaps not. Then again, not as confusing as some people would have you believe. At the very least, I was entertained. Very much so.

4. Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi). Can you make fun of Adolf Hitler anymore? When I was younger there were certainly ways to make fun of Nazis. Some people have pointed out that it gets increasingly difficult, hitting too close to home to be comfortable. This film performs a delicate balancing act and I genuinely liked most of it, not so much for the scenes involving Hitler himself – but basically all the rest.

5. Bad Education (Cory Finley). One of these made-for-TV movies that could easily be overlooked, starring Hugh Jackman as a charming though (as it turns out) a little bit manipulative head of a successful school. When irregularities in their practices become exposed one by one, his life starts crumbling until there is no salvation to be found.

6. The Two Popes (Fernando Meirelles). Two popes… Well, obviously they can’t both be on that job at the same time, but one of them actually resigns voluntarily which is a bit of a deviation from tradition. The story of how to of these powerful patriarchs formed an unlikely friendship though they were different in so many ways. How much of it is actually true? Not exactly clear, but it’s a showcase for two of the greatest actors of our time if nothing else.

7. Mank (David Fincher). Perfectionist Auteur Fincher in black-and-white, telling the story of how one of the supposedly greatest films ever made came to be. ”Citizen Kane” is a film which I never personally enjoyed as much as I know I’m supposed to, even though it’s easy to see its greatness in many respects. This? The story of an ageing, troubled scriptwriter in Old Hollywood losing friends and alienating people while still coming up with a script that changed film history, is mostly quite brilliant. And beautiful.

8. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach). It hurts. And there were times when I wanted to get off this train. Divorces are seldom peaceful and friendly negotiations. Separations can be painful. But it is so well told – and acted – that it overshadows its few lulls and weak spots.

9. The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson). Where did this come from? Yes, I noticed it was available on one of my streaming services but wasn’t sure exactly what it was, until I heard it recommended by more than one reviewer (on different podcasts mostly). A low budget, not exactly star-studded science fiction epic. Well, not really an epic. It’s fairly brief and efficient and it moves, very seldom stops, basically following two young people caught up in something they never experienced before in 1950’s New Mexico.

10. Death to 2020 (Al Campbell, Alice Mathias). Just before the end of the year it portrays, it was released by Netflix. Sort of a fake documentary commenting on all the weird stuff that went on and which you might rather choose to forget. But I do appreciate the dark sense of humour that they virtually wallow in here.

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: 

Uncut Gems. Of course I see it. The energy. I feel it. The restlessness and impressive camerawork. And of course, Adam Sandler is better here then he almost always is. He can be this good. It should also be pointed out that his character, this particular protagonist, is a rather annoying figure. You just have to follow him making worse and worse decisions until… well. Worth seeing, though hardly compulsory for everyone.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. So it is a bit weird and corny and overblown and silly. That’s kind of the point. If you are a European grown up watching the Eurovision song contest, it’s not that difficult to appreciate all the things they get right in this comedy and ignore the things that don’t really make sense. The subject matter actually doesn’t make much sense in itself. And that’s also the point.

The Old Guard. Not a perfect movie. Not even a perfect action movie, but a pretty good one with an added twist of almost immortal soldiers fighting on through the ages.

Sergio. A good man. He really seems like that, the Brazilian diplomat who made a career out of trying to solve conflicts around the world and ended up taking on one too many in Iraq. The road up to his last mission is told in a moving way. Maybe a somewhat preachy film and a flawed script – but still very likeable and respectable.

 

THE WORST: 

365 days. Sort of a Netflix phenomenon, they say. In what basically could be summed up as a stupidly annoying movie with attempts at being erotic, about a bunch of stupid and annoying people that you really wouldn’t want to spend time with in real life.

 

 

Bond Briefs: ”Dr No” – The Birth of 007

 

So, while waiting for the latest addition that seems to be postponed again and again, for reasons legitimate but still saddening – why not start out revisiting the very first one? From time to time I plan to deliver brief assessments of as many as possible in the long run of films, forming the franchise known as James Bond. A curious thing about the whole concept is how divided opinions tend to be; which ones are the best and the worst? I’m fully aware of the fact that my personal preferences in the matter are not shared by everyone. What they are might become more obvious as this little franchise of my own gets further along. I should point out, the whole catalogue will not be presented in chronological order, more like… completely random. As I said, I will try to be brief. This little introduction will not be included every time. Also, I will try to not to be too pretentious. Mostly this is about having fun. And whenever I reach the end of this project, I might provide the complete ranking of all of the films involved. We’ll see…

No, I wasn’t around when ”Dr No” was released. I didn’t grow up watching all of the early Bond movies in the cinema, discovering the birth of a new phenomenon. It was already an established part of pop culture when I came along. But there was a time when it was all new. The new kid on the block. An actor previously not known for starring roles. This was that time. Interestingly, many of the particulars we have come to associate with the 007 universe are not there yet. For one thing, ”Dr No” is shorter than most of the other adventures that came later. Taking place almost entirely in Jamaica without all the globetrotting that was to become a staple, it’s comparably unassuming and a smaller production as a whole. But it does have Sean Connery making his grand entrance and simply just becoming James Bond – just like that. It also has Ursula Andress making her famous entrance on the beach almost exactly one hour into the film and becoming part of the legend. Furthermore, a villain who we also don’t see until late in the proceedings – but will make an indelible impression, played by a restrained but riveting Joseph Wiseman.

  • What’s the weather like? Sunny, of course! It’s a Bond movie.
  • Special effects? Overall decent, considering the circumstances and the limited budget as compared to what became the norm. But the film doesn’t rely on them. Not as much as the charisma of its protagonists anyway.
  • Is it compulsory? Of course. If for no other reason, it was the first. And aged as it has in many aspects, it still has a natural charm about it, an easy elegance and eloquence and of course: Connery.

Greatness, Gambits and Gore Galore – My Favourite TV Shows of 2020

Elle Fanning stars as Catherine the Great in ”The Great”, a show that turned out to be sort of… Great. Photo: Nick Wall / Hulu. Copyright: Hulu. Credit: hbonordic.com

While the world at large seemed to stop in its tracks off and on… There never seemed to be a lack of TV dramas, serialized at least, to choose from. Someone predicted this would be the year of less production and decided to overcompensate in advance, or what? At least I had a hard time keeping up and making priorities. Certain well-reviewed shows I simply haven’t gotten to yet. Or might not get to in the foreseeable future. I do have a day job. So this is what it is, but still a pretty interesting bunch of powerful or at the very least entertaining shows from different genres – I think.

 

The Best of the Best:

1. Le Bureau de Legendes (a k a The Bureau, creator/showrunner Eric Rochant). They have been building up to this. The fifth season was to a large degree the climax, the resolution to some of the most poignant and decisive story elements we have witnessed until now. Some of it hurt, some of it was business as usual and if they will be back someday, these loyal (well…) servants of the French Intelligence Service, it will probably feel like a new world. Or at least a world populated by predominantly fresh faces and new storylines. Thanks for everything so far. 

2. The Great (Tony McNamara). It’s not history, exactly. But it wouldn’t be this…great without the historic premise to build on and play around with in the possibly most consistently surprising and entertaining show of 2020, loosely based on the life of a young Catherine the Great in the Russian court. 

Shea Whigham and Matthew Rhys conspiring in the reboot of ”Perry Mason”. Credit: hbonordic.com

3. Perry Mason (Ron Fitzgerald, Rolin Jones). Actually, that old original show has never really stuck in my mind; probably broadcast mostly before my time and the name is more of a legend in itself, something regularly referred to in crime drama/lawyer/courtroom-drama-you know the drill-contexts… So, anyway, this reboot worked out just fine with me, starring the already battle-proven warrior Matthew ”The Americans” Rhys as a less than glamorous private eye looking for redemption and a purpose in life. 

4. The Queen’s Gambit (Scott Frank, Allan Scott). Well, everything’s already been said and written, right? So, it was a show that did most everything right and managed to bring out as much excitement as you might imagine (and then some) from the game of Chess.

5. Narcos: Mexico (Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato, Doug Miro). Second season, post-Camarena story turned out to be just as riveting and moving. For reasons somehow not always easy to explain. It just has this flow, photogenic vistas and characters that draw you in and prove difficult to forget. 

6. Killing Eve (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Suzanne Heathcote). Third season of this unconventional take on female friendship (something we as men will never completely decipher) and, as it happens, serious crime and professional psycho killers touring Europe just keeps reinventing itself and offering new surprises as it goes on. 

7. Stateless (Tony Ayres, Cate Blanchett, Elise McCredie). Underrated, I say. This Netflix miniseries might seem to preachy or obvious for some, but it certainly did keep the drama going about the plight of refugees stuck in the Australian detainment system, and incidentally a lot of heart. 

8. The Boys (Eric Kripke). Well, yes, it might be too much of a lot of things, but the second season seemed to double down on everything that made the first one so intoxicatingly addictive. Probably not the most healthy and wholesome thing around, but just the way it inverts the the whole superhero-concept while complicating every relationship in the story, combined with the regular head-exploding routine… As I said, addictive. 

What is it about? What isn’t it about? ”Lovecraft Country” turned out to be a wild ride. Credit: hbonordic.com

9. Lovecraft Country (Misha Green). So what was this, exactly? Not sure, but I enjoyed most of it. Visually, verbally and with all the twisting and turning between worlds. Which one was the scariest? The real one or the transcendent seemingly supernatural one? And where do you draw the line?

10. Devs (Alex Garland). Speaking of different worlds and not knowing in which one you’re really present at the moment… ”Devs” just appeared in the menu without warning and for my mind, managed to make something intriguing with the basic premise that I appreciated in ”Westworld” for the first two seasons, but became less mind-blowingly fascinating in the third one. Where are we? Who are we? Why? And to what degree are you allowed to alter that reality?

Runners-up: Hunters (first season), Roadkill (miniseries), Homeland (last season), La casa de papel (fourth season, sort of), Billions (half of the fifth season still missing but the first half was pretty good), The Good Fight (season 4). 

Honourable mentions: Messiah, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, Westworld, Brave New World, Upload, Avenue 5, Miracle Workers (season 2), Bosch (season 6), Trackers, Strike Back (probably the seventh and last round, depending on how you count). 

Recently started watching: Raised by Wolves, Fargo (season 4), The Stand, The Name of the Rose, La Révolution, Björnstad, Bridgerton, Ted Lasso… and a few others. 

Memorable Music Videos: ”Land of Confusion” – Genesis (1986)

People are so polarized these days… Anyway, so they say. We can’t agree on much, right? Or maybe we never did. But this thing I am certain absolutely everyone everywhere can agree about. Ok, probably not, but I will present it as Gospel Fact supported by Science: the age of great music videos is not the present one. Maybe it has something to do with growing up during the 1980’s, or it’s just the plain objective truth. Regardless, I thought I might, now and then, share an example of what might be considered great or at least very memorable music videos. These might even be accompanied by a decent song. Like this one. Genesis at their peak pop superstar status, with a considerable budget to spend on the visual stuff, borrowing a few caricature puppets from a then-famous British satire show, taking on the threat of nuclear holocaust as well as aging and possibly not 100 percent reliable leaders on the world stage… And celebrating peace and love with a catchy chorus. As I said, it wasn’t just about the visuals. Solid pop song – truly classic music video. I could go on about its merits, but I’ll start planning for the next installment in the series instead. And hopefully get around to some movie reviews and such before long. To be continued…

”The Old Guard”: Too old to rock’n roll – but not to rock the world?

THE OLD GUARD – Charlize Theron (“Andy”) and Kiki Layne (“Nile”) Photo Credit: AIMEE SPINKS/NETFLIX ©2020

They are immortal. Or almost. There are nuances even in this seemingly eternal cycle for a group of heroic mercenaries who have been fighting through the centuries, or in some cases, millennia. Everything about their background isn’t revealed right off the bat in this action-thriller which initially looks and sounds a lot like a common, yeah, action-thriller. A small band of elite soldiers working freelance commit to another assignment, in what seems to be a long line of missions. One of them is slightly more hesitant and as it turns out, the mission is not exactly what it was purported to be. But as I said, this bunch is quite special and extraordinarily difficult to simply kill off.

Simultaneously, somewhere else in the world, a young female soldier stationed on another mission is wounded – severely. So severely in fact, that she logically should be quite seriously dead. Guess if there is a connection? And guess if the mercenary squad we already got to know somehow finds her and regards her as a new recruit? None of this happens lightly though. Because these people have learned to take life seriously. Especially the oldest one, inofficial squadron leader Andy (Charlize Theron). She doesn’t smile a whole lot, in a part as physically demanding and generally authoritative as, say ”Atomic Blonde” or ”Mad Max: Fury Road”. The circumstances are obviously a little bit different here. This small band of brothers and sisters may have a gift that many would find attractive and desirable– but be careful what you wish for. They don’t appear particularly happy, at least not Andy. Well, two of her compadres actually met during The Crusades – on opposite sides – and have been in love ever since, so yes – they are a little bit more cheerful. But the film makes clear that even these people can get into situations difficult to get out of and they may have lost one or other partner through the ages.

MARWAN KENZARI as JOE and LUCA MARINELLI as NICKY in THE OLD GUARD. Cr. AIMEE SPINKS/NETFLIX © 2020

Meanwhile there’s advanced medical research going on, in the eternal search for something we might simply call immortality. Could this be connected to this Old Guard? Yes, we are all aware of Big Pharma, always suspicious of their motives, right? And the part they’re playing here might lead to a few ethical debates and provides a dimension which in some ways makes the movie more profound, even if most films in this genre nowadays try to add something more than truckloads of fighting and running and shooting. Exactly how well and elaborately these ideas are developed may vary, as you know.

This little foreign legion with experience from Antiquity, Medieval times and the campaigns of Napoleon, plus the latest rival, may have the capacity to heal from what others don’t survive, but they do feel pain and life is not a rose garden. Allt things considered, could it be that their bodies carry secrets that could benefit mankind and is it defensible to find out what?

As an action piece, ”The Old Guard” (directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood) is sufficiently spectacular, well choreographed and of course pretty violent. Not much innovation there really. The film doesn’t particularly prioritize being pioneering in that respect. However, they do give us a final stretch that manages to  live up to the expectations from what has happened until then. Most interesting though, might be the subtext concerning the inevitable loneliness for people cursed or gifted with something as unique as the ability to live on for hundreds of years, when people around you don’t. Or the sinking feeling that there might not be a real purpose to it all, when in fact there could be such a specific purpose, something that guides you and even might work to the benefit of mankind at large. If the latest Michael Bay orgy ”6 Underground” to some degree worked from similar basic ideas, about certain carefully chosen individuals saving the world while also looking for something resembling a family, and in the process managed to be more unpleasant than exciting, ”The Old Guard” is actually something that could merit a sequel or two. Which undoubtedly is something that the denouement hints at.

”The Old Guard” is a Netflix original, available through the streaming service.

Dead Serious Digital Dreams in ”Devs”

 

Even if you didn’t know this was the brainchild of a certain Alex Garland, known for ”Ex Machina” and ”Annihilation” just to name a few things, you might have guessed it. On the other hand; I will never know if I had, because that very fact was one of the things that piqued my interest to begin with. Apparently the guy is somewhat fascinated by the Brave New Digital World in general and Artificial Intelligence in particular. 

– So many decisions are made about our future, by people who know so little about our past, complains a character involved in extremely advanced tech development. 

But who can you trust in this day and age, if not the most ground-breaking, pioneering IT companies around? The ones who keep radically changing our entire worldview and our potential as a species? What could possibly go wrong? 

The techno-conglomerate around which everything revolves in ”Devs” certainly has power and influence. Big buildings, impressive architecture surrounded by lush environment while harbouring a few secrets. One employee, recently recruited to the most secretive, prestigious department of all, suddenly dies. Suicide, according to the company itself, a version supported by a disturbing video which would convince most people. One notable exception being the dead guy’s girlfriend who also happens to be employed by them. Industrial espionage appears to be part of the story, but as the series moves along it becomes pretty clear that’s not the real point, rather a narrative device to get the plot going. 

So, what is ”Devs” about, really? This is where it gets interesting for real. You have a traumatized but still determined young woman seeking the truth about a gruesome death, her ex-boyfriend reluctantly being brought in to help her in her quest; a likewise emotionally damaged tech visionary running experiments concerning the past, using advanced algorithms in his own quest to determine the future, and, well… There are other things going on here, but what makes this show special is the philosophical-existential inquiry. The plotting may be somewhat scattered and some details are simply there to make things happen, quite obviously so. But Garland and his team are on their own quest. The search for the truth about free will, maybe?

Remember the Tree of Knowledge, as described in The Book of Genesis: How much knowledge is too much? Is it a good idea to accomplish everything we can accomplish? Would it actually be possible in the near future to predict all human behaviour based on what happened before, as registered by powerful computers examining every pattern in history since the dawn of time? Then again, the idea of a Multiverse, where there might be different potential scenarios playing out simultaneously. There are competing views displayed here, regarding the idea of one given direction as opposed to multiple, parallel outcomes depending on where a certain simulation takes you. If I got this right. And I can’t say I’m 100 percent certain of anything even after watching the complete miniseries. 

”Devs” in other words, deals openly and unashamedly with the why of everything. As a viewer though, of course you will notice how the showrunners make choices in terms of visual design and – not to be neglected – sound. Sometimes it’s all stunningly beautiful and the next moment permeated by everyday greyness, but there is a clear visual strategy. Garland and his accomplices are also fond of starting out and finishing episodes accompanied by minimalist yet suggestive and intriguing pieces of music, emphasizing dissonant harmonies and reinforcing that sense of uncertainty; the paradoxical qualities of a show that manages to be frightening, inspiring, surprising and soothing in almost equal measure. You could argue it’s moving at a snail’s pace at times before exploding and turning things we’ve seen so far on its head. It illustrates breathtaking concepts followed by mundane observations. 

If someone tells you what you are going to do, how will it affect what you actually do? The question of free will and the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy comes into play. It becomes increasingly obvious that the show asks you to deal with concepts like determinism and destiny. If there really is a choice or everything you do in life is the inevitable result of events and actions that took place before. When someone tells our heroine ’the sense that you were participating in life was only ever an illusion’ this might be where the plot was leading us all along. Or maybe there are conflicting worldviews here: one or the other could be confirmed, while another is discarded. Unless there are options and we are given the choice of deciding to which one we prefer to subscribe. Arguably, not all of the problems presented are resolved, simply because it’s kind of impossible. But ”Devs” does manage to maintain suspense and unpredictability all the way into the closing moments. Amen. 

Remember This? A Movie Trailer Like No Other…

Times are tough. We need stuff like this, right? Like the movie trailer to end all movie trailers, presented some years ago as… yes, a spoof. But it does have everything you could possibly want from a trailer. Will it ever turn into a proper… movie? Probably not. Since it is also Holy Week, I’ll try to get back to you soon with a few suggestions for Easter-themed films to seek out this weekend. Until then… Have a little fun with this. You know you need it.

”Contagion” – Compulsory Viewing or the Last Film You Would Want to Watch Right Now?

– Try not touching your face…

Did you by any chance get that advice lately? Here in Sweden, we certainly have. Problem is… You can’t help it. We do it a lot more often than we are aware of. First time I remember being reminded of that fact was roughly eight years ago, while watching ”Contagion”. Maybe you’ve heard it mentioned once or twice these past weeks? Almost regardless of where you might live…

Lockdown. Borders closed. Financial meltdown. Obvious differences in governmental policies during a global crisis. A lot of of what we are facing at the moment was dealt with in the storyline of ”Contagion”, a dense, intense drama directed by Steven Soderbergh. The guy known for ”Sex, Lies and Videotape”, ”Traffic”, the highly underappreciated series ”The Knick” and a bunch of other stuff. The man is most likely a workaholic. Also, a distinctly realist, albeit stylistic, artist in his field. His natural instincts serve him (and the audience) well in a case like this. At least, that’s how I remember it. Haven’t rewatched it lately. Judging from a review I wrote in Swedish some eight years ago, ”Contagion” grapples with basically everything coming out of our daily news feeds as we speak, the month of March, the Year of our Lord 2020 AD.

People start getting seriously unwell in places all over the world. Authorities and governments struggle with decisions; What exactly is this disease? How does it spread? How do you stop it? What’s worst – doing too much, acting too fast or not acting at all? Quarantine, martial law, isolation, stockpiling, looting… You know, things like that. We learn things about the so-called Spanish Flu (which really wasn’t a Spanish invention, but you knew that already, right?). And, the face-touching detail… As explained by Kate Winslet (as seen in the trailer above), people in general do it three to five times ’every waking minute’. Which makes how often a regular day? Do the math, if you’re up for it.

Of course, I’m not the only one who started thinking about this particular film lately. Take this article in The Verge for example, explaining how it became increasingly more popular, first in South Korea, then in Australia, United States and other countries. Now, the obvious question: no, it doesn’t appear to be conveniently streamable on Netflix or any other major platform at the moment. Not here in Sweden, not in the US either judging from the article mentioned. I have a vague memory of seeing the title pop up in the Netflix menu a few months ago, but as of right now – no, it isn’t there to be found or watched. I was pretty sure I had DVD copy somewhere at home, but couldn’t find it here either. I did, however, come across a Bluray copy from an online store recently. So. It is here, physically, right in front of me while I’m writing this. I had been thinking of using it as a teaching tool in the school for adult students where I work. But, like so many other institutions in so many places, we recently switched to Distance teaching due to the circumstances you’re already aware of. As far as we know at this time, the current pandemic isn’t quite as lethal as the one described in this film. However, its impact on our daily lives has already been severe. Hopefully, affected societies will recover, but we’re in for a time of trials in many ways.

Question remains; should I rewatch ”Contagion” right now in any case, or wait? Is it absolutely essential viewing this week or the last thing I would want to get immersed in while trying to sort everything going on in the real world simultaneously?

I guess I’ll get back to you on that. Stay safe, if possible. Wait a minute, did I really write this piece without ever explicitly naming the cor…

Better Late Than Never – My Favourite Films of 2019

It’s late, I know. As an excuse I spent three weeks around Christmas and New Year in Mexico with my wife and her family and didn’t get around to do a whole lot of writing and compiling in general. Still catching up. Anyway, the decade is already wrapped up and you can find my favourite films and TV shows, respectively from the decade we just left behind here. But 2019 was quite a decent year for movies, actually one that I still find difficult to sum up, knowing that I haven’t – that word again – caught up with everything that could have ended up on my Top Ten. And  as you might be aware of, The Oscars are just a few hours away. So, finally, here we go…

…and oh, just to be clear; these are films that opened in Sweden in 2019. Some of them might seem that they belong on last year’s rankings but they simply hadn’t arrived here then. 

1. The Favourite (directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)

Three women in a British 18th century court, fighting it out in different ways over who holds the real power. So smart, so entertaining. So…My Favourite last year.

2. Knives Out (Rian Johnson)

Good old-fashioned whodunnit turns out to be a little more than that. New franchise for Daniel Craig?

3. Us (Jordan Peele)

They’ve been waiting. Now it’s time. Our world is about to be turned on its head for ever. But who exactly are the good and bad guys here? Jordan Peele proves ”Get Out” wasn’t just luck. 

4. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

I have come to admire his work more and more over the years. I was a bit slow in recognizing his genius, I admit. This is both beautiful and disturbing, thought-provoking in a way I do appreciate, especially when you rewind the finale in your mind to figure out what it really means. If there is one and only one possible interpretation. 

5. Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher)

Elton John. No easy childhood. or young adulthood. And success didn’t result in happiness right away. Colourful, entertaining modern musical-fantasy. 

6. Instant Family (Sean Anders)

Charming little gem, starring a relatively young couple getting involved in foster-parenting and finding out what it takes to make a family. 

7. Long Shot (Jonathan Levine)

Charlize Theron, never funnier. Unexpected chemistry with Seth Rogen. Will they be First Couple or not?

 

8. Deadwood – The Movie (Daniel Minahan)

Closure at last. More than a decade after one of the best TV shows ever ended somewhat abruptly, we revisit the small frontier town to find out what became of those struggling citizens and their arch-nemesis named Hearst. Worth waiting for.

9. Vice (Adam McKay)

The story of Dick Cheney and his rise to power, told as a darkened sort of satire-comedy and a great Christian Bale in the lead. 

10. Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar)

Aging Spanish film director examines the life of an aging Spanish film director in an understated, slow-burn drama that never really raises its voice, but maintains attention throughout. 

 

Honourable Mentions:

Ready or Not

The Irishman

El Camino – A Breaking Bad Movie

Films I feel bad about not having seen yet: 

Parasite

High Life

Joker

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

… and a few others.  

And which film will win Best Picture tonight? As I said, still catching  up, but it seems like that ”1917” would have a shot, right? Probably a great achievement. I should go see it. Although, why do I feel like heroic war movies are not exactly what the world needs most right now? I know, I know. It’s probably more nuanced than that.

Spies, Drugs and Seriously Disturbed Characters – My Top 20 TV Shows of the Decade

The Walking Dead. Mad Men. Not included. So, there. For some reason I’m still stuck somewhere in the third season of TWD and just barely got around to watch a few episodes of MM. Maybe I will do something about that later. Still, there is so much. Too much. To watch. Here’s what stuck with me more than most of all the stuff out there. Some stories are apparently finished while others are still being told. The final verdict on some of these epics might change for the better – or worse. But, for now, this is it. 

1. Breaking Bad (2008-2013, created by Vince Gilligan). It simply shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. Could you even describe the basic premise and the general circumstances without scaring off most potential viewers? Bit by bit, it turned out a lot of us were inexplicably drawn into the tale of a middle-aged, burnt-out and bitter chemistry teacher on his new path as career criminal. The show just got better and better. And finally – the best. 

– So we made the list? Second best? Let’s get the barbecue going, then! Credit: hbonordic.com

2. Game of Thrones (2011-2019, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss). It was the biggest show on earth, like. And still, the final stretch became such a profoundly polarizing experience that different factions of fans seemingly were prepared to go to war with each other. Personally, most of the last season actually worked for me. But it’s obvious that the creators had created an impossible task for themselves. They couldn’t bring the whole world together. On the other hand, who can? All in all, however; the complete story, the visuals, the characters and the world-building was a monumental piece of work to behold, marvel at and sometimes, argue about.

3. The Americans (2013-2018; Joseph Weisberg). Sure. They do spy a lot. Och oh, do they deliver a particular kind of 1980’s nostalgia. But above all, this is the story of family and friendship. How to nurture your most important relationships when circumstances are extreme and you never can be completely honest and truthful. How do you save your soul? And what is the deepest meaning of identity?

Only fourth place? Well, the only way is up, baby! Credit: hbonordic.com

4.  Billions (2016- ; Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin). Big money, huge egos, lack of impulse control and lots of vengeance… We might not be exactly like them, but they’re still us. 

5. Penny Dreadful (2014-2016; John Logan). Gothic retro-horror where they by all reasonable standards crammed in too many ingredients and ideas and bloody kitchen sinks… But still, it worked. The show dared to take itself seriously throughout. And they didn’t have a lot of reasons to smile, so they simply didn’t very often. What it was, was a brutally beautiful journey into darkness and back again. For some, at least. 

6. The Knick (2014-2015; Jack Amiel, Michael Begler, Steven Soderbergh). Yes, I know. Most people missed it. And the allure of dangerously pioneering medical science in a New York City circa 1900 might be limited to a small crowd. Still, Clive Owen starred. Steven Soderbergh directed everyone of the 20 episodes produced. The result was something special. 

7. Narcos (2015- ; Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato). Spectacular scenery and urban melting pots. Profitable business and brutal conflict. A piece of modern history that could have been told in a number of different ways. This has proved to be an almost constantly intriguing one.

8. Black Sails (2014-2017; Robert Levine, Jonathan Steinberg). Spectacular spectacle but what’s the story, really? That seemed to be the initial audience reaction. And the showrunners never seemed visibly concerned about making it too easy and relatable, for which I’m thankful. They went ahead and followed a particular vision all the way, displaying death-defying attitude and creating a bittersweet aftertaste that I wouldn’t have expected when they first set sail.

9. Fargo (2014- ; Noah Hawley). People and places shifted between every season. But the atmosphere and the tone remained intact. Though, it was near impossible improving on the second round and its portrayal of feuding families in the 1970s; the devastating effects of greed on everyone, from hardened criminals to seemingly ordinary folks.

Staring down the opponent. Sometimes it’s a working strategy. Will ”Westworld” wipe out all competition in the coming decade? Credit: hbonordic.com

 10. Westworld (2016- ; Lisa Joy, Jonathan Nolan). Did I properly understand everything so far? Probably not. ”Westworld” is still such a powerful creative cacophony of impressions and ideas that it’s hard to resist and maybe even more difficult to let go of afterwards. 

11. The Bureau – Le Bureau des Légendes (2015- ; Eric Rochant). Oh, the French. They also make spy dramas. At least this one, which is so impressively obsessed with every detail in the spying game, and so anxious to show you the real consequences of it that it quickly becomes addictive, once you’ve figured out that it does actually exist and where to find it.  

12. The Handmaid’s Tale (2017- ; Bruce Miller). First season – devastatingly powerful. Second round – almost as good. Third one – not sure yet. Haven’t seen all the episodes, and maybe they’re starting to get slightly sidetracked. Still… Strong stuff. 

13. Homeland (2011- ; Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon). You can say a lot of things about this show; mixed messages, contrived plotlines, improbabilities and a not always likeable or comprehensible heroine. Well. They do know to tell a story and keep up the pace. And at its very best it is thought-provoking in the best way possible. 

14th place? Well. After all, we’re just leftovers… Credit: hbonordic.com

14. The Leftovers (2014-2017; Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta). Heavy going. It is undoubtedly one of the most innovative, original shows this millennium so far. It demands something of you, sometimes you just need to take a break and get back to it later. And once again prepare to be blown away and profoundly disturbed, before the next…break. 

15. Orphan Black (2013-2017; John Fawcett, Graeme Manson). In some ways the most impressive individual performance of an actor these last years. Tatiana Maslany incorporates a number of clones with distinct personalities during five seasons of almost constantly highly entertaining science fiction/relationship drama for our times. 

16. La Casa de Papel – Money Heist (2017- ; Álex Pina). Talking about entertaining. Spanish criminals battling the law in a scheme that might have borrowed some ideas from Spike Lee’s ”Inside Man” to begin with, but moved on to paint a larger canvas and force you to consider your sympathies over and over again. 

17. The Bronze Garden – El Jardín de Bronce (2017- ; Gustavo Malajovich, Marcos Osorio Vidal). Two miniseries so far of this Argentine mystery-thriller-drama beginning with the disappearance of a child and her father’s relentless search for the truth. Atmospheric, haunting and deeply human. 

18. Barry (2018- ; Alec Berg, Bill Hader). Funny guy, that Hader. He basically decided to make his own main character the most serious, least overtly funny guy in the show. Because he doesn’t need to be. He is suffering. So are most other characters in here, but still, together they pack such a mean comedic punch while being dead serious, that the show creates a universe of its own. Still ongoing – where will it end up?

19. Jane the Virgin (2014-2019, Jennie Snyder Urman). ’After all, this is a telenovela…’ Well, sort of. Playing around with genre conventions and basically every storytelling tool ever invented, while portraying some really relatable characters in sickness and health, infatuation and insidious scheming, it was impossible not to like. 

An award to kill for, you said? By the time we’re finished we’ll be number one – trust me. Credit: hbonordic.com

20. Killing Eve (2018- , Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Weird relationships. Indeed. Assassins and law-abiding officers facing off with unpredictable outcomes. Feels like the bigger story is still in its initial phase. What will come out of this in the end?

 

Almost Made It: The Honourable Woman (Hugo Blick), Luther (Neil Cross), Bosch (Michael Connelly, Eric Overmyer), True Detective (Nic Pizzolatto), Taboo (Chips Hardy, Tom Hardy), The Expanse (Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby),  Mindhunter (Joe Penhall), American Gods (Bryan Fuller, Michael Green), Chernobyl (Craig Mazin), The Good Fight (Robert King, Michelle King, Phil Alden Robinson).  

Honourable Mentions: Bloodline, The Path, Banshee, Berlin Station, Masters of Sex, The Walking Dead, The Newsroom, The Brink, Outlander, Mr. Robot, Hannibal, Club de Cuervos, One Day at a Time, Sherlock, The Night Of, Bodyguard, Ray Donovan, Fortitude, Orange Is the New Black, Boss…

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