Choosing a film to watch, a television show to binge, or music to surround yourself with isn’t a fraught decision if you know who to trust. That’s the basic idea of this best of pop culture list (including 10 best movies, 10 best tv shows, 10 best of albums, 10 best of songs…), which has been meticulously created through countless hours of time spent by yours truly. How the content was consumed has certainly changed due to this never-ending global pandemic, such as Video On Demand in place of theaters or Spotify instead of live concerts, but the end result is the same as every year: a final and succinct list of the best of what the year had to offer in film, television and music. If it’s great, I want it on here.
So from skin-crawling horror films to mind-bending tv shows to body-movin’ music, there is bound to be something on this list to satisfy your pop culture cravings. Time is money and we are all busy, so please peruse the lists below wisely and fill your coffers, my friends, with the best of pop culture that 2020 had to offer.
The 10 Best Movies of 2020
10. BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC
Escape 2020, literally with time travel, with our earnestly dumb heroes as they set out to save the world, again, with music.
9. SEA FEVER
A creepy and mysterious horror film set at sea digs its claws into viewers early, and leaves marks that linger for much, much longer.
8. THE PLATFORM
Confusion. Horror. Injustice. This dark take on societal structures is 2020 in a nutshell.
7. BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
The surprisingly perfect, highly self-aware follow up to perhaps the most quoted movie ever. And yes, Rudy Giuliani makes an appearance.
6. I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
Charlie Kauffman’s latest creation is humming with dread that never peaks or valleys, but tells an unsettlingly story that beguiles.
Horror is at its core unsettling and creepy, and this stylish delight is so beautifully odd that as the tension grows, so to does the intrigue. Gulp.
4. PALM SPRINGS
The best comedy in the darkest year imaginable deserves all the positive reviews, and your time for an infinity number of viewings required. No spoilers here.
This bold, shocking sci-fi thriller from Russia is instantly captivating, continuously unpredictable and flat-out amazing.
2. HILLBILLY ELEGY
The rare movie that equals the book it’s based on, in large part due to the terrific cast and perfectly adapted screenplay that provides urgency and timeliness.
1. FIRST COW
This year’s best film is a tender story of an unlikely friendship set during the quiet, yet unruly, setting of the Pacific Northwest in the 1820s.
EMMA, PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE, THE SOCIAL DILEMMA, THE INVISIBLE MAN, THE HUNT, ATHLETE A, EXTRA ORDINARY, THE RENTAL, #ALIVE, AFTER MIDNIGHT, DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD, SPACESHIP EARTH, THE ASSISTANT, NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS, BAD BOYS FOR LIFE and INCITEMENT
The 10 Best TV Shows of 2020
10. KILLING EVE (BBC)
A dark and twisted game of cat and mouse with the highest of stakes and weirdest of obsessions.
9. DISPTACHES FROM ELSEWHERE (AMC)
Sure, Jason Segel’s show is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but it’s one where viewers are actually given the key in the most meta ending of a show this year.
8. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (FX)
A hilarious, no-holds-barred riot of a good time that is filled with vampires, witches, and werewolves, Oh my!
7. THE MANDALORIAN (Disney+)
Baby Yoda (Grogu?!?) will melt your heart, but the perfectly flawed Mandalorian will get your soul.
6. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (HBO)
The forever affronted Larry David delivers again with a ‘spite store’ inspired theme of revenge and comeuppance. Pure comedy gold.
5. FARGO (FX)
Every season in this anthology series brings a specific tone, style, violence and clever script, but it was the superb cast that brought this season to new heights. Ben fatto!
4. SCHITT’S CREEK (PopTV)
A show that’s equal parts heartwarming and hilarious, this little Canadian show deserves all the love, affection and awards it can muster. Ew, David!
3. DEVS (FX on Hulu)
It’s difficult to describe a show that attempts to ask (and answer) all the big questions, while not giving away a spoiler, so I won’t try. Just watch the show and enjoy the journey.
2. RAISED BY WOLVES (HBO)
Ridley Scott is a genius. A sci-fi show featuring androids in human colonization efforts really shouldn’t work, but not only does it work, it’s near perfection.
1. DARK (Netflix)
The final season of this trippy and complex German language show did the impossible and delivered a perfect series end. Your next obsession awaits.
BARBAREN (Netflix), BETTER CALL SAUL (AMC), LAST WEEK TONIGHT (HBO), NORMAL PEOPLE (Hulu), CORPORATE (Comedy Central), COBRA KAI (Netflix), RAMY (Hulu), THE BOYS (Amazon), ELITE (Netflix), INSECURE (HBO), THE LAST DANCE (ESPN), ALONE (History) and HIGH FIDELITY (Hulu)
The 10 Best Acting Performances of 2020
10. Anya Taylor-Joy, EMMA and THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT
Any actor that can expertly deliver deliciously Jane Austen lines and steal the show in an underrated show on chess, deserves heaps of praise.
9. Julia Garner, THE ASSISTANT
Perhaps the quietest performance on the list, Julia Garner further proved her acting chops in this award-deserving performance.
8. Sacha Boren Cohen, TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 and BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
The only thing Abbie Hoffman, an American social activist, and Borat Sagdiyev, a fictional Kazakh reporter, have in common is Sacha Boren Cohen. Much respect for this underrated actor.
7. Sonoya Mizuno, DEVS and FARGO
When an unknown actor can steal the show as the heroine in a new show, that’s impressive. When that same actor can do the same as a guest, just wow.
6. Jodie Comer, KILLING EVE
What can be said that hasn’t already about Jodie Comer’s exceptional performance as the delightful, pyscho-killer Villanelle?
5. Bob Odenkirk, BETTER CALL SAUL
As with Jodie Comer and Villanelle, Bob Odenkirk’s continued greatness as “Slippin’ Jimmy,” a.k.a. Saul Goodman, is simply astounding.
4. Jonathan Majors, DA 5 BLOODS and LOVECRAFT COUNTRY
Watch Jonathan Majors in any scene from any of his performances and witness the untenable talent and craft of this rising star.
3. Jessie Buckley, FARGO and I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
Like Jonathan Majors, Jessie Buckley is a rising star that steals any scene she is in, and wow can she deliver ridiculously complex lines with such a meek authority.
2. Glenn Close, HILLBILLY ELEGY
The ever transformative Glenn Close doesn’t just act, she becomes, as is evident as she fully embodies Mawmaw in jaw-dropping fashion.
1. Salvatore Esposito, FARGO
Easily the most magnetic performance by any actor on any film or show this year, Salvatore Esposito is like a raging bull ready to explode, who demands, and gets, your full attention.
Amanda Collin, RAISED BY WOLVES; Ben Affleck, THE WAY BACK; Amanda Seyfried, MANK; Daniel Levy, SCHITT’S CREEK; Sidney Flanigan, NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS; Mahershala Ali, RAMY; Kaley Cuoco, THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT; Delroy Lindo, DA 5 BLOODS and Zoë Kravitz, HIGH FIDELITY
The 10 Best Albums of 2020
10. Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, GORILLAZ
Musical nirvana is Damon Albarn experimenting with guests vocalists (Robert Smith, St. Vincent, Elton John, Schoolboy Q…) on each track. Much like an anthology show, the sum of all the parts is uneven, but worth it.
Standout Tracks: “Désolé,” “Pac-Man,” “The Valley of the Pagans,” “With Love To An Ex”
9. Motus Vivendi, 070 SHAKE
An unique voice on the contemporary rap scene, this 070 Collective member is ready for liftoff. Trust nobody.
Standout Tracks: “The Pines,” “Guilty Conscience,” “Morrow,” “Under the Moon,” “Flight139”
8. Eternal Atake (Deluxe) – LUV vs. The World 2, LIL UZI VERT
One of rap’s fastest ascending figures is at it again with this banger-filled, guest rap featuring deluxe album.
Standout Tracks: “Myron,” “P2,” “Silly Watch,” “Futsal Shuffle 2020,” “Yesserskiii”
7. Miss Colombia, LIDO PIMIENTA
Named after Steve Harvey’s 2015 Miss Universe gaffe, Miss Colombia is a cheeky, shit-stirring and ultimately beautiful Afro-Columbian masterclass of an album.
Standout Tracks: “Nada,” “Eso Que Tu Haces,” “Te Queria,” “Para Transcribir (LUNA)”
6. Dropout, MODEL CHILD
If “woke punk” were a category, LA-based Danny Parker’s band would be at the top of list. It could be a trend.
Standout Tracks: “Trend,” “Strawberry Bowl,” “No Sleep in the City of Angels,” “Drain Me”
5. Myopia, AGNES OBEL
The uber-talented Danish singer/songwriter/musician you didn’t know you needed who created this haunting gem of an album under self-imposed creative isolation. Thank you, Agnes.
Standout Tracks: “Broken Sleep,” “Camera’s Rolling,” “Island of Doom,” “Parliament of Owls”
4. RTJ4, RUN THE JEWELS
Name a better, more impactful and musically aggressive rap duo than Killer Mike and El-P. Seriously go ahead, I double-dog dare you…
Standout Tracks: “out of sight,” “ooh la la,” “holy calamafuck,” “walking in the snow,” “JU$T”
3. Fetch The Bolt Cutters, FIONA APPLE
Describing the brilliance of Fiona Apple is impossible. So instead, just push play on her latest creation and enjoy all the many things there are to enjoy. Woof! Bark. Howl!
Standout Tracks: “I Want You To Love Me,” “Under The Table,” “Heavy Balloon,” “Cosmonauts”
2. Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, PERFUME GENIUS
Using pain as inspiration and music as creative freedom, lead singer Mike Hadreas has led Perfume Genius to a level without boundaries. Pain can indeed be beautiful.
Standout Tracks: “Describe,” “On the Floor,” “Your Body Changes Everything,” “Nothing at All,” “Jason”
1. The New Abnormal, THE STROKES
A seven year wait between albums that was well worth waiting for from the best alt rock band around. Oh, also worth the wait, the refined falsetto from lead singer Julian Casablancas.
Standout Tracks: “At The Door,” “The Adults Are Talking,” “Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus,” “Selfless,” “Ode To The Mets,” “Bad Decisions,” “Not The Same Anymore”
Before Love Came To Kill Us, JESSIE REYEZ; Hirudin, AUSTRA; Untrapped, YO GOTTI; Algo Nuevo, LA DOÑA; Speed, Sound, Lonely KV, KURT VILE; Mordechai, KHRUANGBIN; La Vita Nuova, CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS; YHLQMDLG, BAD BUNNY; Rosetta, DUA SALEH; Silver Tongue, TORRES; Good News, MEGAN THEE STALLION; Blame it On Baby, DA BABY; Heavy Light, U.S. GIRLS; After Hours, THE WEEKND and Ultra Mono, IDLES
The 10 Best Songs of 2020
10. “Natalie Don’t,” RAYE
A fresh riff on Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is simply pitch perfect poppy goodness. Dare you NOT to sing along.
Standout Lyric: “Oh, no, there she goes; To take away my man; I’m beggin’ her not him; Don’t…“
9. “Gooba,” 6IX9INE
The highly controversial 6ix9ine (pronounced six-nine) is a rapper with a uniquely aggressive style, but is better known as a snitch and for using asthma as his COVID get-out-of-jail-early card. This is ‘snitch’ track.
Standout Lyric: “Are you dumb, stupid, or dumb, huh? Yeah…“
8. “exile (feat. Bon Iver),” TAYLOR SWIFT
This beautiful duet between two extremely talented musicians is the clear the standout of Taylor’s album.
Standout Lyric [translated’: “You were my town; Now I’m in exile seein’ you out.“
7. “Model Village,” IDLES
British punk at its absolute finest, complete with guttural screams aimed at the establishment and all. Bravo!
Standout Lyric: “You gotta laugh as the curtain twitches; And the villagers bury their riches.“‘
6. “Nada Me Pertenece,” LA DOÑA
What a debut for this rising star from the Bay area who is beginning to tap into her immense potential.
Standout Lyric[translated]: “Do not jump into the water without knowing how to swim“‘
5. “Count Me In,” THEY.
Please do count me in on this relatively simply R&B track from the perpetually underrated duo THEY.
Standout Lyric: “Lil mama don’t mess around; She done heard it all; She got no pity for ’em.”
4. “No Sleep in the City of Angels,” MODEL CHILD
The best track of off the best punk album of the year from the best band you don’t know of yet. Enjoy!
Standout Lyric: “Every night feels like the finale, drunk kids getting high in the valley.“
3. “Pressure in My Palms (feat. slowthai, Vince Staples),” AMINÉ
The collaboration I never knew I needed with an intoxicating, layered, body-movin’ beat that is an absolute banger. Listen or don’t, no pressure.
Standout Lyric: “I’m takin’ the base, yeah, I’m takin’ it home. I’m a young Jack, if I hit it, it’s gone.“
2. “Nada,” LIDO PIMIENTA
The best song at the mid-year point still packs a powerful, inspirational and lovely punch delivered by a powerhouse of a singer and activist. Ooooooh Ooooooh Oopmh!
Standout Lyric [translated]: “All that I felt, all that I lived; Of all that I had a feeling for, I have nothing left; For all that I looked and all that I dreamed; For all that I hoped from you, I have nothing left.”
1. “Protect The Land,” SYSTEM OF A DOWN
A timely song by one of the greatest bands of all time, SOAD – all of whom of are Armenian decent – reunited after 15 years to record music to raise awareness and funds amid war being perpetrated upon [their] cultural homelands. The cause is necessary, but the song – the song is a gift straight from the rubble that is 2020.
Standout Lyric: “The enemy of man is his own decay; If they’re evil now, then evil they will stay.”
“Juro Que,” ROSALÍA; “Risk It,” AUSTRA, “Désolé,” GORILLAZ; “Describe,” PERFUME GENIUS; “ooh la la,” RTJ; “Phenom,” THAO & THE GET DOWN STAY DOWN; “Body Cast,” DUA SALEH; “Blue Comanche,” WESTERMAN; “Julia Take Your Man Home,” WOLF PARADE; “Pose,” YO GOTTI; “Last Forest,” TORRES; “Get Ratched,” KAMAYIAH; “People I’ve Been Sad,” CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS and “At the Door,” THE STROKES