Dec 23 2020

AAP’s Favorite Films And Miscellaneous Things of 2020

by The Editors

Image by Peter Chung for ArtAsiaPacific.

Needless to say, in the absence of the crowded gallery openings and international fairs that typically fill the art world calendar, the AAP editors have been spending lots of time exploring various corners of the internet. From new movies and a “crystal ball” app to a podcast explainer on Q-Anon, here are the discoveries that made this year a little less dull. If you missed it, take a look at our previous blog on our favorite books and artist projects too.

Kajillionaire (2020)

The latest feature from the charmingly weird world of writer/director Miranda July stars Evan Rachel Wood as Old Dolio, the neglected daughter of eccentric, small-time con artists, Robert and Theresa (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger). When a savvy outsider (Gina Rodriguez) is brought into their schemes, the oddball family is forced to confront their fears, failures, and ridiculous dysfunction. July’s film is an earnest and very funny look at family and the American dream, carried by phenomenal performances all around. OL

Possessor (2020)

By far the most haunting sci-fi/horror I’ve seen this year, Brandon Cronenberg’s sophomore feature is a brilliant, visceral exploration of the contours of selfhood, and the terror of losing one’s agency to a malevolent controller. The film centers on a hitwoman—played with arresting intensity by Andrea Riseborough—who carries out assassinations by implanting her consciousness into unwitting host bodies. Things go dangerously awry when wrestling consciousnesses start to blur. OL  

Black Bear (2020)

Set in a secluded lakeside retreat in the Adirondacks, Lawrence Michael Levine’s film revolves around the awkward and increasingly manipulative interactions between a couple and an interloper—roles that Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, and Sarah Gadon dexterously rotate. Resentment, jealousy, and treacherous desires quickly come to the surface in this darkly comic domestic thriller, which shifts in the second act into a meta-commentary on vulnerability and deception in storytelling. OL

Image by Peter Chung for ArtAsiaPacific.

The Social Dilemma (2020)

During a bizarre year of global lockdowns and border closures, most of us have become even more reliant on social media to keep in touch with the outside world. Yet, for all their benefits, social media sites have been fiercely criticized for their detrimental side effects. The Social Dilemma (2020) presents a refreshing take on this debate, inviting numerous former employees and decision-makers of tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, to discuss their first-hand experiences with developing life-changing technologies—and their troubling concerns regarding their own creations. LL

The Toys That Made Us (2017– )

A recent discovery down the Netflix rabbit hole, the documentary series The Toys That Made Us (2017– ) awakens the child within. Each episode details the successes and setbacks in the making of an iconic toy, as recounted by its passionate creators and designers. Did you know that Power Rangers were rejected for eight years before their first mass debut? Or that Barbie originated in the 1950s to steer girls away from conventional gender roles? The many lesser-known tidbits result in a captivating series that harkens back to days of wonder and innocence. LL

Small Axe (2020)

Steve McQueen’s anthology of five films, Small Axe, gives tone and texture to the stories of London’s Black community from the 1960s to the ’80s. Historical events like the 1970 trial of the Mangrove Nine—who successfully defended themselves against charges of “rioting” during a protest against repeated police raids of a Notting Hill Caribbean restaurant—and the personal stories of the Black police officer Leroy Logan, who joined the force after White police officers assaulted his father, as well as the novelist Alex Wheatle, who was arrested during the 1981 Brixton uprising, portray the extent to which British law enforcement enacted a systemic campaign of violence against communities of color. The series’ uncanny ability to transport viewers back to a time and place is fully experienced in the least polemical of the films, Lover’s Rock, which portrays the beginning of a romance struck up at a reggae-steeped house party. HGM

Taylor Mali’s Metaphor Dice. Image via product website.
Taylor Mali’s Metaphor Dice. Image via product website.

Metaphor Madness

The rules of Metaphor Dice are simple. The dice are imprinted with words or phrases and sorted into colored sets. Roll at least one of each color and pat yourself on the back for being a whiz at epigrams. Possible combinations include “Love is a disturbing party clown” and “My family is a jubilant scourge.” OL

Summoning the Dragon

Vice’s One Star Reviews is a five-star series overall but Taji Ameen’s encounter with “Yelp’s worst-rated psychic” takes the cake. In this episode, a Los Angeles “psychic” channels the spirit of Bruce Lee to give Taji some advice on breaking into show biz. OL

“Country of Liars: Who is Q-Anon?”

For those of us who have not been ensnared in the cultish conspiracy universe of “Q drops” but are aware that many Facebook users believe the soon-to-be-former president of the United States is leading a campaign to save children from an international ring of pedophiles—you might have some questions about how, where, and why this all started. And who is behind Q-Anon? The hosts at the Reply All podcast, which regularly deep-dives into the weird internet, trace Q-Anon back to the shadowy origins of the message board 8chan and offer insight into these corners of the internet that you, rightly, may never want to visit. HGM

“The Technology of Democracy”

In a characteristically rapid-fire Conversations with Tyler podcast episode, Audrey Tang—artist, hacker, and Taiwan’s first digital minister and transgender cabinet member—shares her life story. From using humor to combat misinformation to devising digital platforms for civic engagement, Tang gives me hope for a future where technology can be shaped by many and used not just for the agendas of corporations or the elite. CC

Evening News with Kate NV

Fans of new wave will appreciate the imaginative sonic experiments of Russian pop persona Kate NV. The playfully referential and eccentric character of Kate NV’s music extends to the aesthetic of her performances, seen in the stellar video for “Планы (Plans)”—a hybrid of Byrne, Bowie, and Brecht through the skewed lens of interdimensional cable. OL  

Radio Alhara

The ultimate pandemic lockdown project—sorry, sourdough bakers—Radio Alhara (neighborhood radio) is a livestreaming internet channel created by friends in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Amman. With guest DJs and special programs on topics ranging from art to economics and Palestinian cooking, the mix of music and periodic talk sessions are the reason to check in often or just leave it on while you’re waiting for your dough to rise. HGM

“He Left in a Storm, He’ll Return in a Storm”

On top of having one of the best radio voices on air today, journalist Phoebe Judge has a knack for broadening her audience’s field of view. Just as Criminal shines among lesser true-crime podcasts for its memorable stories of lawbreakers, investigators, and everyone in between, This Is Love is a fascinating look at human and animal devotion in its many forms. A highlight of the season is episode 27, on the women of 18th-century coastal towns who lost their loves to the sea, including the real-life figure behind the folkloric Sea Witch of Billingsgate. OL

Winter Wonderland

“Nothing awaits you: there is no chance to get out, no room for adventures and breathtaking plot.” These words do not refer to 2020—but they may as well! They are in fact from the official description of the sardonic indie video game ШХД: ЗИМА (IT’S WINTER), in which you hang around a drab Russian apartment block and . . . that’s it. There’s something radical about being allowed to do nothing in a decidedly bleak setting, contra the hyperconsumerist imperative to “live your best life” somewhere in the Maldives. If you can’t get enough of the “loneliness and endless snow,” the game is part of a multidisciplinary project comprising a play, short film, press-on tattoos, musical album, and poetry by Moscow-based polymath Ilia MazoOL

Screenshot from ШХД: ЗИМА (IT’S WINTER(2019). Copyright and courtesy Ilia Mazo and Alexander Ignatov.

Home Cooking

An artist-run platform for streaming conversations, readings, and online get-togethers, Home Cooking offered nutritional events like Prem Krishnamurthy’s high-energy group chats in “Present!” and Tiffany Sia’s biweekly series of midnight Saturday readings from Hong Kong, “Hell is a Timeline.” It’s all archived and ready to be revisited during your next lockdown. HGM   

“Say what?” press releases

“Glamorous and Chic SEXY CRAB Elevating Feisty Crustacean to New Artisanal Gastronomic Heights” is a prime example of the word salads that the editors receive every year from marketing companies. Chock-full of buzz words that guarantee high ROI (or something), the best of these headlines make us laugh while also second guessing our grip on reality. Honestly, thank you to the people behind this email. I didn’t know I could simultaneously feel so many things about 13 words. CC

O by Ozkaya

It’s a crystal ball, for your iPhone or Android. Designed by Serkan Ozkaya, the app doesn’t predict the future but you’ll find something you want to depict upside-down. HGM

Screenshots from the O by Ozkaya app via the Apple app store.

Met Opera Streams

Covid-19 may have kept us away from traveling and experiencing culture as we used to, but determined souls have found another way. Since March 13, just one day after New York’s Metropolitan Opera canceled its performance schedules, the institution has been streaming recorded shows from its archive for free. A different production is available daily, from 7:30 pm eastern time until 6:30 pm the next day, bringing performances of Tchaikovsky, Strauss, and Puccini to screens worldwide—an agreeable alternative until the Met’s live shows resume in September 2021. Just in time for Christmas, Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel (1893) is slated for December 25. LL

HG Masters is ArtAsiaPacific’s deputy publisher and deputy editor; Chloe Chu is managing editor; Ophelia Lai is associate editor; Lauren Long is web and news editor; Peter Chung is photo editor.

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