January 23, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Barack Obama shares his favorite films, books and TV of 2020

Step aside, Oprah: Former President Obama has plugged more than two-score films, TV series and books in his annual list of his favorite things.

On the list are a couple of his own projects, including the first installment of his memoir “A Promised Land” and the disability-rights documentary “Crip Camp” from his production company.

Obama acknowledged that streaming has conflated television and film releases, the latter of which have largely been withdrawn from theaters due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Like everyone else, we were stuck inside a lot this year, and with streaming further blurring the lines between theatrical movies and television features, I’ve expanded the list to include visual storytelling that I’ve enjoyed this year, regardless of format,” Obama tweeted on Friday when sharing his choices.

Topping his visual-storytelling list were Netflix’s biopic “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” released Friday and starring Viola Davis and and the late Chadwick Boseman, which has garnered much awards buzz. For television, AMC’s Emmy-nominated “Breaking Bad” prequel “Better Call Saul” was No. 1.

Earlier this week, during an appearance on his virtual book tour, Obama told Entertainment Weekly that “Better Call Saul” was among the shows he’d turn to when he needed a break from writing “because of its great characters and examination of the dark side of the American Dream.”

He also cited Obama NBC’s afterlife comedy “The Good Place” because of its “wise and sweet combination of goofy comedy and big philosophical questions.” Others mentioned to EW included the NBA playoffs, HBO’s Emmy-winning drama “Watchmen” and the subversive superhero drama “The Boys” (a nod that delighted the cast and crew). Alas, the playoffs and “Watchmen” didn’t make his official list on Friday.

Other films included Russian-set drama”Beanpole,” the Brazil-set horror adventure “Bacurau,” Chloé Zhao’s road-trip drama “Nomadland,” starring Frances McDormand; Pixar’s animated musical “Soul”; Steve McQueen’s love story “Lover’s Rock”; the Romanian healthcare documentary “Collective”; Netflix’s historic screenwriting drama “Mank”; the adaptation of Jack London’s novel “Martin Eden”; the western family noir “Let Him Go,” starring Diane Lane, Kevin Costner and Lesley Manville; the prison documentary “Time”; the teen government documentary “Boys State”; and Amazon’s cliquey boarding-school drama “Selah and the Spades,” as well as “Crip Camp.”

His other TV picks included Netflix’s chess drama “The Queen’s Gambit,” HBO’s portrait of a group of Black millennials “I May Destroy You,” Civil War-era mini-series “The Good Lord Bird,” the sci-fi mystery “Devs,” Michael Jordan docuseries “The Last Dance,” feminist mini-series “Mrs. America” and the Chicago documentary “City So Real.”

In literature, 44 listed an eclectic mix of 17 books, “deliberately omitting” “A Promised Land” — though he affably described it as “a pretty good book” in a tweet.

Not surprisingly, he included a number of books on race and politics. Among them: Anne Applebaum’s “Twilight of Democracy”; Marilyn Robinson’s novel “Jack”; Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”; Erik Larson’s portrait of Winston Churchill, “The Splendid and the Vile”; Raven Leilaini’s affair novel “Luster”; Ayad Akhtar’s personal novel “Homeland Elegies”; Natasha Trethewey’s novel about her mother’s murder, “Memorial Drive”; and Robert Kolker’s biography of a Colorado family dealing with schizophrenia, “Hidden Valley Road.”

The other titles are C. Pam Zhang’s “How Much of These Hills Is Gold,” Liz Moore’s “Long Bright River,” James McBride’s “Deacon King Kong,” Karla Cornejo Villavicencio‘s “The Undocumented Americans,” Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half,” Emily St. John Mandel’s “The Glass Hotel,” Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Ministry for the Future,” Kawai Strong Washburn’s “Sharks in the Time of the Saviors” and Phil Kay’s “Missionaries.”

Happy reading and watching!