Former President Barack Obama has once again released his list of favorite movies for the year, and he also included his favorite TV series since we’ve all been staying home more due to the pandemic.
It’s an interesting list because it demonstrates the continued fracturing of our culture as more entertainment options become available. How many of these have you seen? Or here’s a better question: how many of these have you even heard of?
Also noteworthy is that Obama plugged a documentary made by his own company as part of a production deal with Netflix that he signed after leaving office.
OBAMA’S FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2020
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a just-released Netflix film that the streaming giant describes by saying, “Tensions and temperatures rise at a Chicago music studio in 1927 when fiery, fearless blues singer Ma Rainey joins her band for a recording session.” It stars Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman (“Black Panther”) in his final role before he passed due to colon cancer at age 43.
Bacurau is a mysterious sci-fi thriller that serves as an allegory about colonialism and oppression.
Nomadland follows an old woman who travels through the American west while living in a van after losing everything in the Great Recession. It doesn’t come out until 2021… Obama must’ve gotten a sneak peek.
Soul is the new Pixar movie slated for release on Christmas Day on Disney+. Again, the former president must’ve gotten an opportunity to see it in advance.
Lovers Rock is the 2nd installment of the five-part “Small Axe” film anthology. This portion focuses on a single night in 1980 when a few dozen black Londoners gather for a house party, which Vulture says “shows what happens when white people aren’t looking — the rapture in Black joy, experienced privately.”
Collective is a Romanian documentary/detective thriller about newspaper investigative reporters who discover health care fraud involving corrupt politicians and the death of innocent civilians.
Mank is yet another meta-movie wherein Hollywood celebrates itself. It tells the story of an alcoholic screenwriter working to finish the screenplay of the Orson Welles’ classic “Citizen Kane.” It stars Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, and Lily Collins (daughter of musician Phil Collins).
Martin Eden is an Italian-language film based on the novel by the same name by Jack London. It tells the story of a young self-taught writer struggling to overcome his station in life as a member of the working class-proletariat to become an accepted member of the literary elite.
Time is an Amazon Prime documentary about a wife’s 20-year fight to get her husband paroled early after he was sentenced to 60 years in prison for armed robbery.
Boys State is a documentary from Apple that follows thousands of teenagers in Texas learning about the democratic process as they work to build a representative government.
Selah and the Spades is a fictional movie about five factions at a prestigious east coast boarding school.
Crip Camp is a documentary made by the Obamas’ production company (Higher Ground Production) for Netflix. The description reads: “A groundbreaking summer camp galvanizes a group of teens with disabilities to help build a movement, forging a new path toward greater equality.”
OBAMA’S FAVORITE TV SERIES OF 2020
Better Call Saul is AMC’s “Breaking Bad” spinoff starring Bob Odenkirk.
The Queen’s Gambit is a fictional coming-of-age period drama from Netflix about an orphan girl chess prodigy. As a promotional tie-in, Chess.com now lets people play against a computer bot based on the character Beth Harmon’s playing style at various ages.
I May Destroy You is a BBC/ HBO series about a woman dealing with the aftermath of being raped.
The Boys is an Amazon Prime original described as “an irreverent take on what happens when superheroes, who are as popular as celebrities, as influential as politicians and as revered as Gods, abuse their superpowers rather than use them for good.”
Devs is an FX series available on Hulu, in which a young software engineer “investigates the secret development division of her employer, a cutting-edge tech company based in Silicon Valley, which she believes is behind the murder of her boyfriend.”
The Last Dance is an ESPN documentary about Michael Jordan.
Mrs. America is another FX show available on Hulu. It tells the story of the effort to amend the Constitution with the Equal Rights Amendment and the backlash to it led by conservative Phyllis Schlafly.
The Good Place is an NBC comedy about a woman who arrives in the afterlife at “the good place” by error, who then works to change so she can stay.
City So Real is described by Nat Geo as a “complex portrait about the city of Chicago” from the 2019 mayor’s race through the summer of 2020.
The former president explained why he expanded his list this year to include TV series, writing on Twitter: “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’s list demonstrates a clear preference for intellectual/ brainier programs. But there’s something else here that’s notable, if not quite so obvious: nearly every major streaming service is represented on Obama’s list, which includes entries from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, Disney+, and Apple. A cynic might conclude that the former president is still playing politics; now that he has his own production company, giving a nod to each probably helps make friends with all of the Hollywood power players who may greenlight future projects.