Returning back into the fold is Uncommon Nasa who we’ve often referred to as both a NY and Hip-Hop staple. As a producer/engineer, he’s worked with some notable talent over the years, aside from being a well-rounded artist in his own right. Throughout the past few years, he’s released a number of well-thought-out recordings with heady lyricism and dirty, abrasive beats. This year saw the releases of his Ornate EP as well as the White Horse album, which is a collaborative effort with west coast emcee Gajah. Today Nasa shares his top 2020 picks.
This is now year 2 of me officially being a chord cutter, and thanks to Ghettoblaster indulging my OCD, the second year preparing my Top 10 Pieces of Content for Chord Cutters with Discerning Tastes (2020 edition). Last year I included programs I was able to live stream via Sling, but this year I’m going full in on on-demand content only. I know some people just don’t rock with live content anymore and I don’t blame you. I saw a number of good “new to me” films this year even though they were all apparently released in 2018. I held back on including all of them, but one did slip in because I felt it was worth mentioning (honorable mention to Concrete Kids and Tyrel as well, both on Hulu). I prioritized original content and new content to 2020, those were the only real rules.
The way this year has gone, at home content at the crib is more vital than ever. The stuff on these services can range from trash to genius and can often be taken for granted, but I have a real appreciation for original content creation at this scale. So without further wait, here’s a countdown of a very varied but hopefully appreciated collection of content.
10 – Shrill (Hulu Originals)
Shrill is a comedy (mostly) starring Aidy Bryant of SNL fame. I’m aware that I’m one of the last people that still watch SNL every week as if it’s appointment television, but I’m Gen-X – what can I say? Aidy Bryant has always been funny on SNL, but with this series, she shows the ability to step into a leading role in a film or in a series, as she does here. This show is actually into Season 2 in 2020 (so we watched both seasons in about a week). To be blunt, this show will NOT be for everyone, it has a LOT to say – sometimes it can almost feel like too much to say. I’d say I agree with maybe 90% of the messages here, but there are so many it’s hard to keep track. That being said, everything it does tackle has a need to be tackled and I feel comes from a sincere place. For every moment of preachiness, there are incredible moments of realness and clarity as well. It pushes the envelope on what has been seen on television from actresses’ that don’t fit the typical look and body shape established in Hollywood and for that reason alone it’s worth your time as it actually created some history along those lines. This trailer doesn’t really do the nuance of the dialog in the show any justice and will not make you want to watch it. You’ll just have to trust me.
9 – My Octopus Teacher (Netflix)
I’ve had a strange relationship with Octopus’ over the years. Eating octopus represented a false sense of intellectual open-mindedness to me at one point, quietly thrilled that I enjoyed eating something that so many people found disgusting. Then I started to read about how intelligent these creatures are and how unique they are in their abilities and I stopped eating them altogether, fairly ashamed that I ever had. I came into this documentary, My Octopus Teacher already feeling this way and this movie made me question eating meat of any kind for the first time in a serious way ever in my life. Now, to be clear, this movie is not at all about vegetarianism and I have not become a vegetarian (I just eat less meat for a number of reasons). What this movie is about is the relationship that a man in a desperate situation develops with a living creature (in real life, this is a documentary). Their bond had to be a one in a million chance, and the real-life drama that takes place in this film had me at the edge of my seat.
8 – Who Killed Malcolm X? (Netflix)
I felt like I had a decent grasp on the history of Malcolm X and his death, but after watching this I realized how little I actually knew. I thought about whether I was just not as well-informed as I thought I was, so I asked a friend whom I knew had read Malcolm’s biography and spoke about Malcolm to me in the past for his feedback on it. He said there was definitely new information for him in this doc as well. This film is so detailed and so meticulously constructed, I have to believe there is something new to take from it for anyone that takes the time to view it. It’s a masterpiece in documentary film making and especially relevant in our current times.
7 – The Twilight Zone (New Series) Season 2 (CBS All Access)
For those that know, I am a huge Rod Serling admirer and a giant Twilight Zone fan. Season 1 of this series made my list in 2019 and Season 2 was almost a lock as well. I came in with a healthy mix of skepticism and optimism, even after enjoying most of Season 1 of this particular reboot. This time around the show was posted in one bulk upload to binge, as opposed to being released week by week with the service. Ironically, and hopefully CBS All Access sees this, last year I canceled after the TZ series ran its course and this season I actually kept my subscription. Binging is the way of the world and I was happy to take them all inside of a week or so. That being said, the first episode of the season is my least favorite of both Seasons so far – it’s crass, ignorant, pointless, and really just plain awful. It took me several more episodes for the stain of S2, E1 to wash away. But once it did, I really enjoyed this season. It’s hard to say if it’s an improvement on Season 1, as both have hits and misses, but from S2 – Downtime, Try, Try and A Small Town are some of the best anthology based content in this current on-demand binge era.
6 – Star Trek Picard (S1) & Discovery (S3) (CBS All Access)
I’d like to think that I’m not a Trekkie, but placing these two picks so far high on my list may prove otherwise. I easily prefer the Trek to the Wars, but I won’t piss anyone off by harping on that. If I were to choose a Series of Star Trek to ride with it’d be Next Generation and Picard really eloquently fulfills what a fan of Next Gen wants. A modernized version featuring many of those characters. Ultimately we end up with a version of Star Trek that feels almost like a Marvel buddy film that is similar to Guardians of the Galaxy and I was all about it. I also wanted to mention Star Trek Discovery, who’s first few episodes of Season 1 got me into “cut this shit off” mode by Episode 2. I ignored Discovery for years until my wife decided to give it another shot, which worked out. Once Season 1 got through the obnoxious amount of Klingonese translations, it became a much better show. I guess I’m not a true Trekkie as sitting through subtitles for a made-up language at that length felt corny and silly to me. Once the Klingon storyline died down a bit, the show improved as it made it’s way to the end of Season 1 and through all of Season 2. It is a show that’s worth watching from the beginning of Season 1, but hold your nose for the first 4-5 episodes and trust better days are coming.
5 – Little Woods (Hulu)
I teased one film made in prior years that was “new to me” would make this list and here we are with Little Woods. It’s an incredibly authentic and well-written film about a small-time drug dealer trying to keep on the right path in rural Montana or North Dakota or someplace like that. It stars Tessa Thompson, who is likely Oscar bound someday. When she does win that Oscar, nerds like me will say something like “she should have been nominated for Little Woods”. The entire casting is terrific and the story is one of the most real you’ll come across. It connects to a big city guy like me, but will definitely have appeal if you are a small towner looking for realistic portrayals of that way of life.
4 – Unorthodox (Netflix)
Unorthodox is a 4 part mini-series about a Hasidic woman living in Brooklyn that seeks to break with the faith and leave her Williamsburg surroundings. She runs into a lot of resistance in her journey to see what life outside of the Hasidic community is really like. No one has ever dared to make a film about this subject and in watching this series, you can feel how difficult it was to create and still be authentic to the subject matter. The amount of research and consulting in order to portray this primarily closed-off community is laid out in the associated behind the scenes bonus pieces that are also on Netflix. The Hasidic wedding scenes alone most have been epic to shoot and be a part of. It’s a gripping series, with a mostly upstart and/or foreign cast that’s really faded into the background after a somewhat headline stealing debut in the Spring.
3 – I’m No Longer Here (Netflix)
This has been a good year for mixed-language films. Similar to Unorthodox, you will need to read the subtitles to watch this film, but you will also find your main character interacting with the English speaking world as well. I’m No Longer Here deals with teenagers growing up in a dangerous part of Mexico (Monterrey) dedicated to the Cumbia scene. They attempt to stay focused on dance and music instead of violence, but when those paths cross one of the teens has to escape to the U.S., namely New York City. It’s a brilliant piece of work that breaks down immigration into human terms with an emphasis on the cultural and artistic movements of modern-day Mexico.
2 – Horse Girl (Netflix)
This film seems a bit controversial as it is fairly hated by more than a few people who have seen it, including my wife. Normally I wouldn’t mention such a thing, but her visceral anger toward this film when it ended was like nothing I’ve ever seen from her and I’ve known her for 24 years. I will often voice displeasure with films that I hated for 60 minutes after it ends, but she never did, for this one – she did. That being said, it’s the only piece of content on this list (outside of episodes of TZ) that I’ve watched more than once. I felt like this was an amazing take on the blurred lines between creativity, eccentricity, and mental illness. I found it to be completely disorienting at times, and I truly did not know what was real at different points in this film. It leaves a lot for you as the viewer to figure out on your own, and not everyone who sees it will agree on what that is. I find that fascinating. Like this trailer, it starts out simple enough and then takes a hard left turn. If you want something that is daring and a bit avant-garde, this is the right way to go.
1 – Devs (FX Originals on Hulu)
I’m convinced that no one knows anything about this show, it’s not even at cult status yet but definitely should be. Devs is a series developed by FX apparently exclusively for Hulu. Had it been a true Hulu original or on FX over the air cable, this show would have been far more widely seen and appreciated. Somehow it landed in this weird limbo and has flown under the radar. The show itself is about a tech company run by an eccentric CEO, this company has a private department called Devs, that only the best of the best at the company can be a part of. The projects in the Devs department are also top secret and cannot be discussed with anyone, even fellow employees. Devs, the series, un foils from there. There are elements of science fiction to espionage. There are long periods of exceptional contemplative dialog and there are stretches of glass shattering violent action and fighting. The guy that made Ex-Machina and Annihilation made this and this is arguably his best work in series form as opposed to those films. If you like both or either, Devs follows those films general look and feel and there is no reason to not dig this out of the Hulu search box you will need to use to un-Earth it.