Watch and read recommendations, Christmas 2021

As I write this we’re officially in ‘the void’ between Christmas and New Year – that period where nobody knows what day it is, everybody thinks about doing their taxes or going for a walk, then decides instead to watch a movie or read a book. I’ve watched, read and listened to some crackers already, this festive period, so I thought I’d share a few of my favourites.

Recently released

Don’t Look Up
Movie

This movie, just released on Netflix, only gets around 50% on Rotten Tomatoes and I find that inexplicable! I found the film utterly brilliant.

In some ways, it’s loud and brash but its brilliance is in its subtleties. It mercilessly mocks our current predicament. And if you’re wondering ‘which current predicament are you referring to?’ my answer is ‘The general, over-arching shit-show that leads you to ask that question.’

Amongst brilliant performances from an A list cast – including Queen Meryl, who must have had the time of her life playing a female Trump-style president – I invite you to look out for the sideways glances, amusing subplots and tender moments, in which you will find this movie’s humanity.

It is apocalyptic, hilarious and compassionate which, right about now, feels utterly appropriate.

Anderson Cooper on Armchair Expert
Podcast

Most of the podcasts I follow are self-exploratory/spiritual in nature but a few, including this one, just feature interesting people telling their tales. I love those too. I’m endlessly fascinated by people and could devour their stories all day.

I listen semi regularly to this podcast because it often features people you usually only seen in glossy red carpet pictures and Hollywood movies, interviewed with heart and a certain amount of spontaneity. It gets to the humanity.

American news anchor and journalist Anderson Cooper has a more extraordinary background than you might be aware of. He’s descended from the Vanderbilt family and he’s written a book about them. I knew that name before listening, though I wasn’t completely sure why. I spelled the name wrong just now and spellcheck was able to correct it for me – that’s how famous the Vanderbilts are – but I listened because I’ve always found Anderson Cooper, and both hosts of this show, to be interesting.

He’s a good guy, interviewed by nice people. This is a gentle listen and you’ll pick up some interesting facts about American history along the way. Whatever your feelings about the USA, it’s pretty fascinating (to me at least) to learn something about the evolution of capitalism in this relatively young country.

That previous sentence makes this episode sound less light-hearted than it actually is. You can totally zone out to it.

Listen to Anderson Cooper on Armchair Expert Podcast.

Magpie
Novel

I love Elizabeth Day’s podcast How To Fail but I’d never read any of her novels. When this one popped up on my library app I borrowed the audiobook. That was 48 hours ago. It’s 12 hours long and I’ve finished it (I’ve done a lot of cooking, cleaning and washing up in that time – ideal audiobook-adjacent activities).

At first, I thought I wasn’t going to get through it. In the early part of the story I found the characters unsympathetic and unrealistic. It turns out, there’s a good reason for that. I’m very glad I persisted. I won’t say more about the plot because it twists in interesting ways that I don’t want to spoil. What I will say, is that every major plot point made my inner feminist rage.

This, I feel, is a story about the absolute number that the patriarchy has done on most women, in one respect or another. It involves a lot of gaslighting and precarious mental states.

If you’re struggling to conceive right now, or find the topic of fertility challenging for any reason, you might want to give it a miss. If not, dig in. By the end, I’d decided it’s excellent and I’m planning to look up her back catalogue.

Get Magpie.

Netflix gems you might have missed

Hollywood

It’s been out at least 12 months now, I think, but it’s lovely. It’s what old Hollywood would have been if it was more accepting and progressive. Made me feel warm and fuzzy. I loved it.

Schitt’s Creek

I’m guessing you’ve seen this perfect Canadian sitcom by now. Surely you’ve seen it. If you haven’t, please remedy that.

It’s the first show in absolutely years (possibly since I was a teenager) that I watched and then immediately rewatched, as soon as it ended. All five seasons. It’s what I turn to now when I want something on the screen but I don’t want to concentrate.

It fills the void that was left when I realised how problematic all the romantic comedies I used to watch actually are.

It’s gorgeous, and hilarious, and filled with as much heart and hope and compassion as humour.

Feel Good

I adore Mae Martin, the writer and star of Feel Good – the first sitcom I’ve ever seen depicting a lesbian relationship between its central characters. Is it, possibly, the first ever sitcom with a lesbian couple as the central characters? It might well be.

Anyway, it’s tender, funny, unique and very well done. Two seasons are available on Netflix now. I’ve just rewatched season one (which – and this is a very niche reference) features St Wereburgh’s Church in Manchester, where I’ve danced my beloved 5 Rhythms class for years, as a recurring location). I’m now considering buying tickets for Mae Martin’s upcoming standup tour.

Bo Burnham: Inside

Watch this comedy special and marvel at the fact that it was performed and shot by one person during lockdown.

It features numerous parody music videos, like the hilariously accurate one below, strung together with cut-aways and commentary that perfectly capture the insanity of the time.

It seems most people had heard of Bo Burnham years ago. I discovered him with this special and it turns out he’s a freaking genius.

Happy resting. I hope, like me, you’re making the most of your new Christmas pjs. 

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