Top Ripples 2020

This is the most unusual year… I’ve read and listened to more books than I’ve watched feature films. Actually, this is probably the year that I’ve watched the least number of movies. I haven’t gone to the theatre since March nor attended any film festivals in person, but am most gratified by the few titles I watched online. Two particularly stand out, the first two spots of my very short Top Ripple list for 2020.


1. First Cow, directed by Kelly Reichardt

A fresh take on the subject of friendship, set in 1820’s Oregon among fur trappers and opportunists, with the arrival of a dairy cow as the inciting incident. Monetary gain is no match for selfless loyalty in human relations. A moving tale of an unlikely friendship, the cinematography augmenting the enjoyment. It has also prompted me to look up the recipe for Fruit Clafoutis. Adapted from the book Half-Life by Jonathan Raymond, who had inspired Kelly Reichardt’s previous films. I won’t miss any of her works, poignant richness belying the minimal, naturalistic renderings. Full review to come.

2. Nomadland, directed by Chloé Zhao

Adapted from the non-fiction book by Jessica Bruder, Nomadland features Frances McDormand as a widow who chooses to live in the community of modern nomads, van and RV dwellers in the Western States of America. Zhao is a master of realistic filmmaking. Nomadland is shot in situ among these older itinerant workers called ‘Camperforce’. A revealing docudrama with stunning cinematography and thought-provoking perspective on the essence of living. My review on Ripple Effects and Vague Visages.

3. Driveways, directed by Andrew Ahn

One of Brian Dennehy’s last films before his passing in April this year at 81. A Korean War veteran strikes up friendship with a lonely eight-year-old boy. Here’s an excerpt from my review on AAPress: Driveways shows us the power of caring human relationships and the change love can bring, yet painfully unfurls the precariousness of life. On a large existential canvas, it paints with personal, relatable strokes.

4. House of Hummingbird, directed by Bora Kim

Based on Kim’s encounters growing up in South Korea, the drama is a coming-of-age story of a teenage school girl in a male-dominated family. Young Eun-hee has to live with parental discords, deal with sibling bullying, and face a health issue and a precarious future all alone, but is fortunate to find a mentor in a teacher. Sensitive directing and nuanced performance. My review on AAPress.


For the ones published in the year 2020, here are my Top Ripples. Links to my reviews:

Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

Ex Libris: 100 Books to Read and Reread by Michiko Kakutani


The following are some Worthy Mentions, not all 2020 books or TV, but all have made an impression in my isolated mind this year as I binged on them without needing to snack on chips and sodas. That says a lot.

Normal People (TV Mini-Series, 2020) – Based on the 2018 book by Sally Rooney. A taste of ‘millennial literature’ and adaptation. I first listened to the audiobook, found it absorbing. Then watched the series and then read the book again, this time, word by word. Available to stream on CBC GEM and Hulu.

The Morning Show (2019) – Didn’t realize Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon can be so intense. Streamed on Apple TV+

The Crown (2020) – Season 4. Wonder how the Royal Family reacted to this scandalous take on the Charles, Camilla, & Diana affairs. Or, maybe just me… no surprise to them. On Netflix.

The Queen’s Gambit (2020) – The chess moves might be intriguing, but the overall pace can be more riveting if the TV Mini-Series is cut short by two or three episodes. On Netflix.

Defending Jacob (2020) – When parental love and truth collide. After watching the series on Apple TV+, I went directly to the source material, the 2012 novel by William Landay, a fascinating psychological suspense-thriller. After that went on to read Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. Oh… the hazard of parenting.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (2017) by Jessica Bruder – the non-fiction book that inspired Chloé Zhao and Frances McDormand to make the movie, one of the front runners for next year’s Oscars. McDormand will likely get a Best Actress nom and hopefully, Zhao and the film will also be honored.

Turning: A Swimming Memoir (2017) by Jessica J. Lee – Lee is a newly emerged voice of nature writing à la memoirist. Coming from a fusion of cultural and geographical background: Canada, Taiwan, Britain, Germany, the environmental historian offers personal and fresh takes relevant in our contemporary society of multiplicity.


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

30 thoughts on “Top Ripples 2020”

  1. I have a friend who’s been living in her camper van for about two years now. She’s in Arizona, getting ready to move from RV parks to the desert for some real boondocking. I’m going to recommend Nomadland to her, and see how it compares to her experience.


    1. Maybe she’s in the movie cause that’s one of the locations the film was shot. 🙂 The book is well researched and carries lots of info. which I think you’ll find interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved The Queen’s Gambit. Anya Taylor Joy proved to be a versatile actress. The last film I saw in the theater in March was Emma. 2020. Anya acted both roles superbly.


    1. Yes, that’s one of the films I watched in the theatre early this year. I’m more in favor of the 1996 version than this one, although I love seeing new attempts on Austen’s works. 🙂


      1. I must admit that upon first viewing, I did not like the 2020 version, but it has grown on me. Anya’s interpretation of Emma is clever, and the scenes are divinely filmed and beautifully constructed, like candy-colored paintings.


        1. Anya Taylor-Joy is definitely a rising star. She’ll be in Kristin Scott Thomas’s directorial debut The Sea Change based on the novel by Elizabeth Jane Howard. Now that’s one I look forward to.


  3. It’s been a hard year for films. I have seen some good ones streaming online though, for which I am grateful. I am currently watching The Queen’s Gambit and it is really good! I hope you have a happy New Year Arti! Maybe by the end of summer you will be able to attend a film in person!


    1. Yes, lots of ‘alternative’ viewings by streaming, some are really good ones too. But I sure hope the cinema won’t become extinct due to this lifestyle change brought about by the pandemic, I still root for going to the theatre to watch a well-made film on the big screen. Hopefully I can do that again next year. All best wishes to you, Stefanie, for a brighter 2021!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. From all the titles you mention, movies or books, I only have started watching The Crown at the urging of a friend. I am still in the first year, about 4th episode. I don’t watch it often but like it so far.
    With so many books to clear out of my house I have been trying to read some that I never read before giving them away, many in French. Some are quite old. I just found a book of travel in the Southern US dated 1896! I decided to watch a Netflix movie Christmas Eve. I decided on the one with Sophia Loren called The Life Ahead, and I really enjoyed it. I also found a site on YouTube that shows old French movie, and it is fun. Right now I am watching one from 1946 with Tino Rossi. I say “watching” because I usually only watch ½ hour at a time, then do some reading.


    1. VB,

      You have a wonderful library in your home and your fluency in both English and French is a valuable asset which I greatly admire. I’m bilingual too, English and Chinese, but Chinese books aren’t so easily come by in North America. While I should be fluent in French too being in Canada all these years, I’m afraid I’m not that proficient as I wish.

      From my list, the book by Erik Larson, The Splendid and the Vile, is about England in WWII during the Blitz, focusing on Winston Churchill. I found it fascinating. It’s on Obama’s best of 2020 reads too, so’s Marilynne Robinson’s Jack.

      Sophia Loren is just amazing, still going strong at 86. There’s even speculation that she might get an Oscar nom for her role in The Life Ahead. The pandemic just confirmed in my mind that the cinema as an art form should be preserved. While streaming has replaced theatre-going during Covid, I sure hope that watching films on the big screen will be revived some day soon. It’s an experience that can’t be replaced.

      And with this, I wish you all the best for a Healthy and Happy New Year! 🙂


  5. I haven’t seen any of your films, Arti, though Nomadland has opened and my brother was very impresses. I understand it’s going to have a short run and then run again. We might see it in that second run. We did see some good films though, including Corpus Christi which we liked greatly. A French film, In the name of the land was moving. And I thought David Copperfield was excellent – though the trailers put me off and I nearly didn’t see it. And I liked a couple of Australian films, Baby Teeth, and The furnace.

    I haven’t read any of your books either. However I have seen The Crown Series 1-3, and hope to watch Series 4 soon. I have heard that Queen’s Gambit is very good.

    I look forward to sharing – when I can – film and book talk with you this year again. I hope you have a great 2021.


    1. Nomadland you will like. And if you have the chance, do watch Chloé Zhao’s previous film The Rider. If you’re interested, links here are to my Ripple reviews.
      First Cow is a must-see. You have seen Kelly Reichardt’s previous films like Certain Women, Wendy and Lucy? That’s the kind of subtle filmmaking. But here, the cinematography is even more distinct.
      I’ve noticed Corpus Christi in the festival circuit but didn’t have the chance to watch it. Where did you watch it? In a theatre? Here all theatres are shut down.
      David Copperfield is delightful, a very postmodern one. Will check out the other ones you mention.
      The Crown S4? Can’t wait for your ripples on that. 🙂
      So, another year, more books and films. Looking forward to more chats with you in 2021. Stay safe and have a wonderful year, WG!


      1. Yes, in the theatre. We’ve had very little COVID In our city-territory. So cinemas re-opened in July with social distancing. Initially that meant leaving every second row free and two seats between each “booking” (le peso, couple, family group.). They also spaced the screening schedule out more so foyers, lobbies, ticket areas were way less crowded. Gradually these have eased. Now all rows are booked and only one seat between bookings, but it’s been great. The cinemas have been quiet and pleasant to attend! I will note those films – thanks!


        1. Wonderful! So glad there’s a country in this world that can still maintain some sort of normalcy. I doubt I’ll be heading to theatre any months soon here in Canada! 😦


            1. It’s terrible for a lot of businesses. I just pray that the country won’t go bankrupt! Covid has made a devastating blow to our economy! So, I’m surprised and glad to hear many have been reading more than previous years, and, movies are still being made! Wonder how they do it, with physical distancing and masking and all!


            2. Yes, I don’t know how movies are being made. There might be a whole Spak of movies with a very different “look”! NO sex, no crowded city scenes, no packed school halls etc! Lots of outdoor settings maybe? will there be a “Covid-style”?


      1. I’m going to read them both definitely. Oh I am so happy to hear you speak of Sanmao. There is only one book in English for now, but I believe the translator Mike Fu was considering her stories set in the Canary Islands as well.


        1. It’s only reasonable to expect there’s a treasure trove of wonderful literature in the Chinese language that’s yet been translated. And I’m just baffled to see Japanese lit. is much more readily embraced here in N. America than lit. in Chinese …


          1. I agree, it’s so rare to come across translations from Chinese and I live those authentic stories from within a culture that expand our minds and make us see differently, and see what is also universal. Publishing can be narrow and nationalistic.


  6. I wouldn’t have thought of watching your main choices so thank you. I enjoyed Jennifer Anniston and Reece Witherspoon too and The Crown although i was upset to hear the Queen wasn’t happy that there wasn’t a line at the front or end of each program to say it is fictional and not a historically correct representation. I watch Parasite over Christmas a Korean film I enjoyed that too. At the moment my favourite binge watch on Netflix is Homeland. Happy New Year to you. Best wishes Charlotte


    1. I’m glad you like Parasite, Charlotte. I wrote a review on it last year as I watched it at TIFF19 (Toronto Int. Film Festival). I particularly mentioned how impressed I was with the original music of the film. If you’re interested, here’s the link to my Ripple Review. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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