Our Best-of-the-Year List

13 min read

A collage of WDM's 2020 favorites

We were home a lot this year. We read a lot, watched a lot of movies and TV shows, streamed a lot of music. Here’s all the stuff we’d have been talking about around the kombucha cooler if we’d have been together in the office.


“Open Book by Jessica Simpson (Please do not judge me. I have a thing for celebrity memoirs. ?)” Jennifer Welch (JW)

“Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. I did more reading than usual this year, and Transcendent Kingdom is the one I keep thinking about. This was a beautiful story about the intersection of faith and science, and how those two inform everything from addiction to depression, and how it all chips away at who we are and who we wanted to be.” Christine Hudson (CH)

“I read the Sweet Magnolia series (11 books in all) in record time. There’s a Netflix series based on the books, and after watching the first season, I flew through the books. Nothing too deep, but I enjoyed them.” Melissa Sunsdahl (MS)

Rage by Bob Woodward. The reason: While I generally dislike horror, I decided to take a deeper dive into the psyche of President Donald Trump. Woodward does just that and, yet again, shows his world-class journalistic mettle by exposing recordings of Trump acknowledging how deadly COVID-19 is, even as he downplayed it on the world stage. Like most of us, I found myself obsessed with this election cycle and my reading list this year is an example.” Cathy Kightlinger (CK)

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut. 2020 marked the start of my trek through the Vonnegut universe, and I have found that I love it so. His critical look at wealth and social conscience through the tale of Eliot Rosewater still feels eerily relatable today. Alongside that, his descriptions of small-town Indiana hit hilariously close to home. Vonnegut could make me laugh and cry in the same sentence.” Chad Wysong (CW)

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. It was published in January 2020. The story of a mother and her eight-year-old son on the run from a cartel to el norte is harrowing for me as a mother. It also gave me a whole new perspective on what it means to be an illegal immigrant to America. Interestingly, after it was selected as an Oprah’s Book Club novel, the Latinx and Mexican communities came out against the book because the author is white, calling it an example of cultural appropriation. Now that I’ve read about the controversy, I want to read similar migration stories by Latinx authors. I plan to start with The Beast by Oscár Martinez, since La Bestia figured prominently in American Dirt.” Lisa Vielee (LV)

Lovecraft Country. I’ll admit I was made aware of this book by its HBO adaptation (a great, great first season!), but I’ve really enjoyed the original story more than the show.” Eric Rees (ER)

The Count of Monte Cristo. I chipped away at this one for months—partly because I didn’t want it to end, but mostly because it’s roughly 1,300 pages. There’s a reason this story has been adapted to film more than any other: It’s savage, vindicating, and just as relatable today as it was nearly two centuries ago.” Nick Honeywell (NH)

“The most meaningful book I read this year is Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. I don’t exaggerate when I say this book has changed my outlook on, well, everything, and led me to reflect on many events in my life through new lenses. I won’t say more than that except to encourage anyone reading this to read the book.” Teresa Tatum (TT)

“I mostly read pregnancy books this year, and my favorite was written by an economist named Emily Oster. It’s called Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong, and What You Really Need to Know. As far as non-pregnancy books go, I enjoyed Greil Marcus’s exploration of what makes Van Morrison a genius in When That Rough God Goes Riding.” Rob Peoni (RP)

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall. Just amazing to unpack how the feminist movement hasn’t championed or at times even properly recognized women of color.” Casey Cawthon (CC)

“The book I loved the most was Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel; it was better than her Station Eleven, and that’s saying a lot. Other books of note: Gish Jen’s The Resisters, which manages to combine baseball, dystopia, and social justice in the most delightful way; and a couple of older titles: A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James and How to Live, or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell. Thanks to Alex Mattingly for that last one.” Ken Honeywell (KH)

“My favorite book of 2020 was probably The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, but if it turns out to be tops for a few other people at Well Done (as I suspect it might), my second favorite was A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet, a pre-apocalyptic novel about a gang of scrappy kids marooned by a massive storm and their parents’ equally massive indifference.” Robin Beery (RB)

Queens of Animation by Nathalia Holt. This book tells the stories of the women behind our culture’s most beloved films who received none of the credit until now. Disney had female story artists on staff as early as Cinderella, but chose to keep their contributions quiet. It was fascinating reading about where the personalities and styles that are so iconic came from and how resilient these women were.” Caitlin Flowers (CF)


Gilmore girls. I had never watched it—only here and there when I’d come home from middle school—so I officially watched it all the way through. Mostly because I wanted to be in on WDM’s love for this show and be able to know all of the cool inside jokes that come from this show. But everyone failed to mention how bad the ending is!!! No one warned me. So, naturally I jumped to the Year in the Life series, and that sucked even more!!! Parenthood is my all-time favorite show, so I’m glad I’ve seen all of Gilmore girls, and it’s still my favorite show I’ve watched this year, but man, I just don’t understand that ending.” Marcella Hoard (MH)

“The Great British Baking Show. Not a new show, but after years of having this one on my list, I finally started it and now I can’t stop. Watching this show feels like a meditation: A pleasant group of Brits quietly baking tasty treats in a pastel-colored kitchen tent in the English countryside.” (CH)

The Umbrella Academy. Season Two premiered over the summer. It opened with the motley group of siblings scattered across different years of the ‘60s. (Yes, this show has time travel.) While trying to save the world from an impending apocalypse, they’re faced with real issues of the day – racial inequality being the primary. I’m a huge fan of the dynamic plot that combines drama, thrills, and random dance scenes.(CW)

“My favorite new-to-me series is Yellowstone. We just discovered it in October, and are loving it. We’re halfway through Season Three, and absolutely love the crazy, mafia-like existence on Yellowstone Ranch.” (MS)

The Queen’s Gambit. It’s gorgeous, cool, and triumphant.” (CK)

The Mandalorian. Directed by Jon Favreau and a host of other, this series now on its second season is truly a fan’s show. I also really love and appreciate the concept artwork for the end credits.” Brent Smith (BS)

“The last season of Schitt’s Creek, because most shows jump the shark, but this one chose the perfect time to end.” Rachel Leininger (RL)

Better Call Saul. Every season of this prequel has been great, but I think this year’s outing was the one where it surpassed the original. Rhea Seehorn deserves all the awards for taking the character of Kim Wexler, a side character in a story about Saul Goodman who was himself, a side character in Breaking Bad, and making her the central focus of this narrative.” (ER)

The Boys. As someone who typically can’t stand anything superhero related, The Boys had to work extra hard to capture my attention. But there’re no two ways about it: This is a great show—and the Game-of-Thrones-worthy twists keep me coming back.” (NH)

Schitt’s Creek has been the exact antidote I needed to get through particularly stressful or just crappy days. It makes me cry in a good way, laugh out loud, and sometimes cry while laughing out loud. Talk about cathartic.” (TT)

“I watched a lot of comfort TV. Old seasons of Top Chef and MasterChef Junior. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Etc. But I loved Better Call Saul. We watched all of The Good Place, and I loved that. I did love Ted Lasso. The Great British Baking Show, of course. And that one guy who really didn’t like Schitt’s Creek? That was me.” (KH)

“My top TV show of 2020 has been The Tweedy Show, in which Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and his family sit around playing music and tchepping each other in their Chicago living room. The show is informal in the best sense: It’s on two (or three, or sometimes four) nights a week, lasts until they run out of steam, and airs on Jeff’s wife Susie’s Instagram account, @stuffinourhouse, where she also posts pictures of the stuff in their house.” (RB)


Hamilton. This is technically a musical, but my favorite thing I’ve seen in 2020! Pretty sure I watched it every day for, like, a month! I never got the chance to see the musical in person, and because of that I did not get the hype. But after I saw it, I was completely hooked.” (JW)

The Invisible Man. This was a really good psychological thriller where the thrilling thing was literally invisible for about 99% of the movie. This was also the last movie I saw in theaters… so there wasn’t much competition this year.” (CH)

The Trial of the Chicago 7.” As someone who was too young to live through this, I was fascinated with the subject and drama of the time. This film details the trial of a group of Vietnam protestors who were charged with inciting violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.” (CW)

“Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. I’m a big fan of Spike Lee. And, as usual, his voice strikes just the right tone at the right time. Released just after the murder of George Floyd and co-starring the late Chadwick Boseman, who plays a deceased squad leader/ghost, this film has layers and more layers on top of its layers.” (CK)

Vivarium, directed by Lorcan Finnegan. It technically premiered in 2019 but went into wider release in 2020 on Netflix. The movie is a very strange take on what can go wrong when you tour a house in the wrong neighborhood. (I’d call it an art film, but that might not be the right use of the term.) After watching it twice, I’m not sure I can say I liked it exactly, but it definitely held my attention.” (LV)

Ready Player One. This movie is about true friendship and love. A throwback Steven Spielberg film that even puts the bad guy in the backseat of a cop car at the end. Bonus is the plethora of ‘80s movie and song references.” (BS)

“Honestly, Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm. I saw it described as the movie 2020 didn’t know it needed, and that’s absolutely correct.” (RL)

Bone Tomahawk. I wasn’t familiar with up-and-coming auteur/director S. Craig Zahler until this year, but wow, I’m glad my colleague Brian McCulloh brought him to my attention. Bone Tomahawk is a genre-bending western/horror gem that’s as tense and ruthless as anything I’ve seen in years. If you can handle the ride, it’s worth every second.” (NH)

“I am a sucker for costume drama. The Favourite had pretty much everything I needed.” (KH)

Emma. Honestly while I personally loved this movie, I normally wouldn’t pick it as a favorite, but considering what came out this year, it rose to the top. Remakes are always difficult to make fresh, but Emma does a remarkable job of modernizing the story while still keeping true to the classic book, all while using a Wes Anderson-esque visual style.” (CF)


“No brainer. Taylor Swift released two albums this year. Need I say more?” (MH)

Energy by Disclosure. This one just came out this month, and it’s the pick-me-up I needed. EDM energy crossed with R&B vibes. So good.” (CH)

“I’ve listened to a lot of Luke Combs.” (MS)

“Stevie Wonder’s ‘Can’t Put It In The Hands of Fate.’ It’s the right song at the right time.” (CK)

“I lean heavily into Broadway musicals and pop, but my favorite song this year is ‘Bad Decisions’ by The Strokes. It reminds me of college—and the chorus is a total earworm.” (LV)

“We discovered jazz bassist Esparanza Spalding. Her voice is really sultry and she’s really adventurous with her music—it’s jazzy, a little psychedelic, a little ’70s funk, and about 10 other types mixed perfectly together.” (RL)

RTJ4. It’s both amazing and depressing that Run The Jewels began work on this album in 2018; yet its tone, lyrics, and fury feel right at home in the calamity we’ve experienced this year.” (ER)

“‘Million Dollar Mullet’ by Riff Raff & Yelawolf. Referencing both Tony Delk and Jonny Quest in the same verse pretty much sums up what it takes to be my track of the year.” (NH)

“As a music junkie, this is really tough. But my favorite record this year was released early, and it’s a concept album by Andy Shauf called The Neon Skyline. On its surface, it’s a story about a bar crawl where very little happens. But it’s really about all the things that go wrong in a relationship that lead to a breakup. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of my favorite local releases of the year. You can’t go wrong with Charlie Ballantine’s Vonnegut, or Oreo Jones & Sirius Blvck’s Unconcerned.” (RP)

“Honestly, the new Taylor Swift album has been on repeat since it came out. Otherwise, I’ve been on shuffle, but finding I really like soft classical music. I think it’s really calming!” (CC)

“We lost some great people this year, and it’s good to remember them. So I’ll say Fountains of Wayne’s “All Kinds of Time” (RIP, Adam Schlesinger), John Prine’s “Sam Stone” (RIP, John), and The Common’s cover of “Panama” (RIP, Eddie) at Tonic Ball. I’m not sure it was my favorite, but I also celebrated a second album—after 16 years!—of A Girl Called Eddy. That Phoebe Bridgers album was something, too.” (KH)

“My favorite album of the year was Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers. Again, I suspect I’m far from alone in this opinion.” (RB)

From Exile by the Menzingers. This band spent their time in quarantine rerecording their original album, which I think is a really interesting experiment. The new tracks have stripped down instrumentation and rewritten tracks for our pandemic new normal.” (CF)