The 2020 Bingo card has been full of nasty surprises. I won’t list every emotionally lacerating event, for fear of making this an even more painful read. However, I will share the latest – which is, granted, small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. It’s about something I wrote in the upcoming December issue of the magazine.
To bring you up to speed, the last issue of every year usually features Exberliner’s round-ups. In my case, as film editor, this consists of listing the best films released within the last 12 months, putting the spotlight on emerging cinema trends, the best / worst surprises, and highlighting a specific location that provided us much joy during the year. For 2020, I had to concede that the best location was you, the streaming behemoth that managed to have a pretty damn good year, all things considered.
I explained in my column that considering the ongoing pandemic has paralysed the global film industry and movie theatres as an institution, making 2020’s release slate both unpredictable and depressingly lean, your service had witnessed a surge in subscription numbers. Your share price even rose as the global stock markets dropped, you cheeky scamps. Whatever future historians write about this year, what’s certain is that 2020 has been the year of streaming.
I don’t hold it against you: Covid-19 made the digital marketplace even more alluring and you rose to the challenge by continuing to meet your customers’ expectations – even if my heart sank every time I wrote about streaming options during the lockdowns, not out of a misguided refusal to roll with the times but more because cinemas have a hard time of it already. And I assure you that I never subscribed to the Cui Bono? conspiracy theory positing that Netflix, as a beneficiary of social distancing and self-confinement, may have been in the know all along, even trolling us with the a-bit-too-timely-for-comfort release of your docuseries Pandemic: How To Prevent An Outbreak at the beginning of lockdown.
However, I do continue to subscribe to the opinion that too much streaming is killing cinema, and that nothing you or any other streaming platform offers can ever top the uniquely transportive cinema experience, one which creates a collective communion that can’t be replicated with sofa-streaming.
Your unparalleled growth spurt since going international in 2010 has been a depressing sign o’ the times, reflecting that consumers are intensifying their digital behaviours and proving that a growing proportion of film lovers would rather watch new movies at home than in the cinemas. But in a post-pandemic world, quarantiners couldn’t be choosers, and when cinemas were shut down, you ended up being everyone’s go-to source for second-best escapism, regardless of your frequently eye-rolling track record.
After all, you do have the tendency to exploitatively and undeservingly give platforms of notoriety to the likes of Joe Exotic, the Darwin-disproving cast of the hideous Too Hot To Handle, or Marie Kondo, who is a force for evil in the world and actually makes Voldemort come off as a misunderstood little pudding who just needed more cuddles as a nipper. And in defiance of quality, taste and all things Holy, you even promote Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, gifting her a digital soapbox to spread her smug and harmful bullshit like cyber-herpes. For shame, Netflix.
And yet, despite the fact that I couldn’t sleep after writing my column, feeling dirty all over at the thought that I didn’t pick one of Berlin’s many suffering indie kinos, I confess I begrudgingly stand by it: you’re still the best 2020 location. Because for every bit of naffness you throw our way, you still impressively manage to redeem yourself, and 2020 embodied this flip-flopping like no other year before it. From top-tier serialised shows like the sports docuseries The Last Dance to Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, Oscar-hopeful Mank and the excellent His House, via the risk-taking cult-classic-in-the-making TV show The Midnight Gospel and your selection celebrating Black voices in filmmaking, it’s hard to argue that there were plenty of diamonds in your rough.
But what really crystalised my Best Location pick is the latest sparkler you’ve thrown our way. I’m not talking about the pretty-but-a-coma-is-less-dull monarchy porn The Crown, The Queen’s Gambit (which you’ve stated is your most watched scripted series to date), the vital and utterly devasting animated short If Anything Happens I Love You, or even your eye-wateringly good December 2020 slate, featuring the aforementioned Mank, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Midnight Sky, the new batch of The Movies That Made Us or the latest season of Song Exploder.
I’m referring to your new docuseries, We Are The Champions. Over the course of six 30-minute episodes, season one offers beautifully shot windows into global competitive subcultures, exploring unique competitions and the communities behind them. Everyone’s nerves have been stretched thin by 2020 and this show is the perfectly timed tonic for the end of year blues.
The bookend episodes – British Cheese Rolling and Californian Frog Jumping – are the clear standouts, both celebrating brilliantly idiosyncratic human achievement with a sweetspot-hitting blend of tongue-in-cheek whimsey and respectful admiration, at all times devoid of archness or the self-seriousness that characterises many of your shows. These episodes are a welcome reminder that people are wonderful and gorgeous creatures – especially when a 4kg round of Double Gloucester cheese is involved.
So, Netflix… We’ve had our ups and downs, and this does not mean all is forgiven. It just means that despite our differences, you’ve provided the diversity-celebrating and warm-hearted prescription for a ridiculously punishing year. We Are The Champions solidifies once and for all that you’ve earned it – you are the champions, and Exberliner’s Best Location of 2020.
More of this, please, and here’s hoping that 2021’s Best Location doesn’t make me lose any more sleep. Now please excuse me while I write a grovelling apology to Berlin’s indie kinos.