100 Artists Who Shaped My 2020

I wish I could remember why, but in late 2015, for some reason, I was struck with the sudden urge to create a list — as I am wont to do — of the artists who helped make that year bearable for me. This list, which I posted purely for the amusement of my internet friends on my Tumblr, included artists of any discipline as disparate as filmmaker George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), composer Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home), playwright Ayad Akhtar (Disgraced), and actor Mya Taylor (Tangerine). I even included Tasty, that Facebook page with the endless stream of recipe videos. I’ve never been one for journaling, but as the years go by, this list feels like it achieves that same goal. To look back at these yearly lists is to look at a fascinating personal artifact, to remember the Elliott I’ve been in years past.

For all the anxiety and the discomfort and the grief that came with this ghastly year, there was a lot of art that brought me joy, inspired me, and challenged me. My hope in making this list is to commemorate the people (or in a few cases, the groups of people) responsible for that joy.

So, in alphabetical order, 100 artists who shaped my 2020.

Demi Adejuyigbe’s rejected lyrics to the SUCCESSION theme song. (YouTube)

01. Demi Adejuyigbe, for being one of the most reliable beacons of joy on the internet (and especially for his lyrics to the Succession theme song, which made me laugh once a day, every day)

02. Riz Ahmed, for his beautiful performance in Sound of Metal (2019).

03. Jason Alexander, for the magnificent high-wire act that is George Costanza in Seinfeld (1989–1998).

04. Hammed Animashaun, for his work in the National Theatre’s production of Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles (2018) and especially for his redefining performance as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2019).

05. Will Aronson & Hue Park, for their beautiful musical Maybe Happy Ending (and for graciously taking a dramaturgical essay that I wrote about the show, translating it into Korean, and publishing it in a real-life book, which is just about the coolest thing in the world).

06. Jean Arthur, for her hilarious and lovely performances in The Talk of the Town (1942), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), and The Whole Town’s Talking (1935).

07. Atlanta Theatre Artists for Justice, Atlanta Artist Relief Fund, BLACT (Black Leaders Advocating Cultural Theatre), CREAT (The Coalition for Racial Equity in Atlanta Theatre), IDEA ATL (Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in the Arts Atlanta), and Out of Hand Theater for their fearless and awe-inspiring commitment to advocating for a truly equitable theatre industry in Atlanta (and for doing it all during a pandemic).

08. Howard Ashman & Alan Menken, for their partnership and their body of work, but especially Little Shop of Horrors (1982) and Beauty and the Beast (1991).

09. Jane Austen, for telling stories that inspired some of my favorite movie-watching experiences this year: Sense and Sensibility (1995), Clueless (1995), Emma. (2020) (unfortunately, I didn’t actually read any of Austen’s work this year… maybe 2021?).

10. Be Kind Rewind, my current obsession in the world of YouTube video essays, for her insightful and entertaining essays about women in Hollywood (my personal favorite is her video about Ida Lupino and Barbra Streisand’s directing careers).

Hong Chau in WATCHMEN, one of her two performances that thrilled me this year. (HBO)

11. Bong Joon-ho, for his films The Host (2006) and Okja (2017), and for his joyous, historic night at this year’s Oscars.

12. Chadwick Boseman, for his body of work, but especially for his tremendous performances in Da 5 Bloods (2020) and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020).

13. Nicholas Britell, for his infinitely rewarding musical scores, but especially for his work in Succession.

14. Mel Brooks, for making me laugh a lot, but especially for Young Frankenstein (1974).

15. David Byrne, for Stop Making Sense (1984), Here Lies Love (2013), and American Utopia (2020), and especially for “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).”

16. Carolee Carmello, for her irresistible performance in the national tour of Hello, Dolly!, one of my final theatregoing experiences pre-COVID.

17. Diahann Carroll, for her sensitive performance in the underseen gem Claudine (1974).

18. Hong Chau, for delivering two top-notch and wildly different performances this year, in Watchmen (2019) and Driveways (2019).

19. Cher, for her performance in Moonstruck (1987), which is an old favorite, and her performance in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982), which is a new favorite.

20. Oliver Chris, for giving three incredibly varied, deeply honest performances in the National Theatre at Home’s series: One Man, Two Guvnors (2011), Twelfth Night (2017), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2019).

Is Sohla El-Waylly the most charismatic and mind-blowingly skilled chef on the internet? Probably! (YouTube)

21. Lee Isaac Chung, for directing and writing the devastatingly beautiful film Minari (2020).

22. Judy Collins, for her distinct, crystal-clear voice and for her gorgeous medley of John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

23. Olivia de Havilland, for her rightfully legendary performance in The Heiress (1949).

24. Autumn de Wilde, for making her directorial debut with the remarkable Emma. (2020).

25. Steph Del Rosso, for her terrific play 53% Of, which happened to be the last rehearsal room I was in before the pandemic.

26. Jonathan Demme, for directing Stop Making Sense (1984) and Philadelphia (1993), two very different movies that made me feel just about every emotion possible.

27. Claire Denis, for her hypnotic masterpiece Beau Travail (1999).

28. Charles Dickens, for providing the groundwork for the films Oliver! (1968) and The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019) and basically any adaptation of A Christmas Carol (as with Jane Austen, I didn’t actually read any Dickens this year, so uh, sorry).

29. Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko, for Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–2008).

30. Sohla El-Waylly, for her integrity and for making the most complicated recipes look easy.

Even in a show as delightful as TEENAGE BOUNTY HUNTERS, Devon Hales left the strongest impression on me. (Netflix)

31. Nora Ephron, for perfecting the modern romantic comedy (and specifically for When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and Julie & Julia).

32. Maya Erskine & Anna Konkle, for their ingenious performances and writing in PEN15 (2019–2020).

33. Forugh Farrokhzad, for her shattering documentary The House is Black (1963).

34. Judy Garland, for her performances in A Star is Born (1954), In the Good Old Summertime (1949), and Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).

35. Laura Gilpin, for her poem “The Two-Headed Calf” (1977), which always hits me like a truck.

36. Cary Grant, for elevating all eleven movies I saw him in this year, including my favorites: The Awful Truth (1937) and Bringing Up Baby (1938).

37. Ellen Greene, for her performances in Little Shop of Horrors (1982, 1986) and in Pushing Daisies (2007–2009).

38. Devon Hales, for perfecting the art of the mean girl and delivering a disarmingly rich and layered performance in Teenage Bounty Hunters (2020).

39. Tom Hanks, for being a comforting presence in all eleven(!!) movies I saw him in this year, including Big (1988), which is one of the most impeccable performances I saw this year.

40. Marielle Heller, for continuing to be one of the finest working American filmmakers with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) and for her soulful performance in The Queen’s Gambit (2020).

Michael R. Jackson winning a Pulitzer Prize was easily one of the high points of the year. (Marc J. Franklin)

41. Audrey Hepburn, for her career-best performance in Two for the Road (1967).

42. Don Hertzfeldt, for the latest installment in his masterful World of Tomorrow series (2015–2020).

43. Joshua Hinck & Scott Wasserman, for producing Losing My Mind: A Sondheim Disco Fever Dream, one of the most deliriously delightful albums of the year.

44. Joe Hisaishi, for every note he’s ever written, but especially his scores for My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Spirited Away (2001), and Ponyo (2008).

45. Bob Hoskins, for delivering two perfect, night-and-day performances in Mona Lisa (1986) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

46. Armando Iannucci, for being responsible for The Death of Stalin (2017), The Personal History of David Copperfield, and Veep (2012–2019).

47. Michael R. Jackson, for writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece A Strange Loop (2019).

48. Kirsten Johnson, for directing two of the most profoundly moving documentaries I’ve ever seen, Cameraperson (2016) and Dick Johnson is Dead (2020).

49. Chuck Jones, for basically his whole body of work but always, always, always for What’s Opera, Doc? (1957).

50. Madeline Kahn, for making me laugh in Clue (1985), Blazing Saddles (1974), Young Frankenstein (1974), and What’s Up, Doc? (1972).

Delroy Lindo gives a GOAT-level performance in DA 5 BLOODS. (Netflix)

51. Jenji Kohan, for executive producing two of my favorite shows I watched this year, GLOW (2017–2019) and Teenage Bounty Hunters (2020), both of which were unceremoniously canceled by Netflix (which really, really sucks).

52. Eran Kolirin, for writing and directing The Band’s Visit (2007), which is one of the most beautifully delicate films of the 21st century.

53. Uttam Kumar, for his tremendous performance in The Hero (1966).

54. Aya Kyogoku and the entire team behind Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020), for providing me with hours and hours of calming entertainment.

55. Ang Lee, for directing Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) and Sense and Sensibility (1995).

56. Spike Lee, for directing Malcolm X (1992), Da 5 Bloods (2020), and American Utopia (2020).

57. Eugene Levy & Catherine O’Hara, for working as a team better than practically anyone else in Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003), and Schitt’s Creek (2015–2020).

58. Damon Lindelof, for Watchmen (2019), which is one incredible piece of storytelling.

59. Delroy Lindo, for delivering one of the most incredible performances in recent memory in Da 5 Bloods (2020).

60. Harold Lloyd, for producing and starring in The Freshman (1925).

Very few Oscar snubs this year stung as badly as Jennifer Lopez missing out for her remarkable work in HUSTLERS. (Everett Collection)

61. Jennifer Lopez, for being one-half of a helluva Super Bowl halftime show, for being a somewhat convincing Italian-American woman in The Wedding Planner (2001), and especially her phenomenal performance in Hustlers (2019).

62. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, for her genius performances in Seinfeld (1989–1998) and Veep (2012–2019).

63. Shirley MacLaine, for her fantastic performances in Sweet Charity (1969) and Terms of Endearment (1983).

64. Audra McDonald, for being so talented that it hurts my head to think about for too long.

65. Frances McDormand, for her classic performances in Raising Arizona (1987) and Fargo (1996) and her soon-to-be classic performance in Nomadland (2020).

66. Steve McQueen, for directing and writing the five films in the monumental film series Small Axe (2020): Alex Wheatle, Education, Lovers Rock, Mangrove, and Red, White and Blue.

67. Jiří Menzel, for directing and writing the delightful film Closely Watched Trains (1966).

68. Oscar Micheaux, for directing, producing, and writing the landmark film Within Our Gates (1920), the oldest surviving film made by an African-American director.

69. Shigeru Miyamoto and the entire team behind Super Mario 64, for making a perfect video game.

70. Emile Mosseri, for his haunting score for Minari (2020).

Elizabeth Perkins makes an absolute meal of her minimal screentime in GLOW. (Netflix)

71. National Theatre at Home, for making their world-class productions accessible, specifically Amadeus (2017), Barber Shop Chronicles (2018), Frankenstein (2011), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2019), One Man, Two Guvnors (2011), and Twelfth Night (2017).

72. Asta Nielsen, for her tremendous performance as the Prince of Denmark in Hamlet (1921).

73. Dolly Parton, for being a treasure of a human being, but specifically for “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.”

74. Elizabeth Perkins, for giving three complicated, delicious performances in Big (1988), Weeds (2005–2012), and GLOW (2017–2020).

75. Michelle Pfeiffer, for her magnetic performances in Batman Returns (1992) and French Exit (2020).

76. Gina Prince-Bythewood, for directing and writing her terrific debut, Love & Basketball (2000).

77. Robert Reale & Willie Reale, for writing A Year with Frog and Toad (2002), a musical I will always love dearly.

78. Keanu Reeves, for his charismatic performances in The Matrix (1999), John Wick (2014), Something’s Gotta Give (2003), and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989).

79. Kelly Reichardt, for her poetic and empathetic films Wendy & Lucy (2008), Old Joy (2006), Meek’s Cutoff (2010), and especially First Cow (2019).

80. Thelma Ritter, for her career-defining performance in Pickup on South Street (1953).

James Sweeney, the writer, director, and star of the incredibly touching comedy STRAIGHT UP. (Netflix)

81. Ruan Lingyu, for her heartbreaking, legendary performance in The Goddess (1934).

82. David Schweitzer & Isobel Waller-Bridge, for their whimsical, intelligent score for Emma. (2020).

83. Alisa Solomon, for her incisive and thrilling book Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof (2013).

84. Stephen Sondheim, for his entire body of work, but especially for inspiring Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration.

85. Meryl Streep, for her performances in Julie & Julia (2009) and The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981).

86. Jeremy Strong, and the rest of the cast of Succession (2018–2020), for their deranged, inspired performances.

87. Elizabeth Swados, for her remarkable body of work, exemplified in the beautiful tribute album, The Liz Swados Project (2020).

88. James Sweeney, for directing, writing, and starring in the heartfelt, charming Straight Up (2019).

89. Tilda Swinton, for her magnetic performances in The Human Voice (2020) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).

90. Anya Taylor-Joy, for her charming performances in Emma. (2020) and The Queen’s Gambit (2020).

Steven Yeun in his impeccable performance in MINARI, one of the year’s best movies. (A24)

91. Vinny Thomas, for being consistently hilarious, but most especially for “POV: The fly in your apartment,” which has made me laugh every single day since August 19th.

92. Alex Trebek, for being the ideal game show host in Jeopardy! (1984–2020).

93. Yoko Tsukasa, for her shattering performance in Scattered Clouds (1967).

94. Agnès Varda, for directing some of my favorite movies I watched this year, including Le Bonheur (1965), Uncle Yanco (1967), Black Panthers (1968), and One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977).

95. Daniela Vega, for her groundbreaking, tremendous performance in A Fantastic Woman (2017).

96. Jean Vigo, for his beautiful films Zero for Conduct (1933) and L’Atalante (1934).

97. Andrew Wyeth, for his transfixing artwork, specifically Wind from the Sea (1947), which occupied my mind for about two months this summer.

98. Steven Yeun, for his breathtakingly sensitive performance in Minari (2020).

99. Renée Zellweger, for her iconic performance in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001).

100. Chloé Zhao, for directing Nomadland (2020), a singularly beautiful look at contemporary American life.

And that’s that! If you’ve made it this far, thanks! Let’s kick 2021’s butt.

Atlanta-based freelance actor, dramaturg, and musician. Sometimes I watch movies. Hoping to use this as a place where my dramaturgical notes can live.