From ‘The Crown’ to ‘The Last Dance,’ 11 of the year’s best TV shows and films inspired by real people – The Spokesman-Review

Posted By on December 19, 2020

What a strange, tragic and pivotal year 2020 has been. Its somewhat fitting that in a period when truth was stranger than fiction, some of the best TV and film efforts were based on real-life events.

The list below includes a range of works from biographical films and documentaries to TV shows based on real people released this year that we recommend.

Unorthodox: Deborah Feldmans 2012 memoir inspired this acclaimed miniseries a requisite entry on best of 2020 lists about a young woman who abruptly leaves an arranged marriage and the strict Hasidic sect in which she grew up. Shira Haas (Shtisel) earned an Emmy nomination for her turn as Esther Esty Shapiro, whose departure from Brooklyn leads to exhilarating self-discovery in Berlin. (Streams on Netflix)

Mrs. America: This FX miniseries takes a unique approach in depicting the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, which was almost passed in the 1970s: focusing on Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett), the late right-wing activist who campaigned against the proposed amendment.

As such, the series is more than a retelling of the womens rights movement, but it does honor its pioneers, including Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman) and in a particularly standout portrayal that earned Uzo Aduba her third Emmy Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to serve in Congress and run for president. (Streams on Hulu)

The Crown: Netflixs royal-inspired drama excels at taking highly publicized events and imagining how the residents of Buckingham Palace dealt with them away from public glare. The shows fourth season tackles Margaret Thatchers tenure as prime minister of the United Kingdom, with Gillian Anderson as the Iron Lady. The most prominent story line, though, is the brief courtship and subsequent marriage of Prince Charles (Josh OConnor) and Princess Diana (Emma Corrin).

The Netflix series has generated a considerable amount of discourse over its approach to their relationship and Charless affair with Camilla Parker Bowles (Emerald Fennell), who would decades later become his second wife.

Earlier this week, Netflix declined to add a disclaimer labeling the series as fictional in response to appeals from the British government. Controversy aside, Corrin is a captivating Diana, and the season is clearly resonating with viewers, having consistently been in Netflixs (self-reported) top 10 list since its Nov. 15 premiere. (Streams on Netflix)

Shirley: Elisabeth Moss plays writer Shirley Jackson, best known as the author of The Haunting of Hill House, in Josephine Deckers largely fictional drama. Adapted from Susan Scarf Merrells 2014 novel of the same name, the film imagines Jackson during a period of severe depression and social anxiety while trying to complete her 1951 gothic novel Hangsaman.

When a young newlywed couple, Rose (Odessa Young) and Fred Nemser (Logan Lerman), come to live with Jackson and her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg), the two women develop an intense connection that subtly weaves its way into Jacksons work. (Streams on Hulu)

The Last Dance: This Emmy-winning documentary, produced by ESPN and Netflix, goes deep on Michael Jordans final season with the Chicago Bulls. Despite its accolades and record viewership, some including filmmaker Ken Burns criticized the 10-part series because it was produced in partnership with Jump 23, a production company owned by the basketball legend himself. (Streams on Netflix and ESPN Plus)

Ill Be Gone in the Dark: Veteran documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus, along with a team of producers, directed this six-episode series recalling true-crime writer Michelle McNamaras quest to solve a decades-old cold case. The authors search for the violent criminal she dubbed the Golden State Killer was chronicled in a book by the same name, released two years after her death from an accidental overdose in 2016.

As Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever noted in his review of the docuseries, the project is as much about McNamara as it is about the Golden State Killers crimes. Garbus and co. feature interviews with the writers siblings, friends and husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, who shed light on how McNamaras pursuit of justice consumed the last few years of her life. (Streams on HBO)

The Vow: Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amers well-received docuseries goes inside NXIVM, a multilevel marketing company federal prosecutors later said was a cultlike organization that enabled founder Keith Raniere to prey on young women. Stuever lauded the nine-episode project for its haunting insight into what drew NXIVMs members actresses and socialites among them into a criminal enterprise.

For a more straightforward account of NXIVM and Ranieres chilling hold on his followers, there is Starzs also well-received four-part series, Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult. (Streams on HBO)

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart: Stuever had high praise for Frank Marshalls HBO documentary about the famed pop/soul/disco trio (brothers Maurice, Robin and Barry Gibb) and their enduring influence on popular music.

Its less of the usual tract (we had them all wrong!) and more of a reckoning with the profound degree of artistry and accomplishment that should be the last word on any Bee Gees story, Stuever wrote in his review. The movie is also a unique consideration of the phenomenon of rise and fall and how one learns to live with it. (Streams on HBO)

Tiger King: Easily the most controversial documentary of 2020, Tiger King unpacks the decades-long feud between zoo owner Joe Exotic and animal rights activist Carole Baskin. The eight-episode series is full of characters (Baskin was a contestant on the most recent season of Dancing With the Stars) and offers an eye-opening look into the world of big cat ownership. (Streams on Netflix)

Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker: This Shondaland-produced documentary follows multihyphenate Debbie Allen as she stages her nonprofit dance academys annual Hot Chocolate Nutcracker. Directed by Oliver Bokelberg, the 80-minute doc doesnt just showcase the production and Allens demanding rehearsals, but also zeros in on the representation that makes it groundbreaking.

Allens company largely consists of people of color, with many of the dancers on scholarship, and the film traces Allens own history in dance dating from her childhood in segregated Houston, where she was not allowed in theaters putting on productions of the Christmas classic. (Streams on Netflix)

Veneno: Journalism student Valeria Vegas (Lola Rodrguez) meets her idol former trans sex worker turned TV star Cristina Ortiz Rodriguez, aka La Veneno (Daniela Santiago) and begins to find her own identity while reporting on La Venenos life. The series, based on Vegass 2016 biography of the trans icon, became a hit in Spain upon its release in March. Stateside reviews are scarce, but the few that exist are effusively positive. (Streams on HBO Max)

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From 'The Crown' to 'The Last Dance,' 11 of the year's best TV shows and films inspired by real people - The Spokesman-Review

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