Arts·Queeries

The Quarries: Celebrating the best TV, movies, music and podcasts of social isolation

Columnist Peter Knegt presents a highly subjective consideration of the greatest things he consumed in the past 15 months.

Peter Knegt presents a highly subjective consideration of the greatest things from the past 15 months

From left: Search Party, I May Destroy You, Minari. (Courtesy)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

The pandemic is obviously far from over, but for those of us privileged enough to live in places with high vaccination rates and decreasing case counts, it definitely does feel like we've entered a new era of life in the time of COVID-19. Personally, I am finally out of the longest lockdown of any major city in the world (Toronto) and a few days away from my second shot (thank you, science!), so it is with cautious optimism that I've allowed myself to consider my days and nights of quarantine to be essentially over.

And in doing so, I thought that a cathartic way to help me get to the other side is to reflect on some of the things I most credit to my making it through these times: TV, movies, music and podcasts.

Since everything went down, I suspect most of us have had some pretty singular patterns of media consumption — not just watching and listening more than we ever have before, but doing so under such specific and unprecedented conditions of personal and collective upheaval that will be hopefully unparalleled in our lives. Art and entertainment has been a coping mechanism, a distraction, a way to make sense of what we were living through, to mourn our personal losses and our national and global tragedies, to remind ourselves of what was worth fighting for. When many of us look back at how we survived this collective nightmare, we'll remember how much our experience of the pandemic was shaped by the cultural products that kept us company.

Now that my own seemingly interminable quarantine has begun to reach something that looks like an end, I've decided to take stock of how cultural consumption has affected my experience of pandemic by making up my own silly and highly subjective "awards": The Quarries.

Celebrating the greatest TV, movies, music and podcasts that I consumed during the past 15 months, I found myself feeling very grateful that we at least live in a world where this content was created (some of it well before the pandemic) and wondering if someday I'll be ever-so-slightly nostalgic for those nights where it watching or listening to the nominees and winners below was literally all I had keeping me from entirely losing my mind (though I somehow doubt it). I highly recommend this as a little exercise for any of us lucky enough to be walking toward the light at the end of the tunnel right now.

Now, without further ado, The Quarries!

Best Supporting Performance in an Old TV Series I Watched During Quarantine

And the nominees are...
Hiam Abbass (Ramy)
Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City)
Christopher Eccleston (The Leftovers)
Regina King (The Leftovers)
Diane Ladd (Enlightened)
Scott McArthur (The Mick)
Robert Michael Morris (The Comeback)
Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City)
Kimmy Robertson (Twin Peaks)
Lauren Weedman (Looking)

The early nights of the pandemic were largely filled with marathoning old TV shows I had either somehow still never seen, like Twin Peaks (which I had been extremely embarrassed in having neglected but frankly I'm glad I saved its bizarre charms for this occasion) and The Leftovers (which was extremely challenging to watch during a near-apocalypse and I still haven't worked up the courage to finish the last 3 episodes), or revisiting ones that at one point were borderline obsessions, like Sex and the City. My boyfriend had somehow never seen it, so we watched all 94 episodes in the span of a week and half. (I saved him from the movies, though!) Was SATC alarmingly much more racist, transphobic, classist and just generally problematic than I had remembered? Absolutely. But outside of that, there still is a show that (at times, at least) feels daring and pioneering even today in its portrait of the four complex, flawed women at its core (it was also just fascinating to rewatch the show now being the age of the characters: nothing else depicts people in their mid-30s like this did). And the performances of the actresses who play them hold up exceptionally well, particularly Kim Cattrall, whose work as Samantha Jones was unquestionably the series' greatest asset. And while it's obviously a shame she won't be involved in the (unnecessary) reboot, at least she wins this not real award that basically means nothing. (But hey, you could say the same of a Golden Globe!)

Winner: Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City)
Runners-up: Robert Michael Morris (The Comeback) and Christopher Eccleston (The Leftovers)

Kim Cattrall in Sex and the City. (HBO)

Best Supporting Performance in a New TV Series I Watched During Quarantine

And the nominees are...
John Boyega (Small Axe)
John Early (Search Party)
Paaapa Essiedu (I May Destroy You)
Kathryn Hahn (Wanda/Vision)
Marielle Heller (The Queen's Gambit)
Julianne Nicholson (Mare of Easttown)
Weruche Opia (I May Destroy You)
Jean Smart (Mare of Easttown)
Hannah Waddingham (Ted Lasso)
Bowen Yang (Saturday Night Live)

Trying to narrow down any of the categories about new television has been a huge challenge, considering the embarrassment of riches we were given over the past 15 months. I could easily fill this category with the supporting casts of any two of the following: I May Destroy You, Mare of Easttown, The Plot Against America, Small Axe, Ted Lasso and not one but two seasons of the brilliant and underappreciated Search Party. But I am happy with this final 10, which includes Saturday Night Live's pandemic season MVP Bowen Yang, John Early's absolutely hysterical work in Search Party and the bounties that are Kathryn Hahn and Marielle Heller's work in Wanda/Vision and The Queen's Gambit (though — spoiler — those are the only nominations those somewhat overrated shows are getting).

But to me it came down to the devastating work of two women playing the best friends of their series' protagonists: Julianne Nicholson as Lori in Mare of Easttown and Weruche Opia as Terry in I May Destroy You (additional shoutouts to Jean Smart and Paaapa Essiedu, though, whose performances on those shows are also so, so good). If it was about just one scene, I'd give it to Nicholson for those final minutes of Mare, but for overall performance, I'm narrowly going with Opia who was consistently incredible throughout Destroy You.

Winner: Weruche Opia (I May Destroy You)
Runners-up: Julianne Nicholson (Mare of Easttown) and John Early (Search Party)

Weruche Opia in I May Destroy You. (HBO)

Best Supporting Performance in an Old Film I Watched During Quarantine

And the nominees are...
Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada)
Rose Byrne (Spy)
Joan Cusack (Working Girl)
Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck)
Rupert Everett (My Best Friend's Wedding)
Janeane Garofalo (Reality Bites)
Hugh Grant (Paddington 2)
Sigourney Weaver (Working Girl)
Dianne Weist (The Birdcage)
Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago)

As you can already kinda figure out from these nominees, when it came to watching old movies during quarantine, I kept it pretty light. I generally went back to my choice comforts: female-driven comedies I'd already seen a hundred times, with a few musicals thrown in for good measure. The best revisiting of the latter was unquestionably Chicago, which holds up way better than I expected it to 20 years after it came out. And its force-of-nature performance by Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly is my undeniable winner here. Though close behind are the career-best performances of Hugh Grant in Paddington 2 (which I actually watched for the first time a few months ago and is it ever as wonderful as everyone says) and Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl, both of which should have won Oscars but somehow did not. (In the entire history of the awards, Hugh Grant has still never even been nominated!)

Winner: Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago)
Runners-up: Hugh Grant (Paddington 2) and Sigourney Weaver (Working Girl)

Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago. (Miramax)

Best Supporting Performance in a New Film I Watched During Quarantine

And the nominees are...
Candice Bergen (Let Them All Talk)
Olivia Colman (The Father)
Viola Davis (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom)
Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)
Alan Kim (Minari)
Paul Raci (Sound of Metal)
Dan Stevens (Eurovision Song Contest)
Charlene Swankie (Nomadland)
Glynn Turman (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom)
Youn Yuh-jung (Minari)

While it was tempting to give this win to wonderful, underappreciated performances like Candice Bergen's in Let Them All Talk or Dan Stevens's in Eurovision Song Contest, I cannot deny Youn Yuh-jung's heartbreaking work in Minari a Quarry to go alongside her very deserved Oscar. 

Winner: Youn Yuh-jung (Minari)
Runners-up: Paul Raci (Sound of Metal) and Candice Bergen (Let Them All Talk)

Alan Kim (left) and Youn Yuh-jung in Minari. (A24)

Best Lead Performance in an Old Series I Watched During Quarantine

And the nominees are...
Carrie Coon (The Leftovers)
Laura Dern (Enlightened
Lisa Kudrow (The Comeback)
Piper Laurie (Twin Peaks)
Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks)
Kaitlin Olsen (The Mick)
Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City)
Justin Theroux (The Leftovers)
Kate Winslet (Mildred Pierce)
Ramy Youssef (Ramy)

There are three iconic performances that stand tall above the rest here, and it was really only a (difficult) choice between them: Carrie Coon as Nora Durst on The Leftovers, Laura Dern as Amy Jellicoe on Enlightened and Lisa Kudrow as Valerie Cherish on The Comeback. I'd argue these are three of the best performances in any medium over the past, say, 20 years (and yet, none of them won Emmys). But, well, she got it: after watching the two flawless seasons of The Comeback for a third time during the pandemic, I'm going to have to go with Kudrow, who does so much on so many levels with one of television's most complex female anti-heroes, Valerie Cherish. In its final episode (though rumours are it might come back for another season), her ability to make you cringe, make you laugh and break your heart all at the same time will never cease to amaze me.

Winner: Lisa Kudrow (The Comeback
Runners-up: Carrie Coon (The Leftovers) and Laura Dern (Enlightened

Lisa Kudrow in The Comeback. (HBO)

Best Lead Performance in a New Series I Watched During Quarantine

And the nominees are...
Christine Baranski (The Good Fight)
Bimini Bon Boulash (Ru Paul's Drag Race UK)
Michaela Coel (I May Destroy You)
Renée Elise Goldsberry (Girls5Eva)
Nicholas Hoult (The Great)
Zoe Kazan (The Plot Against America)
Jean Smart (Hacks)
Alia Shawkat (Search Party)
Jason Sudekis (Ted Lasso)
Kate Winslet (Mare of Easttown)

For a while there, I was fully expecting this to be a showdown between Kate Winslet and Michaela Coel, whose performances at the centre of Mare of Easttown and I May Destroy You were both essentially master-classes. And then along came Winslet's Mare mother Jean Smart, continuing her deserved renaissance with Hacks, which just finished its first season last week. Smart's towering work as aging comedian Deborah Vance is so mindblowingly good that it beats out not just Winslet and Coel, but a 15-month window of extraordinary performances like Jason Sudekis on Ted Lasso, Renée Elise Goldsberry on Girls5Eva ("Cease and desist, bitch!") and my overall winner from all of the 100 editions of Drag Race we blessedly got during the pandemic, the U.K.'s Bimini Bon Boulash (whose runner-up status on that season was a Bimini Bon burglary). 

Winner: Jean Smart (Hacks)
Runners-up: Michaela Coel (I May Destroy You) and Kate Winslet (Mare of Easttown)

Jean Smart in Hacks. (HBO Max)

Best Lead Performance in an Old Film I Watched During Quarantine

And the nominees are...
Cher (Moonstruck)
Melanie Griffith (Working Girl)
Holly Hunter (Broadcast News)
Nicole Kidman (To Die For)
Nathan Lane (The Birdcage)
Melissa McCarthy (Spy)
Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada)
Winona Ryder (Reality Bites)
Kristin Wiig (Welcome To Me)
Renee Zelwegger (Chicago)

This is a list of some of my all-time most treasured performances ever given by actresses ... or Nathan Lane. But I'd be kidding myself if Cher has any genuine competition: nothing beats her luminous work in Moonstruck, a movie I will re-watch regularly until the end of time. 

Winner: Cher (Moonstruck)
Runners-up: Melanie Griffith (Working Girl) and Nathan Lane (The Birdcage)

Cher in Moonstruck. (MGM)

Best Lead Performance in a New Film I Watched During Quarantine

And the nominees are...
Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal)
Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm)
Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom)
Anthony Hopkins (The Father)
Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods)
Rachel McAdams (Eurovision Song Contest)
Frances McDormand (Nomadland)
Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman)
Evan Rachel Wood (Kajillionaire)
Steven Yeun (Minari)

Anthony Hopkins and Frances McDormand upset at this April's Oscars over Chadwick Boseman and Carey Mulligan, and while all four are worthy nominees in my own mind, it was Riz Ahmed that gave the performance of the pandemic as a drummer and recovering addict who suddenly goes deaf in Sound of Metal. That said, Maria Bakalova does something so brilliant and borderline heroic in Borat 2 (which was a lead role, despite her Oscar nomination) and Delroy Lindo gives career-best work in Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods (which somehow went without an Oscar nomination!), and both were close behind.

Winner: Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal)
Runners-up: Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) and Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods)

Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal. (Amazon Studios)

Best Podcast Released During Quarantine 

And the nominees are...
Blank Check with Griffin and David
Las Culturistas
Little Gold Men
Midnight Snack with Michelle Collins
StraightioLab
Still Processing
WTF with Marc Maron
Who? Weekly
Why Won't You Date Me
You Must Remember This

As they were for many, podcasts were a major life-force for me since it all went down. And while I give strong runner-up statuses to the vulnerable, intimate conversations of WTF with Marc Maron (particularly last summer after he suddenly lost his girlfriend, the wonderful director Lynn Shelton) and the movie history nerdery of Blank Check with Griffin and David, the undeniable MVP for me has been Matt Rogers and previous nominee Bowen Yang's Las Culturistas. Every single Wednesday morning of the entire pandemic, I've woken up with slightly less dread than any other morning of the week because I knew a new episode awaited for me to walk off my anxiety to. But nothing prepared me for the delight — yes, I experienced delight once or twice during quarantine— that came with the three days they released their three-part, six-hour 200th episode that counted down their gloriously idiosyncratic list of the top 200 moments in culture. I genuinely consider it the greatest achievement in comedic podcasting; my boyfriend and I listened to the entire thing three times (we quote it regularly to this day).

Winner: Las Culturistas
Runners-up:  WTF with Marc Maron and Blank Check with Griffin and David 

Bowen Yang (left) and Matt Rogers. (I Heart Radio)

Best Song Released During Quarantine 

And the nominees are...
"august" by Taylor Swift
"Comeback" by Carly Rae Jepsen
"detonate" by Charli XCX
"Garden Song" by Phoebe Bridgers
"Heavy Balloon" by Fiona Apple
"Husavik (My Hometown" by Will Ferrell and Molly Sandén
"MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" by Lil Nas X
"Physical" by Dua Lipa
"Rain on Me" by Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande
"WAP" by Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion

The early months of the pandemic were extremely generous when it came to pop music. (Lately, not so much ... Olivia Rodrigo can't hold up 2021 on her own!) And in those days, my go-to feeling was largely denial. Denial this would last more than a month or two, and denial it was going to affect me much either way. And what more could you want from a false, preferable reality than the world that exists in the power pop of Dua Lipa's "Physical"? With it as my anthem (according to my Spotify year-end thing, I played the song 367 times in 2020, more than any other track), I would get up, work for eight hours from home, run through the empty streets of my neighbourhood listening to it on repeat. Every other song nominated here had their moments as well, but none were as pronounced as Dua's. 

Winner: "Physical" by Dua Lipa
Runners-up: "Garden Song" by Phoebe Bridgers and "WAP" by Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion

Dua Lipa in the "Physical" video. (Warner Music)

Best Album Released During Quarantine 

And the nominees are...
After Hours by The Weeknd
Chromatica by Lady Gaga
Fetch The Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple
folklore by Taylor Swift
Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa
How I'm Feeling Now by Charli XCX
Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers
Set My Heart On Fire Immediately by Perfume Genius
Sour by Olivia Rodrigo
Women in Music, Part III by Haim

In terms of the album that defined our existences in the past 15 months, I feel like there's really only one right answer: Fiona Apple's Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Released on April 17th, 2020 (exactly a month into it all), the album is unquestionably the definitive album of breaking yourself out of the emotional prison of lockdown, or anything else for that matter. Its raw energy is shattering. The same can be said — in different ways — of my runners-up, Charli XCX's How I'm Feeling Now and Phoebe Bridgers's Punisher, which came out the following months. Through their explorations of each creator's human condition, this trio of albums helped me lean into the raw, introspective feelings that were initially making me so uncomfortable during my isolation.

Winner: Fetch The Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple
Runners-up: How I'm Feeling Now by Charli XCX and Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers

Fiona Apple's Fetch The Bolt Cutters. (Sony Music)

Best Old Season of TV I Watched During Quarantine

And the nominees are...
The Comeback (Season 1)
The Comeback (Season 2)
Enlightened (Season 1)
The Leftovers (Season 2)
Looking (Season 2)
The Mick (Season 1)
Mildred Pierce
Ramy (Season 1)
Sex and the City (Season 4)
Twin Peaks (Season 1)

This extremely HBO-heavy list (actually, same goes for the rest of these awards in general) includes seasons of The ComebackEnlightened and The Leftovers that are truly transcendent, not to mention another exceptional Kate Winslet miniseries, Mildred Pierce (which is just as great as Mare if you haven't checked it out). But it's hard to deny this prize to a show that somehow aired on network television: David Lynch and Mark Frost's hilarious, surrealist masterpiece Twin Peaks. As previously noted, I watched the ABC series for the first time during the pandemic (but haven't gotten to the Showtime reboot yet). And while yes, it was just great as everyone had been telling me it was for the past 20+ years, I'm ultimately glad I saved its singular escapism for a pandemic.

Winner: Twin Peaks (Season 1)
Runners-up: The Comeback (Season 2) and The Leftovers (Season 2) 

Kyle MacLachlan (left) and Sherilyn Fenn in Twin Peaks. (ABC)

Best New Season of TV I Watched During Quarantine

And the nominees are...
Girls5Eva (Season 1)
The Great (Season 1)
Hacks (Season 1)
I May Destroy You 
Mare of Easttown
The Plot Against America 

Search Party (Season 3)
Search Party (Season 4)
Small Axe
Ted Lasso (Season 1)

Probably the most exemplary list of nominees of them all. How lucky were we that television offered us what it did during all of this? The structure it gave me alone was life-saving. At various points, to know an episode of I May Destroy You or Mare of Eastown or Ted Lasso was waiting for me one night a week was genuinely the thing I would look forward to more than anything. And then bingeing two full new seasons of Search Party basically in a couple sittings when it finally arrived on Crave in Canada last fall? Few things have ever given me such pleasure.

As a result, I found it extremely difficult to make a decision as to what should win here. I also should note that there's quite a few shows I never got to (I'm just starting The Underground Railroad and the third season of Pose, for example, and for whatever reason never found my way to the second season of PEN15). But from what I did, I don't think there was an experience quite as powerful as watching Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You unravel, particularly at a point in the pandemic when I was significantly unravelling myself. 

Winner: I May Destroy You
Runners-up: The Plot Against America, Small AxeMare of Easttown and Search Party (Season 3) — all legitimately remarkable feats in visual storytelling (and the rest of them aren't far behind)

Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You. (HBO)

Best Old Movie I Watched During Quarantine

And the nominees are...
The Birdcage
Broadcast News
Chicago
The Devil Wears Prada
Moonstruck
My Best Friend's Wedding
Paddington 2
Reality Bites
Spy
Working Girl

This is basically a list of the 10 films I go to most often when I need to feel okay, and while I will continue to go to them far into the after-times, there is no film that quite brings me the comfort of Norman Jewison's gloriously perfect Moonstruck, which I credit for helping me snap out of one of the pandemic's darker moments. 

Winner: Moonstruck
Runners-up: The Birdcage and Paddington 2

Cher and Nicolas Cage in Moonstuck. (MGM)

Best New Movie I Watched During Quarantine

And the nominees are...
Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Da 5 Bloods
Eurovision Song Contest
The Father 
Flee
Kajillionaire
Judas and the Black Messiah
Minari
Nomadland

Any argument that not enough good new movies were released during the pandemic is ridiculous. While TV definitely had more to offer overall, there were dozens of great movies that came out — even if, yes, it was unfortunate we couldn't watch any in a movie theatre. (The only movie I saw when cinemas briefly reopened here last summer was Tenet, and suffice to say it was definitely not up for any Quarries.) But I don't take for granted that we were offered the varied likes of Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar or Da 5 Bloods or Nomadland or Flee (which played virtual Sundance in January and will be released officially this year) to join us in our living rooms on nights we perhaps needed them most. Cinema was alive and well even when cinemas themselves were closed. Here's hoping we can see all of these films on a big screen eventually — and here's to Lee Isaac Chung's Minari, which despite great competition stole my heart more than anything else I watched during quarantine. 

Winner: Minari
Runners-up: Nomadland and Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar

Alan Kim in Minari. (A24)

Best Overall Thing I Watched or Listened That Was Released During Quarantine 

And the nominees are...
Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar
Fetch The Bolt Cutters
How I'm Feeling Now
I May Destroy You

Las Culturistas's "The 200th Episode Spectacular"
Mare of Easttown
Minari
The Plot Against America

Search Party (Season 3)
Small Axe

All masterworks in their own right, I'm just gonna let these stand together equally as the 10 greatest things I consumed that were released during these times (it seemed unfair to include the older stuff since my viewing patterns were such a specific selection). They are all winners, and I will be forever grateful for them. And if for some reason there's something on this list you have not seen and/or listened to, I hope you are encouraged to take a trip to them very soon.

Kristen Wiig (left) and Annie Mumolo in Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar. (Lionsgate)

Feel free to make your own #Quarries nominees and winners privately or in this Twitter thread. I highly recommend it as a cathartic exercise. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2020s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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