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Jordan doc tops 2020’s must-watch list

Published January 6, 2021

In my end-of-the-year column I wrote a few weeks ago, I talked about movies like First Cow, Nomadland, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Mank, Tenet, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and several other flicks that are racking up awards nominations and placing on critics’ Top 10s.

And that’s all great. Against the odds, it was a good year for cinema. Not great, good. 

But, hold onto your butts, because I have a hot take to drop for the New Year … none of the movies I wrote about in that column are my favorite film / TV show / whatever of 2020. Not even close. No, sorry, Mank is not the best watch of 2020. Neither is Tenet or Sacred Cow. Not even close.

The best watch of 2020 was Jason Hehir’s 10-part documentary series about Michael Jordan, The Last Dance.

Here’s the thing about The Last Dance: You don’t have to like sports to enjoy it. I’d even feel comfortable suggesting that a person who dislikes sports (but likes great film and art and storytelling) could love The Last Dance.

For starters, The Last Dance is not really about sports. It’s about greatness. It’s about a group of people in the 1990s who assembled to support a guy named Michael Jordan.

If you’re somehow unfamiliar with Michael Jordan, he’s the most celebrated, best-known (and I’d argue just straight-up best) athlete of all-time.

And so we end up with a long-rumored, much-discussed 10-part film (featuring a ton of gorgeous ’90s footage shot on 35 mm film) about people. About greatness. About a decade. About friendship and, more than anything, about a guy who was so much better at what he did than anyone else before him, and how he was able to be so good.

The story is told using endless archival footage, a huge amount of cinema-quality footage shot during the 1997-98 Bulls season, and interviews shot over the last couple of years. A sprawling supporting cast of talking heads help tell the story, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Nas, Carmen Electra, Pat Riley, Ahmad Rashad, David Stern, and pretty much every great living basketball player. Oh, and pretty much every ESPN anchor from the 1990s, which is a real nostalgic treat.

The main subjects in the episodic tale of Michael Jordan’s rise to historic athletic and cultural greatness are, in order of narrative heft, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Dennis Rodman, Jerry Krause, and Steve Kerr. These six men have all lived huge lives, and each character gets their own time to shine, with everyone but Krause getting their own little mini bio-doc at some point along the way.

But that’s enough about that. I don’t want to spoil the fun too much. Remember the OJ docu-series a few years ago? The Last Dance is every bit the grand cultural study that piece was, but with more interesting characters and gorgeous cinematography.

The Last Dance is easily my favorite watch of 2020. Once the final episode ended, I wanted to start episode one up again immediately. That doesn’t happen for me a whole lot these days.


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