Most interesting for 2019 were his favorite films, which Obama tweeted out Sunday, quickly drawing online praise. His picks — which include the lauded “Apollo 11,” a documentary about the moon landing with archival and previously unreleased footage; “The Irishman,” Martin Scorsese’s 3½-hour Mafia epic; and “Little Women,” Greta Gerwig’s decidedly more feminist take on the classic tale — would fit well within any critic’s list.
“American Factory,” a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the workers in a former General Motors plant in a Dayton, Ohio, suburb during its transformation into a factory for the Chinese company Fuyao, also made the list. It was the first release by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, as he noted in his tweet.
Notably absent was Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” a rumination on 1960s Hollywood set against the backdrop of the Manson family murders (with a history-rewriting twist characteristic of the director). While that was the most celebrated movie to not appear on his list, Todd Phillips’s deeply divisive “Joker” and Sam Mendes’s “1917,” a World War I movie edited to have the appearance of being filmed in one take, were the two other notable Oscar contenders that didn’t make the cut. (The latter, granted, was released Wednesday.)
Less notably absent was “Cats.”
His list included a few surprises, as well. For example, the German-language film “Transit,” a movie that transposes a 1940s novel about a refugee hoping to flee Nazi-occupied France into the present day without changing the story, received glowing reviews but didn’t end up on many critics’ end-of-the-year lists. The same goes for “Diane,” a quiet indie character study that starred Mary Kay Place as the titular character who spends her days helping others while fighting an internal battle. (This may be because it technically debuted at the Tribeca Film Fest in 2018 but was released to the general public earlier this year.)
His list of television shows was far more brief and in line with popular critical thinking. It included just three shows: BBC’S “Fleabag” (Season 2), Netflix’s “Unbelievable” and HBO’s “Watchmen.” The inclusion of “Fleabag” tickled many Twitter users, as one episode of the show features creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character pleasuring herself while watching the former president give a speech on her laptop.
Obama’s list of favorite books from the past year, which he tweeted on Saturday, was far more extensive — he is famously a voracious reader — and included historical nonfiction, literary fiction and a few sports tomes to boot. He notably touted Sally Rooney’s novel “Normal People,” which is being adapted into a Hulu series, and Shoshana Zuboff’s “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power," a cautionary look at the potentially troubling interplay between tech and capitalism.
Obama also mentioned a list of recommendations he offered earlier this year, which includes books by Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, all of whom worked in his administration.
Finally, on Monday, Obama released his favorite songs of the year in a list sure to both please and anger fans of any genre. Its guiding principle seemed to be “a little of everything" -- he included Lizzo’s “Juice,” the National’s “Oblivions,” Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen,” DaBaby’s “Suge," Bruce Springsteen’s “Hello Sunshine,” Rosalía’s “Con Altura” and, of course, the “Old Town Road (Remix)" by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus.