John Powers

During the Cold War, the movies we saw from the Eastern bloc were steeped in politics. They critiqued, more or less obliquely, life under communism. More than 30 years later, the Berlin Wall is long gone, but the films from Eastern Europe haven't lost their political edge. These days, they're critical of post-communist societies that remain harsh and oppressive.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Although growing old is the most common of experiences, there are surprisingly few good films about old age. Maybe because there's no audience. The young are too busy being young to be interested in those with gray hair. And the people over 50 who I know shudder at the thought of watching comedies about cute bucket-listers or dramas where the aged spend their days grappling with disease, death and loss.

Like many people, I've spent the lockdown months looking for distractions. But even as I enjoyed watching Inspector Morse solve murder after murder in Oxford, what I want to highlight about 2020 are some books, films and TV shows that didn't simply distract me but delved into enduring questions of freedom, dignity and survival.

Square Haunting, by Francesca Wade (Penguin Random House)

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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

The poet W.H. Auden once wrote:

Private faces in public places

Are wiser and nicer

Than public faces in private places.

If any TV show bears that out, it's surely The Crown, the endlessly enticing Netflix drama about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II now entering its fourth season.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Back when the Nazis were running roughshod over his homeland, Bertolt Brecht wrote a short poem that asked, "In the dark times, will there still be singing?" And it gave a reply: "Yes, there will be singing. About the dark times."

For nearly a century, spy stories were a male preserve, one dominated by the likes of James Bond, or — at the classier end — John le Carré. That has finally begun to change, especially on television.

The U.S. and Iran have had contentious relations ever since the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s overthrowing the shah, and the subsequent hostage crisis — in which militants held 52 U.S. citizens for more than a year. Decades of scenes showing mobs burning the U.S. flag on the streets of Tehran have led many Americans to wonder why people in such a faraway country are so angry with the United States.

For an answer, you couldn't do better than to start with Coup 53, an exhilarating new historical documentary that unfolds with the pace and complexity of a thriller.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

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