| January 21, 2021
After 22 years of doing an annual Thankful column, I shouldn’t let a mad king and a pandemic get in the way.
I am always thankful for filmmakers doing the work, even when the work doesn’t live up to my idea of the highest quality. The work of making movies is almost never easy. The life of being a filmmaker only ever becomes comfortable for a few. It doesn’t show up on your doorstep, hoping for you to be a part of the circus. Billy Ray, who is one of those who has the comforts of success, talked to me about this being the most productive year of his professional life. The circumstances created a kind of quiet, which allowed him to focus and get his work done. But then again, he seems the kind of guy who would also get his work done living on 10 square feet in the middle of an active volcano. I know a wide range of creators in the film and TV world. Each storyteller is different. Each level of drive is different. But no one sets out to fail or be embarrassing. Some go from project to project. Some grind for years between opportunities. They aren’t saving lives, but they are the front-liners of this industry. And for that I am thankful, whether I liked your movie or not.
I am thankful that in a nightmare of a year like this, Netflix built streaming into a real thing and that so many others – however nascent their efforts – have joined. It’s a double-edged sword. If I had read as many books as I have seen movies that I never would watched in a normal year, I would feel like an effete smart guy. But I am a television kid and a movie person and the range of available content that is readily available has been glorious.
I am thankful for the perspective, on a movie level, that the pandemic has allowed. I actually miss the early days of the pandemic, when I was up all night a lot and tearing through all the services, but particularly The Criterion Channel, reminiscing and expanding the stupid-large library of films in my head and heart. Not every happy memory of a movie I hadn’t seen in decades remained a good one. But it was a reminder that not every movie – even from great filmmakers – will be good and that there is something inside every piece of work that delivers value. Wandering through the Criterion 1970s horror film collection last month was illustrative. There were certainly the kink and nostalgia elements. But there were also ideas in many of those films that matured over the years, usually through other filmmakers, and delivered in a very different way in the 90s or 00s or by the last decade of Blumhouse. Right now, I suggest that anyone who hasn’t see The Underneath or King of the Hill do so (on Criterion) this weekend if you love Soderbergh’s work… because both little-seen films are key to where he is now, as all of his films are.
I am thankful that Steve McQueen decided to bring his artistic skills to cinema. Mangrove is my movie of the year, so far. The other four films in the “Small Axe” package also bring to life a personal moment in time, the way great, sometimes personal filmmakers like Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan have over decades. McQueen did it in a year or so.
I am thankful for the clarity that this year has brought to the job of being an entertainment journalist. Of course, part of that clarity is a nightmare. There are good journalists and bad journalists and good work and bad work and it all gets mixed up in the stew as everyone hopes to keep their jobs. I have become much more conscious that I can’t just grind out shit. Regardless what anyone thinks of me or my ideas, my survival as a journalist remains a function of studios buying ads over four or five months every year… But it can’t just be me carrying the water for those studios to pleasure them and rationalize my purpose. For me, the politics of the moment are a problem, not because I feel cancelled, but because the mainstream in my area of the business don’t even engage ideas that are not cleanly wrapped up in a familiar box. When I see all the water going the same way, I don’t think, “Hey, I can get attention for being contrary.” I think, “There is something really wrong here. In real life, water doesn’t all go the same way.” Something truthful is not very far from the surface… but most outlets won’t bother scratching deeper than a lottery scratcher. And of course, the me-ification of journalism puts enormous pressure on the “me”s getting it right. And very few really know or ever knew anything pre-2010. Writers, when they are the “me” don’t think of that as a problem. They are smart and skilled and people say things to them. But it is a huge problem. History informs the future. Always.
I’m thankful for the festivals that chose to stream and deeply disappointed in those that did not. They chose unwisely. For the most part, these festivals did well. There were glitches and frustrations. But those are beyond even needing to consider forgiving.
But none of these festivals were anything like being at a festival for real. And seeing films in your living room – giant TV, excellent sound, no streaming glitches – is still not seeing a film in a room with other people. And at festivals, you are generally in full rooms, which is optimal. It’s not a fetish. It is a different experience. It’s not as subtle as CD-versus-vinyl. It’s the difference between eating at a restaurant and eating at home. I love cooking at home. But I also love restaurants. And if you feel otherwise… okay. But Zoom ain’t being in the room. And in a room at a festival, I can feel this pleasure.
I am thankful that anyone has read this far. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my friends (every level of friend) in the industry. I am thankful for every DP/30 guest who has given me their time and their honesty while I have no glossy cover to offer as bait. And I am thankful that something that brings me so much pleasure has a consistent, albeit modest, audience of people who love the work and love the talent who talks with me.
I am thankful that we will have a new president and that I live in a country that is profoundly flawed but that can survive the lowest scum there is running the country for four years.
I am not thankful for COVID-19 in any way. Fuck you, COVID-19.
I look forward to really getting back to work when things are safer. I’m not really sure what that work should be. I am not only going to have to recalibrate for a changing journalism industry, but I have to recalibrate for a time when we are not spending hours a day trying to synthesize the madness of the nation and the existential issues that come with that. At 56, I consider the roads taken as much as the roads in front of me. That’s probably a waste of time. I have always had an arrogance about what is worthy of my time and effort. I’ve never really been able to afford that arrogance. But I have also been amazingly lucky. My life is imperfect, but I have so much to be thankful for now and in so many past years.
Thank you all. May 2021 be everything that 2020 was not.
| January 21, 2021
| January 18, 2021
| January 14, 2021
| January 22, 2021
Emerald Fennell: "I don’t work conceptually, or even in a genre-type way. Generally what happens is I’ve been thinking about something for a while. I’ve been thinking about consent, and the sort of raunch culture that I grew up with, and the kind of 'loopholes' that are exploited to take advantage of women and their bodies. With this movie, the first moment was — which is what usually happens for me — a very specific scene. The specific scene was a drunk girl on a bed having her clothes taken off and saying, drunkenly, 'What are you doing? What are you doing?' And then sitting up sober and saying, 'What are you doing?' That moment came fairly fully formed. From there, I knew who Cassie was and maybe what the film was going to be. I’m interested in Westerns and road movies and the revenge genre, and in particular, I think, kind of centering women and trying to wonder what … For me, it’s always like, What would I do? What could I do? I probably wouldn’t know where to get a gun, and I probably wouldn’t trust myself with one. I think that’s a reason women don’t resort to violence, and it very rarely ends well when they do. But what could I do? And I think that that’s what always interests me. It’s like, Okay, well, what I could do is fuck with people. I could frighten them. But it would have to be in a much more psychological and existential way. And so that was kind of the root of this, maybe: How do you write a revenge movie that feels like something real and that is based in real trauma and grief? Because I suppose the other thing with the revenge [genre] that we don’t talk about very much is revenge and vengeance aren’t good things. And I think that’s the thing that was always interesting about Cassie, and particularly the way Carey played her, was that she just did something I’ve never been able to do in my own life and just said, “Fuck off. Fuck off, everyone.'"
| January 22, 2021
"The best bits of a conference — the demonstrations, sales pitches and chance encounters — are impossible to replicate online. For everyday meetings, however, I think there is a better chance that video chat will outlast the pandemic. Zoom fatigue may be real but the shift to virtual meetings is one of the more helpful changes to have taken place in the past year. Not only do they cut out long commutes and jet-lagged business trips but they appear to have sharpened up start times and reduced cross-talk. Recorded meetings are very helpful for those of us who work with colleagues in different time zones, too."
| January 22, 2021
"It's A Sin"'s Russell T. Davies: "And yet, at the same time, the world turns and life moves on. The growing success of antiretroviral medication means that, perhaps, an end is in sight. A deadly disease is becoming a manageable condition. There’s now an ambitious United Nations campaign dedicated to ending HIV transmission by 2030. Strange to think. That it might come and go within my lifetime. That a virus can be a moment in history and no more. I wonder. It’s possible that one day, HIV and AIDS might just be a memory. A story. Like some old drama that was once on TV."
| January 22, 2021
| December 13, 2019
| December 4, 2019
| December 4, 2019