Another year, eh?
2018 may not be anyone’s vote for Best Year Ever, particularly for those of us who follow popular culture and media. The widespread “pivot to video” experiment ended as everyone expected it would: with further closures and layoffs across the media landscape, all on the basis of fabricated numbers. Village Voice is gone. The Condé Nast family is teetering. The AVClub is running on fumes. And from coast to coast, film journalism was one of the segments hardest hit, with many of your favorite critics struggling to make ends meet. Meanwhile we also said goodbye to Filmstruck, to the Los Angeles Film Festival, and to (for all intents and purposes) MoviePass. Despite a better than solid year in film and in pop culture overall, there’s a lot to be pessimistic about.
But this community is thriving. The Solute’s authors published just shy of a thousand articles in 2018, and god knows how many comments. Though we could never replace the professional institution that’s now poking around in the dark for a sustainable future, we can at least keep the light of criticism — the light of curiosity, analysis, and interpretation — burning in our small corner of the internet.
Like last year, we now offer a space for contributors to highlight their favorite work of the last twelve months, both their own and their peers’. No better way to celebrate the ties of community than by appreciation of each other’s contributions, so … without further ado, here’s the Solute Year in Review, 2018!
Babalugats: It’s been a lot of fun writing for The Solute this year, from my very self indulgent essay on the impossible to find Cube, to scooping an entire brigade of thinkpieces with a positive re-evaluation of Twilight, to my very ill-timed piece on Cure (an essay I was absolutely not capable of writing two years ago). But let’s be honest, the most fun I’ve had this year is riding the CinemaScore rollercoaster of hidden gems, bafflingly missguided decisions, and outrageously entertaining disasters. If you only take one thing from my writing this year, it should be that Eye of the Beholder is secretly really good.
This has been another year of unparalleled output from The Solute, and as the number of contributors continues to rise it’s becoming more and more difficult narrow a list down to just a few favorites. I’ll start with a special thanks to Burgundy Suit for continuing to organize Year Of The Month, a series that really helps to illuminate the scope and shape of our culture, and to clarify the artistic and cultural lineage that we inhabit, whether that’s through a deep dive into an acclaimed classic like Son of Griff’s insightful essay on Army of Shadows, or into a forgotten obscurity as in Rosy Fingers’ discussion of the decidedly un-classic, jaw-droppingly misguided, Dianna & Me.
Also like to thank The Ploughman for organizing the movie gift exchanges, which have been a ton of fun, and Clytie for putting together the weekly looks into the internet’s best writing. That was one of my favorite features at The Dissolve and it’s great to have it back.
Another great thing about this place is the way that “low art” is approached with respect and full critical engagement and “high art” with passion and pleasure. And so wallflower’s intense dissection/parody essay of Point Break is perhaps the most essential thing ever published on the site. I can’t think of another writer who could approach that concept with not only this degree of wit and insight, but with total commitment, and unwavering sincerity.
We also sometimes talk about new movies, and Julius Kassendorff’s review of BlacKkKlansman is a masterclass in how to approach film criticism through a political lens. It’s a tricky movie, exploring a tricky set of ideas, and Julius does a great job of dissecting and commenting on those ideas without being reduced to a simple condemnation of a single film or filmmaker.
But if I’m going to be honest about the favorite thing I read this year, than it was always going to be Ruck’s descent into the mind of Tom Myers. I feel both proud, and a little guilty, to have helped inspire that article. I don’t think we’re any closer to understanding the world’s worst comedian, but it was a hell of a lot of fun trying.
And on a more personal note, I’d like to thank Burgundy Suit and The Ploughman for their work editing and posting my stuff. You guys are greatly appreciated.
clytie: Favorite of mine: Year of the Month: The Sweet Hereafter
Favorite of someone else: Year of the Month: Wilco, YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT
Conor Malcolm Crawford: I’ll nominate Drunk Napoleon’s Venture Brothers/Rick and Morty breakdown. Once again Tristan has his own perfect blend of understanding story structure and where our generation has moved in terms of pop culture. Then my own Dark Knight piece: I’m very proud of this.
Drunk Napoleon: I think of all the essays posted this year, Ruck Cohlchez‘s article on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the one I kept thinking about the most. On the surface, it has both a wide scope and a strong sense of a specific time and place, connecting where Wilco, America, and Ruck himself all were on September 22nd, 2001. It’s ironic that Ruck successfully achieved what irritates him about prestige television, something elegantly constructed that weaves between multiple characters and timelines and paints a picture of individuals and a world; on the one hand, obviously there’s a difference between storytelling and criticism, but on the other, it’s as if he wanted to show them how it’s actually done. The thing of it is, holding the whole thing together is a feeling that is, if not universal, then common, and definitely something I have felt: the sense of an illusion being ripped away, and the way art can get us through that moment. Honourable mention to wallflower’s utterly gonzo analysis of Point Break written in the style of Mason & Dixon.
In terms of my own work, this is the year where I finally started writing the kind of thing I’d always wanted to write – sprawling, ambitious essays characterising a single work (or sometimes two works, because I’m greedy). Looking back at True Detective, Season One: Good Cliche, Bad Cliche was the first time I felt like I’d achieved something that would impress my 21-year-old self, as if it were the point I tipped over into the Cool Internet Writer that I’d always idolised. Honourable mention to Cowboy Bebop: The 27 Club for being the other article that made me feel like that, though a half-step down in terms of slickness. I look forward to moving forward with you all into 2019.
Gillianren: I am ridiculously proud of my Dr. Seuss ATTENTION MUST BE PAID, and I don’t feel as though I got enough attention for that. It’s very silly.
And fun as Doug’s review of Life Itself is, it doesn’t win the duel between him and Julius.
I was glad to decisively jump above the comments this year after having my first go at it late in 2017. Five months after that, I still waffled long enough over whether or not to write about The Rain People and Easy Rider that I missed the actual month of the year of the month, but no matter: I thoroughly enjoyed doing it, and it ended up being my second favorite of the few pieces I wrote this year. The one ahead of it is my write-up of Vincente Minnelli’s The Pirate, which, not entirely coincidentally, is also my favorite of all the films I’ve taken on so far.
It’s funny: I’ve been writing about movies professionally in Russian for over eight years now, yet I’ve found writing in English to be a far freer and smoother process from the moment I got the hang of it. There’s that thing where you feel less responsibility for fucking with a non-native language – but it very well may not have been a factor if English hadn’t been as agile and rich and inviting as it is in the first place. And then there are the English-language critics, both well- and less-known, whose writing I remain strongly drawn to – Mike D’Angelo, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Vadim Rizov, Theo Panayides, and, of course, you, my fellow Soluters – who all inform my thinking and writing to a degree that’s hard to overstate. I couldn’t do this my own. And I reserve a special thanks to BurgundySuit for not only steadily running Year of the Month, but taking the time to look at my efforts and help me to communicate myself better. I hope to be able to further explore the ways to write about movies here for many more months to come.
Faced with highlighting my favorite pieces I’ve read on here this year, I thought I’d see what would immediately jump to my mind without me even having to search for or remember it. The result: The Ploughman (who also gets special recognition for organizing Movie Gifts, itself a gift that will hopefully keep on giving) on Don’t Look Now, a piece of writing as exhilarating and singular as the film it’s about; Babalugats, in his consistently terrific What The F series, on Eye of the Beholder, a film that clearly demanded to be – and was – looked at differently than most of its F-blessed predecessors; pico accepting, as thoughtfully as ever, the challenge of Mysterious Object at Noon; ZoeZ just straight-up owning all in her thorough analysis of The Talented Mr. Ripley; Ruck going gorgeously autobiographical and reflective on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. All these pieces are exemplary, and they’re far from the only ones.
Miller: There was a ton of excellent writing on this site in 2018 but my favorite pieces have been the grab bag of trash and treasure in Babalugats‘ What The F series. It’s a great concept but the execution is even better. Reappraisals are strongly argued, rejects are definitively put down and The Box is given its ridiculous due. Excellent criticism that sees clearly through the clutter of other prejudices.
This is not my “favorite” piece but it’s the most important: writing about my dad after he died this year. I’m glad I was able to get these memories down and that I had a place on this site to share them. Thanks for keeping this place open for such things.
The Narrator: This year, I really slouched on my own writing, coming up with ideas but not following most of them through (there’s one abandoned thing I’m hoping to finish in the new year, at least). But at the very least, I’m proud of the first big article I wrote this year, 20th Century Women: The Film vs. The Script. It’s such a rare, wonderful opportunity to be able to analyze what makes a film work on that specific level, to know what work went into it during and after filming to make it a masterpiece. I demand that Mike Mills give me the script to his next movie so I can do this again.
Everybody else on the site picked up any slack I left this year, but my favorite article would have to be Miller’s defense of Alien Resurrection, a movie I hold dear but have not been able to defend on anywhere near his level. God bless this misshapen gem and the time when Hollywood studios would be caught dead making it.
NerdInTheBasement: With 2018 now one for the history books, it’s time to reflect on the last 365 days, which includes me reaffirming my immense gratitude to be a part of a website like The-Solute that houses so many talented writers that cover all aspects of pop culture with impressive thoughtfulness.
Maybe the best of the many articles put up on the website this year was Gillianren’s ode to the late Stan Lee in an excellent essay entitled Impact. Not only did her piece allow fan of Lee’s work like myself to reflect on the man himself but her writing here also fascinatingly delved into Lee’s lasting legacy on the relationship between artists and the fans of their work. Stan Lee forever changed how that dynamic operated and Gillianren’s piece is a fantastic examination of how he did just that.
My own writing pales to what’s done by my esteemed colleagues on this site, but of my own personal pieces, my essay detailing how Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse so skillfully channels real-life LGBTQA+ experiences is my personal favorite. Who knew this heavily stylized animated gem would be so effective at channeling reality in a way that so many grounded live-action dramas could only dream of?
pico: Lots of great material published this year, but the piece that has stuck with me the longest is Miller’s rollicking reassessment of Michigan J. Frog, which finds in the character’s (literal) timelessness an endless well of horror, a monster doomed to wander an apocalyptic, Cormac-McCarthian landscape (and not just the desiccated corpse of the WB.) It’s a funny piece blending investigative and interpretive criticism, my favorite kind of writing, here done exquisitely well. In that regard, I also loved The Ploughman‘s take on “extrasensory parenting” in Don’t Look Now and Jake Gittes‘ look at sensually “liberated truth” in The Pirate.
As usual I’m not happy with anything I wrote: the stuff in my head always sounds better than the stuff that ends up on the page, and doing most of my articles the night before doesn’t help. If I had to pick something… Well, I had the most fun writing on B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates, since it gave me the opportunity to re-shuffle the novel’s chapters and read it in a new way, in effect re-creating the experience of reading it for the first time.
The Ploughman: Some pitches you whiff, some dribble into serviceable grounders and once in a while there’s a solid feeling of connection and the ball sailing for a spell. For my own piece, I felt that satisfaction with a Don’t Look Now essay which engaged both my experience as a parent and the film.
I read back over several of my favorite pieces on the Solute this year and I always feel fortunate to read such insightful, sometimes funny and always thoughtful pieces and, as always, a special shout-out to those who turn out pieces on such a regular basis that keeps the gears turning. Everyone has given me so much to think on and seek out, it elevates and humbled my brain on a daily basis.
My temptation is to make a lengthy list of all of them, though my instructions tell me to pick one. So I’ll only slightly bend the rules by listing two pieces, Julius’s twin reviews of Boy Erased, one marked “for Heterosexuals” and the other “for Queer People.” Our fearless leader has a (deserved) reputation as a man who settles into his theater seat, points a flame-thrower at the screen and dares it to give him a reason to pull the trigger. So when I saw the double reviews I assumed one or the other would be a takedown. Instead, both were generally positive reviews that found value and flaws in different places depending on your experience and knowledge coming into the film. It was a unique way to approach writing about a film and doing so revealed much about the film and its place in the culture
Ruck Cohlchez: As much as any article that causes its subject to flip out in the comments would seem like it should be the top choice, I’m actually going to go with my Wilco article, something far more personal to me and which has been a much longer time coming. My obsession with Tom Myers is only something I’ve developed in recent months; my ode to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and its place in my life was sixteen and a half years in the making.
As much as I loved The Shield roundtable or my Barry conversation with wallflower, any article I participated in would feel like cheating. By far the most… impressive undertaking I read this year on the Solute was wallflower’s Point Break epic, although… *gulp* I’ve still never seen the movie. Can I still pick that anyway? A partial list of other columns I quite enjoyed: Celeste Dobropolski on Selena, Conor M. Crockford on The Dark Knight, ZoeZ on The Talented Mr. Ripley, Drunk Napoleon’s Sopranos columns, and in the “dunk” section, DJ JD on the women of Firefly, and both reviews of Life Itself.
scb0212: It was fun being asked to participate in the Year in Review! Which sent me down a rabbit hole of rereading articles & comments from the past year. Sometimes I worry that our little corner of the internet is shrinking, but digging through the site’s archive shows how much rich content people still produce here.
My favorite article of my own was on Return of the Jedi. Luke was always my favorite character, and getting to write this also helped clarify for myself why I was so moved by The Last Jedi. I’ve had an evolving relationship with the series, from being obsessed to thinking it childish to finally landing on an acceptance of it, flaws and all. While the new Disney Star Wars as frustrated me more often than not, Rian Johnson has captured the spirit and ideas of the series better than anyone else so far.
My favorite article by someone else is Drunk Napoleon‘s Three Kinds of Worldbuilding. I’m a total sucker for tropes and disassembling stories into constituent parts, and here, DN creates a meta-framework of sorts to hold different stories up next to each other, and how those comparisons highlight the different aims of different series. I’ve learned more about narratives and storytelling from The Solute than I did during my 8 years in undergrad (I took the scenic route).
Happy new year!
Son of Griff: My favorite article this year is, without a doubt, the Pynchonian review of Point Break posted by wallflower in his “Spirit of the 80s” series. Due to it coming, in part, from a personal discussion I had with the author, I was already looking forward to it in anticipation, but I never expected that!!! Both thoughtful and hilarious, it spoke to the author’s deftness in style and fortitude in overcoming the stubborn conformity of Spellcheck.
I want to also say, that for utter consistency Babalugats‘ “What the F” series has provided both criticism and incites as to the collective tastes of the mass audience in an engaging manner. Keep up the good work.
I think my proudest achievements in writing here this year was my first movie gift and my YotM on L.A. Confidential. This was because I began them without a clue as to what they were going to be about, but ended up, I think, arriving at a fairly coherent destination. Sadly, two really ambitious pieces didn’t make the deadline for the series. Time permitting, I’ll revise one and complete the other as independent articles throughout the year.
As for movie gifting, thanks to The Ploughman and ZoeZ for their lively and thoughtful responses to my gifts. The bit on self competition in the Bad News Bears made me choke up a bit.
Happy New Year’s everyone!! (and note to pico: Let’s try to get wallflower to the museum of Jurassic Technology this year).
wallflower: Another year where I didn’t do as much writing as I liked and still have a lot of Year of the Month works in the pipeline. It was a good year for non-writing activities, though, including meeting up with pico himself and Son of Griff for a great LA-style dinner (guys, I promise I’ll get to the Museum of Jurassic Technology one day) and then hangin’ with Griff and James Motherfucking Ellroy at a screening of LA Confidential afterwards. (If this was Solute-related Conversation of the Year, I’d pick talking symphonies with Ellroy.) Also, I got to talk the breakout episode of The Shield on Conor Malcolm Crockford‘s podcast. Sixteen years on and there’s still more to discover there, and now a community with which to do it.
For my own writing, I’m proud of the Glenn Branca obituary, something I threw together in about 80 minutes, including editing the excerpts, a tribute to a great contemporary composer who died too young. (Don’t smoke, kids.) My favorite piece, though, both in quality and the experience of writing it, was the review of Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel, a film I didn’t much care for on first viewing but I now see as a tricky and rewarding work on gun, dick, and power–I forgot to include the joke “apparently for copyright reasons she couldn’t call it Detachable Penis.”
For others–well, sometimes there’s a work that an author was born to write, something where the logline is so perfect that you feel the universe owes it to all of us. That would be ZoeZ writing on Tom Ripley, a great contemporary crime writer writing about a great earlier one; if you know ZoeZ‘s own writing, you can see (and, if you read her words out loud, hear) the legacy from a master, and this was the moment where she acknowledged her inheritance. It’s the kind of essay that isn’t just great writing (“This is the first piece of art that taught me that I was capable of murder”) but great literature, an artist creating not just her own work but her own legacy. If I have anything to say about it, this will be part of The Zoe Z. Dean Anthology.
Not an honorable mention but a necessary mention: Ruck Cohlchez‘s blending, Greil Marcus-style, of history, criticism, politics, and personal history in his work on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and 9/11. As much as ZoeZ on Ripley, this is a writer finding the point where all his obsessions came together, discovering the lives we lead through art and on this earth always find a way of converging. Antonio Gramsci sez “every meaning will have its homecoming festival”; this was Ruck‘s, and America’s.
ZoeZ: I had a pleasant surprise reviewing this year’s articles to choose my favorites–namely, I realized that I’d actually written something this year besides short Taco Breaks and Films on the Disc/Internet. (When I thought I’d be stuck with just those, for what it’s worth, I seem to do my best writing about horror films I feel somewhat ambivalent towards. I have no idea what this says about me as a person.) Thanks to the perennially great Year of the Month challenge, I had the excuse back in June to revisit Generation Kill, and I loved getting a chance to go on at length about the show’s layers and its portrayal of war as a dirty, complex job that becomes hellish more from incompetence than evil. It also gave me an excuse to insert a lot of my favorite quotes from the series into the essay, and what more could I ask for than that?
I had a much harder time choosing a favorite from my fellow contributors. But if I buckle down and force myself to name a favorite even if I can’t choose the favorite, I’d like to make special mention of Babalugats’ What the F? essay on The Box, a true comedic masterpiece that I’ve read out loud to a few different people by now, lingering especially on these two gems: “The characters in this movie are constantly reacting to their surroundings with befuddlement” and “The kid is one of those obnoxious precocious types that hasn’t been in vogue since the 1950s. Marsden treats him less like a son, and more like a roommate that weirds him out.” I’ve seen this movie, and it’s a truly baffling, overly elaborate concoction made from a very spare short story, and Babalugats does an excellent job dissecting the sheer, unbeatable, oddly watchable strangeness of it.
A big thank you to wallflower for helping to coordinate this. If you missed the deadline or want to add more shout-outs (shouts-out?) in the comments section, the floor is now yours. To everyone and all: have a fabulous New Year!