When the late, great website The Dissolve ended operations, it’s commenting community had The Solute to call home, but the staff and writers of The Dissolve have been scattered to the winds of the Internet. With Dissolve On, we collect some of the essential film writing being done by these essential film writers. Because there’s always a Dissolver writing something notable about the movies (and occasionally other stuff) somewhere on the Internet.
These folks are talented and prolific, so please share the pieces we missed in the comments!
It’s been a minute since we last checked in with a Dissolve On report; the first semester coming to a close at work, an international familial journey to be Home For The Holidays in the Pacific Northwest and the demands of day-to-day life (uh, compulsively checking Twitter) have all kept this Soluter from curating the great stuff I’ve been reading from Dissolvers of late. To make it even tougher, the pace with which pieces from folks are popping up only seems to be increasing (as always, post any missed, memorable stuff into the comments!)
So, upon Dissolve On‘s return, we’re going to start with pointing out some of the more regular spots where you can expect to find work from our intrepid reporters…
First off, are you listening to, following, liking, favoriting, sharing, commenting on The Next Picture Show? Because you really should be listening to, following, favoriting, sharing, commenting on The Next Picture Show…go forth and subscribe!
— Scott Tobias (@scott_tobias) November 12, 2015
Noel Murray – freelancing, Noel has a great roundup of his work for AVClub, Rolling Stone, Vulture, etc every week at Hey Hey In The Hayloft, with the bonus of Noel writing a brief something about what’s on his mind that week.
Keith Phipps – editor/writer at Uproxx
Tasha Robinson – film critic for The Verge
Genevieve Koski – had a stint at Vox (which has a crappy ‘track articles by author’ interface, btw) and is helping to spearhead The Next Picture Show, but some publication needs to do themselves a favor and give her a full time position…
Matt Singer – managing editor and film critic at Screencrush
Kate Erbland – managing editor/writer at Indiewire
David Ehrlich – staff position at Rolling Stone
Matthew Dessem – his book The Gag Man: Clyde Bruckman and the Birth of Film Comedy, based on his Dissolve article, is available now!
For those curious about other Dissolvers 2015 Best Of picks, Episode 10 of the Next Picture Show provided some answers. Also, courtesy of some of our friends over at the Dissolve Facebook group, here’s a spreadsheet keeping track of some Dissolvers respective Best Of choices.
In “You’ve Probably Already Seen This But If You Haven’t Yet You Really Should Watch It Because The Way He Edits The Clips And Uses The Musical Selections To Point Out Thematic Overlap Between The Films Is Really Impressive” News: David Ehrlich made a pretty big splash with his 25 Best Films of 2015 video essay…
The Dissolve popped up in an article exploring why so many good pop culture sites died in 2015, with comments from Keith and Scott, in Newsweek:
“Phipps could relate [to Grantland shutting down]. His site The Dissolve, an unwaveringly smart film commentary and news site owned by Pitchfork Media, shuttered after two brief but memorable years in July. With a loyal (if not infinite) audience of like minded film freaks, The Dissolve seemed outwardly successful, or at least stable. Its end prompted a similar outpouring of mourning—mixed with guilt (for not reading or sharing the site more regularly) and blame (towards others who didn’t share its links). (This is essentially the Internet version of wishing you’d spent more time bringing grandpa meals and listening to his stories.)
“It basically came down to numbers in the end, and I don’t think the numbers were there to support the odds,” Phipps says. “We had a really impassioned audience and a really loyal audience, but it wasn’t a huge audience.”
…[I]n 2015, it was the blogs and online culture-writing hubs (once the very definition of “new media”) that seemed to be toppling one by one. This suggests a shrinking of the digital media middle class. Large-scale sites, with massive outside investments and publishing models tilted in favor the momentary whims of “Big Viral,” can survive just fine. So can the little guys—wholly independent blogs with no expectation of financial reward—so long as their creators sustain the momentum and energy to keep them going.
But the in-between spaces are either being acquired (as The Dissolve’s parent company, Pitchfork, recently was) or failing. Or maybe “failing” is the wrong word—”it’s not that The Dissolve failed; it just didn’t succeed enough,” Criticwire’s Sam Adams wrote in a eulogy for The Dissolve. “That’s journalism in 2015: You can build it, they can come, and that’s still not sufficient.”
A few memorable pieces from the past couple months…
Keith Phipps on David Bowie and The Man Who Fell To Earth for Uproxx:
“Directed by Nicolas Roeg, The Man Who Fell to Earth gave Bowie his first film role, though it was hardly his first experience as an actor. Before becoming a star, he studied dance and mime under Lindsay Kemp, an influential avant-garde actor whose work would have a strong influence on Bowie’s adaptation of different personas. (Kemp would later appear on stage with Bowie and, later still, instruct Kate Bush, another musician whose work draws on influences throughout the performing arts.) Yet the beauty of Bowie’s performance comes from how little he seems to be acting at all.
He’d taken on the persona of a space alien a few years earlier for the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and the arc of that concept alien — insofar as it’s comprehensible — mirrors that of the film: An alien comes to Earth and achieves fame and fortune, then is betrayed and undone. Yet the film is hardly Ziggy Stardust Redux. It’s eerie and muted in ways far removed from Bowie’s high-glam period and intimate in ways that the Ziggy roleplaying would never have allowed. He delivers a raw, pained performance in which the alien skin and cat eyes create no sense of distance.”
Noel Murray on “Autism Portrayals On Screen” for PBS’ Independent Lens:
“Matt Fuller’s documentary [Autism in Love] tells the story of a small handful of autistic adults who’ve been trying to make sense of relationships and sex, and trying to figure out if there’s room for the messiness of romance in their rigid daily routine. These men and women are more articulate about their emotions than Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man; and their lives aren’t defined by whether or not they’re a burden to someone like Tom Cruise’s Charlie Babbitt. Fuller shows them as complicated individuals, who understand their own considerable challenges.
Watching something like Autism in Love is a reminder of how far the movies have come with autism in so short a time — especially given how long it took for filmmakers to tackle autism spectrum disorder at all. For the longest time, the dominant impression of ASD in cinema and on television was of an impossible problem, ripping innocent families apart. Or, conversely, autists were reduced solely to savants, wielding their extraordinary memories and pattern-recognition like superpowers. The way the media has engaged with the spectrum over the decades has been a study in good intentions and gross misunderstandings, ultimately resolving into the more nuanced take we see much more often today.
Here then is a rough, abbreviated sketch of what the past 50 years have been like, starting with a handful of films so skittish about the topic of autism that they can’t even call the disorder by name.”
“For this ranking of Pixar shorts, we’ve focused primarily on the ones that either screened in theaters alongside one of the studio’s features or were included on the DVD/Blu-ray release of those films. Excluded are the recent animated shorts from Pixar’s parent company Walt Disney (although many of them, like the Oscar-winning Paperman and Feast, are excellent), and any of the specifically made-for-TV Cars and Toy Story cartoons. We ended up with a clean list of 30 — perfect for commemorating Luxo Jr.Together, they represent the remarkable evolution of a company that broke into computer animation at a time when vector graphics and trippy patterns were state-of-the art. Through their emphasis on storytelling and wit, these 30 films changed what the medium could be…
15. La Luna (2011), paired with Brave
La Luna has one of Pixar’s stranger premises, imagining the nightly work of three Italians — a father, son, and grandson — who sweep the moon’s glowing fallen stars into a pleasing crescent shape. Unlike a lot of his shorts-making peers, writer-director Enrico Casarosa doesn’t mine this story for jokes so much as he tries to make a lyrical mood-piece, dwelling on the magic of the night sky and the complexities of intergenerational relationships. There’s not a lot to La Luna, but the lavish Michael Giacchino score and the soft and luminescent art make it an enchanting way to spend seven minutes. It’s like a lost Fantasia segment that just dropped unexpectedly from the sky.”
Tasha Robinson interviews Sanjay Patel, director of Pixar short Sanjay’s Super Team, for The Verge:
“To hear Pixar’s Sanjay Patel tell the story, he never wanted to make a short animated feature about his relationship with his father. But after seeing the art for Patel’s children’s books, like Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth and The Little Book Of Hindu Deities, Disney/Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter pushed him into it. Patel has been a Pixar animator for close to two decades, working behind the scenes on features from A Bug’s Life to The Incredibles to Monsters University, but the new short film “Sanjay’s Super Team,” playing in theaters now before Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, is his directorial debut. The story follows a young boy who finally bonds with his father’s Hindu gods by imagining them as an analog to the superheroes in his favorite cartoons.
Response to The Good Dinosaur has been positive but measured, but response to the short has been near-universal euphoria — both at Pixar putting its first Indian family onscreen, and at the technical and visual daring of the short. I recently geeked out with Sanjay Patel over the careful, thorough planning that went into the short’s religious symbolism, visual look, and “illogical lighting.
Tasha Robinson: Why did you initially resist the idea of making this short?
Sanjay Patel: There was a lot going on for me. The short answer is, I was very scared. If I unpack that, it’s being a self-conscious, shy, introverted artist who for the most part just felt comfortable doing my work by myself, alone. Seeing what the directors have to do here, for the better part of 20 years, it was pretty intimidating to put myself out there in that way. And then to put material that was so sensitive, delicate, into this machine of entertainment felt really scary to me. It was just so lovely to have John Lasseter really champion and protect it, and constantly push me toward making it as authentic as possible.”
Scott Tobias on the overlap between Raging Bull and Modern Romance for Oscill0scope Lab’s Musings:
“Albert Brooks’ Modern Romance came out a year after Raging Bull, and at no point does Brooks’ Robert Cole resort to fisticuffs over Mary Harvard (Kathryn Harrold), his on-again/off-again girlfriend. Raging Bull is a black-and-white period drama and Modern Romance is a contemporary romantic comedy, but the two films play like companion pieces, each a disturbing and unrelenting profile of male jealousy and obsession. Jake exerts power through brute force, every bit the ferocious animal the title implies; Robert resorts to relentless passive-aggression, masking his emotional violence with the assurance that passion dictates his possessiveness. Jake thrashes his opponents in the ring, and turns on his wife, his brother (Joe Pesci), and finally himself. For Robert, the words “I love you” act like a soft punch that sting in the same way, because they keep him in a relationship that brings joy to neither party, but staves off the possibility that Mary can be with anyone else but him.
For Brooks to smuggle these insights into a comedy—and an exceptionally funny one at that—is an achievement that should be respected as much as Martin Scorsese’s perennial best-of-all-time favorite, but rarely gets the same acknowledgement, if it gets acknowledged at all. (One exception: Stanley Kubrick, who loved Modern Romance so much that he reportedly contacted Brooks out of the blue to ask him how he pulled it off. It sounds absurd until you consider how much Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut taps into the same phenomenon.) Much like Brooks’ debut feature, Real Life, Modern Romance is a bold act of comic deconstruction, starting with the deliberately blunt title, which isn’t about “romance” any more than the earlier film was about “life.” Before making movies, Brooks’ stand-up, short films, and talk-show appearances made delicious sport out of breaking down tired gags, like ventriloquism, celebrity impersonations, and the spit-take. Modern Romance promises—and, in its perverse way, delivers—a love story for our time, but it relentlessly exposes the impulses that keep bad relationships going, bonded in perpetual dysfunction.”
Nathan Rabin on the Sub-Cult Status of 200 Cigarettes for Rotten Tomatoes:
“It should not come as a surprise, then, that when casting directors become director directors, their films are often defined by some really amazing ensembles. A case in point would be Risa Bramon Garcia, the director of the 1999 non-cult classic 200 Cigarettes, which is wholly acceptable hangover viewing on New Year’s Day but had the potential to be infinitely more. Garcia’s career as a casting director almost couldn’t have begun on a more auspicious note: according to IMDB, her first credit was on 1985’sDesperately Seeking Susan, a film that briefly made Madonna a movie star as well as a pop icon. From there, Garcia racked up impressive credits for casting movies like Something Wild (which broke Ray Liotta), Fatal Attraction, Wall Street, True Romance, Natural Born Killers, Twister, and Flirting With Disaster. That is one hell of a record for spotting talent, and on a mere casting level alone, 200 Cigarettesis a goddamned triumph: the film brings together (drumroll please) Dave Chappelle, Courtney Love, Elvis Costello, Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, Martha Plimpton, Paul Rudd, Janeane Garofalo, Christina Ricci, Jay Mohr, Kate Hudson, Gaby Hoffman, David Johansen and Caleb Carr in one stunningly inconsequential wisp of a movie.
Unfortunately, 200 Cigarettes barely even feels like a movie; it’s more like a 1980s dress-up party special on MTV (whose film division had a hand in this, as it did Dazed & Confused) with a narrative clumsily shoehorned in. Despite its period setting, in terms of cast, tone and sensibility, the film could not be more a product of its time. Honestly, if Daria and My So Called Life somehow achieved sentience and co-hosted 120 Minutes, the results wouldn’t feel more 1990s than 200 Cigarettes, or more MTV.”
Mike D’Angelo on Timothy Olyphant in Go for AV Club:
“Every year at this time, I like to devote a column to a scene from a Christmas movie. In the past, I’ve written about It’s A Wonderful Life, Bad Santa, Meet Me In St. Louis (which introduced the song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”), and others. This year, however, rather than comb through lists of Yuletide cinema, I decided to just close my eyes and see what image popped into my head. What I got was Timothy Olyphant sitting shirtless in a Santa hat, which was not what I had expected.
Do people still watch Go anymore? It feels like a movie that never quite made it out of the ’90s, even though it was released in the final year of that decade; I can’t remember the last time anyone brought it up in conversation. Both director Doug Liman (who had previously made only the low-budget Swingers) and then-novice screenwriter John August have gone on to major Hollywood success, and neither man’s career feels in any way like a natural extension of this movie; Liman moved on to Jason Bourne and Tom Cruise, while August formed a regular working relationship with Tim Burton. That makes Go feel even more like a calling-card effort than it did at the time, when it was widely perceived as Tarantino lite.
Nonetheless, I retain a lot of affection for this goofy, energetic triptych… and especially for the first of its three stories, in which a young woman named Ronna (Sarah Polley), who’s on the verge of being evicted from her apartment, tries to come up with the rent money by muscling in on a friend’s drug deal. This leads her to an actual dealer, Todd, played by Olyphant…”
Genevieve Koski on “the best thing to happen to young adult literature in ages” for Vox:
“Rainbow Rowell is the author whose works ranked No. 1, 4, and 5 on the Times’s October 25 list of Young Adult Hardcovers. Her newest, Carry On, just debuted at the top of the list, followed, respectively, by 2013’s Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, the latter of which inspired Carry On.
But such nebulous (and, frankly, elitist) labels are not useful in explaining Rowell’s appeal. Her voice is welcoming and inclusive; she’s primarily interested in interpersonal relationships, but she’s also strongly influenced by genre writing and fan fiction, and has been vocal in her admiration for YA mega-franchises like the Harry Potter and Twilight books — both of which had a pronounced influence on Carry On. Rowell’s success is indicative of the changes mainstream young adult fiction has undergone in the past half-decade. These changes are often attributed to Green’s massive success with The Fault in Our Stars and other books, but they also speak to the form’s broader ascendancy, to the point where “young adult” is ceasing to be an effective label.”
Matt Singer makes a wonderfully astute observation on a recent-ish Hollywood trend for Screencrush:
“Whatever [Han, Leia and Luke Skywalker’s] narrative purpose, their appearances in the new Star Wars carry an additional a symbolic dimension: Handing this beloved series down from its first generation of heroes to its next one. That’s something that’s happening a lot these days. Though there are still occasional reboots or prequels, this very specific kind of sequel — in which beloved aging stars reprise classic roles and pass the torch to younger successors — is becoming increasingly common in the American film industry. These movies are all about revitalizing old franchises through the notion of legacy, leading to this current wave of what we could call “legacyquels.”
…This is a matter of necessity in the new Hollywood. Disney and Lucasfilm have already said that once Star Wars starts up again next month, it will never stop again. But Star Wars is only the pinnacle of this new model, not the exception. With Hollywood’s ever-narrowing focus on pre-sold brands, you can kiss goodbye the days when the endpoints of franchises were defined by the enthusiasm of their creator (George Lucas officially threw in the towel after six films and a gabillion books, comics, and cartoons) or the availability of their stars (Harrison Ford may be done in the near future, but Disney’s already got a “Young Han Solo” in the works for a new actor to take his place). In that aforementioned piece on the future of Star Wars, Wired called it “the forever franchise.” In reality, all franchises are now forever franchises. Or Hollywood certainly wants them to be.
Hence the legacyquels, which are probably the most graceful way to segue from old to new. Straight-up reboots run the risk of alienating senior members of fanbases; running old casts into the ground without a succession plan can marginalize younger demographics. A good legacyquel gives old and young fans a movie they can claim as their own…”
Charles Bramesco on weighs in on film v. digital and the charms of 70MM for AVClub:
“Those four little characters—7-0-m-m—have long been a dogwhistle pricking up the ears of film geeks who read them, instantly notifying them that regardless of how the film advertised turns out, watching it will be a distinct treat. Cinephiles migrate in droves for 70mm screenings like pilgrims to the Kaaba, and usually describe the experience using similar diction. Settling in for a 70mm showing of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Lawrence Of Arabia can be a transformative, life-affirming event; splitting into a shit-eating grin at the opening fanfare of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” or getting lost in the endless expanse of shifting sand dunes reminds audiences of why they fell in love with moving pictures in the first place. Seeing a film on 70mm makes you want to go home and set your laptop on fire and throw your 16-inch television out the window.
Yet for all the rapture the format may inspire in cinephile circles, actual screenings remain an extreme rarity. A tiny percentage of the general filmgoing populace knows what 70mm means, and even fewer give a damn, and so theaters have continued to treat this mode of exhibition as an extreme novelty. But the tides are shifting, and counterintuitive as it can seem in the moment, the bigger picture (a much, much bigger picture) suggests that there’s no better time for theaters to recommit to 70mm exhibition than right now.”
David Ehrlich on what he saw as the best film of the year for Slate’s Movie Club:
“This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive rundown of the year’s femme-fronted movies, but I still feel like I’m forgetting one of the most important examples … ugh, this is so frustrating—it’s right on the tip of my tongue. Oh wait, that’s right:
CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL
Kate Erbland on the 16 Best Film Characters of 2015 for Indiewire:
“Minnie, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” (Bel Powley)
The heroine of Marielle Heller’s sublime “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is a wildly creative (and deeply insecure) teenager who turns to various outlets to express her hormonally — and emotionally — driven desires. From engaging in an affair with her own mother’s boyfriend to honing her skills as an artist, Minnie dives right into whatever ignites her passion, for better or (as is often the case) for worse. Startlingly relatable and hugely unique, Minnie is the exact type of new-wave “strong female character” modern movies need right now.
Bing Bong, “Inside Out” (Richard Kind)
In a Pixar film literally ruled by emotions, there’s something captivating about the compellingly selfless Bing Bong, a creature born of feeling and hope, only to be crushed by the long march of time. Depressing? You bet, but why sugarcoat the pain of leaving childhood behind when Bing Bong (voiced by Richard Kind) so beautifully portrays it in a giddy, candy-colored setting that only further illuminates the horror of his existence? “Inside Out” is packed with tear-stained moments and heartstring-pulling scenes, but the purity of Bing Bong is on an entirely new level.”
Rachel Handler on her choice for Most Underrated Film of 2015 for Uproxx:
“Paper Towns didn’t need to be good. The film was non-discriminating-teen bait from top to bottom: It was based on a wildly popular John Green YA novel. It starred Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne, a supermodel-turned-Instagram-sensation-turned-actress with an unmatched talent for winning the unadulterated adoration of teenage girls and boys alike. It was marketed as a melancholy, Garden State-esque teen romance in which Cara Delevingne wears a sexy red dress and mounts Nat Wolff in a dark room. Nobody expected Paper Towns to be good, and everybody knew it would make money from said teens; as such, nobody was concerned about Paper Towns, and it came and went with very little attention from the adult world. But we made a mistake, guys! We should not have slept on Paper Towns. It’s actually a great little movie, rivaling The Perks of Being a Wallflower in its sweet, relatively authentic depiction of teen angst, lust, and self-discovery. Delevingne is a surprisingly talented actress, effortlessly charming and real; Wolff is convincing as a kid who thinks he’s got it figured out, but still has a lot growing up to do. The best moments, though, come from the interactions between Wolff and his two best friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith). Their scenes as a trio are delightful, filled with awkward teenage-boy chatter and a sort of emphatic weirdness. Paper Towns can skew a little — forgive me — paper thin at times, but on the whole it’s an earnest, funny film that deserves eyes of all ages.”