If 2018 was a year of collapse, of watching so many of our favorite media writers reduced to hunting down piecemeal gigs as venue after venue shut their doors for good, then 2019 was the year of Disney, as the corporate behemoth devoured a substantial chunk of the film and television landscape and yet somehow managed to paint its various billion-dollar properties as the true underdogs of mainstream culture (and introducing us to Schrodinger’s queers, who both are and aren’t there depending on the projected local market). By this time next decade, Disney+ will be less a streaming service than an obligation, a chip implanted directly into your brain, where you’ll live inside a virtual-reality “live action” version of your favorite cartoon and you’ll like it. Mickey Mouse has grown up: kowtow!
In the meantime, at least this little corner of the internet is chugging merrily along. The Solute produced roughly 1,000 posts in 2019, slightly fewer than last year but in the same general ballpark. If there’s such a thing as MVP of engagement, the winner would undoubtedly be clytie, whose weekly roundup of entertainment articles were consistently drawing the site’s biggest responses (at least until the commentocalpyse of April 17 froze everything in place and made it impossible to track each month).
As in previous years, what follows is a roundup of some of the favorite 2019 works by The Solute’s authors, and their favorite work by other members of the community. Pass the champagne, sing some auld lang syne, and let’s get the new year off to a rollicking good start!
Babalugats: I started this year very ambitious, with a plan to write about a dozen Year of the Month pieces, finish up the Cinemascore series, start a follow up series, and maybe even kick in a few articles on the side, just to be helpful. And then I didn’t do any of that. If I have to pick something from my somewhat meager output, I suppose I’d take the descent into madness and despair that is Disaster Movie. The article may not be the best thing I’ve ever written, in fact, strictly speaking, it may be the worst, but it’ll always be the piece that I most strongly associate with 2019.
Thinking back on the year, the first thing that comes to mind is Burgundy Suit‘s article on Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. That’s as thorny a film as I’ve ever seen, and Sam does a remarkable job navigating those waters with an evenhanded and insightful essay. This year ended up being marked by a seemingly endless stream of blackface scandals, and I found myself thinking about that essay a lot.
On a lighter note, Miller‘s article on Batman 66 (still the best superhero movie ever made) dropped as I was typing this up, and it might be the best thing I’ve read all year. Comedy, especially light absurdist comedy, is one of the most difficult things to write about, and Miller’s piece is both insightful and damn funny in its own right.
I’d also like to thank Burgundy Suit for the work he puts in organizing The Years of the Months, Clytie for putting together the weekly Article Recommendations, Ploughman for editing my stuff, and everyone else who has contributed work or just hung around the comments providing good conversation and the best audience on the internet. This place is special, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
John Bruni: My favorite article that I wrote was “Year of the Month: The Cultural Work of ALL THE KING’S MEN.” It made a strong case for re-watching films, especially those that highlight the tensions between political rhetoric and the formation of the film canon.
My favorite article written by someone else was “Year of the Month: Miller on The Birthday Party.” I am indebted to Miller for helping me deal with personal loss (directly connected to the dark songs of Nick Cave & co.). His elaborate analysis reminds me that music has always played a crucial role in my maintaining emotional stability–and sometimes the most unstable music helps me to keep it together the best.
Burgundy Suit: I’ll try to be brief on the first question, since I don’t think I’m anywhere near the best judge of my own work, and since, this being the year I finally got my act together and started posting more, there’s way too much to sort through to pick a favorite. And while part of that meant digging into more serious and adult works, I’m especially happy with my attempts at heavy structural analysis of light entertainments with High-Diving Hare, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, and the comics of Jack Kirby and John Stanley. I’m especially proud of that last one, not least because it was a lot of readers’ first exposure to a great and unsung artist. Speaking of…
While a lot of Year of the Month is fighting over dibs to the most beloved classics, Pico has done excellent work shining a light on more obscure and forgotten works, at least in this country, of Soviet sci-fi and comedy, and novels from India and Taiwan. The Ploughman did some fascinating unearthing on his namesake, complete with historical context. Rosy Fingers was somehow to able write an appreciation of his childhood hero that was also an incisive examination of colonialism and its development over the twentieth century, and Désirée Guzzetta looked past all the monstrous spectacle of Godzilla to explore the underrated human drama at its core. Miller upstaged my pants off in our two-part review of A Serious Man and wrote a moving appreciation of the classic war movie Battleground.
Babalugats’ “What the F?” series has consistently been the wittiest and funniest thing on the site, never more than his review of Alone in the Dark. As far as that goes, I doubt I’ll ever top my comment-section description of it as a “hurricane of zingers.” And I want to give a special shout-out to Son of Griff’s incredible melding of insightful commentary and personal reminiscence in his review of Blood’s a Rover, especially since it might have been even better if a scheduling mix-up hadn’t led me to post the rough draft in a frantic attempt to meet a deadline that was still a few days off. Sorry, everybody!
clytie: Favorite of mine: I only submitted two things here this year, and one was so poorly-received that I deleted it, so I’m gonna have to go with the one that I kept up (though I like the other one better), which is my piece on Vaughn Meader’s The First Family.
Favorite of someone else: It was hard to pick, but I keep coming back to the multi-part series where Ruck Cohlchez re-visited his favorite albums of the 2000s-with a special shoutout going to the part devoted to EPs.
Conor Malcolm Crawford: Didn’t get to write as much as I wanted this year but I have my own favorite of my picks: Year of the Month: The Descendents – Milo Goes to College.
And of course Zoe Z‘s take on Blade Runner.
And Drunk Napoleon’s take on Twin Peaks.
Drunk Napoleon: This year, my favourite article was Son Of Griff’s essay on Blood’s A Rover, a roving (heh) look between the book itself, the drives that author James Ellroy pumped into it, its influence on SoG, and its context in the broader world. I’d like to say its my favourite because I enjoy the intimately personal look into SoG’s worldview, or the insight into Ellroy’s life and the way it connects to his fiction, or because of the quality of the insights into fiction and interpretation, and all that is true; really though, I like James Ellroy books and I like pastiche and I really like that SoG successfully pulls off a genuine imitation of Ellroy’s style to achieve something he never would have set out to do. He turns both Ellroy and himself into Ellroy protagonists.
My favourite of my own articles was “Metal Gear Solid 2: I’ll Get An Action Movie With Everything On It”. It’s strange how it’s an essay that had been bouncing through my head for over a decade before I wrote it, and yet I’m shocked that I had it in me. Like all necessary work, it’s a little awkward and contains choices I wouldn’t make now; the titles are too clever by half and interrupt the flow (when writing my Twin Peaks article, I trusted the material to carry the reader and the reader to flow with sudden shifts in topic). But its epic scope that comes from reducing the moral framework to its simplest expression and seeing where it comes from and where it goes is the kind of thing that excites me to write, and this essay came with a passionate emotion that surprised me and that I quickly lost control over, to compulsively readable results. It’s become a personal turning point for my writing, as I try and harness expression of emotion in subtler and more interesting ways.
Gillianren: I’m going to be honest here–I’m one of the few people I know who rereads their own work sometimes for pleasure. And I write a lot of articles for this site. So picking out my favourite of my own writing? That’s taking some doing. It has given me great pleasure to continue writing my regular columns–finding out new, weird stuff about people I thought I’d known for years is always a joy for Celebrating the Living and Attention Must Be Paid, not to mention the obituaries, and I don’t even always have room for the best of it. I’ve enjoyed finding the weirder aspects of various Disney properties for Disney Byways, too. And my goodness but having the rant space for stuff I don’t like that my kids are watching has been wonderful for my mental health.
But of my random Wednesday pieces? There are a lot of places I could go. I have a certain fondness for articles where I have to do some kind of research, like my article “Pre-Celebrity Guests,” where I tracked down a bunch of big stars whose first, or at any rate early, performances were on guest star mills such as Law & Order or ER. I’m also fond of sharing weirder aspects of society that people might not know, such as my piece about school-age music students and musical theatre. But honestly, I’m really happy at having been given the excuse to binge on all of my favourite show from high school and share it with all of you, in the hopes that you, too, will track it down. Seriously, watch My So-Called Life.
Which does segue rather neatly into some of my favourite articles from other people here, which are the ones from the other Ladies Who Dissolve, who stepped up so beautifully to make the first Women’s+ Canon Month a success. I’ll start, if you don’t mind, with a personal friend of mine who I basically badgered into contributing and should ask if she wants to contribute again, a look at a couple of classic romantic comedies from my friend Cori Domschot. But also Carrie Amanda’s wonderful piece on the emotional strength of Anne of Green Gables, beloved of my own childhood. Really, there were so many good pieces for that, and I’m so proud of all of you who aren’t regular contributors and were encouraged to do some writing on things that were near to your heart. Might as well announce here that, yup, we’re doing it again for 2020.
I’m also ridiculously fond of all the comic book cover posts, and I’ve enjoyed posting my thoughts as I have them in the comments. Some things never change. Like Jimmy being kind of stupid and probably being turned into an ape for some reason.
Jake Gittes: The piece on A Star Is Born is the one that meant the most to me this year, although that movie is such that I could (and should) have gone on for twice as long and I still wouldn’t have exhausted its depths. As far as films where I feel I was most successful in saying everything I had to say, and where I felt like I pushed myself forward as a writer, I’m partial to my pieces on The House of Mirth, The Lineup, and Touch of Evil. I couldn’t have done it without BurgundySuit, who not only shepherds an indispensable platform in Year of the Month, but has frequently had to deal with me being extremely last-minute with my writing and editing.
I regret I couldn’t be here with you over the past three months, but I’m very much looking forward to catching up with everything you’ve had to say; in the meantime, I’ll give/add to the shoutout re: ZoeZ on Death of a Cheerleader, Son of Griff on Chinatown and Lolita, pico on Game of Thrones, Mr. Suit and Miller on A Serious Man (and, separately, on Pulp Fiction and 2018 double features respectively), wallflower on True Detective, and Drunk Napoleon’s tireless analysis of all pop culture. And another special thanks to The Ploughman for running Movie Gifts, a gift that keeps on giving. I’m already an hour into 2020 as I write this; here’s to the new year going even better.
Miller: It’s an honor and a point of pride to contribute to a site that puts out excellent writing literally every day. A big part of that is Gillianren holding down the weekends with Attention Must Be Paid and Celebrating The Living, which do a great job of showcasing people who may not be well-known and highlighting new things about people who are well-known, like this AMBP about Raymond Burr. It was interesting to read about a guy I thought I knew and realize no one really knew him.
As for longer criticism, there was an embarrassment of riches this year. But some pieces that stood out in particular — The Ploughman’s hilarious and incisive examination of child capitalism run amok in the 90s via Blank Check and Richie Rich, Son of Griff’s deep historical dive into the background of Chinatown and the myths it creates and entrenches through a pretext of debunking, and ZoeZ’s (hopefully continuing) series on Lifetime movies and how they can express complex moralities under the ripped-from-the-headlines sensationalism. The authors have different styles and are covering a wide swath — high culture, pop culture, trash culture — but each piece engages with its subject with rigor and curiosity, not taking anything for granted, certainly not those limiting classifications I just used. A lot of writing about movies (and other things) is based around half-assed concepts meant to be fired out through an algorithm and chewed like so much cud; the work here is nourishing.
It’s a standard I’m glad to have when making my contributions (and I am also very glad to have BurgandySuit and The Ploughman as editors). I was happy to try and do justice to bands that have meant a lot to me, and use that as a way to take stock of where I am now. I’m not entirely happy about the write-up of Battleground but I’m glad I wrote it and that the ongoing Year Of The Month project gave me the kick in the pants to watch a great movie I’ve owned for years. And I had a lot of fun writing 2018’s double features, in particular the pairing of Paddington 2 and The Night Comes For Us, which was initially a sort-of snarky comment before I realized there was something to mine here. Here’s to another year of digging deeper and sharing what we find.
The Narrator: At the very least, I was dutybound to deliver more articles this year than I was last, with two Soderbergh and Mike Mills projects to cover. Of those, I’m probably most proud of how I covered The Laundromat, maybe the most stinging disappointment I’ve experienced in any film this decade. I pray I just have to do an adequate job talking about Let Them All Talk‘s strengths rather than a very good job dissecting its faults.
As for the work of others, I’d first like to shout out my two favorite ongoing series from this year; Babalugats‘ What the F? and Pico’s look at the Best Original Song categories. But my favorite individual article would have to be The Ploughman’s devastating takedown of capitalism at large, and more specifically Richie Rich and Blank Check . It almost makes the fact that I watched Blank Check in its entirety worth it. Almost.
nerdinthebasement (aka Douglas Laman): 2019 was a year of heavy year of change for me, especially in terms of me securing my first ever paid-writing gigs for outlets TheSpool, ScarleTeen and ScreenRant. But one thing was consistent in 2019 and that’s The-Solute being the home for so much great writing. One such piece was a guest article by Celeste Dobropolski entitled In The Name of the Moon: A Woman’s+ Canon Article. I’ve always been aware of the pop culture phenomenon known as Sailor Moon but her writing here really gave me a whole new appreciation for this important pop culture artifact.
As for my own writing on The Solute, well, my favorite has gotta be A MoviePass Memorial. Not only did I do a fine job dealing with the complex feelings associated with MoviePass going into the past, but it’s a microcosm of how 2019 was a year of constant change for me. MoviePass was gone, but also new job opportunities arose, I attended my very first film festival and I got to increase the amount of advanced press screenings I attend. Change can be sad, but it can also be as good as the website The-Solute. Here’s hoping your 2020, dear reader, is full of the best kind of change.
pico: As usual I’m only mildly satisfied (at best) with anything I’ve written this year, though I guess I’m proud of continuing my work as the “good” kind of Russian propagandist with stuff like my YOTM post on The Queen of Spades. If everything goes according to plan, I’ll have everyone here drinking kvass and reading Pushkin by the time I’m done…
The writing I love best on the site is when good writers dive deeply into subjects that obsess them and as a consequence educate me, e.g. the site’s no.1 Judy fan Jake Gittes’ scalpel-sharp psychologizing of A Star is Born or Southland bard Son of Griff’s historico-philosophical tear through Blood’s a Rover, or about a dozen others, sheesh y’all are good. My favorite this year, though, might be Burgundy Suit‘s giddy, detailed two-part look at the Monsters of 1954, from the perspective of a self-described “monster kid.” As someone who grew up watching midnight monster shows every Saturday night, I can definitely relate.
The Ploughman: For my own pick, I’ll go with my piece on Carnival of Souls and its origins as a place met by a maker of industrial and educational films.
And now the hard question… how to choose? I’d like to start by praising the contributions of Sam “Burgundy Suit” Scott for not just organizing Year of the Month and not just soliciting and editing so many great pieces but also contributing great writing himself to the project. So with this in mind, I must declare his article on The Comics of John Stanley my favorite, a thorough history/appreciation/analysis of an underappreciated artist.
But wait, that’s a non-movie piece, so I should really spotlight the inaugural piece in pico’s new series The Best Original Songs of 1954, according to the Academy. Another thorough historical analysis with the right combination of wit and theoretical savvy (yet described in a way that a tone-deaf noob like myself can follow).
Except that’s really about songs, not movies. And so I have to now talk about Doug “NerdintheBasement” Laman and his dispatches from the North Texas Film Festival. I’m a festival nut myself so I love the care and enthusiasm it takes to review films that have yet to be – and may never be – widely available.
For anybody who thinks I’ve cheated and put in multiple answers to the question, know this: if I thought you were interested in me monopolizing this article I would cheat until I included every last one of you magnificent people because you all make me laugh, learn and think on a daily basis whether it’s above the line or in the comments. Here’s to weathering the storms of 2020.
Rosy Fingers: Of the three articles I contributed this year my favourite was “18 Songs about Actors” which is just a fun and breezy listicle of the type I used to enjoy at the AV Club. It was also the most fun to write. I hope that at least a few people found a new song they enjoyed.
In picking an article of the year I have to first shout out the series I consistently loved; Burgundy Suits’ “Flashback Comics Rack,” “Clytie’s Recommended Entertainment Articles,” Babalugat’s “What the F” and pico’s “The Best Original Songs of [YEAR], According to the Academy” – all of these are a continual pleasure to read but I can’t just pick one article, you know?
The one article I keep coming back to as a favourite is The Ploughman’s “Lunch Links” offering: “Shorts Using Google Mapping Tools.” This one stuck with me. It introduced me to a genre of filmmaking I didn’t know existed, by way of some stellar examples of the genre. It expanded my understanding of film, and that’s ultimately why I love this website.
Ruck Cohlchez: My choice for my own article this year was easy. I did a few pieces on favorite works of mine, and I still haven’t done my best TV of the 2010s list yet, but even if I had, I don’t think anything represented such a labor of love (not to mention a mammoth task) as My Favorite Music of the 2000s. It was personally satisfying to take on such a large project and complete it– far beyond even the longest articles and essays I’ve written before. More importantly, it allowed me to revisit my own past in a way that helped me better understand it with the knowledge and perspective of time, while also helping me re-find the joy I felt in those younger days for the music I wrote about.
As far as others:
My personal bias says I should say wallflower’s reviews of True Detective season 3, but I should pick articles besides topics I am personally invested in in some way.
I can’t possibly have reviewed everything I loved to read this year, but looking over my saved recommendations on Disqus, some of my favorite articles on individual works and artists include Son of Griff on Chinatown, BurgundySuit on Pulp Fiction and Bamboozled, Persia on Inglourious Basterds, and Miller on The Birthday Party and Batman ‘66. And a couple of my favorite profiles by GillianRen: Scott Thompson and Raymond Burr.
Shout out to Drunk Napoleon for reliably kicking off every Monday morning; in particular he had great breakdowns in his Reservoir Dogs Scenic Route and of Twin Peaks: The Return (especially episode 8). Also special shout out to pico‘s breakdown of Game of Thrones‘ “The Long Night,” which I’m certain had more thought put into it than David Benioff and D.B. Weiss put into writing Game of Thrones season 8.
Son of Griff: Back when The Solute began, I remember Our Fearless Leader talked about fostering the website that provided a space for merging contributors personal and professional feelings of film criticism. In the last few months of 2019 I, without conscious intent, began introducing degree of autobiographical content into my writing here. Whether it was interweaving my life with that of the noir-tinged historical pageantry in James Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover or wrestling with my evolving feelings towards Chinatown and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly over the decades, my writing felt a bit more introspective while being no less engaged with key issues (and tone) in my more scholarly writing. This is probably due to the soul searching that one inevitably goes through middle age, so my most immediate ideas will probably germinate from a “then vs. now” base from now on. Whatever success these columns have had is partially due to Burgundy Suit’s editing and stewardship of the Year of the Month. I give him thanks for managing what at times must be a daily, and undoubtedly exhausting, obligation for him.
Needless to say, my biggest Solute related project this year was the cross-talk that wallflower and I engaged in last July on Ellroy’s This Storm. This review stemmed from an initiative that my colleague from the North took last year after a screening we both attended of L.A. Confidential. It’s been a big hit, with the author personally calling us to tell us of how in awe he was of it, and he even linking it to his
web site. This article is the first of a projected series of events tied to the author’s second L.A. Quartet. Notices will be posted shortly as to the nature of this project.
To quote The Stranger from The Big Lebowski, I’m sorry to see Babalugats’ “What the F” column go (particularly after the venom unleashed in the last entry), but I suspect that a new one is on the way. I also enjoyed reading Zoe Z’s weekly reviews/conversation starters. Here’s hoping she continues writing the Lifetime true crime series. My deep appreciation also goes out to all of those who put up Taco breaks and morning conversation starter articles. They really make my morning as the caffeine starts to take hold. My New Year’s resolution to Burgundy Suit and Gillianren is that I will work harder at recruiting writers for next year’s Women’s Canon. Bringing this to a conclusion that mirrors the opening. I want to say how much I appreciate Drunk Napoleon’s daily attempts to dissect T.V. shows, games and films in terms of not only trying to understand how they work, but how they inform his own value system as a burgeoning artist.
wallflower: This year I barely qualify as a contributor (wrote three things, one, maybe two of them could be called series), so, first, thanks for allowing me to write this under a kind of legacy status. The choice for my own favorite was a no-brainer: the Conversation Son of Griff and I had on James Ellroy’s newest novel, This Storm, which got the highest praise from the Demon Dog himself. (Yes, I’ve added “50% of the James Ellroy Brain Trust” to my resume. Yes, I’m comfortable with that. I am enlightened.) Like reading his best fiction, writing that essay was a challenge and a pleasure: an author like that, who keeps pushing his own boundaries, demands that of his readers as well. Once again, to him and to Griff, thanks for the push.
For essays from non-me authors, this was another easy choice, not because this wasn’t a strong year for articles (it was, as ever), but because one just grabbed me from the first reading: pico‘s review of Game of Thrones‘ “The Long Night.” My experience with GoT is about one episode (the pilot) and one article long, but this was a fascinating, painstaking analysis of how power can upend the principles of genre, even narrative: a take on the ancient principle of action-is-character that calls to mind The Shield‘s self-destruction of the cop show in its final episodes. The Solute hosts articles that were clearly years in the making, the product of nearly lifelong thinking, and there are also articles like this, where something just connects and almost instantly provokes an author into their best work.
It seems blasphemous to call something so clearly of the first category a runner-up, but I gotta give some love to Ruck Cohlchez‘ massive My Favorite Music of the 00s series. Personal and professional, generous and gritty, expansive and picky, it was a cultural tour of a decade that looks even stranger now than it did at the time, and its author’s own coming-of-age story. (Is Bildungskritik a word? Is now.)
ZoeZ: It’s been a great year, and I had a hard time narrowing down the possibilities when it came to picking my favorite articles–except when it came to my own work, where the choice was easy. I really loved revisiting Gillian Flynn’s underrated second novel, Dark Places, which is a dark, complex ode to the messiness of both real life crime and the nature of true crime fandom. It was great to delve into this book and get to talk in-depth–and at length–about all the parts of it that strike me as really powerful and unique.
And then everyone else had to have a terrific year of reviews and essays. It was hard not to comb through and pick out something by everyone (and in the end, I couldn’t choose which “Attention Must Be Paid” or “Celebrate the Living” article to go with–they’re all great, concise illuminations of their subjects’ influence on cinema), but I in the end had to admit that I’m of course going to forget highlights and that commenting on the entirety of this year-end review will mostly be me saying, “How did I forget about that?” But in brief–as a champion of the greatness of True Detective‘s haunting, emotionally complex, and stylistically mature third season, I was delighted by all of wallflower’s reviews of it, which culminate beautifully in his essay on the finale. It’s the kind of piece that’s not only the capstone of essays on that season but of his essays on all the previous seasons as well. Son of Griff’s reevaluation of Chinatown’s presentation of Los Angeles’s political and moral landscape was both beautifully written and powerful, strongly affecting my thoughts on both the film and on noir as a genre. The Ploughman does a stellar job of exploring The Shawshank Redemption‘s middlebrow appeal and limitations; it’s a warm, clear-sighted essay on both the film and the art of crafting movies that fit into this particular niche.
Miller’s Year of the Month essay on William Sleator’s darkly strange YA novel House of Stairs gave us both an amazing array of covers (some bizarrely without stairs) and a sensitive, in-depth look at the book’s horror, clear-sighted and sometimes heartbreaking understanding of its teenage characters’ emotions and entanglements, and place in publishing history. And finally, Drunk Napoleon’s summation of Twin Peaks is phenomenal–his look at Lynch’s use of characters as (shifting) abstractions, his interpretation of the connection between BOB and the atomic bomb and Laura Palmer, Cooper’s characterization, and the strange power of a strange ending are all things that are going to stay with me. And on that note… “What year is this?”