Well, we made it… or at least many of us did. I’ve learned my lesson from last year and refuse to say anything hopeful about the next for fear of jinxing it. Tomorrow I’m sitting in the corner with a pot of black-eyed peas and a plate of greens and hoping the force of tradition brings good things in the coming months. For all I know we’ll be living on rafts, Waterworld-style, by mid-summer. Last year’s concerns about struggling media and consumer consolidation almost seem quaint.
This year threw a lot of wrenches in a lot of plans, but we still published about 870 articles, which ain’t bad. Lots of people are out of work, lots are overworked, and I know I’m not the only one suffering from a persistent haze due to endless stay-at-home orders (to our friends in COVID-free countries: please knock a few back tonight on our behalf!) It’s hard to be “productive” right now, particularly with the pressures of being “productive” as just another in the endless Ferris-wheel of pressures that defined this year. And yet… look at all the work we did! Look at all the memorable, interesting, engaging work we did despite it all!
Anyway, I could grouse for hours about the ugly stuff, but this space? This is for celebration. The Solute still boasts one of my favorite oases online, in no small part due to things like this, our yearly tradition of highlighting the best of our own work and thanking others for theirs.
Babalugats: 2020 was a very tough year for everybody, but even worse, it was tough for me. As such, I started out with a very ambitious slate of articles I intended to write, and then hardly wrote any of them. Honestly I hardly even watched anything this year. I suppose the best of a weak slate was my Career Killers on John McTernien. I had hoped to get 4 or 5 of those out this year but I can at least take some solace in the fact that better and more disciplined writers than I have also struggled to get pen to paper with that concept. I look forward to returning to the series next year both as a writer and a reader.
The most fun I’ve had reading The Solute this year was probably in following along with pico’s The Best Songs According To The Academy. Usually when people write about the Oscars they tend to run out of steam. The same trends and mistakes repeat year after year, and it can be hard to find fresh ways to say ‘the academy is out of touch’. Add to that the difficulty of writing about music (and thoroughly mediocre decades old music at that!), and the series starts looking like a Herculean task. But Pico’s writing is funny, engaging, and insightful and now well into its second year I still find myself going into every month looking forward to the next installment.
I’d also like to top my hat to ZoeZ whose essay on No Country For Old Men is, in my opinion, the best piece of writing on the best film of the 21st century.
But if I can only pick one essay from last year, I’d have to pick the collection of essays put together to honor the orphans and runners ups of our Best of 2010s list. I’ll hold that article up against anything the hacks at Sight And Sound, AFI, or Cahiers du Cinéma have ever published.
I’d also like to thank Julius, Burgundy Suit, The Ploughman, Drunk Napoleon, ZoeZ, Gillianren, and The Narrator for doing a lot of thankless work behind the scenes, organizing Year of the Month and Movie Gifts, and making sure that there’s articles up every day and a place to meet every morning. As the world crumbles around us, all the extra little work that makes this the place it is becomes that much tougher. But it really does mean a lot.
John Bruni: My favorite thing I wrote this year was actually a co-write with Son of Griff (John Anderson): Noir Vs. Noire: Son of Griff and John Bruni on CITY OF QUARTZ, THE TWO JAKES, and TO SLEEP WITH ANGER (Year of the Month). Mike Davis’s take on L.A. history put into conversation a misbegotten sequel to a 70s canonical neo-noir and a bluesy chronicle of social struggle mismarketed as art-house drama. Part of the fun of writing it for me was the discovery that often it was the missteps that made for the most interesting ways to get lost in the City of Angels, circa 1990.
Burgundy Suit: I finally found some more reliable employment this year (and, given what year it is, gives me some serious survivor’s guilt), which I was expecting would cut into my writing here but turned out to accelerate it — I think I put out way more I could be happy with this year than any of the others we’ve looked back at. I’ve always been self-conscious my writing can get stiff when I’m approaching something with reverence, so it was a treat to cut loose on some movies that deserved no reverence whatsoever (but plenty of obsession) with Fun in Balloon Land and Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. Funeral was very personal for me — I’ve been more or less writing it for the past decade, and I shared more about myself than I maybe would’ve liked, but I think I did it justice. But if there’s anything I’m happy to have my name on, it’s the Citizen Kane piece. Now I know why every critic loves it so much — writing about it felt like a shot in the arm, and I like to think that shows in the finished product.
On to the fun part! This was the year I discovered the greatness of ZoeZ‘s weekly Film on the Internet columns, and especially the joys of a great ZZ pan, so I’ll single out Gemini and The Standoff at Sparrow Creek. Miller’s in-depth and deeply personal review of Home Movies was another highlight, bringing in a gripping personal story and meditation on loneliness and connection without any of those things getting in the way of good meat-and-potatoes reviewing. Thanks to him, I’ll always have some affection for a show I’ve never seen. in the same way, his take on Masked and Anonymous ended up being about a whole lot more than Masked and Anonymous. The Best Original Song column was a delight as always, and pico really kicked it into high gear with last month’s in-depth examination of the greatness of Blues in the Night and all the uncomfortable and complicated cultural forces that went into it. Babalugats was back this year, with the much-needed return of What the F? and the start (but hopefully not the finish!) of a whole new series with a review that was so good I started reading it again as soon as I was finished with it. But I’ve got a special soft spot for his Taco Break on Dead Baby Trees, since it came into being when I half (okay, seven-eighths)-seriously suggested his zingers on Blood Meridian were too good to leave in the comments and was shocked to discover that he didn’t just expand on them, he turned them into something even better.
Drunk Napoleon: My favourite of my own works this year was “Book On The Shelf: Man In The High Castle”, in which my pop culture obsessions and real world observations collided. It’s always a pleasure when I feel like I’m having a conversation with an author, and all the moreso when it can feel like a back-and-forth. Honourable mention to “There Are Two Kinds Of Empathy In The World, My Friend”, which is another collision between wildly different interests.
My favourite of others this year is actually a series – wallflower and Son Of Griff‘s podcast series on James Ellroy, which amongst other things has gifted us with the wonderful new Solute principle “comedy is ownage without consequence”. Honourable mention to “The Five Tools Of Acting” by Babalugats – I’m glad he finally made that an article so I can start casually referencing it when writing about actors.
May we own and survive being owned in 2021.
Miller: 2020 has not just been awful, it’s been consistently and dully awful, so it’s great to come here where the consistency is knowing that every day something interesting will be posted and people will be eager to talk about it. The folks who hold down regular articles — Drunk Napoleon‘s essays, The Narrator‘s DVD snark, ZoeZ‘s FOTI reviews, The Ploughman‘s Lunch Links and FAR, Nerd‘s contemporary and repertory reviews, Gillianren‘s celebrations and remembrances — create this place to visit every day and these visits have been very necessary for me this year.
I can’t write without a deadline so it was nice to put together a contemporary review fairly quickly for City Hall, but it was better to know I was writing something that was specifically tied to my perspective and what it could offer to the subject, that put something on the line and it was good to have the pressure. It felt fan-fucking-tastic to stomp the shit out of a cartoon mouse as the pandemic was kicking into high gear, and it felt good and cathartic to wrestle with the slightly more complicated cultural figure of Bob Dylan during that time as well. That kicked loose stuff that’s been in my head for a while, and so did writing up the end of Home Movies, a show that is very dear to me in its love for the “weirdos” who hang out and create together. All of these have been more personal than how I generally write, by trade and by inclination, but I’m finding it’s filling a need. I’m very grateful to have a place to do this with you fellow weirdos.
The Narrator: I’m pretty lucky that all the pandemic took from me was the possibility of another centerpiece Mike Mills article by year’s end. But in C’mon C’mon‘s absence, I think I did about as well as I did last year. I’m especially pleased with my piece on 2004 DreamWorks, which reminded me of how much I like doing multi-film articles even (or especially?) if I have to watch dogshit like Meet the Fockers for it. Hopefully the new year sees me getting back to doing those more often.
It’s so hard to highlight just one or two works on a site that’s be so generous to its readers over the last year. For equally sentimental reasons I bookmarked Jake Gittes‘ look at Judy at Carnegie Hall: it’s a beautifully written attempt to capture a moment that was simultaneously “the greatest night in showbiz history” and also an intimate affair, as if she was “singing just for you alone.” I also really loved Miller’s unusual but then obvious triple feature (or quadruple if we include the infamous Folgers commercial…) and Son of Griff‘s typically erudite look at It’s a Gift and the physical comedy of early Hollywood.
Special thanks to Burgundy Suit for his almost daily custodianship of Year of the Month, the site’s preeminent driver of interesting and off-the-beaten-path writing. There are so many times that YOTM has sent me down paths I might otherwise have missed, and for that I’m grateful.
The Ploughman: What a great year, right? I haven’t seen everybody’s else’s entries so I apologize if I’m just repeating the popular sentiment when I point out what an unending stupendous non-bummer these past twelve months have been.
For my contributions, I like my appreciation of my personal favorite filmmaking find of the year, Kelly Reichardt, and specifically her use of the Academy ratio in two movies about settlers out of their element in the American West.
Here’s hoping the years to come have only soft rhymes with 2020. And come what may, long live the Solute! I appreciate all of you.
Rosy Fingers: I really need to write more articles here but I tend to only write when inspiration strikes, as it did when 2004 came up as the “Year of the Month” and I got to tell “The Stupid and Enervating Tale of STRANGE BEDFELLOWS.” That was a story that had bugged me for years and it was a delight to dive right in to the horrible details, even if I did have to watch an Adam Sandler movie in the process. It’s a fun article, I think.
As for my favourite writing by others here, this year I really enjoyed the impromptu Paterson Week where we were spoiled by three separate essays on that great movie from Son of Griff, Drunk Napoleon, and The Ploughman. So nice to regard this movie from such various perspectives. I also really enjoyed Gillianren’s article about “Weird Pop Culture Cartoons”, a subject I really like thinking about and the comments were a hoot.
Ruck Cohlchez: My own favorites: It would be easy to go with something simply based on the amount of time I put into it, like the decade-long TV list or the year-end TV wrap-up. But for me, the ones that meant the most to me were done out of necessity. I have two choices, one internal and one external: The internal necessity was Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, a show that moved me in completely unexpected ways, and connected strongly with my own experience with death, such that I simply had to write about it. The external necessity was the Fred Willard obituary, something I don’t do often but I felt I had to, given both my place around here as the big comedy advocate and what he meant to me personally. That one had the added factor of time pressure, and I think, even working under those conditions, I managed to write an obituary that was a genuine and thorough appreciation of the man’s life and work.
Others: First, you’re all great and I love you. That said, looking over my Disqus recommendations from the last year, the most consistent contributor seems to be Drunk Napoleon and some of his Monday analyses. In particular, his analyses of comedy, including the “Mean Comedy” Taco Break and his breakdown of Assigned Male. (And, well, Monday’s “personal canon” article too.) I also very much enjoyed any time Miller took on one of my favorite comedies, such as Walk Hard, but in particular my favorite piece this year was his essay on Home Movies, which captures both the comedy of the show and the deep melancholy at its heart, through the kind of personal lens that really elevates our experience of art and speaks to how it touches us.
Son of Griff: 2020 was a hard year fraught with personal issues and a growing sense of dread in current events, but, thanks to many of you, it was a year of personal creative growth, in that I learned the joys and energy of collaboration. I would like to personally thank wallflower and John Bruni for working with me on Ellroycast and the dialogue double features this year. I also need to personally thank Zoe Z., Drunk Napoleon, Miller, and Conor Malcolm Crockford for their Ellroycast contributions. Next year I promise more Solute Canons (Glad PATERSON was such a hit) and my delayed Career Killers on WHITE DOG. I think the favorites of my own works was the initial Solute Canon entry on BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, which might have been the last thing that that I wrote in one sitting that came out good. I also like how the direction of the TRY AND CATCH ME! and BREAKING POINT conversation went.
As many have mentioned, Miller’s contributions this year really made me pause. The much mentioned HOME MOVIES piece was a brilliant use of what I’ve come to call the dialogic double, or in this case, triple, feature method of teasing out historical currents through comparative analysis. Burgundy Suit‘s CITIZEN KANE essay made me re-think the central metaphor of the film as an incident rather than as a metaphor, a very Solutarian move. I also really enjoyed The Ploughman‘s essay on interiority. It touched on issues related to the interrelationship of film, literature and theater That I’ve been thinking about for awhile now.
ZoeZ: What a year. This place remains a pleasure, a community, and a reliable source of great conversations, and 2020 was short on all of those, so I’m more grateful for all of you than ever. As far as my own favorite of my articles goes, I got it out of the way early this year with my Year of the Month writeup of No Country for Old Men. That was the only movie I ever went out at midnight to buy as soon as a store put it out, and it was great to get to watch it so closely and explore what, for me, makes it so great.
Everyone else… where to start? Some of my favorite pieces this year were the ones that introduced me to fantastic works I wouldn’t have found on my own (or at least wouldn’t have found anytime soon). Hence, while Ruck Cohlchez’s TV writeups are always great, but I’ll make special mention of his glowing, insightful essay on Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which talked me into picking up a show I loved but otherwise would have missed. I would have carried on ignorant of the charms of The Thief of Bagdad’s “transcendental kitsch” if it weren’t for Burgundy Suit’s excellent Year of the Month feature. I also adored the Solute Canon triptych on Paterson, with essays from Drunk Napoleon, Son of Griff, and The Ploughman—they’re all exemplary and give a kaleidoscopic view of one of my favorite films of recent years. I hope for my Solute Canon features next year. Drunk Napoleon also sated my long-time petty resentment of Avatar: The Last Airbender in a fascinating and well-argued hate-piece. And Babalugats took a dislike of a book I loved—Blood Meridian—and created an incredibly useful, thoughtful, and amazingly titled Taco Break out of it: On Dead Baby Trees and the Delicate Balance of Bleakness.
That’s all just a woefully incomplete sampling, but it at least gives an idea of the spectacular range of great essays we’ve had this year, whether people were writing out of love or hate. I’m thankful for all of that.
If you want to participate in the roundup but didn’t have time to submit a blurb, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll happily add it for posterity’s sake. Have a happy new year, everyone!