Yeah. . .maybe so, and if that’s the way it happens. . .well, at least I’ll know I was there, neck deep in the madness, before the deal went down, and I got so high and wild that I felt like a two-ton Manta Ray jumping all the way across the Bay of Bengal. (Hunter S. Thompson)
Since the last time I did one of these (and thank you pico for all the work you did for the last, uh, three years), the world we live in has gotten more dire than any of us imagined; the horsemen of the Apocalypse are stalking the land, the falcon has lost all contact with the falconer, and the tones of our culture are overwhelmingly those of chaos and despair; the discourse, especially online, has become simultaneously noisier and more repetitive, with a lot screamed and little actually said.
We don’t go for that kind of thing at the Solute. We speak up, every single day. Where the truest enemy is nihilism (. . .fuck me), the sense that values are for chumps, we got together and asserted, with every article, every podcast, every conversation, every gallery, that no, things matter: meaning exists, and we hold onto that here. No one can choose the time into which they were born; no one can determine the end of the struggle, if there is an end at all. The one thing we get to decide is what we do about it, and this community chose, every single day, to get in the ring, to mean something, no matter where it goes, no matter how it ends. Let everyone who comes here know: this is what we do, this how we care, this is how it’s done. I’m not gonna wish for a better 2022, because that’s not up to us, only that we stay in the fight. Can’t think of a wish more likely to come true.
Presenting now, from our contributors, our favorite articles of 2021! (Anyone not included, drop a comment with your choices and I’ll edit them in.)
Babalugats: This whole year was a hangover. I read, watched, and wrote a lot less than I had intended to, but I’m still pretty happy with how my return to the castoffs of CinemaScore turned out. A Sound Of Thunder was an interesting and entertaining trainwreck after a string of more pedestrian failures, and it was a pleasure to finally get back to writing about a movie that was worthy of the hype.
I’m going to stick to the rules this year and only pick one article. I’m not going to sneak in a recommendation to BurgundySuit‘s fascinating dive into the propaganda efforts of Donald Duck, like I usually would. Or talk about Ruck‘s honest and insightful obituaries, or wallflower‘s cold and precise dissection of Christopher Nolan’s worst film. Or even about ZoeZ taking a spin with an existential gearhead classic. Instead I’m just going to say that the best thing I read this year was Son of Griff‘s examination of Dirty Harry, The French Connection, and a transformative moment in America’s attitudes towards and depictions of policing, and leave it at that.
John Bruni: “Year of the Month: ‘Home At Last’? Steely Dan Arrives on AJA”: Through writing this article, I realized why I really like this record: the bluesy mood combined with consistently strong songwriting. Claims from self-satisfied Dan fans about the “perfect sound” of AJA I find fairly easy to dismiss, but the record’s sardonic look at the aimless fantasies circulating at the end of the 1970s surely sticks with me.
“At the Movies with Wussy (by Miller)”: This article explores connections between music and film (a project which I’ve been interested in taking up, perhaps, next year), some more overt, others more worked out. A rather thoughtful conclusion, of which I simply can’t resist giving a choice excerpt: “Wussy’s music says this stuff matters, not in an abstract ‘hooray for art’ way but because the specifics of a work – a manic Pacino, a bewildered Goodman, a weary Dafoe, maybe even a baffled Berry – stay with you, and how you make them part of your life has a singular value that can still be shared with people on the same wavelength.”
BurgundySuit: ZoeZ‘s weekly dispatches continued to be a highlight of The Solute, even if I’ve done a much worse job keeping up with them than I’m willing to admit. I’ve got to single out Jennifer’s Body, the rare article on a rediscovered flop that (to paraphrase Drunk Napoleon) dares to say, hey, maybe we were right the first time, and all the relative obscurities Zoe unearthed herself like The Blood on Satan’s Claw and Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (best opening line of the year?).
clytie: My favorite article by someone else was Ruck‘s essay on “True Optimism vs. Hopepunk,” which got me to watch Ted Lasso.
My favorite of my own was the one where I pointed out that The Lorax is a useless character.
Conor Malcolm Crockford: Would have to pick my “Misbehavin'” article, though it’s slim pickings at that.
And this is my favorite of 2021 from our beloved Miller: “Miller’s 2020 Double Features: Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
Drunk Napoleon: My favourite Solute essay this year has been from William Taylor aka The Narrator with her “Pictures Of A Revolution” series, telling the story of a studio that had a few hits and a lot of misses. There’s something delightful about presenting the business side of filmmaking through an auteur lens; she presents studio head Joe Roth as a nascent artist trying to express himself through the movies he greenlights. There’s peaks, there’s valleys, and there’s the inevitable heat death of the Revolution universe; Narrator takes us through each moment looking at where the studio could have gone and where they did.
Bonus: Sam Scott aka BurgundySuit brings us Eraserhead, with a fun fragmented timeline essay.
Bonus bonus: Grant Nebel aka wallflower and Avathoir finished their series on Pynchon, which lead to one of the funniest things of the year: wallflower being mad for a solid week at Pynchon’s weak-ass take on Metal Gear Solid. Was he mad on my behalf? Was he mad as a second-hand fan of MGS? Was he mad because an obscure Tasmanian dude had outshone one of the greatest American writers on this particular topic? The fact that it raises so many questions makes it even funnier. [My anger came from a place of “what happened to you, man? Your ass used to beautiful.”–ed.]
For my own essays, I’m really proud of my work this year — I hit multiple very high peaks of inspiration where I felt I was churning out great work for months at a time. “The Sandman: How To Let Your Story Die” wasn’t even the most interesting thing I wrote that month, but it feels like a new step forward in my general process.
Bonus: “Monster And The Emotions Of Restorative Justice,” which was the most interesting thing I wrote that month.
Bonus bonus: “The Ten Year Anniversary of They Might Be Giants and the AV Club Chorus covering ‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba,” in which I could have gotten away with a single sentence but couldn’t resist writing two more.
Gillianren: When I got the Year in Review announcement, I knew immediately whose article I wanted to highlight. Persia‘s delightful article about Bedtime for Frances made me so happy that I immediately put the book on my four-year-old daughter’s wish list. (She’s been given it already, so I now have the joy of reading it to her!) It’s a fun book that Persia wrote a fun article about.
Figuring out my own was slightly more complicated, because of how my brain works. Believe it or not, I had it narrowed down to seven and called in a friend to help me finish winnowing. She and I agreed that, for several reasons, I had to go with “The Code and Women,” my article about the lasting impact the Production Code had on women’s roles in film. I won’t say I had fun writing it, but it’s one of the articles of which I’m most proud.
Désirée Guzzetta: Here are my two nominations: by me (about what it was like to be a kid when Star Wars came out), and by Douglas Laman and wallflower (about Zack Snyder’s Justice League).
Miller: In some ways 2021 is just a repeat of last year — so much of everything sucks, but coming to The Solute every day to see what everyone is watching and talking about and writing about is a gift. But while the world is in stasis, Soluters are not. We can continue down mistaken paths — The Ploughman’s secret history of the 90s through the decade’s kiddie flicks is essential, pulling familial threads in House Arrest and First Kid, and hopefully pico will be able to resume Best Songs According To The Academy — and find unexpected treasures there. There are insights in unexpected places — Son of Griff mined an incredibly rich vein of conservative iconography in High Noon, a movie that I would’ve thought thoroughly tapped by now, and essie dropped a full scholarly analysis of the work of Kira Muratova, who I’d never heard of before. (The month of Intersectional Femivision in general always shows me new things or makes me reconsider stuff I may have dismissed, I loved Persia‘s piece on Marvel fashion.) I’m impressed by how beautifully and quickly our community responds to the loss of artists who mean so much to us — Gillianren on Michael K. Williams, wallflower on Joan Didion, Ruck Colchez on Norm MacDonald and John Madden — writing with love and respect that honors their work. My favorite longform work this year was The Narrator‘s look at Revolution Studios, a company which may not always have deserved love (not even a mother could love the studio that unleashed Tomcats on the world) but is given a fair, detailed, funny and even admiring account when it’s earned. What other place would give space for something so generous?
Edit — two more I forgot! Babalugats‘ D-Bag on A Sound of Thunder is a classic for the Ray Bradbury wars in the comments alone, but more importantly is a worthy follow-up to What The F and a companion to Pictures at a Revolution — it takes the movie on its own terms and savages it when appropriate (which is much of the time) but is also willing to appreciate what is there and what was intended. And the Solute Book Club has been extremely necessary in a year where my reading fell off badly, unique selections and great discussions.
The Narrator: This year I finally got off my ass and did something that had been percolating in my head for awhile, doing a series on the Revolution Studios oeuvre. I think it’s turned out pretty well, with the 2003 slate giving me the most to work with as a microcosm of the 2000s studio system’s bad decision-making. And the comments throughout the series have been consistently insightful, often finding parallels and threads I would’ve only recognized subconsciously. I’ve been really thrilled by the response, and I look forward to sharing the 2007 article with you guys somewhere near the start of the new year.
These last few years, Miller has done consistently excellent work with his Double Features series. This year is maybe his best crop of articles yet, my favorite being the damning “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” which succinctly and brutally diagnoses the issues that plague modern reboot culture. But I must also shout out “A Stronger, Loving World” simply because comparing the Nomadland score to the soundtrack of “a Pottery Barn for funeral urns” is the most hilarious, eloquent bit of ownage yet written for this site.
pico: Well, not only did life interfere so much that I barely got any of my own projects done, I also had to indefinitely suspend my Oscar Song series, so I wouldn’t call this my strongest year as a contributor. Still, there’s some stuff I think came out alright, especially my piece on Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard, that mystifying maybe-masterpiece from Nigeria. I’m not sure I have anything new or interesting to say about popular (on this site) topics, so I’m content with filling the “here’s stuff we don’t talk about much here” niche.
Harder to pick a single “someone else’s” article, though, because this was a really superlative year. I want to single out four: essie‘s indispensable guide to Kira Muratova, Son of Griff‘s cold-war reading of High Noon, Burgundy Suit‘s evolving relationship with Eraserhead, and Guy Vollen‘s piece on Krazy Kat and musical polemics. Each of these pieces offers a different way to deep-dive into film, and I’m thankful to each of these authors (and others!) for bringing us along on these journeys.
The Ploughman: At the risk of hyperbolizing, once again The Solute single-handedly keeps a year from being a total loss and represents the last remaining barrier between civilization and wilderness. For my own piece, I peaked early with a tribute to 2020’s Dick Johnson is Dead clear back in January. The harder part, as always, is picking a piece from the many wonderful, insightful, entertaining pieces that appear here every day. Once again, I’ve justified to myself a way to cheat and name more than one, and once again I’ll share a more thorough list in the comments below that I (sometimes) update throughout the year. First, in the category of individual piece: I want to spotlight Son of Griff‘s writing on High Noon as it relates to perception of the Cold War. It’s the kind of thing that can be held up with pride saying it can match film writing at any publication, except it actually exceeds the pieces at any other publication. In the category of series: I’ve enjoyed The Narrator‘s deep dive into the fall of Revolution Studios (though can it really be considered a fall if it never really rose in the first place?), a series that has contextualized films that have remained available yet undiscussed, and chronicles the last gasp (so far) of profit-minded models built on so-called mid-tier films. The series has given much to ponder on what a healthy film marketplace looks like and the decisions that affect what’s in theaters today. Plus there should be some kind of reward for having to watch both Tomcats and Gigli.
Ruck Cohlchez: My best work on the Solute is often driven by necessity, either personal necessity or in response to the events of the day, and this year was no exception. For the former, I’d pick “True Optimism vs. Hopepunk,” my breakdown of why Ted Lasso’s version of optimism is dramatically and comically satisfying (and genuinely uplifting) where Parks and Recreation’s optimism fails me on those counts. For the latter, it’s my obituary for Norm Macdonald, a comedian who’s had a major impact on me and been a part of my life ever since I was a lonely kid staying home alone on the weekends, as well as being a singular talent and one of the greatest craftsmen of comedy to ever do it. Even if that first article needs an editor (and the second one had no time for one), that necessity drove me to produce work to the level of the feelings I had about the subject matter, and that’s why it stands out this year as my best.
My favorite work of other people is always tougher to narrow down. In works on individuals, I really liked Gillianren’s obituary on Michael K. Williams and her celebration of Thomas Wilson. wallflower also snuck in under the wire with a great obit on Joan Didion, which I feel, like my Norm Macdonald obit, hit not only on why she was such a great professional and craftswoman but why she was so personally meaningful to the writer.
Conor Malcolm Crockford’s piece on The Righteous Gemstones vs. Succession struck at a lot of things I’ve felt but didn’t want to say without having seen the latter. I really liked clytie’s thoughts on The Lorax. BurgundySuit writing about Donald Duck took me back to a lot of my childhood, where the Carl Barks and Don Rosa stories were very important to me, and indeed I still carry my hardbound collection with me to this day.
I also, in my own particular way, greatly appreciate that Miller gave us such thoughtful work on the Butthole Surfers.
Last but not least, I always enjoy Drunk Napoleon’s thoughts on his process and the works that are meaningful to him, even if my process is not the same and I don’t know anything about half of the stuff he’s talking about.
Son of Griff: Getting a full-time job promotion and taking over responsibilities for a second household ate up a lot of creative energy this year, but on the plus side, my favorite solo pieces, “We Live in a Society?” and “Authoritarian Agonistes,” fostered a personal theme regarding how the mechanics of cinematic storytelling inform the cultural moment. My upcoming piece on Barry Lyndon seems to be fulfilling this design. I thank BurgundySuit for curating the YOTM project in a way where, for the first time, I think I’m developing a distinctive POV in my film analysis.
The biggest joy, of course, was working with Solute contributors wallflower and ZoeZ on the on-line launch of James Ellroy’s Widespread Panic, along with L.A. crime maven Joan Renner. Positive comments regarding the novel’s co-written review (with wallflower), as well as some of the continued discussions of Ellroy encouraged me to keep plugging away at writing here. Collaborating with my esteemed colleague and friend from the Northern climes through this journey here and on the podcast has been a huge joy the last few years. This is an evolving project and we hope that more of you can contribute to this in the future. Details to come.
This was, of course, another strong year of writing across the site, beginning with Miller’s outstanding Double Feature pieces for 2020. The piece on City Hall and Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets was, across the board, my favorite work of cultural contemplation I read anywhere last year. Discussions of how movies present uses of public space are a major pre-occupation of mine and these pieces really helped me figure out how to better express the concept. I really don’t know where to begin with Drunk Napoleon’s essays on creativity and the process of writing, accept to say that I appreciate the seriousness in which he routinely approaches the topic, even though half the time I have no familiarity with the subject he is writing about.
I want to also call attention to contributors work off site here. Michael Guarnieri published a wonderful piece on the Shakespearian splendor of Spielberg/Kushner’s Lincoln at Roger Ebert.com. I would also like to call attention to Gillianren’s moving piece on A Serious Man on the Dissolve Facebook Group’s Movie of the Week thread a couple of weeks back. It’s been nice to see others here begin to publish off site as well, and I hope we all continue to thrive into the coming year.
vomas: Looking back through the 2021 archives to shake up my sluggish brain, the two articles that I particularly remember enjoying this year (above and beyond the base-level excellence I find everywhere) were Drunk Napoleon‘s fascinating take on life as a TV Tropes contributor — one of those “I had never even considered how this thing worked until somebody BLEW THE LID OFF” type articles — and Ruck’s Ted Lasso-inspired article on “True Optimism and Hopepunk.”
I haven’t stuck to any kind of regular contribution schedule this year, but I think I started and ended it well – January gave me a chance to talk about my lengthy obsession with director Matthew Bright via his masterpiece Freeway and December encouraged me to push out of my comfort zone a bit and try to write something about a dauntingly perfect film in A Matter of Life and Death.
wallflower: I actually got my shit together enough this year to write and publish some things, and, with Son of Griff, to run the West Coast launch for James Ellroy’s new book, Widespread Panic. (Soluter ZoeZ got in on that action too!) I’m quite happy with all the collaboration I’m doing these days, and my favorite piece was with someone I’ve wanted to work with for years, fellow founding Solute member and all-around great nerd in the basement Doug Laman, on Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Like so much Snyder, this is a considerable distance from “good” but not from “interesting,” and I’m glad I had her as my guide to it.
Among others: Persia contributed a great essay on an old favorite of mine, The War of the Roses, that had one of the best portrayals of toxic masculinity long before it was A Thing; I’d be obligated to thank Drunk Napoleon for raising me to the status of an adjective but truth be told, it’s a damn fine essay in its own right, a careful dissection of different ethical ways-of-living; but my favorite work of the year, the one that’s taken permanent residence in my mind and action, was clytie‘s vicious and necessary article on The Lorax, an indictment of the strain of progressivism that successfully speaks truth to power and then fails to change anything. It’s a defining work from one of the most unique voices around here.
ZoeZ: Somehow 2021 was even more hectic and draining than 2020, and I spent a lot of it being absolutely swamped, so I’m sure there are many, many favorite would-be favorite articles are in my long back-list of things to catch up on. I’m at least on more solid ground when it comes to things I wrote myself, even if I still had to refresh myself on it. I’ll have to go with my Year of the Month essay on Steven Spielberg’s Duel, a film I always love revisiting.
For everyone else. . .I’m spoiled for choice. But some of my favorites were The Ploughman’s essay on “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and How Access Affects Genre History,” which is both a smart reflection on a dreamy, underseen film and a meditation on how print runs and streaming services shape our conversations about the canon; Sam Scott’s “unstuck in time” discussion of Eraserhead and how our personal experiences of watching movies change; wallflower’s illuminating review of the interesting failures of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet; and Drunk Napoleon’s “My Mum via Pop Culture,” which feels like an ambassador essay from The Solute to the rest of the world, neatly (and delightfully) encapsulating some favorite critical approaches we take here.