James Gandolfini, harbinger of the Golden Age of Television and one of the best actors of his generation, died in June 2013, three months before the release of one of his greatest performances in Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said. I remember sitting down in theaters to watch this film, fresh with more grief than one would expect after the death of someone I’d never been within a hundred miles of, and loving Enough Said, not only for Gandolfini but for Holofcener’s script and the other performances in a hugely-talented cast. However, how could I not be suspicious of that appraisal, especially when Tony Soprano played such a huge part in my cultural life? On a years-later revisit, unclouded by grief blinders, my initial reaction was correct. Enough Said is one of the great underrated films of the last decade, a high-concept farce with vast wells of empathy for its middle-aged characters.
By Jon Kissel
If I had been asked in October of 2019 how the cinematic year was going, I wouldn't have had great things to say. Spring's Atlanta Film Festival, where I saw a half dozen of 2018's favorite films, only yielded one standout, and a lackluster summer schedule didn't much help matters. However, some years are more back-loaded than others, and 2019 crammed in great film after great film as it came to a close, turning a subpar year into a strong one. Returning favorites like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino scored with some of their most personal and singular work, indie mainstays like Alex Ross Perry and Celine Sciamma turned in their best films, and up-and-comers like Greta Gerwig and Marielle Heller cemented their positions as some of cinema's most vital voices. Female directors and stories particularly shone bright in 2019, despite the Oscar's shunning of most of them, and Netflix had its strongest year thus far as a forum for both original and established voices to do whatever it is they want to do. Though Disney continues to dominate the heights of the box office and it might single-handedly destroy independent theaters, the critical state of the industry feels stronger than it did in the past few years, or at least it does until the streaming splurge is revealed to be a temporary bubble.
Dexter Fletcher’s previous work as a director, subbing in at the last-minute for unreliable alleged rapist Bryan Singer on Bohemian Rhapsody, was insufficient to save that Queen biopic from arriving into theaters as a hacky mess and potentially the worst Best Picture nominee in decades, but Fletcher’s navigation of a story heavily influenced by its musician subjects was satisfactory enough to get him a job in the exact same subgenre. Like the surviving members of Queen, Elton John has long shopped a film about his early life and career, and the filmgoing market is clearly primed for songbook musicals, regardless of quality. With the parody Walk Hard far in the background as a guidebook of what not do to and Bohemian Rhapsody as a recent example of how terrible a film can be if every canard and trope is indulged, Fletcher’s Rocketman doesn’t reinvent a well-work wheel but it finds considerable stylistic flourishes to at least make the ride smoother.
A famously instructive cultural scenario occurred on NBC in the mid-2000’s, wherein two new shows about sketch comedy debuted at the same time. One, Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, made its writers into heroes battling the forces of ignorance, one comedy bit at a time. The other, Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, deliberately made its show-within-a-show a badly-rated-and-received series of fart jokes and desperate attempts to create merchandising. Despite having less of a pedigree, 30 Rock ran for seven seasons while Studio 60 was quickly canceled. There were surely dozens of reasons for this divergence, but one was that Studio 60 never had a believable sketch show in its center, especially if it was going to be posited as some central part of American cultural life. A show can’t convince me that their writers or performers are some kinds of treasured icons and then include scenes from the show-within-a-show that make that treasuring implausible. Director Nisha Ganatra and writer/star Mindy Kaling haven’t taken this to heart in Late Night, a film about an inexperienced writer starting her first gig on a revered-but-fading host’s show. All involved need to convince the viewer that they’re good at their jobs, but Kaling may have been too consumed with her excellent work on The Office to pay attention to what was happening in NBC’s other time slots and file that information away for later use.
The subtitle of the third John Wick installment, Parabellum, is Latin for ‘prepare for war’ and is majestically intoned by Ian McShane’s Winston at a pivotal moment. A viewer might assume that the war takes place in the film itself, but it’s instead mere skirmishes and more preparation in a franchise that started strong and has since become plotless and clogged with borrowed mythology. Maybe the war will come in John Wick 4 upon its release in 2021, or maybe in subsequent sequels after that one. I’ll never know because after the drudgery and repetition of a franchise that has wholly turned itself over to video-game action and episodic filmmaking, I say goodbye to Mr. Wick.
The 2010's as a decade personally represent the crystallization of a hobby that's grown to take up more and more of my life. That hobby is capital-A amateur film criticism, as manifested by a well-maintained Letterboxd page and the thousands of words and dozens of hours of podcasts on this website. So why did I write almost 1200 reviews over that period of time? More importantly, why didn't I take seriously that guy that Bryan and I met at Ebertfest who wanted to promote our website? Where would we be now if that guy turned us towards writing with an environmentally-conscious message? Would climate change be solved by now? We'll never know.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.