November 22, 2017
This Year, We’re Thankful For All The Wonderful Distractions
Our Thanksgiving tradition of pop culture gratitude continues.
Every year before the entire staff takes off for a very long Thanksgiving weekend, we take a moment to stop and think about the pop culture things that have made us grateful this year. 2017 has been a tough year all around, as you’ve undoubtedly experienced yourself. We live in a world full of strife and division, which makes enjoying film and television harder in many cases. That, plus we have our political and social realities seeping into every aspect of modern life. In Hollywood, a recent slew of revelations about powerful men and their long-term abuse of women in the industry has forced us to question many of our heroes.
In the end, I’m a believer that all of this will lead us to a better place. The playing field will be a more open, fair place for everyone involved. But in 2017? It’s been a hard road. We’re at the beginning of what might be a long process. It’s easy to let it get you down.
Which is why we’re most thankful for you. Here at Film School Rejects, we’ve had a long and interesting year. We moved from an experimental platform on Medium back to hosting our own site on WordPress. It meant an entire month of the year where we were barely publishing anything. And there were a lot of bugs and kinks to work out of the new site. But you, our beloved readers, stuck with us and have come back in droves to visit the new site. We’ve seen wonderful growth, we’ve stabilized our little independent site, and we’ve continued to grow an internship program that we’re very proud of.
As the publisher of this site, I’m thankful for and proud of the writers, editors, video curators, social media all-stars, and talented podcasters that make up our team. Which is why that’s enough from me. Time to hear from them…
What we’re thankful for in 2017
Ciara Wardlow: You might love Three Billboards or hate it or leave it with mixed feelings, but you won’t leave feeling indifferent. Whether talking film or theater, McDonagh is one of the most intriguing and distinctive voices working today. He invites audiences to ask the tough questions and he doesn’t oversimplify or patronize by trying to present answers. While there are many other filmmakers who are fantastic at balancing moments of comedy and drama, McDonagh is a master of I-don’t-even-know-how-to-feel moments full of characters that inspire equally mixed emotions. Life is really damn complicated and so are people and I, for one, find a weird sort of comfort in films that wholeheartedly embrace that uncomfortable reality.
Farah Cheded: Damien Chazelle’s all-singing, all-dancing feature had sent critics into such raptures over its rose-tinted ode to the biz that I don’t think anyone really expected La La Land not to pick up the Best Picture award at this year’s Oscars. Still, when Warren Beatty gave us formal confirmation of what we all predicted, the moment was nevertheless one of anti-climax. I’d enjoyed the film – particularly its infectious, tap-along score – but it was Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight that had really blown me away. A technically stunning, visually gorgeous triptych on identity made perfect by phenomenal performances and intricate story nuance, Moonlight was the most deserving Best Picture nomination in my lifetime, and its loss, no matter how inevitable, still came as a disappointment.
But when La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz took over announcement duties from a sheepish-looking Beatty, revealing that there had been an envelope mix-up, dismay gave way to a surreal “are we being Punk’d?” sense of confusion. We’d already seen one prank that night – the caper with the tourists – so it wasn’t automatically ridiculous that this could be an elaborate, vastly more ill-judged stunt of the same nature. But as the seconds ticked by, and Horowitz continued to brandish the real winners’ card down the lens, bewilderment gave way to shock, and, finally, for so many viewers, unbridled joy.
The shockwaves produced by Moonlight’s eventual win were so intense because of two things: firstly, our collective certainty that La La would inevitably take home the night’s biggest award. Secondly, the Oscars have built themselves up a reputation of racism after criminally overlooking so many excellent films about, by, and that have starred people of color over the years. The run-up to the previous year’s ceremony had been dominated by #OscarsSoWhite, activist April Reign’s much-needed protest campaign against the Academy’s flagrant disregard of non-white talent in front of and behind the camera, as well as of films that told stories that didn’t center white subjectivity. Although the 2017 Oscars had improved on the previous year’s dismal lack of nominations for these actors, movies, and filmmakers, a sense of skepticism still lingered around their apparently newfound appreciation. Were the Academy’s members, as aging and white and male as most of them are, intending for those nods to be a kind of diversity trade-off; “we’ll make as many nominations as necessary to take the heat off, without actually awarding any”?
After it became apparent that Moonlight really had won – a realization underscored by shots of a stunned audience and a Trevante Rhodes-Mahershala Ali bear hug – there was barely time for the goose-bumps to fade before the ceremony’s end credits had begun to roll. When it did finally sink in, though, what stood out was not the show’s monumental cock-up – which had provided more thrill and drama than some of the other movies nominated that night – but the fact that a film as empathetic, as intelligent, and as dignity-affirming as Moonlight had received its due garland.
As an otherwise bleak 2017 draws to a bitter close, I’m thankful for one moment that felt truly right: Moonlight winning Best Picture.
Meg Shields: I am grateful for so much this year. But mostly for the way Thor: Ragnarok flooded my newsfeed with Jeff Goldblum.
I am grateful for this Sistine Chapel of a GQ photoshoot where Jeff Goldblum is part stylish domestic goddess, part elder statesman. I am grateful for this oral history where I learned that Jeff Goldblum once read a book out loud to a woman on a plane after informing her that he is “very good at reading books aloud.” I am grateful for the knowledge that Jeff Goldblum is aware of and seemingly adores the sexual connotations of “daddy.” I am grateful to have witnessed Jeff Goldblum being too contagiously delightful to speak ill of bad tattoos of his likeness. I am grateful for the knowledge that Jeff Goldblum has a deep, and endearingly genuine knowledge in his own filmography. I am grateful to know Jeff Goldblum reads Archie comics out loud to his wife at nail salons and that he does different voices for each of the characters; to know that he and Taika Waititi (who also blessed us with increased visibility this year) would dance on set together until they got kicked off.
I like grinning so hard that my cheeks hurt. I like being so charmed that it makes me want to be a more open, caring, and attentive person. I like believing it’s possible for celebrities to use their influence for good rather than harm. This has been a difficult year. I’ll take these little moments of Goldblum-fueled joy where I can get them.
Andrew Karpan: After a celebrated novelist and struggling comedian whose act I liked both passively recommended the CW’s latest attempt at acclaimed pulp comedy, I couldn’t say no. It was on Netflix and I had two seasons to catch up on (with a third that began airing on the CW last month). But I was thankful for these hours of content ahead of me. Each episode was like a deliciously contained Napoleon of drama, peppered with titles that came off like ironic Panic! At the Disco song titles (e.g. “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Wants Revenge”) and a sensibility, I found immediately engrossing. Where Netflix comedy has stuck with preachy stories of the privileged (Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and the latest batch of FX and HBO comedies vie very hard to rip off the pseudo-seriousness of Louie and Girls, Rachel Bloom’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend blazed a different path from its first manic depressive song-and-dance number.
Where streaming culture tells us to watch all the episodes in a weekend, I savored these forty minute hours. Poptimism and Tumblr emotional politics taken to their logical conclusion, these were epic intellectual car chases around the values of a Taylor Swift song and the depression of ordinary disappointment. These weren’t struggling creatives or failed comedians cleaning their glasses, these were regular people in a very regular world (one character has an entire emotional arc about getting accepted to a mediocre law school. Another person’s dream is getting a degree from Emory). Is falling in love meaningful? Can you happy with what you’ve settled with? Rachel Bloom says yes and then no and then yes again. The world is bleak and its questions don’t have answers until the revolution comes, baby. But West Covina is sunny. I’ll stay there.
Valerie Ettenhoffer: When they’re not reliving the ‘80s, this hyper-talented bunch–two different ensemble casts which include Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, and close to a dozen others–is creating and starring in music videos, signing record deals, spearheading campaigns for charity, rapping, becoming style icons, and somehow managing to appear both carefree and conscientious in the face of rising fame and public attention. On screen, both casts impress: IT fans are bracing themselves for a sequel largely without the charismatic young Losers, and Stranger Things fans are ready to kickstart Noah Schnapp’s Emmy campaign–rightfully so, as his turn as Will Byers this year was captivating and heartbreaking. But it’s these kids’ real-life enthusiasm for work and fun–their willingness on social media and in interviews to be silly, try new things, and embrace their surreal lives–that has been the most consistent highlight of a season which has left many of us disillusioned with Hollywood.
The only scandals these child stars have faced involve other people overstepping boundaries, and in contrast to the exhausting, increasingly messy conversations surrounding adults in the industry, the public response here has been thoroughly encouraging. Each inappropriate comment or overly-demanding fan has been met with insightful, nuanced discussions from the press and former child actors alike, all with the goal of respecting and protecting Hollywood’s next generation of creative people. The consensus is one I can get behind: how about we see what great stuff can happen when we just let kids be kids?
Maybe it’s because children are the future, and after a tough year for America, I’m feeling desperately hopeful for the future, or maybe it’s because they’re just damn good at what they do, but these young actors are what I’m thankful for this holiday season.
Sheryl Oh: Although there’s still a bit of the year left, IT may be my favorite movie of 2017 because it reignited my love and appreciation for adaptations done right. For years, I’d been watching films based on books without actually bothering to read said books, be it due to an actual lack of time or just pure laziness. But Andy Muschietti’s take on the Stephen King classic truly made me want to dive into the world of Derry – as dark and as fucked up as it is – in all iterations. Muschietti’s IT had so much heart and soul that I had trouble leaving the Losers’ Club behind after the credits rolled.
I have an even bigger appreciation for IT – be it book or miniseries or film – after reading the source material. My favorite adaptations have never been page-by-page, word-for-word copies – it’s all about the spirit of the source material, and configuring the existing plot to suit the medium. Although we only received IT: Chapter One this year, the changes made in the adaptation process were already welcomed; in fact, I celebrated them. King’s book generously features unsavory elements – overt racism, misogyny and the sexualization of children are just some of it. Even if some of these themes existed as critique in the book, it was still wearisome and frustrating to read.
But in contrast, Muschietti’s film refashioned those themes in less indulgent ways. The film streamlined what makes IT as a story great by focusing on the camaraderie between friends and the utter bravery of children, all without ignoring the toxic environment enveloping the Losers’ Club. In an industry seemingly saturated with emotionally empty films, I’m totally grateful that IT achieves that perfect balance (for me) in keeping with the essence and heart of the source material.
Jacob Oller: 2017 required empathy. I needed it from friends, co-workers, everyone. People riding the train were grumpy about what I was grumpy about because that’s the only way to get through the day. That gaping, raw need extended to my media consumption. I needed movies and TV that didn’t just understand my pain, but ones that hurt just as much. And because I am a Writer Type that means I spend most of my time on Twitter attempting to prove myself and others that I can put words in a pleasing order. This means my shows needed that vice as well, which three delivered: The Good Place, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Difficult People.
These shows had angst, pain, and the digital wherewithal to scratch my self-aware pop culture itch until it hurt. But at least when they were done, the hurt was different. It was funnier. When your favorite show of the year also spawns your favorite novelty online account of the year (Good Place Out of Context, look it up), you know it reached you on a deep level. Difficult People felt like the one place I could go when the sexual harassment landslide swept away everyone in Hollywood with a dick, simply because they’d been calling out Kevin Spacey for years. I’m thankful for these shows because they’re just crazy enough to make my crazy feel ok.
Liz Baessler: I’m thankful this year for the premiere of the Starz series American Gods. It joined together Bryan Fuller and Neil Gaiman, two heroes of mine. It also introduced me to Michael Green, who had an absolutely banner year writing Logan, Alien: Covenant, Murder on the Orient Express, and Blade Runner 2049. The first season of American Gods was just what I wanted it to be — a happily true adaptation of the novel with a beautifully updated script that didn’t shy away from the issues of modern America. And it had so many Hannibal creatives and motifs that it almost felt as if my beloved NBC show hadn’t been canceled.
On a personal note, American Gods was the first tv show I professionally reviewed. I met Bryan Fuller in New York and giddily told him I was covering his show. Orlando Jones (lovingly) called me out on Twitter for not giving Michael Green enough credit in my articles. Then Michael Green chimed in and was a real gentleman about it. This show was my introduction to the big wide world of media writing, and it’ll always hold a special place in my heart. I’m truly thankful for that.
Max Covill: It isn’t often that shows come from an extended hiatus. There are some outliers for sure like Arrested Development, X-Files, Will & Grace, but by and large, shows don’t usually come back years later. Twin Peaks not only came back 25 years later with Twin Peaks: The Return, but it came roaring back to the same bizarre situations and crazy mysteries the show was known for. Few shows return so gracefully and find its own peculiar rhythm. That is likely the product of the creative strengths of Mark Frost and David Lynch. Together they were able to weave an incredibly complicated narrative that always kept audiences guessing even as the final credits ran. Twin Peaks was never about answering all the questions, it was about answering just enough while providing new unsolved mysterious to haunt your subconscious.
Twin Peaks: The Return also doubled as a farewell to some of the great unheralded actors of our time. Great actors such as Warren Frost, Catherine Coulson, Brent Briscoe, Miguel Ferrer, and Harry Dean Stanton among others. It was also an opportunity to celebrate new and returning talent like Sheryl Lee, Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Naomi Watts, Dana Ashbrook, Jim Belushi, and many others. Through the course of the mini-series, there were countless memorable performances and spectacular moments of revelation. Some questions fans had been carrying for twenty-five years were finally answered, only in the most David Lynch was possible. There were few television shows that were appointment viewing this year, but knowing that a new episode of Twin Peaks would air every weekend was something special.
Kieran Fisher: John Wick is a man of focus, commitment, and sheer fuckin’ will. He’s both mythic and human, a one-man slaughter machine, a grief-stricken romantic, and a dog lover. In many ways, John Wick is a reflection of myself — only much cooler, sexier, and more well-versed in the ways of badassdom. No pop culture icon has captured my heart like this since the Man with No Name. Needless to say, I’m smitten, and I want to see him shoot people in the face for at least another 50 years.
The first John Wick movie introduced us to the titular hitman as he embarked on a homicidal quest to avenge his dead puppy. As a dog owner myself, I supported his killing spree and celebrated when every bad guy who foolishly stood in his way met the deadly part of a bullet. However, as the film progressed, John Wick became so much more than a simplistic revenge story: as our hero descended further into the criminal underworld, we found ourselves knocking on the door of a shadowy universe with its own intricate mythology. John Wick: Chapter 2 ventures deeper into this mysterious lore, and it does so without removing the mystique that made it so fascinating in the first place. It’s beautiful – a mainstream Hollywood franchise that delivers glorious gun-fu, unflinching shoot ‘em ups, and tenacious hand-to-hand combat while boasting its own set of mythos? I’m eternally thankful for this series.
Keanu Reeves was born to play Wick and he steals the show as expected, but with a supporting cast that includes Ian McShane, Franco Nero, Common, Lance Reddick, Ruby Rose, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, and the wise Peter Stormare, Chapter 2 is stacked with talent who always make movies that little bit better whenever they appear — and they all get a chance to shine here. If anything, this magnificent assemble is a choir of angels, and this movie is, quite simply, Heaven.
Natalie Mokry: One of the best parts of my year, every year, is Game of Thrones. We can talk all we want about the complications of season 7, but this year gave us some of the most momentous and epic events of the entire series. The Stark children reunited, Jon Snow and Daenerys finally meeting, and Jaime Lannister vs. Drogon on the battlefield. All of it made for some very exciting and rewarding television in that years of diverted expectations and patience in waiting for character meet-ups are finally paying off, which in retrospect allows me to appreciate the story setup and world-building of previous seasons all the more. Season 7 also had one of the absolute best episodes yet, “The Spoils of War,” which several months later, still gives me goose-bumps and keeps me on the edge of my seat, even though I know the outcome. Overall, it was a whirlwind of emotions and definitely a ride to embark on, but with all of it’s epic moments, for better or for worse, and as it nears its end, I’ve never been more excited to be a fan of this show which has brought so much enjoyment and entertainment into my life. Even when it’s not on TV, Game of Thrones opens the opportunity for numerous hours of fun rewatches and speculation, and a cool fandom that makes it all the more fun of an experience and for that, I will always be grateful.
Bethany Wade: We saw the headline over every film and entertainment site: “This summer marks Hollywood’s worst box office in over a decade.” There were only a few highlights of the summer outside of the superhero releases, with everything else being a box office bomb or being a terrible movie. One unexpected but amazing one was Baby Driver, and I’m thankful for that. Baby Driver incorporated everything you want out of a summer blockbuster: a diverse yet entertaining cast, a director who just wants to make the movie fun, and action that may be simple but keeps the audience excited. With Edgar Wright’s first time in the director’s chair since 2013’s The World’s End, he shows us that we can still have fun at the movies in the summer, even if it isn’t a superhero film. Audiences resounded with this and the fact that it’s an original concept and helped the film make over $100m. On the opposite spectrum, Girls Trip was another film that caught people off guard yet also broke the $100m barrier. The comedy came out late July, but once again, just like Bridesmaids and Bad Moms when they had summer releases, people flocked to the theaters and enjoyed a good comedy. Audiences were loud and clear this summer: a good film that isn’t a superhero or animated film can survive the summer box office. The last few summers of releases have been weak in terms of good movies, but if studios look to the unexpected success of Baby Driver and Girls Trip for inspiration, then I have hope for the summer of 2019. Sorry, but I’m writing summer 2018 off for right now.
Sinead McCausland: Thanks to Patty Jenkins, we were all given the best superhero film of the year with Wonder Woman. Rather than Gal Gadot’s titular character being cold or uninspiring like her fellow superheroes Batman and Superman, we were given a hero full of good will, hope, and trust. This theme of hope and trust carried through to Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, a film that did the exact opposite of Wonder Woman in terms of its box office numbers but achieved just as great emotional strengths anyway. The sheer difference in the scale, size, and subject matter (Professor Marston is a lot more adult than Wonder Woman) hopefully foreshadows the dynamic and diverse projects women can work on in the future.
Emily Kubincanek: I’m thankful for the films that candidly and realistically showed family relationships like Lady Bird and Landline. Especially during this time of year when we are surrounded by family, sometimes who we are at odds with, it’s refreshing to see that tension represented so well on screen. I find it so comforting to know that the difficult love I share with my mother isn’t exclusive to us and can be part of a great story, too. I revisit Frances Ha at least once a month and had very high expectations for Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut. She didn’t let me down, continuing her perfect depiction of female relationships so many films fail to get right. Obvious Child‘s duo Jenny Slate and Gillian Robespierre collaborated again for Landline, which looks at the grey area in love. This film has Slate’s quirkiness that I love and uses the characters’ mistakes as their gateway for growth and discovery.
Brad Gullickson: As you can see from the varied and spectacular films that surround me, 2017 has been a rather wonderful year at the cinema. We have a lot to be thankful for. Sure, there have been some clunkers, and if I dared to peek my head outside the multiplex, the world may be propelling itself straight into Armageddon. Still, I could champion any number of movies. Films like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and Get Out represented my rage towards my fellow humans while others like Lucky and Wonder left me with a seriously needed sense of hope. However, when I sit down at the Film School Rejects dinner table this Thanksgiving, and when Neil asks me what movie I’m most thankful for as he’s carving up that great big bird, I gotta proclaim, “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter!” Don’t miss that exclamation point. I’m loud and proud of Paul W.S. Anderson’s final statement on the Umbrella Corporation.
I’ve been writing for FSR for a little over a year now. In that time, I’ve forced my weird obsessions on all of you, and I’m thankful that very few threw tomatoes at me. Celebrating grotesque oddities like The Devil’s Rain and Xtro is what keeps this heart pumping. BUT the truest joy of 2017 was when I bombarded you wonderful folks all January long with a series of deep dives on the Resident Evil franchise which all culminated in my review of The Final Chapter. God, I loved that movie.
Yes, Alice’s adventures through Raccoon City’s looking glass had very little to offer fans of the video games. There were some creature homages here and there, but for the most part, Anderson took this franchise as his opportunity to flex his own horrific inspirations and embolden the supremacy of his leading lady turned wife. Throughout the series, we were given breadcrumbs and clues to various evil conspiracies that sometimes paid off, and sometimes did not. The Final Chapter gathers as much of its universe’s smorgasbord as it can and serves it to us in great big gobs. The return of Iain Glen is absolutely essential. Straddling his demonic tank with a horde of undead chasing behind him, Glen excels as Alice’s ultimate nemesis. Milla Jovovich’s final outing pays off on the majority of Resident Evil’s stop-and-start sequels. You may laugh it off, but I’m thankful to those that didn’t. I am thankful to all you other weirdos out there that revealed alongside my Resident Evil jamboree. Anyone can exclaim the artistic genius of Call Me By Your Name, but it takes a particular brand of eccentric to appreciate The Final Chapter. I thank you for making me feel at home.
Chris Coffel: In 2017 I am thankful for physical media. I know that sentence probably sounds crazy with the way we are constantly told streaming is the wave of the future but physical media is currently thriving. If you’re a collector there’s never been a better time to be alive. The marketplace is flooded with boutique labels like Severin Films, Vinegar Syndrome, Garagehouse Pictures, 88 Films and more putting out unique physical media releases weekly. Joining those smaller labels are the mid-majors in Scream/Shout Factory, Arrow Video and Kino Lorber. In the last few months alone we’ve gotten Blu-ray releases of Kill, Baby…Kill, The Devil’s Honey and Ed Wood’s The Violent Years. Not to mention the release of the year with the DVD of Beyond the 7th Door. We shouldn’t have special edition releases of any of these titles and yet here we are.
The physical media excitement doesn’t stop with these distributions labels either. Movie Madness, the iconic Portland video store with a collection of more than 80,000 titles available for rent, was on the brink of going out of business when the historic Hollywood Theatre stepped up to save the day. Unable to do it alone, Hollywood turned to Kickstarter and within a month 4,639 people donated $315,346. Just think about that for a second, in 30 days over 4,000 people donated more than $300,000 to save a video store…in the year 2017. So yeah, the myth that physical media is dead and streaming holds all the answers is just that, a myth. Physical media is still king and for that, I am forever thankful.
Christopher Campbell: I’ve become pretty numb to all the superhero movies out each year. Some are good, some are bad — rarely do I think about them once I leave the theater. But this year brought two exceptional movies based on superhero comic books (both of them Marvel, though from different studios) that are still on my mind. They represent the best in the different approaches Hollywood has been attempting. Logan is on the darker, grittier side, a modern-day fantasy Western that makes me forget all of the mediocre X-Men movies of the past with its standalone story of an aged Wolverine and his reluctant paternal partnership with his young clone. DC wanted their movies to be dark and serious, but they’re not grounded enough to work on that side of the spectrum. Then there’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, which does the lighter, comedic take on the superhero genre perfectly. Thor: Ragnarok is hilarious but too much so that the story stops being interesting. Homecoming is just funny enough while also presenting a compelling coming-of-age story of a super-powered kid wanting to grow up and be a hero too fast.
William Dass: Connecting with a film is an individual experience. We can probably agree in broad strokes about which movies are masterpieces or garbage fires. However, if you ask each person what they connect with most in a film, chances are they’ll each come up with something different. Lately, I tend to connect most with what the directors are trying to accomplish. Especially when it comes to independent film. I dig the idea of seeing someone’s vision wholly realized.
Through the Shallow Pocket Project here on Film School Rejects, I’ve had a chance to do about a dozen extended, hour-long interviews with the folks who’ve made some of my most loved films. Spending that much time with an individual filmmaker has given us a chance to dive a little deeper than a traditional ten-minute press-tour interview. They’ve shared how they look at their careers, how they evaluate their successes and their long-term plans. We’ve heard how they define problems and how they generate solutions to overcome those challenges. Every one of them was also kind enough to share their personal moments that inspire them to persist, despite the epic grind that is independent filmmaking. This year, I’m thankful for their time and candidness. I’m thankful for this space to have those conversations.