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Optimism is more than just “stupidity” spelled wrong, especially this year. Note: I am writing this before the election and thus reserve the right to remove the words “more than” in that previous sentence, depending on results.

Admittedly, identifying positive stuff right now is hard. It’s not “we can’t hold a funeral for our loved one killed by COVID” hard. It’s just regular hard. You know, like math or being honest with yourself about times you were a bad person. The good news is, unlike math or several full years of your life, finding a way into gratitude is always worth it.

Here are the film-specific and cinema-adjacent things that have been the delicious aioli on 2020’s shit sandwich.

The Show Must Go On?

This year was full of many realizations, like the fact that some people are literally willing to die if it means they get to eat at Olive Garden again. Setting aside pesky concerns about minutiae like mortality and oppressive systemic racism, I was walloped with a very legit fear that The Reader would suddenly poof, disappearing into the nothingness that has consumed so much local journalism this past decade.

Because the one Charlie Kaufman movie we got this year has several years’ worth of meta in it, I promise this won’t descend into a navel-gazing celebration of the folks behind the scenes here who have, thus far, willed our survival into reality. That said, if I’m listing movie stuff I’m thankful for, still having a space in which to discuss movies has to be right here at the top of my list.

Over the years, I’ve watched so many good local writers get forced out of criticism, as media outlets have euthanized art reviewers to make space for blatant propaganda and lower-case-n “news.” I have no earthly idea how I’ve lasted this long. I only know that I am thankful for this ole rag you’re reading, even if I have been a sometimes-headache for those making sure it’s still here for you to read. Sorry? And thanks!

I’ll Be Back?

I did not anticipate that Dolittle and Sonic the Hedgehog would account for 30% of the films I’d see with an audience in 2020. Many movie theaters in Omaha reopened after the initial lockdown. Some remained closed. Others opened and then closed again in an ugly, inelegant, artless dance. It’s like the Electric Slide with more cooties.

Theaters I deeply love have been forced to weigh their survival against scientific evidence about public health dangers without any kind of specifically allocated financial safety net. I am enraged for them. Maybe movie stars could raise their voices to convince congress to bailout family-owned theaters? It would definitely be an improvement over them “singing” “Imagine” for “racism.” Those quotation marks are filled with every bit of fury I have.

I haven’t been to see a movie since Onward. That has nothing to do with the pandemic, cinema just peaked for me during Pixar’s half-assed quest. I kid! I haven’t been back because “don’t be in a room with strangers who often remove their masks to eat” is among the few universally agreed upon pandemic safety tips. It’s right up there with “Never lick a Trump.” Infectious disease experts and epidemiologists are still hashing out the exact distances and circumstances needed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. This means that total avoidance of unnecessary indoor situations is the only way to stay COVID-19 free for sure. How does this tie into gratitude? An excellent transition! Thank you, rhetorical question.

I am thankful that we haven’t officially lost any local theaters yet.

I am as grateful for that fact as I am hopeful that we won’t, that they will all survive long enough for me to (safely) do a whistle-stop tour through every stinkin’ cinema in the Big O when this is all (finally) over. My butt, your seats, everyone wins.

I know this has been so hard on my favorite places. Please, hang in there. And thank you for understanding why we haven’t seen each other recently. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but a pandemic is making my unsated theatrical love positively rabid.

Who Doesn’t Love a Party?

Every Friday night since Tom Hanks got COVID, my friend and I have had a party. That is to say, since the lockdown, we’ve used what was Netflix Party and is now Teleparty to MST3K our way through classic films and clunkers. We started with Bloodsport, which was stupid because where do you go from there but down? We have done new releases (Vampires vs the Bronx), nostalgic jams (Tremors), and whatever category Mortal Kombat belongs in, all while ensconced in PJs and safely swallowed by our respective couches.

I am so thankful for this group, which has expanded as the parties rage on, and for the free service itself. It is a Band-Aid on the bullet wound of not watching movies with full audiences. Teleparty works on a whole swath of streaming services now, and it is crazy easy to use. Just like Bloodsport, I cannot possibly recommend it enough.

I am also deeply grateful for Film Streams @Home, our local arthouse’s streaming outlet. I’d much prefer to be imbibing the latest foreign flick, documentary, or indie fare at the Dundee or the Ruth Sokolof Theater, but I also like not having a deadly virus inside my person. The ability to support the nonprofit from home whilst also seeing durn good flicks has made me almost unspeakably thankful. “Almost unspeakably” is as close as I get to not speaking, so that’s saying something.

Film Streams has almost single-handedly given me a way to safely review new movies each week. Hilariously, and I use that term so loosely it is almost inapplicable, this may be the “best” year I’ve had as a critic because of that. What I mean is, they almost never show outright “bad” flicks. Thus, I don’t think I’ve seen a crappy movie since February. That feels wrong in so many ways, but not quite as wrong as Dolittle, you know?

So that’s my list. In this shit-nado of a year, I strongly encourage you to seek some gratitude yourself. Not as some ra-ra, meaningless self-deception but as a natural barrier to the ever-rising tides of ungood crap threatening to drown us. I promise, it will feel good. If it doesn’t, I’ll be too far away from you for you to punch me. Win-win!


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