Sword-less and wielding humor as the flimsiest of shields, I do combat every day.
It is a never-ending ritual of ducking the invisible arrows of relentless anxiety while keeping one eye on the impending daily existential avalanche that perpetually hangs over life during this uniquely challenging time. It is an embarrassingly difficult exercise, common for too many, worse for others who are pushed to the margins by society and told to fix it themselves.
This piece will get positive (and have something to do with movies soon), I swear!
Among the first casualties of this endless war are perspective and gratitude. Resurrecting them is a defiant act of emotional necromancy. Please feel free to use the phrase “emotional necromancy” this Thanksgiving with your family.
I am so very fortunate, from systemic advantages to relationships that I may never deserve but will forever try to earn. Cataloguing that for which you are grateful, if you are able, is a beautiful and humbling exercise. And yeah, that involves movies.
For many of us, art is not only an outlet but a lifeline, a tangible, good thing that can be easier to see than others. Don’t let anybody make you feel silly for being truly, deeply, profoundly thankful for whatever it is that brings you joy. All that being said, grab your sincerity cauldron and wave your feelings wand as it is time to do some emotional necromancy! Here are the three things involving film that I am most thankful for this year.
I am Grateful for Diversity
I have been overcome this year by the diverse cinema I am now able to consume. My favorite films thus far span the globe, from Sweden to Ghana to right here in Omaha. My top 10 list is still a couple months away, but I can safely say that it will feature movies made by a more vastly disparate group of creators than any of the 16 previous year-end lists I’ve done.
Maybe I haven’t been to every theater in Omaha this year, but I’ve seen unique indies at Film Streams and both (!) Alamo Drafthouses. I’ve caught loads of blockbusters at nearby Marcus Theaters. And then there’s Aksarben Cinema, which hosted the Omaha Film Festival and premiered Out of Omaha, the most important local film I’ve ever seen. Although I will always, always, always prefer going to the movies and sharing in the communal audience experience, the ability to supplement those screenings with the offerings of streaming services means I can pretty much see anything I want at some point.
How incredible is that? For those of us who find solace in cinema, the fact that we are no longer confined to the mercy of Hollywood gatekeepers allows us increased opportunities to find crucial voices. We can peer into lives and experiences wholly unlike our own or process things by holding a film up like a mirror. If cinema is magic, this access is the most beautiful spell.
I am Grateful for Hope
Although many movies these days are reflective of the somber, nihilistic environment in which they are born, countless others pulsate with optimism and inspiration. Avengers: Endgame may seem like a hokey cash-grab to some, but its very existence is a crazy affirmation to those who grew up loving the long-form storytelling of comic books. Its message, although simplistic, is a crowd-pleasing fantasy about overcoming spectacular evil that is absolutely therapeutic right now. Meanwhile, a film like Midsommar quietly pauses to validate and acknowledge intimate pain, personal tragedy and invisible emotional traumas.
“Fake it ‘til you make it” is more than a cat-poster slogan; it’s an actual cognitive behavioral strategy used in treatment. When firing up our own imaginations seems like an impossible task, free-falling into someone else’s can be a blissful release. I am so thankful for cinema’s embrace, for its ability to show me dreams that often escape my REM cycles, and for offering an alternative when reality is too abrasive to endure for another moment.
I am Thankful for Opportunity
For the first decade or so that I wrote reviews for The Reader, I felt like someone was going to come over and whisper “That’s enough. Please stop now.” Maybe I still feel that way a bit. Still, this platform, this space will remain the film thing for which I am most thankful for as long as they let me.
I am deeply appreciative of everyone who takes the time to let their eyes roll over anything I’ve written. Whether my reviews and pieces resonate with you or frustrate you, I hope you know how seriously I take this whole thing. I know how few opportunities like this are available. I know how important it is to treat having an outlet like this with respect. I have not, and will not, ever take it for granted.
Maybe you don’t need (or want) to do a list like this. But I encourage you to take some time and reflect not just on the big things everybody knows to be thankful for but the small things. Give a tiny bit of gratitude to this year’s favorite book, song, theater performance, dish, film or whatever this Thanksgiving. If you want to share it with me, please do on Twitter (@thereaderfilm). Or maybe just whisper it like a prayer to yourself. It won’t fix everything, but, I promise, it helps.