Year in Review: Shooting My Mouth Off in 2019

Thanks, everyone, who hangs out here, who likes what I do, whether you’re an Elvis fan, a Supernatural fan, a general cinephile, a book-lover, or just someone who’s been checking in periodically for 17 years – WHAT? – I appreciate your presence, I appreciate your comments!

Here are some of the things I wrote in the year 2018, for many different outlets, as well as for my own site.

My “Present Tense” column at Film Comment

I launched the column with an essay about Frank O’Hara and his love of the movies.

He makes his case: “It’s true that fresh air is good for the body / but what about the soul that grows in darkness embossed by silvery images.” This is one of the most accurate depictions in literature of what actually goes on “in the movies.”

The fun of this column is “sky’s the limit” in terms of subject matter. It’s basically: Shit I’ve Always Wanted to Write About. Thank you, Film Comment, for validating my weird brain. For the second installment of the column I wrote about the sexual/romantic tension between Hicks and Ripley in Aliens.

Eyes glinting with flirty mischief and intimacy, he sends her off with, “Don’t be gone long, Ellen.” It’s as though they’re suddenly in bed, in a world where they could be who they want to be to each other.

In the third installment, I wrote about Marlon Brando’s physicality, as expressed so perfectly by David Foster Wallace in Infinite Jest.

When Brando was at his best, everything was in proportion. You don’t sense effort. Most crucially, Brando underlined nothing. His instincts led him into opposition. This wasn’t just bratty anti-authoritarianism. This was actor-as-tuning-fork to his own sense of truth. A conventional actor might shout an angry line. Brando would whisper it, turning the scene on its ear.

Next, I wrote about Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue and Walt Whitman’s bicentennial. Both.

In the poem “The Wound-Dresser,” Whitman describes his experiences working in a Civil War hospital, and how he remained “impassive” with the wounded and yet “deep in my breast a fire, a burning flame.” Sam Shepard, reminiscing about the healing effect of the Rolling Thunder tour on audiences, says, “Rock and roll is a kind of medicine.” A “wound-dresser” for a hurting America.

I wrote about the never-before-seen material in Sylvia Plath’s recently published full correspondence, which shows – for the first time – the extent of her cinephilia.

For the first time, Plath is revealed as an adventurous and voracious moviegoer. She lived in a very exciting era for film, coming of age in the 1950s. While the “football romances” were, indeed, depressing, the 1950s also saw the influx of foreign films onto American soil, Japanese, French, Swedish, Russian, with art houses proliferating, these movies providing glimpses into other cultures and new ways of seeing. Plath was an active participant in all of it, joining the Film Society while studying at Cambridge on a Fulbright scholarship, sometimes seeing as many as three movies a day.

I wrote about Tom Noonan’s harrowing film about urban loneliness, What Happened Was.

Jackie and Michael come into the date with compromised emotional immune systems. Whatever resilience they may have had once is long gone. “That which does not kill you makes you stronger” is a lie, or at least a “fiction” parroted by people who have been privileged enough not to know real suffering. There’s something pathological and, dare I say, capitalistic, about the phrase. Being “strong” isn’t the only positive value in life. “That which does not kill you” can kill other things, too, things like vulnerability, humor, the capacity to connect with others—in short, the things that make life worth living.

I wrote about the glorious “back-ting” tradition, actors who can convey an entire story with their backs to the camera. Examples abound.

In his lonely back, we can see his terrible awareness of the brutal life he has lived and what it has cost him.

I wrote about Dennis Hopper’s raging punk rock manifesto, Out of the Blue, a long-forgotten and hard-to-see film, now restored and (I’m sure) soon to be available.

As CeBe, Linda Manz gives one of the great teenage performances of all time.

This was something that had been percolating for a long long time. I wanted to write about how people who come out of comedy, improv or sketch, often make the greatest dramatic actors, blowing away their “serious” counterparts. And so I finally wrote about it.

Watch Wiig in Bridesmaids and then watch Hateship Loveship, Welcome to Me, and Skeleton Twins in succession. Each character is so distinct it’s like Wiig swaps out her soul for each role. (The last three films all came out in 2014, and the fact that Wiig didn’t get more accolades for these transformations—none of which involved radical shifts in appearance or self-congratulatory weight-loss/gain—is evidence of how actors known for comedy aren’t taken as seriously as their dramatic counterparts). Throw in Wiig’s lunatic Saturday Night Live sketch “Liza Minnelli Turns Off a Lamp” to get the full picture of her gift. I think Wiig is one of the best actresses working today.

I focused on Matthias Schoenaerts’ ongoing explorations of his characters’ tormented bound-up masculinity. He’s really untouchable. He’s going where Brando went, where De Niro went. It’s a place only men can go. He’s giving us insider information. Without protecting himself.

The moment is so vulnerable and lonely it’s almost unwatchable. Jacky’s world is comfortless. Schoenaerts often plays such men.

I wrote about awesome death scenes in cinema. This was super fun and it exploded on Twitter. I couldn’t keep up with all the replies, people sharing their favorite deaths scenes. It was great!

Child actors often toss themselves into death scenes with fearless gusto. I call this the “Bang Bang You’re Dead” School of Acting. Watch the swan dives of children playing cops and robbers in the backyard and you’ll see total commitment to the imaginary.

It was a great pleasure to interview director Brett Hanover about Rukus, his slightly unclassifiable documentary-video-diary-narrative feature, which we had awarded Best Features in the Hometowners category last year at Indie Memphis. You should all see Rukus. He’s released it online.

?I never wanted you to forget you were watching a re-enactment. I wanted that alienation effect. You’re trusting it as a document of something, of some version of these real events, but also as a document of the re-enactment process.”

I had fun writing about memorable experiences seeing movies in a theatre in a packed house. For me, there’s nothing like it. I’m so glad I saw Wolf of Wall Street (just one example) surrounded by a crowd.

In the final standoff with the Nazis, the tension in the theater was palpable, and everyone burst into applause as Bergman and Grant made their getaway. It was an exhilarating turn-around. Notorious is one of my favorite movies, and re-watching it now is enriched by the memory of that Film Forum audience.

I wrote about Michael Rymer’s 1995 film Angel Baby, which has haunted me for decades, ever since I saw it during its first release. It’s streaming now (after long unavailability). You should see it.

The intimacy these actors create with each other is so visceral you can almost smell it. The final 20 minutes of the film is so harrowing I have remembered it almost shot for shot, even though I haven’t seen it since 1995.

Although it feels mean to “pick favorites” among my columns (thus far), this one – about the “tomboy films” of the 1970s – is probably my favorite.

They were scrappy street urchins. They talked like gangsters. Sometimes they were actual criminals. They smoked cigarettes. They sassed authority figures, and when told to knock it off, they sassed even more. They flipped the world the bird. They were the smartest person in any room, even though they were between the ages of 9 and 14, and even though they were girls. Theirs was an ongoing act of civil disobedience against the limits imposed on girls, the idea that girls should behave one way, boys another.

I will never be done talking about Kristen Stewart. It’s been an ongoing theme, and so I figured I’d address it in the column.

There’s a part of her that always seems a little bit uncomfortable being looked at, but what is special about Stewart—and not often remarked-upon—is that she doesn’t try to combat this. She doesn’t try to correct it. She just lets us see that part of her. She lets us see her discomfort and shyness. This is where her magic really lies.

I wrote about Sophia Takal’s first two films, Green (2011) and Always Shine (2016).

This is what Takal is after: what things feel like, the peril in relationships, in bonding, in intimacy, particularly for women. Miscommunication, jealousy, social pressures, create a pressure cooker environment where freedom is impossible. This is mostly the realm of melodrama, not kitchen-sink realism, but it’s also the realm of horror, and both Green and Always Shine read as horror films, although the horror is hard to point to.


I wrote about Into Invisible Light, a film written and directed by Shelagh Carter.

The best way I can put it is that Into Invisible Light is a movie for grownups. It’s not about the first flush of hope. It’s a movie about flawed human people with some miles on them, miles where things have been dropped along the way, things they all thought were lost forever.

I reviewed the Polish documentary Communion, an incredible directorial debut from Anna Zamecka.

The camera doesn’t rove around the room looking for conflict, for reaction shots, to “up” the tension, all of the technical tropes that have seeped into the culture via reality television. Zamecka’s approach enforces a certain amount of distance from her subjects. We can see it all, how overworked Ola is, how helpless Marek is, how on top of one another they are in that apartment.

I reviewed The Heiresses for Ebert.

Chela is so weighted down at the start of the film that the lightening of her mood is wonderful to see but it’s also alarming. Hope brings with it the possibility of heartbreak, and Brun draws you totally into that experience, with little to no explanatory dialogue. What a remarkable performance.

I reviewed my friend Larry Clarke’s wonderful directorial debut 3 Days with Dad (he also wrote the script), featuring a murderer’s row of talented actors.

Bob is screaming, the kids are screaming, they’re moving him and his IV drip across the room and it’s MAYHEM. It’s funny but it’s also not. No one can prepare you for a moment like that. It’s unimaginable until it is upon you.

I wrote about Sounder for Film Comment.

Winfield and Tyson, with no dialogue, suggest the intimacy and heat between this couple, how connected they are. When Nathan comes home after serving his sentence, there’s a moment where they catch eyes over the kids’ heads, longing to finally be alone together. In these scenes is the rich texture of life. It feels more authentic than an uninterrupted parade of misery. Or, to put it another way: the joy is as real as the misery.

I absolutely loved Ruben Brandt, Collector and had a blast writing my review.

With a fast-paced story spanning the globe, and images like a fluidly-undulating art-literate acid flashback, “Ruben Brandt, Collector” is like “To Catch a Thief” as filtered through the multi-eyeballed gaze of Joan Miró, or “The Pink Panther” as imagined by Pablo Picasso.

I reviewed Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life for Film Comment.

Infertility—like old age—is a topic many people don’t want to look at. It cuts too close to home and provokes all kinds of conflicting feelings, especially in a culture that so prizes parenthood and—especially—motherhood as the be-all and end-all of female experience. This is one of the many reasons Private Life feels almost dangerous. It’s stepping into new ground. It’s opening a long-closed door.

I loved Gaspar Noe’s Climax. I reviewed for Ebert.

The dancers come from all walks of life, but everyone goes down with the ship, clinging to their final shreds of sanity. There’s a mournfulness in all of this: “Climax” is haunted by the joy of the first dance.

I wrote about Robert Flaherty’s influential (for good or ill) documentary Man of Aran for Film Comment.

The shark hunt is followed by a sequence where the men row home in the teeth of a storm, the currach buffeted by the waves. It was as dangerous as it looks.

I reviewed Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria Bell – an American remake of his own movie – for Ebert.

Gloria and Arnold don’t so much “hit it off” as they decide to try each other on. They have sex, they talk, he reads her a poem, they play paintball. Meanwhile, life goes on, and the “life goes on” aspect of “Gloria Bell” is one of its distinguishing characteristics.

I interviewed Dan Callahan about his book The Art of American Screen Acting, Volume 2.

Callahan: Pacino is so in touch with evil, and he didn’t need to be. He could have done cute victim parts, which he did in Scarecrow. But his actual interest is the underside of being cute and seductive which is: this cute seductive person might be evil. In The Local Stigmatic, he plays more of a small-time crook than Michael Corleone and yet it’s more concentrated in a way because it’s a short film. The Godfather is Pacino’s great statement on evil.

Upon hearing the news that the upcoming season of Supernatural (the 15th) would be its last, I wrote a long essay about how I “tripped over” the series and how my obsession was born.

The third episode was when I felt some familiar … stirrings. Stirrings of personal investment. A layer of complexity was added to what I was seeing. There was a mournfulness in episode 3 that I responded to, a deepening of this Dean character.

I reviewed the appalling The Haunting of Sharon Tate for Ebert.

In an insidious way, Farrands’ approach—these alternate versions where Tate gets to act “heroically”blames the victim. It suggests: Couldn’t Tate have shown more “agency” that night? What if she had fought back? Wouldn’t it have been great if Sharon had been more “badass” in the face of her impending death? If only she had listened to her intuition, maybe she wouldn’t have been murdered. Alternate histories can be extremely cathartic. But not like this.

I really loved Wild Nights with Emily, and had a lot of fun writing my review for Ebert.

Olnek takes one of the many Emily Dickinson theories – that the famous “spinster recluse” had a lifelong love affair with Susan Gilbert, her childhood friend and eventual sister-in-law – and runs with it, has fun with it, flings open the doors, letting in light and passion and life. This could have been a dreadfully dreary affair if the approach had been didactic. In Olnek’s hands, it’s a romp, but it’s a romp with real bite.

I reviewed Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer’s documentary Wrestle.

It’s not just about wrestling. The team practices have a sense of real urgency, they’re like military drills, getting the boys ready for compat under fire. It’s life or death.

I interviewed director Lian Lunson about her beautiful film Waiting for the Miracle to Come, starring Willie Nelson and Charlotte Rampling and Sophie Lowe. Shot entirely on Willie Nelson’s ranch in Texas.

Lian Lunson: I feel very honored and privileged and lucky that these people allowed me to make Miracle. It’s very hard to make a film like this these days. The films I love – films like Ponette and Baghdad Cafe … these films leave you with something. The people who allowed me to make Miracle knew it would be a challenge, but they helped me to do it. That doesn’t happen very often. Without them, I would never have gotten to do it.

I wrote the cover story for the May-June 2019 issue of Film Comment, on Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir.

It’s the romanticism of being in an artistic headspace, of putting yourself and your dreams and passions out there for people to see. Julie stands off to the side, looking on at what she has created. All of these people have come together to bring her vision to fruition. Collaboration like this is its own addiction.

I reviewed Joe Berlinger’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Vile and Evil for Ebert.

As Ted Bundy, Efron gets to use his natural assets—his face, his body, his charisma—and he gets to use them full-bore. Often really beautiful actors feel the need to “ugly” themselves up in order to be taken seriously. Efron so far has resisted. He has old-school movie star wattage and an ability to project his essence through the screen. Using his animal charm in service of Ted Bundy is so disturbing, but it works in subtextual ways, providing the “missing piece” when people ask why and how Bundy could have happened.

For Criterion’s “Songbook” column, I wrote about the use of “Love is Strange” in Terrence Malick’s Badlands.

In “Nebraska,” Bruce Springsteen imagines the story from Starkweather’s point of view, paraphrasing what the killer actually said after he was caught, “I can’t say that I’m sorry for the things that we done / At least for a little while, sir, me and her, we had us some fun.” Staring at those words, the mind goes blank. In that blankness lies Badlands.

For Oscilloscope’s Musings blog, I wrote about a long-standing obsession: scenes where men look at themselves in the mirror.

Francis Ford Coppola’s epic, Apocalypse Now begins with a hallucinatory sequence showing a PTSD-rattled Martin Sheen, holed up in a hotel room in Saigon, tormented by memories. In one shocking moment, Sheen stands unsteadily, and lurches around in front of the mirror, flailing his arms out in imitation martial-arts moves, an attempt to combat his helplessness and anguish, his impotence. But the gap between reality and fantasy is too great, and he, like Richard III, smashes the mirror.

I wrote about the really good Mouthpiece for Check this movie out!

Needing characters—particularly female characters—to be strong all the time is just as limiting as any other kind of stereotype. Being vulnerable is not being weak. Not knowing what to do is not being weak. It’s being human. In an increasingly corporatized world, where franchises suck up all the oxygen, where small personal films can barely get made anymore, “Mouthpiece” vibrates with the urgency behind its shared expression.

For Film Comment (and the anniversary of D-Day), I wrote about John Ford’s great war film They Were Expendable.

They Were Expendable is the kind of film where all you have to do is scan the faces of everyone on screen—the stars, the co-stars and the extras—to see the stakes of war.

Again for Film Comment, I wrote about the smokin-white-hot sexual chemistry in Love Crazy and The More the Merrier.

It’s clear that Mr. Dingle takes one look at Connie, one look at Joe, and perceives that they need each other and want each other. He goes to great and sometimes annoying lengths to force these two lonely characters to damn the torpedoes and go full speed ahead, right into bed.

I reviewed Rick Alverson’s latest, the pitiless The Mountain, which I can’t say I “enjoyed” – the subject matter is bleak and hopeless – but it’s definitely worth watching.

Moving from one isolated institution to the next, Fiennes’ car drives along lonely roads, bordered by ranks of trees, highlighting the fact that the people in these institutions have been removed from society. Anything can be done to them and nobody would know.

I reviewed Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale. I did not care for it at all. People were like, “It’s tough to watch.” I was like, “Yeah, because it’s not good.” The Babadook ravaged my SOUL and I still reference it in my head all the time, so I’m on her side. But have to call it like I see it. Other films have covered the same subject matter far better. Other women were saying to me, in response to my review: “Did you and I see the same film??” Well, yes. We did. But we had different responses. I know. It’s unbelievable. Women are not a monolith.

The issue is the subtext-less script. Having no subtext flattens out the action, creating a same-ness in the scene progression. Part of this feels appropriate to the lead character’s PTSD; she is traumatized beyond nuanced responses. But somehow, when translated into visual form, the effect is deadening. The script has this weird mix of rigidity and flabbiness, especially in the final sequences which are repetitive and stagnant.

One of the most pleasant surprises of the year for me was The Peanut Butter Falcon, which I reviewed for Ebert. Ignore the bad title of the film. This is a lovely and emotional fable. I loved it.

Unlike so many disabled characters in film, Zac is not utilized as a symbol, a metaphor, or created to be “inspirational.” He’s the central figure, he’s outspoken and strong, funny and vulnerable. He’s never had a friend before. He’s always wanted to be “bro dawgs” with someone. Watching the relationship develop with Tyler is one of the film’s many pleasures.

Casey Affleck’s feature film directorial debut Light of my Life was kind of ignored. I’m not sure why. Because people think he should be “cancelled”? I don’t know. Because I thought this was quite good, and haunting in this quiet traumatized way. I really responded to it. I reviewed for Ebert.

Whatever the case may be, it occurred to me that in this script Affleck was “working out” his thoughts on what men have done with the world and who they are (this includes himself), how their “anger” and “loneliness”—as the father calls it—manifest in monstrous ways. Girls, as always, are in the crosshairs.

I reviewed the sweetly wistful and surprisingly perceptive documentary Jawline, which I really loved. I showed it to Allison, too, and we had a wonderful time watching it and talking about it.

“Jawline” works gently, slowly, presenting its subject and sub-culture with not just affection but sympathy, a sympathy very close to tenderness.

I really loved Ms. Purple. I know there’s so much released now it’s hard to remember things, but flag this as one to check out.

“Ms. Purple” is a beautiful film about two siblings, damaged from their childhoods, lost in their young adulthoods, but bound together by family ties, for better or worse.

Chained for Life is SO GOOD. One of the treats of the year for me was getting to review this sprawling ensemble film, a la Altman, which is funny, serious, thought-provoking, entertaining – it’s a really BIG movie.

Schimberg’s touch is very light, but the film reaches the depths, not despite his light touch, but because of it.

I reviewed the visually ravishing Monos for Ebert. It’s making a lot of people’s Top 10 lists. Not mine, but you may feel differently. It definitely should be seen.

This is the story of what happens to kids in war, what happens to the mind under a kind of brainwashing, especially a susceptible teenage mind. If “mercy” is seen as weak, if the group decides “mercy” is bad, it’s very difficult to go against that grain, to maintain your sense of humanity. This is how “peer pressure” works in its most sinister state.

The Death of Dick Long laid me FLAT. It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed that hard during a film. And it was all behavioral and situational. I mean, the title alone … I really recommend this one. I reviewed for Ebert.

The back seat of his car is drenched in Dick’s blood, and how Zeke ends up “handling” this is so dim-witted it’s almost admirable.

I wrote about The Wolf of Wall Street, #6 on Ebert’s Top 25 Films of the 2010s. You can check out the full list here, and read a bunch of great essays about each film.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is very funny, but the world it shows is a mirage, the shimmering illusion of the American dream, in all its rapacity, unfairness, and gross misconduct. The cream doesn’t rise to the top. The bad guys often triumph. They’re stronger. Their amorality protects them.

I reviewed the documentary Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, an unexpectedly moving documentary which starts out being about this one very eccentric woman, and then morphs into something else altogether. I loved it.

The fantasy is that with the internet, everything can be saved and found, everything is available. This is so far from the truth it’s outrageous that people still seem to believe it.

I reviewed Queen & Slim for

Archetypes are used for a reason: archetypes are symbols, not individualized characters, archetypes represent the hopes, dreams, fears, hatreds, of a community. They’re more like projector screens than people. When used correctly—as they are here—archetypes contain tremendous emotional power.

I reviewed the latest from the Safdie brothers, Uncut Gems, starring Adam Sandler, in one of THE performances of the year – with a great supporting cast: Julia Fox, a terrifying Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch, Kevin Garnett as himself and LaKeith Stanfield, who continues to surprise me with his versatility. (He’s great in Knives Out too.)

Howard’s black opal is the same as any long-besought gem: it emanates a magical pull on all who look upon it. Its power is almost wholly symbolic.

I reviewed Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life for Film Comment.

Everyone hopes they will behave like Franz, will see the forces of evil rising around them and resist. The question is trickier when a guillotine awaits you at the end of a dark hall.

For’s Top 10 Films of 2019, I wrote about Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir.

Transformation is not neat, linear, or controllable. Being in love bleeds into every aspect of life. It’s the most important thing. But art is also the most important thing. Being free to make the art you want to make is paramount. Compartmentalization is not possible. At a certain point, it all merges together.

2019 In Memoriam

I wrote a tribute to Nicolas Roeg in Film Comment.

Many of the directors’s films received baffled or outright irritated reviews. Audiences sometimes recoiled from the challenges of his visuals. Roeg calls us out on our dirty minds, our voyeurism, making us admit things we might not want to acknowledge. The films were often marketed incorrectly, and Roeg had a lot to say about the damage that caused: “Any change in form produces a fear of change, and that has accelerated.” There was nothing “familiar” about Roeg’s work, and it is only with time that we can perceive the enormity of its influence.

Here’s my tribute to drummer Honey Lantree.

Karen Carpenter also said that when she saw The Honeycombs on The Ed Sullivan Show, it inspired her to become a drummer.

One-hit wonder? Okay. But you never know “how far that little candle throws his beams.”

Beloved poet Mary Oliver died. Like millions of others, I have a very personal relationship with her work.

There’s always a moment when her poems flash into transcendence, like when a gliding swan suddenly rears back stretching out its wings. It has that feeling to it.

Experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas died. I wrote a little bit about the footage he shot of Elvis’ concerts at Madison Square Garden in 1972.

He did not record the sound. He did not try to sync anything up. He said, “Some of it was filmed normal 24fps speed, some not.”

Known mostly for her role in Creature from the Black Lagoon, I love Julie Adams for her performance in the meta-esque Elvis movie Tickle Me.

Julie Adams understood genre, how it operated, what was required of her as an actress. She had fun with all of it. In Tickle Me she is charming and funny, she creates a believable character (in a completely ridiculous context), and highlights him gorgeously, giving him something to play off of. She understood everything. She also understood the most important thing was: if you are lucky enough to have any kind of career at all in show biz … ENJOY IT.

I will miss knowing George Klein is out there. I wrote about him on my site.

He was one of Elvis’ pallbearers. True inner circle (and it was a very small circle).

R.I.P. Stanley Donen, legendary director of Singin’ in the Rain (and other classics). Tribute on my site.

During his time with us, he was asked, “How do you direct Audrey Hepburn and not fall in love with her?”

He replied, “You don’t.”

New Wave before there even WAS a French New Wave, Agnes Varda has left a hole in the cinematic landscape that nobody else can fill. We will never get over missing her. I wrote about her working with Sandrine Bonnaire in Vagabond.

Varda didn’t “help” Bonanaire give the great performance she did in Vagabond. That’s a misunderstanding of the relationship between director and actress. But Varda made one comment, one very pointed comment early on, which ended up being the thing that gave Bonnaire her “way in” to the character.

Character actor George Morfogen is a family fave, mainly because of his one line in What’s Up, Doc?: “What kind of wine are you serving at Table One?” Tribute on my site.

I love that his arc in They All Laughed basically sums up to: “Infidelity is sometimes okay.”

R.I.P. Bibi Andersson. One of the greatest actresses to ever practice the craft. I wrote a tribute on my site. I also wrote and narrated a video essay for Criterion on Ingmar Bergman’s collaborations with Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson.

The murder of Lyra McKee continues to be a devastating almost incomprehensible loss. So furious.

Born in Belfast, right off socalled “Murder Mile,” she was of the generation that came of age post Good Friday Agreement (she was killed on the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement). She had a perceptive take on the challenges and struggles of the “Ceasefire Babies,” those of her generation raised in the aftermath of decades of terror and violence (centuries, really), when all of it was supposedly “over” but … it wasn’t over, not really.

When John Singleton died, at the way too young age of 51, the writers at each contributed something for a group tribute.

There’s one sequence in “Boyz N the Hood” which has wiggled its way into my subconscious, the way scenes or moments in film sometimes do. They become part of the texture of your life, how you think, the references you make. Moments like the “dueling anthems” scene in “Casablanca”, or the husband-and-wife reunion scene in “Sounder,” or the painful Fredo-Michael scene in “Godfather II (“I’m your older brother, Mike!”).

I wrote about Hollywood icon and quadruple threat Doris Day.

She was like Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra in that she wasn’t “just” a singer. She was one of the instruments in the orchestra, she was a conductor. Her singing – the tone, the beautiful elongation of her phrasing, where she chose to breathe, all of it – was an act of pure musicianship.

This one hurt. Nick Tosches died. Books to read: his biographies of Jerry Lee Lewis, Dean Martin, Sonny Liston, but there’s so much more. One of my favorite writers.

Dean Martin is forever changed for all time because of how Tosches wrote about him.

Coming quickly on the heels of the death of Nick Tosches was the death of legendary producer Robert Evans, whose book The Kid Stays in the Picture is a stone-cold classic.

To Evans, there was only one “business”, and that’s the business of making movies. The Kid Stays In the Picture is one of the great movie-business books of all time.

French New Wave legend, muse to a generation, wonderful actress and director, Anna Karina died at the age of 79. I will miss knowing she’s out there. I wrote a brief thing on my site.

Karina could be vivacious but could then be totally remote a second later. She could break your heart. She could draw you to her, while at the same time something in you might hold back, intimidated, frightened.


Here are a number of pieces I’ve written on my site.

I wrote about Nick Nolte’s deep DEEP vulnerability.

His social self vanishes, he flat-lines, and then something else – hard to say what it is exactly – takes its place. Nolte isn’t doing any of this to “show” us something. Honestly, it barely appears to be a “choice”. Nolte’s unconcsious, his instincts, his emotional availability, at the wheel. The unnameable thing in Nolte’s eyes IS the character.

“Is your dad here?” I wrote about a small moment from Eighth Grade, which says so much.

Later, you hear the mom off-screen scolding her husband for bringing the cake down too early, and the argument gets toxic almost immediately. So in 5 minutes you get the whole picture of this woman’s whole life.

I went down the rabbit hole, starting from this shot in Inherent Vice.

For whatever reason, I was so struck by this woman in the ocean. I wondered about her life. Had she run away? Was she okay? Where did she live? Ironically: the picture shows her in a state of bliss. But I felt anxious looking at it.

I wrote about Maggie Smith’s astonishing performance in Bed Among the Lentils.

In “Bed Among the Lentils,” Maggie Smith IS feeling everything but the context of the character – a very unreliable narrator – means the only emotion that is actually visible to the naked eye is a kind of coiled contempt swimming in a sea of existential boredom.

I reviewed Ernest Hilbert’s latest poetry collection, Last One Out.

Sometimes he finds equilibrium, trembling there, but it’s always slightly unstable, there’s always a pull one way or the other. A jar of fireflies “flash silent broadsides at our porch,” close enough to touch and yet also as distant as far-away “constellations of cold light.” Is there nothing in the vast space between?

I wrote about one of the scenes in Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, one of the best films of the year.

It’s hard to make an audience start laughing and then stop laughing and segue into a whole different kind of experience, at the exact moment when you need them to.

I wrote about reading James Joyce’s short story “A Painful Case,” in Dubliners. I’d read it before but I must have blocked it out. The story threw me off for days. Very unnerving.

A pause to take note of the simplicity of his language. Nothing fancy. “He began to feel ill at ease.”

A piece I wrote about Sucker Punch and Gold Diggers of 1933 is included in an anthology of writings from the “Musings” blog over at Oscilloscope Laboratories. You can order it here. (There are two volumes. Honored to be included!)

Every Monday, I’ve been posting essays written by my brother Brendan O’Malley, from his 50 Best Albums list on his old blog. They’re an amazing archive of writing and thought and insight.

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1 Response to Year in Review: Shooting My Mouth Off in 2019

  1. sejdar says:

    I’m getting to this late, but as usual it’s full of your terrific insights and suggestions.
    I found an audio version of Robert Evans’ book (because you suggested it) and it’s read by Robert Evans! OMG, he does voices! So much fun! Thanks Sheila, love your work!

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