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What Indiewire is Thankful For This Year

What Indiewire is Thankful For This Year

Ah, Thanksgiving. It’s that time of year to catch up with family, eat turkey until it hurts, and, as is the case here at Indiewire, binge-watch the shows you’ve been dying to see all year and/or throw on a movie screener and get caught up on awards contenders. Most importantly, the holiday marks a time for deep reflection, so it’s a great thing this year has been full of moments to be thankful for in the media landscape: Mad Max and Rocky have been restored to their former glory; Pixar is a double threat for the first time; Netflix makes original feature films; USA Network is producing award-worthy drama series. The list goes on and on. 

In celebration of Thanksgiving, the Indiewire team has come together to offer up some of our personal reflections on the movies, shows, trends and creators we are most grateful for this year. Check out our testimonials below, and share your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Dana Harris (Editor-in-Chief/General Manager) – Living in a World Where “Tangerine” Can Be Made

Although the invention of binge watching and the rise and rise of great TV is something to be thankful for — there’s more than I could ever watch — this year I’m most excited that I live in a world where “Tangerine” can be made. It’s proof that timing is everything — it couldn’t have happened without the current technology, as well as the acceptance of and interest in transgender actors — but it also proves that shoestring indie film can still produce work that’s as surprising, fresh, lively, funny and heartfelt as when I started covering this world 20 years ago.

Anne Thompson (Editor-At-Large) – Women Speaking Out About Their Role in Hollywood

Women are speaking out about their role in Hollywood, and Hollywood is listening. One fall weekend boasted an unheard of three films directed by women. And Universal Studios celebrated the record-breaking best year for any studio ever under the leadership of Donna Langley, who greenlit a Gothic romance from Guillermo del Toro (“Crimson Peak”), a sequel directed by Elizabeth Banks (“Pitch Perfect 2”), Amy Schumer starring in the movie she wrote, “Trainwreck,” and sexy “Fifty Shades of Grey,” directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson.

This year we can give thanks for Charlize Theron in her muscular maturity as one-armed Imperator Furiosa, who more than holds her own with Mad Max (Tom Hardy) in George Miller’s “Fury Road”; for Jessica Chastain as the heroic captain of a space ship in Ridley Scott’s “The Martian”; for Sandra Bullock and Emily Blunt, playing roles written for men in “Our Brand is Crisis” and “Sicario,” respectively; for Alicia Vikander’s performances in “Ex Machina,” “The Danish Girl” and “Testament of Youth”; for the chance to watch Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara fall in love in Todd Haynes’ swoony “Carol” and for fearlessly candid Jennifer Lawrence, coming to the end of her run in the “Hunger Games” series, who expressed her determination to demand equal pay as a movie star. More and more, women are speaking out and not getting punished for it, publishing lists of directors for hire, and the needle is moving. Too slowly. But in the right direction. 

Eric Kohn (Deputy Editor/Chief Film Critic) – Independent American Filmmakers From the 1990s

I’m grateful for the independent American filmmakers of the nineties. Spike Lee. Quentin Tarantino. Michael Moore. David O. Russell. What do they all have in common? Their careers blossomed in the nineties, and they all have exciting new movies coming out this fall. While we regularly contemplate the future of filmmaking and the questionable prospects of the theatrical space, these folks never really stopped going for it. Whether or not their latest films are masterworks is besides the point. Some younger American filmmakers really delivered this year — Sean Baker and the Safdie brothers come to mind — but there’s something inspiring about seeing their forebears still at it. They continue to prove that American movies aren’t fading into the noise of our cluttered media environment just yet. 

Kate Erbland (Managing Editor) – Melodramas That Take the Genre Seriously

The era of the great melodrama is not over; instead, it’s been resurrected thanks to a pair of two of the year’s best offerings, Todd Haynes’ glimmering “Carol” and John Crowley’s stirring “Brooklyn,” romances that embrace the genre (and their audiences). The melodrama hasn’t exactly been in fashion over the past few years, but both “Carol” and “Brooklyn” aim to change that in the most subtle and refined of ways: By simply being prime examples of what the genre is capably of inspiring in its audience. Both films reject cloy and cold sentimentality, instead aiming for a natural (but heightened, this is melodrama we’re talking about) emotion, shared experience and just plain good filmmaking to tell their stories and deliver feeling right to the heart, no exaggeration needed.

Liz Shannon Miller (Television Editor) – Screening Websites That Actually Work

I spend a lot more time than I probably should bitching about screening sites. This is because, objectively, they aren’t great. FX’s password system requires high-level copy-and-pasting work in order to access. AMC and Showtime’s clunky players occasionally stall out, which would be fine except that you’re only allowed five plays per video. Fox’s player is slightly better, but you only get three plays. I can’t even talk about Netflix’s press site without triggering some serious PTSD. HBO’s might be the best… But it’s still not great. 
That being said — having screening access is a huge blessing in my life, one that makes this job so much easier. I mean, I may only get three plays per Fox video, but that’s three whole times I can watch the first episode of “The X-Files” revival! (I’m hoarding them.) So I’m taking this opportunity to be thankful to the networks for providing these services, even when they drive me a bit crazy. They are valuable resources and I appreciate them very much. 
That being said, if Netflix could get on relaunching their system sometime soon, I’d be thankful for that, as well.

Ben Travers (Television Critic) – Netflix Releasing Viewership Information

In an age of ever-growing transparency, I find myself thankful that in 2015 we learned more than we ever have about Netflix’s viewership statistics. I know, I know. That’s quite the exciting pick because everyone loves ratings reports, complicated mathematical equations and the concept that popularity matters in the art world. But the thing is it does matter: Learning how many people watched “Beasts of No Nation” on its opening weekend does more than affect its Oscar odds. It tells us how many people are eager to be challenged with a dark film; who seek out the hard-to-watch movies that studios tell us no one wants to see; who will watch something great over something mediocre if it’s convenient or available to them. 

And that goes for the TV side of things, too. We may not have been given exact figures by Netflix, but an important and substantial study came out that provided fresh context for talking about “House of Cards,” “Daredevil,” “Orange is the New Black” and more. Before we knew they made an impact in our own private worlds because friends, family and social media told us as much. Now we can see how far they’ve reached beyond that, how they stack up against broadcast TV and how binge-watching is changing television forever. Numbers tell a story, and this year’s story is about brave new art — and how many people are watching.

Emily Buder (Community Manager, Writer) – Filmmakers Who Take Risks

This year, directors upheld the biggest responsibility in the indie film world: Risk-taking. Across the board, movies pushed the boundaries of the form. Sebastian Schipper shot his heist thriller “Victoria” in one long take in a nearly unprecedented cinematic feat. László Nemes’ Holocaust film “Son of Saul” was shot entirely in claustrophobic close-ups, creating an unforgettable experience that cuts into the heart of survival at Auschwitz. For “White God,” Kornél Mundruczó wrangled 150 shelter dogs to unleash upon the streets of Budapest in an epic chase scene. Marielle Heller’s “Diary of a Teenage Girl” tackled the dearth of female coming-of-age stories by catapulting us into the mind of Minnie, a sex-obsessed teenager honestly portrayed. Sean Baker shot “Tangerine” with an iPhone 5s and a shoestring budget of $100,000, and the film starred two black trangender women to boot. Keep ’em coming!

Zack Sharf (Editorial Assistant) – Television Shows That Broke the Sophomore Slump

With so many of 2014’s most acclaimed debut shows returning this year, the pressure was at astronomical levels for them to deliver on the hype that captured the television zeitgeist. “True Detective” Season 2 may have been a huge critical disappointment — and a crushing eight hours for fans of Season 1 — but luckily it was just an anomaly in a television year that saw sophomore seasons explode in surprising and riveting ways. Instead of falling into well-worn rhythms and playing it safe, many sophomore dramas and comedies smartly built on the themes they planted in their first outing, building and reworking relationships and storylines from a promising foundation to create something more vital, ambitious and obsessively watchable.

So here’s to raising a glass this Thanksgiving to “BoJack Horseman,” which turned its sharp satirical arrow to film production while exploring themes of depression in unexpectedly profound ways; “You’re the Worst,” the great FX anti-rom-com that brought its lead characters under the same roof as a diversion to uncover their pain and self-detructive habits; “Fargo,” currently in the middle of a masterful season full of the atmosphere, sustained tension, dark humor and characters that can only be found in the mind of the Coen Brothers; “The Leftovers,” which radically introduced new characters, settings and mysteries while never wavering from its despair-ridden, psychological-recoking intensity; and “Transparent,” which audiences will soon discover is more emotional and fragile than ever when it hits Amazon Prime on December 11. Now let’s just hope season three continues to soar (and that HBO renews “The Leftovers” so it can do so).

Steve Greene (Special Projects Editor) – The Sitcom Episodes That Went Serious

As with many other hard-and-fast distinctions across the changing media landscape, the line between “drama” and “comedy” is an ever-dissolving boundary. Most of the past decade’s hour-long dramas which we collectively hold dear have offered some of TV’s heartiest laughs (see: Gold, Sterling’s). 2015 was maybe the strongest year for in-name sitcoms to take the reverse path, to harvest the tiny tragedies of everyday life and deliver some of the medium’s most emotionally fulfilling episodes.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has a knack for taking its playful, rainbow-palleted musical numbers and adding on a layer of true-to-life insecurities. From the opening credits sequence’s cartoon sun that belts “She’s so broken insiiiiide!” the show’s biggest laughs come tempered with a real empathy towards the search for human connection that fuels the show’s central conceit. “I’m Going on a Date with Josh’s Friend!” follows up a breezy Astaire-Rogers dance number with an honest exchange featuring those same characters at their most emotionally vulnerable. It’s not easy TV to make, but that’s what makes “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” such a gem.
Beneath its schwifty exterior, an odd ripple of sincerity has helped keep “Rick and Morty” on the upper tier with the best of its animated brethren. Every time the show threatens to give in to the easy caricatures its characters are in danger of careening towards, the story pulls back to add in a genuine moment of familial connection and understanding. With plenty of opportunities in the show’s two short seasons to take the nuclear (or, I guess, in this case, interdimensional destruction ray) option, they’ve managed to preserve the tenuous threads keeping the Sanchez family from crumbling. Jerry and Beth’s extreme couples-counseling arc in this season’s “Big Trouble in Little Sanchez” offered the strongest example yet that “Rick and Morty” really is using love, not narrative expediency, to hold this family together.

And “You’re the Worst” may have trumped all other comers this year with “LCD Soundsystem,” a glimpse into the life that its main characters might have lived with a few different life choices. Gretchen’s mental state has been at the forefront of this season, never feeling like a gimmick or a plot device meant to enrich the other characters in her orbit. For a show that could easily thrive on its Barney’s Beanery jokes and improv-skewering alone, that final shot of “LCD Soundsystem” might be the most gutting moment of 2015.

Matthew Brennan (Thompson on Hollywood Staff Writer, TV Critic) – Peak TV

It’s easy to laugh at the ubiquitous use of the term — coined by FX Networks’ John Landgraf to describe the boom in original scripted series — and, if your job involves keeping track of the medium, as mine does, to lament the veritable landslide of programming to sift through. But in this era of “peak TV,” as in the Hollywood renaissance of the 1970s or the proliferation of American indies in the 1990s, an industrial and technological revolution has also produced a creative one. In this brave new world, I can binge-watch “Transparent” in a single sitting and savor “Mad Men” on seven consecutive Sundays, discover “Please Like Me” on Pivot and defend HBO’s “Looking” to the death; between “Empire,” “The Americans,” “Wolf Hall,” “BoJack Horseman,” “Mr. Robot,” “The Knick,” and many more besides, scarcely a week passes without some new marvel. That no two of the aforementioned series appear on the same network, that their stories stretch from Tudor England to BoJack’s “Hollywoo,” suggests to me the real promise of “peak TV”: a level of artistic breadth and depth for which any viewer can be thankful.   

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