And Dimble, who had been sitting with his face drawn, and rather white, between the white faces of the two women, and his eyes on the table, raised his head, and great syllables of words that sounded like castles came out of his mouth. … The voice did not sound like Dimble’s own: it was as if the words spoke themselves through him from some strong place at a distance—or as if they were not words at all but present operations of God, the planets, and the Pendragon.
—C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength
✠ ✠ ✠
I generally do an art-scene review as my final post of the year—so, without further ado, here are ten twenty-first century artists that I’m pretty psyched about.
10. Max Landis. I ran across Me Him Her on Netflix months ago. It’s the first film Landis has directed, and it’s wonderfully insane. The film opens with Brendan, a semi-famous actor, realizing that he’s gay and asking a friend from college to come help him process and start coming out to people; around the same time, a pair of girlfriends break up (because one of them is an unfaithful, manipulative egomaniac). The characters cross paths in the labyrinth of crazy that is downtown LA; hijinks, as the custom is, ensue. The cinematography has a delightful layer of surrealism, the acting is excellent, and Haley Joel Osment has a cameo playing a crazy-cat-lady version of himself. The film has its flaws, but it’s entertaining and clever enough to make me excited about what Landis does in the future.
9. Michael Barryte. One of my time-wasting habits is watching YouTube channels devoted to making fun of movies, which I view as a kind of pop-lit-crit; Cinema Sins, Honest Trailers, and How It Should Have Ended are perennial favorites. Somehow or other I wound up watching Belated Media’s reimagining of the Star Wars prequels, and I was floored. Barryte’s version of all three films did more than the obvious patching—get rid of Jar-Jar, settle on a protagonist, don’t kill Darth Maul yet. He recasts the whole prequel trilogy in light of what made the original trilogy work, and turns the plot and character echoes between the trilogies into actually interesting comparisons and contrasts, instead of mere rehashes. I wish he’d write films! But honestly, his imaginary versions of the prequels are so good, they’re fun to watch.
8. Kurt Sutter. Sutter created the show Sons of Anarchy, whose premise could be inadequately summarized as ‘Hamlet, but with bikers.’ The actors’ talent certainly helped make the show what it is (it features Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, and Ron Perlman, among others). But Sutter’s artistic power is incredible, and he accomplishes an arresting union of a Hell’s Angels expy with classical literary and religious themes. It may be the best television I’ve ever seen.
7. Eve Tushnet. I already knew Eve from her blog, her book Gay and Catholic, and a few charming café meetings; this Christmas I got a copy of her debut novel, Amends. Within the first ten pages I was hooked. Appropriate, I suppose, given that the premise of the book is a reality show about alcoholics in rehab. Her drawing of characters and her stylistic flourish are supported by her satirical but never merely cynical wit. I really hope she keeps writing fiction. (Please keep writing fiction, Eve.)
6. Lauren Faust. Although I’m woefully behind on My Little Pony1, I am a brony. The animation is very taking—though the music is excessively over-sugared for my taste—and the characters display surprising depth and subtlety. The spin-off films Equestria Girls and Rainbow Rocks are pretty good too: they’ve got character arcs and logical plots and everything (the latter even has a clever decoy protagonist thing going on). But one of the things I like most about Faust’s work is that she, like Pendleton Ward of Adventure Time, understands the artistic power of innocence. Innocence, not naïveté: a deeply grounded wholesomeness that refuses and opposes evil without losing its own tenderness, good cheer, and simplicity in the process. Gritty goodness certainly has its place, and it’s what I’m most apt to write, but clean goodness reminds us of why we love the good in the first place.
5. Karyn Kusama. I must admit I was a little torn over Kusama, not because I don’t enjoy her work, but because I wasn’t sure whether to give her this place or assign it to writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. The film that garnered this spot is The Invitation, a psychological horror-thriller that came out last year, and on consideration it’s the directing that makes the movie so chillingly convincing, so Kusama it is. The Invitation horrified me more than any film except The Babadook, and it does so with a surprisingly simple, traditional premise: the weird dinner party that turns creepily bad. Kusama’s directing takes the conventional trope and makes it work, without falling back on stupid jump scares or stereotypical characters, and the symbolism of the film is articulated without being rubbed into your eyes. Outstanding stuff.
4. Dan Harmon. Harmon is a co-creator of Community and of Rick and Morty, the third season of which is supposed to come out in 2017, and I’m about ready to physically explode from anticipation. Rick and Morty has made me laugh, and brought me to the edge of tears, such as I hadn’t thought a cartoon for grown-ups would ever do: The Simpsons opened the door to the idea of a genuinely moving animated series, but the emotional depth of Rick and Morty—even in the midst of its crudest, most irreverent jokes—is a whole new level of craftsmanship.
3. Kit Williamson. I discovered Williamson by accident, rather like Landis, by idly looking through Netflix and trying things not-quite-at-random. Williamson created Eastsiders, which is like if Queer as Folk were stunning instead of merely pretty good. The characters are flawlessly drawn and outstandingly acted, the directing is perfect, the dialogue is sharp and quick without being merely flashy, it’s all great! Go watch it, like, now.
2. Jennifer Kent. Jennifer Kent is the director of The Babadook (another directorial debut), which may well be among the best horror films of all time. The movie centers on a single mother, whose husband died the day their son was born, and a mysterious children’s book about a strange monster that seems to begin haunting her and her son. Kent knows her background material—the film is full of allusions and homages to older horror works—but she created a story all her own, and, best of all, handled the nightmare children’s-book aspect of the story exactly right: never showing too much, never archly winking at the audience, and never just recycling prior parts of the film. The pacing is as exact as a ballet leap, and the mother’s alarming arc is conveyed magnificently.
1. Yoann Lemoine. I have no memory of how I came across Woodkid, of which Lemoine is the vocalist. I guess it was probably an iTunes or YouTube suggestion. Anyhow, I took a listen to a track, and Lemoine’s voice, and the orchestral magnificence of the ensemble, enchanted me. The recent trend of popular music being articulated in classical ways (Postmodern Jukebox and The Irrepressibles spring to mind) is rather a favorite of mine, but Woodkid is head and shoulders above the rest of the subgenre. The subtle warmth of his voice, and the precision of the compositions, whether with classical or modern instruments—I can’t do it justice. Just listen.
And last but not least, a very happy New Year to my readers around the world! This year I’ve tried for Russian, French, Ukrainian, German, Polish, Malay, Chinese (but not in the traditional script, because I cannot search through that many unfamiliar symbols and hope to recognize the right one), Spanish, and Maltese. Apologies and/or laugh as much as you like if I butcher the local tongue, but in case I manage not to:
Happy New Year
С Новым Годом
Щасливого Нового Року
Frohes Neues Jahr
Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku
Selamat Tahun Baru
Feliz Año Nuevo
✠ ✠ ✠
1The Friendship Is Magic version, not the old ‘80s one. I haven’t seen that one but it looks insufferable.