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The First of 2023 7 min read

The First of 2023

A round-up of the best "Best of" lists, another Jan. 6 anniversary, Donald Trump's next campaign, Hollywood (both new and old), and much, much more.

By Cary Littlejohn
The First of 2023 Post image

Finally. I’m back in your inbox. You’ve probably forgotten about this little newsletter, but I hope you’ll indulge my latest attempts to revive it.

2022 was a strange year. Not the-world-is-ending bad like 2020 and 2021, but like hungover bad. Do we say “after the pandemic” yet? Is that accurate? No, not really. But did most of us return to life as we knew it? Yeah, I think it’s safe to say we did. We took flights. We went out to eat. We went back to offices.

The second half of the 2022 was a jam-packed time for me. It included:

  • I totaled a car after hydroplaning on the interstate in Wyoming.
  • I got COVID-19 for the first time.
  • I left Wyoming and moved back to Columbia, Missouri.
  • I started two separate part-time jobs with the University of Missouri.
  • I joined the screening committee for the upcoming True/False Film Fest.

Lots more happened, both good and bad, but I highlight some of these because they happened within a very short period of time, and that time, not surprisingly, was when I dropped off even more staggeringly from what had once been a reliable publishing schedule of this email.

Some of these were incredibly time-consuming. All were tiring and exhausting in their own way. But now things have settled down, and I’m getting back, with some intentionality, to things that bring me happiness.

This newsletter is a passion project, produced for no other reason than I enjoy all that goes into it. So I feel conflicted when I look at the calendar and have to admit that it’s been months since I’ve done something that brings me a lot of joy.

The goal is to get back into it. I don’t know how often I’ll publish, and I don’t know on which day, but I am sitting down to do it. That is my commitment, said here in front of you all so that I might stick to it. If I can find a new format that works, I’ll go where the wind takes me; this little project has already seen numerous changes. For a while during the early days of the pandemic, I was writing daily. Then a few times a week. Then a single time a week. Then on a different day of the week. And a different time of the day.

But the content will be roughly the same, governed by the inexact science of my own tastes and preferences. Some of my own writing. Links to far-superior writing. Various topics, whatever catches my attention really.

Mostly, I’m just glad to have a place to do such creative pursuits and folks with whom to share it. Thanks for letting me back into your inboxes, and happy 2023 to all of you.

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. There’s no better way to start of 2023 (and restart this newsletter after months of inactivity) than by rounding up some of the best of “Best of 2022” lists: TV countdown with The Watch; a brilliant meta-list of a book roundup from LitHub (an idea which I might steal in the future: basically, the writer looks at dozens of “best of” lists so you don’t have to and highlights the number of times lists various books show up on, reasoning the more lists, the more buzz); Slate’s Movie Club, which isn’t just a list but is rather a collection of essays on various movies as well as collections of list from some of my favorite critics working; and last but not least, Nick Quah’s list of Best Podcasts of 2022 for Vulture.

  2. The days-long saga that was the election of the Speaker of the House was alternatively hilarious and worrisome. But one undeniable beneficiary was the normally staid and bland C-SPAN, which got free rein from the normal rules that restrict what it shows in the chamber. It was the American public’s window into the disarray and soap opera-quality of the 14 failed votes that led to Rep. Kevin McCarthy finally being elected as Speaker.

  3. Hire photojournalists. This is one of the clearest takeaways from the Speaker drama. This article from Semafor recaps McCarthy’s ordeal, but it includes tweets containing some great photojournalism that almost tell as much as a person needs to know without any extra context.

  4. This past week saw the January 6 anniversary come and go with little fanfare. A short remembrance was held by House Democrats (and a single Republican) on the day. But near the end of December, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack released its official report, including its criminal referrals against former president Donald Trump. The New Yorker’s David Remnick penned a thorough and imminently readable summary of the events that led up to Jan. 6 as well as revelations from the investigation.

  5. Speaking of Trump, “The Final Campaign” by Olivia Nuzzi in New York magazine is a recent look at Trumpworld, or at least what’s left of it at this stage. Two bits from the story tell you all you need to know. The first is a doozy of a sentence that, between numerous commas and clauses, sums up Trump’s status well:

    “It was in that optimistic spirit, 28 days ago, that the former president, impeached and voted out of office and impeached again, amid multiple state and federal investigations, under threat of indictment and arrest, on the verge of a congressional-committee verdict that would recommend four criminal chargesto the Feds over his incitement of a mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol and threatened to hang his vice-president in a failed attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results, announced his third presidential campaign.”

    And the other from the online version of the headline:

    Inside Donald Trump’s sad, lonely, thirsty, broken, basically pretend run for reelection. (Which isn’t to say he can’t win.)

  6. Nuzzi’s name is on a shortlist of journalists closely associated with chronicling Trump’s time in office, but perhaps the name atop that list is Maggie Haberman. This New Yorker profile catches up with Haberman on her book tour for her newest that she’s written about Trump, and it paints a fairly no-nonsense picture of her. But more than anything, it reiterates a feeling I had from watching the Fourth Estate, the Showtime documentary series of the New York Times shortly after Trump was elected: Being Maggie Haberman must be exhausting.

  7. I was so excited Babylon, Damien Chazelle’s 3-hour-and-8-minute romp through Hollywood as it makes the transition from silent films to the talkies. I had a fantastic time and legitimately loved it, but wow, oh wow, do I feel in the minority with that opinion. (For evidence, check out these negative reviews: New York Times, Vulture, Slate, Roger, and Rolling Stone give a good idea of the critical consensus.) But the trip back to Old Hollywood reminded me of one of my favorite gifts from this Christmas: Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking. The beautiful coffee table book is a a collection of letters from the actors and studio heads of early Tinseltown. The Los Angeles Review of Books gave a nice review of it when it came out.

  8. A damn-good story from The Atavist: The Curious Case of Nebraska Man. Absolutely riveting tale of paleontology and the scientific process, creationism versus evolution, William Jennings Bryan versus Clarence Darrow in the Scopes Trail, all started by a random tooth found on some Nebraska farmland.

  9. After a stunningly good story is the only logical place to include this thought-provoking book review from The New Statesman asking a somewhat fundamental question that I, for one, would normally be loathe to consider: Are we too dependent on, and perhaps addicted to, narrative and story?

  10. At last year’s True/False Film Fest, I went to small talk with Reid Davenport, whose film, I Didn’t See You There, was set to screen in the coming days after earning him a Best Director award months earlier at Sundance. I wouldn’t see the film that night; instead, we watched some of his early shorts interspersed with a moderated discussion. He was so charming, so funny, so seemingly grateful to be at a film festival talking about his work. To listen to him required active participation from the audience, a leaning forward rather than leaning backward. Due to his cerebral palsy, Davenport was hard to understand at times, speaking from his wheelchair with speech punctuated with large breaths and occasional words that tripped him up. The Atlantic’s John Hendrickson, who’s written beautifully about the challenges of a stutter, reviewed Davenport’s film, which is set to air on PBS tonight, reviews the film with characteristic warmth and insight into an experimental film about disability.

Thank you for reading Critical Linking. Know somebody who’d enjoy it? Please send it along.

More From Me

Over on my blog, I’ve been writing about various topics of interest to me.

Culture Diary

1/3: THE MENU (HBO Max); BABYLON (Theater)
1/4: SOLARIS (2002)(HBO Max); MUNICH (VOD)
1/5: THIS PLACE RULES (HBO Max); MILLER’S CROSSING (Criterion Collection)
1/7:THE SHINING (Tubi); PARALLAX VIEW (Criterion Collection); COLLATERAL (Paramount+)
1/8: SR. (Netflix)