What I'm Thankful For 2009

An annual moment to stop and recognize just how lucky I am

<p>Here's hoping the turkey you sit down to this holiday is on the table and not on the screen&nbsp;</p>

Here's hoping the turkey you sit down to this holiday is on the table and not on the screen 

Credit: The Norman Rockwell Estate

As I prepare to take a slight break over the holiday, it's time to look back at my first year here at HitFix and also to consider what I'm thankful for, both personally and professionally.

One of the things I like about Thanksgiving as a holiday is that it's not religious, and there's no baggage attached.  It's an incredibly simple concept.  Set a day aside and give thanks for all the things that make your life better.  I know we should be thankful every day, but it's easy to get distracted by all the noise and all the activity and all the nonstop activity each week.  So when there's a day like today, why not take advantage and speak up?

1.  My family

I have a truly amazing wife... beautiful and smart, and the only reason I'm a functioning human being today is because I met and married her.  Together, we've produced two beautiful kids, and I'm thrilled every day with the adventure we're having as a family.  As my first son Toshiro is getting older, he's become a central figure in the work I do here on the site, in particular with the column "Film Nerd 2.0," and it is a joy to watch him come into focus, and to share that process with you.  As much as I love movies and games and TV and comics and all the other ephemera that is part of this job, my family is what keeps me going.  I had no idea there was something missing from my life until all these people became part of it, and now I can't imagine life without them.

2.  The visionaries

When Warner Bros. used the phrase "from the visionary director of '300'" in the trailers for "Watchmen" earlier this year, people got up in arms about it.  The truth is, we live in an age where we are able to do things on film that we've never been able to do before, and there is so much amazing new technology developed every year that even absolute idiots can make films that look slick.  The trick is having something to say, using the technology for something real.  And the guys whose work I love the most right now are the ones who seem determined to use both high and low tech, depending one what's appropriate, to pull off the magic trick that I've been addicted to since childhood, filmmaking.  Spending an hour with Terry Gilliam this summer talking about his work was the culmination of decades of my interest in his work, and a reminder of just how exciting I still find it to meet the people who make the movies I love.  Even when someone falls on their face, I admire the ambition it takes to push the envelope, whether it's on the scale of "Avatar" or as small as "District 9."  The point is simply that there are people out there who refuse to take no for an answer, and because of them, the business continues to evolve, as does the art.

3.  The festivals

Over the years, I've visited many film festivals, but this was the first year where I did the festival circuit all year long, something that's going to be part of the HitFix experience moving forward.  It's a great way to see a film year evolve, and it's something I've always wanted to do.  It can be difficult in terms of time away from home, but some of the best moments I've had in a theater this year have happened in Toronto or Austin or Park City, and I already find myself settling in to the rhythm of the year, and looking forward to Sundance in just over a month.  It's not about any one individual film I might see at a festival, but rather about the overall culture of mainlining one film after another, surrounded by people who are just as movie-crazy as you are. Heaven.  Absolute heaven.

4.  Current generation games

I am part of the first generation of gamers, the ones who had the very first Atari systems at home, the ones who played Pac-Man in the arcade, the ones who are old enough that the first Nintendo machines were "those games for kids."  There are many years where I got out of gaming for the most part, and I felt like I'd aged out of gaming completely.  Then I picked up a PS3 so I could use it as a BluRay machine, and I tried my hand at a couple of games.  Between "Conan," "Ratchet & Clank," and "Uncharted," I found myself head-over-heels in love with gaming again, and now I'm starting to deal with gaming companies, writing more about games in general, and title after title, I'm flabbergasted by just how far we've come since I was a kid.  I just finished "Uncharted 2," which was an incredibly cinematic experience, and now I'm neck deep in the jaw-dropping "Assassin's Creed 2," which seems to be a perfect refinement of everything that was good about the first game, along with new ideas that make this even more enjoyable.  And even as these games blow my mind, it's obvious that these machines are just starting to reach their full potential, which makes me think that we're still in the early days, and that what is great now is only going to get better.  If I have any complaint about games like "Fallout 3" or "Far Cry 2," it's that they're so huge that it's almost impossible to see the entire thing.  If that's the worst you can say about a game, that you wish you had time to play even more of it, that's not much of a complaint at all.

5.  Performance capture

I've been a fan of fantastic cinema since I was first bitten by the bug at age seven, and I love the various methods filmmakers have used over the years to bring alien races and unusual creatures to life.  Even so, it seems to me that every technique basically boils down to gluing makeup to people and putting them in costumes.  There's puppeteering, of course, but if you want a real human performance, you're still basically dealing with the limitations of what a person can do.  The reason I am fascinated by performance capture in live-action films and in all CG productions right now is because it's that rare moment when a major technical jump forward actually amplifies the human contribution in ways no one could have expected.  No one needs to worry about actors being replaced by this process, because actors are more important now than ever before.  Robert Zemeckis may not be making live-action films anymore, but he's more hands-on with his cast than he's ever been, working with them in a very intimate way that the actors love.  When Gary Oldman can play both Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim in the same film, something unusual is going on, and we're still just looking at the most rudimentary experiments with this technology.  When I was on the set of "Jonah Hex" and asked John Malkovich about working on "Beowulf," he couldn't rave enough about how liberating he found it, and it's going to be interesting to see new superstars emerge, people who might not be able to be a star in the Tom Cruise sense, but who master this new type of performance a la Andy Serkis.  I'm curious to see Zoe Saldana's work in "Avatar," because she strikes me as someone who has absolutely embraced the potential of this new type of acting. 

6.  Physical media

I know many people are rushing to push the entire industry into a download/all-electronic situation, but for now, physical media is still a major part of the home video landscape.  And thank god for that.  I love BluRay discs, and we're starting to see sales pick up as prices on the players drop and the software prices start to reach the same level as DVD.  I'm hoping that no matter what happens with video on demand and streaming Netflix and the like, I will always have the option of picking up a disc that I can own, and right now, those discs are getting better and better, rewarding those of us who are still invested in the format. 

7.  The publicists

Every single day, my job brings me into contact with any number of publicists, some of them pitching me on things, some of them dealing with my requests, and I am thankful for the incredible efforts that all of them put forth with each new project.  Over the past 12 years, I've gone from being a guy who couldn't even get publicists for any of the studios on the phone to being someone who routinely has no choice but to turn down things I would have killed to do when I was starting out.  Those are the days I wish I could clone myself, if only because it would allow me to spend even more time dealing with people like Lindsey, Anne, Michael, Orna, Tamar, Bianca, Michelle, Laura, and dozens of others, all of whom make it possible for me to continually bring you all the great material here at HitFix.

8.  My colleagues

One of the fringe benefits of doing set visits and festival coverage is that I've spent more of this year in the company of my fellow entertainment reporters than ever before, and some great friendships have come into focus for me in the process.  There are more sites than ever before right now, and instead of just becoming a wall of empty sound, what's happened is that there are more great voices in the conversation than ever before as well, and it is a privilege to spend the time around these people and to read their work each morning.  Writing the Morning Read, I am constantly searching other sites for things worth linking to, and if anything, there's too much out there for me to ever quite get to it all.  I remember when I first signed online back in 1994, when it was sort of a ghost town out there, and these days, when I look around, I'm amazed at this vibrant, insane community that I'm part of.  If I started listing the people who make this job a pleasure every day, I'd never stop listing names, so suffice it to say that I am inspired to do better each day by more of you than I can name, and I look forward to all the trouble we're sure to get into in the year ahead. 

9.  Our readers and commenters

Part of getting a new site up and running involves paying close attention to the traffic, and I know how hard it is to get readers to add you to their daily routine.  I appreciate each and every one of you that visits, and any time you recommend us to someone else, it means the world to me.  This first year has been all about getting settled in, and this next year is going to be about turning everything up, refining what works, and getting better at the job in general.  My one goal, above anything else, is rewarding you for reading HitFix, each and every time you visit the site, and making sure that this time next year, there are even more of you for me to thank.

10.  The entire HitFix team

When I made the decision to leave Ain't It Cool in December of last year, after over a decade after the site, it was not an easy choice at all.  I consider Harry and Quint and Herc and Mr. Beaks and Kraken and Capone to all be family, people who have been part of my life for so long, and to such a degree, that I can't imagine who I'd be at this point if not for them.

But this year, that family got a little bigger, and now I find myself dealing on a daily basis with Greg Ellwood, Dan Fienberg, Katie Hasty, Melinda Newman, Jen Wilhelmi-Sargent, Arash Hadipanah, and Elliott Blatt, as well as new members of the team who are signing on every day, and it's been an incredible experience. They couldn't be more different than the personalities that made up Ain't It Cool, and at first, I wasn't sure how I'd fit in.  They've given me room to redefine myself, though, and I've loved this experience.  Even better, they push me to constantly try to up my game, and I hope in 2010, I'm able to reward their leap of faith in hiring me with even more content, and even better work.

As you enjoy your own holiday, I'd love to hear what you're thankful for, and I'll see you back here tomorrow with a new Morning Read, and then we'll have some new reviews for you this weekend as well.  Even when everyone's relaxing, we're hard at work here at HitFix to keep you informed and entertained.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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