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Where Will The Next Good Movies Come From, With Amy Nicholson

A still image of a very stressed out Charlie Chaplin from his film "Modern Times."
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It can be difficult at times to tell if the broader culture is getting slower, duller, and more limited, or if it’s just me that’s doing all those things. This is a thing that can sneak up on you about getting old: After you stop doing the things you used to do, and then after you stop urgently missing doing those things, you start not even noticing whether those things are still happening. In this plague-squashed time-out, I’ve mostly spent a lot of time doing precious little, but also thinking about what I want to do in whatever the world will be like when we all re-emerge into it, and what I will have to do to follow through on that want, and then how much I really want it.

Movies are one of the things that I miss enough to try to get back to. What had once been an ardent habit and personal passion of mine became something I did less often. TV is easier, there is an important person in my life, with whom I now spend basically every moment in very close proximity, who does not necessarily get excited to watch stupid British werewolf movies as I do, et cetera. Movies eventually became reserved for a special occasion. But this is a thing we both like to do, we agreed, and (for now) that means that when we’re both sufficiently inoculated and motivated we will try to go back to watching movies in theaters when they 1) start making movies that we want to see and 2) start putting them in theaters in ways that don’t seem like audience prompts in a comedy improv sketch grounded in “dumbest and most unjustifiable possible ways to contract the novel coronavirus.” It was with an eye on that uneasy present and future in the world of film that Drew and I welcomed the film critic Amy Nicholson, who also co-hosts the Unspooled podcast with Paul Scheer, to the show this week.

As with any conversation about movies in this washed-out and burnt-over cultural moment, a lot of time was devoted to movies in which recognizable actors fly through CGI skies either grimly or quipfully, blasting lasers at each other, virtually none of which I have seen or plan to see. As with any conversation about movies between people who are old enough and motivated enough to remember a time when the film landscape felt a bit more varied, a lot of time was also devoted to how things used to be, and whether they were actually better, and whether possibly this might be the just-getting-old thing mentioned earlier. That last bit was more of an issue for Drew and me: Nicholson is still right on top of things, and proved an able guide through this busy, stressed-out time in that business. That we talked about both these uneasy times and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times is a testament to how widely we managed to wander while mostly staying on this topic.

That Nicholson was so insightful and pleasant and nevertheless was still subjected to some Funbag questions was not fair to her, in retrospect, but it is the treatment that our guests have come to expect, and that our pervert listeners demand. This was how a good-humored and intermittently searching conversation about film and capitalism and their uneasy and perhaps untenable relationship ended with me insisting that alien encounters would be more like farts than Independence Day, prognosticating on the future of Lori Loughlin within the broader Hallmark Cinematic Universe, and our guest making the (correct) observation that I had set myself up to be haunted by Elia Kazan’s ghost. It is not linear, but it’s also just how these things go. It’s show business.

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