Every Thanksgiving, we share reflections on some creative works from the year that we’ve appreciated. It’s one of our favorite holiday traditions, and it gives us a small break from burning digital pirates in effigy or demanding accountability for Big Tech. Just don’t think we’re going soft!
Seriously, the genius and grit of creatives remind us why we spend our weeks raising hell about the value of copyright. They give us the will to carry on, even when we’ve been under the pandemic’s shadow.
As usual, our 2021 selections feature a range of types of media. We enjoyed much, much more than what we could list here, including Tyler the Creator’s album Call Me If You Get Lost (eclectic, artistic, and personal), Succession (isShiv the only non-idiot, non-scumbag?), and the podcast Sway by Kara Swisher (we aspire to be just as “feared and well-liked”).
Instead of presenting the complete list, we’re featuring works that might have escaped your notice, that made several of us effuse praise despite our cantankerousness, or both. After a final reflection, we’ll send you off with wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Creation: A Portrait of a Young Gentleman
Creative: Kehinde Wiley
Why We’re Thankful: We number Kehinde Wiley among the greatest living painters, so we were thrilled to see one of his latest pieces. While imitating famous works from the European tradition, Wiley’s portraits swap the original white subjects for 21st-century Black individuals. Both Wiley’s A Portrait of a Young Gentleman and its inspiration, Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy, currently appear in The Huntington’s Thornton Portrait Gallery, where they hang on opposite walls. The museum presentation emphasizes a dramatic confrontation between present and past, provoking viewers to reflect on a still unfolding history. If you admire Wiley as much as we do, you might also want to visit LACMA to see his 2018 portrait of President Obama, alongside Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama. The exhibits end in very early January, so do your loved ones a favor and make Wiley’s momentous portraits part of your holiday season.
Creation: Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Creatives: Insomniac Games
Why We’re Thankful: We love sprinting, leaping, or diving through rips into other realities in the latest Ratchet & Clank video game, made for the PS5. On the quest to defeat Dr. Nefarious, there is little time to admire an array of alien worlds, even though the settings are rendered with staggering beauty. We’re too busy dodging projectiles or lasers, flipping through the air, running on walls, and landing shots from a kooky sci-fi arsenal. You won’t fall asleep after Thanksgiving dinner if you take a multi-dimensional romp through this chaotic and head-spinning game of animated mayhem.
Creation: The Suicide Squad
Creative: James Gunn (director and writer), Warner Bros.
Why We’re Thankful: When the world’s fate depends on a disreputable suicide mission, superheroes are too precious to risk and too noble to trust. But guess who is expendable, unscrupulous, and almost just as powerful? That’s right, we’re talking about super-villains! They’re a much-maligned group, but they just might turn out to be a (dubious) social asset. In this morbidly hilarious action film, DC characters like Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), and Mongal (Mayling Ng) team up to fight a greater evil. They hope to earn a ten-year reduction to their prison sentences, but government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) hopes they can save humanity. If you can’t bring yourself to cheer for these unlikely heroes, then maybe you can at least make room in your heart for a giant blue and pink starfish named Starro. Aw, who’s da cutest invertebrate monstrosity?
Why We’re Thankful: With 89 years on Earth and 2 million followers on TikTok, J-Dog keeps living like a baller even though she has moved to a nursing home. With every video, J-Dog breaks the mold for grandmothers, tells indecorous truths about aging, and flouts propriety through morbid humor. We’ve seen her cruise the halls for hot paramedics, take Bingo revenge, scrutinize kittens for adoption, prank the funeral home, cancel Easter, and make a play for your dad. If patience wears thin amongst family on Thanksgiving, know you can turn to this short-form comedienne. Her TikTok handle is @its_j_dog, and she lights up our lives.
Creation: Channel 5 with Andrew Callaghan
Creative: Andrew Callaghan
Why We’re Thankful: We’re spellbound by Andrew Callaghan’s satirical news channel, which holds us suspended between shocked outrage and uncontrollable laughter. Inspired by Louis Theroux but also recalling Sacha Baron Cohen, Callaghan seeks out extremists, conspiracy theorists, and other dangerous ignoramuses. Touring the country in a ramshackle R.V., Callaghan records interviews that document our polarized and troubled moment in history. We think he’s doing some of the best and most important journalism work of 2021. Certainly, he has a gift for fixing attention on unbearable truths about American society, which would otherwise make us want to flee in panic. Future sociologists will make careers on the rich archive that Callaghan is collecting. In the meantime, we feel as though we can neither watch nor look away, neither run nor hide, neither laugh nor stop laughing.
Creative: Sadeck Waff
Why We’re Thankful: Alongside J-Dog, we’ve previously highlighted work by this French-speaking choreographer, who has likewise made it to the top of our charts for 2021. While dance tends to emphasize the legs and feet, Waff’s work features mostly stationary models performing intricate gestures with arms and hands. Reviewing them now, we’re struck by the graceful and precise movements executed in solos, duets, or ensembles, the largest of which Waff conducts like an orchestra. For a moving example, check out his “hand ballet” from the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. In outstanding recent work, Waff uses mirrors to create mesmerizing, kaleidoscopic effects. Next year, we predict we’ll see more augmented reality videos, like one where Waff manipulates geometric shapes made of blue or violet light. He’s amazing.
Creation: Blown Away, season 2
Creatives: marblemedia, with Blue Ant Media and Netflix
Why We’re Thankful: Following a familiar elimination format, this reality competition show features an international cast of visionary and highly skilled glassblowers. Over ten episodes, they craft objects that are sometimes useful but always beautiful. Besides marveling at centerpieces and sculptures, we enjoyed imagining the adventures of original cartoon characters, guest-judged by illustrator Kathryn Durst. We also held our breaths as we wondered when the next glass globe might come out of the fire only to shatter on the workshop floor. Especially if you’ll be somewhere cold for the holidays, huddle under some blankets and queue up Blown Away. The series really makes you feel the heat!
Creation: Dune: Part One
Creatives: Denis Villeneuve (director), Warner Bros. and Legendary
Why We’re Thankful: We are big fans of science fiction at CreativeFuture, so we can’t resist sharing our enthusiasm for the new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. Herbert’s unforgettable characters are brought to life by performances from Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, and more. To transport audiences to another time and place, designers made 2,000 costumes, including the “stillsuits” needed for survival on a desert planet. The film qualifies as a space opera not just because of the setting and epic plot but also because of a magnificent, otherworldly score by Hans Zimmer. It’s well worth a trip to the cinema for surround sound, not to mention visual effects on the big screen. In fact, some of us have already watched Dune in theaters twice!
As you can see, we continued to enjoy art and entertainment at home in 2021, but we were also thrilled to return to public venues. As Helen MacDonald wrote about going to see Dune, “I found myself unexpectedly close to tears. I’d not been in a movie theater in almost two years, and I’d forgotten what it was like.” At the risk of our tough reputation, we’ll confess to having slightly moist eyes at cinemas, museums, and auditoriums, too.
Don’t get too used to our cheerful tone. Our hair is still on fire – for all the usual reasons. We’re just taking a short break to breathe deeply and reconnect with our appreciation for entertainment and the arts. We hope you will, too.