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What the Variety Staff Is Thankful for in Entertainment in 2019

When it comes to Hollywood, there is a lot to give thanks for in 2019. From baby Yoda to Marvel and various aspects of “Succession,” here’s what the Variety staff is thankful for this year.

When it seems so hard to get an honest answer out of anyone in Hollywood, I’m thankful for Werner Herzog and his brutal candidness. It takes a lot for someone to admit they have never seen a Jon Favreau movie despite working with him, they watch “WrestleMania” to keep up with society, and they cried at the first sight of Baby Yoda. — Will Thorne, TV writer 

Kieran Culkin, J. Smith CameronSpecial Screening of HBO's 'Succession', New York, USA - 17 Nov 2019
CREDIT: Patrick Lewis/StarPix for HBO/Sh

I am thankful that “Succession” has given me a chance to ship and lust over Roman Roy and Gerri. — Meg Zukin, social media editor

There can never be enough said for how important it is to see one’s self represented on-screen and in the media in general. This year great strides were taken across television for a number of underrepresented groups, but the one that hit the closest to home for me was angry women. I never felt so seen by a television show as when I met Jen (Christina Applegate) in Netflix’s “Dead To Me.” Her frustration stemmed, in great part, from the untimely death of her husband, which trapped her in a life she never really wanted. But then the trend amazingly continued with Showtime’s “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” in which Krystal’s (Kirsten Dunst) rage was deep-rooted and long-simmering, due to poor childhood circumstances that led to her lot in adult life. Even “The Morning Show’s” Bradley Jackson’s (Reese Witherspoon) sense of internal outrage is a welcome fresh breath of air in an increasingly crowded marketplace of common characters. As peak TV truly refuses to actually peak, the nuances it’s delivering in its women is exciting and admirable. — Danielle Turchiano, senior features editor, TV

I’m thankful for TV that still manages to be surprising in an age when TV is mostly just Too Much All the Time. Shows like “Fleabag,” “Russian Doll,” “Watchmen” and “Barry” keep me guessing until the credits roll, making my job a whole lot harder in all the best ways. — Caroline Framke, chief TV critic

I’m thankful for Showtime’s “Desus and Mero.” I never laugh harder at anything on TV these days than I do at the wit and wisdom of these proud sons of the Bronx, Daniel “Desus Nice” Baker and Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez. Their ruminations on pop culture, politics and Jamaican parenting techniques are a good way to take the edge off of the madness of the moment. — Cynthia Littleton, business editor

I’m thankful for Helena Bonham Carter in “The Crown.” As the hard-partying Princess Margaret, this acting icon has achieved new levels of haughty heartbreak. She deserves her own spin-off. All hail! — Brent Lang, executive editor, film & media

I’m thankful that Robert Pattinson asked to be paired with Jennifer Lopez for Variety’s Actors on Actors series. — Ramin Setoodeh, New York bureau chief 

I’m thankful that the Safdie brothers orchestrated a Passover sequence in “Uncut Gems,” possibly the first movie ever to have an afikomen scene.— Rebecca Rubin, news editor

I’m thankful for “Succession.” I’m grateful for the Roy family. Those poor offspring vying to be Logan Roy’s successor. Did you really think Shiv would get the job? No! Logan was stringing her along. What other show has given us so many great gifs? There’s no other show that has given us a game to play this holiday season either. Boar on the floor! Are you in? And, I’m extra grateful for the British humor and who doesn’t love all things British, especially in the form of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”? — Jazz Tangcay, artisans editor

I am grateful for the gift that keeps on giving, a.k.a: “The Bachelor.” After nearly two decades on air, the franchise gets better and better. Between a finalist having a girlfriend back home and breaking an engagement on-air, another finalist dating an A-list supermodel moments after leaving the show and a sexual experience in a windmill, the show is the best type of love-to-hate-it hot mess out there. Actually, I just love to love it. And, with the first same-sex female relationship ever to be seen on the franchise with “Bachelor In Paradise,” you can no longer argue that the show isn’t doing anything good for humanity. — Elizabeth Wagmeister, senior correspondent

Norman Lear Variety Cover Story

I’m thankful for the legend that is Norman Lear, who’s still more vibrant and active at age 97 than almost anyone else in Hollywood. This year Norman won an Emmy (for his ABC special with Jimmy Kimmel, “Live in Front of a Studio Audience”); he extended his overall deal with Sony Pictures TV through his 100th birthday; he landed a new home for his remake of the sitcom “One Day at a Time,” shifting from Netflix to Pop TV; and, of course, he landed on the cover of Variety. All in a year’s work, but Norman is surely already focused ahead on what’s next. — Michael Schneider, senior editor, TV awards 

I’m thankful that “Bojack Horseman” creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s short story writing is as good as his TV work. “Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory” reminds me that as much of an endless slog as the search for connection can feel like, it’s also hilarious and poignant and an essential part of being a human. Erin Nyren, associate news editor

I am thankful that Showtime made Gabriel Sherman’s best-selling expose, “The Loudest Voice in the Room” about creepy Roger Ailes into a seven-part series. Each cringe-worthy episode exposes this jingoistic charlatan and his culture of sexual assault while detailing how Ailes came to brainwash average Americans into voting away from policies benefiting their own self-interest.  Russell Crowe and Naomi Watts are exceptional, but one of my all-time favorite performances of the year is Sienna Miller as the condescending, bloody-minded Mrs. Roger Ailes. I haven’t seen “Bombshell” yet. That’s my holiday present. Big thank you to Gretchen Carlson, her tape-recorder and of course the fearless Gabriel Sherman. — Dea Lawrence, chief marketing officer

I’m thankful for the pop culture explosion of Stephen Sondheim appreciation. Aside from the “Assassins” tribute on “The Politician,” we have “Send in the Clowns” figuring prominently into “Joker” and Daniel Craig crooning “Losing My Mind” in “Knives Out.” And there is some major story development in the duet of “Nothing’s Gonna Harm You” with Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup on “The Morning Show.” But nothing tops Adam Driver belting “Being Alive” in “Marriage Story” for the perfect blend of utilizing the perfect song to encapsulate a character moment. — Jenelle Riley, deputy awards & awards editor

Tom Holland Jake Gyllenhaal Spider-Man: Far From Home
CREDIT: J Maidment/Columbia/Marvel/Kobal/Shutterstock

I’m grateful that our media overlords Disney and Sony agreed to let Spider-Man stay in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After “Spider-Man: Far From Home” left us on that cliffhanger, I couldn’t imagine a world in which Spidey just magically leaves the MCU and we don’t get any resolution to his story. Thank you, Disney and Sony, for putting aside your differences and agreeing to split the hundreds of millions of dollars you were probably already going to earn to give the fans what they want. — Jordan Moreau, junior content specialist

I’m thankful this year for shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Orange Is the New Black,” both of which have now ended and changed the game along the way. I’m thankful for great new shows like “Watchmen,” “Sex Education,” and “The Boys,” which will hopefully entertain us all for years to come. I’m thankful that pro wrestling is exposed to a wider audience thanks to WWE, AEW, and NWA. But most of all, I am thankful that Baby Yoda has restored my faith in humanity. — Joseph Otterson, TV writer

I’m thankful for Nicholas Braun as Cousin Greg on HBO’s “Succession,” especially in season 2. Greg is like the charming, lost 6-foot-5 puppy you can never be mad at, even when he decides to roll around in the dirt, so to speak, with his Machiavellian extended family. This holiday season, remember to embrace the Cousin Gregs in your life — even when it’s hard. Even when it hurts, like when they refuse to take off their shoes on the family’s newly re-decorated yacht because of unsightly toe fungus. — Audrey Cleo Yap, news anchor/reporter

“I’m thankful for Ellen DeGeneres.” — James McClain, editor-at-large, real estate

I’m still thankful at the age of 68 that I can still be dazzled by big movies like “The Irishman” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and small films like “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” and “Amazing Grace” — the Aretha Franklin concert documentary that was so good that I saw it three times, more than any other title this year.  Dave McNary, film reporter

While I should say that I am grateful for triumphant and emotional works like “Marriage Story” and “Bombshell,” I’m actually most thrilled by the very strong showing from Irish talent in 2019. The advent of hot priest Andrew Scott, for example, whose transformative work on “Fleabag” has led the openly gay actor to a starring role in an Amazon original based on Patricia Highsmith’s murderous antihero Tom Ripley. Then there’s Saoirse Ronan, more confident and capable than ever as Jo March in Greta Gerwig’s impressive “Little Women.” And most of all to Phoebe Waller-Bridge (not Irish) and the cast of “Saturday Night Live” (not Irish) for this sketch about U.K. reality hit “Love Island.” It has provided me a smattering of bastardized U.K.-Ireland accents that I use every single day to torture my amazing coworkers at Variety. Sláinte! — Matt Donnelly, senior film writer

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
CREDIT: Andrew Cooper/Columbia Pictures

I am thankful Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth entered my life this year to show me what true friendship looks like. — Justin Kroll, writer

I’m thankful for Nicole Kidman for being the saving grace in — what I think we’re all ready to admit — an exceedingly terrible second season of “Big Little Lies.” Also very much appreciate Willem Dafoe (“The Lighthouse”), Taylor Russell (“Waves”) and T-Pain for winning “The Masked Singer.” Last but not least, I’m thankful for Beyoncé, this year specifically because she gave us “Already” and Blue Ivy singing the Black national anthem. — LaTesha Harris, editorial intern

I’m thankful that I got scheduled for jury duty on the same day that Disney+ launched, so I was able to stream four movies in the jury waiting room. Haley Kluge, senior designer 

I’m thankful that women are writing and creating so many great characters of all ages. From Phoebe Waller-Bridge in “Fleabag” to Kathryn Hahn in “Mrs. Fletcher,” with Nicole Holofcener and Carrie Brownstein among those shaping Tom Perotta’s source material, to the irrepressible Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in Olvia Wilde’s “Booksmart.” it was truly a huge year for celebrating both the sublime and the absurd moments of being a woman. Pat Saperstein, deputy editor 

I’m thankful that we suddenly seem to live in a time when, if there’s going to be any tokenism in music, it’s going to be on behalf of that underrepresented gender, men. Because I don’t think that you even have to have any particular proactive feminist agenda or be colludin’ for inclusion to believe that women are dominating nearly genre right now. (Perennial exceptions: rock, and the commercial side of country. We’ll come back to those. Sigh.) Probably the least controversial statement I could make right now is that Billie Eilish and Lizzo are sucking up all the oxygen in the room in year-end conversations. Taylor Swift made as good and expansive an album as she’s ever made, even if the Grammys don’t see it that way. Maren Morris made the year’s best mainstream solo country album, even if the Grammys don’t see it that way. Yola and Tanya Tucker killed it, even if the Grammys do see it that way. Beyonce was represented in the Grammy nominations for the wrong project, but that’s okay: The world knows this year belonged to “Homecoming” in so many ways. The Highwomen formed and almost overnight made a casual supergroup masterpiece. Ariana Grande put a mere seven months between terrific showcases of what the modern pop album can be. Kacey Musgraves continued her victory lap on tour. Sara Bareilles put out an amazingly good and heartfelt album that was underrated by maybe everybody but the “Waitress”-worshipping masses that sold out the Hollywood Bowl. Summer Walker and Megan Thee Stallion triumphed as newcomers. Returnees like Lana Del Rey, Rhiannon Giddens, Allison Moorer, Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert and Joy Williams all did wonderful work. Maggie Rogers became an instant headliner with the year’s best pop debut, and Kalie Shorr turned in 2019’s best freshman country effort. I feel confident, though, that surely someday soon, it will be the year of the man again in music, so we can be thankful that the guys stepped up, too. — Chris Willman, editor, features

Avengers: Endgame
CREDIT: Courtesy of Marvel/Disney

Despite my admiration for Martin Scorsese as a filmmaker, I disagree with his assessment that Marvel movies have no “revelation, mystery, or genuine emotional danger” — I’m thankful for Marvel movies. Let me explain: After I saw “Avengers: Endgame,” I decided to watch the all MCU movies with my kids, Frederick (age 9) and Wally (age 7). They loved them from the start, and felt so excited — and mature! — to be watching them. The first “Iron Man” is quite violent, Tony has a one-night stand, and there are sex jokes — I wondered whether I’d made a mistake in this endeavor, but nevertheless, I persisted!

The undertaking improved from there. Though they admired Tony’s sarcasm and gadgets, their favorite character is Cap, who is decidedly G-rated. They also thought Black Widow and Captain Marvel were very cool, and when we would argue about who the strongest Avenger was, Scarlet Witch was a solid contender next to Thor and Hulk. They saw no difference between the women Avengers and the men, which feels important. “Black Panther” was one of their favorites. They thought he was great, but also totally saw Killmonger’s point about spreading Wakanda’s wealth. They thought the Dora Milaje were rad. Along with our viewing of “Captain Marvel,” I felt gratitude that I could show my young white sons aspirational characters who are women and people of color. That was not available to me as a kid.

They got so into the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie so much that we watched the sequel next. That led to our roughest viewing experience. They have two moms, and no dad, so I think they identified with Peter’s search for his father, and had feelings about his reunion with Ego. When it turns out that Ego had given Peter’s mother the brain tumor that killed her, Frederick couldn’t handle it — because I’d had cancer. He sobbed and sobbed. I said we could stop watching the movie, but he wanted to keep going. Then Yondu died at the end of that movie, sacrificing himself for Peter, and I will tell you this: Wally was 6 at the time, and 6-year-olds do not understand the concept of a noble death. Wally has never cried during a movie, but was inconsolable over Yondu. We tried to talk to him about how Yondu wanted to sacrifice himself, how Peter had looked for his father, but Yondu was really his father all along — nothing worked. And nothing should have worked! We all just hugged.

This is why I disagree with Scorsese’s premise about there being no “revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger.” I held my sons as one wept for Yondu, and the other because Peter’s terrible dad gave his mom cancer. Yes, the Marvel movies offer revelation and mystery and emotional danger — don’t @ me.

After months of this project, we finally got to “Endgame.” They couldn’t sit down during the final battle, screamed aloud when Cap wielded Mjolnir, cheered for the all-women Avengers scene (sorry, it’s great!), and got emotional during the Black Widow and Tony stuff.

Soon, we’ll start watching them again from the beginning. And I can’t wait. — Kate Aurthur, editor-at-large

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