The GardenDespatches from The Satyrs’ Forest

The 2023 Satyrs’ Forest Horny Awards™

I would like to kick off the second annual Satyrs’ Forest Horny Awards™ with an epigraph from myself, at the end of 2021, predicting what lay ahead. I wrote, and i quote:

Avatar 2 will bomb and possibly kill James Cameron’s career. Really: who on earth is actually excited by the idea of an Avatar sequel? Someone? Anyone?

Hahahaha oops!!!

The Laurel Wreath Award for Annual Achievement in Film

And the award goes to… Avatar 2: The Way of Water!
It came out in December and i watched it in January of 2023 — i’m counting it.

Look. Look. I’m not happy about this either. But he got me. That fucking James Cameron boomed me. I’ve never even seen the first one!

Everything about Avatar: The Way of Water puts our decade-long glut of superhero movies to shame. The visuals, thirteen years in the making, are indistinguishable from reality. (You will believe the sexy blue cat people are real, and you will rewatch it three times in Imax and still never figure out how they composited the scrawny human kid in.) Every tiny anthropological detail envelops you in the world of Pandora, meticulously constructed by the new god-king of worldbuilding. But most of all, it’s sincere. There are no tiresome quips of ”well, that just happened”. The characters never make fun of how silly this all is. It just lets itself be itself.

Some might shunt the film’s story and characters to the back seat, and in many ways, that’s fair: nobody goes to see an Avatar movie to find out if Jake and Neytiri get a divorce. But that’s just the James Cameron style, man! He paints with a broad brush, and because of that, his stories connect with everyone from Chicago to Chittagong. Noöne ever complained about Titanic just being Romeo and Juliet on a boat, after all.

So, much as it might bug the poser in me to heap praise upon the fourth-biggest film in history, congratulations to the best film of the year: the one with the smurfs.

The Zoetrope Award for Classic Cinema

And the award goes to… Synecdoche, New York!

I have too many thoughts about Synecdoche, New York and i’ve never been able to organise them all into anything coherent, so i’ve set a timer for fifteen minutes and i’ll just stop when i stop. This is going to be a mess.

So, first of all, this film is only two hours long. I say “only” because it feels like four when you’re watching it. This takes place over, god, what, thirty or forty years? And you feel time slipping away just as Caden does.

Oh, uh, Caden Cotard is our main character, a hypochondriac playwright with ambitions of dizzying scale, played masterfully by the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’m not sure he’s meant to be a real person; rather, just as his fictional play (the size of the actual city of New York) balloons to its own world with its own Caden and its own play, he is just the creation of the unseen Ellen1, one world up, somewhere in between him and Charlie Kaufman.

There’s a moment halfway through that might be the best single second in a movie ever. Caden goes to Berlin to find his long-lost daughter Olive working as a prostitute — and as he enters the brothel, the door creaks behind him… sounding just like a baby’s cry.

I put off watching this movie forever because i knew it was bloody depressing, and indeed, i spent the last half barely containing a film of salt water behind my eyes. Two main candidates for best scene (spoilers!) — Sammy (the stalker who Caden hires to play himself)’s heart breaking, and the very end, where everything fades to grey.

Jon Brion’s score is incredible, by the way.

That shot, when Caden finds out his dad died, and Sammy’s shadow looms behind the curtains like the Grim Reaper? Brilliant.

The one piece of the puzzle i still can’t figure out is what’s up with Maria. She’s this corrupting influence on everyone Caden loves, but bears the name of the Virgin Mary — which makes it difficult to slot her in, as i tried, as the Devil to Ellen’s God. Hm.

It’s funny how Caden never really gets any sicker, but the world around him does. (There’s some gender identity stuff in there too, but honestly it all seems like the type of thing that could be attributed to other stuff to me. I don’t think Caden’s literally trans, he just happens to be the self-insert of a woman.)

That’s my fifteen minutes up. Synecdoche, New York! Greatest movie ever made.

The Pebbledash Dildo Award for Cinematic Disappointment

And the award goes to… The Congress!
Again, not a 2023 film, but i actually quite liked every 2023 film i watched, and i was annoyed enough by this one to put it on here instead.

It all started so innocently. It was a family movie night, and me and my mam were in the mood for something uplifting. I’d asked on Reddit for movies with the same manic exuberance as The Fifth Element or Elvis, where some strange new colourful thing is thrown at the screen a mile a minute and the viewer is ripped along for the ride.

Mad Max: Fury Road? Seen it. Mandy? Not in the mood for horror. But The Congress? Now that sounded interesting. The reviews were coy, but all praised the psychedelic, mind-bending world crafted by director Ari Folman.

Count us in, i suppose. And so began my journey into hell.

To get the “coveted” Pebbledash Dildo, you don’t just have to be bad. It is, after all, an award for disappointment. You must have a kernel of a great idea within you, one that is so simple to make something good out of, and fuck it all up anyway. That kernel can be found in a single brilliant scene, a diamond within this pile of filmic zirconia.

A live-action Robin Wright stands in the centre of a sphere of cameras blaring at her

The premise of The Congress is more relevant now than ever, in this age of digital doubles, deepfakes, and AI actors. Robin Wright plays herself, who reluctantly decides to scan herself into digital form, so the studio can use her likeness forevermore without her having to break a sweat. As she stands among the blaring lights of the scanner, her agent recounts to her the story of how they first met, bringing tears to her eyes. It’s a genuinely touching moment, and a springboard off of which so many ideas could dive, a trunk from which so many stories might branch.

Then it all goes to pot, and thirty years later, everyone is permanently on drugs, and so the film switches to oh god what the fuck is that get it off get it off get it off my fucking screen

So Robin Wright, now in a world of terrifying Newgrounds Betty Boop clones, attends the titular congress, where the CEO of the subtly named Miramount does a Hitler rally for his new drug. Then she meets generic Prince Charming man, the very person who scanned her in to the system — an interesting idea that they do absolutely nothing with — and they have ugly cartoon sex, she gets locked in a freezer for 300 years, and she goes in a balloon to find her terminally ill son… or… something?

I have never seen a film fumble the ball this badly, and be such an assault on the senses to boot. You won, Ari. Enjoy the money; i hope it makes you happy. Dear lord, what a sad little life, Ari. You’ve ruined my night completely.

Miscellaneous awards

  • The Golden Lyre Award for Excellence in New Music: Edinburgh-based Young Fathers’ euphoric senior album Heavy Heavy stole the show this year.
  • The Broken Link Award for Best Use of Hypertext: The best “miscellaneous thing” i saw online was Atlas Altera, an absolutely ludicrous worldbuilding project dedicated to the surgical maximalisation of global diversity.
  • The Fred Figglehorn Memorial Award for Online Video: Spanning the end of 2022 to the start of 2023, Geowizard’s “How not to travel America” series brightened up my day every time a new one appeared on my feed. People are just nice!
  • The Hubert J. Farnsworth Award for Good News, Everyone!: This one may be a wee bit controversial, but i have to go with the rollout of a new generation of obesity drugs (most famously semaglutide) — which not only finally work to combat obesity, but seem to dull all sorts of other harmful impulses too. One step closer to true freedom of form?

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