TG10 Calvin’s List: A Letter to the Site from the Editor

This site and the people on it mean the world to me. In our four-year journey, we have all accomplished so much together. We’ve created so many remarkable things. Insightful features, a huge catalog of reviews, and loads of fantastic podcasts are the DNA of the site, but it’s really about the people who made it and our shared relationship around movies. The Twin Geeks, as a collective, has a strong body of work because many people have written and recorded their hearts out about movies. Here, in lieu of an all-time favorite ten or ten ideals about the formal quality of what films can be, are my ten picks that most define my experience working with such a brilliant staff and as Editor-in-Chief heading this project that I take so much pride in every day. These movies represent the totality of my journey from the curious, moving cinematic journeys of my youth to the joys of crafting shared projects with friends, they cover what I find to be most important in doing this work of film criticism. There is never any one way of doing things, so this represents only my total commitment to doing this work and my commitment to our writers and editors, who make every dream possible.


Godzilla. Dir. Ishirō Honda.

CRITICS IN KAIJU SUITS: The most rewarding aspect of making this site is other people. Here are my special thanks to Stephen Gillespie, who is putting all this together, a brilliant writer, and a kindred spirit in creating content for the site. We co-host the Ranking the Monsters podcast, which is regularly one of my favorite projects on the site.

Most importantly, this category introduces what I think is the most important part of building a website. If I did this alone, it would’ve been done after about a year. But because of a very passionate community — come join us on Discord, it’s free and we’re not a cult! — they’ve always given me the fire to keep the engine going.

I continue to be inspired by our team. The reason I keep doing this is that I love working with great people. I love helping people define a space for their writing and style. I love editing because I love reading their work. There are hundreds of pieces on this site that are dear to me but genuinely every time someone contributes, the dream of The Twin Geeks feels that much closer. To me, it represents a collective of close friends making intelligent, thought-provoking work together that honors each individual’s approach, and celebrates a full spectrum of cinema with a consistent throughline of quality. That’s a beautiful thing to work towards together. One of the great things I get to do every week is to make new things with my friends. Sometimes, we even chat about men wrestling in monster suits.

Claire’s Knee

Claire’s Knee. Dir. Éric Rohmer.

FIRST CONTACT: If you’re here you’ve felt it. The utter awe that comes with your first exposure to world-expanding cinema. Claire’s Knee (1970) found me at 14 years old, the right age for a proper coming-of-age narrative. I had already had my moment of mind-altering joy: Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980) but I still hadn’t found what I was looking for, a film that moves me as much as literature does. I found it in the Moral Tales of Éric Rohmer. These stories presented the director as an author, something I understood far better than how movies worked, as a bookish teen. Finally, a director was equal to my other heroes and it helped that he was French and part of an essential film movement.

At this time in my life, Hemingway’s A Movable Feast (1964) was my guiding text: the world of writers was one where you just had massive adventures, recovered from the war and depression, and moved to France to be friends with Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. So, my ideal profile was this very thing: an aloof man who just spends summers free in the gorgeous French Alps, who is given tests by a socialite writer who wants to test the boundaries of men and women, like she must manifest drama for her stories. The film unfolds like a gorgeous journal, the perfect summer film, and filled my young mind with such bold ideas, besides allowing me to say my favorite film was a classic French one, at a time all my favorite things were classic French ones. The critics of Cahiers du Cinéma, of which Rohmer was a part, continue to be a terrific model for critical success, but also in showing how critical minds would approach film direction — they are critic’s darlings because they belong to film criticism first.

Claire’s Knee continues to be — even to my adult mind, having lived twice as much — the most essential study of sexual relations between genders and the most soothing summery vibe cinema has available. I would now place My Night at Maud’s, Rohmer’s work from the prior year, as it’s intellectual equal, and inseparable from watching Claire’s Knee in the Moral Tales omnibus. When I set out to watch anything for review, I always keep in mind the endlessly inspiring awestruck feeling that Rohmer’s work produces for me: if I stay close to that feeling, I may always remember why I’m doing this.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

THE START OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP & THE SITE: It all started with watching Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971). My dear friend and Co-Editor-in-Chief David Punch and I forged an immediate bond over Westerns and long conversations over a genre that’s too often left out of internet discourse. Our exchanges plateaued early with this revisionist Western and we knew we should make a podcast and thus, we needed a website. We were both writing for another outlet, but we packed up right away and brought all our favorite writers with us, and created something exceptional.

We’ve since recorded 166 episodes of The Twin Geeks podcast. Originally, this was meant to be our first episode but it ended up being our 51st episode, and the subject of our most recent series on every film by the great Robert Altman.

I consider the Western, as a genre, the bedrock of the site. Several of our most popular pieces are about Westerns (including our most popular piece, by a wide margin). It’s a genre that best represents the partnership behind everything that happens on the site — as Roger Ebert famously noted in his review of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, the Ampersand denotes incorporation and partnership — and it’s been a launching pad for a really beautiful friendship. David is who I talk to when I don’t talk to anyone else online. Because he is more laid back, he’s talked me off the ledge of just giving up the whole project many times, and we’ve had the most wonderful meetups, which will continue into the foreseeable future. It’s truly about the friends you meet along the way. I count David as one of my favorite people, so I’m lucky on this account. I’d like to think the future of the whole project was guaranteed with the very first piece by Leonard Cohen at the start of the film.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Dir. David Lynch.

SMELLS LIKE PACIFIC NORTHWEST SPIRIT: It hasn’t always been this way. Fire Walk with Me didn’t quite set the world on fire when it premiered at Cannes in 1992; in fact, it was roundly disliked. It was a weird, off-the-wall preclusion from ever getting more of the greatest television show of all time. This film signaled the end, after a perfect first season and a second one mired by poor executive decision-making at ABC, it was one way of going out on good terms. But there is an argument for its canonization that hinges on the release of future episodes, it becomes an incredibly strong middle act, the best part of the whole story, working successfully as a bridge where it once sagged as an ending presenting itself as a prequel. It couldn’t have been what people wanted. Now it’s the kind of movie I want most of all.

What interests me most about cinema, as it expands in the public consciousness over time, is how it can be reshaped totally by audience perception. The film has not changed but the context around it has. 2017’s Twin Peaks: The Return reestablished the show’s vital influence as the greatest television show ever made and redefined David Lynch’s total oeuvre as the most essential in modern cinema.

I had just started writing and here I was, driving into the fog-banked town of North Bend, the setting of Twin Peaks, but also right outside where I grew up and went to High School. It felt like coming home, and here I was, at the North Bend Film Festival, now my favorite event of the festival year, a total celebration of local and vanguard filmmaking. So much of it naturally is shaped by Twin Peaks but also directly embodied exactly what I wanted to cover and how I wanted to do it. The most important thing for me, besides writing for an audience is writing for a community, and here I found it right away, tucked into this place I’d always known, now alive with a new context and the endless buzzing surge of festival energy. I had only been going at this project for a few months but I knew right away: festivals were my new home and I was never going to stop.

My Winnipeg

My Winnipeg. Dir. Guy Maddin.

DOCUMENTARY: THE LINE BETWEEN FACT & FICTION: What interests me most about modern cinema is that anyone with a camera and half an idea can make a movie. It’s a really beautiful time for it. Sure, we are not quite in a golden age of any kind of fictional storytelling but I wholeheartedly believe we are in the absolute golden age of the documentary. Everyone documents everything all the time. Whether on TikTok or in a sweeping dramatic expose on culture, our cameras have been turned inward. The modern movie camera explores interiority. It has moved away from broad nationalist themes and normal modes of doing things and now we can get inside real people’s lives and they can show us exactly what it is they see, without Hollywood mandates or genre restrictions.

I think it’s crucial not to separate the documentary from the feature film very much. To me, they are both distinctly narrative art forms using the same medium. Some fictions are truer than documentaries and most documentaries are more entertaining than the bland formless blockbusters of the modern day. The restrictions we arbitrarily place on format, seem to lose some of what makes movies so beautiful, that their nature is so fluid and just involves some moving images to tell a story, but that those images must belong to someone, and no matter if you have rehearsed a moment or just film people in their lives, you’re crafting a narrative and telling a story that speaks to your lived experience, one that nobody else can make quite the same as you can make it.

One of my favorite things I get to do is tell you about all kinds of documentary filmmaking. I love, more than anything else, pouring through other people’s realities, using cinema as a means of education, transportation, and world expansion. I think the documentary is an unlimited art form. Guy Maddin is the modern master of the form, leaning into classical techniques and filmmaking methods to show us formats that are essentially new. Same old medium, new value. Reading 2007’s My Winnipeg as merely a feature or merely a documentary would be to misunderstand the successful blending of these formats. It’s entirely both all the time, functioning as a contemporary folktale about where Guy Maddin grew up. It harnesses regionality, the camera as an abstract tool of capturing reality and unreality, and the experimental perspective of a filmmaker who is really bending the conventions to his will. This is everything I’m looking for at the movies. My Winnipeg is the spiritual ghost poetry of a place.

Local Legends

Local Legends. Dir. Matt Farley.

BACKYARD KINGS: I felt something new watching Matt Farley’s ingenious autobiographical tribute to his own hyper-prolific music catalog and approach to backyard filmmaking. Matt Farley, playing Matt Farley in the movie, seemed to be taunting the audience. He was giving out his phone number. Who does that? I had to dial it in and shoot off a text. Tell him about my newfound love for his low-budget meta-movie. Seemed like a gimmick but it wasn’t. Matt Farley wants his audience to text him, find him on Twitter, and build a communal experience around sharing his own experience. He texted back right away. I went on our flagship podcast and relayed how exciting and multilayered this new meta experience was. This movie was made a decade ago. Total shot in the dark that the great Matt Farley would still have the same number, would want to talk about this aging movie and hear from someone watching it ten years in the future.

And look how this beautiful yarn continues to unwind. Now we have a community show devoted strictly to Matt Farley and co-conspirator Charles Roxburgh’s total filmography. Note of disclosure: both creators have been on and are friends of the site! I love their movies so much. I love that they have created infectious joy in our community. That we all gather to talk about some movies that have never really been podcasted about. That we continue to learn so much from these backyard ethics and the process of just making great work with friends because that’s worth doing.

I think the ethos of the website, after all, entirely matches the outcomes of these Motern-branded movies. We’re just making the best work we can with friends because we can and because we want to create more friends to create work for. It’s a beautiful self-sustaining cycle that keeps us as busy as it does remaining connected with one another. The cooperation between our total projects, I think, is the heart of the site, while the standard old Features and Reviews, are our meat and potatoes (our still vital primary content that allows us to be accredited and achieve more visibility for the things we most want to make). The whole purpose of creating is often to have some tangible record and result of a time in one’s life. We have so many records of our friendships here. So many great pieces detailing our communal interests in film. One of the best things we can do is extend ourselves and find auteurs who perfectly match the kind of work we want to make. We believe we’ve found the gold standard in our show Don’t Let the Moterncast Get You!

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Dir. Isao Takahata.

LETTERS TO EZRA: Working on this site is one of my greatest passions. But the most important thing in my life, the most important thing I do every single day, is my work as a Dad. I put my whole heart into this job. My daughter means the world to me. Even when I’m not thinking of her and doing things for her, in my mind I’m working toward the next thing we get to do, the next time we get time together, all the beautiful first experiences and new things I can show her.

Because I spend so much time being a Dad and so much time being a… website Dad, those lives often intersect. I love writing Ezra letters. I’m selective about when it happens and try not to burn myself and the audience out on the idea. I want the times I do it to be special time capsules for us and our shared, ever-growing bond around the cinema we watch together. Also, her favorite films are often Studio Ghibli films and her favorite of those is The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013), a film about a girl who grows up too fast with a little parental anxiety about that in it (I can’t help for it to be my favorite too and will let our friends speak to the incredible Spirited Away (2001)). Because of this special connection, including a Ghibli film is an absolute must, and coincides with some of the best pieces I’ve had the opportunity to write for the website.

I think some of my best, most touching work, are the words I write for my daughter. I can’t think of any better reason to write words. Usually, it’ll happen when it’s a Disney movie. Ideally, one she cares about and lives through for a while, one where I realize the greatest opportunity of all this early access, is when I get to take her out to the theater and enjoy something together. That’s when two of the very specific things I get to do really get to intersect and I get to talk directly to the audience I most want to write for: my beloved daughter Ezra. If you’re curious, I’d point to my letters written around screenings of Ponyo (2008), Inside Out (2015), Frozen 2 (2019), Raya and the Last Dragon (2021), and my most personal piece of all, a reflection on cinema, memories, and my personal recovery alongside Ezr’a birth, for experiential write-ups that embody the times my heart was most in the work.

Under the Skin

Under the Skin. Dir. Jonathan Glazer.

WE ALL HAVE THAT ONE MOVIE: We all have that one movie that changes us. Where we see it and come out a totally different person. Where we’ve found God at the Cinema. Mine is Jonathan Glazer’s 2014 masterpiece, Under the Skin. I think it’s a staggering work that takes the most astonishing elements of film, using a working understanding of how a perfectionist like Stanley Kubrick shoots movies, and alienizes every concept. This is an alien film from another world. An adaption of the unfilmable 2000 sci-fi novel of the same name by Michael Faber, Glazer takes the unfilmable novel and creates out of it an unwriteable movie. The inverse is true here: this can only be a cinematic work. You can not go back to the pages after and unpack what Glazer has done to the text. These pieces now work in different spheres of existence.

Through literal dozens of watches — I hardly bother to track this one, since I’m very likely to put in on and look for particular things and learn more about it – my understanding of the film and my relationship to the medium as a whole has radically shifted, largely around my experience of this one primary work. It either started this way or it has influenced my thought and has become this way. The first time I saw it, I thought it was, to reengage the most overused Americanized word, awesome. I was awe-struck, actually speechless, turning it over in my head again and again until I could no longer understand the shape of it. Then I watched it again and again and again and gained more confidence every time. I showed it to so many people. So many people who must’ve thought that’s a really odd thing to show on a first (and often last) date. I needed everyone who knew me to understand the movie to understand me. That’s what I thought.

Granted, I think it’s a formally challenging movie. It’s not a walk in the park. It is alien and oblong. The second half is a different movie from the first. But pulsing underneath both is the actual direction of the film. Eventually, I found out it was not just Glazer directing the film, it wasn’t just Scarlet Johanson acting in it. The gorgeous score by Mica Levi was the director, was the character, was the sense of place, was exactly the thing you could never write down. There aren’t enough words to conjure exactly how it feels. There was once a YouTube comment that said their score sounded like an ancient communication between mating dolphins who are communicating between worlds. That’s the closest I’ve seen. But for me, it’s a stripping down of the language of club music and movie scores and a formal reassigning of how these parts are composed and work together, brought together in the most alarming, sexiest, gnarliest way possible. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard, before and since, and I swear by it as my favorite audiovisual experience of my lifetime. It’s my life’s mission to get everyone to see the film. You don’t have to like it. If you don’t, we might even have more interesting conversations. I just want you to listen to it, feel it, and see if it moves you.

Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU LIKE: There was another moment that changed everything. It feels like a direct, conservative sort of moment to talk about. The kind everyone eventually has if they venture online and talk about movies. Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2018 film Phantom Thread was the moment that the conversation about cinema stirred inside me. There is a specific moment but we can call it the entire arc of the film. What I will say is that I was hanging on Jonny Greenwood’s score and really thinking about cinema like a new born baby. Like I wasn’t aging out of having big opinions about these commercial works. Like I should go online and engage with my freshly created Letterboxd, go find a website and write a ton of words about movies. I’m very motivated when I get like that.

I did that immediately afterward. I logged onto a Discord server for an upstart website and got engaged with the work right away. Took on review assignments. Went to a festival. So, I fully immersed myself and made sure to catch up on the many classics I’d missed. I was building the entire skillset, alongside my accumulated thirty years of knowledge from passionately watching cinema, and starting to make a brand for myself. At this outlet (which will go unnamed) I met the most incredible writers. After some time all working together and building strong bonds and ideals about how we would do the work differently, we took all of our work and friends with us, and we founded The Twin Geeks. It was a small group of Editors in a private Discord chat for a long time. Now there is a Public Discord which is very active, not a cult, and would be a lot cooler if you joined.

Through a strong bond of trust, we built this site across our various specialties, and while we’ve floated apart, and just as often, back together again, that initial crew means so much to me. I knew I was going to do it. I didn’t know how. They showed me how and helped me get there and to leave a messier situation to create an outlet that is caring, professional, and built around the core of friendships. It’s been a long road filled with thousands of articles, hundreds of podcasts, many film festivals, and endless nights burning the midnight oil, but we’ve built something really nice we can all be proud of. For all of us, we have certain movies to thank for that, but first, we ought to thank our friends. Thank you so much, friends. Now, thank you PTA, for a filmography that continues to inspire me and provide what I think is a correct model of a body of work and an ideal by which I can review films with an understanding. Because I saw Phantom Thread I am here. For someone else, it could be a radically different movie. I urge you to go find that movie. Once you have, come hang out with us and tell us about it because that’s exactly the kind of person that will continue to help build this site into something wonderful in the years to come.

First Cow

First Cow. Dir. Kelly Reichardt.

FILM IS A COMMUNITY: The Pacific Northwest film community is massively important to me. As a point of focus, one of my first intentions was to build a project that celebrated regional works. We were always going to be a globally-reaching site of members from all over but I wanted to start at home. I wanted to share about all the local festivals. I wanted to find the community. Interview the right directors. Connect with like-minded critics. Create a small bastion that reflected everything I love so much about Seattle and the Pacific Northwest as creative centers, raise the profile of local directors and work shot locally, celebrate the right socially relevant messages for our community, and become entrenched in the scene as it exists.

That brought me to Seattle Film Critics Society. This is my secondary community. A group of many of my favorite local critics all created, in my mind, brilliant work that reflects all of the same goals that I wanted to work toward with the website. I joined a couple of years ago and what a world-expanding experience that has been. It’s provided access I never thought I’d have, has extended many avenues for valuable conversation, and created several relationships that matter to me. Just this year, one of my co-Editors, Vaughn, joined the membership with me and helped fulfill another step in our regional approach.

It means a lot to me that the site is recognized in this capacity. That we have membership with a group we greatly respect and are creating content at screenings alongside all the most talented writers on film in our city. That’s exactly where we need to be. One of the great things we get to do is serve on boards and committees relevant to Seattle Film Critics Society’s year-end awards. I love doing any work relevant to this. The best part of getting to that is honoring the films I’m most passionate about. Creating ridiculous passionate campaigns for films that aren’t necessarily going to win. Every year I want to have a First Cow (2019), a film so deeply moving and touching to me, that I want to try and convince everyone else to see it. This allows our group to work not just insularly as a site we all believe in, but as a part of something larger. What I’ve learned about when we all work together at this job, is that beautiful things are possible and never to set limits on what you think can be done. When you work with friends, all of your dreams can come true.

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