I have spent nearly eight years in Los Angeles surrounding my life with movies. It’s something I always wanted. I see hundreds and hundreds every year. More with each passing month. Old and new. Every year since relocating, I’ve made this list and published it.** Gradually, I began to write about them for work. Then I started to make a podcast about them. Now I make several. I’m attending festivals about them, more each year. And galumphing through awards events and premieres for them. Befriending a couple people who make them (and a lot of people who are obsessed by them). I’m prognosticating and pontificating and moderating about them. Becoming a muckety-muck, basically. A not insignificant amount of my identity and my self-worth is wrapped up in them; what I think about them and what they provide: solace and doubt and wonder and frustration and ecstasy. I hope people want to hear what I have to say about them, and that I can better understand myself by expressing the keyhole-sized perspective I can bring to someone else’s creation. Now, after a few years of this commitment, I see that it is becoming a defining aspect of my personality and—gross, but it’s true—whatever persona I’ve arrived at. I don’t take it for granted. I’m lucky; I’m a “movie guy” now. Or, for now. But it has had strange and unnerving effects on my life. At Christmas dinner this year, I found that my dad was asking my opinion on new movies (“Did you see that Irishman? Good?”), something he never cared to hear about for the first 35 or so years of my life. He even listens to the podcasts, which, to me, is extraordinary. He seems proud. What a world. But that attention breeds something else: Expectation. My mom died earlier this year and the experience is exactly as disarming and painful as anyone who has lost a parent has ever communicated, only much worse and basically without resolution for thousands of hours, in seeming perpetuity. The goddamned regret, indeed. It’s just terrible, an unsolvable sensation of loss that creeps and then lingers into your head at all the wrong times. My mom’s death happened at a particularly busy time if you cover movies. While I was helping to coordinate the funeral arrangements, I got a text from a friend who didn’t know about my mom. “Yo. Did you change jobs?” The second part of the text was a link to a subreddit post wondering if I’d been “poached” from my job because I’d disappeared from the internet during this particularly busy time in movie world. The post wondered why I wasn’t responding to the news of the day and presumed I left my job, a job I love. This is a strange feeling. One, I had to break the news to my friend that my mom died, via text. Two, being the subject of a Reddit thread is a special kind of hell; avoid at all costs. Three, the expectation was so acute and absurd, and yet my internet-poisoned brain developed a mild sense of panic, that I wasn’t present for something “important” and thus failing at being a movie guy. This is stupid, I know. I knew then. Life’s rich pageant, etc. But the disorienting feeling gave way to a profound sense of resentment toward one of the only things that brings me joy. Was I thinking about this stuff too much? Had I helped create an inescapable machine that would encircle me forever? Was I overthinking good fortune in the face of awful circumstances? These are frivolous feelings, a way to subvert coping, I guess. But they bubble in times like this. In the aftermath, I spent the year throwing myself at movies more deeply and obsessively. It’s keeping something at bay, or maybe just where I want to go, or both. I like the expectation! It’s all meaningless but also a good way to pass the time. My mom’s the one who put movies in my hand in the first place, the person who’d slide a taped-off-TV copy of The Wizard of Oz into the VCR, the person who dragged me to a rep screening of Once Upon a Time in the West at Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre (the literal best experience of my pre-teen life), the one who let me stay up to watch teen sex comedies and junk-genius action movies on HBO past 11pm. She dug what I was into and what I was getting up to at work and elsewhere. She knew implicitly, so it’s only right that it’s going this way. What she missed this year, man. When the lunar chase begins in Ad Astra, I can feel her excitement, mouth agape at that soaring moon buggy. When the wars of Marriage Story begin, I see glimmers of her life, her messed up marriage, her anger and pain. When Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood zips down Sunset Blvd. with Neil Diamond and Bob Seger on the box, I can see her smiling, a ‘69 Woodstock princess beaming just like Margot Robbie in that theater. The Brooklyn schmuck-princes of Uncut Gems: her kinda guys! The Farewell, geez, she’d have loved it. I can hear her Joker review: “Well done, but not for me. He’s always so good though.” Gloria Bell? My mom was Gloria Bell! How can you watch Waves and not reckon with loss? How can you not escape it when you see 6 Underground? And The Souvenir…I can imagine watching it over the holidays with her and the rest of my family, everyone else bored to tears while we vacuum popcorn and candy for two stolid hours and then explain to the philistines in the Fennessey family what they missed. I wish she could have seen these movies. But in a way, she did.
100. Queen & Slim
99. Downton Abbey
97. The Lion King
94. Hobbs & Shaw
93. Blinded By the Light
92. Gemini Man
90. Little Joe
89. The Highwaymen
88. A Hidden Life
87. Spider-Man: Far From Home
86. Jojo Rabbit
83. Late Night
78. The Mustang
77. The Amazing Johnathan Documentary
76. One Cut of the Dead
75. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek
74. Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
73. I Lost My Body
72. Sword of Trust
71. The Report
70. In Fabric
69. 6 Underground
68. Alita: Battle Angel
67. Happy Death Day 2U
66. Birds of Passage
65. John Wick 3: Parabellum
64. The Art of Self Defense
63. Everybody Knows
62. Dolemite Is My Name
61. The Beach Bum
59. Ready or Not
58. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
57. Citizen K
56. Knock Down the House
55. Honey Boy
54. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
53. Mike Wallace Is Here
52. Varda by Agnes
50. The Farewell
49. Where’s My Roy Cohn?
48. Motherless Brooklyn
47. Doctor Sleep
46. The Death of Dick Long
42. Plus One
41. The Dead Don’t Die
40. The Two Popes
39. Avengers: Endgame
38. Wild Rose
37. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
36. Gloria Bell
35. Pain and Glory
34. High Flying Bird
33. High Life
32. Richard Jewell
31. Dark Waters
29. Hail Satan?
27. Under the Silver Lake
26. Apollo 11
24. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
23. Toy Story 4
22. Triple Frontier
21. Ash Is Purest White
20. Long Shot
18. The Laundromat
16. The Lighthouse
15. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story
14. The Souvenir
13. Ford v. Ferrari
12. Ad Astra
11. American Factory
10. Little Women
9. Her Smell
7. Knives Out
5. Marriage Story
4. The Irishman
3. Uncut Gems
1. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
** With apologies to Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Daniel Isn’t Real, Black Christmas, The Painted Bird, Tigers Are Not Afraid, Luz, Give Me Liberty, Black Mother, and The Quiet One, all of which I have not seen.
Re: Last night
Not funded by Gilead Sciences
Funded by Blonded, independently
Let’s just get that out of the way.
Club culture around late 70s and 80s nightlife in NYC was a special, much talked about and written about thing. From the star studded midtown clubs like studio 54 and the first danceteria to the downtown clubs like Mudd + paradise garage. The figures, the music, the looks, the lack of regulation haha. I recognize NY wasn’t all lasers and disco lighting and that simultaneously, there was a lot of crime and poverty and that a huge part of club culture, the gay community, at that time were being wiped out by HIV + AIDS. Now in 2019, there’s a pill you can take every day that will at a better than 90% chance prevent you from contracting HIV. This pill was approved by the FDA in 2012. The pricing strategy behind it is malicious in my opinion and so it’s public perception is marred and rightfully so. But the fact remains that despite price being a very real barrier to this potentially life saving drug for some, the other very real barrier is awareness. I decided to name, what was otherwise going to be a night of lights and music inspired by an era of clubbing that I loved PrEP+ because while designing the club which is inside of an old glass factory basement in Queens (shoutout to The Basement that runs a very awesome techno night on Fridays after us) I started to imagine in an era where so many lives were lost and so much promise was lost forever along with them, what would it have been like if something, anything had existed that in all probability would’ve saved thousands and thousands of lives. I’m an artist, it’s core to my job to imagine realities that don’t necessarily exist and it’s a joy to. A couple days before we threw the party, I was discussing this subject with my team and one of the architects I work with thought that PrEP as a drug had reached ‘100% saturation’ so far as awareness. I thought he was dead wrong so I asked a friend (who I won’t name haha) if he knew what PrEP was and his response was ‘isn’t that some type of viagra or something’. My ex who I was with for several years didn’t know about it when we first met at a gay club in LA. Awareness isn’t always what we’d hope it would be. But anyway, I’m ranting. I’m happy that folks are talking about the subject in the first place. Thank you to everyone who came out and danced with us last night. Y’all were beautiful and the energy was right! Thank you Bouffant Bouffant, Sango, Justice and Sherelle for your sets last night they were soo good man. Oh one more thing, I saw someone say that this was a PR stunt etc etc, pshhh bitch pls come get a drink next time and I’ll put several barstools out so you can have as many seats as you need. All my love everybody really. Stay safe.
NOTE: A lot of people who have read this have shared their condolences and well wishes, which is really nice. Some have also asked if there was anything they could do for Sean’s family, which is amazing. If you’re able and feel moved to, there is: There’s a college fund for Winnie. Thanks to everyone who has reached out.
One of the best friends I’ll ever have died on November 29, after a fight with cancer. He was 36, and he leaves a wife and a young daughter, all of which is an infuriating sin. I’ve been trying to find a way to sit with that. I’m not sure how well I’ve been doing.
I gave the eulogy at his funeral mass. Whenever I’ve talked to people about that, they have apologized to me, have said they were so sorry that I got asked to do that, that I had to do that. It’s weird: I never looked at it like that.
I feel so lucky that I got to know Sean Enos-Robertson – to really know him, what he cared about, what he loved, what made him so special. You rarely get to know anybody like that, and when you do, sometimes you don’t wind up liking what you see. That never happened with Sean; he was a font of joy, someone who lived to make the lives of others just a little bit better. His wife asked me if I’d write something down and talk to people about this beautiful, amazing person I was so lucky to know. That wasn’t a burden. It was a privilege. An honor.
And now, a few weeks later, as I’m trying to figure out how to process this, I keep thinking that I’d like to share that.
You guys won’t get to know Sean, which is so, so decidedly your loss. But maybe this lets you know how much he meant to me, to us, and to so many other people, and it makes you think about the people who mean this much to you. And maybe you tell them.
Maybe you tell them while you have the chance, because telling people you care about them, and who they are in your life, and why you love who they are full stop is one of the best things there is, and there’s never a wrong time for it so long as it’s before the end. I got to tell Sean how I felt before he died, and I got to tell his family, and his friends, and his students – my God, his students – and now I’m telling you. Sean Enos-Robertson was brilliant, the best, a light in a lot of lives. I miss him, and I love him, and I always will. Here’s why.
Hello, everybody. My name is Dan Devine, and I’m a friend of Sean’s. I am a friend of Sean’s. I’m not going to use the past tense for that; it didn’t stop being true last Thursday, and it’s never going to.
On behalf of Courtney and Winnie, and of the Robertson and Enos families, I’d like to thank you for being here. In a broad sense, Sean believed in community: in the power of people uniting for a common good. More specifically, Sean believed in love. He loved his family — his wife and daughter, his parents and in-laws, his brother and grandmother. He loved his friends. He loved his students and colleagues. He loved the people he leaned on, and who leaned on him — those of us here today, and many others who couldn’t make it, but are sharing their love, and our grief.
Sean was one of my favorite people. He was magnetic. He was invigorating. He was cool as hell.
Sean radiated. He was a candle: someone who lit up and warmed every room he walked into, every person whose life he touched. This … this is a tough room to light up. So we’re going to have to do it together.
Before we do it, though, I want to acknowledge a hard truth I’ve been sitting with, and that you might be sitting with, too. It is deeply, impossibly unfair that Sean is gone — that he was taken from us so soon. Too soon. Way, way, WAY too soon. That’s real, and it’s OK to feel that.
In my better moments, though, I can set that aside and make room for gratitude — that Sean walked into my life in the first place, that I got as much time with him as I did, and that I got so much exposure to such a shining example of how to love.
There’s a song by Tom Petty that I really love called “Walls.” There’s a line in the chorus that goes, “You got a heart so big, it could crush this town.” That was Sean. Sean loved openly, fearlessly, completely — he hugged like you could win medals for it. He loved with everything he had, with his whole body. And if you don’t believe that, then you never saw my man dance.
He loved music, and especially sharing it — I don’t think anybody made me more mix CDs to try to put me onto something that I hadn’t heard. (I’m pretty sure I have about five different “best of Blur” mixes. Sean really loved Blur.)
I met Sean at Providence College in the fall of 2000, right near the start of our freshman year. I’d seen him around at meetings for people who wanted to apply for shows on the college radio station, WDOM, but we didn’t become friends right away. I know exactly when that happened: October 29, 2000. (I looked it up.)
That night, Mike Doughty, the singer from Soul Coughing, played a solo show at the Met Cafe in downtown Providence. I took the PC shuttle downtown by myself to catch the show, and somewhere around the weird acoustic cover of “Real Love” by Mary J. Blige, I saw that tall, skinny dude again. We awkwardly sidled up to one another to watch the show, and wound up walking back to campus together. We talked about bands and school and the station and whatever else two 18-year-olds talk about, all the way back home, and that was that. From that moment on, that was my man.
We hung out a lot, as evidenced by the staggering number of old photos I’ve looked through recently in which one or both of us had extremely tragic haircuts, facial hair, or sideburns. We lived together for two wonderful years in an awful apartment in Cranston, R.I.
The first year, we lived with our friend Todd. We had two parking spots for three cars, so one of us would always be blocking somebody in. Whenever it was time for the blocked-in person to get out, he’d ask, “Are you behind me?” And always, every time, Sean would answer, “100 percent, man.”
It was this small, dumb thing, but it always made me laugh. Sean was really good at that.
We learned how to be adults together, finishing school and trying to figure out how to pursue our passions. After searching a little, Sean found his. In 2007, he took a job teaching history to middle schoolers at Harlem Academy. He shared with scores of students his belief in civic responsibility, in actively engaging with our nation’s past, in interrogating history to learn about how we got where we are and how we might make decisions about our future. He loved teaching, and he was incredible at it. In 2016, the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History named him the New York State History Teacher of the Year, and they don’t just give that out.
Sean’s commitment to his students went beyond the classroom. I got a much clearer picture of that when Courtney sent me a note she received after his passing from one of his students, sharing both condolences and her memory of Mr. Robertson as someone who “would always reach out to me when he thought I needed it.” One day, in eighth grade, this student confided in Sean that she thought she wanted to be an artist. She braced for stereotypical adult dismissal, the classic speech about “getting a real job.”
Instead, she got a giant smile and an inspiring conversation about Courtney’s job as a graphic designer, about that being a real path, and about how she might be able to realize her dream. Courtney invited her to visit her job to see firsthand how it was done, and that it could be done. She’s kept that dream throughout high school, and now into college, thanks in part to Sean’s willingness to listen, to care, and to open his life to a student in need. I’m willing to bet there are a lot more stories like that.
The student concluded her note with a beautiful sentiment: “I pray that you and Winnie and the rest of Mr. Robertson’s family and friends are able to find peace and comfort, and I pray that you are able to think of him and feel peace and joy, because I genuinely think that’s what he would want.” I think she’s exactly right. Sean wanted to lift people’s spirits, to lighten their moods; on the day he invited some of us Brooklyn friends over to tell us that his fight was coming to an end, he kept moving back and forth among playlists of incidental music, setting a soundtrack to hum underneath all the laughs and tears and reminiscing. Even then, dude was still DJing.
We learned how to be somebody’s partner, and eventually somebody’s husband, together. Sean met Courtney in 2002, and as I remember it, he knew very, very quickly that he’d hit the jackpot. I’m sure that they had their share of tough times over the years, especially recently, but they always seemed immensely supportive of one another. Their love, from the outside, always seemed easy, in that way that let you know it was right, secure for the long haul.
Something Sean and I had in common, and that I’ve always felt grateful for, is that we always knew our magnetic north. Everything in our life oriented around the person we wanted to spend it with, and wherever work or school or whatever tossed us, we could always go back to that, back to our person, and get pointed in the right direction. Courtney was his compass, his best reason for doing everything.
When they were going to get married, Sean asked me to stand up with him as his best man, and to give a toast. I dug that toast out of a box last week, and here’s the part that matters: “I think that all guys — the honest ones, at least — will admit that the women in our lives do a lot of the heavy lifting in helping us become decent, valuable men. And this is no exception […] When Sean called to tell me that he and Courtney had gotten engaged, the first thing I remember thinking is, ‘They deserve each other.’”
Their time together deserved a better ending than this. But what came before — the 16 years of knowing this great a love was possible, the nine years of marriage, the two and a half years of Winnie’s life? That was exactly what they deserved.
Courtney is one of the strongest, fiercest, most remarkable people I’ve ever met — a woman who has faced unimaginable challenges and kept putting one foot in front of the other. I can’t fathom what today is like for you, Courtney, but I want you to know: we are going to be awesome for you and Winnie right now. And tomorrow, and the next day, and all the days after that. I’m sorry, but you’re stuck with us.
We learned how to be fathers together. Sean was there for me when my Siobhan was born, ready to cradle this tiny thing in his arms and envelop us with love, and to look me in my bloodshot, frantic eyes and let me know that I didn’t have to be OK, because I was never going to be alone with it all. I wanted to do the same for him when Winnie was born, but Sean never seemed to need it. He was just ready: all open arms and full heart and perfect love.
Winnie is amazing, and brave, and funny, just like her dad. She’s one of my favorite people, too, and I ache for her. But I’m also so grateful that there are so many people who will line up to tell her just how fantastic her father was. She will always know how special he was, and how special she was to him, and how much he loved her. We’ll make sure of that. It might be the most important thing any of us do once we leave here today.
This hurts. This is hard. It’s not supposed to go like this. But we don’t get to make these kinds of choices. All we can do is deal with the fallout.
I’d ask you to remember the words of Sean’s student: “I pray that you are able to think of him and feel peace and joy.” Sean Enos-Robertson spent 36 years doing everything he could to bring peace and joy to everybody he met. Sean loved with his whole soul, and we can do that, too. We can do that for him. Let’s be candles. Let’s radiate.