It’s time to say both goodbye and hello. Nineteen years and one month ago — June 21, 2002, to be precise — my first movie review ran in The Boston Globe. It was for Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” starring Tom Cruise; I liked the film a lot but deemed it “a career optimist’s approximation of film noir.” Meaning: Spielberg can do a lot of things, but he can’t really do dark.
Over the next two decades, I wrote 3,000 more movie reviews, give or take, and 314 Sunday columns, of which this is the last. In that time, everything has changed: popular culture and the broader culture surrounding it, the technology that brings us our entertainments, and the newspapers and magazines that cover them. I’ve changed, too. And so it’s time to move on.
I’m leaving the Globe to start a Substack newsletter called “Ty Burr’s Watch List” (more on that below), a decision prompted in part by an entertainment landscape that is vastly different than the one to which I came. When Wesley Morris and I arrived at the Globe in 2002, replacing the retiring Jay Carr, everyone was still struggling to get their minds around 9/11; the notion of a Donald Trump presidency would have seemed a ludicrous joke. More to the point, people still consumed movies in a fashion that had been in place since the introduction of VHS and pay cable: first in a theater and then on TV via HBO or DVD. And the theatrical premiere was what counted.
That system has broken down, atomized by the rise of streaming platforms and accelerated by pandemic. Audiences are returning to movie theaters once more, but slowly, and it may never be what it was. At the same time, we’ve become used to, if not addicted to, the films and TV shows streaming from our devices. Movies now debut on Amazon and Netflix as often as they do in the multiplex. Disney has reorganized itself around Disney+. The landscape has shifted, and it’s not shifting back.
Yet most reviewers continue to write about films in a way the public no longer primarily watches them. That’s especially true for older audiences, for whom “going to the movies” can mean being assaulted by 20 minutes of screaming previews followed by a heavily digitized sequel based on a comic book or young adult novel. I confess that one of the most wearying aspects of the job for me has been attending to the blockbuster franchise properties that are now Hollywood’s primary order of business. It has become increasingly difficult to care about one more superhero or digitized Armageddon. There are plenty of movies about human beings to let people know about. More than a century of them, in fact.
I leave this post with mixed emotions, of course, some of which is pure ego. It’s fun to sound an early heads-up for “The Shape of Water,” say, or “Parasite,” or to be part of the pile-on for a disaster like “Cats.” One of the lines from my review for that movie — “Oh God, my eyes” — went viral, the 21st-century equivalent of a dopamine hit to a critic’s brain. But I’m not sure how that particularly serves a reader.
And it’s the readers I’m going to miss the most in my new venture, or the readers I’m leaving behind. My colleagues at the Globe, too, who continue to do heroic work at a punishing and often demoralizing time for traditional news. When I started in 2002, the Globe had two film critics and a stable of freelancers who covered every movie opening in Boston theaters. Nineteen years later, it’s mostly just me, and I review a handful of the weekly total. And I’ve been blessed with luck compared to those at the many, many news outlets that have laid off arts writers and now rely on wire services for reviews. The march of technology and its impact on the newspaper business has been relentless, with the readers losing out the most. And yet the Globe continues to keep its pact with readers and New England through dogged, prize-winning investigative reporting and opinion. That’s not going away.
Nor am I, really, and I invite you to follow me in the new venture. I’m thinking of “Ty Burr’s Watch List” as a curated guide to movies. It’s pretty simple: Once you sign up at tyburrswatchlist.substack.com, you get an e-mail from me three times a week recommending a film or films — some new, some old, some in theaters, mostly on streaming platforms. The newsletter’s free; if you want to pay for a monthly or annual subscription, you get more articles, reviews, and recommendations. Along with the suggestions I’ll provide context and a little history, something to make you ponder or laugh. It’ll still be me.
And I hope it’ll still be you, because for me the great pleasure of writing about movies is turning readers on to something — a vision, an entertainment, a challenge, a lark — that they wouldn’t have known about otherwise. An even greater pleasure over the years has been hearing back from you about the movies that have changed your day or your mind or your life. This job has never been about handing out brickbats to “Cats” or “The Cat in the Hat.” (What is it with the cat movies?) It’s about how we connect to each other, onscreen and off. And it always will be.