Friday, March 24, 2017

The WILTY Dream Team

I'm no stranger to late-night YouTube dives, and my recent obsession has been the British panel show "Would I Lie To You?"  The premise is simple --- two teams of three comedians/celebrities/whatever try to guess whether one person on the other team is telling an untrue or true story. 

David Mitchell and Lee Mack are in every episode captaining the opposing teams, and needless to say, they're hilarious.  So in this post trying to form the best possible WILTY all-star episode, Mitchell and Mack are no-brainers.  Rob Brydon is the host, naturally.  (Original first-season host Angus Deayton is essentially the Pete Best of this show.)

I'll tell you right now, this post is complete since I couldn't decide on the sixth person.  It's a close race between Rhod Gilbert, Sarah Millican and Henning Wehn.  (Honourable mention to Kevin Bridges, who I think has only been on the show once but perhaps has the single funniest segment in WILTY history.  "For the love of God...")  So I'm just going to list the big three and you can debate the sixth amongst yourselves.  Plus, now I can write some other post about this topic later!  Content!

The all-stars....

* Claudia Winkleman, the WILTY GOAT
I use the 'GOAT' designation not necessarily because she's the funniest (though she is extremely funny), but because she clearly seems to be the best at the actual game.  Look at this clip package; she's unbeaten!  She's that perfect blend of so logically kooky that you can believe any story she might tell, and she is a phenomenal liar.  Her "designate people as animals" clip is so matter-of-fact that it's almost scary.

* Greg Davies, the giant of laughter
Almost the best storyteller ever, and my god, that "vegetables" story is the best.  I've watched the bit about the teacher losing the passports maybe a dozen times and I'm crying with laughter every time.

* Bob Mortimer, storyteller supreme
As great as Davies is at spinning yarns, nobody touches Mortimer.  His friends' names!  His completely illogical behaviour in his youth!  It's honestly a bit disappointing whenever Bob has to sell a lie, since why make something up when you could just let him talk about his actual life for five minutes?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Monopoly News!

I was going to write this post about the new Monopoly pieces a few days ago but held off due an overwhelming disturbance in the Force.  I was like, “hmm, I should hold off just in case another piece of Monopoly-related news somehow breaks in the next few days.  I’ve got a hunch!”  Since my hunches are always correct*, I now get to just combine both pieces of news into one post, rather than “monopolize” your time by making you read two separate posts.  Puns!

* = case in point, I’m doing really well in one of my March Madness brackets.  The moral of the story is that if you run six brackets, at least one will be a winner!

Firstly, the biggest shakeup in the Monopoly world is that three of the longtime game pieces are going the way of the dodo.*  (Which apparently is one of the few birds that isn’t under consideration for being a game piece.)  The thimble, wheelbarrow and boot are all OUT, to be replaced by a penguin, a rubber duck and a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

* = if you'll notice the address of that link, you'll also note that someone at the CBC doesn't know how to spell "Monopoly."  Come on, CBC!  Somewhere, Rick Mercer just shakes his head in disgust.

This isn’t the first time the game has switched up its pieces, as they introduced a cat (replacing the old iron) a few years ago.  A more learned cultural critic than I could note how Monopoly is slowly phasing out all of the “working-class” items in favour of “random crap,” which someone goes against the game’s gimmick of one rising up to make oneself a business tycoon.

On the plus side, the top hat is staying, as that’s my go-to piece whenever I sit down for a game of Monopoly.  My usual order is preference is Top Hat, then the Wheelbarrow (RIP), and then in a pinch, the Iron Dog.  I always refer to that piece as “the iron dog” rather than just “the dog” due to some children’s detective book I read literally 30 years ago that involved some major clue being hidden inside a metallic statue of a dog.  If they ever make a movie about Margaret Thatcher’s pet hound, the title is already spoken for.

I probably don’t have to worry about my beloved Top Hat leaving the board anytime soon, since I have to imagine that one will be around for as long as Rich Uncle Pennybags (a.k.a. Mr. Monopoly) is still the mascot.  God help us all if they decide to modernize him into some kind of Richard Branson-style “cool billionaire” in a sportcoat and jeans.  If they replace the Top Hat with a Bluetooth Headset, I’ll be picketing Hasbro’s offices.

The second item is that a Monopoly-based musical is in the works, since literally everything can be a musical these days.  To answer your obvious question, no, I’m not going to auditioning for the role of Rich Uncle Pennybags, though the resemblance is uncanny.  (My history of auditioning for musicals is not great.)   

I’m disappointed that my dad isn’t writing the songs for this show, given his long-standing tradition of singing place name-related songs during any game of Monopoly.  Landing on Indiana Ave leads to a rendition of “Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor.  Landing on Boardwalk leads to him singing, naturally, the Drifters’ classic “Under The Boardwalk.”  Landing on Pacific Avenue and it’s him singing that old South Pacific standard “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair”….okay, that last one is made up.  The point is that Monopoly already has a long and proud musical history based around my father’s lack of knowledge about any song written after the year 1971.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hot! Live! Music!

Sarah Slean, "Climbing Up The Walls"
Having seen Sarah Slean four times in concert, she is my most-viewed live artist this side of U2.  I guess that factoid would've been more thematic if Radiohead was my top concert act, but whatever, this cover is great.  All you Sleaniacs should know this by now, but her new album is out in a matter of weeks.

Bruce Springsteen, "Real World"
I found this one about five seconds after posting last month's Springsteen-centric Hot! Live! Music! entry but really, one never needs an excuse to promote a great Bruce song.  This gem is from (of all places) the much-maligned Human Touch album, a.k.a. the one that Bruce released on the same day as the equally lightly-regarded Lucky Town.  So it was a double album but not a double album, yet the two records shared the usual double-album problem of "man, why didn't they just take the best 12 songs and make one good record instead of two mediocre ones?"  Fun fact: Real World is a rare co-writing joint for Springsteen, as the melody here was from longtime E Street pianist Roy Bittan.

The Edge, "Love Is Blindness"
Speaking of musicians performing stripped-down versions of songs, here's the Edge.  Listen to the voice on this guy!  Is there anything the Edge can't do, minus grow hair?

Robyn Adele Anderson, "Clint Eastwood"
You may recognize RAA from her collaborations with Postmodern Jukebox.  I don't know if she is trying to steal their thunder with her own old-timey cover YouTube videos or if she was already going this before Scott Bradlee and company came along.  Admittedly, part of me would find it hilarious if there was this really bitter feud within the YouTube old-timey music cover community...that sounds like a Christopher Guest movie just waiting to happen.  Let's also recognize RAA's shrewd marketing, or perhaps just dumb luck in the name department; her video will get some curious views from everyone searching for either 'Adele' or 'Robyn.'  (And I guess 'Anderson,' for those looking for Harry Anderson magic tricks.) As I've thought for years ever since Gorillaz released this track, what was Clint Eastwood's reaction to this?  Frankly, I'd settle for a video of Clint's face as someone tries to explain to him the entire concept of Gorillaz.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Happy Pi Day!

In the words of Homer Simpson, "mmmmm, pie."

In the words of mathematicians, 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640628620899862803482534211706798214808651328230664709384460955058223172535940812848111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196442881097566593344612847564823378678316527120190914564856692346034861045432664821339360726024914127372458700660631558817488152092096282925409171536436789259036001133053054882046652138414695194151160943305727036575959195309218611738193261179310511854807446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912983367336244065664308602139494639522473719070217986094370277053921717629317675238467481846766940513200056812714526356082778577134275778960917363717872146844090122495343014654958537105079227968925892354201995611212902196086403441815981362977477130996051870721134999999837297804995105973173281609631859502445945534690830264252230825334468503526193118817101000313783875288658753320838142061717766914730359825349042875546873115956286388235378759375195778185778053217122680661300192787661119590921642019893809525720106548586327886593615338182796823030195203530185296899577362259941389124972177528347913151557485724245415069595082953311686172785588907509838175463746493931925506040092770167113900984882401285836160356370766010471018194295559619894676783744944825537977472684710404753464620804668425906949129331367702898915210475216205696602405803815019351125338243003558764024749647326391419927260426992279678235478163600934172164121992458631503028618297455570674983850549458858692699569092721079750930295532116534498720275596023648066549911988183479775356636980742654252786255181841757467289097777279380008164706001614524919217321721477235014144197356854816136115735255213347574184946843852332390739414333454776241686251898356948556209921922218427255025425688767179049460165346680498862723279178608578438382796797668145410095388378636095068006422512520511739298489608412848862694560424196528502221066118630674427862203919494504712371378696095636437191728746776465757396241389086583264599581339047802759009946576407895126946839835259570982582262052248940772671947826848260147699090264013639443745530506820349625245174939965143142980919065925093722169646151570985838741059788595977297549893016175392846813826868386894277415599185592524595395943104997252468084598727364469584865383673622262609912460805124388439045124413654976278079771569143599770012961608944169486855584840635342207222582848864815845602850601684273945226746767889525213852254995466672782398645659611635488623057745649803559363456817432411251507606947945109659609402522887971089314566913686722874894056010150330861792868092087476091782493858900971490967598526136554978189312978482168299894872265880485756401427047755513237964145152374623436454285844479526586782105114135473573952311342716610213596953623144295248493718711014576540359027993440374200731057853906219838744780847848968332144571386875194350643021845319104848100537061468067491927819119793995206141966342875444064374512371819217999839101591956181467514269123974894090718649423196156794520809514655022523160388193014209376213785595663893778708303906979207734672218256259966150142150306803844773454920260541466592520149744285073251866600213243408819071048633173464965145390579626856100550810665879699816357473638405257145910289706414011097120628043903975951567715770042033786993600723055876317635942187312514712053292819182618612586732157919841484882916447060957527069572209175671167229109816909152801735067127485832228718352093539657251210835791513698820914442100675103346711031412671113699086585163983150197016515116851714376576183515565088490998985998238734552833163550764791853589322618548963213293308985706420467525907091548141654985946163718027098199430992448895757128289059232332609729971208443357326548938239119325974636673058360414281388303203824903758985243744170291327656180937734440307074692112019130203303801976211011004492932151608424448596376698389522868478312355265821314495768572624334418930396864262434107732269780280731891544110104468232527162010526522721116603966655730925471105578537634668206531098965269186205647693125705863566201855810072936065987648611791045334885034611365768675324944166803962657978771855608455296541266540853061434443185867697514566140680070023787765913440171274947042056223053899456131407112700040785473326993908145466464588079727082668306343285878569830523580893306575740679545716377525420211495576158140025012622859413021647155097925923099079654737612551765675135751782966645477917450112996148903046399471329621073404375189573596145890193897131117904297828564750320319869151402870808599048010941214722131794764777262241425485454033215718530614228813758504306332175182979866223717215916077166925474873898665494945011465406284336639379003976926567214638530673609657120918076383271664162748888007869256029022847210403172118608204190004229661711963779213375751149595015660496318629472654736425230817703675159067350235072835405670403867435136222247715891504953098444893330963408780769325993978054193414473774418426312986080998886874132604721569516239658645730216315981931951673538129741677294786724229246543668009806769282382806899640048243540370141631496589794092432378969070697794223625082216889573837986230015937764716512289357860158816175578297352334460428151262720373431465319777741603199066554187639792933441952154134189948544473456738316249934191318148092777710386387734317720754565453220777092120190516609628049092636019759882816133231666365286193266863360627356763035447762803504507772355471058595487027908143562401451718062464362679456127531813407833033625423278394497538243720583531147711992606381334677687969597030983391307710987040859133746414428227726346594704745878477872019277152807317679077071572134447306057007334924369311383504931631284042512192565179806941135280131470130478164378851852909285452011658393419656213491434159562586586557055269049652098580338507224264829397285847831630577775606888764462482468579260395352773480304802900587607582510474709164396136267604492562742042083208566119062545433721315359584506877246029016187667952406163425225771954291629919306455377991403734043287526288896399587947572917464263574552540790914513571113694109119393251910760208252026187985318877058429725916778131496990090192116971737278476847268608490033770242429165130050051683233643503895170298939223345172201381280696501178440874519601212285993716231301711444846409038906449544400619869075485160263275052983491874078668088183385102283345085048608250393021332197155184306354550076682829493041377655279397517546139539846833936383047461199665385815384205685338621867252334028308711232827892125077126294632295639898989358211674562701021835646220134967151881909730381198004973407239610368540664319395097901906996395524530054505806855019567302292191393391856803449039820595510022635353619204199474553859381023439554495977837790237421617271117236434354394782218185286240851400666044332588856986705431547069657474585503323233421073015459405165537906866273337995851156257843229882737231989875714159578111963583300594087306812160287649628

Monday, March 13, 2017

Breaking Bad, Abbrv

Needless to say, you should watch all of Breaking Bad from start to finish.  Do it now, if you haven't already.  Like, right now.  Leave work, go home, buy a membership to a streaming service that carries that series and don't leave the house for the next three days.  (If you live in southern Ontario, this coincides nicely with this monster blizzard we're supposed to be getting.)  It is arguably the best TV show of all time and should absolutely be enjoyed from start to finish in its proper form.

THAT BEING SAID...this is a really cool idea.  Some fans sat down and rather amazingly edited the entirety of Breaking Bad into a two-hour movie.  Now, I haven't actually sat down and watched this myself, so I apologize if, halfway through, it suddenly morphs into a commercial for a timeshare in Daytona Beach.  Still, it certainly seems like a good idea for any BB fan who is interested in re-watching the series in a unique way.

Breaking Bad - The Movie from Breaking Bad - The Movie on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Beas? BEES?

First of all, the “Beads/BEES?!” bit is one of the most underrated of all Arrested Development gags.  But this is about another sitcom.

For years, I’ve been under the impression that The Office’s Pam Beasley spelled her last name the aforementioned way.  On a recent rematch of the series, however, I’ve discovered that her last name is…Beesly?!  What gives?

Technically, I could’ve been wrong this whole time.  BUT IF SO, why did Michael Scott (a lover of obvious puns if there ever was one) never make a single Beesly/bees/honey/etc. joke throughout the entirety of the series?  Am I being gaslit?  Is this some kind of Mandela Effect/Berenstain Bears situation?

If anyone knows Jenna Fischer personally, ask her about this.  Tell her a guy on the internet is curious about her character’s name; I’m sure she’ll drop everything to clear the matter up.  Or she'll say "my last name is spelled 'Fisher,' some fan you are," and I'll officially check into an asylum.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Adjacent To Heroism

Back in my younger days, I spent a summer working at Storybook Gardens, the most magical place on Earth (citation required).  For non-Londoners, Storybook is a kids’ theme park with a general “based on nursery rhymes” gimmick, and it has been a staple of southern Ontario tourism for decades.

My twin jobs were to a) operate the merry-go-round and b) dress up in a makeshift old-timey conductor’s uniform to run the “Storybook Express” train (a.k.a. a glorified riding lawnmower) around the park.  While mostly fun, there were certainly a few days when the hot summer sun became a bit much, or the kids crossed the line from “aw, how adorable” to “horrific little monsters,” or the dang Storybook Express malfunctioned mid-ride and I had to stand there amidst the goose crap* while a technician re-connected the whatever to the thing-a-ma-bob.

* = there’s probably no metric to measure this, but I would bet cash money that Canada geese see Springbank Park as the world’s single biggest toilet.  The sheer volume of geese generates an unholy amount of goose feces, and while “geese feces” is fun to say, it’s less fun to scrape off your boots.

So needless to say, Mark enjoyed his breaks.  If I recall correctly, it was 30 minutes of breaktime that I used to either grab a bite to eat, or just outright take a nap in the employee break room.  Like I said, some of those summer days were awfully warm.  Plus, my shifts started early.  Plus, I’m lazy!

One day, however, I was actually well-rested and just using my break to get lunch.  I grabbed a slice of pizza and a soda from one of the park’s food booths and was headed back to the break room to eat.  Thanks to a long line and the lack of an “employees can cut in front” policy,* I was running short on time before my shift resumed.  Still, I wasn’t sweating the clock too much until The Incident occurred.

* = I mean, come on, people.  I’ve been working all day to provide you and your bratty children with magical storybook enjoyment!  I shouldn’t have to wait for pizza!  Outta the way!

Like park employee both new and old, I was required to take a basic first aid course as part of my training.  While this is unquestionably a logical thing to learn, I certainly approached that course as just another step in the process rather than something that would need to be crucially important at some point.  Given my day-to-day duties, learning basic first aid was likely not going to be as utilized nearly as regularly as, say, learning how to reconnect the whatever to the Storybook Express.  (Man, I should’ve paid more attention during that lawnmower maintenance seminar.)  So sure, while it was handy to know, the first aid stuff didn’t seem to be too critical…

…UNTIL IT WAS.  About 30 yards away from where I was standing, pizza in hand, a little girl seemed to be choking.  Her parents were visibly concerned and her dad had kind of a makeshift Heimlich maneuver going, but his form wasn’t as measured as the proper style I’d learned just weeks before from a trained medical professional.  So clearly, it was my time to intercede.  I tossed my pizza and soda literally on the ground and began a sprint towards the scene.

And then after I’d run about ten yards, the little girl stopped choking.  Whatever it was she’d had trouble swallowing, it was now dislodged and she was totally fine.  She hugged her dad and went about merrily playing like nothing had happened.  By the time I actually made it to them, the family almost seemed surprised to see me.  “Oh, thanks for asking!  She’s fine, no problem, yadda yadda yadda.”  I considered giving the father a few pointers on proper Heimlich technique but whatever, his method was also effective.  He just never had the idea to hype it up like Henry Heimlich did.

On the grand scale, tragedy was averted.  On a lesser scale, my stomach was in peril since my lunch was ruined.  I’m not one to litter, though I didn’t want to take an extra five seconds to properly dispose of my food since time was seemingly of the essence.  Rushing to help a choking kid is well worth some soda on the ground, no question.  Likewise, I didn’t want to carefully just put it on the ground or something since, again, that would’ve taken some time and even if it’s carefully placed, it’s still on the ground.  As my personal motto goes, If Food Is On The Ground, Don’t Swallow It Down.  Plus, I’d left that pizza and soda unattended for a few minutes.  What if a bird had momentarily swooped down to peck at it, and then I’d eaten the slice none the wiser and contracted avian flu?  What if I’d set the slice down in a pile of geese feces (again, this crap was everywhere)?  Once that food left my hands, for all intents and purposes, it was garbage. 

Still, every legendary act of heroism requires some level of sacrifice from the hero.  Clearly, my brief mad dash towards an easily-averted problem counted as such capital-H Heroism.  In giving up that pizza and pop, I was hungry for three more hours.  That’s right, three!  It’s a wonder I didn’t waste away right there next to the carousel.  That was a full, nutritious lunch (uh, citation required) and the four dollars it cost to buy that lunch just tossed away without a thought, since a life needed saving. 

Well done, me.  Kudos, self.  It was right then and there, as I was catching my breath since I was inexplicably winded after running ten measly yards, that I knew that my legend would one day echo through the Springbank woods like the stories of Paul Bunyan.  And really, what did Paul Bunyan do besides be enormous and swing a mean axe?  Did he take a 90-minute first aid course?  Hell no!  Did he know the whole thing about timing chest compressions along with the beat of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive”?  Doubtful.  I wonder if Bunyan was familiar any of the Gibb brothers’ work.

It’s probably for the best that I didn’t ask the choking girl’s father for four bucks in compensation.  

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Conan The Luchador

I think we can all agree, El Gallo Loco needs a match with the Undertaker at Wrestlemania.  What the heck, throw John Cena in there against Bebe Malo in some type of "you must diaper your opponent to win" stipulation match.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The 2016 Markademy Awards

There is literally nothing I could do for this year’s Markademy Awards that could possibly top the actual Oscars for pure bonkers.  I’m at a loss, folks.  I could’ve trained a flock of carrier pigeons to peck away at a pile of bird seed to reveal each winner’s name, but then it’d just turn out that Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty replaced the seed with ball bearings.

It looked for all the world like Beatty’s pause before reading the winner was either a) him having a senior moment or b) him just hamming it up to draw out the suspense.  So Dunaway, intending to either bail him out or cut the nonsense, grabbed the card and the name of the listed film, going so quickly that she didn’t notice the discrepancy.  (Remember, she was acting fast.)  Long story short, that was the single biggest fiasco in Oscar history.  Hindsight being 20-20, Beatty missed an incredible chance at self-promotion by not ending his explanatory speech with “looks like the Rules Don’t Apply to me, folks!” and holding up a DVD.

So without further ado, let’s move on to the 2016 Markademy Awards!  Where you’d better believe I double-checked this post for any errors before publishing.

Actual Oscar nominees: Damien Chazelle/La La Land, Mel Gibson/Hacksaw Ridge, Barry Jenkins/Moonlight, Kenneth Lonergan/Manchester By The Sea, Denis Villeneuve/Arrival
Actual Oscar winner: Chazelle

Alterna-ballot: Luca Guadagnino/A Bigger Splash, Pablo Larrain/Jackie, Richard Linklater/Everybody Wants Some!!, David Mackenzie/Hell Or High Water, Mike Mills/20th Century Women, Joe and Anthony Russo/Captain America: Civil War, Martin Scorsese/Silence
My ballot: Chazelle, Guadagnino, Jenkins, The Russos, Scorsese
My winner: Barry Jenkins

Obligatory “LOL at the Academy actually nominating Mel Gibson again.”  Aside from that one tone-deaf nod, this is a pretty strong list of nominees, even if I’m only duplicating two of of them on my actual ballot.  Silence is a film that I admire more than I actually want to watch again, though it’s inarguable that Scorsese is simply playing on a higher level than virtually anyone else.  I’m not familiar with Guadagnino’s past work but he emerged on my radar screen in a big way.  And say what you will about Chazelle the wonder boy, but I thought LLL was a hell of a movie, and this guy clearly is a big talent to watch in future years.

I’ll give the Russos their own paragraph just to acknowledge the incredible juggling act required for Civil War (which got strong consideration for the Best Picture Markademy Award).  They had to live up to the amazing Winter Soldier, live up to the original Civil War storyline from the comics even if the film adaptation version is significantly different, present the Cap/Iron Man conflict in a way that makes a case for either side, kind of apologize to the world for Age Of Ultron by making a “real” new Avengers movie, introduce a brand new franchise-carrying character in Black Panther, re-introduce Spider-Man in his new Tom Holland form and incorporate him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, give little character beats to literally eight other recurring heroes (Black Widow, Falcon, Winter Soldier, War Machine, Vision, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man), from the Marvel movies, introduce and develop a brand-new villain in Zemo, face real-world pressure of trying to outdo another big hero vs. hero movie in Batman vs. Superman (this ended up being not that hard), make it a Captain America movie first and foremost for fans of that specific series AND, finally, make it great.  No wonder it took two people to direct this; I’m surprised it didn’t take six. 

But not even the fabulous Russo brothers can overcome Barry Jenkins.  Chazelle gets the ‘wonder boy’ label because he’s only 32, but Jenkins is a mere 37 years old himself.  He made one movie eight years ago, puttered around trying to get several more projects off the ground in the interim, was a staff writer on the second season of The Leftovers (!) and then finally gets Moonlight made….and it’s a stone-cold classic.  This is an astonishingly good movie for anyone, let alone a filmmaker on just his second trip behind the camera.  I suspect Jenkins won’t have so much trouble getting his third film made.  I don’t begrudge Chazelle winning the Oscar since Jenkins was rewarded himself via the adapted screenplay Oscar, not to mention landing the big prize at the end of the night.

Actual Oscar nominees: Mahershala Ali/Moonlight, Jeff Bridges/Hell Or High Water, Lucas Hedges/Manchester By The Sea, Dev Patel/Lion, Michael Shannon/Nocturnal Animals
Actual Oscar winner: Ali

Alterna-ballot: Tom Bennett/Love & Friendship, Ralph Fiennes/A Bigger Splash, Ben Foster/Hell Or High Water, Garrett Hedlund/Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Yosuke Kubozuka/Silence, Tracy Letts/Indignation, Issey Ogata/Silence, Glen Powell/Everybody Wants Some!!, Peter Sarsgaard/Jackie, Donnie Yen/Rogue One
My ballot: Fiennes, Kubozuka, Ogata, Powell, Shannon
My winner: Ralph Fiennes

Let’s begin with what is probably the year’s deepest acting category, as while I don’t really have any issues with any of the nominated performances, I had better alternatives.  Ali is a worthy winner though admittedly (minor Moonlight spoiler here), I thought he’d have more screentime given all of the hype surrounding his performance.  Hedges is fine.  Shannon is heavily approaching Christopher Walken territory of being able to add crazy intensity to any film, no matter how good or bad.  (I’m still not sure what I thought of Nocturnal Animals, easily the WTF film of the year.) 

Lion’s unusual structure technically makes Patel a supporting role, though it’s still vaguely category fraud-esque to me.  HoHW is another tough movie for lead/supporting designations since it more or less has three lead roles (a la The Departed) split between two younger actors and a cagey veteran.  Chris Pine is clearly the lead, though between Bridges and Foster, I’d say Foster was the most supporting role while Bridges is in that Nicholson-esque netherworld between the two categories.  Foster therefore would’ve been my preferred HoHW mention for this category, in no small part because Ben Foster is well overdue for some Academy recognition.

So after a whole paragraph on category fraud, I’m giving my actual Markademy Award to a performance that really skates the line between lead and supporting.  For much of the year, in fact, I had Fiennes listed as one of my Best Actor candidates.  I’m sure you could take a stopwatch to clock amounts of screentime that point out my hypocrisy in awarding Fiennes while snubbing, say, Bridges or Patel, though there’s also a narrative consideration.  Fiennes’ role in A Bigger Splash is ultimately a secondary part to drive the action of the actual lead, Tilda Swinton’s character.  (Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson are both kinda in category limbo, though I’d say Johnson was supporting if I bothered to nominate her.)

Beyond just screentime, of course, Fiennes totally steals every scene he’s in.  Fiennes has a well-developed reputation as a serious and intense actor, though between this film, Hail Caesar! and the Grand Budapest Hotel, he’s starting to flex his comedic muscles.  Fiennes is also playing Moriarty in an upcoming Sherlock Holmes movie starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as Holmes and Watson, and I mean, just take my money now.  Also, Fiennes’ full actual name is “Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes,” so you pretty much need a sense of humour if you’re growing up with such an ultra-British name.

Roll call for some other honourable mentions!  Everything about Kubozuka’s performance and character was fascinating, and he would’ve won if I’d taken a harder line with Fiennes as a lead actor….Not to be outdone on Team Silence, Issey brilliantly combined both humour and menace….Bennett finally channeled his poor man’s Ricky Gervais persona into something actually worthwhile….Letts is a classic “he had one scene, but man, what a scene” performance….Powell is hilariously douchey from start to finish…Sarsgaard avoids the pitfalls of a Kennedy impersonation to deliver fine work as RFK….if another set of Star Wars prequels is solely focused on Donnie Yen’s character, I won’t complain.

Actual Oscar nominees: Isabelle Huppert/Elle, Ruth Negga/Loving, Natalie Portman/Jackie, Emma Stone/La La Land, Meryl Streep/Florence Foster Jenkins
Actual Oscar winner: Stone

Alterna-ballot: Amy Adams/Arrival, Kate Beckinsale/Love & Friendship, Annette Bening/20th Century Women, Lily Collins/Rules Don’t Apply, Viola Davis/Fences, Rebecca Hall/Christine, Taraji P. Henson/Hidden Figures, Sarah Paulson/Blue Jay, Tilda Swinton/A Bigger Splash
My ballot: Bening, Davis, Hall, Portman, Swinton
My winner: Annette Bening

It’s weird to nominate Gosling and not Stone for the Markademy Award since she gave the better performance, though the Goz was aided by a very weak Best Actor field.  This year’s list of Best Actress contenders, conversely, was so stacked that while Stone was a worthy winner of the actual Oscar, you could just as easily argue in favour of another half-dozen names.  I actually had her seventh on my ballot, with the eternal Streep taking the #6 position.

We’ll talk more about Viola Davis in the next category, but suffice it to say, she was great.  Portman’s first 15 minutes were sort of “uh oh, this Jackie O impression is a little shaky, is this going to be the whole movie?” before morphing into straight fire.  ~~~ Swinton was amazing even barely saying a word.  The big dark horse nominee of the entire year was Rebecca Hall, an actress who I never considered to be even decent before her fantastic work in Christine.  Maybe I was blind to her talents, or maybe she’s a broken clock and this was one of her two correct times.

My winner is Annette Bening, from a rare film that I instantly wanted to see as an ongoing TV series just so I could spend more time with the characters.  Bening is the center of that great ensemble as a no-nonsense mother who nonetheless invites untold amounts of nonsense into her son’s life.  Doesn’t it feel like Bening should have an actual Oscar by now?  Will she be unofficially snubbed for life now since she’s married to Warren “Envelope Expert” Beatty?

Actual Oscar nominees: Viola Davis/Fences, Naomie Harris/Moonlight, Nicole Kidman/Lion, Octavia Spencer/Hidden Figures, Michelle Williams/Manchester By The Sea
Actual Oscar winner: Davis

Alterna-ballot: Greta Gerwig/20th Century Women, Dichen Lachman/Too Late, Kate McKinnon/Ghostbusters, Janelle Monae/Hidden Figures, Angora Rice/The Nice Guys, Molly Shannon/Other People
My ballot: McKinnon, Monae, Rice, Shannon, Williams
My winner: Kate McKinnon

“Mark, are you going to talk about category fraud all day long?”  I sure can!  Viola Davis gave a great performance and was wholly deserving of at least a nomination…as Best Actress.  Let’s be real here, this was a lead role.  At the end of the day I’m not too upset about Davis’ win since Kidman and Spencer both already have Oscars (“and probably didn’t deserve the nominations anyway,” he whispered”), Harris was fine but not award-worthy in my view. 

Michelle Williams….well, this is the eternal struggle of category fraud discussions.  She’s in MbtS for maybe ten minutes tops, yet one of her scenes is an absolute heart-wrencher and probably the key to the entire film.  Judging acting performances is often a case of apples vs. oranges anyway, but in this case especially, it’s not really fair to judge Williams’ ten great minutes against Davis’ 70-80 great minutes within the context of the same category.  Also, let’s not overlook how one Oscar snub begets another.  Hindsight being 20-20, Davis probably should’ve won Best Actress in 2011, so if the Academy is giving her a make-good Oscar this year, that now snubs Williams, who is quietly building up a hell of a resume.  Do you realize this is her fourth Oscar nomination?  From being the fourth or fifth most important person on Dawson’s Creek to having more career Oscar nods than Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, James Cagney, Peter Ustinov, Julie Andrews and countless others.  Williams is only 36 and should still have many more chances to finally nab that Oscar, though if she ends up in 0-fer-life territory, she could point to 2016 as her coulda/shoulda year if the Academy had done its job and properly awarded Davis years earlier.  Or, Williams will finally win an Oscar while snubbing someone else and cycle begins anew!

But in any case, I’m giving the actual award to Kate McKinnon for her Danny Ocean-sized theft of the Ghostbusters reboot.  This movie carried a ton of baggage, not only from the general pressure of reviving a classic franchise but also the outsized internet fanboy backlash, plus the backlash to that backlash.  McKinnon cut through the Gordian Knot of this controversy simply by being hilarious — literally everything she said or did was funny.  Her reactions just standing in the background of a scene are usually funnier than anything in the foreground.  There was a video floating around the internet for about two seconds (before the copyright police got to it) of all the alternate takes McKinnon used for her dialogue and every improvisation was as good as the next.  Between this movie and her weekly domination of SNL, 2016 was the year of McKinnon.

Special shoutout to my pal Kyle, who has stated that the Markademy Awards post is one of the reading highlights of his year.  Aww, thanks buddy!  I mention Kyle here since I’m sure he’ll love this particular award since he loathed the Ghostbusters movie.  He also recently praised the Ed Helms Vacation remake, so I’m wondering if his comedy compass is a little off.  After all, Kyle finds me funny, so something clearly ain’t right.

Honourable mention roll call!  Speaking of SNL stars, holy lord, does Molly Shannon ever come out of nowhere with a heartbreaking performance….I’m assuming that Spencer’s higher profile and past-winner status helped her get the nomination from the Hidden Figures cast since Monae had the better performance….Rice is a star of the future, she more than held her own with Gosling and Russell Crowe….Gerwig is slowly becoming the Streep of the Markademy Awards….I’ve been singing Lachman’s praises since her days on Dollhouse, can someone please start giving her better roles?

Actual Oscar nominees: Casey Affleck/Manchester By The Sea, Andrew Garfield/Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling/La La Land, Viggo Mortensen/Captain Fantastic, Denzel Washington/Fences
Actual Oscar winner: Affleck

Alterna-ballot: Joe Alwyn/Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Andrew Garfield/Silence, Hugh Grant/Florence Foster Jenkins, Jesse Plemons/Other People, Miles Teller/Bleed For This
My ballot: Garfield (for Silence), Gosling, Grant, Plemons, Washington
My winner: Denzel Washington

I can’t say I was too impressed with Affleck’s performance, and was hoping that the late-breaking Denzel momentum would be enough to net him that third Oscar.  Fun fact: only Streep, Ingrid Bergman, Walter Brennan, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jack Nicholson and Katherine Hepburn (who won four) have won at least three acting Oscars.  Can’t help but think Washington would’ve fit quite nicely into that group, though obviously he still has plenty of time to nab that third trophy.

Some have claimed that Fences is a bit too overtly theatrical, or showy, or Washington chews the scenery a little too much….but man, if you put the two performances side by side, I’ll take Denzel all day every day over Affleck.  If you play the old “if they switched roles” game and magically aged Affleck 20 years to make it work, a Casey Affleck-led Fences isn’t as good a movie.  A mid-90’s Denzel Washington starring in MbtS takes that film in a dozen new directions and elevates it to a possible Best Picture winner.

As mentioned earlier, this was not a strong Best Actor year, aside from Washington as the hands-down easy winner.  Even my alternate ballot is mostly “yeah, they were fine, but…” choices.  My second choice was actually Plemons for his fantastic against-type work in Other People.  Plemons is quietly building up a fascinating career, and just when you thought he was settling into a niche as a distinct character type, he throws this Other People curveball at us.  Between this movie, Fargo and then actually getting engaged to Kirsten Dunst, Plemons is on quite a roll.

Actual Oscar nominees: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell Or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight
Actual Oscar winner: Moonlight

To recap the rules of the Markademy Award Best Picture race, the following seven films are the ones I consider to be the cream of the crop for 2016.  They all pass the personal ‘this is a worthy best picture’ bar within my head, as in if any of these seven had won the real Oscar, I would’ve been satisfied.  The top seven almost could’ve been two tiers since 5-7 were pretty set in my mind but the top four were all legit contenders for the #1 spot.  It took some rethinking and even rewatching to figure things out, and…

1. Everybody Wants Some!!
2. Moonlight
3. Hell Or High Water
4. Captain America: Civil War
5. La La Land
6. Fences
7. 20th Century Women

First, the latter half of the draw.  As mentioned, 20th Century Women could’ve easily gone on for another 30 hours in my perfect world.  La La Land has its share of haters and it seems like there was enough of a backlash to actually cause that instantly legendary Oscar upset, though I must say, I really enjoyed it.  Fences is powerful enough as a film, I can’t imagine having to see it within the confines of a live theatre performance.  It would like staring into a blast furnace.

As noted earlier, Civil War had a huge laundry list of tasks to accomplish and ran through them with the efficiency of Hawkeye at a target range.  We probably have to start considering the Captain America movies to be the best comic book movie franchise, right?  First Avenger good, Winter Soldier was phenomenal and now Civil War is just as good if not even better given the higher degree of difficulty.  The Marvel movies are starting to overlap to the extent that it’s hard to set the Cap films aside as their own unique entity, per se; is there really anyone who is a fan of just the Cap movies on their own?  As in, “yeah, I didn’t bother with Avengers or Iron Man, but I’m all in on Captain America!”  Could one even necessarily watch Winter Solider and Civil War without needing a bunch of explanation about who the hell all these other characters are?  This all aside, in terms of sheer quality, the Cap movies are running neck-and-neck with Nolan’s Batman trilogy.  This might be worth a post of its own some day.

Hell Or High Water is the most straight-forward film on the list, just a badass modern-day Western crime movie.  Actually, strike the modern-day….you could’ve set the film 100 years ago in the old west with downgraded technology and told more or less the same story.  It is just (“just”?) an extremely well-made movie that I feel will be immensely rewatchable.

Moonlight becomes the ninth Best Picture winner in the last 11 years to also show up as a Markademy Award nominee, and the second straight Best Picture winner to finish at #2 on my list.  Let’s note that, all things considered, Moonlight was the single most unlikely winner in Oscar history.  How often does the Academy recognize movies with all-minority casts, or movies about homosexuality, or very low-profile indie movies, or movies that barely make any money?  And then how often does the Academy recognize a movie that does all four of these things?  The "only" thing Moonlight had going for it was that it was an incredible film, garnering about as close to universal acclaim as any Best Picture winner in recent memory.

If there’s a theme to the top three on my list, it’s that the movies have open-ended conclusions that leave you wanting more.  (Civil War is technically inconclusive as well, though obviously the story will continue in the umpteen upcoming Marvel movies.)  What will happen with Chiron and Kevin?  Will Hamilton ever settle his score with Toby Howard?  And what will happen throughout the entirety of Jake’s college career, though admittedly, the stakes seem a bit lower in Everybody Wants Some!! than in the other films.  Especially since the answer is probably just, “more baseball and partying.”

Moonlight and HoHW show you the key moments in the characters’ lives and you just want to learn of the aftermath.  The beauty of EWS!! is that aside from the technical “starting point” of Jake coming to college, it’s absolutely structured as just a few days in the lives of these kids.  Richard Linklater is about as good as anyone at making slice-of-life movies, be it Boyhood, the Before movies or (especially) Dazed & Confused, this movie’s spiritual heir.  I’ve always felt that every generation needs its own “teenagers just hanging around” type of movie.  The 70’s had American Graffiti reflecting the 60’s, the 90’s had Dazed & Confused reflecting the 70’s and now we have EWS!! reflecting the early 80’s.  We’re about 20 years away from reflecting on the 90’s, which will officially make me an old man.

Like D&C, Everybody Wants Some!! is the kind of movie you can watch over and over without fail.  The cast perfectly captures the “dudes hanging around” aesthetic, the dialogue is smart in its stupidity, the 1980’s period art design is so on-point in every sense that even Stranger Things would have to tip its cap.  There’s so little space amongst my top four picks that any would’ve been a worthy winner, but as it stands, Everybody Wants Some!! is my Markademy Award winner.  It was a great enough film that I’m even willing to overlook the silly exclamation points.

Here are my other ‘best’ films of the year, the ones that fell short of Best Picture consideration but would get a “oh yeah, that was quite good” recommendation from yours truly.

8. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
9. Sing Street
10. Florence Foster Jenkins
11. Manchester By The Sea
12. Arrival
13. Into The Forest
14. A Bigger Splash
15. Julieta
16. Doctor Strange
17. The Nice Guys
18. The Witch
19. Lion
20. Maggie’s Plan
21. Silence
22. Other People
23. Rogue One, A Star Wars Story
24. Blue Jay
25. Christine
26. Ghostbusters
27. The Shallows

If you're wondering where the traditional "best scenes of the year" segment is, this year I spun it off into its own post.  Extra pageviews!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Best Movie Scenes Of 2016

The list of the year's best film scenes is usually saved for the annual Markademy Awards post, though thanks to some poor planning and timing on my part (plus the fact that the forthcoming Markademy post is already enormously long), you're getting it now.  Bonus content, yayyyy!

As always, these are the scenes that stuck in my head as particularly memorable or even great.  Some of these are extended sequences within a film, some are even simple one-liners.  Some scenes are particular highlights from great movies, others are the sole bright spot of otherwise dreadful films. 

35. Jackie speaks with the priest (Jackie)
34. "What does AEY stand for?" (War Dogs)
33. Jeannie’s massage (Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates)
32. Marlon and Nemo meet the oyster (Finding Dory)
31. Mia’s audition (La La Land)
30. Conor says goodbye (A Monster Calls)
29. "Drive It Like You Stole It" (Sing Street)
28. Moana and Maui vs. the crab (Moana)
27. The story of the first McDonald’s (The Founder)
26. The Trinity confronts Doomsday (Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice)
25. The Inquisitor slumps down in his seat (Silence)
24. Sir James arrives (Love & Friendship)
23. The flamethrower battle with the bees (Popstar)
22. Deadpool tries to fight Colossus (Deadpool)
21. City Of Stars (La La Land)
20. Troy tells Rose about the new arrival (Fences)
19. Marla sings her song (Rules Don’t Apply)
18. Darth Vader boards the Rebel Alliance ship (Rogue One)
17. "What that i’twere so simple." (Hail Caesar!)
16. Doctor Strange figures out how to beat Dormammu (Doctor Strange)
15. Filming the "Riddle Of The Model" video (Sing Street)
14. "Toni Erdmann" shows up at the bar (Toni Erdmann)
13. Quicksilver evacuates the school (X-Men: Apocalypse)
12. Harry dances to "Emotional Rescue" (A Bigger Splash)
11. Marcus and Alberto try to order lunch (Hell Or High Water)
10. The Ghostbusters use their new gear against the ghosts invading Times Square (Ghostbusters)
9. Dealing with the sloths at the DMV (Zootopia)
8. "I thought that was a water truck!" (Captain America: Civil War)
7. Lee and Randi meet again (Manchester By The Sea)
6. Chiron and Kevin meet as adults (Moonlight)
5. Ines throws her birthday party (Toni Erdmann)
4. Marcus visits with the Dean (Indignation)
3. Gabe’s mom comes back as birch trees (Other People)
2.The "Help me get one more" sequence (Hacksaw Ridge)
1. Team Cap vs. Team Iron Man at the airport (Captain America: Civil War)

(Editor's note: I realize that #8 is technically part of #1, though it was such a good one-liner that it deserved to stand on its own.  Maybe the single funniest movie line of the year.  Good delivery, Rudd!)