Monday, February 24, 2020

The 2019 Markademy Awards

The Academy Awards may have been earlier than ever this year, but the Markademy Awards obstinately move at their own pace.  Welcome to this year’s ceremony, hosted by….the exact same person who’s hosted the last two Oscar ceremonies!  What an honour!

Let’s dive right into things, since everyone is surely eager to rehash an awards discussion that seemed mostly settled weeks ago!


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Actual nominees: Kathy Bates/Richard Jewell, Laura Dern/Marriage Story, Scarlett Johansson/Jojo Rabbit, Florence Pugh/Little Women, Margot Robbie/Bombshell
Actual winner: Laura Dern

Alterna-ballot: Cho Yeo-jeong/Parasite, Penelope Cruz/Pain & Glory, Thomasin McKenzie/Jojo Rabbit, Taylor Russell/Waves, Zhao Shuzhen/The Farewell, Michaela Watkins/Sword Of Trust

My ballot: Cho, McKenzie, Pugh, Russell, Shuzhen
My winner: Thomasin McKenzie

It’s always curious to me when a film is critically acclaimed more or less across the board, and virtually all the main players in the cast consistently rack up awards or nominations at every critics’ function across the land….except for one person.  In Jojo Rabbit’s case, you had ScarJo with the Oscar nomination, Roman Griffin Davis and Taika Waititi mentioned as potential lead and supporting actor nominees after they popped up in other critics’ mentions, but virtually nothing for Thomasin McKenzie. 

Maybe the answer is just “the others campaigned more, or campaigned better,” but man, I don’t get why McKenzie wasn’t a staple of awards season when she is the clear force of such a well-received movie.  Maybe category confusion?  Did voters not know if she was a lead or a supporting role and thus split the votes?  Whatever the case, it was a weird miss, and hopefully just a blip at the beginning of what looks like a very promising career.  Between this and her performance in Leave No Trace last year, McKenzie seems like a major star on the rise.

Aside from Florence Pugh, I wasn’t super into the Academy’s choices.  Laura Dern was fine but also kind of barely in the movie, and I’m not sure she really nails the one big showcase scene she does receive.  (Alan Alda, who I’ll tell you right now did show up on my ballot, did at least hit a homer on his one big scene.)  Just to stress right off the bat the arrogant and naval-gazing that are the Markademy Awards, I’ll say that I really prefer my alternate ballot, which is just a better and more interesting array of performances and films. 


BEST ACTOR
Actual nominees: Antonio Banderas/Pain & Glory, Leonardo DiCaprio/Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Adam Driver/Marriage Story, Joaquin Phoenix/Joker, Jonathan Pryce/The Two Popes
Actual winner: Joaquin Phoenix

Alterna-ballot: Taron Egerton/Rocketman, Andre Holland/High-Flying Bird, George MacKay/1917, Eddie Murphy/Dolemite Is My Name, Adam Sandler/Uncut Gems

My ballot: Banderas, DiCaprio, Driver, Murphy, Pryce
My winner: Antonio Banderas

After boasting about the quality of my picks, I’ll follow up with a category where I meekly assent to four of the Academy’s five choices.  The big exception is omitting the Academy’s winner, since if I have trouble fitting Arthur Fleck among even the five best pop culture representations of the Joker, I sure can’t justify putting Phoenix in the top five performances of the year.  So, I’ll replace Phoenix with Eddie Murphy, then pause for a moment to think about a world where Eddie Murphy played the Joker and wondering if I can figure out a way to travel through parallel realities, and move onto awarding Antonio Banderas. 

This is a classic case of an actor who I’d always considered to be good but not great suddenly stepping up with a signature performance.  Banderas is working on an entirely subtle level, and just kills it with every choice.  Maybe it was the quiet nature of the performance that so struck me, perhaps especially in comparison to the more actor-y moments of the other major nominees (even Jonathan Pryce isn’t immune, since playing the sitting Pope is inherently a flex).  There’s more than a little of Pedro Almodovar’s actual life in Banderas’ role, and it’s an interesting choice on the part of both to take the quieter route for this film, considering that Almodovar hasn’t been shy about being overtly showy in the past.  You could hardly find two more different movies than Pain & Glory and the last Banderas/Almodovar collaboration, the very “wait, WHAT?” The Skin I Live In.


BEST ACTRESS
Actual nominees: Cynthia Erivo/Harriet, Scarlett Johansson/Marriage Story, Saoirse Ronan/Little Women, Charlize Theron/Bombshell, Renee Zellweger/Judy
Actual winner: Renee Zellweger

Alterna-ballot: Awkwafina/The Farewell, Julianne Moore/Gloria Bell, Lupita Nyong’o/Us, Jodie Turner-Smith/Queen & Slim, Alfre Woodard/Clemency

My ballot: Awkwafina, Johansson, Moore, Woodard, Zellweger
My winner: Renee Zellweger

Another chalk pick on my end.  Despite everyone’s lack of enthusiasm about the Judy movie itself, the “are we really going to give Renee Zellweger a second Oscar?” reservations, and then the post-ceremony “geez, if we’d known her speech was going to be that long…” reservations, I think the reason Zellweger won was because her performance was just that good.  Judy isn’t anything special, it’s an Oscar vehicle if there ever was one, but Zellweger nails the tricky middle ground of capturing a famous person’s general essence while not just doing a rote impersonation.  There are obviously a few of Judy Garland’s tics and mannerisms in there, but Zellweger doesn’t fall back on caricature.  If I had to make a comp for Zellweger here, it would be with Chadwick Boseman’s Markademy Award-winning performance as James Brown in Get On Up a few years back.  Trying to replicate James Brown or Judy Garland is impossible, but getting 70 percent of the way there and then adding 30 percent of your own work is a nice formula for biopics.

A note on Johansson and Driver, who both did their best to almost bail out an average film.  Marriage Story ignores Howard Hawks’ “three great scenes and no bad scenes” rule for making a good movie, since it has four or five great scenes amidst an overall confused script.  Johansson has the tougher of the two roles, since Driver’s character becomes the focus of basically the whole final two-thirds of the film, yet ScarJo’s big one-take monologue in her divorce lawyer’s office is such a key framing device for how we perceive Driver’s character the rest of the way (and it’s such a good counterweight to Marriage Story’s ingenious opening montage of the couple’s letters about what they like about each other).  This is a lot to write about a performance that was probably fifth on my ballot but still, good job ScarJo.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Actual nominees: Tom Hanks/A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, Anthony Hopkins/The Two Popes, Al Pacino/The Irishman, Joe Pesci/The Irishman, Brad Pitt/Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Actual winner: Brad Pitt

Alterna-ballot: Alan Alda/Marriage Story, Sterling K. Brown/Waves, Chris Hemsworth/Avengers: Endgame, Jonathan Majors/The Last Black Man In San Francisco, Keanu Reeves/Always Be My Maybe, Song Kang-ho/Parasite

My ballot: Brown, Majors, Pacino, Pitt, Song
My winner: Sterling K. Brown

I’m going to go quick hit-style through this very deep category.  Pitt was a worthy Oscar winner for what I think will end up being his defining role, since Cliff Booth seems like an encapsulation of Pitt’s entire career.  Once could argue that his win was a bit of category fraud if you consider Pitt and DiCaprio to be co-leads in OUATIH, but it fits with the movie’s theme that Pitt is the loyal second banana to the end.   

Weirdly, Hemsworth and Reeves were maybe on the same wavelength as Pitt on the scale of roles that double as vague self-effacement, with Pitt and Hemsworth at around a 6 and Keanu at a very tongue-in-cheek 11.  If I was mean, I’d say that Pacino and Pesci were also vaguely making fun of themselves, but no matter your feelings on The Irishman as a whole (I felt it could’ve been at least 30 minutes shorter), it was great seeing both guys sink their teeth into actual roles for the first time in a long time.

As noted earlier, Alda nails his one big scene, and frankly I’d kind of love an entire movie about his character.  Majors is only slightly behind Thomasin McKenzie in my “buy stock in this actor, they have future star written all over them” rankings.  Song stood out amidst a deep cast since I think the driving scenes with Mr. Kim and the Parks are Parasite’s narrative heart.

Speaking of narrative hearts, Sterling K. Brown, who has the difficult task of being the through-line amidst Waves’ two storylines.  This is a movie that has such a fascinating turn to it that I dare not even hint at a spoiler, but Brown is the one (though if Waves has a flaw, it is that Renee Elise Goldsberry’s character is underwritten) who has to navigate both ends of that turn.  Sorry if I’m being vague, but the movie works best the less you know about the plot, and Waves is well worth seeing.  It’s probably no secret by this point that SKB is a hell of an actor, so hopefully it isn’t hard to believe that he delivers a great performance here, my lack of detail notwithstanding.


BEST DIRECTOR
Actual nominees: Bong Joon-ho/Parasite, Sam Mendes/1917, Todd Phillips/Joker, Martin Scorsese/The Irishman, Quentin Tarantino/Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Actual winner: Bong Joon-ho

Alterna-ballot: Greta Gerwig/Little Women, Fernando Meirelles/The Two Popes, Joe & Anthony Russo/Avengers: Endgame, Josh and Benny Safdie/Uncut Gems, Trey Edwards Shults/Waves, Lulu Wang/The Farewell

My ballot: Bong, the Russo brothers, Shults, Tarantino, Wang
My winner: Bong Joon-ho

What a wide range of directorial challenges here.  We have Gerwig, Tarantino, Scorsese, Phillips, Meirelles, and the Russos delving into familiar characters, stories, and personalities and trying to spin them into new directions (not all successfully, looking at you Todd Phillips), and then we have Bong, Shults, Wang, and the Safdies taking us into entirely fresh territory. 

Probably no surprise that I have a lot more to say about Parasite later on, but in Bong’s case, I’ll point out that this is a perfectly composed film.  It is Hitchcock-ian in its exactness of every scene, every framing, every setpiece, all calibrated for maximum suspense, laughter, outrage, sympathy, horror, or whatever Bong wants us to feel.  No knock on Sam Mendes, but an Oscar victory for him wouldn’t have felt nearly as special as Bong’s win — I almost jumped out of chair in surprise when Bong won, since Mendes was seen as such a big favourite.


BEST PICTURE
Actual nominees: Ford vs. Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Parasite
Actual winner: Parasite

As a reminder, the following movies are the ones that crossed the imaginary “this is good enough to win Best Picture” line in my mind.  Some years it’s five films, some years it’s six, some seven, there’s really no limit.  But, this year, it’s five, like an old-school Best Picture ballot before The Dark Knight gave the Academy a nervous breakdown.

1. Parasite
2. Avengers: Endgame
3. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
4. Uncut Gems
5. Waves


I touched on Waves earlier, and I touched on the front half of the end of the (or, this) Avengers saga last year when Infinity War won my Markademy Award for Best Picture.  Honestly, it really seemed like Endgame was going to make it two-for-two, especially after having one of the best moviegoing experiences of my life watching it on opening night in a packed audience of rabid Marvel fans who cheered and roared like it was a sporting event.  Endgame was the perfect way to cap off the first 11 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since it basically touched on every movie from those 11 years, sometimes to the literal point of entering those movies via a #TimeHeist. 

OUATIH also felt like both familiar ground and maybe the end of an era, in the sense that Tarantino’s movies usually address some similar topics.  And, this film in particular, felt like QT’s way of sending 60’s pop culture riding off into the sunset on a happy ending, sidestepping the violence of the real world with….well, ok, some movie violence, but still.  (Speaking of audience reactions during movies, DiCaprio’s panicked contribution to the big final fight scene got one of the biggest laughs I’ve ever heard in a movie theatre.)  If you believe Tarantino when he says that he’ll retire after 10 movies, OUATIH could also perhaps be interpreted as the first step in a personal sendoff, since he now has nine movies — he counts Kill Bill as one film split into two parts — under his belt.

OUATIH and Parasite are perfectly composed, and something like Endgame has to be calibrated to a literal extent due to all the CGI involved.  And while obviously a lot of thought and preparation went into Uncut Gems, the fact that it seems like it’s flying by the seat of its pants the entire time is what makes the movie such a blast.  It is one half-cocked Howard Ratner (Sandler’s character) misadventure after another, all culminating in one of the wildest climatic scenes in recent memory.  Between this and Good Time, the Safdies are quickly shooting up the ranks of my favourite directors.

And then there’s Parasite.  The Academy’s Best Picture and the Markademy’s Best Picture don’t often coincide because AMPAS usually makes some terrible choices (whereas my track record is, ahem, spotless!) but was Parasite ever a home run choice in 2019.  Just when it seemed like the Thanos that was 1917 seemed inevitable, there wasn’t anything behind Sam Mendes’ one-take finger-snap, leaving Parasite to complete its iron man run of critical acclaim that began back at the Cannes Festival. 

Parasite became the first foreign-language movie to win Best Picture, a distinction that many felt should have been Roma’s to win last year (especially in comparison to the mediocre Green Book).  Roma, however, had just too many hurdles — beyond the language barrier, it was also a Netflix movie, slow-moving, shot in black-and-white, and very high on the “insists upon itself” scale.

By contrast, Parasite is a movie for the here and now (quite literally, in that Parasite and Birdman are the only Best Pictures of the last 11 years to be set entirely in the present day) that speaks directly to the issues of 2019, yet since the issues of class warfare are timeless, I feel like this film is going to age very well.  I think Parasite was just so obviously and uniquely great that it was too much for Oscar voters to ignore, and it probably helped that Roma got close enough last year that the Academy was willing to take one more step and award a foreign-language movie the top prize.  The direct comparison to Roma is kind of amusing, considering how Roma is all about how the saintly housekeeper fits within the family unit, and Parasite is….uh, not about that. 

This is another instance where I have to be sparing on the details, since Parasite is a) best seen without knowing anything about it, and b) a must-see movie, so I don’t want to recommend the film so highly and then spoil everything.  Perhaps just calling it a “thriller” will do, even if the suspense is only part of the overall package, and it isn’t exactly what one would think of when imagining a normal thriller.  But, in short, Parasite is the best movie of both 2019 and the last several years.  You can’t spell “a masterpiece” without “Parasite,” and if that half-assed anagram doesn’t sell you on the film, nothing will.

Here are the rest of the movies that made my notables list:

6. Knives Out
7. Little Women
8. The Farewell
9. Jojo Rabbit
10. Spider-Man: Far From Home
11. Booksmart
12. Pain & Glory
13. Dolemite Is My Name
14. Queen & Slim
15 .The Last Black Man In San Francisco
16. Triple Frontier
17. 1917
18. Between Two Ferns
19. Toy Story 4
20. Rocketman
21. Always Be My Maybe
22. High-Flying Bird
23. Shazam!
24. Ford vs. Ferrari
25. Sword Of Trust
26. Blinded By The Light
27. The Two Popes
28. The Peanut Butter Falcon

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Worst Movies Of 2019

Hindsight being 20-20, I should've posted this before the "best scenes of the year" list, just so we could start at the bottom of 2019's barrel and work our way up to the best scenes and then the best movies in the forthcoming Markademy Awards post.  Poor decision-making, Mark!

Onto the bottom ten, counting down (up?) from the tenth-worst to the absolute worst.  Last year I actually went into rather a lot of detail about why each individual film stunk, but honestly?  These films aren't worth the time.

10. The Lighthouse
9. Angel Has Fallen
8. The Good Liar
7. Ad Astra
6. Joker (okay, I guess I already wrote quite a bit about why this one was a failure)
5. Glass
4. Unicorn Store
3. Serenity
2. Polar
1. The Souvenir


Worst Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro/Joker
I get that this is a nod to De Niro's performance in The King Of Comedy (a much better movie that Joker shamelessly tries to rip off), and I guess there's a meta-narrative about the biggest late night "joker" on television being so painfully unfunny.  But at the end of the day, it's also Robert De Niro as a late-night talk show host.  Yikes.  If you think I'm being too harsh on this role given the meta nature of the casting, well, that's life.

Worst Supporting Actress: Zawe Ashton/Velvet Buzzsaw
It's possible that Velvet Buzzsaw was too much of a one-note mess to be saved, but if a salvage job was possible, the film needed everyone in the cast firing on the Gyllenhaal/Collette levels of exquisite nonsense.  Having Ashton in there trying to be a voice of reason in a bonkers plot just didn't work at all.

Worst Actor: Matthew Rhys/A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
This one is unfortunate given how much I admired Rhys' work on The Americans.  But man, what was this movie?  Maybe the choice to make Mr. Rogers the supporting character in "the Mr. Rogers biopic" would've worked better if Rhys wasn't such an utterly dour wet blanket as the main character.

Worst Actress: Alicia Vikander/Earthquake Bird
Remember how everyone loved Vikander in Deus Ex Machina?  Maybe we didn't know that "acts like an android" is her default setting.

Worst Performance In The Best Movie: Emma Watson/Little Women
In a slight preview of my list of the year's best movies, I started at the top of my list and went down until I found a film that contained a legitimately mediocre performance.  In this case, we have Little Women's weak link.  Watson is a shaky actress even at the best of times, but come on, casting her as the best actress of the March family seems like an in-joke.


BEST PERFORMANCES IN BAD MOVIES
Supporting Actor: Mamoudou Athie/Unicorn Store
Supporting Actress: Judi Dench/All Is True
Actor: Robert Pattinson/The Lighthouse
Actress: Charlize Theron/Bombshell

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Best Movie Scenes Of 2019

A great scene can take place in an amazing movie, an awful movie, or anything in between.  It can be one line of dialogue, maybe something as simple as a character's glance or even a quick camera cut...or it can be a massive setpiece that lasts for 10 minutes or more, as I stretch the boundaries of what a "scene" exactly is, perhaps compared to what a "sequence" is.

Anyway, here is my annual compilation of the scenes that most stood out to me over the course of the last cinematic year.  I laughed, I cried, I said "wow" out loud to no one in the theatre.

SPOILER ALERT for some of these movies, as though I tried to be somewhat vague about some plot details, it couldn't be helped in some cases.

Of note: this was the easiest #1 call in the history of my annual "best scenes" lists.  You can probably already guess what it is.

32. Sam meets the Songwriter (Under the Silver Lake)
31. The Hulk meets his young fans (Avengers: Endgame)
30. Gretchen’s body is “discovered” (Velvet Buzzsaw)
29. The Garfield junket (Zombieland: Double Tap)
28. Andy’s halftime speech (Paddleton)
27. The plush rush (Toy Story 4)
26. Juan goes back to see his parents (Museo)
25. Bruce Lee vs. Cliff Booth (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood)

24. The standoff (Sword Of Trust)
23. Charlie is served (Marriage Story)
22. Benedict and Bergoglio meet after dinner (The Two Popes)
21. Jimmy’s trip to Detroit (The Irishman)
20. Dr. Sivana’s long-distance villain monologue (Shazam!)
19. How Mary and Cynthia met/Mel’s life story (Sword Of Trust)
18. Anthony and Evette meet (Clemency)
17. Rick's scenes on "Lancer" (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
16. Jen and Mel are mistaken for cops, then strippers (The Breaker Upperers)
15. Black Widow vs. Hawkeye (Avengers: Endgame)
14. The knife-tossing fight (John Wick 3)
13. The flooded neighbourhood (Parasite)
12. The Atomic Throw (The Peanut Butter Falcon)
11. Captain America is back on the elevator (Avengers: Endgame)
10. William’s sprint across the edge of the bunker (1917)
9. Lifting Mjolnir (Avengers: Endgame)
8. Spidey vs. the illusions (Spider-Man: Far From Home)
7. Salvador and Federico reunite (Pain & Glory)
6. The montage of Nicole and Charlie’s letters about each other (Marriage Story)
5. The “True Loves Wait” sequence (Waves)
4. Cliff visits the Spahn ranch (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
3. The Game 7 parlay bet (Uncut Gems)
2. The double date (Always Be My Maybe)
1. “Avengers.....assemble!” (Avengers: Endgame)

Friday, January 31, 2020

Hot! Live! Music!

Puddles Pity Party, "Friday I'm In Love"
What better song to post on a Friday?  This is kind of a unique version, as you've got Puddles (who is your standard "seven-foot-tall guy dressed as a clown who sings somber cover versions of popular songs" act) doing this Cure classic in the style of Bruce Springsteen, more or less combining it with "Thunder Road."  In short, this song could hardly be more up my alley.  Hot take: is "Friday I'm In Love" the best pop song of all time?

Postmodern Jukebox and Mario Jose, "Juice"
The galaxy-brain version of the "get Weird Al to play the Super Bow halftime show" idea would be to get the Postmodern Jukebox to play it, with a revolving door of singers (like Mario Jose) covering every hit under the sun.  For the next Super Bowl in New Orleans, for instance, play everything in the style of old-school N'awlins jazz.

Robyn Adele Anderson, "Intergalactic"
Robyn Anderson could be one of the PMJ's singers, as long as they manage to bury the hatchet of this imaginary feud between them that exists entirely within my head.  You know, because RAA now essentially does the PMJ's schtick on her own personal series of videos, and I can only imagine there's some bad blood.  I have zero idea, by the way, if she preceded the Postmodern Jukebox, or if they're completely cool with it since ultimately they're both just cover artists anyway, or if maybe it says something about me that I negatively assume everyone starts rivalry over petty matters.  Why can't I be more like Mario C, who likes to keep it clean?


Duran Duran, "A View To A Kill/Bond medley"
Duran Duran is one of those bands that I know virtually nothing about, besides their 3-4 biggest hits and the fact that they were one of the biggest bands in the world for much of the 80's.  Actually, I'm selling them short by saying three or four hits --- this seems like one of those instances where if I took ten seconds to properly look up their greatest hits album, I'd be like "wait, that's also a Duran Duran song? And so is that?!" and eventually I'd realize I enjoy like 13 of their tracks.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Other People's Writing

* I probably should've cited this at some point in 2019 when it actually was 25 years since the first season of Friends, but better late than never.  It's Wesley Morris of the New York Times discussing the show's still-rather incredible cultural influence, touching on such interesting topics as how the six characters both seemed to Flandersize and evolve at the same time, how younger fans today see Friends as sort of a fantasy of what adult life is like, and (perhaps most interestingly) how there were six of them.  Much has been written about how Friends nailed its casting to the nth degree, yet the actual size of the cast was a key factor.  It was an even gender split, nobody new was ever added, nobody ever left, and the dynamic never altered through all ten seasons.

* The Ringer's Brian Phillips writes a fascinating piece about the state of murder of entertainment, both in fictional and non-fictional varieties.  As someone who has read a thousand mystery novels and devoured all sorts of detective shows, it made me wonder....am I a bloodthirsty voyeur?  Not the kind of self-analysis one necessarily expects as one sifts through the Ringer's usual collection of stories about Joel Embiid's social media, and staff-wide exit polls about movie trailers.

* Maybe I'm not obsessed with murder, but just with odd crime narratives in general?  Like when the New York Times' Corey Kilgannon relates the story of how the American Museum Of Natural History was robbed in 1964, a.k.a. the biggest jewelry theft in known U.S. history.  They made a movie version of the heist in the 70's, but why the Coen brothers haven't turned this particular cast of characters into a modern film yet is beyond me.

* Oh, make that the Ringer's usual collection of stories about Joel Embiid's social media, staff-wide exit polls about movie trailers, and oral histories of pop culture or sports events --- or both, in the case of Alan Siegel's oral history of Prince's halftime show at Super Bowl 41.  The good news is that, like any Prince anecdote, you can't help read it like a Charlie Murphy Prince story, so it's endlessly entertaining.  I guess my main quibble is, if you think Prince had the best halftime show ever, that's certainly a defensible stance and maybe even the correct one.  But U2 isn't even mentioned anywhere in the story?  Really?

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Packers Postmortem

Geez, they couldn't stop the run, eh?

Green Bay's run defense has been a gong show all season long, and it was their ultimate downfall in the NFC title game.  Raheem Mostert, aided by the 49ers' excellent offensive line, ran for an ungodly 220 yards and an Al Bundy-esque four touchdowns against the Packers, who made Mostert seem like the second coming of Walter Payton and Jim Brown combined.  Combine this season-long weakness with the collapse of a season-long strength in the turnover department (the Packers rarely turned the ball over during the regular season, but had three turnovers against San Francisco), and it was no shock that the NFC championship game was a blowout.

But, as I've said over the last couple of weeks, this season has already been a big success.  It was no secret that the Packers weren't as good as the 49ers, and since San Fran might indeed be the best team in the entire league, maybe I can claim the Pack as the NFL silver medalist?  After all, the Packers did beat Kansas City during the season, and I'm sure Green Bay absolutely would've won that game had Patrick Mahomes been playing....er....yes...

So the Packers head into the offseason with the clear need for better run defense and for more offensive playmakers besides stars Aaron Jones and Davante Adams.  Fortunately, there's plenty of room for new additions since Green Bay has a lot of free agents who are notable in name (i.e. Blake Martinez, Bryan Bulaga, Jimmy Graham, Kyler Fackrell, Mason Crosby) but whose overall value to the 2019 team was inconsistent at best.  Except for the still-reliable Crosby, I'm fine with the Pack getting all of these guys walk and focusing on an overhaul of the offensive and defensive lines.  Given that everyone on the 49ers looked at least a step ahead of everyone on the Packers last Sunday, Green Bay needs to be getting much faster on the defense.

Onward and upward!  We'll take that silver medal into 2020 and win Super Bowl 55, exactly ten years after the team's last championship.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Star Guitar

Tom Rowlands of the Chemical Brothers recently a birthday last week, and I for one was disappointed to learn that the band is comprised of Rowlands and Ed Simons, rather than (for instance) two siblings named Bill and Terry Chemical.  But, as a belated birthday shoutout, let me post one of the underrated Greatest Music Video Ever candidates. 

I remember watching this on MuchMusic back in the day and thinking it was pretty uninteresting, until around three minutes in I noticed "huh, that beat kind of matched that bit of background."  Then it took me another viewing to realize, hey wait a second...


Friday, January 17, 2020

More NFL Playoff Predictions

Another Packers victory, another week of me bothering to write about the NFL postseason!

* Chiefs over Titans
I hemmed and hawed for quite a while over this one, since Tennessee has serious "team of destiny" vibes going.  Derrick Henry is on the biggest roll of any running back...geez, maybe ever?  In my lifetime, at least?  Unlike the Houston Texans, the Titans aren't idiots, and will absolutely win if K.C. has another nightmare quarter and falls behind by 20 points.  The way Tennessee can control the clock with Henry running, it might even be 10 points.  The flip side of the equation, however, is that while I'm increasingly confident in Tennessee's ability to protect such a lead, I am 100% confident in Patrick Mahomes' ability to wipe out any deficit.  My feeling last week that Mahomes was peaking proved to be correct, as he shook off that nightmare quarter against Houston and proceeded to obliterate the rest of the game.  The Titans' miracle run could absolutely continue all the way into and through the Super Bowl, but narrowly, I'll stick with Mahomes and the Chiefs.  If Mahomes really is the league's best quarterback, which I believe he is, then one can't go against the league's best QB when he's at home in a conference final.

* 49ers over Packers
Let the record show that I don't always pick Green Bay in these things.  The unfortunate part is, those damn Vikings probably screwed things up for the Pack, marking probably the first time in a decade that Minnesota got truly one over on the division rivals.  If the Vikings just lose to New Orleans, that would've set up Saints at Packers, and I'm assuming that the Saints still do their usual fade when outdoors in frigid Lambeau Field.  More importantly, the other NFC semi-final would've been 49ers vs. Seahawks, and I think Seattle was the only NFC team that had a shot at stopping San Francisco based on their always-close divisional games.  Bah!

In short, I don't think the Packers have the horses to keep up with all the talent up and down the 49ers' roster.  Had this been Jimmy Garoppolo's first playoff game, I would've been more confident, but Garoppolo got the traditional first-game jitters out of the way against Minnesota last week (not that the Vikings did anything to capitalize on Garoppolo's early struggles).  I can't shake the fact that San Francisco just crushed Green Bay less than two months ago --- even counting the "it was just one of those weeks" factor, the 49ers so thoroughly owned that game that I can't just chalk it up to an off day.  Unless 2011 Aaron Rodgers magically shows up on Sunday, I'm afraid my team's wonderful season is going to end.

Friday, January 10, 2020

NFL Playoff Predictions

With the Packers back in the playoffs, it’s time for the Polivision Playoff Preview!  So many P’s!  Like in Mario 3, we’re taking things to the next level with the P-Wing!

* Chiefs over Texans
After an offseason of considering the Chiefs to be Super Bowl contenders, it felt like everyone sort of collectively gave up on them pretty quickly.  Pat Mahomes turned his ankle in the first week, it bothered him for a couple of months, he missed some games, and everyone was distracted by shiny new objects around the league.  Meanwhile, Mahomes got healthy, had a bye week to heal up, and now Kansas City has quietly won six in a row and earned the first-round bye that everyone had earmarked for the Patriots since, like, 2012 or something.  I realize that one cannot take the Chiefs in January without acknowledging Andy Reid’s history of postseason calamity, or the Chiefs’ unfathomably bad 1-7 record in their last eight HOME playoff games (!), but I’m also going to acknowledge that I don’t think Houston is very good.  It took some real luck for them to beat the Bills last week in a game that, coaching-wise, made Andy Reid’s postseason mishaps look like child’s play.  A healthy Will Fuller would make this much more interesting for the Texans, but I think K.C. and Mahomes are peaking at the right time and have got this.

* Ravens over Titans
Speaking of peaking, I rhymed!  Speaking of performing well as a football team at the right moment, it’s been a season of right moments for the Ravens and their twelve-game winning streak.  Many of those wins weren’t close, Lamar Jackson is the MVP, the defense is playing well, the special teams is playing well, the team is well-coached…..as the brother of an obnoxious Baltimore fan, it’s been a rough season for me.  Tennessee has been a nice story themselves but I think they won their metaphorical Super Bowl last week by knocking off the Patriots, so this week is the reality check.

* 49ers over Vikings
This one feels surprisingly close.  Speaking of a reality check, there is a very good chance the 49ers just lay a 30-point beatdown and Kirk Cousins turns back into a pumpkin, but there’s also something vaguely stirring about this Vikings team.  Beating the Saints in New Orleans is perhaps slightly an overrated achievement given the Saints’ quiet history of postseason disappointment over the last decade, but still, it’s a definite achievement.  If Minnesota’s defense can give Jimmy Garoppolo the first-playoff game jitters, this one will get dicey very quickly.  At the end of the day, however, I’m ultimately not confident enough to pick against the Niners at home against (since we’ve already mentioned the concept of playoff calamity) the Minnesota Vikings.

* Packers over Seahawks
There’s a chance this will be the single craziest game in NFL history.  The Packers have played nothing but relatively close games all season, due to their inability to play more than 25 minutes of good football in any game.  The Seahawks play nothing but close games since three-quarters of their team is injured but Russell Wilson is just a destroyer of worlds.  I am mentally prepared for any kooky possibility — five overtimes, a tie that results in some type of three-team NFC championship game next week, a dinosaur runs out onto the field, Pete Carroll actually calls a run play near the end zone at the end of a game, etc.

Not to toot my own horn, but my preseason observation about Green Bay has thus far been accurate.  Lo and behold, the Packers get rid of a dead-weight head coach and things immediately, drastically, completely improve.  (And in the funniest twist of all, Jerry Jones sees the Packers go 13-3 without Mike McCarthy and decides that McCarthy is the perfect choice as the next Cowboys coach.  You can’t make this up.). I’ll also throw out a little anti-shutout to former Packers GM Ted Thompson, whose “let’s build our team almost entirely through the draft and ignore free agents” plan isn’t nearly as fun as GM Brian Gutekunst’s “hey, let’s sign Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith and run roughshod over the league” plan. 

While it’s been fun to see the Packers operate like an actual 2019-era football team, I’ll freely admit that they’re far from a perfect team.  As mentioned, every Green Bay game this year has been 25 minutes of quality and 35 minutes of hanging on for dear life.  Aaron Rodgers certainly looks to be in the B+ stage of his career, where he’ll make most of the throws, and make very few mistakes….but that’s still a step down from the vintage Rodgers who made all of the throws and no mistakes.  It would’ve been great if the Packers had a competent coach and front office* for that decade when A+ Rodgers was around, but oh well.  Time to look to the future, which hopefully includes Green Bay squeaking one out against the walking A+ known as Russell Wilson.

* = yes, I haven’t forgotten Super Bowl 45.  That was awesome.  It was also nine years ago, and one cannot help but feel the Packers left at least two more championships on the table during Rodgers’ prime.  You can’t miss that open window!  Then you’ll just ruin your glass!