WHATEVER WORKS I could've done without Evan Rachel Wood's line about always carrying around Viagra, or with Larry David's throwaway line about how he has learned to enjoy sex since his marriage. Without those two bits of dialogue, I could've persisted in the fantasy that the David/Wood marriage was merely just an advanced platonic friendship, since that's what the two actors played it as and didn't go for any kind of romantic chemistry. (Nor should there have been any such chemistry, since it's frickin' Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood.) So overall, this was actually perhaps the most tolerable of the old man/young woman relationships that always creepily pop up in Woody Allen movies. Larry David is about as close to asexual as a human being can get, so it's not you're constantly reminded of the image of his old balls (tm Adam Sandler) slapping up against ERW's backside or anything. It's just Larry David being Larry David with a pinch of being Woody Allen thrown in there, acting as a mentor/father figure to the cute-as-a-button ERW and working together just well enough to carry what is a pretty middling entry in the Woody Allen oeuvre. 'Whatever Works' is a nice enough flick with some quality laughs, but there's nothing in this movie that Woody hasn't brought to the table in a dozen other films. The always dependable Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr. are good in supporting roles and, it bears mentioning again, Wood is tremendous. Her character is a horrific cliche on paper, but she breathes life into it by sheer force of perky charm. Thank the lord that Woody cast her instead of his other young muse, Scarlett Johansson, since the sight of Scarlett trying to act perky (or, let's face it, just act) would've turned this movie into a parody.
YEAR ONE Yikes, this sucked. No movie with a cast and creative team like this should be this unfunny. This was basically like if someone took this SNL skit and stretched it out over 90 minutes. Very much a homeless man's version of Life Of Brian.
THE HANGOVER LAND OF THE LOST I'm slotting these two together because I saw them on the same day, and because they both hold special places in this year's pantheon of summer movies. Hangover, of course, is the massive hit, the word-of-mouth phenomenon that has already made hundreds of millions of dollars and turned, of all people, Zach Galifianakis into a household name. LOTL, of course, is the huge bomb that seemed to confuse audiences that didn't know if it was a comedy or an action movie, and has led to whispers that Will Ferrell's days as a major box office draw are numbered, if not already over.
The weird thing is, I liked both movie about equally. LOTL is an intentionally goofy homage to what was apparently a pretty goofy show back in the 60's. Any flick that features Ferrell and Danny McBridge bantering for 90 minutes is good in my books; what's the over/under on how much of their dialogue was improvised? Sixty percent? Seventy? It's also fun to actually hear Anna Friel's British accent, which takes her sexiness to off-the-charts heights. Fun fact: the ape-man Chaka is played by Jorma Taccone, perhaps best known as the other 'Jizz In My Pants' guy along with Andy Samberg on SNL and in the Lonely Island comedy group.
As for Hangover, yeah, it's funny, but I dunno if I'd go ape over it like others have. I think it was the expectations game --- I went into LOTL expecting nothing, and was pleasantly surprised. I went into Hangover expecting a "first 45 minutes of Wedding Crashers" level of comedy and didn't get it. The film also suffered from a common affliction that besets summer movies; too many commercials. The tiger, Mike Tyson, Ed Helms marrying a stripper, the guys being tasered, stealing the cop car....by the time I saw these scenes in the film, I had already seen them a hundred times on TV. The only thing that the ads didn't reveal was the large dose of Galifianakis-style humor, which was great and definitely the highlight of the film. And the movie did have a tight script that explained everything in a clever way, capped off by the brilliant photo montage over the end credits. Enough care went into making this a dumb movie with a brain that I'm already intrigued to see what they'll do for the inevitable sequel. I'm presuming it'll be a bit more than, "Hey guys, Alan drugged our booze AGAIN and we can't remember what we did last night ONCE AGAIN! And this time we're in Miami!"
THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 Meh part two. Tony Scott, the Diet Coke to his brother Ridley's Coke, makes another action movie that I'll completely forget about within a week or two. Denzel and Travolta must've figured that since their characters talk on the phone with each other for three-quarters of the movie, they could just go ahead and phone in their performances too. Again, not a bad movie, and more enjoyable overall than generic summer nonsense like Transformers 2, but nothing special. My biggest problem was that Travolta's crew's heist wasn't ingenious. If you're going to have a movie about a criminal mastermind carrying out a massive crime, there have to be a few more surprises within the mastermind's plan. Ocean's Eleven would've been a lot less interesting had George Clooney just rounded up 10 thugs and had them take Andy Garcia's wallet.
AWAY WE GO The movie isn't nearly as entertaining as the vitriol it has spawned in film reviews. A.O. Scott of the New York Times claimed that "this movie does not like you," in a review that seemed to be more about Scott's beefs with director Sam Mendes and, by extension, screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida than it did about the film itself. Roger Ebert, meanwhile, wrote a review that spent two paragraphs detailing Eggers and Vida's awesome hipster lives and concluded that, amusingly, maybe the characters seem 'smug' because they actually are better than you. Fellas, fellas, stop swinging the handbags. The movie itself seems to have been somewhat lost amidst all of this banter, which might be because 'Away We Go' is a good, but ultimately rather forgettable, little road movie. It's easy to focus on Eggers and Vida since John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are basically playing them within the film, and Mendes (who usually does big-ticket movies like Road To Perdition, American Beauty or Revolutionary Road) is an easy target since he is only a Philip Seymour Hoffman or Dylan Baker cameo away from a perfect score on his Make An Indie Movie Bingo card.
Krasinski and Rudolph go from place to place trying to find the perfect home for their impending child, and they meet a motley crew of friends and acquaintances along the way. Scott's big beef with this plot was that K&R are so tweely conceived that the whole point of the film seemed to be 'oh look at how much cooler these hipster parents are than the rest of America.' Um, doesn't every road movie feature the protagonists meeting a bunch of bizarre folks along the way? Maybe I should check some of other A.O. Scott reviews to see if he just has an issue with road movies in general. "The way that Harold and Kumar look down on Freakshow is just appalling! He can't help his bleeding pustules!" K&R are supposed to be the straight men to the likes of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan and other representations of parenthood and family life that they meet across the US and Canada. What hurt the movie for me was that I never quite got past the fact that it was Jim from the Office and on-SNL-too-long Maya Rudolph, rather than being fully absorbed by the characters. You can also see the ending coming from space, so there isn't exactly a lot of tension. But yeah, overall, not a bad movie.
What will Arnold Schwarzenegger do after his governorship is finished? The answer is simple. Pitchman for Canadian discount grocery stores.
SCENE: A thirtysomething couple is standing in a supermarket aisle, holding various boxes and looking perturbed.
Wife: Look at these prices!
Husband: Times are tight, but we should still be able to afford food!
Wife: That's what we get for shopping at a big chain!
SUDDENLY, Arnold Schwarzenegger walks down the aisle pushing an empty cart.
Arnold: Maybe I kin help.
Husband and Wife: Arnold Schwarzenegger!
Arnold: Come with me if you want to save!
CUT TO the same couple, standing at a Price Chopper checkout aisle, happily setting groceries from their full cart onto the conveyor. Arnold is standing behind the smiling clerk.
Husband: Wow, Price Chopper has all of the foods we need, at low prices!
Arnold: Don't put up with dose mayjah chains and their exorbitahnt prices. Price Choppah has all you need and mo-ah!
Wife: Thanks, Arnold!
Voiceover: Price Chopper, for all your shopping needs!
Arnold: Get to de choppah! *thumbs up*
* I was watching 'Predator' tonight on TLN, and I had forgotten about two unintentionally hilarious moments at the end of the movie. First, the Predator's laugh at the end of the movie, when he suddenly starts cackling like the Joker after setting the bomb in a last-ditch suicide attempt to kill Arnold. I guess even alien bounty hunters descend into crazed super-villainy every now and then. Was the Predator played by Vincent Price? The other funny part comes during the credits. Arnold is on the helicopter, looking solemn, and the film ends with a grim final note on the score. Then it suddenly cuts to medium shots of each main character, all smiling and acting like they're having the time of their lives. Even Sonny Landham, whose whole character trait is that he's stone-faced, is seen laughing. It was as out of place as if "Schindler's List" had immediately cut to credits showing Ralph Fiennes doing a 'this is my friend Bonesy' ventriloquist act with a plastic skull.
* Not Arnold-related at all, but hey, he's a fan of breasts (and, allegedly, groping them without permission) so he might be interested. TLN has a show called "Without Breasts There Is No Paradise." It's true. I saw the ad for it during Predator. The plot seems to revolve around women in bikinis running around a pool, and smugglers are involved. I don't even have a joke here. Even better, it's being adapted into English language version by NBC. If nothing else, this series will let us know once and for all if Ben Silverman is the worst network executive of all time. (My money is on yes.)
* LISTAMANIA! The Top Ten Arnold Schwarzenegger Films!
10. Raw Deal....."She was molested, mutilated and murdered!" shouldn't be a hilarious line, but imagine Arnold saying it and struggling mightily with all of the M's.
9. The Terminator.....Bad news folks, the original is becoming more dated by the day. The special effects in the ending scene when the top half of the Terminator is going after Sarah are just too '1984' to be believable. (Not an Orwell reference, but T1 literally came out in 1984.)
8. The Sixth Day.....Goofy all-around, but not a bad movie. Notable due to the hilarious face-first plummet of the villain, nicknamed 'Goo Boy' by my friends due to the eventual sad shape of his face.
7. Terminator 3.....The largely shite new Terminator movie with Christian Bale underscores just how necessary Arnold was to the series. His presence added a bit of levity to the proceedings, whereas Bale/Sam Worthington were just too dour. When CGI Arnold appears in T4, the theatre audience I was part of literally cheered. T3 is one of those movies that was kind of scorned at the time, but given how T4 crapped the bed, it's looking a lot better in retrospect. I just wish that they had brought Robert Patrick back to team up with Arnold against the TX robot, since it makes little sense that future John Connor would send back such an outmoded model on its own to take down the cutting-edge new Terminator.
6. True Lies.....The real tragedy is that Bill Paxton's hilarious sleazy car salesman wasn't spun off into his own movie. Or wait, is this the premise behind Big Love? Is Paxton's character just pretending to be Mormon like he was pretending to be a secret agent, and his lie just spun out of control not once, not twice, but thrice?
5. Total Recall.....A former classmate of mine once had me proofread a very interesting paper they had written about identity in Schwarzenegger films. I'd cite that classmate here, but uh, I'm totally blanking on his name. If you're reading this, pleasant brown-haired dude from third-year American Film with Mike Zryd, please don't be offended. I guess you could say I don't have total recall of names. *self high-five*
3. Predator....One of the best 'Arrested Development' sight gags ever was, when they were introducing Carl Weathers, they cut to the clip from this movie of him getting his arm blown off. Good times. Baby, you got a stew goin'!
2. Dave....Ok, technically not a 'Schwarzenegger movie,' but he has a cameo. Also, I love this movie and will mention it at every opportunity.
1. Terminator 2....Almost 20 years later, and this one still holds up as if it had been released yesterday. On the short list of the best action movies ever made. "She's not my mother, TODD." And then the little 'yeah!' and the fist in the air from John Connor's mulleted punk friend. Good times.
Of course, this public workers' strike has to start on the hottest, muggiest week of the year so far. I've written about the Day Of Days before, but its polar opposite is the day when the first wave of oppressive humidity sweeps over the city. Call it the Day Of Back Sweat. So when you add a few thousand metric pounds of trash to the equation, it doesn't take long for the situation to reach critical mass. It seems as if every year the humid weather coincides with some foul waste-related mishap in my living quarters. In 2006, I returned home from a sticky night at a baseball game wanting nothing more than a cool shower, only to accidentally flood the bathroom due to a busted gizmo in the back of the toilet. This was on the same day that a new roommate moved in, so his first sight of me was frantically mopping the floor and cursing like a sailor on leave. In 2007, a raccoon got into our bin and left piles of trash strewn around our back deck. (This was on the same day, naturally, that my parents were up for a visit, so they left town thinking their eldest son was living in squalor.)
The nastiness started on Wednesday evening. I was leaving for the soccer game and went behind my apartment to get to my car. Virtually everyone on my block stores their trash in a shed or bin in the alley behind all of our buildings, and even in the twenty-second stroll between my back door and my car door, the smell was pretty freakin' noticeable. Our regularly scheduled trash pickup day was on Tuesday, so Wednesday was technically day one of the great wait, and we were already losing the battle. My roommate and I have already taken the step of moving a green bin out on our balcony, so in case of overflow (since we'll have to pack every ounce of trash possible in that bad boy) it won't turn our kitchen into a haven for fruit flies.
If worst comes to worst, of course, we can just throw some trash into my trunk and drive it down to one of the dumping sites that the city has set up, but then we'd have to deal with another problem --- the striking city workers picketing the sites and letting roughly one car into the site per five minutes. You know what, sanitation workers? I get why you're striking, and you guys certainly deserve extra consideration from the city given what (literal) crap you put up on a daily basis. Talk about an essential service. But picketing a dump site and inconveniencing TO residents who are already going out of their way to dump their trash on their own? That's just a dick move. That will net you exactly zero public sympathy. It's one thing if a piano-tuners union goes on strike and pickets a city-run string-straightening venture, but people don't need to have their pianos tuned at all times. Little Gregory's scales can be a bit flat, and everyone at the recital will understand given the circumstances. But people NEED to dispose of their trash somewhere. Otherwise, we'll be on the fast track to huge mountains of trash straight out of Idiocracy or Wall*E. I don't want to see President Dwayne Camacho in my lifetime, people.
I tried to keep this one with as few spoilers as possible, though in some cases (coughcoughOfficecough) it's kind of hard. The rule of thumb is that if you haven't seen one of the shows and ever intend to, you might want to skip over the section. You could always come back to the post later....it's not like my writing will get any less brilliant or anything.
At the risk of parroting my TV year-in-review from last year, this is the funniest animated show on TV. Twenty more hilarious episodes did nothing but reinforce this fact. In fact, I can't even pick a favourite episode since almost all were top-notch. If I had to pick a top moment at gunpoint --- a common scenario amongst animation-loving NRA members like myself --- I'd go with Roger and Hayley's rapid-fire costume changes to try and trick the other into staying employed and signing a work release form, respectively. If I had to nitpick, it seems like the show is getting just a wee bit too centered around Stan and Roger, but then again, there were also episodes like 'Escape From Pearl Bailey' that were almost entirely based around Steve. Another nitpick: no continuation of the golden turd storyline? Come on! On the other hand, we instead got the recurring story of Reginald, the homeless man whose mind was implanted into that of a koala and is now a CIA operative. Win-win.
Everyone knows how totally in the tank I am for LOST, but pound-for-pound, Breaking Bad was the best show on television this season. The first season, okay, it's a good show about a cancer-ridden chemistry teacher turned meth dealer, it's a dark comedy, hah hah, I get it, it's like a male version of Weeds. The second season....holy shit, son. It was about 95 percent dark, five percent comedy as Walter White continued his transformation from desperate teacher in over his head to being an increasingly sociopathic drug kingpin. Wait, the word 'transformation' is wrong. The brilliance of the show and Bryan Cranston's portrayal is that Walt isn't just breaking bad; it's just that cooking meth has given him an outlet for the cruelty (and, dare I say, actual evil) there's been there all along. Cranston needs to win, like, 15 Emmys for this role. They need to start making up new categories just to honor him further. Best Performance By A Mustached Actor, perhaps. Best Delivery Of The Line 'Fuck You' (though if Deadwood was still on the air, Ian McShane would be a strong contender). It's not just Cranston either, as Jesse Paul, Anna Gunn, and Dean Norris all elevated their games this season, Paul especially. I also can't wait to see more of the great Bob Odenkirk as Walt's sleazy lawyer and Giancarlo Esposito as the respectable, chicken restaurant-owning established druglord. If you haven't seen any of Breaking Bad, track down the DVDs post-haste. There are only 19 episodes in total over the first two seasons, so you can catch up within a week. It is as addictive as....well, actual meth, ironically enough.
I was pleased to find a picture of the Lily Tomlin/Kathryn Joosten pairing that was the unquestioned highlight of this season of 'Desperate Housewives.' They were so good together that I wanted DH to shut down production immediately and devote all of ABC's resources towards a show about these two hard-living old broads solving crimes. That would've been far more entertaining than the season's actual mystery, which was predictable by roughly the third episode and made little use of the usually reliable Neal McDonough. The five-years-forward jump from last year's finale brought a bit of new life into the show, but by season's end it had fallen back into its old habits of Susan-and-Mike drama, and domestic problems in the Scavo household. If any show is close to being cut from my viewing schedule next year, it's this one.
I think I only really laughed hard twice during this season of FG. The first was one opening act where Quagmire bought a cat and suddenly devolved into a schmoopy pet owner, which I just found hilarious for some reason. And the second was the already immortal episode where Peter spends a good half of the show singing 'Bird Is The Word.' Honestly, the whole Jesus subplot that was the 'real' story of the episode didn't need to happen. I would've been more than satisfied to see Family Guy finally take one of its elongated jokes to its natural extreme and just do a full 22-minute running gag. Other than those two moments/segments, this show is losing its fastball in a major way. Someone needs to tell Seth Macfarlane that his political-themed episodes reached an 0.8 on the Moore Scale for hitting the audience over the head without actually being funny. (Ironically, Moore was a central character in one such episode, yet another example of Family Guy being a day late and a dollar short with its pop culture references when it actually tries to be 'topical' and not just doing a cutaway joke about, say, Three's Company.)
Not to be confused with Stephen Harper's Island, where the PM sends people that don't agree with his policies, this show is actually the reason why this TV year in review is so damn late. I thought about waiting until Harper's Island was done its run so I could comment on it fully, but given now we're already in late June, I might as well get it over with. Harper's Island became a lot more enjoyable when a) the characters finally realized that a series of murders were happening on the island, since then things kicked into high gear and b) when I myself realized that this wasn't going to be the labyrinthine Agatha Christie-esque mystery I was led to believe it would be from the pre-show publicity. If anything, it's more of a slasher movie. Now don't get me wrong, it's a well-done slasher movie that has just enough plot and wide variety of characters (a cast of over 30, with at least one of them murdered every single week) to keep things interesting. But the show has enough little 'hints' to the 'solution' of who the 'killer' is that I'm worried that the final episode will try to impress us by trying to wrap this thing up and pretend it makes some coherent sense. Hey, I'll happily eat my words if the finale reveals a massively intricate LOST-esque plot, but at this point, I'll just be happy if they find Cousin Ben's severed head hanging from the bottom of the boat.
HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER
In all honesty, probably the weakest HIMYM season, given that the whole Stella storyline didn't really go anywhere and the show's terrific group dynamic missed Alyson Hannigan when she missed a few episodes due to pregnancy. That said, even a weak HIMYM season is still one of the funniest things on television. I enjoy that the writers are taking full advantage of the fact that Ted is much funnier when he's pretentious than when he's a lovesick romantic, thus leading to the very funny mini-arc of him dating his horrible ex-girlfriend from college (Laura Prepon, who it turns out isn't an entirely worthless actress). Fun fact: if you get any of your friends to watch HIMYM, they will become instantly hooked. Forget Breaking Bad, this is the show that is truly like a drug. I've had no less than a half-dozen people start watching in the last few months alone, and already they've plowed through the first three seasons.
MY NAME IS EARL
Kind of an average season for Earl, as the show returned to the basic 'one list item per week' format of Season One. The only thing that really stood out was the hilarious episode featuring Erik Estrada hosting a challenge-reality show called Estrada Or Nada? MNIE's biggest news came at the end of the year when it was revealed that NBC is canceling the show. WTF, NBC? Got to make way for more reality shows with Spencer Pratt, I guess. Frankly, I'd rather see a real-life Estrada Or Nada. Anyway, the bright side for 'Earl' fans is that there's a chance the show will be picked up by FOX, ABC or even Peachtree TV, so we'll get to see the conclusion to the twin cliffhangers of who the two fathers of Joyce's kids are.
The best season of The Office since the legendary S2 was propped up by two major storylines --- the saga of Michael and Holly and the birth of the Michael Scott Paper Company. I'm hoping that Amy Ryan was in enough episodes to qualify for supporting actress honors under the byzantine Emmy rules, since she was perfect as a woman who could believably fall for Michael and yet still seem to function as a normal human being. Really, is there a reason she couldn't be on the show full-time? Amy Ryan wants to do movies? Pfft, she was in Changeling for about 10 minutes, she can do better than that on the small screen. Then, later in the season, the MSPC provided a great storyline for Pam as she ascended to a sales role, and also led to that astoundingly funny episode where Michael and Dwight competed against each other for customers. After five seasons, it's obvious that enough thought and care goes into these characters that I'm not in the least bit worried that Pam's pregnancy will be a shark-jump moment.
PARKS AND RECREATION
My opinion from two months ago hasn't really changed, except I'll say this: the finale was by far the best episode of the series and it gives me hope that the show can evolve upward next year. Two key character shifts may prove to be the trick. First, Paul Schneider's character went from being a poor man's Jim Halpert to actually being kind of a dick, which makes his role as Leslie's apparent love interest more complicated. And secondly, Amy Poehler's Leslie character took a step back from being the poor man's Michael Scott to sort of wide-eyed optimist type. I hate to keep using Office comparisons since it's not really fair to P&R, but if the new angle on Leslie is that she combines Pam's desire for small victories with naked political ambition, then that's an interesting character that would conceivably headline a sitcom. It also helps that Roy Swanson (the Libertarian city hall supervisor) is well on his way to becoming a breakout character. Between showing up on a date with his ex-wife's more attractive half-sister and delivering a banquet awards speech comprised only of factually accurate statements ("You are receiving an award tonight," etc.), I want to see a lot more Ron in the second season. "I enjoy government functions like I enjoy getting kicked in the nuggets with a steel-toed boot. But this hotel always served bacon wrapped shrimp. I’d go to a banquet in honor of those Somali pirates if they served bacon wrapped shrimp."
Probably the winner of the 'best show you've never heard of' award for the year, given that it airs on the virtually unwatched Starz channel and ran just 10 episodes in its first season. Basically you've got a collection of "hey, it's that hilarious supporting player in that comedy I liked" actors like Adam Scott, Jane Lynch and Ken Marino, combined with half the cast and crew of Veronica Mars for a show about struggling/wannabe actors who work for a catering company and basically just laze and bullshit their way through the various functions they're called upon to cater. I'd compare it to the British version of the Office in terms of overall tone, if not quite there yet in quality, given that the show doesn't hold any illusion that its characters are anything but varying degrees of delusional about their career prospects. A second season is apparently in the cards, albeit minus Jane Lynch.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
It was an election year, so it was once again time for the media to trot out its usual "Saturday Night Live's election spoofs have breathed new life into the show!" meme. It's never true --- the election just gave SNL a sharper focus for a few political sketches, which they by and large deliver on every four years. The other 80 minutes of the show was the same up-and-down level of quality that SNL has been for, with a few exceptions, its entire 34-year run. Now, this season was a bit of an outlier given that it's not every election cycle that a major party nominates a VP candidate who a) is a dead ringer for one of SNL's most famous stars and b) is such a living joke that she is a perfect candidate for satire. Three of the show's best sketches of the season were the VP debate ("I believe marriage is meant to be a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers"), McCain trying to avoid a Bush endorsement and the whole SNL take on the Palin-Katie Couric interview, which was 50 percent word-for-word the actual crazy bullshit that Palin actually said on '60 Minutes.'
The best episode of the season, imo, was probably the Jon Hamm-hosted edition in October, with Hamm, Anne Hathaway, Neil Patrick Harris and Anna Faris standing out amongst the first-time hosts, whereas hosting veterans Will Ferrell, Justin Timberlake and Dwayne Johnson also had great shows. The best musical guests were probably Phoenix, an unknown band who were so amazing in rehearsals during the week that they ended up getting the rare 'third song' honor that is usually saved for heavyweights like U2 or Paul Simon. Best skit? Either the return of Celebrity Jeopardy or (here's an odd choice) the one from the Rock's episode about the sports talk show co-hosted by an alien. Best recurring skit? At the risk of saying 'every Digital Short,' I still crack up at the sketch about the buddies who get nostalgic listening to a song, and then reveal horrific events from their past.
So for years, Simpsons writers and producers attributed (such a nicer word than 'blamed') the show's decline in quality over the fact that they were all dealing with the extra burden of making The Simpsons Movie. I laughed at this feeble excuse given that roughly five thousand people write for the show, and surely that's enough people to manage both a show and a film at the same time. But, sure enough, since The Simpsons Movie came and went, the show has had a sharp upturn in quality. It seemed to kick into another gear after the switch to HD animation, which also looked beautiful by the way. The highlights were "Gone Maggie Gone" and its labyrinthine plot and great spoof of the 'get these items across the river' riddle, and "In The Name Of The Grandfather," which was probably the best of the "The Simpsons Are Going To ____!" after the legendary Australian one.
SIT DOWN, SHUT UP
So, am I the only person in the world that actually liked it? Critics fell all over themselves slamming the show for not being the next Arrested Development just because Hurwitz, Bateman and Arnett were involved, but c'mon, did you really expect lightning to strike twice? You have to love a show where the characters try to have a 'hey, remember when we....?' style clip show in the opening minutes of the third episode.
Ok, so, that five funniest shows on TV list I promised way back in the 'American Dad' section.
5. How I Met Your Mother 4. The Office 3. American Dad 2. Flight Of The Conchords
....and number one, somewhat predictably, is 30 Rock, since otherwise the top five list would really just be out of place in this paragraph. '30 Rock' has now gotten to the point where I'm seriously considering doing a 30 Rock vs. Arrested Development post in order to determine the best sitcom of the decade. Amongst all of the legendary moments of this season (Baldwin as the Generalissimo, Baldwin saying the words 'Jackie Jormp-Jomp,' Liz trying to get out of jury duty, WORD PLAY!, Kenneth's view of the world as Muppets, Liz actually walking like a muppet, anything involving Dr. Spaceman, Jon Hamm's impossibly bitchy daughter, Steve Martin's allegedly agoraphobic businessman, Tracy reuniting the cast of Night Court for Kenneth, Tracy's illegitimate son, Liz's phone sex ad, the shocking sight of Frank cleaned up and looking respectable), I think the line that actually cracked me up the most was Kenneth cheering Jenna up by telling her that she is what he pictures the Virgin Mary as looking like, and then cheerfully turning to Pete and telling him that he is his picture of Judas.
The season more or less followed through on my cautious optimism after the first four episodes, though Day Seven kind of ran out of steam with maybe four hours left. It's hard to top Jon Voight when it comes to raving mad man villains, and even the last-minute heel turn from Tony didn't really shake things up all that much. I also didn't care for the weird attempt at making Alan Wilson into The Big Bad Villain Behind Everything Bad That Ever Happened On 24, given that we had known the guy for, like, three episodes and hadn't seen him do anything more threatening than talk on the phone. And most of the White House drama with the president's daughter was kind of stupid. And, let's be honest, sidelining Jack for most of the last half of the season didn't really work either, since he all knew he wasn't going to die and all of his time spent recuperating at FBI headquarters was time that he could've spent kicking ass. So yeah, it wasn't a perfect 24 season by any stretch, but on the other hand, they also added an ass-kicking hot redhead. Call it a push. I did appreciate the attempts at fleshing Jack out a bit more, probably as a response to criticisms of the show that describe it as right-wing torture porn. The scene between Jack and Senator Blaine (played by the always-great Kurtwood Smith) in the senator's house was probably the best character scene Kiefer Sutherland has had in at least five years. Given the introduction of the Muslim religious leader at Jack's ostensible deathbed, I would crack up if Day Eight began with Jack changing his name to Kareem Abdul-Bauer and converting to Islam. That would explode so many heads at Fox News that you'd think it was a scene from Scanners.
So I came up with a lazy "who's the best actor in the world" poll without really thinking it through. I threw in as many great actors as I could think of off the top of my head, but given the existence of three 'other' votes already, it's obvious I made a few omissions. I'm opening this up to my Facebook readers as well since.....well, that's the larger audience, let's face it.
I'll keep the poll up for a few more days to provide a fair ballot period. If you're one of the 'Other' voters, please note your choice here. Suckas got to know!
We've gone through the 2000's and the 1990's, so now it's time to hey, remember the 80's? Top tens in each category, best years of the series had to take place in the 80's, blah blah blah. Go!
SERIES Blackadder.....Technically, each Blackadder series was its own stand-alone entity, but I'll just list the overall franchise as a series unto itself. It's a shame that everyone involved in Blackadder went onto larger fame and fortune, since the concept would've continued on for years. Imagine Blackadder in the 50's, or dealing with Margaret Thatcher in the 80's --- Miranda Richardson could've played 'Margie.' If you know Hugh Laurie only from House, you owe it to yourself to check out Blackadder. You will not believe it's the same guy.
Cheers.....No-brainer. If you had to pick one series to define the 1980's, Cheers would get a ton of votes. It managed to overcome two major cast changes (Coach to Woody and Diane to Rebecca), and still remain funny and relevant up until its last episode. Fun fact: the actual 'Cheers' bar in Boston is actually called the Bull & Finch pub, and its owners opened another location in Boston with an interior that actually matches the TV set. They did this to appease tourists who came into the Bull & Finch and were disappointed that it wasn't a dead ringer for the interior of the show.
The Golden Girls.....Can you imagine someone trying to pitch a show like Golden Girls today? "Ok, it's a sitcom about four old ladies down in Miami, and they spend about half of each episode just kibbitzing about their sex lives." Man, network TV today sucks.
Married With Children.....The last, oh, six years of the show were all just cartoonish nonsense, but those were all in the 90's anyway. The first few years of MWC were genuinely hilarious. Still cartoonish (i.e. the legendary episode where Al keeps falling off the roof) but cartoonish in a realistic way, if that makes any sense. The original casting idea for Al and Peg Bundy was Sam Kinison and Roseanne, which would've been.....AWFUL.
The Price Is Right.....I don't remember much about our old house on Millbank Drive (we moved when I was four), but I specifically recall sitting in the basement watching TPIR and eating Arrowroot cookies. 'The Price Is Right' might have very well been my first "favourite show." I even remember back when Bob Barker had black hair. Surely, no two-year-old in the world had as much knowledge about the costs of household items as I did. You could've let me loose in a Woolco and I would've come back with a week's worth of groceries.
The Real Ghostbusters.....In my 90's article, I believe I cited Batman: The Animated Series as the best cartoon of all time. I heartily withdraw that endorsement. I am only slightly exaggerating when I say that my life revolved around this cartoon from roughly age six to age nine. If you ask a number of people from my grade school, I'm sure I'm still remembered as 'the Ghostbusters kid.' It all thanks to this literate, funny, and incredibly well-made series. I've said it before and I'll say it again, a live-action weekly hour-long Ghostbusters dramedy would be a monster, monster hit if done in the right hands (i.e. mine).
SCTV.....Best sketch comedy cast of all time? Yep. Even in the best SNL casts, there are always a few pieces of dead weight carrying things down. Who was the weak link in the SCTV crew? Andrea Martin? Hell, she was awesome. If Andrea Martin is on SNL, she goes down as one of the five best female cast members ever. This show had too many amazing sketches and characters to recount, but my god...the McKenzie brothers, Earl Camembert and SCTV News, theoretically-paralyzed station owner Guy Caballero, Molly Earle, Count Floyd, Tex and Edna's Organ Emporium, Mel's Rock Pile, Johnny LaRue, the Sammy Maudlin Show....the list goes on and on.
Soap.....An old series that is perhaps best remembered today only as Billy Crystal's breakout role, 'Soap' was basically a spoof of soap operas in sitcom form. An enormous cast (like, 20 actors) filled out the two central families and over four seasons they handled everything from kidnappings to murders to evil twins to love affairs and even to alien abduction. I couldn't find a space for him in my list of actors, but Richard "King of Reaction Shots" Mulligan just about stole this whole show.
WKRP In Cincinnati.....My buddies and I are going to Cincy this year for our annual baseball road trip, and '14' is the current over-under on the number of times I sing the WKRP theme song during our three days away. I may top that just on the drive down. Besides the great theme song, WKRP was a classic workplace comedy featuring the wacky Herb Tarlek, Les Nessman, Johnny Fever and Arthur Carlson bouncing nicely off of the straight men rest of the cast. Also notable for being one of the all-time "who's hotter?" debates in TV sitcom history between Jennifer (Loni Anderson) and Bailey (Jan Smithers). Interestingly enough, literally everyone would pick Bailey in this debate and then get all smug about it since Bailey was supposed to be the mousier of the two. I mean come on fellas, I'd pick Bailey too, but Loni Anderson back in her prime wasn't exactly chopped liver. (NB Some might argue that WKRP's best years were in the 70's, and you might be right, except I'm not planning on doing a 70's list and I wanted to talk about the series here. So there.)
You Can't Do That On Television....Oh man, I'm getting flashbacks to switching the channel to YTV every weeknight at 7 PM. A great, great kids' show. Christine, Lisa, Alastair, that one kid whose name is escaping me but he went on to star in Future Shop ads, Alanis Morissette....truly a legendary cast. You know who the real unsung heroes of this show were? The two adults who played about 30 different roles each over the course of the series. And all they ever got for their hard work was the occasional green slime shower. (Well, and money. Presumably YTV wasn't into indentured servitude.)
ACTRESS Bea Arthur/Estelle Getty/Rue McClanahan/Betty White, The Golden Girls.....The Golden Girls were so awesome that I'm just going to throw out the alphabetical ordering and praise them all in one paragraph. If you want to talk about the best-cast TV shows in history, Golden Girls has to be in the discussion.
Julia Duffy, Newhart.....I wish I had seen more episodes of Newhart, since I think it would've taken up a more prominent place on the list if I had. Duffy played another one of those great asshole characters that I enjoy so much, a self-absorbed yuppie who was for some reason working at Bob Newhart's inn. Her equally yuppie husband Peter Scolari was at least well-meaning, but she was just a straight-up bitch all the way. Though, in fairness, if you believe some tabloid scuttlebutt, Duffy might not have been acting all that much.
Angela Lansbury, Murder She Wrote.....If you're going to have a formulaic mystery series, you need to have a very strong lead to carry it. Mission accomplished. "Hey, why do people hang around with Jessica Fletcher? Her friends always end up dead or accused of murder! Where's the upside in that?" --- taken from every 1980's stand-up comedian's act. The 'Jessica Fletcher = death" bit usually fell somewhere between the jokes about airplane food and how the whole plane should be made of whatever they use to make the black box.
Shelley Long, Cheers.....I'm firmly in the "Cheers was better when Diane was on the show" camp. Bill Simmons once made a good observation that Cheers was a good sitcom after Nicolas Colasanto died, but it was a good show beforehand. I think the real demarcation date was when Shelley Long left the cast, since the Sam/Diane relationship was such a driving force of the entire series that her departure really shifted the focus to being on the overall cast of characters in the bar, rather than just the happy couple. Nothing against Kirstie Alley, but man, seriously? Kirstie Alley? Rebecca pining over marrying a rich guy got old after about 10 episodes.
Andrea Martin/Catherine O'Hara, SCTV.....Another dual entry, though this one is alphabetically-fitting. Yeah, these two were awesome. Whereas SNL could never help itself from casting at least one total dead-weight female castmember at a time, that's not how Second City rolled. Like Short, I get the feeling that Andrea Martin's ideal role is as a member of a sketch ensemble, and she hasn't been able to really find another niche since. O'Hara is an actual good actress, as shown by her dozens of roles in the last 20 years, and if anyone ever gets an Oscar nomination from a Christopher Guest movie, my money is on her.
Katey Sagal, Married With Children.....Seriously, Roseanne?! Good lord. That would've been a train wreck. Needless to say, Katey Sagal was an infinitely better choice. She had a difficult line to tread; if Peg had been too shrewish or domineering, Al would've come off as too sympathetic. Sagal found the right tone to make Peg bitchy, but likable enough that the audience still saw Al in his more fitting role as a lovable buffoon. Fun fact: a guy on trial for killing his buddy in the early 90's said that the murder took place when an argument between the two about who was better-looking between Katey Sagal and Christina Applegate got out of hand.
ACTOR Rowan Atkinson, Blackadder.....Biggest no-brainer pick on a strong men's side. As mentioned in the Julia Duffy section and throughout these lists, I'm a sucker for a great venal character, and few approach the rotter levels of the Blackadder family tree. In a way it's a shame that Atkinson is known primarily today as Mr. Bean (not that there's anything wrong with Mr. Bean), when Edmund Blackadder was a far more ingenious creation.
Ted Danson, Cheers.....If you're one of the eight or nine people that has never seen Cheers before, here's a quick retrospective of Sam "Mayday" Malone's baseball career, courtesy of Sports Illustrated. It's hard to find a cooler guy than ol' Sammy. Former ballplayer, owned a bar, huge ladies' man, mopped up Norm Peterson's vomit (this last point is conjecture, but c'mon, it had to have happened at least once)....Sam was a cool cat all-around. Ted Danson's natural charm helped smooth over some of Sam's perhaps more dickish tendencies, and helped convince America that Sam Malone was actually a major playa in spite of the fact that Danson himself had a bit of the John Kerry craggy face going.
Larry Hagman, Dallas.....JR was such an asshole. Nuff said.
Eugene Levy, SCTV.....Tough pick amongst all of the great SCTV men (though there's one more to come), but Levy had the bonus of playing probably my favourite SCTV character of all, Earl Camembert. Earl's finest moment; he introduced a clip on SCTV news, but the clip never started up. So Earl sits there with a pleasant smile on his face that gradually grows more strained, as he nervously looks off-screen a few times, and then just becomes flat-out upset while still trying to keep his smile for the camera. This goes on for about two minutes before Joe Flaherty finally jumps in with a perfectly-timed angry cry of 'EARL!' just before Levy finally breaks. Just a masterpiece of face acting. Fun fact: my buddy Trev's dad, he of the infamous Buffy book story from my 90's TV post, bears a striking resemblance to both Eugene Levy and Max Weinberg. So if it helps make that story funnier, just imagine Eugene Levy angrily stalking out of a Chapters for not having a Buffy episode guide in stock.
Eddie Murphy, Saturday Night Live.....Not only is Murphy undisputedly one of the three or four best cast members in SNL history, he's also probably the most important. If it wasn't for Murphy's popularity, talent and charisma keeping the show afloat in the early 80's after the original cast left, SNL probably gets canceled. It's as simple as that. It's too bad that Murphy's grudge against the show hasn't cooled over time, since a Murphy-hosted SNL would even today be unbelievably good. Honorable mention goes to Murphy's castmate Joe Piscopo, who has become kind of a living joke over the years but was also outstanding on SNL, certainly an all-time top-20 cast member.
Ed O'Neill, Married With Children.....Ernie Nevers, Dub Jones and Gale Sayers hold the NFL record for single-game touchdowns with six, but any player who ever scores four in a game will be said to have scored 'the Bundy.' Again, what made the early seasons of MWC work so well was that the whole cast were actually good-to-very good actors, which grounded the at times goofy material. With, say, Sam Kinison in the role, Al Bundy is just a screaming dunderhead. With Ed O'Neill at the wheel, Al Bundy becomes a classic TV icon and the poster boy for losers everywhere.
Paul Reubens, Pee Wee's Playhouse.....Pee Wee's Playhouse was less a show than it was a fevered crack-dream, but I can safely say that we'll never see another show like it in our lifetime. You've got to give credit to Reubens for staying in character as Pee-Wee for a Kaufman-esque seven years during all public appearances. And, really, if you're going to get busted for public masturbation, the only somewhat non-objectionable place to do it would be at a porno theatre. In summation, mecka lecka hi, mecka hiney ho.
Richard Sanders, WKRP In Cincinnati....."It's a helicopter, and it's coming this way. It's flying something behind it, I can't quite make it out, it's a large banner and it says, "Happy...Thaaaaanksss...giving! ... From ... W ... K ... R... P!" No parachutes yet. Can't be skydivers.... I can't tell just yet what they are, but...Oh my God, they're turkeys!! Johnny, can you get this? Oh, they're plunging to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! Oh, the humanity! The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement! Not since the Hindenburg tragedy has there been anything like this!"
Martin Short, SCTV/Saturday Night Live.....It's too bad about Martin Short, a genuinely talented guy who never quite found his niche. Well, wait, I should qualify that by saying that he did find his niche (sketch comedy), but this was back in the day when you couldn't be on SNL for eight or nine years like half their current cast. Short was arguably the most notable member of the legendary 84-85 SNL cast that was populated solely of experienced comedians like Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, Billy Crystal, etc. in a reversal of the show's usual policy of casting unknowns. The result was one of the best SNL seasons ever (arguably the best ever). My favourite Short bit was his hysterically funny/accurate impression of Katherine Hepburn, which was literally 100 times better than the piss-poor job that Cate Blanchett did in 'Aviator' that somehow won her an Oscar.
Patrick Stewart, Star Trek: The Next Generation.....One of my idols of baldness! You've got to hand it to Gene Roddenberry, it took some balls to follow up alpha male Jim Kirk with an intellectual Frenchman as the new Enterprise captain, but Roddenberry obviously knew what he had in Stewart. It also helps that Stewart seems like one of the coolest, most self-deprecating guys in world. Is this an excuse to once again link to his immortal guest appearance on 'Extras'? Hell yes! Stewart is also behind the funniest line in American Dad's history: "Do you have any Gatorade, Smith? I seem to have left my electrolytes in your daughter."
GOOD: Geico, lifetime achievement category. You've got to hand it to Geico's marketing department. They just keep churning out one clever, non-irritating ad campaign after another. First it was the cavemen, which was a funny idea for a commercial if not an ABC sitcom. Then it was the "put a normal customer alongside a random celebrity" campaign, and anything that gives Peter Frampton an outlet for showing off his talking-guitar effect is aces in my book. Then you have the delightfully cockney Geico Gecko, the wad of money with the googly eyes that travels to the tune of "Somebody's Watching Me" by Rockwell, and my personal favourite, the good news/bad news ads. You've all seen them.
Doctor: Bill, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that you have testicular cancer.
Bill: Oh no! What's the good news?
Doctor: The good news is I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico.
Bill: Oh. I thought the good news would be that you caught the cancer in time.
Doctor: Ho ho, not at all! It's far too late to operate. I'm an incompetent doctor. But an incompetent doctor with cheap car insurance!
Ok, the actual ads may not be so tasteless, but they're still funny. Well done, Geico! It's not every insurance company that earns a name-drop in a Kanye West song. But the company has also earned perhaps an even greater honour. I and some of the former editors of my old school newspaper recently discussed some fundraising plans, and our group has unofficially been named GEICO --- the Gazette Editor In Chief Organization. Now, while the others may not have technically accepted this name (and nobody refers to this entirely informal group by the name aside from me), it's only a matter of time. I mean, come on, that acronym is sweet as hell. Who can turn down a solid acronym? Only Nerds Or Bloody Ornery, Dumbass Yokels, that's who! NOBODY!
BAD: The eHarmony.ca commercial featuring Tanyalee the apparently self-employed artisan and Joshua the geeky chemist (Tanyalee's words, not mine). In just 30 seconds of commercial, Tanyalee makes herself out to be one of those insufferable people that likes to go on and on about her artistic side. First of all, she slags her husband's job, which for all we know is working on a cure for the swine flu or some humanitarian venture. Then, as the ad details, she also roped him into at least helping set up, at worst co-owning some kind of hipster clothing store. If you've ever been on Queen Street West in Toronto, you will find roughly 672,356 of these stores, and none of them will ever have more than three people inside at one time. Then they get talking about staying up all night working on a canvas, as poor Joshua sits there with a 'man, the things I do to get laid' look on his face. I give this marriage until the autumn of 2011. This blog is actually a public service announcement for some of my friends who are considering, and in some cases already have signed up for, eHarmony. Do you really think your ideal relationship involves putting up shelves and 'expressing yourself' through painting? Hell no. Just go to a bar and pick up like everyone else. I will never tire of the bar scene!
GOOD: MuchMusic Video Awards commercials (the ones with the vocoder voice, not the one with the Jonas brothers). At first this was going to be in the 'bad' section, given that the vocoder voice chiming in and providing background hums throughout the commercial is just irritating as all hell. But then I took a step back and realized that the vocoder was only mentioning two particular musicians --- Nickelback and Lady Gaga, far and away the two shittiest acts on the show. Not that the Jonases, Black Eyed Peas or the other bottom-feeders at the MMVAs are much better, but still, I would happily listen to 'My Humps' on auto-repeat for an hour than anything by that body-suited nightmare or generic Albertan sludge rock. Kudos to Much for at least singling out the biggest turds in their toilet of an awards show.
BAD: The Bowflex ad featuring that rat-faced guy who brags about 'giving all his fat clothes to his fat friends.' Classy move. I would've loved to have seen this play out.
Friend: Hey there Brian, you look in great shape these days! I'm proud of you!
Brian: Thanks dude, I appreciate it. And thanks for all of the support along the way.
Friend: No problem. It's the least I could've done for my good buddy who's going through such a major lifestyle change. I only wish I had the willpower to do the same.
Brian: Yeah, I meant to ask you about that. You're a size 46 waist, right?
Brian: Ok, awesome. I have, like, four pairs of pants that are just like tents on me now. Would you like them? You know, since you're such a giant fat-ass.
Brian: The pants are actually size 48, but hey, it's not like you won't keep on growing, eh, Chubbs?
U2's world tour begins on June 30, and their stage set is already under construction for the opening concert in Barcelona. Some photos of the set have already been released and, um, holy lord. After the relatively-stripped down arena setups for the Elevation and Vertigo tours, U2 have basically decided to build their own arenas within massive football stadiums. The stage setup is unofficially nicknamed 'the Claw,' and it basically looks like that giant spider thing that Kenneth Branagh uses to terrorize Will Smith in Wild Wild West. Apparently the thing friggin' rotates too, so it's less a concert stage than it is a spaceship designed to enslave the human race to the beat of 'Even Better Than The Real Thing.' Just to give you an idea of how big the stage is, Camp Nou (the Barcelona stadium) seats 98,000 people. And the stage takes up over half the field. Yikes.
Needless to say, this tour is going to more than live up to the visual standard set by U2's previous concerts. I literally cannot wait until I see them in Toronto in September.
Just the main card fights for this one, since the UFC 99 preliminary matches completely bore me.
* Mike Swick over Ben Saunders, decision A Swick win will likely get him a welterweight title shot since, well, there's really nobody else left in the division that GSP hasn't already run through. Unfortunately, since going down to WW, Swick has morphed into a dull lay-and-pray wrestler, as opposed to the dynamic finisher he was at middleweight. True, he did knock out Jonathan Goulet in his last fight, but Goulet is basically the UFC's answer to Barry Horowitz. A stiff breeze would take that guy down. Saunders is on a nice win streak of his own, but the more experienced Swick will likely wrestle him down for another decision win.
* Mirko Filipovic over Mostapha Al-Turk, knockout, round two Cro Cop returns to the UFC after almost a two-year absence that was caused by his bed-shittingly poor performances against Gabe Gonzaga and Cheick Kongo. Apparently Cro Cop is just on a one-fight deal, so it remains to be seen if this is the start of a new UFC run for the bad-ass Croatian, or if it's just a case of Dana White wanting to book a big name to add some marketing zing to the UFC's first-ever event in Germany. It remains to be seen if Cro Cop has any of his old PRIDE form back, but honestly, even if he doesn't, Al-Turk is a tomato can. Cro Cop gets one more highlight reel KO to his name, and then I can see him going on to fight the Couture/Nogueira loser in the winter.
* Spencer Fisher over Caol Uno, decision Fisher is one of those guys that the UFC would love to push, but I don't think he's nearly as good as the company wants him to be or thinks he is. I'm still holding onto my dream of seeing a third Fisher-Sam Stout match, so let's say that Fisher beats Uno here and finally sets up that big rubber match in the autumn. Not really sure why UFC bothered to bring Uno back, to be honest.
* Marcus Davis over Dan Hardy, knockout, round one Davis and Hardy have been promoting this fight by acting like third-graders. They've been calling each other names, and Hardy recently asked his fans to create embarrassing Photoshopped images of Davis to post on an MMA website. Honestly, Hardy is one of these guys who is hyped just because he's a U.K. fighter with a bit of personality. Davis is a solid mid-range WW, and thus I think he knocks Hardy's block off since Hardy will be dumb enough to stand and trade punches with him.
* Cain Velasquez over Cheick Kongo, decision Kongo steps in for the injured Heath Herring, so we have a rare case of a last-minute substitution actually leading to a better and much more meaningful fight. If Kongo wins, he gets a HW title shot against the winner of the Lesnar/Mir fight in July. If Velasquez the uber-prospect wins, he probably gets a #1 contender's fight against maybe Shane Carwin. The stakes are high, and while Velasquez hasn't faced anyone near Kongo's caliber yet, Velasquez's wrestling ability should be enough to keep Kongo down. Kongo still hasn't proven he is anything more than passable on the ground, so I can see Cain holding him down and using the ground-and-pound to eke out a win.
* Wanderlei Silva over Rich Franklin, knockout, round two Ooh, controversial! At this point in their careers, Franklin is certainly a better fighter than Silva, who should be no more than two or three fights away from retirement if he values his health. But Wanderlei is a bad style matchup for Franklin; Wandy's aggressiveness will overwhelm Rich, just like Wandy did against Keith Jardine and just like Franklin got buffaloed twice by Anderson Silva. Wanderlei is no match for strong strikers like Rampage Jackson at this point his career, but Franklin isn't a big knockout guy. Sure, Rich laid a whipping on Nate Quarry and Matt Hamill, but neither of those guys are exactly big strikers themselves. It's worth noting that this is a catchweight fight at 195 pounds, so a loss doesn't really hurt Franklin in the LHW division, but a loss would maybe have Wanderlei thinking about retirement. A Wandy win, however, maybe seals his move down to middleweight, and all sorts of intriguing fights against Nate Marquardt, Demian Maia, Dan Henderson, etc. You'll notice I left Anderson Silva off of that list, since I have no doubt that a Silva-Silva bout would end with Wanderlei being carried from the ring on a stretcher.
Holy crap! Apparently he would've been on the Gabon season, competing against the likes of Bob, Sugar, Randy, Corinne, and ohmygod, I would've loved to have seen this. I have to believe that Mark Burnett is slowly warming to the idea of a full-on Celebrity Survivor. They're already toed the water with the retired NFL quarterback (Gary Hogeboom), the WWE wrestler (Ashley Massaro), the poker pro (Jean-Robert Bellande) and the former singer (Taj Johnson-George), but Jimmy Johnson would've been the first actual full-blown celebrity addition to the cast. Now I'm all curious to know who took Jimmy's spot in the cast; could it have possibly been Bob, in order to fill the 'old guy' gap in the roster? Wouldn't that be something? If this was so, maybe Bob should donate a portion of his million bucks to the University of Miami. That would also have the bonus of pissing off Corinne "My Degree From Florida Makes Me The Best Person On Earth" Kaplan to no end.
Maybe they're just setting the stage for an all-NFL version of Survivor. We've seen Jimmy Johnson, Eddie George last seas, Hogeboom years ago....all the pieces are falling into place. You might argue that a cast of NFL personalities wouldn't have the same 50-50 man-woman split as past seasons, but that's an easy hurdle to climb. Just get nine men, seven cheerleaders, Suzy Kolber and Jay Cutler. Boom, all balanced.
I'm probably the only person from my generation who never watched Saved By The Bell, but even I found this funny. Mark-Paul Gosselaar shows up on the Jimmy Fallon show in full Zack Morris character. Gold. This guy somehow looks exactly the same now as he did in 1991.
(btw, somewhat off-topic, but San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell should totally come onto the field to the 'Saved By The Bell' theme music. That's just too perfect to not happen. Bud Selig should make a ruling about this. I realize that Bell's entrance and/or Padres tenure will never top that of Trevor Hoffman, but still, it's a good start.)
For someone who calls himself the Cash Man, Russell Oliver sure doesn't spend much on commercials. His total advertising budget looks to be in the neighbourhood of about 40 bucks. Maybe the nickname was earned due to being frugal?
Hey wait, i just realized something. I can actually go to Oliver Jewelry! How have I lived in Toronto for four years and not once been to visit this legendary TV icon?! Oh man, this is going to be great. I'm going to get a little plastic ruby from the dollar store, bring it to Oliver, and then act incredulous when he says it's false. "WHATTTTT? But I paid $4000 for it! Oh no! My wedding is ruined!"
Here is a funny post pointing out how 30 Rock is just a thinly-veiled remake of The Muppet Show. They had me at the Cerie-Janice comparison. Cerie might be the least-attractive 'hot girl' on TV. Her arms are like wet spaghetti strands. Victoria Beckham would take one look at her and want to buy the poor lass a sandwich.
I really wanted to top this off with a clip of Liz Lemon's muppet walk or Kenneth's view of the world, but unfortunately, neither are on YouTube. The best I could do was this Sesame Street takeoff of 30 Rock. Or, this atrociously-acted Sesame Street bit about Tina Fey and the Bookaneers. That sketch just screams "We tried to get Johnny Depp, Kiera Knightley or Orlando Bloom, but no dice."
And finally, for my friend Matt, a tran'q bear falling out of a tree. Classic.
The last two years on SNL could've fooled me (I think she did a funny Jennifer Aniston impression, once) but hey, this isn't bad. Patton Oswalt makes everything better. I guess you can consider this an updated version of Bill Murray's classic "I don't think I'm making it on the show" routine from one of his early SNL appearances.
1998....The Big Lebowski: Well, obviously. One of the most compulsively rewatchable movies of all time. I've always been struck by how some filmmakers just get into grooves, not unlike baseball players. The Coen brothers made some solid films and had a lot of indie cred through the early 90's, and then boom, Fargo and Lebowski, back-to-back. Talk about a powerful duo. Lebowski wasn't actually a notable hit upon its release, but it became a big cult favourite and now, over a decade later, I think we can all agree that John Goodman was royally jobbed out of an Oscar. I could go on and on about the script alone, which I still think is the Coens' best just due to all of the layers it works on at the same time. It's kind of a mystery, but not really, yet still has the complexity of classic film noir while spoofing the genre at the same time. Along the way there's also about a half-dozen scenes that are as funny as any ever filmed. Fun fact: when I saw this for a screening in first-year film class, people gave Steve Buscemi's first appearance a raucous ovation.
Kyle: excellent selection....and very nearly my own. Agreed re: Goodman (it was a tour-de-force performance, though surely not as memorable as actual winner...James Coburn in Affliction?!? Good Lord!). I feel like Turturro's two-minute cameo has to be mentioned--hysterical (see part of it here). Three bits of TBL that I love: (1) that most of The Dude's clothes actually belonged to Jeff Bridges; (2) that Donny (Buscemi) bowls a strike every single time, except for the scene immediately before he dies; and (3) (which I just discovered) The Dude never bowls in the film. (Also: Jacob from Lost is one of the thugs--very cool.)
Mark: Those tidbits are awesome. Apparently the Coens thought about making a Jesus spinoff film, before realizing that it's hard to make an egomaniacal pederast into anything remotely sympathetic. The only positive of James Coburn winning an Oscar is that when I'm doing the "name the best supporting actors" quiz on Sporcle and type in 'Coburn,' I also get Charles Coburn's win in the 1940's, which I wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
Runners-up.....(I'm cheating just a bit and adding six runners-up instead of the usual four since I just couldn't decide. Consider this just a half-use of my extension.)
Pleasantville: Don't let the high-concept premise --- two teens (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, both of whom pre-real fame) are somehow zapped into the universe of a 1950's sitcom --- fool you. This is a surprisingly deep and endlessly interesting film. It's bolstered by gorgeous photography that makes full use of the black-and-white-turns-to-color gimmick. I actually wrote about this film in an essay about the use of colour in movies back in school and, since I racked up an A-minus, I have a major soft spot for ol' P-Ville. In addition to Reese and Tobey, you've also got character actor stalwarts like JT Walsh, Jeff Daniels, William H. Macy, and even fucking Don Knotts (!) adding some credibility to the occasion. I'm a little stunned that Joan Allen didn't garner at least an Oscar nomination, especially since this movie came out right in the middle of the Academy's 'we love Joan Allen' period in the mid-1990's.
Run Lola Run: I'm a little hesitant to put RLR on the list since its quality tricked me into a lifetime of thinking that Tom Tykwer was a good director. Oh, the hours I wasted watching 'Perfume' or 'The International.' But, proving that a broken clock is right twice a day, Tykwer struck gold with the always-exciting Lola Rennt. I've used 'Schisse' as a curse word ever since reading it in a novel in sixth grade, but after RLR, I stretched it out to 'Schisse Manni,' thus making RLR rank surprisingly high on the list of my most oft-quoted films. Ah, profanity.
Shakespeare In Love: The 'Shakespeare In Love vs. Saving Private Ryan' debate is one of the quintessential apples vs. oranges examples of the difficulty of picking a Best Picture every year at the Oscars. The feeling in the aftermath of the 1998 Oscars was that 'Private Ryan' got hosed, but honestly, Shakespeare In Love is the better movie. (It also saved the Academy the embarrassment of awarding Best Picture to a movie starring Vin Diesel.) It's strange that Joseph Fiennes basically dropped off the face of the earth after a starring role in a major film like this.
A Simple Plan: Three men find a bagful of money in a field. Complications ensue. That's all you really need to know. ASP is classic psychological film noir that stands up with the best of Hitchcock or Highsmith. This is Sam Raimi's best movie that doesn't feature Alfred Molina in metal tentacles.
There's Something About Mary: It still holds up! Woo-hoo! It would've been a shame if this teenage classic had suddenly become dated. If anything, it might be even more relevant now given that it features Brett Favre unable to let go of the past. There's not much more to be said about the movie other than it's hilarious, and that Matt Dillon hits a home run. If there's one thing different about watching TSAM now, it's that Dillon's performance is the funniest thing in the movie.
Zero Effect: As mentioned before, I'm a sucker for a good mystery, and Zero Effect is one of the best mysteries of the last decade. Bill Pullman plays an eccentric detective, Ben Stiller is his exasperated assistant, Kim "Sawyer's babymama on LOST" Dickens is the sorta-femme fatale, and in spite of these big names, this might be the most obscure film on either of our lists. Literally NOBODY I know has ever even heard of this one.
Most notable movie(s) I haven't seen: Gods and Monsters, The Thin Red Line, Out Of Sight (though I have read the original Elmore Leonard novel)
Kyle: I saw Zero Effect a few years ago, possibly on your recommendation, and recall enjoying it quite a bit....though it still seems curious to me that someone had enough confidence in Bill Pullman to make him a leading man (possible angle: "he was semi-believable as Commander-in-Chief in Independence Day!" Note: this will be the only mention of ID4 on these lists.) Good call, too, with Run Rola Run and Shakespeare in Love (which nearly made my list. I remember wanting to hate it, because I was annoyed that SPR didn't win Best Pic, watching it, then begrudgingly acknowledging that it was pretty damn good. And, yeah, what the hell happened to Joseph Fiennes? He was terrific here.)
As for Pleasantville, I had extremely high expectations, and couldn't help being very let down. Some of it was well executed (the whole basketball team never missing because, well, they never missed during their--limited--screentime on the show? Very cool), but a lot of it felt pretty heavy-handed to me. Here's a question, was it a meta-commentary on Director Gary Ross's part to make the issues so black and white in the movie? Like, wouldn't it have been more satisfying if William H. Macy was right even once during the 124 minutes? I believe at one point I actually blurted out "we fucking get it! It's a metaphor for racism!" (which was awkward, since I was watching it with my parents...). And I maintain that the scene where the tree explodes in color as Joan Allen climaxes in the bathtub is almost unbearably stupid. That said, I'd really like to read your paper--do you still have it?
Mark: I still have it around somewhere, probably on the computer in my parents' house. Hope you like converting Corel WordPerfect files! Joan Allen climaxing to a burning tree is still less stupid than Eric Bana climaxing to images of the Munich Massacre....I swear, Kyle, if Munich is on your 2005 list....
1999....The Talented Mr. Ripley: Here's a movie that has been lost to the sands of time in spite of the big-name cast behind it. Patricia Highsmith is pretty much the master of unsettling psychological thrillers, writing a number of classic suspense novels including Strangers On A Train and the Tom Ripley novels. Matt Damon gives the best performance of any of the actors (Dennis Hopper, Barry Pepper and John Malkovich) who have portrayed Ripley on film since he gives Tom just enough of an in-over-his-head edge to balance his natural sneakiness that keeps the character's fate in question. Hopper-as-Ripley, for instance, was so smart and composed that you never believed he was in any danger. Damon-as-Ripley seems to always be one step away from being found out. If you never thought much of Matt Damon's acting skills, check this movie out and prepare to have your mind blown.
Kyle: This is your only pick in part four that I vigorously disagree with, mostly because, at best, Ripley is half a movie. Up until the point where (SPOILER ALERT) Damon kills Jude Law (roughly an hour in, if I recall correctly), the movie is outstanding (that scene in particular is shot so perfectly), but it quickly goes downhill after that. As much as I like Matt Damon, I felt like Hoffman was acting circles around him whenever they were onscreen together...and the whole thing had a Brady Bunch feel to it (see, in particular, the episode where Peter inadvertently schedules two dates on the same night--in the Brady household!--and has to juggle both of them, including changing his outfit each time he changes girls. Season 5, episode 18 "Two Petes in a Pod." If you watch it, I swear you'll like Ripley about 15% less.)
Also: have you seen all the other Ripley flicks? I think the only one I watched was Ripley's Game (with Malkovich), a direct-to-DVD (or, in the alternative, in theatres for approximately nine seconds) job that was jaw-droppingly dull. I think I actually fell asleep 30 minutes in, woke up, remembered why I'd fallen asleep, then passed out until the credits rolled. Am I being too harsh?
Mark: I've seen the Malkovich and Hopper ones, and neither are any good. Comparing TTMR to a Brady Bunch episode? Harsh. And really, I like Damon a lot too, but I hardly expect him to put on a clinic when it's in a scene with Hoffman.
Runners-up.....extension number three! Er, three and a half!.....
American Beauty: What a weird choice as Best Picture. Not that AB isn't a great movie or anything, but man, it's strange how every once in a while the Academy seizes on an out-there choice that just goes whole-hog in giving it every Oscar under the sun. Just a spectacularly well-cast movie, with almost every actor turning in the second-best performance of their careers. (Spacey: Usual Suspects, Bening: Grifters, Janney: West Wing, Cooper: Adaptation, Birch: Ghost World...as for Wes Bentley and Mena Suvari, yeah, this was definitely their best work.)
Being John Malkovich: Back in 2000 I was having a depressing weekend. A girl was involved, I ate a lot of ice cream, it was a long story. Whereas some people might watch a fluffy comedy to get their mind off things, I instead watched Being John Malkovich, and frankly, my mood went from blue to WTF in about a five-minute span. It takes balls just to conceive of a movie like this, let alone actually make it, but Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze produced one of the great surreal comedies of our time. You've got all of the body-swapping, mind-bending stuff bookended by the hilarious story of the 7 1/2 floor and the inexplicable Malkovich/Charlie Sheen friendship. ("Ma-sheen!" "Malkotraz!") Who gives the best performance in the movie, oddly enough? John Malkovich.
Election: The Hillary Clinton = Tracy Flick joke was made by roughly 850,000 different people during the 2008 presidential campaign. (Does this make Barack Obama into Chris Klein? That comparison doesn't really work. For one thing, I'm pretty sure Obama has never tried to seduce a woman by saying 'Suck me, beautiful.' Joe Biden, however, almost certainly has used this line.) Anyway, Election is a terrific satire and notable for being one of the few times I've ever actually enjoyed Matthew Broderick in a movie.
Galaxy Quest: As an old Star Trek fan myself back in my teenage days, this couldn't have been a more pitch-perfect satire of sci-fi shows, and yet it also serves as a tribute to nerdy fandom itself. I actually almost ranked it #1 for the year. The cast, impressive in 1999 is even more impressive today given the future credits of most of the supporting cast; you've also got the likes of Enrico Colantoni and Rainn Wilson as aliens, Justin Long as the geeky Galaxy Quest uber-fan and even Robin 'Ethan Rayne on Buffy' Sachs as the villain, totally unrecognizable under about a quart of makeup. And that's not even counting main cast actors like Sam Rockwell and Tony Shalhoub who went on to larger successes in the wake of this movie. And, last but not least, the Great Alan Rickman. That's his official name now. "By Grabthar's hammer..."
The Insider: For all the tabloid nonsense that Russell Crowe gets himself embroiled with, the fact of the matter is, the guy is one of the 10 best actors in the world. 'Insider' was his first major role and he just knocks it out of the park. He totally outshines Pacino, who wasn't quite in the phone-it-in phase of his career yet. This was one of the great journalism-themed movies of our era, and it's too bad that Crowe followed it up a decade later with the blah 'State of Play.' Spoiler alert, that one won't end up on my 2009 list. It's also worth mentioning that Insider star Christopher Plummer gave the commencement address at my graduation, and basically just made drinking jokes for 10 minutes. Good times.
Magnolia: The downside of being a film major is that when you watch a movie like this with your buddies, they all turn to you afterwards and ask, 'Whoa, hey Mark, what was up with that movie?' I believe my cultured, enlightened response was 'Uhhhh....' There may have been more h's, I'm not sure. I've already expressed my love of Robert Altman's interconnected, large-cast movies, and PT Anderson takes a page from Altman's book to create a similar type of film, except perhaps with a more out-there feel.
Office Space: No list of great movie villains is complete without Bill Lumburgh. Everything else in the movie is pretty great, but the addition of Lumburgh puts Office Space into a class of its own. This movie is basically required viewing for anyone who's ever worked in an office of any kind. I may have once called a fantasy baseball team the Pieces Of Flair.
Sleepy Hollow: Let's see, Tim Burton adapting the story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. Yeah, this has slam-dunk written all over it. The film suffers just a bit from the "let's cast a talented actor in a seemingly tiny role, which makes it kinda obvious that they're the killer" syndrome, but SH has so much else going for it in terms of creepy atmosphere and the plot becomes almost secondary. (And I wouldn't dream of revealing who actually plays the Horseman when you see him in a flashback avec his head.) Given that we're just a few months away from Burton's adaptation of Alice In Wonderland with Depp as the Mad Hatter, I think we can safely put Burton-Depp near the top of the pantheon of legendary director/actor collaborative duos.
Three Kings: It's too bad that David O. Russell is apparently a legendary asshole, since when he does manage to piss off few enough people to actually make a movie, it usually ends up being at worst interesting, at best tremendous. 'Three Kings' is one of the few war movies made in the last 20 years or so that hasn't been as boring as hell, due in part to the original script and the fact that Russell filmed it in such a unique way. The story of Russell and Clooney literally coming to blows on the set is pretty funny as well. (Also, since lord knows I won't be mentioning I Heart Huckabees on this list, track down the YouTube clip of Russell and Lily Tomlin getting into a screaming match on the set of that film. C-bombs are dropped, fake doors are slammed, it's quite a production.)
(And, just because I haven't mentioned enough movies yet, American Pie, Payback, Notting Hill, Matrix and the South Park movie were also excellent. 1999 was a hell of a year for great cinema.)
Most notable movie(s) I haven't seen: Cider House Rules, as I was dissatisfied with the novel so I figured the film couldn't be much better. I was at least pleased to see John Irving win the best adapted screenplay Oscar, since while he didn't deserve it, c'mon, it's John Irving. Also, the Iron Giant (*ducks rock thrown by Kyle*) and Topsy-Turvy.
Kyle: Delighted you included: Magnolia (the last great Tom Cruise performance? I'm excluding his work in Tropic Thunder, which, while amusing, is really more like sketch comedy), American Beauty (the only movie I've ever gone to see on my own), The Insider (YES! Though the fact that you got Christopher Plummer for your commencement address while I had to settle for Sheila Rogers is all kinds of annoying), Galaxy Quest (great selection! Surprisingly moving in places. Insert joke about Sigourney Weaver still getting it done in that jumpsuit), and Office Space (Gary Cole!). Lukewarm towards: Sleepy Hollow (I liked it, but it didn't make much of an impression on me. Without looking it up, I can name a single person aside from Depp that was in the movie), Three Kings (wanted to love it; didn't. Agreed re: war movies being a bit of letdown of late. That said, I liked Jarhead and In the Valley of Elah, tolerated (though only just) Lions for Lambs, and am hearing wonderful things about The Hurt Locker), and Malkovich (which, again, I enjoyed, but didn't blow me away. I feel as if there's something about Charlie Kaufman that I'm not getting/may never get, since he's written six movies now and I've only loved two of them--Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind--and outright hated a third one, Synechodche, New York).
Mark: Has Tom Cruise ever had a 'great' performance? Seriously, every role is a variation of the young hotshot who learns a lesson by the end. The only really outstanding performance I'd say Cruise has delivered was in Collateral, where he just totally broke type and did a surprisingly tremendous job. And I'm surprised that you've only seen one movie by your lonesome in your life. I do it surprisingly often....but then again, I'm also a sad loner.
2000.....Unbreakable: Man, why can't M. Night Shyamalan make movies like this anymore? 'Unbreakable' is a fascinating thriller/mystery with a twist ending that only enhances the rest of the film for a second viewing, not ruins it (I'm looking in your direction, Usual Suspects). It's also one of the great superhero movies ever made, and I probably should've put it on my best comic movies ever list last year. By far Shyamalan's best movie, though I should note that the 'Sixth Sense' ending was ruined for me before I saw it, so I didn't experience the film in its purest form.
Kyle: the awesome. I think you were right in leaving it off your comic book list, since I think you stipulated that it had to be based on a comic book character or graphic novel. Agreed that this is best movie. Aside from the ending sequence (which I think I go on and on about in my entry), how great are some of the individual scenes in this? I'm thinking in particular of the scene where Willis is progressively benching more and more weight, while his son moves further and further into the backroom ("we can't ever tell your mother about this"), the train sequence, and the scene where Elijah chases after the guy with the gun, and falls down the stairs. Outstanding movie...such a downer that it's poor performance at the box office shut down the trilogy idea before it even got off the ground (though, given M. Night's career arc, that could be a blessing in disguise now--maybe David would've fought the pollen count in part two...)
Best In Show: Yet another gem from Christopher Guest's mockumentary team. Hard to pick a funniest scene; I've always been partial to Fred Willard talking about how much he bench-presses, or the whole sequence when Parker Posey is trying to find her dog's Busy Bee toy. I'm not sure either is funnier than the running gag of Eugene Levy gradually realizing that his wife has slept with half the men east of the Mississippi. Weird item: my uncle HATES Christopher Guest's movies. He just thinks they're the dumbest things on the market. It's a good thing he's a Packers fan or else I'd assume we're not actually related.
Cast Away: Kind of a borderline addition given that the bookends of the film when he's back in the real world both fall a bit flat, but man, that 50-minute stretch when Hanks is on the deserted island is just spellbinding. I could've easily watched two hours of that alone. For all of Tom Hanks' acclaimed performances, this might have been his most impressive --- he makes the loss of a volleyball into a tear-jerking moment. That whole sequence on the island is just a masterpiece of acting, direction and sound effects editing. (In a totally unrelated note, I included Cast Away in a film class presentation on sound editing.) As much as I love LOST, I think a show about an actual plane crash on a normal deserted island could've been as equally fascinating even minus the time travel and immortals and walking dead. Funniest one-line criticism of Cast Away: "He spends all his time trying to get back to civilization just for Helen Hunt? Come on, they could've cast someone better than that." The preceding line was delivered by, of all people, former Jays catcher Gregg Zaun. He HATES Tom Hanks. Don't get him started. I'm dead serious.
High Fidelity: It's funny that this movie is going to suddenly be dated as hell in about 5-10 years when record stores no longer exist, but that aside, this is probably the finest of the John Cusack romantic comedy series. I hold HF in such high regard that it is one of the few film posters hanging on the wall of my old bedroom back in my parents' house in London. The others? Pulp Fiction and, somewhat inexplicably, the old Sarah Polley/Katie Holmes movie 'Go.' Okay, perhaps the wall poster thing isn't the greatest possible honor.
Waydowntown: Yay Canadian content! Waydowntown is the spiritual ancestor of that semi-crappy 'Billable Hours' show on Showcase, in the case that it it spoofs office life and has a main cast of Fab Filippo, a girl and another guy. The another guy, by the way, is Don McKellar, as part of his streak of starring in every Canadian-made film from 1999 to 2003. WDT is about a group of office workers who have an ongoing bet to see who can stay indoors the longest in Calgary's interconnected downtown area. As I write this, my current indoor streak has lasted....let's see...11 hours! Eat it, Fab Filippo!
Most notable movie(s) I haven't seen: Well, after spending 1998 rapturously praising the Coens, I'm now forced to admit that I've never seen O Brother Where Art Thou. Dang, I'm in a tight spot. Also on the list is The Contender and Wonder Boys.
Kyle: Waydowntown...nice. A TMN staple of mine. Doesn't Filippo remind you of Dave Lee? I find the resemblance uncanny. However, if we're going for quirky CanCon starring Don McKellar, I think I'd have to go with Last Night--a small movie about an awfully big idea (the end of the world), though, admittedly, it came out in 1998. So, basically, I just wanted to brag about my film chops.
O Brother is great (though not enough, it seems, to be included on my list for this year. Ah, well). Wish I'd never seen The Contender...so let's just leave it at that. I'm with you re: your breakdown of Castaway--the stuff on the island is so interesting that everything else feels unnecessary. High Fidelity--which we caught on cable a couple of weeks back--still really holds up, though I'm mystified as to why they ditched London for Chicago (the original script maintained the original location, but was ditched for Cusack and co. version set in the U.S.). Disappointing...though given what ended up happening to Fever Pitch (the second time around), perhaps we should all be relieved that they screwed up HF so little.
Mark: See if you asked Dave which celeb he's most often compared to, he'd tell you it's Robert Downey Jr. That guy is like a chameleon. Unlike me, whose closest Hollywood lookalike is either Shrek or Christopher Lloyd in his Uncle Fester gear....Gotta believe the High Fidelity switch is just so Cusack could set another movie in his hometown and give him closer access to Cubs games.
2001.....Memento: The reverse timeline is a great storytelling gimmick, most notably used in Harold Pinter's play 'Betrayal' and in the backwards Seinfeld episode (titled, in fact, 'The Betrayal' as a shout-out to Pinter). The idea of a mystery where the protagonist has only short-term memory is a brilliant one. Put the two together, and you have arguably the best mystery/noir in movie history. This is an endlessly fascinating and brilliantly-constructed picture. It's the rare mystery that stands up to repeated viewings; in other mysteries, knowing the solution takes away some of the suspense, but Memento sidesteps that by making things so oblique (but in a satisfying way) that you'll be debating what you just saw long after the end credits. Bonus points to the DVD for making you answer a memory quiz before you can access the main menu.
Kyle: word. Though if you could frame your review as more of a direct attack on A Beautiful Mind, it would be appreciated. Agreed re: its rewatchability, which has a lot to do with its ambiguousness (I still don't think it's totally clear--though you may disagree--how, exactly, his wife dies). Currently ranked #28 on imdb.com's top 250, with the only more recent movie that's higher being The Dark Knight (#7)...so, yeah, not a bad stretch for Chris Nolan, eh?
Mark: My theory was always that Catherine Shelby committed suicide by having Leonard give her an intentional overdose, since he wouldn't remember giving her the dose a few minutes earlier. So Leonard's story was basically the real-life version of the Sammy Jenkis situation. Then again, there's also the whole alternate theory that Leonard actually knowingly killed her and isn't exactly 'faking' his condition, but is just really deep in denial about his actions.
Amelie: It's been a few years since I've seen Amelie, so I sat down with it the other day to see if it could unseat Memento. In the end, I just couldn't say no to ol' Chris Nolan, but rest assured, Amelie would've been #1 in most other years on the list. Just an endlessly sweet, clever and funny story of a woman who subtly tries to bring joy to strangers and acquaintances. It's also strange, watching the movie today, and realizing that Travelocity totally ripped off their 'roaming gnome' campaign from this movie. Did Jean-Pierre Jeunet get royalties?
Moulin Rouge: There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who make absurdly declarative statements like 'there are two kinds of people in the world...' and those who don't. Wait, no, that's not my point....it's those adore Moulin Rouge, and those who think it's a piece of straight-up garbage. There doesn't appear to be any middle ground in this debate; an old film class of mine almost turned into a Jets vs. Sharks rumble when discussing MR's merits in a seminar. As you can tell from its placement on the list, I'm definitely in the love camp.
Ocean's Eleven: Kind of an upset pick over the likes of Black Hawk Down or Gosford Park, but Ocean's 11 is one of those movies that grows on you over time. I enjoyed it the theatre in 2001, but subsequent viewings on cable (Peachtree shows it roughly once a month) only reinforce what a clever, fun movie this is. By the way, NEVER watch the original Ocean's 11 with Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Dean Martin, etc. It is impossibly boring.
Zoolander: Just too many hilarious moments to recount, but I personally love the gas fight, the whole sequence with David Duchovny's hand model character and "Do you understand that the world does not revolve around you and your do whatever it takes, ruin as many people's lives, so long as you can make a name for yourself as an investigatory journalist, no matter how many friends you lose or people you leave dead and bloodied along the way, just so long so you can make a name for yourself as an investigatory journalist, no matter how many friends you lose or people you leave dead and bloodied and dying along the way?" It's funny, Zoolander was a huge bomb when it originally opened in theatres, but then it really took off on video due to word-of-mouth. The summer of 2002 is unofficially known in my extended circle of friends as the Summer Of Zoolander Quotes.
Most notable movie(s) I haven't seen: Never got around to watching Y Tu Mama Tambien, which is pretty wild given that I love Alfonso Cuaron's work.
Kyle: tip: if you do get around to watching Y Tu (and you really should), do not watch it with your mom and dad. Trust me on this one.
Confession time: I've never seen Zoolander from start to finish. I watched the first 30 minutes when it came out on video, and then shut it off. Since you've seen fit to put it in your top five, I hereby promise to watch it and report back/explain to you why you are wrong for including it.
I liked Amelie but weren't you at all bothered by the roundabout way the titular character goes about pursuing her man? I'll admit that, after a while, I was somewhat exasperated. Just go and tell him you love him, already! Does that make me unsentimental? I see. (Note: I also feel like this movie is responsible for that tedious --and, given that the movie is horribly bloated, I have to say: completely fucking unnecessary--sequence in Benjamin Button where we see all the things that needed to happen for Cate Blanchett to get hit by that car).
Mark: The idea was that Amelie was a very withdrawn and shy person, which is why she engages in all these little escapades rather than helping people directly. Or, maybe, she just picked up on the fact that this guy was pretty odd himself, and he'd probably appreciate the chase (to a point).
2002.....Talk To Her:Maybe the best example I can use to describe the effect of Pedro Almodovar's best film is that the lead male character rapes (there's no other way to describe it) the comatose lead female character, and yet you don't blame him for it. Almodovar deals with love and obsession in such a --- seems like an odd word for it, but it fits --- sweet way that it carries you through the more disturbing and surreal aspects of the movie. I think a big part of TTH's allure is the fact that it's in Spanish. Everything sounds better in Spanish. I could describe my bowel movements to you in Spanish and it would still sound like poetry. Mi mierda es bueno!
Kyle: Thought you might pick this. Great, great, completely-and-uncontrovertibly-fucked-up movie. Impressive selection.
Adaptation.: Another brilliantly original idea from Charlie Kaufman, as he made a movie out of his frustrations at turning Susan Orlean's "Orchid Thief" novel into a movie. I'm sure that somewhere, Susan Orlean is still wondering what the hell happened, especially given that Meryl Streep ends up playing her as an adulterous criminal. The whole film is one long mediation and semi-satire of the writing process, culminating in the hilarious ending sequence that actually disappointed me before I suddenly realized the joke. The fact that Donald Kaufman was actually given co-writer credit and thus became the first fictitious person nominated for an Oscar is the perfect real-life punchline. And man, Nick Cage. As much as Nicolas Cage's acting is kind of a running joke, he is just phenomenal given the right role.
The Bourne Identity: Too bad that Doug Liman is apparently a David O. Russell-caliber pain in the ass, since otherwise he might still be directing the Bourne franchise rather than merely serving as a producer. It seems like everyone's favourite Bourne movie is either Identity or Ultimatum, and I think I'm an Identity guy. The action scenes are tight as hell, and Bourne's amnesia is an actual plot point, not the momentary hindrance it becomes in the later films. The chemistry between Damon and Franka Potente is so good that, while she's missed in the latter two films, you totally buy into Bourne's quest for revenge and frankly are a little pissed off yourself. C'mon man, you don't go after Lola!
Catch Me If You Can: A great con man movie from Messrs. Spielberg, DiCaprio and Hanks that avoids the usual pitfalls of con man movies by having the conner on the run for most of the film, thus keeping the plot from becoming a predictable web of double-crosses. The opening credits were the best I've seen of their kind until the Watchmen movie came out last spring.
Minority Report: I almost feel like Spielberg was so frustrated by "A.I." the previous year that he hunkered down and re-doubled his efforts at making a truly great sci-fi thriller. Mission accomplished. Between this and Catch Me If You Can, 2002 was a banner year for Spielberg, and yet it was only the second-best two-movie year of his career (1993 had Jurassic Park and Schindler's List). This just in, Senor Spielbergo's unionized American equivalent is a pretty good director.
Most notable movie(s) I haven't seen: The Pianist, About A Boy, Spirited Away, 8 Mile and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Man, at least you can't accuse me of being biased against a certain genre of film, since that's a pretty damn diverse quintet right there.
Kyle: but here's my knock against Adaptation: the joke isn't that funny. And (at least for me) knowing it doesn't improve the third act for me. I will say this, though: the scene where Charlie decides to include himself in the story and then narrates into the dictatophone that his character will narrate the following into the dictaphone is simply spectacular. But, beyond the literary recursive loop stuff, I was underwhelmed.
Jesus, good call with Minority Report. If I'd remembered, I'd likely have included it. Intrigued as to whether you're happy with the Bourne trilogy as it stands or would have preferred Liman doing all three at once (a la LOTR)...the two statements aren't mutually exclusive, mind you. Also, while Liman's career seems to have gone off the rails a bit (Jumper...I don't think I need to elaborate), I'd put the first three studio movies he's directed--Swingers, Go, and The Bourne Identity--up against pretty much anyone else's first three. (Spielberg, who immediately springs to mind, directed something called The Sugarland Express--which I believe was some sort of hovercraft...--in between the underrated Duel and Jaws).
Mark: I often roll my eyes at movies where things are really interesting for the first three-quarters, and then it just devolves into a shootout. So to actually have that turned into a gag really amused me. Minority Report is an almost-forgotten movie today, which is surprising to me. I have issues with Cruise as an actor, but more often than not, the man picks great projects. I'm pretty pleased with Greengrass helming the Bourne series given how good the third one was, though I had the exact opposite feeling after Supremacy. And come on, you're citing Doug Liman as the seminal 'best first three films ever' director? Just from guys we've covered in this list alone, you've got Tarantino, Shyamalan, Nolan, Frears, Zemeckis, Guest, Payne, Mendes, PT Anderson...the list goes on and on.
Kyle: Damn you, Mark! First you clobber me with that Munich comeback...and now this. I said that Liman's in the conversation, not definitely #1. But now I'm a bit defensive, so: (movie that hurts them in this argument in parenthesis): Tarantino (Four Rooms or Jackie Brown, depending on how you want to score this); M. Night (Signs is only ok); Nolan (wasn't blown away by Following or--especially--Insomnia, which is the one Chris Nolan film I think I actually dislike); Frears (assuming we start with Dangerous Liasons, #2 is The Grifters--which was great--and #3 is Hero--which, decidedly, was not); Zemeckis (Romancing the Stone, BTTF, Who Framed Roger Rabbit--ok, that's a solid pick); Guest (this one is kind of stunning: Guffman, Almost Heroes, then Best in Show. The hell? He directed Almost Heroes? Talk about your ultimate shit sandwich. Guest is out.); Payne (not a fan of Citizen Ruth); Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, and Jarhead--solid); Anderson (retroactively, everyone seems to want to pretend that Hard Eight is a gem, but, no, I've seen it and it's a snooze. If that's too obscure, #3 becomes Punch-Drunk Love, which would make P.T. eligible.)
So...of the nine you list, Liman clearly outclasses seven of them, plays one to a draw (Zemeckis...only because RTS is clearly the weak link), and--arguably--loses to one (Mendes). So...I stand by my original position.
2003.....Love Actually: I kind of glossed over 'Notting Hill' in my 1999 entry, so let's give full props to the great Richard Curtis here in 2003. Here's the guy who was behind Mr. Bean, Blackadder, the Vicar of Dibley, Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill and (in the case of Love Actually), pretty much the ultimate in multi-layered romances. This one covers pretty much all ends of the relationship spectrum, from schoolyard crushes and teenage lust to broken marriages and a, um, 'nicer' version of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. It's the rare multiple-storyline film that can make every plotline interesting, but LA does just that, and is also able to move effortlessly from the harrowing Emma Thompson/The Great Alan Rickman story to the cute subplot about the sex actors. It's also of note that Bill Nighy basically steals the whole movie as the washed-up rock star. Fellows, if you're looking for a good date movie to rent, 'Love Actually' is the perfect choice. Not only will you enjoy the film yourself, but then it'll be your pick for a rental next, so you can get away with picking, say, Predator.
Kyle: couldn't agree more. Was late to this film (2006), but it's now one of my favorites.
Bad Santa: Pretty much the definition of a dark comedy. It's so odd and off-kilter that first you laugh at just how weird it is, and then it just gets even funnier as you get increasingly sucked into the film's strange world. Pretty much any interaction between Billy Bob and the fat kid (Thurman) is gold, as is Billy Bob's midget sidekick/adversary.
Kill Bill (Volume One): I wasn't sure of what I was going to do with Kill Bill, given that the movie was split over two years but I absolutely wanted to make sure it got on the list somewhere. Vol. 1 is probably the stronger of the two halves, and since Kill Bill would've been released in 2003 anyway had it been just one epic film, it goes into the 2003 slot. So, yeah, what else is there to say other than that KB1 is one of the best action movies ever made? The second installment is more talky, but full of that Tarantino dialogue I love so much and it was still very worthwhile. How is it possible that Tarantino hasn't released a single-film version of this yet? I'd snap up that DVD in a second.
Old School: Tough pick over the equally funny Shanghai Knights, the crazy action of Ong-Bak and the mindfuck that is The Shape Of Things (god, is Rachel Weisz ever a bitch in that movie), but Old School gets the nod perhaps due to historical significance. It was Will Ferrell's first big lead, plus it resurrected Vince Vaughn's career, and it gave everyone in the world named Frank the easy 'Tank' nickname. Have you ever noticed the cavalcade of 00's TV stars that make up the supporting cast? Luke Wilson is pursuing Meredith Grey, he sleeps with Kim Bauer, his boss is John Locke, his nemesis is Ari Gold and his two buddies are married to Ari's wife and the Queen of Queens, respectively. I guess you could even argue that Ferrell himself was a TV star at the time, given that 'Old School' was his first big project after leaving SNL.
21 Grams: I'm told that this movie is very reminiscent (some might even say a copy) of Inarritu's previous film, Amores Perros, in terms of structure and overall tone. But, I've never seen Amores Perros, so 21 Grams stands out in my mind, at least, as a really well-made character study of how a car accident impacts the lives of the main characters. You get typically great work from Penn, Watts, Del Toro and Leo and the intricate flashback/flash-forward structure gives the story more weight than it probably could've achieved just in a straight-forward manner. Not to be confused with the family comedy '21 Brams,' when Bram accidentally makes 20 clones of himself while Sharon, Lois and the Elephant try to figure out which one is the original. Sean Penn is actually in that one too, starring as the Elephant.
Most notable movie(s) I haven't seen: House Of Sand And Fog, City of God, The Cooler, The Station Agent. HOSAF is probably the most glaring omission, given that it stars one of my bald idols Ben Kingsley and noted Jack Bauer adversary Shohreh Aghdashloo.
Kyle: go with HOSAF if you feel like you haven't been curled up in a ball and crying for nine consecutive hours nearly enough this year (though it is good). Hey, hey, City of God! Me too! Currently 17th on the top 250--this feels worthy of us actually getting together to watch it.
As it happens, Old School was on Peachtree last Thursday at midnight, so I watched it (while, ostensibly, studying for the bar exam). Still pretty damn funny ("honey, do you think KFC's still open?" still slays me). And since I watched this basically every night in the summer of '03 (while, ostensibly, writing my M.A. thesis...noticing a trend?) let me add two to the list: Craig Kilborn as Meredith's smarmy boyfriend, and Sarah Shahi (as Perry Reeves' friend)--can't believe you missed that last one...didn't she eye fuck you in traffic once?
Haven't seen Bad Santa and, oddly, the DVD of 21 Grams we rented from Blockbuster conked out with about 25 minutes to go, so I still haven't seen the ending (note: this was 3+ years ago, so perhaps I should get on the ball...). KB1 is pretty sweet, but, I have to say, I intensely disliked the second one. I would think that stringing the two together would only really serve to underscore how dull part two is.
Mark: Oh man, I forgot about Shahi and my (imagined) flirtation with her doppelganger on Lawrence Ave (post about it is here). I think a combined Kill Bill would be structured quite differently. I could see Tarantino splitting up the 'quiet kills' and 'ultra-crazy-action kills' a bit more evenly. Maybe, in order, the Bride would've gone Vernita, Budd, Elle, O-Ren and then finally Bill still at the end. And we've got to be the only two people in the world who are planning a 'City of God' party. I'll bring the soda pop! You bring the chips! Have Carrie bring the Kleenex for when we're all weeping at the abject poverty!
1998: Rushmore: Such a well-written movie, which, like all good comedies, is funny and has a heart. There really isn't enough to be said about Bill Murray's work here, so I won't really say anything at all. I think my favorite part about Rushmore is that, based on the last scene (Max dancing with Ms. Cross with a creepy glean in his eye), I believer we're supposed to think that Max is insane (or rapidly approaching insanity) and that this is all a dark fantasy. In other words, I still think he thinks he's going to get the girl. I love that, for some reason.
On another note, is there anything funnier than Max receiving the following letter from 11-year old Dirk Callohan (real name: Mason Gamble, aka the kid who, five years earlier, played the lead role in the big-screen version of Dennis the Menace), which is then read, via voice over, by Dirk: "Dear Max, I am sorry to say that I have secretly found out that Mr. Blume is having an affair with Miss Cross. My first suspicions came when I saw them Frenching in front of our house. And then I knew for sure when they went skinny dipping in Mr. Blume's swimming pool, giving each other handjobs while you were taking a nap on the front porch." Still makes me laugh.
Mark: Interesting selection, and I have to admit, it wasn't on my radar at all. I'm more of an admirer of Wes Anderson's films than I am an actual fan. They have some great moments (the aforementioned letter from Dirk, plus Murray slapping his son from the front seat of his car, and the 'O.R. scrubs' joke that I try to use as often as possible) but overall, I dunno, there's just something missing. There is literally no reason why this should be so....deadpan quirky humor is right up my alley.
Kyle: wow...really? I'd definitely recommend you watch it again. It doesn't get much better than the opening montage of all of Max's extracurricular activities...
The Big Lebowski: As recently as two months ago, this would've been my pick for '98, but I watched this with Carrie and Ann in Ireland and...it wasn't quite as good as I remembered. Don't get me wrong, it's still terrific (I'm especially fond of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's blink-and-you'll-miss-it role in the film), but rather more aimless than I recalled. Specifically, I'm going to call out the extended bowling fantasy sequence and anything involving Julianne Moore. Underrated joke: that the Dude was one of the co-authors of the Port Huron Statement.
The Wedding Singer: currently has a 6.8 on imdb.com, which is unfathomable to me. Absolutely everything works in this movie, right down to the kick-ass soundtrack (including the tremendously underrated "Somebody Kill Me"). Sandler and Barrymore have never been better--unfortunately, this movie's success no doubt led to the rather poor Fifty First Dates being made. Screw it, it was worth it. Also: Matthew Glave (Glenn Ghulia), I officially welcome you to the Bad Movie Boyfriend Hall of Fame.
American History X: Still not totally over the fact that Derek (Ed Norton)'s Nazi propaganda-spewing father in the movie was played by the dad from Boy Meets World. That shook me to my core. This movie, ultimately, is so dark, that I have my doubts it would even be greenlit by a studio today. Saving Private Ryan: admittedly, the plot here would be considered thin for a short film entry, let alone a 3-hour epic, but, visually, it's so stunning (notably the first thirty minutes) that I'm willing to forgive it. Fun fact: when I went to see this in the theatre, I couldn't quite make out what Hanks says to Damon as he (Hanks) is dying and thought, for the two or so hours after the movie ended, that the line was "Earnest," only to be publicly and brutally corrected by Eric Mayr (He [incredulous]: "Earn this, Kyle. Earn this. You thought his dying advice was for Private Ryan to live a serious life?"). This may or may not have involved tears.
There's Something About Mary: I'm adamant this should've been nominated for Best Picture. No clue what led the Academy to conclude, mid-70s it would seem, that including comedies in the mix would discredit the process. It's a bunch of bullshit. Watched this not too long ago on cable, and it holds up surprisingly well, particularly anything involving Matt Dillon.
Rounders: I added this after the fact--and technically it's my sixth pick--but it's an all-time "great movie to watch in its entirety when it airs at 2 a.m."
Movie from 1998 that I really should've seen by now: Gods and Monsters
Mark: So in your alternate version of Saving Private Ryan, Ryan goes back in time to become Oscar Wilde and write 'The Importance Of Being Earnest'? (rim shot) (alternate joke was "...goes on to father Jim Varney?")....Never seen AHX, should add it to my list.....I think the only reason the Academy didn't nominate 'Mary' is because they just knew that Billy Crystal would promptly walk on-stage with the semen-gel haircut, and the younger Academy members didn't want to face the awkwardness of explaining the joke to their grandparents....The fact that Lebowski ends up being completely pointless is the point, so to speak. And oh man, you didn't enjoy the Maude Lebowski experience? Julianne Moore's faux-Hepburn voice just killed me, as did that scene in her apartment with her giggly hipster friend. ("Who the fuck IS this guy?!")
Kyle: was that what Moore was going for? Totally over my head. At least that explains the naked zip line scene. Wait a minute--no, it doesn't. Agree completely with the "who the fuck IS this guy" bit--Bridges' line reading is absolutely perfect there.
*1999: The Matrix: this is so tough, since I'm certain I get more out of my #2 choice (Election) now, and the trilogy ended up being so shit in the end, but, if I'm being truthful, I don't think I was ever as blown away by a movie the first time I saw it as I was by The Matrix. Just out and out dazzled by it....and this wasn't even in the theatres. Yes, somehow I managed not to watch this movie until the day it came out on DVD. Still not sure how. Anyway, I still think that at handful of scenes--Neo and Morpheus fighting in the simulator; the rooftop sequence involving the helicopter, Neo and Trinity being fired upon, and Morpheus's extraction; and Neo and Smith fighting in the subway station--remain the gold standard for special effects. Not sure whether to be impressed with the movie...or totally dismayed with Hollywood. Very curious to see what the next generation will think of this film.
Mark: Apparently I was the only person in the world who wasn't blown away by the Matrix. Thought it was a good movie, have seen it a bunch of times, and even enjoyed the first sequel. But overall, it didn't quite turn the corner from good to great. The problem might stem from the fact that I originally saw it at that old theatre on Dundas Street in London that they tore down a few years ago, and the lousy sound system made large chunks of dialogue incoherent. Because really, what is the Matrix without being able to hear Keanu's awesome line readings? Fun fact: apparently the first choice for the role of Neo was Will Smith.
Kyle: Will Smith, eh? That would've been shit cool. Plus, given the timing, it would have saved the world from both Wild, Wild West and The Legend of Bagger Vance. Everybody wins! Um...except for Keanu, who would almost surely be dead by now in this alternate universe...
Magnolia: "frogs are falling from the sky." P.T. Anderson's best movie. Provocative enough for you?
Election: in part two of our team up, I believe I called Jon Favreau's Mikey (from Swingers) out as possibly the biggest loser in film history. Well, having thought about it, I think that Matthew Broderick's Jim McCallister here matches Mikey cringe-for-cringe. Consider: decides to have an affair with his wife's best friend; rents out a seedy hotel room and, in an unfortunate turn, washes his genitals in the bathroom sink; his wife's best friend stands him up; he goes to her house, only to get stung by a bee on his eyelid; his potential mistress, overcome with guilt, confesses to his wife, who promptly kicks him out of the house (he ends up with neither of them); gets caught rigging the election; gets fired; becomes a national punchline; runs into the kid in charge of counting the votes later on, only to have him spit on his car; his comically small apartment in NYC; sees Tracy when he's in D.C., and throws a milkshake at her limo, then scurries away. I'm telling you: he's a loser for the ages.
Fight Club: hated it the first time, now I think it's a modern classic.
Toy Story II: probably just ever so slightly worse than the original, but absolutely belongs in the conversation of "best sequel ever" (off the top of my head, my top ten, in order: Godfather II, The Road Warrior, Toy Story II, The Dark Knight, Superman II, The French Connection II, X2, The Two Towers, T2, The Empire Strikes Back).
The Insider: Russell Crowe has never been (and will never be) better than he is here as schluby Jeffrey Wigand. He's so good here that I can forgive Pacino for Pacinoing it up for two hours (or maybe he actually was good in this...I really must watch this again). A hell of a movie, my favorite Mann film, and, for whatever reason, among the most overlooked films of the past twenty years--can't even begin to speculate why.
The Sixth Sense: actually haven't seen this from start to finish in probably eight years--but I'm guessing it still holds up well. Since they're both involved (to a varying degree) with this film, here's a question: whose career went off the rails faster, M. Night Shyamalan or Mischa Barton? I think--in a bit of an upset--it's M. Night. Pretty sure I would've lost this bet five years ago, when Barton was almost single-handedly murdering The O.C.
The Iron Giant: one of the two or three movies that consistently makes me cry--surprisingly effective for a n animated movie. October Sky: relatively standard coming-of-age tale that is raised to another level by the work of Chris Cooper and Jake Gylenhaal. Plus the scenes where Jake has to work in the mines are legitimately soul-crushing. I had to look this up, but this was directed by Joe Johnston, who took all the goodwill he earned from this movie...and then took a giant dump on his career--helming Jurassic Park 3 and something called Hidalgo--yet has somehow landed the plum gig of directing the upcoming Captain America movie. Really?? Was Brett Ratner not available?
Varsity Blues: such a guilty pleasure. I think, since this movie has come out on DVD, I've rented it once a year. $5 a year over nine years adds up to $45, so, basically, I could've bought it twice by now. No matter, it's tradition. Roughly a year ago, I named this my 8th favorite sports movie of all-time...and, if anything, it's moved up slightly (be less boring, director's cut of The Natural!). Full of first-rate chill scenes, which is really all I ask for.
Movie from 1999 that I really should've seen by now: The Straight Story
Mark: I'm impressed that we both went to a 10-movie list for 1999 and yet only had three common films to each list. 1999 was indeed a great year. M. Night totally went further off the rails since he was actually on them to begin with; three good-to-great movies in four years trumps being the fourth or fifth-hottest chick on a teen drama.....Apparently the rule at Marvel is that they're only allowed to pick good directors for one out of every five franchises. Singer, Raimi and now Favreau have filled all the good spots, so we won't see a good choice for a Marvel project until 2014, when the Coen Brothers direct the Ant-Man movie.....Ok, quick rundown. Agreed with Magnolia, Insider and Election. Have never seen Iron Giant, Toy Story II, October Sky or Varsity Blues (yikes, long list). Liked Sixth Sense but didn't love it. And I HATED Fight Club. Just did not care for it at all. That would be my pick as the most overrated movie of the decade.
Kyle: really thought I'd goad you into a big debate about the best sequels ever. Since you didn't touch it, I can safely assume that you agree with me completely. Huzzah!
2000*: Memento: my pick for movie of the decade. It's basically perfect. Top shelf performances by Pearce and Joey Pants. Tight editing. Genius writing. Unsettling score. Thrilling throughout...and a (non-?)payoff that kept people talking about the movie hours after leaving the cinema. You can't ask for much more. Also, it spawned "The Betrayal," a top ten all-time Seinfeld episode.
I'm feeling like we're destined for another Usual Suspects-type debate here (special once, ordinary every time thereafter, thus rendering the initial viewing less special), so allow me to go on the record here. To all those that say this movie would be pedestrian if it ran in chronological order, I submit: (1) that's not the fucking point...and it's a total dickish way to approach film criticism (watch me try it: "Rashomon wouldn't be worth all the hype if all the witnesses viewed the crime the same way" [dusts off hands triumphantly]); and (2) it was presented in reverse for a reason: mainly, it puts us on equal footing with Leonard, which is deeply unsettling for the viewer. Rant over...except to say: I've probably seen this movie twenty times and never fail to come away from it totally in awe.
Oh, and, by the way, this film wasn't nominated for Best Picture. Gosford Park (which beat it out for Best Original Screenplay like I'm so fucking sure people will be talking about how marvelous Gosford Park was in 2030)and A Beautiful Mind (your winner, ladies and gentlemen) were. Coming up on ten years and...yup, still terribly bitter.
(* = note the discrepancy with Memento, as Mark awarded it in 2001 (the year in which it was eligible for Oscar nominations. Since it went into limited release on December 15, 2000, I made it my 2000 pick, since I wanted to single-out In The Bedroom in '01. At any rate, if Memento were ineligible, Unbreakable would've been my pick, so it doesn't really affect the list).
Mark: Hey, I liked Gosford Park. Direct all of your ire towards Beautiful Mind, please and thank you. And I kind of cover the 'seeing the ending hurts subsequent viewings' argument in my own list, but there are so many ways to interpret the story of Memento that the ending doesn't take away from the rest of the film if you see it again and again. Memento's ending doesn't invalidate the rest of story, whereas Usual Suspects' ending does. But, in summation, yeah, Memento is fucking great.
Kyle: it's not that GP is bad (I actually kind of enjoyed it at the time), just completely unmemorable.
Unbreakable: man, I'm kind of gutted that this came out the same year as Memento, since both are on my top ten all-time list. It doesn't get much better than nineteen of the last twenty minutes of this movie (I'm conspicuously leaving out the very last minute, which breaks one of my cardinal movie rules: don't drop in the 'freeze frame with a subtitle describing the characters' future' for fictional characters--I think only Animal House and, in a bit of an upset, The Girl Next Door have pulled this off successfully). Also: how fucking phenomenal is this soundtrack? James Newton Howard, you are a genius.
Billy Elliot: Any movie that opens with T-Rex's "Bang a Gong" has already engendered a lot of goodwill with me, so it's probably not surprise that I think this is a wonderful, wonderful film (I'm dying to see the musical--do you happen to have $385 that you're not using at the moment? $770, actually, since Carrie will no doubt feel left out). I can't help but feel that Jamie Bell's career has been a massive letdown since this came out (though this could still be lingering bitterness from Jumper--Jesus Christ, what a fucking disaster that was). Also, what the hell happened to the actor that played Billy's dad (Gary Lewis)? He was terrific here?
Best in Show: earns its place here just on the Fred Willard parts: "Excuse me if this off the subject a little bit, but just take a guess at how much I can bench press. Come on, what do you think? Take a guess. 315 pounds, at the top of my game, maxing out at 500!"; "Now tell me, which one of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?"; "If you put them in a race, who would come in first? You know if you had a little jockey on them, going like this..."; "And to think that in some countries these dogs are eaten." And that doesn't include his bits about dressing a dog up like Sherlock Holmes...or the one about whether foreign dogs bark with an accent. Not that the rest isn't pure gold either (I'm especially fond of the running gag with Catherine O'Hara's character, where it's apparent that she's slept with virtually every able-bodied man on the Eastern seaboard).
Requiem for a Dream: just a devastating film experience. Devastating. If you're not slowly rocking yourself back and forth in a near-catatonic state for the thirty minutes immediately following your first viewing of this film, I humbly suggest that you weren't watching it properly (perhaps it was on tape?). Unrelentingly bleak and unbelievably good. If you've seen it: of the four, which storyline do you feel is the saddest? (If you haven't, I'll end up answering it myself.)
Initially, I also had: Almost Famous, Traffic, and Gladiator here, but, aside from placing me in the embarrassing situation of using two 5+ exemptions in a row, I also came to the realization that, as great as those three movies are (ok, maybe 2.5 with Traffic), they're not quite on the same level as the five above.
Movie from 2000 that I really should've seen by now: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Mark: Crouching Tiger is awesome. I really wanted to find a place for it on my list, but just couldn't pull the trigger....Saddest story in Requiem, eh? Tough call. I'd go with Marlon Wayans, just because it had the added real-life tragedy of proving that Marlon Wayans could actually act, and then relegating him to Scary Movie bullshit for the rest of his career....I love that we both cited the Willard bench-press line AND a geography-related way of describing Catherine O'Hara's character's sluttiness. Great mind think alike....Never seen Billy Elliot due to these things between my legs called testicles. (And this is coming from a guy who picked The Dresser as the best movie of 1983)....Huh, neither of us picked Almost Famous OR Traffic. Surprising.
Kyle: hmmm...I feel like when I asked that RFAD question, I actually had an answer in mind, but now I honestly can't remember. Hold on. OK, I'd say that it pretty much has to be Ellen Burstyn, since she's too far gone at the end for the viewer to hold out any semblance of hope for her making a recovery (brilliantly conveyed by her two friends positively bawling on the bench in front of the mental institution). That said, you could make a pretty convincing case for Jennifer Connelly. The way she cradles that bag of heroin (is that what the kids are calling it these days? Surely not. I must confess--despite my repeated viewings of The Shield--I'm not all that up on my drug slang.) suggests that she will continue to things as depraved (if not more, if such a thing is imaginable) as the horrifying ass-to-ass sequence, so long as she gets her fix. Her obliviousness (or, perhaps more acurately: her singular focus) is chilling.
2001: In The Bedroom: This may surprise you, but I think this is one of the finest movies of the entire decade, and, almost assuredly, the most underrated flick of the past ten years. I defy you to find a film where the five main performances--Tom Wilkinson (officially my favorite actor at this stage, hammy performance in Batman Begins aside), Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl (unfairly maligned for his work in Terminator 3), Marisa Tomei, and William Mapother (Ethan!)--are stronger than the work presented here.
What I really like about the film (SPOILER WARNING--skip this paragraph if you haven't seen the film), and what keeps me coming back to it year after year, is that it's a relatively simple movie that absolutely nails all the minor details (Spacek slapping Tomei being the one glaring exception, but I'm willing to forgive it). Note how Todd Fields wisely omits the scene where Wilkinson has to tell his wife that they're son has been murdered by his (the son's) girlfriend's psychotic ex-husband (the movie goes right from him about to tell her to the post-funeral gathering). Why? Because it's a deeply private moment, and having us watch it would be unseamly. Note how Wilkinson doesn't scream at the heavens as a result of this, but rather (far more believably) simply becomes dead inside. Everything that once brought him pleasure has become tainted in an instant. Note Wilkinson and Spacek's mounting rage (in tandem with a growing sense of helplessness) as they realize their son's murderer may get off on a technicality. Note how Wilkinson, as his plot unfolds, drives around at night, listening to the midnight re-air of the Red Sox game on the radio. It's all so beautifully executed.
I'll readily admit that this is a quiet film, but it's also a wonderful one. How Wilkinson didn't snag a Best Actor statue here (Denzel won for his ridiculously over the top turn in the thoroughly mediocre Training Day) continues to mystify me.
Mark: Outstanding pick. You're right about Wilkinson getting jobbed out of the Oscar. I think Denzel was maybe the fourth or fifth best performance that year, but was 'owed' one. Dammit Academy, wouldn't it be easier to just get it right the first time?
The Royal Tenenbaums: This would win most other years (1998 and 2003, certainly), and is notable for being Wes Anderson's last really good movie (though I haven't seen The Darjeeling Limited, my sense is my opinion wouldn't differ if I had). What I enjoyed here was the interplay between the funny (everything with Bill Murray; everything with Pagoda; Gene Hackman and Danny Glover interacting; Ben Stiller training his kids in case of emergency; Owen Wilson's peyote addiction; Richie's meltdown during the U.S. Open) and the serious (Richie's suicide attempt--which comes out of nowhere and is seriously gut-wrenching; the profoundly sad Margot Tenenbaum; the fact, all jokes aside, Royal has wasted his life away). In fairness, in the lesser hands, this movie would be an absolute mess, but Anderson makes it work.
A special shout-out to the scene where Stiller's Chas moves back home and sleeps in the same room as his kids. If memory serves, his sons sleep in a single bed, and he--ever the protective parent--sleeps on the floor next to them. But, just as they're about to fall asleep, one of his kids crawls out of bed and curls up next to his dad on the floor. It's all done in one overhead shot...and I continue to find that moment deeply moving.
Ocean's Eleven: a terrific film that never fails to reel me in when it's on Bravo at 3 in the morning. Shame they pissed that goodwill away with an atrocious sequel, and an only okay third outing.
Mulholland Drive: my favorite David Lynch film...by a wide margin. Agreed, it makes no sense. Agreed, it's too weird by half. Agreed, you shouldn't have to consult outside sources to understand a movie (see here), but goddamn if this movie doesn't have a fever dream quality to it that makes it compulsively watchable. Oh, and Naomi Watts gives the single best performance by an actress I've ever seen. (If you think I'm pissed about Denzel beating out Wilkinson for ITB, you should see me whenever I'm reminded that Halle Berry's intensively uncomfortable turn in Monster's Ball beat out Watts. I'm sure it raises my blood pressure 30 points on the spot. Even writing about it here is making me agitated. DAMMIT.)
Moulin Rouge: Before I went to see this, I was warned by several different people that this film was flat-out strange...but, being a snobby cinephile, I brushed off this criticism, only to be so alarmed by the first fifteen minutes that I contemplated leaving the theatre. Of course, I ended up staying, and I'm glad I did, since this is actually a fantastic film.
Donnie Darko: Wow...I'd put these five films up against any other year's top five. DD is, admittedly, not for everyone (and, by all accounts, is one of those rare movies that is actually worse if you watch the Director's Cut), but I really dig it. Time travel, ominous tone throughout, plus a kick-ass 80s soundtrack? I retract my earlier statement: what's not to like here? This movie should have a wider following.
Movie from 2001 that I really should've seen by now: Waking Life, though I often lie and say that I have.
Mark: You're not the first one to have that complaint about the opening of Moulin Rouge. I think that was Luhrmann's way of saying, "Ok, fuck it, let's just throw people into the deep end and see if they can swim or not." There's definitely an adjustment period....I actually went out and rented Mulholland Drive a few weeks ago in preparation for your list, since I'd never seen and knew you'd give it a high ranking. Honestly, up though the love scene, it's terrific, but it doesn't just go off the rails, it salts the earth so no other rails can grow behind it afterwards. You can definitely tell the point where Lynch was realized he had to tack on an ending since the film wasn't going to be picked up as a TV series (his original intent). And boy, Watts gives the best performance EVER? That's a big statement to make....You're not missing much with Waking Life. I'm not sure if anyone has ever actually seen it. You don't really need to, frankly...."Did you just call me Coltrane?" "No. (beat) But if I did...."
Kyle: lol...love the Tenenbaums exchange. As for Mulholland Drive, I never said it was perfect (in fact, I went out of my way to highlight how perfect it isn't), but it hooks me every time. And as for the Naomi Watts thing...well, I mean, give me a better example. My rationale (and here's where I'm going to look like a total idiot): I haven't been especially blown away by many female performances in my years of watching movies. For instance, pretty much any performance by an actress prior to, say, 1965 is pretty much dead to me. I mean, I respect Katherine Hepburn and all, but performances from that era are, on the whole, way too (for want of a better term) affected for me to take totally seriously. And a lot of the stuff that people fall all over themselves lavish praise upon (Berry in Monster's Ball, Angelina in Changeling, Bening in American Beauty) have been way too over-the-top. So, aside from Watts in MD, I can only think of a handful of performances where I left the theatre thinking "goddamn, that was excellent": Sissy Spacek in In The Bedroom, Kate Winslet in Little Children, Naomi Watts in King Kong, Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, Anne Bancroft in The Graduate, Laura Linney in You Can Count On Me, and Kim Novak in Vertigo. That's it. That's the list.
2002: 28 Days Later: it's neck-and-neck between this and The Bourne Identity for my pick for 2002, but 28DL gets it by virtue of the last twenty minutes, where Jim (Cillian Murphy) goes on a jaw-dropping rampage as the music swells. Probably one of my five favorite film sequences ever. Not sure why, but many people merely like (as opposed to love) this film, going so far as to say that the sequel--the, in my opinion, absolutely atrocious 28 Weeks Later--is basically on par with it. I continue to find this rather strange, as I feel like 28 Days Later is modern horror classic, and remains, for me, Danny Boyle's best film. Cue controversy.
Mark: Count me in the 'like' category and I haven't even seen the sequel. Maybe it's time for a second viewing, preferably in my apartment with the lights out.
The Bourne Identity: ...though this movie is seriously awesome, too. As much as I liked #3, this is still the best in the series. My two favorite things about the movie: (1) on the DVD's audio commentary, director Doug Liman pointed out that, when a regular person is placed in a stressful situation, their immediate reaction is to panic, so he thought it would be cool that, when something stressful happened to Jason Bourne, he would calm right down and think his way out of problems. The best example of this is Bourne pulling the map of the Swiss bank off the wall while trying to escape, and then stealing the downed security guard's walkie-talkie so he can listen in on the people trying to track him down. Little things, sure, but they really make the movie for me. (2) this monologue: "I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?" Awesome. Road to Perdition: as far as I'm concerned, this is better than American Beauty, yet there appears to be a tacit agreement among moviegoers to pretend as if this film never existed. This is a beautifully shot movie, with strong performances across the board (with Newman and Hanks both, impressively, playing against type), a gut-punch of an ending, and a final line ("he was my father") that is strangely haunting. Are you a fan, Mark? Please restore my faith in humanity. Chicago: I so wanted to despise this movie, but it won me over (except for Richard Gere's song, which is hide-your-eyes-cover-your-ears terrible). I'm rather curious to see if this was a one-time thing for director Rob Marshall--I don't recall anyone being blown away by Memoirs of a Geisha--or if he can recapture the magic with Nine, the trailer for which is pretty damn intriguing.
The Two Towers: what is probably everyone's least favorite of the trilogy is actually my favorite, mostly because the Helm's Deep battle--which, I swear, takes up two-thirds of the movie...is it possible TTT is a one-act movie?--is so totally kickass. I liked the thing with the trees, too.
Spellbound: the best documentary ever made about the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee. What's that? It's the only one? Oh. What I like about Spellbound is that it provides you with kids to root for (Nupur and April) and kids to root against (Neil, who, through no fault of his own, has a major competitive advantage thanks to his rich parents' uncomfortable fixation with the Bee and Harry, who's just fucking weird). See also: Nation, Kid. What I'm still desperate to know is how many kids the producers followed initially in order to be reasonably confident that they'd have the winner (which they ultimately did). 15 kids? 30? 50? Is there a nine-hour Blu-Ray version just waiting to be foisted on an unsuspecting public? I'm in!
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: Sam Rockwell is brilliant here (see, in particular, when he sinks deeply into a paranoid state and asks, while on live TV, to be killed by a unseen--and non-existent--sniper; also: the scene with Clooney by the pool). If Leatherheads wasn't such a big bag of shit, Clooney (by virtue of this and Good Night and Good Luck) would be right in the thick of the "first three" conversation.
Movie from 2002 that I really should've seen by now: City of God
Mark: Great call on Spellbound and Chicago, they were both tough cuts from my list. If you believe the Spellbound producers, they only followed the kids that are highlighted in the film and 'just happened' to come upon the winner. Surrrrrre....Road to Perdition gets a thumbs-up from me. What was up with all the 'Tom Hanks is playing a villain!' hype that preceded the movie? His character isn't a villain at all....Just realized that none of the LOTR films made any of my 2001-03 lists. Huh. Should I have just picked one as the representative of the whole trilogy, like the Academy did? You're right about Two Towers being underrated. It's also the installment where Gollum shows up, to boot.
Kyle: can't believe I forgot Gollum. Inexcusable. Serkis was flat-out robbed in '02...and '03. That Spellbound factoid has to be bullshit...but then, why lie about it? Thinking about it, the movie would work equally well if the best showing from one of the featured kids was, say, sixth.
2003: (weak year!) Love Actually:in the interests of full disclosure, I actually didn't see this until 2006, when I was living in Korea. My bad. It's one of my life's missions to make this the go-to Christmas Day movie in all households, instead of the manipulative and very much played out (the latter of which isn't really its fault, since it's 65 years old) It's A Wonderful Life. You with me? Favorite scene: guy with cue cards who is in love with Keira Knightley. Saddest: Laura Linney. Underplayed story: that Liam Neeson's advice to his son throughout the movie is uniformly awful (and before you say anything at all: too soon, Mark).
Mark: "Son, just remember, when you get older, never take your wife on a ski vacat...", oh wait, your pre-emptive 'too soon' cut it off. For shame!....It's too bad that the very sad Linney story has been made unintentionally funny due to the fact that her beloved is Rodrigo 'Paulo on LOST' Santoro. Nothing like an actor becoming a running joke on a hit show to make his past roles as a dashing lover seem comical in hindsight. I kept waiting for Linney to have one of those paralyzer spiders bite her brother to keep him quiet for a few hours while she and Paulo could get it on.
Kyle: hey, it was Paulo! How the hell did I miss that? And since I may or may not include The Squid in the Whale in part four (thus making this my last chance to touch upon this) how phenomenal is Laura Linney? She rocks.
Capturing the Friedmans: great/totally uncomfortable documentary about whether or not a tutor and his son sexually abused their pupils. Also a source of never-ending amusement among my friends, since I went to see this movie at Rainbow Cinema with my former boss, John Hatch (quite possibly the nicest person on the planet) on a weekday afternoon...and we were the only two people in the theatre. Good times!
Oldboy: going Korean on your ass, Mark! Have you seen this? I don't think you have, so I'm hesitant to say anything about it, beyond it being, not only among the best revenge films ever (Kill Bill: Vol. 1 seems tame in comparison), but maybe the only example (and thus, by default, the best) double revenge in cinema history. Before I drown in hyperbole, let's quickly move on...
Return of the King: Really, my only complaint is that this one ended too abruptly.
Shattered Glass: for like the ninth time in this post, let me say: underrated flick. For the uninitiated, this is about late-90s New Republic fabulist Stephen Glass (played quite well--much to my amazement--by Hayden Christiansen). Of note is Peter Saarsgaard's excellent work here. My only issue is that the script is too deliberate in conveying that Glass is making this shit up. I mean, I get that we, as viewers, would already know that he's a liar, but his stories are so outrageous that, even within the first fifteen minutes of the film, it quickly becomes implausible that anyone he worked with wouldn't see him for the fraud that he was.
Movie from 2003 that I really should've seen by now: Dogville
Mark: I haven't seen any of these save ROTK, so my comments will be kept to a minimum. Apparently they're doing an Oldboy remake with Will Smith as the lead. Your thoughts?
Kyle: Clearly, I'm horrified that they're remaking Oldboy, for the same reason I'm horrified they remake any good movie (foreign or otherwise): there's zero upside. Like, why bother at all? And the trend towards remaking good foreign films (Open Your Eyes, Timecrimes, Oldboy) is no better than the older trend of remaking shitty domestic films. Really, it smacks of parochialism. How about instead of making an English version of Oldboy, you guys actually let the original version play in North American cinemas. I know, I know...totally insane.Anyway, two quick points: (1) I really do like Will Smith, so part of me is intrigued; and (2) apparently the American version will be based on the graphic novel (which, prior to yesterday, I didn't even know existed), so it'll be slightly different than the original (aside from the whole not being in Korean thing...) which deviated somewhat from the book.
Up next...part five (2004-2008), followed by a PTI-style discussion on the whole series (reader questions welcomed!)