Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The CFL Oscars

It's been a very Academy Award-heavy month here on the ol' blog, so what better way to conclude February by looking at how the Oscars relate to the Canadian Football League.  Boy, is this comparison overdue!  Just look at the nine films nominated this year for Best Picture….

1. Argo = The Argos, duh

2. Life Of Pi = The Ti-Cats, duh

3. Beasts of the Southern Wild = The Stampeders, since those beasts did a lot of stampeding.  Also, if there's any city in Canada that believes it is/wishes it was located in the southern USA, it's Calgary.

4. Silver Linings Playbook = The Eskimos, as both concern themselves with people way too obsessed over a green-clad football team.

5. Lincoln = The Lions, because you can't spell "Lincoln" without "Lion."  And because Daniel Day-Lewis would be perfect for the lead in a Lui Passaglia biopic.  Man, I'm running out of steam on these.

6. Django Unchained = The Roughriders because…uh…they were on horseback….and I'm sure it was a rough ride through that southern terrain.  Yep, definitely running out of steam.  How about the fact that Christoph Waltz was once on an episode of Corner Gas?*

7. Zero Dark Thirty = The Blue Bombers, because a) warfare! b) watching the Blue Bombers is often akin to torture.  You know, Kyle Chandler was in ZDT, couldn't we get a bonus season of Friday Night Lights where Coach Taylor gets a job running the Blue Bombers and moves to Winnipeg?

8. Amour = The Alouettes, both because of the francophone connection and because Emmanuelle Riva is the same age as Anthony Calvillo.

9. Les Miserables = The upcoming expansion team in Ottawa.  The old Rough Riders wore red and black uniforms and there's literally a song called "Red and Black" in Les Mis.  Plus, let's be honest, the last 35 years has been pretty miserable if you're an Ottawa CFL fan.

* = this isn't true, but it'd be a lot cooler if it was.  #Wooderson

Monday, February 25, 2013

The 2012 Markademy Awards

Since greatness is an ongoing process,* the Markademy Awards have undergone a bit of a format change.  This year, the MAs are coming after the actual Oscars.  My logic is that the Academy Awards were basically just a guideline since, y'know, I can give my opinion on the year in movies at virtually any time.  No reason to be a tool of the system, MAN.  Plus, my 'should wins' and 'will wins' always fell a little flat since everyone usually knows what'll win each Oscar category anyway and the 'should wins' ended up being the bulk of it, since it's an opinion-based piece.  So, all opinion, all the time.  If you weren't tired enough of my BS, this may be a long read.

* = maybe the most pretentious sentence I've ever written.  Greatness may be ongoing but snobbery just sits there like a lump.

There is at least one instance where I openly discuss a film's plot here, by the way, so be warned in advance about spoilers.  For instance, at the end of Zero Dark Thirty….they get Bin Laden!  U-S-A!  U-S-A!

Oscar nominees: Jessica Chastain/Zero Dark Thirty, Jennifer Lawrence/Silver Linings Playbook, Emmanuelle Riva/Amour, Quvenzhane Wallis/Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Naomi Watts/The Impossible
Oscar winner: Lawrence
Should've won: Lawrence

Alterna-ballot: Amy Acker/Much Ado About Nothing, Emayatzy Corinealdi/Middle Of Nowhere, Marion Cotillard/Rust & Bone, Maggie Smith/Quartet, Mary Elizabeth Winstead/Smashed
My ballot: Acker, Corinealdi, Cotillard, Lawrence, Winstead
My winner: Marion Cotillard

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am totally in the tank for Marion Cotillard.  She is my favourite actress and her presence alone will get me into a movie theatre.  Even if I hear her next role is as Adam Sandler's wife, I will hold my nose and buy a ticket.*  It's therefore no surprise that she's getting the Markademy Award this year but she more than deserves it and it's stunning that Cotillard got snubbed by the Oscars.  What the hell beat her out?  A nine-year-old?  Chastain's warmed-over Carrie Mathison?  Watts doing this for two hours?  Come on! 

* = I shouldn't even joke about that horrifying scenario.  It would be too painful.  

Cotillard will take Watts' physical trauma and raise it by the order of two prosthetic legs.  It's a wonderful performance that doesn't pander either way --- Stephanie doesn't wallow in her disability nor does she fully embrace it, it's just her reality now and that's that.  It's possibly Cotillard's best performance yet and yes, I still somehow haven't seen La Vie En Rose yet which seems impossible but still, surely it has to be in the ballpark, right?

As for Jennifer Lawrence, she was possibly on the fringe of a nomination anyway as Katniss Everdeen and she certainly deserved her Oscar, even with the underwhelming field of nominees.  She is also apparently a one-woman meme generator given how all of her most memorable moments of Oscar Night happened after the show.  I presume this is her way of trying to make people forget her trip up the stairs, and I'm sorry, but it's her own fault for not wearing the flaming dress from Hunger Games.

Oscar nominees: Bradley Cooper/Silver Linings Playbook, Daniel Day-Lewis/Lincoln, Hugh Jackman/Les Miserables, Joaquin Phoenix/The Master, Denzel Washington/Flight
Oscar winner: Day-Lewis
Should've won: Day-Lewis, I guess

Alterna-ballot: Jack Black/Bernie, John Hawkes/The Sessions, Philip Seymour Hoffman/The Master, Denis Levant/Holy Motors, Adam Scott/Friends With Kids
My ballot: Black, Cooper, Day-Lewis, Hawkes, Washington
My winner: Jack Black

Let's be honest, "DDL playing Abraham Lincoln" is the biggest Oscar nomination slam dunk of all time.  I don't think he was unstoppable since while he was good, Day-Lewis' performance was (like the movie itself) a bit rote.  He didn't exactly go out on a limb in playing Lincoln as a thoroughly decent sage of a man, accurate as it may have been.  That said, DDL only would've lost had he been up against something truly extraordinary or (when he lost to Adrien Brody in 2002) something with unbeatable momentum.  Denzel was excellent but gave "a Denzel Washington performance."  Jackman was excellent but given his theatre chops, Valjean wasn't a big reach.  I don't think half the people knew what to make of what Phoenix was doing, myself included.  Cooper hit a new career high and I was tempted to make him my pick just because I didn't think he had it in him, but I dunno, at the end of the day, I can't really say that 100% Cooper tops 75-80% Day-Lewis.

Of course, I'm a hypocrite since my Markademy Award winner is in fact an actor I'm awarding in large part because he really branched out.  Jack Black, as the title character in "Bernie," is technically a ball of charisma akin to Black himself but in a completely different way, and really ends up being trapped by his charisma in the end.  This isn't one of the movies I'll spoil since a) it's a great little treat of a movie and b) I'm not sure how I'd be able to accurately describe it anyway.  I think all I can say about the film is that it intrigued me so much that I'm giving Jack Black an acting award over Daniel Day-Lewis and not even thinking twice about it.  Also, in my fantasy version of the Oscars, Victor Garber wins a Best Actor Oscar for playing Ken Taylor in a factually-accurate version of Argo.

Oscar nominees: Amy Adams/The Master, Sally Field/Lincoln, Anne Hathaway/Les Miserables, Helen Hunt/The Sessions, Jacki Weaver/Silver Linings Playbook
Oscar winner: Hathaway
Should've won: Hathaway

Alterna-ballot: Samantha Barks/Les Miserables, Pauline Collins/Quartet, Olivia Colman/Hyde Park On Hudson, Anne Hathaway/The Dark Knight Rises, Lorraine Toussaint/Middle Of Nowhere
My ballot: Adams, Collins, Field, Hathaway, Toussaint
My winner: Anne Hathaway

I'm about to use the word "admittedly" a lot in this paragraph.  I'm giving Hathaway the win, but admittedly I'm factoring her role as Selina Kyle into the equation, so it's kind of a combo deal.  (She deservingly won the Oscar, especially since Weaver had no business being nominated and Hunt was really a lead and shouldn't have been there anyway.)  Also, one of the interesting subplots of the Oscar season was the Hathaway backlash.  She was seen as a major front-runner for the award basically since the moment Les Miserables' first trailer was released and with each subsequent leadup win, Hathaway basically became more insufferable with each passing speech.  Admittedly, she comes off as a giant phony, but maybe it's not her fault.  Maybe she is genuinely gracious but since she was formed in a lab to be the ultimate theatre kid, she can't turn it off.  By the way, this is now two members of the Princess Diaries cast who own Oscars, so your move, Heather Matarazzo.

Oscar nominees: Alan Arkin/Argo, Robert De Niro/Silver Linings Playbook, Philip Seymour Hoffman/The Master, Tommy Lee Jones/Lincoln, Christoph Waltz/Django Unchained
Oscar winner: Waltz
Should've won: Hoffman

Alterna-ballot: Samuel L. Jackson/Django Unchained, Ezra Miller/The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Eddie Redmayne/Les Miserables, Sam Rockwell/Seven Psychopaths, Christopher Walken/A Late Quartet or Seven Psychopaths
My ballot: De Niro, Jackson, Redmayne, Rockwell, Walken
My winner: Samuel L. Jackson

I explored this deep, hard-to-read category in depth the other day, so my focus here is on what I felt was the best supporting performance of the year in any movie, namely Sam Jackson's stunning work in Django Unchained.

I often go into 'radio silence' about movies I want to watch since I like to be as unspoiled as possible going into them, but that's just related to plot.  Obviously one can't avoid casting notes and indeed, knowing a certain actor is in a film often just makes me eager to see it.  So I'm already on board 100 percent with any new Tarantino movie but knowing that Foxx, Waltz, DiCaprio, etc. were all involved just was icing on the cake.  The one exception was Samuel L. Jackson, since I actually even know that Jackson was in Django until maybe a week before I saw the film.  I'd heard for months about how DiCaprio's role might claim him an Oscar (a la Waltz in Inglourious Basterds) and while I noted in my earlier post that he might've missed a nomination due to not quite meeting sky-high expectations, the other possibility is that DiCaprio's highly-touted Calvin Candie wasn't even the major villain of the piece.

That would be Stephen, Candie's house slave, and man, everything about this character is ballsy.  Critics who write off Django Unchained as a simple revenge story may been right had it just been about Django cutting a swath through plantation owners but the addition of a character like Stephen really adds another layer to the proceedings.  Stephen is outright scary on every level --- from his behaviour in public, to how he behaves with Candie in private during that amazing scene in the library to how he treats the kitchen staff to his monologue when he had Django captured.  Candie is summarily dispatched but it's Stephen who remains as the real Big Bad. Jackson absolutely steals the entire movie and I'm amazed that even now that Django Unchained has been released for a couple of months, Jackson's part still seems underrated.  I daresay Waltz could've played King Schultz in his sleep and DiCaprio brings some scariness himself, but Jackson had a 10.0 degree of difficulty with his part and absolutely stuck the landing.  (Am I using this analogy due to Jackson's Olympics tweets?  Yes.)  I would've infinitely preferred seeing Jackson getting an award on Oscar night rather than just participating in a hella-lame skit with the comically short Avengers cast.  Seriously, is Mark Ruffalo even five feet tall?

Oscar nominees: Michael Haneke/Amour, Ang Lee/Life Of Pi, David O. Russell/Silver Linings Playbook, Steven Spielberg/Lincoln, Benh Zeitlin/Beasts Of The Southern Wild
Oscar winner: Lee
Should've won: Lee

Alterna-ballot: Ben Affleck/Argo, Wes Anderson/Moonrise Kingdom, Kathryn Bigelow/Zero Dark Thirty, Tom Hooper/Les Miserables, Quentin Tarantino/Django Unchained
My ballot: Affleck, Anderson, Hooper, Lee, Tarantino
My winner: Ang Lee

Well, this was cool.  Ang Lee is now a two-time Oscar winner, thoroughly deservedly so.  What's even more interesting is that he is also a one-man exception to the "Best Director also wins Best Picture" rule, since none of his films have yet to take home the big prize.  While I liked Life Of Pi more than Argo, at least Lee can take solace in the fact that this time he lost to a worthy movie, as opposed to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon losing to a mediocre period action movie (Gladiator) or Brokeback Mountain losing to a high school sociology paper (Crash).  I even liked Crash more than most but freely admit that Oscar result was bullcrap.

Lee's victory also caps off one of the most fascinating Best Director races in decades.  Usually this category is pretty predictable but the twin snubs of Affleck and Bigelow really threw things out of whack, leading to an Oscar night when you had four legit contenders to win (Zeitlin would've been the only real shocker of the nominees).  It's also fair to wonder if Affleck's snub was what led to Argo's victory, since the film's awards momentum seemed to have stalled before it suddenly became an underdog.  I don't mind since, in the grand scheme of things, Ang Lee deserves a directing Oscar more than Ben Affleck.

I'd also like to toss out honourable mentions to P.T. Anderson for directing The Master and Joe Wright for directing Anna Karenina despite the fact that I didn't really care for either movie.  While both movies were flawed, I couldn't help but admire the thoroughly unique direction of each.  I would've been weirdly okay with either getting nominated despite my problems with their films, though only Anderson had even a hope of getting an Oscar nod.

Oscar nominees: Amour, Argo, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life Of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
Oscar winner: Argo
Should've won: Life Of Pi
My winner: Life Of Pi

I guess the "alterna-ballot" and "my ballot" can both be summarized in my top 30 list.  Since Academy members have the option of not filling out a full ten slots for Best Picture, I'll single out my best of the year (minimum of five) and then get to the rest as honourable mentions.  My five are the ones I felt were just a cut above the others:

1. Life Of Pi
2. Les Miserables

3. Moonrise Kingdom
4. Cloud Atlas
5. Django Unchained

Life Of Pi is a seemingly impossible-to-film movie that comes off as elegant and simple on the screen.  I haven't read the original novel and knew basically nothing of the story aside from the "guy and a tiger on a lifeboat" concept, so I presumed the ending would be them being saved by paddling to a Krusty Burger on an offshore oil rig.  If you can believe it, the actual ending was better.  It's a beautiful, moving film that I suspect will stand the test of time more than Argo or most other movies from 2012.  Life Of Pi is also another testament to how 3-D is a powerful filmmaking tool when it's in the right hands.  When 3-D is being added to shitty action movies, it's just a way to double your ticket price.  When it's used by masters like Lee or Martin Scorsese to enhance movies like Life Of Pi or Hugo, 3-D is enthralling.

As for the others…..Wes Anderson is hit-or-miss with me but Moonrise Kingdom makes me think that he's slowly building to one absolute masterpiece that sums up his style, sort of like how Woody Allen usually makes the same movie but "Annie Hall" is the peak of his powers…..Already talked about Cloud Atlas at length……I had Les Mis pegged as the Oscar titan of the year after seeing the trailer but while it underwhelmed many, it also seemed like a lot of folks were turned off simply because it's a musical, which is stupid.  Anyway, I non-ironically loved it.  It was really creatively filmed, you can't go wrong with those songs, and the performances were tremendous except for Russell Crowe, who at least gave it a go…..While I really enjoyed Django, I admittedly put it in the lower half of the Tarantino canon.  Can't help but think it could've been easily 20 minutes shorter, which I attribute to it being QT's first movie that wasn't edited by the late Sally Menke.

6. The Dark Knight Rises
7. Much Ado About Nothing
8. The Avengers
9. Argo
10. Skyfall
11. Rust & Bone
12. The Cabin In The Woods
13. 21 Jump Street
14. The Silver Linings Playbook
15. Your Sister's Sister
16. Wreck-It Ralph
17. Zero Dark Thirty
18. Brave
19. Chronicle
20. The Raid: Redemption
21. Bernie
22. Looper
23. A Late Quartet
24. Middle Of Nowhere
25. Holy Motors
26. Wanderlust
27. End Of Watch
28. The Perks of Being A Wallflower
29. Quartet
30. Damsels in Distress

My buddy Kyle actually went out of his way to ask if I was bringing this feature back for the Markademy Awards.  Holy crap, a request!  And heck, a reader!  Since I can hardly let my vast audience down, here are my favourite single scenes or sequences from 2012.  What's great about these little drops of greatness is that they can come from any movie, be it good or crappy.

33. Oscar picks up his daughter from a party (Holy Motors)
32. Jon Hamm loses it at dinner (Friends With Kids)
31. Entering the temple (Prometheus)
30. Pi gets the supplies off the boat (Life Of Pi)
29. Pat Sr. apologizes to his son (Silver Linings Playbook)
28. The ending (Safety Not Guaranteed)
27. Bernie's testimony (Bernie)
26. The ending (Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World)
25. The kids unveil their plan to get away (Moonrise Kingdom)
24. Beatrice and Benedick overhear that each allegedly loves the other (Much Ado About Nothing)
23. Django gets his revenge (Django Unchained)
22. Bond fights an assassin in a Hong Kong skyscraper (Skyfall)
21. The office party (Cabin In The Woods)….
several scenes could've been mentioned here from this awesome, awesome movie but the less people know about it, the better for when they actually see it.
20. Ali takes Stephanie swimming (Rust & Bone)
19. The trash talk leading up to the bar fight, then the fight (Jack Reacher)
18. The final battle sequence (Chronicle)
17. The final escape (Argo)
16. The raid on the compound (Zero Dark Thirty)
15. Old Paul Dano is affected by the maiming of Young Paul Dano (Looper)
14. Silva's introductory monologue (Skyfall)
13. Lou's reactions after Margot tells him the truth (Take This Waltz)
12. "Elmo" vs. "Cookie Monster" (The Five-Year Engagement)
11. Sylvester Stallone runs (The Expendables Part 2)….
unintentional comedy highlight of the year, without question
10. Ralph and Penelope build their race car (Wreck-It-Ralph)

9. I Dreamed A Dream (Les Miserables)
8. Alfred reveals Rachel's secret and pleads with Bruce (The Dark Knight Rises)
7. The scene in the library between Calvin and Stephen (Django Unchained)
6. Loki vs. the Hulk (Avengers)
5. Christopher Walken talks to his music class about performing for his idol (A Late Quartet)
4. One Day More (Les Miserables)
3. Mad Dog vs. the brothers (The Raid: Redemption)….
there are at least two other epic fight sequences in this movie but this is the climax
2. Paul Rudd pumping himself up in the mirror (Wanderlust)
1. The first "processing" scene (The Master)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Evolution Of Mom Dancing

I think I gave "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" two episodes before remembering I'm not a big Jimmy Fallon fan.  That said, the man will eventually rule the world someday since he can apparently has the ability to talk ANYONE into doing ANYTHING on his show.

Also, I'm just throwing it out there....Hillary/Michelle 2016. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Best Supporting Actors

Let's talk about this Supporting Actor Oscar field, which is one of the more intriguing Oscar races in recent memory simply because I don't care much about it.  Contradictory?  Well, yes, and especially so since I'm about to write a lengthy blog post about it.  The nominees are…

* Alan Arkin, Argo
* Robert De Niro, The Silver Linings Playbook
* Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
* Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
* Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

For the first time in Oscar history, all five nominees in an acting category are former winners.  I'll confess, as much as I play the "vote only for the best performance" card, if all things are equal, I'll lean towards a person who has been nominated a bunch of times but never won.  This isn't necessarily an incorrect way of thinking, as one could rightly point out that voting between very different and usually mostly excellent performances is apples and oranges anyway, so you might as well spread the Oscar wealth.  Double stars, everybody wins!

As such, since everyone here has an Academy Award already, this supporting actor race lacks a bit of horse-race pizazz.  You can't really even argue that any of these five "should have" more than one Oscar, or two in De Niro's case --- even with De Niro, he's previously won for Raging Bull and Godfather Part II, and probably his best non-winning performance was in Taxi Driver (but he lost to a worthy winner in Peter Finch).

The other reason I'm a bit cold on this race is because while all of the nominated performances were good, I'm not sure any were particularly 'great.'  As others have pointed out, all five actors have played variations on these same performances in the past, with Arkin and maybe Jones even essentially "playing themselves."  If I had a vote, I'd vote for Hoffman, even though his role in The Master is definitely a co-lead and not a real "supporting" performance.  On my Markademy Awards ballot (coming between now and Oscar night!), I actually have Hoffman on my short list for Best Actor.  I try to avoid category-confusing cases like this but perhaps it's fitting for this year's unusual slate of nominees.

It is anyone's guess as to who will actually win, by the way.  This is one of the harder races to predict in recent years, perhaps because it lacks that compelling "horse race" storyline.  I'll break down the pros and cons for each man.

* Arkin…fourth nomination (two Best Actor, two Supporting Actor)
The weakest of the five performances, and something of a surprise nominee who got in since really, who doesn't love Alan Arkin?  I think he's the only one of the five who victory on Oscar Night would be a legit surprise, though with the way that Argo seems to have all the momentum and is headed towards a Best Picture win, maybe Arkin would get carried along in its wake.  Arkin won Supporting Actor just six years ago for Little Miss Sunshine, sort of a career achievement Oscar that came in part because favourite Eddie Murphy's chances were ruined because a) he's kind of a jerk and b) because after seeing a flood of commercials for Norbit during the voting period, Academy members weren't keen to give that lousy movie's star an Oscar.  From a historical perspective, Arkin wouldn't be out of place at all in the Two Oscar Club, but it seems too soon since his last victory.

* De Niro….seventh nomination (five Best Actor, two Supporting Actor)
Speaking of clubs, the "Three Oscar Club" had four members for years before Meryl Streep finally won her third last year.  It's unlikely, but the 3OC could increase by as many as three new members this year, as De Niro, Sally Field and one of Daniel Day-Lewis or Denzel Washington could win their third Academy Award.  Field is going to lose to Anne Hathaway, Day-Lewis is the big favourite to win Best Actor and De Niro's chances are up in the air.  As per a Harvey Weinstein Oscar campaign, the Silver Linings stars have been all over the place promoting the movie and getting their faces out there, and the fact that a usually-quiet actor like De Niro is making the rounds could be perceived as indicative of how much he wants it.  Obviously few actors are as respected as Bobby D and certainly has the "Three Oscar Club" credentials, plus this role was a real return to form for him after about 15 years of crappy movies.  That said, those 15 years of crap may work against him as well, but the Academy liked his movie, it obviously likes him, and at this juncture De Niro might be a favourite.

* Hoffman….fourth nomination (one Best Actor, three Supporting Actor)
As noted, he'd be my choice, but the Academy did not care for The Master overall despite giving it three high-profile acting nominations.  PSH is more than qualified as a "two-Oscar" guy; he's one of the best actors going today and seems likely to rack up several more nominations before he's through.  That said, voters might also take that into consideration and figure they'll have plenty of opportunity to recognize Hoffman again later, whereas Arkin, De Niro and Jones are all nearing the end of their careers.  It's hard to tell where he stands in terms of momentum but in the critics' eyes, at least, he gave the best performance.  That might be all it takes in this hard-to-figure year.  And yes, I realize how goofy it is that "quality of performance" is maybe the fourth or fifth most important factor in Oscar voting.

* Jones….fourth nomination (one Best Actor, three Supporting Actor)
It seemed like TLJ was the early favourite and he has a SAG award, but his heat seems to have died off just as Lincoln's momentum in general has stalled.  The only thing Jones has done of note in the last few months was become a meme following his grumpy-faced reactions at the Golden Globes.  That said, that SAG award is usually a good indicator of the Oscar result so I'd say Jones still has a good shot for the win.

* Waltz….second nomination (one Supporting Actor)
For months, Oscar prognosticators were looking at Leonardo DiCaprio as a late-breaking supporting candidate for Django Unchained.  Then, when the movie was actually released, attention turned to Samuel L. Jackson's stunning role.  As it turned out, the only supporting performance from Django that got nominated was Waltz's turn as Dr. King Schultz.  I'll be honest, I don't want to see Waltz win.  He's maybe the third most notable supporting performance in his movie alone and, as the nominee with the least-lengthy resume of the bunch, he's the only one who would stand out as a "really?" entry in the Two Oscar Club.  Also, I can't be the only one who thought King Schultz was sort of a poor man's Hans Landa.  As much as I loved the Landa character (and as much as Waltz 1000 percent deserved that Oscar), I don't think Waltz deserves a second Oscar for the Diet Coke version of his greatest role.  All that said, it seems like he might have the most momentum of anyone, given Django's late release, his Golden Globes win and the fact that it's a very talky, monologue-driven performance that naturally draws attention to itself.

So that's the field.  I'll save my official alternate ballot for the Markademy Awards post, but I'd like to list a few of the other notables from this very strong year for supporting performances…

Eddie Redmayne, Les Miserables
If you've ever seen Les Mis on stage, you'll know that the role of Marius is pretty underwritten and thankless, given how he ends up with with a majorly happy ending despite doing essentially nothing to deserve it.  When we last saw Redmayne, he was the inanimate block of wood that Michelle Williams had to act circles around in My Week With Marilyn.  As math as taught us, however, two negatives make a positive and Redmayne did a hell of a job in turning Marius into a strong, sympathetic figure.  I'll confess, a few months ago I really thought Les Mis was going to absolutely sweep the Oscars.  I'm talking 15-16 nominations across the board, maybe six or seven acting noms and an easy Best Picture win, and this was all based on the fact that I heard Redmayne was getting raves for his performance.  I was all, "Man, if even the guy playing Marius is amazing, then everything else must be through the roof."

Michael Caine, The Dark Knight Rises
It must be awesome to be Christopher Nolan, who can just call up Michael Caine, have him show up and deliver a few incredible monologues that drive the heart of your movies.  Caine had maybe 10 minutes of total screen time in TDKR but man, did he make them count.  Michael Caine is the friggin' man.

Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths
Rockwell is high on my list of best actors without an Oscar nomination, and while this movie was a little too odd to get the Academy's attention, Rockwell absolutely carries its patched-together plot with his manic performance.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
I'll say this for Leo, he may have been the victim of expectations.  There is such a long tradition of great supporting roles in Tarantino movies that everyone was expecting a home run from DiCaprio.  When he only hit a double and advanced to third on the throw, it was still a letdown despite the fact that on its own merits, it's a very good performance.  More interesting than Waltz's, I'd reckon, and Waltz might end up with an Oscar.  Maybe DiCaprio will score an Oscar nom this year for Great Gatsby HA HA HA HA NO, that movie looks like a pile of garbage.

Ezra Miller, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
This is back-to-back notable performances for Miller, who was on the radar last year for We Need To Talk About Kevin and is now back playing a completely different role in Perks.  That's a hell of a lot of range for a teenage actor.  His future is definitely worth a few imaginary dollars on the ol' Hollywood Stock Exchange.

Javier Bardem, Skyfall
It's kind of amazing that a Bond villain has never nabbed a supporting nomination.  If past Academy voters were as more open to "popcorn" performances from mainstream blockbusters in past decades as they generally are today, I'd reckon that at least a couple (maybe Christopher Lee or Gert "Goldfinger" Frobe) would've made the cut.  Then again, if an Oscar favourite like Bardem couldn't do it, maybe nobody can.  I thought he had a chance just based on his introductory monologue alone.      

Tom Hardy, The Dark Knight Rises
Look at the balls on this guy.  Hardy is tasked with following one of the most iconic villainous performances in movie history.  He's wearing a mask for the entire film that basically restricts him to just acting with his eyes and with body language at all times, since his dialogue will sound muffled even after it's re-dubbed in post-production.  So with all of this pressure, Hardy says fuck it, I'll make things even more interesting by delivering my lines in a weird, sing-songy accent that still sounds intimidating.  Respect.

Michael Fassbender, Prometheus
Like being a Bond villain or a Batman villain, you've got big shoes to fill when you're playing an android in an Alien film.  M. F. Assbender lived up to the legacy of Ian Holm and Lance Henriksen but I couldn't help think that Fassbender played his character as little too much like an adult Haley Joel Osment from A.I.  They're both even named 'David,' for crying out loud.

Jim Broadbent/Hugo Weaving/Ben Whishaw, Cloud Atlas
The time-hopping, multi-performance format of Cloud Atlas lends itself to a variety of showy performances, and these three stood out the most.  Weaving played the most notable roles as villains in each of the film's stories but he never had a singular 'lead' like Whishaw did as the young composer or Broadbent as the unwilling nursing home patient.

Tom Hiddleston/Avengers
Tom Hiddleston/The Deep Blue Sea
Academy rules prohibit actors from being nominated for multiple roles, though unofficially, lots of actors are nominated for one role when they're really being recognized for their whole body of work in a year.  Jim Broadbent's Oscar in 2001, for instance, was probably as much for his performance in Iris as it was for his un-nominated turn in Moulin Rouge.  However, since this isn't a real Oscar ballot, I can recognize people for multiple quality performances.  Hiddleston was good in two very different roles as Rachel Weisz's flighty lover and as the power-hungry Loki.  The latter is interesting since Hiddleston was only okay as Loki in the first Thor movie, but look at that, with Joss Whedon's direction and script behind him, suddenly became a threat worthy of the entire Avengers roster.

Christopher Walken, A Late Quartet
Christopher Walken, Seven Psychopaths
A good 'two sides of Walken' showing here.  He delivers one of his signature quirky performances in Seven Psychopaths and gives that movie his charm, yet Walken is so known for these kinds of roles that it's easy to overlook the fact that he excels just as much in quieter, more cerebral roles.  He is the heart of A Late Quartet, the beloved calm centre amidst the storm brewing amidst his fellow musicians, and only grownup amidst this group of adults.  I would've watched an entire movie of his character telling music anecdotes to his students, which I guess is somewhat faint praise since I'd watch an entire movie of Christopher Walken doing almost anything.

None of these guys would've been my actual winner of the Supporting Actor Oscar, however.  I'll save that for the Markademy Awards.  Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Monopolizing The Rules

Ok, I call shenanigans on this shortest possible game of Monopoly since these rules seem nutty to me.  I mean, I have NEVER heard of this nonsense about rolling doubles and not acknowledging the outcome of the roll.  Doubles means you roll again, obviously, but in the case of the Player 1, Turn 1 scenario, the player would get to buy the Electric Co. or Illinois Ave.  The player wouldn't just be forced to keep rolling and rolling ad infinitum until they either stopped rolling doubles or until the sun exploded. 

For all I know, maybe this "nonstop doubles" rule is actually on the books.  I've never actually read the official rules of Monopoly, just had the game explained to me, folklore style.  You might think it's odd never to have read the rules, but let's be honest, MOST people never read the actual rules of Monopoly.  This leads to countless arguments when you play the game with friends, all of whom have their own variations based on "oh, this was how my family always played it."

My family's little Monopoly quirks that have been disputed in other games…

* when you have to give up money due to a Chance or Community Chest card, that money goes into the middle of the board.  If you then land on Free Parking, you get all of the cash that has collected in the middle over the course of the game.  This is a HUGE game-changer in some cases and it really adds an extra thrill to a game that can quickly become predictable as soon as someone gets a set of properties.  The way some people play it, Free Parking is just a free space that has nothing attached to it whatsoever.  This is nonsense.  Do you really need a break?  You just had one on the jail spot ten spaces prior.  These killjoys also just put the Chance/Community Chest fines directly into the bank, which doesn't make sense since it's not like the bank needs any more cash.

* if you roll doubles while in jail, you get out, and then move ahead the number of spaces that you rolled in your doubles.  In some variations, the doubles just gets you out and your turn then ends.  So, going by the first quirk, if you're in jail and roll double-fives, under my family's rules you'd get out of jail and hit Free Parking all at once, going from prisoner to possible tycoon in one fell swoop.  (We should probably call this the Andy Dufresne rule.)

* when a player lands on a property and can't pay, they're bankrupted and eliminated from the game.  Under our rules, the bankrupted player would pay the property owner any remaining cash they had and the bank would cover the rest of the debt.  All of the bankrupted player's properties would then go back on the open market, they would NOT go to the original property owner as a way of paying back the debt.  Opening up more properties late in the game creates more excitement, and giving a player that many extra properties just seems unfair, and yes, I realize the name of the game is literally "Monopoly."  Man, you know you're a left-leaning family when…

* if you have a full set and want to build houses, you have to build them one at a time on each property in the set per turn.  Like, on the turn that gets you that third property to make your set, you can put one house on each lot.  Then on your next turn, you can get up to one more house on each lot, so it takes you up to five turns to get a hotel.  Some mad people play the game with a willy-nilly housing situation where you can buy any number of houses on any given turn and not even stagger the houses evenly amongst each lot.  So for instance, if you're playing under these madcap rules and you have the yellow set, you can put immediately put two houses on Atlantic, nothing on Ventnor and a hotel on Marvin Gardens.  It's lunacy!  My family's slow, measured approach to property development gives the building inspectors time to make their rounds and make sure everything is up to code.

* the 'Get Out of Jail Free' card is currency within the game and can be included in possible trades.  Apparently most people don't play this way; the card is your card only, and non-transferable.  I once offered to throw my GOOJF card into a deal during a game and my would-be trade partner couldn't have been more stunned if I'd offered to throw in a foot massage to seal the deal.  (That came later..I really needed that fourth railroad.)

Even though my family's way is right and all y'all are crazy for playing it differently, I don't mind these little rules disputes.  It's kind of awesome that everyone plays Monopoly in their own way, yet another reason why this is one of all-time great board games.  My love of the game was cemented when I once had the opportunity to play against the world Monopoly champion.  I am dead serious here, it was the actual world champion, though sadly he didn't have a title belt with a diamond-studded image of Uncle Pennybags on the buckle plate.  Anyway, the champ said the key to winning was to try and secure the oranges and I was all like I KNOW, I'VE BEEN SAYING THAT FOR YEARS!  It was like having Gary Player compliment your golf grip.

And don't get me started about the iron piece being replaced by a stupid cat.  For shame.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Undisputed Oscars

It's looking like Argo will be this year's Oscar winner for Best Picture, and it's not a bad choice.  It wouldn't be my personal choice* but it's good enough, and "good enough" is about all you can ask for when you're making such a subjective decision as calling a film the Best Picture of its given year.  All I ask for is that the Best Picture winner not be an outright bad or mediocre film….I can deal with a masterpiece losing to a film that's just very good, but not to a choice that's already embarrassing as soon as the name comes out of the envelope.

* = as you'll see in next week's long-awaited 2012 Markademy Awards post!  Cheap plug!

Olly Moss' recent gallery of Best Picture-related artwork got me thinking, however, about the quality of the Oscar winners.  Even for a longtime Academy watcher like me, it still struck me in realizing just how rare it is that the Best Picture actually ended up being the best picture of its year.  In fairness to the Academy, we have the benefit of hindsight.  Many a "good enough" or even legitimately excellent films have won Best Picture, and in past decades, most Academy voters weren't able to easily screen* a number of foreign classics that easily stand as the best of their years.  Of course, given how the insular the Academy was and is, it's very possible that all of these foreign classics would've been snubbed in favour of Hollywood productions anyway.  Ah, cynicism!

Let's break down those Oscar winners and see just how many were "undisputed" Best Pictures.  These are the films that stand out as more-or-less the best of their year, beating out other (if slightly lesser) masterpieces from both Hollywood and around the world.  It's a surprisingly short list, especially by my criteria of only citing the absolute hands-down best choices.  Granted, it's very apples-and-oranges, but I'm trying to remove my personal opinion as much as possible and simply going by general critical consensus.  There are a lot of great movies that don't make the cut simply because there other equally great movies in the running that year which could be argued to be just as good or better.  To wit, here are the…


1934: It Happened One Night.  The first movie to sweep the "big five" (Picture, Director, Screenplay and both top acting awards) and yet while it's a great film, you could argue that The Thin Man could've just as easily been worthy of a similar sweep.

1939: Gone With The Wind.  The single biggest hit in movie history (if you account for adjusted gross) and a shoo-in to clean house at the Oscars, yet its triumph in 1939 wasn't complete simply because because 1939 was arguably the most stacked Best Picture field of all time.  GWTW went up against Wizard Of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights, Ninotchka, Dark Victory, Of Mice And Men, Goodbye Mr. Chips, and Love Affair -- the first two also all-time classics, the next four all beloved classics of that era, and the last four being solid films that have been remade a few times over since.  And this isn't even counting The Rules Of The Game, often cited on critics' lists as one of the best films ever made. 

1950: All About Eve.  In one of the more top-heavy BP fields ever, 1950 featured three mediocrities left in the dust by All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard.  The Third Man also came out this year, so as great AAE is, it didn't have a clear claim to the top slot.

1974: The Godfather Part II.  Forget it, Jake.  It's Chinatown. 

1986: Platoon.  While it cleaned house at the Oscars, people forget that this was the same year of Hannah And Her Sisters and Blue Velvet, both of which essentially split many of the major critics' awards.  Platoon is a great movie and widely held as a great Best Picture, yet there was just enough doubt that I couldn't call it "undisputed."

1992: Unforgiven.  Another close call, even closer than my omission of Platoon.  I love this movie to death but 1992 is also the year of The Player, Malcolm X, The Crying Game (a major hit that is largely remembered today only for the twist ending) plus other films that rose in estimation over the years like Glengarry Glenn Ross and Reservoir Dogs.

And now, with help from Olly Moss' artwork, that leaves us with….

1929/30: All Quiet On The Western Front.  There was a lot of garbage in the early days of the Academy Awards, as of the first six BP winners, three (Cavalcade, Cimarron, Broadway Melody) are arguably the three worst Best Pictures, and two others (Grand Hotel, Wings) are both remembered with indifference.  The one major exception was AQOTWF, which is still cited as one of the greatest war movies ever made and certainly one of the most influential.  It helps that the 29/30 Oscar season was a real gray patch of filmmaking overall, but even against stronger competition, All Quiet would've stood out.

1943: Casablanca.  Nuff said.

1945: The Lost Weekend.  Few directors have as strong a filmography as Billy Wilder, so much so that Lost Weekend is, well, kind of lost in the shuffle behind some of his more popular films (Some Like It Hot, Sunset Blvd, The Apartment, Sabrina, Double Indemnity, etc.).  You could make a case that Lost Weekend, however, was possibly Wilder's best, and it was a hands-down winner.  If I ever do an "undisputed Oscar" list of winning performances, Ray Milland will also feature prominently on that list.

1946: The Best Years Of Our Lives.  An absolute monster hit in its time and a slam-dunk winner of Best Picture, yet it's oddly forgotten today.  Not sure why, given that the film's topic (veterans struggling to adapt to home life after World War II) is sadly just as relevant now as it was in 1946.  Interestingly, this was also the year of "It's A Wonderful Life," which obviously has stood the test of time and become a much-remembered classic, but that's a movie can thank holiday tradition for its longevity.  The moral of the story is that 1946 was definitely the year for kinda-schmaltzy-yet-surprisingly-dark films with life-affirming titles.  

1953: From Here To Eternity.  Surprisingly, the whole movie isn't just Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling around on the beach, impossibly in love.  (Though even if it was, it still might've been an Oscar contender.)  The 1950's was an overall odd period for the Academy, as the Best Pictures of this decade have no middle ground between 'all-time classic' and 'bizarre/terrible choice.'

1954: On The Waterfront.  Seven Samurai wasn't Oscar-eligible until 1956, and as much as everyone loves Rear Window, OTW was (and still is) held up as a just a cut above.  Maybe if Rear Window had been just a wee bit better, it coulda been a contender!  *guffaw*

1957: The Bridge On The River Kwai.  Two of Ingmar "Don't Call Me Ingrid" Bergman's classics came out this year, but neither Wild Strawberries nor Seventh Seal were eligible for Oscars, so I can't fault the Academy for making a contentious choice since they weren't allowed to vote for either picture.  Might not have mattered anyway since TBOTRK is just that damn good.  David Lean has one of the absolute best one-two punches in cinema history, since his next movie after River Kwai was…

1962: Lawrence Of Arabia.  It's a testament to LOA's high reputation that "To Kill A Mockingbird" also came out this year and yet I didn't even consider putting 1962 into the tough cut category.  LOA is a milestone in movie history, ranking highly on many 'greatest of all time' lists.  Frankly, TKAM was probably better served by losing Best Picture lest its own great quality be in any way tainted by an undeserving Oscar win. 


1972: The Godfather.  In one of those weird quirks of Oscar history, Cabaret largely dominated the ceremony this year, winning eight Oscars and setting a record for most Academy Awards won without winning Best Picture.  While it was a solid movie, had Cabaret actually won the top prize this year, it would be remembered as one of the more egregious results in Oscar history.  If you could dig up Bob Fosse or steady Liza Minnelli from her case of the dizzies long enough, even they would tell you that Godfather was the hands-down best of the year.

1984: Amadeus.  Probably the most underrated of the "undisputed."  1984 is somewhat unfairly remembered as a poor Oscar year simply because the usual slate of heavy dramas were nominated ahead of several classic comedies (Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, This Is Spinal Tap) that dominated audiences that year.  While Spinal Tap is one of my favourite films and Ghostbusters is one of the pop culture touchstones of my life, let's be honest here, we would have to be living in a completely different universe for either of those movies to win a Best Picture Oscar.  I'm talking a mass hysteria, dogs and cats living together kind of world.  Amadeus is a bit overlook since the Academy rewards a lot of historical biopics, but this was a case where by all accounts they got it right.

1991: The Silence Of The Lambs.  Really an inspired choice here from the Academy given that this is decidedly NOT the subject matter that usually wins Oscars.  TSOTL came out in February 1991, was a big hit, and then it just kept hanging around the public consciousness for the entire year while most obvious, Oscar-baity movies came and went (and in several cases, disappointed).  Like 'All Quiet On The Western Front,' TSOTL may have benefited from a somewhat weak Oscar year, but it was a more than worthy Best Picture. 

1993: Schindler's List.  Nuff said, part two. 

2003: The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King.  Now this is kind of an interesting case.  ROTK absolutely swept the Oscars, going a perfect 11-for-11 and being widely acclaimed as completely deserving of those awards, as the Academy saw fit to reward the epic trilogy after it had been completed.  Technically, by the rules of my little game here, ROTK shouldn't be here since this particular film itself (as a stand-alone movie) had strong competition in 2003, particularly from the likes of Lost In Translation and Mystic River.  That said, I'm not going to miss the forest for the trees here --- Return Of The King was definitely an "undisputed" choice.  If anything, history might've looked even better on the Academy for also rewarding Fellowship of the Ring, since that would've cut out the thoroughly average Beautiful Mind from a Best Picture trophy.

2007: No Country For Old Men.  I almost hesitated in putting this on the list since this Best Picture was handed out only five years old.  It's still a little early to determine for sure that NCFOM will be remembered as the best choice of 2007 but I feel pretty safe in considering this one "undisputed."  It's somewhat similar to Silence of the Lambs' victory in 1991 in that NCFOM is not the kind of movie that usually cleans up at the Oscars yet it was simply too big and too acclaimed for the Academy to ignore, plus there may have been a bit of sentiment that the Coens were overdue.  Interestingly, while I had no problem with NCFOM winning and consider it an "undisputed" Oscar, I actually didn't have it atop my own ballot for the year.  I gave my Markademy Award for Best Picture to "Once" since I'm a giant softie.

So there you have it.  Fourteen movies from 84 years of Oscars.  That works out to a cool one "undisputed" pick out of every six Best Pictures.  Nice work, Academy voters.  That's certainly a solid batting average for people who work in the industry and are theoretically experts in cinema. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Best Pictures, Oscar-ed

The official Academy Awards website has put up a very cool gallery of Oscar artwork by artist Olly Moss that represents every Best Picture winner, from 1927 to the present.  I've included some of my favourite images here, all without the titles so you can play a guessing game if you wish.  No "...though you'd need a lot of time on your hands to actually play such a guessing game" judgement here, since I'm the one posting this link in the first place.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

More Will Ferrell Ad Madness (Adness?)

As part of this blog's ongoing mission to chronicle the Draperesque brilliance of Will Ferrell's independent, one-man ad campaign for Old Milwaukee, here is his latest commercial.  It aired during the Super Bowl in only three markets: the bustling metropoli of Ardmore, Oklahoma, Glendive, Montana and Sherman, Texas.  (And by gum, it put them on the map!)

If Ferrell keeps up this campaign, I may have to drink an Old Milwaukee.  Wait, really?  No, that won't happen, I've come to my senses.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Two Broken Shows

Didn't it feel like Community had already been canceled?  Between all the creative drama behind the scenes, the long break between the third and fourth seasons, cast members popping up in other projects and the fact that NBC is moving its entire network away from what Community represents, it felt almost weird to actually watch a new episode of Community last night and realize that the show was still on the air.

That disconnect seemed apparent in last night's episode too, which just seemed 'off' in a way that I can't quite put my finger on.  There was almost a sense of going through the motions.  You had the gang confronting a school issue, a threat to the group's togetherness, everyone coming to grips with it, and at least one major pop culture reference in the 'Hunger Deans' (which I'm glad was just a relatively minor part of the episode, since starting the post-Dan Harmon Community with a full-on genre parody would've been too bold a step).  As you might expect, Community poked fun at its own creative changes in the form of Abed's daydream about a generic sitcom version of the show, but even that felt obligatory in a way.

This all being said, however, I don't know if this was the show's fault or the fact I'm preconditioned to not accept the "new" Community.  For instance, if Harmon was still running the show and I'd heard they were doing a Hunger Games gimmick in the premiere, I would've been fired up.  Without Harmon, hearing about the Hunger Games schtick made me worry, sort of like, "Hmm, that's a pretty obvious, fresh target, isn't it?  Trying a bit too hard, aren't we Community?"  The show almost can't win in delivering its actual product since I (and the bulk of online media) are too busy overanalyzing and overthinking every detail.

I have half a mind to skip Community during the actual season and just wait until summer to watch the whole thing in bulk, when I've gotten a bit more space from the media groupthink  It's times like this that I wish I wasn't as plugged into entertainment news.  Because I know these shows are being produced differently, I'm automatically reacting to them differently, whereas the layperson wouldn't notice any differences in these seasons of the programs as opposed to previous seasons.  It's the old blind taste test theory --- if you handed me a glass of RC Cola and a glass of Coke, I might well not be able to tell the difference, despite my snooty attitude towards cola drinks.

For example, back in my younger days, I think I vaguely heard about Larry David leaving 'Seinfeld,' but it didn't affect how I watched the show whatsoever.  I still found the last two seasons to be incredibly funny with maybe a slight dip in quality, but I attributed that to the show being in its eighth and ninth seasons, not due to David leaving.  When I was a teenager, you see, the names in the credits were basically just names to me.  I didn't care what was happening behind the scenes just as long as what was on the screen was still entertaining.

To be fair, I've seen a grand total of one Community episode in the Dan Harmon-less era, so I'm more than likely jumping the gun in making any grand proclamations about the state of the "new" show and this entire post could well be just fanboyish bullcrap.  After several episodes of the latest Happy Endings season, however, I feel more comfortable in saying that the show has more than a little gone off the rails, and we're nearing a shark jump.

Happy Endings was a real breakout last year --- an instant "catch up on every episode in a week" blitz and then it became a go-to recommendation for friends who asked me if I knew of any funny new shows.  Then this current season happened.  There are enough sparks of greatness still left (the recent pranking episode, for instance) that I'm not wholly convinced that the show has lost it but man, what a shift in tone.

Happy Endings has always been pretty broad and fast-paced but this season has gone from broad to straight-up farcical.  There is no basis in reality any more.  The characters don't speak deliver lines as much as they recite puns to each other in funny voices.  Oh god, the funny voices.  To the person who decided that "ah-ma-zing," "suh kyute" and Damon Wayans' various high-pitched intonations were the best part about the show and made the ENTIRE CAST deliver HALF THEIR LINES in singsongy slang, I will save you a seat in hell.  There's no flow to the scenes any more since the actors all seem like they're Michael Scott in an improv class, just firing off their bits without any concern for how the rest of the scene develops.  It's not impossible to reach a high level of fast-paced uber-punnery (i.e. 30 Rock) but it's very very difficult, and Happy Endings is simply not delivering.

As coincidence would have it, Community's new showrunners are Moses Port and David Guarascio, who most recently were executive producers on Happy Endings.  I'm not sure how involved Port/Guarascio were in the day-to-day operations on HE and again, this could again be me reading too much into behind-the-scenes machinations, but it's interesting that for as much as everyone was terrified that Port/Guarascio would "ruin" Community, there was little consideration given to how their departure would impact Happy Endings.  Maybe these two were the VPs of common sense in the Happy Endings writers' room, keeping everyone aware that they were making a unique show, not just "Friends" on speed.

These criticisms could all be short-lived, of course.  Happy Endings is on life support ratings-wise and you have to figure that Community is on its last legs, though NBC's yawning chasm of a comedy lineup might force them to bring back one of its few shows that actually has a fanbase.  If these two go, that's another drastic cut to my comedy viewing habits, which are already being sliced by 30 Rock ending, the very cute Ben & Kate getting canceled and the withered husk of The Office concluding its overdue final season.  I needed a fresh program like Happy Endings to fill that void, so forget about the ratings, the fact that it's already in a decline phase is awfully disappointing.

(If you expected me to mention Two Broke Girls at some point, I guess the title of the post was a tad misleading, but shyeah, I'm not talking about that disaster.  Do you realize how bad a Kat Dennings-centric show has to be for me to not watch it?)

Monday, February 04, 2013

Brother Bowl

Brotherhood was a major theme of this Super Bowl.  (Besides just this adorable Budweiser ad.)  For the first time in major pro sports history, two brothers were opposing each other in a championship game.  As much as football fans had gotten used to the Harbaughs as top coaches and had wrapped their minds around the possibility that they could one day meet in a Super Bowl, it's still a crazy thing to actually have happen.

Perhaps it was fitting, then, that this battle of brothers mirrored another showdown in my football fanverse.  On one hand you had my buddy Trev, one of my best friends and a "brother" in every way but biologically, supporting his 49ers.  On the other hand you had my actual brother Matt, a diehard Ravens fan.  As a Green Bay supporter I was somewhat neutral on paper, since even though the Packers got destroyed by the Niners a few weeks ago, I had no real beef with the team.  

So who did I support?  The 49ers, naturally.  Trevor, you see, is a casual (some might say 'mature') sports fan.  He likes his team but his fandom more or less ends on game day.  He doesn't load up on team apparel or follow a bunch of silly game-day superstitions or write lengthy blog posts whenever his team gets knocked out of the playoffs.  My younger brother, on the other hand, is as nuts about his Ravens as I am about the Packers.  He is never to be found on game-day without his trusty Ray Lewis jersey and yes, he has been known to do the dance.

So essentially I was forced to root for the 49ers out of self-preservation, since I'd be in for a metric ton of chirping if Baltimore won the Super Bowl.  If the Niners had won, Trev might've barely mentioned it.  Matt, on the other hand, will turn the trash talk up to 11 now that his team has actually won it all.  It may even top….uh, my smug trash talk when Green Bay won the title two years ago.  Like I said, we're pretty similarly immature about this stuff.  Though my brother and I are men in our thirties, we bicker like children when it comes to arguing which team is superior.  Of course, the Packers are still the far superior overall franchise and really, the most dominant franchise in football history, and you've just gotten a taste of my key argument for the coming offseason.

Man, did the Ravens really just win the Super Bowl?  I can't believe this actually happened.  They went on a New York Giants-esque run of suddenly turning it on after a so-so regular season, making huge plays on both offense and defense, and also getting monstrously lucky at key times.  I mean come on, those two Denver DBs suddenly forget how to play football and/or just FALL DOWN when Flacco heaved up that hail mary at the end of that playoff game?  The Ravens are lucky enough to draw the Broncos in the first place, given Peyton Manning's long history of choking in playoff games?  During the Super Bowl, you had the uber-efficient and well-coached 49ers suddenly look like a bunch of bumbling fools in the first half with dumb turnovers and penalties?  Don't tell me that Lewis is right and there actually was a higher power working on the Ravens' side.  I don't deny that Baltimore beat the Colts and Patriots handily and took it to the Niners but man, Lady Luck has been wearing a purple jersey for the last month.

Adding to the superstition factor was….well, me.  It's very possible that the year-plus of trash talk I'll get from my brother is due to this anti-Joe Flacco post I wrote about a year ago.  As you'll note, I had Flacco as the 15th-best quarterback in the NFL, behind such luminaries as Phil Rivers, Michael Vick and Tony Romo.  I may have not quite been fair enough to Joe, in hindsight.  My revised list…

Top tier: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning
Hard to argue against any of these guys as one of the best in the business.  The shakiest of the five is Eli and, well, the two rings are good for shutting up a lot of naysayers.

Middle tier: Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Robert Griffin III (if healthy), Matt Ryan, Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton
Roethlisberger drops a tier from last time due to his ongoing injury concerns.  If he was 100 percent he'd be in the top tier, but it's very possible he'll never really be 100 percent again due to the years of beating behind Pittsburgh's sketchy offensive line.

The QB ranking list is difficult since it's a battle between "who would you rather have" and "who do you think is better?"  They're two very different questions.  For instance, virtually any team would "rather have" a star rookie like Wilson, Griffin or Luck since they'll be around for years to come.  (Presuming, of course, that RG3's knee isn't already destroyed.)  That said, someone like Flacco is clearly better than, say, Luck at this particular moment in time.  If you had an otherwise Super Bowl-ready team and were given the option of taking any of these middle tier guys as your quarterback, Flacco doesn't beat out Wilson because he's special and doesn't beat out a healthy Roethlisberger due to his proven winning ways, but Flacco really does beat everyone else.  Flacco's ring gives him the edge over Griffin.

The knock on Flacco was that he always made some mistake to prevent Baltimore from winning, but this year, he turned in a very Eli-esque postseason.  He made big plays, threw some crazy long bombs and overall was actually a strength for his team, rather than just the "don't screw up" guy.  Now, I can rant all day about how incredibly lucky Flacco was given that his only move is to chuck up a deep ball and hope for the best (a.k.a. the Detroit Lions offensive game plan), but damned if it didn't work out.  As I noted earlier, the ring is a good way to end an argument.

So congratulations Joe Flacco, I now consider you to be a top-ten NFL quarterback.  (You're #8 on my list, which is doubly ironic since #8 is also my brother's favourite number and his old hockey jersey number.)  I'm sure this honour will rank right up there with winning the Super Bowl.  You should be very happy with yourself and will no doubt earn a mountain of money in your next contract, but no matter what my brother may say, you're not Aaron Rodgers.  Clearly not.  That's crazy talk.

I'm searching for bright sides here, as I dread the coming year of abuse from Matt.  Let's see….well, my friend Brian is also a Ravens fan, so he's happy.  That's cool.  Obviously the city of Baltimore could use the pick-me-up of a major sports championship since they're going through some tough times --- I know this since I watch The Wire and am therefore an expert on Baltimorean culture.  Had the 49ers won, they would've been a perfect 6-0 in Super Bowls and might've had a claim on the "all-time best franchise" title, so it's better for Green Bay that San Francisco fell short.

And one more.  The Ravens' Harbaugh, John, was the OLDER of the two brothers.  So really, his victory over the younger Jim really represents a win for big brothers everywhere.  Yes….that's the ticket.

Oh brother.

Friday, February 01, 2013

The Best Pictures

Clips from all 84 Best Picture Oscar winners, at least 14 of which totally and completely deserved the honour.  Also, I didn't realize that embattled TGS producer Pete Hornburger was in "How Green Was My Valley."  Don't tell me there is more than one immortal running around 30 Rock.