End of year lists

Before we march on to 2016, I’d like to take a quick moment to thank you for reading this blog, whether you’re a regular reader, or you happened upon this site recently. It was a good year for the blog – we had a record number of visitors from 106 different countries. I expect next year – my fifth year writing here! – to be even better. I’ve got some good stuff planned. Stay tuned.

And now, a few end-of-year lists ….

5 Favorite Albums

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Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens
Currents
, Tame Impala
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Sound and Color, Alabama Shakes
Star Wars
, Wilco

10 Favorite Songs

Atoms Never Die, Adam Levy
Black & White, The Staves
Cold Slope, Wilco
Future People, Alabama Shakes
I’m Gonna Be Myself, The Sheepdogs
The Less I Know The Better, Tame Impala
Pedestrian at Best, Courtney Barnett
Sedona, Houndmouth
Somebody Was Watching, Pops Staples
Trying So Hard Not to Know, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

5 Favorite Movies

insde_out

Inside Out
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Star Wars

5 Favorite Sports Moments

Jose Bautista bat flip

Michigan State game-winning blocked punt

This ridiculous Arkansas 4th and 25 conversion

American Pharoah wins the Triple Crown

Vinci takes down Serena

5 Favorite Tweets

5 Favorite Blog Posts (Me)

An interview with Susan Bennett, the voice of Siri
On meeting President Obama
It’s possible!
The Great Saunter

Nobody knows anything

5 Favorite Blog Posts (Others)

What It’s Like To Be a Stand-Up Comedian with Muscular Dystrophy
Sweet Home Mississippi
A recent Saturday night in NYC
Writing with Michael Schur
Scarcity

5 Favorite YouTube Videos

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The classics, part 1

Lately I’ve been watching some classic movies, and by “classic movies” I mean that everyone on the internet says they are good. LET’S REVIEW.

A Clockwork Orange, 1971

I have to admit, this was inspired by a recent episode of Louie where Louie and his daughter talk about a movie she saw at a sleepover.

Daughter: We saw this really good movie. It was really interesting and … it was about this guy, and he wears all white, and like, a bowler hat. And he goes around and he beats people up with his gang. And then he gets caught and they try to make him a better person by like, prying his eyes open…

Louie: You saw Clockwork Orange??

Daughter: Yeah! That’s what it was called.

Louie: Lily, that’s like the most horrible, violent movie ever!

Daughter: It wasn’t that bad.

Louie: You saw Clockwork Orange??

Daughter: Yeah. It was like, artistic.

Jeff here. I wouldn’t say it was the most horrible, violent movie I’ve ever seen – that would go to Hostel or maybe Fever Pitch – but man, it was a trip.

This was Kubrick’s at his meticulous, dazzling, psychotic best. Beautiful cinematography, slow and protracted scenes, the thin line between civility and barbarism. The first 20 minutes of the movie hit you like a slap across the face. You can hardly catch your breath. And then it gets slower, and sadder, until it picks up again, and then you’re tired and dizzy and you feel like throwing up. And then it ends. Thanks, Louie.

Rocky, 1976

After the Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao fight, I went on a massive YouTube spree where I watched tons of old boxing clips. I can see why people say Muhammad Ali was the greatest athlete of the twentieth century. The guy could fight. He was light on his feet and agile and always moving and then he’d hurt you and then he’d make you laugh. He was also an eloquent speaker and a really funny guy. You ever watch an interview with Muhammad Ali in his prime? You should.

And then there was Tyson. Big. Brutal. Scary. Face tat. About half of Floyd Mayweather’s 48 wins have been knockouts. Tyson had 50 wins and 44 of them were knockouts. Ridiculous.

And Evander Holyfield! I don’t know why, but of all the great boxers, he’s the guy I least want to fight. He was a large man.

Aaaanyway, I really liked Rocky. Lot of boxing. Lot of emotion. Lot of Yo, Adrian‘s. The movie also confirmed my desire to never become a professional boxer.

Citizen Kane, 1941

Here are some quotes about Citizen Kane:

Citizen Kane may very well be the most talked-about movie in history. — Richard T. Jameson, Parallax View

It can be classified as, in a number of aspects, one of the most arresting pictures ever produced. — Edwin Schallert, Los Angeles Times

Citizen Kane has been cited as the greatest film ever made from so many different quarters, it’s a wonder that a Congressional law hasn’t been passed making it required viewing for anyone who claims they like movies. — Matt Brunson, Creative Loafing

So, yeah, I had some high expectations going into this one.

And … they were met! What a brilliant movie. If this is the pinnacle of American cinema, then I’m fine with that.

There’s this great line from the movie, one that I’ll remember for a long time — the line goes, “Well, it’s no trick to make a lot of money, when all you want to do is make a lot of money.” I think that’s just great life advice, except you can replace money with anything. This is becoming somewhat of a trend with the people I’ve interviewed. There’s no trick to doing X, when all you want to do is X.

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The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, 1966

There are two kinds of people in the world, those with loaded guns, and those who dig.

There’s a moment in this movie – it’s during the graveyard scene – where the music builds and The Ugly is still running around and you’re expecting the scene to end, but it keeps going, there’s a second act to it, and you feel like you could watch this for another five hours. It’s a preposterously epic scene. And then he finds the grave of Arch Stanton*, and we have the Mexican standoff. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but when the movie ends you’re just left staring at the screen and whistling the theme to yourself.

*Arch Stanton has catapulted his way into my top 5 favorite Stanton’s:

1. Mike Stanton, late 90s Yankees middle reliever
2. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins masher
3. Arch Stanton, from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
4. Drew Stanton, Arizona Cardinals quarterback
5. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, American suffragist, abolitionist, and leading figure of the women’s rights movement

**

More to come over the next few weeks/months/years/decades!

The frisson

There’s this feeling you get, and I am sure you have had it before, where you experience a brief intense reaction, a feeling of excitement, something resembling chills. This usually happens when you are watching a movie or reading a good book or you get to a good part in a song. It’s a physical reaction. There’s a French word for this emotion – frisson. It doesn’t happen often, but that’s what makes it awesome.*

 *I know we tend to over-use the word awesome, but in this case I think it’s appropriate, given that this emotion literally inspires awe.

I am not sure when I first heard this word, but I think it was after reading a blog post from the late Roger Ebert. This was back in 2010. I’ve always loved Ebert’s writing, but he describes the emotion a little differently than I interpret it. Ebert thinks of a frisson as a quick dopamine hit, like how you  might feel when someone texts you or you get a re-tweet, something that could happen several times each day. It’s a sudden, fleeting moment. I interpret a frisson as something that is rarer, maybe a once-per-month phenomenon. I think this interpretation is closer to the Wikipedia entry*, which states that a frisson is a cold chill, an emotionally triggered response when one is deeply affected by things such as music or speech or recollection.

*I may have already ranted about this in a previous aside, but I’ll do it again because it’s important. Wikipedia is an amazing resource. For millennia, humans stored their shared history through cave drawings, oral traditions, papyrus scrolls, books, encyclopedias, and for thousands of years all of this information was spread across continents, across cultures, and there was no centralized location, not until the first libraries were made. And even then, it would take hours to find what you were looking for. There was no quick way to jump around from subject to subject. And then Wikipedia came along, and now we have the whole of human intellect in one location, and that is not something to be taken for granted.

And what really annoys me is how much our schools downgrade its importance. I’ve had teachers tell me that Wikipedia reflects the worst of our species (seriously, a teacher said that), that it’s an open platform for lies and inaccuracies and lack of due diligence. I would argue precisely the opposite – Wikipedia reflects the BEST of our species. It’s not written by one person or organization, it’s written by all of us. It’s one of the great collaborative efforts in the history of mankind. And, sure, there are inaccuracies, but on the whole it’s pretty darn amazing. I’ve spent many hours perusing through Wikipedia’s archives trying to learn about different subjects, all available within seconds, and I’m always amazed how efficiently and effectively it collects information.

I was thinking about this last weekend as I was watching the Oscars, because movies – the good one’s – are a perfect gateway to the frisson. They’re engineered to make you laugh and cry and hit you right in the feels. It’s usually during the first few moments after a movie ends, or during a major plot twist, where you might feel this sensation, and it’s the reason we still go to the theater and pay for overpriced tickets.

I think back to some of these movies over the years. Field of Dreams, well, yes, that certainly inspired a frisson. Star Wars. Inception. Gravity. All eight Harry Potters.

Anyway, there’s a danger in this, because instead of seeking substance, sometimes we seek the frisson, in any way we can get it, which is why people cling to their phones and their screens and their daily distractions. I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to this. Because, while a frisson is a wonderful feeling, it can be inauthentic.

Ebert writes:

I wonder about something. With the invention of channel surfing, and then web surfing, have we all become rewired? Has the national attention span dropped? Is that why kids like shallow action pictures and why episodic television is losing to reality shows? And why sports, which offer a frisson every few seconds, are more popular than ever? Is that why slogans are replacing reasoning in our political arena? Is an addiction to video games the ultimate expression of this erosion of our attention span?

And this leads me to another thought, a thought that Joe Posnanski wrote about a few weeks ago, about our modern attempts to eliminate every single moment from our lives that is not obviously captivating and compelling and thrilling. People need a distraction when they stand in line, or when they are in traffic, or just when they are waiting for something.

People keep doing books and movies about vampires or monsters or zombies, but the thing that scares us more than anything is boredom. That’s the ghoul constantly on our tail.

And this leads me to another thought, something that David Foster Wallace wrote in his excellent commencement address to Kenyon College in 2005, which is that life has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness, awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time. It’s about learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It’s about accepting the quiet, daily, trivial moments of our lives.

But, instead, we seem to be constantly searching for the frisson, something to give us a quick dopamine hit, a distraction, anything to keep us from boredom. We want to skip over the quiet moments. But maybe these moments are where the real beauty lies.

Fight Club

Fight Club didn’t get great reviews when it came out, but it has developed into a cult classic in the fourteen years since its release.

The final scene is one of the most surprising of any move I’ve seen. The Pixies’ Where is My Mind is really the perfect soundtrack for the movie’s ending.

In his 1999 review, Roger Ebert wrote one of the best sentences ever. Referring to Tyler Durden, he writes:

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything,” he says, sounding like a man who tripped over the Nietzsche display on his way to the coffee bar in Borders.

Fight Club movie image Brad Pitt

This is Spinal Tap

I watched This is Spinal Tap for the first time a few summers ago. I had no expectations for it, other than it was supposedly a classic from the mid-1980’s.

It’s very rare where you go into a movie with no expectations. There is so much hype around movie premiers that you basically know the whole story before you even step in the theater.* And the classic movies eventually make their way into pop culture, so you usually have at least some idea of what you are about to see. I knew the whole plot of The Godfather before I ever saw it.

*This was especially true for Harry Potter because I, you know, read the books.

But Spinal Tap? No expectations. And then it turned out to be one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.

Diner

One of my favorite movies. It’s about nothing, really – just a bunch of friends who hang out at a diner after high school. It’s not all that different from me and my friends.

Here is an excerpt from a 2012 S.L. Price piece in Vanity Fair:

No movie from the 1980s has proved more influential. Diner has had far more impact on pop culture than the stylistic masterpiece Bladerunner, the indie darling Sex, Lies, and Videotape, or the academic favorites Raging Bull and Blue Velvet. Leave aside the fact that Diner served as the launching pad for the astonishingly durable careers of Barkin, Paul Reiser, Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, and Timothy Daly, plus Rourke and Bacon—not to mention Levinson, whose résumé includes Rain Man, Bugsy, and Al Pacino’s recent career reviver, You Don’t Know Jack. Diner’s groundbreaking evocation of male friendship changed the way men interact, not just in comedies and buddy movies, but in fictional Mob settings, in fictional police and fire stations, in commercials, on the radio. In 2009, The New Yorker’s TV critic Nancy Franklin, speaking about the TNT series Men of a Certain Age, observed that “Levinson should get royalties any time two or more men sit together in a coffee shop.” She got it only half right. They have to talk too.

What Franklin really meant is that, more than any other production, Diner invented … nothing. Or, to put it in quotes: Levinson invented the concept of “nothing” that was popularized eight years later with the premiere of Seinfeld. In Diner (as well as in Tin Men, his 1987 movie about older diner mavens), Levinson took the stuff that usually fills time between the car chase, the fiery kiss, the dramatic reveal—the seemingly meaningless banter (“Who do you make out to, Sinatra or Mathis?”) tossed about by men over drinks, behind the wheel, in front of a cooling plate of French fries—and made it central.

1982-diner_1914318i

A review of some 2012 movies

2012_Movies

21 Jump Street: B+

I saw this in Australia before it was released to the public. Somehow our school got the first rights to show it. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum even showed up and answered some questions. It was definitely one of the most unique movie-watching experiences I’ve ever had, and it was a solid film as well.

Argo: A

Probably my favorite movie of the year. I’m glad it won Best Picture at the Golden Globes. Hopefully that’s a good sign for the Oscars.

The Avengers: B+

I didn’t like The Avengers as much as others did, but I thought it did a good job of bringing all the Marvel characters together for the first time.

The Dark Knight Rises: A-

It was hard – probably impossible – to top the last Dark Knight movie. But I think Christopher Nolan did a great job of capping off the trilogy. And Hans Zimmer never disappoints with his score.

Django Unchained: B+

It wasn’t Pulp Fiction or Inglorious Basterds, but it was still classic Tarantino. Christoph Waltz is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors.

The Hobbit: B-

I was never much of a Lord of the Rings fan, but I have always respected how groundbreaking Peter Jackson’s trilogy was. I think he took a major step back with The Hobbit. Then again, it was nearly impossible to live up to those expectations.

Prometheus: C

This movie had such a huge buildup with an awesome trailer. It was directed by Ridley Scott and served as a prequel for his 1979 hit Alien. There was so much buzz around the film, and it had the makings of a summer blockbuster. But when I finally saw it, I walked away feeling less than impressed. The visuals were great, and there were definite moments of suspense, but there were also major plot holes with some poor acting.

Ted: B

Funny, quirky, and serious at parts. But I was expecting more out of Seth MacFarlane’s first foray into the movie world.

Safety Not Guaranteed: A-

A quirky, low-budget, and smart film. I watched it on a plane, expected nothing, and was pleasantly surprised by how awesome it was.

Silver Linings Playbook: A-

A dark, romantic comedy with a great cast (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro). This movie had a very different pace than what I am used to, using unorthodox shots and dialogue. But I think that was part of what made this movie so enjoyable. Oh, and they also got permission to use a Led Zeppelin song.