Remember "blogging," guys? That's what this thing used to be!



current fortune

"Are your legs tired? Because you've been running through my mind ALL DAY LONG!"

My fortune cookie has achieved sentient thought.


I'm not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens.

~Woody Allen




The Blockbuster That's Going Up On The Wall in 2014: Edge of Tomorrow

I don’t know if I liked this more than Guardians of the Galaxy or X-Men: Days of Future Past, but it’s very close, and since everybody saw Guardians and X-Men nobody saw this, this is the pick.

Which makes sense, since I spent a lot of time this year trying to get people to go and watch this movie. It didn’t work* - Edge of Tomorrow finished 29th in the box office this year, behind such memorable films as Ride Along, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, 300: Rise of An Empire, and The Equalizer. Don’t cry for Warner Brothers, though - the movie finished with $370 million worldwide, so they’re not hurting.

*To be fair, even if everyone I’d told to go see it had listened to me, I don’t think it would have made much of a difference on its domestic grosses.

A lot of people came up with theories for why the movie didn’t work here (Confusing Advertising! Complicated Premise! Strange Title! Tom Cruise Fatigue*!). I don’t care about any of those things. I just want you to watch it. Because it’s great.

*This sounds like a thing I made up. It’s not! It’s a real thing people wrote articles about!

It’s a smart, funny action thriller that handles the intricacies of its difficult premise perfectly. It’s paced in such a rapid-fire fashion that the possibilities for “Oh, this again?” dullness of its Groundhog Day plot are kept entirely at bay, even upon multiple viewings. It’s the rare science fiction movie that’s as interested in both keeping the plot sharp and taut as it is blowing things up in a gloriously exciting fashion. Most sci-fi opts for one or the other (and usually fails at both).

Its Metacritc score lists it at “Universal Acclaim” among movie goers, with a score that’s even slightly higher than likely Oscar winner Boyhood’s.

The people who saw thing movie loved it. Make yourself one of them.


The Indie Movie That's Going Up On The Wall In 2014: Boyhood

You’ll hear a lot about Boyhood in the next month as the Oscars approach, though I don’t think I would have expected that this summer when I walked out of the theater after seeing the film. Not as a slight on the movie, but I knew that Oscar Movie Season was coming in December, what with its long establishing shots and silent, taut pauses and Meryl Streeps and what have you.

But now that January has arrived, all of the Oscar contenders have arrived and most of them have landed with a bit of a thud. Not that this has prevented them from getting Oscar nominations anyway. In the Battle of the Misunderstood British Geniuses, the The Imitation Game proved to be a better and more insightful film than The Theory of Everything, though one would assume Eddie Redmayne’s physically demanding Stephen Hawking imitation is more likely to land voters in the Academy than Benedict Cumberbatch's troubled, Asberger-y Alan Turning.* Either way, both landed Best Picture nominations and neither have a chance of winning.

*Though, while we’re on the subject: props to Cumberbatch for playing a role written so similarly to his oddball Sherlock Holmes performance without using a trace of his former character. That’s a difficult thing to do, and I feel like it’s been going unmentioned.

Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper had a massively successful opening  weekend, which oddly, I would assume doomed it in the Oscar race. Mark Harris pointed out this morning that the last movie to win Best Picture while also being its highest grosser was 2006’s The Departed, and he didn’t even mention that that award was seen, even at the time, as a “thanks for all you’ve done” to Martin Scorcese.

However, it’s not the box office numbers that’ll doom Sniper, it’s that too many of what my dad always refers to as the Wrong Sort Of People saw and enjoyed the movie. You know, people who like war movies and deer stands and George Bush and God knows what, thank God I don’t know any of those people, they might get camo on me. Its chances of winning Best Picture are completely dead, and allow me to be the first person writing about this subject to not make the truly tasteless joke that the film’s title sets up.

That leaves five Best Picture nominees: Wes Anderson’s quirky, surprisingly dark The Grand Budapest Hotel (the very definition of an “it’s an honor just to be nominated” selection), tiny jazz drumming indie Whiplash (which is seen as more of an acting film, which is why its young upstart director, Damien Chizelle - he turns 30 today! - didn’t land a directing nomination), and the three actual contenders: Birdman, Selma, and Boyhood.

I won’t spend any time breaking down the merits of the other two films - I have strong affections for all three, and if I’d actually seen Selma in 2014 and not a few days ago, it might have landed this spot. But I suspect not. When I look back on 2014, the movie I’m going to remember most is Boyhood.

For the uninitiated: director Richard Linklater - a Texas director best known for critically-beloved talkers like his Before series and getting surprisingly excellent performances out of Jack Black - filmed a movie over the course of 12 years, casting his lead as a young boy and intermittently shooting the film throughout the child’s growing years. Nothing major happens - his mother stumbles in and out of a series of bad relationships, his father keeps showing up and making promises he can’t keep, he finds a girlfriend and loses her. It’s a few brief glimpses into a life, organic and meandering and surprisingly captivating. When his mother finally breaks down as he disappears off to college, trying to make sense of what she’d built with the scaffolding of her life (“I just thought there would be more,” she gently cries, as her son stands there awkwardly in the doorway, unsure of how to comfort her), the films finally puts into words the lesson its subject had been learning his whole life: you can’t trust someone else to build your life for you.

Boyhood is moving in a way that can’t be forced - there’s something magnetic and sincere about knowing the age lines the actors grow are real - and while it lacks the bombast one would expect of a Best Picture winner, there’s a very good chance that in a little over a month, that’s just what it’ll be.


The TV Show That's Going Up On The Wall: Last Week Tonight With John Oliver 

There is no show whose flag I waved harder this year than John Oliver’s new HBO show. In a concept that seemed like it couldn’t possibly work - a projected that basically amounted to The Daily Show without the immediacy* - Oliver immediately turned on its head and launched a 60 Minutes-style investigative program fueled by a dry British wit and his trademark joyful incredulity. Every week, the in-depth piece ruled Twitter and Facebook, no matter the subject matter.

*I was not alone in thinking this: the end-of-season piece the New York Times did on the show basically apologized for ever doubting him.

In fact, here are the topics the show explored, in order. Just take a look at this slate, remembering that this is a comedy program.

Episode 1: The Indian general election (this was the pilot!)
Episode 2: Capital Punishment
Episode 3: The Senate election in Kentucky
Episode 4: The Right to be Forgotten
Episode 5: Net neutrality
Episode 6: Bashar al-Assad
Episode 7: Immigration reform
Episode 8: the Dietary Health and Information Act of 1994
Episode 9: LGBT rights in Uganda
Episode 10: Income equality and wealth inequality
Episode 11: Incarceration
Episode 12: Failures in nuclear weapons systems
Episode 13: Argentine debt restructuring
Episode 14: Payday loans
Episode 15: Equal pay for equal work
Episode 16: Student debt
Episode 17: Scottish independence
Episode 18: The Cuba embargo
Episode 19: The Kansas state budge shortfall
Episode 20: Civil forfeiture
Episode 21: The Supreme Court
Episode 22: Sugar (this doesn't sound tough, but it was actually kind of devastating)
Episode 23: U.S. state legislatures in United States elections
Episode 24: The lottery.

Each one of them had smart, well-framed arguments and featured deep dives in terms of investigative reporting. It’s the best news show I saw all year, and this was all while being basically unquestionably the funniest show on television this year.

The show went off the air in November and won't return until February, and I've missed it desperately. I've been subsisting on occasional check-ins the show's dropped on YouTube, or Oliver's surprise hosting gig on The Daily Show. There's nothing on television I looked forward to more this year - even more than Game of Thrones' always too-short 10-week run.

If you don’t have HBO Go (and you probably don’t), steal someone’s password* and watch every episode of this show.

*Ha ha! I would never actually suggest doing this, of course, Copyright Lawyer Looking At My Website! What a flagrant abuse of the system that would be!

Also receiving votes: You're The Worst, Silicon Valley.


The Podcast That's Going Up On The Wall: The Hollywood Prospectus Podcast

Let’s start with the place I stole the idea of The Wall from - Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan’s Hollywood Prospectus Podcast for Grantland. Despite the fact that they’re recording from different coasts, the chemistry here between the hosts is basically unmatched on any other podcast I heard, which comes from their decades-long-length friendship, stretching back to their days as writers for SPIN magazine (remember music magazines, guys?). Now that Ryan is the editor of Grantland’s entertainment division, and Greenwald its head TV writer, it’s a refreshing pleasure to hear the two of them call each other and riff on television, music, movies, or whatever seems to be bouncing around pop culture.

They’re both so attuned to each other’s rhythms and nearly perfectly in sync in terms of taste that they’re almost a hive mind when breaking down why Homeland has gone off the rails, or why everyone should check out the new A$AP Ferg record; but even when they draw firm lines in the sand over something, you get the sense they're just trying to get a laugh out of the other person.

If you wanted to check it out, I’d recommend checking out the October 27th episode where they break down what they loved and hated about ‘Birdman’ and compare Taylor Swift’s “1989" to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tango In The Night." But I’d also recommend seeking out Andy Greenwald’s interview podcast, particularly the episode where he sits down with Jenny Lewis about her new album “The Voyager,” and she tells some of the most incredible stories about working with Ryan Adams (the man, God bless him, is both a musical genius and a borderline insane person). It’s gone from the podcast archives, but I dug up the link online.

Others receiving votes:
Serial (Well, of course. I’m a white person), Drunk Ex-Pastors, How Did This Get Made?


Introducing: The Wall of Fame (2014)

Every year I do some sort of wrap-up of things I liked over the year, but no matter what I do to try and avoid it, it always ends up becoming some sort of Top 10 list, and Top 10 lists are mostly boring. I like seeing playlists, but who cares if I thought Interstellar was better than Nightcrawler?* Who cares if my high expectations for the new Muppet movie were wildly missed, or my already incredibly low expectations for the last Hobbit movie were somehow not met?**

Instead, I’m introducing a new wrinkle this year: The Wall. Things I’m throwing up on The Wall this year are the things I fought for, begged people to watch, defended from their critics, rode for online. This is not any sort of Top 10 list - these are just the things that made me happiest. And they go up on The Wall so I can look up at them in satisfaction from now on.

*If you do care: I did.
** Both true!