Recent Views, not-recent edition

More photography here.

With a photogenic infant at home, I need to make sure my photo backup situation is solid. I decided to start using iCloud since my Dropbox is maxed out and because it so seamlessly integrates with my iPhone. Digging through my photo archive has brought back some nice memories, including photos from a photography class I took junior year of college, 10 years ago now. They might be the last photos I took on an SLR film camera:

My son, the audiobook

Just set a picture of the Boy as the wallpaper on my phone lock screen. The idea was to see him when I use my phone, but I chuckled when I realized what that looks like in practice:

On endeavoring through Top 100 film lists

100-films-lists.png

The primary function of my logbook is to document in a Google spreadsheet what I read and watch. But that’s not all it tracks. Among sheets dedicated to typewriters I own and words I like is one that charts my progress through several Top 100 film lists (see above).

I’ve been slowly endeavoring through the AFI 100 since high school. I then added Image’s Arts & Faith Top 100, the Time 100, and recently the BFI Critics 100 just cuz. There’s a fair amount of overlap between them, but enough differences for all of them to be useful sources of viewing suggestions.

Here’s where I’m at now on each list:

AFI: 92

Image: 50

Time: 59

BFI: 52

There’s a completist satisfaction in checking off titles and inching closer to 100. Though as close as I am to finishing the AFI list, there are a few remaining titles I’m in no rush to subject myself to, like Intolerance, A Clockwork Orange, and Sophie’s Choice. As with any movie I watch, mood has to align with opportunity and availability. Having lists like these ready to go ensures I always have good options for when the moment is right.

These lists are also great fodder for exploring cinema beyond whatever Netflix or other streaming services decide to make available at any given moment. Besides Kanopy, these services tend to have a recency bias. Everyone, but especially Kids These Days, should be exposed to older and lesser known movies. See Ty Burr’s book The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide to Watching Together for more ideas, or peruse your local library.

Media of the moment, post-baby edition

An ongoing series on books, movies, and music I’ve encountered recently.

The Baby Book by William Sears. This has been helpful thus far. Though don’t think we haven’t also randomly Googled things at odd hours.

The Cider House Rules. Filling in the gaps of my 1999 movie viewings. This gets less compelling once Homer leaves the orphanage.

Brazil. I’m always up for a good dystopian satire, but this one feels actively antagonistic toward the idea of being likable.

Saturday Night Fever. I was familiar with this from references in Airplane! and The Simpsons, but I hadn’t actually seen it in full. The dance scenes are oddly mesmerizing, but the sexual politics are quite disturbing.

Terms of Endearment. I’m sorry, I just can’t get into Shirley MacLaine. Debra Winger is the highlight.

Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up by Tom Phillips. Reviewing this for Booklist. It’s like Yuval Harari’s Sapiens by way of a cheeky, crude stand-up comedian.

What is utter sadness, Alex

Since coming home from the hospital with our baby boy, we’ve been alternating between several streaming shows to pass the hours that need passing. Current go-tos include The Office, The Great British Baking Show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and The Wire.

As much as I like all of them, none give me as much joy as watching Jeopardy! on Netflix. I literally gasped when I discovered it was on there. Finally I could finally skip the awkward contestant small talk and Medicare commercials and just engage in pure, uncut, nonstop trivia.

I found it just in time. The other day the Boy was getting fussy as I was starting an episode. As soon as Alex Trebek’s legendary voice started in on the clues, he calmed down. I’m gonna go ahead and assert that in this instance correlation did equal causation, because Jeopardy! fixes all.

Which makes the news about Trebek’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis that much sadder. The straight-laced optimism and sly humor in his video announcing the news is inspiring and very on-brand. It’s like he’s a Clue Crew member delivering a Video Daily Double:

(See also his interview on The Nerdist.)

Barry Petchesky from Deadspin gets it right:

This is exactly what you’d want and expect from the man who, for 35 years, has hosted the best and smartest game show in existence. Businesslike. Competence exuded through every pore. Cool, professional, authoritative. (It’s what makes his occasional jokes work so well. They’re gems because they’re so rare. They’re earned.) You are not there, in Trebek’s house, for chit-chat. You are there to answer some damn questions. And there is no one on earth better suited to oversee the merciless, no-frills format of Jeopardy! than him.

I’m so glad I got to see Trebek and the show in person. Long may he reign. And may we have mercy on whoever has to eventually replace him.

Love & Revelation

So excited to receive Over the Rhine’s gorgeous new album Love & Revelation in the mail. I don’t get many CDs these days, so it was a treat to admire the design and new-CD smell:

This album was part of Over the Rhine’s fundraiser from a few years ago my wife and I contributed to. Two more future albums are included in our donation level, along with the treat of getting our names in the liner notes:

Get it when it’s released wide March 15!

Papa’s got a brand new baby

And he’s the best:

Favorite films of 1999

In case you haven’t heard, 1999 was a great year for movies. I don’t remember seeing any of them in the theater at the time (I was 12), but I fondly remember watching and rewatching many on VHS and DVD later on.

I really tried to rank them. But the exercise of ranking felt even more futile and arbitrary than usual when I considered all the candidates and how I loved them nearly equally for different reasons. And so:

Top 10 films of 1999 I love nearly equally for different reasons, in alphabetical order

Dick

This gets funnier the more you know about Watergate. Choice scene: Haldeman’s house

Fight Club

Filmmaking as muscular as Brad Pitt’s abs. Choice scene: “The first rule of Fight Club.”

The Matrix

As a tween I babysat for a family that owned only a few DVDs, the only interesting one being The Matrix. Since the kids were always in bed by the time I arrived, basically I was paid to watch The Matrix. Choice scene: “I’ve been looking for you, Neo.”

October Sky

Jake Gyllenhaal has been great for a long time. Ditto Chris Cooper, who had quite the one-two punch with this and American Beauty. Choice scene: “He isn’t my hero.”

Office Space

In the Mount Rushmore of quotable comedies. Choice scene: “Sounds like somebody’s got a case of the Mondays!”

The Sixth Sense

Ah, the halcyon days of M. Night Shyamalan fever. Choice scene: “She wanted me to tell you she saw you dance.”

The Straight Story

What could have been a sentimental schlockfest is actually a graceful meditation on redemption and the cosmic importance of the quotidian. Choice scene: “That’s a darn good grabber, Alvin.”

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Could be titled Call Me By Your Name, which would work on several levels. Might be Matt Damon’s best performance. Choice scene: “Is there something you’d like to say, Freddie?”

Three Kings

This really owns the intersection of the “buddy comedy heist war movie” Venn diagram. Choice scene: “The blinding power of American sunshine”

Toy Story 2

In the Mount Rushmore of best movie sequels. Choice scene: Tour Guide Barbie

 

Bonus lists

Top 10 films of 1999 that aren’t “great” but are nostalgic favorites due to innumerable rewatches, in alphabetical order

  • Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
  • Blue Streak
  • Dogma
  • Mickey Blue Eyes
  • The Mummy
  • Never Been Kissed
  • She’s All That
  • South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
  • Tarzan
  • 10 Things I Hate About You

Top 6 highly regarded films of 1999 I don’t have strong feelings about, in alphabetical order

  • American Beauty
  • Election
  • The Green Mile
  • The Insider
  • Magnolia
  • Man on the Moon

Circle of lives

Somewhere on the Internet I stumbled upon this print from the artist Nina Montenegro’s series Against Forgetting:

It struck a chord in me not only because I’ve been reading the tree-centric novel The Overstory, but also because six days ago I became a father. And I’ll tell ya, I know I’m barely a week into this, but there’s nothing like having a child to make you reconsider everything you think you know about time.

How Helen met Cliff

Today would be the 75th wedding anniversary of my grandparents Cliff and Helen. In the oral history of her life, Helen talked about how she met Cliff:

I was nineteen when I met him. He asked me if I was twenty-one and I said no. He was twenty-seven, so he was an older guy. I met him at a dance ballroom. In Baltimore, at Gwynn Oak Park, they had a ballroom and an orchestra there and it was fancy. I had gone with my girlfriends. About three of us would go to these USO dances and we would never, ever give anyone our phone number, and we would never let anyone take us home.

After I met Cliff, I danced with him quite a few times. He asked me where I lived, and at that time I lived with my girlfriend, her name was Bertha Mae. She had been my next-door neighbor in Elkins and we had been in the senior play together. I met Cliff, I think it was in August, and over that winter we danced in several of the USO dances. He asked, ‘Are you ever going to give me your phone number?’ And I’d say, ‘Nope. We just don’t do that.’ Then, around Christmastime, another fancy place had a dance. It was called the Alcazar. We were there and I saw my girlfriend dancing with Cliff and I thought, ‘Where’d she find him?’ So I danced with him. And after a few more times of this, he said, ‘How am I ever going to get to know you if you don’t give me your phone number?’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘My intentions are honorable.’ [laughs] What do I say then? So I ended up giving my phone number. I didn’t know what to say. So he’d call and we’d go to movies.

It was a very small wedding. Some of his friends in the Army were there. I was taking a huge chance, wasn’t I? He was straightforward. He said just what he thought. He didn’t gloss over a lot of things and pretend they were better. I thought he was a gentleman. And Cliff had a good voice. When dancing, he always sang, ‘cause he knew every song there was.

It seemed like he filled a vacancy in our family. It was the first Christmas without Jake. But that’s when he asked me to marry him. And I said, ‘Oh my goodness, whoa!’ I hadn’t even thought of that, so I said no. But he kept asking me. He wanted to tell my folks and I said no because I knew that they wouldn’t go for that at all. He was at Fort Meade in Maryland and he was being transferred to Nashville, so that’s probably what stepped up this thing. He sent me a ring from Nashville. I was going to go down for a visit in Nashville over Valentine’s Day in February. He kept calling me and finally said, ‘Why don’t you just buy a one-way ticket. Let’s get married.’ So that’s what happened. My mother and dad did not want me to get married. Not at all. But that was the first time I ever did anything that was against their… Well, Cliff just seemed like a nice person. A good person. The Lord was watching out for me, believe me. He was just a gentleman. He had a lot of empathy for people. My mother liked him. My dad never really said anything for a while. It seemed to her, I think, that he sort of took Jake’s place. It seemed like it filled a void there. It just worked. But she thought I was too young. And I know that, I realize that. I was just very fortunate.