Love on the Spectrum. Just finished the second season of this heart-warming and instructive Australian reality dating show on Netflix featuring people on the autism spectrum. The delightful dynamic between Michael and his mom should be its own show.
Abbey Road. I previously wrote about encountering the super deluxe remastered edition of Sgt. Pepper’s and, by Jove, it happened again with my favorite Beatles record on a recent drive home. Luscious.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Finally read Miller’s debut novel after loving Circe, and she is now two for two in my book.
The Great British Baking Show. The current season is only the second we’ve seen, the first being last year’s COVID-bubble season. Mr. Almost-3 has started saying “Mmmmm, yummmm” every time the food drawings appear, which is (almost) always correct.
The Green Knight. Thought this was just OK for a large chunk of it, until the ending, which made me want to rewatch it immediately.
Witness for the Prosecution. Similar to The Green Knight, this was fine for a while until the end, when it became great. The acting was a bit over-the-top, even for the 1950s, but Charles Laughton was the tops throughout.
Shiva Baby. Nothing quite like seeing a writer-director absolutely nail the cringey-funny tone required to make this work.
Dune. Started watching as a Dune newbie and finished as a believer. Don’t think I’ll read the books though.
We’re now deep into an era that was, at least for me, dominated by DVDs. I seemed to get a new one or two every birthday and Christmas, and rented aplenty from Family Video or Blockbuster. My movie collection has changed a lot since then, but I’ve never stopped collecting physical media.
On top of more frequent moviegoing as a freshman going on sophomore, I also started paying more attention to the Oscars. Part of this was printing out a ballot to track the guesses of my friends and classmates. My claim to infamy: being the only person to predict an upset Best Picture win for Lost in Translation—this in the year of the 11-win sweep by Return of the King. I was glad to be wrong.
On to the list.
1. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
My friend and fellow LOTR nerd Tim and I were in the same high school chemistry class, and we spent the entire fall semester counting down the days until this movie premiered. All the haters who complain about the multiple endings are fools of a Took. See also: my Top 5 Lord of the Rings moments and other appreciations.
2. Finding Nemo
Not unlike the LOTR trilogy, this film—#6 in my Pixar rankings—is a journey. I haven’t watched it since becoming a father, so I wonder if and how my feelings about it will change with a rewatch.
I don’t think I’d seen many con movies at the time, so this one made a strong impression. Nic Cage is the perfect balance of quirk and cool, and Sam Rockwell shines as usual in a wiry supporting role.
5. Kill Bill Vol. 1
Hard to decide whether I like Vol. 1 or Vol. 2 more, though the fact that Vol. 2 didn’t crack my 2004 list perhaps makes the case for me.
6. Ghosts of the Abyss
Sought out this documentary during my recent Titanic kick. It follows James Cameron and the crew of his deep-sea diving expedition in 2001 to explore the remains of the Titanic shipwreck. Haunting, beautiful stuff, in a way that’s different from Cameron’s other Titanic movie.
7. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
A rollicking and only occasionally ridiculous adventure, and the rare adaptation success that Hollywood has been chasing and failing to reproduce ever since.
8. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
This seems to have acquired a reputation as an under-appreciated masterpiece. It’s quite good, and I’d definitely watch a sequel, but I’ll leave it at that.
9. A Mighty Wind
Third-rate Christopher Guest joint (literally—after Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show) with a five-star soundtrack.
10. Runaway Jury
The idea of a gun manufacturer being held criminally liable for a mass shooting seems quaint these days. Not quaint: Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman going mano a mano. I miss Gene Hackman in movies.
I have a pretty good handle on my Christmas/winter movie canon. But fall? Not so much. That’s what inspired me to consider the movies I return to during autumn, or seek out when I want that Mr. Autumn Man feeling on screen regardless of the season.
To qualify, they have to take place primarily within, embody the spirit of, and have the look and feel of autumn. Somy beloved Little Women (both the 1994 and 2019 renditions) don’t quite make the cut given their year-round plots. Nor do other movies that are widely considered fall movies but I either haven’t seen (Hocus Pocus, Practical Magic) or care enough about (When Harry Met Sally).
Here, listed alphabetically, is what I landed on, along with some of their appealingly autumnal attributes.
Dia de Los Muertos. The spookiness. The cemetery.
The foliage. The sweaters and coats. The gothic architecture.
The title of the movie. The overcast. The mournful spirit. The gorgeous music. The light jackets and flannel. (This is really #1.)
Remember the Titans
The nighttime football. The new-school-year vibes.
The cloaks. The chilly nights. The aphyllus trees. The forest walks.
As the capstone of an 11-year cinematic journey through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Endgame was so thoroughly conclusive and satisfying that it has made me consider giving up on the MCU.
Seriously, how can you top this:
I’m sure someone can “well, actually” me about other even more epic crossover events in the comics or whatever. But I’m not a comics person. I have no connection to the Marvel universe beyond the films themselves.
My only foray has been WandaVision. We signed up for a year of Disney+ back in March 2020, pretty much right after COVID-19 lockdown started, so we had it for just enough time to watch that show—but none of the subsequent ones—before our subscription expired.
I didn’t resubscribe mostly because Disney’s megathread on Twitter back in December announcing the next few years’ worth of movies and shows coming to theaters and Disney+ broke my brain a little bit. The prospect of the MCU metastasizing even further beyond its already expansive ambit forced me to consider how much time and energy the next phase is worth. (Or is it phases? I don’t know phases.)
The bottom line is: I’m OK with skipping whatever is on Disney+ (that’s what Wikipedia summaries are for) and I’m still open to seeing (some of) the forthcoming movies, though the threshold for seeing them in theaters versus waiting until they’re on DVD/Blu-ray will be high. I’ll let critical acclaim and my personal interest sort that out on an individual basis.
In the meantime, I look back on the journey to Endgame fondly. It remains a monumental achievement, and one I’ll treasure revisiting one day with Mr. 2 Years Old.
Schmigadoon. Though its story is a little loose at the edges throughout the show’s short six-episode run, the central conceit of a couple getting stuck inside the world of an old-timey musical was a fun journey. Watch out for “Corn Puddin’” because it’s an earworm. More TV musicals please!
Ted Lasso, season 2. Will be curious to see how this season fills out as a whole, but nothing can damper my love of the best show on TV. We really enjoyed the stretch of a couple weeks in July and August when we could watch the latest episodes of this and Schmigadoon as an uplifting and wholesome Friday night double feature.
Crimson Tide. So, this ruled. And made me really miss seeing Gene Hackman in movies.
In the Heights(movie and soundtrack). Seeing this was my first time back in the theater since February 2020, and I’ve had the soundtrack pretty much on repeat since. Favorite little moments: “damn, we only jokin’, stay broke then” and the It’s A Wonderful Life reference.
Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic by Steven Johnson. My favorite author strikes again.
A Quiet Place / A Quiet Place Part II. Being horror-averse I put off the first one for a while, basically until I saw the excellent reviews for Part II and realized they’re not actually horror but more of the “momentarily scary well-made thriller” variety, which I’m down with.
Showbiz Kids. Affecting documentary on HBO Max featuring former child actors talking about their past and present struggles.
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green. I’ve never listened to the podcast this book is based on, but still enjoyed Green’s unique, earnest, and wry literary voice shining through this collection of essays.
As a freshman/sophomore in high school, this year provided me several memorable theater experiences, including the last great M. Night Shyamalan movie, some surprisingly excellent sequels, and a romance that inspired one of my very first blog posts.
But chief among these theatrical outings were Anchorman and Dodgeball. Both were instrumental to the development of my comedic sensibility (for better or worse), having hit me and my peers at the exact right age for maximum effect and quotability. A shocking amount of lines remain lodged in my subconscious to this day, just waiting to be deployed—much to my wife’s puzzlement or annoyance.
I can’t defend everything about them. A recent rewatch of Dodgeball confirmed just how much of its comedy wouldn’t survive into today. But dammit, if “We’re better than you, and we know it!” and “I immediately regret this decision!” and countless other references are wrong, then I don’t want to be right.
On to the list…
1. Before Sunset
The Before series is one of four trilogies I own on DVD, the others being Back to the Future, Die Hard (4 and 5 don’t count), and Lord of the Rings. Unlike with those series, this second movie is the best of the trilogy.
2. The Incredibles
This is at #3 in my Pixar rankings, behind WALL-E and Toy Story. Such a beautiful, exhilarating vision from Brad Bird.
3. Shaun of the Dead
I think about this film essay on Edgar Wright’s visual comedy a lot. While my opinions vary on his films, there’s no denying his filmmaking prowess, which is nearly Wes Anderson-esque in its distinctness.
4. The Village
The last great M. Night Shyamalan movie. I know the twist is divisive, but it worked for me, as did the gorgeous James Newton Howard score, the crackling chemistry between Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard, and the murderers row of character actors.
Within Pewit’s Nest gorge in Baraboo, Wisconsin, you can wade down Skillet Creek and jump off small cliffs into pools within the creek. I was there several years ago with a few people when I clambered up one of these cliffs and, right before jumping, delivered Ron Burgundy’s poolside monologue to those nearby, punctuated with a cannonball into the water just like in the movie. To my chagrin, no one understood the reference and therefore probably considered me a disturbed weirdo. I should have capped it with “Don’t act like you’re not impressed…”
Tom Cruise needs to play more villains.
Not all live-action Disney sports movies work, but this one just straight-up does. And like most good sports movies, you don’t need to know much about the sport.
8. Ocean’s Twelve
Saw this with a group of friends, and we decided to get dressed up for a fancy night at the movies just to emulate the suaveness of the cast. This is usually ranked last in the trilogy, but it’s not far behind Thirteen.
9. Friday Night Lights
The show was good, but this was great. My introduction to the music of Explosions in the Sky.
10. I, Robot
This holds up, not only as sci-fi dystopian action but as a Will Smith vehicle during his late prime.
Among the podcasts in my regular rotation, there are two others I’m listening to that are both limited series, airing concurrently, and happen to share a surprising thematic overlap.
One is Gene and Roger, an eight-part Spotify-exclusive series from The Ringer that serves as an oral history of Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert, and their movie criticism legacy. The other is The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill from Christianity Today, which charts the story of Mars Hill Church and its controversial pastor Mark Driscoll.
What’s the connection between these two disparate stories? The epiphany came after listening to recent episodes of both shows, released on the same day.
For the brand
“Top Guns” finds Siskel and Ebert reaching new heights of exposure, popularity, and power through their TV show and “two thumbs up” brand. Meanwhile, “The Brand” follows Driscoll as he and Mars Hill’s burgeoning marketing team harness technology and internet to build his personal brand and rocket the church’s growth.
Both subjects became celebrities within their domains despite their unlikely origins, unorthodox approaches, and often prickly demeanor. Whatever criticism that came their way—like for the reductive sloganeering of Siskel and Ebert’s “two thumbs up” and for Driscoll’s macho masculinity and objectification of women—was overshadowed by their surprising success and cultural ubiquity.
Movies and machismo
Though I was too young to watch Siskel and Ebert together on TV at the time, I was a regular viewer of the post-Siskel iteration with Richard Roeper and even the post-Ebert version with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott. Before podcasts and social media, this was the only time I could see intelligent people arguing about movies. You also couldn’t be a film lover and understand what it means to write and think about movies without Ebert’s influence specifically. (His Great Movies anthologies are an essential resource, and the documentary Life Itself is a great primer on his life and work.)
Driscoll had a similar influence within American Christianity. I listened to his sermon podcasts through iTunes in the early 2010s, back when they were usually topping the Religion charts (and back when I was still listening to sermons). Driscoll’s tough-guy personality and the reported toxic culture of Mars Hill eventually turned me off, but his cultural cache lived on—probably peaking with his infamous trolling of Obama for his second Inauguration—until Mars Hill’s demise less than two years later on account of Driscoll’s bullying and “patterns of persistent sinful behavior”.
The beauty of synchronicity
The comparisons do fade at some point. The end of Siskel and Ebert—as a show and as individuals—was caused by untimely illness, while it was Driscoll’s behavior that led to his disgrace.
Still, it was a synchronistic delight to catch both of these excellent podcasts at the right moment to hear how seemingly unrelated stories can inform each other. One of the benefits of subscribing to (probably) too many podcasts…
Really enjoyed this post from Freddie de Boer about his frustration with the common misinterpretation of Mad Max: Fury Road as “Furiosa replaces Max in a Mad Max movie”—a take that’s entirely false:
It’s important to understand that Furiosa doesn’t replace Max because the entire movie demonstrates the failure of dictatorship and the superiority of communal leadership. It’s not about men being erased in deference to women; it would be totally bizarre for a movie with that intent to place so much agency in its male characters. (Nux’s sacrifice saves the lives of the remaining characters, to pick an obvious example.) It’s about the superiority of democracy and shared governance and diversity over the the whims of an individual autocrat.
He then links this framework to how a “new masculinity”, embodied by Max, can be “unthreatened by the strengths and abilities of others” while joining with the ideal version of feminism:
Feminism is not about women replacing men in an equally stratified and undemocratic structure as the patriarchy that preceded it; that’s a parody of feminism. Feminism is about equality, diversity, communalism, and radical democracy. Indeed, the movie models consensus and communal deliberation for us. When they stop and discuss whether to continue on the salt flats or turn back for the Citadel, Max and Furiosa do most of the talking, but everyone weighs in and is heard. Furiosa doesn’t lead by fiat. She listens and becomes convinced, as do the rest, and they all make a plan together. Max isn’t erased; he’s a valued and essential part of the whole, just as white men will be in the new world of democracy and equality we are building.
In that group discussion on the salt flats—one of the few quiet moments of the movie—Max concludes his case to Furiosa thusly:
Look, it’ll be a hard day. But I guarantee you that 160 days riding that way, there’s nothing but salt. At least that way, we might be able to, together, come across some kind of redemption.
What a great metaphor! The path towards a better world is hard and painful, but retreating away from it is worse in the long run. “The obstacle is the way,” as Ryan Holiday would say.
I started making annual top-10 movie lists in 2007, so I’ve been going backwards from there to create lists for each year retroactively. See all my best-of lists.
I really enjoyed kicking off my back-in-time film rankings series with the 2006 slate.
Most of my indelible memories from this moviegoing year involved the late, lamented Westgate Cinema, a rundown strip mall theater in Madison that showed the arthouse flicks I was really getting into at this time as a high school junior and senior. I saw several of my top 10 films there.
Looking at the box office from that year reveals a now-familiar dominance of franchises, though only one superhero movie. The only two original concepts represented in the top 10 were Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Hitch—one of which made my own top 10 and the other just missed out.
As for the Oscars, the bit that sticks out (besides the surprising-but-not-really Best Picture triumph of Crash over Brokeback Mountain) was host Jon Stewart’s quip after Three 6 Mafia won Best Original Song for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from Hustle & Flow: “For those of you who are keeping score at home, I just want to make something very clear: Martin Scorsese, zero Oscars; Three 6 Mafia, one.”
On to the list…
1. Brokeback Mountain
True story: when I started teaching myself how to play guitar around this time, the first two songs I learned were “Blackbird” by The Beatles and “The Wings” from the Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain score by Gustavo Santaolalla. Partially because they happened to share a similar riff (and, I realize only now, theme: “Take these broken wings and learn to fly…”), but also because they’re both gorgeously evocative in their own ways.
2. Good Night, And Good Luck
There’s a cozy intimacy this film accomplishes that sets it apart from other star-studded period dramas. Maybe it’s the smooth-jazz score, the black-and-white, or the short runtime. Or maybe it’s the contrast of big issues—freedom of speech, the power of the press—being teased out through small conversations in unassuming rooms.
3. Grizzly Man
I’ve seen and enjoyed many Werner Herzog documentaries, but this one still reigns supreme.
4. Batman Begins
Ah, the halcyon days of when a gritty superhero reboot was a novel concept.
5. A History of Violence
The fight in the diner. The stairway sex scene. The final shot.
6. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Let’s save the discussion about the cancelability of mid-2000s comedies for the 2004 list (Anchorman, Dodgeball) and say for now that this felt like a sea change at the time, not only for the humor but also for the ultimately positive portrayal of virginity.
7. The New World
I remember going to see this with some friends who were expecting something closer to Pocahontas than the slow, meandering, meditative epic this actually is. Needless to say they didn’t like it, but I did.
8. Walk the Line
At my high school, seniors were allowed to make a big raucous commotion between classes on their last day of school to celebrate graduating. My contribution to this day was hoisting my boombox above my head and playing this movie’s soundtrack on repeat while I walked the halls.
9. Four Brothers
An underrated winter movie, crime movie, family drama, and ensemble piece, with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s truly chilling turn as the sadistic, fur-spangled crime boss Victor Sweet as a bonus.
10. Mr. & Mrs. Smith
We now know how Brangelina would turn out, but at the time the chemistry of Pitt and Jolie was as incandescent as this movie’s alchemy of action, humor, and romance.
Honorable mentions: Broken Flowers, Fever Pitch, Hitch, In Her Shoes, Just Friends, King Kong, The Squid and the Whale, War of the Worlds
My annual top-10 movie lists begin in 2007, so I thought it would be fun to start going backwards from there and create lists for each year retroactively.
First up is 2006, which is now 15 years ago and a notable year for me in several ways: it’s when I graduated high school, went on tour with my band (RIP Ice Cap Fortune), entered college, and started this blog.
I also have a lot of movie-related memories from that year, including:
seeing Brick at my beloved Hilldale Theatre in Madison not long before it closed permanently
going to my first and last midnight screening (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest)
suffering through some truly awful movies (X-Men: The Last Stand, Superman Returns, Lady in the Water)
But the abiding memory from 2006 was the day I saw five movies in a row.
My mediocre movie marathon
This may be a common occurrence for film festival-goers or professional critics, but for me it was something I did just to see if I could pull it off—both as a tactical feat of avoiding detection by the theater staff and as a moviegoing stunt.
I walked into Marcus Point Cinema in Madison, WI, for a 12pm showing and reemerged into the darkness just before midnight (paying for only one ticket—yes, I was a teenage scofflaw). It’s not the best lineup, but here’s what I saw:
The Pursuit of Happyness
The Nativity Story (an unplanned addition but it fit perfectly between other showings, and my mom joined me with some contraband McDonald’s)
The Good Shepherd (my dad joined me for this one)
I never did this again and would not recommend it. By Blood Diamond my eyes were getting blurry and my butt hurt, so I don’t think I could fully appreciate that or The Good Shepherd. But it was bucket list cross-off and gave me a story to tell on my blog 15 years later.
Anyway, on to the list…
Top 10 of 2006
I suspect this won’t continue to be the case as I move back in time, but I saw almost all of the films in my top 10 in theaters at the time. By then I was an ardent cinephile with a job and a car, so I was able to see a lot of movies. And there were a lot of great ones. Here are my favorites:
Honorable mentions: The Prestige, Borat, Little Miss Sunshine, Idiocracy, Half Nelson, United 93, Marie Antoinette, Shut Up and Sing, Monster House, Old Joy, This Film is Not Yet Rated, Mission: Impossible III