Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Road; A Clumsy and Meandering Review.

This is sort of embarrassing to admit, but I have never had a library card as an adult. I had some late fees when I was a kid, and whatever amount I owed seemed huge at the time (probably like 9 dollars or something). It never stopped me from reading. I've read a lot over the years. It also made reading pretty expensive, because almost without fail I'd end up buying the books I had heard about, or saw laying around. Getting me near a book store was (and still is) dangerous.

Among the many, many other factors that make the Tofu Muchacha so awesome, she has been a good influence on me in regards to my aversion to the library. She usually has at least 3 or 4 books out at a time, and she seems to plow through them prodigiously.

So I finally opened up a big-boy library card. It's actually pretty awesome now. They have a drive-up window! I don't even have to leave my car to pick up the FREE books. I know!!

Anyway, the first two books I picked up were “World War Z”, which is about the Zombie Wars and whatnot, and the other is “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. I was inspired to pick up The Road by the trailers I saw for the movie. I thought it looked really interesting and kinda desolate and whatnot, and The T.M. Recommended that I read the book, as she'd really really liked it.

One of the best things about reading a library book is that it has a history itself. It's been read by dozens of other people, or even more in some cases, and there are old dog-ears and coffee stains and quotes underlined. I love that. It shows that someone else had traveled that exact path you're on. It's very appealing. And with The Road, I found this even more appealing than usual. There was one particular past reader who found more than a few noteworthy passages. Even going so far as to write in the margin on an occasion or two. I almost looked forward to the next selected passage to see what my predecessor found important. I didn't always agree, and that was even better... It was like a debate with a stranger without all of the annoying fighting. Why did this person underline the word “red”? Was it because colors aside from gray are so rarely mentioned? Was it because blood becomes such a prevalent symbol of pending death? Not sure, but even when an opinion wasn't obvious, it often raised questions, and that's not something you can get out of a book bought new.

I've heard from several people that they started, but couldn't get into the book. The Road is not written conventionally, with long and looping paragraphs of prose. Much like the wasteland setting offered up in the book, the voice of the author here is portrayed as bleak and halting. There's a feeling of anxiety and urgency conveyed by the haste of each sentence. Sometimes only a word or two. There's hardly any time wasted on punctuation. Not a quotation mark or question mark in the whole book that I recall. The dialogue mostly just simply separated from the text as a new paragraph. There's a lilt to the prose that starts to make a rhythmic sense, and the reader can build up quite the head of steam. It's an interesting momentum too, as so much of the important moments happen suddenly. Sometimes I'd be 3 or 4 sentences past before I realized something new had happened. Suddenly the tone would change and I'd have to go back and carefully re-read to make sure I caught what I'd missed.

There were certain motifs that I really loved for the emotions and imagery they evoked for me. The un-ending gray (as mentioned before). Whether it was the burned trees, or the never ceasing shower of ash. I especially loved it when the snow was tainted with the ash and came down gray. There have been hundreds of books and poems written about the purity of snow, and how the clean, perfect white of a fresh snow is symbolic of the world renewing. Not in The Road. Here, even the snow is already tainted by the burning world, even before it touches the ground. The relentlessness of the gray really punctuates those moments when color "bleeds" in. It emphasizes the importance of each of those moments.

I read a review (one of my favorite things to do is to read something or see something and then to see what other people have to say about it) where they mention how the book is "harrowing" but saved by the occasional glimmer of hope. I totally agree with this assessment. I really liked how despite the horrible trials these two people are going through, the father will still allow for moments of joy. Tiny breaks from the pain. A few of these come to mind especially... the swim in the waterfall. The drinking of the old can of Coke. The enjoyment of something so simple as morel mushrooms.

Another thing I really liked was the establishment of the Son as the secret hero in the story. Though almost the entire book is told from the point of view of the father, the son consistently is the voice of morality, and of conscience. The only points in the book where there is friction between the father and son come when the father's humanity is compromised in some way... When he leaves the lost child on the road.... when he strips the thief of all of his belongings. The times when the father becomes most cruel or cold... those are the times when the relations between the two travelers become most strained. I really like the feeling that the only thing keeping the man from giving up completely, or from going to the other side is his absolute, and unquestioning devotion to his son. It really makes the absence of the mother even more glaring...and we are shown fairly early on where she is... She gave up on them. It makes the relationship between the father and son to be even more endearing.

This blog is starting to have the same glowing tone that my Spring Awakening blog had, so let me break the admiration up a little by discussing my biggest issues with The Road...

[ Spoilers Ahead ]

1) The ending is a little too neatly tied. I realize that once the father died, the primary voice of the narrative died with him. The son is a true secondary character for the first 220 pages, only being viewed from the perspective of the father, and only speaking when voiced in conversation. When the father dies, the narration/ voice of the book immediately shifts to the son's perspective, which is interesting as a writing choice, but makes for less interesting content. The kid does have a depth that surpasses his age, but nothing of the perspective of the “pre whatever” that the father does. The author's solution to this is to essentially end the book almost right away. The father's body isn't even cold when the son is met by a “family”. It seems a little too fortuitous. Or you know... maybe it's not at all. The new people come across as being the “good guys” but that's certainly not fleshed out. There's definitely an ambiguity to it, which is the only thing that saves the ending for me. That possibility that the father and son were stalked by these new people, who waited for the father to die to swoop in for some nefarious purpose.

2) The father's mystery illness is inconsistently established. There's one or two early mentions of him coughing blood, and then there is probably a hundred pages or more when it doesn't come up at all. Then suddenly he's coughing blood and dying quickly, and then just as suddenly he's dead. To be honest, I'd forgotten the first bloody cough until the second one happened. Seems like, if that's the ultimate downfall of the man, it would be more consistently mentioned.

3) Some of the encounters with other people seemed rushed. The author spends pages describing what kind of foods and supplies the father and son come across on those rare occasions, but when the final encounter occurs where the father gets shot with an arrow, that whole sequence takes less time than the time it took for the author to describe the uncovering of the bunker.

4) There are a couple of points where the text goes a little more philosophical, and the thesis is a little muddy. The Old Man is a really interesting character, because he's the first that truly discusses God's place in the disaster. It's refreshing to read a character that sort of mirrors my own feelings about God's hand in the natural disasters that have shaped our world. People are quick to give God the credit when great things happen, but what about when the majority of humanity is killed off in some undetailed disaster? I appreciate that the Old Man will ask those questions, but I think that, while ambiguity is certainly understandable, it should be more evident that the author himself has a real solid grasp on his own stance. There were some points where it seemed that the McCarthy was using the book to sort of work it out for himself. It tended to wander in those places.

The thing is... these are quibbles mostly, and almost certainly each a very specific choice by the author. He has engendered enough good will throughout by being so specific and deliberate with every period. Every word used that I have to at least give him the credit that even if he's making choices I don't like, they are certainly intentional.

In the end there are a couple of things I take away from The Road that will stick with me...

First, it's incredibly stark and upsetting. The totality of the world the author creates is extremely impressive and the detail, while sparse, is specific enough that there's this feeling that McCarthy may have attacked this book like J.R.R. Tolkein did the Middle Earth books. You just know that he's got an entire history of this alternate universe of Earth, and I'd love to hear him fill in the gaps.

Second, it's an arresting read. It's very difficult to put the book down once you get into that rhythm, and despite the numerous mundane activities that take place, they all seem to be interesting in their own way. That's undoubtedly the result of a craftsman who truly knows exactly how to tell a story, and who most likely went through a ton of writes and rewrites to get it just right.

Third, I can't see myself reading it again soon. It was excellent, don't get me wrong. I loved the style. I loved the cadence. I loved the story. It's just a little unrelenting when it comes to the darkness of the vision. You know it's dark when a guy who spends time reading about serial killers and listening to Assassins and Spring Awakening is all “Wow... that's pretty effing dark.” I'd liken it to movies like Schindler's List or Children of Men... They're so artfully created and so unique that it's easy to admire them, and appreciate them, and even enjoy them (as much as you can enjoy those kinds of things), but you certainly don't want to pop them in on any Sunday afternoon.

Definitely worth a read, though. That's for sure.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A True Awakening

The Tofu Muchacha and I saw Spring Awakening on Thursday (as you know from my Friday blog). To say that I was highly anticipating it would be putting it mildly. I discovered the soundtrack last year, late... I know, and pretty much was captivated. There have been other shows where I've fallen in love with the music well before I'd seen the show... Parade, A New Brain (still never seen it), Children of Eden. For some reason, this one felt a little different. The music is seemingly disconnected… the lyrics more complex. It's a little hard to figure out what's happening in the story just by listening. Maybe on the surface, that's not a good thing, but I think that ultimately it's one of the qualities that makes the show so fantastic. I'll get to that in a bit.

I've probably listened to the album about a hundred times in the last 8 months. The things that typically draw me to musical scores aren't that prevalent. There's no ballad that I want to sing over and over. In fact, there aren't really any solos at all. Still, the music is magnetic. It's spell-binding. Despite the fact the plot isn't carried by the lyrics, I was forced to listen hard, they made me want to know more. I ended up doing a ton of internet searching for plot summaries and video clips, scarfing up whatever I could find.

All of that is sort of "set-up" to explain how spectacularly I was looking forward to seeing it. I could just say... a shitload.

The set is there with no curtain. There's a simple center "staging" area with the band and piano upstage. The stage right and left sides are flanked by "bleachers" with audience members filling in most of the seats. The only construction is an upstage wall filled with odds and ends, almost like an old TGI Fridays on crack. The lights... they come from everywhere. Seriously everywhere.

You know… I'm not going to go through the whole thing. I could. I can remember every moment like I've seen it a dozen times.

What I want to focus on is that I've seen a lot of pieces of theater in my life. I've seen good, bad, weird, funny, sexy, dumb. Literally hundreds of productions at dozens of theaters performed by thousands of actors, and very few of them have stunned me. Very few have made my heart beat fast.

Spring Awakening stunned me. My heart fluttered throughout. I sat watching choice after choice, performance after performance and I couldn't believe how creative and how breathtaking every single moment was. Maybe the best way to put it is that it made the unexpected choice at every chance.

It's not a big show in the way Wicked or Ragtime are BIG shows. There are only 14 or so performers. There's very little in terms of large set pieces and showy tech. About the extent of it is the hayloft that rises on ropes out of the floor, and the chair on the wall that Melchior uses. Slight movement takes the focus. The incredible staging. Every moment is meticulously planned and perfectly executed. Fully committed.

I think what strikes me the most as I watch is that this show could have been done incredibly traditionally... With a curtain and set pieces and body mics throughout. It would have been watchable. I mean... People fucking LOVE Wicked. It's not like there hasn't been success with more linear, more old school productions of late. The public isn't demanding more avant garde theatre. For the most part the most popular shows are the revivals and things like Mamma Mia and Legally Blonde and Spamalot. And please... don't take that as I slight. I fully support the need for shows like Wicked and Shrek. They're wildly entertaining, and people need to be wildly entertained. Spring Awakening is probably too dark for mass appeal. Actually… to call Spring Awakening "dark" would be like calling the Grand Canyon "deep". It's not for everyone, but I think that's what I loved about it the most.

Not that I need to like things outside the mainstream. I’m not some emo poseur who can’t enjoy a good comedy. That's definitely not it. I just fucking love that the people who sat down to conceive this show saw two paths and took the truer one. The one that takes this incredibly dark show to a place that may not necessarily appeal to everyone, but the place that would ring the deeper emotional toll.

They do so many interesting things I never would have thought of… The singers alternate between traditional body mics and pulling hand-held mics from seemingly nowhere. I've spent a lot of time thinking about what the differences are... why the different mics are used at different places, and I think it has something to do with how the characters are feeling. If they are singing about their feelings, or what they're singing about is something internal, they use the hand mics. I honestly don't know... the fact that I have to think about it at all makes incredibly excited.

Then there's the use of lighting. In school, there was a lot of discussion about lighting design being there to subtly lead the audience to feel something. It helps convey emotion. Lights slightly intensify or fade to lead the audience to the place you want. This show sort of ignores that notion completely and goes the exact opposite direction. The lights are overt. Bright REDS when Ilse and Martha sing "The Dark I Know Well". Greens and blues other times. When Wendla and Melchior sleep together at the end of the first act, and the cast is singing "I believe", the lights warm them, and all of these hidden lights throughout the backdrop and hanging from the ceiling light blueish to give this notion that the stars are lighting their way. It's incredibly beautiful. And then later, when Melchior is at his darkest point, the absence of those same lights shines as glaringly as if they were there. The holes in the wall where the lights would normally be shining show as black chasms more than you'd ever noticed them previously.

The choreography by Bill T. Jones is... perfect. It might give Jerome Robbins an absolute fucking coronary, but he'd watch it and say that it couldn't be more perfect to convey the pain, and angst, and anguish, and chaos of being a teenager. He's a modern dance guy, so there aren't a lot of straight lines. There's a lot of jumping and stamping of feet. A lot of flailing legs. It all makes perfect sense. It a way it seems like chaos, but every twitch of a foot feels perfectly placed. Intentional. Not in the way that every piece of choreography in every show is intentional. I know it is. There was a feeling I had that every movement, despite how busy it is, had it’s exact place.

Remember way back in that first paragraph where I'd said it was cool that when I first listened to the music I didn't know exactly what was happening in the story? I went into the performance on Thursday knowing pretty much every word of every song. It was truly amazing to watch how they all fit in. The lyrics that I didn't totally understand before became completely clear. They're not straightforward. They aren't simple. But they are beautiful, and they compliment the emotions of the characters completely. I guess the best example of this comes with the song "Touch Me". The lyrics are sexy and mysterious, and I didn't understand how they fit. Then I saw the show and it makes perfect sense as the embodiment of what Melchior imagines sex is like. There are so many moments like that in the show.

I know this blog is extremely gushy. I know that's not my style. It's just so rare that I come away with something that know I'll never forget. I left the show completely energized. I wanted to see it again immediately. I've seen Les Mis once. I've never seen Wicked and while I’d like to, I’m not going to fight the masses to get there.

I want to see this one again. Like... right now. I can see myself tracking where the tour goes and seeing if it comes close again. I am hungry for another dose of it.

I can honestly say, looking back at the shows I've seen and the performances I've witnessed that only a very small handful changed the way I view performing or art.

When I saw Windy City at Footlighters in 1992, I remember thinking that I'd never be as excited. The set was one-of-a-kind. The performances were excellent. The experience of putting it together was one that I'll never forget, and I only helped build the set.

When I saw the original cast of Ragtime in Toronto the Summer before it went to Broadway, I remember thinking that I'd never see another production so complete both in performance, tech, and musicality.

When I saw Mystere, the Cirque du Soleil show, I remember being moved for the first time by simple (well... incredibly difficult, but simply constructed) movement. The magnitude and scope of it just blew me away.

When I saw A Piece of My Heart my freshman year at Wright State it made me excited to be starting my life in theatre. It made me want to create something that prompted the raw emotion we felt in the audience that night.

Spring Awakening can be added to that list. I can't recall watching anything so different and yet successful at every innovation. Every choice was perfect. It's hard to imagine seeing anything to hit such a chord again.

But then... it showed me that I could still see something new.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ignorance in Perpetuity

Sometime very soon, I'll post a full blog about my opinions of Spring Awakening, which I saw for the first time last night. I can say honestly that it was one of the more profound theatre-going experiences I've had. Hold that thought, though.

People left at intermission.

I have some issues with this. Allow me to expand...

Excluding illness or emergency, I don't understand how any person can leave any show. Ever. I recognize that not every show is everyone's bag. That is fine. That is understandable. I've sat through a whole lot of shows that I didn't particularly enjoy. What I don't understand is having enough disregard for art and the artist that you can't at least have the courtesy to view the whole work.

This is different for movies and books and television. It's even different for art like photography or painting or other "gallery" type art. Those pieces don't have the one thing that makes live theatre unique... the fact of it being LIVE. The artists are there, creating in person. They see you leave. They see the tears and emotions of the audience. The book is already printed. The television show has already been filmed. There's always the chance of picking it up the book again when you feel better prepared, or Netflixing the movie if you change your mind. The beauty of a play is that it's fleeting. It's never exactly the same. You may see another production of Spring Awakening some time in the future, but it will never have the exact same resonance as it would in that moment. It's a one-off.

And yes... that's a concept that is vaguely esoteric and possibly not everyone's cup of tea, so let me break it down for you in a simpler way.

These people on the stage, whether it's a show like Spring Awakening or a show like Barefoot in the Park... these people are sweating for your entertainment. These people are working hard, doing their jobs, to create art. Much like you go to a mechanic and let them finish working on your car before you drive off the lot, you owe it to yourself to allow these people to complete their job before you evaluate the value of their work.

I personally would not PAY to see Mamma Mia. I just don't think it's that interesting, and I don't think it's that fun... but I know that were I to go see it, I'd be there til the end. The people on the stage are owed that tiny modicum of courtesy. That's really all it comes down to. Respect.

There's another factor at play here, though, and it bothers me far more than the public's general lack of respect.

I know of people who left just because the play and subject matter were "darker" than they expected. There are a couple of things wrong with this, as far as I'm concerned....

1) My understanding is that all season ticket holders were notified prior to purchasing tickets for this show that it was of an adult nature, and included dark subject matter. They were even given the opportunity to purchase a package without this show in it.

2) Even if they somehow missed the notification, there were all of the following signs that this show may not be Legally Blonde-esque:
a) The poster looks like this: Note the teenagers being all sexual and whatnot. Note the decided lack of frilly colors and text. Red and black doesn't exactly indicate a freewheeling ride through the flowers. Let's look at the Legally Blonde poster for counter reference:

Note the Reese Witherspoon lookalike. Note the cute little puppy. Note the smile. These things are not accidents.
B) If you missed the notice and the poster, you also had giant signs in the lobby with MORE WARNINGS. Adult themes. Adult Language. Sexual Content. Partial Nudity.
C) If you missed all of those things, the fucking shirts they were selling in the lobby literally said the words "You're Fucked" on the back.

I mean... come on people.

And so the fuck what? Are you saying that you literally can't sit through a musical that isn't the toe-tapping, rollicking good time that is Singin' in the Rain? You're so vapid and unable to feel any sort of emotion aside from "Giggle giggle" that you won't even allow yourself to be challenged.

On the way out, I heard a man say "I didn't like that play. It was different."

I'm dead serious. Like... his only reason that he didn't like it was that it wasn't just like fucking Oklahoma, which (excuse me for saying so) is pretty fucking disturbing in its own right. Judd is KILLED. There are fires and attempted rapes. It wasn't the feel-good hit of 1952 everyone has glossed t. I mean... West Side Story is about a gang war and murder. Carousel is about robbery and murder and morality. It's possible that Spring Awakening is a bit more overt in its telling, but it's no darker than The Who's Tommy (drugs, sex, child molestation) or Ragtime (murder, sex, racism, terrorism, child slavery) or Les Mis (Prostitution, murder, theft, identity fraud, war, grave robbery) or Rent (Prostitution, homosexuality, drugs, sex).

I wonder if it would have been more palatable to the elitist, ignorant snobs who essentially discarded this as a bunch of Gen Y Tripe if they'd realized that it was based on a German book written in 1891. Would that give it more resonance with the over washed masses? With the delicate, over-shielded philistines that just simply couldn't watch this "dark" show.

I really could go on all day about it, but I want to get to post about the show itself, and not about how I don't understand the mentality of these dickfaces who spend the money to sit in the front, but don't have a single inkling that what they're seeing might be more than just the status of their ticket stub. What's the old saying?

You can put a pig in a dress, but it's still just a fucking pig.

The only solace I can take away from the whole business is that there is a great irony hidden here, in this particular case...

The theme of Spring Awakening is that you can't hide from the dirty parts of life, because they're there whether you acknowledge them or not.

The people who left the show were doing exactly that. Hiding from the dirty parts.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Assholes of the Highest Order

What every fish at the aquarium sees a million times a day. The poor bastards.

Dear Assholes-

When you venture out into the world, you have to understand that you may occasionally encounter other people. I know you'd prefer the very Earth to step aside and make room for you and your legions of progeny, but that's not how society functions.

The Beefy Muchacho

Yesterday, the Tofu Muchacha and I embarked on a trip to the local Newport Aquarium. Now... I thought going in that it would be a mad house, and I was totally correct. The number of children in that confined, underground space was the stuff of horror movies and Barney telethons. An obsessive compulsive would have shit his pants over the sheer volume of fingerprints on the glass. Obviously this is to be expected. It's an aquarium. Kids love fish. It was Martin Luther King Day. It was cold. The crowds go with the territory.

Still... (and this goes back to my issues during the last Disney trip)... the biggest issue wasn't the kids, it was the parents who all behave as though their little fuck trophy is the best damned fuck trophy in the history of allllll the world. These parents who provide their kids with flash cameras in the fucking Aquarium make me insane. It's as bad as the dark ride idiots at Disney who don't seem to understand that when a ride is lit with black lights, the flash ruins the picture. Same idea here... When you're taking pictures of something through glass (a reflective surface), the flash will REFLECT. So... take the stupid camera away from your even more stupid kid or... novel idea.... turn off the effing flash.

Also how 'bout moving the little rats along? Maybe the adult wants to pet a fucking shark too. Last I checked it wasn't the Newport "Children's" Aquarium. I payed my ridiculously exorbitant entry fee just like everyone else. It's not my fault that you brought every child you've literally EVER seen or met in your life. Instead of just ranting and raving, allow me to provide you an actual example... There's a portion of the aquarium that goes through an Aligator enclosure. There's a glass floor where you can look at the gators under this bridge. It's pretty cool, actually. Well, let me tell you... it's an excellent thing you're looking down, because that was the only thing preventing me from literally stepping on these children who took the opportunity to lay down IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WALKWAY and stare through the glass. Maybe I should cut them some slack. I'm sure all of the inbreeding that led to their existence has produced some pretty sketchy eyesight. Maybe they need to get that close to the glass in order to see through it. Of course... it didn't matter, as there was no possible way to see through it, because of the camera flashes. I mean... they were laying on their bellies in the walkway. That is totally insane. To the credit of their parents, they seemed to at least recognize this was ridiculous. They sort of nudged their kids with their foot... kinda.

Of course... we all know that some people with children behave as though they are the only people in the world doing anything of value. That's not a new phenomenon. None of this is new, but it never fails to baffle me whenever I witness it again.

My favorite instance of people being complete assholes came at the very start of the day. The aquarium is part of a larger "entertainment" complex on the river that houses a large movie theater, a Barnes and Noble, a bunch of eateries and some shitty shops and whatnot. The parking garage is big, but has tight corners and not a ton of great spaces. It seems to fill quickly, and the traffic pattern is confusing at best. I knew that MLK Day would be madness. We got there a little after noon, and already the lot was almost completely full. For the most part, the crowd was fairly organized... there weren't a lot of honking horns, and there seemed to be a tacit agreement amongst all of the drivers to get in, park, and get out of the way... We ended up on the 3rd parking level, filling in the last remaining open bank of spaces in a sort of filed order. Basically, the whole area was open and filled as we got to it. I parked in the center spot of a 3 spot bank (I hate parking against the pillar things) and get out of the car with the Tofu Muchacha. We see across the way a giant-ass Chevy Suburban that swung around into the first spot in the 3 spot bank across from us, but seemed to swing wide and was about 2 feet into the middle spot as well. This happens. I understand that. The lot is narrow. I then watched as the Suburban turned into a veritable effing clown car and a dozen or so people piled out. I assumed that once they were out, the driver would adjust their parking job to provide room in that bank for the other 2 necessary cars. We walked on. I wasn't going to stare.

2 hours later we come back to the car and I glance over, and lo and behold... what do I see?
There it was. Unmoved. You bet your ass a picture was taken. I hope someone less charitable than me slashed their tires. I only left a note. It read "Wow. What a rude asshole you are. I hope you enjoy your Suburban." I realize that this will certainly not hit home the way I'd like it to. Anyone who is so inconsiderate and self involved to park this way in a public place is certainly too oblivious to the world around them to understand that they did anything wrong. I came soooooo close to adding "Guess what I did to your car." I felt that threatening them would only bring me down to their level. Well... no... NOTHING would bring me down THAT far, but closer at least.

In closing. I hate these people more than I can even describe. And that's a lot.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Tongue Bath for the Ages

The following image best represents my current feelings regarding the Darrelle Revis hype:The last month of the football season has featured a lot of great performances by a lot of great players. No player has enjoyed the kind of verbal tongue bathing that Darrelle Revis has been treated to by the media. Frankly, I don't care if he's the next Dick "Night Train" Lane. He may have had one of the greatest seasons by a defensive back ever, but I'm getting tired of it.

While I'm on the subject, I want to give special Shout-Out to the Brett Favre Annual Slurp-Fest by showing a graphic representative of my feelings on him as well:Of course, don't tell that to Randy Cross. If he is to be believed, Brett Favre doesn't like the attention. Not one bit.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Disney Decade

Here I am at the Magic Kingdom. Just because.

In keeping with my looking back at the Aughts, I don't think I could let the opportunity pass by to rank the Disney Animated Films that came out from 2000 to 2009.

So, here it is... my list, from worst to best, of the Disney Animated Films of the Aughts.

18. Chicken Little

Sorry Zach Braff... You know it's bad when you go to the parks around the time of the release and there's no sign of any merchandise. When the company itself thinks it's no good, that pretty much tells you all you need to know. If you can take anything else from this ranking, keep in mind that I own most Disney movies on DVD, and this is not one of them. I didn't get a chance to see it in the theaters, and I've barely been able to sit through it on TV. Not good coming from a notorious Disney apologist.

17. Home on the Range

This is the other film on the list that I actively dislike.. The rest, from 16 to 1 all have good things about them. This movie? I can't really think of anything. In fact, I guess the best way to reason my ranking of this movie at this place in the countdown is that I KNOW I've seen it, but I can't remember a single thing about it. Not one. I don't recall who did the voices. I don't recall the plot. I know there are cows and chickens involved. That's about it.

16. Treasure Planet

Probably the most glaring issue of this movie is that it was obviously trying too hard to capture some sort of "Hi Tech" kind of feel. What's interesting is that I think the movie, with the same animators, would have been far more successful if they'd done a more traditional take on the the Treasure Island story. The hand drawn animation is really excellent overall, and the integration of some of the computer done stuff was really cool. Long John Silver is a great villain, and really deserved better. I just think that Disney got caught up in trying to tap into some sort of space-craze thing (Star Wars was back t being hot). This movie came out in November of 2002, and I think would have been better as a traditional pirate story (as evidenced by the success of Pirates of the Caribbean 7 months later.). It's actually vaguely Steam-Punk, which I love a lot more now than I did then. Maybe I should revisit.

15. Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Atlantis isn't bad at all. Just kind of got lost in a sort of dark ages for Disney Animation. Tarzan was excellent, but the next few weren't particularly memorable. The animation in this movie is really cool, though, and the story is solid. I think Disney goes off the rails a little when they attempt to include minorities or different ethnicities when the story doesn't expressly call for it. I'm not saying they shouldn't do that... I'm just saying that it seems that many of the times they've attempted it, it's come across as clumsy. Still... I liked this one enough to use it as the subject in my Musical Theater writing class my senior year of college. We were supposed to take a non-musical movie and write an adaptation that includes music. I got an A.

14. Dinosaur
I'm not really a huge fan of this movie, but it definitely wins points from me due to the ride at Disney World that was refurbished to incorporate it. I really like the ride. The movie is pretty standard "Our World is Coming to an End" movie, and it's sad and kind of hopeless, know...the dinosaurs all died. I think this one also falls into the "trying too hard" mold. This time with the Global Warming allegories and whatnot. Still and all, some pretty good action sequences with the Carnataurs and dinosaurs are always cool.

13. Brother Bear

Now... I actually really like this movie. It was sort of dismissed at the time as another pay-homage-to-the-Native-Americans story, but I didn't really get that. I mean... there was some vaguely antiquated mysticism involved, and it's not THE BEST movie ever, but the animation is really, really cool. The characters are pretty memorable as well. I especially liked the Strange-Brew Moose. It's cheap, but funny. The only reason it gets any points off is that the story isn't exactly original. In fact... Avatar is pretty much the same. And Pocahontas. And Dances with Wolves. It's... not important. They did it well here. It's about here where the rankings are more simply degrees of awesome.

12. Fantasia 2000
I only put it down this low because it's not a movie I'd wanna watch over and over. The animation is beautiful. The music is very powerful. It's excellently done. It also was a pet project of Roy E. Disney (the guy who passed away last month, and who still deserves his own blog). The visuals of a few of the pieces are incredible. I'm especially fond of the Rhapsody in Blue piece that is styled like Al Hirschfeld's art. I like it a lot. Again... this only loses points due to it's lower re-watchability. (I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that the premier was in December of 1999, whereas the actual release was Jan 1st, I'm counting it.)

11. The Emperor's New Groove
This movie has some absolutely hilarious moments in it, and I love the voice work of Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, and Eartha Kitt... If David Spade was even close to the same ball-park, I think it may vault it into the top 7 or 8. I really like the look of it, and I kind of enjoy the take on the story. I wish they hadn't pandered and tried to "hip" it up. I sometimes look at the title and think... does this title make you think this movie belongs in the pantheon of great films in the Disney vault? Man...the title kills me.

10. Meet the Robinsons

I really like Meet the Robinsons. It's got great themes (originally from Walt Disney himself) "Keep Moving Forward" is one of Walt Disney's own quotes, and works well in this movie that straddles the present and future... The animation is cool, though not quite as smooth as the Pixar movies that come later in the list. There aren't a ton of memorable characters, too, which loses some points. It DOES have one of the most hilarious, and ultimately sympathetic villains I can think of, and I love me a good villain. In the end, this is a really solid movie, and one I would watch were it on cable. It possibly loses points since the ulimate villain is an evil hat. That's kinda weird. It falls here on the list, because head-to-head if I'm picking one DVD to pop in, this doesn't beat any of the next 9. Doesn't take away from it at all though.

9. Cars

My least favorite of the Disney/Pixar collaborations. I liked it. I think the animation is cool. But really... not in the same class, emotionally, as any of the films made around it. It's good...don't get me wrong. It's very good. The voice acting of Paul Newman especially is excellent. I really like the sort of vaguely deco, automobile themed landscaping and theming throughout. It's the details like that that keep this movie in the top 10. I don't find the story all that interesting. It's another twist on the Avatar, Pocahontas, Brother Bear, Dances With Wolves story... Still, Pixar most shines in the details, and this movie isn't any different.

8. Bolt

I saw this movie last Winter when I was visiting my fam in Denver, and I wasn't expecting much from it. I typically dislike John Travolta pretty supremely. I'm not a huge Miley Cyrus fan. It just seemed kinda dumb. Well... I was totally wrong. You may even remember that I blogged about it at the time. This movie was essentially made as great as it was by being a vehicle for a great travel-venture story combined with one of the most memorable sidekicks in any Disney movie ever. In fact, I was sorely disappointed there wasn't more Rhino the Hamster merchandise at the parks during my last 2 visits. I think a Rhino-in-his-Ball themed ride would be effing sweet. I even liked Travolta more than I have in years. I also really liked the twists on the story, and Bolts progression as a character. Good stuff.

7. Ratatouille
First, let me say that Patton Oswalt is effing awesome, and his voice is made for animation. It's extremely expressive and he does an excellent job. There are some legitimately awesome sequences in this movie. The whole portion of the movie where Remy learned to "drive" Linguini. The excellent chase scene through the kitchen at the beginning. I also really love the heart of the film...the dissing of snobbery in any form. I also find their less-than-subtle nod to the dirty side of commercialization and marketing. The whole globalized marketing of Gusteau's Microwavable meals. It feels like a sort of self-acknowledgment to me. Anyway, there are some great moments, and with the subject matter being "Cooking", this one will always be a winner to me.

6. Wall-E

I know it's blasphemy to list this any lower than 2nd, as it was deemed worthy of Best Picture and whatnot, and I agree.. it was definitely worthy of Best Picture. Of course, so were, in my opinion, the rest of the movies ahead of it on the list, so... In any case, this is a truly excellent movie, and could easily have been higher on the list, but again it came down to me thinking if I could watch any of them at any time, what would I pick. This lands about here. Usually I can point to voice work, but since this movie is largely beeping and booping and whatnot, I can't in this case, which probably makes it even more special. The first 30 minutes are incredibly engaging for having essentially no dialogue. The notion that society will lazify over time is an interesting one to explore, and I love the whole sequence on the cruise ship. I take off MINOR points for 2 things; 1) I don't love Hello Dolly, so it's hard to hear it over and over. and 2) The rip-off of 2001 with the whole machine taking over...thing. I don't love that.

5. Monsters Inc.

Just an excellent movie from start to finish. This was the first of the Pixar movies where the animation really just absolutely shocked me. I loved A Bug's Life's visuals too, but Sully's fur in Monsters Inc is truly amazing to watch throughout. That's a minor thing in the grand scheme, but I'll never forget it, and I think that's really the hallmark of a great film. Something new. The plot is excellent too, if not a little tiny bit simplistic. The door chase scene is one of the most incredible animated sequences ever, and really does one of the coolest things in film, which is executing "camera moves" that a real camera would never be able to do. I hate it when animation doesn't take advantage of that. This movie does. The team of Sully and Mike is excellent comically, and Randall is one of the creepiest villains in all of Disney-dom. Love this movie.

4. Lilo and Stitch

The greatest non-Pixar Disney movie of the decade. It's just so elegantly drawn, and the character designs are so neat. I love the music, and I love the characterizations. It's an awesome movie. Of course, the real reason this movie is where it is on the list boils down to one word: Stitch. Stitch is one of the most awesome, hilarious, bad ass characters Disney has ever created. There's a reason he is consistently the most popular character in the Disney universe. Surpassing Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. He combines the great elements of each. He's got Mickey's heart. (Just try to sit through the "Ohana means Family" scene without choking up. ) Goofy's well... goofiness. And Donald's ability to turn on a dime (not to mention sputter and blabber with the best of them.) He's an excellent character, and I'd watch it for just that reason alone.

3. The Incredibles

Not much I can say about this movie that I didn't say earlier in the week with my top 20 movies of the decade list. The voices are excellent. The characters are really fun. ( I especially love the punny names for the villains. I don't know why I always love puns so much, but I do. The best of the bunch? Underminer the mole-like villain voiced by Pixar fixture John Ratzenberger. ) The story is tight, and emotional. It deals with themes such as the embracing of mediocrity, and the malaise associated with getting older. I also love the look of this movie, with it's extremely stylized shapes and visuals. I love that the animators made a choice to look different. I like the angles. It's got a very late Art-Deco look to it. Like something from the Early 50s.. like the production art from the 1964 World's Fair or something.

2. Up
We're all going to be "Up"ed out soon enough, since with an expanded Best Picture field starting this year at the Oscars, it will be a shock if it's not nominated. Certainly it deserves that kind of attention, even if just because of the elegant and beautiful opening sequence of the film that, after checking last week, still packs a pretty emotional punch. I'd venture to say even more so upon second viewing. It's just so perfectly done, and I think congratulations to the creators for taking that kind of chance in a medium that has long been reserved for children. That sequence was certainly not designed for children alone, and that's ultimately what makes Up and Pixar's other movies so successful and critically acclaimed both. We've never seen, to this point at least, Pixar pandering to the lowest common denominator. This is why they'll stand the test of time... When a kid falls in love with a movie, they watch and watch and watch.. and then eventually they grow up and often the films don't grow up with them. Because Pixar (fully) and Disney (in its more successful films) provide layers of story telling that allows the film to grow with its audience.... that's how a film goes from a fad (Say... Kung Fu Panda) to a classic (Toy Story, Up, Little Mermaid, etc...). I seem to have gone off the rails, slightly... Up features some of the best pure visuals and storytelling of any Disney film... The characters are all fully realized, and the "talking dogs" bit is so funny and perfectly done I could watch a whole movie of the dogs going through their daily activities. Really an all-timer.

1. Finding Nemo
What is there even to say about Finding Nemo? Probably in my top 5 movies ever. It's the only animated movie I can think of where I wanted to watch it again right away. The animation is so superb that you forget you're even watching animation at all. There are at least 5 points where you sit back and try to figure out how they made that happen with computers... If you ever get the pleasure of watching the "Making of" you can just see how much care and time they spent getting every moment perfect. The voice casting is the best Disney/Pixar has ever done. Ellen Degeneres as Dory should have won some sort of special Oscar. The "speaking whale" sequence STILL cracks me up every time I see it. It's possible that my perception of this movie has been enhanced recently by the absolutely amazing Finding Nemo: The Musical at Disney World. I saw it when it first came out, and it's clear the kinks weren't out yet, because I wasn't really a fan. I saw it again in October, and have sort of become obsessed with it since. The Tofu Muchacha bought me the soundtrack (for her birthday...) and it's been a fixture in my CD player ever since. I realize I'm using outside influences to help make my rankings, but since it's my list, there's no rule against it. I think it says something for the story that it lends itself so easily to a really excellent musical. Ultimately it comes down to one thing... If I have all of these movies to choose from, but could only watch one, which would I watch? The answer was easier than I expected. It's Finding Nemo.

** NOTE 1**
I have not yet watched The Princess and the Frog, so it is currently unranked. Once I see it (hopefully soon), I'll post a brief editorial with an updated ranking.

** NOTE 2**
I am not including The Wild on the list as it's not technically a Disney-made movie. It was funded and distributed by Disney, but created by a separate entity.

Monday, January 11, 2010

An Age-Old Question. Answered.

My awesome sister, in an effort to encourage more forays into baking and cooking and whatnot got me a few excellent baking tools for Christmas. Among those things were a pie crust shield (Something I'd never heard of) that is designed to place around the crust of your baking pie in order to prevent the edges from burning. She also got me a pie-crust lattice cutter, which is basically a cheaters way of making latticed pie-crust. It's awesome too, as I'm definitely not above cheating (at least when I'm not in some sort of baking competition...which... I've never been a part of.

Anyway... last weekend, as the holidays were winding down, the Tofu Muchacha and I invited my sister (Tofu Hermana?)to the T.M.'s house to attempt to bake a pie using these new accoutrement. Here's the story of how that went down...

First, the T.M. herself decided what kind of pie we were baking, and we set about scrounging up the ingredients we needed... She wanted to use up the last of her cranberries from the holidays, and she found a recipe in "THE BOOK" for Apple Cranberry pie. I wasn't particularly enthused, because my last apple pie sucked, but who am I to argue with a Muchacha on a mission. In any case, the project was much less about the filling and more about the crust...

Here's the Mise en place:

You'll see the usual pie making types of things. Apples, cranberries, flour, sugar, etc... Not really all that interesting.

The Tofu Muchacha volunteered to make the filling while Tofu Hermana and I made the crust. Perhaps our first mistake...

I'd decided to be lazy and not use my aunt's vodka crust recipe. I'm not sure why. As I recall from the cheese/apple pie in the Fall, the crust was the best part of the whole thing... the lesson, as always, is that I'm an idiot. We found a basic pie crust recipe in "THE BOOK" and went to work.

I don't have any pictures of the crust mixing process... I'll just say it didn't go smoothly. I guess I never really realized how non-descript and open for interpretation certain portions of pie crust making instructions are... Like what does "until it just comes together" mean? I mean... that's a subjective thing isn't it? Maybe I'm wrong. Obviously I'm wrong, because the first mistake Tofu Hermana and I made was beating the absolute, ever-living HELL out of that pie dough. I mean.. we punished that bitch. When we were next able to access the camera... the dough had been rolled out and balled up at least 2 times. It looked like this:

Looks okay, right? Well.. looks aren't everything I guess. That's something I certainly learned through this excercise.

After being rescued, so to speak, by the T.M., we got the crust rolled out to a respectable size and thickness and whatnot, and got it into the pie pan. Little did we know that these next few steps would be the apex of the pie making process.

That contraption you see in the above picture is the aforementioned lattice crust cutter. It's really an excellent tool. It doesn't make the crust exactly latticed, but it definitely approximates it well enough. The best part was that I baked up the little crust squares with cinnamon and sugar. That was kind of tasty, though over-baked.

The filling seen above was entirely the work of the Tofu Muchacha. I wish I could take credit for it. It was the only part of the pie that didn't make me want to puke.

See how pretty it looks? It certainly won't get any better than this. I really do like how the latticed thing turns out. It looks awesome. If only it would make it taste better.

Aaaaand here's the pie crust shield. All loaded up and ready to shield some fucking crust. It actually worked great. I'd never had a lot of experience burning pie crusts anyway, but this certainly did prevent it in this particular case.

Man.. does that pie look delicious or what? It's really one of the prettiest pies I've ever baked. It's irrelevant that it's one of the few pies I've ever baked.

Of course... it's all pointless because the pie crust may have looked pretty, and the filling may have been delicious, but that fucking crust tasted like pure ass. I don't know what it was...maybe the tortured flogging of the dough. Maybe the ridiculously generic pie crust recipe that had no flavor at all. All I know is that it was super tough and it tasted like straight up flour.

So what was that age-old question that I answered? Well... I've always heard that pie, much like sex and pizza is good even when it's bad.

The question is.... Can Pie be Bad?

The answer? Yes. Oh God Yes.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Decade in Movies... The Muchacho's Favorite Flicks

A new decade has begun, and what better way to look ahead to a new decade by looking back?

When I look back at the Aughts or whatever we decide to call them, one of the first things I'll think about are the movies. I watched hundreds.. literally hundreds... of movies over the last 10 years. I don't know how the decade will be seen in retrospect when given a few years of perspective in terms of it's place in the history of cinema, but I know one thing for sure... The Aughts certainly produced at least a couple of my all-time personal favorites. The 40s have Casablanca and Citizen Cane. The 70s have The Godfathers. The 90s have Braveheart and Silence of the Lambs and American Beauty and Unforgiven. I don't know what movies I'll immediately point to from the Aughts, but I'm certain they'll be movies from this list.

The following is a list, broken down by clumsy-ass categories, of my 20 favorite movies of the last 10 years. I've decided not to rank these at all.. Too hard.


Finding Nemo (Pixar, 2003)

Finding Nemo is among the 2 or 3 most re-watchable of any of the films on this list. I can consistently enjoy it, and I am consistently awed by the absolute beauty of the animation. In terms of the animation, I think it really signifies a marked leap toward realism that had only been hinted at previously too. The story is truly affecting and and there are at least 3 scenes/sequences that are so perfect I'm amazed every time. Dory speaking Whale is in the conversation of "Hardest I've Laughed" moments of the decade.

Up (Pixar, 2009)

I really love Up in general, but this movie makes the list because of the opening sequence. I'd say it's among the greatest opening sequences of any movie ever. I'll never forget sitting in the theater after that montage and just hearing absolutely NOTHIING but sniffling. Even during a serious moment in most movies, you'll still hear rustling in the seats or the crinkling of candy or the sipping of drinks. All I heard was soft weeping. And you know that's not cheap crying when people go to a Pixar movie and are expecting a light-hearted cartoon and end up crying in the first 5 minutes.

The Incredibles (Pixar, 2004)

Possibly the most out-and-out fun of the Pixar movies... The voice performances of Jason Lee and Craig T. Nelson especially are great too. Pretty hard to go wrong with super heroes and I have always been a little fascinated by the inner thought processes of the super heroes and villains. Syndrome is one of the funniest, yes legitimately dangerous villains in the Disney canon, and I do love me some villains. I think also, of all of the Disney/Pixar movies of the decade, this is the one where the characters are as interesting as the overall plot. As great as Finding Nemo is, I'm not sure I'd care to re-visit the characters in a second story. The Incredibles are the characters most ripe for sequel.


Ocean's Eleven (Warner Bros., 2001)

Best overall cast ever! I wasn't expecting a lot from Ocean's Eleven, but it has become one of the few movies I'll watch literally any time I come across it on television. There were points where I've put in the DVD a dozen times over the course of a month. Not as much since the sequels came they were disappointing.... nonetheless... The first was pure awesomeness and cool. I loved every silly, slick minute. There are movies where you just know that the actors and creators are having the best time ever, and this movie may be the greatest example of that. The final 30 minutes of Ocean's Eleven stand up against any 30 minutes of almost any movie of the last ten years, and that was enough to put it on the list. Not even considering the awesomeness of Brad Pitt in this movie. Seriously... if you at all thought Brad Pitt was a tool... watch this movie. It'll give you a whole new perspective.

Tropic Thunder (Dreamworks, 2008)

What can I say about Tropic Thunder? It's effing awesome. Tom Cruise finally made me forget he was insane (in real life). Robert Downey Jr. (one of the most talented actors on the planet) played an Australian actor playing an African American Vietnam soldier. The spoofs and the send-ups of Hollywood were so smart and spot-on that you almost believe that Ben Stiller actually gets it. I believe I saw this movie 4 times in the theater, and I bought it on DVD the day it came out. There aren't many movies like that in recent memory. I think I enjoyed The Hangover a little more overall, but Tropic Thunder would be a close second in the comedy category for the decade. It definitely has the single most surprising moment of any movie on the list. Steve Coogan explodes. 'Nuff said.

A Mighty Wind (Warner Bros., 2003)

I think Christopher Guest is a genius, and I can't think of a movie of his that I didn't enjoy, but for my money, this one is the most complete as a film, and not just as a collection of oddities and bits. Don't get me wrong... there are oddities and bits (Jane Lynch's dark past is a great throwaway), but of his recent movies, this one has the most "soul" to it. The music, all original, is both hilariously perfect and also genuinely good and fun. The Mitch and Mickey storyline is just excellent plotting. Eugene Levy is funny as Mitch, but is also so genuine and honest. He makes a character, that could have easily been too weird and broad, real and sympathetic. And "Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" is a truly great song. Oh... and Michael Hitchcock slapping Bob Balaban... Gold.

Love Actually (Universal, 2003)

I love this movie. It's a romantic comedy (sort of), but it's not done in the traditional by-the-numbers way. I like the Christmas backdrop for it, and I love the different relationships that are fleshed out over the course of the film. Each has it's obstacles, and each is resolved in a satisfying way (though not necessarily happy). A consistent feature in all of my favorite movies is excellent acting, and I think the giant cast comes through nicely. Bill Nighys' is probably my favorite performance overall, but it's hard to go wrong with the Keira Knightly stuff or the Colin Firth stuff. Also this is probably the most likable Hugh Grant will ever be.

Wedding Crashers (New Line, 2005)
Probably not as stand-out funny as The Hangover or Anchorman, but it does have more heart than those two...and truth be told... I am a sucker for heart. It's really a chick-flick disguised as a buddy movie. Probably the deadliest combination of films known to man. There's a reason Knocked Up and Wedding Crashers and 40-year Old Virgin are huge successes. It nails the 2 key demos. Anyway... This movie is on this list for largely sentimental reasons. I love the characters. It features 2 of my favorite actresses (Isla Fisher and Rachel McAdams) being super hot. I also love the chemistry between Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson... it works better in this movie than any of their other ones. Also? Walken.

The Hangover (Warner Bros., 2009)
Easily the funniest movie I've seen in years. I don't expect tight plotting from Todd Phillips (who I find to be incredibly douchey and unlikeable whenever I see him speak as himself), but this movie was seemless. There are several moments in this movie where I was laughing so hard I struggled to catch my breath. It has just about everything I look for in a comedy. Great perforances? Check... Galifinakis, Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper carry the movie as the 3 protagonists, but then you also have Brian Callen, Rob Riggle, and the insane Ken Jeong, who gives the most ridiculous and amazing performance...maybe ever. Great setting?Check. Doesn't get much better than Vegas..and the best thing is that they seemed to use more acual Vegas locations than most movies set there. Signature Scenes?Check. Mr.Chow in the trunk (and everywhere else). The police station. The tiger. Incredible. One of the funniest movies ever, and made even better by the fact that I wasn't really expecting it at all.


Road to Perdition (Dreamworks, 2002)

I'm a known Tom Hanks fan. At some point early in the decade people seemed to get tired of acknowledging he was the best actor working. I'm fairly convinced that had this not happened Tom Hanks wins Best Actor for Road to Perdition. He's truly spectacular in this anti-hero role. It's a break for him... a bad person doing the right thing. This movie also features two of my all-time favorite scenes... Paul Newman and Tom Hanks playing piano at the wake, and Hanks assassinating men in the pouring rain. It's a beautiful movie about the relationship between a man and his son. It features some other astounding performances by great character actors. Jude Law as the uglied-up assassin after Hanks is especially excellent. It made me utterly infuriated when this movie wasn't even nominated for Best Picture and Hanks got shafted too. Only Newman got an acting nomination. Conrad Hall did win for Best Cinematography, but it's hardly enough for a truly great and forgotten film.

Almost Famous (Columbia Tristar, 2000)

You know how some movies... you're watching it and you just know it's great? That's how I felt about Almost Famous when I first watched it. Amazing performances. Amazing soundtrack. Great writing. One memorable scene after another. It's interesting... Everyone who loves this movie (and that's a lot of people) points to a different scene as being their favorite. The scene that sets this movie apart for them. For some it's the "I'm a Golden God" scene. For some it's the "Tiny Dancer" scene. For some it's the plane crash scene. For some it's the Emily Rugburn scene. For me.. I don't know if I have a favorite. Too hard to pick. That seems like a good thing when you're talking about a great movie.

Seabuiscut (Universal, 2003)

Hard to not include an inspirational sports movie on the list, and when I looked back at the decade, this was my favorite. I loved the book, and I find Charles Howard such an incredibly interesting historical figure. On top of the performances in this movie, which are really excellent (especially Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper), the setting and circumstances around the horse and the grabbing of the collective imaginations of the public, mired in the depression, to rally behind this ugly, stubby horse who just happened to run like lightning. It's a chilling story. The other top sports movie candidate was Cinderella Man, which oddly has the same plot. Incidentally, Chris Cooper had won the Best Supporting Actor the year before for Adaptation and with this pretty much established himself as one of my favorite character actors. He gave one of my favorite performances of the previous decade as Ricky's father in American Beauty.

Finding Neverland (Miramax, 2004)

This may be shocking, but this is the only film on the list that I did not see in theaters. In fact, it was given to me as a gift by my buddy Alan, because he knows how much I like Johnny Depp, he knows that Peter Pan is my favorite Disney movie, and he knows I'm basically an emotionally weak puppet... He hit a homer on that one. Depp gives an incredible performance as J.M. Barrie. He lost the Oscar for Best Actor to Jamie Foxx in Ray, and while Foxx was great and I didn't have much of an issue with it at the time, looking back... man... hard not to give it to Depp here. He's amazing. In terms of being an emotionally weak puppet, Alan told me that I would cry when I watched it, and I didn't necessarily doubt him, but let me just be clear on this... I cried like a true bitch and I have cried like a true bitch every time I've seen this movie. If you don't cry at this movie you're an android.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Focus Features, 2004)
This is a movie that is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn't watched it... And probably that's part of the attraction for this movie. It's so original and so interesting that it stands out among all of the other cutesy indie-type movies. I don't know how this could be called an indie with the star-power behind this one, but it has that feel. It doesn't feel like a big studio movie. The subject matter is dark. The filming style is jerky and grainy. Simply put, though, this is the most emotionally impactful movie that Charlie Kaufman has written. The acting is beautiful and subtle. I think the thing that sets this movie apart in another way is how wonderful the "b plot" really is. Kirsten Dunst and Mark Ruffalo are especially great. I think my favorite part is how in a fairly dark movie full of upsetting exchanges, and the willful killing of memory, which is an interesting idea... there is a hopefulness to the whole thing that sort of underlies the idea that the outcomes for these people are maybe inevitable.

Into the Wild (Paramount Vantage, 2007)
I'm not really a huge Sean Penn fan. I think the guy is really talented, but kind of annoying as a person. That said, I really was moved by this film and the story. There aren't a ton of movies where the main character (in this case Christopher McCandless, played by Emile Hirsh) is totally unlikable and yet the movie itself is great. I find the decisions made my McCandless (a real life guy) to be so awful and selfish and yet I also find myself sympathizing with him throughout. He treats everyone pretty badly. Especially a hippie girl he meets (played by a pre-Twilighted Kristen Stewart) and an old man (played amazingly by Hal Holbrook in one of the best performances I can think of.), and yet... despite the bad treatment and selfish behavior I find myself sympathizing with him. This is a success of film making. It's also worth seeing for the great soundtrack (by Eddie Vedder) and Alaskan scenery.

Catch Me if You Can (Dreamworks, 2002)

There's something about the story of Frank Abagnale Jr. that is just fascinating to me. I love the performances by Tom Hanks and DiCaprio, but most especially Walken again. He was absolutely great in this movie as Frank Sr. The movie features the signature, smooth filmmaking of Steven Spielberg, but doesn't seem to have all of those weird ticks that end up in his movies a lot of the time. I like movies where the protagonist is probably the bad guy... Just like in Pirates where you root for the pirates over the British Navy, this one you're supposed to root for Frank to keep on capering and out-pacing the FBI. The best part of this movie is that it's based on a true story, and Frank Abagnale is a real person who did these things. Probably the most interesting biopic subject of the decade. (Since again.. no Disney biopic.)

Children of Men (Universal, 2006)

Officially my vote for best movie of the last 10 years. It's the only movie in this decade that makes a run at my top spot. I'm talking my personal, ALL-TIME top movie. It's simply incredible to watch. Of the very few things that my dad does that infuriates me, it's his abject passive refusal to watch this movie. I've probably watched it 5 times now, and it's truly shocking to me every time. There are so many things... The camera work is legendary... there's a long tracking shot of a motorcycle encounter that was done in one single shot that is so claustrophobic and intense that I, to this day, have no idea how they did it. That's the one people always point to, and rightly so, but for my money it's not even the most impressive shot in the movie. That honor goes to the 5 minute long single shot sequence at the end. This movie has some absolutely killer performances too... Michael Caine stands out, but then... so does Chiwetel Ejiofor (I just saw Dirty Pretty Things, and he's great in that too!). And so does Julianne Moore. And so does Pam Ferris. And maybe most of all so does Clive Owen. It's a stunning movie that pretty much everyone should see. I mentioned earlier that I'd seen it 5 times. I realize that doesn't seem like a lot, but it's not an easy movie to watch. It's intense and heartbreaking and violent and unrelenting. Doesn't take anything away from it being an absolutely incredible movie. Oh... and the soundtrack is fucking sweet. When I first started creating this list, this was the first movie I thought of.

ACTION /ADVENTURE/ FANTASY / SCI-FI (See...told you it was clumsy)

Unbreakable (Touchstone, 2000)

My personal favorite of the M. Night Shyamalan movies. This was his second big movie, and came out before everyone expected his "Twist" endings. It's a simple story about a man realizing an inner power. I love super-hero movies, and I think this one is especially original. It's in a world where super-powers aren't known to exist and where the heroes can be flawed. The first time we meet the main character, he's scamming on a woman on a train (who isn't his wife). I love the way this movie is shot, and the moody atmosphere. I think my favorite thing about the movie, though, is the introduction of one of the most interesting and sympathetic villains ever, in Elijah Price (a.k.a. Mr. Glass). Samuel L. Jackson at his best.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (New Line, 2001-03)

Simply the greatest achievement of movie-making of all time. People are saying that shit about Avatar now, and I agree that Avatar is impressive, but Avatar is less than a third of the length. "But Muchachooooo.... It's three separate movies, not one!" Wrong. They filmed one long movie and divided it into "chapters". This is not the Harry Potter movies where each is self contained. This story relies on continuity and consistent performances. Peter Jackson and team succeeded in every respect. The effects are seamless. The acting is excellent. The imagery is breathtaking from beginning to end. They raised the bar for all Fantasy films forever. It's no longer acceptable for a studio to put out crap. The nerds demand excellence. We have this film to thank. Other things of note: Andy Serkis as Gollum created one of the single most memorable characters we'll ever see. The Battle of Pelennor Fields sequence was one of the most incredible scenes I can remember. Ian McKellan is a badass. Orlando Bloom is not a badass, but this movie fooled us into thinking he is... (Greatest achievment overall?)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Disney, 2003)

The Summer of 2003 was fucking awesome for movies, and this was the best of them all. Pirates of the Caribbean wasn't highly anticipated by anyone but me. Being the huge Disney fan I am, I saw the first preview for it, and was pretty much ready to camp out for tickets at that exact minute. When it finally came out I was fucking PUMPED for that movie, and it didn't disappoint at all. It's funny, exciting, original, well acted, and true to the Disney ride from which it was inspired. Maybe most memorably, it brought us the complelely singular performance of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. A character so popular that they adjusted the ride to make him a part of it. I think that's an exceptionally huge achievement that is often not discussed. He was so good they changed the source material. Depp lost the Oscar that year to Sean Penn in Mystic River, but Sean Penn isn't in a ride at Disney World. Who got the more poignant honor?