Friday, September 30, 2011

It could go either way

Here's a groan-worthy observation I'm sure will show up in some critic's review today, which I will include here anyway:

"50/50 is not only the title of the new movie starring Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It's also the film's odds of being warmly received by its audience."

The wording may differ slightly in this theoretical critic's review, but that will be the general idea.

A comedy about cancer?

It wouldn't be the first one -- although not a lot of others immediately come to mind. I do know that there's currently a Showtime original series called The Big C, starring Laura Linney. It's listed as a comedy-drama, and it's about her character's struggles with cancer.

It might work, but there's always a chance -- say, a 50% chance -- that it could be seen as just, you know, wrong. You know, like making a comedy about 9/11. (Whose title would bear a typographic similarity to this film -- both would contain a forward slash.)

I haven't pored over the trailer. In fact, I've seen it only once. But one of its main scenes involves Gordon-Levitt's character trying to pick up girls in a bar, and leading with the revelation that he has cancer. Rogen's character has assured him it won't be weird. Cut to a moment later. "Yeah, you're right, it was weird," says Rogen.

Cancer is weird, in the sense that it prompts people into bouts of awkward silence and immediate self-consciousness. Which can actually make for good comedy if you consider the entire career of Ricky Gervais. But the wrong things Gervais jokes about are not as wrong as this.

However, the movie is written by a cancer survivor, Will Reiser, who was indeed a young man when he was diagnosed, and it's based more or less on his experiences. If he can see the potential humor in his situation, why can't we?

And I do know one person who's already seen it and raves about it. Not personally -- he's someone I "know" through a different online film forum -- so I can't say for sure if his tastes align with mine. But I'm probably willing to give both him and the movie the benefit of the doubt.

Not this weekend, though. This weekend it's all about Moneyball. I can't wait to escape into a movie about baseball, after my real baseball world (I'm a Red Sox fan) just came crumbling down around me.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Just "go for" the jackass holding this phone

Comedy writing is full of shorthand. Comedy writers love to give their characters traits that you know are meant to indicate this person is a boob, a jackass, a douchebag, without having to spell it out in so many words.

The writers of Just Go With It managed to squeeze two kinds of shorthand into the same sentence in the character of Ian Maxtone-Jones, the supposed inventor of the ipod, played by musician Dave Matthews.

There must, at some point, have been some high-powered executive at some studio somewhere who actually said the words "Go for" and then their name when answering the phone. Just to be funny, I'll use the alliterative name of the director of Just Go With It as my example. Dennis Dugan picks up the phone and says "Go for Dennis Dugan." At which point you know you're dealing with a serious person who has no time for chit chat and social formalities.

But is this real, or is this only something that exists in the world of comedy writing? Or is it used so often in comedy writing that it's something that only exists in the world of comedy writing anymore?

I can't tell you how many movies I've seen where there's a character who fancies himself/herself a big shot, and when he/she answers his/her phone (or maybe, more often now, taps the button on a bluetooth fastened to his/her ear), it's with the words "Go for [character name]."

And although it's such an obnoxious way to answer the phone that it almost feels false, it really does work as a shorthand. It tells you this person has a blunted sense of humanity. It tells you this person is likely to be cruel to underlings. And it tells you this person will make bottom-line decisions at the expense of loyalty/personal feelings.

It does not, however, necessarily make the person a douchebag.

That's what the second half of Maxtone-Jones' phone-answering style in Just Go With It accomplishes:

"Go for the I-Man."

See, people referring to themselves in the third person by a nickname is an unequivocal sign that they are a jackass/douchebag. It takes a particular lack of self-awareness to unironically refer to yourself by your nickname. Only idiots do it in the movies, and I assume, only idiots do it in real life.

So Ian Maxtone-Jones both thinks he's important ("Go for") and is a douchebag ("the I-Man").

The thing is, I don't find the bit very funny. In fact, it seems like really lazy comedy writing.

First off, the whole "Go for" thing is totally played out. Let's just retire it. Let's assume that no one says that, and if they once did, they learned to stop it as soon as they saw a satirical version of themselves on screen maybe 15 years ago.

Then, calling yourself by a nickname is a bit of an easy way to indicate oblivious self-involvement. There should be better ways.

Like, saying the person has a blog.

That's right -- maybe the reason I bristle over these characterizations is that I myself am an example of one of comedy writing's most prominent ways to indicate oblivious self-involvement.

I've seen it numerous times: If a character trumpets his/her blog, it means he/she is an idiot. The example that comes to mind is Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) on 30 Rock. There's no better example of a self-involved boob who is almost always doing the wrong thing, and I'd say Jenna has referenced her own blog on the show at least a handful of times.

Oh well. Sometimes we self-involved boobs can't help ourselves.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Searching for Star Wars on Netflix

A lot of people have written a lot of words on why Netflix sucks now.

I have not been one of them. I've already written a couple times about the reasons I'm wary of Netflix, reasons that have dated back to a time long before its current image problems. Originally, it was them denying me a particular promotion when I wanted to rejoin the service, because the promotion was intended for "first-time subscribers only," and then it was the whole class-action suit they lost over their practice of throttling. If you want to read more (I doubt you do), you can check out my Netflix tag.

But I do have a simple question for the future incarnation of Netflix, which will be streaming only once Qwikster officially becomes the name of the DVD-by-mail service:

What will happen when you search for Star Wars?

You can fill in any number of prominent movie titles there, but Star Wars seems to be the funniest example in this particular case.

I don't expect a movie like Star Wars ever to be available on streaming. "Ever" is a long time, but let's just put it this way: it's not going to happen any time soon.

So when you type those eight letters and one space into the search field in the future incarnation of Netflix, what will you get?

Will it be "Not found"?

Will it be "Unavailable"?

Will it be the falsely promising "Save," which usually means there is basically no hope this title will ever be released?

And the more of these titles you vainly try to find in streaming, the less confidence you will have in Netflix -- which was once your one-stop shop for movies.

Now, ironically, Qwikster should not have this same problem. The bastard stepchild of the Netflix family will have almost any title you're looking for. I say "almost" because I'm sure there are some titles that are only available via streaming. However, these would be relatively few, and they wouldn't be titles that would be familiar to the average customer.

Netflix is basically opening itself up to a big game of disappointment. You can easily imagine someone searching for a couple dozen titles they want to see before finally finding one that's actually available.

Of course, Netflix's hope is that this will be a short-term problem. The idea behind splitting the business is that Netflix will have more money available to pay for streaming titles.

Well, good luck. It won't happen right away. But even if it magically did, I don't know that I understand how this restructuring is actually going to create revenue that wasn't previously there. Maybe that's why I'm not a bankruptcy lawyer.

Because doesn't that kind of seem like what Netflix is doing? One of the key words in bankruptcy proceedings is "restructure," because the business is theoretically supposed to be restructured to become viable.

Let's hope, for Netflix's sake, that it'll be viable in the way it wants to be sooner rather than later.

Because until then, there will be a galaxy-sized hole in its offerings, and Star Wars is just one tiny point on the rim of that hole.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Killing a baby dragon? Not cool.

Despite ample critical evidence that I should think otherwise, I was with Sucker Punch for at least its first half.

Then they had to kill that baby dragon.

Not just kill it -- slit its throat while it was asleep. Execution style.

Not cool, man.

This act of cruelty is part of the scavenger hunt that makes up most of the plot in both the first and second layers of the movie's fantasy world. (It's a little like Inception in terms of constructing its fantasy world in layers, but most would say the comparison ends there.) Our heroes, a quintet of girls imprisoned in a squalid mental institution, have to assemble a number of practical, real-world items in order to attempt an escape.

In the deepest layer of the fantasy, where the girls play valkyrie versions of themselves, these items also appear in a fantasy incarnation. They need to steal a Zippo from a client (the first layer of the fantasy has them working in a seedy bordello) in order to create the fire they'll use as a diversion. In the deeper fantasy layer, the lighter is represented by two crystals they must strike together to make a spark.

Unfortunately, for reasons known only to director Zack Snyder (who also gets the screenplay and story credit), these crystals are lodged in the throat of a baby dragon. And the baby dragon ain't just going to cough them up, even if the girls ask nicely.

What's cruelest about this scene is that the baby dragon -- an innocent regardless of his/her behavior -- does nothing to deserve a quick yet brutal death. The girls simply sneak up on the baby dragon while he/she is asleep, taking him/her from behind and slicing a sword across his/her neck. For a moment you think that Babydoll (Emily Browning), the film's protagonist, is going to be unable to complete the task on moral grounds, and will show the same mercy she's shown several other incredibly foul characters during the course of the movie, who deserved that mercy a lot less.


To make the scene even more pathetic, the cute little dragon even lets out a cute little sleeping noise just moments before his/her untimely passing, which lets us know just how deeply and peacefully and obliviously he/she is sleeping. Talk about a sucker punch -- the definition of a sucker punch is to hit someone when they're not ready/expecting it. They should have called the movie Sucker Cut instead.

So when the mother dragon awakens, and gets pissed at the girls, and wants to burn them to a crisp, we're supposed to root for her to fail. After all, dragons are always evil -- even baby ones, apparently. But if I were a mother dragon and I had just discovered my baby's throat slit, I'd want to light the world on fire. So not only is the original act cruel, in a vacuum, it also has the narrative deficiency of causing the viewer to align with the supposed villain in this scenario.

Maybe it's just the parent in me speaking, but I thought this could have been handled so much differently, especially since the entire plot is episodic and therefore can be pretty much anything they want it to be. There were many ways Snyder could have had a showdown between the girls and a dragon; did the event precipitating it have to be the slitting of a baby dragon's throat?

Not cool, man.

And what was funny (not "ha ha funny") was that they took such pains elsewhere in the movie to make sure the violence was directed entirely at enemies that were a) clearly evil, and b) frequently already dead, such as the zombie Nazis in the second fantasy sequence.

So let me get this straight -- killing live Nazis is not okay. They have to be dead already. But killing a baby dragon is perfectly kosher. (Probably a bad choice of adjective when discussing Nazis.)

It's as if that moment marks the moment when the film's morals entirely fly out the window. What follows is a series of highly questionable activities that I won't get mired in discussing here.

However, I do have some

Other thoughts on Sucker Punch:

Shame on you, Warner Brothers, for trying to be original

We complain so much about how studios are only willing to greenlight safe choices: screen adaptations of ridiculously popular books, sequels to ridiculously popular movies, and remakes of ridiculously popular movies. Sucker Punch is a wholly original idea, from the brain of its director, and we completely shat on it.

There may have been reasons (one described above in detail) to shit on this movie, but if we do, we can't take the moral high ground and expect studios to continue to take this kind of risk when these are the results.

I've recently been discussing how it takes a particular filmmaker awhile to build up the kind of credibility that allows the studio to take a risk on their original pet projects. Christopher Nolan was the example being discussed; he only had the studio's blessing to make Inception because he'd already twice proven his success with a familiar property (Batman).

You can look at Snyder in a similar light. Snyder's movies have largely been successful, but look what they've been: a remake of one of the seminal zombie movies (Dawn of the Dead), an adaptation of a graphic novel (300), an adaptation of what comic book geeks consider their bible (Watchmen), and an adaptation of a somewhat popular kids book series (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole). This last was something of a risk, and predictably it was the least successful. Until Sucker Punch came along and was an unmitigated commercial and critical failure.

I'm not saying you need to pretend you like Sucker Punch when you don't. Just understand what the repercussions of your dislike are, the next time you say Hollywood is lazy and cowardly.

A young Mary McCormack

I just saw Abbie Cornish in Limitless like two weeks ago -- she was a name I'd heard, but I'd yet to see one of her films. For some reason, I didn't notice in that film what I noticed in this film:

She's like a young Mary McCormack.

Consider the physical similarity. Mary is on the left and Abbie is on the right:

This means that I now really like Abbie Cornish, because I really like Mary McCormack.

If you don't know who I'm talking about, you probably should. She's a name that's been around for awhile, although a household name she is not. I think I originally met her (so to speak) when she did such a great job playing Howard Stern's long-suffering wife in the surprisingly enjoyable Private Parts. She's also shown up in two other underrated films (High Heels and Low Lifes and Right at Your Door) as well as such less-interesting fare as K-PAX and 1408. Right now she stars in a TV show I haven't seen (but would see, just because of her) called In Plain Sight.

I'll admit it -- I find her physically attractive. But it goes deeper than that. I also find her incredibly sympathetic. Some actors just have that quality, while others do not. And she's got spunk.

In fact, I really wish I didn't have to dig so hard to find Mary McCormack movies you've probably seen. The woman should get more work.

Hopefully Abbie Cornish can take the baton and have the kind of career I would have liked McCormack to have. (I'm talking about McCormack as though she's over the hill, but she's only 42. Sadly, in Hollywood, it's only downhill from here for women of her age.)

You know what else Sucker Punch reminds me of?

Pan's Labyrinth.

Weird, I know.

But consider it. Both films involve an orphaned girl caught in a horrible real-world existence from which she needs to mentally escape. In both instances, the girl finds this escape in the form of an active fantasy life. Both girls have a wicked -- a very wicked -- stepfather. Actually, Browning's Babydoll has two stepfather figures -- her actual stepfather, and the owner of the bordello who fills that same role.

In both films, at least one opportunity to dispatch of this figure is passed up. In Pan's Labyrinth, the character played by Maribel Verdu passes up an easy opportunity to kill the evil general, played by Sergi Lopez -- to the great detriment of the protagonist. Here, Browning herself passes up opportunities to kill both her stepfather and the cook who tries to rape her friend -- I think it's another character (maybe Cornish's) who doesn't kill the evil bordello owner (Oscar Isaac) when she has the chance. All three of those possible killings would have made Babydoll's life a lot easier.


And in both films, the girl dies at the end. Well, Babydoll doesn't die -- but she takes a lobotomy for Cornish's character, and that's close enough.

Well, that was probably entirely too many words to write about Sucker Punch.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

You're so money, baby

I think Moneyball is going to be awesome.

This may surprise some of you. After all, I spent two posts in the past two weeks (here and here) explaining to you why I don't really like sports movies.

Then again, the second post dug into that argument a little deeper. My biggest complaint is with standard sports movies -- and Moneyball promises to be anything but. (Now that I think about it, my original statement wasn't that bold -- who likes the most standard version of anything?)

It's a movie about an unconventional sports philosophy, made unconventionally. If you only know that Moneyball is a baseball movie starring Brad Pitt, let me tell you a little bit more about it. Brad Pitt plays Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who tried to make the most of his team's miniscule payroll by using a revolutionary new set of metrics to assess ballplayers. He figured he could get some players on the cheap because they were considered castoffs by their current teams. What their current teams weren't considering was that these players had the ability to get on base, and getting on base is the most basic building block to scoring runs. Didn't matter if how they got there wasn't flashy, or whether they could play good defense (or were even suited to playing their defensive position). All that mattered was their ability to get on base, and this radical philosophy coalesced into a ton of wins at dime store prices.

So not only was Beane's philosophy unconventional (to say the least), but this movie is unconventional as well. The book it was based on, written by Michael Lewis (full title: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game), was a best seller, beloved by both baseball fans and people who don't know a double from a double play. So why shouldn't that make for a hit movie?

Because a lot of it is about analyzing baseball stats, which can be dry as toast if you are not a baseball fan. And not even the "good stats," like home runs. Beane didn't really care if you could hit home runs, though that was certainly a bonus. He cared if you could walk. He cared if you could get hit by the pitch. He cared if you had more of a likelihood of reaching base on an error than the next guy. (Okay, that's totally out of the hands of the batter -- but if he felt it was reasonable to consider that, he would have.)

It's exactly these reasons that I think the movie might be really interesting. I already know what happened in this particular season of Oakland A's baseball (2002 -- you can look it up if you want), so I know there could possibly be some "typical" baseball scenes of game-winning homers and other moments of joy. However, I also know the A's didn't win the World Series that year (spoiler alert!) so I know it certainly doesn't end in prototypical sports movie fashion. (Not without a massive outcry from anyone who considers the truth to be sacrosanct, that is.)

So I'm thinking this movie is going to do a lot of cool stuff with on-screen representations of baseball stats. I know this partially because I actually saw a bit of one such scene in the trailer.

And this is the kind of sports movie I can get behind. A movie that uses the sport in ways that don't put paramount importance on the outcome of one final match. A movie that uses a baseball locker room for color and atmosphere and humor, not for a rousing speech by the team captain before the big game.

And it does look like it will be funny, right? I especially like that bit where Pitt says "I'll tell them" with a mouth full of food.

But another reason I'm looking forward to Moneyball is that I've actually read the book on which it was based. As I've committed myself more and more to watching movies in the last half-decade, I've sadly been reading fewer and fewer books. I was never a fast reader, but I used to get through at least 2-3 per year. I don't even want to tell you my current reading rate. In the book I'm reading right now, a book I'm re-reading, I devoured about 150 pages of it while I was on vacation in Mexico back in April. Since then I've read about 50 more pages over nearly half a year. (In case it isn't obvious, I greatly regret this priority shift and hope to make a course correction ... next week. Yeah, next week.)

So when a film adaptation of a book I've actually read does come out, I'm all the more excited to get my eyeballs on it. In this case I'm not going to be judging "how they got the book wrong," because it's not that kind of book. Really, I'm just familiar with the stories presented in Lewis' book and I want to see how they materialize on screen.

One last reason I think Moneyball is going to be awesome: The poster above. Can you judge a movie by its poster? I hope so, because this poster is so money, baby. And I'm not just talking about its lush green color.

The one thing about Moneyball that's unfortunate -- but then in a different way fortunate -- is that I'll have to wait until next weekend to see it. My friend Don will be out in Southern California next weekend for a convention in San Diego, and I'm going to meet him down there to spend Saturday night in my sister city to the south. (I don't think San Diego is actually considered the "sister city" of Los Angeles, but it sounded good when I wrote it.) We'll be catching Moneyball in a theater that's as-yet unfamiliar to both of us. We always put an emphasis on seeing a good movie together when he visits, and hopefully, this will be no exception. (Last year we saw 127 Hours and Four Lions in the same weekend-long visit -- talk about some of the best of 2010.)

Truth is, I couldn't see Moneyball this weekend anyway because my wife will be two hours east of here for the weekend on a work weekend. My son and I will be joining her for about 24 hours from Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, but I'm on daddy duty both before then and after then until she gets home on Tuesday.

So the flip side of not being physically able to see Moneyball this weekend is that I will have the living room TV at my command tonight, Sunday night and Monday night.

Suffice it to say I will use that time to watch movies, not to become a better reader again. (Next week, I promise ...)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Shitty movie, great soundtrack

Musically speaking, I would have been perfectly happy if we'd never progressed beyond the late 1990s.

That was when I discovered electronic music -- both the kind that makes you dance and the kind that provides great ambiance -- and it's the last time I was so enthralled by the discovery of a new musical genre.

My musical world was opened up at the hands of such acts as The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, The Crystal Method and Daft Punk. And I was never the same.

And I think I may have one soundtrack from one shitty movie to thank for this turn of events.

On April 4, 1997, The Saint was released into theaters. I didn't see it at the time, only catching up with it a few years later on video. However, I did buy the soundtrack. For you, it may always be "see movie, then buy soundtrack," but it hasn't been for me. In fact, that year I also bought the soundtrack to a film I still, to this day, have not seen: David Lynch's Lost Highway. (See, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails was the musical supervisor, and I love everything Trent.) Anyway, buying the soundtrack before seeing the movie was no big deal to me.

I think I knew that a particular song -- "Dead Man Walking" by David Bowie -- was exclusively available on this soundtrack. Then when I scanned the rest of the tracks, and recognized a lot of band names (though didn't quite know who they were yet, as we shall explore), it was one of those incidents where the gears start whirring in your head, and suddenly you realize you are purchasing this CD -- it has met the necessary threshold for potential. (Kids, before ipods, adults used to buy things called "compact discs," or "cee-dees.")

I listened the hell out of that soundtrack, but like many albums we temporarily binge on, eventually you just kind of stop listening to it. Heck, today I've stopped listening to most everything. In fact, the only reason I ended up listening to the Saint soundtrack yesterday was that I wanted to take a long walk pushing my son in the stroller after work, but was already caught up on all my podcasts.

It was a gray day -- winter has come on fast in Southern California, though we're always just a few warm days away from an indian summer. And something about the grayness and melancholy of the day made a fragment of a song from the Saint soundtrack -- "Dream Within a Dream" by Dreadzone -- jump into my head. Since I feel like I can't think of anything I ever want to listen to these days, I love it when something jumps into my head, allowing the potential for instant gratification. There I was, carrying a device that contained thousands of songs, including this and the other 13 tracks on the Saint soundtrack.

So, I began listening.

But before I run through how amazing this album is -- chock full, truly -- I should repeat a little detail that has gone underexplored to this point: The Saint is a really terrible movie. I suppose it's nowhere near as goofy as some spy movies, but its very blandness makes it worse -- it's not even an interesting failure.

That doesn't matter. The Saint soundtrack has my undying love, but it's mutually exclusive from the movie. Not one of the songs even makes me think of a thing I might have remembered happening in the movie. It's a complete disconnect.

So yeah, I'm really glad I bought the soundtrack before seeing the movie -- other way around, and I probably wouldn't even have considered it.

Ready for a quick tour of the tracks?

1. "The Saint Theme" - Orbital. (It may actually just be called "The Saint," if I am to believe itunes.) This is a nice intro to the album, taking the original ditty from the TV show and giving it an electronic makeover. Works.

2. "6 Underground" - The Sneaker Pimps. An essential calling card of the trip hop genre. Funky and groovy and sultry and always fun to listen to. "1-2, 1-2 ..."

3. "Oil 1" - Moby. Until "Oil 1" -- which I thought for the longest time was just called "Oil" -- I don't think I had ever heard a Moby song before. Since then I've seen him live twice. "Oil 1" is not one of his best -- it's a driving kind of song, relentless, a bit more brutish than elegant. But it does the trick.

4. "Atom Bomb" - Fluke. "My baby's got an atom bomb ... 22 megatons ..." I had not heard of Fluke before (or since), but "Atom Bomb" has made it onto a half-dozen mixes I've made over the years. This song has a great bombast (no pun intended) to it. A lot of low-pitched synthesized wonderfulness and noises cascading upward and downward. An adrenaline boost.

5. "Roses Fade" - Luscious Jackson. A bit of a transitional song -- only 2:29 long, and kind of an anomaly for the album in terms of its style. But it's got its own driving personality, and hey, Luscious Jackson rocks.

6. "Setting Sun" - The Chemical Brothers. And here's the "big get," as far as I'm concerned -- especially in retrospect. As with Moby's "Oil 1," "Setting Sun" was also the first Chemical Brothers song on my radar, but this is a much bigger deal: I have gone on to buy at least six more Chemical Brothers albums, and they have settled comfortably among my top ten bands of all time. This is just the perfect song to initiate a prospective listener to Chemical Brothers, and because I wouldn't own their album "Dig Your Own Hole" for a couple more months (at which point things really took off in terms of my relationship with them), for the longest time I knew "Setting Sun" as a song that had no lyrics, because the version that appears here is instrumental. The "turn up the volume" noise in this song -- I don't know how else to describe it -- still makes my eyes roll back in their sockets. (In case it's not clear, that's a primeval expression of entrancement, not annoyance.)

7. "Pearl's Girl" - Underworld. And make way for the next home run from the next heavy hitter. Underworld is one of the absolute pioneers of this musical form, and "Pearl's Girl" showcases them at their most diverse, opening with a trippy, atmospheric beginning that quickens into a full-on dance tune, accompanied by the chanted, slightly reverbed vocals that are the trademark of Karl Hyde. And this delirious combination washes over you for 9 minutes and 37 seconds. I have not seen Underworld live -- unfortunately -- but they put out a new album earlier this year, and they still rock.

8. "Out of My Mind" - Duran Duran. A mid-tempo angsty love song. Duran Duran will not be playing it in concert any time soon, but it's passable.

9. "Da Funk" - Daft Punk. If you are keeping track: Yes, that is Moby, Chemical Brothers, Underworld and Daft Punk, all on one album. And again (stop me if this sounds familiar) this was my first introduction to Daft Punk. (Great name, I've always thought.) "Da Funk" is truth in advertising -- it's funky and full of attitude, and taps your toes until your leg might fly off. This song was still surfacing on my mixes as recently as three years ago, when I made a mix for the guys who attended my bachelor party.

10. "Dead Man Walking" - David Bowie. Here was the prize, and it didn't disappoint. Consider how I've praised what's come already, and then realize that the only song I could actually vouch for was this one. It was the first time I'd heard the guy who sang "Let's Dance" and "Young Americans" reinvent himself as a master of the synthesizer, and I was hypnotized. Not only does this song drive big time, with a dynamite opening, but it also benefits from the extraordinary pathos of Bowie's voice -- unobtrusively.

11. "Polaroid Millennium" - Superior. A good mix maker knows when to start bringing down the tempo at the end of the album. With a great lead-in from the piano ending to "Dead Man Walking," "Polaroid Millennium" takes us into a melancholy epic of romantic yearning, with ethereal vocals that bring chills, and plaintive musical stylings that become operatic in the second half of the song. I know nothing about Superior except that they made at least one absolutely terrific, moving song.

12. "A Dream Within a Dream" - Dreadzone. The actual song I originally intended to listen to didn't come on until I was almost home, but there was still enough gray in the sky for me to wander away into my mind a little bit while listening. I like to think of both this track and the previous track as the kind of song that should be playing while you're riding in the backseat of a car after midnight, looking up into the twinkling lights of a city winding down for the night. No lyrics in this one, unless you count a few vaguely tribal vocalizations here and there -- just a stripped-down, beats-oriented odyssey of mood.

13. "In the Absence of Sun" - Duncan Sheik. Probably the weakest track on the album is not bad per se -- in fact, it's got some nice moments. But Sheik's voice hits a bit of a whiny register here and there -- actually, now that I'm relistening, he sounds a bit like Lenny Kravitz, but it works better for Lenny than it does for him. Anyway, this song is appropriately tender and quiet for the penultimate track on an album that's gently winding down.

14. "Before Today" - Everything But the Girl. "And I miss you, like the desert misses the rain." Remember that song? Yeah, that was Everything But the Girl, and this is the only other song I've heard by them. It's a solid final track and does everything a final track should do -- it just has that "last track" sound, remaining in the generally quiet, generally yearning realm of a funky ballad. It doesn't need to be quiet like a whisper, and there's actually a driving beat in part of the song -- but it's that same driving beat that occurs in that same car looking up at those same twinkling city lights.

So I realize that almost no one reading this will a) own the Saint soundtrack, b) care to own the Saint soundtrack, or c) possibly even like the bands I've been referencing. So this may have been a self-serving exercise. Hey, welcome to the blogosphere.

But reacquainting myself with the Saint soundtrack made me recognize that a good soundtrack also seems a bit of a lost art. I make this assertion with almost no confidence -- I think it's very likely that I've just stopped buying soundtracks, so I don't know how good they might still be. Then again, I've bought the soundtracks to The Social Network, Tron: Legacy and Hanna all within the last year, so maybe I do know what I'm talking about. (Or don't, because there are three examples of good soundtracks right there, contradicting my own claim that no one can do it anymore.)

But each of those soundtracks was composed by a single artist -- and if you really want to see the Saint soundtrack's influence on me proven in no uncertain terms, consider that the Tron: Legacy soundtrack/score was composed by Daft Punk, and the Hanna soundtrack/score was composed by the Chemical Brothers -- both artists I was introduced to via the Saint soundtrack. (And the Oscar-winning Social Network score was of course the work of Trent Reznor, also mentioned in this post.)

What I really miss was when a single album of music could introduce you to a dozen artists -- it was like one of the great mix tapes you've ever received, based loosely (sometimes very loosely) around the theme of a particular movie.

And if that movie is The Saint, it can give you the entire foundation for the next phase of your musical existence.

So why *was* The Saint such a shitty movie, anyway?

Eh, who even remembers?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The man with no name, the man with too much of a name

One thing that consistently gets my quills up is when characters in a movie have no name.

You know, like the main character in Drive.

In the credits of Drive, Ryan Gosling's character is referred to only as "Driver."

Fortunately, I did not actually notice that he had no name until that point. I'd certainly prefer that to the alternative: a bunch of really clumsy dialogue that trips over itself trying to come up with synonyms to the person's name. "He" and "that guy" and "the kid" (etc.) get old pretty quickly.

As soon as I realize the characters in a movie don't have names, I immediately think of that movie as some kind of Samuel Beckett ripoff. Of course, the filmmakers are not usually going for the same things Beckett was going for, but the same level of pretentiousness may be present. "The character has no name because he could be anyone, he could be your or me!" Yeah, I get it. It addresses nothing less than the universality of human experience. Good for it.

(I should pause here to tell you something that may be obvious by now: I had my complaints with Drive. One positive is that I saw it on Sunday night and am still thinking about it/processing it on Tuesday morning, which undoubtedly qualifies as a good thing.)

However, the reverse is also true. I hate it when a character has too much of a name.

No, I'm not talking about characters of Spanish heritage who have a dozen first/middle names. I think that's excessive as a cultural tradition, but it doesn't bother me and is not relevant to this particular conversation.

What bothers me -- with a few notable exceptions -- is when a screenwriter is so proud of the name he/she has created for a character that it gets repeated ad infinitum, almost like the name itself is a joke/piece of clever screenwriting. Sometimes, this name even becomes the title of the movie.

Take Charlie Bartlett. (Please, ha ha.)

As Charlie Bartlett is purely a work of fiction from an original screenplay, they could have made that character's name anything. Yet I suspect the name Charlie Bartlett was chosen because the rhyming first syllables of each name made it particularly fun to say. And then, particularly fun to repeat in quick succession in the trailer:

I actually kind of like Charlie Bartlett, but I can never think about it without thinking about the major screenwriting crutch of giving the character a snappy name -- so snappy that it can function as the movie's title. There are certainly plenty of other titles that qualify, but this is the one that always comes to mind whenever I rail about the laziness I think is inherent in naming a movie after its main character.

Ah, but remember what I said about exceptions?

I don't have this problem with Donnie Darko. No doubt, the exact same thinking applied -- instead of the rhyming of "Char" and "Bar," it's the alliteration of the two Ds that makes the name roll off the tongue easily. Either way it's cutesy.

But see, in this case, I don't care.

I think Donnie Darko is a masterpiece, and a masterpiece forgives all faults. In fact, Donnie Darko works as a good example in this post in multiple ways.

See yesterday, I had a disagreement with someone about the quality of Drive. He loved it -- I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it, but my feelings are never going to qualify as love. What I did know was that I could list a litany of small complaints I had about Drive, complaints that could certainly qualify as nit-picking. That brought up a larger discussion about the usefulness of nit-packing as a critical exercise ... and whether it should even be called nit-picking in the first place.

During that discussion I had a realization about the term "nit-picking," which is that it is almost always -- okay, always -- used negatively. If you are said to be "nit-picking," you are tearing down an idea or piece of art based on allegedly unimportant details, things you should be able to overlook.

The thing is, if you are concentrating on those details, it means that the idea or piece of art has not done enough to convince you that they were unimportant. I'd argue that the actual best way to consider the fine art of nit-picking is as "early criticism." You pick nits when you are not yet able to articulate why you did not like a particular film. As brilliant as we film fans like to fancy ourselves, sometimes we just don't immediately summon the words for why a particular film didn't work for us. Until the time that we can, we sometimes find ourselves saying things like "Yeah, I didn't like the clothes that guy was wearing, they were stupid." Better than that, I hope, but still not really to the heart of what was wrong with the film.

And so Donnie Darko entered into that discussion as well. Described even by its devoted fans as a movie that does not make perfect sense, Donnie Darko is just the kind of movie that could die under the intense scrutiny of so-called nit-picking. But see, I don't nit-pick Donnie Darko because I love it so much. I don't care that there are some things that don't make sense, and I don't care that the title is a perfect example of a movie-naming convention I find to be lazy. Donnie Darko had me at hello, and that's all there is to it.

As for Drive and Charlie Bartlett ... well, they've still got more work to do.

Exaggerated conclusion: Movie characters should have a first name but no last name. Every male character should be named Mark, and every female character should be named Julie.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Subtitle shenanigans

We had decided to watch a Korean horror/thriller last night, and our choice (available on streaming) was going to be Arang. I didn't know anything about Arang except that it was in our queue, which means either my wife or I must have thought it had potential. (Her, I think.)

We bailed after one minute.

No, Arang was not the worst movie you've ever seen, a movie that would turn you against it in only 60 seconds.

But its subtitles were fucked up, which is a deal-breaker.

Okay, "fucked up" goes too far. They were just too close to the bottom of the screen. You could read the words, but about the bottom third of the bottom row was below the bottom edge of the screen, so you had to read twice to make sure you got the words right. And the natural pace of dialogue just doesn't allow that kind of luxury.

Deal-breaker, right?

It got me thinking about how easy it should be to get subtitles right. There are plenty of available strategies for ensuring that the viewer can actually read the subtitles. Yet these strategies are not always satisfactorily employed.

One of the biggest bummers I have about subtitles is something you usually can't figure out from the beginning of the film. All too often, films won't do enough to distinguish the subtitles from backgrounds of the same color. Ever been watching a movie with white subtitles, and suddenly you're missing half the dialogue during a shot of bright daylight? Or sometimes you miss only a little bit, because part of the text bleeds into the background but part of it doesn't?

This should be pretty easy to fix. Two immediate solutions come to mind: 1) Surround white letters with a thin black border. A bordered letter will stand out against anything. 2) Surround the entire line of text with a banner. Nothing obtrusive.

I should be careful, though, making suggestions that would be obtrusive -- you see, lots of people reading this are in a position to put my suggestions into practice -- because the movie we watched instead of Arang committed the sin of obtrusion.

We shifted one title over in our streaming queue and watched The Red Shoes, also from Korea -- and absolutely brilliant, as it turned out. But some of the compositional beauty of the film was tainted during the opening credits.

See, the modest Korean characters, which blended so seamlessly into the mis en scene, were translated into ugly yellow lettering in English. Large ugly yellow writing. And because they couldn't cover up the Korean letters (a decision I agree with), the subtitles had to jump to the top of the screen, where they are directly impacting the composition of the shot.

My suggestion to fix this one is a suggestion the filmmakers' would be a lot less likely to go for: Just don't translate the credits. Sure, there are some things you have to translate -- say, the title -- but is it essential that we get the Roman alphabet translation of the boom operator's name? (I know, I know, you'll never get the boom operator's name in the opening credits of a film, unless it's Gaspar Noe's Into the Void, all of whose credits appear right up front. I was just making a joke. Jeez.)

Then again, I don't want to align myself with the people who leave the theater as soon as the credits roll -- credits are important.

As important as seeing the shot as it was originally intended, though? Nah.

Rating the DVD menu

Last night, I saw my first nudity ever in a DVD menu.

At least, I'm pretty sure I can say that with confidence. I've seen plenty of movies with plenty of nudity, but none that gave up the goods in the clips they show you on a repeating loop while you're trying to choose which of the DVD options to select.

Such was the case with Old School, however.

It was my second time seeing Old School -- the first for my wife, else it'd probably have been a lot longer before I saw it again -- but my first time was in the theater, so I had never previously been exposed to its DVD menu. And indeed, featured prominently in the loop of footage is the two co-eds who take their tops off right before their prospective lubricant wrestling bout with Joseph "Blue" Pulaski (Patrick Cranshaw). You know, moments before the old man keels over and dies. (And for the purposes of gender equality, the DVD menu footage also includes Will Ferrell's ass while he's streaking across the quad.)

It definitely caught me by surprise, and never have I more wanted to leave a DVD running on its menu screen for an extended period of time. Kidding, mostly -- actually, it was a tad awkward because my wife was there, so I had to avert my glance just to be proper.

I don't know why I should have been so surprised by it. After all, once you've decided to rent/buy the movie, you've basically committed yourself to its R rating. There's no longer a need to keep things PG for the widest possible audience. And to prove that in other ways, there's also footage during the DVD menu of Frank the Tank's wife (Perrey Reeves) getting her blow job lesson with a carrot.

But I guess maybe I thought the DVD menu should tone it down. I don't know, maybe the DVD got left in the player overnight, and the next day, just by turning on the TV to watch Spongebob, your young/son daughter would be exposed to carrot fellatio and 19-year-old naked breasts, about to be covered in KY jelly.

What really made me laugh, though, was that the movie also included a warning, the likes of which I hadn't previously seen. That's right, after warning us about the illegality of piracy, the DVD also warned us that the movie contains adult content and should be watched by appropriate audiences only. That's the kind of warning you see on TV -- I most recently remember seeing it on AMC's The Walking Dead -- not on a movie DVD. So not only is it strange in its own right, but it's especially strange given that we'd already been exposed to about as much adult material as we could handle in the DVD menu itself.

A few more thoughts on my second viewing of Old School ...

... and co-starring Jeremy Piven, as "the dean"

I'm not usually one to complain about miscasting. I'll make many observations about a movie that didn't pass muster, but one I'm not very likely to make is that a particular actor was the wrong choice for the role. It happens from time to time, of course, but not all that often. I may criticize their performance, but I won't necessarily jump to the conclusion that the filmmakers should have gotten someone else entirely.

However, Jeremy Piven as Dean Pritchard is one of those times.

Sure, Piven can play priggish, and sure, Piven can be a prick, which probably comes easily to him, because I understand he's quite the prick in real life. For some reason, though, I don't really see him playing "the dean."

For one, he's a bit too young -- which I guess is sort of the point of the role, that it's somewhat ridiculous that this guy the main characters once picked on is now the authority figure, with the opportunity to do the same to them. But also, the character we knew him most often as at the time was much more like one of the protagonists, a guy who would have been comfortable wisecracking alongside Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson. It seemed strange that they put dorky glasses on him and turned him into a vengeful pipsqueak, and I guess I never felt comfortable with the choice.

Except the fraternity stuff

The reason I said earlier that I wouldn't have revisited Old School for awhile, had my wife already seen it, was that I felt it was only a partial success the first time I saw it. However, as I was watching the first half-hour -- and laughing quite hard -- I found myself wondering what I hadn't seen in it.

Then I remembered: "Oh yeah, the fraternity stuff."

I think it's fair to say that everything in Old School that's not directly related to their fraternity is really funny. Everything that is related to the fraternity doesn't really work.

I'll start with the exception to that rule: The scene where the three main characters have panty hose over their heads, and drive around in a large black van kidnapping their pledges. That scene works perfectly, and has the perfect choice of music to accompany it: Metallica's "Master of Puppets." Totally outside-the-box choice, which makes it all the more effective. (Rick Gonzalez getting tackled into the fountain is terrific physical humor.)

I think two of the parts that don't work have to do with the bad visual effects related to actor Jerod Mixon. Mixon is a very large individual, and director Todd Phillips chooses to involve him in two visual gags that are kind of a goof on his size, but just look strange on screen. One involves him getting pulled off the side of a building when the cinder block attached by a rope to his penis falls through a grating. Another involves him doing an improbable flip over a pommel horse in a gymnastics competition. Both incidents look absurd because the effects are so terrible. Better not to have attempted those jokes in the first place.

However ...

Is that Rob Corddry?

Without the fraternity scenes, I wouldn't have noticed Rob Corddry as one of the non-students in the fraternity. He's there, trademark clump of hair in the middle of his bald spot and everything.

What was funny wasn't that he was in the movie -- Corddry has since appeared in several films with several of the same cast members. It's that his part was so small that he didn't even have a line. It's funny to think that only eight years ago, Corddry was a small enough name that they didn't even throw him a bone with a short bit of dialogue. Less they had to pay him, of course.

"It's kind of all over the place"

I was interested to see if my wife's take on Old School would align with my own lukewarm take, and it turns out it did. "Lukewarm" is perhaps too strong of a word (even though it's a weak word by nature) -- however, it's true that neither of us like it as much as most people seem to.

My wife summed it up best: "It's kind of all over the place."

Old School really is going in several different directions at any one time, and the result is a bit of feeling of schizophrenia. For starters, sometimes the film treats Luke Wilson's character as the protagonist, but others, it seems to be more about the character arc of Frank the Tank. As a result, secondary characters in both plots get shortchanged. Ellen Pompeo, quite charming as Wilson's love interest, disappears for long stretches, and the film doesn't feel like it contains a proper resolution for Reeves' character, the recent bride and soon-to-be-ex-wife of Frank.

However, what I really do appreciate about it is how many quotable lines there are, and how many great set pieces. As a series of individual moments, Old School is an absolute blast.

And yeah, there are a couple nice pairs of breasts as well ...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The dawn of a name

Remember when you first heard the name Quentin Tarantino? Didn't it just sound like a name you needed to remember? Or perhaps more accurately, a name you would not need to remember, because it would soon become unforgettable and possibly inescapable?

The last few weeks, I've been tossing the name "Nicolas Winding Refn" around in my mind in the same way.

I don't know all that much about Drive, which comes out today -- I've seen the trailer once and I have a basic idea of the premise. However, there's something so invigorating about the footage, and something about the fact that Refn won best director at Cannes for this film, that fills me with hope that this could be the dawning of a new auteur. Maybe a good Tarantino imitator for once.

Nicolas Winding Refn. It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, unfortunately. (The guy's Danish, what's he gonna do.)

Now, it's not accurate to say that Refn is new. His name may be new to me, but he's already directed seven films, dating back 15 years. Most notably Bronson, which received some positive critical attention a couple years ago. (Though the only person I know who saw it was left cold by it, and as a result I haven't considered it more seriously.) However, Drive is his first American film, his fourth in the English language.

After I'm done seeing it -- most likely this weekend -- Drive may not remind me of a Quentin Tarantino film at all. But we know that Tarantino has a fetish for heists, guns, shady characters, fast cars and stunt drivers, so it's most likely it will.

The real question is, will it be good Tarantino or bad Tarantino? There's a lot more of the latter than the former. Then again, Cannes -- where Tarantino is a favorite son -- is not known for giving out best directing awards to bad Tarantino impersonators.

Obviously, the buzz for Drive is quite good. However, on one of the podcasts I listen to, they quoted what director Rian Johnson said about it -- he enjoyed it, but we should temper our expectations. Too late! (Besides, Johnson is overrated.)

Say it with me ... "Nicolas Winding Refn. Nicolas Winding Refn."

Eh, we'll get used to it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Okay, which sports movies do I like?

I haven't done a Flickchart Tuesdays for a couple weeks. This week, it falls on a Thursday. So be it.

Last Friday I opened up a can of worms when I said I didn't like sports movies in a piece about Gavin O'Connor's Warrior (which I hadn't/haven't seen). I don't mean it was a can of worms in the sense that you tore me a new one -- just that it was an issue I'd wanted to broach on the blog for a long time now, but hadn't previously done. Now that the can is open, I want to dig deeper into it -- you know, to find the worms at the bottom, the ones that were squished by having all the other worms on top of them.

(Note: Although I owned up to the mistake in my comments section for that post, I thought I should repeat it here: My entire premise for the post was somewhat flawed. I thought (assumed?) that Warrior was a boxing movie, so the entire post was about boxing movies -- in fact, Warrior is about mixed martial arts. That may be splitting hairs, but I thought I should mention it here anyway just to set the record straight.)

I have this general idea in my head that I don't like sports movies, or at least that I am wary of them. Of course, that's not entirely true as I have some sports movies ranked very highly in Flickchart. Also, as I tried to get into last Friday, not all sports movies are created equal. Some sports movies are "sports movies" in the way we tend to think of them, where an underdog athlete/team overcomes huge obstacles or a huge talent gap to beat the favored Goliath, who is also probably kind of an asshole. Then there are some sports movies that just exist in and around the world of sports, concentrating on the characters rather than pointing toward the outcome of a climactic game.

For the purposes of this post, where I will look at my favorite sports movies, I'm not going to draw a distinction between the two categories. And at the end, I'm going to see how the list breaks down, between traditional and non-traditional sports movies. I think it'll be quite educational.

I'm also interested to see how the movies on this list are divided between the various sports. Since baseball is my favorite sport, will the lion's share of my favorite sports movies be baseball movies? Or will the sheer quality of the movie trump all other considerations, making the sport in question irrelevant? Of course, this can never be a perfectly fair exercise, since I'm quite sure I've seen more movies about baseball than I've seen about any other sport. I also know that I tend to like the presentation of baseball on film more than I do some other sports, particularly basketball. Basketball is my second favorite sport, yet I think basketball movies are almost always lacking.

In choosing what I consider to qualify as a sports movie, I'm going to make some judgment calls. For example, I'm not going to count Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, which would be very highly ranked if I did count it. This may be obvious, since professional wrestling is staged -- thereby removing it from the realm of "sport." But it's sort of a gray area. Would I include The Wrestler if it were the same movie, except that Mickey Rourke were playing a boxer? I guess I would, but it's a tough call -- it's still more about him, his character and his demons than it ever is about competition and athletic outcomes. I guess it will be a "know it when I see it" type situation, and I will include the ones that pass my sniff test.

Incidentally, I should note that Flickchart has a perfectly good filter that could tell me right off the bat what movies it considers to be sports movies. Just by using that filter I could immediately have my top ten (which I will discuss) and my 11-20 (which I will only list). However, the spirit of this exercise is not to use the filter, but rather, just to drill down through my rankings to see what I come up with. It's a little bit more interactive that way, and I get to choose what I think qualifies -- rather than having someone else choose that for me.

Okay. Shall we begin?

1. Field of Dreams (1989, Phil Alden Robinson). I guessed that this would be my favorite sports movie, and indeed, it is. Not surprisingly, it's about baseball, and not surprisingly, it isn't about the outcome of a particular game. What better way to please a sports fan who doesn't like sports movies, than to make the movie about the love of the game itself, and use it to help explore the relationship between a father and a son? Few images in sports movies are as iconic as the line of cars winding through the darkened roads leading up to the baseball field in an Iowa cornfield. Of course, the climax -- not a World Series game, but a simple father-son game of catch -- gets me every time. Flickchart: #126

2. The Karate Kid (1984, John G. Avildsen). I wasn't sure at first if I should include this, because I tend to think of it as a coming-of-age story first and foremost. But heck, karate is a sport, right? I wouldn't want to say otherwise, lest a bunch of martial arts devotees come up to me on the street and kick me in the windpipe. My highest-ranked David vs. Goliath sports movie ... and yeah, the Goliath sure is an asshole in this movie. In fact, couldn't you say that Daniel-sahn is the ultimate underdog, and Mr. Miyagi the ultimate coach? Flickchart: #224

3. Rocky III (1982, Sylvester Stallone). You may recall in my aforementioned piece on Warrior that I described this as my favorite boxing movie of all time, and also told you that I hadn't seen either of the two Rocky movies that came before it. You may also recall that I love this movie so much because I had it on videotape when I was a kid, and watched it probably ten times. Rocky III is an interesting kind of underdog movie, because the former heavyweight champion of the world is the one who's the underdog. Not your typical underdog at all, but it works in this movie, in part because they make Mr. T such an (I'll say it again) asshole as the physically superior Goliath. At least Hulk Hogan is a good sport after Rocky comes back to whip him. (Funny tie-in to what I said about The Wrestler earlier -- in Rocky III, wrestling is treated as if it were real.) Flickchart: #226

4. Major League (1989, David S. Ward). My second favorite baseball movie is in fact a typical David vs. Goliath type sports movie, but I still love it. (I actually name-checked this in last week's post as well.) There's something about that goofy group of misfits they get to play the woebegone Cleveland Indians that just makes this movie so lovable. Perhaps what I also like about it is that the big finale does not involve them winning the World Series -- it just involves them winning the division, hence making it to the playoffs. Fictitious sports movies where the grand finale involves something less than the whole enchilada have their own kind of charm and restraint. Flickchart: #264

5. Eight Men Out (1988, John Sayles). And baseball rears its head again. And here we have our first sports movie that's a recreation of actual events. This kind of sports movie theoretically interests me more than the David vs. Goliath sports movie, because I know whatever the outcome was, it was not the result of a screenwriter dreaming up some wild and improbable ending. In fact, the outcomes of the games in Eight Men Out are anticlimactic by design, since the movie's about the Chicago White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series. Very definitely a period piece about integrity and honor, not to mention the corruption of the purity of a sport Sayles clearly loves, than a straight sports movie. Flickchart: #282

6. Cobb (1994, Ron Shelton). One of my favorite biopics of all time just happens to be about one of the greatest baseball players of all time. It is borderline in terms of whether it qualifies here, because it's much more about an irascible old man and the sportswriter who's trying to write a biography of him, than it is actually about baseball itself. In fact, if memory serves, there is only a single scene devoted to Ty Cobb's on-field exploits, which is included to demonstrate his cruel and ruthless nature -- as he steals second and then third base, he comes in spikes up at the fielder waiting to tag him out, seeming to relish the harm he inflicts on the opposing player. Still, my own personal definition of a sports movie is broad enough to include Shelton's underappreciated gem. Flickchart: #474

7. He Got Game (1998, Spike Lee). The first movie on this list that isn't about either baseball or fighting. (Or in the case of Cobb, both.) I wouldn't have immediately produced this title as my favorite basketball movie of all time, but it makes sense that it is. And of course, it makes sense that it isn't about actual games -- basketball game choreography tends to be some of the sloppiest sports choreography in movies. In fact, like Field of Dreams, it's mostly about the relationship between a father and a son. I also like the way the film touches on the business aspects of sports, how Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) is trying to resist the corrupting influences of sports agents (before he's eligible to use them). Of course, since it's Spike Lee and Lee loves basketball, it's not surprising he'd make a good basketball movie -- an intelligent basketball movie. This movie also has to do with why I love NBA player Ray Allen so much -- even before he became a member of my hometown Boston Celtics. Flickchart: #499

8. Bull Durham (1988, Ron Shelton). And the Hollywood director most known for being dedicated to sports movies makes his second appearance on the list. I must say my appreciation of Bull Durham is more abstract than the other films on this list -- I remember liking it a lot, but I've seen it only once, and I elevate it in my rankings based more on its general reputation than on a specific love I have for it. In fact, I can't even remember if there's a climactic game in which Crash Davis, Nuke LaLoosh et al are involved -- I suspect there is, but I couldn't say for sure. So maybe this is more of a romantic comedy than a straight-up sports movie, but in no world are you not going to say that Bull Durham is a sports movie. Flickchart: #509

9. Blue Crush (2002, John Stockwell). This is another fringe inclusion, because it's a lot more about teenagers coming of age and a bunch of beautiful Hawaiian scenery than sports. But at the heart of the story is a surfing competition, so I'm including it here. It may be sacrilege to some of my readers (I'm thinking of one in particular) that I am counting this as my favorite surfing movie of all time, but it really worked for me, and I've been longing to go back for a second visit to see if I wasn't crazy. Flickchart: #513

10. Bring It On (2000, Peyton Reed). And we finish the discussion portion of the list with possibly another cheat. You don't think "sports movie" when you first think of Bring It On -- several other genres would occur to you first. However, there's no doubt that cheerleaders are incredible athletes, and just as I wouldn't want to cross a karate expert by telling him his pursuit is not a sport, neither would I want to cross a cheerleader. (Sharp nails.) Bring It On builds toward the big showdown with the rival team at the end, just as dozens of other sports movies do. It's most likely the other aspects of this movie -- the cheery, bubblegum world, Kirsten Dunst at her most spunky and fetching -- that cause me to rank it as highly as I do. But the sports aspect also works for me because it's not an underdog team trying to rise up -- it's the multi-time state championship trying to hang onto glory under a new regime, and make itself respectable after a cheating scandal. Neither does the film have a strictly predictable outcome ... though you can predict it pretty easily if you know anything about Hollywood racial politics, and can sense the subtleties in how the rival inner-city team is portrayed. Flickchart: #597

And now, the honorable mentions:

11. Surf's Up (2007, Ash Brannon & Chris Buck). Flickchart: #613
12. When We Were Kings (1996, Leon Gast). Flickchart: #686
13. Raging Bull (1980, Martin Scorsese). Flickchart: #704
14. Seabiscuit (2003, Gary Ross). Flickchart: #709
15. We Are Marshall (2006, MdG). Flickchart: #715
16. The Karate Kid Part II (1986, John G. Avildsen). Flickchart: #752
17. Hoop Dreams (1994, Steve James). Flickchart: #812
18. Happy Gilmore (1996, Dennis Dugan). Flickchart: #889
19. Caddyshack (1980, Harold Ramis). Flickchart: #906
20. Chariots of Fire (1981, Hugh Hudson). Flickchart: #911

So, no hockey movies make my top 20. Consistent with my sports fandom in general. Also, I've really only seen one or two hockey movies. In fact, I can't immediately think of another hockey movie I've seen other than Miracle (ranked at #1694).

The sport I'm not seeing here, which I do really love, is tennis, but that's because there are almost no movies about tennis. The only movie devoted to tennis that I've ever seen is Wimbledon, currently at #1568 (which is too low -- it's a sweet movie).

So I feel like I had to make exceptions all over the place on this list. For example, once I included Blue Crush, I felt like I needed to include what is apparently my second favorite surf movie (blasphemy again): Surf's Up, which is actually an animated movie. Did I expect an animated movie to appear on this list? I did not. But you have to make the judgment calls as you see 'em. And part of me even wonders if surfing movies should show up here, since they are sort of their own genre. If there had started to be more of them, I might have arbitrarily excluded them.

There were also some movies I didn't include that might have made it in under logic I'd used previously. If I include surf movies, do I include skateboarding movies? Well, I didn't, passing up the opportunity to include Dogtown and Z-Boys on this list.

Not surprisingly, baseball was the leader here, but not by as much as I expected: Five films out of the top 20, all appearing in the top 10. Oddly enough, boxing was the next most prevalent, with three movies -- even after I said last week that I didn't like boxing movies. Then again, I've probably seen more movies about boxing than I have about either basketball or football -- strange as that may be to say -- so it doesn't surprise me that a couple more of them showed up here.

In terms of what kind of sports movies they were, it seems clear that most of them were not of the David vs. Goliath variety. In fact, the only ones I'd describe that way are the two Karate Kid movies, Rocky III, Major League, Surf's Up and Happy Gilmore. The rest were in-and-around sports type movies, as well as documentaries and recreations of events that really happened.

Useful exercise, I thought. What about you?