Danny Bowes

Film & TV critic and journalist, novelist, short story writer, playwright, screenwriter.

THE B(OWES)EST MOVIES OF 2016!

Boy, 2016 was swell, huh? I know I spent all year skipping merrily through the golden fields, having a lollipop while the sound of laughter tinkled through the heavens. Just an all-around pleasant fucking year. Mmm mmm.

So, yeah. But there were a lot of good movies! I know a lot of you out there don't ever want to hear about probability statistics again, but the law of averages holds that at the rate they're released, assuming an at least partially artistic motivation for the majority of them, a good 20-30 movies are going to be pretty good in a given year, give or take 10 or so on the high end. That was the biggest surprise for me when I started blogging about movies: more of them are good than I had thought, which was great news, because I love movies.

In that spirit, I come today to celebrate, not to tear down. I don't do worst-of lists, because they just piss me off, and I don't do “overrated” lists because I may be an asshole but I'm not a fucking asshole. Basically, if I don't mention it here, I didn't think it was good, and do remember that telling someone they “forgot” something on a list is the equivalent of shitting in their shoe. With that said, here are my notable/favorite movies of 2016:

 

“I liked it, but let's not get carried away”:

 

The Accountant

Central Intelligence

Deadpool

Ghostbusters

 

You liked it more than I did, and that's fine”:

 

Sully

La La Land

Everybody Wants Some!!

Captain America: Civil War

 

“I didn't see it because I live too far from movie theaters, let alone press screenings”:

 

Silence

Fences

The Edge of Seventeen

Too many foreign pictures to count (though SRK's Fan and Aamir's Dangal stung the worst personally)

 

Honorable Mention:

 

Hidden Figures

Morris From America

SPL 2 (Kill Zone 2)

Fire At Sea

Oasis: Supersonic

My Golden Days

Henry Gamble's Birthday Party

Kate Plays Christine

Doctor Strange

The First Monday In May

Knight of Cups

 

To be clear, I greatly enjoyed all of these wildly divergent movies. (As a side note: Shailene Woodley should have done Wildly Divergent instead of Allegiant, Insurgent, and Detergent. This is why I should be an agent.) I highly recommend all of them.

 

And now . . . numbers 25-11 (note, once we get to around 18 or so every single movie to the end of the list could just as easily be favorite of the year):

 

 

25. Sing Street

 

One horrendous joke, intending to mock racism, but that ends up clanging so bad it's almost sort of racist, is the only thing marring this otherwise delightful story of a dorky kid in 80s Dublin who forms a band to impress a girl and, well, succeeds. One note of warning: you're either going to buy this or you're not, and if Sing Street doesn't do it for you, it's really not going to do it for you. I bought it: the tunes are great, the kids are fabulous, and finally, finally, I liked a John Carney picture. Our long national nightmare is over. That one, anyway.

 

 

24. The Invitation

 

My new favorite subgenre, after Coherence the other year (you know what, scratch that, this goes back to The Exterminating Angel), is “a bunch of well-to-do people get together for a dinner party only a bunch of weird fucking shit happens,” only this is a much slower burn than the other two titles mentioned, to the point where even bringing them up is misleading. If you haven't seen this yet, free up a couple hours, meditate to clear your mind, and go in totally tabula rasa. It's really quite something.

 

 

23. The Witch (or, if you want people on Twitter to climb up your ass, The VVitch)

 

I was totally in the tank for this, for two reasons. One is that my ancestors were the fuckup family on the Mayflower that the stern, religious types on the boat thought were godless lumpen shitheads (talk about genetic determinism, damn), leading to their having to move out into the sticks, although as opposed to The Witch where it was for heresy, in real life it was because my ancestor killed a guy and was hanged and his remaining family decided to put some space between themselves and Plymouth. The second reason is that seemingly without fail, if horror nerds have a huge debate about whether something is really a horror movie, I end up cluelessly wandering in and really liking it six months later. It's gorgeously, sensuously shot—you can taste the fog—and the “wouldst thou like to live deliciously” moment is one of the best things in movies, and it's an incredibly versatile suggestion, useful in daily life.

 

 

22. The Fits

 

Every frame of this picture surges with life. Anna Rose Holmer's debut is the proverbial good microbudget Sundance movie, at once simple and profound, more impact in 70 minutes than damn near every other picture has at twice that length (not to mention hundreds of millions more for budget). We're officially at the part of the list where I'm getting an ulcer because every movie might be fifteen spots too low. More importantly, though, seek this movie out. Support young women filmmakers.

 

 

21. Hail, Caesar!

 

The Coens have been spending their entire career catering to the most whimsical and eccentric neighborhoods of my id, and continue enthusiastically here, doing one of the greatest things an artist can do, which is to put Channing Tatum in a musical. The whole thing isn't Channing Tatum in a musical—there's a bit where George Clooney kicks it with an impeccably curated group of leftist archetypes that had me dying, and that Alden Ehrenreich kid is the truth, and Brolin is still on his seemingly permanent roll—but I can't emphasize enough that putting Channing Tatum in a musical is a great and important thing, and if you put Channing Tatum in a musical, you are a good person who does good deeds and improves the world. So much for the Coens being misanthropes.

 

 

20. De Palma

 

Literally just Brian De Palma sitting around talking about his movies for two hours, but yo, Brian De Palma sitting around talking about his movies for two hours. As the man himself says approximately 8276 times in the movie, “Holy mackerel!”

 

 

19. Jackie

 

There's some appallingly on-the-nose dialogue, and I'm not entirely sold on Portman's performance (though I still think she's picking up a second Oscar this year, Emma Stone notwithstanding), but all of the complimentary stuff I said in my article about this holds.

 

 

18. Krisha

 

A divisive one—boy, the people who hate this movie fucking hate it—but reader, I was moved. It's almost like a domestic drama and a horror movie doing a lot of drugs together and having a “whoa, man, our personalities are merging” experience, complete with the comedown. It's the kind of debut feature where you (okay, me) really want to see what the director does next but also really want him to do something radically different.

 

 

17. The Nice Guys

 

Not even going to pretend like I can be impartial about Shane Black. I'm not. In the slightest. That being said, I kind of wished, as I did with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, that he'd collaborated with another director, but this is a minor quibble. I fucking loved this silly, shaggy, rude-ass movie. Best Gosling performance I've seen yet, and it's the best Crowe's been in a minute, though the kid performances are the best bit (particularly Angourie Rice as Gosling's daughter). “At least you're drinking again.”

 

 

16. No Home Movie

 

Chantal Akerman's last film, and it will make you feel her loss, intensely.

 

 

15. Cameraperson

 

Might make an interesting (and draining) double feature with #16, and the official “fuck, this might be 15 spots too low” picture on this list. Assembled by veteran documentary cinematographer Kristen Johnson from outtakes spanning her whole career, some astonishing moments and images ensue, and what emerges is a singular kind of memoir, a true original. (This could just as easily have been my #1 in a different year, or even a different mood. If you asked me why it's #15 instead, all I'd be able to say is something defensive about ranked lists being bullshit.)

 

 

14. The Shallows

 

As Jean-Luc Godard famously said, “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a shark.” (Why is this ahead of Cameraperson? Look, ranked lists are bullshit.)

 

 

13. Green Room

 

Jeremy Saulnier is really good at brooding, menacing, violent slow burns with colors in the title. This was not at all what I was expecting, and has one of the best endings I've seen in a while.

 

 

12. Hell or High Water

 

The proverbial good Texas neo-noir with a lot of unsubtle “in this economy?” moments (by the way, “unsubtle” is not a knock coming from me), though it would be one of the best movies of the year solely for how hot Chris Pine is in it. It's absurd. Like, to the point of inducing anger. I've seen this movie compared a lot to Killing Them Softly, but this is way better. This one has Chris Pine.

 

11. Certain Women

 

My first Kelly Reichardt, and damn sure won't be my last. Three chapters, interconnected tangentially, about certain women (hey!) in Montana, each fascinating in their various ways. It's a great reminder that Laura Dern rules, that Kristen Stewart makes people lose their goddamn minds (and is great), and that Michelle Williams can overcome even thinly written, annoying roles. Lily Gladstone, though, walks away with the movie, or, more aptly, slowly canters away on her horse with the movie. The kind of picture that reinforces the fact that “slow” and “quiet” are positive traits in the right hands.

 

 

By the way, we're well-ensconced in “this movie easily could have been #1 if I spent another few weeks overthinking the rankings” territory. Just in time for . . . THE TOP TEN.

 

 

10. Manchester by the Sea

 

This is going to sound weird, and negative, and any extrapolation of the following as a critique of the movie is undertaken without the sanction of the author, but the shot that stuck out the most for me in MbtS is one where, after writer-director Kenneth Lonergan has a brief encounter with leading man Casey “C-Fleck” Affleck where they yell at each other in Noath Shoah accents, there's this brief shot that goes nowhere and is not connected to the preceding scene or anything in the movie in any way, be it textual or geographical, of Lonergan walking up the street. Grab a drink and a snack and get comfortable, because I have a take: this non sequitur shot serves, in a way, as a signature. I am this painting. It is me. Anyway, the rest of the movie is great, and C-Fleck really is spectacular in it. (Also, like #11, an entry in the “Michelle Williams can do no wrong” sub-genre.)

 

 

9. Paterson

 

Jim Jarmusch's least cool movie. And it may be his best. Not a drop of meanness in the whole thing, which is blessedly out of step with real life.

 

 

8. The Love Witch

 

I've been banging the drums for this on awards ballots and such, and wrote an appreciating of Samantha Robinson's terrific lead performance here. This fucking movie is so fucking good. Essential for anyone into 70s Euro-horror-softcore, which if you're not you should be, that's the business right there. Anna Biller's on to something, and her name's gone right on my must-see auteurs list, in ink.

 

 

7. Toni Erdmann

 

The most frequent knock on this I've heard is that it's too long, but it needs to be long, and the build enabled by its considerable length allows it to reach quite spectacular heights by the end. I have no idea how to describe Peter Simonischek's performance in this, because “naturalistic Bouffon” sounds like gibberish to me, except that's all I got. Sandra Hüller sings a version of Whitney's “The Greatest Love of All” at one point that stopped my heart beating, not out of technical skill but out of sheer commitment, which by another apparent contradiction, is a function of the technical mastery of her acting. This is another one that's maybe 15 slots too low, and there aren't even 15 slots above it. Ranked lists are bullshit.

 

 

6. 13th

 

Saying that Ava DuVernay makes pop movies isn't a backhanded compliment, because her working within pop aesthetic modes broadens the reach of her work, and what she has to say is vital. So, 13th is presented in the form of a standard talking-head documentary, but whatever conservatism of form it may be saddled with is outweighed in importance by the fact that the United States never, in any practical sense, fully enforced the 13th Amendment (memory jog: that's the one repealing slavery), and the implications of that failure are devastating. The film simply lays out existing facts, but does so with urgent clarity, and the fact that it exists improves the chances that people unaware of those facts will learn them.

 

 

5. I Am Not Your Negro

 

James Baldwin was one of the greatest American writers, and one of the greatest Americans. My words are inadequate to assess this movie. It's coming to theaters in February, mark your calendars.

 

 

4. Love & Friendship

 

It had my attention at “Whit Stillman adapts Jane Austen.” It had my interest at “Kate Beckinsale turns in an iconic movie star performance.” It had my love with Tom Bennett, though. That fucking guy is light. Every frame of this movie is perfect and I adore it.

 

 

3. Moonlight

 

I've only seen about three negative takes on this—and this is out of hundreds, since I spend way too much goddamn time on Twitter—and none of them are worth a shit. Moonlight is the 2016 movie people are going to be talking about twenty years from now (assuming no World War III and/or equivalent Game Over scenario), and that's because it's an exquisitely rendered piece of cinematic art. There are minor issues, mostly in the writing, that bumped it down to #3 for me, but note “for me.” And also remember anything in the top 15-18 this year could have been my #1. Ranked lists are bullshit.

 

 

2. Elle

 

Paul Verhoeven is one of the greatest masters the cinema has ever known. Paul Verhoeven is fucking batshit. These two statements are symbiotic. “VY DUNT VE DO A FEELM VITH ISABAIL HUPAIR VERE A GUY RAPES HER AND DEN SHE FOCKEENK RUINS HIS LIFE, ZAT SOUNTS LIKE A GOOT FILM.” Well, sure, Paul. In your hands. And Isabelle Huppert's. It's only called Elle because “Trigger Warning: The Motion Picture” took up too much space on the poster. But goddamn it's great.

 

 

1 .The Handmaiden

 

Clearly I was in a mood in 2016. This shit is like a hentai rewrite of The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist directed by James Ivory, which automatically makes it the b(owes)est movie of any given year, but especially this one. I wrote this about Park Chan-wook's last jawn, Stoker, a couple years ago:

“. . . the great thing about cinema is you can do it all kinds of ways, and the way Park Chan-wook directs Stoker fucking rules. The key is that it's not excess for the sake of excess, there's a steady, assured directorial hand perceptible for every frame of this picture. Park's mastery of tone is complete, never letting the more lurid aspects sink the ship or the slower bits dissipate any of the holy-shit intensity. Richard Pryor had a bit on one of his albums in the 70s where he was talking about a girl who was 'so fine, I'd suck her daddy's dick.' Well, that's how I feel about Stoker.”

The same, and more so, goes for The Handmaiden. It's an experience. Parts of it feel deliberately infuriating, discomforting, and outright annoying, but I would not have it any other way. It's glorious, and for the purely subjective reason that it was the one movie this year whose ending made me stand up and cheer (I was at home, calm down) it's my #1 for 2016.

 

 

Happy New Year! Keep beauty in your eye and joy in your heart. Resist tyranny. Shanti shanti shanti.

NO MORE PARTIES IN L.A.: 2015-16 OSCAR PICKS

(EDIT: 2/29--These picks were wrong and bad.)

The Oscar ballots are in, and all that remains is putting the dresses and tuxes on, popping some SSRIs, and tuning in for the show! (Yeah, I guess the people actually attending will have fancy clothes and drugs, too, but I'm talking about us.) (Oh, and this is also assuming that the racist fustiness of the nomination process and the industry in general hasn't thoroughly alienated you.) (Or that you don't have other plans Sunday.) (Okay fuck it I'm just moving on.)

 

It's kind of the same shit as always: almost none of the best movies of the year were even nominated, and the ones that were have slim to no chance of winning, but unlike a lot of past years, the frontrunners are relatively inoffensive. Though, it should be noted, I deliberately avoided seeing The Revenant to preserve this state. AGI's on a successful run. I say let him cook, but under the condition that I get to sit out his movies. If he gets back together with Guillermo Arriaga, then we can talk. But despite not wanting to see his movies, I'm okay with AGI winning Oscars. Who gives a shit, really? He gets to be happy, the fact that Carol was the best movie this year doesn't change, everyone wins. Sort of.

 

I'm personally curious to see what effect not giving a single fuck at all has on the accuracy of my predictions. To which end:

 

 

Best Visual Effects

 

A surprisingly loaded category this year, and given personal preference I'd have liked to see Ex Machina take this, for pretty much flawless work on a comparatively tiny ($15 million, which is a lot of money, but watching Ex Machina and then finding out what it cost inevitably yields “They made that for $15 million? Damn.”) budget. But there's nothing wrong with Star Wars: The Force Awakens winning. It's Star Wars. The little soccer ball robot was adorable. I would propose that “cute > sexy” in this case isn't puritanism, either, it's that it's harder to make a robot cute than it is to make a robot sexy.

 

 

Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

 

The differences between these two categories are real, and sometimes they go to different movies but not because of the actual differences between the two. Those jerkoff “Brutally Honest Oscar Voter” things in the Hollywood Reporter are always full of random tanning salon sausages openly bragging about not knowing anything about sound. There are bigger things in the world to get mad about, but pride in ignorance is always irritating. The good news is, a great movie is going to take both of these by accident: Mad Max: Fury Road.

 

 

Best Production Design

 

Another Mad Max: Fury Road win. Man, that movie was great. Wasn't that movie great?

 

 

Best Original Song

 

This will almost certainly be “Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground, Kirby Dick's documentary about campus sexual assault, which is an important subject that things need to be done about. I still, purely artistically, wish the Wiz Khalifa Paul Walker eulogy song from Furious 7 was nominated and the overwhelming favorite.

 

 

Best Original Screenplay

 

Speaking of important subjects, Spotlight has that all covered. It's a very well written and acted movie that venerates not so much journalism as the pursuit of truth and justice, which should be the American way. My quibbles with Spotlight are strictly arcane cinematographic and mise en scene issues that don't mean shit to non-movie people, so I'm actually rooting for this to win as well as thinking it will. Here's to giving the Catholic Church another kick in the shins for their monstrous behavior over the years.

 

 

Best Original Score

 

This one I'm not so sure about. It's possible Star Wars will win, but I think Ennio Morricone's taking this for The Hateful Eight. The Oscars get to have one of their “we're all about history” moments, Morricone gets a big-ass standing ovation. He's Ennio Morricone. Give it up.

 

 

Best Makeup

 

Mad Max: Fury Road. Ride eternal, shiny and chrome.

 

 

Best Live Action Short

 

Ave Maria.

 

 

Best Foreign Language Film

 

It's going to be Son of Saul but I really wish it was Mustang. It's grown on me quite a bit since first viewing, and the last twenty minutes or so are incredible.

 

 

Best Film Editing

 

This might be the biggest layup of all the evening's wins for Mad Max: Fury Road.

 

 

Best Documentary Short

 

Who the fuck knows, really, but I say Body Team 12.

 

 

Best Documentary Feature

 

“Should” be The Look of Silence, probably will be Amy.

 

Best Costume Design

 

This is a little bittersweet, because this the one Oscar Carol, the year's best movie, has any chance of winning. On the other hand, the good news is that it's another Mad Max: Fury Road win. Unless Cinderella takes it.

 

 

Best Cinematography

 

Law of threes: since this'll be Emannuel Lubezki's third win in a row (for The Revenant, following Gravity and Birdman), he has to change his nickname from Chivo to “Triunfador de Oscar” which has the added benefit of also being a pun in English.

 

 

Best Animated Short

 

The truly wise will stay off Twitter for the whole ceremony but even those brave/foolish souls still on will want to log off when World of Tomorrow loses to Sanjay's Super Team. There will be blood.

 

 Best Animated Feature

 

Inside Out.

 

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

 

This'll be The Big Short. If it couldn't be Carol here, it might as well be this, since aesthetic/critical quibbles aside it is about important shit. It's pitched pretty well at people who care about but aren't up on all the details of the shenanigans that caused the not yet fully resolved '08 crisis.

 

 

Best Supporting Actress

 

Despite her being a co-lead, this is most likely going to be Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl. She edges out lead Rooney Mara, supporting player Kate Winslet, ensemble player Rachel McAdams, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who in a Vaclav Havel kind of way is the lead in The Hateful Eight. Whatever, we're all crystallized stardust careening through space.

 

 

Best Supporting Actor

 

Not sugar-coating this at all: if you attempt some dude-behind-Woody-in-Annie Hall posed superiority about Sylvester Stallone winning an Oscar for acting, fuck you where you breathe. You do not have the wherewithal to evaluate acting as an art or as a craft. Talking about how lame it is that Sly got a nom but Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler got screwed is a whole other matter. Creed is a great movie, and it's a perfect Hollywood movie, because of all three of them.

 

 

Best Actress

 

There are, for the most part, two kinds of acting Oscar wins. One is the kind Brie Larson has been a shoo-in for for months: the “You Are Here” win where the Academy anoints what they perceive to be an up-and-coming star. In her case, it fits: she's a good actor, people like her, she's a “type” Hollywood finds space for (not that they have a problem with institutional racism or anything), and she's got good publicists. The last two points aren't meant to denigrate her work as an actor—she's very, very good—but reality is reality.

 

 

Best Actor

Here's the other kind of acting Oscar win, the “It's Your Turn” win. It's easy to go sarcastic and do the “Oh, how Leonardo DiCaprio has suffered” aria bemoaning how difficult it is to fuck your way through multiple generations of supermodels while making millions of dollars, but here's why I'm not going to do that:

 

  

1) He gets laid a lot because people want to fuck him.

2) He makes shitloads of money because it's worth shitloads of money to people to have him in movies.

3) He should have won his first Oscar in '97.

  

3a) He should have won his second Oscar in '02

3b) He should have won his third Oscar in '04

    3c) He should have won his fourth Oscar in '13.

      

       

        

      (In order: Titanic, Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator, and The Wolf of Wall Street.)

       

      We can parse “should” until the cows come home, or we can just be like, look, he's a rock-solid actor and has been one of the biggest stars in Hollywood for twenty years. Sure the category's trash this year. Sure the whole bison liver and hyopthermia shit got old six months ago. Leonardo DiCaprio should have an Oscar. If for nothing else, he's over forty, maybe it'll help him get laid.

       

       

      Best Director

       

      In only the third BD repeat in Oscar history (joining John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Alejandro González Iñárritu. I haven't see The Revenant yet, and like I said before that's deliberate. Just predicting, not talking about what I want to see win, otherwise I'd be spilling whiskey all over the place sobbing about Todd Haynes not getting nominated. It's fine. I'm fine. Everything will be fine.

       

       

      Best Picture

       

      It's The Revenant, almost surely. People I know liked and compared it to everything from Tarkovsky to Malick to The Edge and there was more than one mention of Bart the Bear, which as a dutiful cinephile I cannot begrudge. I also don't have any particular interest at all in seeing it. IF this means I miss a great movie, so be it, no one sees every movie. There are about eight or nine Best Pictures I've never seen and that number's probably going to stay that way, or increase by the occasional one like this year.

       

       

      Final tally:

      Mad Max: Fury Road: 6

      The Revenant: 4

      Everything else tied at 1

       

       

      Rather than leave on that sigh, revisit the best movies of 2015 here. And enjoy your Sunday, whether it's watching the Oscars or any other fun you have planned.

      THE BEST MOVIES OF 2015, ACCORDING TO A NOTED FILM EXPERT: ME

      2015 was an odd year for me personally, not the least because it was my first full calendar year as a post-New Yorker (the only condition I can think of to explain the origin of this completely alien thought on a November business/personal trip back: “Man, the subway really is dirty and gross. . .”) It was a weird year at the movies, too, with a number of widely-acclaimed pictures that couldn't have been tailored closer to my taste leaving me growling with steam coming out my ears, and a number of both widely-reviled and personally uncharacteristic selections taking me by surprise.

       

      It was also a year of movie-adjunct drama and import on the personal front. I covered my first Sundance, albeit in a secondary capacity, but I was there, man. In the shit. Unrelated, a deeply unpleasant harrassment campaign of which I was the target finally began to wind down (it now seems to be completely over, knock on wood). Then there was a bizarre situation with my apartment management company in Salt Lake City leading to my eviction and a window of several weeks where I wasn't entirely sure I wasn't on the lam from a collection agency (I wasn't, thankfully). The previous two developments (as well as numerous long-simmering frustrations) led me to briefly retire from writing film criticism and thinking I was doing so of sound mind, which was almost certainly my second-funniest lapse of self-awareness ever, the first being when I loudly and indignantly insisted “I'm not dramatic!” after someone broke up with me for being too dramatic.

       

      But fuck all that shit. Let's talk movies. Actually, the reason I got into all that personal derp-de-doo above is to explain a change I'm making in my end-of year list format. The previous years, mostly hosted at my old (now-defunct) blog and then last year at my (now-defunct) Letterboxd, were ranked. This was one of the things that my professional existential crisis led me to leave behind. This year, I'm going to list my favorites in alphabetical order, with the single favorite one (which I, coincidentally, actually have this year) at the end.

       

      A few movies that were quite good and/or that I fully enjoyed that didn't make the “best” list, which should not be held against them: The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Bone Tomahawk, Furious 7, Hard to be a GodMission Impossible: Rogue Nation, MustangStar Wars: The Force Awakens

       

      A few movies others' takes on are probably more accurate quality-wise than mine: Brooklyn, The Hateful Eight, Sicario, Spotlight

       

      A few movies I regretfully wasn't able to see that may have figured into the “best” list: Bombay Velvet, Chi-RaqCrimson PeakThe Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Martian

       

      That's about it for the also-rans. So, without any further preface, one man's favorite 2015 films, mostly addressed to people who haven't seen them yet:

       

       

      3 ½ Minutes, 10 Shots: A gripping, brilliantly edited non-fiction account of the 2012 murder of Jordan Davis and the ensuing trial(s) of his killer, Michael Dunn. Refreshingly eschews talking head interviews for the most part in favor of non-staged footage, and somehow manages in the horrible year 2015 to be a movie about a murder of a black person that actually resulted in justice.

       

      99 Homes: Not a movie I was particularly expecting to enjoy but hey, I guess that's why you actually have to watch movies. Michael Shannon's always worth watching, and while the stylized variety of naturalism is a tricky balance (particularly when, like me, you fucking haaaaaate bad naturalism) Ramin Bahrani pulls it off here, and Andrew Garfield overcomes a rough start to become a compelling axis for this story about the perfidy of modern capitalism, and Laura Dern is excellent in a too-small role (god I miss Laura Dern).

       

      Baahubali: The Beginning: I tweeted “no one in the world embraces the essential unreality of CGI and co-opts it to an artistic end like S.S. Rajamouli,” and it's true. Made in Tollywood for a tenth the budget (or less) something like this would've been made for in America, Baahubali is, among other things, Rajamouli telling Hollywood “fuck your money, I know ownage. Top this if you even dare.” It's big, bold, sexy, mythic, and there are elephants. The only debit is, this is only the first half of the story, but the conclusion is on its way.

       

      Blackhat: I'm beyond trying to recommend this to anyone. Late-period Michael Mann is what it is. I, for one, am in favor.

       

      Clouds of Sils Maria: This is one of those movies where I'm like “do I only like this because I'm an actor and Kristen Stewart is in it and the film-within-a-film and play-within-a-film are so funny? and because the dialogue all reads like subtitles but the actors are all actually speaking English? because that's so perverse as to be kind of hilarious?” You know what, though? It's Assayas. It's near-full Binoche. That's enough.

       

      Creed: Anyone yet to see this may be getting suspicious, because everyone loves this and it's on every top ten list, but let the testament of someone who's always hated Rocky movies (me) sway you: it's everything that was good about the Rocky movies, and none of the things that were bad about them. It's the immaculately conceived and executed Platonic ideal of Hollywood movies. MBJ, Sly, and Tessa T are all utterly glorious. Ryan Coogler joins the ranks of people like Welles and Truffaut who made perfect movies before they even turned 30. Creed cannot be oversold.

       

      The Duke of Burgundy: Hey, kids. Ya like 70s Euro sexploitation films? Meet your new best friend Peter Strickland. His thing, as with giallo in Berberian Sound Studio, is the kind of rigorous genre recreation that Tarantino popularized, only Strickland is like if you sent Tarantino to college/grad school and took away his weed (not a value judgment, note). Not for the squeamish or the particularly vanilla, but if you're the kind of person who was really pissed when Netflix took all their Jean Rollin away this is a must.

       

      Ex Machina: If I hadn't known, I'd have thought this was the screenwriting debut of an established director rather than the directing debut of established screenwriter Alex Garland, because the filmmaking is terrifically accomplished and holistically one with the text here. The architecture of rich mad scientist Oscar Isaac's house is as cold, austere, and accomplished as his work: the creation of robots in the humanoid (specifically, severely attractive women) robots who can pass the Turing test. The philosophical implications are as deep as how much weed you smoke to it, but the movie's gorgeous to look at, very well played (particularly by Alicia Vikander and Domnhall Gleeson), and ends in a quietly satisying fashion.

       

      Experimenter: Speaking of another word that starts with the letters “exp,” I saw this under interesting experiential conditions, namely freezing my balls off during Sundance after thinking “sure, I'll walk over to the venue” and forgetting that it was only unseasonably warm during the day. So I was in a shitty mood and didn't really like Michael Almereyda movies all that much and generally in one of the kind of mood that leads even people who love me the most to say things like “Christ, he's insufferable when he's like this.” And yet I managed to slay the asshole within and appreciate this picture for the marvelously weird blend of non-fiction, artifice, and tall tale that it is. I apologize to the director for all the mean things I've thought about him over the years. Sarsgaard for life. Winona forever.

       

      The Forbidden Room: Guy motherfucking Maddin motherfucker. Get some.

       

      Girlhood: Celine Schiamma's real good, and while not everything in this lands smoothly (or at all), I would be remiss leaving this off any best-of list solely because of the Rihanna “Diamonds” scene. The Rihanna “Diamonds” scene is one of the most glorious thing I've ever seen in a movie. Karidja Touré is spectacular in the lead.

       

      It Follows: I really like John Carpenter, something I was shocked to find did not make me a special snowflake. So does David Robert Mitchell! Despite all the similar use of widescreen and synth score, this never felt overly beholden to the past, at least no more than Carpenter was to Ford and/or Hawks. I don't keep up with horror as well as I should, but when an effective horror movie comes down the pike I always like to wave at it and ask it to introduce me to its friends. So to speak.


      Jupiter Ascending: We have, at this late point, seen any number of movies that feel like they were directed by a precocious, geeky 13 year old boy. What this movie presupposes is, what if a movie felt like it was directed by a precocious, geeky 13 year old girl? Et voila.


      Mad Max: Fury Road: “WHAT A DAY! WHAT A LOVELY DAY!” George Miller reassuming his position in the action pantheon was important, and so was the attention and credit (which is still insufficient, but still) Margaret Sixel got for her editing. And the world is a better place with Furiosa in it, because it was frankly kind of fucking stupid that Charlize Theron hadn't yet had an eternal, iconic role. At least we got that taken care of this year.


      Magic Mike XXL: I have seen the face of God. “Yes, my God is a She.”

       

      The Mend: One of the best New York Movies (not every movie set in New York is A New York Movie, the latter needs to embody the spirit of the place in totality, and this one fucking really does) in recent memory. It's writer-director John Magary's debut, and I cannot wait to see what he's got in store next. Also, the best thing Josh Lucas has ever done.


      Mississippi Grind: A refreshingly low-key shamble with two excellent performances by Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds at the center. It only dawned on me an irritatingly long period after I had to file my review that its observational rather than blocked cinematic style and coincidence-driven plot spiritually fit the subject matter, the luck that underlies the entire act of gambling and frequently thwarts the skill of the gambler. When every molecule is the whole itself, you're onto something, and this movie has stuck with me with a rare tenacity.


      Mistress America: Wherein (fellow Bard alum) Lola Kirke becomes a star and Greta Gerwig continues to Gerwig, and all is well. My “Greta Gerwig totally carries Noah Baumbach and deserves 98% of the credit for their collaborations” take might be a little toasty but such is life.


      Paddington: Look, someone made an elegantly blocked and gorgeously designed Paddington movie in 2015, with a top 5 Nicole Kidman performance and a CGI bear that was actually cute and worthy to be voiced by Ben Whishaw. That's stacks on stacks of miracles, okay?


      Results: Can't really put it any better than this.

       

      The Russian Woodpecker: Oh, you had me at “non-fiction film about a performance artist who literally has radiation in his bones trying to unravel a Soviet-era conspiracy.” It is my mission in life to convince as many people see this movie as possible.

       

      Straight Outta Compton: Producers Dre and Cube don't engage in a ton of auto-critique, making this kind of a victory lap, but here's the thing: they won. The vertiginous sweep of their sudden, immediate, literally world-changing success propels the movie past a lot of the parts of the chronology where it's like, “uhh . . . it feels like a few things were elided here.” And there were. But there's also a scene where Jerry Heller hears “No Vaseline” for the first time. And the scene where the gang members board the schoolbus. And that jaw-dropping climactic confrontation. There are a lot of normal biopic things in it, but it pulls them off, and does a lot of other things extraordinarily well.


      Tangerine: So. Earlier this year there was this window of time where I was going to be moving to Los Angeles, and obviously that window closed at a certain point but while that was going on I saw this movie and it was shot in basically the same neighborhood I was probably going to move to and goddammit nothing has ever made me feel more welcomed. I know this has nothing to do with the movie and it's a little bittersweet now that moving to Los Angeles is on hold maybe for good but this feeling will all make sense if/when you've seen the movie. And will probably make you think “Christ, Danny's weird” but if you don't say that five times a day already you simply don't know me.


      Timbuktu: Set during the occupation of Timbuktu by jihadists, the attraction here is less the story (though there is one tying everything together) than the observations Abderrahmane Sissako makes, the patient assembly of all those observations into a fully realized universe, and the faith in the audience to follow everything and process all the observations. One of the rare “important” movies that's also legitimately great cinema as well.

       

      And, my #1 for the entire year of our lord 2015 . . .


       

      Carol: I could do a rambling thing about how crucial Todd Haynes and Patricia Highsmith have been to my personal and cinematic upbringing (to say nothing of Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett), or I could do the thing where I say “this is literally everything I've ever wanted in a film.” The former is certainly true, but beside the point, and the latter is slight hyperbole, because there's no car chase where Blanchett lead-foots it while Mara leans out the side with shades on and a cigarette in her mouth machine-gunning agents of the patriarchy in a trailing car that then explodes but the one of the eight billion reasons why Carol is so wonderful is because it actually, no shit, nods in that direction (the whole business with the gun and the private detective, mild spoiler). I'm digressing, and irrelevantly, but the point is this is my list and Carol is perfect and wonderful and yes.

      THAT WITHOUT WHICH THERE IS NO HEAT

      (Originally written in March 2014, reposted by permission of the author, which is to say I asked myself if I could repost this and was told "sure, why not.")

      The time has come to speak of Heat. One of the most towering feats in the history of ownage, Michael Mann's 1995 heist picture is beloved by both hardcore cinephile and civilian alike. It's full of memorable dialogue, two fantastic late-career performances by Pacino and De Niro, a couple iconic heist sequences, what might be the definitive collection of ownage movie supporting actors (Danny Trejo's character is just named “Trejo” because fuck a character name, he's Danny Trejo), and Michael Mann's uniquely magical ability to make soundtrack tracklists that look fucking horrifying on paper—in this case, the U2 side project Passengers and a fucking Moby cover of Joy Division's “Where Will It End”—into cinematic moments of ferociously transcendent beauty (seriously, the half minute or so of that Moby track? In the freeway scene where Pacino's driving 120 trying to catch up with De Niro? That shit's tight). These things, along with with the central contrast—Pacino's an obsessive, brilliant cop, De Niro's an ascetic, brilliant thief—are what we think of first when we think of Heat. What we rarely consider, and what I didn't realize until quite recently, is that if you delete one character fromHeat, nothing ever happens. That character? The new recruit, Waingro.



      At the beginning of the movie, De Niro and his crew (Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo; remember, this was 1995, that was a fuckin all-star team) find themselves with a job that requires an extra man, and director of human resources Tom Sizemore reaches out to his extensive ex-con contacts and comes up with this long-haired bearded biker looking motherfucker named Waingro. As we later see, perceptibly but fleetingly, Waingro is possessed of a seductive ability common to many total fucking psychos. If he wants something from you, he's going to get it one way or the other, and if the best way is for you to want to give it to him, he's going to make you want to give it to him.

      This was something I didn't initially notice. Instead of realizing he must be there for a reason, the first time I saw Heat I (like many others) was like, “If they're such a great crew, why the fuck did they hire that guy in the first place?” Well, Waingro seduced them. It, clearly, happens to the best of us. Of course, Waingro's control over himself only extended so far: once they were in the heat of the moment with the adrenaline pumping and a gun in his hand, he fucked everything up by killing the guard, so they had to had to kill all the guards (because, as Pacino puts it in a devastatingly dry line reading “what difference does it make?”) And that fuckup led to the deaths of three-quarters of the crew, Ted Levine, and a whole bunch of civilians.

      Without Waingro—let's say, Sizemore hired hypothetical steely, efficient pro Russell Wong (I stay trying to get Russell Wong more work), whom he met in the joint doing six months because the cops couldn't make him for any of the real shit he pulled—Heat's a short film about a bunch of guys who pull off a flawless armored car robbery and some cops standing around afterwards going “fuck, that was a good heist” and then credits. Well, okay, there's still the shit with Van Zant. William Fichtner still tries to have De Niro whacked for selling him back his bearer bonds, but without Waingro distracting him De Niro deals with that in like two seconds, the cops never find Van Zant's body, then the movie ends. Unless Michael Mann shows them hitting the precious metals depository just to totally give the cops the finger. They never need to hit the bank, which means no one gets killed. Hell, without Waingro fucking everything up, Al Pacino isn't even in the movie. Instead of a cops-and-robbers saga it's about a 45 minute featurette about a bunch of guys who are good at their jobs. 

      Waingro, who proceeds to murder a series of underage hookers and align himself with William Fichtner, is the fifth business, without whom Heat doesn't happen, but more than that, he's a manifestation of chaos, a personified sense of cynical pessimism. There are hints throughout the picture that De Niro's professionalism and the absolute precision of his operation came to him late in life; he is, after all, an ex-con. Thus, the likelihood of his managing to keep on being a criminal without getting caught were minimal. But what if (I know, I know, bear with me) . . . what if De Niro did actually manage to attain that level of talent at crime where he could manage to keep pulling scores until he accumulated enough to retire on, and then retire? He still meets Amy Brenneman in the Waingro-less timeline, after all, and even in Waingro world (which is to say, the actual movie) the only thing keeping De Niro from riding off into the sunset (well, it's the middle of the night because it's a Michael Mann movie, but you know what I mean) with her is the fact that he needs to make sure Waingro is dead. Because Waingro, taken as a literal psycho, is going to keep popping up in De Niro's life fucking things up no matter what after De Niro humiliated him by owning him in the diner parking lot. And, taken as a symbol of the inherent chaos of life, De Niro as a control freak needs to kill Waingro to persuade himself of the folly that is control. Even then, De Niro is thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to getting away with Amy Brenneman. But there is no escaping Waingro.

      This is one of the reasons why Michael Mann is the best there is right now at exploring masculinity in art. We're in an age where gradually (a little bit too gradually, but still) society and the arts are moving away from the straight white male as a default, and into regarding him as one of many. (This is something I'll be addressing once True Detective, which is a little shakier on this front than Heat, concludes, so stay tuned.) Michael Mann writes about MEN because being one that's what he knows, and he's also a great transitional figure between the old default era and the new/coming one-of-many era because the fact that even his name is “Mann” is kinda funny and heightened. But it's also because he has enough perspective as a writer to realize that a testosterone high is a lot like cocaine: it's a goddamn blast while it lasts, but the comedown's a bitch, and no matter what you might think when you're flying, you are, ultimately, doomed. And his women characters are actual human beings, even if their dialogue is a little wonky from time to time; this is less a “best hustle” Little League trophy than a note that there's nothing in the rules that says that masculinity necessarily has to exist at the expense of femininity. (He is a bit heteronormative, but I'm willing to cut the fuckin guy some degree of slack for getting this far in spite of being in his 70s now, Rome being built in >1 days et cetera.)

      It's kind of odd, even for me, to realize that the best part of a great movie is its fatalistic recognition that everything and everyone is fucked no matter what we do, but what do you want, it's the truth. In this sense, Heat is a fairly decent representation (structurally, at least) of a well-lived life. It takes its time getting to the finish line, it's full of event, characters are constantly taking little detours because what the fuck—a well-lived life should always feature little detours because what the fuck, period, point blank, -30-, end of fucking discussion—and Tone Lōc is in it. But like life, it's the little things that keep it from being a grim march to the final credits. Eccentric Pacino line readings. Atypically good Moby songs. Cool cinematography. Danny Trejo just existing. Knowing that sometimes the troubled teenager grows up to be Natalie Portman. One of the last great De Niro performances.

      Well, the little things, and all that massive fucking ownage. That's another thing about life, sometimes critical through-lines don't hold up for whole essays. The irrefutable larger, encompassing point is, Heat owns. QED.

      "I'M MAGIC."

      Things being what they are in The Modern Cinema, remakes and sequels abound, and while most are made purely for money, there is an art to the remake and/or sequel. Without getting sidetracked by theory and so forth, there is a (deceptively) simple principle involved: if in the business of producing “more of the same,” then refine the “same” to as fine and pure a version possible. How exactly this refinement is to be compassed must be determined case by case, but it was achieved to absolute perfection in Magic Mike XXL.

       

      Now, I really liked the first Magic Mike. Claiming to be the first to predict its becoming a massive hit is impossible (also self-aggrandizing and beside the point), but it was obvious to me from a very early point that it was going to go over very well, because it was a movie made by talented people and starring beautiful (and talented) people, preoccupied in every meaningful way with pleasure. Not guilty pleasure, not transgressive or sinful pleasure, but pure, sensual, physical pleasure. There is a certain amount of attention paid to the context—there is a plot, some cogent rumination on the commodification of beauty, and the like—but the most memorable aspects of the movie were the ones involving Channing Tatum and friends dancing to entertain women.

       

      The genius of the sequel is in realizing that everyone who wants to see a Magic Mike sequel wants to see beautiful men dancing, women's desires being satisfied, and, well, beautiful men satisfying women's desires, mostly by dancing. So that's the whole movie. The guys are on their way to a stripper convention a ways up I-95, and they go there, making a handful of stops solely focused on making women happy. Perfectly so.

       

      The human condition consists, to put it in perhaps overly harsh terms, in attempting to perceive the world through an organic cloud, encased in a mortal body of flesh and blood and roiling chemicals, all of which primarily serve, in their undirected and undirectable way, to mute the light of the (for the lack of secular synonym) divine. Every so often, the sun breaks through and we see a limitless light and warmth, an extraordinary and glorious and overwhelming “yes” that envelops all we can perceive. These glimpses are mainly just that, to our mortal and finite way of reckoning, and because what the glimpse is of is something indescribable by normal means, the scientific attempts to get at the empirical nature of the feeling are too prosaic and literal, inadequate in scope. Breaking through to that level of complete and utter joy is for the most part a matter of trial and error, but the arts, and specifically the arts focused on entertaining, are on the task. The creators of Magic Mike XXL seem to have it sorted out, though, because the whole fucking movie is basically a gently guided tour through realms of pure pleasure.

       

      Upon its initial release, a lot of very good words were written about the way Magic Mike XXL upends gender, fucks with it, repurposes masculinity, exalts the feminine while never separating it from the human, and so on. I would maintain that it does something even more profound and simple, in putting forth the proposition that it is better to love each other and derive pleasure from giving pleasure, and to dwell in a positive and optimistic realm than it is to do otherwise. I think this movie's ability to get at something as elemental and wholly positive as this is something not to be taken lightly, and indeed to be revered. Few movies I've ever seen have ever, with equal care and abandoned, stripped away the shrouds of mortal care and danced forth nakedly into the sublime as this one. It is a pure glowing orb of absolute fucking ecstasy.

       

      God bless everyone involved with making this thing exist.

      EULOGY FOR A CHARACTER ACTOR

      I always called him Trudeau, because these are the things that happen when Die Hard 2 comes out when you're eleven and his particular brand of authoritative competence imprints on you as the embodiment of that particular concept. Fred Thompson was many things in life—minor Watergate figure, politician, lobbyist—but his successful run as a character actor in popular thrillers was my first association with him, and I think he did what he did better than nearly anyone else.

       

      One mark of a successful character actor is to define a “type” in your own image. I submit that there was, for a considerable length of time, a “Fred Thompson type” in the popular cinema, and while it's a very specific thing—roughly “mid-level DC functionary” of a certain age and Southernness—there was a time when it was unthinkable to cast anyone other than Fred Thompson as that guy.

       

      Four roles of his (among many others; please, for the love of God, do not tell me I “forgot” about one) have stuck with me for many years. The first, both in terms of its mention above and it being the one that on its own would have made him an indelible figure to me, was as the air-traffic controller Trudeau. He's introduced in the middle of what most people would consider a rough day at the office: it's Christmas Eve and snowing with a Renny Harlin-esque lack of subtlety, and as if that's not enough William Sadler and a ferociously unpleasant retinue take the entire fucking airport hostage. Some characters would resort to bluster, or decompensate into a frazzled mess, but not Trudeau. The whole mess clearly affects him, but he never allows it to interfere with both the proper execution of his job nor his responsibility to project strength as a leader of men. In the wrong hands that kind of thing can come across as insufferable, but one of Thompson's great strengths as an actor was his ability to inherently project that kind of authority, that which when aspirational is always an inch out of reach. Trudeau's calm, more than John McClane running around cursing and killing people, is the bedrock of assurance that justice will, in the end, prevail.

       

      In a smaller role as the CIA director in No Way Out, Thompson was responsible for what I've always maintained is one of the more layered line readings in cinema. The bulk of the movie involves the fallout resulting from Secretary of Defense Gene Hackman accidentally killing mistress Sean Young for having excessively satisfying sex with Naval officer Kevin Costner, which leads to a discussion between Fred Thompson and his subordinate who's been liaising (platonically) with Costner, where they're trying to figure out who killed Sean Young. The subordinate suggests Will Patton, Gene Hackman's creepy right hand man. Thompson dismisses this: “[H]e's homosexual.” The subordinate replies, “I'll be damned.” Thompson then gives forth with the reply, “So will he, if you believe the Old Testament.” Now, as a non-heterosexual who is often confronted with said passage of the Old Testament as justification for being denied various basic rights, I find that line on one level to be kind of awful. But I've always marveled at the particular note Thompson strikes with it, which isn't so much a note as a chord: you can take it as meaning “I do believe the Old Testament and think he'll be damned,” or “some people, perhaps you, may believe this, while I as a high-ranking intelligence official naturally keep my own views close to the vest,” or even “some silly motherfuckers think this and I just feel like flashing the old rapier-like wit.” Or even, because life is complicated, some elements of all of these things. The point being, the richness and multivalence with which Thompson imbued what is ultimately a throwaway line in a movie that has little to do with either his character or the conversation is the hallmark of a master.

       

      Thompson's work as an admiral in the symphony of intelligent competence that is The Hunt For Red October is the one crucial elision (for space) in this piece I wrote on the movie, but when he shows up in an admiral's uniform telling Alec Baldwin to cut the bullshit and come up with a useful plan, there is no questioning that of course he's the admiral and of course he provides Alec Baldwin the impetus to figure shit out and of course he can't just tell Alec Baldwin what he should do, because he's got shit to do. This, in a nutshell, is the compleat Fred Thompson character: He has a job. It's important. He doesn't have time for your bullshit.

       

      Which is why I conclude with a minor role of his, but one that elucidates a truth about cinema to me that is at its absolute core. On season two of Wiseguy when they were trying to figure out some new organization that wasn't the Mafia or a multinational diversified vice syndicate presided over by a Malthusian psychopath (you can only go to the first well so many times, but let's keep it real: you can only go to the latter once if you're lucky) for Vinnie Terranova to infiltrate, Fred Thompson was brought in as a charismatic white supremacist. As it transpires, Thompson's character is a used car salesman and con man who latched onto white supremacy as a growth industry, rather than a true believer (this disappoints his right hand man rather severely). I was watching this episode on VHS at a rather alarming hour of the early morning once, in the state of receptiveness to profundity that so often accompanies the hour, and realized, vividly and with the aid of Fred Thompson's magisterial delivery, that the cinema itself is a con, flickering shadows on a screen masquerading as reality.

       

      This may seem a fatalistic and cynical way to end what is meant to be a celebration of a great talent, but the point is that even something as harsh as “fiction is, on a certain level, a lie” sounded both more convincing and palatable when related by unwitting medium Fred Thompson. His acting shaped the way I see life and movies in a fundamental way, and for this I will always hold his artistic work in my heart.

      FOR BI VISIBILITY DAY 2015

      Spring 1995:

       

      In one of those sublime moments of contentedness that are spoiled utterly if remarked upon, my head was resting in a position somewhere between adjacent to and upon a very dear (and platonic) friend of mine's breast as we leafed through a magazine. We were both 16. The magazine featured a photo spread by and for everyone who had greatly enjoyed Brad Pitt's 1994 one-two of Interview With The Vampire and Legends of the Fall, two divergent but exalted showcases of male beauty. My friend and I were split: I had preferred Interview With The Vampire (“you would, it's gayer”) and she had preferred Legends of the Fall (“so, you want to fuck the Marlboro Man, do you?”) but both were quite pleased with this particular magazine. What clinched the moment as one for all time was its being the first moment in my life when I realized that there was no need to “pick one,” to be wholly and unswervingly gay or straight, but that there was another path.

       

       

      Later in spring 1995:

       

      Armed with this new truth, while participating in one of those “go around the circle and everyone say something about themselves” classroom exercises on a school trip, I announced to the group that I was bisexual. Reaction was mixed. The girls nearly universally were thrilled and a few them hugged me. The boys nodded, as if to react too strongly one way or the other would be an unthinkable betrayal of worldliness. A couple of them came up to me later; one said “that took balls,” and the other one said, “yeah.” Another was rather scandalized, and while never mentioning anything to me, went and told a girl (who, later, amusingly, would tell me what he'd said while laughing her ass off) that “Danny's a faggot” in a deeply disturbed, almost haunted tone.

       

       

      Still later, spring 1995:

       

      Six boys in cheap, gold plated chains and approximately thirty pounds of hair gel each took turns barraging me with weak punches and ineffectual kicks. The words “stop fucking my girlfriend, faggot,” were repeated a few times. I responded, “Don't you see the cognitive dissonance in that?” This intensified the beating. It was worth it, but still. Ow.

       

       

      Summer 1995:

       

      Without delving into overly pornographic or ungentlemanly detail, I had a brief but marvelously enjoyable fling with a girl who found it to her liking to hang a Legends of the Fall poster over her bed before sex.

       

       

      Fall 1996:

       

      Not long into my freshman year of college, I was informed by an LGBT group whose meetings I'd been attending as a means of meeting other LGBT students that “we would prefer that straight people not attend meetings.” I was confused and replied that I was not straight, that I was the B in the acronym. I was then impatiently informed that only women could be bisexual and straight men coming to meetings to meet bisexual women contributed to the space being unsafe. Rather than press the point, I and the other bi-identifying guy who had been attending meetings stopped. Later that night, I frustratedly related this story to an older gay student in an official mentoring capacity (blurring the specifics somewhat for anonymity). He then flatly told me “They're right. There are no male bisexuals. You're either straight or gay.” I did not continue to confide in this person.

       

       

      Summer 1997:

       

      I met a very funny guy who was an even crazier movie nerd than I, an impressive or horrifying feat considering one's perspective. Upon finding out that he was gay, I resolved to use this information to a productive end. A truly bizarre set of circumstances involving alcohol, drugs, the impermanence of physical things, and neurosis lead to our never being productive to each other's ends despite a strong mutual desire to the contrary. He is now married to a very nice man.

       

      Fall 1997:

       

      I really heard David Bowie for the first time. Like, really heard David Bowie.

       

      Spring 1999:

       

      Sitting with a bisexual woman friend of mine, discussing a bisexual man from whom we occasionally bought drugs, she turned to me with great theatrical aplomb after relating a couple choice anecdotes about our mutual acquaintance's vigorous horniness: “He's bisexual. No one is safe.”

       

       

      Winter 2002:

       

      A woman with whom I was quite smitten and had a snowball's chance in hell of getting anywhere with told me, on our first date, “Don't ever tell anyone you're bisexual. Guys will think you're closeted and lying and chicks won't fuck you.” I replied, “I don't think I want to lie to get laid.” She said, “It's not lying, it's just . . .” I said, “It's lying.” The snowball in hell shook its head at me.

       

       

      2005-ish:

       

      While getting into costume, I mentioned to an actress friend that her new dude, whom I'd met a couple minutes before, was attractive, because he was. She sort of smile-frowned at me (look, it was dark, words fail me) and asked, “Are you gay?” I said, “No, I'm an equal opportunity employer.” She said, “I thought so. (pause) Yeah, he is hot, isn't he?” We laughed, her triumphally, me in pride and solidarity.

       

       

      2008-09:

       

      At a rather low ebb, I became involved with the stage manager of a play I was in. The details of the relationship are largely irrelevant to this discussion—some stuff was good, some stuff was bad, nothing without precedent—but two refrains pervaded: one was a constant series of warnings and threats, conveyed in various ways both direct and indirect, about what dire consequences would ensue if I ever cheated on her, and two, a near-constant stream of declarations about how relieved she was to meet a guy who wasn't gay. The first, in itself, is a reasonable request—“Don't cheat on me”—and the second is half-reasonable for a woman looking for a man to have a relationship with, even if it failed to take into account bisexuality. The constant repetition of both made me wonder, as little to nothing of the past was ever discussed, if an ex-boyfriend had cheated on her with a guy. At this point I neither know nor care. After an exasperating last few months, we simultaneously broke up with each other (she may have dumped me via text while I was at tech rehearsal for a play, I may have finally ended it when she got home from work the next day, but however it worked out, it was over) and, while we haven't spoken since, I can say with certainty that she is happier now, as I am, for our varying reasons.

       

       

      2010-11 or so:

       

      For a number of highly stupid reasons I presented myself in a “neutral,” awkwardly heteronormative fashion when I first began writing professionally on the Internet. These ranged from concerns about employability (ew) to “not wanting to complicate my arts criticism” (what the fuck ever, dipshit version of me from the hideously recent past) to being friendly with a homophobic professional athlete I didn't want to alienate because . . . actually, I have no idea why I cared about that anymore. This brief but shameful period came to a close with the advent, circa the end of 2011, of a more progressive form of mainstream online discourse, which has of course had its ugly backlashes, but had the welcome side benefit of inspiring me to be less of a duplicitous doofus, because offline me was quite happily out this entire time.

       

       

      Now:

       

      I still kind of have my head up my ass about romance and sexuality, but who doesn't? Identifying as bisexual has, over the years, fit so neatly with a panoply of other physical and psychological traits of mine that there is no question of it being a matter of confusion, or any kind of disorder. I'm naturally ambidextrous; I throw a ball best with my left arm, and use a pen with my left hand, but play the guitar naturally right handed, and open jars and such like more easily right-handed than left. I have a tendency to fall somewhere in the cracks of various dualities, be it theatre and film (and within film whether I fit in with the geeks or the classicist/art house crowd), whether I'm more naturally from Massachusetts or New York, and on and on. Being bisexual, neither gay nor straight but either or both or some discrete other, is but another iteration of that tendency to be divided, or other, or stubbornly on my own terms. I wouldn't have it any other way.

       

       

       

      BLACKHAT: A REVIEW

      The following was originally posted to my now-defunct Letterboxd account, now here by sort-of popular demand. For what it's worth I actually would give it an even better notice now that I've seen it again: 

      The one concession, such as it is, that this sermon gives to anyone outside the choir--a warning that this is not a movie that follows the rules of ordinary movies, and that its aims are high--is in the opening sequence, where the electrical impulse given off by a keystroke is traced physically through circuitry, in a VFX sequence that (ironically, as it turns out) resembles Bowman's trip through the monolith in 2001. The reversal here is that where that's the point in Kubrick's film where humanity completes the process of evolution by leaving behind their physical bodies, Michael Mann uses this sequence to fully and emphatically emphasize the physical.

      That's what's so great about Blackhat. It's an intensely physical movie, where grainy digital cinematography and almost wholly abstract editing yield sensory reactions. Intellectually it does not parse well; the script treatment (some bullshit about hacking nuclear power plants and the stock market where Only One Man can type fast enough to prevail) is something someone's dad could have written after snorting an 8-ball off an AOL CD-ROM in 1997. The flesh on the script's bones, on the other hand, is all that is Mann: terse exchanges of cool-sounding dialogue, reams on end of stuff like-- 

      EXT. AIRFIELD: DAWN
      A half dozen OWNAGE GODS stride slowly in expensive casual wear and immaculate sunglasses. They say nothing, merely lighting their universe as the sun.

      --and so on. But all stylishness aside, the characters are still doing things that don't track logically in any recognizable way, that are not reproducible in a rational universe. This is something to which I resigned myself almost as soon as the movie started.

      And yet the whole is so gorgeous and sensual, such a red-blooded bestial thing that a straight representation of naturalistic reality or even a conventional riff on genre thriller conventions hardly seems to be the point of this enterprise. What character development there is is perfunctory to the point of being humorous, and yet the movie replaces that assumed requirement for involvement with a brutally efficient and obsessively detailed use of montage and sound. That the dialogue deliberately drops out during certain scenes is but another cue: watch this differently.

      Meeting Blackhat on its own terms is quite the experience. Chris Hemsworth may look less like a hacker than the guy who kicks sand in a hacker's face at the beach, but his gorilla-like physical presence never ceases to compel. The way he cradles Tang Wei's face and body to comfort her is fascinating, more ape than man. And of course when it comes to beating the shit out of guys, Hemsworth is well up to the task. He is, after all, Thor.

      The violence, long a Michael Mann trademark, is fantastic, and as always employing sound as an essential element. The sound of the gunshots in Michael Mann gunplay movies (especially of late) is always a synecdoche of the movie as a whole: in Collateral the startling loudness reflects Jamie Foxx's lack of familiarity with the milieu in which gunfights are de rigueur, the more muted tones of the bullets in Miami Vice (2006) are of a piece with the numbness Crockett and Tubbs feel at being so deep undercover they need to check which way is up. In Blackhat there's a fullness to the gunshots that revels in the multiple different kinds of metal involved in the process of firing a gun, from sliding up into the chamber from the magazine, ejected from the barrel by the hammer, and finally (to drive the point home) slamming into the metal objects behind which the target takes cover. Emphasizing the physical process of the gunshot emphasizes the physical nature of the film as a whole: Blackhat is a movie you feel with your body rather than stand aside and perceive with your mind.

      But as alluded in the introductory paragraph, this is not the movie that's going to get you into Michael Mann if you aren't already in the choir, nodding enthusiastically as he holds forth with divine images of unsmiling people in sunglasses with guns, occasionally murmuring a ""Hallelujah"" in response. If you're already onboard, though, this is one absolute motherfucker of a ride.

      C'MON, OSCAR, LET'S GO FOR A RIDE VOL. V: PREDICTIONS

      The moment of truth is nigh. And so we must turn every last atom of our focus, at the highest intensity we can muster, to the Oscars.

       

      Since I started blogging, I've dedicated a couple posts a year to the yearly paegantry, but for some reason last year—fatigue, mostly, of the profound sort immediately preceding major life changes like, say, moving to Utah—I just couldn't do it. I did predictions, and they were almost all wrong, and I was too depressed to even watch the Oscars on TV, so I didn't do my followup, and shortly thereafter basically discontinued my old blog. But this year, I'm fucking back.

       

      Don't mistake that for these Oscar picks being rigorously researched or the product of careful analysis. Hell no. I might go 0 for 24 this year. No, “I'm fucking back” just means I don't give a fuck. I'll skip my customary remarks about the ultimate meaninglessness of this enterprise and blah blah wah wah because they're redundant at this point. On, instead, to what promises to be the most inaccurate picks in the history of picking things (though I am trying to get these right):

       

       

      WRITING

       

      Best Original Screenplay: This, I submit, is Wes Anderson's year. Not to win Best Director or Best Picture, because they still only hold Christmas in December, but I think he takes one home for writing The Grand Budapest Hotel in the time-honored tradition of the best nominated movie getting shafted in the major categories. I think the champions of Birdman and Boyhood are more passionate about the way those pictures are directed than written, so they would only take this in an across-the-board sweep, and the only thing I'm certain of is that one of those is not in the cards this year. Nightcrawler had some fun bits and Foxcatcher is certainly a thing that exists, but both of them are also-rans this year.

       

      Best Adapted Screenplay: I do so wish Inherent Vice had a snowball's chance in hell, because it actually is a literarily rich job of adaptation, where Paul Thomas Anderson streamlined Pynchon's novel into a highly personalized close read. Alas, that is not how Oscar works. Most people seem to be anointing The Imitation Game here, but I think that Whiplash will prevail, because the people who like Whiplash really, really like Whiplash. I didn't think I was one of them until a week after I saw the movie I was pitching an essay about the spiritual essence of jazz that got the thumbs down because it was a book, not an essay. And I'm not even in the top hundred most hyped about that movie, so I think passion wins out.

       

       

      VISUAL EFFECTS

       

      A two-horse race to all appearances because of lingering, stubborn anti-Marvel sentiment among the Oscargentsia, so toss X-Men, Cap 2, and Guardians of the Galaxy. This leaves us with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which should win, and Interstellar, which most likely will, for a variety of reasons not altogether relevant to the effects being good, even though they are (the most special effect in the whole movie was the inner light of Matthew McConaughey, but I've already been over that).

       

       

      SOUND

       

      Sound Mixing: A perverse part of me wants to see Interstellar win for this because of that whole scene in the cornfield where the music is so loud you can't even hear McConaughey geeking out about the aircraft they're chasing, and he was geeking the fuck out, so you know something was wrong. But the realistic side of me figures American Sniper is a safer bet.

       

      Sound Editing: Pure whimsical hunch, Interstellar, but don't be surprised if American Sniper also takes this. Also, they could win these in the reverse order. If it was up to me these categories would be judged by Courtney B. Vance's character from The Hunt For Red October, because if it was up to me, life would be better.

       

       

      SHORTS

       

      Live Action: We're deep into “fuck if I know” territory here but because we're shooting for 0-24 here I'm going to play pin the tail on the title and go with Parveneh.

       

      Animated: Same process, A Single Life. That just sounds like something that would win an Oscar, doesn't it?

       

       

      PRODUCTION DESIGN

       

      And we're back to categories I actually know something about. And we're giving Wes (well, Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock this time) another one for The Grand Budapest Hotel because in a just world every Wes movie would get this unless something fucking specdazzular also came out that year. If the J.M.W. Turner stans turn up there could be an upset because hoo boy was Mr. Turner a well-designed movie (and it looked eerily like his paintings), but barring that and a case of amnesia about the room-sized computer in The Imitation Game not being as cool as the one in Enigma, this isn't even close.

       

       

      ORIGINAL SONG

       

      Sorry, Lego Movie diehards, this one's a lock: Glory,” from Selma. Also, John Legend and Common winning Oscars will give Kanye the thought, “Wait, I collaborated with both those guys . . . I should have an Oscar too” and whatever plan Kanye hatches to win an Oscar will be to the great benefit of all human beings.

       

       

      ORIGINAL SCORE

       

      If anyone other than Alexandre Desplat for The Grand Budapest Hotel wins (even Alexandre Desplat for The Imitation Game) something has gone horribly, fraudulently wrong. Desplat's TGBH score was wonderful. Fuck everybody else. Except Hans. Only fuck Hans temporarily. Hans gets to get unfucked the second Desplat wins for TGBH.

       

       

      MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

       

      Lest you think I'm just irrationally in the tank for Wes, this one I see going to Foxcatcher because fake schnozzes go a long way in this category and Steve Carell's fake schnozz had a way of sticking in the memory.

       

       

      FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

       

      No theory to predict this category ever holds up for more than a couple years in a row because they stupidly never nominate the best stuff, and this year it's especially difficult because a lot of people like Ida but a lot of people also really hate Ida, and about twelve people have seen Timbuktu and loved it but wider reach than that can't be verified, and everyone remembers “oh yeah, Leviathan” after a minute or so. Which means the race is probably between Tangerines and Wild Tales. It's flat-out dumb that Force Majeure wasn't even nominated, though.

       

       

      FILM EDITING

       

      Here we see the “Whiplash is going to have a good night” narrative pick up steam. Something weird no one saw coming happens every year, and the “people really fucking love Whiplash” stories have been really been making the rounds. One spectacularly fun moment at Oscar parties is going to be literally everyone in an Oscar pool losing here when Boyhood doesn't take it.

       

       

      DOCUMENTARIES

       

      Short Subject: Here is the one “category no one cares about” that I actually have some insight into, because I watched and reviewed all five of these. And thus it is with great fanfare that I (probably mistakenly) inform y'all that Joanna is taking this one. It's a beautiful, sad film with no stupid talking head bullshit and none of the “let's load this with shock cuts and jerkoff music cues like a theatrical blockbuster” mess handicapping certain other competitors. Who know who they are.

       

      Feature: Very tempted to second-guess conventional wisdom and be like “Behold, ye mighty: Virunga” or some such but, no, this is pretty obviously Citizenfour.

       

       

      DIRECTING

       

      Spoiler alert: I'm pretty sure Best Director/Best Picture is going to be split again, and based on my divination from the entrails of this Utah mountain dromedary the elder gods have decided that Richard Linklater takes this one for Boyhood. I'm personally a little torn on the movie itself, having found it crushingly underwhelming and to be lacking a compelling focal point, while also admiring the shit out of someone who would say “I'm going to make a movie over the course of twelve years” and then doggedly see it out. Also, even if I felt like being more of a dick about the movie not actually being that good, there's always the “he's had one coming for Dazed and Confused for twenty-odd years now” angle, and the IOU Oscar is a long-standing tradition.

       

       

      COSTUME DESIGN

       

      Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

       

       

      CINEMATOGRAPHY

       

      So, yeah, Lubezki, Birdman or (Wanky Subtitle No One Ever Remembers), fine, okay, but it sure would be nice if Dick Pope won this one for Mr. Turner, because what he pulled off with that was really impressive in terms of color, perspective, lighting, and all the other things than blocking and camera movement that cinematography actually is. Not to mention that he did all that while adapting a static medium (painting) to one where the subjects move around and do stuff. But, still, Lubezki winning isn't anything even approaching a tragedy. He's very good.

       

       

      ANIMATED FEATURE

       

      Casting an almost certainly doomed protest pick for The Tale of Princess Kaguya here, because it's a joke that the other four things are even in the same category.

       

       

      ACTING

       

      Supporting Actress: Weird selection of nominees, with no Chastain for A Most Violent Year, none of the multiple worthies from Inherent Vice or Gone Girl, or (seriously) Emily Blunt for Edge of Tomorrow. So the only suspense is how big a standing ovation Patricia Arquette gets when she wins for Boyhood.

       

      Supporting Actor: Another virtual lock, J.K. Simmons, Whiplash, another case of his not going up against any of the best supporting performances of the year (Josh Brolin, Tyler “If This Looks Weird To You, You Didn't See Gone Girl” Perry, Albert Brooks, NPH, Bill “If This Looks Weird To You, You Didn't See Edge of Tomorrow” Paxton, etc etc). But, like the Arquette win, it still holds up.

       

      Lead Actress: In a properly oriented world, Julianne Moore would already have three or four Oscars (Lead for Safe, Supporting for Boogie Nights, Lead for Far From Heaven, Supporting for The Kids Are All Right, just off the top of my head) and this could be the deserved anointing of Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl because holy Christ Rosamund Pike was good in Gone Girl. But because the Academy spent the last twenty years fucking up ignoring one of the great movie stars of the era, this year they have to give Julianne Moore the IOU Oscar for Still Alice. Let there be no mistake, now, this is a good thing. But, y'know, Academy, next time an analogous situation presents itself, to quote the movie she should have won her second Oscar for, maybe think about getting some new shit, whaddaya say?

       

      Lead Actor: The one acting category where there's a little suspense, because irritatingly a lot of the people in a position to know have been talking about Eddie Redmayne winning hearts and minds for the Hawking thing (in which all the actual acting was done by Felicity Jones), which is one of the wispiest, most rote trailers for an Oscar campaign ever produced. It's not a real movie, and no one can convince me that it was. On the other hand, we have a definite actual movie, Birdman, whose title translates to “man the bird,” or, in so many words, wrap a hand around your cock and whack it, preferably into a mirror while soliloquizing about what a great artist you are. So, no, it's not a good movie, but it at least is a movie, and Michael Keaton is and always has been an ace. And Redmayne's always got his BSA for Jupiter Ascending to look forward to next year. What.

       

      BEST PICTURE

      You know what? Since no one ever gets fired for being wrong about Oscars and there's no actual method to analyze “correctly” that anyone can master through knowledge, I'm going to pick the thing that'll drive Oscar bloggers and racists (#NotAllOscarBloggers) insane: Selma. Now that the screener fiasco that led to the paucity of nominations is no longer an issue and voters have actually had a chance to see it, I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that the months of Boyhood vs. Birdman partisanship wore people down and left them looking for another option. The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game cancel each other out with the prestige biopic vote, so scratch them (also they both suck). American Sniper and Whiplash might be a little “edgy.” (Note: no actual definition of “edgy” exists.) So that leaves The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is the better movie, and Selma, which is the more important movie. And is also excellent. And never forget, you can win Best Picture with as little as 12.6% of the total vote. And also never forget: you can get 12.6% of any randomly selected body in Hollywood to vote for something progressive. Thus, my argument for Selma, without even getting into the whole “I really hope it wins” thing.

       

       

      So, the final breakdown: for multiple winners, I've got four wins for The Grand Budapest Hotel, three for Whiplash, two for Selma, Interstellar, Boyhood, and Birdman. Untold zillions of thinkpieces about What It All Means (spoiler: nothing). And believe you me, if all of these picks are correct, I'll be more surprised than all of you put together.

      A SALUTE TO AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE ON THE OCCASION OF HIS DEPARTURE FROM THE KNICKS

      My earliest childhood memory is of basketball, which means that literally as far back as I can remember, I've been a basketball fan. That that first memory was Bernard King blowing out his knee in 1985, and that I've been a Knicks fan all this time means that the world as I have always known it has been something of a Lovecraftian saga of anxiety and doom. I could, however, have walked away at any time; the fact that I still watch basketball (with great passion) and still root for the Knicks (with weary hope) is an indication that it cannot, in spite of my fondness for melodrama and apocalyptic imagery, have been all that bad. The one time I did walk away from basketball—driven away by low-scoring defensive battles and a combination of sadness and guilt over the end of the Patrick Ewing era that exacerbated the petit mal drug problem I was trying to shake—I was drawn back after no more than a season or so by the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns, and inescapably, Amar'e Stoudemire.

       

      The Seven Seconds Or Less Suns, with Mike D'Antoni and his “fuck defense, we're dropping 120” Euro-style coaching, Steve Nash and his terrible hair and beautiful passing and covert tendency to never miss a shot ever, Shawn Marion and his bizarre jumper, three pointers for days and fast breaks and dunking. They had everything. And Amar'e was their best player. His ability to explode from a standing position upward into a dunk was everything that is good and beautiful about basketball. I don't even remember who the first guy I saw him dunk on was. Amar'e dunked on the poor fucker so hard his entire existence on this temporal plane was wiped out.

       

      That season, considering that it started with me high as balls with a friend of mine while watching the Malice at the Palace, passed delightfully. The Suns, aptly named, lit my cold little world and taught me how to love basketball again. Until the playoffs, of course, but being a Knicks fan I was inured to playoff misery, and indeed remained unconvinced I hadn't fucked the Suns with my Knicks-tainted aura. Or if it was karma for infidelity.

       

      Which leads neatly, if not literally, into the next chapter of my life with Amar'e. My 2010 got off to a bad start, due to a spectacularly messy romantic episode that ended my acting career (how one led to the other is a subject for another day, but that it did at all should highlight how spectacularly messy that romantic episode was) and one of the only things I had to look forward to was free agency that summer. I, like many Knicks fans (I never divorced them; we had settled into a nicely polyamorous relationship by this point) was convinced that LeBron was coming to town, because he could make approximately a fucktillion dollars a year in endorsements, and because the small-ball lineup Mike D'Antoni—now coach of the Knicks—could/would roll out with LeBron, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and (this was my wrinkle) Amar'e at center would basically scorch the fabric of the universe and make the planets rotate backwards.

       

      You know how that ended. James Dolan, as usual, did something stupid—from what I heard, he tried some weird trustfund billionaire pickup artist negging thing on LeBron, who said “fuck this shit” and hopped the first plane to Florida—and the Knicks were left to build around Amar'e as the only superstar. And for the first half season, it worked beautifully. The Knicks were fun to watch again, with lots of young talent around Amar'e, and while they still couldn't play defense with a gun to their heads they were well on their way to being good again. And when the season was over and Carmelo's contract was up in Denver, they could pop him into the pre-existing nucleus without having to give anybody up and, hey, suddenly two of the best players in the league are on the same roster with about five other dudes who could really play!

       

      But you know how that ended. James Dolan, as usual, did something stupid, trading all five of those other dudes for Carmelo, midseason, and turning the Nuggets into an instant playoff contender. Carmelo and Amar'e had an awkward time figuring out how to play together, and were basically the only guys on the team (aside from a just-over-the-hill Chauncey Billups) who knew how to play. They got crushed in the playoffs that year, and then Amar'e was never healthy again. There was Linsanity, and the 54 win season where J.R. Smith was a reliable contributor for six months but both of those seasons were like something out of a dream, and we're talking about reality here.

       

      The nature of sports fandom is such that the relationship with a favorite athlete is entirely personal; the athlete has no idea who you are, in almost every case. And so, Amar'e coming back into my life at a point when one career ended and another began will always lead me to associate him with that transition. Additionally, I'd enjoyed being an actor even though I secretly wasn't all that good at it, just as I'd enjoyed the idea of LeBron coming to the Knicks while secretly worrying that he'd be thinking “What's tangibly in this for me? Seriously, if I fuck up here, they'll roll me in a carpet and throw me in the East River.” Just the same, the Knicks signing Amar'e and my turning pro as a writer instead felt the same. Amar'e was always that guy on another team I'd really liked, just as I'd been writing off and on over the years without really knowing quite how to take the next step until suddenly, there it was.

       

      If this is more about me than it is about Amar'e, then such is the solipsism of sports fandom. But the point of this is to say that despite his contract turning from slightly on the high side for someone with his injury history to astonishingly awful after his first season, and despite that first season being his sole contribution to the Knicks from a basketball standpoint, I will never feel anything but fondness for Amar'e as a basketball player and as a Knick. Completely aside from his being instrumental in my still liking basketball at all, how could I not like an injury-prone dude who bathes in red wine and got that excited about meeting Taylor Swift and Anna Wintour? The second I can afford that much wine it's on. (And angels and ministers of grace defend us when the Vine of me saying “Heh, you're tall” and falling over something makes the rounds if I ever meet Ms. Swift.)

       

      Anyway. Long story short: love to Amar'e and best wishes with his next team. May he sign with a contender that plays good enough defense to cover for him so he can focus on dunking like a proper modern gentleman.

      ON INTERSTELLAR

      In structural keeping with Christopher Nolan's new film -- and one brief bit of the-world-done-changed SF world-building within it -- I would like to begin with a long introductory passage in which occasional pieces of information pop up that will be significant later. First, let's talk about Reggie Jackson. Although by the time I was consciously able to follow the Yankees they had progressed to the eminently frustrating Mattingly/Winfield era, Reggie had already imprinted upon me in a fundamental, primal, sub-rational way. He was a larger-than-life figure as a ballplayer, his every action more memorable than his contemporaries, good and bad. Reggie came from an older era of baseball in which working counts and drawing walks was not as prevalent a strategy as it is today, and as such when he would come to the plate he would start his swing from as far back as he could to generate the most possible force at his command in order to hit the baseball farther than the laws of physics permit under known circumstances. This value of force and gut instinct over rational precision and accepted limits of the physical universe led to Reggie striking out more often than anyone in MLB history, but it also led to some home runs that were, for lack of more refined adjectives, fucking amazing. When evaluating Reggie as a player, you have to consider that for every time he struck out with men on base in a clutch situation, or made a dumb defensive play in the outfield because he was dreaming on his next home run (which is what he was paid for, not defense), his defining moment will always be in the 1977 World Series, when in three consecutive plate appearances, he hit three consecutive home runs off of three different pitchers, the last of which came closer than any measured fair ball at that point had ever come to leaving Yankee Stadium the long way (for some context: that place was fucking *huge* and a whole lot of really strong dudes hit the shit out of a lot of baseballs in that place, but none of them were Reggie's third homer). When I was insecure about being left-handed when no one else I knew was left-handed, I derived strength from Reggie having been left-handed. When I started going blind and had to wear Coke-bottle glasses, it was okay, because Reggie wore glasses. He was, in the specific sense in which it was coined, my Patronus, and in the larger sense inferred by its Latin root, a Patronus confers the protection of the sort a father might, when not physically able to be there himself. And thus, for multiple reasons in the above paragraph, we come to Christopher Nolan, who swings for the cinematic fences in a similar fashion (whether or not it's wise to, and whether or not it works), and Interstellar, a story among other things about the metaphysical strength of a father's love.

      Oh, and you better believe invoking baseball and with it Americana was deliberate, because Interstellar is the least self-conscious movie about being corny as fuck in like forever. Interstellar is a ball of corn so vast and with so much mass that it collapsed on itself and created a black hole. In fact, Nolan shot this movie on location at the fucking black hole that his quantum cornball made when it collapsed in on itself. And after he called cut, he probably sipped a cup of tea and with an amused grin remarked how droll it was that he'd violated causality in the same way his script had. And McConaughey probably took his space helmet off and went, "That don't matter, man, you can violate causality all you want long as you deliver the goods, brother." And Nolan probably took another sip of tea and thought to himself how wise it had been to cast McConaughey.

      McConaughey is a great movie star for a number of reasons, but one of which is that the nature of his charisma derives from his singular quantum Zen surfer good old boy state of being. His charisma switch doesn't just have one setting: it has the "smarter than he looks and than anyone gives him credit for" setting, it has the "all is one and one is all, and every living thing is like the ocean, connected and interchangeable" setting that lets him shift between whatever necessary context requires him to McConaughey at a situation to triumph, and there's the setting on which you can put him on a back porch with a beer in his hand and everything he says is important because he's a guitar string that resonates at the frequency of America. Thus, it doesn't really matter that the script doesn't quite establish his motivation in any kind of properly organic fashion, because he's McConaughey and he needs to save the fucking world, and that's enough of a reason because he just gets that look in his eye and you're like "you're goddamn right this guy can save the fucking world, he's a proper fucking movie star, now shut up about your little literary inadequacies, we got a movie to watch."

      The impressive thing about Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker is that he keeps growing and adding new tricks. He has his limitations; for all his much-bruited intelligence, he's civilian smart rather than visionary genius smart, which is another way of saying he has the kind of mind that can create and solve puzzles, but his flights of fancy have a ceiling, and the framework in which he expresses them can be a bit rigid at times. And yet, that's precisely why the parts of Interstellar that work do, he's bumping up against that ceiling, looking for a staircase to the roof, determined to breathe fresh air by hook or by crook. Which is not a backhanded compliment: if everyone in the world was a visionary genius we'd run out of drugs in about five minutes and better hope to hell someone invented an energy source powered by nervous breakdowns, otherwise the human race would be fucked worse than it is in Interstellar, which is pretty well fucked until McConaughey whips it out and dads his way to the solution.

      Interstellar's casting is a huge part of what makes it work as well as it does (for whom it works), as everyone, even the one guy in the movie who isn't famous (who's great, by the way), papers over what might end up being sticky logical concerns or elided plot development with pure gusto. Say what you want about Anne Hathaway (and I say, "Hi, Anne! I think you're nifty") she can dial up that BIG EMOTIONS setting with the best of them. Chastain's a master; few actors working today have the ability to simply exist and do everything the character needs to do like she does. Michael Caine does his thing he does in every Christopher Nolan movie now, which is to show up and be Michael Caine and we're like "Yay, it's Michael Caine! Hi!" Wes Bentley, Topher Grace, and C-Fleck show up and lend a dimension to otherwise barely-there supporting roles, but the point is they do lend something.

      All of that makes David Gyasi stand out more, because with the exception of kids and extras, he almost literally is the only non-famous person in the movie, and he's fucking splendid. There's a moment in the movie where he has to condense what would be dozens of pages in a novel into nothing more than physical posture (his face isn't even lit, denying him even facial expression to sell the moment) AND HE DOES. Welcome to movies, David Gyasi! I hope you get parts worthy of your talents, because you're a damn good actor.

      As for all the science-trolling going on, I'm a firm believer in the symbiosis implied in the term "science fiction." The science can only get you half the way there. If you're bent out of shape because a person would die instantly trying to fly into a black hole or the frozen clouds on the Matt Damon planet are bullshit (oh, you better believe there's a Matt Damon planet, THAT'S FUCKING SCIENCE YA BISH) and don't have the proper cromulent vicissitude, or there's no such thing as a five-dimensional tesseract, you know what? I have a science experiment involving a dick going into a mouth you can assist on. This isn't to be confused with people who simply don't buy into the stuff about love transcending dimensional reality (Annie H. owns that speech, by the way) and the corniness and the slightly awkward Vulcan experimentation with emotional sense over logical sense. That's fine. But people like the Slate guy who got all in high dudgeon over the science being bullshit (who, deliciously, in turn got his own science wrong) need to spend a weekend with Beach McConaughey chilling the heck out and Zenning their whole shit up. Because, yes, *people* can't fly into a black hole without getting smushed, but *Matthew McConaughey* can, especially if he's wearing a space uniform with an American flag on it. Because science may not work like that, but movies do.

      Anyway. Good talk, y'all. I'm probably (well, sure, ok, definitely) not being "objective" about this one (there's a whole other essay in that), but fuck it, I'm not on the clock. Sometimes, pro or no, you gotta go to the movies and just fucking Go To The Movies.

      IN THE NAME OF THE DAD: DRAFT DAY

      Note: the following discusses the entirety of Draft Day, up to and including the ending. Be forewarned.

       

      With football season upon America once more, it occurred to me to check out Draft Day, released earlier this year, wherein Kevin Costner is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns and must both “make a splash” (at owner Frank Langella's request) and improve his football team (the fitfully realized job description of the general manager). Generally critiques of movies based in how close they hew to reality annoy me, because unless the clear aim of the work in question is to present as close a duplication of reality as it can, its inability to do so is irrelevant (and you can parse “clear aim” all the livelong day, of course). Draft Day is a slightly different creature.

       

      From its opening frames, it touts the verisimilitude of having ESPN, and its bellicose football announcer Chris Berman, on board the project, and proceeds to wave all manner of other Real Brands™ at the audience. Such a movie would appear to deserve a bit of scrutiny on how closely it resembles reality, and were one to put Draft Day under that particular microscope, it would fail miserably. Costner, by my count, does three things over the course of the movie that would have gotten any real-life general manager not only fired but irrevocably exiled from professional football, not to mention one other thing in his backstory that would have already gotten him fired in real life and an ongoing workplace situation that, while not exactly an action, would also be grounds for firing and a good 72 hours in the sports media gossip cycle. Beyond Costner's foibles, there is a league-wide failure in scouting that would be literally impossible with modern technology. There's another uncomfortable absence that I'll mention later, but the above issues would all be rather severe credibility issues . . . if this was supposed to be a realistic movie. But it's not. It's an ad, for the NFL.

       

      Calling it “propaganda” would be a little harsh, and a little wanky. But it's absolutely an advertisement. It foregrounds the sport's quasi-religious awe for paternalistic authority figures, be they coaches, GMs, owners, commissioners, and last but certainly not least in the hearts of Football Men, dads themselves. Costner, as a GM and thus a ceremonial dad, finds himself ill at ease at the movie's outset for not having properly made piece with his dad dad, a recently deceased Football Man whom Costner fired (there's an explanation, and it's very goopy and sentimental in a Dude And His Dad kind of way). Only when the reverence the other Browns employees show his dad when Ellen Burstyn (Mom) shows up to scatter Dad's ashes on his beloved practice field does Costner swing into decisive action, ready to be the dad himself, which he does over the course of some of some seat-of-his-pants, from-the-gut general managing, and finally in his announcement, after all is compassed, to Ellen Burstyn that he and much-younger girlfriend/co-worker Jennifer Garner, are going to have a baby. He is now sufficiently a Dad that he can be a proper Football Man.

       

      The fact that he's covertly dating a co-worker who answers to him in the office makes a lot more sense, and is a lot less call-the-sexual-harassment-attorneys-like-right-fucking-now than it would if be if this was meant to be realistic rather than an unwieldy onanistic metaphor for the Love of the Game (Costner's career sure does have through-lines). And this explains the astonishingly awful job Costner does as GM. The whole megilla is set in motion when, at the crack of dawn the day of the draft, the Seattle Seahawks are inspired by the trade the Rams and the Washington NFL franchise with the racist name made a couple years ago where the Rams sent statistically mind-boggling college quarterback Robert Griffin III to the Racists for approximately every draft pick in the future of the Racist franchise. The fictional Seahawks here find themselves in exactly the Rams' position, with a no-brainer franchise quarterback with whom no scout has found literally anything wrong. The Seahawks' owner (Chi McBride) and GM (the poor man's Clark Gregg) decide to screw over Costner, because the Browns suck, by making him give them even more than the Racists gave the Rams for RGIII. Costner declines, scornfully, because mama Costner didn't raise no fools (remember, she's Ellen Burstyn). Only later, when Frank Langella, in a beautifully oily turn as exactly the kind of capricious, self-fellating rich asshole who would buy an NFL team, tells Costner that he needs to “make a splash” or lose his job, does Costner accept the offer. (One thing the movie doesn't spell out explicitly is the degree to which three consecutive years of Cleveland Browns first round picks would strengthen another team; the Browns are so bad three straight years of their first-rounders would make a real football team so strong they would achieve collective sentience as a hive mind and communicate with aliens.)

       

      Once Costner has the #1 pick, expected to take the can't-miss quarterback prospect, he begins to wonder if the kid is too good to be true. He has his guy do some digging, and his guy unearths two of the funniest bits of “dirt” imaginable. Ivan Reitman—who directed this, for some reason—was the man who brought us Stripes and Ghostbusters, recall, and the two pieces of game-changing character assassination that no one else in the entire NFL unearthed (literally impossible in this day and age, keep in mind) are, respectively, on the level of “Ziskey Rates The Russians: They're Pussies!” and “Yes, it's true your honor, this man has no dick.” The pieces of dirt are these: the first is, at his 21st birthday at which the cops came to deal with a disturbance, none of the quarterback's teammates were in attendance. The second is, another team in the habit of sending its playbook to potential draft picks with a $100 bill tucked into the last page so they'll know who read it to the end caught the kid in a lie when he claimed to have read the whole thing. The idea that the NFL, in its feature-length ad, considers these to be horrible character flaws, is hilarious. I guarantee you, without even having to check, that at least a dozen Super Bowls have been won by teams who, secretly or not, could not fucking stand their (immensely talented) quarterback. That's a conservative estimate. “Character” has nothing to do with being good at sports. There's a guy, Ray Lewis, who appears as himself in Draft Day, who is widely thought to have beaten a murder rap on a technicality, and he won two Super Bowls and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame with a baroque, weepy three-hour-long speech about Jesus the femtosecond he's eligible. And he should be, because he was good at football.

       

      But, as better men than me have before, I digress. Costner, who magically does not get fired for trading away the human race's ability to end the Forever War, proceeds to draft a guy with the #1 pick who would have been, to all accounts in the movie, a reach at the original #7 pick, because Costner likes him and thinks he has character. (Also, there's something weird about the fact that this guy is falling so far in the draft: every clip we see of him shows him playing at an almost preternaturally high level and every Football Man in the movie has a three-foot erection every time his name is mentioned because of his talent and his CHARACTERRRRR; the only way a guy like that falls out of the top 5 in real life is if he's literally at that moment under indictment.) After Costner magically is not shot in the head by Frank Langella over this, he pulls some shenanigans and gets the other draft pick he really wanted as well, a running back prospect played by recent NFL rushing champ Arian Foster, whose dad in the movie (Terry Crews) was a legendary Brown RB of near-Jim Brown stature. AND Costner gets his other draft picks back from Poor Man's Clark Gregg. AND calls him “you pancake eating motherfucker” on a speaker phone. The movie ends with a bunch of people happy to play for the Cleveland Browns, which officially ranks it with Joe E. Brown at the end of Some Like It Hot in the pantheon; the only actual human to be happy to play for the Cleveland Browns in living memory is Johnny Manziel and Johnny Football's likelihood of becoming the Dock Ellis of the NFL and throwing four TDs while rolling his tits off on molly is, shall we say, higher than nil.

       

      But an ending with dudes charging out to battle in Browns jerseys with Jesus and Dad in their hearts is the NFL's ideal vision of itself. Several years ago, the NFL enjoyed a competitive balance no other major American sports league did. Due to management-friendly financial regulations (salary cap, few guaranteed contracts, endless supplies of TV revenue), teams were able to rebuild quickly, to the point where nearly the entire face of the league would change from year to year, last place teams would win the Super Bowl the following year, and so on. Things have changed to where that utopia of parity has dimmed somewhat, but the major change between then and now is the increased awareness of the dire physical harm the game inflicts on its players, particularly on their brains.

       

      There is no universe in which Draft Day, enjoying the favor of the league that it does, would include concussions in the story. On the contrary, this movie would not exist in its current form were it not for the concussion problem in football. The NFL of Draft Day is one where the most serious injury is the Browns incumbent quarterback blowing out his knee and missing ten games, and by June is in the best shape of his life. A positive, Dadded-up perspective on the game of football is what the NFL needs more than anything right now, since the league, now in its 95th year, is in very real danger of not lasting much past its centennial. If the current climate, with many parents flatly refusing to let their kids play football—my mom was decades ahead of the curve on this, and was beyond pissed off at me when I wrecked my knee playing tackle football without helmet or pads or permission—continues, more American kids are going to drift into soccer and basketball (baseball is already on the way out), and while that may mean a 2034 World Cup team that makes 2014's Germans look like 1994's Americans it bodes ill for AMURKIN football. Unless the NFL can win the PR wars, and convince more kids to genuflect before Our Dad Who Art In Shoulder Pads.

       

      All of this obscures the fact that, besides being one sort of interesting recurring phone call editing tic away from aesthetically absolute boilerplate conventional Hollywood, Draft Day is a pretty engaging movie. It's nice having Kevin Costner back, and even if by the numbers he should be playing Jennifer Garner's dad rather than her boyfriend, it's fitting that in a movie where one's gut feeling trumps stats that the two should have decent, chaste chemistry as actors. A whole bunch of great character actors are in it and you can't always tell them from the real football people, which is a sign someone's doing something right. All told, it could have been a hell of a lot worse, and being the second best movie ever about a Cleveland sports team (no one's ever fucking with the first Major League, which is a flat-out masterpiece) is something to hang one's helmet on. As is knowing that Costner is going to pull a happy ending out of his ass but not knowing exactly how he's going to do it. As is, frankly, having Costner there to be a reified American flag in the shape of Dad. If you're making an American sports Dad movie, accept no substitutes.

      THE KING IN THE NOOOOOOOORTH: BOOK TO FILM

      Earlier this summer, I started reading the Song of Ice and Fire books because of HBO's sadistic resistance to the idea of simply giving the creative team of Game of Thrones enough money and amphetamines to air new episodes year-round. I have found, in news that will surprise literally no one on Earth, that the books are very enjoyable and that George R.R. Martin is an altogether fine chap when it comes to this writing business.

       

      The source of my prior resistance to fantasy as a genre—and to the works of that other double-R'd standard-bearer of the genre, Mr. John Tolkien—was the murky slog through hundreds of pages of silly proper nouns (“and they came upon the Hargleshlargle of Namberforth, where the road forked between Shtupleduple and Blarpforth Fen” et cetera) and evil wizards and wide-eyed innocents and all kinds of other things one needs Peter Jackson, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, and Viggo Mortensen to paper over. But the glorious thing about A Song of Ice and Fire is that everyone is absolutely fucked. Innocence is lucky if given the time to wither and die. Everyone is trying to screw everyone else over. Even the Stark daughters, the closest thing the books have to the “wide-eyed innocent” archetype, are anything but. Sansa is steeped in the culture of court intrigue, primeval stew of cynicism, and Arya will cut a motherfucker. And as an added bonus, Martin has an inherent sense of what sounds cool that I've yet to encounter in any other fantasy writer, managing to sum up thousands upon thousands of pages of grim, bleak fatalism into the three-word refrain “Winter is coming.” My kind of universe, all around.

       

      The HBO adaptation, with a few slip-ups here and there (some admittedly bordering on catastrophic), does an admirable job bringing this wondrous realm of everything's-fucked-ness to life. What I would submit as its greatest improvement upon Martin's original material is in the portrayal of Robb Stark, son and heir to Eddard, Lord of Winterfell, later King in the North. In the book, Robb is still a kid when his father's head is cut off and he's thrust prematurely into the role of Stark patriarch. He surprises everyone by kicking ass all over the place in the ensuing war, only to meet his downfall in Lady Jeyne Westerling, with whom he falls in love and marries, despite having promised to marry this other dude's daughter in exchange for massive and essential military aid. The other dude, being a mean old fuck even by the exalted Westerosi standards of mean old fuck-itude, has Robb, his bride, and—to really stick it in and break it off—Robb's mom whacked on his wedding day. This, the Red Wedding, is one of the series' most iconic reminders that no one is safe and that eventually we will all freeze in the coming winter and hahaha heh yeah.

       

      But the scene where Robb reveals to Catelyn, his mother, that he's violated the marriage contract reveals a boy king who's still very much a boy. When Catelyn points out how dumb it is to marry someone within a day of meeting her with literally world-changing political implications on the line, his reaction is basically “But moooooooooooooooooom . . .” And yes, he is sixteen. But, nevertheless, oy.

       

      The show, being a different entity with different needs, made the choice—ultimately beneficial for its purposes in many other ways as well—to “age up” its cast by, in some cases, almost a decade. Richard Madden was cast as Robb, and brought to the part a kind of quiet, even-keeled, handsome intensity that benefited the show greatly. Playing Robb's nobility and grim sense of duty instead of his youth meant that, aside from the occasionally inconvenient by-product of Madden's line readings getting the entire audience pregnant three times in four, the character of Robb read as a legitimate portrayal of the archetypal fantasy hero, who will have his revenge in this life or the next and all that bollocks. Rather than being the “boy king,” he's THE KING IN TH' NOOOOOOOOOOOOOTH (dude seriously worked that Scottish accent for all it was worth).

       

      By simply being in another medium the show and the books are separate entities with separate needs, and admittedly I've only just gotten to the scene in A Storm of Swords where Robb tells Catelyn about the change in wedding plans. And thus this is, admittedly, a knee-jerk reaction over the course of a few hundred words. But I do think the way the show handled this storyline—with, rather than Jeyne Westerling, an original character named Talisa who first appears as a battlefield nurse—over the course of almost two whole seasons ended up casting Robb in a more flattering light. As opposed to, in the book, him suddenly appearing after having spent most of his time in the books being mentioned by others rather than being physically present (a function of Martin's use of multiple limited-third-person POV characters rather than omniscient third) with his startling news. But, as with all things, your mileage may vary. Now if you'll excuse me, I want to get back to this book, because all kinds of wonderfully fucked-up shit is on the horizon.

      AN END TO "SNOBBERY."

      The advent of a new Marvel (in this instance standing in for “geek” in the same way “Xerox” does for “photocopy”) movie, joyous occasion though it is for many, is a time when the discourse among film critics, journalists, and fans crystallizes into a particularly nasty and distorted battlefield. While it's actually not often—in fact, rarely—true that both sides share proportionate blame, in this instance the animosity does derive from rhetorical tendencies in both camps. Fans, who by this point constitute a majority, have an ugly tendency to attack anyone who dares to deviate from across-the-board unilateral praise. Non-fans, who in the main favor increasingly marginalized forms of cinema and are thus on the defensive (particularly in the summer), tend to make the mistake of condescending to fandoms of various stripes, lumping them all in under an umbrella categorization of easy-to-please herd creatures of lesser intellect. It is, to put it mildly, an ugly situation.

       

      I personally find myself in a very difficult position in these times, holding as I do something like dual citizenship in both warring nations. For several years, my primary outlet writing about film was a site, Tor.com, that specifically hired me to write about science-fiction/fantasy films from a science-fiction/fantasy film fan perspective. There was some rockiness, as I started getting better at analyzing and discussing things specific to cinema in the movies I was writing about, though it was my fierce loathing of the culture surrounding trailers and the way they're treated in modern film that signaled the beginning of the end of my time there. I still love all the people at Tor dearly, and certainly realized that my gradual and eventually total phasing-out there (well, almost total; there was never an official talk severing my ties over there, things just kind of died out) was just as much me as it was them, if not more so.

       

      One thing I was spared, through the relative civility and sophistication of the Tor.com comments section, were accusations of snobbery and pretentiousness, a dual slur which nearly every other writer who tries to write seriously about film encounters frequently. (The raging misogyny women critics invariably face when doing anything but anointing geek movies with holy water is a separate issue, as misogyny is not a geek-exclusive property.) The slightest demurral that Marvel (and their competitors in the comics game frantically playing for the silver medal) movies lack textual depth, are visually homogenous, are preceded by ecosystem-dominating anhedonia-causing ad campaigns, and one is immediately branded a “snob.”

       

      Modern discourse has a snobbery problem, but it's not the kind people complaining about Guardians of the Galaxy losing a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating would have you believe. I've always hated the categorization of (great) movies like Animal House and Caddyshack as “slobs vs. snobs.” The term was coined after the fact and does far more to dehumanize the frequently working class protagonists than it does to wave its ass at the upper-crust villains, and it substitutes glibness for accuracy. Snobbery is not synonymous with considering certain aspects of culture lesser than others. Snobbery is the state of considering certain aspects of culture lesser than others by default, and for no legitimate reason. A snob is someone who does not actually know what they're talking about, and hides behind the critical reputations established by people who actually do know what they're talking about as a means of avoiding a discussion. Pretentiousness, by definition, is a pretense to a higher level of intellect and cultural fluency than one actually possesses, and like snobbery, is a house of cards that collapses the second an actual smart person shows up.

       

      That being said, a preference for or against a given thing is not ipso facto proof of snobbery and pretentiousness, and absent a prohibitively exalted facility with language and a complete familiarity with the other party's cultural worldview, the words “snob” and “pretentious” and their derivations should be used incredibly sparingly. Most of the people being accused of snobbery for not liking comic book movies simply prefer other kinds of movies. Most of the people accused of being “pretentious” for liking subtitles, alinearity, and existentialism aren't pretending. I woke up the other morning, watched, and thoroughly enjoyed Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries on Hulu Plus while I drank coffee and ate breakfast. There was no one here to impress. I didn't pretend to like it to seem cool. (If I had, I would've failed anyway; Bergman's later films starring an agonized Liv Ullman have much more cachet.) And, most importantly, I'm not going to walk around with my nose up and my zipper down accusing anyone who doesn't watch landmark Swedish cinema with their corn flakes of being a lesser being.

       

      If we're to achieve a more civil discourse around this needlessly contentious subject, some ground rules are in order: fans of Marvel movies should be given the benefit of the doubt that they enjoy themselves in good faith just as someone not particularly interested in rushing out opening night should be given the benefit of the doubt that it simply isn't their thing. Neither has any correlation with intelligence or sophistication; I saw The Avengers three times and my intellect can melt planets (which is why I'm in talks to show up as Galactus in some sequel or other). I met a guy at a cocktail party in Williamsburg once who claimed to have “never read a 'B-novel,'” a statement dripping with such (actual) pretentiousness that I needed him to define what that meant; it turned out that it essentially meant he only read novels by white people who'd been dead for over a hundred years and considered cinema to be an inferior, mongrel art form. (The conversation ended with us outside smoking a joint and me, accurately but with a regrettable lack of diplomacy, telling him “you're fuckin stupid, man.”) These are both personal examples, but hopefully illustrative of the larger point, which is one of the largest points there is: generalizations all too often do nothing but breed unnecessary enmity.

       

      We're never all going to like the same things, but liking different things is not an automatic call to arms. It is possible to (figuratively) shake hands and agree to mutual respect. If geek culture can learn to more gracefully accept their victory and dominion over popular culture (part of which is ceasing the demand for universal adulation), we can go far, and if more critical parties can weather the advertising onslaughts with thicker skins and attempt to not regard Marvel as the death of cinema—cinema cannot be killed—we can go even farther. Now let us have a summit and sign this accord. For fuck's sake.

      THE SPORTS HERO'S SWAN SONG

      On Tuesday, a friend of mine took me to a Yankee game because he'd gotten free tickets at work and I'm moving soon and thus unable to get to many Yankee games for the foreseeable future. Over obscenely expensive beers late in the game, my friend told me he'd once dated a woman who had previously dated Derek Jeter. (This was not idle gossip, but prompted by Jeter having either struck out with men on base or hit into a double play, both of which he did at some point during the game.) According to the ex-girlfriend, Jeter was nice, well-mannered, attractive, but that the relationship was ultimately doomed because his entire frame of reference was baseball.

       

      This is something one hears about Derek Jeter quite a bit, and over the last twenty years much has been heard about Derek Jeter, especially in New York. A star for the New York Yankees occupies a particularly rarefied space in sports discourse, given their unparalleled number of World Series wins and the fact that, since the arrival of Babe Ruth in 1920, the longest the Yankees have gone without winning one was the the eighteen year stretch that ended with the ascent of, wouldn't you know, Derek Jeter, whose Yankee teams have won five since 1996. In that time, Jeter has become the Yankees' all-time leader in hits, stolen bases, games played, and at-bats, and cemented his legacy in the continuum that began with Ruth and is populated by immortal names like Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Munson, and Mattingly.

       

      The omission of some names from that list highlights another aspect of Jeter's legacy, which is not only having excelled on the field while in a Yankee uniform, but being a True Yankee, a highly controversial status among fans of the other twenty-nine major league teams, who hold that the very notion of the True Yankee is a giant pile of bullshit. Which it is, of course, except when it isn't. True Yankees are, in one sense, players it's impossible or excruciating to imagine wearing another jersey, in which regard they're not fundamentally different from True Red Sox or True Cardinals or True Dodgers. But the dark blue pinstripes, the ballpark in the Bronx with the goofy-shaped outfield that everyone pretends wasn't almost completely rebuilt in the 1970s and replaced in 2009, and all the World Series banners, all of this (particularly the last) gives the Yankees franchise a self-perceived license to self-administer additional gravitas. But the whole “True Yankee” thing is an actual thing, with a long history, even if it's more branding than anything with any meaningful baseball value.

       

      It started in the 30s, when new manager Joe McCarthy (no relation to the Senator) established a universal style, both on the field and off, of functional professionalism. The Yankees were to be free of unnecessary flash, to win on the field and be business-like gentlemen off of it. It's been the Yankees' brand ever since, however contrary reality (especially in the 70s, with Reggie Jackson—not coincidentally my favorite Yankee of all time—carrying on like a total fucking asshole, and sublimely so, at all hours of the day including when hitting five-hundred foot home runs) may be.

       

      However self-righteous and alarmingly right-wing the True Yankee mystique has proven to be at times over the years, I've always derived a mildly perverse pleasure from the fact that, on the field at least, Derek Jeter has always completely lived up to that ideal. He is, per my friend's ex, someone who lives and breathes baseball, and who is completely, to the bottom of his heart, devoted to the New York Yankees of both legend and reality. Despite having devoted a far larger bulk of my fan gushing over the years to other Yankees, the idea of anyone other than Derek Jeter playing shortstop for the Yankees has been essentially unthinkable since about a month into his rookie season.

       

      One thing that I think will be lost in years to come when Jeter's career is meticulously assessed and assigned a place in The Grand Scheme Of Things is how idiosyncratic a player he actually is. His “inside-out” swing, is probably the most famous, and given that he's played his home games in a stadium that was designed to be advantageous to hits to right field, seemed like a far less weird thing than it actually is. The weirdness doesn't stop there: for his entire career, despite being six feet three and capable of knocking the crap out of the ball (even if more in the manner of a line-drive hitter than a home run slugger), Jeter has been seemingly obsessed with reminding everyone paying attention that he knows how to bunt, and totally will bunt, man, because he does The Little Things That Win Baseball Games. What's always been so odd about this is that Jeter has all kinds of legitimate tricks up his sleeve that help win ball games, and he does play all out, with total sincerity. But his inability to do so without also calling attention to the fact that he's Doing The Little Things That Win Baseball Games rubs fans of other teams—particularly the Red Sox, whose fans practically have to be held at gunpoint to stop twitching and screaming “JETER SUCKS” at random moments throughout the day—the wrong way.

       

      And, fan of the Yankees though I am, and as fond and respectful of Derek Jeter as I am, no honest discussion of his career is complete without the admission that, at his best, he was a mediocre defensive shortstop. He managed to obfuscate this by having a strong enough arm to pull off his signature jump-throw, which looks really cool but doesn't serve a ton of functional purpose. By the mid-2000s, his range had deteriorated to the point where Bill James declared him to be “probably the most ineffective defensive player in the major leagues, at any position,” an assertion supported to degrees by multiple advanced statistical studies and, not to put too fine a point on it, simply watching YouTube clips of Derek Jeter compared with actually good defensive shortstops.

       

      His bat, though, compensates with sufficient value that, however Red Sox fans and other detractors might mutter darkly about how overrated he is, Derek Jeter is still a legit all-time great, and a fascinating study in dualities. His on-field achievements derive from an oddly counter-intuitive blend of natural ability and obsessive hard work. He managed to play shortstop, the glamor position, for the New York Yankees, the legendary champions in the biggest city in the United States for twenty years, and yet be able to pull off the image of a blue-collar clock-puncher on the field.

       

      I hope that, when he retires at the end of this season, he's able to comfortably adjust to the next phase of his life. This is not only with regards to his love life—which, honestly, is none of my business, and I might have omitted mention of it entirely here were it not for the way that story about my friend's ex segued so neatly into Jeter's obsession with baseball—but in the way that many famous athletes, having spent their entire lives on sports, find themselves at a relatively young age facing the realization that all of that is over. We forget sometimes, absent the worst kind of reminders, that sports heroes are human beings. Incredibly rich ones, in the most fortunate cases, but still.

      THIS MOVIE WOULD HAVE TOTALLY SUCKED WITH DANNY DEVITO AND EDDIE MURPHY

      Before beginning, I must shamefully break a vow I made to myself years ago when I first started writing about movies, to wit: never, under any circumstances, refer to a picture's Rotten Tomatoes rating as if it was a thing with any legitimate meaning. It has not been difficult, and this breach may very well be the only one, only because it distinctly flew in the face of the way I remember things. Here goes: Heart Condition, a movie I watched multiple times in the early 90s, that I taped off cable and watched a few more times, has a 0% Fresh rating, meaning no one whatsoever gave it a positive review.


      This came as a shock not because Heart Condition is any great profundity, any forgotten masterwork of the cinema, anything at all really except a buddy comedy at a time when buddy comedies were legion, elevated by the performances of leads Bob Hoskins and Denzel Washington. I primarily remember it for an observation my mom made after we saw it in the theater: “That would have totally sucked if it had starred Danny DeVito and Eddie Murphy.” That stuck with me, because I was just old enough that, huge fan of both Danny DeVito and Eddie Murphy though I was, I knew she was right.


      Revisiting Heart Condition for the first time in many years recently, it remains as it ever was, as nearly every one of those critics giving mixed-to-negative reviews pointed out: the entire thing functions to the degree that it even does based on the remarkably nuanced performance Bob Hoskins turns in, and on the equally nuanced, almost classical, work Denzel puts in as Hoskins' bête noire-cum-best buddy. The scenario they're thrown into is the kind of thing where you can almost feel the cocaine dripping down the back of the screenwriter's throat as he pitches it: a toughcopwhodoesn'tplaybytherules suffers a near-fatal heart attack, only to have his life saved by the only available donor, the recently deceased lawyer who'd stolen his girlfriend away. Who, to the mortal (and vividly so) disgust of the (white) toughcopwhodoesn'tplaybytherules, is black. And a ghost.


      LET THE HIJINKS ENSUE!!!


      The never-ending signifiers of the year 1989 (the movie was released in early 1990 after a bit of a delay)—from the self-conscious white jazz/R&B score to the yuppie pimp/smack dealer villain's laptop-sized cell phone to Denzel's custom-made loose-cut Armani suits and on and on and on—are good for entertainment value 25 years later, if a very mild variety. Writer-director James D. Parriott, a TV veteran, observes rather than comments, and only superficially at that. The significance of the movie's central relationship is solely in its ability to get laughs and somewhat soften the white cop's racial prejudices.


      What Hoskins does with that character is really amazing considering what an eyeroll/j.o. the movie as a whole is; he digs deep into the self-destructive pathos of a rigidly rules-oriented cop who despises everything he can't control, chain-smoking cigarette after cigarette, such a falling-down drunk he invests the “cute” gesture of giving his pet cat a splash of Jim Beam in his milk with a follow-up pouring almost a whole shot in, which is really fucked up if you think about it for too long, but it's a brilliant touch to show how debased his character is.


      He similarly does not half-ass the character's racial hangups, playing them to the absolute hilt. He kicks Denzel Washington in the balls and calls him the n-word in public. And is not turned into a pillar of salt (the movie's biggest credibility lapse). He is, however, suspended from duty by his cackling superior officer (“You called him the n-word?”) Roger E. Moseley, himself black and an additional target of Hoskins' race-based rage. Without his badge and gun, utterly powerless against his most despised enemies, Hoskins goes home and has his heart attack.


      When he wakes up—after an admittedly very funny bit where his fellow cops tweak his race hatred by serenading him with a terrible rendition of “Can't Get Enough of You, Babe” after placing what appears to be a 24'' black dildo directly in his line of sight so it'll be the first thing he sees when he wakes up—Hoskins is faced with the ultimatum: eat healthy and avoid stress, or die. Hoskins says fuck it, because this movie dates from the era when real men smoked, drank, ate red meat, and then had a smoke afterward. At which point the same Ladysmith Black Mombazo cue that played upon the reveal that he had Denzel's heart recurs, and we're introduced to Ghost Denzel.


      The ghost business is actually handled with pretty good internal consistency, and considering that he is the only one who can see and interact with Denzel, affords Bob Hoskins the opportunity display some more of the impressive physical comedy skills he showed as Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But Denzel has not returned from the dead solely to screw around: his fatal car crash was no accident, and he wants Hoskins to find out who murdered him.


      As a whodunit, this ain't much, since we meet the bad guy right after the opening credits, after assassinating a U.S. senator with tainted crack, as one does. The meat of the movie is in the developing relationship between Hoskins and Denzel, both of whom wring every last bit of dramatic weight out of every scene, even the ones where their text is nothing but schticky comic banter. The total commitment they individually and collectively make to this weirdly inconsistent material is the sum of Heart Condition's value. Parriott can't seem to make up his mind whether he's making a serious cop movie, a romantic comedy (Chloe Webb plays the woman in both leads' lives, who being a woman plays a hooker with a precis where her inner life should be), a romantic drama, a buddy comedy, a ham-fisted commentary about racism (“RACISM BAD BUT RACIST MAN FUNNY AND STILL GOOD GUY”), an obliviously racist stereotype fest (some of Hoskins' and even Denzel's dialogue is cringe-making, not to mention the hip-hop bowling alley, yikes), an urban fantasy, or an analysis of the Lakers' inability to win a title after the departure of white knight Kurt Rambis. It is each of these things—yes, even the bit about the Lakers—but not proportionately, and without the same “what the hell” attitude toward genre hopping and tonal gear-grinding as Indian masala, which inevitably comes to mind when watching a two-hero reincarnation/ghost story.


      The most bizarre thing about Heart Condition is that in spite of the laundry list of things wrong with it (not least among which is one of the dumbest title-as-dialogue lines on record), it's still a compelling and entertaining movie, solely on the basis of Hoskins and Denzel, as by their light the supporting cast has something to support. The story's bullshit, but by the end, in spite of what a fucker he is I still want Hoskins to win, to kill the bad guys, save his girl, and live happily ever after with ghost Denzel occasionally popping in to affectionately annoy him with new quiche recipes and stuff. It's not a perfect movie, or even a good movie, or even something I can recommend. But it's really hard to stay mad at. Unless you're Denzel, who fired his agent for talking him into doing this movie and then went another twenty years before starring in another comedy. But he's Denzel, and we're not.


      And now, in the spirit of Denzel torturing Hoskins by making him jog and get his nails done and all that, here's Bonnie Raitt's closing song from the credits (don't forget, in 1989 Bonnie Raitt, of all people, was damn near as big a pop star as Madonna), which will now be in your head for days, too:


      HOW WE (ARE TOLD TO) MOURN

      Critics often run the risk of coming across as cold, emotionless killjoys, for nothing more felonious than looking at what a thing actually is and passing judgment. Never is this more acute than when we critique something designed to have a purely emotional impact on its intended audience. One such is a one-panel cartoon that's been circulating around the Internet—that I'm not going to link here in the interests of not encouraging misbehavior—of Roger Rabbit crying, meant to prey on, evoke, and exacerbate the feelings fans of the actor Bob Hoskins on the occasion of his death.

       

      People mourn in their own ways, and there's no right or wrong way to do it. As long, that is, as one is actually mourning. The Roger Rabbit panel, which appears to be fairly skillful fan art, is the latest in what's becoming something of a trend in Internet mourning. When Philip Seymour Hoffman died, someone made a thing referencing the famous Big Lebowski line about tying the room together, with Hoffman taking the place of the rug. Harold Ramis' passing was marked by a well-drawn yet abjectly hideous panel of Peter Venkman and Ray Stantz standing by a ghost trap above which a spectral Egon Spengler floated. And now Roger Rabbit shedding a tear for Eddie Valiant.

       

      The offensive aspect of these “tributes” is their insincerity, and their perfect confluence with two particularly troubling Internet trends: the first being the ongoing project, most popularly advanced by the website Upworthy, to perfect an algorithm to shortcut the part of the brain that develops interest in things autonomously and compel attention without the use of a substantial object, and the second being the looming end of net neutrality and the resultant forced commercialization of the Internet. The cheap, empty-calorie emotions which are Upworthy's stock in trade are extremely effective at circumventing the part of the brain which thinks, as tears both literally and figuratively obscure sight. The Hoskins, Ramis, and Hoffman tributes may not directly be the work of Upworthy—in fact, their very nature as something created rather than appropriated suggests they're not—but their creation and distribution are being done by people hoping to attain even a degree of the success Upworthy has had in getting clicks. It's a rank exploitation of the legitimate emotional reactions fans have to beloved pop culture figures, all in the service of a ravenously desired virality.

       

      The irony of it is, the reason this appropriation and commodification of emotion appalls me isn't because I'm some kind of unfeeling robot, but because I genuinely loved the work these people did, and intensely. I'm an extremely emotional person, at times dramatically so. If something is genuinely touching, it's going to touch me. I openly and proudly cry at the movies. I'm not Tweedy McHeartlessdick over here. But I hate being exploited. Oh, do I hate being exploited. This is why when I get the sense that a thing's sole reason for existing is to make me cry, I get angry, because the artist isn't playing by the rules. And it's not like the rules are complicated. They are, in their totality, as follows: 1) is this thing making me cry because its origins are in something real, and experienced, in the world? If yes, 2) well done, I'm crying. If no, 3) you're a cynical piece of shit.

       

      The crying Roger Rabbit thing (assuming it wasn't taken by some aggregator without the artist's intent) blatantly fails the first (and only) rule. Its process is: “Hey! Bob Hoskins died. Here's an image from his most popular movie. It's his co-star. CRYING. Heh, this is so going viral. Now cry.” No, I don't think I will, thanks. I don't want to reward something so cynically and basely conceived, violating the good faith most people grant the apparently emotionally derived, which is to say assuming similar good faith in the creator. It would be a lot easier to believe that this was a spontaneous creation of a decent illustrator who was genuinely mourning the departed if this didn't happen every single fucking time an actor from a popular movie dies.

       

      I don't require everyone to get as mad about things as I do, because blood pressure shouldn't have as many digits as a phone number, but what I will ask is that we all consider motive, and remember that anything someone puts in front of you on the Internet is selling something. Even this piece is selling, for free-ninety-nine, an all-caps “THINK ABOUT AND QUESTION THINGS.” Think about what surrendering the entire Internet to people with (albeit limited) mind-control powers, and the rich people who employ them, gets us, as a human race. We don't need to come to the same conclusions. We don't even need to ask the same questions. Just ask some.

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