My favorite movies of 2017

Hey gang. Part of the reason I’m able to do a top ten every year is that I’m methodical about tracking my viewing habits (plus books, music, and video games – but I don’t consume enough new stuff of any of those to do a top ten list). I use Trakt, Letterboxd, and a couple other apps to do this. I used to use a database that I made myself while taking an online SQL course but these days it’s easier to let someone else do the dev work.

Anyway, because I have all the info stored in these apps I have lots of good stats to look at. I watched 91 films in 2017 of which 54 were actually 2017 releases and the rest were older. Of the 54 movies I watched, I gave positive ratings to 45 of them. This sounds as if I like most movies but I think it just reflects the fact that I’m selective and will usually check reviews and Metacritic (not Rotten Tomatoes, but that’s a rant for another time) before going to see something. I could keep going and show you the breakdowns of time-of-day, genre, length, country-of-origin, but I doubt any of you care.

This year lacked a clear favorite for me – I’m not sure I walked out of anything this year thinking “that was a perfect movie” (honestly, I haven’t felt that way about anything since Mad Max: Fury Road).  Still, lots of great stuff.

On to the list! Usual disclaimer: I’m not a real film critic or even that knowledgeable so no one should take my opinions too seriously. This is just for fun.

  1. The Florida Project. This film by the director of last year’s superb Tangerine follows some young kids over the course of a long summer in a low-rent motel outside of Disney World. Featuring an incredibly humanistic performance from Willem Dafoe, this movie contrasts the colors and imagination of childhood with the harshness of life on the poverty line. Can’t recommend enough!
  2. Baby Driver. I’m a massive Edgar Wright fan and this movie is tailor made for a musical-loving action fan such as myself. The standard knock on this movie is that “the first 30 minutes are amazing and then the movie bogs down before moving into a terrible ending”. I agree that the first 30 minutes are the best part of the movie, but I’ll defend the ending all night. Tough to do it here without spoiling the movie but happy to go 10 rounds over drinks or on Twitter. Baby Driver #starttofinish, baby!
  3. mother! This is a tough one because most people who see this movie HATE it. It has an “F” CinemaScore (based on surveys of people walking out of the movie) which is very rare. Some of the people in my theater walked out midway through, others made it to the end but swore a lot afterwards and loudly talked about how awful it was. I think it’s amazing and a cinematic gem and I thought about for weeks. Months. I’m still thinking about it. Seriously though, it’s not for everyone.
  4. The Big Sick. Unlike mother!, this is an easy one to recommend – a total crowd pleaser that’s funny and warm and insightful. Holly Hunter is a goddamn national treasure.
  6. Blade Runner 2049.  Atmospheric, operatic, gorgeous. Better than the original. Don’t hurt me.
  7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Here is where I’m going to eat a lot of shit because I’ve been trashing Star Wars for years. I thought The Force Awakens was a pure nostalgia play and Rogue One was utterly disposable (and those prequels, good lord). No one is more surprised to see a Star Wars movie turn up on my top ten list than I am, but I have to give credit. This is a beautiful, poetic movie that’s easily the best of the franchise since Empire Strikes Back. It gets to the core of what these movies are supposed to be about, showing characters making hard moral choices and struggling with the consequences of their failures. Rian Johnson is the first Star Wars director to know how to use the full frame of his camera and construct real cinematic compositions. So many indelible images – the salt planet! The throne room! I’m officially back on the Star Wars bandwagon and while I still think it’d be better if all these huge franchises died, this is one franchise that got a pretty big shot in the arm in 2017.
  8. Colossal. My Hathaway fandom notwithstanding, I wasn’t prepared for how good this movie is. An incisive look at alcholism and toxic masculinity filtered through a hybrid of comedy and monster movie. Unique and unforgettable.
  9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This is a tough one to pick because the internet is really turning on it right now. I’ve read the various criticisms of this film, and I agree with many of them. The racial politics are messed up. The crimes of some characters are not treated with the gravity that they should be. But still, this is a film that makes a case for compassion and empathy and I think that’s sorely needed in these times. Sam Rockwell’s character may not deserve redemption (I would argue that he is in no way “redeemed” by the ending) but the film argues that it’s not too late for anyone to try to do better. As someone who isn’t ready to write off the Trump-supporting parts of this country, I want to hope that anyone can look beyond their prejudices. Also, Frances McDormand kicks teenagers in the groin in this movie, which is hilarious.
  10. Lady Bird. Honestly the internet doesn’t need yet another person recommending Lady Bird. Everyone loves it, you should see it, blah blah blah.

The next ten: Darkest Hour, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, A Ghost Story, Get Out, Thor: Ragnarok, Logan Lucky, Mudbound, The Square, The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name.

Sleeper Picks: These are my picks for movies that, unlike most of my top 10, were not necessarily beloved by professional movie critics. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a messy film with serious script problems and two clunker lead performances, but it’s endlessly visually inventive (from the director of The Fifth Element) and the world needs more original sci-fi. I also loved Kong: Skull Island which is a Vietnam film, a monster movie, and a great comedy all rolled into one.

Also recommended: Lost City of Z, Logan, Okja, Wind River, Ingrid Goes West, Murder on the Orient Express, The Disaster Artist, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Graduation.

Still to See: There’s the trio of awards contenders released in LA/NY in December to qualify for the Oscars but that haven’t gotten here yet: I Tonya, The Post, and Phantom Thread. And then there’s all the ones I just missed: Good Time, A Quiet Passion, Faces Places, The Work, Personal Shopper, Nocturama, Columbus, The Beguiled, It Comes at Night, Stronger, It, Thelma, The Lure, BPM.



my favorite TV of 2017

Keeping up with good TV has never been harder – there’s great shows on broadcast, cable, premium cable, streaming services. If you are just looking for something good to watch – it’s never been easier! Flip on the tube or fire up Netflix and chances are you’ll be able to find something great. If you’re an obsessive like me who feels a compulsion to keep up with all the great, talked-about shows – it can be a real test of sanity.

Boy it was tough to come up with these rankings (besides #1 which was a slam dunkeroo). I feel like my #2 through about #20 are all really close in quality, I could reverse the order and be fine with the list.

Anyway, usual disclaimer – I’m just an amateur with eclectic taste so “don’t @ me, bro!”

  1. The Leftovers. No surprise here for readers of my 2014 and 2015 lists. This is one of my three favorite shows of all time and my favorite show  in every year when it’s aired a season (sadly, this is the last). Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon and the rest of the cast are stellar, the imagery is fantastic, and nearly every episode makes me “lose my shit” (this is the masculine way of admitting that this show makes me cry a lot). The Leftovers is an exploration of how we explain tragedies in our lives and how we put our trust in science or religion or family to help us make sense of loss and grief. It’s astounding and I can’t recommend it enough.
  2. Bojack Horseman. Quick confession – I haven’t quite finished season 4 yet (two episodes to go) but I’m willing to put it at number two based solely on the fact that it has a show-within-a-show called “Felicity Huffman’s Booty Academy” that features Sir Mix-A-Lot as a judge because “everyone knows he cannot lie”.
  3. The Good Place. This one’s a little weird because it airs in winter so I’m judging it based on half of season 1 and half of season 2. Eh, whatever. Hilarious show with a plot that really moves. With a show that upsets the status quo so much that it can’t really be said to have a status quo, you have to wonder –  can they keep it up?
  4. Better Call Saul. The escalating war between the McGill brothers reached its apex this season in ways both comic and tragic. The showdown in “Chicanery” is my series high point. I will say that this season could have used more Mike. I could watch that guy take apart a car all day long.
  5. GLOW. This 80’s set comedy about the early days of women’s wrestling is my recommendation for the perfect binge. It’s on Netflix, it’s hilarious (especially Alison Brie doing a hammy Russian accent), and heartwarming. The kind of show that’s hard to stop watching.
  6. American Vandal. Another amazing freshman comedy, this parody of the true crime drama starts funny and ends in a surprisingly emotional place. Come for the penis humor, stay for the reflections on documentarian ethics.
  7. The Deuce. The new show by David Simon (The Wire, Treme, Show Me a Hero) deals with prostitution and the rise of the porn industry. The premise wasn’t particularly interesting to me, but I’m game for whatever Simon wants to do and wasn’t disappointed. Great time-capsule look at 70’s New York in all its scuzzy glory.
  8. Legion. This is technically a comic book show but feels more like a psychedelic horror film. Amazing visuals (the series was created by Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley) and an all-time great villain performance from Aubrey Plaza. The only superhero-adjacent show on television that I enjoyed this year (DC shows are a bit silly for me and Marvel shows all seemed pretty long and bloated with possible exception of Runaways).
  9. Sneaky Pete. I love the “con artist” genre and this Giovanni Ribisi led neo-noir reminded me a lot of the first season of Orphan Black. Lots of pulpy plot twists and episode cliffhangers.
  10. Big Little Lies. The writing and acting were great but what really struck me about BLL was the superb directing from Jean-Marc Vallée. Every episode was packed with interesting camera angles and compositions. Maybe I just like the “eyes in a rear view mirror” shot.

Other shows I quite liked, in rough order: Sweet/Vicious (RIP), Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Review (RIP), The Americans, Master of None, Silicon Valley, Rick and Morty, Detroiters, Orange is the New Black, Brockmire, Fargo, Angie Tribeca, Man Seeking Woman, Veep, iZombie, The Handmaid’s Tale, Game of Thrones, You’re the Worst, The Young Pope, American Gods, Mr. Robot.

Important shows I missed: The big one is obviously the new Twin Peaks, which many critics are calling the best of the year but I wasn’t able to get to it in time (I wanted to re-watch the original first). I also wasn’t able to catch the new seasons of Better Things, Insecure, OutlanderThe PathCatastrophe, One Mississippi, The Girlfriend Experience, Survivor’s Remorse,  Lady Dynamite, and Stranger Things. There are also several new shows I have yet to sample like Star Trek Discovery, Feud: Bette and Joan, Godless, Big Mouth, Liar, Dear White People, and I Love Dick. Only so many hours in the year.

Shows people ask me about, that I’m not into: The Crown (not my cup of tea), Narcos (not my eight ball of cocaine), House of Cards (yuck), The Walking Dead (double yuck).

Biggest disappointment: The new season of Top of the Lake (my favorite show of 2013) was a pretty big letdown. I was also pretty disappointed by Hooten and the Lady which featured my kind of premise (bickering treasure hunters roam the globe and get into scrapes) and two appealing leads but was ultimately bogged down by its shitty writing.

Worst show of 2018: Watched a lot of bad pilots from the broadcast networks this year, but the worst by far was Wisdom of the Crowd, a show about the awesome power of online lynch mobs. I haven’t seen Young Sheldon yet though.

Victory at BAHFest

I recently had the good fortune of participating in the Bad Ad-Hoc Hypothesis Festival or “BAHFest”. It’s sort of a humorous take on scientific conferences . . . actually I’ll let the organizers explain it:

“The Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses (BAHFest) is a celebration of well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect scientific theories. Six speakers take the stage and present their theories to an illustrious panel of judges in front of a packed house.”

Basically you go up and make a short presentation that uses science in a humorous way. I got into it because I’m a big fan of a webcomic called Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal whose author co-founded BAHFest with his wife, a professional scientist.

To my delight, I won! Got a nice little trophy to take home with a statue of chemist Hennig Brand boiling his own urine to make phosphorus.

The organizers are supposed to post a video of my winning presentation but they’re taking their time about it. In the meantime if you want to see my presentation,  there’s a recorded livestream of the event, start watching at about the 13 minute mark. Or watch the whole thing, the other presentations are great too!

My favorite films of 2016

A friend recently asked me whether my annual lists were meant to be what I thought were the best films of the year or the most entertaining films of the year. This is a tough question – those certainly aren’t the same thing, for those of us who believe that films can do more than entertain us for a few hours. There are certainly movies that I had fun seeing this year but didn’t really think very highly of (like Rogue One) and other movies that I admired deeply on a filmmaking level but at the same time left me feeling cold or a little bored (like Jackie). Ultimately I think that to make my list, a film has to connect with me on an emotional level. Some of the movies on my list aren’t movies that I’m anxious to rewatch (like Manchester by the Sea) but they provoked a strong emotional reaction when I saw them or made me rethink some of the ways in which I view the world. Others are on there because they’re just an amazing way to spend a couple hours at the theater.

On to the list! Usual disclaimer: I’m not a real film critic or even that knowledgeable so no one should take my opinions too seriously. This is just for fun.

  1. La La Land. Hate to jump on the bandwagon here (I assume it will win a bunch of Oscars – the Oscars love movies about Hollywood) and I do agree with many of the criticisms against it. This isn’t a perfect movie by any means, but I swear it was cooked up in a lab by someone with a list of Tim Crockett’s favorite things in movies. I love musicals, I love bright colorful visuals, I love romances where the two leads bicker and trade insults before falling in love. The writing was a tad thin but I can’t think of another movie this year that made me want to turn right around and watch it again. I especially want to call out that perfect ending – I know some people didn’t like it, but I thought it was the just-right bittersweet coda to a movie about dreams and wish fulfillment.
  2. Moonlight. The most critically acclaimed movie of the year was a master class in creating empathy via flawless camerawork and moving performances. Like La La Land, it’s another movie that really won me over in the last ten minutes.
  3. Hunt for the Wilderpeople. This film about an orphan boy that goes to live with new foster parents in rural New Zealand and ends up being the target of a national manhunt was one of the warmest, funniest, things I’ve seen all year. This is my answer when anyone asked me to recommend a movie this year – I can’t imagine anyone I know not enjoying it.
  4. Hell or High Water. The rare crime film that creates sympathy for characters on both sides of the law, this modern Western features one of the best Jeff Bridges performances of all time (and that’s a high bar). Between this and Nocturnal Animals, this was quite the year for the “Western noir”.
  5. The Nice GuysShane Black is a competent action director and a superlative action-comedy writer (I’m actually going to go on record to say I prefer his script for The Last Boy Scout over his script for Lethal Weapon). We need more funny, entertaining action movies like this. In my dream fantasy, this movie made Deadpool money and spawned dozens of imitators.
  6. The Lobster. I’ve been accused of having a dry sense of humor, but this bizarre, perceptive film is the ultimate in deadpan humor. I want more people I know to see this so we can talk about what it’s saying about modern romance.
  7. Love and Friendship. Pairing Whit Stillman with source material from Jane Austen seems like a match made in heaven. This film is funny, and brilliant. It’s Pride and Prejudice but with Austen’s latent cynicism cranked up to eleven.
  8. Manchester by the Sea. Unlike a lot of the big prestige dramas, this film manages to depict great character emotion  without big speeches or actors making Oscar-ready emotional outbursts. The actors show their grief in their posture and their faces and the timbre of their voices when they’re arguing about things like where they parked the car.
  9. Kubo and the Two Strings. This was a great year for animated family films. This narrowly edges out Moana and Zootopia as my favorite, although either of those other two could have been on this list (I haven’t seen Finding Dory). Kubo wins maybe because it feels less like corporate product and more like a labor of love. Also, with apologies to La La Land, Sing Street, and Moana – this movie has my favorite song of the year – Regina Spektor’s cover of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.
  10. Green Room. Great suspense but tough to watch if you have a phobia of dogs. Actually the year’s other great thriller, Don’t Breathe, also had a couple dog scenes that had me nearly pissing myself. Now I know what shark-phobics felt like when Jaws came out.

The next five: Moana, Arrival, The Witch, Silence, Hail Caesar

What a great year for superhero movies! Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, Doctor Strange

What a terrible year for superhero movies! Batman vs. Superman: Something of Something, X:Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad

Who needs a decent script when you look this good? Jackie, High Rise, Nocturnal Animals, The Neon Demon

Sleeper pick: My favorite movie that didn’t make any professional critic’s end-of-year list was the British supernatural romance Nina Forever. See it if you like your relationship dramas extra-bloody.

More stuff I’d recommend: Loving, The Fits, Sing Street, Zootopia, Midnight Special, The Invitation, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Cemetery of Splendor, Don’t Think Twice, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Jungle Book, The Mermaid, Don’t Breathe, Hidden Figuresthe first half of Passengers, Sully

Worst of the year: Suicide Squad

Potential top-ten films I still need to catch up with: Paterson, Elle, The Handmaiden, American Honey, 20th Century Women, Lion, A Monster Calls, The Edge of Seventeen, The Red Turtle, Aquarius, Finding Dory

My favorite TV of 2016

Time for me to round up another year in television! Many of my friends use their spare time to run marathons or flip houses or play with their kids or other dumb shit like that. Being a serious person, I sacrifice my free time to watch hundreds of hours of TV each year so that I can provide recommendations to the 10 or so people who care enough to read this (hi Mom). It’s a difficult calling but we all have to develop our natural talents and I’ve always been amazing at sitting on a couch and working the remote. I wouldn’t call myself the Michael Phelps of TV watching, but I wouldn’t blame you if you did.

I can’t help but feel like 2016 was a bit of a dip in quality (although certainly not in quantity). It might be because five of my 2015 Top Ten did not air new episodes this year – either because they ended (Mad Men, Justified) or took a year off (The Leftovers, Rick and Morty, Fargo). There were a couple great new shows but not enough to fill those holes, and some shows moved up in the rankings not because I liked them more but just because spots opened up above them. Still though – lots of amazing shows if you know where to look.

  1.  The Americans. After two years at the #2 slot, “The ‘Cans” (as I call it) took advantage of the Leftovers hiatus to claim the top spot as Tim’s Favorite Show of 2016. I have my quibbles with this season (too much EST, not enough of my favorite character) but this show continues to nail the perfect blend of spy and family drama. Best news – we’re getting two more seasons and a definite end date for the writers to work toward. As other fans of the show have joked on Twitter – presumably the series will end with Philip and Elizabeth rigging the 2016 election.
  2. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I love musicals, and LOVE the idea of a great hour-long comedy with 2-3 musical numbers (a mixture of Broadway type numbers and pop song parodies) in each episode. Rachel Bloom is a fantastic performer and writes hilarious songs that both work within the show and are great to listen to on their own (here’s my all-time favorite, but you can lose hours playing songs from this show on YouTube). Please watch it (Fridays on the CW) because it really needs the ratings.
  3. Bojack Horseman. Another show that moved up in my rankings due to some spots opening up. It continues to execute much better on the dramatic side than you would expect from an animated show with talking animals. I want to highlight the standout performance of Paul F. Tompkins as Mr. Peanutbutter, who is both the funniest character and often the wisest.
  4. Greatest TV villain of the year?

    Atlanta. My favorite new show of 2016 was a show about a guy named Earn (Donald Glover from Community, who is also Atlanta‘s creator and head writer) trying to make it in the music business by managing his cousin’s rap career. The standout episode in my mind was “Value” which followed a day in the life of Earn’s sometime girlfriend Van as she tried to pass a drug test at work. Possibly my favorite episode of television in 2016.

  5. Better Call Saul. I’m not sure if this show had a radical improvement from season 1 to season 2, or if I was just feeling its vibe better. Maybe my general distaste for spin-offs led me to be unreasonably hostile to it in season 1. Whatever the reason – I fully acknowledge now that BCS is one of the best shows out there and stands alone from its Breaking Bad heritage.
  6. Silicon Valley. I consulted the Conjoined Triangles of Success and determined that yes – Silicon Valley is still one of the best shows out there and required viewing for people who work in tech. I’m starting to wonder though how long the writers can keep these characters in the position of “scrappy upstart” before it becomes too unbelievable. Every time they’re up – some crazy thing happens to bring them back down! And vice versa.
  7. Happy Valley. A very different “valley” indeed. Season two of this British crime drama wasn’t quite as good as the first, but still excellent. I thought it had maybe one two many plotlines for a six hour season, but that’s small potatoes next to the towering performance given by Sarah Lancashire as a police sergeant whose essential goodness often goes unrewarded.
  8. The Girlfriend Experience. Another great new show – this takes the premise of Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film-of-the-same-name and applies it to a very different character. The writing on the show wasn’t top-10 caliber, but I want to call out the ultra-stylish direction (from co-creators Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan) that really drives home how same-looking most other television is these days. The careful framing of shots shows how the characters are boxed-in by their surroundings.
  9. Veep. The political satire of Veep hit extra hard this year (maybe the last year any of us can joke about politics?), and not just because of the parallels between the presidential election in the show and the real one. Every time the interplay between the core cast gets a little stale, the show throws in an amazing guest star to shake things up. Special commendation to Sam Richardson as Richard Splett who went from a bit background player to one of the series’ MVPs.
  10. Mr. Robot. Another show, like Girlfriend Experience, that overcomes some story problems with wonderfully inventive and interesting direction and production design. The first season ended on a world-changing event, and I fully expected the writers to walk it back in the second season, maybe showing that the event wasn’t as thunderous as was previously implied. Instead they did a commendable job in imagining the consequences and the parameters of the newly changed world.

Other shows I enjoyed, in no particular order: Sweet/Vicious, Stranger Things, The Night Of, The Good Place, You’re the Worst, Westworld, Fleabag, Game of Thrones, Black Mirror (really just “San Junipero” and “Hated in the Nation”), All the Way, The Night Manager, Orange is the New Black, Man Seeking Woman, Angie Tribeca, Thirteen, London Spy, Confirmation, The Path

Shows I like but haven’t had time to finishRectify, Insecure, The Crown, Difficult People, Search Party, Horace and Pete, One Mississippi, Luke Cage, Goliath, Lady Dynamite, Catastrophe, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Get Down, Broad City, Better Things, Togetherness, Quarry, No Tomorrow, Jane the Virgin, Casual, Outlander

Most disappointing: Vinyl, Preacher, Billions, Hap and Leonard, BrainDead, 11.22.63, Roadies

“Zoo” award for best bad show to watch and make fun of: Timeless

rap battle

My company (Caiman Consulting) has our Annual Meeting every year in a tropical location (we’re primarily on the west coast so either Mexico or Hawaii). This year we were on Waikiki Beach in Oahu. Anyway, part of the trip is a four hour mandatory meeting for employees to review the past year and talk about goals and changes for the next year. It can get a bit dull so part of my job (I decided) is coming up with something fun and/or weird to do in the middle of the meeting to wake people up. I’ve had some hits and misses over the years but usually manage to get some laughs and get people’s energy up for another two hours of talking business.

This year, my friend Mark Churchill (who runs the overall meeting) and I came up with a clever plan. Prior to the day of the meeting, we planted some seeds that he and I were feuding because he wouldn’t let me do a funny presentation. We had a couple arguments in front of our coworkers to sell the idea. Then when it came time, he started presenting a “funny” presentation with lame jokes – which I started booing. This led to a verbal confrontation which led to a full on Rap Battle!

If you don’t work for Caiman, you probably won’t get all the jokes, but you may find this enjoyable anyway. Here’s the link.

My favorite films of 2015

Ranking movies is a fool’s game. I make these silly lists, partly because it’s fun and partly because I like to compare my picks to those of film critics and other movie nerds. But how does one really decide where a movie “ranks” – especially when movies are so different from each other, trying to do so many different things? Ultimately this is all a very arbitrary process, and influenced by irrelevant factors like when a movie came out or what kind of mood I was in when I saw it. I’m always questioning myself – like “would I have ranked Timbuktu higher if I hadn’t watched it on an eight hour airplane trip with a toddler kicking the back of my seat the whole time?”.

That said, there’s something irresistible about making these lists. You should try it! Even if you only saw five movies this year, put ’em in order and save it on the ol’ hard drive. In twenty years you can look back and laugh at how shitty your taste was.

On to my list! Usual disclaimer: I have no idea what I’m doing and no one should take my opinions seriously. Click titles for trailers.

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road. I have zero nostalgia for the original Mad Max movies from the eighties (although I do like to quote “two men enter, one man leaves!” when hosting my local fight club). I generally hate GenX nostalgia and reboots in general. So I would not have believed you if you had told me a year ago that not only would a new Mad Max movie be the critical consensus for best film of the year but also my favorite film of the year as well. This was the perfect action movie: visual spectacle, amazing action sequences seamlessly blending practical effects and CGI, great humor, and powerful emotional moments. Unforgettable.
  2. Spotlight. This film about a team of journalists investigating sex abuse allegations in the Catholic church belongs to one of my favorite sub-genres of cinema: movies depicting competent professionals doing their jobs.  This movie could have gone big with the melodrama inherent in its subject matter, but instead chose to carefully parcel out the emotion in between riveting sequences showing how real journalism works and why its so important. Bizarrely, director Tom McCarthy also made one of the worst movies of the year – the Adam Sandler vehicle The Cobbler.
  3. Inside Out. I’m not normally a Pixar fan or a big enjoyer of children’s films in general. But I thought they knocked it out of the park with this revelatory exploration of human emotion. I’ve said before that I love films that make me feel something or make me think something – here’s a film that made me think about feeling and feel about thinking. RIP Bing Bong.
  4. The Martian. Here’s another one that tickles that part of my brain that loves watching competent people solve problems. The Martian is a film about problem-solving, a celebration of science and human ingenuity. It’s a wonderful antidote to the mysticism of movies like Interstellar and a reminder that we all have an amazing capacity to overcome adversity through determination and rationality.
  5. Spring. The films above are mainstays of critic top ten lists and will probably get at least some consideration at the Oscars. But I think I’m on my own with my love of Spring – a movie that no one has heard of and received zero votes in the Village Voice critics poll. It’s about an American guy travelling in Italy who falls in love with a beautiful girl who may or may not be some kind of alien or monster. It straddles the line between comedy, science fiction, and horror, while also being surprisingly romantic. I’m a sucker for a good love story, especially if it has a high body count.
  6. Sicario. This is a film that (for me at least) is about powerlessness – and the way violence tends to perpetuate itself despite the best intentions of well-meaning people. In some ways it’s the antithesis to The Martian but both films contain some truth. Sicario turns all of the “hero” tropes of movies like this and shows that in a chaotic world, sometimes being a hero doesn’t get you anywhere. Also, I’m a big Emily Blunt fan so her movies almost always get a ranking boost automatically.
  7. Steve Jobs. Many critics hated this but I’m a sucker for Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue (excepting The Newsroom). Danny Boyle is a director who I normally dislike, but here he seems like a good match for Sorkin’s acidic prose. The “three product launch” structure is genius, allowing the film to avoid the kind of biographical overload that makes most movies about real-life famous people feel like reading a long Wikipedia article. Plus you can’t stop the FASSBENDER.
  8. The Duke of Burgundy. Who knew the world needed a bedroom bondage drama about two lesbian lepidopterists, filmed in the style of 1970s European erotica? This movie feels like it came from some kind of parallel universe, but under its strange exterior it’s surprisingly relatable. Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship and struggled to please their partner will find something familiar in this movie. Love requires us to assume roles that may not always be . . . comfortable.
  9. Phoenix. It’s funny how sometimes you can be a little bored watching a movie and checking your phone and then one scene just knocks you so hard in the gut that you can’t even breathe.
  10. Magic Mike XXL. OK, I know that I’m going to take some shit over this one and have my sexuality questioned, but y’all have to trust me on this – Magic Mike XXL is terrific. It put a smile on my face that didn’t fade until the next day. You don’t have to like male strippers (if it helps, Amber Heard is crazy hot in this movie), you don’t have to like Channing Tatum, you don’t have to like the first Magic Mike (which was a very different type of movie). This is just a joyous celebration of performance, similar to Pitch Perfect or The Blues Brothers in its “put the band together and put on a show” kind of story. Put your squeamishness about the subject matter aside and just watch it.

The next five: Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, Clouds of Sils Maria, It Follows, Youth, Creed.

Deserving of the inevitable Oscar nominations: Carol, The Big Short, Room, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn.

Interesting indies: Maps to the Stars, Tangerine, ’71, Appropriate Behavior, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Beasts of No Nation, Faults, Experimenter, Ex Machina, The Voices.

Foreign finds: Timbuktu, Goodnight Mommy. (This is a tough category for me because I usually catch up with foreign films after the new year).

Competent comedies: What We Do in the Shadows, Spy, Trainwreck, Pitch Perfect 2.

Long live big budget franchise movies! Avengers: Something or Other, The Hunger Games: Something or Other, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Ant-Man, Mission Impossible: Something or Other, Fast & Furious 7.

Death to big budget franchise movies! Terminator: Something or Other, Jurassic World, Spectre, Tomorrowland, Star Wars: Something or Other (sorry everyone).

The western lives! The Hateful Eight, Slow West.

Bad but also kind of interesting: Child 44, Aloha, Blackhat, Jupiter Ascending, Focus.

Worst of 2015: Minions. OK, I haven’t actually seen Minions. But it has to be the worst, right?

I still need to see: Anomalisa, The Revenant, Joy, Son of Saul, 45 Years, Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Assassin, James White, Heaven Knows What, The Tribe, Court, a bunch of other stuff I’m probably blanking on.

My favorite TV of 2015

If it feels like there are more TV shows than ever before, it’s because there are. With over 400 scripted primetime shows airing this year between broadcast, cable, and streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu – we are certainly living in Peak TV in America. Even professional TV critics can’t keep up with the river of content, so amateurs like me with day jobs can only hope to dip our cup in.

By the way – many people see the crazy number of shows on my end-of-year lists (and there are a bunch of shows I watched that don’t even appear below) and assume that I have no life and never get up from my couch. This could not be farther from the truth! The trick is multi-tasking. I watch shows while working out (exercise bike in the living room), while working (second monitor in my office), while dating (bring TV to restaurant and set it up in front of date), while driving (TV mounted on hood of car),  and while sleeping (glue eyelids open and take six Ambien).

To the List!

  1. The Leftovers. My favorite show of 2014 is also my favorite show of 2015. HBO’s slow burn drama about people living in a world where 2% of the population mysteriously disappeared only got better this season, with a move to Texas and a slightly lighter tone (people who found season 1 too depressing have reported liking season 2 better). Last season the show’s best episodes were the ones that focused on a single character and told a complete story without jumping around to see what the other characters were doing. Season 2 doubles down on this approach by ensuring each episode focuses on one or two characters and keeps the focus for maximum emotional impact. With most other dramas madly hopping around between several characters and plotlines within each episode (looking at you, Game of Thrones), this focused approach is a breath of fresh air. It’s like each episode is a small, perfectly crafted movie.
  2. The Americans. Yep, my #2 pick is the same as last year too. I promise that subsequent picks will branch out a bit. Not much I can say here that I haven’t said in previous years. Coming in to this season I only had one complaint about this show – that they didn’t give us enough time with the “robot” (more like a motorized shopping cart) that delivers mail in the FBI office. Well, this season gave us a whole episode centered around the mail robot, so I guess the show is perfect now. The fact that neither Matthew Rhys nor Keri Russell have even been nominated for an Emmy should be the biggest issue of the 2016 presidential election.
  3. Mr. Robot. Speaking of robots, here’s the best new show of 2015. It does not feature any actual robots. What it does feature is gripping storylines, visually striking direction, and the most realistic depiction of computer hacking ever on television (sort of the TV equivalent of WarGames). This is the show I recommend to people who miss Breaking Bad, as the two shows capture a similar tension and narrative propulsion.
  4. Fargo. Season 2 of this midwest noir jettisoned the characters of season 1 and brought the action back to 1979. I took a while to warm up to it but by the end of the season I was just as enthralled as last season. Initially annoying characters (like the one played by Kirsten Dunst) were revealed to have surprising and interesting depth. Also, this is a very violent show, which is a plus for me.
  5. Rick and Morty. I missed the first season of this animated comedy about a mad scientist who drags his reluctant grandson on a series of traumatizing adventures, so I got to watch two seasons this year. The show is brilliantly hilarious, but also poignant and sad at times, like all my favorite comedies.
  6. Mad Men. To tell you the truth I was slightly disappointed here. We only got seven episodes in the final season (due to AMC’s desperate need to milk the series out) and I feel like we wasted a lot of time on another Don Draper road trip. Still – Mad Men is Mad Men. Peggy Olson roller skating around the empty Sterling Cooper office is my favorite image of the year.
  7. Silicon Valley. This show espouses a vital truth that I’ve learned in my career – that people in the tech industry are just as full of shit as everyone else. The second season improved on the first season both in comedic and dramatic terms, building on the characters and creating more suspense between episodes.
  8. Bojack Horseman. An animated Hollywood satire with talking animals seems like an odd place to explore the elusive nature of happiness, but Bojack delivered again this year. The highlight of the season was the game show episode (the show within a show is called “Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities – Do they Know Stuff? What Do They Know? Let’s Find Out!”) which was the funniest 30 minutes of TV all year, hands down.
  9. Justified. I left it out of the top 10 last year but the final season of one of my all-time favorite shows came roaring back with an electrifying final season featuring some heavy hitting guest star villains and a finale which brought the saga of Raylan Givens to a deeply satisfying conclusion.
  10. You’re the Worst. It may say something about my interests and personality that at least six of the shows on this list are explicitly about depression and/or other types of mental illness. Gretchen’s depression arc on You’re the Worst lent some gravity to one of the best “dramedies” on television.

The next five: Better Call Saul, Man Seeking Woman, Parks and Recreation, iZombie, Show Me a Hero.

Other shows I enjoyed a lot, in no particular order: UnREAL (yes, I watched a whole season of a show on the Lifetime channel), The Good Wife, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Girls, Outlander, Game of Thrones, Veep, Togetherness, Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, Last Man on Earth, Deutschland ’83, True Detective (season 2 was a letdown but didn’t deserve the drubbing it received from critics), Orange is the New Black, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Fortitude, Catastrophe, The Brink, Homeland.

Shows I like but haven’t had time to finish: Master of None, The Expanse, The Man in the High Castle, Wolf Hall, Review, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin, Wet Hot American Summer, Moonbeam City, Survivor’s Remorse, The Returned, Casual, Transparent, Neon Joe: Werewolf Hunter, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Another Period, Rectify, Sense8, Narcos, Broad City. There’s never enough time.

Why did I watch an entire season of this: Zoo.

If you don’t see your favorite show here, it might be because I haven’t gotten around to watching it. Or maybe I hate it and I hate you for liking it! Hit me up on twitter (@timcrockett) to find out which.

Why I Hate Star Wars

(EDIT 12/29/15 – see bottom of this article for additional comments now that I’ve seen the movie)

Recently there was an article by Adam Rogers in Wired describing the Star Wars franchise plans currently being cooked up over in Disney-owned Lucasfilm. The article describes the “industrialization” of Star Wars and contains this sentence: “The company intends to put out a new Star Wars movie every year for as long as people will buy tickets.” Hearing this might elicit one of three responses:

A) A new Star Wars every year! I’m literally salivating with excitement.

B) *Shrug*. I don’t really care, it’s not my kind of movie.

C) This chills me to the very bone.

I’m firmly in Group C. And if you care about movies, you should be too.

Let’s be clear – I have no problems with the original Star Wars trilogy. I loved them as a kid, and still enjoy them today. I even like the prequel trilogy. And I will probably go see the new movies when they come out (at least for a while – by 2020 I may be suffering from lightsaber fatigue). The new Episode VII: The Force Something-or-Other will probably be competent and entertaining, like most films from director JJ Abrams. I doubt it will be groundbreaking or awe-inspiring, but it won’t be Transformers.

My beef is not with Star Wars the movie, or Star Wars the series of movies. What draws my ire is Star Wars, the Beast That Ate Pop Culture.

Even under normal circumstances, Star Wars is pretty ubiquitous. It accounts for 60% of internet humor, 47% of Halloween costumes, 32% of humorous bumper stickers, 71% of toys, 49% of video games, and 92% of science fiction book sales. I made those numbers up, but admit it – they seem reasonable. Now that we’re a month away from the first new Star Wars film in a decade, the whole culture has gone into full Star Wars mode. I recently opened up ThinkGeek to do some nerdy holiday shopping and found to my dismay that they apparently only sell Star Wars paraphernalia now. Most of the movie or sci-fi related sites in my RSS feed have been shoving Star Wars news down my throat at an insane rate for a year. Every day there is a new scene, or a new trailer, or a new Mark Hamill quote, or a new piece of news about which actor or director is now attached to Episode XXIV or whatever. You can escape Star Wars mania by avoiding pop culture altogether, but if you want to hear more about the next Coen Brothers movie, you’re going to have to wade through 600 articles about Episode VII before you find what you’re looking for.

The movie Clerks came out in 1994 and featured a scene where two characters have an ethical debate about Return of the Jedi. When I saw this as a teenager, it blew my mind. Here are two normal, not-too-nerdy guys talking about science fiction like other guys talked about football. Just like my friends and I did! I think a lot of adults today can remember back to when we were teenagers and sci-fi/fantasy/comics/etc were our things, the interests that set us apart from other kids at school.

But it’s not 1994 anymore – it’s 2015, and now everyone talks about Star Wars. Kids grow up on it, sci-fi is mainstream and no longer the domain of a few kids hanging out in the AV room after class. Which is great – I have no problem with something I like becoming popular. I’m not trying to sound like some hipster who’s upset because a band I like went mainstream.

Star Wars didn’t just go mainstream, it metamorphized into a lumbering giant shitting out product after product all over the pop cultural landscape. We haven’t gotten a new movie in a while but we’ve gotten a cornucopia of books, video games, comics, animated series, toys, and even sleeping bags. I don’t understand how people who are excited about the upcoming movie aren’t sick to death of lightsabers, Jedi, droids, X-Wings, etc. The iconic John Williams music is great, but when you’ve heard it literally thousands of times in your life, doesn’t it get old?

I highly recommend Mark Harris’s article last year in Grantland where he talks about Hollywood’s “toxic addiction to franchises”. He mostly takes aim at Marvel but the same criticisms could be leveled at Star Wars as well. Essentially, the major film studios are only willing to spend major cash on a film if it can be commodified and turned into a recurring franchise. Many film critics have bemoaned the death of the “mid-budget” film – small, low-budget films can still get funding, giant blockbusters can still get funding, but everything in the middle is toast. If you want $100 million for a movie that isn’t part of a franchise – your last name better be Spielberg or Scorsese.

Obviously, great films still get made. Even great non-franchise science fiction gets made – in recent years we’ve gotten terrific big budget standalones like Oblivion, Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, The World’s End, Interstellar, Gravity, and The Martian in addition to great indies like Attack the Block, Snowpiercer, Ex Machina, Coherence, and Primer. A couple of those films even made a lot of money. But as Harris points out, “the evidence that good movies survive…is a bit like saying that climate change is a hoax because it’s nice out today.” No one expects to see franchises crush non-franchise moviemaking entirely, but we don’t have visibility on all the movies that don’t get made because some studio exec vetoed a pitch due to a lack of franchise potential.

And, as Shakespeare said, “the fault is not in our Star Wars but in ourselves”. You can’t blame Hollywood – they’re just making the stuff we want to buy. Disney is funneling all of their cash into Marvel and Lucasfilm because fans have voted with their wallets and their feet and their tweets. As a culture we have collectively decided that what we want is more of the same: more Star Wars, more Avengers, more Batman, more Ghostbusters, more Indiana Jones, more of all the stuff that we already know we like. Great movies like Edge of Tomorrow eat dust at the box office because people don’t know what to expect – it doesn’t have the safety of an existing property.

I often hear people bemoaning all of the sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes flooding theaters these days. But the same people who will roll their eyes when they hear about a new Robocop reboot or a new take on The Smurfs will drool over every morsel of news regarding Star Wars. Many reboots fail, but the box office for Jurassic World shows that if you tap into the right vein of nostalgia, it doesn’t matter how mediocre your movie is.

Science fiction fandom should be about celebrating the huge diversity of the genre, the incredible originality, the blossoming of a thousand new ideas all the time. Instead, conversation inevitably leads back to the same old franchises: Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings. Personally I would rather watch and discuss misfires with originality (like Elysium or Jupiter Ascending – movies that are bad but at least trying something a little different) than the next franchise movie. It seems like what most people want is small variations on things they already know they like. They want to go to the theater and know, before they get there, exactly what they’ll be getting.

When Star Wars came out, it represented something new and original. The trilogy resonated with people because it felt unique and daring and outsider-y. In 2015, Star Wars represents commodification, corporatization, and conformity. It’s the output of a moviemaking process that starts with marketing and works backwards to a script. The new movies might be good, or they might be crap. But what they definitely will be is safe. They won’t challenge us or our view of the world, and they won’t take the kind of risks that produce truly great films. Because Disney isn’t going to take any chances with their $10 billion dollar franchise.

Addendum 12/29/15 – I’ve now seen The Force Awakens and it was more or less what I expected. I liked the new actors and there were some fun action scenes, but the movie as a whole seems to be entirely playing off nostalgia. It assumes that Star Wars fans want to be coddled with lots of stuff that they’ve already seen before, and based off the box office it appears that it assumes correctly. Other writers have done much better than I could in describing how much this movie steals from the original. In addition to the constant recycling of moments from the original trilogy, I was also annoyed by the thin plotting and the lack of world-building. I was hoping for a decent explanation of the political situation – if I have to go home and Google “difference between Republic and Resistance in Force Awakens” then there’s been a screenwriting failure.

Look, I don’t expect (or want) a Star Wars movie to be Citizen Kane. But as seen by other big-budget action movies this year like Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s possible to do a big fun adventure movie while still having a plot that feels original and unfolds organically. I think the best comparison to The Force Awakens is last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, another franchise installment about a group of misfits having adventures in space. Guardians is better than The Force Awakens in every way – it has better characters (and better character arcs), more originality, funnier jokes, better serious moments, and a far more emotionally moving climax. The only thing it doesn’t have is lightsabers, TIE fighters, and a John Williams score designed to return us all to our eight-year old selves watching A New Hope for the first time. The real question will be if the nostalgia mining will be enough to sustain fan interest in 2019 when we’re watching the fifth new Star Wars movie in five years.

My favorite films of 2014

I’ve been called “cynical” a few times in my life (actually I think technically the word used was “asshole”). I couldn’t possibly comment on my own disposition, but I’ll admit that when it comes to movies, I have a definite love in my heart for the cynical, the bitter, the unsentimental in filmmaking. Especially when it comes to the endings of movies. There are just so many Hollywood endings out there giving us the emotional catharsis that we crave: punishment for the bad guys, hope and redemption for the good guys. Sometimes I worry that American audiences are too used to that immediate emotional gratification they’re used to getting at the end of a film. So it fills me with hope,  ironically, to see something as dark and cynical as Gone Girl do well at the box office.

That’s not to say that I don’t like happy endings – there are certainly some uplifting and sentimental endings in my top 10. But happy endings are best when filmmakers show the cost of a happy ending – what price the protagonists had to pay to get where they needed to be. That’s why I’m so enamored of a film like Selma, which portrays MLK as a great man staggering under the human cost of his victories. Or an ending like that of Birdman, where the main character both literally and figuratively gives up a piece of himself in pursuit of his art.

Wow, this is getting pretentious – on to the top 10! Usual disclaimer: I am purely an amateur film critic (and not a particular good one) so don’t take any of this too seriously.

  1. Whiplash. One of my favorite films of all time is Amadeus (thirty years old this year!). Whiplash reminded me a lot of Amadeus in exploring how creating great music can exact a terrible toll. This movie is about a young jazz drummer who suffers at the hands of a sadistic music teacher. The film gradually forces us to ask ourselves whether the abuse this kid endures is actually exactly what he needs to become the musician that he desperately wants to be. Terrific film all around and unquestionably my favorite of the year (last year I wavered on what #1 would be, this year it was no contest). I’m really hoping it picks up a Best Picture Oscar nomination this week.
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel. There’s a great video series called Every Frame a Painting. In the case of this movie, I think that sentence is literally true – there’s not a single shot of this movie that isn’t carefully composed and beautiful. The amount of work that Wes Anderson puts into each and every scene is staggering – I really could frame almost any shot and hang it on the wall (maybe not the one where Jeff Goldblum’s fingers get chopped off).
  3. Selma. This film wins the 12 Years a Slave award for “Most Essential Film of the Year” – meaning the movie that I wish every American would go out and see (runner-up: Citizenfour). But putting aside the historical importance, this is just a great human story and also a fascinating explication of how protest movements work.
  4. Nightcrawler. Remember when I said I like my movies with a healthy dose of cynicism? They don’t come more cynical than Nightcrawler. One reviewer called it a “dose of jet-black bile”. Although it sometimes feels like the best film of 1974 (does anyone even watch local news anymore?), it has a lot to say on the way in which our society rewards terrible people for indulging our fears and desires.
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy. No cynicism here – just good old-fashioned popcorn movie fun. I got in an argument a few months back over whether this was a better film than Interstellar. Interstellar is a more serious and ambitious film on every level, but I believe in judging movies on what they are trying to do – and GotG succeeds at what it’s trying to be (a rousing sci-fi comic book action comedy) far better than Interstellar succeeds at what it’s trying to be (too many things at once).
  6. Inherent Vice. I’ve tried to read like six of Thomas Pynchon’s books and this is the only one that I’ve actually finished. Paul Thomas Anderson predictably does a great job capturing the book’s mix of drug humor and melancholy. It’s basically like a stoner Chinatown.
  7. Gone Girl. Any literary adaptation is going to lose something from page-to-screen, and this is no exception. Compared to the book, I thought the movie did a worse job of humanizing the Amy character and exploring her motivations and character conflicts. That said, the movie gained something from the book – the intense perfectionist eye of David Fincher, a director who I’ve never been able to love but always admire.
  8. Birdman. This movie is pretentious as all get-out, and I intensely dislike the director’s earlier work (ugh, Babel). But it won me over on the strength of great performances and bravura cinematography (the whole film appears to be one long, unedited take). I like a good dose of surrealism, and will take the bizarre strangeness of a movie like Birdman over the low-key realism of a Boyhood any day.
  9. Wild. This verges on being too saccharine for me. It probably helps that I saw it on the same weekend as The Theory of Everything which is sentimental enough to make Wild look like Nightcrawler. The narrative where a character finds their true self in the outdoors is tired, but I really enjoyed the vibe of this movie and the way in which it crafted flashbacks that felt like real memories.
  10. Coherence. I love small, cerebral sci-fi movies. It’s hard to discuss this movie without spoiling it, but I highly recommend it for fans of thought provoking science fiction. Terrific cliffhanger ending as well.

Honorable Mentions: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (best superhero movie of the year), John Wick (best action movie of the year), Ida (best nun movie of the year)

More Honorable Mentions: Hmmmm. How about Muppets Most Wanted, Blue Ruin, Interstellar, Edge of Tomorrow, Snowpiercer, and Top Five

C’mon you got more honorable mentions than that: More?  OK, let’s see. Noah, Hunger Games: Something or Other, Veronica Mars, Boyhood, They Came Together, We Are the Best!

Still not enough honorable mentions. Goddamn it, fine. The Lego Movie, Cheap Thrills, X-Men: Whatever Whatever, Under the Skin, Proxy, The Imitation Game, Locke, Big Hero 6, The Guest

Worst of the Year: I, Frankenstein