My favorite NFL team, the Seattle Seahawks, are playing in the Super Bowl this Sunday. They are playing against the Denver Broncos, a team with many fans in my social circles. I hail from eastern Idaho which is farther from Denver than you’d think but still a hotbed of pro-Bronco sentiment since the local TV stations always show the Denver game if they have a choice. I know many, many Denver fans. As a “gambling man” (some might say a “degenerate”), I recognized this as a perfect storm of betting opportunity. Below I have enumerated the various Super Bowl bets I have placed with friends and family.
Bet with my friend Marcus: $50
Bet with my cousin Dave: $100 and a bottle of the winner’s favorite libation (In Dave’s case, Glenlivet 18 Year Scotch. In my case, Diet Pepsi)
Bet with my coworker Pradeep: $87.36 and the loser must wear the winning team’s jersey to work the next day.
Bet with Steve, manager of my local 7-11: If Steve wins, he gets free business consulting including process optimization, technology enablement, and IT services. If I win, I get free Big Gulps.
Bet with my friend Manuel: Loser must loudly tell all their friends and family members that they “just watch the Super Bowl for the commercials” and act as if they genuinely believe that they are the first person to ever say this.
Bet with my neighbor Angie: Loser must post an unpopular political opinion on Facebook (example – “The only way to solve our obesity epidemic is to mandate liposuction for chubby babies”) and fully defend that position in the ensuing comment discussion, including answering every single comment, no matter how long the thread gets.
Bet with my cousin’s husband’s brother Brad: Loser must go see the film “I, Frankenstein” and write a six page essay (double space, normal sized font) reviewing the film and discussing it from the standpoint of postmodern deconstructionist theory.
Bet with my ex-girlfriend Rachel: Loser must lavishly praise the winner’s lovemaking abilities, to everyone, all the time, forever.
Bet with my pharmacist Gary: Winner gets naming rights to loser’s firstborn child.
Bet with my friend Aaron: Loser must film a sex tape and post it online. Both participants in said sex tape must be wearing uniform of winning team including helmet and pads. At the climax of said sex tape, loser must scream out either “BEAST MODE” (if I win) or “OMAHA” (if he wins).
Bet with my coworker Ted: Loser is required to give up on all his hopes and goals in life. Loser must accept that his best days are behind him, and it’s time to face the long, slow decline into old age and obscurity, never having accomplished all the things he dreamed of doing in his younger days. Loser must confront head-on the fact that the current daily grind is actually as good as it’s going to get. Winner gets to persist in the delusion that a better life is around the corner.
Every year I post this list and someone asks me how I have time to see so many movies. I’m something of a data nerd and I like to record data about my activities, which comes in handy for answering questions like this. In 2013, I watched 107 movies, of which 57 were 2013 releases and therefore eligible for the end of the year list. That’s basically one trip to the theater and one home rental a week. I’m sure that’s more than most people, but it doesn’t seem that crazy to me (especially because the theater is two blocks away). I may not have much of a social life, but it’s not because I watch too many movies (it’s actually because most people are intimidated by my good looks).
Usual disclaimer – I’m not much of a film critic and my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt. A grain of salt which, when viewed under a microscope, contains the inscription: “THIS ASSHOLE WOULDN’T KNOW A GOOD MOVIE IF IT HIT HIM IN THE FACE.”
Gravity. This movie is amazing. A supreme technical achievement, a sphincter-clenching thriller, a first-rate acting showcase, and possibly the first movie since Avatar that I thought was worth wearing those dipshit 3D glasses for. I’ll admit the story and script are a bit weak, but no film this year rivaled it for sheer spectacle. This movie went up and did not come down.
Her. When I heard the premise of this movie (“Joaquin Phoenix plays a sensitive man who falls in love with his computer’s operating system”) I had to suppress a gag reflex. This film is about a thousand times better than you would think based on the ridiculous-sounding plot. It was a really tough choice to pick between this and Gravity for the #1 spot.
Upstream Color. This is a small, independent film that few people saw (from the director of Primer, another fantastic, little-watched film). Like Her, it’s nominally science fiction but really at its core about relationships and their aftermath. It’s also incredibly weird (the main characters may or may not be psychically linked to two pigs), and you will definitely spend time on the internet afterward trying to figure out exactly what you just saw. Well worth your time!
Inside Llewyn Davis. I’m a nut for the Coen brothers and even though I consider this probably one of their lesser works, I’m unable to place it any lower than #4. There’s not much plot here, it’s a film focused on character and music and setting (Greenwich Village folk music scene in the 1960s). I’m not a fan of folk music but I enjoyed spending some time hanging out with a classic Coen character. Also a great movie for cat lovers.
Before Midnight. The third of Richard Linklater’s “Before” movies, this continues the story of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s decades long romance. I still think Before Sunset is the best of the three, but I love all three. Here’s hoping they make another one in nine years.
No. As a former political worker, I thoroughly enjoyed this Chilean film which explored the intersection of advertising and politics in the last days of the Pinochet regime. The movie is shot using the VHS cameras of the time, so it really has the feeling of watching history.
The World’s End. Edgar Wright’s conclusion to his “Cornetto Trilogy” (begun with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) is hilarious, but also the most poignant and sad of his films. Completely relatable for any of us who feel like we maybe haven’t grown up enough since leaving high school.
American Hustle. This movie was very well done, very funny, very sly. I can’t escape the feeling, though, that it’s just a bit slight. There’s not as much going on under the surface as there are in the other films on this list. I think it made it on the list just because of Louis CK as the FBI middle manager.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I’m a little embarrassed to have this on the list but I honestly love this movie. I thought it was far better than the first Hunger Games movie and had a lot going for it. It’s a fun adventure but also a trenchant political film. Jennifer Lawrence glaring at the camera in the final scene may by my favorite scene of the year.
Oblivion. This is my “most underrated” film. I love science fiction, especially ORIGINAL science fiction, based on a new idea and not just pumping some moribund franchise for more money (*cough* Star Trek *cough*). Critics didn’t love it but I found this to be surprisingly well made. Great action setpieces, thought provoking ideas, and gorgeous cinematography. Don’t worry, I still hate Tom Cruise.
Honorable Mentions: Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Drug War, Frances Ha, Frozen, Stories We Tell, The East, Computer Chess, Side Effects, Iron Man 3, Stoker, and, oh fuck it, Pacific Rim
Most Essential Film of the Year: 12 Years a Slave. I struggled with where to put this one on the list, as I have very mixed emotions about it. This is a great film, perhaps the best of the year. I hated watching it. Every American should see this movie (especially politicians who compare our national debt problem to slavery). I never want to watch it again. This movie is rich and complex and important and really really brutal and horrifying. I’m glad I saw it, but at the end of the day, I’m not a fan of horror films. This movie teeters on the edge between historical document and torture porn. Ultimately I couldn’t call it one of my “favorite” films so I had to make up a category for it.
Disqualified for Moral Reasons: The Wolf of Wall Street. There was so much to love here. It was funny as hell, the dialogue and acting were fantastic, the cinematography daring and who couldn’t love the Quaalude scene. But I can’t condone a movie that’s just going to help create another generation of Wall Street assholes. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio insist that this movie is a critique of the lifestyle depicted in the film, but when you watch the movie it feels more like a celebration. The character DiCaprio plays is a real life guy, Jordan Belfort, who was inspired by Gordon Gekko from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. Wall Street is far more critical of Wall Street than The Wolf of Wall Street, yet dickwads like Belfort still revere Gordon Gekko as a hero. Imagine how many finance douches will be quoting from Wolf for the next thirty years. I can’t be a part of it.
Biggest Disappointments:A Good Day to Die Hard, Elysium.
I thought this was an incredible year for television – a lot of my favorite shows came back strong and some great new series popped up in some unexpected places (e.g. Netflix, the Sundance Channel). This year I had to install a workout bike in front of my TV so I could have time to watch all the shows I wanted and also exercise have something to hang clothes on.
Usual disclaimer: I make no pretense of being even an amateur critic, I just like TV/movies and I like making lists of things. If you think my choices are ridiculous, you are probably right. Also, I didn’t rate non-scripted TV (it’s apples and oranges to compare these shows to something like The Daily Show).
Top of the Lake. As much as it pains me to move the final season of Breaking Bad to number two, no show in 2013 stuck with me like this Sundance Channel miniseries created by director Jane Campion. Mad Men‘s Elizabeth Moss plays a detective who returns to her New Zealand hometown and becomes involved in the case of a missing girl. The show is an absolutely gut-wrenching look at the long-term effects of sexual violence. I also commend this show for being what so few shows dare to be these days – a one-shot miniseries with no plans to go additional seasons. At six hours, it’s the perfect length for the story it wants to tell.
Breaking Bad. It was amazing how popular this show got in its final season – it seemed like everyone I know either watched it this season or was rushing to catch up. While the snobby hipster part of my brain may be disappointed (“I liked this show before it was cool!”), I’m very glad that this show finally got the cultural attention it has always deserved. This was an incredible season of television and the perfect capstone to one of the greatest series of all time. In the same way that people remember where they were during major world events, I’ll always remember where I was when I watched “Ozymandias” (my parents’ weekend condo in Driggs, Idaho). That episode was like getting punched repeatedly in the stomach, but in a good way.
Orange is the New Black. I almost didn’t watch this women’s prison show because of the stupid title and because it was a Netflix Original (House of Cards was decent but disappointing – it felt like the show Netflix’s computers wanted to make rather than an actual person’s artistic vision). Anyway – OITNB. It’s both moving and hilarious, and justifies a one-month Netflix subscription by itself. If you’re on the fence about whether to watch this show, consider these actual episode titles from this season: “Tit Punch”, “Lesbian Request Denied”, “Fucksgiving”.
Mad Men. Sometimes I feel like Mad Men is getting too repetitive – the Don Draper arc this season felt very much like a retread of Don Draper storylines we’ve seen before. That said, this is still a terrific show and created some interesting new situations for some of my favorite characters. Lots of good stuff this season for Peggy, Sally, and Pete (not enough Joan or Roger though in my humble opinion). Plus the episode where everyone was running around high on amphetamines.
The Good Wife. I’ve always enjoyed this show but 2012 was a down year and as of this time last year I considered this an above-average show that had maybe been on the air too long. Then The Good Wife ripped off a string of great episodes to end season four, and season five so far has been even better, as the law firm at the center of the show has erupted in civil war. At this point I’m ready to declare this the greatest lawyer show ever (sorry, L.A. Law). This show has a particular genius with guest casting – they have a way of finding great actors to play clients, judges, or opposing lawyers and investing them with more character than you usually see in people who show up for one or two episodes.
The Americans. This Cold War spy drama was one of the best new shows of the year. I loved that even in the midst of the complicated spy games, the show took time to show the complications of the main characters’ marriage and by the end of the season, I was as invested as to whether or not they would stay together as I was to whether they would get caught by the FBI.
Orphan Black. This little Canadian sci-fi cloning caper quickly became one of my favorite shows of the year on the strength of Tatiana Maslany’s amazing performance (playing several different characters), a terrific sense of humor, and approximately 35 thunderous plot twists per episodes. This show burned through more plot in a season than some shows do in six, and yet the writers were able to maintain the breakneck pace without falling on their face.
Game of Thrones. Worth watching this season just to enjoy the internet have a collective panic attack in the wake of the Red Wedding. I thought this was the strongest season of GoT yet and featured the best fight of the year between a one-armed man and a bear.
Girls. Not sure I liked this season as much as I liked the first one, but still a very original show with vivid characters and a true-to-life vibe. I especially enjoyed the Patrick Wilson episode that a lot of other people seemed to dislike.
Bunheads. RIP Bunheads, one of two shows in 2013 that I would put in the “Cancelled Too Soon” category (the other being the similarly delightful Family Tree). I tried to evangelize this one but it’s tough to convince my friends (most of whom are, like me, straight men) to watch a ballerina show.
Honorable Mentions:Justified, Hannibal, Broadchurch, Rectify, Masters of Sex, Boardwalk Empire, Family Tree, Parks and Recreation, Venture Bros., Archer, Veep, the last few episodes of Homeland.