My favorite TV of 2013

Walt and Hank up to wacky hijinks
Walt and Hank up to some wacky hijinks

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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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”.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

 

My favorite films of 2012

moonrise kingdom
Lots of good films to be spied this year.

The most irritating thing about making a year-end list of favorite movies is that so many of the top-releases (especially those considered “Oscar Bait”) are jammed out in the last month of the year, and if you miss them in theaters there’s no way to see them until spring. Zero Dark Thirty is the film critics’ consensus film of the year, but it’s only open in NY/LA right now and won’t even come out here until Jan. 11th. It’s irritating to read a bunch of critics’ top ten lists and see several movies that I couldn’t even see now if I wanted to.

Anyway, it was a good year for movies! Here is my list. Usual disclaimer – I’m not much of a film critic (not even much of an amateur film critic) so don’t take my opinions too seriously or anything. These are just the movies that tickled my fancy.

  1. Moonrise Kingdom. I run hot and cold on Wes Anderson so when I heard that this was his “most Wes Anderson-y” film I prepared to dislike it. Instead it was both the funniest comedy and the most heartfelt romance on screen this year. I love Anderson’s visual sense of humor – his ability to tell jokes just by juxtaposing things in the frame. Key Ingredient: Bill Murray.
  2. Life of Pi.  Another one I thought I wouldn’t like. Perhaps low expectations are the key to maximum enjoyment? This film was incredibly lush and beautiful, especially in 3D. I’m not ashamed to say I cried a little at the end. Key Ingredient: tigers.
  3. The Master. Don’t ask me to explain the themes or symbolism of this movie. I found it beautiful but frustratingly opaque and I still don’t think I understand it very well. But I saw it twice in the theater and couldn’t get it out of my head for several weeks – a mark of a great film, no? Key Ingredient: moonshine liquor made out of boat fuel.
  4. Haywire. Those first three are at the top of a lot of peoples’ lists, but I feel like I may be alone with this one. But I love a well-made action movie and Steven Soderbergh made a great one with MMA star Gina Carano. The AV Club review of this movie called it a “delivery system for ass-kickings” but I think it was more than that. Great camera work, well-told story, and a few hilarious surprises. Key Ingredient: watch out for that moose!
  5. The Avengers. Another one that’s not exactly Citizen Kane, but I try to grade movies according to what they are trying to accomplish. Joss Whedon set out to make a smart, funny, tremendously entertaining superhero movie and he nailed it. It’s amazing how characters that annoyed me in previous films (Thor, Captain America) took on new life with better writing. Key Ingredient: HULK SMASH.
  6. Sound of Noise. I watched a fair number of foreign films but this was the only one to crack my top 10. It’s a Swedish film about a tone-deaf cop trying to catch a group of anarchist musicians. A must-see for drum players or fans of “Stomp”. Key Ingredient: metronomes.
  7. Lincoln. Spielberg, Day-Day Lewis, it was exactly what we thought it would be. I found it a little drab but it was too well-constructed not to make the list. Who knew parliamentary procedure could be so thrilling? Key Ingredient: “harrumph”s from the gallery.
  8. The Cabin in the Woods. Clever premise, unpredictable plot twists, and a veritable plethora of great monster effects. If you change the ending, it would make a great pilot for a TV show. Horror films have been deconstructed before but never as cleverly as this. Key Ingredient: hot girl making out with taxidermied wolf head.
  9. Looper. One of my favorite movies of all time is 2005’s Brick, which was also directed by Rian Johnson and also starred Joseph Gordon Levitt. So I was pumped for this movie. While not as good as Brick, this twisty time travel tale was both thought-provoking and a lot of fun. It reminded me a lot of another favorite of mine, 12 Monkeys. Key Ingredient: Evil Jeff Daniels.
  10. Premium Rush. Third movie featuring JGL in my list (with one more in the Honorables). What a year for the little kid from Third Rock from the Sun. This is another movie that scores high marks for being terrific genre entertainment. It’s a fast-paced chase movie about bike messengers featuring great bike stunts and a deranged villain performance from Michael Shannon worthy of Nicolas Cage. I was on the edge of my seat. Key Ingredient: fixed gears.

Honorable Mentions: Cloud Atlas, Silver Linings Playbook, Damsels in Distress, Goon, The Dark Knight Rises

I Also Enjoyed: The Loneliest Planet, Ted, Django Unchained, Lockout, Casa de Mi Padre, Bernie, Dark Shadows, Seven Psychopaths, Argo, Safety Not Guaranteed, Seven Psychopaths, Wanderlust, Flight, Magic Mike, Skyfall, Oslo August 31st, Sound of My Voice, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Sleepwalk With Me, Chronicle, John Carter, 21 Jump Street, The Hunger Games, Beasts of the Southern Wild, parts of Prometheus

Meh: The Hobbit: Something Something Something, Men in Black 3, Brave, Savages, The Deep Blue Sea, The Bourne Legacy, Miss Bala, The Campaign, other parts of Prometheus

Bleh: Safe House, One for the Money, Amazing Spider-Man, Total Recall

Worst Movie I Saw This Year: Snow White and the Huntsman

That’s literally every 2012 release that I watched this year. There’s a lot more films that I liked than ones I didn’t like. I think this is because I read reviews and try to avoid most movies that I won’t like. For instance I did not go see Twilight: Moons Over My Hammy: Part 4 or Tyler Perry’s Madea Said What Now?. Then again I did go see Total Recall so obviously I’m not perfect.

Still to be seen: Zero Dark Thirty, Elena, Ruby Sparks, Killer Joe, Cosmopolis, Compliance, For a Good Time Call, Arbitrage, Smashed, Berberian Sound Studio, Holy Motors, Wreck-it-Ralph, The Man with the Iron Fists, Anna Karenina, Killing Them Softly, Deadfall, Les Miserables, Save the Date, Amour, This is 40, Barbara

Morocco trip

I just got back from two weeks in Morocco (plus a few extra days in southern Spain) with my friends Chris Cook and Chris Bradbury. I’m not sure I’m going to write anything up about it like the South America trip, but if you want to see the pictures they are on Picasa.

Better late than never? Top TV and Movie lists

Gus Fring
Gus Fring!

I recently realized that I completely forgot to post my top 10 movie and TV lists back in January. Well I doubt anyone is reading this anyway, but just for posterity here they are, devoid of the usual commentary because hey, it’s almost April.

Best TV of 2011

1. Breaking Bad
2. Justified
3. Community
4. Archer
5. Fringe
6. Game of Thrones
7. Parks and Recreation
8. The Good Wife
9. Louie
10. Boardwalk Empire

Honorable Mentions – Daily Show, Jeopardy!, Revenge, Lights Out, Portlandia, Happy Endings, Childrens Hospital, NTSF:SD:SUV, Sons of Anarchy

Best Films of 2011

  1. The Descendants
  2. Drive
  3. Young Adult
  4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  5. Fast Five
  6. Attack the Block
  7. Midnight in Paris
  8. Martha Marcy May Marlene
  9. Tree of Life
  10. Hanna

Honorables: X-Men First Class, Bridesmaids, The Artist, The Debt, Moneyball, Harry Potter and the whatever whatever, Bad Teacher, Hugo, Mission Impossible: Ghost Hunters, Tabloid, Dragon with the Girl Tattoo, Source Code, Rango

Best Documentaries: Tabloid, Beats Rhymes and Life

My favorite albums of 2011

Just use capital letters like a normal person, Merrill.

Here’s my totally unqualified, completely arbitrary top 10 lists of my favorite albums of the year. Enjoy!

 

  1. Tune-Yards, Whokill (I know it’s supposed to be “tUnE-yArDs” but I feel stupid typing it that way.)
  2. Wye Oak, Civilian
  3. TV on the Radio, Nine Types of Light
  4. Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes
  5. P.J. Harvey, Let England Shake
  6. Bon Iver, Bon Iver
  7. Steve Earle, I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive
  8. The Black Lips, Arabia Mountain
  9. The Decemberists, The King is Dead
  10. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues

 

Honorables: The Weeknd, Jay-Z and Kanye, Wilco, the Roots, M83, Foster the People, Iron and Wine

 

Best Comedy Albums:

  • Amy Schumer, Cutting
  • Patton Oswalt, Finest Hour
  • Sklar Brothers, Hendersons and Daughters
  • Natasha Leggero, Coke Money
  • Tig Notaro, Good One

Fast Food Pizza!

Complete ingredients:
1 Domino’s X-Large “Brooklyn”-style pizza with sausage/mushroom
20 McDonalds Chicken McNuggets
1 Wendy’s Double Baconator
1 Wendy’s Large Fry
1 Taco Time Large Mexi-Fry
2 KFC Double Downs
Assorted shit from Taco Bell
3 bags of cheese from the grocery store (Taco Bell would not sell us a large bag of shredded cheese)

Inspired by: http://www.epicmealtime.com/

Samoas abroad

Follow-up to my Samoas post: I sent a couple boxes to a friend of mine, Patrick Lebow, who is stationed overseas and flies Predator drones for the US Air Force. He took a photo of a Predator with Samoas hanging out of the missile bays.

Terrorists beware!

Unlike my pictures from the previous post, this isn’t Photoshopped (the actual number of boxes I purchased was closer to 40 than to 1000).

One thousand boxes of Samoas!

a Samoa Girl Scout cookie
The greatest cookie ever?

When I was a kid, once a year my mother would find some Girl Scouts and order up several boxes of cookies. We’d get a couple boxes of tasty Thin Mints, some humdrum Tagalongs, and at least one box of the execreble Trefoils. Then there would be three boxes of the delicious, perfect-in-every-way Samoas (depending on what part of the country you live in, you may know them as “Caramel DeLites”). The problem was that Samoas were the favorite of my parents as well, and all three of us had a nasty habit of covert late-night binging. Since we all knew that the Samoas would be gone within a matter of hours, it was like an annual race to consume as many Samoas as possible before the rest of the family could. Within a day or two, the Samoas would be gone. The Trefoils would hang out in the kitchen for another three months, taunting me with their non-Samoaness.

As an adult, I’m always on the lookout for Samoas during Girl Scout season. But it’s not always easy to find Girl Scouts (and people get the wrong idea if you ask around for them). Also, when I can find them selling cookies, half of the time they’re out of Samoas. Never out of Trefoils, though.

That scarcity may have led to a bit of an obsession. It’s hard to get obsessed over, for example, Oreos – since you can drop by a grocery store and buy as many as you want. But when a cookie is both perfectly delicious and nearly impossible for me to get, that can lead to a bit of craziness when I do land a good connection. The good news is that I think I’ve paid for the college education of several local Girl Scouts. Did I go overboard this year? Look at these pictures and decide for yourself…

pointless lists and attempts at humor