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Crimes and Misdemeanors: On Woody Allen turning 80

“It’s not all a drag.” Mickey Sachs. Hannah and her Sisters

“As I’ve said many, many times, rather than live on in the hearts and minds of my fellow man, I want to live on in my apartment.”

Woody Allen

So as I clicked onto Twitter today, my feed told me that Woody Allen is turning 80 today. 80, you guys!

Hoo boy. “What does he have to say on the topic of Woody Allen?” I can hear you saying out loud to yourselves as you read these words.

Just like the most interesting people on Facebook’s relationship statuses indicate, “It’s complicated.”

I suppose I could try to write a concise, thoughtful piece on the ability to separate artistic merit from an artist’s personal life but the Onion did this really great “editorial” as if written by Woody Allen himself on the occasion of his lifetime achievement Golden Globe award in 2014. It really sums up the struggle I feel as a life-long Woody Allen fan so let me just link to it here.

There’s no question that the allegations against Woody Allen have cast him in an ugly light for the majority of people who claim to be “Woody Allen” fans, myself included.

If it’s true, then it really is inexcusable. And even if the molestation charges aren’t true (but they probably are), he married his step-daughter you guys. I mean, that in itself is at the very least frowned upon, if not completely illegal, to paraphrase Royal Tenenbaum. Speaking of Wes Anderson, I guess I feel the same way about Woody Allen as I do about Wes Anderson. Both are filmmakers with a very distinct look and style who generally work with the same group of people again and again (until you marry one of their step-daughters at least) and who seem to exert a large amount of creative control over their projects. For both artists, I enjoy their work to varying degrees. For every “Moonrise Kingdom” there must be a “Royal Tenenbaums”. For every “Hannah and her Sisters” we have to put up with a “Whatever Works”, I guess.

And in Woody Allen’s case, the misses are much more frequent than the hits. He can afford this ratio because he’s been averaging a movie a year for the past 50 years. Some of them have been quite successful commercially (Annie Hall, Midnight in Paris), some of them have been critically acclaimed but never found their audience (Interiors) and some are just plain terrible (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, to name just one of many). I know this, because I used to have a standing “date” with my friend K, who is also a “film enthusiast”. That sounds snobby, doesn’t it? Why does referring to them as “films” sound pretentious but calling them “movies” doesn’t? Okay, let’s just say we are two dudes who love movies. We bonded in high school over our shared love of movies (and films, you guys), and after that we sort of had this “pact” where we would always wait and see the next Woody Allen movie together. We always tried to go see them in the theatre if we could, but with a movie a year that got increasingly difficult. It was also tricky because there has been great variability in theatrical availability. I remember seeing “Mighty Aphrodite” in a regular first run theatre, but then the next one we saw, “Deconstructing Harry”, only played for two nights at Cinematheque, this local art house theatre. I’m know we’ve missed a few along the way, and keen filmography buffs will noticed I skipped over “Everybody says I love you” because we missed that one, but even to this day when I hear about a new Woody Allen movie coming out, I first think, “Hmmm, I wonder if K is free next weekend…”. I think the last one we saw together was “Blue Jasmine” which we both HATED, despite its good reviews. In fact, going to see a Woody Allen movie and complaining about it afterwards has almost become more fun than going to see a good one. We are like the old guys in the Muppets’ balcony, what were they called? Waldorf and Stattler or something like that? We now go in with pretty low expectations, and if we actually sort of enjoy it then it is a bonus. Maybe not the greatest way to enjoy a piece of art, but Goddammit it’s dependable.

But now this artistic (genius? is it too much to call him a genius?) is turning 80, and rather than celebrate a life well lived, as we did a couple of years ago when Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote his wonderful piece for the NYT about turning this magic number, we are faced with an inarguably impressive body of work (coupled with a seedy questionable lifestyle with potential serious perverted criminal activity).

Can we pick and choose what we want to remember? Even though it seems like he hasn’t aged in the past 30 years, there’s no denying that at age 80, our annual tradition of going to a Woody Allen movie is soon to come to an end. Looking back over an entire body of work is daunting, and I thought about doing a “top ten” or “top five” movies to celebrate (celebrate? is that the right word for a potential pederast? Probably not. Jeez this is difficult.) the milestone, but we’re pushing 1000 words already (a thousand more than this sick sonofabitch deserves, I hear you muttering, fanbase!). So instead, let me just focus in on one movie.

Hannah and her Sisters.

Let me just say a couple of things. “Hannah and her Sisters” was the first “adult” movie I ever saw. Not THAT kind of “adult”, perv. (those came later), but I mean “grown up” movie. It came out in 1986, so I was probably in grade 7 when I saw it on video. I fell in love with the structure and the story and the writing and the characters, and if anything, the movie resonates more with me now, 30 years later, than it did when I was a pre-teen. How many pieces of art have had that affect on me? Not many, I would reckon. (I was a weird pre-teen, though, granted.) In fact, in grade 8, when I adapted the novel “Cue for Treason” as a school play (yes, yes, I could relate to Wes Anderson’s Max Fisher character as well), I borrowed heavily on “Hannah and Her Sisters” structure to create short “chapters” or “episodes”. I cast my friend Ed as “Shakespeare” in a weird little meta-scene where he gave up writing serious dramas to write nursery rhymes instead. The scene didn’t appear in the novel anywhere, it was just a bit of absurdist humour that Ed and I thought was SUPER FUNNY but left our English teacher scratching her head.

“Hannah and her Sisters” was also the first movie to really make me take notice of “New York City” as a living, vibrant place. It’s a cliché nowadays to say that the city acts like “another character” in his stories, but when something is new to you, the cliché label doesn’t really apply. It was a place of dreams, where I could imagine walking the streets at night, popping into little cafés, bookstores, parks, and where new love could flourish in an autumnal Central Park. “When Harry Met Sally” had a very similar effect on me a couple of years later, but “Hannah and her Sisters” got to me first. Oh, and it was the movie that introduced me to the poet e.e. cummings, so I am forever grateful to Woody Allen for that too.

And the music too. It’s well known now that a hallmark of a Woody Allen movies is that the soundtrack almost always consists of pre 1950 jazz standards. This too was all new to me, and I fell in love with the soundtrack. I even owned it on cassette and it would play regularly in my Walkman.

It was also the movie that introduced me to Michael Caine. Enough said.

It really set the template for all the other Woody Allen movies I would eventually see, from the back catalogue to every subsequent release.

It strikes the perfect balance of humour, poignancy, writing, story-telling and cinematography. Have a look at this one small scene  to get a taste. This scene isn’t even from the main storyline, so no real spoilers here if you haven’t seen it before.

Another great thing about Woody Allen movies is their length. Rarely will a movie run longer than 90 minutes, so if you’re enjoying it you’re always left wanting more, and if it’s terrible you know it will be over soon.

That last paragraph sounds like that joke that opens Annie Hall. (I’m paraphrasing). Life is like that joke about those two ladies that go to that restaurant and one of them says ‘The food here is terrible.’ and the other one says ‘and such small portions!’

Life can be full of misery and disappointment, but it will be over far too soon. Over these past 80 years, Woody Allen has created and will be remembered for a number of wonderfully funny and poignant films about human relationships. He’ll also be remembered as the guy who married his ex-wife’s daughter and probably molested his seven year old daughter.

So, yeah. It’s complicated.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Year of the Snub

Update: I’m being told that Mr. Pauls is still dead. Thoughts and prayers continue to go to his family.

Alright, since I’m contractually obligated to mention Mr. Pauls in every posted written in January, I’m glad to get this out of the way.

So: on to our annual “Oscar” preview blog post, which has become a bit of a tradition around here. We here at the lighthouse enjoy watching movies, but we enjoy EVEN MORE talking about movies we haven’t yet seen. So with that in mind, let’s look at the contenders: So we’ve got eight movies in the “Best Picture” category this year, just to keep us on our toes. Nobody knows how they end up with the final number. I hear it involves the masons and the ghost of former president of the MPAA Karl Malden, (known as “Hot Karl” to his friends), but I shan’t comment on the process. As we like to say, it is shrouded in mystery, as it should be, as all great mysteries are.

The Grand Budapest Hotel Well, I think this is a Mountains Beyond Mountains new record. At the time of the writing, I have seen only one of the eight best picture nominees. I think other years I average around three, but gosh I’ve really let my local theatre down this time. And the only one I have seen is “The Grand Budapest Hotel” way back in March 2014, not because I was gunning to get all my Oscar noms in before the big day, but because it is a Wes Anderson movie, and by God I just love that guy and everything he’s all about. Even though I may not always love all of his movies to the same degree, I’m just glad we have him in the world, working away at his projects and producing something on a semi-regular basis for me to enjoy. It’s always fun to meet another Wes Anderson fan, because when you do you’ve met a kindred and you have all this shared vocabulary and experience that you can quickly short-hand. “Where’s that red one gonna go?” “Let me tell you about my boat.” “On the run from Johnny Laws. Ain’t no trip to Cleveland”. “You get the rich kids in the cross-hairs and you take them down.” “I love you but you don’t know what you’re talking about”. I could keep going. I’ve only seen “The Grand Budapest Hotel” that one time in the theatre, but I recall lavish set pieces, wonderfully dry humour from Ralph Fiennes’ character, and rich narration from F. Murray Abraham which took me right back to that summer of 1984 when I saw “Amadeus” in the Clear Lake theatre with my brother and Dad. I really should see it again, and I plan to. Wes Anderson movies are one of the few things that I tend to revisit again and again, although the two that seem to get the most attention from me are Rushmore and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The Grand Budapest Hotel would get my vote for “Best Picture” this year, not only because it’s the only one I’ve actually seen, but because I can’t imagine what an Oscar win for this movie would do for Wes Anderson and his group of regulars. Open some doors? Allow him/them to do more? I certainly hope it doesn’t change their aesthetic. I know it’s uncool to mention him, but I think of Wes Anderson as I think of Woody Allen. Both are artists that do their thing and make just enough money to let them to keep doing their thing year after year. Some of their things connect with a wider audiences and are considered “hits” while others don’t and are forgotten by everyone except the most loyal of fans. Oh gosh, I could just talk about Wes Anderson all day, but we’ve got another seven movies to get through today.

"Take your hands off my lobby boy!"

“Take your hands off my lobby boy!”

American Sniper

Right. Ever since I saw “Silver Linings Playbook” I’ve really come to love Bradley “Coops” Cooper, but there’s NO WAY I’m going to sit through a drama about an American Sniper, unless you can prove to me that a character says at one point, “Sniper? I hardly KNOW her.” Plus, Jennifer Lawrence isn’t in this, is she? My wife is still convinced that the Coops and Jenns are doing it and how could I argue?

Pew! Pew! Pew!

Pew! Pew! Pew!

 

Birdman

I think fans of a certain age will remember the anticipation of 1989’s Batman. I still remember its release date: June 19, from all the promotional posters leading up to its release. I saw it three times in the theatre. The first time was after the last day of grade 9. You remember that weird half day where you’d go in to clean out your locker and pick up your report card in the morning? My friends and I took the bus downtown to the long gone Northstar theatre that afternoon and were blown away by what we saw. It was the first “comic book” movie I ever saw that took its subject seriously. (Okay, I mean compared to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, 1989’s Batman looks a bit goofy, but at the time it captured all of our imaginations). I went back a couple of weeks later and took my little brother who I felt HAD to see this movie in the theatre. The third time was at the end of August (it was still in theatres in August, you guys) when I dragged my parents to see it. I think my Dad was kind of interested because I spent all summer talking about how excellent it was, and if you remember my Dad did this thing where he would go to a theatre and “preview” a movie for my brother and me before letting us see it ourselves, and so this was a little bit of a “passing of the torch” moment for my Dad, I think, because here I was, previewing the movie for him. Needless to say, my Dad loved it too, and as it turned out it would be the only Batman movie he would see, since the sequel would come out a year after he died. Another thing about this movie (that my 15-year-old self probably didn’t appreciate) was that Prince wrote all original songs for the soundtrack. The soundtrack was by Prince, you guys. (Orchestrations by Danny Elfman, it was a Tim Burton movie after all, but STILL). I imagine this meeting between Prince and a couple of Warner Brothers producers, taking place a year earlier at Paisley Park.

Prince: “You want me to write the theme tune, sing the theme tune? Star in this screamer?”

Producers: “Oh gosh no. Just the music. The music would be great. We are thinking something dark, something moody.”

Prince: “I have just the thing. In fact, I just finished filming my own feature length Batman movie where I play all the parts. Oh, you’ll never see it. No one will ever see it. It’s just for me.”

Producers: “Um, why are all the doors locked in this room. Wait! What’s that purple gas coming out of those nozzles in the ceiling??!!…wait!!!!.”

[end transcript]

And that’s how the world got “Batdance”.

Look, I don’t know anything about Birdman, except that it stars Michael Keaton playing a guy who used to play a superhero, and I hear that Edward Norton gets a boner in it or something. Hats off to you, good sir! Can’t wait!

Oh screw it! Let's just watch Batman again.

Oh screw it! Let’s just watch Batman again.

 

Boyhood

Richard Linklater is a bit “hit and miss” with me. I saw “Slacker” back when it played in our local “art house” theatre in the early 90s. It came out in the same year as one of my all time favourite movies, “J.F.K.” and there is one scene in “Slacker” where they just let this Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist talk and talk and it’s just wonderful. “Dazed and Confused” was equally marvelous, launching the career of friend of the blog, Matthew McConaughey. Then somehow Linklater got caught up with that shady character, Ethan Hawke, and was tricked into filming all those talky European style movies where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy walk around and ride on trains and look out windows, and all the while you just want them to stop talking or maybe keep walking away from the camera or maybe get off the train and accidentally cross another railway track and get HIT BY THE SOUTHBOUND EUROSTAR or something, but they just KEEP FUCKING TALKING. I’m sure Linklater’s done other movies too, but how can we ever get over the TAINT left by those 17 films with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy? This new one stars Ethan Hawke too, which immediately puts it into the category of “movies I’ll never see unless you trick me into watching it”. And you know how movies like to pride themselves in saying that “No animals were harmed in the making of this film”? Well what about kidnapping a 6 year old and holding him against his will for 12 YEARS, forcing him to act in a feature length film for just a week out of every year, like that creepy guy in Austria a few years back. We shouldn’t be celebrating this movie, we should be prosecuting the producers for child endangerment. Who does Linklater think he is? Prince?

Milk carton images during the 12 years of captivity.

Milk carton images during the 12 years of captivity.

Imitation Game/Theory of Everything Ah yes. Isn’t it always the way? If one company produces a movie about a tortured British math genius, you just know a rival company will be producing another version of another tortured British math genius in the same year. But which one is the  splashy Armageddon, and which one is the critically favoured Deep Impact? Which one is the fan favourite Volcano and which is the ill-fated Dante’s Peak? Which one is Academy award-winning Capote and which one becomes merely  the also-ran Infamous?

Benedict Cumberbatch (left) as Alan Turing and Eddie Redmayne (right) as Stephen Hawking

Benedict Cumberbatch (left) as Alan Turing and Eddie Redmayne (right) as Stephen Hawking

 

Selma

I have not seen Selma, but this is as good a spot as any to talk about the year of the snub. Although this movie got a “best picture” nomination, it got precious little else, as if the Academy were saying, “We really like this movie, but we can’t tell you about one part of it that is actually worth talking about, but Oprah had something to do with it, right? So let’s nominate it because who wants to get on the bad side of Oprah? Stedman found out the hard way and let’s just say he isn’t around anymore.” People are saying that there are no “people of colour” (which is different than “coloured people”, please take note Benedict Cumberbatch) nominated in any of the major categories, and all of the nice big award categories are filled with so many white dudes, it looks like an insurance company picnic in Topeka Kansas in the 1970s, PLUS THE LEGO MOVIE WASN’T NOMINATED FOR ANIMATED FEATURE. Okay, to be fair, it looks like all of the actress and supporting actress nominees are women this year, so that’s progress, right? And actually, aren’t these “actor” and “actress” categories a little discriminatory in our newly found “post gender” world? Why not just nominate 10 people in each category, regardless of sex or gender, race or creed, and see what happens? Or why not get creative with the categories, we could have a “men with the nicest beard” category, or “lady with the nicest smile” category. I’d like to vote on that. (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence get my vote in each category. Jennifer in the smile category, obvs, although why couldn’t the Coops be in the beard and the smile category at the same time? and who’s to say that Jenny Law couldn’t grow a nice beard if she took the right hormones. I mean, she can do anything!) But I’m getting off topic here. Getting back to Selma: I haven’t seen it. I checked out a “Sisters of Selma” PBS documentary from the library, but I haven’t watched it either. I’d like to, though.

Bearded AND Smiling. Don't ever change, Coops!

Bearded AND Smiling. Don’t ever change, Coops!

 

Whiplash

All I know is that J.K. Simmons is winning all kinds of awards for his role as a music teacher in this movie about a music teacher who teaches music to a boy called WHIPLASH. I suppose it’s a prequel to the Iron Man movies, which I think is the first time that a movie from the Marvel Universe has been nominated for a best picture. I bet Stan Lee has a cameo as the school’s cranky janitor. Will the post credits scene give us any insight into the upcoming Inhumans movie? Will we get a cameo from Agent Coulson or Nick Fury? I hate when they cast the same actor in different roles in the same universe, and they’ve done that again since J.K. Simmons played J. Jonah Jameson in those Sony Sam Raimi movies, but I guess they don’t really count because Sony owns the rights? I guess that’s how they get around Chris Evans playing the Human Torch in those terrible Fantastic Four movies and also playing Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America in those excellent Captain America movies. I wish those Fantastic Four movies were never made, but just today I see a teaser trailer for some new Fantastic Four movie was released and it doesn’t look terrible.

I don't know WHAT happened at that music school to produce THIS.

I don’t know WHAT happened at that music school to produce THIS.

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Deceptive Resolution (Part 1)

In the summer of 1985, our family went camping. This was a big deal, because we were not known as campers. Not by a long shot. We would always go on a major summer holiday every year, but we would stay in motels or with family along the way. Most of the time they were road trips, but sometimes, when we were very lucky we took the train. My parents, especially my Dad, was determined that his kids would get to see as much of Canada as possible on his watch. His patriotism shone strongly and would never entertain the thought of a trip to Disneyland over a trip to Ottawa. To be fair, my brother and I were not the type to whine about not going to Disneyland either and were just as happy (if not happier) to travel to Churchill (which we did one year), so it made things easier for everyone.

So it was a bit of a surprise when my parents told us we would be taking a smaller scaled holiday that summer, and that we would be borrowing our Uncle Barry and Aunt Betty’s camper trailer. I have a number of funny memories of the four of us “city slickers” trying to make our way in nature, even if “nature” really just meant sleeping bags and a portable toilet. We found ourselves in Clear Lake, MB at one point that summer, and that is where this story really begins.

Home sweet home

I will do anything for a hotel room.

Clear Lake is the perfect place to camp if you hate camping, because there is a cute little townsite minutes from the campground where you can go and get ice cream, or shop, or do any number of non-camping things. The last time my wife and I camped there, we ended up ordering a pizza and the guy asked which campsite we were at and was going to deliver it. We were alarmed and reassured him that we would just wait for it and take it back to our camp ourselves. I mean, really. How embarrassing, right? What would the other campers think?

Clear Lake also has one movie theatre, and in that summer of 1985, it was showing Amadeus.

Amadeus won the Best Picture Oscar that year and was based on the Peter Shaffer’s play of the same name. It was a fictionalized (but maybe truthful!) account of Mozart’s life as told by a rival composer to his priest in the form of a confessional. (That last sentence was PRETTY POORLY CONSTRUCTED, but I’m sure you’ve seen the movie, right?)My parents saw this movie when it came out months before, and my Dad was super stoked to take my brother and me. My Mom was happy to have a night away from the three of us, and the movies were a civilized way for my brother and me to forget that we were actually camping, so off we went. My parents had struck up a conversation with an older couple camping next to us, and they expressed doubt as to whether this movie was an appropriate thing to show to an 11 and an 8 year old, but my Dad just said, “It’s a good story, and my boys can handle it.” This may seem out of character for my Dad, as you may remember stories of him “previewing” movies himself (like The Last Starfighter and Aliens) and deeming them “too violent” for me, or maybe you may remember the terrible moment during the opening scene of Young Sherlock Holmes when I thought he was going to march my brother and me right out of the theatre, and demand his money back.

But what you may have forgotten was that my dear old Dad also was Irish, and if you suggested that he shouldn’t do something, he just bloody well would want to do it twice as badly. This trait was passed on to me and it drives my wife nuts sometimes, but I can’t help it. As they say in The Crying Game, it’s in my nature. So we headed off to the movies: my brother, my Dad, and me. My parents had bought my brother and me new sunglasses that day, and my brother insisted on wearing his to the movie. So even though there was only a couple of hours worth of sunlight left in the day when we left our campsite, my Dad let him bring them along. Keep that in mind for later, I’ll come back to it. New sunglasses/Mozart.

The theatre today looks just about the same as it did 30 years ago.

The theatre today looks just about the same as it did 30 years ago.

Back to the movie.

Well you know what? That older couple may have had a point BECAUSE THE MOVIE OPENS WITH A PRETTY GRAPHIC THROAT SLITTING SCENE which either my Dad totally forgot about, or maybe didn’t remember how disturbing it actually was. To his credit, I think he turned to us just as it was about to happen and said, “You may want to close your eyes RIGHT NOW”, and I think maybe we did for the worst of it. Well, after that opening, the movie did settle into a lavish three hour retelling of Mozart’s life that insidiously gets under your skin. The priest is the audience’s surrogate, and while he is cheerful and upbeat at the beginning of the film, he is absolutely drained and destroyed by the final frame. I felt the same way watching it for the first time. My 11 year old self couldn’t believe that a movie could make you feel such things as Amadeus made me feel that night. I don’t think I can really adquately express what that movie meant to me after seeing it. I do remember that my cheeks and forehead were flushed, and as the cool summer evening air hit our faces as we left the theatre, I felt transformed.

Little did I know then that Amadeus, and the music from that movie, would stick with me for almost 30 years. How that movie and its music affected me will be more fully explored next time, gang. ‘Til then, let these gentle summer memories from a long ago childhood warm you as you gaze out the window at another winter storm.

Rock me, Amadeus

Rock me, Amadeus

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Oscar Run Down

Well, here we are at that time of year again. Awards season. We feel a little extra buzz around the Mountains Beyond Mountains offices this time of year when those screeners start showing up in the mail, and we get to watch all the Oscar contenders and make informed choices when we cast our votes for the Academy…..wait. That’s not right. We aren’t members of the Academy, we’re not even members of what any reasonable person would call “the media”. We’re much more (and less) than that. We’re an internet connection with insidious intent. (and sadly that job description does not qualify us for screeners). So that means going out and seeing these movies on our own  “time and dime” as the kids like to say. [editors note: this is not a saying that “kids” nor any other demographic use, or have used in the past, nor will probably use in the future.]

But that’s crazy. How is a guy like me going to get out and see 9 movies before March 2? It’s a varied group this year, and if you take the “Award Nominee” status away from them, there’s really only three that I’d actually probably be interested in seeing. Gravity, American Hustle and Her. And I’ve already seen Gravity back in October before there was any awards talk, so I guess that leaves 8 movies, 6 of whom I really don’t care about.

But you know, I come by it honestly. Even back in the day when there were only 5 best picture nominations, there were many years where I couldn’t get out to see all of them.

For example, just taking the last 20 years worth of best picture nominations, here are some of the movies I still have not seen.

The English Patient, Shine, Secrets and Lies (1995)

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

The Insider (1999)

In the Bedroom (2001)

Chicago (2002) -I had to turn it off after the first 10 minutes as it was making me sick to my stomach.

Seabiscuit (2003)

Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

There will be Blood (2007) -I had to turn it off after the first 10 minutes as it was making my wife sick to her stomach.

In 2009 the Academy changed how they nominated films for the Best Picture category, so you could get as many as 10 in a year, and this is where I really fall down.

The Hurt Locker, Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, Precious, A Serious Man (2009)

Black Swan, The Kids are Alright, Winter’s Bone (2010)

The Artist, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Tree of Life, War Horse (2011)

Les Miserables (2012) -I had to turn it off at the half-way point because it was making both me and my wife sick to our stomachs.

And you know, looking over this list of unwatched Best Picture nominees over the last 20 years, the only one that I think I’d probably sit down and watch now would be “The English Patient”. I wanted to see it when it came out but it just slipped through the cracks. I even owned the soundtrack, so that’s weird right? Why I never borrowed it from the library all these years is a mystery.

I think I’d like to give “There will be Blood” another go, maybe when my wife has gone off to bed and I’ve watched all of “Oz” or something. I’ve heard good things, and maybe I’ll finally understand that “milkshake” quote that I’ve heard bandied about.

When it comes down to it, movies should be entertaining, and not feel like homework. I’m not saying that movies shouldn’t move you, or make you angry, or cry, or think. The best ones might do all of these things, but sometimes I just feel like a good laugh,  or see some ‘splosions, or get caught up in a small, simple story for an hour or two.

So yeah, I’m okay with that track record, but I also know that there is a full month before Oscar night, and I may just get out and see one or two more of these movies before then, so maybe I should hold off on my annual “Oscar Run Down” until we are a bit closer. I think that works. And who knows, maybe we’ll get the odd screener sent our way?

How about it, Hollywood types? Can this blog get on a list or something? Weinsteins, you reading this?

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A secret mission for the fanbase…

Sometimes the best part of going to the movies is watching the trailers ahead of time. Often when a friend comes back from the movies, I’ll ask him or her about the trailers before I ask about the feature. Trailer editing is a special art unto itself, and I’ve seen many amazing trailers of mediocre movies.

This is not going to be a blog post about amazing trailers of mediocre movies, but that would be a good topic some time down the road.

I had a great time at the movies the other night, and it had all to do with the trailers. We saw two back-to-back that I’d like to talk about.

The first one was for “The Impossible”. It stars Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts who play husband and wife on vacation. The first part of the trailer is them swimming and eating at resorts and whatnot, and I turned to my wife and said I could watch a whole movie of Ewan McGregor eating buffet and going for swims. I really could. But then the damn tsunami hits and everything goes to hell. But this is where the movie trailer gets awesome, because they use a cover version of U2’s “One”. I didn’t recognize the version or the artist, but I loved it in this context. It made me want to see the movie, which I guess is the job of the trailer. I don’t know if the song appears in the movie or not, and it doesn’t really matter, but that trailer did its job.

The next trailer was for the new version of  “The Great Gatsby” starring Leo. I have mixed feelings about this movie, but until this trailer I had not seen one of bit of it. It is going to be in 3D, which is a bit weird, but it’s done by Baz Luhrmann, for whom I have a secret affection. It looks the way you’d think a Baz Luhrmann movie set in the 1920’s would look, visually stunning and all that. Do the characters sing in it? Is it a musical? Can’t really tell from the trailer, but I CAN tell you that there is a hauntingly beautiful cover version of ANOTHER U2 song. This time it’s “Love is Blindness”. Again, bravo to the trailer editors, “The Great Gatsby” has just gone on my list of movies to see this Spring. Maybe it’ll be out in time for my birthday in May?

When I got home, I googled the artists and was surprised to find out that both covers were taken from Q’s Achtung Baby cover album in 2011. Q magazine commissioned a special CD of other artist’s doing Achtung Baby in celebration of that album’s 20th anniversary. Being my favourite U2 album BY FAR,  and maybe being my favourite album PERIOD, I was determined to get the issue that included this disc.

I was soon disappointed to find out that it was only shipping with UK editions of the magazine, and I’d have to special order, no guarantees, etc etc. Maybe the magazine appeared in North American at some later point, but I never saw it. As luck would have it, a coworker of mine was heading to London in December and promised to look for it when she was there! This was my best chance, but as it turned out she was a week late. The next issue was already on the stands and no one seemed to have any old issues lying around.

I eventually did find a streaming feed of the album online. I don’t know if it was sour grapes because I couldn’t find it, but I was pretty underwhelmed with the final product. Listening to it just made me want to go get U2’s original and listen to that again. Why try to recreate perfection?

But now that I’ve heard Damien Rice’s “One” and Jack White’s “Love is Blindness” in new contexts with fresh ears, I love them to bits. I’m willing to give Depeche Mode’s “So Cruel” another go and Snow Patrol’s “Mysterious Ways” another listen, IF ONLY I COULD GET MY HANDS ON THAT DAMN ALBUM.

So fanbase: there’s the challenge. Find and burn me a CD of this album (I don’t need to know your methods) and I will reward you with a special mix tape of U2 covers and rarities carefully curated by me (I haven’t made this disc yet, but I will UPON SUCCESSFUL COMPLETION OF YOUR TASK).

As you were.

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And the Oscar goes to…

At the end of February, it will be Oscar night, and in what is soon becoming an annual tradition here at Mountains Beyond Mountains, we’ve written up our annual Oscar Preview. I’m on par with other years in terms of what I’ve seen so far (I’ve seen three), but there are five others still in theatres so I could potentially see 8 of the 9 quite easily before the big night. Still, like other years, it doesn’t stop me from coming up with snarky things to say about the nominees, whether I’ve seen them or not.

Let’s get right to it.

Amour

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From what I can tell from the poster and what little I’ve actually learned about this movie, it is about old people falling in love and having sex. Now I’m all for old people falling in love, but good LORD do they have to have sex? How about some nice cuddles? Or maybe a hug? Maybe they could do something nice and thoughtful for each other, like bake cookies or something. I’d pay money to see that, but no sex please.

Argo

Another candidate for my "Men with nice beards" Tumblr!

Another candidate for my “Men with nice beards” Tumblr!

Despite my inherent dislike of Ben Affleck, I really want to see this movie. I wanted to see it way back last summer when I saw the trailer for the first time, but forces beyond my control have prevented me from seeing it so far, and eventually my dislike of Ben Affleck will win out and I never will see it. Which is a shame, because I think I’d like it, just like I think I would like “The Town” but am avoiding it for the same reasons. It’s got the Affleck taint all over it. #taint

Beasts of the Southern Wild

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I actually saw this one a few weeks ago! The library had a copy checked in and I took it home. What can I say? Whenever my Mom sees a movie that she doesn’t like but she feels like she should like it, she calls it a discussion movie. I think this is a discussion movie for me. I have no idea how this movie even caught the attention of Oscar voters, but I’m kind of glad it’s in there among the big ones, if only to be a reminder that not every nominated film has to be a big budget spectacle. I didn’t hate it, but I’m not sure it was my kind of thing. I’m trying to come up with something funny or snarky to say about it, but I’m at a loss. Yay for the underdog?

Django Unchained

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I saw this movie over the Christmas holidays with my friend, Ed. It was his birthday and we sort of have a tradition of getting together and doing fun things, like going to get a free comic at this one shop in town that lets you pick out a free comic on your birthday, or go out to some “all you can eat” restaurant and literally eat all we can, or check out a movie. These days, with us both having small children, we don’t get to see each other as much as we’d like, and we were joking that the only free time we had was at 10:30 pm on a week night. So that’s what we did! We went to see this movie at 10:30 pm on a Thursday. We chose this one because we knew there was NO WAY IN HELL either of our respective wives would ever want to see it , and we were right. We were just so excited that we were actually out at a movie together, that I think we enjoyed this way more than we would have under normal circumstances. This movie was a real mixed bag for me. There were scenes and moments, particularly in the first three quarters, that I totally loved. The opening scene where Django gets unchained, the whole “team up as bounty hunters” thing, and the whole “launching the plot to get his wife back” thing were all wonderful. Sadly, it was only when Leonardo DiCaprio’s character was introduced that the film seemed to drag, and everything after the “dinner party” scene just got deranged, overblown, and almonst ruined the rest of it for me.

Les Miserables

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I HAVE NOT SEEN THIS, and yet I am quite sure it will win.  I am sure it is wonderful and deserves all the good press it’s getting. I’m happy that a musical is nominated for best picture this year. It’s been a while. There is something special about musicals, and I think you either “get” them or you don’t. Some people just can’t get over the fact that the characters will burst into song without warning. But I say to those people: it’s just what happens. It’s a MUSICAL. I’m not saying you have to like it, but don’t hate it just because that’s the form it’s in. My only complaint is that it has taken so long for this musical to be made into a movie. I remember about 15 years ago getting excited when a feature film version of “Les Miserables” was in production. It was going to star about bunch of A List actors like Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush and Uma Thurman. I couldn’t wait, until I found out that it wasn’t based on the muscial, but an adapation of the original novel. I was bitterly disappointed at the time, and still haven’t brought myself to ever watch it. What’s the point? It would be like doing a non-musical version of  “Annie”.

Life of Pi

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Another one I haven’t seen, although you have to hand it to Ang Lee: that dude knows his way around a movie camera. His films, from “Sense and Sensibility” to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, to “Brokeback Mountain” all have a stunning visual quality to them, and I’m sure “The Life of Pi” is no different. I read the novel years ago, when everyone was going on about it. I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember I didn’t care for it. It was a real slog and in the end everything you’ve just read (SPOILER) may or may not have even happened that way. It was a bit of a kick to the balls, I must say, and considering this movie is mostly playing in 3D, it would be a kick to the eyeballs too. I’ll pass.

Lincoln

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Spielberg’s “Lincoln” project seemed to be “on again, off again” for years. I remember all the way back to 2005 when his “War of the Worlds” came out that Spielberg was talking about getting his “Lincoln” project off the ground. And boy did he ever. A stellar cast led by Daniel Day Lewis, this is definitely on my “to see” list. I love stories about historical figures, especially stories about American Presidents. You always learn something you didn’t know before. For example, I just watched “Hyde Park on Hudson” with Bill Murray as FDR. All I knew about FDR before this was that he met with Annie and Daddy Warbucks and sung “Tomorrow” with his wife Eleanor. From “Hyde Park on Hudson” I learned that FDR enjoyed eating hot dogs and receiving hand jobs from his cousin (but not at the same time)! Oh, and also that his wife Eleanor lived with a group of lesbian furniture makers and made lovely lesbian furniture. I could relate.

Recurring Theme

Recurring Theme

Silver Linings Playbook

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I’m just going to say right up front that I am “no friend” of Bradley Cooper, and that I had very little interest in seeing this movie. The title is confusing, it has boringface Julia Stiles in it, and it seemed to be on the wrong side of quirky for me. The other night we were out at the movies, and our choices were “Les Miz”, “Lincoln” or this one. I would have been happy with either of the first two, but “Silver Linings Playbook” was the only one that hadn’t yet started, so in we went.

Boy, was I WRONG. I will freely admit it. This turned out to be one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. I’m going to gush here for a bit, so fair warning.

I LOVED everything about this movie. Bradley Cooper (I will no longer call him Bradley Pooper) was brilliantly adorable, as was Jennifer Lawrence. You really want to root for the two of them, and the movie pushed all the right buttons for me. It says a lot about the strength of the cast when Robert De Niro, although great, does not outshine everyone else. Whenever you see him you’re not thinking, “It’s Robert fucking De Niro!” You just see him as this blue collar dad who’s worried about his son and is doing the best he can. I could TOTALLY relate to those scenes where he’s trying to get Bradley Cooper’s character to sit down and watch the game with him. That was me and my Dad for real. That’s the other thing: the dialogue felt very real and raw to me. It all felt very natural, and I’m wondering how much of it was scripted and how much of it was the actors ad-libbing on set.

I think it helped that I didn’t know a thing about the movie going in. I just let the story work its magic on me, like when you finally find out that Daddy Warbucks is going to adopt Annie for realz!

The writer/director, David O. Russell, is a master at choosing the right musical cues for the right scenes. I still remember the soundtrack for “Three Kings”, and the way he used U2’s “In God’s Country” at the end of it. In “Silver Linings Playbook” he uses Dave Brubeck in two scenes to great effect.

Personally, I want this movie to win EVERYTHING, and I will need to be careful when I fill in my Oscar ballot that I don’t let that cloud my choices.

I’m not usually one to want to see a movie again, but I could SERIOUSLY go see this movie again in the theatre, and again, and again. That’s how much I loved it.

Zero Dark Thirty

The controversies surrounding this film just won't go away.

The controversies surrounding this film just won’t go away.

Well, I guess I tipped my hand as to which movie I’ll be pulling for come Oscar night, but I still need to finish this list. I think I’d like to see this movie, the same way I want to see anything by Gaspar Noe: I think it would be satisfying on a morbidly voyeuristic level. Technically, I’m sure the movie is finely crafted. Her last effort won Best Picture. I haven’t brought myself to see it, because spending a couple of hours with an army bomb squad in Iraq seems a little too stressful, like watching Annie get kidnapped by Rooster and Bernadette Peters.

But I’ve seen a number of Kathryn Bigelow movies over the years, and I’ve enjoyed all of them in their own way.

I remember seeing “Point Break” the summer that I taught myself how to windsurf, and so I felt like I had a connection, however tenuous, to the bank-robbing surfers. It was the summer my Dad died, and I just thought this was something I wanted to do. I spent a weekend at a friend’s cottage and his Dad was a windsurfer. He showed me the basics and then left me to it. I remember falling off that board so many times, and scraping my knees to the point that they bled and getting terribly sunburnt, but I didn’t give up until I could actually manoeuvre the damn thing with some small level of skill. I wasn’t going to be doing any tricks (or robbing any banks) any time soon, but I felt a certain level of accomplishment.

“Strange Days” still ranks up near the top as one of my favourite science fiction movies, and she does things visually in that movie that I’ve never seen done since.

I feel like I have a special connection to “K-19: The Widowmaker”, as part of the movie was filmed in a small town about an hour north of where I live. It was big news at the time. The film crew descended on this sleepy town on the edge of Lake Winnipeg for about a week to film one scene. It was the scene where the submarine surfaces through the ice near the north pole. The soldiers are given some R&R time to play soccer on the ice. The captain, played by Harrison Ford, addresses the crew from the sub’s tower. This whole scene takes up about 2 minutes of screen time, but it’s impact feels much bigger. I happened to be off work one morning when they were filming, and I thought I’d drive up and see what I could see. My Mom, always up for an adventure, called in sick to work and came along. Marla was working and didn’t come, but her MOM did.

The three of us headed up, wondering what we would see. It was actually pretty cool. The movie crew had built a full sized conning tower about 300 feet off shore on the ice. You could tell from the angle that it was just a backdrop (you could see the scaffolding behind it), but from head on it looked like the real thing. When we got there, it was lunch time for the crew, and the local hotel had the catering contract. The film crew had built an ice road from the shore out to the set, and there was a constant flow of ATVs, jeeps and full sized trucks back and forth. This was March, and I was wondering how thick that ice actually was, but I’m sure it was all checked out ahead of time. The big prize would be to spot Harrison Ford, obviously. He had arrived the night before and was probably out there near the set somewhere, or maybe he was up in one of the hotel rooms and he would walk through the lobby any second! We ended up having lunch at the hotel, and looking out over the set. We were far enough out that we couldn’t really see what was actually happening, although we could see a bunch of young guys with shaved heads (Russian sailors, no doubt), kicking a soccer ball around out in the cold. We couldn’t tell if they were rehearsing or actually filming, but it didn’t really matter. It was just cool to be “close to the action”. I assume Kathryn Bigelow was there too; I doubt this was all second unit work, but we never spotted her and more importantly, we never spotted Harrison either. But it was a fun way to spend a day off, and when the movie came out my Mom and I went opening night. We stayed until we say the “Special Thanks to Gimli, Manitoba” credit at the end.

Hollywood North.

Hollywood North.

So you have it: a rundown of the best picture nominations of 2013. If Silver Linings Playbook doesn’t win Best Picture, it’ll just be a reminder that it’s a hard knock life.

Til next time, amigos!

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Too much of a good thing? Let’s not make it a Hobbit

“I have had enough of dwarves for one day.” Gandalf

Even before “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was out of theatres over a decade ago, the internet rumours began: Peter Jackson should direct ‘The Hobbit!’ It was the natural and obvious reaction from fanboys and Tolkein nerds alike. After all, why not? He just completed what seemed to be an impossible task. He adapted Tolkein’s beloved series over three films and successfully brought “Middle Earth” alive for audiences around the world. After this accomplishment, “The Hobbit” would be a cinch. If you could do three movies back to back to back, The Hobbit as one movie would be like filming a James Bond pre-title sequence after you’ve proven you can direct an entire James Bond feature. You could even get Sir Ian McKellan to be Gandalf again if you didn’t wait too long. How cool would that be?

But then after a series of unfortunate events, including, but not limited to legal squabbles, personnel changes (Guillermo del Toro was on tap to direct before MGM went bankrupt), money woes, more money woes and even PJ’s health (ulcer), “The Hobbit” was going to be a reality and yes, Sir Ian McKellan, once again, was Gandalf.

But then we heard that “The Hobbit” wasn’t going to be one movie, it was going to be two. Making “The Lord of the Rings” into three movies made sense, as the story is generally grouped into three volumes (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of The King). But “The Hobbit” is one book, aimed at younger audiences, and could easily be adapted as a single movie. It would be a long movie, if you included everything, but you wouldn’t include everything, right? That’s what screenwriters are for. I’m not a fan of this whole “splitting a story over two or more movies” trend that seems to be the way things are done these days (Harry Potter, Twilight, etc). Doing this to “The Hobbit” seemed like an unnecessary craven cash grab. But then I remembered how I felt when I heard Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are” was being adapted into a movie. This is a 10 page children’s book with maybe a hundred words total, and I was skeptical, and yet Spike Jonze’s film was moving, brilliant and lovely and I took back every mean thing I said about it beforehand. Maybe “The Hobbit” was going to be the same way? Plus, as a Tolkein fan, why would I complain about having MORE Middle Earth? Crazy, right?

hobbit

Look at this teaser poster! I mean, it is such an invitation back to the familiar world of Middle Earth with a promise of adventure. How could it fail?

And then about a year ago, we saw the first trailer, and it looked and felt AMAZING, and all doubts were erased. But shortly after that, we heard that “The Hobbit” wasn’t going to be 2 movies after all (oh thank God!)…………..it was going to be 3. (Wot.)

At that point, I thought it was time to revisit the source material. I hadn’t read “The Hobbit” since Jr. High, so it was time for a refresher. I actually read it in one night, so that can give you an idea of how long it actually is (and I am not an overly fast reader). I read it the night before my colonoscopy, as I was up all night purging anyway and I wanted to read something easy and familiar and somewhat comforting. As I made my way through it, on the couch and in the bathroom (TMI?) I realized how much of it was the dwarves running around in the woods, in the mountains, in the caves etc and I thought to myself (there is going to be a lot of running scenes if they adapt this faithfully. And I sort of understood why PJ may have decided to pad the story for the movie. If he didn’t, it would just feel like watching a video game.)

Fast-forward to last Saturday night. Our daughter was back on her schedule (sleeping before 8 pm!). My wife was wrapping some presents and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life“, a movie I HAVE NEVER SEEN front to back, but I feel like I sort of know it through osmosis.

“You know, I could almost make it to a movie tonight,” I mumbled aloud.

“Why don’t you? You hate “It’s a wonderful life” anyway and you’ve been wanting to get out to a movie for awhile” was my wife’s response.

So I looked up movie times and lo and behold “The Hobbit” was playing in glorious 2D (don’t get me started) at 9:30 pm. It was too late to call anyone, and I knew some friends had made plans to see it on Christmas Day, so I toddled off to the theatre; my own personal ‘Unexpected Party” as it very much were.

Even though it was a Saturday night at a good time, the theatre was only half full, so I got a good seat. Maybe everyone else was going to the 3D showings, or the 48 FPS showings? Or maybe they were Christmas shopping. I was a little worried, as a couple of my friends, who were die-hard Tolkein fans and who had already seen it prefaced their reviews by saying things like, “Well, as a Tolkein fan, I would love anything in Middle Earth but….” or “Peter Jackson can do no wrong, but…” so even the superfans were hedging their bets.

Despite all that, I was ready.

Three hours later…

Okay, that was a hot mess. Peter Jackson needs an editor. It seems like he’s got the George Lucas, “I can do anything I want” syndrome now and that’s too bad. At least I sat through to the end. I counted about 10 people who got up and left and didn’t come back. I didn’t feel like I saw “The Hobbit”, to be honest. It felt like I wandered into a production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” when all I really wanted was to watch “Hamlet”. There was so much extra unnecessary nonsense, like the shit-stained Radagast, that I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if Tom Bombadil and his hot wife showed up (there’s still ample room in Parts 2 and 3, though, right?)

The maddening thing is that the three scenes that really felt like “The Hobbit” to me: The supper with the dwarves, The Three Trolls, and of course the marvelous “Riddles in the Dark” sequence were all pitch perfect. I would love some clever geek out there to create a “pure” edit of the film, excising all of the extraneous stuff. It might just be 45 minutes long, but what of it? Who knows? PJ is just crazy enough that when all three movies are out, instead of “extended editions” (of which the theatrical versions, by definition, surely are), maybe he’ll release a “contracted” one volume edition of “The Hobbit” much closer to the novel. We can dream, right?

I realize this is an “adaptation”, people. And that Peter Jackson and friends can write whatever screenplay they want, and they sure did. I liked some of the changes. You have to tweak novels to make them cinematic, no question. For example, Richard Armitage is reminiscent of  an Aragornesque hero as Thorin Oakenshield, much more than as merely as a bumbling dwarf from the novel. Also, the dwarves’ quest is given an almost Zionistic quality: a return to their homeland, rather than just a revenge plot to get back their gold. It makes their quest a little more noble and gives it more weight. I even didn’t mind the embellishment of Azog “The Pale Orc” as a nemesis for Thorin. It reminded me of the head Uruk-hai from LOTR, and that’s fine. These are the artistic choices that are made, and you can agree or disagree. For example, the dwarf-tossing business and the arrival of the elves at Helm’s Deep in LOTR? Pure fantasy on PJ’s part, but it didn’t bother me. Aside from the “pale Orc”, there were other things (falcons, sweeping mountain shots, soundtrack etc) in ‘The Hobbit” that just felt a little “been there, done that”. I was constantly reminded of how good LOTR was and just wanted to watch that again rather than sit through this retread.

I would love to get the opinion of someone who has not read the novel, to see if the movie worked as a “movie” for them. I have a feeling I’m bringing a lot of baggage to this that might not matter to those going in “cold”.

As a fan, I would have much preferred a single movie. It would have been so much more satisfying. As it was, I was sitting in the theatre with a mental checklist of all the scenes that needed to happen before I could leave. “Gandalf and Bilbo meeting? Check. Arrival of the Dwarves? Check Trolls, Rivendell and Goblins? Check, check, check.” I never once got absorbed into the story. The only other time I could remember that happen to me  in a theatre was about 15 years ago in this film called “Conspiracy Theory” with Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. I was aware the whole time that I was watching a movie and couldn’t seem to shake it. The same thing happened at “The Hobbit”.

Hindsight is 20/20, obviously, but I think getting Peter Jackson to direct “The Hobbit” was a mistake. The tone felt more like “LOTR” than a children’s book, and he seemed to try at every turn to tie it into his former glory, even having Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee show up at Rivendell at the same time as the Dwarves. Rivendell is a Motel 6, apparently. A stroke of casting genius would have been to get John Cleese to play Elrond and you could have had all kinds of hijinks. “Don’t mention the WAR (of the ring)!” The Dwarves were already eating Waldorf salad, after all. A missed opportunity.

It would have been fun to get an animated version instead, maybe? (I KNOW there is already an animated version out there, people.) Jackson (and Spielberg) used animation to great effect with “The Adventures of Tintin” last year, and you could still get the actor’s voices from LOTR. Heck, you could even get Ian Holm to voice Bilbo. I love Martin Freeman, but he was a little underwhelming as the titular character. Maybe he’ll shine in parts 2 and 3? (You KNOW I’ll go, despite everything.) Animation would have really gone a long way to set a different tone from LOTR, and yet still tie the two stories together. Heck, Gollum is already CGI. Why not go all the way?

After the success of “The Lord of the Rings” books, Tolkein himself went back and tried to rewrite “The Hobbit” to bring it more in line with the tone and continuity of the longer series, but he gave up before he was done.

He said whatever he was writing, it just wasn’t “The Hobbit”.

Well, exactly.

Welcome to Rivendell!

Welcome to Rivendell!

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This is an Adventure

“This is an Adventure.”  Steve Zissou

Wes Anderson’s latest movie, “Moonrise Kingdom” just played in competition at Cannes. In fact it opened the festival. I’ve never really understood it when you hear about movies showing “out of competition” at film festivals. What’s up with that? It would be as if Tiger Woods showed up at the Masters and said, “Hey fellas, I’m just going to hit the ball around a little over here, but I’m not going to keep score or anything. You guys go on ahead without me.”

It doesn’t matter that it didn’t win, right? Who cares what those snobby Mediterranean audiences think anyway? I’m totally looking forward to seeing it when it eventually plays here.

I’m the furthest thing from a hipster. I usually only get “into” something after it has jumped the shark, or sold out, or gone off the air, or broken up, or whatever sad metaphor you want to use. I can say, however, that I’ve been with Wes Anderson from the beginning (well, almost the beginning). I also realized I have an almost Rain Man like ability to remember where I saw each of his movies the first time and with whom.

Wes Anderson movies. There are certain hallmarks that we’ve come to expect from them. A certain colour palate, well placed slo-mo, meticulously selected pop songs from the 60s and 70s on the soundtrack, unconventional characters and plotting, wholly imaginative and yet familiar created worlds.You either love them or you don’t. I guess it’s like most things, it comes down to personal taste. A couple of years ago, when “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” was in theatres, I was chatting about Wes Anderson to a friend and we both realized that we loved his movies, but when we ranked them, it turned out she had his movies in almost exact opposite order to me. But that’s what we do, don’t we? We’re listmakers. I guess it’s like trying to decide which dessert off the dessert cart you’d like the best. All of the movies are pretty damn good, even the ones I don’t really care for all that much.

With that in mind, why don’t I tell you my list? Will you indulge me this self-indulgent trip down cinematic memory lane? I think I’ll go chronologically.

Bottle Rocket (1996) Cinematheque, Winnipeg (Rank: #2)

From left to right, Ed, Jon and Trevor

When I worked at the downtown library, there was a group of us that got really close and would end up doing things socially outside of work from time to time. One Tuesday afternoon Gail came up to me and said there was this funny sounding movie playing at Cinematheque after work and would I be interested in checking it out? I’m always up for a movie, then and now, and the two of set off for the late show. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard at a movie and identified so strongly with its characters. Anthony, recently released from a mental hospital. Now who does thatsound like? His loyal and faithful friend, Dignan? That could only be my best friend Ed. And Bob Maplethorpe, the friend with the car? That was our friend Jon. It really felt like how lives would have gone if we had decided to turn our attention to a life of crime. And in the middle of it all is this sweet unexpected love story between Anthony and Inez that you are totally rooting for. Gail and I could hardly talk on the way home, we were laughing so hard and remembering all the great lines and scenes. Gail was a little older than the rest of us. (30 when we were in our early 20’s) but she really fit in with the group, she was such a sweet person and when you work with someone, age didn’t matter so much. A few years later she developed ovarian cancer and we lost her at the maddeningly young age of 41. At her funeral, someone played a hauntingly beautiful version of “Alone again, or” by Love, and I can’t help but think she asked for that because of Bottle Rocket, since that song is featured prominently in one scene. Whenever I think of “Bottle Rocket” I think of Gail.

Rushmore (1998) Silver City St. Vital, Winnipeg (Rank #1)

With friends like him, who needs friends?

This time I knew who Wes Anderson was, and I had doggedly made all my friends watch “Bottle Rocket” when it came out on video. Most of my friends liked it, although I’m sure to what degree. Anyway, I had gathered a large group together to see Rushmore. I was aware of the so-called “sophomore slump” and was partially ready to not like what I was about to see.

But I loved it.

This was Wes Anderson fully formed. The Mark Mothersbaugh score was the mortar to all of the off-beat bricks that make up this wonderful ensemble cast. And oh my God, Bill Murray. I’ve always loved Bill Murray, but I had never seen him so understated, so reserved, so awesomely funny as Mr. Blume. This movie marked the beginning of a friendship and working relationship between Bill Murray and Wes Anderson that continues to this day. Bill Murray has had a role in every Wes Anderson movie since.

My friend Ed and I love detail in movies, comics, books, everything really. Ed loved all of the little touches for which Wes Anderson soon became known. In the scene when Max is arrested and held overnight, Ed noticed that they that taken his shoe laces, as if he were on suicide watch or something. I never noticed that the first time, but I always see that on subsequent viewings. It’s the little things, isn’t it?

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Towne Cinema, Winnipeg (Rank: #6)

Their relationship was frowned upon, but what isn’t these days?

A lot of people consider this to be their favourite Wes Anderson film, and for many people I know, it is the only Wes Anderson movie they’ve seen. So it comes to some people’s surprise that I rank it lowest. I think a lot of it had to do with expectations. I enjoyed Bottle Rocket so much, and Rushmore so much more, I couldn’t imagine how excellent his third outing would be. My friend Ed had seen it a few days before me and called me up. “Trev, you’ve GOT to see it. It’s incredible. In fact, I’m going to take my parents next week to see it. Why don’t you come along with us?” First of all, Ed isn’t really a gusher, and secondly, I’ve never really known him to take his parents out to anything, so my expectations were at ceiling height to begin with. To me, I guess Anderson’s sophomore slump was actually his senior slump.

Although there are some great moments in the movie, like the scene where Royal takes his grandsons out for a day on the town, the sum total felt less than its parts. I know this sounds crazy, but it felt like it was trying TOO HARD to be a Wes Anderson movie. I know that’s like coming out of a McDonalds and complaining that your Big Mac tastes too much like a Big Mac, but there it is. Also, it felt to me like this was the movie where the secret was out that Wes Anderson was a cool guy and everyone in Hollywood wanted to work with him. Even Ben Stiller was in this movie, and that usually for me spells box office poison. Bill Murray was there, sure, but his character was such a sad sack I just felt bad for him the whole time. I was underwhelmed throughout most of the movie, and was on the fence about it. I mean, it was a Wes Anderson movie, after all. But then we got Richie’s suicide attempt scene and that put it over the edge for me. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always felt squeamish when I’m presented with suicide scenes in movies or TV.  And in particular I can’t stand scenes involving wrist cutting. There’s something reptilian in my brain that just reacts viscerally whenever I see that, I can’t explain it. And so I kind of felt like throwing up after that scene, to be honest. I think I’ve gotten better over the years,  but it didn’t win Royal Tenenbaums any points in my personal ranking scheme. Which is a shame, really, because there is a lot to like. “So what did you THINK?” Ed asked me afterwards. “Um, well, it was okay,” was all I could manage. I knew I should have liked it, and that it was technically a “GOOD MOVIE”, but it just wasn’t for me, I don’t think. It’s telling that it’s the only Wes Anderson movie that I haven’t gone back and watched multiple times.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) Grant Park Cinemas, Winnipeg (Rank #3)

Let me tell you about my ship.

My friend Kaj has his birthday in early January, and a tradition we have if he’s in town is to go out for supper and a movie. Sometimes it’s just the two of us, and sometimes there is a group. This year, (January 2005), there was a group of about 10 and the movie was “Life Aquatic”. I went in with the lowest expectations of any Wes Anderson movie to date. I still felt emotionally bloodied and bruised after “Tenenbaums” and wasn’t sure what to expect. Happily, all my reservations were unfounded, and I just fell in love with this picture. 

When I was a kid, I would watch PBS every Monday night for “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau”. I was probably around 12, the magic age discussed in the movie.  Steve Zissou, Bill Murray’s character, is clearly based on Jacques  Cousteau, if Jacques Cousteau ever had a mid-life crisis. Cousteau’s ship was called “The Calypso” and Zissou’s was “The Belafonte”, naturally. Wes’s brother, Eric Chase Anderson’s production designs never felt more alive and realized than in this movie, in my opinion. One of my favourite sequences was where Zissou simply says, “Let me tell you about my ship”, and we’re treated to a wonderful cross-section tour of all the nooks and crannies that the Belafonte has to offer. I turned to Kaj at this point and said, “I want to be part of Team Zissou. I want to be the ship’s librarian on the Belafonte!” It felt like you actually could. His crew was such a diverse collection of misfits, that I don’t think you would need to make a very strong case to him. “Well okay.” Zissou would say. “Let’s get you fitted for a speedo and a glock. Wait, do librarians get glocks? No, let’s get you a laptop and a librarything.com account. You’re okay with a Mac?”

Steve Zissou is not an easy protagonist to like. He’s selfish and manipulative, and yet I couldn’t help but come to love him and root for him as he tries to make sense of the death of his longtime partner from a Jaguar shark attack. Oddly enough, this is probably the Wes Anderson movie I’ve rewatched the most times. Oh, and it has JEFF GOLDBLUM!

Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority on this one. After the movie ended, one of Kaj’s friends said to him, “I wish I enjoyed that movie as much as your friend Trevor seemed to!”

The Darjeeling Limited (2007) Globe Cinemas, Winnipeg (Rank: 5)

“Look at THESE assholes!”

I saw this one with Ed. At this point, the Wes Anderson “look and feel” was firmly established, and unlike the Royal Tenenbaums, I was happy to spend a couple of hours  in his universe this time. You know how sometimes you just really feellike a Big Mac? I know this sort of trivializes the film, and it’s not meant to. I just mean that it makes use of slo-mo, Kinks and Rolling Stones songs, and the spiritual and mundane mix so well that you stop noticing that it is a Wes Anderson movie and quickly get invested into these three brothers and their attempt  to create a spiritual journey for themselves. The short film, Hotel Chevalier, sets the stage for what is to follow, and I feel bad for American audiences who did not get to watch the short when the Darjeeling Limited was originally distributed. I recently rewatched this film and actually enjoyed more than I did the first time. I rank it second to last, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. It just means that when you rank things you love, they can’t all be in first place, right?

The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). Cinema City, Polo Park (Rank: 4)

Wes Anderson and friends on the set of “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”.

Wes Anderson has been accused of being all style and no substance. Whatever, man. For this one, Anderson makes a feature-length stop motion film based on the Roald Dahl story. The interesting thing is that even though you’re watching a bunch of furry animals running around, you know instantly that you’re in a Wes Anderson movie. All the elements are there: recurring cast (Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, to name a few), cool soundtrack, familiar colour palate, detailed production design, quirky characters. I saw this one with Ed, his wife Dilara and their son Eddie, who would have been four at the time. When it was over and the lights came up. Eddie turned to me and said, “I want to get the DVD!” Me too, Eddie, me too.

So there you have it. My chronological relationship with Wes Anderson films. Do you agree, disagree? What are your favourites? Looking at the rankings below, it seems weird to see the movies laid out this way. Maybe a cluster would be a better representation. Rushmore at the top, a cluster of Bottle Rocket, Life Aquatic, Mr. Fox and Darjeeling, with Tenenbaums at the bottom? In any event, I am very much looking forward to “Moonrise Kingdom”.  Kaj has already expressed an interest in seeing it with me when it comes out, but I have a feeling I may see it more than once in the theatres. That would be a Wes Anderson first for me.

My rankings:

1. Rushmore

2. Bottle Rocket

3. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

4. The Fantastic Mr. Fox

5. The Darjeeling Limited

6. The Royal Tenenbaums

? Moonrise Kingdom

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Oscar

The Artist is simply a delight!” Everyone who has seen The Artist.

We’re just a week away from the 84th Academy Awards, so it’s time to talk about the Oscars. It’s the only awards show that really matters to me. It’s the flag-ship, the “Survivor” of awards shows if you will. And hey look! They even have Billy Crystal hosting ever since the producer Brett Ratner quit after making homophobic comments to the media. This prompted Ratner’s host, Eddie Murphy to quit as well. We all got the feeling that Eddie Murphy never really wanted to host the awards in the first place, and  that this was a good excuse for him to back out, which is too bad because it would have been the closest thing to an Eddie Murphy stand-up routine in about twenty years. I like Billy Crystal, but he seems like the safe, obvious choice. Don’t you get the feeling that the Academy has been keeping Billy Crystal in a glass box these past few years with a label saying “Break Glass in Case of Emergency!”?

Just so you know, nobody knows how the Academy decides which movies get nominated. They may publish a complicated formula on their website, but it’s all lies. They went from a manageable 5 best picture nominations up to 10 a couple of years ago. This really just meant that movies like “District 9” and “Winter’s Bone” could stick a “Best Picture Nominee” on their DVD boxes. This year, just to fuck with us, the Academy has nominated 9 movies for Best Picture. You can use Roger Ebert’s trick and look to see which Best Picture nominees also have nominations for Best Director. His point is that a movie shouldn’t ever win if it’s director isn’t nominated either. The only movies you need to concern yourself with then, are “The Artist”, “The Descendants”, “Hugo”, “The Tree of Life “and “Midnight in Paris”.

Nevertheless, let’s look at all nine.

Just like last year, I haven’t seen all the pictures, but that sure doesn’t disqualify me from telling you what I think about every one. When you work in a library, you get used to recommending or panning books without ever actually reading them (true story) so why should movies be any different?

Let’s start with the ones I haven’t seen.

The Descendants

I know several people who have seen this one, and none have really come out and said that they loved it. Some people outright hated it, some cried all the way through, and others “quite liked it”. I’m a big fan of Election and Sideways, two of Alexander Payne’s other movies, so I’m definitely interested in seeing this one, eventually. Also who doesn’t love George Clooney? One thing I keep hearing is that the “scenery is pretty” because its filmed in Hawaii. Well, the scenery is pretty in “The Thin Red Line” too but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good movie. Speaking of Terrence Malick films…

The Tree of Life

There is no bloody way you’re going to get me to sit through this one.

War Horse

I’m sorry, but the wrong Spielberg movie got nominated this year. “The Adventures of Tintin” was innovative and fun and hit all the right notes, but didn’t even get an animation nomination? What DID get nominated? Rango was okay. I never saw Kung Fu Panda 1, let alone number 2, and a couple of weird European movies no one’s ever heard of? Come ON.

Anyway, War Horse is the story of a really smart horse who falls in with a bunch of stupid humans. That horse gets sent off to World War 1 and despite being put in harm’s way numerous times, always comes out safe the other side. Maybe the horse isn’t so smart as it is lucky. Not only that, but after the war ends he enlists AGAIN and fights Nazis in WWII. He then becomes a spy and provides valuable information to the British during the Cold War. He gets sent to Korea and later fights in Vietnam. He then retires to Montana where he gets molested by Robert Redford and Scarlet Johannsen. The horse then COMES OUT OF RETIREMENT and somehow gets beamed up to Mars and helps John Carter and Dejah Thoris fight aliens up there. That is one lucky horse. I used to have a goldfish called “Ish” when I was a kid, and that fish lived for years. My wife think that my parents just kept replacing Ish with a different fish every time it died. I don’t think so, but if that’s true that’s a shitty thing to do to a kid. I kinda think that’s what they did in War Horse. They just kept changing the horse and pretending it was the same one. Especially the one on Mars.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I tried reading the novel on which this movie is based. Although I liked the premise, the book was just too difficult to read. It’s written in the voice of the main character, nine-year old Oskar, who happens to have some ill-defined disability. I gave up on the book around page 70 and have no real desire to see this movie. Plus, everyone knows that “United 93” is the best movie made about 9/11 and we should just leave it at that.

The Artist

You're getting sleepy. SLEEPY...

The Artist is a silent movie from France that is sweeping the nation garnering awards left and right. Every one who sees this movie can’t say enough good things about it. The reason for this, of course, is that the movie isn’t actually silent. That’s right. The movie is using it’s silent format to transmit subliminal messages and feelings of “enjoyment” and “contentment” to unsuspecting audience members. The U.S. Army has been working on this for years, but it took the sneaky French to bring it to the masses. This is incredibly unethical and possibly illegal, and so I urge those of you who have not yet seen this film to AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE. If you are still skeptical, let me tell you that as I typed this blog-post and imported poster images, the entire blog-post was deleted at the very moment I imported the poster art for “The Artist”. I’ve had to completely type this post again from scratch (the things I DO for you people) and this time I’ve saving it after every sentence. Coincidence? I think NOT.

So let’s get on to the movies I actually saw last year.

The Help

I enjoyed this movie about the relationships between black maids and their white socialite employers in 1960’s Mississippi. It’s the type of movie you’d expect to be nominated for Best Picture and definitely belongs in the list. It’s just that there isn’t anything that I really LOVED about this movie. It kinda reminded me of “Fried Green Tomatoes” although this movie sadly does not open with Chris O’Donnell getting hit by a train. You know, every movie should open with Chris O’Donnell getting hit by a train.

Moneyball

Anyone who reads this blog and who knows me at all knows that I love baseball and baseball movies. It’s a cliche to say that baseball is chock full of allegories that can apply to life, but the game just seems to lend itself well to storytelling. When I saw this movie last fall, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I wasn’t sure if it would be loved by those who fall outside the “baseball” and “baseball movie” loving public. I’m pleased to see it’s getting so much attention. I love that Jonah Hill is nominated for supporting actor and that he’s up against a bunch of old white guys. Christopher Plummer is the favourite in that category, but I would be so happy to see Jonah Hill win this. It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball, or baseball movies for that matter.

Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams with the newly cloned Woody Allen 2.0

I love Woody Allen. I love Owen Wilson. I love that Owen Wilson was in a Woody Allen movie. I wish science would get it’s act together and clone Woody Allen so that we’d be guaranteed a new Woody Allen movie every year from now until the sun explodes. Lord knows they haven’t all been good, but most of them are watchable and sometimes one comes along that is just so charming and lovely that it rises about the “Woody Allen movie” pigeon hole. “Midnight in Paris” is one of those movies. You just need to see it. And how wonderful is it to see Owen Wilson back in movies, after nearly losing him to suicide a couple of years ago?

Hugo

Martin Scorsese takes on 3D. Martin Scorsese pays homage to the origins of film. Oh, and it’s also a kid’s movie. I actually put aside my temporary boycott of 3D just to see what Mr. Scorsese did with it, and I wasn’t disappointed. I had read “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” when it came out and marveled at the way it told it’s story through a unique use of words and pictures. Scorsese makes the most of the Paris Railway station where much of the action takes place, and the 3D really felt like it was an important part of the storytelling, not just a gimmick to make you blink. Even though I fear “The Artist” will win Best Picture this year, my heart is with “Hugo”.

How will it all go down?

It’s interesting that Best Picture will probably come down to a showdown between “Hugo” and “The Artist”: two movies that take as its subject the early days of film. One film explores the joy and wonder of movies through the eyes of two young friends who are on an adventure. The other is a gimmicky, manipulative piece of trash that uses subliminal psychotropic methods to force you to love it. Both have well-trained dogs, however. Why not just bring the dogs from each movie out on the stage, Michael Vick style, and see what happens? The last dog standing wins the Oscar. I would totally go for that, because I’m sure Hugo’s dog would totally kick The Artist’s dog’s ass.

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Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.

“It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.” Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, Moneyball. 

I had the great pleasure of seeing Moneyball this past weekend. On the surface, it tells the story of Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland Athletics, and how he introduced a new way of evaluating players’ skills. In a sport where payrolls are hopelessly unequal between clubs, Billy Beane’s adoption of some of Bill James’ methods is met with a response of confusion, defiance and open hostility. The movie also addresses wider issues such as what we value in society, second chances, and making decisions based on factors other than money. There’s a lovely dynamic between Brad Pitt’s Beane and Beane’s assistant played by Jonah Hill. I loved it, and thought that it surely would fit nicely somewhere in my top 5 baseball movies. Only problem was, I didn’t really have a top five list of baseball movies. Who does, really? I’ve had fun today thinking about which five movies would make the cut.

So what follows is my personal list of my top five favourite baseball movies, or scenes about baseball in non-baseball movies. Does this make sense?

5. The Pride of the Yankees (1942) Baseball seems to lend itself to incredible stories of heroism and romance, more so than any other sport. TPOTY is the story of Lou Gehrig. The Iron Horse. He never missed a game. I mean never. He played in 2130 consecutive games. This record would not be broken until the mid 1990’s by Cal Ripken Jr, and will never be broken again. Back in the day, your number was the order you hit. Babe Ruth hit third, so he wore 3. Gehrig hit fourth, so he wore 4. Simpler times. Then, one day, he wasn’t feeling so great and took himself out of the line up. This was in 1939. Gehrig was only 35 at the time. Turns out he had ALS, a degenerative motor-neuron disease, which subsequently became known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”. I used to like the joke that it was terrible luck that Lou Gehrig would actually get Lou Gehrig’s disease, but then last year, Pat, a dear friend of my wife, got ALS and I saw her slow decline first hand and realized there was nothing at all funny about it. In addition to his consecutive game streak and his illness, he’ll be remembered for his farewell speech given at Yankee Stadium. I linked to the actual speech, not the movie version, because nothing beats the real thing.

4. Damn Yankees (1958) Whew, that first one got a little heavier than I thought. Let’s lighten things up with a musical! A hapless fan of the Washington Senators makes a deal with the devil to become a great long ball hitter and finally beat the “Damn Yankees”. Plus, there’s singing and dancing! What’s not to love? Gwen Verdon owns the role of Lola, but is it too much to hope for a Broadway revival featuring Sutton Foster?

3. A League of their Own (1992) This little gem of a movie tells the story of the first women’s professional baseball league, created out of necessity during WWII. Many of the big professional male baseball stars were sent overseas to fight, leaving baseball in a precarious position. Penny Marshall’s movie is full of wonderful moments, including the now famous  “there’s no crying in baseball” scene.

2. Fever Pitch (2005) I love this movie because of the way serendipity worked during the filming process. This movie is a remake of a 1997 film of the same name. That movie, in turn, was based on a semi-autobiographical book by Nick Hornby. Hornby’s original story is about a teacher who is an obsessed Arsenal FC fan and who must ultimately choose between football and his girlfriend. The original movie has Colin Firth, and for those of us who suffer from Firth Fever, that’s all one needs to know. I understand the original movie is far superior to the remake on my list, but we’re not here to talk about Colin Firth, are we? (Or are we?) Let’s just gaze upon his countenance for just a moment…

Mr. Darcy, I presume?

Right. Where were we? Oh yes. Fever Pitch. The non-Firthified version. Well, the Farrelly brothers, who up to this point made a number of forgettable comedies, got the rights to this story and decided to change the game from soccer to baseball, and the club from Arsenal to the Boston Red Sox. Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon were cast in the leads, and the movie began filming in the spring of 2004. What the film-makers didn’t know at the time was that the Red Sox would go on to win the World Series for the first time in 86 years that season. This was the hugest deal for the people of Boston. The Farrelly brothers had to do rewrites to the script as the drama on the field spilled over into the screenplay, going so far as to have Fallon and Barrymore travel to St. Louis for the final game and celebration, and actually filming scenes for the movie as the celebration took place in real-time. It was inspired, fun and unique and the best thing that the Farrelly brothers have ever done. As I like to say, “Anything can happen in baseball”.

1. Field of Dreams (1989). Well it has to be number one, doesn’t it? Can you be a baseball fan and NOT have this movie at the top? It was on TV just the other night, we caught it about 20 minutes in, just at the point when Shoeless Joe appears for the first time. I own the movie on DVD, seen it dozens of times, and yet I couldn’t turn it off. I watched the whole damn thing, and the final scene ALWAYS makes me cry. No exception. Each time I think to myself “I won’t cry this time”, and its hopeless. I’m genetically pre-disposed to cry when I hear, “I could have sworn this was heaven”. I hesitate to link to a clip, because if you watch this scene without having seen the whole movie, I’m afraid it may come across as corny and forced, but I don’t care. This is my “It’s a wonderful life” and I’m okay with crying every time.

Honourable mentions.

I just wanted to mention a couple of baseball scenes in non-baseball movies that I love.

Brewster’s Millions (1985) Richard Pryor and John Candy are a pitcher and catcher, respectively, for the minor league Hackensack Bulls. Their ball field is so low rent that there are railway tracks in the outfield and periodically the umpires have to call time to let a train through. The movie opens during a game and time is called for a train. John Candy runs out to the mound and says (and I’m paraphrasing here). “What’s wrong? You seem distracted.” Richard Pryor’s response? “You’re damn right I’m distracted, there’s a goddamn freight train in the outfield!” That line always cracks me up.

City Slickers (1991) A group of guys try to explain to Helen Slater what baseball means to them.

The Untouchables (1987) Al Capone uses baseball as a metaphor to teach his men a lesson.

Good Will Hunting (1997). Robin Williams’ character describes when he knew his wife was to be “the one”. Also known as the Game Six scene.

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