2011 in film
I’m giving up on my 2011 film push. I did okay.
Movies are always annoying because the “best” ones typically all come out in limited release at the end of the year, meaning that a non-critic (like me and I’m assuming probably you) usually can’t see them before the last week of the year or so. I have a theater about 30 minutes away that’s been pretty good about limited releases — which is somewhat far for a regular outing but otherwise not a terrible experience — so that’s helped a bit.
Since this post, as it has in the past, somewhat coincides with the Academy Awards, I’m going by official eligibility rather than when I actually saw it. This results in my my movie year running about two months behind the calendar (i.e. starts in March since nothing worth seeing is released before March anyway for the most part). In previous years, I have run down the Best Picture nominees, but this year they’re not very good and I think I’ve seen enough of the overall landscape to just give my own rankings.
Based on this list, I’ve seen 47* of the eligible movies this year. Most of them are pretty good since for the most part I don’t watch movies that I don’t think I’d enjoy. Given this, there were 9 or so movies that I thought were some degree better than the rest in some way and that I’d probably like to see again at some point. These are in a rough order of preference:
THE TREE OF LIFE
Seems to be pretty love-it-or-hate-it, and THE TREE OF LIFE is one that I might go back to next year and not really love, but was one of those great theater experiences in my initial viewing and I’m sticking with it for now.
A SEPARATION is Iranian which makes some people think I’ve dug up some obscure gem, but this is Ebert’s top film of the year so it’s not really like I’m going out on any limbs. It’s a really great drama piece and I’m always enamored by stuff that can elicit a strong response out of what’s mostly just people talking.
I really loved DRIVE when I saw it on somewhat of a whim this summer and I was happy to see it gain some more popularity as the year wore on. Very cool and oozing with elements destined to be iconic.
I’ve tried to read myself out of liking THE ARTIST so much since it’s basically just a concept piece (black and white, mostly silent), but I really did enjoy it. I hope its success at least inspires people to try finance some different things.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
I’m kind of a sucker for Fincher at this point, but the overall product has me looking past a few problems I had with plot pieces (which could have easily been in the book too, I have no idea). Much like The Social Network the fantastic Reznor/Ross soundtrack drives the whole thing and alone would be worth your time.
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
I was a big fan of the original, Swedish Let the Right One In, and I love the tone throughout TINKER TAILOR as well. I’ll admit the plot didn’t completely come together for me until the end, but I liked it much more than I thought I was going to.
CERTIFIED COPY was a very interesting, low key movie and most importantly felt very fresh for what really amounts to a relationship drama.
Obviously SHAME turned into mostly shock factor for me in a theater watching an NC-17 movie with other — mostly older and perhaps unaware — patrons, but I think through the whole sex addiction thing there’s some good messages about addiction at large without the usual guise of drugs/crime.
I thought I’d like YOUNG ADULT a lot more being the moved-away, independent soul that I have become, but the Theron character turned out to be kind of too ridiculous for me in the end. It still spoke to me enough (and was thoroughly entertaining enough) for inclusion here.
*Movies I actually see are based on some combination of interest, availability, nominations (e.g. I would not have touched ELIC for any other reason), and in some cases just going along with what other people want to see. At one point I was trying to get my number of eligible movies watched as high as possible, and then eventually gave up and realized I could just cheat and watch a bunch of crappy movies. So! I stopped and just focused on stuff I thought I’d like or people were more excited about. Anyway, here was my list:
BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
COWBOYS & ALIENS
CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE.
A DANGEROUS METHOD
EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
THE IDES OF MARCH
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
THE TREE OF LIFE
UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
Final Fantasy (Sports)
I have been playing fantasy sports for over a decade, and as an early side note it’s weird to finally reach an age where I can call back an entire decade of sentience of something. But thanks to Yahoo!’s full fantasy sports backlog, I can relive a rich history of poor finishes and terrible puns as team names. I joined my first fantasy football league in 2001, where I naturally entered a league with my brother and even used a variant of his team name.
As the years progressed, I can see myself mature as my team names grow from jokes I don’t understand to more modern spins on athlete names, as well as some middle period where my team names were simply athlete names, (e.g. “The Eli Mannings” in what appears to be Eli’s rookie year) My fantasy performances improve as well, leading me to become a perennial contender, if not champion, in at least one league per sport per season as I began dabbling in basketball, hockey, and baseball. I gradually pared down my participation to strictly football and baseball, which is where I stand now.
As of Sunday (1/1/2012), with two championship finishes, which I bring up not to brag but simply to counter any arguments of “oh you’re probably just bad at fantasy,” I hereby retire from fantasy sports. I don’t think I’ve become too good for them or anything, and I will continue to defend them to some degree against detractors, but at this point in time I no longer see the imminent value in them or don’t really have a place for them in my life or something in the spirit of one of those two things.
There is a tremendous amount of value to fantasy for certain people. First, there’s the abstraction of sports betting. While pure gambling/betting is something I’ve never really gotten into and will try to continue to avoid (save one March Madness bracket entry if you want to call out hypocrisy), I can see that fantasy sports allows one to make a wager (or not, obviously) across an entire season based on a large number of owner decisions instead of general bets that may lay further outside of the locus of control of the bettor that he or she might be nearer to in the fantasy sports realm. I never really played to prove some sort of knowledge of the game, as it’s usually more about exploiting your league’s rules and less knowledgeable (or less timely) players (plus a healthy dose of luck) than it does knowing Player X is about to break out.
I can’t really recall why I started doing fantasy football back in 2001 (but this is an-eerie-or-maybe-not reminder that my first weeks in competition were right around 9/11), but I suppose I’ve continued doing it out of some sort of tradition or cultural pull that kept me closer to friends or family or the society of sports fans that I felt I wanted to belong to.
I do remember that I started doing fantasy baseball, or at least refocusing on it in an obsessive-serious manner, just a few years ago as a mechanism to get me to follow baseball more closely. This actually worked extremely well, and I spent many hours at a summer job glued to statistics trying to make moves ahead of the other players. As a bonus, I’m pretty sure this also kept me away from the brink of insanity that I was fast approaching at that job. I pretty much proved that someone with unlimited time can completely abuse a more relaxed fantasy baseball league.
However, with both sports, I think I’ve reached the point where I am a mature enough fan to be able to appreciate the game without anything extra riding on it, be it money or fantasy performance, which I guess would also be some sort of surrogate pride. On top of the age old “nobody cares about someone else’s fantasy team,” I think that even personally it’s annoying to be looking for something so specific in any given game, like being pained to see my specific player, who has no attachment to me whatsoever (or his other millions of fantasy owners) ignored once again by his quarterback or coach. There is also a small part of me, regardless of what I wrote further up the page, that doesn’t necessarily want to be the guy whose entire life revolves around sports, and this is but a small step to try to realize that goal.
With baseball, following the Mets is an adventure in itself, and watching national games, any exciting looking matchups, and simply checking in on stats from time to time will more than suffice. Football, however, is a bit of a different beast. Indoctrinated from a young age by my father, I’ve ritualized the idea of a Football Sunday so much that I had somewhat come to organize my life around it. In college, I would try to schedule 6am flights back to school after Thanksgiving, much to the displeasure of whichever parent had to get up to drive me to the airport, lest I miss game action. This was especially true if the Giants had a 1pm game that day and/or was my trip returning after winter break which usually landed on the first week of playoffs, leaving me seemingly, at the time, without a choice.
This season, I spent nearly every Sunday, from noon (as I’m on Central Time) through the Sunday Night game (I cut out early on this if it was a blowout) in more or less lockdown inside my apartment. Between a TV hooked up to cable, a monitor set up next to it hooked up to a computer, my desktop with 2 monitors and any given laptop, I was well equipped to see every game, simultaneously, while keeping tabs on scoring plays (RedZone) and fantasy performance. I had long shunned watching games with others because they just didn’t “get it,” and I needed to be in my “command center.”
(I kind of still hold this view for Giants and Syracuse basketball games, for which I remain pretty strongly emotionally attached, and generally feel a) more comfortable in my own setting and b) have the freedom to check on stats and other things without fear of interruption or channel changing, malevolent or otherwise. As I said, small steps.)
Opponents of fantasy will claim its downright silliness or the oft-repeated connection to Dungeons & Dragons (but in this case for jocks instead of nerds). While there is in fact a loose parallel here, the truth is that fantasy sports are rooted in reality in a way that such games are not, in that the results depend on actual occurrences in sporting events, and also really don’t go into the kind of depth that such roleplaying games do (in my experiences at least, I’m sure some hardcore football or especially baseball leagues can get absolutely absurd). It is this casualness that most fantasy leagues display (a generalization of most people in most leagues) that I do not think I can quite grasp.
I realize that there’s probably some sort of middle ground here, and that most people are not this obsessive over fantasy sports, and can draft their players (or miss the draft) and just check briefly week to week (or not) and be fully content with that level of participation. However, as one who typically overcommits to, well, everything, as well as somebody who can appreciate the game without any fringe rooting interest, I’d rather just not deal with it at all. Clean break. This way, I can enjoy a game or two without feeling like I need to see every single play in one way or another and have some misplaced hatred of players who are underperforming for me.
I’ll probably still possess a passive interest in fantasy numbers simply to be able to converse with others about it, but I think this can be accomplished without poring over stats for what turns into hours every week.
I also reserve the right to completely Favre this decision and play again next year, but right now I don’t see it happening. I’ve also reached a breaking point in my interest in the sport of football in general, due to a bunch of different reasons, but I think that might need to be addressed in a future post. Until then, I will enjoy basketball season.
Mediocrity as ethos
With the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, everyone is going crazy (6.5 million copies sold on day one crazy) over something that is, at best, a wholly decent, albeit extremely broad and average video game. I could spend thousands of words railing on it and its subsequent release for a number of things, most notably serial sequelization (the game is essentially Call of Duty 8), hype culture, and what seems like a critical ennui towards very safe blockbusters.
I originally wrote this as a straight rant including pretty much all of those things, but my attitude has shifted somewhat. While I began the month pretty anti-Modern Warfare, I ended up buying it (for PC) on launch day. My attitude changed when I realized that pretty much every person I talk to regularly would be playing it. It was almost strictly peer pressure, but I probably would’ve caved and bought it eventually anyway, so I figured better to do it on day one and get it over with. After owning the game for about a week now, I do have to admit I have enjoyed playing it, mostly with a group of friends. This proves nothing, really, as even the worst game (or any experience really) can be made better with company. Even given this, I have to admit that Modern Warfare 3 isn’t a bad game by any means. It’s just not remarkable in any way whatsoever.
Modern Warfare 3 is the latest in a sort of cross-form genre that I guess you could call “popcorn media.” This is a movie, television show or game (etc., it really could be anything) that, like a popcorn movie, is extremely easy to experience without really being intellectually stimulating in any way. There is nothing wrong with enjoying time spent in this genre. It allows you to turn off your mind, which I can appreciate, take part in, and encourage it from time to time. Yet, much like the snack, too much of it can be a bad thing.
I see two problems with the genre’s new found prevalence (ok it’s not really new but the modern Internet has vastly inflated its worth). First is rampant exceptionalism, combined with opinion as objectivity. Everything you watch or do or see or play (and enjoy) is not the best. There is an important distinction to the definition of “best” to prevent multiple entries (or, in reality, more than a very small number). Once you winnow your list down a little, pay mind to the fact that “favorite” is not the same as “best.”
Second is, and this is debatable but is probably the biggest feeder into my first point, spending all of one’s time within this genre. While it is cliché to rail on people who like consensus popular things, it’s mostly deserved, as it makes people extremely boring. People should be more willing to challenge themselves. Read that 1300 page book that sounds like something you’d be kind of into. Watch that boring looking movie that critics say is really good. Play that game that requires you to think about what you’re doing.
My other and final take on all of this is that we should sometimes be satisfied with mediocrity, and maybe even embrace it. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is not a great game by any means, but I play it while extremely aware of this fact. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to enjoy it for a few hours a week when I want to shoot things without thinking about anything at all, or more likely, while doing something else. I’m content with the fact that I’m spending a little time on something underwhelming, because I have found some (although unusual) value in it. I think everyone else should evaluate their own pursuits and return to the reality where their hobbies are simply average.
To accomplish this, most people just need to reframe how they view what they enjoy. Chances are, most of the stuff you like isn’t that great. As long as you’re happy with that, more power to you. But consider that having exclusively mediocre interests might reflect back on mediocre people. To become more interesting, it couldn’t hurt to try something different or more daring. The sequels will always be there later.
And to the guy who posted “No game will beat MW3 —- BEST GAME EVER !!!” on Facebook, you may have successfully trolled me into writing this, but I can assure you that we are no longer Facebook friends.
Problems with Moneyball
I really should’ve liked Moneyball. I like baseball and Brad Pitt, I’m a fan of the theories exhibited by Billy Beane that were described in the movie, and stories that try to capture the larger significance of small revolutions or events are typically very intriguing to me.
I believe that a combination of events led me to not enjoy the movie as much as I should have.
First, the theatergoers I watched with weren’t exactly the greatest audience and 3 different people were pretty annoying in unique ways:
- Directly in front of me: phone ringing constantly (an ESPN sound clip leading me to believe that he was receiving football scores)
- Front left of the theater: unnecessarily misplaced and elongated laughter
- I forgot what the last person was doing, but I remember that she was behind me and was assuredly being annoying.
In terms of the baseball results, I already knew exactly what would happen, which killed a lot of the drama for me. I did find it interesting to hear people around me as we exited the theater sound very surprised by the turn of events, which made me feel like I did myself a disservice by knowing the small bit of baseball history that I have retained over the years.
The most significant lines, both funny and dramatic, seemed to have all been used in the trailers, and the rest of the writing wasn’t really that great. I’d be interested to see which parts of the script that ended up being shot were written by Sorkin and which by Zaillian, as I usually skew more Sorkin.
I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly, but considering how much of the movie seemed to stress how they were changing baseball, a huge chunk of time was actually spent watching Brad Pitt drive his truck around (admittedly unappealing looking) parts of greater Oakland. I wasn’t really captured at all by his personal story, i.e., his history as a failed prospect and whatever they were trying to explain by giving his daughter enough scenes to seem important but not enough to actually matter.
It seemed like given how much real game footage, scenes presented as real game footage, and both real and presumably similarly faked TV/radio commentary was used, this movie could have just as easily been made into a documentary in the spirit of an ESPN 30 for 30 episode.
As is usual with my mixed reviews, this all is not to say that I disliked the movie or that it was necessarily bad, but given my somewhat high expectations, bolstered by positive critical reviews, I left the theater today a little disappointed.
I’m also getting the feeling that I’m not really “using” Tumblr correctly, as I see most people just post pictures and a comment or something. That’s cool, but I’m using it as a blogging platform so feel free to unfollow or hide or ignore or whatever you’d do to my content here.
I was considering doing a full post on the Emmys in the style of my annual Oscars post. Then I looked at the list of nominees again and realized it wasn’t worth my time to just rant for several hundred words.
However, I’ll say two things:
- Modern Family is quite overrated by the voters just to get that many nominations.
- I’ll probably be paying more attention to football tonight regardless.