Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Top 10 Movies of 2004, or "I've finally seen enough of last year's movies to feel educated about this"

Back in the day - and when I say "the day," I obviously mean "the late '90s" - I actually got paid to watch movies. Now, the pay wasn't a lot, which is why I'm not still doing it today. However, there was a stretch of a few years where I didn't buy a single movie ticket, instead going to theaters under the guise of "critic."

I probably averaged seeing about 100 movies a year in theaters, which upon reflection is brazenly absurd. I was in college, for God's sake, which means I could have spent all those hours doing something worthwhile, like hanging out in a bar. Ah, the lessons my increasing age provides...

The years have certainly dulled my enthusiasm for film, along with absurd ticket prices and the increasing shoddiness of the theater-going experience. (Hell, I don't have a great home theater system, but at least I don't get four babies crying in surround sound either). In fact, while I might have averaged 100 theatrical movies in 1998, I have seen exactly TWO in 2005, and we're almost at the year's halfway point ("Hitch" and "Revenge of the Sith," for enquiring minds - and the first one was a date, I swear).

My past dorkiness haunts me, though. I still grade every single movie I see (A+ to F), I still occasionally come up with questions to ask actors and/or directors, and I still make a Top 10 list every year. The list, though, takes a little bit longer, considering I am seeing more of each year's releases on DVD these days. Where I wouldn't have missed "The Life Aquatic" as a theatrical release six years ago, in fact I just saw it last week in the privacy of my own home.

It really takes to June before I really feel I have seen most of the previous year's releases, at least to make an educated "best of" list. And, well, tomorrow being June 1st, I feel it's just about time to present the absolutely last, latest, stale-tasting list of the Top 10 Movies of 2004. Also, as a pointless extra feature, I reveal whether I thought enough of the film in advance to catch it at the theater. (And, by the way, feel free to post your own lists in the Comments section).

1) The Incredibles - Pixar's best. I have never been completely sold by the "Toy Story" movies, instead preferring the scattershot lunacy of "A Bug's Life" and pinpoint storytelling of "Finding Nemo" - and "The Incredibles" managed both of those qualities in spades, not to mention some genuinely thrilling action moments. Instantly rewatchable, and that's saying something for me. (DVD)

2) Garden State - Zach Braff has almost instantly become one of my favorite Hollywood personalities. He wrote, directed and starred in this gem (which, I believe, could become my generation's "Graduate" after some time), and he stars in "Scrubs," easily the most underrated show on television today. When I saw him cameo in "Arrested Development" last month, it became official - I have a new heterosexual man crush. (theater)

3) Collateral -
People that dog on Tom Cruise bother me. Sure, as his recent "Oprah" appearance proved, the man is bat-shit crazy. However, he has serious acting chops, not to mention a propencity for picking great projects (Katie Holmes included). Since "Cocktail" - which was 17 years ago, mind you - the guy has made exactly one piece of shit ("Mission: Impossible II"). Even his average films ("The Last Samurai," "Days of Thunder," "A Few Good Men") have their strong points, and more than once in a while, he'll completely knock the cover off the ball (as he does here). (theater)

4) The Motorcycle Diaries -
As a generally conservative guy, I was hesitant to watch the story of a young Che Guevera, as I pretty much disagree with everything the adult Che Guevera came to stand for. The filmmakers wisely stayed apolitical (for the most part), and told a universal story of a youthful coming-of-age. Fortunately, this film's "coming-of-age" had nothing to do with fucking pies or living next to porn stars, and in fact had the year's best performance (Gael Garcia Bernal) and stunning scenery unlikely to be topped any time soon. (DVD)

5) Hotel Rwanda -
A laugh riot. Ok, not really, but here is one thing that is true: friend and fellow blogger Doug Gillett wrote about this film with better words than I can muster right now. (DVD)

6) The Aviator - Not as great as I'd hoped, not nearly as bad as I'd feared. To be honest, Martin Scorsese hasn't wowed me in quite awhile, but he hits a solid triple with this biopic of Howard Hughes. Leonardo DiCaprio, who looks more like Ving Rhames than Howard Hughes, nevertheless infused his performance with such a passion that he cemented his status in the pretty-boys-that-can-actually- act-club (other members include Brad Pitt, Jude Law). (theater)

7) Kill Bill Vol. II - "Vol. I" was my favorite movie of 2003, and while I didn't enjoy the follow-up with the same enthusiasm, Quentin Tarantino and his cast created a storyline that I only hope will be continued some day. (theater)

8) Spider-Man 2 -
Full disclosure: I hated the first "Spider-Man," and still consider it to be an inane, poorly directed, hideously CGI'd crapfest. The fact I even went to see "Spider-Man 2" is something of a miracle, even moreso when I saw that Sam Raimi and Co. had fixed nearly everything that was wrong with their first installment. Having a tolerable villain certainly helps, and Tobey Maguire certainly seems more comfortable - but, really, it's all about story, and this is a great one. (theater)

9) Friday Night Lights -
Better than the book. Yeah, I said it. (DVD)

10) Shaun of the Dead -
Funny, funny shit. Any movie that uses the C-word within 30 seconds (not that one, that one) is worthy of my love. Any movie that does that and also involves zombies, a reunion of Tim and Dawn from "The Office," and random attacks on the "Batman"-era Prince deserve my first-born. (DVD)

Honorable Mention: "Sideways," "Man on Fire," "Mean Girls," "Million Dollar Baby," "The Bourne Supremacy"

Friday, May 27, 2005

What timing.

"Longest Yard" star Eddie Albert can now roll over in his grave about tragic Adam Sandler remake.

Friday Random 10...

I'm going to steal this feature from my good, politically misguided friend Doug Gillett, who I believe stole it from about 5,000 other sites. Basically, these are the first 10 songs that appear on my iPod in "shuffle" mode, and I believe them to be a harbinger of the weekend to come. It will also give you, the reader, a keen insight into my lack of musical taste.

Feel free to post your own Random 10 in the comments thread - just be honest. If a Nelson song comes up, you have to put it in there.

1) Huey Lewis and the News, "Jacob's Ladder"
2) Journey, "Don't Stop Believin'"
3) U2, "North and South of the River"
4) Foo Fighters, "All My Life"
5) Arrested Development, "Revolution"
6) Bruce Springsteen, "Dancing in the Dark"
7) Outkast, "Behold a Lady"
8) U2, "Boy/Girl (Live From London)"
9) U2, "The Unforgettable Fire"
10) Elton John/Tim Rice, "Endless Night"

Ok, I was completely heterosexual until #10, which comes from "The Lion King" Broadway soundtrack (the Huey Lewis and Journey entries are arguable).

"All My Life," by the way, was completely hijacked by the movie "Identity" - in a good way, I think. Every once in a while a song is used in a movie so memorably, there's no way you'll ever disassociate the two again. And I'll never hear "All My Life" without picturing that sexy freeze-frame of Amanda Peet with the cigarette dangling from her lips. Other examples: "Sister Christian" and "Boogie Nights," "American Girl" and "The Silence of the Lambs," any song heard in "Goodfellas" and "Goodfellas."

Oh damn, I guess I won't be going to Buckhead tonight...

This is really starting to piss me off. Workers losing pay, traffic being held up, companies losing business, Buckhead bar patrons being entertained - all for a guy that will hopefully be put to death anyway. Although I do appreciate the guy blasting Van Halen's "Jump" at the guy.

But seriously, and I do mean SERIOUSLY - a high-powered rifle will solve this problem very quickly. That, or just a good push. What do we train snipers for?

I wish my addictions made me lose weight like Lindsay Lohan's do...

I've gone a few rounds with a number of addictive substances over the years, but rarely have any of them been able to truly grab hold. In fact, I've been pretty lucky - while Diet Coke has its talons firmly entrenched, no illicit drug I ever experimented with was able to do the same. And while I've proven to myself drinking doesn't have a complete grip, I'm not able to say the same when it comes to - nerd alert - the Internet.

The latest monkey on my back, though, is particularly evil. The shakes haven't appeared yet, but I swear I can feel little tremors whenever I open one of those little perforated envelopes.

Netflix has me in its grasp.

Does anybody else look at Netflix as homework? I pay $17.99 a month to rent four DVDs at a time, and the sooner I mail them back, the sooner I get a new one. It's literally a never-ending cycle, and something that creates completely unnecessary stress.

I swear to God, my "to-do list" this weekend consists of: mow lawn, clean kitchen, vacuum room, watch "Heartbreak Ridge," complete Mercer homework.

Should I really be scheduling DVD-watching as a chore? That's what it has become, though. Watching movies at home is certainly preferable to the increasingly annoying theater experience, but the joy has been removed when I look at it as this thing I have to do.

I have to cope, though. I mean, would I really want to, you know, have a girlfriend and stuff, when I can spend Saturday night at home with a double feature of "Clean and Sober" and "Assault on Precinct 13?"

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

"School's out... for the summa..."

There are a few advantages to being a teacher. True, a six-figure salary is not one of them - but the two-month vacation I'm embarking on today makes up for a little bit of that.

For those out of the know, I've been long-term subbing for first and third grade classes the past six months. It's fairly tiring work, but it did land me a full-time job for next fall (teaching fifth grade at a neighboring school). The best thing about this is, of course, I can now easily answer the question, "So what do you do for a living?"

The past six years, my responses have been a jumble of nonsense - "I'm a writer - just doing my own stuff at the moment, I guess. Well, I run an Internet business - Ok, I'm an eBay seller. And I'm a teacher. Well, I mean, a substitute teacher. And I'm in school. Yes, I'm 29, what about it?"

Now it's a quick answer: "I'm a 5th grade teacher." Granted, I'm probably not going to pull Alexis Bledel with a teacher's checking account, but it's short and solid, dammit. Anyway, I refuse to think about next fall right now. This is where I stretch my arms wide, hum "Eye of the Tiger," and celebrate my freedom.

"It's the eye of the tig..."

Oh right, my first summer class at Mercer starts in 45 minutes. Fuck.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

"I used to be a writer."

As soon as I said it, I felt a stutter come on, and suddenly wanted to correct myself. I couldn't, though, because it was true - what kind of writer doesn't create anything of substance for almost five years? Even Harper Lee must have a stash of scribblings we'll get to read after she dies (come on, already!).

In truth, "I'm a writer" is a familiar refrain for any ex-writer who thinks it will get him laid at parties, and color me guilty of that pathetic display. But this was the first time I recalled my writing days in the past tense - basically, the first time I recalled it honestly.

The person I said this to knew my work from a previous life, back when I was a bit more prolific. He (yes, "he" - the honesty is a bit more understandable) wondered why I had given it up, and I answered that it was my laziness, combined with not working under a deadline, that contributed most to my apathy. "Well, at least you should have a blog," he said.

Ah yes, a blog. I am quite familiar with the world of the weblog, having read a few good ones along with a couple thousand simpering, pretentious puddles of word vomit. I have been wary of entering this arena for awhile, only because it reeks of wearing faux-worn boot-cut jeans, drinking Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, and watching "Lost" - I mean, everybody's doing it*.

Of course, the revelatory moment for me is the realization I just RSVP'd for a "Lost" viewing party, while wearing Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper-stained faux-worn boot-cut jeans. I am such a Conformist I have to capitalize it. Starting a blog is the least of my mass-marketed mind's worries.

Anyway, what you're initially going to find here is an example of the simpering, pretentious word vomit I referenced. I am hardly a modest fellow - I have no problem telling you I used to be a pretty good writer. However, that guy is some years in the past, and initially he doesn't seem easy to find. If you'll bear with me, though, something coherent might come out of all this. In time.

And that's the big test - time, both "how long" and "how much" I invest here. I'm going to try to make this a daily affair, with numerous updates for those of you quick with the "refresh" button (details of the exact content to be forthcoming). I need to springboard myself back into the mindset of writing, and if I don't find myself improving or enjoying it, my writer status will remain in the "used to" category.

As for introductions, if you're reading at this stage, chances are good you already know me. So let's not waste anybody's time. Welcome to the flickering, sputtering spectacle of Martians Attacking Indianapolis.

* and if you're not, you should