Top 25 Movies - 2018

When determining the merits of a year in film, whether or not the year was “good”, I’m looking for one of two things: true greatness or depth. (I’d like both, but I’ll settle for one.) Looking back over 2018 and the hundred-and-ten-or-so films I saw this year, I’m not sure I can pinpoint true greatness; I’m talking, like, iconic, masterpiece-level movies. But depth? Yeah, 2018 had some real depth to it. I gave out A’s (A+ to A- on my very scientific, official rating scale) to 45 movies (and I’m sure I’ll add some more to that total as I finish out the rest of my list), a fairly high number compared to years past, and there are plenty of movies I quite enjoyed, that I’ll watch many times over in the future, which ultimately didn’t sniff my top 25 (Game Night, Ready Player One, and Solo to name a few). On the podcast this week, we’ll each go over our top ten and worst ten of the year but as a precursor, here’s a look at the best of 2018 that was under consideration or just missed a top-ten finish.

25. Creed II
This movie had so much to live up to in my eyes as Creed is a bonified perfect movie and one that I watch constantly, always through a storm of tears. II put up a noble effort, became a worthy follow-up, and fully passed the torch from Rocky Balboa to Adonis Creed. Will be interesting to see where this franchise goes moving forward.

24. American Animals
A very inventive, fun movie with a sobering sense of morality as its backbone. I had no knowledge of this story going in and spent the bulk of the film’s runtime trying to figure out if the interviews with the supposed real-life criminals were actually real interviews or if this was all a figment of director Bart Layton’s imagination. Layton has a great sense of the audience’s intrigue, I think, and pulls the strings beautifully throughout. Animals also features a couple of great performances, that of Evan Peters in particular.

23. First Man
This was one of my most anticipated films of the year and yet, for all its beauty and technical brilliance, it left me a bit cold. In this, I think Damien Chazelle succeeded in making an outstanding film but perhaps came up short in connecting with the audience, something he did so well in both Whiplash and La La Land. Gosling is a marvel, though, and the moon landing sequence is truly breathtaking.

22. Ralph Breaks the Internet
Like Creed II, this movie pales a bit in comparison to its predecessor but overall, I found Ralph to be a blast to watch and expertly crafted. Its conceit and the meta-ness of its story work, I think, quite well and Disney has come quite a long way in creating a thriving franchise with what could have been a one-off character.

21. Bad Times at the El Royale
As the president of the “Cabin in the Woods Is Fine But Not Nearly As Good As Y’all Make It Out To Be” coalition for reason, I am of the opinion that Drew Goddard will one day make a perfect film. Bad Times isn’t quite that, straying just a tad here and there from the path of perfection, but it is darn good and features some of the best performances of the year (Cynthia Erivo and Jeff Bridges in particular). Plus, the Chris Hemsworth dance scene still haunts me but sort of in a good way?  

20. Paddington 2
The first movie I saw in 2018, it was all too easy to overlook Paddington 2 as the year wound down. But, upon rewatch, I was reminded of its sheer delightfulness and how unbelievably enjoyable these movies are. I didn’t know I needed a grumpy Brendan Gleeson teaming up with Paddington in order for my dreams to come true but now I do and they have and I am very happy.

19. The Rider
The winner of the Gotham Independent Spirit award for Best Picture, The Rider came out of nowhere for me and left me a teary-eyed mess. Chloe Zaho’s film is basically a documentary with a script in place, seemingly, only to give her novice actors a shove in the right direction. It is equal parts touching and gut-wrenching and you’re not sure until the final frames which side of that equation will win out.

18. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Buster Scruggs is equal parts hilarious, dark, weird, triumphant, and sobering. So, what I’m saying is, “This is a Coen Brothers’ movie.” Of the six Western-themed vignettes within Scruggs, five are outstanding with the closing chapter serving as the only outlier, but frankly, I could’ve gone for another half-dozen or so chapters without any trouble and hope the Coens return to this type of filmmaking again in the future.

17. Isle of Dogs
I had Isle in my top ten for the bulk of the year but confess I enjoyed it more the first time around than the second, the opposite of my experience with most Wes Anderson films. Still, I love the style and find this to be one of the funniest movies of the year, maybe THE funniest. Better still are the well-defined, relatable characters, quite a feat considering most of them are stop-motion dogs.

16. Leave No Trace
A small, quiet, brilliant film featuring two outstanding performances in the form of Ben Foster and newcomer Thomasin McKenzie. Debra Granik has a remarkable eye for talent (Winter’s Bone was Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout film right before her Hunger Games casting) but even more, an eye for story. Leave No Trace is an ode to a simpler form of life and the people who would choose it if only society would let them and Granik brings that home with aplomb.

15. Ant-Man and the Wasp
2018 was one of the better years for superhero movies (even as we approach the brink of superhero fatigue) and this movie was a big part of that overarching success. I think this was a HUGE step in turning this branch of the MCU into its own, self-sustaining limb, and provided some of the biggest laughs and purely enjoyable sequences of the year. Because I live with a five-year-old who wants to be Black Panther when he grows up, I have seen that movie many more times but if it were up to me, I might put this film at the very top of the MCU in terms of rewatchability.

14. The Old Man & the Gun
I’ll have more on Robert Redford himself in my favorite performances piece later this week so, without stealing too much from my future self, I’ll just say that Old Man is quite literally written specifically for Redford and it shows. David Lowery has rapidly became one of very, VERY favorite filmmakers and Old Man did nothing but reaffirm his versatile brilliance in my mind. Perhaps the most charming movie of the year, if nothing else.

13. Deadpool 2
The combination of 2016’s Deadpool and 2017’s Logan have completely upended the world of superhero movies and Deadpool 2 builds upon that (in some cases quite literally) very well. Deadpool was excellent in its own right and I know I, along with other fans of the movie, worried what the sequel might look like, especially after original director Tim Miller parted ways with the franchise. As it turns out, it is NEVER a bad idea to add Josh Brolin to your movie (unless your movie is Jonah Hex *ziiiinnnngggg*) and this sequel actually turned out better than its predecessor in my mind.

12. Mary Poppins Returns
I went all over the place in anticipation for this one, back and forth between expected greatness and expected corporate blandness. Ultimately, the former won out and I couldn’t have been happier with this finished product. This wasn’t one of my favorite movies as a child or one that I’ve revisited numerous times as an adult but within ten minutes of the opening the credits, I was overwhelmed by how much I wanted/needed Mary Poppins in my life; I genuinely had no idea that connection existed within my soul. Returns is an utter delight and a beautiful reminder of the classic Disney magic that is often overlooked in a swath of lightsabers and Vibranium (both things that I also love, by the way). And did I mention that Emily Blunt is perfect and delightful and I love her? Well, I will in my next piece.

11. Blindspotting
I S-T-R-U-G-G-L-E-D with leaving Blindspotting out of my top ten and I still don’t feel good about it. This movie came and went with little-to-no fanfare (I’m not sure I ever even saw a trailer) which is a real travesty given how outstanding the performances are and the significance of its message and themes. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal proved to be one of the truly great on-screen pairings of the year and I’m still thinking about the film over a month after my viewing. I expect we will hear much, much more from writer-director Carlos Lopez Estrada in the near future.

1-10 will be posted after our top ten episode this week.

I Read Some Books! 2018

I read all the time as a kid. Allllll the time. At some point, that stopped and while I still accumulated books (because I love physical media, I still very much enjoy the purchasing of actual books), I wasn’t reading them nearly as much as I was storing them on a shelf. I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions but three years ago, I decided I was not happy with my reading output and vaguely vowed to “read more.” In 2016, I read 23 books. In 2017, I upped it to 33. In 2018, my goal was 45 books and, thanks in VERY large part to the angels at Audible who are doing the Lord’s work, I messed around and read 52. I like making lists, I like ranking things for no real reason, and I like large writing projects and so, I have chosen to write far too many words on all the books I read last year and hope you will at least browse through for some potential recommendations and thus, make the many hours I have spent on this in neglect of my wife, child, and friends seem worthwhile.

I did not include within this list the books I took on in 2018 which I had read previously. These included: “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle, “Slaughterhouse 5” by Kurt Vonnegut, “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, “The Breaks of the Game” by David Halberstam, and the “Red Rising” trilogy by Pierce Brown. All of these books would likely land somewhere in my top twenty for the year, with “Breaks” and the “Red Rising” trilogy coming in at or near the very top, but it didn’t feel right to count re-reads in the same group as new-reads. But just as a side recommend, the “Red Rising” trilogy is pretty much always available on Audible and iBooks/Kindle sales and I loved them even more on the second reading and you should give them a chance if they are even a little bit your thing.

BAD BOOKS
45. “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” - Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland (Audiobook)
As a Stage 8 Completionist, I am physiologically incapable of quitting a book, movie, stupid sports team that hurts me over and over again, etc. (I actually quit two books this year and my therapist is very proud of me.) “DODO” reeeeaaalllyyyy put that to the test both in terms of the story and the sheer length of the book. As an 8-10 hour read, “DODO” would’ve been harmless enough; as a near-30 hour read, “tedious” began to take on a whole new meaning.

44. “Old Records Never Die” - Eric Spitznagel (Book)
The subtitle for this book could’ve been, “The Author of this Book is a Truly Miserable Person and You Will Hate Him a Little More with Every Page You Turn.” I commend authors for not sugarcoating their life stories in autobiographies (see below) but woof, at some point, some serious soul-searching might’ve been in order for Mr. Spitznagel.

43. “Signal” - Tony Peak (Audiobook)
This was an Audible Original with a promising-enough premise that very quickly fell into a jumble of tropes. Worse yet, the reading was grating and even the sound mix was bad. I finished the book and moved on without formal complaint but apparently enough listeners did complain because a few weeks later, Audible emailed me to say they felt “Signal” wasn’t up to their standards and they gave me a free credit to make up for it. Because Audible loves me and they want me to be happy.

NOT GOOD BOOKS
42. “Pilot X” - Tom Merritt (Audiobook)
As with “DODO”, time travel proved to be too tricky a concept for the author to navigate here. Too much of “Pilot X” felt like an intensive explainer on gobbledygook while the rest felt like it was trying to find ways to work around said gobbledygook. At least this book was short and forgettable enough.  

41. “Dreams and Shadows” - C. Robert Cargill (Audiobook)
I like Cargill quite a bit and his career path has provided some inspiration for my own prospective writing “career”. “Dreams and Shadows”, however, took its dark fairy tale premise way, way too far for my tastes and I ended up being bummed out by the story most of the time. It’s a shame, really, because I liked the characters and Cargill’s writing (see below) but altogether, it was a bit of an unpleasant read/listen.

40. “Mongrels” - Stephen Graham Jones (Audiobook)
Pulpy and harmless, “Mongrels” should’ve found its way into the mediocre category with no aspirations of reaching further. But I found that every time the book started to find its way, to gain some momentum, Graham Jones would move into a tangential storyline or make an unnecessary shift to a side character and it wore me out after a while.

MEDIOCRE BOOKS
39. “At the Mountain of Madness” - HP Lovecraft (Audiobook)
Lovecraft’s influence on genre writing is, of course, quite substantial. His actual writing has never been my cup of tea, however, and his masterwork (or at least his most popular work) proved no different for me.

38. “Beacon 23” - Hugh Howry (Book)
I read the “Silo” trilogy by Howry a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. “Beacon” was a much less inspired effort, albeit a quick, easy read. The setting is interesting enough but the story just doesn’t get anywhere and Howry seems to want to build out the world but never does.

37. “Last Year” - Robert Charles Wilson (Audiobook)
There are stretches of “Last Year” that I really enjoyed and the central conceit (a mirror, as it were, that allows the people of the present day to pass into a certain point in the past and vice versa) is well-thought out. Wilson deserves real credit for that as, in my experience, books like this often fall apart in taking a two-sentence idea and turning into a world. I never developed any attachment to or interest in the characters, though, and that was necessary for the book’s back third to come together, I think.

36. “The Spaceship Next Door” - Gene Doucette (Audiobook)
This book fell right in line with the average dime store sci-fi paperback from the 40’s and 50’s. It’s a fun idea, it reads easily, the writing is competent, and I forgot almost every detail of the book basically the second I finished it. Nothing wrong with that and at the time, I needed a nice, easy palate cleanser like “Spaceship”, and it did its job adequately.

35. “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” - Gregory Alan Thornbury (Book)
I was very excited about this one as Larry Norman is an extremely interesting figure about whom not much has been written over the last 25 years. Unfortunately, Mr. Thornbury’s writing style pales in comparison to his gifts as a researcher. To call this book “dry” would be a great understatement; much of it reads like a very boring doctoral thesis. I started reading “Devil” in July and it was literally the last book I finished on the year after having set it aside numerous times.

34. “Shadow of the Lions” - Christopher Swann (Audiobook)
When we’re on a road trip, Lindsey and I usually listen to an audiobook to pass the time. Finding something that appeals to both of our sensibilities and that won’t be scarring to our five-year-old if he happens to take his headphones off for a few minutes isn’t always easy. Thus, a lot of times we end up settling on a mystery/thriller, though it’s not my favorite genre. “Lions” fit the bill on one of our trips and it was just about exactly what I expected: the story was relatively interesting, the reader was solid, the writing was fine, and it passed the time on a long trip. That’s about it.

33. “Something in the Water” - Catherine Steadman (Audiobook)
As noted with “Lions”, mysteries aren’t my genre of choice but this one came highly recommended by basically everyone in the entire world and also it was already available in a friend’s Audible account that I hypothetically have access to (free book!). I really enjoyed this one for a while and I’m willing to extend some latitude to characters in this kind of book who must make poor decisions in order for the book to be, you know, a book. But at some point, I found myself internally screaming at the main character to, “JUST ONE TIME MAKE ONE GOOD DECISION FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY JUST MAKE ONE GOOD DECISION PLEASE!!!” It was exhausting and I was angry by the end of it despite the quality of the writing/storytelling overall.  

32. “The Queen: Aretha Franklin” - Mikal Gilmore (Audiobook)
This was kind of a crash-course in Arethaology that Audible put out as one of its “Originals” selections shortly after her death. As such, it reads more like a longform article on The Queen of Soul more than an actual book, relying extensively on quotations and passages from other books and memoirs. It serves its purpose by giving the reader a Cliff’s Notes version of Aretha’s life but that’s about the extent of its value.

GOOD BOOKS?
31. “The Sea of Rust” - C. Robert Cargill (Audiobook)
As I said previously, I like Cargill significantly more than I liked the first book of his I read this year, so I came back for more. “Rust” still had its issues, but it had some real peaks and he explored a sci-fi trope (a post-human world) from a unique perspective.

30. “Deadpool and Cable” - Rob Liefield (Book)
The only comic book/graphic novel I read this year (after taking on several last year) was at points very fun and at points extremely disjointed. Some comic collections work well as a whole, some do not. This set was too inconsistent to really hit the mark but I still enjoyed the reading more often than not.

29. “Renegades” - Marissa Meyer (eBook)
I don’t like stepping into a book series without knowing what I’m committing to up front and thus, “Renegades” is sort of a worst-case scenario for me. Between the time I bought the book on sale and actually read it a few months later, it went from what I thought was a one-off to an announced trilogy (the second book dropped at the end of 2018). This book is, on its own, totally passable and solid enough but I’m not sure I cared enough to read the series and yet there are some questions I’d liked to have answered annnnddd I’m trapped.

28. “Moonglow” - Michael Chabon (eBook)
Chabon is a truly GREAT author and his “Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”, which I read for the first time last year, is a masterpiece. I was very excited for “Moonglow”, billed as part memoir, part family history, but it was a slog to get through. The writing is, of course, excellent, it’s just the story, focusing primarily on Chabon’s maternal grandfather, that drags and drags and drags. Every time I was close to putting it down entirely, however, Chabon rediscovered the better elements of the story and pulled me back in.

27. “Six Years” - Harlan Coben (Audiobook)
Another road trip pick, Coben is a master of the “elevated beach read”, a talented writer who could probably pen the next “great American novel” if he wanted but instead pumps out an annual easy read that’s 15 percent better than most of the paperbacks you find in an airport. (I’m not knocking Coben for this, by the way; he’s a genius and I’m very jealous.) “Six Years” is basically the quintessential Coben: great concept, incredibly competent writing, total cookie-cutter ending that could’ve been predicted within the first 50 pages.

GOOD BOOKS!
26. “A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War” - Joseph Loconte (Audiobook)
Few authors have had a greater impact on my life than JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis so it’s only natural that I’d enjoy a book about their wartime experiences and post-war friendship. Someday, I’ll get around to the more substantial works on both of their lives but Loconte’s book served as a quality crash course on the both of them and highlighted, at great length, the friendship that propelled them toward greatness.

25. “We Are Legion (We Are Bob)” - Dennis E. Taylor (Audiobook)
“Legion” was a fun read with a quality concept and self-contained enough that I didn’t feel the need to carry on into the rest of the series. I wish that Taylor would’ve cut the pop culture/nerd culture references by 20 percent, however, though I suspect these references are exactly why the series has a strong pull amongst its target audience. After a while, I felt like the Star Trek callbacks and the like were shoehorned and distracted from Taylor’s own worldbuilding which is actually quite good.  

24. “Dead Run” - Dan Schultz (Audiobook)
I don’t read much true crime and when I do, I prefer reporting on the facts of a case rather than an investigation into what might have happened. “Dead Run” fits that bill and Schultz does an excellent job of delving into all parts of this story without allowing the telling to become stale or boring.

23. “When Giants Walked the Earth” - Mick Wall (Audiobook)
Led Zeppelin is my pick for the greatest rock band of all-time and I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for years. (I am very good at buying large books and very bad at actually reading them, as it turns out.) I finally accepted the inevitable and snagged the audiobook and it was...not a fun read. I knew enough about the respective heydays of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant going in to know what I was getting myself into but there are long stretches of this book I found aggressively unappealing. Still, Wall is a fantastic writer, his research is unparalleled, and I think he tried to keep the book from becoming a full-on celebration of debauchery and bad behavior despite the band’s best efforts to make it so.

22. “Do Over” - Jon Acuff (Audiobook and Book)
I’m not big on self-help/motivational books but I love Acuff so I started reading “Do Over”, like, three years ago hoping it would give me a bit of a push in my writing and podcasting endeavors. I got about two chapters in, had a panic attack, freaked out, and quit. I revisited this year in a much better headspace and with life a little more settled and got a lot out of my reading, including some quality strategies that I’ve used over the last few months. 

21. “The Fold” - Peter Clines (Audiobook)
Like “We Are Legion”, this book came recommended to me by a couple of my most trusted nerd friends and these nerds did not disappoint! I’ve read some Clines previously (not to be confused with Ernest Cline of “Ready Player One” fame) and usually came away more impressed with his ideas than his writing. For me, this was a big step in the right direction and I enjoyed it enough to plan on reading his follow-up this year.

20. “The Boy on the Bridge” - MR Carey (Audiobook)
This is, I believe, the third year in a row in which I have read a book by Carey, who came up as an outstanding comic book writer. “Boy” exists in the same world as Carey’s 2014 novel “The Girl with All The Gifts” (which I HIGHLY recommend) and proves a worthy successor. Carey has a way of conveying dark, heavy material in a sort-of detached manner that keeps the bleakness of his world from weighing down and bumming out the reader, which I greatly appreciate.

19. “The Dry” - Jane Harper (Audiobook)
Far and away the best mystery/thriller I read this year and one that actually kept me in suspense up until the final fourth or so. I dug the setting, I thought the mystery element was both mysterious and interesting, and the reader for the audiobook was excellent. Perhaps a bit predictable in the end but the conclusion was still satisfying in spite of that fact.

VERY GOOD BOOKS
18. “The Princess Diarist” - Carrie Fisher (Audiobook)
I had gone back and forth on whether or not I was going to read “The Princess Diarist”, heartbroken as I was over the loss of American Treasure Carrie Fisher and not one for celebrity relationship tell-alls/gossip/what have you. But a listener recommended and sold me on the audiobook (which was read by Fisher before her death) and I’m glad I bought in because Carrie Fisher was a wholly unique gem and her writing was always her greatest skill. Even when the story drifted into territory I didn’t necessarily care about (and it often did, frankly), Fisher’s self-deprecating wit and her magnificent voice kept me totally engaged.  

17. “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back)” - Jeff Tweedy (Audiobook)
Turns out I only read two music-related books this year despite my historical predilection to the genre. I’ve always loved Wilco and Tweedy is a fascinating figure to me, stuck somewhere between a surly, 70’s rock-star and a sensitive modern rock-star. “Let’s Go” has grown on me since I read it in the fall, and I’ve come to appreciate some of the aspects I was unsure of during the reading. Plus, I love when a writer reads his/her own book, especially when it’s non-fiction, and Tweedy as the reader here was a serious bonus.

16. “Norse Mythology” - Neil Gaiman (Audiobook)
Something I discovered about myself while reading “Norse”: I have more of an appreciation for mythology (Norse, Greek, or otherwise) than I actually care about mythology. Through the course of this book, I kept finding myself tuning out or choosing to listen to something else entirely despite A.) How INCREDIBLY well-written this book is, B.) How much I LOVE Neil Gaiman, and C.) How much I SUUUUPPPPERRRR love Neil Gaiman’s voice (*Heart eye emoji*). Somewhere along the line, I realized my disconnect with the book was due exclusively to my internal “meh” to classic mythology in general and I had peace.

15. “The Girl Who Drank the Moon” - Kelly Barnhill (Audiobook)
Just about every person in the civilized world has some familiarity and/or appreciation for fairy tales and thus, it’s a genre that receives a lot of attention in literary and film form. What I loved about Barnhill’s approach here is instead of trying to write a “modern fairy tale” or a “play on a fairy tale”, she just wrote a fairy tale! No modern twist, no attempt at being edgy, she just wrote a very good, vibrant, classically-inspired fairy tale and the result is a smashing success in my estimation.

14. “Brilliance” - Marcus Sakey (Audiobook)
As with “Renegades”, I purchased “Brilliance” having no idea it was the first chapter in a series (it’s possible I’m not paying enough attention to my book choices). Unlike “Renegades”, there is no question regarding my interest in carrying on with this series in the future. “Brilliance” borrows from a bevy of similar books and graphic novels that came before it but Sakey’s characters are quite strong and they carry the book through any potential dips in the originality of the story. I expect I’ll finish out this trilogy in the coming year.

13. “Shoe Dog” - Phil Knight (Audiobook)
Recently, a gentleman in a fine dining establishment questioned my political leanings based on the pair of Nikes I was wearing. I can only imagine how angry that person would be if I saw how highly I rated this book. Mostly memoir with a sliver of business strategy worked in, I found “Shoe Dog” riveting from start to finish. My one complaint is the book cuts off in the early 80’s before Nike became NIKE and, frankly, there’s a lot more Knight could’ve gotten into and I wish he had.

12. “Difficult Men” - Brett Martin (Book)
Another one that’s been sitting on my shelf for years, “Difficult Men” delved into the first run of Peak TV programming (The Sopranos, The Wire, The Shield, Deadwood, etc.), the lead characters therein, and the showrunners/creators who brought them to screen. Martin did so with sufficient depth and through the lens of an auteur, letting each man speak for himself rather than interjecting too much in the way of his own personal biases/preference. In doing so, he gives the reader some great insight into each of their respective processes as well as a good sense of who is and is not someone with which you might ever want to hang.

GREAT BOOKS
11. “The Graveyard Book” - Neil Gaiman (Audiobook)
This was my first book of the year which is ironic given that it had been sitting in my Audible unlistened to for at least two full years, maybe three. I mentioned my love for Neil Gaiman earlier and while “Graveyard” is purposefully slighter than some of his grander world building efforts (“Neverwhere” and “American Gods”), it is no less enjoyable or clever. He is a master of story and there is an ease with which his tales float off the page (or off the earbud, as it were) that is almost unmatched. And, again, Gaiman’s voice alone is worth the price of a download here.

10. “The Chris Farley Show” - Tom Farley (Audiobook)
Not the easiest read I took on this year but I’m glad I did. I adored Chris Farley as a youth and I continue to adore the memory of him as a soon-to-be decrepit old man. The oral history format utilized here serves the material very well and gives everyone who had a part in Farley’s life, from high school on up to his untimely death, a chance to be accounted for in their own words. I laughed remembering some of my favorite Farley bits and cried during some of the tougher spots (not always easy to explain to your child why you’re crying while doing the dishes, but he’s pretty much used to it by now). This is a really well-structured book that fully encapsulates its subject’s many highs and devastating lows.

9. “Everybody Always” - Bob Goff (Audiobook and Book)
Bob is hero of mine and one of the most genuine people you could ever hope to meet. His enthusiasm for life and his fellow human beings is unbelievably infectious and that jumps off every single page of “Everybody Always.” Bob’s first book, “Love Does”, got all kinds of press a couple years ago and rightly so but I actually think this book does a better job of inspiring the reader than his previous effort did.  

8. “Basketball (And Other Things)” - Shea Serrano (Book)
I was in the middle of “BAOT” when 2017 came to a close so I carried it over to the New Year and enjoyed every page along the way. I have a bookcase full of sports books and while there are better “basketball books” than this (books that tell an important story or rank the best players in NBA history or follow a team through a significant season or whatever), I’m not sure there are many better “books about basketball”. David Halberstam’s aforementioned “The Breaks of the Game” may very be the greatest basketball book ever written but does it have chapters titled, “If 1997 Karl Malone and a Bear Swapped Places for a Season, Who Would Be More Successful?” (the bear, for sure) or “If You Could Dunk on Any One Person, Who Would It Be?” (Miles Teller, obviously)? No, Halberstam did not write those chapters so, point Serrano.

7. “The Book of Lost Things” - John Connolly (Audiobook)
If I may be honest, I love Audible’s various sales throughout the year but often times, the books I’m able to pick up in these circumstances end up cluttering the back half of my year-end list. (See: numbers 45, 42, 41, 40, and more.) This was the outlier in 2018, a book I picked somewhat half-heartedly and ended up loving. Connolly’s book has touches of “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” with a hint of Gaiman mixed in to make it darker and more epic than both. “Lost Things” is an excellent read that may end up on the elusive re-read list someday in the future.

6. “Conference Room, Five Minutes” - Shea Serrano (eBook)
Pretty bangin’ year for Serrano, assuming he is as pumped to be featured on this very important list as I imagine he is. “Five Minutes” combines two things that I love: pop-culture essays and The Office and the result could not have been more glorious. Any book that begins with a Stanley Hudson “Shove it up your butt” joke jumps straight past “good” and immediately becomes “great” in my view. Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to the person sitting next to me on my flight from Dallas to Phoenix this summer who had to witness me try so hard not to LOL that I ultimately began choking after reading said Stanley Hudson joke.

5. “The Name of the Wind” - Patrick Rothfuss (Audiobook)
There are nerds and then there are high fantasy nerds. I’ve often been the former but never really the latter as I’ve typically kept my reading to the shallow end of the fantasy pool. For example, I did not read “Game of Thrones” until after the show began and I’ve never picked up a Terry Brooks tome. This was something different for me, then, and I highly enjoyed this reading. Rothfuss’ worldbuilding (probably the last time I’ll use that term for this list, sorry) is exquisite and his connection to his lead characters is evident from the very early stages of the book. “Wind” is also a little more accessible than other high fantasy novels I’ve picked up over the years; it’s not Rowling-accessible, mind you, but perhaps Tolkein-accessible and that’s enough for this nerd. 

4. “X” - Chuck Klosterman (eBook)
Klosterman is one of my very favorite authors and I tend to gravitate toward his essays more than his book-length work. I’d put off reading “X” for over a year because I thought of it as a sort-of greatest hits album and assumed I’d read most, or all, of the works collected therein. Well, number one, I was wrong; there were plenty of entries in this collection that I’d never read before. And number two, even those that I had read were just as interesting and engrossing the second time around as they were in their respective original formats. Klosterman’s unique questions and thought process surrounding virtually any subject he approaches makes even the most common celebrity interview, usually a total tune-out for me, a must-read.

3. “Children of Time” - Adrian Tchaikovsky (Audiobook)
I continue to think of sci-fi as my favorite genre (at least on the fiction side of things) but I am often disappointed or nonplussed by the sci-fi I read. While I quite enjoyed “Brilliance”, “The Fold”, and others, “Children of Time” was the big winner in the sci-fi category this year and likely would remain at the top in most years. It’s a complex story told in three parts spanning across space and time and yet, Tchaikovsky is able to not only hold the reader’s attention rapt, he keeps the book on track, never letting it get lost in its own complexities. It’s dense sci-fi, to be sure, but it’s dense because the story calls for it, not just for the sake of being dense. So, while I can’t say it’s an easy read, it is a supremely good read that is just as strong in execution as it is in concept.  

2. “Hi, Bob!” - Bob Newhart (Audiobook)
Seeing as how I am a living human being who has a heart, I love American Treasure Bob Newhart and I value his influence on comedy as highly as any other contributor of the last 50 years. “Hi, Bob!” is a short, easy listen (it is only available via audiobook) that plays more like a longform podcast than anything else and allows him the opportunity to talk to other very funny people (Will Ferrell, Lisa Kudrow, Conan O’Brien, etc.) about comedy, life, and everything in between. The reverence that each comedian has for Newhart is palpable, but these are real conversations between peers and the dynamic works so beautifully.

1. “Hits and Misses” - Simon Rich (eBook)
My favorite read of the year by leaps and bounds. Rich is an actual, literal, comedic genius who has authored some of the funniest short and longform stories (not to mention scripts) of the last decade. But “Hits and Misses” is his masterpiece. Every story in this collection is a good one but the peaks are absolutely brilliant and truly hilarious. I’m not a particularly fast reader as most of my actual “eyes on page/screen” reading comes late at night after everything else is done and I’ve usually only got a few minutes to spare. But I read “Hits and Misses” in two, maybe three sittings total, including once when I tried to read in bed while Lindsey slept and ultimately resulted in my leaving the room because I couldn’t stop cackling out loud. I know I can be prone to hyperbole, but I genuinely cannot remember ever laughing as hard and as frequently while reading a book as I did with “Hits and Misses” and I imagine I will revisit the better stories many times again in the future.

"I Have Them Now" and Other Creepy Things Kids Say

Kids are creepy. Okay, maybe I should say, kids say creepy stuff. Really creepy stuff. We love the kids that say the creepy stuff. But still, the creepy stuff they say sticks with us. I’m around a lot of kids and I have heard a lot of creepy stuff over the years. Whether it’s Coop, a friend’s kid, a kid at work, or the occasional random stranger kid who just seems to appear out of nowhere in a store aisle, says something weird, then disappears, leaving you to wonder if you have just seen a ghost, I have found the creepy stuff they say usually results in one of four reactions. These reactions are illustrated by the following gifs, each reaction escalating in seriousness.

1. THE “WAIT, WUUUTTT??”
A friend of ours has a child who, as the family drove past a power line that was lined with black birds, shoulder to shoulder, calmly called out the number of birds in sight. Like, he very casually said, “Yeah there’s 673 birds up there” and less in a Rain Man way than in a way that suggested he had trackers on all of the birds and kept a tally in his journal at home. It was weird.

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2. THE “SILENT BLINK”
Recently, as we walked into a Target together, I noticed Cooper was extending his hand toward every bird we passed in the parking lot and making a sort of “whooshing” sound. When I asked him what he was doing, he said, simply, and matter-of-factly as if this was a very normal thing to do and say, “I have them now.” Wait, what? “I have them now,” he repeated. And then he smiled, and we proceeded into Target. So…I guess my son has the ability to pull the souls out of Parking Lot Birds and I’m not sure what to do about that. If you have any advice on this, please let me know.

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3. THE “DISCOMBOBULATED HOLD UP, WHAT NOW?”
When Cooper was younger, he would occasionally say that he had been to a place he had never been to. We’d be driving by a random location and he’d say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been to that park before” or, “That’s the McDonald’s I went to last week.” We’d argue with him a bit but he was adamant about these supposed experiences and finally, after some extensive prodding, he revealed to us that he had been to these locations with “Schmike”, who, we think (I should stress the “think” part of this because who knows really?) was an imaginary friend. The creepy part was the Schmike only visited at night when Cooper was already in bed and he has some facial deformity that Cooper was vague about and, oh yeah, I forgot, sometimes they VISITED A GRAVEYARD WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? 

4. THE “SCREAM AND DIE”
Before we had a child, we spent a lot of time with our friend’s kids and one set of kids in particular. At some point, one of these children began talking about “Ty Thomas” who, like Schmike, we assumed was an imaginary friend. There were only two real differences between Ty Thomas and Schmike:

A.) This kid would commune with Ty Thomas at any point during the day or night, sometimes stopping while playing to wave at Ty Thomas who was apparently JUST HANGING OUT IN THE CORNER OF THE ROOM WHILE WE ALL ATE;
B.) We found out after a while that Ty Thomas was the name of a child who previously lived in the neighborhood…UNTIL HE DIED!!! There’s nothing that will stop down a friendly game night quicker than a child waving to a DEAD CHILD that only he can see and also, I’m pretty sure Ty Thomas is still with us and will be haunting us for the rest of our days.

So, here’s to all the creepy kids and the creepy things they say that keep us on our toes and up at night, unable to sleep for fear of Ty Thomas’ retribution. You’re the worst, kids.

Mad About Spielberg Blog Series (Parts I-IV)

On March 29, Steven Spielberg’s 32nd feature film, Ready Player One, will arrive in theaters. This is a significant debut to me personally for two reasons. One, I love the source material and Spielberg is undoubtedly the perfect choice to flesh out its magic on screen. Two, it’s a return to the kind of blockbuster filmmaking Spielberg made his name on and which we haven’t really seen from him in a decade or so. Anyone who knows me, has ever listened to this podcast, or has just been a stranger within ear reach of me in, like, a Quik Trip, knows I love Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is the definition of “director” to me. His filmography overflows with iconic, genre-defining, timeless films, many of which happen to be personal favorites. I’ve watched and studied Spielberg’s movies dozens and dozens of times to the point that I feel like I’ve graduated from the Steven Spielberg Film School and Professor Spielberg taught me everything I know about film, filmmaking, and film structure, not to mention human emotion.

So, as we prepare for Ready Player One, this felt like the perfect opportunity to go back through Spielberg’s entire filmography and rank his films. Now, listen, this is not a scientific study of Spielberg’s resume (which I would be glad to head up if there is grant money available). In an ideal world, we’d gather scores of Spielberg scholars, debate his films, and come up with the perfect algorithm to determine the proper order. Instead, it’s just me. I’ve watched all 31 films over the last few weeks and wrestled over their order as best I can. I’ll reveal my rankings over the course of this month, with the top ten dropping on the morning of Ready Player One’s debut.

This week, I present films 24-31 in the Spielberg Universe, a group of films that includes Spielberg’s very few actual bad movies, a couple that missed the mark by just a bit, and a couple of movies I just don’t personally care for. It should be noted that even this set of films, by my calculations Spielberg’s “worst”, have garnered 12 Oscar nominations and brought in almost two billion dollars. Not too shabby for the bottom of the barrel, right? Let’s kick this off with the movie I would most like to forget…

31. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $317M ($786M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 0

As someone who values the role of criticism in film and generally approves of Rotten Tomatoes’ existence, you could make a fairly compelling case against both just by pointing to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I saw this abomination TWICE in its opening weekend; first because of wild enthusiasm and excitement and second because I had suffered greatly, and I wanted all my friends to suffer as well. (This is what true friendship is all about.) I won’t go into the ideas of bastardizing a childhood favorite or anything of that nature as that line of thinking has grown tiresome. Instead, I’ll point out that even on its own, even without any ties to the original Jones trilogy, even discounting all nostalgia or emotional connection I have to those previous films, Kingdom is a downright wretched film filled with wretched acting and a wretched “plot”, the script for which should’ve been burned in a bonfire long before development ever began on this movie. 

30. 1941 (1977)
Rotten Tomatoes: 33%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $31M ($92)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 3

This is one of three Spielberg films I hadn’t seen until I began the work on this project. Its reputation precedes it, of course, as even Spielberg himself acknowledges it to be a misstep. 1941 is what we’d call a “heat check” in a basketball game. Spielberg is coming off of the unbelievable successes of Jaws and Close Encounters and he’s headed into the Raiders and E.T. and right there in the middle he thought he could do anything. This is his ill-advised 35-foot jumpshot, a very bad spoof comedy that didn’t play well in 1977 and plays so, SO much worse in 2018. There are just way too many rape-y dudes in 1941 and while I know the intent was to satirize the tropes of both war movies and frat house flicks, satire might be THE thing Spielberg can’t do. As a result, the whole movie just feels kind of gross and completely unnecessary.

29. War Horse (2011)
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $79M ($177M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 6

This is where I’d draw the line between “bad” and “hate”. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and 1941 are actual bad movies; War Horse I just hate. I’d say I very hate War Horse if you’ll allow me the use of grammatically incorrect terminology. To be fair, I understand why others like this movie and I accept my place in the minority. (*Insert Tobias Funke, “There are dozens of us! Dozens!” gif*) There are some scenes and sequences within the movie, particularly the famous battlefield scene, that work quite well and I can see what attracted Spielberg to this property. But War Horse has two very big strikes against it in my book. Number one, I dislike horses. Yeah, I said it. If my livelihood depended on horses, I’m sure I’d figure out how to dislike them less. But as it stands, there are many great creatures on God’s green earth and horses aren’t one of them. So, you can see where a movie called War Horse might be a tough sell for me. Number two, and much more importantly, I think Jeremy Irvine is horrible in the lead role. His delivery on lines like, “Look ‘ere, Joey. I got a collar too” makes me cringe. This is, to me, the worst casting decision in any of Spielberg’s films, at least as far as top-billed performers go and it sinks the movie. 

28. The Lost World (1997)
Rotten Tomatoes: 53%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $229M ($618M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 1

The Lost World is, I think, the only real “Paycheck Movie” of Spielberg’s career. Jurassic Park (nearly literally) ruled the world, the audience was salivating for more, Michael Cricton’s book was a huge success, and the money was too much to pass on. I’m sure there was a part of Spielberg that wanted to return to the magic of his previous film but by his own admission, he quickly became disenchanted with the sequel experience and the lack of passion shows in the finished product. It’s a really dumb movie, to be frank, and the characters within it make a lot of really dumb choices. On the plus side, The Lost World still looks great, dinosaurs are always fun, and it’s the sort of dumb that you mostly forget about the second the movie ends. I rewatched Lost World for the first time in a decade in preparation for this writing. Throughout the entire movie, I kept thinking, “This is really, really stupid. Everything happening here is stupid.” And then the movie ended and maybe three minutes later, I thought, “Eh, that wasn’t so bad.” That feels like an achievement on some level or another.

27. Always (1987)
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $43M ($74M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 0

Another of the three Spielberg movies I hadn’t seen before this writing. On paper, Always sounds very Spielbergian: The spirit of a deceased pilot reaches from beyond the grave to emotionally connect with his former lover. Insert a John Williams score and bam! You’ve got a Spielberg movie. In execution, however, I think Always feels foreign to the rest of the Spielberg universe. The spiritual force that allows Richard Dreyfuss’ character to connect with Holly Hunter’s character lacks some magic and there’s little charm to the movie as a whole. It doesn’t help that the medium through which the two leads interact, former Marlboro Man Brad Johnson, has all the screen presence of a fichus. Still, the scene settings are excellent, and Spielberg uses both Hunter and a young-ish John Goodman exquisitely.

26. Duel (1973)
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): -
Oscar Nominations (Wins): -

The very first Spielberg movie, Duel was originally a made-for-TV-movie in 1971 that received a (mostly international) theatrical release two years later. Some of the terror of this movie has been mitigated over the last 45 years but the pace with which Spielberg draws out the simple plot works just as well now as it did in 1973. Dennis Weaver does an admirable job of conveying his character’s descent into madness but it’s the camera work that really brings home the true horror of the situation.

25. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $78M ($235M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 2

I hated this movie the first time I saw it. HATED it. Up to that point, I had never, even with Saving Private Ryan, even with Schindler’s List, walked out of a Spielberg movie feeling depressed like I was coming out of A.I. IT’S JUST SO BLOODY BLEAK. I wrote A.I. off as a Kubrick movie that Spielberg brought to screen as-is out of respect for his late friend and essentially pretended it didn’t exist until this writing. On second viewing, I confess I still don’t particularly like the movie but I understand it much more now than I did 17 years ago. I see the hints of Spielberg, even in the segments he himself says are entirely Kubrick’s design, and (*unpopular opinion alert*) I think Spielberg got the best performance out of Haley Joel Osment, even more so than his Oscar-nominated work in Sixth Sense. It’s still not an enjoyable movie and the final 20 minutes is rife with problems but somewhere in there I found myself connected to David in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible. That sense of attachment has Spielberg’s fingerprints all over it.

This week, we’re looking at films 18-24 in Spielberg’s filmography (by my estimation, of course). For me, this set of films illustrates Spielberg’s greatness in that I think most of these movies crack the personal top 10 list for almost any other director. Here we have some near misses, some odd projects, and a pair of acclaimed, Oscar-nominated dramas that don’t quite live up to the standard set by Spielberg’s best. And, of course, we have lots of aggressive farting as well. Can’t forget about the farting.

24. The BFG (2016)
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $55M ($183M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 0

The BFG combines strong source material (Roald Dahl), a solid child actor (Rubie Barnhill), beautiful visuals, and the brilliance of Mark Rylance. On the rewatch, I was awestruck at how well Rylance delivers the often clunky, ridiculous lines he’s given to work with and how much grace and eloquence he conveys through voice alone. So why doesn’t The BFG work? Why isn’t it better? It’s the farting. The farting is 100 percent to blame for The BFG grading out as a B/B- movie instead of an A movie. As I rewatched the movie, I was right in the middle of wondering to myself why I didn’t like The BFG more the first time around when all of sudden all the characters were afflicted with violent and explosive flatulence. “Oh, right. The farting.” On the plus side, this was my son’s favorite scene in the movie, so I guess that’s something.  

23. The Terminal (2004)
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $77M ($219M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 0

I have a soft spot for The Terminal and have always felt it was unfairly maligned. I get it, it’s soft and light and a little cheesy (perhaps a lot cheesy, depending on your perspective). But it’s been laughed away to an undesirable corner of the movie galaxy because it has the audacity to be…sweet? There’s an earnestness to Hanks’s performance that is perhaps too earnest but give me Earnest Tom Hanks Bumbling Around with a Weird Accent any day. The Terminal is far from a great movie but is it the fourth-worst movie of Spielberg’s career (as rated by Rotten Tomatoes)? Absolutely not. Free Krakozhia!

22. The Adventures of Tintin (2010)
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $77M ($373M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 1

I’ve long held Tintin up as the REAL fourth Indiana Jones movie. If nothing else, it found the spiritual wavelength connected to Indy that Crystal Skull couldn’t grab hold of. Tintin has everything you want from an action-adventure flick. Spielberg pushes the pace so well to keep the action flowing from one big set piece (albeit an animated set piece) to the next and the characters have a weight to them that’s missing from other mo cap animated films like The Polar Express. There’s still a little bit of weirdness to the whole production and the mo cap technology in general; sometimes you forget you’re watching a mo cap movie and then suddenly you’re staring into the eyes of an almost-real character and it’s very disconcerting. To me, that’s the only flaw of the film and what, I think, has led to it being overlooked. 

21. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $179M ($333M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): (1)

You know that thing where you watch a scary movie because you like that feeling of being simultaneously terrified and unable to look away? I don’t have that thing. Almost all scary movies to me are either very cheesy or so scary that I can’t sleep for days and I take no enjoyment in that either way. Temple of Doom is the closest I ever got to that scary movie experience, at least as a kid. There was a time when Temple played on TBS or TNT seemingly every weekend and every weekend, I would sit transfixed by the action-adventure portions of the film and unable to look away from the monkey brains and the baby snakes and the “KALI MAAAA!!!” All those viewings and it wasn’t until recently, maybe the last five years, that I realized Temple was a prequel. Maybe I’m dumb or maybe all the scarab eating broke my brain. Anyway, Temple is maybe half a great movie, a quarter good movie, and a quarter terrible movie but somehow those mismatched pieces work for me, probably because Harrison Ford appears to be having the greatest time of his life. 

20. The Sugarland Express (1975)
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $7.5M
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 0

This is the last of the three Spielberg movies I hadn’t seen before starting this project. Going in, I wondered if, this being Spielberg’s big screen debut, the positive buzz surrounding Sugarland was due to what the director became after the movie more so than the movie itself. We do that sometimes; we look at a debut film of a director or actor who became great and we say, “You could see it all the way back in his/her first film”, even though we really didn’t see that, we’re just projecting the belief that we did. Happily, however, I can honestly say you can, in fact, see “it” in Sugarland Express so long as you define “it” as that classic Spielberg feel. This is a really funny movie; it might be Spielberg’s funniest movie, actually. It’s a much more enjoyable, fun movie than it has any right to be, quite frankly. Within the first five minutes, you start to pick up on the Spielberg vibe and that carries through the entirety of the film, including the cinematography and the central theming.

19. Amistad (1997)
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $44M
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 4

A top-five Spielberg movie in terms of messaging and intention, Amistad is also one of the few spots in this filmography where the emotionality (one of Spielberg’s classic strengths) misses the mark a bit. Amistad is noble, it is well-cast, it includes a couple of stand-out performances, and it tells a story that matters. It’s also overwrought in places and that heavy-handedness, for me, unintentionally softens the impact of the material. This is one of the few times where I wish Spielberg would’ve let the scenes speak for themselves just a bit more. Also, Matthew McConaughey looks very silly in the costumes. This is a small complaint but it needs to be said. There’s a lot to be positive about with Amistad, particularly Djimon Hounsou and Anthony Hopkins, but it still feels like a missed opportunity.

18. Empire of the Sun (1988)
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $22M
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 6

I have always appreciated Empire of the Sun more than I actually like it. I’ve seen it fewer times than most of the movies on this list and even on the rewatch, I wasn’t enthralled by much of it. I think my lack of connection owes to the fact that the movie doesn’t have much of the patented Spielberg flair. You see it in spots: the casting and performance of young Christian Bale, the cinematography (once again), and two defining scenes (the slap and the reunion between child and parents), but overall, I think it lacks the signature stamps I expect from Spielberg. In essence, almost anyone, or at least anyone with a measure of talent, could’ve directed this movie. Empire of the Sun is, simply, a good movie. Nothing more but also nothing less. In some ways, that’s disappointing, especially as compared to the rest of Spielberg’s filmography. At the same time, however, if you need an indicator of Spielberg’s greatness, you could do worse than, “His 18th best movie garnered six (deserved) Academy Awards and its main issue is that it’s only sorta special, not SUPER special.”

This week, we’re looking at the Spielberg films that fall just outside of consideration for his best, numbers 11 through 17. Sorting this set of movies out and ranking them was quite difficult, much more so than the previous two sets. We ran out of straight-up bad movies some time ago and have now gotten through the, “average to above average” group as well. These are all good to very good movies (again, by my estimation only) and it’s beginning to come down to personal attachment and the splitting of hairs on tiny flaws. As I wrote this section of my rankings, the bottom of the list and the top stayed the same but I shuffled the five films in between a half-dozen times and I’m still not completely happy with where I ended up. Nevertheless, it’s printing day and I must deliver my battle cry (BANGARANG!) and tarry on.

17. War of the Worlds (2003)
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $234M ($591M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 3

If, like me, you exercise selective memory regarding Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, you could consider War of the Worlds to be Spielberg’s last big blockbuster movie. 15 years between true live-action popcorn movies is quite a feat for a man who made his name on blockbusters, so much so that his “serious” films had trouble gaining credibility with critics in the mid-80’s and early 90’s. Much like Empire of the Sun (and this will be the last time I use this defense, I promise), I feel like War of the Worlds’ relatively low placement on this list is an indicator of how great Spielberg’s filmography really is. All around, this is nothing but an extremely solid, reliable, consistent action flick starring the greatest action star the world has ever seen. (Tom Cruise haters form an orderly queue to the left and I’ll deal with each of you individually right after I finish running shirtless and climbing up a skyscraper for no real reason whatsoever.) I hadn’t seen War of the Worlds in 10 years before beginning this project and on the rewatch, I found it to be EXACTLY as I had remembered it, having neither appreciated or depreciated in value during the gap in viewings. There are some great sequences and maybe the thing that works best of all is the Jaws­-like treatment of the aliens. Spielberg keeps them at a distance, I think, because the CGI wasn’t great and in doing so, he lets the tension boil a bit so that the reveal of a more practical effect (the snake thing in the basement) is an edge-of-your-seat moment.

16. Lincoln (2012)
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $182M ($275M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 12 (2)

Lincoln occupies a strange, perhaps unique, space in the Spielberg Universe in that it is very good, very Spielbergian, and yet I don’t love it. I don’t ever rewatch Lincoln and honestly, I rarely even think about Lincoln. That’s not an indictment of its quality. Lincoln deserves all of the accolades and award nominations it received, and it is a worthy representation of this country’s greatest president. The acting is exquisite, Spielberg structured the movie perfectly, and the back story of his pursuit of Daniel Day Lewis, for me, enriches the dynamic between director and actor that you see on screen. So why don’t I love it? I think it comes down to the fact that Lincoln is, after all, a biopic. A great biopic, perhaps the greatest biopic (no research done here) of the biopic era, but a biopic nonetheless. And biopics bore me, quite frankly. I can accept that my connection to this movie (or lack thereof) is indicative not of the film’s quality but of my own personal taste and preference. As such, Lincoln is one of the few films on this list where the difference between “favorite” and “best” plays a significant role. I’d push it further up the “best” list and further down the “favorite” list and thus, here it sits, somewhere in the happy middle.

15. Hook (1991)
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $119M ($300M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 5

There is no greater disparity between critical consensus and viewer appreciation in the Spielberg Universe than Hook and I am not happy about it. I was nine when Hook debuted, and I loved it for a million reasons. Peter Pan’s super cool sword, Rufio’s general Rufio-ness, Hoffman’s terrifying-yet-charmingly-flamboyant portrayal, my crush on Tinkerbell/Julia Roberts… I loved it then and I love it now. It was many years before I discovered that Old People (who, according to Hook and I agree, are fart factories) banded together and decided Hook was not great and in fact was very bad, I can only assume because they all forgot how to fly. Even now, at 35, when I watched Hook with my son for the first time, I found myself falling in love all over again, this time as an adult who longed to be young again, if only so that my knees would operate correctly. It is, perhaps, impossible for me to look at this movie objectively and without the sense of nostalgic wonder attached to it but I stand by Nine-Year-Old Brian’s assessment: Hook is awesome and I wish the Boo Box upon anyone who disagrees. 

14. Bridge of Spies (2015)
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $72M ($165M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 6 (1)

I wasn’t overly impressed by Bride of Spies the first time around. It’s very good, very well-made, but it felt slightly less-inspired than most of Spielberg’s previous ventures into historical drama. Originally, I thought it was impeccable on the performance side but lacking in the story department and as such, I walked away a little disappointed. I think that has something to do with my fascination with The Cold War, and spy craft in general, which led to an unreasonable expectation that wasn’t met. Spielberg! Hanks! The Cold War! Spies! *I turn into a Tommy Boy-esque ball of energy* On the rewatch, however, I was much more in tune with the actual story than I was the first time around and even more impressed with the way Hanks and Rylance brought that story home. This isn’t a le Carre and I was foolish to expect Spielberg to give me a le Carre. Instead, he gave me a touching, honest, heartfelt look at a relationship between two ill-fitting friends that just happens to play out over the course of the Cold War. This is a very good movie that deserved more of my affection than I previously gave it and for that, I apologize. As a side note, the poster for Bridge of Spies is very bad and I don’t think that helped my initial impression as I will DEFINITELY judge a book by its cover without any hesitation.

13. The Post (2017)
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $81M ($162M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 2

There are some quibbles to be had with The Post and its placement this high on the list is bound to draw some heat (assuming that literally anyone reads and cares about my rankings which I highly doubt). For me, however, having considered the film’s flaws at length, I’ve determined that they ultimately take away next to nothing from the overall strength of the film. I think this is a movie we’ll look back on with much more fondness than the cursory glance we gave it in the moment. The Post has a great sense of importance about it (perhaps that’s a flaw in your eyes, which I understand) but, and this is a very significant point in its favor for me, it’s also a great deal of fun to watch. Historical dramas aren’t often “fun” but the way Streep, Hanks, and the superb supporting cast all operate within the film’s general air of significance gives the movie much more life than I expected. On top of that, I genuinely think this is one of Spielberg’s best directorial efforts, maybe top five. It’s a masterclass in camera manipulation, in scene setting, in framing your characters, etc. I almost cried just watching the camera move through the newsroom and the impeccably edited extended sequence in Ben Bradlee’s house is immaculate. For me, The Post is some punched-up dialogue and one or two edits away from a perfect movie and puts all of Spielberg’s virtues on full display.  

12. The Color Purple (1985)
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $98M
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 11

I’ve seen The Color Purple only twice: Once in college when I truly started to digest film instead of just watching movies (the most pretentious sentence ever uttered, I apologize) and wanted to catch up on all the films of my favorite directors, and then a second time while working on this project. It’s a powerful film, based on an even more powerful source material, brought to life by an incredible cast and Spielberg’s impeccable understanding of his audience. That’s the key with Spielberg, isn’t it? No one keeps a finger on the pulse of his viewers like Spielberg does and I feel like that’s on full display with The Color Purple. In the hands of another director, this movie becomes unbearably bleak. Like, Precious-levels of bleak; like, Monster’s Ball-levels of bleak; like, “Lock yourself in a closet and sob for days”-levels of bleak. I think Spielberg knows that, in order for the movie to succeed, he has to keep his audience from dipping below the Lars Von Trier Bleakness Point of No Return. What strikes me most about The Color Purple is not the happy ending offered to Celie in the final act but rather this inkling of hope that pervades the entirety of the film. You have no reason to believe that literally anything good is ever going to happen to this poor woman but there’s a hint of it in almost every scene. Without this tiny speck of hope, the happy ending doesn’t really matter because the audience has already given up and locked themselves in their respective closets before it ever plays out on screen.

11. Munich (2005)
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $47M ($130M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 5

Munich is an extremely complicated movie and as a result, it’s difficult to write about. It is supposed to be, in Spielberg’s own words, a “prayer for peace” and yet, for most of its runtime, it plays out like anything but. Vengeance is not a virtue in the Spielberg Universe and in fact, it’s not even present in most of his movies. It’s touched on here and there, most notably Corporal Upham’s redemption of sorts in Saving Private Ryan, but never as a central theme and never glorified. Munich goes off the track in this regard. I don’t think there’s any way around calling Munich an angry film, another emotion that doesn’t typically feature prominently in Spielberg’s filmography. Eric Bana’s character is reluctant in his anger, in his quest for vengeance, but he acts on it nonetheless, often in brutal, unforgiveable ways. One of the things that I love about Spielberg movies is seeing myself, or my emotions, in the characters on screen; he’s a master at putting you in the shoes of the characters. At the risk of speaking for someone whom I will never meet, I think Munich is Spielberg turning this patented dynamic in on himself. It’s a fantastic film that tries, sometimes unsuccessfully, to wade into increasingly choppy waters and its virtues are plentiful. But to me, what makes Munich great, almost transcendent, is the feeling that the film is a personification of Spielberg wrestling with himself, of his attempts to reconcile his anger with his desire for peace.

Well, this is it. Tonight I’m headed to see Ready Player One with my friends and after much painstaking consideration and consternation, I’m ready to present my top ten Spielberg movies. This was much more of a process than I anticipated as choosing between these films became more and more difficult. To me, there are two tiers here: eight through ten could’ve been slotted in any order and one through seven could’ve come out in any order. Just know I thought long and hard about all of my choices and that I will probably regret them all within a week or so. Regardless, through the course of this project, the object of picking the best or my favorite or the top Spielberg movie became less important than just basking in the greatness of the man’s entire resume. By any metric you want to look at (131 total Oscar nominations, 34 Oscar wins, 80% average on Rotten Tomatoes, $9.8 billion at the global box office, countless hours of entertainment), Spielberg has accomplished as much if not more than any of his contemporaries and cemented himself as a film voice of multiple generations. Thanks, Mr. Spielberg, for all your hard work. Enjoy.

10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $135M ($306M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 9 (2)

Last summer, when we did a throwback review of Close Encounters, I was able to see it on the big screen for the first time. In truth, it may have been the very first time I had seen it all the way through, from start to finish, instead of in bits and pieces. I was in awe of the scope of the story, the magic of the effects, and the breathtaking third act when all the parts come together, and you suddenly feel like you yourself are a part of this meeting of races. I’m an easy movie-crier so it should come as no surprise that the experience of watching this movie in that setting for the first time left me a little weepy. And that score! Oh, that score. Close Encounters is a wondrous movie and in hindsight, it gives a hint of what will become Spielberg tropes and themes for the next forty-plus years of filmmaking. If I had a criticism, it would the final few moments when we actually get a reveal on the aliens. Were it up to me (and not the two-time Best Directing Oscar recipient because what does that guy know?), I would’ve left the aliens themselves as a mystery. Even still, that’s a half point deduction off the score of an otherwise perfect film.

9. Minority Report (2002)
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $132M ($358M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 1

Minority Report has aged much better than its reputation. It’s become extremely underrated both in terms of overall quality and its impact on the sci-fi genre. Even I, when I went to work on this list, had it slotted a few notches lower than it ultimately landed. But on the rewatch, I was wholly reminded of what an outstanding bit of filmmaking this is and how great Spielberg is at world building. Near-future sci-fi is very difficult to pull off but within five, maybe ten minutes you have a complete sense of the world in which Chief John Anderton operates in and it feels completely authentic. There are a few spots in which the effects and lighting look their age, but I write that off as the tax paid for making a high-concept, visually compelling film during the worst era for computer generated effects. (Compare the worst spots of Minority Report to the worst spots of almost any other sci-fi movie made between 1999 and 2004 and you’ll see what I mean.) Minority Report combines fun with depth exquisitely and Spielberg gets the absolute most of out of Tom Cruise. Also of great interest to me, this is the best instance of Spielberg flipping his patented move, a child dealing with an absent or emotionally distant father, to put the focus on a father attempting to piece his life together in the wake of the loss of a child. That’s significant and the emotional core of Minority Report strikes even harder coming from Spielberg than it might have otherwise. 

8. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $197M ($474M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 3 (1)

This is the first non-kids movie I can remember seeing in theaters adding to my fondness for an already outstanding, obscenely fun movie. (A few weeks later my dad took me to see Batman in theaters so the Summer of 1989 was pretty bangin’.) Raiders of the Lost Ark (see below) is one of the greatest movies ever made but Last Crusade is, objectively, more fun, perhaps the purest embodiment of what an adventure movie should be. Harrison Ford, in the final days of his first franchise phase, radiates so much charisma and gravitas that even as a six-year-old, I was just instantaneously all in on anything and everything he was doing. Now, having seen these movies dozens of times each, I greatly appreciate the small ways in which Crusade is tied into Raiders but appreciate even more the ways in which it works on its own. You could take show this movie to someone who has never seen an Indiana Jones movie and, in fact, has no concept of who the character is at all, and he/she could enjoy it just as much as a hardcore Indy fan could have in 1989. That’s an awesome quality that a lot of franchise films miss out on these days. Crusade is paced perfectly, Sean Connery is remarkable, and I’m not sure you ask more from a third act than what is delivered here.

7. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $164M ($352M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 2

I have said before and I’m sure I will say again: the older I get, the more I love Catch Me If You Can. Literally, with every single viewing (an annual event in my household, as commanded in the ancient scrolls), its greatness increases in my mind. By the time I’m 50, I’m sure I’ll be trumpeting this as the best movie ever made. Every detail of this movie is impeccable and the DiCaprio-Hanks pairing is probably my favorite relationship displayed within any of Spielberg’s films. That’s just perfect casting, friends; PERFECT. And let’s not forget about the great supporting cast, a beautiful score that matches the protagonist’s mischievous deeds and deep-seeded loneliness, and the way Spielberg fleshed out phenomenal source material. This is the “smallest” of the films left on this list but before we head into “bigger” territory, the stuff that Spielberg made his name on in many cases, let me say just how it is REMARKABLE that the same guy who is capable of making five or six of the biggest blockbusters ever in the history of film could also stop down and make a Catch Me If You Can. That range is Steph Curry on a court with no defenders-esque (sports!).

6. Jaws (1975)
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $260M ($470M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 4 (3)

The movie that started it all and remains to this day one of the four or five most influential films of the last half-century or so. Jaws is a miracle, a lightning in a bottle experience wherein even the mistakes and mishaps actually made the movie better. Imagine that movie with the mechanical shark showing up right off the bat instead of two-thirds of the way through. That was the plan until the shark wouldn’t work in salt water and Spielberg had to restructure the shots on the fly. You could call it lucky, and you’d be right, but a young, brash Steven Spielberg was also wise enough to recognize that without the shark, the only to build tension was to keep the shark hidden, to make it a 20-foot boogeyman with horribly-large teeth, as it were. Jaws spawned the rise of the summer blockbuster as well as Shark Week, which is quite the achievement in and of itself. I’ve seen Jaws dozens and dozens of times and still, to this day, I find it utterly terrifying and it’s even worse on a big screen. And yet, it’s a magnificent thrill ride that still looks amazing almost 45 years later. Other directors could’ve done the scary bits of Jaws but I don’t think many people could pace it out nearly as well as Spielberg did nor added in the human parts (Quint and Hooper trading drunken stories in the galley, Brody’s son in the pond, etc.) as effectively as Spielberg did, on what was his first big-budget feature. I must blame him, however, for my abject fear of the water, because one of the taglines for Jaws was, “You’ll Never Go in the Water Again!” and it turns out that is very true for one Brian Gill. THE OCEAN IS NOT OUR HOME.

*NOTE: I have now developed an ulcer over choosing how to rank the final films on this list. I love four of the five dearly and the other is unquestionably GREAT and it seems unfair to have to choose any of them over the others. Whoever made me do this should be ashamed of themselves. Oh right, it was me, I chose to undertake this project and now I hate myself for it. Carry on.*

5. E.T. (1982)
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $435M ($792M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 9 (4)

Both the first Spielberg movie I ever saw and the first I ever loved, having no idea how much of an impact this man would have on my pop-culture consciousness over the next 30 years. There are some people who can’t understand the brilliance, the magic, the beauty of E.T. (perhaps you’re in that boat) and I genuinely feel bad for those people. Like, I’m not even mad, I just feel like there’s a hole in your life that E.T. wants so badly to fix with his illuminated, Julius Erving-like finger, and you just won’t let him. To me, it’s kind of like saying, “I’m not a big fan of golden retrievers.” WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE NOT A FAN OF GOLDEN RETRIEVERS?! What is it you don’t like?! Their loveable-ness? Their unstoppable devotion to human kind?! I know, I digress, but I don’t understand your disdain for golden retrievers, man. Anyway, E.T. is the quintessential Spielberg movie; everything I love about him, his style, his sensibilities, can be found within the runtime of this movie and even if he’s made better movies (he has and perhaps he will again, who knows), I think this will forever remain the most Spielberg movie. Every viewing makes me feel like a kid and fills me with a sense of wonder. That’s a very cliché thing to say about a movie you loved as a child but sometimes clichés are true. E.T. is perfect, Spielberg is perfect, golden retrievers are perfect.

4. Schindler’s List (1993)
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $96M ($321M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 12 (7)

Without question, this was the hardest movie to slot on this entire list and I wrestled over its placement right up until the last minute.

Here are some things that work in this movie’s favor:

1. It tells an INCREDIBLE story that truly, TRULY matters;

2. It tells that incredible story that truly matters in a stunning, powerful, gut-wrenching manner (Spielberg, I think, understands that it’s not enough to tell a great story, you also have to tell it in a great way or else the meaning gets muddled);

3. It legitimately might be the actual BEST movie of the last 25 years. I’m not necessarily making that argument but as my friend Richard says, if you bring this movie to the table as the best, you’re not getting laughed out of the conversation.

Here are some things that work against this movie:

1. I do not ever want to watch it. This is the only movie in the Spielberg filmography that I didn’t watch or rewatch before writing because I feel like I might have one more viewing left in me in my lifetime and I should probably save it for when my son is old enough to see it so he doesn’t have to watch it alone;

2. It does not feel like a Spielberg movie, really. That’s not a complaint or a criticism, by the way; Schindler’s List very much needs to be set apart, not just from Spielberg’s other movies but from
all movies in order to give the viewer a real sense of what took place.

3. Again, I do not ever want to watch it again.

Schindler’s List is an actual masterpiece. It is, I think quite clearly, the best movie Spielberg has ever made and its significance cannot be overstated. When I watched the Spielberg documentary on HBO last fall, the closing sequence of Schindler’s, with the survivors and their family all walking by Schindler’s grave, absolutely wrecked me and reminded me of the sheer power of that film. But feel, rewatchability, and genuine love all have a place in the internal discussion that went into creating this list and for those reasons, I have to keep the next three films ahead of it on my own personal ranking.

*NOTE: I was feeling pretty bad about not putting Schindler’s at the top of this list just based on its objective greatness and meaning. So, on our Patreon page, I asked our VIP’s to list their top three Spielberg movies and literally none of them mentioned Schindler. For some reason, this helped me feel justified in its placement here. I am a sheep. Baaa.*

3. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $216M ($481M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 11 (5)

This gets my vote for the greatest war movie ever made and I cannot be dissuaded from my position. Private Ryan is, like the next movie on this list, one of the five most significant, memorable in-theater experiences of my life. I will never forget that opening sequence nor the sense of actually being in a war that came along with it. The entire sequence (something like 17 minutes long) is simultaneously haunting and mesmerizing; I couldn’t look away though I left somewhat scarred by it. Even still, I find this movie to be very rewatchable and I do so every year on or around Memorial Day. I think it works on that level because of the time and craft put into developing the soldiers of 2nd Ranger Battalion as actual characters and not just instruments of war. Private Ryan is an ensemble piece, really, that transpires on the battlefield, and you’re not just invested in the characters because of who or what they represent. Barry Pepper’s Private Jackson is one of my five favorite supporting characters in any movie ever; I’m not sure you get genuine care and concern like that six soldiers down the list in most war movies. So you’ve got these great characters and then you put them in situations that are perfectly staged and shot, but, of course, extremely hazardous to the characters you care so much about…and then you watch them die. And suddenly, you’re in the fight and you’re getting a tiny taste of the horrors of war. Private Ryan is a hard movie to watch and it tears at my heart every time I do so but Spielberg’s understanding of character and human interaction keeps me coming back every year.

2. Jurassic Park (1993)
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $402M ($1.02B)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): (3)

Jurassic Park is THE single most memorable theater experience of my life and I doubt that will ever change. I was 10, I had read Michael Cricton’s book, and I was pumped up beyond any reasonable measure to the point that there was no way the movie could possibly live up to my expectations…and somehow, it blew them away. This movie is monument to blockbuster filmmaking, a master class in how to craft a smart-but-not-self-serious crowd pleaser. Truly, 25 years later, Jurassic Park remains the gold standard for blockbusters. You can watch this movie and say, “This is how you do exposition”; “This is how you explain scientific jargon effectively”; “This is how you merge practical effects and CGI.” Every time I rewatch Jurassic Park, I am utterly blown away by how INCREDIBLE the movie still looks. It’s unreal, honestly, given where we were at with computer technology in 1993, not to mention the fact that Spielberg was working on the post-production for this movie while filming Schindler’s List. (Who else could do that, seriously?) It’s the weight and the scale of the dinosaurs that pours through the screen (and the speakers) which sets the movie apart. But it’s also really well-cast, a very underrated feature of the movie in my opinion, Spielberg’s scene-setting is uncanny, and the pace is masterful. This is a movie I cannot wait to watch with my son and I love knowing that it’s going to hold up even when he has a kid of his own.

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Domestic Box Office (Total Box Office): $248M ($389M)
Oscar Nominations (Wins): 9 (5)

When I outlined this piece at the outset of my viewings and rewatches, I had Raiders lower on the list. Top ten for sure but definitely not number one. Then I rewatched it again for the first time in a few years and thought, “Oh, right, this movie is all kinds of great.” It wasn’t like a lightbulb moment, just a gentle prompt in the back of my mind reminding me that this was, indeed, the rightful number one. Indiana Jones is, of course, one of the all-time iconic characters in film and while George Lucas deserves some credit for creating him and Harrison Ford deserves even more credit for portraying him, we can’t forget to give Spielberg his due credit for presenting him. In 15 minutes, you feel like you know more about who Indiana Jones is than you know about most of your closest friends and you also know he is the coolest person on the planet. He’s not without his flaws, he’s not a superhero, but that makes him cooler somehow. Raiders is (again) a masterclass in pacing and Spielberg mans the Adventure Movie wheel with remarkable ease, taking you from place to place, situation to situation, with deftness and style, always accompanied by the exquisite score. Karen Allen is absolutely fantastic and proves the perfect counterpart for Ford. Raiders is the greatest adventure movie of all-time (indisputable, I’m sorry), it is iconic in every sense of the word, and, most importantly, it embodies the spirit of what a Spielberg movie is supposed to be, carried through from the very first frame to the very last.

Movie Rankings 2017

A+
Baby Driver
Get Out
Dunkirk
The Post
Logan
Thor Ragnarok
Coco

A
Big Sick
Lady Bird
I, Tonya
Spider-Man Homecoming
A Ghost Story
Disaster Artist
Blade Runner 2049
Star Wars The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Wonder Woman
Brigsby Bear

A-
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
American Made
The Lego Batman Movie
Darkest Hour
Wind River
Molly's Game
Spielberg
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
All the Money in the World
Logan Lucky
Detroit
The Fate of the Furious
Mudbound

B+
Colossal
The Shape of Water
Life
John Wick 2
Hero
Their Finest
Beauty and the Beast
Murder on the Orient Express
The Wall
Ingrid Goes West
Stronger
Battle of the Sexes

B
Atomic Blonde
Kong: Skull Island
Table 19
Cars 3
Split
Jungle
Despicable Me 3
Alien Covenant
Downsizing

B-
LEGO Ninjago
The Lost City of Z
The Foreigner
Ghost in the Shell

C+
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
The Florida Project
Phantom Thread
Free Fire
The House
The Greatest Showman
Brad's Status

C
American Assassin
The Mummy
Wilson
XXX: Return of Xander Cage
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tale

C-
The Dark Tower
It Comes at Night
The Great Wall

D
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Bright
Suburbicon
All Eyez on Me
Power Rangers
Valerian
Justice League

F
Geostorm
The Book of Henry
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Baywatch
Mother!
The Emoji Movie
The Circle
Transformers: The Last Knight
 

Favorite 10 Performances of 2017

HONORABLE MENTION: James Franco, The Disaster Artist

10. Comic Book Movie Standouts – Gal Gadot, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Michael Keaton and Tom Holland

9. Steve Zahn, War for the Planet of the Apes

8. Adam Driver, Logan Lucky 

7. Mark Hamill, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

6. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, The Post

5. Holly Hunter, The Big Sick

4. Mark Rylance, Dunkirk

3. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

2. Margot Robbie, I, Tonya 

1. Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Derek Harper and Childhood Heroes

I attended my first basketball game on November 29, 1991, a high-stakes tilt between the lowly New Jersey Nets and the lowliest-of-lowly Dallas Mavericks. It was my second true sporting event ever, preceded only by a truncated Texas Rangers game that featured A) a drunken brawl on Bat Night (as in, “everyone got a free bat”, not “Batman showed up”), B) my little brother catching a beer in the face, and C) not much else worth remembering. There were no drunken brawls on November 29, 1991 (to my knowledge), Batman did not make an appearance (to my knowledge), and according to basketball-reference.com, very little of note transpired. The Mavericks lost, something they got very good at over that season and the next eight seasons to come, Derrick Coleman missed the game for the Nets as he was wont to do, and the 16,000-odd people in attendance mostly meh’d, unimpressed by the effort. 

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In my heart, however, November 29, 1991 is a line of demarcation at which point my life became profoundly different. There was “Before Basketball” and then, suddenly, there was “After Basketball” (he says, in the least sacrilegious way possible). The events of that night, completely inconsequential in the macro sense and almost just-as-inconsequential to even the most hardened basketball fan, quite literally changed my life and sparked in me an absolute obsession for the sport that has (occasionally) brought me the greatest joys and (much more frequently) laid me so low as to curse the day I ever started watching this stupid game in the first place. 

Coop, Dennis, and me

On that night, I marveled at one player in particular. He wore number 12 and he played the game at a different pace than the rest of his teammates. With 26 years of understanding and hindsight to my benefit now, I can see why: that Mavericks team was horrendous and, with Rolando Blackman injured, most of the roster was either woefully past their respective primes or so untalented as to never actually warrant a prime in the first place. But number 12…well, he was different. He attacked the Nets on both sides of the floor. He was tenacious. He was intense. He played with a certain poetry-in-motion that so many of the other players lacked. My understanding of basketball was extremely limited at the time but to me, there was a clear, distinct difference between number 12 and literally everyone on the floor. I was mesmerized by Derek Harper and everywhere he went on the court, so, too, did my vision. 

For the next two-plus seasons, Harper was virtually the only reason to watch a Mavs game and I watched them all, loss after loss, humiliation after humiliation. Someday I’ll write a book about the hard lessons learned through my first 10 years of Mavericks fandom which featured, I think, 100 million losses in total. Still, I was locked in, night after night, in part because I loved basketball like no one has ever loved basketball, and in part, though I was too embarrassed to ever admit this to anyone, because I felt like I needed to support my hero. Like, somehow through the Cosmic Basketball Force, a very good professional basketball player would feel an undersized-but-scrappy little basketball player cheering him on and hoping against hope for a win that night and it would lift his spirits. 

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Virtually every kid I knew who cared about basketball in the slightest (and that wasn’t a given in early 90’s Texas) rooted for the Bulls and worshipped at the feet of Michael Jordan. My best friend was a Knicks fan, I knew another kid who loved David Robinson, and one weirdo who exclusively supported Vernon Maxwell (this kid became a serial killer, I am certain of this) but I legitimately didn’t have a single friend who cared about the Mavericks or my beloved Derek Harper. I admired all of those players but I wanted to be Derek Harper and patterned my very mediocre little league game after him. I wanted to shoot like he did, I wanted to attack like he did, I wanted to yell at both opponents and teammates like he did (whoops), and I wanted to defend like he did. Oh, how I loved his defense! The NBA logo might as well have been Derek Harper handchecking some poor opposing point guard into oblivion as far as I was concerned. I wore number 12 on basically every jersey I ever received and still, to this day, if I’m on a slow pitch softball team or some other spare excuse for sport, I’ll politely demand number 12. This remains my tiny ode to the man who has as much to do with my sports obsession as anyone. 

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On January 6, 1994, in the midst of what would become a wretched 13-win season (13 is not very good, in case you were wondering), the Mavericks traded Harper to the Knicks. I was 10 and this was the worst day of my young life (which is to say my life was not so bad) and the first time I can ever remember crying for reasons beyond bodily injury or tantrum-throwing. I was devastated. I can’t remember if I went to school the next day or not; in my mind, my parents let me stay home in my broken heartedness but that’s doesn’t seem like something they would have done. Regardless, whenever I did return to school, I distinctly remember my friends, one by one, coming up to me at my desk or on the school yard and consoling me, like I’d lost a parent (or at least a pet). I’m not sure there’s ever been a kid who loved his sports hero like I loved Derek Harper. 

I followed Harper to the Knicks, splitting my fandom a bit, which violated everything I held dear as a zealous young sports fan but I justified the move by allowing that A) the Knicks were in a different conference, B) the Mavericks were historically terrible, and C) I was allowed to support my hero as passionately as I pleased, regardless of whether he played for my team anymore or not. This shift to the Knicks ultimately led to even more heartache (seriously, sports are the worst) when New York lost in the NBA Finals that summer, sabotaged from within by John Starks, whom I will never forgive. I remained loyal to Harper through the next two years in New York, then his return to Dallas in 1996, then his move on to Orlando in 1997 and even the bloody Lakers in 1998. When he retired as a member of the Mavericks in 1999, I cried, the uncoolest of moves for a 16-year-old but an honest one nonetheless, and I mentally resolved that, no matter the circumstances nor the cost, when the Mavericks retired Harper’s number 12, I would be there. 

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Fast forward 18 years and things have changed. The Mavericks have a ring, something 10-year-old Brian never thought possible. I’ve made room in my life for new heroes; Dirk Nowitzki, Bill Murray, and Conan O’Brien to name a few. And, of course, I have a four-year-old kid shadowing me wherever I go. But I remain resolute in my dedication both to the Mavericks and Derek Harper himself. I have no idea why it took so long, but when the Mavericks finally announced their intention to retire number 12, I bought tickets and dug my old Harper jersey out of storage (still fits, what up). On Sunday night, I sat in the American Airlines Center to witness the bestowing of one of sport’s greatest honors on my childhood hero, accompanied by my wife, a friend, and the aforementioned child. I listened to the words of those in attendance who spoke of Derek Harper’s virtues as a player and a man, stood and applauded when he took to the podium, and cried more than I’d like to admit when the number 12 banner was uncovered and raised to the rafters. 

My son doesn’t understand what this night was all about. He spent most of the evening eating cotton candy and taking pictures of Dirk Nowitzki with his pretend phone. During the ceremony, he patted my leg and asked me why I was crying, though he is no stranger to Sports Tears as I am neither shy nor cautious with my guffawing. He listened dutifully as I briefly explained who Derek Harper is and what we were doing here. And then he went back to his “big salty pretzel”, content as always. I have no idea what the future holds for him, whether he’ll be an athlete, a musician, an engineer, or some combination of them all. All I can do is expose him to events like this, encourage his interests and pursuits, and hope he finds his own Derek Harper to idolize. 

I Read Some Books! 2017

Two years ago, I got to the end of the year and realized I had completed no more than six books in the year. This lack of reading was extremely disappointing as I quite like reading and used to run through six books in a month, easily. So, in 2016, in large part thanks to Audible, I made reading a priority and got through over 20 books, which was my goal. (You can read 2016’s list here if you’re so inclined.) With the success of 2016 under my belt, for 2017 I set the goal at 30 books. I finished 35 (those listed below plus “Ready Player One” and “Starship Troopers” which were both re-reads and therefore disqualified from this list) and now the goal for 2018 is 40 books. 2017 was a bit of a weaker crop that 2016 was if I’m being honest. I read 10, maybe 12 books in 2016 that became instant classics for me and will be revisited again in the future. By contrast, in 2017 I’d say I read three GREAT books, a couple more very, very good books, and a handful of good-not-great books in addition to a whole score that were mediocre or otherwise a bit disappointing. Perhaps my reading list was a microcosm of the entire cluster mess that was 2017, amirite? (*Laughter quickly turns into sobs*) Regardless, I enjoyed the reading, I enjoy making lists, and, thanks in large part to my stupid podcast, I now feel the need to let everyone know what I think about anything whether they really want to hear what I think or not. As such, here’s my ranking of books I read in 2017. 

NOTE: I have yet to finish “Basketball And Other Things” by Shea Serrano which undoubtedly would’ve finished no lower than three on this list and possibly higher. I’ve been savoring this one, reading a bit at a time so as not to run through it too quickly. I expect it will rank highly on 2018’s list. 

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33. “The Wanderers” - Meg Howrey (Audible)
Really the only book I read this year that truly pushed me on my commitment to finish every book I start (minus the one I actually quit, see below). Had this been a paper or e-book instead of an audiobook, I wouldn’t have made it. “The Wanderers” is exponentially more important in the mind of its author than it is in reality. 

32. “The Ables” - Jeremy Scott (Audible)
The fact that Jeremy Scott, co-creator of the YouTube channel Cinema Sins which takes great joy in poking holes in virtually every aspect of every film ever made, couldn’t put together a less cringe-inducingly unoriginal book is ironic. Almost nothing within “The Ables” wasn’t taken directly, it seems, from its predecessors in the Y.A.-Sci-Fi genre. 

31. “Hothouse” - Brian Aldiss
I had no idea “Hothouse” was written in 1962 until I finished it at which point some of the stranger, more antiquated elements made a little more sense. Good in parts with a B-story that could have been cut altogether. Mr. Aldiss seems to have agreed with me in that he ignored this storyline for the better part of the book. 

30. “Before the Fall” - Noah Hawley (Audible)
Quite possibly the most disappointing book I’ve ever read. I love Noah Hawley (of TV’s Fargo fame) and this book was recommended with great fervor by a number of trusted readers. I confess, I don’t get it. I appreciated the characters and the concept but the work done to get to the conclusion was tedious at best and the conclusion itself was a massive letdown for me. 

29. “Tip Off” - Filip Bondy
I’ve had this book on my shelf for 10 years and perhaps the unintended build up in my mind tainted my view of the book itself. Some sportswriters transition to books seamlessly and they make great use of the additional space they’ve never had in the pages of the newspaper; and sometimes even the best sportswriters struggle to adapt to the new format. “Tip Off” well into the latter category, unfortunately. Bondy’s structure is needlessly laborious to navigate and the book desperately needed a better editor. 
 
28. “The Force” - Don Winslow (Audible)
Much like “Before the Fall”, this one came highly recommended by multiple people. In this case, I sort of get the appeal; Winslow is a competent writer who is very familiar with his subject matter. Unfortunately for me, I think this is in part because he has seen all the same cop TV shows and movies I have and almost nothing in this book doesn’t feel like it’s pulled directly from The Shield or Law & Order. It’s fine, it’s just wholly unoriginal. 

27. “Sleeping Giants” - Sylvain Neuvel (Audible)
Wanted to love this one and by the end, found that I loved the concept, not the actual writing itself. This was an early-in-the-year read and soured me on the series but now, almost a year out from my reading, I’m talking myself into returning for the sequel in hopes of something better. 

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26. “Hillbilly Elegy” - JD Vance (Audible)
This was a big one within my community this year and I appreciate its intent even if I don’t love the finished product. For me, “Hillbilly Elegy” is two books crammed together. One, Vance’s personal backstory and the history of his family, I found fascinating. The other, Vance’s projections of his personal experience onto a much broader group of people, I found flawed and, at times, problematic. 

25. “The Rest of Us Just Live Here” - Patrick Ness
I’ve read some Ness in the past and in fact, he is the author (though not the originator) of “A Monster Calls”, one of my all-time favorites. “The Rest of Us Just Live Here”, though, felt like a good idea that wasn’t completely fleshed out. Narratively enjoyable, the character development is mediocre and at times the whole thing felt a bit forced. 

24. “Waypoint Kangaroo” - Curtis Chen (Audible)
“Waypoint Kangaroo” feels like a throwback to the dime store paperback science fiction of the 50’s and 60’s (made complete by the reader who matched the tone quite well) which I loved. But the central plot device (the main character has a semi-magical ability that he alone can access) is almost completely ignored by the author for the majority of the book, leaving me to wonder what the point of it was in the first place. 

23. “Artemis” - Andy Weir (Audible)
Weir’s previous book, “The Martian”, and the movie it inspired are favorites of mine and I’ve been looking forward to “Artemis” for some time now. I must say, I’m a bit disappointed, both in terms of the plot, which was fine but unspectacular, and the mediocre characters. By the conclusion, I just sort-of meh’d and moved on, the exact opposite of my experience with “The Martian.”

22. “The Magnolia Story” - Chip and Joanna Gaines (Audible)
Listened to this with Lindsey during a road trip and found it enjoyable. Not a huge surprise, I’m very pro-Chip and Jojo and pro-HGTV in general. (Come and fight me.) I wouldn’t say I learned much of great value but it was a solid read nonetheless. 

21. “Fellside” - MR Carey (Audible)
In no way does “Fellside” live up to the standard Carey set with “The Girl with all the Gifts”, one of my best reads of 2016. Unlike the gap between Weir’s “Martian” and “Artemis”, however, I found “Fellside” to be competent and strong in its own right, a solid companion to “Gifts” if nothing else. 

20. “The Life We Bury” - Zach Villa (Audible)
I don’t read many mysteries so I’m probably not the best judge of the genre as a whole. This one, however, worked for me quite well. I’m not sure there’s much in the way of originality or brilliant writing but Villa poses an interesting question (did the old man dying in hospice commit the murder for which he was convicted 30 years ago or not?) and lets the story unfold competently throughout. 

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19. “All Our Wrong Todays” - Elan Mastai
In the reading of “All Our Wrong Todays”, my feelings jumped back and forth constantly. At times, I felt like I was reading the best book of 2017 and at times I felt like I might have been getting conned previously. It’s a roller coaster affair and to be completely frank, I’m not even entirely sure it all makes sense. There’s quite a bit of science that falls somewhere between the “scientific mumbo jumbo” of Star Trek and the “basically accurate” science of “The Martian.” Mastai is quite clever in both his dialogue and character development, however, and that tended to carry the book through its weaker points. 

18. “The Stranger in the Woods” - Michael Finkel (Audible)
I read a couple of articles on this story (about a man who lived in the Maine woods with no contact to the outside world, beyond the houses he broke into for supplies, for 25 years) when he was captured in 2013 and I’ve been fascinated with it ever since. Finkel’s book is Krakauer-ian in nature though perhaps with a little less flare that Krakauer. At times, it felt like a longform article would have sufficed but perhaps that feeling is due to my familiarity with the subject matter in the first place. 

17. “Uncanny X-Force” - Rick Remender
The first comic book/graphic novel to make an appearance, “X-Force” was a darker, edgier look at the X-Universe than “Astonishing X-Men” (see below) but that works quite well for the characters assembled in this team (Wolverine, Angel, Deadpool, etc.). If there’s a weakness, it is in the inclusion of Fantomex whose storylines were always my least favorite of the book. 

16. “The Winter Over” - Matthew Iden (Audible)
What should have been a complete throwaway airport read turned out to be much more interesting thanks in large part to the author’s choice of setting (the South Pole research facility). Part mystery, part thriller, “The Winter Over” uses its setting brilliantly to heighten the tension and transform fairly generic characters and situations into a highly enjoyable read. 

15. “The Forgetting” - Sharon Cameron (Audible)
My first read of 2017, I found Cameron’s worldbuilding to be excellent and the central conceit to be engrossing. The characters could’ve been better but overall, a good read. I will say, however, I grabbed the second book in this series (“The Knowing”) a couple of months ago and for the first time ever, I returned a book to Audible. Awful. So, consider that before delving into “The Forgetting.”

14. “Good Morning, Midnight” - Lily Brooks Dalton (Audible)
I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic foolishness though this is the only feature-length book from that genre I read this year. Much like “Station Eleven” last year, “Good Morning, Midnight” is firmly in the “literary” section of the post-apocalyptic genre, focusing more on its main characters (an aging scientist at the North Pole and a young astronaut on return from Jupiter) than on the event(s) of the apocalypse (which is never spelled out). I wanted to love this one but had to settle for like instead, though it is very well-written. 

13. “Missoula” - Jon Krakauer (Audible)
One of the least enjoyable books I read in 2017 thanks to its subject matter (rape and date rape in small-town Montana) but still an important, incredibly well-written book. Krakauer is one of the best at discussing difficult material with grace (he’s also one of the best, period) and he brings that skill to “Missoula” masterfully. 

12. “Astonishing X-Men Ultimate Collection Volume 1” - Joss Whedon
My comic book reading as a kid was devoted almost exclusively to X-Men comics and in 2017, when I picked up graphic novels again, I went right back to that which I know and love. This was a really fun collection of comics containing a lot of Whedon-isms and pithy dialogue. I’m looking forward to reading volume 2 in 2018. 

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11. “Underground Airlines” - Ben Winters (Audible)
Alternative history is very hit-or-miss for me (mostly miss) but Ben Winters’s conceit (an America where slavery is still legal in four Southern states) stuck close enough to reality that after a few pages, I just about forgot it wasn’t based in fact. The narration on the audiobook is excellent, as well. 

10. “Sons and Soldiers” - Bruce Henderson (Audible)
I wish Henderson’s writing was just a bit tighter throughout and the choice of audiobook narrator was mediocre (good reader, his voice just didn’t match the material) but the subject matter itself is incredible. I feel like I’m at least relatively knowledgeable when it comes to the events of World War II but I can’t recall ever having heard of the Jewish immigrants who returned to the front as translators for the military. Fascinating stuff told in a format vaguely reminiscent of an oral history. 

9. “Old Man Logan” - Mark Millar
My favorite of the three graphic novels I finished this year, “Old Man Logan” was a great prep the movie Logan which was (not coincidentally) one of my favorite movies of 2017. “Old Man Logan” is a quick, easy read and for me, provided a great door back into the realm of comic books. 

8. “Last Days of Night” - Graham Moore (Audible) 
I had to be convinced to read this (a novel revolving around the battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse) as it’s not the sort of thing I usually enjoy. I’m glad I gave into peer pressure. Moore’s narrative structure is excellent and the use of Paul Cravath (Westinghouse’s lawyer) as the medium through which the events unfold keeps the story moving beautifully. 

7. “Petty: The Biography” - Warren Zanes (Audible)
I confess, I didn’t know just a whole lot about Tom Petty beyond the basics and wasn’t overly inclined to learn more. Then he died and I felt like I’d missed the boat. Zanes is a fantastic writer and because of his background with Petty (his band toured with Tom and the Heartbreakers in the 80’s), he was able to get the notoriously uncooperative rock star to open up and talk about everything from his childhood to his drug abuse in the 90’s. 

6. “Reincarnation Blues” - Michael Poore (Audible)
My final read of 2017, “Reincarnation Blues” felt like the spiritual cousin of “The Hike”, one of the best books I read in 2016 and an all-time favorite at that. Great concept, really strong characters that I cared about, and a highly enjoyable writing style (heightened by an awesome narration). The ending, really an epilogue of sorts, missed the mark by just a hair for me, however, and thus, “Reincarnation Blues” went from an instant classic in my book to simply very, very good. 

5. “The Man From the Train” - Bill James (Audible)
This book is bonkers, y’all. James, the father of advanced stats in baseball, became interested in some murders that took place across America in the early 20th century (pretty normal, right?) and posited that many of them had been committed by the same person. So obviously he and his daughter began researching the murders and ultimately...they solved the cases. BONKERS. James is a very dry, efficient writer and that style serves the subject matter brilliantly and he avoids gratuitous details when possible if that’s of concern to you. 

4. “Boy 21” - Matthew Quick
Like “Tip Off”, this book has been sitting on my shelf for years. I randomly grabbed it and took it on a flight this summer as a backup to another book I was struggling through. Once I started reading, I flew through it in, like, an hour and loved every page. A great, genre-bending read focusing on one of the more original coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read. 

3. “The Last Boy” - Jane Leavy (Audible)
Okay, one more for the, “been sitting on my shelf for years” group. I love Mickey Mantle and every tall tale that goes along with his legend/myth. As such, I have resisted actually reading Leavy’s book for fear that it would further prove him to be the terrible person that he kinda was. (Never meet or read about your heroes, right?) While Leavy’s book pulls no punches, she presents a biography of Mantle unlike any other I’ve ever read, made complete by her memories of/notes on a two-day interview she did with The Mick in the early 80’s. “The Last Boy” is in the pantheon of great sports books and a MUST read for any Mantle fan. 

2. “On Writing” - Stephen King
This is the best book Mr. King has ever written and, of course, that is saying something. Moreover, this is the best book on the creative process that I’ve ever come across. Part autobiography, part how-to guide for writers, King filled every page with tips, advice, personal reflection, and self-deprecation in a no-holds-barred sort of way befitting of his persona. I’d recommend “On Writing” to anyone but it is a MUST read for anyone trying to create.

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1. “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” - Michael Chabon (Audible)
The Pulitzer (fiction) winner from 2001, I’m not entirely sure how I missed out on “Kavalier and Clay” for so long, other than the fact that it came out while I was in college, the absolute worst time for reading anything that is not related to a class (this is just science). Per a friend’s recommend, I gave this a spin and fell in love immediately. Chabon is a master of the craft to begin with but “Kavalier and Clay” felt even more inspired than usual, blending genres and messages seamlessly, page after page. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and one that I expect will revisit in the future. 
 

Fighting the Marvel Villains

Anytime a new Marvel Cinematic Universe movie heads our way (Thor: Ragnarok opens today in case you’ve somehow missed the ads, trailers, and general cultural presence), it brings with it an opportunity to interact. I’ve written about Marvel in the past, including a full-on ranking of all the films within the universe. This time around I wanted to focus on the villains (often the fly in the Marvel ointment) and started with a simple prompt: If I had to fight one MCU villain, who would it be? I’m talking me, a normal, mortal, five-foot-nine-ish dude with no super powers, super tech, or even any real training, up against the various Marvel villains in all their glory. How would I fare and what strategies would I employ against each of them? I went through the MCU films, thought about their respective villains, and broke them down into four groups ranked from easiest to defeat to most difficult. Also, this is very silly.  

I GOT THIS

16. Malekith, Thor the Dark World
I live in Texas. There is a zero percent chance that a dark elf could even begin to handle the heat in Texas, let alone the humidity. Malekith would melt and I would soak him up into a water bottle and leave him on display for the rest of time.

15. Colonel Zemo, Captain America: Civil War
This guy has literally no super powers and I’m not convinced he’s even all that smart. His entire strategy is based on fooling superheroes into fighting each other. Since I am not a super hero, I would not fall for this and I feel confident I could at least restrain Daniel Bruhl until the authorities arrived.

14. Ronan, Guardians of the Galaxy
In theory, Ronan is a formidable opponent. He looks intimidating, he appears to be very physically gifted, and he has a super cool weapon. However, he must suffer from a paralyzing case of ADD as he is extremely easy to distract through dance and would be no match for my devastating dance moves.

13. Red Skull, Captain America: First Avenger
As with Ronan, Red Skull appears to be unbeatable. However, there is no evidence that his super powers come with immortality and as such, in 2017, he would be at least 100 years old, if not dead, and I’m pretty confident I can defeat a corpse.

12. Loki, Thor
Loki from Avengers is a serious opponent (see below) but Loki from Thor? Please. Loki seems very emotionally fragile. I would blare some Phil Collins at Loki, watch him collapse into a Feelings Puddle and snatch his staff. This isn’t even hard.

11. Obadiah Sane, Iron Man
Obadiah is a question mark for sure but I’m relying on his lack of familiarity with his janky Iron Man suit technology and potentially limited battery power to wear him down eventually, at which point I’m just facing off against a bald Jeff Bridges. I want no part of a long-haired Jeff Bridges but the bald version can catch these hands.

I AM NOT SO SURE ABOUT THIS

10. Kaecilius, Doctor Strange
Kaecilius is very powerful and moreover, he is quite dedicated to bringing the world to an end. Hey, we all have those days, I get it. I am no match for his magical powers but, hear me out on this; has Kaecilius ever seen Parks and Recreation? I doubt it. He seems like the kind of guy who never really watched much TV. If I could engage Kaecilius’s inquisitive mind and convince him to watch a season of Parks and Recreation (probably season four or five, something he could understand without much backstory), I think I could show him there is good in the world and also, while he’s wrapped up in the Leslie Knope-Ben Wyatt relationship, I could bash his head and take his ring.

9. Mandarin, Iron Man 3
The hierarchy of powers within Iron Man 3 is VERY difficult to ascertain, to be sure, so I may be underrating the fightability of Mandarin. I do feel like, however, I could rope-a-dope him into literally imploding as he doesn’t seem particularly stable, either physically or mentally.

8. Darren Cross/Yellowjacket, Ant-Man
My prospects are beginning to get dicey at this point. Cross is legitimately evil and Yellowjacket is formidable. My goal here would be to get him to follow me to an offseason lake town where I would rig every bug zapper I could find to one trailer and fry him.

I DO NOT LIKE MY CHANCES

7. Ultron, The Avengers: Age of Ultron
On the surface, Ultron seems unbeatable for a lowly normal such as myself. If you dig a little deeper, however, you discover that his strategies are flawed (why, of all the places on earth you could attack, would you start with Zokovia, idiot?), he’s very bad at picking allies, and he’s a bit egotistical. If I can just avoid him for a while, I imagine he makes a mistake, at which point I pounce. (Though, to be fair, I have no idea what to do once I pounce. I’ll wing it.)

6. Adrian Toomes/Vulture, Spider-Man Homecoming
He may not have super powers but his technology more than makes up for what he’s lacking. Moreover, Toomes is out there fighting for his family’s livelihood. This strangely makes him much more difficult to contend with than some of the “bigger” villains. I would probably try to Jaws him and shoot his jetpack and hope for the best.

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5. Loki, The Avengers
In this scenario, I imagine Loki would show up and, buoyed by my previous success against Loki, I would smirk and reach for my iPod, assuming my Phil Collins strategy would work again, at which point Loki, now less a mopey teenager and more a powerful warlock, would probably cut out my eye. Maybe “Against All Odds” tugs on his heartstrings, though, and he relents before actually killing me.

I AM DEAD

3-4. Emil Blonsky/Abomination, The Incredible Hulk and Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, Iron Man 2
I have almost no strategy against Abomination. He’s an ultra-powerful monster and even if he powers down, he’s still Tim Roth. I don’t like my chances against Tim Roth even without powers. Similarly, while Whiplash is a marginal villain, if I somehow manage to relieve him of his whips and Iron Man suits, I still have to contend with what I can only assume would be a very angry Mickey Rourke. *Shudders*

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2. Ego, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2
Ego is both a planet AND Kurt Russell. How do you even begin to fight against that combination? I have no bomb in my backpack, I don’t even have duct tape for the Death Button; I am virtually useless. If I sang “Cat’s in the Cradle” at the top of my lungs would that cause Ego some emotional distress, allowing me to escape? I don’t know, maybe, but that’s really all I have going for me.

1. Hydra, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Hydra is far too sprawling an organization for one normal human such as myself to take down. Without Cap’s shield or Falcon’s wings or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s…whatever Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has going for it, I’m powerless. I would probably just run from trusted celebrity to trusted celebrity, blabbing about Hydra only to find out they, too, are Hydra agents. I’ll give you Robert Redford and Bill Paxton, but Garry Shandling?! Garry Shandling is a Hydra agent?! I can’t win this war. I give up.

Top 5 Pilots to Maybe Watch

Are you guys excited for Pilot Season?! I can’t hear you! I said, are you guys excited for Pilot Season?! Oh. You’re…you’re not? Like, you’re not just being chill, you’re really not excited? Ah. Well…this is awkward then. Can I tell you a little secret between friends? Neither am I. Pilot Season used to be one of my favorite things to look forward to on the pop culture calendar but, ironically, as the TV landscape expands, my interest in this time of year has waned significantly. Still, though, there’s a tradition to this time of year I respect and appreciate and thus, I’m trying to get myself pumped up for the new offerings the Almighty TV will bring my way this year.

I won’t lie to you, dear readers, 2017 might be the bleakest Pilot Season I’ve ever seen. It seems like most of the new shows are headed for immediate cancellation and many of the ones that will “succeed” hold little interest for me. When I sent the pilots list out to Kent and Richard, I honestly though Richard might punch me. It’s rough out there, y’all. So I’ve tried to find five shows (literally five out of 25+) that might have a chance of making my DVR rotation. Let’s see if I can talk you into any of them.

NOTE: I dismissed The Deuce because, while it is apparently very good, it is also very much not my thing. Sorry. And if I had written this piece a few weeks ago, The Orville would’ve been featured heavily. Having seen the early buzz, however…yeesh. That’s not what you want, Seth McFarlane. Carry on.

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Stat Trek Discovery, CBS
Summary: “Ten years before Captain Kirk helms the bridge of the Enterprise, the USS Discovery boldly goes where no man has gone before.”

I’m of the opinion that there should always be a Star Trek show on TV and it’s been far too long (12 years) since such a show existed. The trailers for Discovery are excellent, the cast is stacked, and I love the concept. The biggest issue is CBS’s foolish decision to keep the show off terrestrial TV and relegated to their streaming platform which I think will fail miserably. Hopefully, the powers that be bring Discovery back to their standard programming by season two.

The Tick, Amazon
Summary: “A mild-mannered accountant joins forces with a dim-witted superhero in this reboot of the cult classic.”

The first six episodes of The Tick have been available on Amazon Prime for a few weeks now but I haven’t had a chance to watch them yet. I’ve heard nothing but good things. The Tick has always been a fun property that just couldn’t find enough of an audience to stay alive in any of its forms but Amazon is the ideal home. I love, too, the choice of Peter Serafinowicz in the titular role.

Ghosted, FOX
Summary: “A skeptic and a true believer pair up to investigate paranormal occurrences.”

I like the idea of an X-Files satire, though I’m a little concerned this is going to veer closer to a poor man’s Ghostbusters instead. The concept is solid, however, and while Craig Robinson has been hit or miss in his post-Office career, Adam Scott always delivers for me.

The Mayor, ABC
Summary: “A struggling hip-hop artist runs for mayor of his hometown as a publicity stunt.”

Of all these choices, I feel like this one has the highest rate of variance. If it’s handled with the right tone and can take on political and social commentary without losing its comedic roots, I think it could be a major success. If it lacks either bite or humor, however, The Mayor will struggle to push through its bad title (seriously, ABC, you’ve got to get this title thing figured out).  

 The Gifted, FOX
Summary: “A secret agency investigates mutant-related incidents within the X-Men universe.”

This is the new show I’m most excited about this season. I love the X-Men with all of my being and I love that we’re getting more of these explorations into the wider universe that happens outside of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Legion proved this ground to be fertile earlier this year and Matt Nix (Burn Notice) is, I think, a perfect showrunner to bring this property to network TV.