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.

Favorite TV Dads

Father’s Day is Sunday, in case you needed a reminder to get out there and find your dad a tie, a dumb card, or some other form of give-up, half thought-out gift that your dad probably doesn’t care about. This will be my fourth Father’s Day as an actual father and let me tell you, it’s not too shabby. Sleep in, brunch at a greasy spoon, some kind of low-key activity that requires no energy, nap, etc. In the past I’ve written very serious parenting advice for Father’s Day (http://briandgill.com/parenting/ if you care though seriously I don’t know why you would) but all of that pales in comparison to the question I intend to answer here: Who are the best TV dads? This is very serious stuff, you guys. Studies (probably) show we tend to model the parenting behavior we personally witness and since we all watch too much TV, it stands to reason that TV dads will have some impact on the way we (read: “I”) parent. So which TV dads should we be looking to for parental guidance? I polled our listeners on Twitter and got hundreds of suggestions to help me sort through the plethora of options.

NOTE: The best TV dad of all-time is Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable. This should go without saying. Unfortunately, the legacy of Dr. Huxtable has been irreparably damaged thanks to Bill Cosby’s alleged crimes. Maybe you can watch The Cosby Show without feeling uncomfortable but I can’t so, Dr. Huxtable is out.

Let’s start with a few TV dads who are actually the worst.

Al Bundy, Married with Children
As a (potentially?) good father, I believe there is never been a “stronger” personification of awful fathering, and all the stereotypes that go with it, than Al Bundy. In the words of MacGruber, “I learned a lot from you. Mostly what not to do but that’s important, too.” You suck, Al.

Homer Simpson, The Simpsons
I’m of the opinion that you can learn a lot from The Simpsons; it’s always been a deceptively deep show. What you cannot learn from The Simpsons, however, is proper parenting. In Homer’s defense, he tries, sometimes harder than others, to be a good dad and perhaps he’s doing the best he can. But his track record is sketchy and he’s almost murdered his son hundreds of times. Also, he doesn’t seem to realize his children never age. Neglectful.

Jax Teller, Sons of Anarchy
I think Jax Teller would tell you he IS a good father. He writes journals to his kids on the regular, he tries to get them away from the life he leads, etc. But in reality, Jax perpetually makes decisions that put his kids directly in the line of fire and one of them literally gets abducted by the Catholic church. Not great, Jax.

Ross Geller, Friends
Ross illustrates the difference between loving your child and actually being a good parent. I have no doubt that Ross loves Ben (and I assume Emma, too, though that’s never really established if we’re being honest) but if you catch Ross when he’s had a few margaritas, he definitely admits he’s basically an absentee father. Ben’s therapy bills are going to be substantial.

Ted Mosby, How I Met Your Mother
Let me tell you something, Ted Mosby. Giving your kids a longwinded story about how great their now-deceased mother was only to pull the rug out from under them by admitting she was trash compared to your best friend’s ex-wife is about the most egregiously bad parenting I have ever seen on screen. You’re the worst, Ted Mosby, and you didn’t deserve Tracy McConnell.

Now, on to the better TV dads. It should be noted that since this is my list, it is beholden to shows I have actually seen. So, if you’re a TV dad from a show I haven’t seen most or all of (Bob’s Burgers, The Wonder Years, Malcolm in the Middle, etc.), you’re out of the running by default with my apologies. You can pick up your ceremonial tie on the way out.

20. Tony Soprano, The Sopranos
Whoa, we’re right out the gate with a controversial father choice! Can a mob boss be a good father? Turns out, yeah, he can, as long as your name is Meadow and not AJ. Tony botched it with AJ, no question, (in his defense, AJ was a beating and I might not try too hard with him, either) but he tries hard with Meadow to mostly positive results (though we’ll choose to ignore the time he strangled a man while on a college visitation).

19. Jack Bauer, 24
Few TV dads go to the lengths to protect his children like Jack did. Were the results always positive? Uhhhhh, no, not at all. Would the show have been better if Kim Bauer would’ve been eaten by a cougar in season two? Absolutely, without question. But it doesn’t change Jack’s efforts.

18. Lawrence Fletcher, Phineas and Ferb
Pro-tip for new or future dads: Phineas and Ferb is the greatest kid’s show of all-time. I would watch it even if I didn’t have a kid. Total lifesaver in the kid’s TV world. Lawrence is relatively oblivious but on the occasions that he is in on his son’s shenanigans, he’s incredibly supportive and encouraging.

17. Louis Huang, Fresh Off the Boat
Louis is the personification of the Dorky Dad, a classic TV dad trope. Is he a bit lame? Sure. Does he understand his son’s obsession with hip hop and Shaquille O’neal? Nah, not really. But that doesn’t keep him from trying his hardest to connect and carve out a great life for his family.

16. Ray Barone, Everybody Loves Raymond
I didn’t truly appreciate Ray until my son started walking. Suddenly, I understood why he was so beaten down all the time. Dude is just trying to get some work done in his home office and he’s constantly being interrupted by his lovely family. Let the man get some work done, Debra and Kids!!!

15. Terry Jeffords, Brooklyn 9-9
When Brooklyn 9-9 is inevitably cancelled because too many idiots didn’t watch it, I hope Mike Schur just spins off Terry Jeffords into his own show. No “Girl Dad” goes to the comedic lengths to keep his girls happy like Terry does. You’re an inspiration to us all, Terry.

14. Red Forman, That 70’s Show
Red is the classic “There When You Need Him Dad.” Super gruff and rough around the edges, constantly calls you a mean name I can’t type here, doesn’t understand your weird fashion choices, etc. But when the stuff hits the fan, Red is there, man. And on top of that, he’s gonna be there for your ne’er-do-well buddies.

13. Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation
The only reason Ron doesn’t rank out in the top five is the infrequency with which we got to see him parent. A later-in-life parent, Ron’s no-nonsense style served him incredibly well both with his stepdaughters and his newborn son. How many TV dads have ever shot down a drone on their front yard in the interest of protecting their child’s privacy? Only Ron (bleeping) Swanson.

12. Ned Stark, Game of Thrones
Ned is a tough love kind of dad but he’s a bang-up father to all of his legitimate kids and his (fake) bastard, teaching them the ways of the world while still doting on them appropriately. But then he dies because he’s too stubbornly attached to his principles and his entire family gets thrown to the lions, as it were. Good dad in life but pretty miserable dad in death if we’re being honest.

11. Walter White, Breaking Bad
Okay, now hear me out. Was Walter White a good person? Absolutely not. A drug dealer, a murder, a child poisoner, a purveyor of Pontiac Aztecs…these are all major flaws in Walter White’s character and by the end of the show, he was irredeemable. All of these things are factually true. But…was he a good father? I would make the case that while his measures were jumbled and twisted, his motive was pure. At the end of the day, he was a terminally ill man who just wanted provide support for his family. Best of intentions and what not.

10. Joe West, The Flash
There is literally no flaw in Joe’s dad game. Raised a successful daughter all by himself: Check. Raised a surrogate son when his parents abandoned him: Check. Had an unknown-and-fully-grown son dropped on his plate out of nowhere and immediately stepped in to parent: Check. Joe West is a dad hero.

9. Steve Keaton, Family Ties
With apologies to Jason Seaver and Jack Arnold, Steve Keaton is THE dad of the 80’s. He worked hard at a job that made a difference in the world, he raised three very successful children and Andy (who probably wound up in jail, I think we can all agree), and he supported Alex in spite of his utter betrayal of the family’s lifestyle and commitment to the Raegan administration. He even helped Uncle Ned get clean. Flawless.

8. Murray Goldberg, The Goldbergs
I didn’t have a single listener suggest Murray Goldberg which suggests that either no one watches the Goldbergs (likely) or none of you can see through Murray’s shouting and general crankiness to the heart of gold within. Much like Red Forman, Murray is a “There When You Need Him Most” kind of dad. Unlike Red, Murray is quicker to rise to the occasion and fills his role more out of love and less out of a sense of responsibility. Repeatedly mocking your kids and spending most of your time in your recliner can’t hide your gentle spirit forever, Murray.

7. Phil Dunphy, Modern Family
Modern Family has always been a bit overrated but somehow Phil Dunphy has remained underrated despite two Emmy’s and five nominations. He is earnest, he is hilarious (usually unintentionally, but still), and he loves his kids with zero qualifications. In a perfect (very dark) world, Claire would’ve died (tragically but with dignity) after, like, season three and Phil would’ve be spun off into his own show called Phil’s-o-sophy with just him and the kids before Ariel Winter and Nolan Gould got annoying. I would watch that for ten seasons.

6. Sandy Cohen, The OC
I had Sandy off my list originally because I quit on The OC after season two. But so many of our listeners suggested him that I had to revisit my appreciation for this man and by golly, this is a good dad. So here he is. Sandy works hard at his job, he supports his son’s weird quirks, he surfs (!!!), and he took in Ryan Atwood and his myriad facial expressions when no one else would. AND!!! He eats a nutritious breakfast with his family EVERY SINGLE MORNING like a champ. Most mornings I just give my kid a cold Pop-Tart and drink my coffee on the way to the office. I’m in awe of Sandy Cohen.

5. Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights
Okay, exclusively as a father, Coach Taylor’s track record is a little spotty. Julie Taylor lives a sketchy life in Dillon, Texas and Eric is at least partially responsible for Gracie Belle’s forehead, genetically speaking. But I’m a sucker for and a big proponent of the Surrogate Father and Coach Taylor is one of the all-time greats in this category. Coach Taylor will give my beloved Tim Riggins a room to crash in, he’ll console Matt Seracen when his father dies, and he will absolutely fight JT McCoy’s dad in an Applebee’s parking lot. If you’re a mildly talented high school football player in West Texas in need of a father figure, you can do no better than Eric Taylor.

4. Uncle Phil Banks, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Here’s my big question for Philip Banks pre-Fresh Prince: At what point did he become an involved father? Because he clearly punted on Hilary and Carlton, right? Hilary is just a slightly scaled down version of Mona Lisa Saperstein and Carlton…honestly, it’s a miracle Carlton didn’t die of a wedgie. But Uncle Phil seems to have gotten it right with Ashley and he NAILS the Surrogate Father stuff with Will. He gave Will a place to live and moreover, treated him as one of his own despite all of Will’s endless shenanigans. Phil didn’t even seem to notice when his wife got a face lift midrun. A true class act, that Uncle Phil.

3. Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, Home Improvement
*Extended grunt that I can’t figure out how to spell appropriately* Who doesn’t love the Tool Man? Probably Al. Al probably doesn’t love the Tool Man. But you know what, Al, back off! No one wants to watch Tool Time with Al Borland. More like “Bore Time” with Al Borland. (Very bad dad joke, I’m sorry.) In all seriousness: Tim Taylor is very important to the advancement of better fathering. Tim Taylor is the first TV dad I can remember who was both a “man’s man” AND a consistently loving, caring father with his sons. Before Tim Taylor, most good TV dads were “manly” men who softened in times of need (Red Forman types), gentler men whose everyday persona was more passive (Steve Keaton), or guys who were softer with their daughters but harder on their sons (Heathcliff Huxtable). Nothing wrong with ANY of those characters or their tropes. But Tim Taylor got his hands dirty doing manly work then came home and hugged his sons. He was a very progressive character on this front and I think that played a part in changing the expectations for good dads. *Grunt grunt grunt*

2. Michael Scott, The Office
I’m playing the Surrogate Father card big time here but make no mistake, Michael Scott is the father of Dunder Mifflin Scranton and he deserves all the accolades we can give him. He led his family bravely even when he didn’t know what he was doing (the Scranton branch always outperformed other branches/families), he handled squabbles and infighting (Jim and Dwight prank wars only got out of hand after he’d left the show), he made jokes his “kids” hated (a major part of being a dad), he even walked one of his “daughters” down the aisle at her wedding (even if he did get shown up by Albert Lapin, that attention whore in a wheelchair *pfft*). More to the point, even if (at times) the Dunder Mifflin crew didn’t think of Michael as their father, Michael ALWAYS believed he was just that, even stating so (in the most awkward, Michael Scott fashion imaginable) at Dwight and Angela’s wedding. So…he’s a father in my book.

1. Alan Matthews, Boy Meets World
I’ve made some jokes here today but truthfully, if you suddenly became a father and had no other fatherly influence from which to draw on, if you just copied Alan Matthews, you’d do all right. My dude works HARD at a job he hates because it’s what he has to do to put food the table. He wakes his kid up in the middle of the night to watch a no hitter on the West Coast. He gives his kids responsibility and expects them to do as they’re told but he’ll go to bat for them if he feels their teacher is being too hard on them. He gives advice but still leaves room for his kids to make their own decisions. He stands in as the Surrogate Father for a kid who DESPERATELY needs it. There is no flaw to be found in Alan Matthews. Get Alan Matthews some Father of the Year awards, a cold drink, and a nap. He’s earned some time off.

Movie Rankings 2016

A+
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moana

A
Everybody Wants Some!!
Arrival
A Monster Calls
The Lobster
Moonlight
The Jungle Book
Pete’s Dragon
Manchester By the Sea
Hidden Figures
Captain Fantastic
Deadpool
Captain America: Civil War
The Nice Guys
Patriot’s Day
Fences
Raiders!

A-
Zootopia
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Doctor Strange
Hail, Caesar!
The Founder
Green Room
Edge of 17
Kubo and the Two Strings
The Secret Life of Pets
Star Trek Beyond
Elstree 1976
Florence Foster Jenkins
Midnight Special

B+
10 Cloverfield Lane
Elvis & Nixon
Finding Dory
The Shallows
Morris From America
Bloodfather
Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them
Trolls
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
The BFG
Jason Bourne

B
Anthropoid
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Kung Fu Panda 3
War Dogs
Neighbors 2
The Magnificent Seven
Central Intelligence
Eddie the Eagle
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

B-
Keanu
A Hologram for the King
Money Monster
13 Hours
Birth of a Nation
The Infiltrator
The Girl on the Train

C+
X-Men: Apocalypse
Sully
The Accountant
London Has Fallen

C
Mr. Right
Sausage Party
Passengers
Hands of Stone
Triple 9
Free State of Jones

C-
The Family Fang
The Mechanic: Resurrection
The Huntsman: Winter’s War
The Legend of Tarzan
TMNT 2: Out of the Shadows
Live By Night
Ghostbusters

D
Assassin’s Creed
Swiss Army Man
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Warcraft

F
Gods of Egypt
Now You See Me 2
Suicide Squad
Independence Day Resurgence
Zoolander 2
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Batman v Superman
 

I Read Some Books! 2016

Much like, I’m assuming, many of you, every year I aspire to read more and every year I do not, in fact, read more. I used to. I used to read a lot. Every day, all the time, I plowed through book after book. Then I started doing all these adult things like “working” and “having friends” and “drinking coffee just to stay awake, not because I like coffee” and much of the reading went by the wayside. In an effort to spur on my pathetic reading efforts, in 2016 I signed up for Audible and went all-in on audiobooks. And hey, it worked! I read 23 books this year, more than double what I got through in 2015. To be fair, by “read 23 books” I really mean I “listened to 22 books and read one book with my eyes” but still, I’m marking 2016 down as a win for reading. In looking back at everything I read this year, I thought I might share some of the highlights and then it turned into a full list and well…here we are. Of these 23 books (including one trilogy that I combined into one book for the sake of this list), I would confidently recommend at least 16 of them so I’d say my batting average for the year was pretty solid. Happy reading!

21. “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel” – Robert Heinlein, 1958
I grew up reading Heinlein’s brand of science fiction and some of his works remain personal favorites to this time. “Spacesuit” hasn’t aged well and the pulpiness of the story combined with a truly terrible reading made it a chore to get through. 

20. “The Dog Stars” – Peter Heller, 2012
I am a known sucker for post-apocalyptic fare (see many times below) and this one, about a man and his dog trying to find meaning in a world decimated by flu, had a lot of promise. It also had perhaps 150 extra pages that could’ve been cut out entirely without any loss to the narrative. Had I been reading instead of listening, I would’ve skimmed “Dog Stars” quite a lot, I’m afraid. 

19. “Erasing Hell” – Francis Chan, 2011
An interesting concept from one of my favorite theologians, I have tried reading “Erasing Hell” at least three times before and finally finished it through the magic of audiobooks. For me, it was less compelling than most of Chan’s other works and ultimately didn’t bring just a whole lot of new perspective to the table. 

18. “Lock In” – John Scalzi, 2014
A prolific sci-fi writer, Scalzi launched a new series with this book and I think it could make for an interesting universe. It’s a quick, easy read but without much originality or ambition. The audiobook is narrated by Will Wheaton, however, so that doesn’t hurt. 

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17. “The Girl on the Train” – Paula Hawkins, 2015
This isn’t really my sort of book if we’re being honest but its cultural pull was undeniable and the movie adaptation looked promising (though that promise never came to fruition). I found “Girl on the Train” to be a solid beach/airplane read, nothing more and nothing less. 

16. “Wool (Omnibus)” – Hugh Howey, 2012
Originally a self-published short story, “Wool” spawned into a large five book series (and now a further series of related stories and books) about a colony of humans living underground in a post-apocalyptic future. Part sci-fi, part murder mystery, “Wool” has some excellent passages surrounded by a bit of filler that could’ve been tightened up.

15. “Boys Among Men” – Jonathan Abrams, 2016
Strangely, this is the only sports-related book I read this year. Focusing exclusively on the group of basketball players who jumped directly from high school to the NBA between 1995 and 2005, Abrams brings a ton of insight to the lives of these gifted players before, during, and after their respective runs at the NBA. The book itself is very well-written and researched but suffers in these rankings because the audiobook version is literally the worst reading I have ever heard in my entire life. 

14. “Jesus Prom” – Jon Weece, 2014
I got to hear Weece speak early in the year and was blown away by his practical approach to the Gospel and ministry as a whole. He touched on much of what was contained within this book and thus, my reading was less powerful than I think it would’ve been had it all been new to me. 

13. “Station Eleven” – Emily St. John Mandel, 2014
Item three of four on my personal post-apocalyptic reading list this year (I need help, I know), “Station Eleven” avoids the sci-fi element you usually get in this sort of book and instead goes for a more classic literature course. Most of the book centers on a troupe of traveling players who traverse the Great Lakes territory performing Shakespeare plays in a world brought low by plague. Not all of the B-story works but for the most part, “Station Eleven” is an excellent, original entry into the genre.

12. “American Gods” – Neil Gaiman, 2001
I’ve been aware of Gaiman’s works for a very long time but only recently began reading them because apparently I am an idiot. A blend of the American road trip and Norse mythology, “American Gods” is a beautifully crafted book and features a fantastic audiobook.  

11. “TV The Book” – Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz, 2016
Sepinwall has long been my TV leader; I may not agree with everything he writes or says but I ALWAYS take heed. For this book, he and Zoller Seitz ranked the 100 best American TV shows of all-time. Of course I take issue with some of their rankings (as would any self-respecting TV fan) but it is their presentation and the scientific approach they took to creating their rankings that make “TV The Book” such a great read. 

10. “Red Rising” Trilogy – Pierce Brown, 2014-2016
I tried hard not to get sucked into reading any long series this year because, more often than not, these books disappoint but my Completeism prevents me from walking away until I’ve finished the whole series. This series (comprised of “Red Rising”, “Golden Son”, and “Morning Star”), however, kept me highly engrossed and ended on a high note instead of an ill-conceived whimper. “Red Rising” begins as a well-written version of “The Hunger Games” in space and then grows from there. It is extremely engrossing with outstanding characters that make it easy to gloss over the weaker portions. 

9. “Neverwhere” – Neil Gaiman, 1996
I started reading “Neverwhere” early in the year, got busy with work and decided to start it all over via audiobook. Gaiman’s voice is almost as compelling as his writing and the world creation for this book is phenomenal. Again, I am an idiot for having never read this before.

8. “The Daily Show: An Oral History” – Chris Smith, 2016
I’ve never been a religious Daily Show viewer but found this book to be insightful and extremely interesting nonetheless. So many brilliant people, from Steve Carell to Samantha Bee to Jon Stewart himself, came through the show during Stewart’s reign and here you get a real insider look at the creative process as well as the political side of the show. 

7. “The Girl with All the Gifts” – MR Carey, 2014
The third and final post-apocalyptic entry on this list, “The Girl with All the Gifts” is by far the bleakest of the genre I read this year but unquestionably the best. Carey introduces the main character with subtle and natural mystery to suck you in beautifully, making the twist (which I won’t give away here, obviously) all the more cutting. That this twist comes early in the book and the story only becomes more engrossing is a true testament to Carey’s skill. 

6. “Born Standing Up” – Steve Martin, 2007
One of my all-time favorite performers, Martin’s autobiography centers only upon his early years as a stand-up performer, ending right after his ascension to movie star in the early 80’s. Martin’s narration of his unrefined bits from the late 60’s is funnier than just about any movie or TV show I saw this year. This is an easy read and gives great insight into the mind of a comedic genius. 

5. “The War For Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy” – Bill Carter, 2010
I’ve had this one sitting on my shelf for years but only just made time to take it in. As a card-carrying member of Team Coco, Jay Leno’s betrayal of my Late Night hero has long been a source of great discontent in my life. Carter, though, doesn’t provide fan service with this book and never takes a side, reporting only the facts of the case, as it were, with little flair. If anything, I came out a little more sympathetic toward Leno which I never would’ve thought possible. 

4. “Your Favorite Band is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life” – Steven Hyden
A well-respected music critic, Hyden brought a very interesting approach to his latest book by delving into some of music’s greatest rivalries. Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam. Britney vs. Christina. The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones. Each chapter explores a different rivalry in great detail intermixed with personal anecdotes that never once play as gratuitous or distracting. Hyden fairly explores both sides of each rivalry and rather than declaring a winner and a loser, more often than not he simply states the virtues of both parties and leaves the judging to the reader. 

3. “A Monster Calls” – Patrick Ness, 2011
Woo, boy. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such an emotional reaction to a book and certainly not in a way that caught me by surprise like this one did. The story, about a pre-teen who is visited each night by a monster who may or may not be a friend, seemed like pretty innocent fantasy at first glance but quickly turned into a much deeper, sobering affair. I may have sobbed uncontrollably. 

2. “The Hike” – Drew Magary, 2016
This is one of the funniest, most affecting pieces of fantasy I have ever read and immediately takes a prominent place on the short list of books I will gladly re-read over and over again in the future. I described “The Hike” as “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” meets “Alice in Wonderland” and if that doesn’t sell you, I’m not sure how I could, other than to tell you that there is a talking crab and he is bitingly hilarious. What else could you possibly ask for?

1. “The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song from Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed” – Shea Serrano, 2015
I read a lot of really, really good books this year, some of which I will probably revisit with more frequency than “The Rap Year Book.” But without any question, this is the most original and beautifully structured book I read this year (and maybe ever). Even if you’re not a rap/hip-hop fan (I would consider myself only a passing listener at best), Serrano’s creativity bleeds through every page of the book and his passion is contagious. The illustrations (by local artist Arturo Torres) are fantastic and they work magnificently with Serrano’s carefully crafted words to bring each song to life in unique ways. This book is hilarious, it is insightful, and it is stylistically inspiring. If nothing else, I’m not sure I’ve ever had more fun reading a book and I think Serrano would approve of that endorsement.

Five Disney Movies Worth Remaking

“The war on remakes is over. We lost. Now we just have to hope the studios pick the right movies to remake with the right people.” This has become my mantra over the last few years and I’ve repeated it ad nauseam to any friend or listener who complains about the remake phenomenon in general. In an ideal world, sure, we’d be treated to far more original concept big budget movies than perpetual reboots but we’re seriously talking about Donald Trump becoming our president so obviously this is far from an ideal world. When considering what qualifies for a good remake pick, I look for one of three characteristics:

1.)    An original film that is not good but has an interesting concept;
2.)    An original film that is good but has limited cultural cache;
3.)    An original film that operates in a universe which lends itself to a bigger story and/or a new interpretation.

One of the bigger proponents of the remake/reboot industry is, of course, Disney. This makes sense because The Mouse has a ton of money to throw into these movies and a huge list of films to draw upon. 2016 has brought with it two very successful Disney live-action remakes (The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon) and a very unsuccessful sequel to a remake (Alice Through the Looking Glass) and it seems like not a week goes by without new or rumor of yet another live-action remake headed our way. With that in mind and following the “just pick the right movies” mantra and the above characteristics, here are five classic Disney features that are prime for the live-action remake treatment.

NOTE: I’m tossing out of consideration any movie that has already been remade or is actively being remade in some form or another. Examples: Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan, etc.

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
I loved this movie as a kid and it holds up quite well, all things considered. Being stranded on a deserted island is of great interest to me because I am terrified of being involved in a shipwreck (honestly I’m terrified of basically anything that happens at sea or a lake or a river) but also I would make a very good hermit and thus, being stranded doesn’t sound all that bad. Add in some wild animals and a super dope tree house and I’m not sure what more you could want in a movie. But I like Swiss Family Robinson as a remake for two reasons: A.) It has virtually not current cultural relevance with younger generations and B.) There are a couple of different interpretations Disney could take with this just by choosing whether to set it in the early 1800’s, the modern day, or anywhere in between. SFR has been rumored for remake numerous times so it seems like a natural fit for this list.

The Black Cauldron (1985)
There have been a couple of dark periods for Disney animation and The Black Cauldron represents one of the darkest. A massive failure on virtually every level, Disney has spent most of the last 30 years pretending this movie never happened. I get it, I like to hide my failures, too (read “my music preferences from age 16 to 22”). But the thing about The Black Cauldron is it’s actually very good. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s very interesting. It was ahead of its time before audiences were ready for something this dark in a cartoon. Truth be told, it’s still too dark as a cartoon as I wouldn’t let my kiddo watch it for fear of the nightmares he’d have afterward. But as a live-action feature in 2016, The Black Cauldron makes a lot of sense if Disney would show a willingness to revisit what has long been considered a dead asset.

Flight of the Navigator (1986)
Show me a human from my generation who didn’t love Flight of the Navigator as a child and I’ll show you a liar. Flight of the Navigator perfectly encapsulates the spirit of youth-oriented movies of the 80’s but it could also very easily translate to the current generation. An updated version integrating new technology and better special effects would, I think, find a strong audience while also sending a bit of cultural relevance to the original.

Bambi (1942)
I’m not actually advocating for this one so much as I am pointing out that it is ripe for the plucking. Bambi was never a particular favorite of mine, even as a kid; I found it boring while simultaneously horrifying given (SPOILER ALERT ON A 70 YEAR OLD MOVIE) the titular character’s mother dies on screen like three minutes into the movie. With that said, in light of the huge success of The Jungle Book and the assumed success of The Lion King in the near future, Bambi absolutely lends itself to the live-action treatment and, in fact, I’m a little surprised it hasn’t already been greenlit.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
I saved the best option for last. Something Wicked This Way Comes is TERRIFYING. In case you’ve never seen it, the plot goes something like this: “A traveling circus run by an actual demon passes through a small town and it only gets worse from there.” AND THEY SHOWED THIS STUFF IN SCHOOLS!!! I watched this movie in the library of my elementary school and everyone thought that was fine! I’m still scarred by this experience. Even still, has anyone under the age of 25 seen this movie (in a school library or otherwise)? Not many, is my guess. Scary movies are certainly not my jam but I think an updated PG-13 version of Something Wicked plays like gangbusters to a new crowd and if nothing else, I’m always on board for the proliferation of Ray Bradbury adaptations. 

Ranking The Star Trek Films

This year, Star Trek celebrates 50 years in the culture zeitgeist with the release of its thirteenth film and the production of its sixth TV series. That’s quite an accomplishment for the small budgeted, relatively short-lived Wagon Train to the Stars Gene Roddenberry first developed in 1966. But beyond the movies and the TV shows, Star Trek has inspired a rabid fanbase unrivaled by any of its contemporaries, save for (perhaps) Star Wars. The books, the conventions, the fan films…Trekkies are crazy and crazy devoted to this universe.

I am not a Trekkie. Star Trek is one of the rare cultural entities that has not been taken over by my completeist mentality. I have seen all of the Star Trek movies many, many times and have partaken in perhaps half of the TV episodes over all (most of the original series, all of Next Generation, some of Deep Space Nine, very little of Voyager or Enterprise). But Star Trek has never spoken into my life the way Star Wars has. I do, however, have a great appreciation for the level of commitment Trekkies have for this property.

There are pros and cons to that dedication, however. On the one hand, it is that obsession that has kept Star Trek relevant for 50 years. On the other, Trekkies’ zeal for that which they love makes it incredibly difficult to gain access to their elite club of nerds (I use this term affectionately). Yes, within any fanbase, you’re bound to find a percentage of the membership that scoffs at the minimal knowledge of some of their counterparts. But whereas the average Star Wars nerd takes a “The More, The Merrier” stance on growing fandom, Trekkies seem to crave exclusivity. It’s as if, upon finishing your first Star Trek experience, you’re given a rigid set of rules by which you must live your life and if you’re not keen on learning the Klingon language or reading endless fan fiction or agreeing on the proper way to clean a mythical Transporter screen, then you’re out of the club. There is a line where a fanbase crosses over from “committed” to “obnoxious” and serious Trekkies run up against that line far too often.

This becomes abundantly clear when discussing the Star Trek films with a Trekkie. One of the things I noticed in “researching” this piece is how vastly different the average filmgoer and even the average film critic feel about these movies compared to the average Trekkie. For a Trekkie, Star Trek movies must align themselves perfectly with a pre-established canon and timeline and if they deviate even slightly, then it’s not enough to call out those deficiencies; instead, you must declare the movie worthless and shun its very existence. For the rest of us, these movies can just be entertaining regardless of how they line up with an obscure reference from Deep Space Nine. I’m not bashing this way of life; rather, I’m just pointing out these differences in approach so that we can acknowledge up front that my ranking of Star Trek movies is likely to be different (and perhaps vastly different) from that of a Trekkie and hopefully we can avoid an intergalactic fight. In the words of Spock, “May the Force be with you.” (Just kidding, that was mean.)

12. The Final Frontier (1989) – Original Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 21%, Domestic Gross: $52M

As mentioned in the intro, there’s bound to be some disagreement here between myself and serious Trekkies. But I truly can’t imagine a list such as this that doesn’t begin (or end, if you’re going from first to worst which is, by the way, the wrong way to do this) with Final Frontier. There is not one minute of this movie that makes sense, let alone works in any sort of cinematic fashion. It is basically a 107 minute excuse for William Shatner (director) to explore his God complex. Most Star Trek movies are at least watchable, even if they’re not “good”; not so much with this one.

 11. The Motion Picture (1979) – Original Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 47%, Domestic Gross: $82M

The best thing you can say about The Motion Picture is that it’s easily forgotten. If the Star Trek movies were first produced in, say, the late 90’s, Paramount would greenlight a reboot a few years later and title it Star Trek while pretending that the first movie never happened. It is boring, it is nonsensical, it is basically just an episode of the original show stretched out into movie format and, as the years go by, fewer and fewer people remember that it ever happened. (In hindsight it’s kind of amazing that SO MUCH Star Trek came down the chute after this thing flopped so miserably. Good job, Trekkies.)

 10. Insurrection (1998) – Next Generation Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%, Domestic Gross: $70M

The “TV episode stretched into a full length movie” concept is a common complaint down in the bottom of the Star Trek movie rankings. As a random episode of Next Generation, Insurrection would be fine. But add an extra hour to the run time and suddenly you’re twiddling your thumbs, checking your watch, reaching for your smart phone that didn’t exist in 1998, etc. The first two times I attempted to watch Insurrection, I fell asleep. I have since made it through the movie, thankfully, but only thanks to sheer willpower and those little orange pills that Jesse Spano took in that very special episode of Saved By the Bell. It’s very boring, is what I’m saying. (As one Trekkie I consulted with pointed out, however: F. Murray Abraham is pretty dope no matter what.)

9. Nemesis (2002) – Next Generation Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 37%, Domestic Gross: $43M

I don’t hate Nemesis like many people seem to, if for no other reason than it introduced us to Tom Hardy. But it is easily the laziest of the Star Trek movies. By this point, Next Generation had been off the air for eight years, the cast was ready to go on to…basically nothing, except for Patrick Stewart but still they were all pretty much done with this thing, and the story mostly feels like running out a ground ball. Moreover, there’s this big reveal of Tom Hardy and how he’s Picard’s clone and I was super confused because I didn’t think he looked anything like Patrick Stewart other than the fact that he was bald and most of the movie hinges on this point. So that’s not the best.

 8. The Voyage Home (1986) – Original Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%, Domestic Gross: $109M

Okay, I know that the average Trekkie thinks of Voyage Home in much higher regard than I do, but hear me out. When I was a kid, I loved this movie. The whales were super dope and it was unquestionably the best of the Star Trek movies to me. And then I didn’t watch it for 20 years, during which time the movie aged HORRIBLY. It is the most 80’s movie of 1986 to the point that I would think adults who saw it in 1986 came out saying, “Man, that was pretty heavy on the references to 1986.” There’s not one thing that happens in Voyage Home that isn’t directly influenced by 1986 and to me, that makes it borderline painful to watch 30 years later. Initially, I actually had Voyage Home a couple spots lower but I didn’t want Trekkies to try to fight me (yet).

 7. The Search for Spock (1984) – Original Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%, Domestic Gross: $76M

I think of Search for Spock as the median Star Trek movie. It’s fine, it’s watchable, the events actually matter to the canon, and we get some serious Klingons which is nice (and I could be wrong but I think this is the introduction to the new look Klingons, which actually look like terrifying space warriors instead of dudes with wrinkly noses). The stuff involving Kirk and his son has some value and, of course, the Genesis Project provides a convenient way in which to bring Spock back from the dead. But overall, it’s a fairly middling movie and Puberty Spock is EASILY the worst of the Spocks.

6. Generations (1994) – Next Generation Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 48%, Domestic Gross: $75M

When you become a (semi) professional movie critic, one of the things you discover is that sometimes you really liked a movie that came out BEFORE you became a (semi) professional movie critic but other professional critics REALLY did not like that movie and it shocks you. Like, I get that adult movie critics didn’t care for Rookie of the Year the same way I did at 10 years old. But Star Trek Generations? What’s wrong with Star Trek Generations? I still don’t know. I watched it recently and, while it’s fairly messy from a narrative standpoint, I think it’s an enjoyable flick and feels very Star Trek-y to me. It works (mostly) as a hand-off from the original cast to the newbies and in doing so, makes it clear that the franchise is in good hands while giving Kirk a very Shatnerlike send off.

 5. Into Darkness (2013) – New Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%, Domestic Gross: $228M

If we must fight, dear Trekkies, I am now ready for the battle. Choose your weapon. (You probably chose that super cool Klingon axe thing but, surprise, I picked a Romulan Warbird and blew you away with a photon torpedo, idiot.) I know that some Trekkies HATE this movie the way I hate Dwyane Wade. I’ve heard some respectable Trekkies refer to it as, “the worst Star Trek movie ever including the fan-made movies.” But, from my observations, this hate is derived almost exclusively from the handling of the Star Trek canon, the behaviors of the characters, and the (admittedly poor) introduction of Khan. That’s all well and good, you do your thing, Trekkies. As a non-Trekkie, however, I don’t care about that stuff and I find Into Darkness to be a fun, if flawed, action movie. I don’t think it will age as well as some other Star Trek movies have and if I make this list again in 20 years, there’s a decent chance it drops down a few pegs. But for now, my qualms with Into Darkness are minor and don’t keep me from enjoying it purely as an action movie.

 4. The Undiscovered Country (1991) – Original Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%, Domestic Gross: $74M

I feel like Undiscovered Country is both the most forgotten and underrated of all the Star Trek movies. Rarely in a Star Trek conversation (of which I have been a part of more times than I care to admit) does someone mention this one, let alone praise its many virtues. For me, Undiscovered Country is a perfect close to the original cast chapter of the Star Trek universe. The crew comment on their respective aging, they’ve seen through their mission of unifying the Federation of Planets, and the plot hinges on the events of the preceding films in the series. Undiscovered Country is a tidy bow on the entire 25 year Star Trek run and it’s also a blast to watch, an underrated element of any Star Trek movie. Also, Christopher Plummer as a Shakespeare-quoting Klingon is kind of the best.

 3. Star Trek (2009) – New Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%, Domestic Gross: $257M

I don’t think Star Trek is the best of the Star Trek movies (duh, since it sits at number three on this list) but it is probably my favorite and definitely the one I would take with me to a desert island if I was only allowed to bring one Star Trek movie (I’m assuming this is a very specific desert island). There are flaws within it (time travel is always a risky maneuver) but I love what JJ Abrams did with the cast, the characters, and the direction in which he pointed the…ship (*insert gif of David Caruso putting on sunglasses*). Hardcore Trekkies may quibble with the character elements most of all but to me, Abrams went out of his way to respect the original canon while simultaneously giving the new franchise permission, as it were, to boldly go into new territory. Star Trek is fun, it’s energetic, and it makes this universe so easy to embrace for a new generation of would-be Trekkies.

 2. First Contact (1996) – Next Generation Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%, Domestic Gross: $92M

I know I’ve spent most of this list talking about how “fun” is an important part of the Star Trek universe that often gets overlooked but here’s where we have to take a slight turn: the top two Star Trek movies are the top two Star Trek movies because, for the most part, they set aside the fun and get super serious. First Contact is actually very dark. And that fits, because while Klingons and Romulans and Ferengi look cool and are, at times, menacing in their own right, The Borg are legitimately terrifying and moreover, they once enslaved Picard himself. First Contact has weight to it that most of the other Star Trek movies lack and it works so well for this particular story. In addition, the look of First Contact is on a whole other level from all the previous movies in the franchise. It is cleaner, sharper, and shot with more sophistication (of course advanced technologies help with this quite a bit) than any of non-Abrams movies. It’s sort of the manifestation of everything Next Generation built toward for seven seasons and I love it.

 1. The Wrath of Khan (1982) – Original Cast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%, Domestic Gross: $78M

There are very few franchises that have an indisputable champion. Star Wars? You can have a serious debate between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. Bond? I personally think Skyfall takes the cake but ask five Bond fans and you’ll probably get five different answers. Avengers, X-Men, and on down the line, there will be very plausible disagreements between fans. But Star Trek? Star Trek has a clear-cut “best” and it’s Wrath of Khan. Khan is such a perfect embodiment of what the original series was all about but cranked up on steroids. The stakes are high, the battles are fierce, and Khan is such an incredible villain. Marvel would KILL to have a Khan in their universe and JJ was so obsessed with him that he almost (or perhaps did, depending on your position) scuttled his own movie trying so hard to make Khan awesome and menacing. It’s the perfect Star Trek movie but it’s also a fantastic piece of science fiction that, I think, holds up on its own better than any of its brothers. 

Movies That Feel Like Summer

It’s July 1st so obviously we’re mired in the most blockbuster-centric portion of the movie calendar. Now, listen, I don’t mind that. I love a good blockbuster. I like being reminded of why I fell in love with movies in the first place because, as much as I love a movie like Boyhood, I can guarantee you that 13 year old me would’ve rolled my eyes to death at the concept for Boyhood, let alone the actual movie. But there is a certain malaise that sets in every summer when we’ve been inundated with the big, dumb, and loud sequels that come at us in droves this time of year. They all start to blend together and if that particular summer’s offerings are subpar to begin with (I’m talking to you, 2016), then I start to feel all the more bombarded, like I’m experiencing the end of an Iron Man movie in real life.

So as we near the halfway point of the summer movie season, I thought I’d offer you a handful of films that shy away from the blockbuster fare you’re likely to get at the theater over the next two months but that still feel like summer. I may be tired of crazy explosions but I don’t really want to watch The Revenant when it’s 108 degrees outside, you know? (Okay, so I really don’t want to watch The Revenant ever but you get what I’m saying.) I have no real criteria for this list other than I tended to lean towards fun and light over dark and heavy, and I went in with the general idea that none of my choices could involve large doses of car chases, gun fights, or heavy special effects. Also, they are presented in no particular order. Enjoy and please tweet/email me some of your choices for this list.

Major League (1989) – Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Wesley Snipes
There’s nothing more summer-y than baseball. In the spirit of well-roundedness, I decided I’d only include one baseball movie on this list and wound up at Major League. It’s not my favorite baseball movie (61*) nor is it the best (Field of Dreams) but I think what Major League does best of all is give you a real sense of the marathon-like nature of baseball itself. It’s not just about winning the Pennant or reaching a milestone; it’s about the day to day life of a summer in a clubhouse and the slough that can be to get through. Also, if you were to put together a list of the “Top 10 Fictional Baseball Players From the Movies” (and I don’t know why you wouldn’t, honestly), Major League absolutely dominates that list and that seems important.

Chef (2014) – Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sophia Vergara
One of my favorite movies of 2014, Chef exudes the essence of summer to me in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. I guess it’s the road tripping and the implied heat of the various settings and the overall feel of the excitement of summer. Regardless, Chef is a fantastic little movie (we did an episode on it back in 2014) that deals heavily in charm and mouth-watering kitchen scenes (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say).

Almost Famous (2000) – Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit
I almost cut Almost Famous from the list because, as long time listeners of the show know, I love this movie so much that I can find a way to include it on just about any list. My “Top 10 Action Movies of the 70’s” would somehow involve Almost Famous. But at the end of the day, the central premise of the movie involves a teenager spending the summer (and the end of his senior year in high school) road tripping across America with a rock band. There’s nothing more summer-y than that.

The Way Way Back (2013) – Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette
Again, longtime listeners will know of my affection for this movie. We did an episode on it near its original release date and I continued to gush over it for the rest of the year. My feelings have not changed. The Way Way Back should be the summer movie coming-of-age tale for its generation but unfortunately it hasn’t gained much traction with the younger crowd. Undaunted, I will continue to scream of its many virtues from every roof top to which I have access. It is one of my very favorite movies and it features a number of outstanding performances, especially that of Rockwell who will never not be great in pretty much anything he ever does, ever.

The Goonies (1985) – Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman
HEYYYYY YOOOOOUUU GUUUYYYYYSSSS!!! Okay so I cheated a bit here since there is, in fact, a car chase at the outset of The Goonies. But the point of The Goonies is not the car chase or the special effects or the pulse-pounding action. It’s just a bunch of weirdos pooling their strange talents (street smarts, mouthiness, booby traps, cheerleading skirts, and the Truffle Shuffle) in order to save their homes from destruction and thereby preserve their respective childhoods. As a youth, I wanted nothing more than to be a Goonie and you’re darn right I’ve made the pilgrimage to Astoria to visit the Goondocks. Summer adventure at its finest.

Disturbia (2007) – Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Carrie-Ann Moss
Be honest, this one caught you off guard didn’t it? A relatively forgotten Hitchcock remake/knock off from the few weeks between Shia’s Even Stevens days and his total meltdown, Disturbia is a fabulous piece of suspense with a fun conceit that indirectly plays on the “boredom” of summer. There’s really nothing ground breaking about this movie and yet it works because it is less concerned with the mystery element and more concerned with what happens when the mystery gets solved.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis
Imagine what it must be like to go to Wes Anderson’s summer camp. With his absurd attention to detail, I would have to believe that would be the most summer-y summer camp of all time. Moonrise Kingdom is a gorgeous little taste of that. I think it is oddly Anderson’s most accessible film and probably my favorite overall. The setting, of course, reeks of summer but so do the themes (adventure, exploration, the vulnerability of childhood, drunken Scout leaders, etc.) and Anderson meshes them all together so incredibly well.

Love & Mercy (2015) – Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks
If an alien landed on your property anywhere between 1960 and 1990 and asked you to explain the concept of summer in America, I’m pretty sure you’d just hand him a Beach Boys album. And he’d be like, “Oh wow, I totally get it now. I’m no longer going to destroy your planet.” Love & Mercy goes to some pretty dark places (usually a big no-no for summer-y movies) but in its flashback segments, the music of the Beach Boys and the creative genius of Brian Wilson washes over you and you forget you’re watching a movie about how a famous rock star went crazy for a couple decades.

Orange County (2002) – Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Schuyler Fisk
Someday (with all my spare time and even more spare money I have just laying around) I will start a Criterion Collection for regular movies focusing on the mainstream movies I love that have somehow been lost to the winds of time. Orange County will feature prominently in this hypothetical series. Pretty much no one remembers/cares about Orange County and that’s a crying shame because it is hilarious and also sometimes I reference it in conversation and people just stare back, blankly. (Side note: My wife got my Orange County reference the first time I threw it out in our early dating days and it is unquestionably a top five reason why we are still together.) It lands here ostensibly because it’s all about a young man’s quest to find himself as he embarks upon his last summer before college but really because I just want people to go rent Orange County so we can all talk about it.

Stand By Me (1986) – Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman
This is probably the quintessential coming-of-age summer movie, of course, but I’m not one to avoid clichés if they are apt so…here we are. Stand By Me is so committed to its coming-of-age-ness and so locked into its role in the lives of every child of the 80’s that I actually refused to watch it for a very long time. It felt like by my watching the film and seeing the end of these kids childhoods, I would in some way be forfeiting my own childhood and would be forced to head off into adulthood. Wow, that got way heavier than any of us were expecting, huh? But anyway, Stand By Me is great and everyone should be forced to watch it (and then immediately head off into the workforce, I guess).

Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2016 - Part II

Here’s the thing. Believe it or not, this is a very difficult piece to write each year. I started breaking it down into two parts several years ago so I could highlight more movies and hopefully have a chance to get a real look at some of the later release movies before endorsing them. But inevitably, the first half of the year leaves me searching for random movies to fill the final few spots on the list while the second half of the year always leaves me feeling like I’ve excluded too many deserving movies. Such is the life of the movie blogger.

A couple of notes/disclaimers before we move on. The back half of the year is typically full of awards-y films and festival darlings that haven’t received confirmed release dates yet and will pop up to surprise us as the year winds to a close. I tend to shy away from those movies because they tend to come and go without any fanfare and I try to deal in movies that most (or at least some) of you will actually have a chance to see. Also, I won’t list anything that doesn’t have a trailer yet. A good trailer doesn’t always result in a good movie, obviously, but you can gain an understanding of tone, look, and feel from those brief glimpses and that’s important for a list such as this. (As such, films like La La Land, Loving, Patriot’s Day and more were excluded.) Finally, it should go without saying and yet I have to say it every year: this is MY list and therefore, it’s MY opinion that matters. You may be very excited about Suicide Squad. That’s great! I’m cautiously optimistic about that one and hope it works out. But it didn’t find a spot here because, personally, I may never trust another DC movie again for the rest of my life. So while I’m hopeful it turns out well, I’ll have to see it to believe it. Now on with the show.

HONORABLE MENTION: Moana (November 23) – Auli’I Cravalho, The Rock, Alan Tudyk
Since Jon Lasseter took over Disney Animation, there’s been a dramatic shift in the Pixar-Disney relationship. Nothing again Finding Dory but creatively, Moana looks like a strong bet to outclass its fishy predecessor. If the promise of the teaser trailer holds true, I can’t imagine Moana won’t be a triumph. Also: The Rock.

 10. Star Trek Beyond (June 22) – Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Jon Cho
Consider this the beginning of the, “I like the property but if we’re being honest, I’m sorta nervous” section of the list. I very much enjoy this universe and will happily return to it whenever Paramount gives me the opportunity. But the first trailer was horrible. In fairness, it looked like it was all pulled from one early scene and the second trailer is a vast improvement but that first look, combined with rumblings of a choppy production, leaves me uneasy. Again, though, the property is viable and Justin Lin knows how to direct an action movie so I’m holding out hope.

 9. Doctor Strange (November 4) – Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen
I think Doctor Strange constitutes an actual risk for the Marvel conglomerate and that excites me even if the property itself doesn’t, truthfully. The casting is a bit of a departure from the norm for the MCU, the property calls for a heavy emphasis on magic which Kevin Fiege has doggedly avoided to this point, and there isn’t much name recognition to draw on for general audiences. (Most of that also applies to Ant-Man, of course.) I don’t love the trailer but I do love the assemblage of talent and I think it’s fair to expect some chances to be taken that typically aren’t in an Avengers movie.

 8. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (November 11) – Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Steve Martin
I don’t want to be excited for this movie, if I’m being candid. I do not like being pandered to and if Billy Lynn goes a’ panderin’, it will play out like a bro country anthem. Thus, it’s a dangerous selection for a list such as this. But Ang Lee is a fabulous filmmaker, of course, and maybe more to the point, he knows how to make heady event films that feel (especially in the moment) bigger than they actually are. Life of Pi isn’t a film I personally think about very often but in the moment, it felt HUGE. I’m hoping Billy Lynn finds that mark.

 7. The Magnificent Seven (September 23) – Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke
My first viewing of this trailer caught me completely off guard. Probably because of Training Day, I didn’t expect The Magnificent Seven to be fun. I admit I was a little turned off by that presentation. But after a second (and third) viewing, I’ve got a better sense of what Antoine Fuqua’s vision for the movie is and I rather dig it. It’s always risky taking on the remake of a classic (and that term should not be taken lightly in this case) but with this cast and an outstanding source material to draw upon, The Magnificent Seven has a real shot at being something special.

 6. The Founder (August 5) – Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, Linda Cardellini
Consider this the end of the “sorta nervous” section of the list. I’m not the biggest fan of biopics in general but I am a big fan of American Treasure Michael Keaton LOCKED AND LOADED in the midst of an absolute renaissance. The only iffy thing about The Founder is its release date. In what looks like a weak awards year, dropping this in August seems short sighted or indicates that it isn’t the Oscar contender the studio expected. But worst case scenario, this is a good movie, right? Not great but good. I’ll take it if it means getting to watch Keaton do his thing again.

 5. The Birth of a Nation (October 7) – Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Mark Boone Junior
You can pretty much mark this down right now for a Best Picture nominee and it’s likely the heavy favorite at this point. Birth CRUSHED at Sundance and has a tremendous surge of momentum propelling it forward. The trailer feels like a less pandering Free State of Jones mixed with 12 Years a Slave with a little gospel thrown in for good measure. Count me in.

 4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (November 16) – Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller
When the original Harry Potter series (collectively a set-in-stone top 10 favorite movie of all-time for me) ended in 2011, I was thoroughly satisfied with the conclusion but bummed that I wouldn’t get to spend more time in its world. Like Star Wars, there’s such a vast universe to play with here and I wanted more. Wish granted. I’m not sure Beasts can live up to its predecessor but it doesn’t have to; it just has to have the same charm and sense of wonder that made the Potter movies so endearing. Moreover, I’m excited that we’re going to finally force Kent to watch these movies. High five.

 3. Jason Bourne (July 29) – Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones
(Note: I am currently watching a Bourne movie while I write and I’m having a hard time figuring out why I only have this movie listed at number three.) I didn’t know I needed another Bourne movie. I mean, I really dig the Damon trilogy and really pretend hard that the Renner one isn’t a thing. But I didn’t know I needed another Bourne movie until that trailer dropped around the Super Bowl. OH MY. Suddenly my life seemed somewhat incomplete having not yet seen this new cinematic masterpiece. We’re so close to this one I’m starting to actually foam at the mouth a bit, that’s how much I can’t wait for Jason Bourne. Or I might have rabies. We’ll see.

 2. Passengers (December 21) – Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Martin Sheen
So I’m breaking my no trailer rule here because, gosh darn it, I just can’t keep Passengers off the list. I wrote around it a couple of times but I’m just so psyched for this one, I’m willing to endorse it sight unseen. Chris Pratt plus Jennifer Lawrence in a high concept sci-fi piece IN SPACE? Is this real life? That sounds like a fake movie someone would make to lure me into trap.

 1. Rogue One (December 16) – Felicity Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker
Too much was made about the re-writes and re-shoots taking place on Rogue One. These things happen on a big budget movie. Call me when we get confirmation that Jar Jar is involved; then I’ll get worried. I think this is the perfect story to kick off the Star Wars anthology spin-off movies. It’s not an origin story (there’s time for those later) but rather an exploration into the wide world of the Star Wars universe that happens to tie into the known story quite closely. I’m obviously an easy mark for pretty much any Star Wars property but if this works with mass audiences (it won’t be Force Awakens big but it should top $800 million) it opens up a thousand possibilities for upcoming movies.