Mad About Spielberg Blog Series (Parts I-IV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some things that work against this movie:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movie Rankings 2017

Baby Driver
Get Out
The Post
Thor Ragnarok

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

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

The Shape of Water
John Wick 2
Their Finest
Beauty and the Beast
Murder on the Orient Express
The Wall
Ingrid Goes West
Battle of the Sexes

Atomic Blonde
Kong: Skull Island
Table 19
Cars 3
Despicable Me 3
Alien Covenant

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

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

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

The Dark Tower
It Comes at Night
The Great Wall

The Killing of a Sacred Deer
All Eyez on Me
Power Rangers
Justice League

The Book of Henry
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
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, 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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.

Kavalier and Clay.jpg

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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.


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*


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.


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 ( 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

Hell or High Water
La La Land

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

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

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

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

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

X-Men: Apocalypse
The Accountant
London Has Fallen

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

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

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

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. 


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.