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Oscar 2013 Preview - The “Will’a” and “Should’a”

It’s been entirely too long since I last penned a blog, but in truth, the idea of composing a regular piece is much more attractive than actually…well…doing it.  It’s been a busy last twelve months for me and almost all of it has been positive.  For the first time in seven or eight years, my usual year-end television rankings behemoth didn’t happen, but I promise to remedy that soon…in fact, maybe in this article.  The Academy Awards are just a few hours away and it felt like the right time to jump back into 6PM and start up again.  I think the best way to handle it is to say I’d like to think I could have something done each Friday…by 6 PM, rather than…every day.  Sometimes there might be more, sometimes just the one, but that seems like a reasonable goal.  So with that quick aside out of the way, let’s get to Oscar.

Tonight’s Oscars should be most interesting because of the sheer quantity of award-level content from what was a terrific year in movies.  One quick disclaimer…everyone who knows me understands that The Dark Knight Rises was my favorite film of the year…Batman as my obsession since childhood along with good sitcoms dictates it as such; Chris Nolan as by far my favorite director (with Fincher and Scorsese behind him) dictates it as such; Quality of the film itself dictates as such.  It will not be included here because it was left out of award consideration.  I had once thought that TDKR would be Nolan’s big Oscar night, in similar fashion to how Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was handled…the final installment gets the due for the entire series.  But here, not to be…Nolan will have his day.

BEST PICTURE

In order from five to one, here are the best films of 2013.

5. Moonrise Kingdom

4. Silver Linings Playbook

3. Django Unchained

2. Argo

1. Zero Dark Thirty

Silver Linings Playbook was a rarity in American cinema…a film that was utterly predictable, a film that used virtually every traditional rom-com trope, but a film whose predetermined ending was still satisfying.  David O. Russell did a masterful job in taking a standard formula and, for lack of a better description, screwing around with it.  He also had the benefit of one of the finest young actresses in Hollywood history…Jennifer Lawrence, who is capable of executing the biggest blockbuster (as she did in The Hunger Games) and still being nominated for an overlooked classic like Winter’s Bone.  Whereas Gosling, Levitt, and Renner stand as the standard-bearers for a new generation…with Eisenberg and a few others nearby, Kentucky’s Lawrence is in a class all by herself.  In many years, SLP might be atop this list, but it’s been a really good twelve months at the multiplex. 

Django Unchained will not win tonight…because of the controversy and more notably, where the controversy comes from…the use of racial slurs and intense (even for Tarantino) segments of violence.  However, look past some of the sensationalism and stylistic debauchery and what’s left is a tremendous, easy-to-follow, superbly realized neo-western.  Quentin has quite a list of accomplishments, and Django stands at worst as his third best film, and quite possibly number two.  Foxx was brilliant but Waltz was truly flawless yet again and Jackson, DiCaprio, Washington, and others all played their roles perfectly.  Samuel L…folks this was the role he was born to play, and it showed.  Truly a special film…if you can handle it.

Let’s speak about the top two together, because they feel linked in many ways.  Argo is flat out perfect.  The cast is outrageous, the direction magnificent, the pacing consistently suspenseful…even when in many cases, the shots are of characters staring into the abyss fearful of their lives or the risks involved in their outlandish escape attempt.  More impressive than any of this is how effective the history is used to illustrate Affleck’s vision.  Both Argo and his big brother, we’ll call him “Zero,” relied on telling fairly accurate stories.  It’s so easy to write a bad “based on truth” movie.  The story is already there…cut and paste…hire actors…film it…release it…rinse, repeat…rent.  The reason Zero Dark Thirty is the best film of 2013, just barely surpassing Argo, which will take home Oscar tonight, is because Kathryn Bigelow had the guts to take the researched facts that were compiled…and not change them to fit any particular ideology. 

Waterboarding is shown immediately after the pitch-black opening sequence (which was as emotional as anything any of us will ever see at the movies) and guess what, (gasp), it works!  The intelligence surrounding the death of UBL indicated clearly that guess what, (gasp), that’s how it happened!  It bothers me that at least one Academy voter said that because “torture” was shown as being effective, he would not be voting for ZDT in any category.  Are you kidding me?  Was the film of the highest quality?  Was it moving?  Did it succeed in its goals?  All an emphatic “yes,” but since it kind of goes against my ideology, I won’t be voting for it.  Since most of us don’t believe in talking teddy bears, does that also exclude Ted?   How dare Bigelow not toe the Hollywood line and instead tell the story in the way she found it…without creative license and with her integrity intact.  I doubt she’s a conservative and it’s immaterial.  What she did was treat something of the utmost import…fairly.  Whether you are a Marxist, a liberal, a conservative, an establishment Republican, a libertarian, a progressive, or a Nader-loving Green, does disagreeing with a story told in a movie serve as an adequate reason to blackball it (or its director, who was snubbed for the same reason) and eliminate it from award contention?  I certainly hope not.

To conclude, I won’t be upset tonight when Argo wins.  I’m staring at my Blu-Ray on the table nearby…I’ll be watching you again soon my boy (or girl, I’m not sexist.)  It’s absolutely Best Picture worthy.  It saddens me that political beliefs could cost Zero Dark Thirty its due when that’s really the only consideration against it.  So let’s put it this way…Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are the films of the year.  Affleck has gotten better with each film.  Gone Baby Gone was good, The Town was tremendous, and Argo is top notch in every way.  If filmmaking and achievement is a process, Affleck’s triple-threat has progressed in a rational way.  Don’t tell that to Bigelow though…her first real offering…won Best Picture three years ago over her ex-husband’s epic.

WILL WIN: ARGO

SHOULD WIN: ZERO DARK THIRTY / ARGO

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

These will be shorter segments…hopefully the above felt necessary to you, the beloved reader.  Let’s be serious here, Bradley Cooper was realllllllly strong in Silver Linings and Hugh Jackman took it to a new level as Jean Valjean in Les Mis.  Denzel played a supremely tough role as a completely unlikeable self-destructive character in Flight, which incidentally is a close cousin to the role that won Jeff Bridges his Oscar a few years ago for Crazy Heart, and the Master was another Paul Thomas Anderson challenge and Joaquin nailed it.  But as much as Hollywood tries to sell how “new” and “cutting edge” they are, the Academy voters are some of the stodgiest people this side of the Middle Ages…or Downton Abbey. 

With that said, Daniel Day-Lewis wins again tonight.  Abraham Lincoln is an interesting role to take, because the only records of how he sounded are written descriptions.  That said, it felt like DDL somehow still DID sound like the Abraham Lincoln we grew up respecting.  Lincoln was a great film…overshadowed by the overall quality of the field.  Over a full year before Spielberg’s film released, the buzz was that THIS movie would be one of those that would walk out with awards in both hands and sweep every major category.  When I first saw it…I felt it certainly had that kind of effect, but quite frankly, other films were better.  DDL hasn’t won for a while though, and this performance certainly warrants an end to his streak.  I feel for Bradley Cooper, because he could win in almost ANY other year, and he wasn’t known for this level of role, though we could see it coming after his performance in Limitless.

WILL WIN: DANIEL DAY LEWIS

SHOULD WIN: DANIEL DAY LEWIS  / BRADLEY COOPER

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Boy is this one going to be close.  Jennifer Lawrence captivated us in Silver Linings Playbook with her role as a mentally unstable girl trying to find herself…and her future…following a tragedy.  Naomi Watts was strong yet again in a survival tale against Mother Nature.  Quvenzhane Wallis made history for being the youngest actress ever to receive a Lead Actress nomination for her work in Beasts of the Southern Wild, which honestly was a film that was nowhere near as good as this girl’s performance, and Emmanuelle Riva impressed the world in Amour. 

In the end, the award will come down to Lawrence and to the one lady I haven’t mentioned, an actress whose life since her breakout role in The Help and subsequent triumph in The Tree of Life propelled her to play the role of her career…the female protagonist of Zero Dark Thirty.  It was Maya who rarely slept and worked virtually every hour attempting to determine the location of UBL.  Chastain wasn’t just good in this film…she was all-time great.  She was on camera in a nearly three-hour film for at least two solid hours and not once did she seem out of place.  It isn’t an easy role because there was no romance in Zero Dark Thirty, no moments where the focus wasn’t almost entirely on Bin Laden and national security.  In short, there were no breaks where stress could dissipate from the exuded performance.  Chastain’s performance might seriously be one of the best I’ve ever seen, and she absolutely deserves the hardware tonight.  If Lawrence wins, it could be for the same reason Bigelow wasn’t nominated and the same reason the film was left behind in the top category…but in truth, Jennifer really was spectacular.  This is Chastain’s night though, and I believe they will get this one right.

WILL WIN: JESSICA CHASTAIN

SHOULD WIN: JESSICA CHASTAIN

ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTION

I watched trailers for Life of Pi for many months before it released and just never cared…then I saw it, and it was amazing.  Ang Lee did great work here…his best since Brokeback Mountain without any doubt.  We already talked about Lincoln…it was really good.  Amour and Beasts were good films…but they aren’t winning films.  David O. Russell should walk out tonight victorious and I predict he will; here Silver Linings Playbook gets a major accolade because unfortunately, it’s against true juggernauts in other categories.  We’ve talked about SLP, so let’s talk about what’s really interesting here, the two snubs. 

How Argo could be as good as it is and Ben Affleck somehow isn’t nominated for Best Director is truly beyond me…I can’t (although I could look it up – but that wouldn’t be nearly as good for my point) remember the last time the Best Picture’s director isn’t even nominated in his or her own category.  I’m disappointed that not one of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films got him a nom…but I’m not surprised.  But either of my Best Picture choices…neither of those directors have a shot in this category because their names weren’t on the ballot.  Explain that to me…no seriously, I really want you to explain it.  Affleck, Bigelow, O. Russell… Bigelow, Affleck, O. Russell, either one I’d be okay with.  But O. Russell and neither of the other two is pure nonsense.  It does make this category pretty easy to determine though…

WILL WIN: DAVID O. RUSSELL

SHOULD WIN: BEN AFFLECK / KATHRYN BIGELOW (100% sure they won’t though.)

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

I felt like Jason Clarke was snubbed here for his work in ZDT, but that’s par for the course.  I wouldn’t have chosen him to win or voted for him, but he deserved a nomination.  That said, all five performances here are ROCK solid.  Arkin was just as good here as he was in Little Miss Sunshine.  DeNiro’s work as a bookie/Eagles fan was an incredibly complicated role for a romantic comedy and his best work in film since Meet the Parents.  Hoffman is always good and stands up with Joaquin in The Master.  Tommy Lee Jones nearly stole Lincoln from…well…from Lincoln.  Thaddeus Stevens really drove that movie and TLJ has never been better or more cantankerous. 

With all that in the background, Christoph Waltz should and will win tonight…his second Supporting Actor Oscar in as many Tarantino appearances.  He ran away with the Academy Award after taking over Inglorious Basterds and it was Dr. King Schultz that really sticks in our heads after watching Django Unchained.  Dr. King was the “good guy” in the film… a bounty hunter who cared about money and found a way to care about a new friend, even though it cost him his life.  Waltz is starting to distinguish himself.  One more role of this level…he might be the next Daniel Day-Lewis in the Oscars.  All five deserve the win, but Waltz deserves it most.

WILL WIN: CHRISTOPH WALTZ

SHOULD WIN: CHRISTOPH WALTZ

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

This one’s REALLY easy, or it is the minute you start watching Anne Hathaway sing in Les Mis.  Jacki Weaver was awesome, and trust me, that’s the right word for it, in Silver Linings Playbook.  Sally Field played an exceptional Mary Todd Lincoln, Amy Adams is truly one of my favorites, and Helen Hunt continues to shine when placed in roles worthy of her talent.  Hathaway, though she wasn’t visible in Tom Hooper’s film for very long, is quite possibly the single lasting impression from Les Miserables.  Jackman and Crowe and all the rest were wonderful, but watching Hathaway in her final song…won her the award almost instantaneously.

Spoiler here to me is Weaver simply because it’s an off-the-radar role that kind of sneaks up on the viewer…similar to Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine.  It’s disarming because it isn’t the focus, but it’s always a major key in every scene.  Hathaway has been knocking on the door for a long time.  Tonight, a gold statue opens the portal.

WILL WIN: ANNE HATHAWAY

SHOULD WIN: ANNE HATHAWAY

OTHERS

Original Screenplay: Mark Boal in ZDT certainly makes a strong case and didn’t get the Bigelow treatment…I think the “N” word may end up costing Tarantino…Gatins Flight was a surprisingly deep story…Haneke’s Amour is worthy…but Moonrise Kingdom is the biggest snub of the year for me in Best Picture and Wes Anderson stands right with Affleck and Bigelow.  I hope it wins here… if it doesn’t, I hope (and expect) Mark Boal to win.

Adapted Screenplay: Russell will win for direction I believe so they’ll go another way here, though I wouldn’t be stunned to see him win both.  Lincoln, Pi, Beasts all good, but here’s where Best Picture wins another key award…Argo and Chris Terrio take this one in a walk.

Original Song: “Suddenly” from Les Mis probably wins…but Adele should win for “Skyfall.”  If you heard it, you’d likely agree.  It was worth the wait.

Cinematography: Three words… LIFE…OF…PI.  Claudio Miranda – should be a good night for you.

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: In caps because I wanted to make sure it stood out a bit.  I feel very strongly that Wreck-It Ralph is the finest animated film since Up.  I’m a huge Pixar guy…absolutely enormous, but Brave wasn’t close…Cars 2 wasn’t close… Wreck-It Ralph is a film I will likely watch 800 times in my life.  It’s so good, especially for people my age who grew up near gaming and even those of us who worked in the industry.  I always feel when I watch it that it’s more for my generation than the kids.

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED): It had BETTER go to Paperman…my favorite animated short…EVER.  Seriously.

Foreign Language Film: Um…Amour.  I admit I haven’t seen the others, but Amour is a Best Picture nominee, the only one of the five, so it stands to reason that it’s the best of the lot.

So there you have it…Oscar is upon us once again, and so is my blog.  Hopefully I’ll have something prolific to say once a week that I can release via the typed word.  As promised, here’s my quick TV ranking for 2012 without any explanation – someday I will get to this.  Not including comedy:

5. Suits (Just have to mention it – deserves it.) (I call em like I see em…not what people expect.  S2 finally ended on Thursday and was the most consistently entertaining show of the year.  That single season was the best in USA Network original series history.)

5 (TIE). Game of Thrones (Enough said).

4. Walking Dead (Since mid-S2, stepped up in a big big way)

3. Homeland (Uneven at times, not the level of S1, still super)

2. Mad Men (Still my fave show other than Lost, but S5P1 of BB was more consistent than S5 of MM – it was close, but Gilligan, Cranston, Paul, Gunn, Norris, etc win)

1. Breaking Bad

Out of top five – Sons of Anarchy (too busy, too much going on, lost a little focus – in short, a bit too much anarchy, still love it), Justified (really good Season 3, but not the level of Season 2 for me), Dexter (my favorite season and almost cracked 5) about a thousand others.

Final Fun Fact: Maybe first time ever the three best films (critically) of the year could all be described with one word…ending with the same letter.  2012 was the year of ZERO, ARGO, and DJANGO.  Look forward to seeing you guys and gals at the movies again soon…

In the words of one of my personal heroes…my personal sendoff…

“Of course that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.”

-JM

Donna Paulsen

Everybody expected a Dark Knight Rises post…well, there’s a podcast for that, and Andy and I waxed poetic about my lifetime obsession with the character and my favorite director for over two hours last night - look for “Certifiable Total Recall” on iTunes and all episodes will drop straight to your device — and we’re totally free.

Because I was at the IMAX premiere in Nashville (which I saw back to back, 12:01 and 5 AM) - I missed Thursday night’s episode of Suits, which (SPOILER ALERT)…

resulted in the firing of one of my top fantasy wives, Sarah Rafferty AKA Donna Paulsen as an on screen character at Pearson-Hardman.

Now, to pull some folks off their ledges…this is the USA Network.  I want to explain why our Sarah ain’t gone for long and further explain why EVERY USA show works in a certain way.

When Monk became a critical darling and Psych took off with major success, the USA Network realized they had a chance to be known for more than the Westminster Dog Show and Monday Night Raw.  They invested money in syndicated properties like JAG and Walker: Texas Ranger and people began to pay closer attention to their entire catalog.

Insert Burn Notice, originally advertised as a limited run series (ahem, Political Animals) that is now roaring through it’s sixth full season after obtaining a three season renewal from the network two years ago.  Then came In Plain Sight, White Collar, Covert Affairs, and a little show we like to call Suits.  The critics ragged on the pilot and we watched anyway, and we loved it.

Critics hold their opinions up as extremely important but in the end, our own opinion dictates what matters to us in pop culture.  I’ve written a TV blog for many years and now host a fairly popular podcast that allows me to express my admiration for television, film, gaming, comics, books, you name it.  But it’s still just my opinion, and in the case of USA Network original programming, critics have thumbed their noses at some of the most entertaining, fun, brisk watches on television.  BUT…here’s what USA does…

They ask their showrunners…”ask” isn’t correct actually…it’s part of the contract, to allow only 20% of each show at MAXIMUM to a continuous storyline.  They want each episode to be self-contained (at least 80% and more if possible) and feature an “of the week” motif.  The reasoning is simple.  USA wants to be able to run any episode of any original series at any time of day and have viewers able to watch and understand without having to have seen every hour - it’s the anti-Lost phenomenon. 

Suits broke the mold a bit because they allowed language that wouldn’t run in early afternoons or in the famous USA holiday original series marathons.  So it’s been allowed to run more continuous stuff and tell an extended story.  However, it’s also a show that like every drama, has to fill time.  Drama is created by what we hate, like bringing Shaw onto Chuck to split Bartowski and Walker up for a season or having Neal Caffrey lie to Hillarie Burton’s character and split them apart when it’s still likely that’s what’s coming down the road.  The most obvious recent example is Auggie and Annie on Covert Affairs.  No way that show ends without them together, but they have to fill time and not give it away too soon.  Fringe did it THREE separate times with Peter and Olivia, so we’re not seeing anything new here.  The moment Suits allowed Mike and Rachel to get together…I told the people watching with me that evening that it was classic USA - they’d be split apart either by Mike’s pseudo-degree or something else rather quickly and we’d deal without them together probably for a season or even longer.  Sure enough, before the end of the hour, Harvey convinced Mike to break it off in emotionally gutwrenching fashion.

Did Donna screw up?  Maybe…maybe Hardman showing back up at the same second as a case from WAY in the past isn’t a coincidence either.  What I do know is that writing a popular character off a USA show isn’t just normal, it’s almost a requirement…the other half of the requirement is…they aren’t gone, they’re just away for a bit to stretch for time as part of the USA Network strategy.  Just this past week on White Collar, Peter Burke lost his position in the FBI…is that going to last?  Auggie and Annie have both been reassigned and we’ll see less of them interacting with one another…is that going to last?  On Fairly Legal we saw the lead FIRED at the end of the first season…how long did that last?  On Burn Notice, Fiona is in prison…but already has cut a deal to be an asset.  Every single episode, the two combatant “frenemies” on Common Law almost get it fully together and then have a mild argument to keep the show going.  It’s all for dramatic purposes.

Sarah Rafferty is much too important to Suits to be written off and her interview from three days ago seems to prove it.  We’re going to go back to more self-contained stuff in the coming weeks, like Harvey gambling over a one-week case while in the back of his mind, missing his redheaded dynamo.  It’s all part of the plan.  As sure as Michael Westen found the person that burned him…and had another to find…and then another…and another…and now it’s Anson - it’s all just to draw out a series.  They have to fill their episodes and they have to be interesting enough both to the new viewer and those like us that live for the show each week.  Suits can’t blow their wad all at one time, every show has a finite number of ideas and then it’s done.  Rachel and Mike…and likely…Harvey and Donna, being the two biggest “we need this” conclusions the show could give us in five years before closing the curtain.

And one thing USA also believes in…is giving the fans what they need.  Unsure if Donna and Harvey rekindle their romance from the past or not, but I can guarantee you Mike and Rachel end up married (or WAY serious at worst) before the series ends.  Adrian Monk found his wife’s killer and changed his life on the final episode of the eighth and final season of that wonderful show.  Michael Westen will propose to Fiona (or the ceremony will be held) to end Burn Notice…with Sam Axe as Best Man and Mike’s mom as Maid of Honor.  Auggie and Annie will end up together…and so on and so forth.  USA believes in happy endings after putting their viewers through the ringer. 

We just so happen to be in the midst of the ringer on Suits, but in four weeks (max) and probably in two or three, that beautiful Sarah Rafferty will be lighting up our TV screens and leaving me with a smile on my face, even though she’ll be there for Harvey Specter…and America, and not just for me.

I love USA shows, but I know what I”m in for - I just simply take the journey because I find those shows to be as watchable (over and over and over) as any programs ever placed on television.  The strategy works, even though (like right now) it sucks a lot of the time.

-JM

Oscar Night: The Annual “Shoudas” and “Willas”

The 84th annual Academy Awards will be wrapping up in about nine hours from now, but that still gives me the opportunity to give you my annual “Shouda” and “Willa” predictions in advance of tonight’s show.  The “Shoudas” are who I would award the Oscar to in each category and the “Willas” are who will actually take the hardware home this evening.  It’s been a great year in film, with many memorable efforts and a few that I simply can’t wait to own and watch until the end of time.  With heavy competition and multiple worthy performances brings tough choices – but my goal is to do just that for you on Oscar Afternoon.  So let’s do it shall we?

(Disclaimer: I did not italicize/underline/quote the films because it would have pushed release back longer than I wanted this afternoon.  My apologies for that fact…but I hate laptop mouse technology and felt like writing this more comfortably than at my desk.)

BEST PICTURE

We’re really looking at three films here of the nine nominated, though all have their merits.  Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was a great movie, but the ending kept it from being even better.  I loved it, but it’s not going to win.  Hugo was really special, but it’s not going to win a Best Picture Oscar.  Virtually no one who saw Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close (particularly critics) liked it; making it potentially the most shocking Best Picture nominee in history…it has zero chance.  War Horse was a sprawling epic, the kind of film that might have won twenty years ago, but no longer.  The Tree of Life is the film that thinks its quirks and concept are so prolific that it deserves to be showered in praise…but it just didn’t live up to the idea.  Moneyball was amazing, but I’m still stunned it was nominated for Best Picture.  I own it, I adore it, but Pitt would have a much better chance of a win than the film itself.  So that brings us to the magic three…a trio perhaps stronger than any in recent memory as a whole. 

The Help is a wonderful film, from the acting to the casting to the directing to the cinematography to the sound to the reflection of Stockett’s incredible book.  It’s truly beautiful and has that Forrest Gump or Benjamin Button feel to the way the flashbacks are utilized. 

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer both could walk away with Oscars on Sunday and in doing so could become the first duo of African Americans to do so on the same night.  Jessica Chastain, also nominated, was flawless in her role as the troubled, but partially heroic Celia Foote.  Emma Stone was, as usual, very good as well.  I’ve seen The Help three times and it gets better with each viewing.  It’s a timeless movie.  This film could win, absolutely, but in all actuality, Oscar is a two-film race this year. 

George Clooney’s work in The Descendants is the best of his career, an extraordinary statement when one peruses the actor’s resume.  It’s also Alexander Payne’s best movie, another staggering opinion to be able to write, considering Sideways.  The Hawaiian tale of a family, a secret coming to light, a wealth of fortune, and the simple pain of infidelity and deceit all contribute to one of those films that it’s hard to ever turn down when given a chance to watch again…even if you’ve seen it a hundred times.  Until this week, it was my pick to win the award, but I believe I’ve figured out how to award all three of these films in their own way tonight. 

The most unique motion picture to arrive in many moons is The Artist, a brilliant story of the silent movie era, the advent of technology and those it affected, all wrapped around a distant love story and a “meant to be” mentality in many respects.  Jean Dujardin, who reprised his George Valentin role on Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago in a surprise cameo for Zooey Deschanel, was masterful from start to finish in both his success and happiness and later his despair and depression.  Berenice Bejo, likewise, owned the screen as Peppy Miller.  John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell, the DOG…the list goes on and on – it was all perfect in the casting phase.  As a visual spectacle, it was a treat of simplicity as art.  Leaving this film without a smile should be impossible.  So good…oh so so good folks.  Hazanavicius’ direction was impeccable and The Artist will be talked about for a long time.

SHOUDA

Loved most of the films, particularly the big four, but in the end, the most affecting film of the year was The Artist, because of just how unique it truly was and how masterfully it was executed.  If The Descendants or The Help were to win, I would have zero trouble in celebrating those gems, but I highly believe The Artist deserves the honor this year.

WILLA

The Academy will agree with me.  The Artist was wonderful, the critics love it, audiences who saw it still talk about it, and it would serve as a way to break the mold in some respects in terms of Best Picture winners.  If it isn’t The Artist, it will be The Descendants – which would be awesome as well, but go with the black and white and the deafening silence that captivated the world in 2011.

Okay, so that was long – for the rest…brevity is a virtue.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Pitt was outstanding as Billy Beane but it’s a film that likely will disappear off the ballots of most Academy voters.  Oldman is one of the most overlooked actors of the past fifty years but honestly, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was merely average and was directed as LeCarre would have wanted – light on explanation, heavy on haze and creeping confusion.  A Better Life was seen by so few people that the nomination was its win, as great as Bichir was in his role.  So we’re down to a silent film star fighting against technology and a Hawaiian businessman dealing with a neurotic family, a tragedy, and his own shortcomings as a father.  So…

SHOUDA

How can I pick against Dujardin, traditionally a comedy actor who played depression so well in the back half of The Artist, or Clooney, who has knocked on Oscar’s Lead Actor door for years and just entered his career best performance?  Oh…I have to?  Okay, okay, then it’s Clooney, because his consistency through the last seven years or so has been better than anyone else’s, particularly because he’s been so much more careful (with a few exceptions) in the roles he has chosen.  While I do want to see him break out into more varied roles as he often plays a similar character with similar inflection, he was just perfect in The Descendants.

WILLA

Because I chose The Artist for Best Picture, I think Clooney gets The Descendants its big win here.  Either of the two is absolutely deserving though – it’s a great crop of five performances, with Clooney’s at the top.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Michelle Williams will win a Best Actress Oscar, just not this year.  Glenn Close is as good as it gets but Albert Nobbs never opened to over half of the country.  She could be a major dark horse.  I’m as big a Stieg Larsson fan as it gets and I thought Rooney Mara was amazing, but if she wins for her role as Lisbeth Salander, it will be in the third film of the trilogy, same with David Fincher and in the same way as Peter Jackson and The Return of the King.  She also still has to deal with following up Noomi Rapace, which is impossible if you’ve seen the original Swedish Millenium trilogy.  So we’re down to two, one the most decorated actress in American history and the other in a performance that so totally owned the screen that it was impossible to look away, even in its most difficult moments.

SHOUDA

Here’s the thing about Streep in The Iron Lady.  The reason her performance was so spectacular is because the film itself was merely average (at best).  I’m a big Thatcher fan but the movie treatment of her life was slow, poorly paced, and at times incredibly dull and boring.  Streep was pitch-perfect but at some point, the bar she has set for herself can be her biggest challenge.  Viola Davis’ portrayal of Aibileen Clark was the performance of the year.  It was so rich, so full of depth and emotion, and so stubbornly vulnerable that it simply should not be denied this year.  Also, if you look at my thought in terms of awarding all three films, one should win picture, one should win actor, the third should win actress, and all other awards are up for grabs.

WILLA

Streep won the Golden Globe and has not actually WON a Best Actress Oscar in many years, despite being nominated an obscene (and warranted) number of times.  She’s the best of all time, but The Iron Lady as a film and the Academy Awards facing pressure to be more mainstream should both hurt her here.  Most are picking Meryl to win anyway, but I’m picking the best performance from the much better movie.  Viola Davis – the Oscar is yours.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Plummer won the Golden Globe and he’s often undervalued in acting conversations and could win for Beginners, a film very few actually had a chance to see in the United States.  Jonah Hill broke out in Moneyball and then returned to…well…being Jonah Hill with the horrific Allen Gregory on Fox and a pair of less-than-stellar comedies on the way.  He was awesome in Moneyball, but an Oscar win just doesn’t feel right at this point.  Warrior may have been the most underrated movie of 2011, largely because of its subject matter, but Nick Nolte is a flat-out heavyweight as a talent and he showed it again in the film.  Kenneth Branagh’s work as Sir Lawrence Olivier was exceptional but My Week With Marilyn has Oscarless written all over it.  Max von Sydow has been nominated in the past, but he’s nominated for a film most critics hated, so he’s not likely to win.

SHOUDA

Plummer finally gets the icing on his career cake for a film that will have most asking their friends when it came out and “Did you see it?”  The answer likely will be no, but the performance of an elderly man coming out of the closet, surprising his son, is most definitely award worthy stuff.

WILLA

Plummer – his work was great and the rest of the category just isn’t as strong as in previous years.  It’s that simple, the Canadian will get his due.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

If Supporting Actor largely rests on films the public hasn’t seen, Supporting Actress is the complete opposite.  Bridesmaids justifiably made tons of cash and Melissa McCarthy remains the most memorable part of that hilarious film (along with Wiig, who I can’t get enough of), The Help was everywhere and both Spencer and Chastain shined (you could also argue Bryce Dallas Howard, but only two per film per category are allowed), McTeer rounded out Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs, and then there’s Berenice Bejo, whose smile alone was enough to win me over in The Artist.  This is a fascinating category because whoever wins, there’s a snub.

SHOUDA

It’s so hard to go against Bejo here.  Peppy Miller was an outstanding character and Berenice played her to an off-the-charts level.  I’m going to go against her though, simply because Minny Jackson, just like Aibileen Clark, completely dominated the screen whenever she was on it.  Octavia Spencer had a few moments in The Help that were the right chances for her to show her stuff and she did so…in spades.  Her stuff with Viola was so good, but the stuff with Chastain was just as good, not to mention the stuff with Viola and Emma. 

WILLA

Octavia will become the first Alabama woman to leave with an Actress Oscar.  She won the Golden Globe, she’s been the front runner for a while, and her performance warrants the Award.  Don’t underestimate that the Academy might really like the idea of the headline reading “African American Actresses Sweep the Oscars” across the world on Monday morning.  Both Viola and Octavia were so good and so pure in their performances that The Help gets its place in history thanks to both.

BEST DIRECTOR

Allen’s Midnight in Paris was directing perfection, but so was Payne’s The Descendants, Hazanavicius’ The Artist, and of course Scorsese’s Hugo.  Malick has done much better work than the artsy overwrought film, The Tree of Life, so this isn’t his year. 

SHOUDA

Four deserving possibilities here, but I can only choose one.  Usually, Best Picture and Best Director generally go the same way.  Scorsese won a Golden Globe, but I don’t see it tonight.  Allen could definitely win, but I think he’s more likely to win for Screenplay than here in this category.  Trying to decide between The Artist and The Descendants is just too difficult, but if I have to do it, I would pick Hazanivicius because of the way in which he chose to showcase his story.  The Artist is a monumental achievement.  I also think Tate Taylor deserved a nom for The Help.  He’s brand new as a director but he did better than solid work on his first big film.

WILLA

Most seem to be picking Scorsese for one reason or another, but I’m going with the momentum.  The Artist is all the talk going into the Academy Awards and I suspect it will still be that way walking out of Los Angeles.  I liked four of the five of these films very much and love all five directors.  Allen is the dark horse here…he hasn’t won for Best Director since Annie Hall and Midnight in Paris is truly one of his best, despite a rather bland ending. 

QUICKIES (The Rest – In the Interest of Time)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Here’s Allen’s award, beating out Wiig, Hazanavicius (because he’ll get Director), and Chandor for Margin Call, which was the best film you DIDN’T see last year.  Love it.  If Scorsese ends up winning for Director, I’d still say Woody wins here, and it would be hard to disagree.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Sorkin always has a lot of love and did another solid job with Moneyball.  Dialogue was the key to the film and no one’s better than Aaron.  Here’s Alexander Payne’s award though, along with Nat Faxton, and DEAN PELTON himself, Jim Rash.  The Descendants gets the nod for Adapted Screenplay.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Down year in terms of nominees.  Puss in Boots was great, Kung-Fu Panda 2 was pretty good, and I dug Rango a lot.  I’d say the former if I had to guess…or one of the two nominees I didn’t see, neither big in the United States.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: I’m biased for Reznor and Ross as you know, but Dragon Tattoo, as good as the score was…was outdone by Ludovic Bource.  One thing about Dragon Tattoo’s music is that most of it was remixed or similar variations from Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts release.  Bource’s score for The Artist is so good that I find myself listening to it far more than even I thought I would when I purchased it a few months ago.  He won the Golden Globe, he’ll win the Oscar for truly special work.  He always does Hazanavicius’ movies and tonight he gets recognized for it.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: Bret McKenzie leaves with an Oscar for Flight of the Conchords tonight.  “Man or Muppet” is the best original tune of the year and even Murray could get the Conchords a gig once this show ends tonight.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: I hope to be standing and cheering when Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory wins tonight.  The trio of films documenting the case, arrest, trial, and now “freedom” of the West Memphis Three caused my obsession with Damien, Jason, and Jessie and their story.  The original docs were so good and so well-done, it’s hard to quantify, and the third installment, which premiered on HBO two months ago was just unreal. 

BIGGEST SNUB: Yeah this is my award, and it goes to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.  It’s one of my top five films of the past seven years and the final chapter wasn’t just good, it was nearly flawless.  It has a few tech award noms, but deserved better…somehow.  Let’s be honest, Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close yes, but Harry Potter no? 

So there’s most of the biggies…at least from me.  The one I’m least confident in is Best Director, because Scorsese is such a heavyweight (and 2 or 3 on my all-time list behind Nolan and right there with Fincher) and Hugo was so good.  But regardless, I hope this gets you primed for Billy Crystal’s triumphant return tonight to host…which even if it’s only average will still be seen as the best in nearly a decade.  He’s just that talented and right for this.  I find myself extremely excited for the medley.

I’ve said it before, but if you haven’t seen The Artist, The Descendants, or The Help…you need to do so.  Add to that Moneyball, Warrior, Hugo, Margin Call, and Bridesmaids (and ahem! HP) and you’ve done a lot in terms of your film knowledge for the past twelve months.  Now, let’s hand out Oscar and head back to the movies.  I need to start preparing my 2013 blog. 

-JM    

touchoftheblues:

bon iver is great. justin vernon’s beard is great. everything is just great.

touchoftheblues:

bon iver is great. justin vernon’s beard is great. everything is just great.

Off My Rizzockah on a Satahday Nite

So the whole point behind 6 PM was to post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday… at 6 PM.  It’s Saturday, but I’m chilling inside the studios at WKU doing some radio production work and for some reason, my brain is telling me to write down some thoughts.  Now the question is, what are those thoughts?  This could get interesting folks, so grab a beverage and strap in for all the craziness. 

Actually, perhaps I can come up with something tangible that’s truly worth sampling.  First off, very pleased with the response to Wednesday’s piece on Person of Interest, both from big fans of the show and fans of my stuff.  I even had a fairly well-known television critic send me an email on the column.  I truly appreciate any and all of it - really cool stuff. 

I did want to do a full exposition of the continually ballyhooed idea for an Ensemble Award going forward for the Academy Awards, but I want to do some real thinking about past films that could have benefited from such an honor.  This year, without a doubt, The Help and The Artist both serve as spectacular examples.  It wouldn’t mean that individual performances wouldn’t be possible or expected, but simply that an ENTIRE cast could get credit when it’s due for helping to craft a high-level or memorable experience.  Think of The Departed for instance.  That piece is still to come in the next few weeks but I’m not ready to do it just yet.

It is an enormous aid to the producers of ABC’s Once Upon a Time for their program to air on a network owned by Disney.  What needs to be said here is that THIS is a good way to spend an hour every Sunday night.  I could write and write about what I like about the idea and execution, which I originally believed would be a bastardized version of Willingham’s epic Fables comic, but I’ll save it for another time.  But to be able to utilize Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, Snow White, Cinderella, and so many other marketable characters gives the show a leg-up in terms of credibility with its audience.  We get the REAL THING every week, every episode, and with the quality of the story and the character development thus far, it’s not surprising at all to see the ratings.  You should definitely give this one a shot, without hesitation.

Grimm is indeed…not crap.  I’ve enjoyed it since the pilot and wondered what the audience would have been had it not been relegated to purgatory on Friday evenings at 9 PM.  Another interesting concept, but one that’s familiar to those who watch procedurals and serials.  The best way to talk about Grimm is in comparison to many other shows the idea borrows from regularly.  If you haven’t watched it, think of Monk, Psych, The Mentalist, Lie to Me, and I’m sure that’s just the beginning of the list.  Protagonist has a special ability to observe or see something that the general public can’t. 

For Adrian Monk, his obsessive compulsive disorder led to him always being able to piece together a crime.  For Patrick Jane, he was a former grifter and fake psychic with extraordinary abilities to control and manipulate the mind…he’s also spectacularly observant.  Psych to this day plays on Shawn Spencer’s rare propensity for seeing what’s hidden in plain sight.

And for Nick Burkhardt, we find out at the same time as the lead character that he is one of the last remaining descendants of a group of hunters known as Grimms, who can see the monster behind the human being.  He’s also conveniently a detective, so he solves crimes (almost always violent - VERY violent) with his skill.  You see, in this world, the monsters really ARE monsters.  He sees the Big Bad Wolf (a family of them globally as a matter of fact) whereas everyone else only sees the normal human that exists in our world.  One happens to now be his closest friend. Think of how Buffy saw vampires or how Neo saw Agents inside the Matrix - but this time it’s all built off Grimm Brothers dark fairy tales.  It’s a solid concept, executed well, with a solid cast, and the ratings are slowly rising.

But it still needs another time slot and better promotion.  The general public also doesn’t realize how dark it actually gets - it definitely has a bit of an “unease” or even a scare factor from time to time, but for the most part, Grimm gets its concept correct.

Book project still in its infancy, but I’m piecing together the motivations for the five main characters and their back stories, which are central to the idea. 

Musically, I’ve been digging on Leonard Cohen’s newest, Old Ideas, which is Leonard being Leonard (killing it as always) and still can’t put down Childish Gambino.  Since I’m heading to see Mumford and Sons in March at the Ryman, I’m back into Sigh No More and listening to some of the new cuts in anticipation of their next record.  I couldn’t be more excited for The Shins’ fourth album in March and I’m hopeful for The Avett Brothers to put out their new one before summer hits. 

In terms of scores and soundtracks, I can’t stop listening to Bource’s work on The Artist, the authentic brilliant Hawaiian soundtrack for The Descendants, and of course Reznor and Ross’ genius for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Okay, so I’m glad I wrote this after all…got a few things out there and refocused on topics for the future.  I will write extensively on Once Upon a Time sometime soon and will have plenty to say about the Academy Awards very soon as well.  Make sure to catch Certifiable Total Recall next week as we sit down with author Bryan Dull on the release of his novel and discuss the next book in the Solstice Chronicles series. 

The three of us will also be talking big time about the Oscars, so it should be a solid two hours to end February with for all the fans.  Those unfamiliar, CTR is a pop culture podcast created and hosted by myself and Andrew Van - subscribe on iTunes today!

So there’s that - it’s way past 6 PM, but good enough.  Felt like bloggin’ - so I blogged. 

In the words of J. Peterman, “Elaine, congratulations on a job…done.”

Batman and John Reese: Just the Beginning

If you haven’t been watching television lately, you might have missed a Thursday night program that’s beginning to turn some heads and actually won the People’s Choice Award for best new drama.  Johnathan Nolan, brother of Chris (yes THAT Chris, if you didn’t know) created the show and produces and writes along with J.J. Abrams, one of the best at creating initial buzz for television shows.  

Abrams’ list of accomplishments includes Lost, Fringe, Alias, the new Fox hit Alcatraz, as well as Person of Interest in addition to his many film credits.  

You should be watching Person of Interest, that’s the underlying point here, but if you’re ALREADY watching, I have an angle that you may not have thought about to explain why you’re hooked…or why you will be soon enough.

John Reese lost virtually everything important in his life as well as parts of his psyche as a covert officer and CIA-hitman in overseas operations.  He worked in special forces and did plenty of sludge work, for lack of a better description.  He was deadly, disciplined, and incredibly skilled.  He’s now a broken man in many ways: very quiet on many occasions, brooding in demeanor, and living a veritable life of solitude.  By the way, Caviezel isn’t just good - he’s perfect in this role.  It’s a real treat to watch him and Emerson together.  

Harold Finch used to work for the United States government as part of the war on terror and built and developed a machine that could be used to filter all potentially dangerous language spoken through forms of technology and flag those individuals as threats to national security.  What the viewer finds out is that Finch created a machine that pumps out a social security number of a respective “person of interest” that may be in imminent danger or may be a potential threat BEFORE the fact.  Think of Minority Report or precognition with very little detail, where the puzzle is left to Finch and his partner.  

The show builds around Finch and Reese, with the former hiring the latter, saving lives and stopping crimes before they occur or protecting key figures.  Originally, it appeared that POI would be a week-to-week show, with a “number” every week, entirely self-contained, and the fear was that depth just wasn’t in the cards. But luckily for all of us, while there IS generally a new person of interest each week, the story has begun to truly take shape…and it’s amazingly (and ironically) familiar.

Within the first three episodes, I noticed parallels to my childhood (and let’s face it, adult - I can’t get enough) obsession and hero, the Dark Knight.  Reese and Bruce Wayne have plenty in common, but if that’s where the similarities ceased, this piece would never have been written.  Harold Finch, played by the brilliant Michael Emerson, represents an amalgam of Barbara Gordon, who as a result of the events of The Killing Joke became the Oracle…and Alfred Pennyworth.  

Finch does all the tech-savvy stuff, he sits in a dimly lit room with screens and machines all around him and guides Reese to and from destinations, in and out of trouble, and monitors communications through cloned and synced mobile signals.  He also often serves as Reese’s conscience and a source of “calm” mixed with sarcasm and playful banter with his gritty colleague.  I won’t go into detail about Barb and Alf, because you either already know or you can quickly find out, but it’s uncannily similar.

Reese is outrageously resourceful.  Just this past week he took on an FBI convoy using a gas mask to cloak his face and smoke bombs placed inside the hood of the car to completely conceal himself while saving a victim who was about to be handed over to assassins.  He speaks in a near whisper, but always raspy, direct, and with a dark inflection.  He lives alone and though he flirts with women, he always returns to silent reflection of his past.  After saving someone, they often look back to where he was previously standing and he has vanished.  He’s barely ever caught on any camera and even then, it never captures his face.  Does any of this sound familiar?  

Quite possibly one of the ONLY differences between Reese and Bruce is that John has no problem with lethal force.  Death is both a necessity and pure self-defense in the POI universe, which makes sense when you realize that there aren’t any Jokers or Riddlers running around who have to escape in order to be recurring nemeses forever.  

Where it becomes blatantly obvious, however, is in the character of Detective Joss Carter, played extraordinarily well by Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson. In the beginning, Carter sought Reese as a fugitive who kept showing up and basically dispensing vigilante justice and doing a lot of good…while being suspected of acting in a dangerous manner.  She continually got closer and closer to Reese (and by proxy, to Finch) and then…it happened.  The two heroes brought her in, explained some of what they were doing, and she became an ally.  

It came as a result of her own “number” printing from the machine, but that was simply the catalyst for the overall plan.  They call her for favors, give her information to aid her work and keep her out of trouble, and while she doesn’t feel perfect about the situation, she leans more and more to their side and is beginning to trust them.  She doesn’t like being kept out of the loop but Carter is starting to see that they are trying to solve problems, stop horrific tragedies, and reduce crime in a deadly world.  She (and one other) is the only one in the PD that knows of the two secret crusaders, but the relationship is undeniably the inception of the Commissioner James Gordon - Batman dynamic.

Person of Interest was always good, but early on it lacked the long-term arc.  We now have a villain that has vowed “next time” to Finch as part-hacker, part contract killer and overall chaos-creator, and Reese has run into a few recurring characters of his own.  Do you see where this is going?

It’s become a really special show and still has plenty of room for growth.  The last six episodes have shown what’s to come and the ratings are slowly beginning to climb.  CBS is set to bounce a few dramas this summer officially, but Person of Interest is moving off of “maybe” lists and seems more and more safe by the week. And why shouldn’t it be, it’s a mirror image of what will undoubtedly be the biggest box office splash in a long time - Johnathan’s brother Chris’ finale to his Dark Knight trilogy.  

There’s a reason why Batman has endured and why it continues to enthrall me unlike any other character ever (though Harry Potter has staked his claim in my life BIG TIME over the past four years) - the story just doesn’t get old.  The concepts that drive it and the darkness that surrounds it are unique in the superhero genre. John Reese is Batman without the cowl or the outfit.  He wears a basic coat, a button down shirt, slacks, and packs serious heat.  Harold Finch wears a suit, often pinstriped, dark black glasses and as a result of an attempt on his life, needs a cane in order to walk.  But the motivations, the ideas, the execution, it’s as if Neal Adams is speaking through Johnathan Nolan.

Oh, and Reese - LOVES to wear black, particularly when he’s on a motorcycle, where he often wears all black with a flat black helmet and tinted facemask.  It’s basically impossible NOT to see the similarities.  Once you do, it’s oh so easy just to sit back and enjoy the ride.  It may not be Gotham, but there’s still time.

And this is just the first season.  Given time, think of what’s yet to come!

Tonight, the Burbank Buy More Closes

One Last Hurrah

It’s been an odd day - extremely cold and rather unpleasant mixed with a feeling of loss.  Please understand I’m speaking in relative terms, clearly the end of a television series is not a true “loss,” but in its way, it’s sad.  

It’s disappointing because NBC had a property that could have been much better publicized, but they chose to place it on Mondays at 8 PM against How I Met Your Mother, House, and before a terrible lead in as Heroes began to fall.  This season has been on Friday nights at 8, but I’m thankful to NBC’s failure to have kept this great show on the air for five seasons.

It’s upsetting because the cast works so well together and there’s really never been something quite like Chuck.  If you took the references and meta of Community and put them inside a live action geek spy series, without losing any of the humor or wit, you’d have Fedak and Schwartz’ brilliant creation.

It’s disheartening because so much programming falls into the same categories, with the same basic ideas and formulas, and Chuck was able to mix a procedural around a serial action show and a male nerd fantasy all on top of a very serious subject… and at a time when the War on Terror was not just a buzz phrase, but a major reality.

It’s disgusting in some ways because so many people who would LOVE Chuck… never saw Chuck.  This returns back to issue one stated above.  BUT 

It’s exciting because I predict Chuck will be the show that takes off both in syndication and through Netflix.  Many people will discover the show through various means and I believe it will endure where so many of today’s shows end… and end.  

It’s full of optimism because the talent on the show have proven they will be major players for years to come.  Adam Baldwin has been on the scene for many years and will continue to be - his roles as Jayne on Firefly and John Casey on Chuck leave him in the rare position of playing a key part on two shows with die-hard fanbases in similar communities.  Yvonne will always have a job and she’s grown so much over the years on screen… and I look forward to more Miranda in the video game universe as well.  Josh Gomez will be one to watch as the Morgan Grimes character evolved SO MUCH over five years and as it did, he did.  Sarah and Ryan… Vik and Scott… Mark and… Mark, tons of talent, energy, passion, and potential.  Zachary Levi seems destined to try and attain Renaissance Man status. He loves to sing, so he’s sung on award shows, he’s also hosted awards shows, been nominated for an Academy Award for music, and is genuinely likable by any description.  His career is just getting started.

So tonight is the end of a great television series.  Chuck embraced its fans, asked them to watch to ensure renewal, never took a single viewer for granted, and constantly gave that audience fan service of the highest degree.  Chuck and Sarah, Ellie and Awesome, Morgan and Alex, Casey’s growth, Beckman, Shaw, the Ring, everything had conflict but had a very “awwwww” kind of resolution.  

The few minor things I’ve read (many from Yvonne) have said that tonight is a major tearjerker.  Tragedy strikes in the first hour and although the ending is satisfying, it’s not the happy ending in all respects that most would expect. That’s an incredibly interesting choice for a show that has always found a way to deliver the happy ending.  

And yet, for some reason, I think it’s probably going to be a spectacular finale because it goes against what Chuck has always been.  

Buy More is gone and Carmichael Industries closes along with it tonight, but Chuck will live forever.  Let’s all, for one more night, get together around the tube and just enjoy the ride.  Thanks to everybody associated with Chuck for one of the most purely entertaining and clever shows ever to hit television.  The shortcomings were there but didn’t matter, because the show was fully realized on every level.

#GoodbyeChuck - I’ll be watching episodes for the rest of my life.  Kudos on a job well done.

Writing a Novel

Today’s 6 PM could be one of the shortest of all time, but it’s for a good reason. Less than two hours from now, you’ll ALL be listening (yes you will) to the return of Jay Freeze to Revolution 91.7 FM.  Four solid hours of yours truly paving the way to Local Shots at 10, all kicked off alongside Jeremy Brown for 30 minutes of The Redzone - talking all things Tops sports.  Today we welcome Herald recruiting guru Jordan Wells into the studio to talk about the 2012 pigskin class, with big news on the QB front.

But… this isn’t just an advertisement, it’s also an announcement.

For many years, a great many fine individuals have been kind enough to either privately or publicly express their enjoyment of my writing and several have posited a question that always felt more like a pipe dream than anything else. Times have changed.  I’m in the right position right now to undertake what likely will be a two year process in penning a novel.  I’ve had an idea rattling around in my brain for nearly ten years that over the past three weeks has actually evolved into something a bit different than the original thought but still with the same essence and character structure.  As I work through the process, I’ll hopefully be supremely busy with radio, podcasting, and soon…yes very soon, I’ll have an announcement related to television barring unforeseen changes, but the novel is going to be under construction in the background.  

I’ll be keeping all you guys up to date on what’s happening with the book as I undertake this exciting challenge but more than anything else, this is simply an announcement.  It was actually over Christmas break that I had two people mention the idea to me again and it finally felt right to actually give it a shot.  So time will tell, but I’m thrilled to privately begin converting this longstanding idea into actual fiction.  

It’s funny…I always thought that if I did attempt a book, it would be non-fiction, and hopefully down the line I’ll have something “real” that the public would like to read, but for now, I think I have a story with depth, a story that’s unique, and a story I simply want to tell…even if I’m the only one who ever gets to read it. The only thing I can say today is that this is NOT a sci-fi story or any kind of geekdom or something of that nature.  I have plenty of that in my life, but this tale is altogether different and founded in reality.

By the way, put this one on your calendar, in two weeks on Certifiable Total Recall, Andy and I will be joined by author Bryan Dull to talk about his Solstice Chronicles release and to go nuts talking about the year’s top shelf films and the Academy Awards.  Dull’s first novel is about to be released for a second time with new content and likely on a much larger scale. We look forward to the conversation with a brilliant guy and someone I’m lucky enough to have called a friend for the past five years.  Also, we pushed our Tuesday recording this week to Thursday, so you’ll have a new CTR this weekend all about FX’s Justified as well as recent happenings in pop culture.

So that’s 6 PM for Wednesday - hope you guys are listening tonight, either on the radio or live via revolution.fm (Listen Live link)… in two days, the final blog of the week will take a look at the oft discussed “Ensemble Award” idea for the Academy Awards and why the time is right to pull the proverbial trigger.  (I know, I know, new tone.)  So until then… 

It’s 6 PM, do you know where your children are?  (Get them away from the screen, they’re done reading - give ‘em some veggies and put a book in front of their nose. Might I suggest “The Great Gatsby?”)

The Super Bowl is Set - But This is About the Oscars

I took the holidays off as far as 6 PM is concerned but I’m back - you’ll get new content delivered fresh every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening at… well, 6 PM.  We’ve covered all this stuff by now.  It’s actually 11:30 here in the CTZ right now and in 87 minutes, I’ll be sitting alongside my cohort in crime, Jeremy Brown, inside the MMTH WKU studios recording this week’s episodes of the Beyond the Box Score Podcast.  So there’s plenty of sports coming from this guy, but either at the same level or perhaps even a bit higher, I’m the pop culture dude.  I’ve taken serious lengths to see some of the major contenders in film over the past three weeks and wanted to speak about three of them, while mentioning a few others.  This piece will likely be somewhat brief, by design, but as many readers have known for over a decade, when I say brief, it usually backfires into a term paper. 

Three films, all insanely different, dealing with completely opposed subject matter, but somehow all three have left an indelible imprint on me and all three are truly special pieces of visual fiction. 

Thanks to the magic of Bluray, I ventured into the past, prior to the advances of the civil rights movement, courtesy of Tate Taylor’s exceptional direction of the Kathryn Stockett bestselling novel, “The Help.”  Emma Stone was good, as she usually is, but this isn’t about Emma Stone.  Truthfully, I feel like her role could have been played by a handful of similar actresses to basically identical effect.  The stars of this film are Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who portray Aibileen and Minny, respectively.  These two women don’t just act, they assault the screen and completely take it over basically from start to finish.  Not to be outdone is the amazing and drop dead gorgeous Jessica Chastain and tremendous work from Bryce Dallas Howard.  The former is likely to garner an Academy Award nomination when they’re announced tomorrow.  (Update - Viola, Octavia, and Jessica all three got nods - no surprise, all well-deserved.)

If you haven’t seen the film, the briefest of a plot description would be that southern whites at a certain class level in general treated their servants like garbage and it irritated a young woman hoping to make a mark in journalism.  She sought out Aibileen and later Minny to tell first-hand stories of their lives as the help and what their actual opinions are of treatment, compensation, respect, and everything in between.  Understanding the time period would reveal just how truly dangerous this undertaking was for all involved and basically, there’s your framework.  The final product takes a relatively simple plot and shows the audience a world it doesn’t expect in terms of depth.  The acting from top to bottom is special, both the heroes and the villains are perfectly placed.  Dialogue is rock solid, but the direction and cinematography itself feel much more expert than many films of this type.  

Every year, there’s generally one film that stands out internally as extremely important or memorable, yet still feels familiar.  I call it the “Forrest Gump effect.”  Plenty of films have emerged since Hanks’ classic that have a certain air to them.  A good example would be David Fincher’s variation on “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”  Something about the flashbacks used, the narration over them, the length of the films, and even the scenery… all just sort of works in the same way that Forrest Gump did seventeen years ago.  If you watch that particular film, you leave with a similar reaction.  I submit to you that “The Help” has a Forrest Gump effect to be sure, but it also breaks out into a movie with depth and warmth that surpasses many of its predecessors in the category.  It’s quite simply a fabulous film.  Every decision that Taylor makes with his movie is the correct choice.  It’s a home run of a motion picture.

Next, we move to one of my favorite directors, although he hasn’t made the sheer volume of films that my top three or four have and my opinion is thus based on a smaller sample size… and I was disappointed overall in “About Schmidt.”  Alexander Payne returns in a big way with his tale of a middle-aged man who is dealing with the impending death of his wife as a result of a severe boating accident.  We find out the marriage had serious problems, generally because our protagonist is busy with both his career as a lawyer as well as dealing with his extended family and their fortune.  As his wife struggles to survive while in a coma, Matt King wants to fix things and try harder to make it work.  He then has to deal with his two daughters, the older of which is into a bit of alcohol and has dealt with drug problems.  

Then we find out from the older daughter - the wife was having an affair that caused huge strife between the mother and her child.  And there you go, for the next 100 minutes after the early revelation, we see George Clooney, in the best performance of his life, learn to be a better and more active father while making the final decision on his family’s Hawaiian property.  He also has to decide how to handle the news of his significant other’s infidelity and whether to take some type of action related to the situation.  Payne shoots the film entirely in Hawaii and uses authentic music from the area to set the stage.  It never feels cheesy, it never feels overdone, it just feels perfect.  The soundtrack, all chosen by Payne, is spectacular.  ”The Descendants,” the name of this gem, is without fail one of the two best films of the year outside of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” which won’t be nominated of course.

This is the role where Clooney really shows just how great he is… in fact, I might go so far as to say he’s the best in the business, even surpassing Depp and Gosling and Bale - the only caveat to that opinion is that George often plays the same character emotionally.  What I really want to see is more range going forward, but without any doubt, he’s this generation’s early DeNiro in terms of stature (or a relative facsimile.)  

Payne could win for director, it’s certainly possible, and the truth of the matter is that whatever awards “The Descendants” wins, there’s really no way to argue against the honors.  Time will tell as to what accolades the film earns, but the point to remember is that “The Descendants” is Payne’s most fully realized film.  “Sideways” was brilliant… this is the next step for the man who also gave us the underrated cult classic, “Election.”  I absolutely adored this movie.

Just this past Friday, I was finally able to see Michel Hazanavicius’ truly splendid film, “The Artist,” featuring landmark performances of the most stellar variety from Jean Jujardin and Berenice Bejo.  Every once in a while, a movie arrives that catches the world completely off guard.  “The Artist” may not be for everybody, because it’s such a radical change from what contemporary society has been programmed to accept in entertainment, but it’s the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in ages. 

It’s a silent movie.  Let me repeat that: It’s a silent movie.  Not silent in some ridiculous way, but silent in the classic fashion that most people have only seen on old newsreels or via YouTube.  It’s all done for a reason, namely to tell the story of the most famous actor of the silent era (fictitious) having to deal with his world changing thanks to the advent of voice and sound technology on screen.  All the while, he’s married to a woman and the two really never fit together, and he meets a random fan in an interesting way.  That fan then becomes, to avoid spoilers, not just a fan anymore.  This story plays out in silence, with an absolutely unforgettable score from Ludovic Bource.  The score has already won a Golden Globe, but feels like a shoe-in for the Oscar. 

Not one second of this film is wrong, although it does venture into some tough territory, stuff the silent era would not have touched, reminding the audience that “The Artist” is a contemporary story about the silent era… using the silent era… but with the problems that were kept behind closed doors.  I left the theater with a feeling I honestly am unsure I’ve ever had before.  It was just pure jubilation mixed with a permagrin.  It was so much fun to experience “The Artist” on every level, from the acting to the direction to Bource’s beautiful music to the pacing to the most memorable canine of the 21st century thus far.  Good stuff as well (as usual) from John Goodman, as well as James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller.  I can’t express to you how much I enjoyed “The Artist.” 

If you could only see one film of all the nominees, I might suggest this one, because it’s so unique and so well-executed and so perfect.  You’ve seen NOTHING like this at any point in your life.  This is an absolute classic.  It was pure joy from start to finish and both the two leads were almost embarrassingly good at what they did - Bejo and Jujardin will forever be Peppy Miller and George Valentin.  

So here’s the deal, for the first time in a while, I really can’t tell you what film should win Best Picture.  I haven’t seen all the top level stuff yet, but I’ve viewed the vast majority of it.  “The Descendants” and “The Artist” have to be the front-runners for the top honor, but certainly “The Help” is nearby. 

Also incredible is Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” his best film in a while, the very solid and awesome (colloquial but it’s an apt description) “Moneyball,” Martin Scorsese’s overlooked “Hugo,” for which he won a directing Golden Globe last week, and controversial films like “Shame,” “Tree of Life,” and even possibly something like “Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close,” which opened this past Friday for most of the country and bears strong resemblances to the overall concepts of “Hugo.” 

If I had a vote, my HP bias would go straight to “Deathly Hallows Part 2,” which made my top five since 2005 along with “The Dark Knight,” “The Departed,” “Up in the Air,” and “The Social Network.”  It won’t be nominated and so I’m completely torn.  The good news is that everybody in America and around the globe has a chance to see many of these films over the next several years.

You guys and gals should absolutely attempt to see all three of the earlier discussed films as well as everything from the last paragraph - PLUS “The Ides of March,” “Drive,” and of course (those who know me knew this was coming) “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” also known as “Welcome to the Thespian A-List Rooney Mara.” 

One quick point on Mara is this: one of the reasons she probably will not win many awards is because she’s attempting the impossible.  She’s trying to step in and play Lisbeth Salander after Noomi Rapace.  Mara was incredible, but as a huge fan of Stieg Larsson’s series, let me tell you that Rapace IS Lisbeth Salander.  If you have any doubts, watch either the painted face scene or the final fifteen minutes of “The Girl Who Played With Fire.”

In terms of actress, Viola Davis would be my choice… or maybe Bejo (actually I’m really torn here as well), but it’s impossible to argue against Meryl Streep.  “The Iron Lady” was not a great movie.  It was a good film, but wasn’t the perfect Thatcher biopic that many had hoped for… what “The Iron Lady” was though is another vehicle to show Meryl Streep as the most gifted actress… ever.  She was absolutely magnificent.  Jim Broadbent was excellent as well.  The film was marginal in terms of it’s genre.  It was no “The King’s Speech” for example, but Streep was off the page.  This of course is probably the least surprising thing you’ve read in 2012.

Oh, and with that crazy long list, I forgot to mention a sensational year for big-budget popcorn blockbusters, both of the superhero… and non-superhero variety. 

Whoa whoa whoa, “Green Lantern,” stay in your seat.  We’ll call for you when we get to “Biggest Disappointments in Film History” in a later column.  2011-12 is perhaps the most loaded field in terms of Best Picture nominees that I can remember since becoming old enough to truly appreciate and pay attention to motion pictures on a fully mature level.  I’m completely lost as to what I would cast my vote for of what will be nominated, but it’s because of the extreme quality… not the lack thereof.  THAT is an excellent statement to be able to write.

Go see some movies - right NOW. 

Oh… and then there’s this: The Hunger Games coming soon (in process of reading the end of the trilogy - and I am LOVING the hell out of it folks)… plus the sequel to my all-time favorite film and from my favorite director (Dark Knight if you’ve been living under a rock) as well as our boy Joss Whedon tackling The Avengers!

Television: The Very Best of 2011

Oh what a long strange trip it’s been… in a Jerry Garcia kind of mood as we prepare to put 2011 to its permanent resting place.  In the world this year we saw the end of Usama, the beginning of the Arab Spring, mischaracterized as a great thing by the mainstream media, as well as the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, the potential end of the EU as Greece and Italy are on the brink, the S&P downgrade of the United States, and two important weddings… the Royal Wedding, and that other one that lasted about as long as my last trip to South Carolina.  So here’s the good news:

- This review is NOT about the year of the protester or Herman Cain or the EU or Iran or anything else.  It’s about television, pure and simple.  I have two passions in life – sports and mass culture.  I watch entirely too much television, there’s my confession.  While you’ll be out boozing it up and partying, I will be at home catching up on a serial drama tonight quietly with a Diet Coke.  I had my party two weeks ago.  

So from a television obsessive, probably the biggest one you know, let’s be honest… you’ve seen my updates and previous blogs and social media posts and may have listened to my podcast with Andrew Van and realize that… damn, this brother watches a crapload of the small screen.  What that hopefully means for you is that THIS piece is one you’ll get some value out of, because you know it’s coming from someone who spends a ton of time watching, analyzing, and simply thinking about stories, characters, actors, soundtracks, directors, and networks. 

Last year’s edition, the FIFTH (can’t believe it’s been that long) of its kind, was really long.  So let me apologize in advance.  I’m afraid this year’s entry might be even lengthier, but I hope you enjoy it.  So there’s the opening ceremonies, it’s time to get down to brass tacks (anyone know what that classic cliché actually means, please let me know) and knock out these lists.  We begin with drama… with MAJOR upheaval from 2010 rankings. 

Also, there are NO spoilers included at all.  I want you to get involved in the part of the list you haven’t seen yet, so spoiling it would defeat the purpose. 

Keep in mind as we start that Mad Men is NOT ELIGIBLE for consideration because they took the year off amidst contract issues with AMC.  It’s still the best show on television, but that should not at all take away from the amazing shows we’re about to talk about.  Now, from bottom to top – here we go.

10. FRINGE

I am going to try and keep the reasoning as brief as possible.  It’s one of my favorite shows and had an exceptional third season, though the finale was less than stellar.  Torv and Jackson have tremendous chemistry on screen and John Noble remains one of the most talented actors on television that most people overlook.  Has the story become convoluted?  Yes.  We have multiple universes with clones and anti-characters and space-time continuum shifts galore.  Is it still well-produced, thought out, and arguably the boldest show in recent memory?  Yes.  In season three, we saw a full episode done as a musical, two tremendous flashback episodes, and a late season entry that was 75% ANIMATED inside of Olivia Dunham’s mind. 

9. THE WALKING DEAD

You know I’m a big Robert Kirkman guy.  I love Invincible, Astounding Wolf-Man, and of course the Walking Dead.  The television treatment has apparently been getting ripped by the mainstream for being “too boring” but in my experience, it hasn’t felt that way.  AMC’s version of the serial comic relies on slow build and a constant unease masked in serenity and scenery.  Plenty of changes have been made for television, as is always the case, but the underlying point of the show has not been lost.  What people never realize until they watch (or more importantly, read) is that this show is… not… about… zombies.  Actually, the word “zombie” doesn’t exist in Kirkman’s world, because Romero’s films never happened in his vision.  The undead (or virused-up) are called “Walkers” because that’s what they do and it works in a literal translation.  This show is about people and more specifically, what lengths humans will resort to in a hopeless situation.  What will these individuals do to each other to stay alive?  Is anyone safe?  Scum does not change simply because there’s a defined “enemy” for humanity, it actually enhances the villainy. 

We still have a ways to go and I’m waiting for the one moment from early in the comics that hasn’t happened yet – once that occurs, the story matures and takes on a more familiar shape.  I expect that moment to close Season 2, although I felt it could have done so last year as well.

8. CHUCK

One of the luckiest occurrences of the past several years on television is how atrocious NBC’s management and leadership have consistently been.  Ratings flops all over the place, terrible time slots, and do I need to say more than “The Jay Leno Show?”  Because of the failure and ineptitude, Chuck has managed to stay on the air for five seasons with AWFUL ratings.  It’s a brilliant show, written and performed by people that buy into the underlying idea behind the story.  In its essence, Chuck is a geek-male fantasy. 

Bartowski plays video games and waxes poetic about George Lucas and reads Y: The Last Man, but he ends up the most dangerous weapon in the world, a spy with a computer inside his brain that enables unlimited physical and mental capabilities.  He also gets the girl… and not just any girl, but Sarah Walker, the girl of EVERYONE’S dreams.  He has a great best friend who eventually gets into the act and he ends up living out the life of much of what he’s watched on screen throughout his life.  The show ends in five weeks, closing out Schwartz and Fedak’s vision of what they wanted. 

Season 5 has been a mixed bag but overall has been very enjoyable and along with the last half of Season 4, the writers have tried to do as much fan service as possible to satisfy and please those who’ve been with the show since the beginning.  It’s a show that people will find in five or ten years on Netflix and it will endure.  It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s clever, it’s Chuck.  There’s nothing else like it.  The first three years, this was easily a top five show and a top THREE in terms of pure entertainment.

7. BOARDWALK EMPIRE

I’ve got to be honest with you; I really thought this would be a top five show in 2011.  I loved both seasons but quite frankly, other stuff is just simply better.  It certainly isn’t the fault of the acting, directing, or writing.  Boardwalk is a tremendous show, and I think Michael Pitt is unquestionably Emmy-worthy.  Buscemi is tremendous and everybody, from Arnold Rothstein to Chalky White, is consistently entertaining. 

The show explores prohibition, cronyism, the role of women in 20s America, racism, class struggles, and everything in between.  Scorsese, with the exception of only Nolan and Fincher, is my favorite all-time director.  Sopranos alumni including the brilliant Terrence Winter put the show together.  You should absolutely watch it, without any question.  I continue to watch Boardwalk Empire and think that it should be something more, which is perhaps unfair given the pedigree. 

Any show that makes this list is amazing, but from a purely subjective standpoint, I simply have a better time watching the items to come.  I hope BE is on the air for six years and continues to grow.  It’s a special program.

6. TREME

David Simon, mastermind behind The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street, is still trying to make his case to the ridiculous Emmy voting community of just how good he is.  The Wire will forever go down as the biggest snub in award history, as it garnered almost no nominations and is widely considered to be the greatest drama in the history of television.  Homicide was a show that may have been a little ahead of its time, but still magnificent and helped to launch the careers of talented actors like Andre Braugher. 

Treme doesn’t rate well respective to premium dramas and a lot of folks simply just haven’t watched it, but Season 2 was INCREDIBLE.  Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters are just two of the reasons, but the lovely Kim Dickens, a host of legendary jazz musicians, Oscar-winner Melissa Leo, and even David Morse all helped round out Season 2.  Oh wait, I forgot Khandi Alexander, whose work SCREAMS for recognition.  She’s not from this world, seriously.  Rob Brown’s work sometimes doesn’t get mentioned, but the Delmond Lambreaux character is a personal favorite along with Janette. 

Tough storylines, this year focusing on crime and a lack of authority and control in post-Katrina New Orleans served as the backdrop for the most powerful drama of the year from a human perspective.

5. JUSTIFIED

It may be hurt just a bit because it finished up so much earlier than much of the list, but Season 2 fulfilled the promise of Elmore Leonard’s vision of US Marshal Raylan Givens.  Walton Goggins put on what might have been as good a Supporting Actor performance as we’ve seen in a while… along with two other guys who’ll be mentioned in just a bit.  Margo Martindale’s was as justified (sorry) an Emmy as I can remember and Jeremy Davies and company all performed big time. 

The stories heated up, Rebecca Creskoff added another layer to the festivities, and FX showed yet again that they are a network to be reckoned with.  Justified was a ratings success, finding the right niche and exploding into mainstream.  If someone called it the best show on TV, I’d have no argument.  Acting, directing, pacing, and one of the best one season storylines of the year, Justified is a total knockout.  Kaitlyn Dever, by the way, is the best child actor on television.  She isn’t “young” but she’s of the age where acting is still often a learning process – and she’s mastered it.

4. GAME OF THRONES

Without hyperbole, Game of Thrones is gorgeous.  The scenery, cinematography, and editing are unbelievable.  Winterfell is beautiful and rugged, all at once.  George R.R. Martin’s world renowned book series found a home on HBO and proved something that to this point was very much in question, and did so with twenty yards to spare.  High fantasy CAN be done on television and CAN be successful on a grand scale. 

Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Kit Harrington, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Fairley, Mark Addy, and oh yeah, Emmy winner Peter Dinklage, whose Tyrion Lannister jumped off the screen (and fits with Goggins as timeless performances along with… you’ll have to keep reading)… the list goes on and on.  The Song of Ice and Fire series is incredibly dense, packed with an enormous cast of characters that Martin is somehow able to keep together.  The show, to its credit, with Martin on the staff as producer and consultant, does the same. 

Stories all over the place with different families and races, all happening simultaneously and yet Game of Thrones never feels confusing.  I called it the new “IT” thing in pop culture on our podcast and I firmly believe that you’ll be seeing random GOT shirts and logos and patches and all the rest on faux-hipsters all over the place.  The difference is, Game of Thrones effin rules, and Twilight… doesn’t. 

Blu-Ray out in a few weeks and Season 2 lurks in less than four months… 2012 may well be the year of Game of Thrones.  Remember what happened to True Blood in Season 2?  Take that, add a more diehard base of readers, and then keep in mind that GOT was better from the beginning.  Ratings?  Check.

3. HOMELAND

I was finally able to sit down on Wednesday and watch Season 1 in its entirety and it is one of the great viewing pleasures I’ve ever experienced.  Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, best known for their work on 24, particularly Gordon, who served as Executive Producer since 2002, come back to television bringing gifts.

Homeland is 24 on premium television.  It’s 24 without the inane plot twists that had to happen to fill 24 episodes.  It’s 24 with maturity and care.  It’s 24, the Psychological Version, with more depth and a different scale of emotion and tactic. 

That’s the best way to describe this story that centers on Nicholas Brody, a missing United States Marine who is found in Iraq after eight years.  He’s on his way home, but there’s a problem, namely whether he’s still on our side or not.  Claire Danes plays CIA Agent Carrie Mathison, who within the first fifteen minutes of the first episode learns while in Baghdad as part of a semi-flashback that allegedly an American POW has been turned by radical Islamic fundamentalist, Abu Nazir.  She believes it to be Brody, who arrives in DC as a National Hero and the story of the year… and there’s your background. 

The acting in this show is just ridiculous.  Danes is right there with Edie Falco’s best years and Glenn Close’s high points on Damages.  Her Emmy isn’t just a hope, it had better be a reality.  It would be a see-arr-eye-emm-ee CRIME not to see her win.  She plays crazy better than anyone has ever done… but Carrie’s still excellent at her job.  She’s very much like Jack Bauer, believing that the ends justify whatever is necessary to root out terrorism on American soil. 

Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody – that’s Emmy worthy.  Mandy Patinkin (so glad to see him back on TV) as Saul Berenson – that’s without a doubt Emmy worthy as well.  Take this side of the storyline and add into it the personal lives and relationships that exist for all the main characters and you have the best new show since Lost. 

2. SONS OF ANARCHY

Season 4 of SOA found the biggest ratings in show history and some of FX’s highest… ever.  Kurt Sutter’s tale of a motorcycle club in California is about as much about an MC as The Wire was about drugs or Breaking Bad is about… drugs or The Walking Dead is about zombies.  The show is a mix of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet… put directly into the world and workings of the Sopranos. 

The guy that never gets talked about is Charlie Hunnam, but it’s arguable that Jax Teller is one of the top five characters of the decade on television – and Hunnam’s acting is second to none.  Ron Perlman’s Clay Morrow is a joy to watch and Katey Sagal has yet again knocked it out of the park as Gemma.  This year, Maggie Siff really stepped up a bit more as Tara became a character with even more depth and intelligence.  Her performance was excellent. 

SOA consistently features the best soundtrack on television and Season 4 was no different.  The season finale was less jarring than in previous years but was no less emotional.  Perhaps the single defining memory of the year was the snapshot photograph of Jax/Tara morphing from John/Gemma’s old picture from years before.  If it wasn’t, only one other tops it.  Tig, Chibs, Juice, Piney… they all had great moments.  Ryan Hurst was magnificent form start to finish as Opie Winston and Dayton Callie continues to shine as Wayne Unser. 

Danny Trejo’s character and storyline both worked well, but what really shined as far as “new” additions were the performances of Ray McKinnon as Linc Potter and Rockmond Dunbar as Eli Roosevelt.  There’s basically not a bad performance to be found on SOA – never has been, and Season 5 is poised to be HUGE for FX. 

While people were paying attention to the most overrated show of the year, Murphy’s overdone and plot-thin American Horror Story… Sons of Anarchy continued to run every week and raise its own bar.  It’s a magical hour every week and should never be missed.  It’s another show the Emmy voters need to wake up and check out, but they won’t, because… well… they’re the Emmy voters.  It’s why most critics don’t care about the Emmys.

1. BREAKING BAD

This is a very bold statement, but I’m going to make it now and forever hold my peace: Bryan Cranston’s performance of Walter White is THE BEST MALE ACTING PERFORMANCE IN TELEVISION HISTORY.  What’s scary is that the work continues to get better. 

Season 4 of the show upped the ante in almost every way and concluded in a finale that featured an unforgettable moment (the only thing that stands up to the photograph mentioned earlier) involving Gustavo Fring and his face.  I’ll leave it there so you can enjoy it for yourself. 

Goggins, Dinklage… and then there’s Aaron Paul, who previously won the Best Supporting Actor Emmy and deserves it every year along with his colleagues in the category.  Jesse Pinkman is the other side of the Breaking Bad coin and while we saw him holding week long parties and video game sessions in his house, we also saw him break down emotionally yet again and resort to deplorable actions.  We also saw the Jesse Pinkman that wanted to be better and tried to take steps to improve his life. 

Walter White’s family life remained in upheaval but in a different way as he got a bit closer to his wife in some ways and took on a new business venture.  Anna Gunn’s performance as Skyler White was top notch again.  Hank, performed better than ever by the excellent Dean Norris, dealt with rehabilitation and physical therapy and his wife went back to her old ways amidst his harsh treatment.  Saul Goodman… well, he’s still Saul.  And then there’s Mike – he’s just a joy to watch on screen.  Giancarlo Esposito’s work as Gus Fring deserves attention.  He’s the most terrifying character anywhere on TV and particularly the occurrences with the box cutter remain burned into my brain. 

One more year of Breaking Bad to go, an extended 16 episode swan song, probably a heap of awards along with it, and I say, bring it on.  It’s as good as television gets, along with all of the Top 5.  BB sits atop a very worthy group of life-changing programs. 

Now to Comedy… much briefer, and just the top five, again in reverse order:

5. HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER

We’re getting to the end of the line, can you feel it?  We’re going to get the Barney/Robin thing, that much I know, the question is simply how long they want to drag it out.  No more Jennifer Morrison, whose storyline was awful last year for the most part, and we’re back to the narrator’s character, Ted Mosby, being background fodder, which continues to bother me to some extent. 

Great chemistry, a lot of fun, still consistently entertaining, and HIMYM still has the ability to throw together real and honest emotion and depth after an episode of total nonsense and toilet humor.  Just when you might be approaching the level of “tune out,” something major happens and the credits roll and you’re right back the next Monday.

4. THE BIG BANG THEORY

As I write this, TBBT is on in the background on random loop on my PC.  That’s a general occurrence, as I’ve been a fan since my co-host introduced me to the show late in Season 1.  We’ve loved it and continue to do so, especially now that Priya is a thing of the past.  I hated that storyline more than anything on TV in 2011, mainly because she existed simply to draw out the Leonard/Penny relationship lull before finally putting them together for good, which I predict takes place at the conclusion of this year’s finale. 

The ratings are undeniable and deserved, but NBC should be flogged for what they put against it, because THAT show deserves better.  Parsons’ performance is still as good as you’ll see, particularly because of the difficulty in reading lines that quickly that contain so much technical jargon and nerd humor while staying in character.

3. LOUIE

Louis CK’s show is so unique because FX gives him free reign.  If he wants the usual introduction to run to start the show, it happens… sometimes with no cold open, sometimes with just a cold open and skipping the credits.  If he wants the show to be funny for 30 minutes, it is.  If he wants it to largely be a drama for an hour, FX is cool with that, as they were during the excellent Afghanistan episode this year.  If he wants two stories in the episode, they split it and it happens.  If he wants one story to take the entire half-hour, it happens.  If he wants this episode to be ultra-vulgar and at times hard to watch, it’s not a problem. 

There’s a reason why FX allows this to happen week after week: Louis CK (and Pamela Adlon) are brilliant.  So is their show. 

2. COMMUNITY

Dan Harmon is a genius, he’s also emotionally distant, has a difficult time in social situations, and likes random and obscure pop culture references, particularly cult classics and television series. 

So he creates Abed, a character with Asperger syndrome (well, close) who relates to the world through his obsession with television shows, movies, and characters.  He dresses up as Batman and talks all night like the Dark Knight.  He takes an actual college course on the classic ABC sitcom, Who’s the Boss, and eventually stumps the teacher with his level of knowledge.  He sets up his friend and study group cohort, Jeff Winger, in a situation simply to recreate My Dinner With Andre. 

While all of this is taking place, the study group, made up of an ensemble cast that has chemistry on another level… go through regular activities cut through Harmon’s prism of “anything goes.”  An episode becomes anime halfway through, the group gets caught in a KFC space shuttle and recreates The Right Stuff, paintball representations of beloved action films, chicken nuggets used as a catalyst to recreate GoodFellas, multiple timelines, and Dungeons and Dragons in a way that will NEVER be topped. 

It’s all in a day’s work for Community, the boldest and most original show to hit network television… ever?  Maybe.  NBC has butchered the time slot and has no idea how to advertise or push the show, but it’s live action meta… pop culture throughout, and nothing is off the table.  Harmon is rare in this world, but we’re better for having him in it.

1. PARKS AND RECREATION

Parks is so good that it could rival Breaking Bad.  You can’t find bad episodes (past Season 1, some of the early stuff was somewhat dull) and the consistency continues to rise.  The show keeps getting better, week after week, and every casting decision has been perfect. 

Rob Lowe and Adam Scott join the show… and it enhanced everything in a positive manner.  Amy Poehler is one of the more talented females in show business and has been since she first burst onto the scene with the Upright Citizens Brigade.  Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson is my personal favorite character on TV… and Aziz Ansari’s Tom Haverford is right up there with him.  Even the semi-regulars, particularly Ben Schwartz as Jean Ralphio, aren’t just good, they’re EXCEPTIONAL. 

Aubrey Plaza’s work has continued to grow and she’s always fun to watch, and then there’s Chris Pratt, whose Andy character was annoying and bothersome during Season 1 and is now… exactly the opposite. 

Parks doesn’t make missteps.  Parks doesn’t have dull weeks.  Parks doesn’t waste an episode.  Parks and Recreation is simply a perfect 30 minute sliver of television every week.  If, by some chance, you haven’t seen the show… stop reading right now and start.

*****

And finally… the procedurals and self-contained, just a list this time, and the reason I include this is because I LOVE THESE SHOWS for what they are.  I can always put one on in the background.  I love every new episode.  They’re fun, they often have strong cast chemistry, and they don’t take themselves too seriously. However, the best ones generally have a congruent storyline that continues through all the “caper of the week” stuff and drives the success. 

It’s too hard to rate them, so here’s the Top 5, all of which I watch religiously and generally have seen every ep many times, in no particular order.

1. LEVERAGE, 2. WHITE COLLAR,  3. COVERT AFFAIRS,  4. BURN NOTICE,  5. SUITS   (6. THE MENTALIST)

If I had the Emmy ballot:

BEST ACTOR: Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) (Damian Lewis and Charlie Hunnam honorable mention)

BEST ACTRESS: Claire Danes (Homeland)

BEST DRAMA: Breaking Bad

BEST COMEDY: Parks and Recreation

MOST OVERLOOKED: Community

THREE-MAN-WEAVE AWARD (Supporting Actor): Dinklage, Goggins, Paul

BEST NEW SHOW: Homeland by 2600 MILES

BEST NEW SHOW OUTSIDE OF TOP 10: Once Upon a Time (Too early to tell, really liking it thus far)

SHOW I EXPECTED LAST YEAR TO SEE IN TOP 10: Person of Interest (Ways to go, but promising start)

2012 SHOW TO WATCH (It will win many awards): Luck

STAYED TOO LONG AWARD: Entourage (Should have ended on the Martin Scorsese phone call.)

BEST NETWORKS FOR TELEVISION (In order): AMC, FX, HBO, USA, CBS  

And there you have it, there will be Top 10s in film, music, and games/books to come, obviously somewhat shorter than this beast, but I hope it was an enjoyable read.  If you made it this far, you deserve some kind of prize, so go check your front door.  No no no, not something from me, I’m just hoping someone else mailed you a gift of some sort.  

You guys and gals out there have a Happy New Year and again, if you didn’t watch something on this list and need something new for your spare time, by all means, jump into these.  

My name is Jason.  I love television and enjoy writing about it… as I do film and other sides of pop culture and of course sports.  I may need to see a therapist, but I’m too busy watching Homeland to care.  

Thanks for taking a few minutes… or a few days… to read my work.  Have yourself a pleasant day… now taking you back to your regularly scheduled programming.

-JM