Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Favorite TV Shows of the Decade (Top 25 Long-Lived; Top 15 Short-Lived)

Well, I've already ranked my top 30 movies of the decade. I thought I'd try ranking my favorite TV shows of the decade. Ranking TV shows is more difficult because some are older, some are newer, some are brand new, some last a while, and some were short lived. So, I'm breaking my favorites into three categories...

I'm considering a Long-Lived Favorite to be a show that went past two complete seasons (or is about to, such as "Chuck" which will air season 3 in 2010). Short-Lived Favorites will be shows that lasted two complete seasons or less but have already finished their run. Current Honorable Mentions are shows that just started, are renewed for a forthcoming 2nd season, or are in the middle of their 2nd season.

And, to be on the list of long-lived favorites for the decade, at least half the run had to take place in & after the year 2000. "Ally McBeal" just barely squeaks by, riding the fence between the '90s & 2000s. And, it ranks in the middle with it's best season (4) and worst season (5) both taking place in the 2000s. "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer" ranks lower because its best season (5) but also two worst seasons (6 & 7) take place in the 2000s. The season 6 finale and almost all of season 7 of "Gilmore Girls" were a travesty too, but its first 5.75 excellent seasons take place all in the 2000s, so it still ranks very high. Had it not been for the very last scene of that season 6 finale and subsequent unevenness of season 7, "Gilmore Girls" could have been at least two ranks higher.

And, oh yeah, I don't get premium channels, so no Sopranos, True Blood, etc. Sorry, but it's my list.

Top 25 Favorite Long-Lived TV Shows from 2000 - 2009
25. Rescue Me (2004 - current)
24. Last Comic Standing (2003 - 2008)
22. (tie) Brothers & Sisters (2006 - current)
22. (tie) Prison Break (2005 - 2009)
20. (tie) Beauty & the Geek (2005 - 2008)
20. (tie) Mythbusters (2003 - current)
19. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (1999 - current)
18. Survivor (2000 - current)
16. (tie) South Park (1997 - current)
16. (tie) Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003)
15. The O.C. (2003 - 2007)
14. Scrubs (2001 - current)
13. Ally McBeal (1997 - 2002)
11. (tie) The 4400 (2004 - 2007)
11. (tie) Chuck (2007 - current)
10. The Shield (2002 - 2008)
09. Boston Legal (2004 - 2008)
08. Stargate: Atlantis (2004 - 2009)
07. Battlestar Galactica (2004 - 2009)
06. House (2004 - current)
05. Gilmore Girls (2000 - 2007)
04. Stargate: SG-1 (1997 - 2007)
03. The Practice (1997 - 2004)
02. The West Wing (1999 - 2006)
01. Lost (2004 - current)

Top 15 Favorite Short-Lived TV Shows from 2000 - 2009
15. Kid Nation (2007, 13 episodes)
14. The Jeff Dunham Show (2009, 6 episodes)
13. Who Wants to Be a Superhero (2006 - 2007, two seasons, 14 episodes)
12. New Amsterdam (2008, 8 episodes)
11. Women's Murder Club (2007 - 2008, 13 episodes)
10. Kings (2009, 13 episodes)
08. (tie) John Doe (2002 - 2003, 21 episodes)
08. (tie) Defying Gravity (2009, 13 episodes)
07. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008 - 2009, two seasons, 31 eps)
04. (tie) Standoff (2006 - 2007, 18 episodes)
04. (tie) Journeyman (2007, 13 episodes)
04. (tie) Moonlight (2007 - 2008, 16 episodes)
03. Men In Trees (2006 - 2008, two seasons, 36 episodes)
02. Jericho (2006 - 2008, two seasons, 29 episodes)
01. Firefly (2002, 14 episodes -- 3 of those never aired, found on DVD only)

Current Honorable Mentions
- Cougar Town
- FlashForward
- Glee
- Sanctuary
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars
- Stargate: Universe
- V
- Warehouse 13

So, what are your favorite TV shows of the decade???

My Top 30 Favorite Films of the Decade (2000 - 2009)

It's always so hard to rank movies (TV shows too). There are so many factors to consider, so many shades of grey.

Some movies are fresh on your mind. Some you're having to judge based on memories of when you saw them several years ago. For instance, I constantly wonder whether "Under the Tuscan Sun" should be one of only nine movie to which I give the ultimate A+ grade. At one time, I must have thought so. I haven't gotten around to watching it lately, so as odd as it feels to say it's better than "The Dark Knight" or even "Iron Man," I'm going to have to go on my opinion of it that is several years old.

Then there's the conflict between objective observation of quality and inexplicable personal appeal. In other words, the best movies and your favorite movies aren't always the same things. Sometimes a movie blows you away the first time, but you have little or no interest in seeing it again. "Memento" would be an excellent example of this. Other times, a flawed or less ambitious movie still has higher re-watch factor, such as "Love Actually" or "Frequency."

Anyway, here's my best attempt to rank the best -- uhm, I mean, my favorite -- movies of the 2000 - 2009 decade. I may change my mind on half of it later, but it'll do for now:

30. The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)
29. Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
28. X2: X-Men United (2003)
27. Watchmen (2009)
26. The Prestige (2006)
25. Children of Men (2006)
24. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
23. Ocean's 12 (2004)
22. The Queen (2006)
21. Up (2009)
20. Waitress (2007)
19. Serenity (2005)
18. The Lake House (2006)
17. Spider-Man (2002)
16. Cars (2006)
15. Wall-E (2008)
14. Love Actually (2003)
13. Batman Begins (2005)
12. The Blind Side (2009)
11. Ocean's 13 (2007)
10. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
09. Iron Man (2008)
08. Star Trek (2009)
07. Ocean's 11 (2001)
06. Finding Nemo (2003)
05. The Dark Knight (2008)
04. Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
03. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
02. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
01. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Honorable Mentions: The Bourne Trilogy (2002/2004/2007), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), Charlie Wilson's War (2007), Gran Torino (2009), Casino Royale (2006), 500 Days of Summer (2009), United 93 (2006), The Bucket List (2008), The Terminal (2004), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and Frequency (2000).

Yes, "Avatar" is intentionally left out. It's on the borderline. It looked good, but the story was a little weak & unoriginal. All the super-glowing reviews I've heard for it on blogs & podcasts -- even the ones from people who admitted the flaws in the story -- come from people who saw it in 3-D. When I went, it was sold out in 3-D. It looked great in 2-D, but I've heard it's just not the same. I'm tempted to see it again, this time in 3-D, to see if the increase in quality raises my opinion of it from B to B+. If so, then it will be an Honorable Mention of the decade too.

And, I'm sure my Facebook friends are tired of excuses I find to mention this, but I think it can't be said enough... The worst movie of 2009, one of the worst cinematic travesties of the decade, and yes, one of the worst movies of all time was, sadly & shamefully, "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen." It joins the ranks of other Grade-F movies "Highlander 2: The Quickening," "Event Horizon," "Batman & Robin," "Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows," and "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier."

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Analysis of Stargate Universe Series Premiere: "Air, Parts 1 & 2 (of 3)"

Spoiler Warning: This post contains mild to massive spoilers. Do not read if you haven't seen the premiere of SGU but plan to.

Friday night (October 2) was the premiere of the new Stargate Universe series on SyFy. I've been looking forward to more Stargate but was a little worried about the new show.

I was relieved that the 2-hour pilot didn't suck. In fact, I liked it. But, as I, unfortunately, just proved as a guest on a podcast (SciFiPartyLine), I have a little trouble explaining *why* I liked it. I watched the pilot for the 2nd time earlier today and typed out six pages of notes, including specific likes, specific dislikes, mysteries & unanswered questions, similarities to other shows, random observations, nitpicks, etc. I can easily dissect the show. And, I can overlook or forgive the negatives & nitpicks for now. I just can't quite verbalize why *overall* I really did like it.

Well, maybe I can now...
(1) I liked it because I simply liked the sum of its parts (see list below).
(2) I like the overall Stargate franchise, and the pilot episode did nothing that spit in the face of where it came from. It's different enough to feel fresh, but it still feels like Stargate. So, it'd be hard for me to not like it.

Here's my analysis of the episode in list form...

Things I Liked
  • The premise.
  • Most (but not all) of the characters.
  • The performances.
  • Everything about Chloe Armstrong, daughter/executive assistant to Calif. Senator Armstrong, and the performance of her by Elyse Levesque.
  • How well a lieutenant, Matthew Scott, took command when Col. Young was injured. Stargate hasn't shown too many junior officers taking command of situations. Scott did well.
  • The scene where Dr. Rush cries (I love it when characters cry).
  • The all-too-brief battle scene.
  • The cameos of SG-1 characters.
  • The dangling of a few mysteries & unanswered questions (see that list below).

Things I Didn't Like
  • Some of the transitions between scenes weren't that smooth.
  • The Sergeant Ronald Greer character (but, I think it might be intentional that he's not that likable).
  • Not enough space battle.
  • Major "Half-Spoiler": As soon as someone said the airlock to the shuttle (which was leaking atmosphere from the whole ship) would have to be closed from the inside, it was totally predictable who would close it.
  • With multiple locations, multiple flashbacks, a lot of characters, and a lot of premise to set up, I wondered how confusing it might be to those not already familiar with Stargate.
Questions & Observation About Technology & Equipment
  • Why do people get flung out of the Destiny's stargate when they walked into the stargate on the Icarus base?
  • Why does the Destiny's stargate vent steam after the wormhole closes?
  • Dr. Rush says the ship travels faster than light but not in hyperspace. So, what kind of propulsion is it?
  • Why does everything shimmer as the Destiny enters or exits FTL travel?
  • They figured out how to make the stargate on the Icarus base outgoing only. That's neat. No more need for an iris like the Cheyenne Mountain gate or a force field like the Atlantis gate.
  • After evacuating from Icarus base onto the starship Destiny, the survivors only have 23 guns & limited ammo. I wonder how long that will last.
  • They have only the batteries they have in their walkie-talkies. How long will they last?
  • The have limited food. I think they said they have little or no water. They do have seeds. Will they grow food onboard?
  • They learned how to control the Ancient "communication stones" with a man-made base instead of the Ancient cone base "thingy." Plus, they figured out how to pass a visual signal through them too.
Mysteries & Unanswered Questions
  • Does Dr. Rush know more than he's letting on?
  • In Colonel Everett's flashback, why did he collapse? Does he have a health problem, and will that become a complication later on, since they only have an Air Force medic & probably little or no medical or surgical tools?
  • Who in the photo is Dr. Rush crying over? Wife & daughter? Sister & niece?
  • What are in the Ancient crates onboard the Destiny?
  • Will they handle supply shortages & the searching for food & supplies better than Star Trek: Voyager did?
  • Before being interrupted, was Dr. Rush about to imply that the ship is sentient? He already claimed the ship was aware of the needs of its inhabitants & making stops at habitable worlds accordingly.

Similarities to Other Shows
  • Lost: The chaos of the first few minutes, people being flung out of the stargate & tripping over each other, felt like the first few minute of Lost's pilot episode (okay, granted not as cool as Lost did it).
  • Lost: Will the flashbacks continue, or was that just for the pilot (to establish the characters).
  • Lost: Could the civilians & minor non-coms be cannon fodder like background characters on Lost have been over the years?
  • Star Trek - Voyager: A starship stranded in uncharted territory with potentially limited supplies.
  • Sliders: A countdown clock before each subsequent FTL jump.

Nitpicks (I wouldn't be me, if I didn't have nitpicks)
  • The Stargate program seems to give out non-disclosure agreements like candy. They gave one to Eli Wallace, but before he had a chance to read the first page, they already beamed him to the George Hammond (a Daedalus-class Earth starship named after General Hammond, a character from SG-1 that died off screen after the actor that played him passed away in June 2008).
  • In a flashback, IOA representative Camille Wray is talking to Air Force medic Lt. Tamara Johansen, and she makes a reference to *Colonel* O'Neill. Jack O'Neill was promoted from Colonel to Brigadier General in SG-1 season 8 episode 2 and is already a Lt. General. So, by calling him a Colonel, either the actor slipped up, the script writer slipped up, or the flashback was from a whole *five* years ago, which is plausible but not likely.
  • Colonel Telford (the barely seen Lou Diamond Phillips) is seen in an F-302 during an air battle. Would they really have someone as highly ranked as a full Colonel out in a little tiny fighter during an intense battle?
  • Massive Spoiler: Woops!!! No one had to die. They found onboard the Destiny remote control floating cameras that they named Kinos. When going through the crates of supplies, they found a whole crate of something that looked like rolls of tape. Surely, somewhere on the ship, there is a pointy thing. They could have taped a pointy thing onto a Kino, remote controlled the Kino into the shuttle, and pressed the button for the airlock door remotely. The senator didn't have to sacrifice himself by going in and pushing the button. But, then, there would have been less drama. :)

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Boston Globe - Top 50 Science Fiction TV Show List

I was surfing the web when I found the Boston Globe list of Top 50 Science Fiction Television Shows of All Time. I’m pretty sure it’s an old list considering the omission of Heroes (a currently flawed & frustrating series that would probably earn a spot in a more current list if only for its first season). Also, I can’t help but wonder if this list’s #1 spot would be different now, following that show’s controversial final season, especially the final episode. Anyway, here’s the full list:

50. Earth: Final Conflict
49. The Wild Wild West
48. 3rd Rock From the Sun
47. Buck Rogers
46. That Was Then
45. The Greatest American Hero
44. Lois & Clark
43. Nowhere Man
42. Science Fiction Theatre
41. Futurama
40. The Thunderbirds
39. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
38. Batman (1960s)
37. Space 1999
36. The Bionic Woman
35. Battlestar Galactica (original)
34. The Avengers
33. Lost In Space
32. My Favorite Martian
31. Alien Nation
30. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
29. The Six Million Dollar Man
28. Adventures of Superman
27. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer
26. Stargate: Atlantis
25. The Jetsons
24. Wonder Woman
23. Tales From the Crypt
22. Andromeda
21. Quantum Leap
20. The Hitchhiker
19. Dark Angel
18. V
17. Firefly
16. Flash Gordon
15. Logan’s Run
14. Star Trek: Voyager
13. The Outer Limits
12. Xena: Warrior Princess
11. Lost
10. Sliders
09. Mystery Science Theater 3000
08. Dr. Who
07. The Twilight Zone
06. Stargate: SG-1
05. Babylon 5
04. X-Files
03. Star Trek: The Next Generation
02. Star Trek (The Original Series)
01. Battlestar Galactica (new)

My Random Observations:
First, I’m shocked Buffy is not in the top 10 list. On many other lists, it’s in the top 5. It’d be high on my list too if not for the disappointing final two seasons, but I’m usually in the minority in that opinion. I still think it should be a few spots higher if only for its first five seasons. I’m surprised Firefly isn’t higher as well, unless it’s short life span counted against it.

It makes no sense to me why three Star Trek series are on the list, but Deep Space Nine (my favorite) is not one of them. While I wasn’t the biggest fan myself, I can’t imagine why Farscape is missing as well.

To me, Battlestar Galactica is good (at times superb) but over-rated as a whole. It had excellent production quality and exciting action scenes. But, I was never as crazy about the characters as most people were, I feel the story arc went a little wayward, I have mixed feelings about how the series wrapped up at the end, and my biggest complaint is it’s unrelenting gloominess that sometimes made it depressing to watch.

Despite the exceptions mentioned, this is still a decent list. I like any list that doesn’t forget Alien Nation, gives the Stargate franchise some credit, and includes Babylon 5 in the top five.

Since this list might be a few years old, I’d like to think Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Moonlight, and Journeyman, could have earned spots on a more current list, despite all three shows being short-lived. The jury is still out on Dollhouse and Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Tragically missing from the list:
- Crusade
- Farscape
- Highlander: The Series
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
- The 4400

Should be higher on the list:
- Babylon 5
- Lost
- Firefly
- Quantum Leap
- Stargate: Atlantis
- Buffy: The Vampire Slayer
- Alien Nation

Should be lower on the list:
- Andromeda
- Dark Angel
- Star Trek: Voyager
- Xena: Warrior Princess
- Mystery Science Theater 3000
- X-Files
- Battlestar Galactica (new)

Note: MST3K was great, but I say it should be lower because it's more comedy than sci-fi.

Should not be on the list at all:
- Batman (1960s)

My Personal Top 12 List:
12. Crusade (short-lived sequel series to Babylon 5)
11. Quantum Leap
10. Battlestar Galactica
09. Alien Nation (1 season plus 5 TV movies)
08. The 4400
07. Firefly
06. Stargate: Atlantis
04. (tie) Star Trek: The Next Generation
04. (tie) Stargate: SG-1
03. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
02. Lost
01. Babylon 5

Honorable Mention:
- Chuck (more spy than sci-fi, but the Intersect technology is definitely a sci-fi element)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Very Weird Dream About the TV Show "Lost" (with an even stranger sitcom crossover)

It's 4:43AM, and I just woke up from the weirdest Lost dream. The details are already starting to fade, but it had something to do with Locke having written a small book with illustrations.

He's found some way of binding the book with makeshift glue, and is in a hurry to give it to someone before he turns invisible or something. I think at the last minute, while the glue is still drying, he gives it to Charlie, and at that point in the dream, I think I'm Charlie, because it's from my POV that I receive the book.

Then there's a subplot with Hurley. I've already lost half of it, but right before I woke up, it ended with Hurley seeming to have not been on the island at all. Instead he's somewhere I didn't recognize surrounded by young people. It might have been a mental institution, but wherever it was, I only saw it from one angle and it felt like a TV set, as if that subplot was taking place in a sitcom. They were having some kind of party. Right before they give Hurley presents, they turn the lights out for a second. When the lights come back on, Hurley has vanished. Then, there's someone at the door, and that's when I woke up.

The two weirdest things about the dream are: (1) The dream actually felt like it was making total sense up until the moment Hurley vanished; (2) For some reason, half the cast of The Facts of Life were at Hurley's party. I definitely remember seeing Natalie & Mrs. Garrett. Blair might have been there, and I think Jo appeared at the last second. I don't remember seeing Tootie.

My subconscious mixing together Lost and The Facts of Life??? Seriously, what the #@!! is wrong with me?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Live Blogging: 81st Annual Academy Awards [Half-Hour 8]

Best Actress must be next. They're doing the five past winners thing again. The nominees: Anne Hathaway, Kate Winslet, Melissa Leo, Meryl Streep, and Angelina Jolie. I only saw The Reader and Changeling, and I liked Jolie in Changeling better. It will almost certainly go to Winslet or Streep, but Jolie is my pick anyway. The winner: Kate Winslet. Oh, hey, she thanked Peter Jackson too. He directed one of her first films (if not *the* first film for her).

Wow, her speech went on for a while, and they didn't interrupt her with music. They haven't done that all night. They must just be letting this one go long tonight if it has to.

Best Actor is next. The presenters: Michael Douglas presenting Frank Langella. Robert DeNiro presenting Sean Penn. Adrian Brody presenting Richard Jenkins. Anthony Hopkins presenting Brad Pitt (they were together in the great movie Meet Joe Black), and Ben Kingsley presenting Mickey Rourke. My pick is Frank Langella, though Mickey Rourke is almost certain to win. Winner: Sean Penn. Wow, his wife Robin Wright Penn looks great! Dude, thank your wife. Thank your wife. There's the political commentary. Two more things? More political commentary. Mentions Mickey Rourke. Did he thank his wife??? If he did, I sure did miss it.

Best Picture, presented by Steven Spielberg. First, a Best Picture nominee montage, with a focus on this year's nominees but with clips from past winners sprinkled in. The nominees: Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire. My pick: Slumdog Millionaire. Winner: Slumdog Millionaire. Good. It truly was the most deserving out of those nominated.


Comments on the show:

The new way of presenting acting nominees with five past winners per category saying nice things about the current year's nominees was a good idea in a way, but it carried on a little long and dragged down the momentum of the show.

I don't understand why there were only three Best Song nominees instead of five, but I do like the fact that they combined shorter versions of them all together into one performance rather than doing full versions of each, sprinkled throughout the show.

I also like how they clumped similar categories together back to back using the same presenters to save time, though I think having Will Smith present four or five awards all on his own was a little excessive.

I wasn't so sure about Hugh Jackman hosting since I've never watched him host the Tony Awards, but it really didn't matter much because once the show got started, there really wasn't too much for him to do.

And, not once did they start music in the middle of a person's speech. That was respectful. Now, if winners will just learn to police themselves on how long they go on crying and catching their breath, the show might be over by 11:30.

Overall, I liked the show. You could tell they were trying new things, and many of them worked or were at least improvements. With a little tweaking (and, I'm sorry, some overall better nominees), next year's show could be excellent.

Live Blogging: 81st Annual Academy Awards [Half-Hour 7]

Liam Neeson and Freida Pinto are up to present Best Foreign Language Film. Woops. I don't think the nominees were in the same order on the screen as they were in which they read them aloud. Whatever won, it's a Japanese film.

Queen Latifah is on stage. Oh, here we go... In Memoriam (with Queen Latifah singing "I'll Be Seeing You"): Bernie Mac. Michael Crichton. Pat Hingle. Roy Scheider. Isaac Hayes. Ricardo Mantalban. Stan Winston. James Whitmore. Charlton Heston. Sydney Pollack. Paul Newman.

I wish they had filled the screen with the memoriam images. Instead we got a view of the stage which had monitors showing various pictures of those that passed away and their work. The end result is that the images of them were very small on the TV screen. A few times, a person's name got cut off at the bottom of the screen or was just too small to read well. I know they're trying some new things this year, but I'd rather they just let the memoriam fill the screen as they have in the past.

Reese Witherspoon is up to present the Best Director award. Her dress is a little weird. Anyway, my pick is Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire (although Chris Nolan for The Dark Knight would have been just as deserving had he been nominated). Winner: Danny Boyle -- who, in my defense, really does look like Rudy Giuliani, so it was an honest mistake.

Live Blogging: 81st Annual Academy Awards [Half-Hour 6]

Okay, if they still have to do Score, Song, Best Foreign Film, Best Picture, a tribute to Jerry Lewis (?), and the In Memoriam parts, they must not be trying to finish by 11:00. They haven't done the boring lawyer part yet either.

Eddie Murphy is out to present the Jean Hersholt Award (whatever that is). The recipient is Jerry Lewis. These parts are usually long & boring. Time for raspberry jelly toast.

And, now a music montage of the Best Score nominees. Zac Efron & Alicia Keys are out to present the award. My pick: Slumdog Millionaire. Winner: Slumdog Millionaire.

Now, the best Original Song. One nominee from WALL-E and two from Slumdog Millionaire. Being performed on stage. Why are there not five nominees? My pick: WALL-E. I have to admit a little bit of language bias for my pick. Although, wow, the Indian songs are pretty catchy & lively. And, they did a little bit of a blend of songs at the end. Nice. The winner: "Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire. And, now that I see the songs performed, which jogs my memory how they sounded in the movie, I think I'm okay with the Slumdog win. That was a great song, even if the lyrics were in a different language.

Live Blogging: 81st Annual Academy Awards [Half-Hour 5]

Looks like Best Supporting Actor is up next. They're bringing out five past winners again. This could take a while. Cuba Gooding, Jr. did a great job introducing Robert Downey, Jr.'s nomination. Kevin Klein is doing the introduction for Heath Ledger. And, the winner is: Heath Ledger. No surprise. His parents & sister are accepting the award on his behalf. Very nice.

The next award must be for Best Feature Documentary. Interesting how they're introducing them by showing clips of some of the filmmakers talking about their films. Bill Maher (urgh) is there to take a pot-shot at religion and maybe just present a freakin' award in the process. The winner: Man on Wire. Now, the Best Documentary Short Film. Winner: Smile Pinki.

And, now the 2008 action movie montage. Kind of weird that they take the effort to recognize action movies, but they never consider nominating one.

Will Smith is up to present the award for Best Visual Effects. There should be more than two nominees for this. My pick is Iron Man. The Dark Knight would be okay. *But,* *of course,* it goes to Benjamin Button.

Will Smith stays for Best Sound Editing. The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Slumdog Millionaire, WALL-E, and Wanted. Great nominees. My pick: WALL-E. Winner: The Dark Knight. Wow! I wasn't expecting that. It probably would have been my 2nd choice, though Iron Man would have been an extremely close 3rd.

Will Smith still up for Best Sound Mixing. Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, WALL-E, and Wanted. My pick: WALL-E. Winner: Slumdog Millionaire. Wow! Another surprise.

Oh, that's not Rudy Giuliani in the audience. That must be Danny Boyle, director of Slumdog Millionaire. Woops.

Will Smith *still* up for Best Film Editing. I do like how they're grouping the awards together this year. The nominees: Frost/Nixon, The Dark Knight, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, and Benjamin Button. My pick: Slumdog Millionaire. The winner: Slumdog Millionaire.

Live Blogging: 81st Annual Academy Awards [Half-Hour 4]

Natalie Portman & Ben Stiller are out to present Best Cinematographer. Ben Stiller looks like Joaquin Phoenix did on David Letterman with the wild hair, shaggy beard, and sunglasses. It's the funniest thing Stiller has ever done (which isn't saying much). Natalie Portman looks hotter than Angelina Jolie too, though I'd prefer to see her hair down. My pick is Slumdog Millionaire with The Dark Knight an *extremely* close 2nd choice. The winner: Slumdog Millionaire. Woohoo.

Now, the guys from Pineapple Express are watching clips from 2008 comedies. So, were there only 1.5 comedies last year. Most of their clips are from dramas.

Those guys are up to present Best Short Film. No clue here. The winner is...something from Germany.

Hugh Jackman is singing & dancing in a tux & top hat. Very un-Wolverine-like. I think that's Beyonce who's joining him now. They're doing a Oscar song montage.

Ooh, a commercial for a Sandra Bullock movie with Ryan Reynolds and Betty White. I am there. It's called The Proposal. I have to wait until June for it. Bummer.

Live Blogging: 81st Annual Academy Awards [Half-Hour 3]

Jennifer Anniston and Jack Black are up to present Best Animated Feature: Bolt, Kung-Fu, and WALL-E. My pick: WALL-E (duh). The winner: WALL-E!

Anniston & Black stay up there for Best Animated Short Film. A couple of them look foreign. I think Presto will win, and I base my prediction on absolutely nothing. Hmm. The French one won. Well, the title sounded French, but the award acceptor is Japanese and speaks barely any English. Interesting.

Daniel Craig and Sarah Jessica Parker are up to present Best Art Direction. I totally forgot to make my pick for this earlier. The winner: Benjamin Button. Let me look again at the nominees. Nope, out of the three I saw, I would have picked The Dark Knight or Changeling instead.

Craig & Parker remain to present Best Costume Design. Benjamin Button is the only one I saw. The winner: The Duchess. Don't know; didn't see it.

And, they're still up there for Best Makeup. My pick is Hellboy II. Benjamin Button will probably get it though. And, it does.

Two people I don't know are to present...a 2008 love montage. Oh, that reminds me, I still wanted to see Last Chance Harvey.

Live Blogging: 81st Annual Academy Awards [Half-Hour 2]

And, the Oscars have begun. Less fanfare than usual. No prelude, clip montage, etc. Just Hugh Jackman.

It's going to be hard to get used to hearing Jackman's Australian accent. I'm so used to hearing him as Wolverine. He's singing now. He's bringing back the nominee music montage that only Billy Crystal used to do. He brought Anne Hathaway on stage to help with the Frost/Nixon segment. Oh, she can sing too.

I like how the The Reader portion of the music montage had nothing to do with The Reader. The lyrics implied that Hugh never got around to seeing The Reader. That's okay; he didn't miss much. Now, Hugh's sitting on Frank Langella's lap.

Hugh's pointing out several nominees in the front row. Where is Jack Nicholson? He's not nominated for anything, but doesn't he usually get an honorary front row seat anyway?

Woops. They had a little trouble with the curtains when revealing the screen to show the previous Best Actress montage. You could actually hear someone say, "Open them!"

Five actresses are up to present the Best Supporting Actresses. My pick is Taraji P. Henson out of the two movies I saw, but she may be the least likely of the five to win. Wow, this is a long presentation. They're talking about the roles of the nominees rather than showing clips. If they do this with every award, this will be a long night. The winner: Penelope Cruz. Wow, they're letting her go on forever with her acceptance. This show may last until Tuesday.

Steve Martin and Tina Fey are up to present one of the screenplay categories. Tina Fey looks better than Angelina Jolie too. This is the Original Screenplay category. The only one I've seen here is WALL-E, so it's automatically my pick. I wish J. Michael Straczynski had been nominated for Changeling. And, the winner is: Milk.

Now, the Adapted Screenplay category. Benjamin Button, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire. My pick is Slumdog, with Frost/Nixon a very close 2nd choice. The winner: Slumdog Millionaire. Woohoo.

Was that Rudy Giuliani in the crowd?

Live Blogging: 81st Annual Academy Awards [Half-Hour 1]

Red carpet time...

Kate Winslet looks great. Josh Brolin, yeah who cares, he's with Diane Lane. Diane Lane always looks great. I can't tell if she's got short hair or just wearing it up. I like her better with longer hair (I like just about any woman with longer hair). But, she looks good anyway. Amy Adams look good too.

Taraji P. Henson looks good too. There's Pitt & Jolie -- super briefly. I'm sure everyone will be saying how hot Jolie is. I actually think Diane Lane and Amy Adams are hotter.

There's the cast of Slumdog Millionaire, including the kids that played the younger versions of the main characters. Freida Pinto -- another woman hotter than Angelina Jolie.

Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens -- Who are they? Am I that old already? Am I that out of touch? Okay, yes. I am, and I know it.

Holy crap, Robert Downey, Jr.'s wife is the hottest yet. Dude, keep staying off the drugs. Screwing up that marriage would be a crime. :)

Miley Cyrus looks like she's wearing a silver Christmas tree from Wal-Mart. Anne Hathaway looks good. Her dress makes her look like a metallic mermaid.

And, here are the lawyers from Price Watershouse Coopers dressed in boredom. Penelope Cruz looks good from the waist up, but from the waist down she looks like she's wearing the curtains from old haunted house. Richard Jenkins -- I don't know who he is.

There's Marisa Tomei. She looks really great, but it's surprising how un-revealing her dress is. Maybe that's intentional since she shows nearly everything in The Wrestler. Also, it's probably cold out there. Practical choice Marisa.

Now they're talking about the stage and the music. And, that's pretty much it for the red carpet.

2009 Oscar Picks

The Oscars are tonight. Real quick, before they air, my wishes and predictions are below.

Best Picture

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Frost/Nixon
  • Milk
  • The Reader
  • Slumdog Millionaire

1st Choice: Slumdog Millionaire
2nd Choice: Frost/Nixon
3rd Choice: Benjamin Button
4th Choice: The Reader
(Didn’t see Milk.)
All four that I saw were good, but only Slumdog Millionaire left me a complete sense of satisfaction. Benjamin Button, while containing a lot of nice technical achievements, was a little over-rated story-wise. And, neither Frost/Nixon nor The Reader were quite as engaging and enthralling as I think they were meant to be. After seeing four of these movies now, I will join many others who claim that, despite being a summer popcorn movie based on a comic book, The Dark Knight *really* does deserve to be in this list. It is no less special, epic, emotional, engaging, or well made than the ones actually nominated. I didn’t get around to seeing WALL-E a 2nd time to see if I thought it deserved to be in this list, but I do remember enjoying it more than I enjoyed The Reader.

Best Director

  • David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
  • Stephen Daldry - The Reader
  • Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
  • Gus Van Sant - Milk

Similar opinion as above. Same order of preference. There’s no reason Christopher Nolan shouldn’t be in this list.

Best Actor

  • Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
  • Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
  • Sean Penn - Milk
  • Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

From all the hype, it sounds like Mickey Rourke is a lock, but I saw The Wrestler yesterday, and I just wasn’t as impressed as the rest of the world. I like Brad Pitt (not for the reasons ladies like him); I think he’s capable, watchable, and likable. But, I wasn’t blown away by his performance. Having not seen Milk or The Visitor, Langella gets my vote by default.

Best Actress

  • Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
  • Angelina Jolie - Changeling
  • Melissa Leo - Frozen River
  • Meryl Streep - Doubt
  • Kate Winselt - The Reader

The only two I saw here were The Reader and Changeling. I’m doubting Angelina Jolie is not much of a contender for this, especially with Winslet & Streep in the mix, but I actually liked her performance. From what I’ve heard, Hathaway has a good shot, but that movie, or at least her character in that movie, didn’t look very watchable to me from the trailers & clips I saw of it.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Josh Brolin - Milk
  • Robert Downey, Jr. - Tropic Thunder
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
  • Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
  • Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road

A default vote, since The Dark Knight was the only movie here I saw. But, Ledger is a lock. I have a hard time imagining anyone else winning, regardless of the reasons people voted the way they did. And, he definitely deserves to be nominated to say the least.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Amy Adams - Doubt
  • Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • Viola Davis - Doubt
  • Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Maria Tomei - The Wrestler

I only saw Button & Wrestler. It sounds like Tomei may be a favorite for this, and she was good in her small role. However, I can’t help but wonder, was her emoting and delivery of lines enough to get her the nomination, or does the Academy give extra credit whenever an actress spins on a pole, wears a fishnet body stocking, bends over to the camera wearing a thong, and lets the makeup department litter her body with fake tattoos and nipple piercings. I’ll go with Taraji P. Henson, even though I think she’s a long shot.

Best Original Screenplay

  • WALL-E
  • Happy-Go-Lucky
  • Frozen River
  • In Bruges
  • Milk

Another default vote. WALL-E was the only one I saw. I’ve read good things about In Bruges and Happy-Go-Lucky. I’m intrigued enough that I might check them out on video someday.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Frost/Nixon
  • The Reader
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • Doubt

My choices here have the exact same order of preference as my Best Picture and Best Director picks.

Best Animated Feature

  • Bolt
  • Kung-Fu Panda
  • WALL-E

Didn’t see Kung-Fu Panda though I’ve heard it’s good. Bolt was good, but not *quite* as good as I was hoping. In fact, my broadest complaint with it is that it felt a little short on overall quality compared to a Pixar movie. So, no brainer, it’s WALL-E.

Best Cinematography

  • Changeling
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • The Dark Knight
  • The Reader
  • Slumdog Millionaire

1st Choice: Slumdog Millionaire
2nd Choice: The Dark Knight (very, very, very close 2nd; virtually a tie)
3rd Choice: Changeling
4th Choice: Ben. Button
5th Choice: The Reader
Ooh, tough, tough, category. Slumdog felt unique in it’s overall look. It was at time lively and kinetic but without using an excess of shaky-cam, which is about the only thing that keeps The Dark Knight from being my #1 pick. I liked the visual look & feel of Changeling. The camerawork in Benjamin Button was good, but I can’t remember any particular impressive scenes. And, I’m not entirely sure why The Reader is in the list.

Best Costume Design

  • Australia
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • The Duchess
  • Milk
  • Revolutionary Road

A default vote. Button is the only one I saw.

Best Film Editing

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • The Dark Knight
  • Frost/Nixon
  • Milk
  • Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog did such a good job cutting between the different time periods & settings. It was a little confusing in the beginning, but I like how things come together in the end. I think the editing had to be done carefully to balance all the elements.

Best Makeup

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • The Dark Knight
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Excellent category. Benjamin Button had people looking different ages, and Dark Knight had the deformities of the Joker & Two-Face (although much of Two-Face’s look was done digitally). But, the makeup work done in Hellboy II was original, diverse, extensive, creative, and impressive.

Best Original Score

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Defiance
  • Milk
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • WALL-E

I don’t notice music too much in movies, but I think Slumdog may have stood out here.

Best Original Song

  • “Down to Earth” from WALL-E
  • “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire
  • “O Saya” from Slumdog Millionaire

Sort of a default vote for WALL-E. Although I saw Slumdog, I wouldn’t have understood the words in the songs. Why are there only three nominees instead of five? Did enough people complain about the live performances of the Best Song nominees that they shrank the list?

Best Sound Editing

  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • WALL-E
  • Wanted

I’m no expert on sound, but since there’s no dialogue in the first half of WALL-E, the strength of the movie relies on two main things: images and sounds effects. I think WALL-E is a lock for one, if not both, of the sound awards.

Best Sound Mixing

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • The Dark Knight
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • WALL-E
  • Wanted

Same opinion as for Best Sound Editing.

Best Visual Effects

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man

Another really great category. With all the armor, computer screens, and in-helmet displays done by computer graphics, I’d be shocked if Iron Man didn’t win. But, there again, I almost forgot about the digital effects used to make Harvey Dent look like Two-Face in The Dark Knight. While equally excellent in quality, I think Iron Man is still more deserving when you factor in quantity of effects.

I neglected to include Best Art Direction. Out of the three I saw, I would have preferred The Dark Knight or Changeling to win, but Benjamin Button got it instead.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My Ratings for Oscar-Nominated Movies

My list of movies I’ve seen that are getting two or more Oscar nominations each, along with my letter grade and the list of nominations for each:

(A) Iron Man - 2 Nominations

  • Best Sound Editing
  • Best Visual Effects

(A) WALL-E - 6 Nominations

  • Best Animated Feature
  • Best Original Screenplay - Andrew Stantion, Jim Reardon, and Pete Docter
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Original Song - “Down to Earth”
  • Best Sound Editing
  • Best Sound Mixing

(A) The Dark Knight - 8 Nominations

  • Best Supporting Actor - Heath Ledger
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Makeup
  • Best Sound Editing
  • Best Sound Mixing
  • Best Visual Effects

(B+) Changeling - 3 Nominations

  • Best Lead Actress - Angelina Jolie
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Cinematography

(A-) Slumdog Millionaire - 10 Nominations

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director - Danny Boyle
  • Best Adapted Screenplay - Simon Beaufoy
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Original Song - “Jai Ho”
  • Best Original Song - “O Saya”
  • Best Sound Editing
  • Best Sound Mixing

(B+) Frost/Nixon - 5 Nominations

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director - Ron Howard
  • Best Lead Actor - Frank Langella
  • Best Adapted Screenplay - Peter Morgan
  • Best Film Editing

(B) The Reader - 5 Nominations

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director - Stephen Daltry
  • Best Actress - Kate Winslet
  • Best Adapted Screenplay - David Hare
  • Best Cinematography

(B-) The Wrestler - 2 Nominations

  • Best Lead Actor - Mickey Rourke
  • Best Supporting Actress - Marisa Tomei

(B+) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - 13 Nominations

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director - David Fincher
  • Best Actor - Brad Pitt
  • Best Supporting Actress - Taraji P. Henson
  • Best Adapted Screenplay - Eric Roth & Robin Swicord
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Makeup
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Sound Mixing
  • Best Visual Effects

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

America's Emptiest Cities According to

An article at lists America's 15 Emptiest Cities based on rental vacancies and housing vacancies. The way they list the names of multiple cities per list item, I think they're actually listing metro areas rather than cities proper.

Unfortunately, two of North Carolina's metro areas are in the list, including the Greensboro/High Point area. At first look I thought Winston-Salem was included in that, especially since Winston-Salem has been cranking out the house construction in recent years despite not bursting at the seams with new jobs. But Winston-Salem and Greensboro are considered different metro areas now, so maybe Greensboro is worse off than Winston-Salem. On the other hand, I think they made the list out of the nation's 75 largest metros, and the Winston-Salem metro may be a little lower on the list than #75. My guess is, what's bad news for Greensboro is bad news for Winston too.

Here's the Forbes list of America's Emptiest Cities (Metro Areas):

15. (tie) Charlotte/Gastonia/Concord, NC
15. (tie) Cincinnati, Ohio / Middletown, KY
14. Bakersfield, CA
13. Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, FL
12. Chicago/Naperville/Joliet, IL
11. Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/Miami Beach, FL
09. (tie) Indianapolis, IN
09. (tie) Jacksonville, FL
08. Kansas City, MO / Kansas City, KS
07. Orlando, FL
06. Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale, AZ
05. Dayton, OH
04. Greensboro/High Point, NC
03. Atlanta/Sandy Springs/Marietta, GA
02. Detroit/Warren/Livonia, MI
01. Las Vegas/Paradise, NV

Monday, February 16, 2009

New Presidential Rankings By C-SPAN (updated to include George W. Bush)

In time for President's Day, C-SPAN is releasing their new list of presidential rankings.

Here are parts of their overall list, with their 2009 rankings in the 1st column, 1999 rankings in the 2nd column, and some of my commentary in italics):

Top 10
01 - 01 - Abraham Lincoln
02 - 03 - George Washington
03 - 02 - Franklin D. Roosevelt
04 - 04 - Theodore Roosevelt
05 - 05 - Harry S. Truman
06 - 08 - John F. Kennedy
07 - 07 - Thomas Jefferson
08 - 09 - Dwight D. Eisenhower
09 - 06 - Woodrow Wilson
10 - 11 - Ronald Reagan (Ronny breached the top 10, baby; woohoo!)

Excerpts from the Middle of the List
12 - 12 - James Polk (Born in North Carolina)
15 - 21 - Bill Clinton (Holy crap, how did he jump up six spots?)
18 - 20 - George H. W. Bush
21 - 17 - Grover Cleveland (Wow, how'd he drop 4 spots? I thought he was a good one.)
23 - 33 - Ulysses S. Grant (Up 10 spots?!? Is he coming back from the grave and bribing historians?)
25 - 22 - Jimmy Carter

Bottom 10
33 - 26 - Rutherford B. Hayes
34 - 34 - Herbert Hoover
35 - 36 - John Tyler
36 - n/a - George W. Bush (Any surprise?)
37 - 35 - Millard Fillmore
38 - 38 - Warren G. Harding
39 - 37 - William Henry Harrison
40 - 39 - Franklin D. Pierce
41 - 40 - Andrew Johnson (President right after Lincoln)
42 - 41 - James Buchanan (President right before Lincoln)

C-SPAN also breaks down the list of Presidents by several categories. Here's how some of the presidents did in those categories:

Public Persuasion
01. Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR)
02. Lincoln
03. Reagan
04. Teddy Roosevelt (TR)
05. Washington
10. Clinton
30. GHW Bush
36. GW Bush

Crisis Leadership
01. Lincoln
02. FDR
03. Washington
04. Truman
05. TR
11. GHW Bush
12. Reagan
15. Clinton
25. GW Bush

Economic Management
01. Washington
02. Lincoln
03. Clinton
04. TR
05. FDR
17. Reagan
23. GHW Bush
40. GW Bush

Moral Authority
01. Wash
02. Linc
03. FDR
04. TR
05. Eisenhower
08. Reagan
19. GHW Bush
35. GW Bush
37. Clinton

International Relations
01. Wash
02. FDR
03. Linc
04. Truman
05. TR
08. Reagan
09. GHW Bush
16. Clinton
41. GW Bush

Administrative Skills
01. Wash
02. Linc
03. FDR
04. TR
05. Eisenhower
16. GHW Bush
20. Clinton
30. Reagan
37. GW Bush

Relations With Congress
01. FDR
02. Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ)
03. Linc
04. Wash
05. Jefferson
08. Reagan
19. Clinton
20. GHW Bush
36. GW Bush

Vision/Setting An Agenda
01. Linc
02. FDR
03. Wash
04. Wilson
05. TR
07. Reagan
15. Clinton
25. GW Bush
34. GHW Bush

Pursued Equal Justice For All
01. Linc
02. LBJ
03. Truman
04. Clinton
05. Carter
14. GHW Bush
16. Reagan
24. GW Bush

Performance Within Context of Times
01. Linc
02. Wash
03. FDR
04. TR
05. Truman
07. Reagan
16. Clinton
19. GHW Bush
36. GW Bush

Friday, February 13, 2009

Partial Best Picture Commentary

For some reason, it's been hard for me to keep in the habit of blogging for the last few months, including doing full-fledged movie reviews, but I still have a tendency to leave comments on other people's blogs.

Quoted below is the comment I made to an entry about the Best Picture nominated film Frost/Nixon over at The writer of the original post said they were having trouble "getting" Frost/Nixon. My comment strays a bit into my overall opinion of this year's Best Picture nominees.

I know what you mean. I have similar feeling about all four of the five Best Picture nominees I’ve seen. They’re good, but not quite *that* good. Slumdog Millionaire comes the closest to having a complete, epic, well rounded story with a satisfying emotional payoff at the end (even if the plot depends too much on a convenient series of coincidences).

I feel that the strength of Frost/Nixon was in the performances which play very well, sometimes in very intense close-up monologues. I also noticed the similarities between Frost/Nixon and sports movies. But, that’s one of the elements I actually liked. It was interesting to see Frost & Nixon spar for a while, then go back to their respective corners to re-group and then break between rounds. It felt like a boxing match. I don’t like sports, particularly boxing, but it was interesting to me to see the typical sports formula applied to a long interview where words were flying rather than fists. I liked that twist.

The biggest problem with this movie and other Oscar nominees from this year and other years is what I call the “so what” factor. Sometimes, I watch a movie and no matter how well made it was or how much I respect the performances, I still feel like, “Eh, so what.”

Did I learn anything, did I get excited, did I laugh a lot, did I almost tear up a little, am I more relaxed or in a better mood for having seen the movie? If the answer to all those questions is “no,” then the movie didn’t quite hit every mark. I sort of learned some things about both Frost & Nixon through the movie, but with biopics, it’s always hard to tell what’s true and what’s creative license.

As good as Kate Winslet’s performance was, I feel that The Reader definitely missed on all those marks. While I may sound like the typical geek (which I am), I’m more convinced now that The Dark Knight should have at least been nominated. For a comic book movie, it had all the high production values and top caliber performances you’d expect from an Oscar-worthy movie, but it was also written well and covered a lot of moral and philosophical issues without being depressing or draining. I might need to see Wall-E again to determine if I’d feel the same way about it (as good as it was, I think my expectations for it were *even higher* which clouded my opinion of it).

Frost/Nixon would be my 3rd choice for Best Picture after Slumdog Millionaire (1st) and Benjamin Button (2nd choice; also less emotional gravitas than it’s given credit for).