Netflix Picks: March 2017

Who Framed Roger Rabbit – 3/24
One of the most inventive films of the 1980s and a treasured classic from my youth that still holds up.

Five Came Back – 3/31
Mark Harris’ best seller gets the documentary treatment in this multi-part series that looks at how some of Hollywood’s biggest directors churned out propaganda for the U.S. and turned the tide in WWII.

Amy Schumer: The Leather Special – 3/7
Buddy Thunderstruck (Season 1) – 3/10
Burning Sands – 3/10
Love (Season 2) – 3/10
One More Time (Season 1) – 3/10
Jim Norton: Mouthful of Shame – 3/14
Beau Sejour (Season 1) – 3/16
Deidra & Laney Rob a Train – 3/17
Julie’s Greenroom (Season 1) – 3/17
Iron Fist (Season 1) – 3/17
Pandora – 3/17
Samurai Gourmet (Season 1) – 3/17
Bottersnikes & Gumbles (Season 2) – 3/24
Felipe Neto: My Life Makes No Sense – 3/24
Grace and Frankie (Season 3) – 3/24
Ingobernable (Season 1) – 3/24
The Most Hated Woman in America – 3/24
Jo Koy: Live from Seattle – 3/28
13 Reasons Why (Season 1) – 3/31
Bordertown (Season 1) – 3/31
Dinotrux (Season 4) – 3/31
The Discovery – 3/31
Trailer Park Boys (Season 11) – 3/31

Angry Birds (Season 2) – 3/1
Dirt Every Day (Season 1) – 3/1
Epic Drives (Season 2) – 3/1
Head 2 Head (Season 2) – 3/1
Hot Rod Unlimited (Season 1) – 3/1
Ignition (Season 1) – 3/1
Kate and Mim-Mim (Season 2) – 3/1
Roadkill (Season 2) – 3/1
Greenleaf (Season 1) – 3/3
Señora Acero (Season 3) – 3/5
The Vampire Diaries (Season 8) – 3/18
El Reemplazante (Seasons 1 & 2) – 3/20
How to Get Away with Murder (Season 3) – 3/23
Better Call Saul (Season 2) – 3/27
Archer (Season 7) – 3/28
Life in Pieces (Season 1) – 3/30
The Carmichael Show (Seasons 1 & 2) – 3/31
Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life (Season 1) – 3/31

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Oscar Re-Do: 2006

Here we go again. The winners are in bold, but my picks are below that.

The cast of Little Miss Sunshine
The Departed
Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

Should have won: Little Miss Sunshine
Not even nominated: Children of Men

In 2007, it was hard to fathom that Martin Scorsese had never won Best Picture or Best Director, despite an already illustrious career. The Academy finally rectified that by rewarding the biggest box office hit of his career, a stylish update of the Hong Kong crime epic Infernal Affairs. It was a formative movie experience for me, seeing it in the theater with my dad. 2006 was really the first year I truly started paying attention to quality films, paying attention to directors and writers and reading reviews from critics I respected. And surely, The Departed is one of Scorsese’s most accessible and rewatchable movies. But finally seeing Infernal Affairs ruined it a bit for me. Where that film is lean and intense throughout, The Departed is kind of bloated, adding in an affair subplot that honestly doesn’t add much of anything to the story. Otherwise, it’s nearly a scene-for-scene re-do. In fact, it’s only improvement is a deep sense of place. It just feels like a Boston movie through-and-through, weaving in the city’s complicated history and deep-rooted Catholicism into the narrative. It’s a fine film, but not the best of the year. (And besides, in my revisionist history, Scorsese just won two years prior for The Aviator. Also, the craziest thing about Infernal Affairs that The Departed didn’t copy but would have been hilarious to see: an original tune sung over the end credits by the two leads. Can you imagine Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio singing about living a double life?)

Little Miss Sunshine, on the other hand, knocked my socks off the first time I saw it, and continues to stick with me in the decade after. Music video directing duo Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris capture every uncomfortable moment of a family on the verge of falling apart. And writer Michael Arndt’s incredible script gets the tone right in each scene. And the incredible ensemble cast play their parts perfectly, including career-best work from Abigail Breslin, Paul Dano and Steve Carell. This is a moving family dramedy, the likes of which the Academy never seems to properly honor. In the last five years, three of the Best Picture winners have been about acting, performing and making art. That might be relatable to the members of the Academy, but few movies are as relatable to the rest of us (or maybe just me) than Little Miss Sunshine.

Yet of all the movies of 2006, the one that feels the most startlingly relevant is Children of Men. With its unrelenting tension, sudden horror and its desperate search for humanity, it almost predicts our current climate. More on this when we get to the Adapted Screenplay section.

Paul Greengrass on the set of United 93
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, Babel
Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears, The Queen
Paul Greengrass, United 93

Should have won: Paul Greengrass
Not even nominated: Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth

As I mentioned above, this project rectified Scorsese’s loss two years prior. Thus I feel like spreading the wealth. (Besides, The Aviator was more of a directorial achievement than The Departed.) Instead, I’d have rather seen Paul Greengrass honored for his harrowing depiction of the souls that took down that flight over Pennsylvania, sparing a shocked nation further horror. The British director never sensationalizes the events of that day, merely showing the quick thinking of the passengers who saw a moment to act and did so. It’s a far better story about human connection than Iñárritu’s insufferable Babel. Besides, of the three Mexican writer-directors to finally get some recognition that year, Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro made far superior films that I guarantee you more people have watched, thought about and written on than that international disaster.

Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland
Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
Peter O’Toole, Venus
Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness
Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat

It will go down as one of the Academy’s great shames that Peter O’Toole never won a competitive Oscar. Winning one for a trifle like Venus wouldn’t have made that a whole lot better. So I have no complaints with Forest Whitaker winning for his blistering performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. But I do have one quibble: This is a supporting performance. James McAvoy is the lead of this film, despite Whitaker playing the title character. This type of incorrect category placement typically happens the other way around, with lead performances shifted to supporting categories for a better shot at winning. But really, this is just a long way of saying that boldest, most impressive performance wasn’t even nominated. There’s really no way to properly explain how seismic Borat felt in 2006. Seeing it opening weekend in theaters, with a packed crowd that mostly had no idea what to expect. It was jaw-dropping. Though he won the Golden Globe and gave one of the greatest acceptance speeches of all time, he was slighted by the Academy, partly because of their anti-comedy bias and partly because what were a bunch of old white fuddy-duddies supposed to do with a movie where a guy wears a lime-green thong and tries to make a pass at Ron Paul?

Helen Mirren and James Cromwell in The Queen
Penélope Cruz, Volver
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren, The Queen
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet, Little Children

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Laura Dern, Inland Empire

What a brutal category. In any other year, any of these ladies could have won. Cruz gave the best performance of her career as a stressed mother getting help from her deceased mom (Carmen Maura). Dench, on her sixth nomination, had a meaty part as a jealous teacher. Winslet was the best part of a significantly flawed adaptation. And Streep, of course, is icy perfection as Miranda Priestly, the thinly veiled stand-in for Vogue editor Anna Winter. But they never stood a chance against Helen Mirren, who brought us into the private side of a very public figure, torn between her animosity toward Diana and the polite face she has to put on in the wake of her death. To me, it’s an all-time great performance, even if I don’t all-out love the film itself. The same would go for Laura Dern, who’s just astonishing in David Lynch’s Inland Empire, which even for a David Lynch film doesn’t make a lick of sense.

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What I Watched This Week: 19 Feb 2017

Crashing – “Artie Lange” (A-) / series premiere
Like Louie, but with less existential dread. Yes, that still works. Pete Holmes has long been one of my favorite comedians, and here is material that suits his personality and his humor. Excited to see how varied this can be week to week.

This Is Us – “Memphis” (A-)
Dammit. I knew that character was going to die and it still hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m withholding the A because it tries to cover way too much ground for one episode. But of course, its big final scene was incredibly effective, judging by my wet, stinging eyes.

The Mindy Project – “Bat Mitzvah” (B)
Always good to see Mandy & Peter back at it, but the show really struggles with stakes now that Danny’s gone. Also, crashing a bat mitzvah should have been crazier than this.

Legion – “Chapter 3” (A)
I continue to be astonished by this show, and not just because of its impressive production design and special effects. It’s the show’s fluidity. It can be whatever it needs to be, depending on the episode. This week, it’s an unsettling horror film that delivers. There’s a lot of TV happening in the next few months, but so far I don’t see anything that will top Legion.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “The Gang Tends Bar” (B-)
A bottle episode that should have been a lot better than it is, mainly because Megan Ganz (Community) wrote this episode. There’s still plenty of great gags about the Dark Web, but this feels like a missed opportunity.

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Oscar Guide 2017

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

Will win: La La Land
Could win: Hidden Figures
Should win: Moonlight
Should have been here: Silence

The skinny: It’s going to be a long, suspense-free night on Sunday. La La Land is going to sweep in every category it’s nominated, except Best Actor. There’s the remote possibility a few technical awards might not go its way (and maybe not even original screenplay), but expect to hear the orchestra play Justin Hurwitz’s score almost the entire night. If there’s a shocking upset, it would go to the crowd-pleasing historical drama Hidden Figures, by far the biggest of this year’s nominees. But that would be a true anomaly, since it won’t win any other Oscars.

Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone of La La Land
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Will win: Damien Chazelle
Should and could win: Barry Jenkins
Should have been here: Martin Scorsese, Silence

The skinny: Chazelle’s got this in the bag. At 32, he would be the youngest Best Director winner ever. His only competition is Barry Jenkins, but if Moonlight doesn’t win Best Picture (which it won’t), I don’t see how he can win this. And while I’m a big advocate of not just nominating the same people over and over, it’s a real shame Scorsese’s most challenging film this century only had to settle for a cinematography nomination.

Denzel Washington in Fences
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

Will win: Denzel Washington
Could and should win: Casey Affleck
Should have been here: Colin Farrell, The Lobster

The skinny: Side-stepping any discussions of morality in honoring Casey Affleck (besides, this is the same Academy that gave Roman Polanski an Oscar, so morality doesn’t really factor into their decisions), I think they want to give Denzel his third Oscar. It’s been 15 years since he won for Training Day and he should have won for Flight. Fences was something of a passion project for him and his role is the kind of meaty part that wins this award. That’s in contrast to Affleck’s performance (which I think is the year’s best, though I haven’t seen Fences yet), which is all internal pain and mumbling. Those performances never win, or else Joaquin Phoenix would have a couple awards by now and Colin Farrell would be nominated this year.

Emma Stone in La La Land
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Will win: Emma Stone
Could win: Isabelle Huppert
Should win: Natalie Portman
Should have been here: Amy Adams, Arrival

The skinny: With at least three actresses that deserved a spot here – including Amy Adams, Annette Bening and Rebecca Hall, which was never going to happen – it’s hard to pick the most deserving, because they’re all doing wildly different things. I think Emma Stone’s going to win, and I adore her, and this is probably the best performance she’s given to date. But when I think about the performances I’m going to remember years from now, it’s Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy. Her voice is perfect, but more impressively, she’s taking us really deep into a woman we think we know, but didn’t really. In my mind, it’s up there with Helen Mirren in The Queen. But she just won a few years ago for Black Swan, so if it’s not Stone, and since Amy Adams was bafflingly excluded, it could be Isabelle Huppert, who’s given a lifetime of bold performances, but is somehow on her first Oscar nomination. But critics don’t vote on this, so that would take a miracle.

Jaden Piner and Mahershala Ali in Moonlight
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Will and should win: Mahershala Ali
Could win: Jeff Bridges
Should have been here: John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane

The skinny: This seems like the closest thing Moonlight has to a lock. If anyone else has a shot, it’s Bridges, but he just won for Crazy Heart a few years ago, and it’s not like he needs another feather in his cap at this point. Plus, Hell or High Water still feels to me like a movie that’s punching above its weight class. It’s a fine cops-and-robbers thriller, but it’s not the profound statement on Red State America it thinks it is. This should go to the man who’s been turning in great performances for years and is ready to enter the next phase of his career.

Viola Davis in Fences
Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Will win: Viola Davis
Could and should win: Michelle Williams
Should have been here: Lily Gladstone, Certain Women

The skinny: Ever since it was announced Davis would campaign as a supporting actress, this award has been hers to lose. Of course, I’ve said that before. She should already have two trophies for Doubt and The Help, but was thwarted by the two best parts of otherwise bad movies (Vicki Cristina Barcelona and The Iron Lady). I don’t think that will happen this time. It’s a big part with at least one big monologue, and her award-winning work on How to Get Away with Murder (honored by her peers in the Television Academy and the Screen Actors Guild) certainly factors into this as well. But that unfortunately means Michelle Williams will have to wait yet again for her much-deserved Oscar.

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My Dream Oscar Ballot 2017

Of the nine Best Picture nominees this year, the only one I didn’t get around to was Fences, which I’m sure I’ll catch once it hits home video. This year, I’m including my picks for Documentary Feature, but I’ll abstain from Animated Feature, Foreign Language Film and all shorts once again.

20th Century Women
Captain America: Civil War
Everybody Wants Some
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Sing Street

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Pablo Larraín, Jackie
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Martin Scorsese, Silence

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Adam Driver, Paterson
Colin Farrell, The Lobster
Andrew Garfield, Silence
Tom Hanks, Sully

Amy Adams, Arrival
Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Rebecca Hall, Christine
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Issey Ogata, Silence

Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women
Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Janelle Monáe, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

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What I Watched This Week: 12 Feb 2017

Last Week Tonight – “Feb. 12, 2017” (A) / season premiere
However long this administration lasts, it’s going to feel like agony. So thankfully John Oliver refuses to settle for cheap shots, but goes in long on Trump’s committal to reading, regurgitating and reciting fake news. It’s dangerous, but Oliver defangs him a bit. This is going to be essential viewing for the resistance.

The Mindy Project – “Hot Mess Time Machine” (B+)
A nice return messes with the formula a bit, in a Groundhog Day homage that allows Mindy to be a good girlfriend for once. Maybe she’s turned a corner, but it’s pretty hard for a show (or a character) to change this late in the game.

This Is Us – “Jack Pearson’s Son” (A)
The show at its honest, gut-wrenching best. No bullshit, no narrative dead weight, just a beautiful collision of all its most emotionally compelling storylines.

Legion – “Chapter 2” (A)
If the pilot was a singular experience, this gives us a better glimpse into what the series proper will be like. And, as I said many times while watching the first two episodes, “Holy shit!” The editing, storytelling, acting and production design are on such a higher plane. This show has no equal on the air right now.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “PTSDee” (B-)
A sloppy episode that takes three underdeveloped storylines and jams them all together. Even so, that gives us Dennis (in his duster and jeans) and Charlie (in suspenders and a propeller beanie) stripping to “Cat’s in the Cradle,” which is the kind of sick joke only this show could pull off.

Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special (B-)
Pretty damn funny, but also wildly inconsistent. I won’t revisit it like I do with Stephen Colbert’s Christmas special.

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What I Watched This Week: 5 Feb 2017

This Is Us – “I Call Marriage” (B)
The “Kate being tempted by the douchey stableboy” storyline drives me up a wall, and it’s dragging down the rest of the show with it. But I am invested in the rest, with Kevin finally showing (hopefully) real remorse over what he’s done as he tries to rebuild his relationship with Sophie. And I’m intrigued by Randall’s coming reckoning: that he doesn’t need to consistently prove himself to be loved.

Legion – “Chapter 1” (A) / series premiere
The best pilot in years. Noah Hawley has crafted something truly unique, and it soars far above its source material. This is a psychological thriller with some comic book accessories, not the other way around. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Hero or Hate Crime?” (B+)
A classic Sunny conundrum: Frank yells, “Look out, faggot!” as a piano is about to fall on top of Mac, saving his life. Thus the title of this week’s episode. But of course the gang is far too petty to actually answer that question, as they bring in a series of professional arbiters to decide who is actually in possession of a scratch-off that Dee bought, but blew away and Mac now has. It leads to some (almost) deep character moments that show handles in its signature crude way. It’s the least sentimental coming out moment a TV character has ever had.

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What I Watched This Week: 29 Jan 2017

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer” (B+)
Another deft media parody, this time chronicling the vague murder mysteries that captured the nation’s attention by revealing precisely nothing.

Angels in America (A-)
One of those ultra-ambitious projects that’s so daunting you can’t help but be in awe of the magnitude of the thing, while still having to acknowledge that not all of it works. The acting is tremendous, the writing is melodramatic, the special effects are questionable, but it’s brilliant.

The Man in the High Castle – Season 2 (B+)
More narratively messy but more thematically satisfying than Season 1, as it tackles fate, betrayal, accepting one terrible reality to avoid a more devastating one, and if you’re rooting for terrorists or not.

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Netflix Picks: February 2017

Brazilian Western – 2/27
A festival favorite that could have easily been lost to time, this is great – if bleak – revenge thriller that ignites the screen.

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson – 2/2
The best narrative TV show of 2016 is finally here if somehow you haven’t seen this fascinating look at the biggest trial of the 20th Century. Prepare to be wowed by Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, Sterling K. Brown as Chris Darden and Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran as the attorneys on both sides of the case that would decide the fate of O.J. Simpson.

Daniel Sosa: Sosafado – 2/3
Imperial Dreams – 2/3
Santa Clarita Diet (Season 1) – 2/3
Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special – 2/7
David Brent: Life on the Road – 2/10
Stronger Than the World – 2/11
Girlfriend’s Day – 2/14
Katherine Ryan: In Trouble – 2/14
Project mc2 (Part 4) – 2/14
White Nights – 2/14
Chef’s Table (Season 3) – 2/17
Dragons: Race to the Edge (Season 4) – 2/17
The Seven Deadly Sins (Season 2) – 2/17
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore – 2/24
Legend Quest (Season 1) – 2/24
Ultimate Beastmaster (Season 1) – 2/24
Ultimate Beastmaster Mexico (Season 1) – 2/24
VeggieTales in the City (Season 1) – 2/24
Mike Birbiglia: Thank God for Jokes – 2/28

Frequency (Season 1) – 2/2
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 2) – 2/11
Girl Meets World (Season 3) – 2/19
When Calls the Heart (Season 3) – 2/19

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What I Watched This Week: 22 Jan 2017

Saturday Night Live – “Aziz Ansari/Big Sean” (A-)
While no sketches will be considered all-timers, this is one of the most remarkably consistent episodes of SNL that I can remember. Absolutely no dud sketches, a terrific monologue and at least two solid pre-filmed segments that always help. I hope Aziz comes back as often as some of the other frequent hosts of late.

This Is Us – “Three Sentences” (B)
While I’m not sure the temptation of another interested heavy-set guy is what I wanted from Kate’s storyline, the rest is working like gangbusters, particularly with Kevin finally showing some emotional depth.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Wolf Cola: A Public Relations Nightmare” (B+)
Frank’s confusion of Boko Haram with Boca Raton joins the pantheon of great sitcom misunderstandings. The whole show is solid, as Frank, Dee & Dennis satirize the 24-hour news cycle and Charlie & Mac sell their horrific protein shake to actual UFC fighters.

Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds & Carrie Fisher (A-)
A beautiful, messy documentary on the (unaware) last days of two Hollywood icons, presenting their unvarnished relationship in all its highs and lows. It’s not a complete picture, but it’s beautiful snapshot of a mother and daughter who clung to each other after decades of driving each other apart.

This Is Us – “The Big Day” (B)
A somewhat redundant but lovable episode that doesn’t time-shift at all, focusing solely on the intense emotions of the tangentially related family members of 1980.

Happy Endings – “Four Weddings and a Funeral (Minus Three Weddings and a Funeral)” (A)
This Season Two finale is easily in the top 10 wedding episodes of all time, and would have served as a solid series finale had it not been renewed for one final, glorious season. This might be a new tradition, to watch this before every wedding I go to. “I may have hung up my cone bra and headset a long time ago, but that mole still fits.”

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