The List: Top 10 Summer Blockbusters

With no new summer movies on the horizon until at least July (if then), I decided to take a look back on my favorite blockbusters. Certainly, there are better movies to choose in some cases (including superior sequels), but I wanted to represent a decent swath of blockbusters, especially since they seem to have homogenized. I’m limiting this to movies from 2000 on, since that’s when I started really seeing movies. I also limited this to movies I saw in theaters during their initial release. I wanted to capture that feeling when you walk out of the air-conditioned theater into the hot sun and you’re exhilarated because you’ve just seen something awesome.

Willem Dafoe and Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man
Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi)
While X-Men was an excellent warm-up for the comic book-obsessed era to follow, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was the first great comic book movie of the century. A great blend of CGI and practical effects, with a semi-grounded story and cheesy moments that leapt off the page. This was everything 14-year-old me wanted. Its sequel was even better.

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)
“And here… we… go!” A record-breaking event that dominated the back half of the summer, Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film upped the ante. Unfortunately, fans and filmmakers took all the wrong lessons from it. But few things compare to that midnight screening – interruptions and all – and talking about it in the parking lot in the wee hours of the morning.

Mélanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds
Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino)
Hard to believe now, but there was a time when Tarantino was still something of a niche director. That all changed with Inglourious Basterds, which obliterated the competition in a mostly weak summer. I saw it three times, the first of which was part of an epic all-night birthday celebration. A film that’s mostly not in English earning $321 million worldwide and eight Oscar nominations? “That’s a bingo!”

Ralph Fiennes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011, David Yates)
The last midnight screening I ever went to (and with good reason; I had to work the next day and was exhausted my whole shift). David Yates’ epic finale of the Harry Potter saga was appropriately mega-sized and featured a heartbreaking turn from Alan Rickman. And if it weren’t for that embarrassing coda and one of the worst kisses in blockbuster history, it would be perfect.

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Every Episode of Community, Ranked in Tiers

I recently finished a rewatch of Community on Netflix, and figured I’d try something new. I’ll rank every episode, but in tiers. (Ranking each one 1-110 would take too long, and I’ve already done a top 10 list.)

Some rules: Really, nothing after Season 3 can truly be considered “Classic,” except for one Season 5 episode (which was recently the subject of a stellar virtual table read). Even though I like some of these later episodes (and put them in my top 10), those are personal favorites, and they really can’t compare with those first three seasons. Overall, most of the show is strong. The only bad episodes belong to Season 4, and even the weakest episodes from other seasons have some good or interesting things in them.

So here are my rankings. Disagree away!

Season 1
“Comparative Religion”
“Contemporary American Poultry”
“Modern Warfare”

Season 2
“Accounting for Lawyers”
“Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples”
“Cooperative Calligraphy”
“Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design”
“Mixology Certification”
“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”
“Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”
“Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking”
“Paradigms of Human Memory”
“A Fistful of Paintballs”
“For a Few Paintballs More”

Season 3
“Remedial Chaos Theory”
“Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps”
“Documentary Filmmaking: Redux”
“Regional Holiday Music”
“Digital Exploration of Interior Design”
“Pillows and Blankets”
“Basic Lupine Urology”

Season 4

Season 5
“Cooperative Polygraphy”

Season 6

Season 1
“Introduction to Statistics”
“Investigative Journalism”
“Physical Education”
“The Art of Discourse”
“English as a Second Language”

Season 2
“Anthropology 101”
“The Psychology of Letting Go”
“Aerodynamics of Gender”
“Early 21st Century Romanticism”
“Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy”
“Critical Film Studies”

Season 3
“Origins of Vampire Mythology”
“Curriculum Unavailable”
“The First Chang Dynasty”
“Introduction to Finality”

Season 4
“Paranormal Parentage”
“Advanced Documentary Filmmaking”
“Herstory of Dance”
“Basic Human Anatomy”
“Heroic Origins”

Season 5
“Basic Intergluteal Numismatics”
“VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing”
“Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality”
“Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”
“Basic Story”

Season 6
“Basic Crisis Room Decorum”
“Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing”
“Basic Email Security”
“Grifting 101”
“Modern Espionage”
“Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television”

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What I Watched This Week: 10 May 2020

Mrs. America – “Bella” (A)
By focusing on Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), the show hones in on the dangers of compromise. Often times compromise can be beneficial. But make too many concessions and your movement gets watered down and robbed of its power. It also reveals the trap for progressive causes: Try to move more toward the center, and the right will keep pushing further right, and often win.

Community – Season 6 (B+ average)
The longer runtimes gave the writers license to explore bits that were funnier in brief. Still, this was an excellent final season that integrated two new characters well, giving them their own personalities. Now if we could just get that movie.

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What I Watched This Week: 3 May 2020

The Simpsons – “Warrin’ Priests, Part 2” (B-)
A lackluster ending to a promising episode. The Bible verse showdown and megachurch gags were pretty good, though.

Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill (B)
Exactly what I’ve come to expect from retirement-age Jerry’s stand-up: a mix of genuinely funny, well-observed jokes and some seriously lazy, hacky, borderline conservative jokes.

Mrs. America – “Jill” (A-)
Elizabeth Banks redeems herself for that “Fight Song” video with her performance as Jill Ruckelshaus, the strongest GOP ally in the fight for the ERA, which costs her family dearly when the party nearly splits in 1976. Gerald Ford remained the nominee, but would lose the White House, and give way to much more conservative, religiously fanatical version of the party led by Ronald Reagan.

Mrs. America
“Phyllis” (A-)
“Gloria” (B+)
“Shirley” (A)
“Betty” (A)
“Phyllis & Fred & Brenda & Marc” (B+)
Through its first five episodes, Mrs. America is strong, pointed piece of historical adaptation, giving its main women (mostly Cate Blanchett’s Phyllis Schlafly and Rose Byrne’s Gloria Steinem) rich, complicated lives. What’s most fascinating is how its depiction of internal conflict in both parties rings true today.

Ozark – Season 3 (B+ average)
This is big-budget trash TV that occasionally have moments of real brilliance. In that regard, it’s done very well. It’s compelling and well-acted, despite being poorly written and plotted. I was hooked once again. But comparing this to something like Better Call Saul? Not even close.

Community – Season 5 (B+ average)
While its Black Mirror-predicting mid-season episode was a swing and a miss, returning Dan Harmon to pilot this crazy thing brought the show back to life. Even losing Donald Glover after five episodes wasn’t enough to keep it from being wildly creative and heartfelt.

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What I Watched This Week: 26 Apr 2020

The Simpsons – “Warrin’ Priests, Part 1” (B+)
Pete Holmes arrives as writer and guest star in this two-parter about a more tolerant minister who comes to Springfield and wins the souls of many of its inhabitants, forcing Rev. Lovejoy out. It’s one of the smartest and sweetest episodes the show has done in a long time.

Parks and Recreation – “A Parks and Recreation Special” (B-)
Part of me wants to give it a free pass because it was so warm and thoughtful. But right now I’m pretty cynical, and I have to admit much of the first “phone tree” segment caused only the occasional chuckle. Even grading on a curve for the technology element, a lot of it felt extremely forced. The middle segments, which give us an update on Pawnee’s minor and awful and residents, felt the strongest. Everything else seemed designed to push you to do a rewatch on Peacock (which was advertised a lot).

The Sopranos – Season 6, Part 2 (A average)
These last nine episodes comprise the very best stretch of the show, as each hour is marked by at least one death, leading to that terrific final shot. Whether Tony dies at that moment is irrelevant. What the show has taught us is that he either “won’t hear it coming,” or will die in a cell (literally like Johnny Sack or figuratively like Uncle Junior), and won’t truly appreciate what he has either way.

Tiger King (A- average)
A four-alarm dumpster fire. It’s hillbilly hilarity until the ugliness of the kingdom shows itself and the feud between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin turns tragic. By the end of the first episode, it’s clear none of these people (nor anyone in the world) should own big cats as pets. By the end of the series, it’s clear none of these people are good.

Community – Season 4 (B average)
In many ways, it’s a lot better than I gave it credit for. Still, it’s got two of the show’s worst episodes (“Conventions of Space and Time” and that godawful finale) and its biggest swing-and-a-miss (“Intro to Felt Surrogacy”). This was the only season thus far that hasn’t been a total joy to revisit.

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Streaming Picks: May 2020, Part 1

I’ll be doing a big preview of HBO MAX when/if they reveal a full list of what will be available at launch. This post will cover the Big Three (Netflix, Hulu, Prime).

Top Picks
Inferno – Prime 5/1
Monster House – Hulu 5/1
Uncut Gems – Netflix 5/25
Some intense selections this month. Inferno is Dario Argento’s sequel to Suspiria. Obviously it can’t compete (especially in the music department), but its production design and pure batshit plot are up there.

Monster House is the rightful Best Animated Feature winner from 2006, which riffs on It and presages Stranger Things, with its kids-on-bikes and haunted house story.

And finally, after it premiered internationally on the service, A24’s highest-grossing movie comes to U.S. Netflix. It’s got an incredible performance by Sandler, a high-wire plot and extremely high meme potential.

Recent Selections
Arctic Dogs – Netflix 5/4
The Hustle – Prime 5/7
The Goldfinch – Prime 5/8
Spaceship Earth – Hulu 5/8
Seberg – Prime 5/15
Trial by Fire – Hulu and Prime 5/19
Rocketman – Hulu and Prime 5/22
Premature – Hulu 5/22
Top End Wedding – Hulu 5/22
Painter and the Thief – Hulu 5/22
Come to Daddy – Prime 5/23
Ne Zha – Netflix 5/25
Norm of the North: Family Vacation – Netflix 5/25
The Tracker – Hulu and Prime 5/25
I Still Believe – Hulu 5/26
Disappearance at Clifton Hill – Hulu 5/29
High Strung Free Dance – Netflix 5/31

All Day and a Night – Netflix 5/1
Get In – Netflix 5/1
The Half of It – Netflix 5/1
Mrs. Serial Killer – Netflix 5/1
18 regali – Netflix 5/8
Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics – Netflix 5/11
The Wrong Missy – Netflix 5/13
I Love You, Stupid – Netflix 5/15
Ben Platt: Live from Radio City Music Hall – Netflix 5/20
Rebelión de los Godinez – Netflix 5/20
The Lovebirds – Netflix 5/20
I’m No Longer Here – Netflix 5/27
La Corozonada – Netflix 5/28
The Vast of Night – Prime 5/29

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What I Watched This Week: 19 Apr 2020

Killing Eve – “Management Sucks” (B)
Some strong individual scenes, including Villanelle’s latest kill and Fiona Shaw’s incredible scene eating lunch in her car, but it doesn’t quite come together as a whole.

Better Call Saul – “Something Unforgivable” (A) / season finale
For the past two seasons – and the past two episodes especially – we’ve feared for Kim’s life. But now that she’s survived Lalo (for now), we’re teased with a prospect of our straight arrow suffering a fate worse than death: becoming as corrupted as Jimmy/Saul.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Lights Out” (B+) / season finale
A big finish to a consistent if not exceptional season, with Santiago going into labor during a borough-wide blackout. The escalating obstacles get a bit ridiculous, but the show gives Hitchcock & Scully an unexpectedly sweet moment.

The Sopranos – Season 6, Part 1 (B+ average)
The weakest season to date, which still puts it far above most things to ever air on TV. I didn’t love the dream sequences, or the focus on Phil, but I thought the Vito storyline was terrific and tragic. But unlike many characters on this show, there apparently won’t be a limp to the finish.

Community – Season 3 (A- average)
Despite a few more bumps than in seasons past, the show still operated near its peak. While I didn’t always love the AC Repair School or Chang Dynasty storylines, there were always hilarious moments. This season really only had one dud in the bunch (its celebrity impressions episode).

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What I Watched This Week: 12 Apr 2020

Killing Eve – “Slowly Slowly Catchy Monkey” (B+) / season premiere
I’m not sure what this show’s harsher critics are looking for. While the show won’t be as good as it was in the first season, it’s still ticking every box it needs to. (Great outfits and locations? Intriguing mystery? Sharp wits? Queer themes? All still here.)

Better Call Saul – “Bad Choice Road” (A)
Also known as “Give Rhea Seehorn the damn Emmy already.”

Briarpatch – “Felicity” (A-) / season finale
A satisfying ending to a show that greatly expanded the scope of the book, ending in a more cynical place.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Ransom” (B+)
The Boyle-Terry pairing doesn’t really work, but its other storylines are aces, especially seeing Holt in full “John Wicks” mode.

The Sopranos – Season 5 (B+ average)
And so the season ends with its two biggest guest stars out of the picture again. Robert Loggia is back in prison, but Buscemi’s tragic downfall was brutal to watch. Still, it was nowhere near as devastating as Adriana’s.

Community – Season 2 (A average)
Still one of the greatest seasons of TV of all time, and it would be even better were it not for “Basic Rocket Science” and “Competitive Wine Tasting.”

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What I Watched This Week: 5 Apr 2020

Better Call Saul – “Bagman” (A)
An absolutely phenomenal episode from a terrific season, bringing in the big guns (Vince Gilligan) to direct a harrowing and thrilling survival episode, with Jimmy and Mike stranded in the desert after a money hand-off goes wrong. Its final moments reminded me of “Crawl Space,” with the last remnants of Jimmy dying off and Saul emerging in full.

Briarpatch – “Game Theory and Mescaline” (B+)
They picked the wrong week to do a desert survival episode, but it’s still excellent. I know “Guest Actor in a Limited Series” isn’t an award at the Emmys, but if it was, Timothy Simons would win it for this episode.

Schitt’s Creek – “Happy Ending” (A) / series finale
A fully joyous, occasionally filthy farewell to the Roses. Probably should have been an hour, but it was still a fitting bon voyage.

Best Wishes, Warmest Regards: A Schitt’s Creek Farewell (B)
And this should have been a half-hour. Eventually, Canadians run out of ways to be complimentary.

Modern Family – “Finale” (B) / series finale
Serviceable. Adequate. Amusing. A fitting ending to a show that used to be the funniest thing on TV, but never met a sitcom cliché it didn’t love.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Valloweaster” (A)
Another triumphant heist episode, with its knottiest plot yet.

Community – Season 1 (B+ average)
Rewatching this show on Netflix has been a delight. The show still had to find its itself in the first season, but basically had it down by Christmas. It’s been much easier to run through it without commercials, speeding up the bonds between the study group.

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20 After 20: 1999

Many people, myself included, consider 1999 to be the best movie year ever. I’m even reading a book called just that. It seemed like the last time multiple studios were willing to gamble on unique visions and give sizable budgets to things that weren’t based on previously existing properties. So I figured 2019 was the perfect time to kick off a project picking the 20 best movies from 20 years ago. Unfortunately, with so much time devoted to Best of the Decade posts, that can got kicked down the road. Better late than never, I suppose.

Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You
20. 10 Things I Hate About You (dir. Gil Junger)
Were it not for Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, this would be the best high school movie of the ’90s. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence both are based on classic British literature. This ultra-hip (loose) adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew has the unstoppable charm of its main cast, including the late Heath Ledger, but it’s also got a murderer’s row of a bench, with the likes of Larry Miller, Allison Janney and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell providing even more laughs as the adults who are just as immature as the kids. It’s also got an all-time villain in Andrew Keegan’s Joey, a skeevy, vain senior, who responds to a well-deserved punch in the face with, “Shit, Bianca! I’m shooting a nose spray commercial tomorrow!”

Michael Williams in The Blair Witch Project
19. The Blair Witch Project (dirs. Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez)
When it came to pre-social media discussions, only Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was talked about more. While this low-budget found footage horror flick ended up as the most profitable movie of all time, it didn’t do much for me when I saw it on VHS as a kid. But once you know its tricks, you’re far more open to appreciating its craft (exceptional for first-time feature directors) and how a bunch of drunk assholes getting lost in the woods is actually a more terrifying and realistic scenario than whatever evil it is they find out there. But then and now, its shocking ending strikes a nerve.

Edward Norton and Brad Pitt in Fight Club
18. Fight Club (dir. David Fincher)
It’s best to view David Fincher’s adaptation of Fight Club as a movie about cults. The misguided men who follow Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt, magnetic and slyly hilarious) aren’t any smarter after learning about the evils of capitalism and consumerism. They end up picking fascism, blindly following Tyler just like they were the banal lifestyles they were living before. They’d rather show off with brash, pointless stunts and beat the shit out of each other than actually cause a revolution. But I guess that’s why it’s just called Project Mayhem. It’s not wrong that so many college bros are obsessed with this movie. It’s got exceptional craft and it’s a vast improvement over its source material. But like the members, they’re too blind to see beyond how cool it is.

Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill
17. Notting Hill (dir. Roger Michell)
The platonic ideal of the ’90s romantic comedy, Notting Hill has it all: Pitch-perfect performances and chemistry between its two leads (Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant), a goofy roommate/best friend (Rhys Ifans), and Richard Curtis’s richly drawn supporting characters (including future lord Hugh Bonneville). While its climactic line has often been mocked, I’m just a critic, standing before my readers, reminding them it’s perfect.

John Cusack in Being John Malkovich
16. Being John Malkovich (dir. Spike Jonze)
A comedy so overflowing with ideas that some of them spill over and don’t get resolved, the brilliant marriage of Charlie Kaufman’s script and Spike Jonze’s direction explodes into the most creative film of 1999. Unlike the future world of Her, pretty much everyone in Being John Malkovich is a selfish prick, pushing everyone in their small space out of the way to get a little bit of a new experience. The cast is turning in some of their best work, but the movie wouldn’t get to that next level without John Malkovich’s wild turn as himself.

Reese Witherspoon in Election
15. Election (dir. Alexander Payne)
As humorists try to wring something, anything out of our current climate, Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne were nailing the ultimate political satire in their adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel. Reese Witherspoon shines as Tracy Flick, a straight-A student who wants to be class president. Not because she has any radical ideas or brilliant policies, but because it will be another feather in her cap on her way to a prestigious school. Standing in her way are a petty teacher (Matthew Broderick, marvelously pathetic), the dim-bulb athlete he recruits to run against her (Chris Klein), and the jealous sister (Jessica Campbell) who enters as a third-party candidate, rightfully pointing out no one’s lives will be measurably improved by either of them. The jokes cut more sharply here because all of its characters have devious ulterior motives (except naive Paul), making it all the more representative of our elected leaders.

Terence Stamp in The Limey
14. The Limey (dir. Steven Soderbergh)
Soderbergh’s lean revenge thriller becomes something more powerful thanks to its unusual editing techniques, its curdled vision of Laurel Canyon artists, and its crucial decision to include flashbacks in the form of scenes from Ken Loach’s Poor Cow. Terence Stamp is phenomenal as the lifelong criminal who travels to L.A. to hunt down his daughter’s killer, using his confidence and daring when he’s outnumbered and outmatched. Think of it as Taken for people who subscribe to the Criterion Channel.

Mike Schenk and Mark Borchardt in American Movie
13. American Movie (dir. Chris Smith)
Few scripted films are funnier than Chris Smith’s essential documentary. Mark Borchardt is a Wisconsin burnout working with limited funding and even more limited talent to finish Coven, a black-and-white horror short, hoping to turn what he sees as its inevitable success into financing for Northwestern, a feature-length Gen X epic. Alas, between back taxes, child support, poor carpentry skills and a lack of time, the rush to finish Coven never feels like a sure thing. But the marvelous cast of characters (including the sublime Mike Schenk, with a flowing mane of hair and a never-ending supply of drug stories) keep you laughing and keep you rooting for Mark the whole way.

Bullseye, Jessie and Woody in Toy Story 2
12. Toy Story 2 (dir. John Lasseter)
Initially slated to go straight-to-video, Pixar eventually put all their resources into their first sequel ever (and first of three sequels to Toy Story). While Woody’s quest for belonging would continue to be explored in 3 and 4, it’s most poignantly told here, as he learns he’s part of a collector’s series of Western-themed toys tied into the Howdy Doody-esque Woody’s Round-up. Its smartest choice is introducing Jessie, terrifically voiced by Joan Cusack, responsible for the first classic Pixar tear-jerker.

Timothy Olyphant in Go
11. Go (dir. Doug Liman)
After this, Liman would exclusively direct big-budget fare, but he went out on a high note with this low-budget (and occasionally permit-free) dark comedy about drug pushers and users, and their intersecting lives on Christmas Eve. Sarah Polley plays a broke cashier out of her depth in the rave scene, her co-worker (Desmond Askew) has ditched work for a crazy Vegas weekend, and two actors (Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf) are forced to work a drug bust for a handsy detective (William Fichtner). Connecting them all is Todd (Timothy Olyphant), the charming dealer who can turn menacing on a dime. Seen initially as a Tarantino knock-off (the DVD cover even boasts a pull-quote from Entertainment Weekly calling it “Son of Pulp Fiction“), it’s endured because of its excellent cast, terrific soundtrack and go-for-broke energy.

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