Netflix Picks: April 2017

Win It All (2017) – 4/7
Small Crimes (2017) – 4/28
I missed both of these when I was down in Austin for SXSW, but I love that Netflix is funding and finding homes for indie filmmakers like Joe Swanberg and E.L. Katz. Both of these films involve criminal activity, and a healthy dose of drama to go with their distinct comic sensibilities.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return (Season 1) – 4/14
Bill Nye Saves the World (Season 1) – 4/21
Please, oh, please let this be a case of nostalgia done right. With Patton Oswalt and a murderer’s row of comics at the helm of the former, and a bevy of incredible scientists guest-starring on the latter, I’ve got a good feeling about both of these.

Chewing Gum (Season 2) – 4/4
Louis C.K. 2017 – 4/4
El Faro de las Orcas – 4/7
Dawn of the Croods (Season 3) – 4/7
The Get Down (Season 1, Part 2) – 4/7
Chelsea (Season 2) – 4/14
Sandy Wexler – 4/14
Slam – 4/15
Lucas Brothers: On Drugs – 4/18
Girlboss (Season 1) – 4/21
Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On (Season 1) – 4/21
Sand Castle – 4/21
Tales by Light (Season 2) – 4/21
The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show (Season 4) – 4/21
Tramps – 4/21
The 101-Year-Old Man Who Skipped Out on the Bill and Disappeared – 4/25
Vir Das: Abroad Understanding – 4/25
Las Chicas del Cable (Season 1) – 4/27
Casting JonBenet – 4/28
Dear White People (Season 1) – 4/28
Rodney King – 4/28

Good Witch (Season 2) – 4/1
Wynonna Earp (Season 1) – 4/1
Documentary Now! (Season 2) – 4/10
Legends of Tomorrow (Season 2) – 4/12
The Great British Baking Show: Masterclass (Seasons 1-3) – 4/22
Liv & Maddie (Season 4) – 4/23
Real Rescues (Season 6 & 7) – 4/26
Sofia the First (Season 3) – 4/30

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What I Watched This Week: 19 Mar 2017

Crashing – “Parents” (A)
Another sharp episode that cuts deeper than most comedies while still being wildly funny.

The Mindy Project – “Mindy’s Best Friend” (A-)
A solid, funny, deep (for this show) episode, featuring a great-as-always Casey Wilson as Mindy’s middle school friend who visits New York and falls head over heels for Morgan. If only the show could stay this consistent, I’d be more likely to keep up after this season ends next week.

Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin – Live from the Hollywood Palladium (A)
The comedy special of the year. Hilarious, casual and unafraid to ruffle the feathers of anyone in the audience, this is him back in command.

The Americans – “The Midges” (A-)
The season is moving at a snail’s pace, but each discovery and revelation has that much more impact.

Legion – “Chapter 7” (A)
The most exciting episode yet, though the arrival of that character might be one twist too many. We’ll see how they pull off the finale. Still, that classroom scene might be my favorite of the series, which is definitely my favorite show of the year thus far.

Legion – “Chapter 6” (A)
Upends everything we think we know about the show yet again, but in a way that’s still fascinating and not frustrating. Brilliant.

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What I Watched This Week: 12 Mar 2017

Crashing – “Barking” (B+)
Another solid transition episode after the closure of “Yard Sale.” It’s a little inside baseball, but quite funny, and shows Pete’s boundless optimism isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The Mindy Project – “Mindy Lahiri Is a White Man” (A)
The satire is a little obvious, but it shows that Mindy is capable of injecting some creativity and depth into what has become a fun but featherweight series. The move to Hulu has introduced some playfulness (with the season 4 premiere paying homage to Sliding Doors and a Groundhog Day tribute just a few weeks ago), but this is even better than those clever but slight episodes. Mindy gets to learn of all the privileges of becoming a rich, attractive white man with hilarious consequences. It’s feminism with a lot of dick jokes, which I suppose could be the mission statement for the show. Excellent work.

This Is Us – “Moonshadow” (B) / season finale
A messy finale that still has some of the show’s most impressive scenes (that nearly one-take argument is going on their highlight reel). The brief check-in with the kids was wholly unnecessary, but most of the Jack-Rebecca flashbacks worked.

The Americans – “Pests” (A-)
An even better episode, and one in which the actual Americans seem even less like good guys than before. It’s back to stake its claim as the best show on TV, but without any flashy gimmicks.

The Americans – “Amber Waves” (A-)
A brutal episode that doesn’t try to make anything easier for those new to the show. For once, I don’t hate Paige, as she’s trying to strike the right balance instead of just chafe against her parents’ authority.

Crashing – “Yard Sale” (A)
The best episode yet, with huge emotional payoff and T.J. Miller lighting things on fire. What more could you ask for?

Legion – “Chapter 5” (A)
The true nature of David’s disorder comes to light and it’s bloody terrifying. This show gets dinged for its flashiness but I think that ignores just how deep it is. This is a show that is constantly shifting our expectations about reality and the truth. It would seem that’s a deck you can only shuffle so many times, but it continues to work its magic on me.

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What I Watched This Week: 5 Mar 2017

The Mindy Project – “Dibs” (B)
Since the show bungled the introduction of Colette’s girlfriend, it’s hard to care about her hurt feelings. But I was shocked at how much I was invested in Jeremy and Anna’s non-romance. And any time Jody is on-screen, the jokes just land. But that’s because he is the most gifted comic actor in the cast.

This Is Us – “What Now?” (B+)
A moving remembrance of William, but a tragic end for Jack. I know the beats this show is going to take, but it’s still emotionally rich when it gets there.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Dennis’ Double Life” (A-) / season finale
In what could be Glenn Howerton’s last appearance for awhile, Dennis finally gets fed up with the Gang in a way that feels like it’s real. This show has kinda sorta allowed emotion to creep into this season, and it’s always been for the better. What might suck is not having Dennis, easily the smartest member of the Gang but often the creepiest, around anymore to look bewildered at their latest scheme. But for now, it’s been 12 gloriously bizarre seasons.

The West Wing – Season 2 (A)
Takes everything that worked about Season One and ups the ante, with the specter of death looming large in nearly episode, especially its intense two-part premiere and devastating finale. This is about as good as TV gets.

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What I Watched This Week: 26 Feb 2017

Crashing – “The Road” (A-)
An improvement on the premiere, even as it’s still finding its legs. But a cocaine gag (that didn’t steal from Annie Hall) and a very true-to-character love of Jars of Clay will always put a smile on my face.

The Mindy Project – “Take My Ex-Wife, Please” (B+)
A solid episode, with most of the laughs provided by a drunken Jody.

Legion – “Chapter 4” (A-)
Essentially a remake of The Simpsons‘ “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Homer,” but with Jemaine Clement instead of Johnny Cash. The show continues to be the most brilliant, troubling thing on TV.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “A Cricket’s Tale” (B+)
I knew the show had to end on a tragic note for the gang’s PCP-addicted assistant, but the Disney tributes were a nice touch for such a ridiculous episode.

The West Wing – Season 1 (A-)
Solid writing as expected from Sorkin, even if it is a little dated and seems surreal compared to the everyday WTF-ery we’re living through under the Trump administration. Great introduction to each of the characters that we love so much, which makes the impact of the season finale that much greater.

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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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