Streaming Picks: June 2023

Top Picks
Tár – Prime Video 6/6
Avatar: The Way of Water – Disney+ and Max 6/7
While I wouldn’t consider Lydia Tár a “Strong Female Lead,” Cate Blanchett gave one of last year’s best performances in one of the best movies of last year: a twisty drama open to multiple interpretations.

Also one of last year’s best movies? James Cameron’s follow-up to his world-conquering ecological opus. It won’t look quite as good on even the largest TVs, but it’s still magnificently constructed and stunning to look at.

Other Recommendations
2 Days in the Valley – Paramount+ and Prime Video 6/1
10 Things I Hate About You – Peacock 6/1
3:10 to Yuma (2007) – Hulu, Max and Prime Video 6/1
Adventureland – Paramount+ 6/1
The Apartment – Prime Video 6/1
Army of Darkness – Max 6/1
Arrival – Paramount+ and Prime Video 6/1
Bananas – Prime Video 6/1
Black Dynamite – Prime Video 6/1
Blazing Saddles – Prime Video 6/1
Borat – Hulu 6/1
The Bourne Legacy – Peacock 6/1
Bourne Trilogy – Peacock 6/1
Boyz N the Hood – Prime Video 6/1
Breach – Max 6/1
The Breakfast Club – Netflix 6/1
Brokeback Mountain – Prime Video 6/1
Bronson – Hulu 6/1
Bulworth – Max 6/1
Casino – Peacock 6/1
Courage Under Fire – Paramount+ 6/1
Demolition Man – Max 6/1
Devil in a Blue Dress – Prime Video 6/1
Dog Day Afternoon – Prime Video 6/1
Eastern Promises – Max 6/1
The Evil Dead (1981) – Max 6/1
Evil Dead II – Max 6/1
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift – Peacock 6/1
Fast Five – Peacock 6/1
Glory – Prime Video 6/1
The Good Shepherd – Hulu 6/1
Grease – Max 6/1
Grosse Pointe Blank – Paramount+ 6/1
Groundhog Day – Netflix 6/1
Hairspray (2007) – Max 6/1
Hot Fuzz – Prime Video 6/1
The Hurt Locker – Max 6/1
I’m Gonna Git You Sucka – Prime Video 6/1
Idiocracy – Hulu 6/1
If Beale Street Could Talk – Paramount+ 6/1
Jackie Brown – Max 6/1
Jarhead – Netflix 6/1
Jurassic Park – Peacock 6/1
The Kingdom – Netflix 6/1
Kingdom of Heaven – Prime Video 6/1
The Little Hours – Hulu 6/1
Little Shop of Horrors (1986) – Max 6/1
Man on Wire – Hulu 6/1
Mean Girls – Netflix 6/1
Moneyball – Max 6/1
Moonlight – Max 6/1
My Cousin Vinny – Paramount+ 6/1Silv
One Hour Photo – Hulu 6/1
Out of Sight – Peacock 6/1
Philadelphia – Prime Video 6/1
Rango – Paramount+ 6/1
RoboCop (1987) – Prime Video 6/1
Saved! – Prime Video 6/1
Say Anything – Paramount+ 6/1
Selena – Max 6/1
Selma – Paramount+ 6/1 and Prime Video 6/20
Shaun of the Dead – Prime Video 6/1
Silver Linings Playbook – Prime Video 6/1
Snatch – Paramount+ 6/1
The Social Network – Paramount+ 6/1
Spider-Man Trilogy – Netflix 6/1
A Star Is Born (1954) – Max 6/1
Superbad – Peacock 6/1
Terminator 2: Judgment Day – Netflix 6/1
They Came Together – Peacock 6/1
Three Identical Strangers – Hulu 6/1
True Lies – Prime Video 6/1
The War of the Worlds (1953) – Prime Video 6/1
Win Win – Hulu 6/1
The World’s End – Prime Video 6/1
World’s Greatest Dad – Prime Video 6/1
X-Men: Days of Future Past – Max 6/1
You’re Next – Max 6/1
Living – Netflix 6/1
Keanu – Hulu 6/3
Crazy Rich Asians – Prime Video 6/6
Sully – Prime Video 6/6
A Star Is Born (2018) – Max 6/8
Interstellar – Prime Video 6/11
Dunkirk – Netflix 6/12
Armageddon Time – Prime Video 6/20
Barbarian – Hulu 6/25
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Hulu 6/30
What If – Prime Video 6/30

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The List: Top 10 ‘The Office’ Episodes

The Office ended 10 years ago this week. I was an early champion of the show, but fell off in its third season when the show sent Jim to Stamford, then back to Scranton with his new girlfriend Karen (Rashida Jones) and ultra-annoying Andy (Ed Helms). But the show kept extending its life thanks to riding a wave of new-ish technology. After its short, low-rated first season, iTunes downloads convinced NBC to give it another shot. Then, DVD sales kept it a staple of the network’s attempts to resurrect Must See TV. And its long run on Netflix made it one of the most popular shows in the world. The latter two developments meant it was always on in someone’s dorm room or apartment in my college years and after.

So to celebrate the legacy of one of the most beloved shows of the 21st Century, here are my 10 favorite episodes. (But do take this list with a grain of salt; I like “Scott’s Tots.”)

10. “Traveling Salesmen” (Season 3, Episode 13)
In this underrated episode, the crew at Dunder Mifflin pairs up to make some sales calls, leading to great visual gags like Phyllis and Karen with matching blowouts and Ryan freezing in front of Stanley’s all-Black clientele. This is one of the rare episodes that shows some employees are actually quite good at their jobs! But the main reason I chose this over many other fine selections was Dwight’s principled stand in his relationship with Angela. Though they wouldn’t get married until the series finale, his willingness to protect her job and her reputation make for a romantic moment that’s not maudlin.

9. “Gay Witch Hunt” (Season 3, Episode 1)
Creator Greg Daniels won the show’s only writing Emmy for this cringe-inducing half-hour, which sees Michael out Oscar, then compound the awkwardness by kissing him on the lips. Every conference room scene is wildly uncomfortable but undeniably hilarious. It also serves as an introduction to the doomed Stamford branch, which isn’t nearly as laid-back as Scranton.

8. “Health Care” (Season 1, Episode 3)
Season 1 gets a bad rap, but while it’s a little rough around the edges, I’ve always liked Michael a little meaner and a lot sweatier. (So more like David Brent.) Rather than admit corporate is demanding cuts to the company health insurance plans, he passes the buck to Dwight, who lets the busywork go to his head. The fake diseases the other employees make kill me, but Michael trying and failing to come up with a “surprise” to make up for the overlords’ rotten penny-pinching hits close to home.

7. “Women’s Appreciation” (Season 3, Episode 22)
If you thought Michael and Oscar were awkward, the entire opening had me covering my eyes. After Phyllis is attacked by a flasher in the parking lot, Michael mocks her, then pretends his thumb is his penis. It’s insensitive but also incredibly funny. But the episode packs an emotional punch as Michael takes all his female employees out for lunch and shopping, and shares his relationship difficulties with them, getting brutally honest feedback in return.

6. “Christmas Party” (Season 2, Episode 10)
By Season 2, Michael had become less of a dick and more of a needy people-pleaser. This disastrous holiday gathering represents him at his worst/best. After spending more than 10 times the agreed-upon limit on his Secret Santa gift for Ryan, he’s annoyed his gift from Phyllis is homemade. This obnoxiousness is Michael in a nutshell: I did something I shouldn’t have (with good intentions) and people are mad, but I’m the boss and I need everyone to love me so I have to fix this. His solution? A white elephant exchange, which sees everyone fighting over the iPod and Jim unable to get every piece of his romantic multi-gift surprise for Pam. It’s no wonder everyone wants to get drunk after this ordeal.

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The List: Top 10 ‘Happy Endings’ Episodes

One of the finest sitcoms of the 2010s ended 10 years ago this week. Happy Endings took the same set-up and premise as Friends, but updated it for Millennials, tripling the number of jokes per minute. Yet it constantly seemed like it was fighting ABC for air. Its first season aired confusingly out of order. The second season had an episode punted to the middle of the third season for reasons that remain baffling. And halfway through its third season it was doomed to a Friday Night Death Slot. Had it gotten at least one final season, it would have hit its syndication numbers and gotten a proper send-off, and probably be better remembered today. But this cult favorite still endures, and here are 10 (well, 11) reasons why.

“And the Pandemmy Goes To…”
The only lockdown content worth a damn, this Zoom session actually featured a script that had its characters react the way they would if the real pandemic invaded their Chicago. Dave’s way-too-intimate restaurant idea still makes me laugh.

10. “Cazsh Dummy Spillionaires” (Season 3, Episode 1)
The third season kicked off with Dave and Alex on again, but refusing to define their romantic reunion, preferring to keep it “cazsh.” That lack of commitment would doom their relationship as the season wore on, but it kept the show fresh. The real humor of the episode came from Max’s attempts to sabotage Penny’s recovery so he can spend more time with her physical therapist. Also, Brad brought out his ventriloquist dummy! Like Arrested Development‘s Franklin, Sinbrad is a give-no-fucks Black puppet that never fails to leave me in stitches.

9. “Dave of the Dead” (Season 1, Episode 7)
Season 1 tends to get skipped over because it was finding its footing, and until the streaming era began, was nearly impossible to watch in its intended order. But it actually figured itself out pretty quickly, and this episode has always been my favorite from those first thirteen. As the group becomes obsessed with the zombie apocalypse, Dave realizes his work at restaurant supply company is turning him into a zombie. Finally breaking his stupor, he quits his 9-to-5 and sets out on his own, working on the eatery that will eventually become his food truck Steak Me Home Tonight.

8. “The Kerkovich Way” (Season 2, Episode 17)
As you’ll see by the rest of this list, there was a month-long stretch in early 2012 where this was the best thing on TV. This wonderfully convoluted episode capped that run with Jane giving Alex a refresher in the titular method of deception. (Had it aired today, self-righteous recappers would have called it gaslighting.) Meanwhile, Max and Penny realize how little they have going for themselves and decide to put all their energy into winning a John Hughes-themed scavenger hunt.

7. “Cocktails and Dreams” (Season 2, Episode 16)
In an effort to draw new business to his food truck, Dave gets a liquor license and converts his spot to a speakeasy. (If you weren’t of drinking age in the early 2010s, just know this was extremely popular.) But his house cocktail causes everyone in the group to have a sex dream about their longtime pal, scored to Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” Bonus points for Colin Hanks being such a good sport playing a douche-y version of himself.

6. “No-Ho-Ho” (Season 3, Episode 7)
One of the few Christmas episodes that could compete with its contemporary Community, I try to rewatch this every year. After the group learns Jane’s birthday is actually on December 25th (she had successfully forged documents to show otherwise), they vow to throw her a party free of any signs of Christmas cheer. But their unwelcome desire for eggnog, animatronic Santas and their own gifts keep finding a way into the festivities. The slo-mo retelling of Max’s relapse is one of the show’s funniest moments.

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Streaming Picks: May 2023

Programming Note: On Tuesday, May 23, HBO Max will become Max. Warner Bros. Discovery has promised a seamless transition, so theoretically anything added to HBO Max this month will also be on Max thereafter. But there’s always a possibility some titles may not be available on the new service.

Top Picks
Babe and Babe: Pig in the City – Prime Video 5/1
A Man Called Otto – Netflix 5/6
There’s no way to recommend these films without sounding corny, so here goes: The two films about the “Sheep-Pig” and this remake of the Swedish sensation are about the beauty of life, even in the dark moments. They’re all lovely, mostly family-friendly and feature terrific performances.

Other Recommendations
The Adventures of Tintin – Prime Video 5/1
American Gangster – Netflix 5/1
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery – Netflix 5/1
The Aviator – Paramount+ 5/1
A Beautiful Mind – Prime Video 5/1
Beetlejuice – Hulu 5/1
Bend It Like Beckham – Paramount+ 5/1
Best in Show – Hulu 5/1
Black Dynamite – Hulu 5/1
Black Hawk Down – Netflix 5/1
Blue Valentine – HBO Max 5/1
Bottle Rocket – Hulu 5/1
Boogie Nights – Hulu 5/1
Booksmart – Peacock 5/1
Bound – Prime Video 5/1
Calvary – HBO Max 5/1
Captain Phillips – Netflix 5/1
Cast Away – Paramount+ 5/1
Cliffhanger – Netflix 5/1
Clockers – Peacock 5/1
Crooklyn – Peacock 5/1
Dead Poets Society – Paramount+ 5/1
Enemy of the State – Peacock 5/1
Face/Off – Peacock 5/1
Fatal Attraction – Prime Video 5/1
Flight – Netflix 5/1
Forgetting Sarah Marshall – Prime Video 5/1
Hard Eight – Prime Video 5/1
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle – Prime Video 5/1
The Hunger Games series – Hulu 5/1
I Am Not Your Negro – Prime Video 5/1
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – Paramount+ and Prime Video 5/1
King Kong (2005) – Peacock 5/1
Kingsman: The Secret Service – HBO Max 5/1
Kung Fu Hustle – Prime Video 5/1
Léon: The Professional – Netflix 5/1
Life of Pi – Peacock 5/1
Mean Girls – Paramount+ 5/1
The Meddler – Hulu 5/1
Mission: Impossible series – Paramount+ 5/1
Mo’ Better Blues – Peacock 5/1
Moneyball – Paramount+ 5/1
Moonrise Kingdom – Prime Video 5/1
The Mummy (1999) – Peacock 5/1
My Cousin Vinny – Peacock 5/1
Notting Hill – Peacock 5/1
Once – Hulu 5/1
The Other Guys – Paramount+ 5/1
Paper Moon – HBO Max 5/1
The Quiet Man – Paramount+ and Prime Video 5/1
The Rundown – Prime Video 5/1
Schindler’s List – Peacock 5/1
School of Rock – Paramount+ 5/1
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – Peacock 5/1
Selena – Hulu 5/1
Shutter Island – Prime Video 5/1
Sicario – Peacock 5/1
Some Like It Hot – HBO Max 5/1
Something Wild (1986) – Paramount+ 5/1
Speed – Hulu and Peacock 5/1
Starship Troopers – Netflix 5/1
Steel Magnolias – Netflix 5/1
Step Brothers – HBO Max 5/1
Thelma & Louise – Prime Video 5/1
Titanic – Paramount+ 5/1
Tombstone – Paramount+ 5/1
Traffic – Netflix 5/1
True Grit (2010) – Prime Video 5/1
True Lies – Paramount+ and Peacock 5/1
West Side Story (1961) – Paramount+ 5/1
Keanu – Peacock 5/3
The Conjuring – HBO Max 5/8
Unbreakable – HBO Max 5/15
Men in Black – HBO Max 5/16
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – Hulu 5/16
The LEGO Batman Movie – HBO Max 5/19
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – HBO Max 5/19
Parasite – HBO Max 5/19
Three Thousand Years of Longing – Paramount+ 5/16 and Prime Video 5/23
Violent Night – Prime Video 5/26
Top Five – Paramount+ and Prime Video 5/28

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20 After 20: 2002

20. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (dir. Joel Zwick)
In the running for my most rewatched film ever, Nia Vardalos’s sweet-natured rom-com has endured. While it lacks the sophistication of some of the genre’s masterpieces, its comic timing and sense of identity are top-notch. It also has time for little moments of pure humanity. It’s a shame none of her other ventures – including sequels to this film – found that register.

19. 13 Conversations About One Thing (dir. Jill Sprecher)
An early example of the decade’s trendy “hyperlink” movie (to borrow a phrase from the late, great Roger Ebert), it blows all the others out of the water, including a certain notorious Best Picture winner. Each of its four main characters rides high and gets laid low, and the film chronicles their journeys without judgment. But it wouldn’t work without its excellent cast, including a pre-renaissance Matthew McConaughey and the incomparable Alan Arkin, whose role as a weary insurance investigator fits him like a glove.

18. About Schmidt (dir. Alexander Payne)
Payne has often been accused of mocking his midwestern characters, but the joke is actually on the selfish, uptight Warren (Jack Nicholson, in his funniest role). After the death of his wife, he goes on a road trip to stop his daughter’s wedding. While his future in-laws are loud, crude and susceptible to pyramid schemes, they’re far more welcoming and vivacious than he ever was.

17. Road to Perdition (dir. Sam Mendes)
In what may or may not be a surprise to you, this was the first R-rated movie I saw in theaters. While it occasionally struggles with tone, this gorgeous adaptation of Max Allan Collins’s graphic novel features a powerful but restrained turn from Tom Hanks, a marvelously nasty villain role for Jude Law, and an early look at Daniel Craig’s greatness, playing the Fredo of this Irish crime family.

16. Chicago (dir. Rob Marshall)
Over the course of 20 years, I’ve gone back and forth on this movie. I was initially dazzled, but found it more style than substance as I grew older. Revisiting it recently, what struck me was the bone-deep cynicism, a hallmark of Kander & Ebb’s music. And while the film racked up four acting Oscar nods including a win, Richard Gere (who has somehow never been nominated) impressed the most as the gladly amoral Billy Flynn.

15. 24 Hour Party People (dir. Michael Winterbottom)
More biopics should follow the lead of this comedy: Some of it’s true, a lot of it’s exaggerated, and a little bit is just straight-up fiction. Steve Coogan is absolutely dynamite as the founder of Factory Records. He knows good music and how to throw a party, but knows zilch about business. It goes about as well as expected. It may not have been a sound enterprise, but it resulted in some killer tunes, as evidenced by the year’s best soundtrack.

14. The Quiet American (dir. Phillip Noyce)
Graham Greene’s novel about American and European interlopers in Vietnam got a morally repugnant adaptation in 1958, with an uncredited rewrite by the CIA, making the U.S.A. the good guys. This version stays true to the novel, but it’s not as if it turns Michael Caine’s Fowler into a hero. He’s already been morally compromised, but even he can see through the flat-out evil plan pushed into action by Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser, in one of his best roles). Shelved for a year after 9/11, it is downright anti-American. It’s also clear that it must be.

13. Punch-Drunk Love (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
PTA harnessed Adam Sandler’s raging man-child energy into this lovely, stunning and concise romantic comedy. Jon Brion’s score, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s unhinged turn and a nagging sense it could all go awry at any moment make for a sneakily potent film.

12. Signs (dir. M. Night Shyamalan)
Internal logic be damned. This is my favorite film from the man who would be “The Next Spielberg.” While some of his other films might be tighter or more daring, this is a patient, nakedly emotional film about four broken people facing an inexplicable situation. While its religious themes and implications are clear, it’s a story about faith that can be applied pretty liberally. Even if you don’t believe in God or extra-terrestrials, you can believe in each other, even in the toughest of circumstances.

11. Talk to Her (dir. Pedro Almodóvar)
Spain’s finest director finally won a long-overdue Oscar for this script about two men and the comatose women they love. But his commitment not to judge his characters becomes a challenge when one of them does something unforgivable. But that’s just one of the incredible things about this film! Even though much of it takes place in hospital rooms (and later, a prison), there’s a ton of eye-popping color. And an X-rated black-and-white film within a film is magical, provided you’re not a prude. It may not be Pedro’s greatest film, but it’s one of his most emotionally complex and thoughtful.

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Streaming Picks: April 2023

Top Picks
Holy Spider – Netflix 4/7
Life Itself – Prime Video 4/12
While Holy Spider made the shortlist for the Oscars’ Best International Feature, it somehow did not make the final five. But a debut on Netflix means it will likely get more viewers than all the other nominees combined. Based on a true story of an Iranian serial killer in the early 2000s, this has all the tension of a great thriller, but told through a feminist lens.

It’s hard to believe Roger Ebert’s been gone for 10 years now. The titan of film criticism gets a marvelous tribute in this documentary, which chronicled his life, career, romance with Chaz, and declining health. I always thought Roger would have appreciated how unsentimental the final film is.

Other Recommendations
The Adventures of Tintin – Paramount+ 4/1
American Psycho – Hulu 4/1
As Good as It Gets – Paramount+ 4/1
The Aviator – Prime Video 4/1
Bend It Like Beckham – Hulu 4/1
The Bourne Trilogy – Netflix 4/1
The Breakfast Club – Prime Video 4/1
Bridesmaids – Hulu and Peacock 4/1
Brokeback Mountain – Peacock 4/1
Charlie Wilson’s War – Netflix 4/1
Clean and Sober – HBO Max 4/1
Coraline – HBO Max 4/1
Courage Under Fire – Hulu 4/1
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Prime Video 4/1
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Peacock 4/1
Face/Off – Paramount+ and Prime Video 4/1
Fast Times at Ridgemont High – Prime Video 4/1
Fatal Attraction – Paramount+ 4/1
Father of the Bride (1991) – Hulu 4/1
Fight Club – Paramount+ 4/1
Forrest Gump – Prime Video 4/1
Friday Night Lights – Netflix 4/1
Get Shorty – Paramount+ 4/1
Ghost World – Paramount+ 4/1
The Godfather Trilogy – Paramount+ 4/1
Haywire – Hulu 4/1
High Fidelity – Hulu 4/1
The Host (2006) – HBO Max 4/1
How to Train Your Dragon – Netflix 4/1
Inception – Netflix 4/1
Inside Man (2006) – Netflix 4/1
Keeping the Faith – Prime Video 4/1
The Land Before Time – Netflix 4/1
A League of Their Own – Netflix 4/1
Life of Pi – Prime Video 4/1
Lincoln – Hulu and Paramount+ 4/1
The Long Goodbye – Paramount+ 4/1
Moneyball – Peacock 4/1
Mother! – Paramount+ 4/1
Moulin Rouge! – Hulu 4/1
My Cousin Vinny – Prime Video 4/1
Once – Hulu 4/1
Philomena – Prime Video 4/1
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – Peacock 4/1
Psycho (1960) – Netflix 4/1
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion – Paramount+ 4/1
Ronin – Paramount+ 4/1
Shanghai Noon – Paramount+ and Prime Video 4/1
Shrek – Hulu 4/1
Shrek 2 – Hulu 4/1
Shutter Island – Paramount+ 4/1
The Sisters Brothers – Prime Video 4/1
Snatch – Peacock 4/1
Speed – Prime Video 4/1
Spider-Man Trilogy – Netflix 4/1
Tangerine – HBO Max 4/1
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Prime Video 4/1
Titanic – Prime Video 4/1
Vanilla Sky – Prime Video 4/1
WarGames – Paramount+ 4/1
Whiplash – Prime Video 4/1
Zombieland – Netflix 4/1
Jesus Camp – Hulu 4/8
The Hateful Eight – Netflix 4/25
Moonage Daydream – HBO Max 4/29

Top Picks
Barry (Season 4) – HBO Max 4/16
John Mulaney: Baby J – Netflix 4/25
After three increasingly intense seasons, there’s no reason to doubt Bill Hader will land the plane in the show’s final outing. And if it somehow does fail, he’ll have no one to blame but himself: he’s directing all eight episodes.

The great stand-up delivers his first special since his stint in rehab, his divorce, his whirlwind romance with Olivia Munn, the arrival of his first kid and the sudden, intense hatred of a certain sect of the internet. Should make for some great material.

Other Recommendations
The Diplomat (Season 1) – Netflix 4/20
Leguizamo Does America – Peacock 4/17
Mrs. Davis (Season 1) – Peacock 4/20

Top Pick
Better Call Saul (Season 6) – Netflix 4/18
The final season of the exploits of Albuquerque’s most infamous lawyer was split into two parts on AMC this year. But if you waited, you can binge it all and not have to wait months after that cliffhanger.

Other Recommendations
Broad City (Complete Series) – Paramount+ 4/5
New Girl (Complete Series) – Hulu and Peacock 4/17
Yo! MTV Raps (Season 2) – Paramount+ 4/26

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Oscar Re-Do: 2012

You know the drill: Winners in bold, then we break it down.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Should have won: Zero Dark Thirty
Not even nominated: Cloud Atlas

One of the best line-ups the Oscars have put forth since expanding from five, there are any number of great picks here. At the time, Argo‘s win felt a bit self-congratulatory. (Look at how important the movies are!) But in the last decade, as dramas – historical or otherwise – have been shunted to streaming services, it holds up as top-notch Hollywood filmmaking. Personal favorite Silver Linings Playbook would have been the rare comedy to win, and a radically empathetic one at that. Even Lincoln, which I dismissed at the time as something for history teachers to pop in after finals, is much more daring and complicated than it seems. But for me, it comes down to the two most controversial films: Michael Haneke’s Amour, which manages to be both bleak without wallowing and romantic without sentimentality. That’s a rare feat. And then there’s Zero Dark Thirty, which stirred things up before it was ever seen by anyone. Kathryn Bigelow’s docudrama about the hunt for Osama bin Laden was accused of factual inaccuracies, promoting torture, and even violating national security laws. But none of that really matters when you watch it. This is an utterly captivating revenge thriller that, whether it realizes it or not, questions whether everything the mission cost was worth it. (Short answer: No.) This is a gorgeous film about one of the ugliest periods in American history. That’s why it will stand the test of time.

But you know what’s even better, despite having more flaws? Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis’ Cloud Atlas, which adapts David Mitchell’s sci-fi novel as big as possible. Does it all work? Goodness, no. But when it’s at its best (which is often), it’s nothing short of breathtaking. It got zero attention from most awards groups, but it also deserved nominations for directing, writing, make-up, costume design, production design, visual effects and original score.

Michael Haneke, Amour
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Should have won: Michael Haneke
Not even nominated: Leos Carax, Holy Motors

An extremely weird category. Ben Affleck won the DGA Award, despite not being nominated here. That was only the second time that happened, after Ron Howard’s Apollo 13. Ang Lee picked up his second directing Oscar, but Life of Pi feels more like the technology-driven films he’d pursue after and less like the human dramas he made his name on. That’s why I’m choosing to give it to Haneke, who spent decades as one of Europe’s most daring filmmakers before crossing over with this relationship drama.

But I’d happily swap out Zeitlin for Leos Carax, whose inexplicable, unclassifiable Holy Motors is the work of a mad genius.

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

Should have won: Joaquin Phoenix
Not even nominated: Jack Black, Bernie

With a third Best Actor Oscar, Daniel Day-Lewis solidified his place as one of the greatest actors of all time. His portrayal of the 16th President as deeply conflicted, grieving, conniving and quick-witted blows all other takes on Abe out of the water. Yet this is one of the strongest line-ups this category has ever had. I honestly would have been happy with any of these gentlemen winning. But I have to go with Joaquin Phoenix, who’s just astonishing here as the lost, out-of-control Freddie. It’s his best performance.

But oh how I wish there had been at least one more spot. Jack Black, who will probably never be nominated for an Oscar, deserved consideration for his turn as Bernie Tiede, the put-upon murderer. He’s always been a joyous performer, but in this turn, he pushed himself further than he ever had.

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz

Went back and forth on this, but ultimately I’m still very satisfied with Lawrence’s win here. She’s the soul and fire of a complicated movie with an extremely tricky part.

I’d flip Naomi Watts for Michelle Williams. Granted, Williams has been nominated quite a bit, and specializes in playing miserable wives. She’s at it again in Sarah Polley’s romantic dramedy, but it’s more layered and understated than some of her other, more heralded performances.

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My Dream Oscar Ballot 2023

Avatar: The Way of Water
The Banshees of Inisherin
Decision to Leave
Everything Everywhere All at Once
The Fabelmans
Women Talking

James Cameron, Avatar: The Way of Water
Damien Chazelle, Babylon
Park Chan-wook, Decision to Leave
Daniels, Everything Everywhere All at Once
S.S. Rajamouli, RRR

Diego Calva, Babylon
Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin
Brendan Fraser, The Whale
Tom Hanks, A Man Called Otto
Bill Nighy, Living

Cate Blanchett, Tár
Margot Robbie, Babylon
Emma Thompson, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Tang Wei, Decision to Leave
Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Paul Dano, The Fabelmans
Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin
Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Justin Long, Barbarian
Brad Pitt, Babylon

Hong Chau, The Whale
Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin
Dolly De Leon, Triangle of Sadness
Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Janelle Monáe, Glass Onion

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Oscar Guide 2023

If you asked me this time last year if a movie starring a mostly Asian/Asian-American cast, directed by the guys who made the (admittedly awesome) farting corpse movie, would be sweeping the Oscars, I’d have laughed in your face. But by my count, Everything Everywhere All at Once looks poised to dominate, with six Oscars (and possibly more). That would be the highest total for a single film since La La Land, which famously did not take home Best Picture, despite being announced as the winner.

As always, take my predictions with a grain of salt.

All Quiet on the Western Front
Avatar: The Way of Water
The Banshees of Inisherin
Everything Everywhere All at Once
The Fabelmans
Top Gun: Maverick
Triangle of Sadness
Women Talking

Will and should win: Everything Everywhere All at Once
Could win: All Quiet on the Western Front
Should have been nominated: RRR

The skinny: A truly daring, original film is going to win Best Picture and dominate the whole show. So why am I not more excited? Part of it is fatigue. The movie came out more than a year ago, and also it’s basically won every single major prize, so there’s a feeling of inevitability here. But that shouldn’t take away from the massive achievement of my second-favorite movie of 2022. Only RRR was better.

Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans
Todd Field, Tár
Ruben Östlund, Triangle of Sadness 

Will and should win: Daniels
Could win: Steven Spielberg
Should have been nominated: Park Chan-wook, Decision to Leave 

The skinny: Four (well, five) first-time nominees plus Grandpa Steven. An excellent line-up, though I would have swapped Östlund for Park. Spielberg will one day win a third Directing Oscar, but it won’t be this year.

Austin Butler, Elvis
Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin
Brendan Fraser, The Whale
Paul Mescal, Aftersun
Bill Nighy, Living 

Will win: Austin Butler
Could win: Brendan Fraser
Should win: Colin Farrell
Should have been nominated: Tom Hanks, A Man Called Otto 

The skinny: Ever since that first photo of Brendan Fraser in all his prosthetics was released, it seemed like destiny that he’d win the Oscar on a wave of goodwill. But until SAG, he hadn’t won a single major award. While that carried major weight (no pun intended), it seems like voters will once again pick an actor playing a real person. This is certainly one of the better versions of that thing, though it’s probably my fifth-favorite performance here. Tops is Colin Farrell as the wounded party in an abruptly ended friendship.

Cate Blanchett, Tár
Ana de Armas, Blonde
Andrea Riseborough, To Leslie
Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans
Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once 

Will win: Michelle Yeoh
Could and should win: Cate Blanchett 
Should have been nominated: Emma Thompson, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande 

The skinny: It’s really a toss-up here. Blanchett is no doubt giving the best performance – of any gender in any category – this year. But she already has two Oscars to her name. Yeoh has been kicking ass for decades but only acknowledged for the first time this year. There will be a lot of hand-wringing if Blanchett does win, but it’s not as if Yeoh winning is any sort of tokenism. She’s magnificent as the time-jumping reluctant heroine of her own story. But voters should probably take a long look at themselves that they had three more spots but didn’t find room for another legend giving a stellar performance.

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TV Recap: Feb. 26-Mar. 4, 2023

Party Down – “Kyle Bradway Is Nitromancer” (A) / season premiere
Comedy reboots don’t have the strongest track record as of late. But this premiere is an encouraging sign, with the show’s trademark blend of cringe and empathy in fine form. Ron finally getting enough money to own Party Down and then declaring: “2020 is going to be my year” elicited my biggest laugh of the year so far.

Animaniacs – Season 3 (A- average)
This final Hulu season went out with a bang, relegating its non-Warner siblings, non-mouse segments even further and delivering some big laughs. Its Christmas episode is an all-timer.

Cunk on Earth (A- average)
Pending the return of The Rehearsal, I doubt I’ll laugh harder this year than this mockumentary series about the history of the world, as observed through the Technotronic-loving, malapropism-spouting globetrotter Philomena Funk.

Mad Men – Season 7 (A- average)
I actually finished this a few weeks ago, but technically difficulties kept me from publishing. Like Matthew Weiner’s former employer The Sopranos, this two-part final season saw its protagonist lose important people to him one by one, then end with a polarizing final shot. I loved it.

Happy Endings – Season 3 (A- average)
It’s one of TV’s great tragedies that this show didn’t get at least one more season to properly wrap things up. Still, this final season was consistently hilarious, providing something resembling emotional stakes for most of its characters.

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