All-Time Favorite (and Least Favorite) Trail Blazers

The release of Brandon Roy this week got me thinking about who my all-time favorite Blazers are. Of course, Roy is on the list. Now, I’m not saying these are the most talented players the team ever saw, and you’ll notice that none of them are before 1990 or so. I moved to Oregon in 1988, and started following basketball at the same time. Therefore, these are the guys whom I loved to watch play the most.

Starters
Terry Porter – Point Guard
Porter is, to me, the greatest shooter in Trail Blazers history. He was the kind of guy that had you standing up as he shot, because you felt like it was always going to go in (and it quite often did). He also was very smart, and his leadership was key to the two Blazers’ finals runs in the 90’s.

Brandon Roy – Shooting Guard
What more can be said about Brandon, other than that he was supremely gifted, a natural leader, and a top-ten NBA player when his knees finally gave out. He was deft around the basket, was unstoppable with his step-back jumper, and had an innate sense of time and place when it came down to the end of the game.

Clyde Drexler – Small Forward
It’s kind of a cheat, but I put Clyde at the Small Forward Spot. He can handle it. Clyde always had that incredible athleticism, and a “how’d he do that?!” kind of game. His shot was too flat, he could do nothing with his left hand, and yet he consistently made plays. He was also the kind of guy you’d love to hang out with.

Rasheed Wallace – Power Forward
Rasheed was a knucklehead, to be sure, but he was OUR knucklehead. The guy was so naturally good at basketball, that the game itself seemed to come easy to him. I always felt like no matter what, through all the technical fouls and other nonsense, that Rasheed cared about winning.

Arvydas Sabonis – Center
It’s been well documented that Arvydas was past his prime when the Blazers finally got him, but he was still mesmerizing to watch play. That flat, flip of a 3-pointer. Those no look drop passes to cutters. That scowl when he would bang against Shaq in big games.

The Bench
Wesley Matthews
Although he has the well-earned reputation as a grinder, the label belies Matthews’s impressive skill-set. I think he has grown as a player each of the years he’s been in Portland, even if his stats are fairly static. He’s a smart, witty guy, and I think that he brings that intelligence to the court.

Rod Strickland
Another polarizing figure for some, I always felt Rod Strickland was like watching lightning. He was so quick, and as a high school player, I would tape my fingers just like Strickland, and try to BE him when I played.

LaMarcus Aldridge
I love watching LaMarcus play. He gets bagged on at times for being “soft,” which is a label I’ll never understand. All the guy does is hit shots and rebound. You can’t name another player with his kind of shooting touch, who also bangs down low like Reggie Evans. It’s one or the other. I’ll take the really talented guy who can score in a wide variety of ways.

Cliff Robinson
Uncle Cliffy! Another dynamic inside-out big, Cliff Robinson was always so easy to root for, and not just for his trademark headband. When he stepped up against David Robinson in the playoffs his rookie year, without backing down, he won my heart forever.

Kevin Duckworth
With his weight struggles, it’s easy to forget that Kevin Duckworth was a two-time all-star in the 90’s, when the Western Conference was packed with talented centers. That sweet jump hook and push jump shot was automatic, and he always seemed like a guy you wanted on your side.

Ime Udoka
If you can’t cheer for a guy like Ime Udoka, then you probably have no soul. Obviously, the fact he’s from Portland helps, but he was really the glue to the transition year the Blazers had from the Jail Blazers era to the Roy-Aldridge era. He’s proof that you don’t have the be the team’s star to be the team’s leader. His corner three was deadly, and he was a lock-down defender. It’s no wonder the Spurs stole him away.

Damon Stoudamire
Another guy from Portland, Damon always got a bad rap from his hometown fans. I am not sure why they thought he’d be the same guy who averaged 20 points a game for Toronto, when he was never going to get the number of shots he did on those bad Raptors teams. I appreciated that Damon looked to be aggressive, not necessarily just for his own shot. He wanted to win more than anything else.

The Rest
Greg Anthony
Nicolas Batum
Mario Elie
Jarrett Jack
Fred Jones
Richie Frahm
Damian Lillard
Robert Pack
Martell Webster
Brian Grant
Jerome Kersey
Travis Outlaw

Least Favorite Blazers Ever
Looking over the list of past Blazers, I realized there are guys for whom I always hated to cheer. For most of them, it was their games on the court, not who they were as people.

Luke Babbitt
I’m sure he’s a nice person, but he’s useless on the court. I always feel like he’s not shooting to make the shot, but rather not to miss. The fact he can’t do anything else but shoot three-pointers makes him a liability. And let’s face it: he has kind of a punchable face.

Chris Dudley
Politically, he’s a carpet-bagging douchebag. But I disliked him long before I knew any of that. Wildly untalented, he was like watching a gangly JV center who you knew was someday going to grow into his body. The problem was, Dudley was fully-grown.

Raymond Felton
Donuts, donuts, donuts. Plus, I don’t know if you knew this, but his horrible play wasn’t his fault, or at least that’s what he’s told me.

Jeff McInnis
Another North Carolina point guard disaster. McInnis was the classic “all ability, no game” NBA player. He coasted by his whole life by being quicker than everybody else, but never worked hard to develop the skills to truly excel when faced with equally gifted players. I dreaded every missed open jumper and stupid turnover.

Darius Miles
Miles takes the cake for squandered ability. 6’9″ with a huge wingspan, Miles looked like he should have been good at basketball, but he wasn’t. He couldn’t shoot, and wasn’t smart enough to contribute in other ways. On the plus side, he did a really nice job acting in his cameo in Van Wilder, so you know, that’s nice.

What do you think? Who were your favorite and least favorite players?

Mel Brooks-uary – Part One: The Producers and The Twelve Chairs

For Christmas, my wife Marisa gave me The Mel Brooks Collection on BluRay, which contains nine of his films. Mel Brooks has always been one of my favorite comedic filmmakers, so to take advantage of the gift, we are engaging in Mel Brooks-uary: an attempt to watch every Mel Brooks film during the month of February. This is our chronicle.

The Producers
The producers
I’m sure it has something to do with which studio has the rights to the film, but The Mel Brooks Collection does not include The Producers, which is obviously a Mel Brooks must-see. Fortunately, it’s available to stream through Netflix, so we went for it. If you haven’t seen it (and how could that be possible?), the movie is about a Broadway producer and his accountant, who attempt to put on the worst show possible, in a scam to steal investors’ money.
Nick
I’ve seen The Producers probably about ten times, so it was surprising to me that I still laugh throughout. It’s a testament to Mel Brooks that the film is still provocative, even though it’s 40 years old. There are so many dark elements in play for a relatively light movie. I mean, the whole Nazi thing, obviously, is pretty tough to turn into comedy (unless you’re Mel Brooks). Plus, the idea that Zero Mostel’s character raises money by banging old ladies who are about to die could be really nasty in the wrong hands, but Brooks pulls it off in a way that makes it almost kind of sweet.

I also think it’s amazing that Brooks did most of the music for his earlier movies. “Springtime for Hitler” makes me laugh every time I hear it.

The old-fashioned film techniques still stand out to me when I see it. With its odd zooms and pans, its stage-iness, and its sort of hammy “look into the camera and mug” shots, it’s definitely of its time. I also noticed how grating the film can be at times, especially when Gene Wilder starts screaming. But those are minor distractions from an enjoyable movie.

Marisa
For Christmas I decided to get Nick a Mel Brooks BluRay collection, nine movies in all. I generally don’t like Mel Brooks and in giving Nick this gift I knew I would be watching all of these movies again so you know it’s true love. I’m looking forward to watching The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein. I’m least looking forward to Space Balls (insert collective boos) and History of the World Part 1.

I was looking forward to watching The Producers most because it seems the most approachable to me. I know that I have watched it before but I’m more familiar with the Nathan Lane/Matthew Broderick version and I was surprised how faithfully the newer version followed the original and how well both movies stand up. I liked much of this movie. I really enjoyed all the little old ladies. They reminded me of a conversation I recently had with my 87 year-old-grandmother. She made a joke about the last time she was in Las Vegas looking for a hot young guy to spend the weekend with; the old ladies remind me of her. Also, how great is Springtime for Hitler? I’ve been singing it since I watched it.

A few things I didn’t care for it the movie was 1) the mugging for the camera – those shots where one of the characters turns and makes an aside to the camera that the other characters don’t hear – not into that, and 2) Gene Wilder’s hysteria got a bit old. However, watching him really made me want to re-watch Willy Wonka.

The Twelve Chairs
the twelve chairs movie posterMel Brooks’s second film, The Twelve Chairs, takes place after the Russian Revolution. On her deathbed, a former noble confesses to her son-in-law and a priest that she hid her jewels in one of twelve dining chairs before the revolution. The priest breaks his vows to track them down, and the son also leaves home to find the chairs. Along the way, he’s blackmailed by a grifter, who forces him to team up as they cross the Russian countryside in search of the jewels.

Nick
This was the one Mel Brooks film I had never seen, so I was pretty anxious to give it a try. I can see now why it’s considered minor Brooks. Like The Producers, the movie suffers from its stage-iness. I read that the star, Frank Langella, had come directly from theater, and you can tell. He has that “thespian” voice, never speaking like a normal person. It’s also distracting that some of the characters speak in Russian accents, but our main character does not.

The main problem with the film is tone. The Twelve Chairs the closest that Brooks has ever come to making a drama, which, to me, makes its lack of subtlety less forgivable. I think that there were a number of themes running through the film that would make for an interesting story: the transition from Russia to the USSR, and the desperation of former nobles and peasants to gain security in the new country. But I think that the movie is too broad to really hit the emotional notes needed to tell those stories.

Marisa
I’m not totally sure what to think of this movie. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a comedy or a drama – a dramedy? The movie never really struck the right tone for me; I felt like something was missing. Also, there were some plot points I didn’t like. Like, why didn’t the main character just go home at the end? He had some sort of government job. Couldn’t he pull some strings and head back to his home or, I don’t know, call his wife? And I got a little sick of following the Father around and all the chases scenes being in that Benny Hill fast-forward style.

As a final note, did anyone notice that the dude from The Producers that played the Director’s Assistant made an appearance in this movie too? I thought that he was just wearing make-up in The Producers but clearly this guy just looks like a human cat.

Up next: Blazing Saddles

Top Ten for 2011

It’s been a while since I posted anything, and I think part of that is because I’ve had such a good and busy fall. I thought I’d take some time to share some of my favorite things of the year. These are the things I experienced this year that made my year a good one.

10. Pizza Stone

pizza stoneMy in-laws got me a pizza stone for my grill last Christmas, and holy cow was it a great present. We made all kinds of fantastic pizza: pear and blue cheese, barbeque chicken, bacon and cheese, sausage and pepper, and more. Just put the stone on the grill when you fire it up, and when it’s hot, cover the stone with corn meal, roll out your dough, and top your pizza. The crust is crunchy, the cheese is gooey and smokey, and you can’t beat the flavor.

9. Captain America

Now, first off, I don’t think that Captain America is a perfect movie, but I sure enjoyed it. Part of it is sentimental. Captain America was my favorite comic book as a kid, so to see it on the bigscreen was awesome. I have some quibbles with it, most notably its lack of Nazis. The best part of the comic book as a kid was seeing Cap routinely defeat evil Nazi plans. In the movie, the Red Skull (the film’s villain) almost immediately breaks off from Germany to form his own evil organization. I think that was a big mistake, and a befuddling decision.

But that’s my only real complaint. I thought that there were so many awesome little touches, such as having Cap going around selling war bonds in that wool uniform. It just made me happy to see something I liked so much as a kid so brilliantly executed on the big screen.

8. Sushi Chiyo

I love the sushi train in all of its forms. However, Vancouver’s Sushi Chiyo takes the cake (of rice, topped with salmon) right now. Most sushi train places put only 2-3 pieces on each plate, with only simple items like California Rolls available. But Sushi Chiyo offers full plates, with 4-5 pieces, and it offers a wide variety of choices. I’ve had rainbow rolls, spider rolls, and the biggest pieces of salmon sashimi possible. Go during happy hour (2:30-4:30pm), and every plate is only $1.50, which is a steal.

Find it at: 13007 NE Highway 99 Vancouver, WA 98686

7. Four on the Floor Hamburger Challenge

I already blogged about this here, but the Four on the Floor Hamburger Challenge was awesome. It was my baby; I wanted to see if we could eat four hamburgers at four places in four hours. Turns out, almost all nine of us could. Read the blog for the details in all their gastronomic glory.

6. Los Gorditos Mexican Food

Los Gorditos is a taco cart on the corner of 50th and Division, and I think that their burritos are the greatest in all of Portland. The best part of Los Gorditos’s menu is free: their sauces. They have a great salsa bar. My favorites are their green sauce, their smoky chipotle, best of all, their peppery red sauce. The Stacy Burrito rolls up your choice of meat, rice, beans, cheese, sour cream, grilled onions, cilantro, and that red sauce in an enormous tortilla. I always end up dumping at least 4 containers of sauce on it, too, resulting in a delicious, sweaty experience. The red sauce has one of those flavors that makes the corners of my tongue, where the muscle meets my jaw, start to cringe and salivate. Mmmm….

5. The Stormy Weather Arts Festival at Cannon Beach

Marisa and I have been going to the beach every fall since we first started dating 13 years ago, so for this trip Marisa had the great idea to go during the Stormy Weather Arts Festival, a weekend of art and wine at the town’s galleries. She got a great deal on a hotel, so we were able to stay 3 nights.

We went out on Friday and Saturday night, drinking wine and enjoying some interesting (and not-so-interesting) art. It was fascinating to see the different approaches the galleries had to their inventory. Generally speaking, I don’t think highly of the kind of art available at the coast, but I was genuinely surprised to see some paintings and sculptures I found interesting. It was good to see young artists with edgier style, instead of just the dowdy middle-brow fare usually for sale. I’ve had enough of sad Native Americans and paintings of Haystack Rock, and this year’s festival delivered new choices (not that we could afford any of them).

4. Hoops Tournament

For my birthday this year, I decided to throw myself the birthday party I’ve always wanted: a basketball tournament. I invited 18-20 guys to a gym I rented out, split them up into 4 teams, and played a big tournament. We had a clock and a scoreboard, and we played a round-robin schedule.
hoops tournament
I picked the teams, and tried to keep them even. I won’t lie: I stacked my own team. But honestly, I only picked guys with whom I enjoy playing, not just good players. My squad managed to win the whole thing. Happy birthday to me!

3. Brandon Roy Leads Miracle Comeback

When Brandon Roy led the Blazers back against the Mavericks in Game 4 of the first round of the NBA playoffs, it was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen in sports. At the lowest point, the Blazers were down 23 points, and Roy single-handedly brought the team back and eventually ahead.

I was watching the game at home, and Marisa can tell you, I went from down in the dumps to screaming and standing by the end. Just thinking about the comeback gives me chills.

2. Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Last year, it was Of Montreal. This year, it’s Neutral Milk Hotel.

I know, this album came out in 1998. But I only discovered it this year, so it counts, dammit! There are so many reasons that I shouldn’t like this album. The lyrics are reportedly based on the life story of Anne Frank, which sounds painfully pretentious. It’s sort of folky, and I generally don’t go for folk music. The singer, Jeff Mangum, has sort of a whiny, nasally voice.

And yet, I can’t stop listening to this album. The lyrics (about Anne Frank) are strange and beautiful. The melodies are gorgeous and catchy, and the raw-feeling production values are perfect. I think that the album makes you relate to something and someone in a situation seemingly impossible to really understand.

1. Paris and London

My wife would likely kill me if this wasn’t the number one thing on my list, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the best thing I did all year. Marisa and I took about two weeks during April to see Paris. The airfare was so much cheaper to go to London, so we decided to fly there and take the chunnel over to Paris.

I had never been to Paris, but Marisa had, and she was excited to show me the city. We rented an apartment for a week just half a mile from the Eiffel Tower, which was a great experience. We were able to take the Metro train wherever we needed, we ate cheese and drank wine everyday, and we saw a phenomenal amount of art and history.

I never thought I’d see Paris, and to actually get there was simply amazing.

There, that’s my list. What would be on yours?

Top 10 Engaging Movies of All-Time

This isn’t as cut and dry as my previous list, The Top 10 Comedies of All-Time, but it makes sense, if you bear with me. The idea behind this list is that certain movies grab you, right from the start, and don’t let go until the end. When I’m in a movie like this, I’ve often had the realization that I’ve been completely lost in the movie for an hour. Afterwards, I feel like I’ve woken up from a dream of sorts.

Another signal that a movie belongs in this category is when it lingers in my mind long after I’ve seen it; I want to discuss it with my friends and wife, or it keeps me up while I’m trying to sleep.

These movies aren’t always my favorites; in fact, some of them I’m not sure I even like that much. The thing that they all have in common is their ability to spark an emotional response of some sort in me. The emotion isn’t always consistent. That is to say, they’re not all sad movies or something. But they all change my mood in some way when I see them.

10 – Black Swan

Director: Darren Aronofsky

I had a really tough time deciding which Darren Aronofsky film I’d pick for this list. All of his movies, from Pi to The Wrestler and everyone in-between, are engrossing. But none of them made me ponder their meaning and importance more than Black Swan. Frankly, I don’t think I even like it. But I can’t stop thinking about it. Natalie Portman is incredible, and Aronofsky’s tone is so confrontational that I felt like I could never really settle in. I couldn’t wait for the movie to end, just so the tension would be relieved, and poor Natalie could be put out of her misery.

9 – Lost in Translation

Director: Sofia Coppola

Bill Murray has mastered the art of the mopey, regretful, ironically funny older gentleman. Nowhere is it on better display than here. Sure, he was great in Rushmore and The Life Aquatic (which I’ll get to down the list), but this is his crowning melancholy moment. Sofia Coppola and Murray were born to work together, between her “mood as plot” directing style and his latter-day tendency to choose these kinds of roles. I realize that the above sentences don’t sound like a glowing review, but I don’t mean them negatively. I think that Coppola largely succeeds with her films because of her commitment to her subtle aesthetic. Even Somewhere, which was by no means a great movie, skated by on its style.

But here, in this movie, Coppola combines her ever-present theme of personal drift with an intriguing idea: that two people could find each other without knowing they were looking. The blossoming friendship between Murray and Scarlett Johanssen’s characters felt organic and compellling, and the kiss they shared at the end seem like exactly enough. They met, they connected, they parted, and it meant something to them.

8 – Boys Don’t Cry

Director: Kimberly Peirce

I have seen Boys Don’t Cry twice, which is exactly one time more than I should have seen it. This is one of the most brutal movies I’ve ever seen, on par with American History X. It’s bizarre, with this movie, because I knew going into it exactly how it would end. Most of us did, as it was based on a notorious true story. Yet, as the movie went along, a sense of dread and “what is going to happen” built up, thanks to great storytelling. It’s like a balloon slowly inflating. You know it’s going to pop at some point, but you don’t know when, and the tension is unbearable.

7 – Quiz Show

Director: Robert Redford

This movie does what Boys Don’t Cry did, but in a more sympathetic way. Robert Redford does a masterful job in Quiz Show of bringing us three compelling characters destined to collide at the end of the movie. Charles Van Doren did a really shady thing, and is by no means an admirable person, but as portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, he’s way more sympathetic than he has any right to be. You can kind of see why: he’s living in the shadow of his father and needs validation as his own man. It’s a credit to Fiennes and Redford that you don’t necessarily want this to end badly for Van Doren, even though you know it must.

The other two characters I mentioned are Dick Goodwin (played by Rob Morrow) and Herbert Stempel (played by John Turturro), who for their faults, were still likeable in their own way. Well, maybe not Stempel, but you understood why he was so angry. It’s tough to watch almost at the end, when the three men collide at the Congressional hearing. You don’t really want anyone to lose, even though everyone kind of does.

6 – The Life Aquatic

Director: Wes Anderson

Yeah, I know, I’m a sucker for Wes Anderson. Sue me.

This was, I believe, his first movie without Owen Wilson as a co-writer, and the loss of his comic voice was notable. Although I still think this movie is quite funny in parts, Anderson’s diminished desire to make us laugh allows him to explore his characters’ existential dilemmas in a more meaningful way than in his previous films.

When -spoiler alert (I felt like I had to put that in for your film nerd types) – Ned dies near the end, Anderson has earned our sorrow. The development of both Ned and Steve as complex people who need each other to fill a void feels real; you can feel the moment Steve deflates and accepts Ned as his son, not just in name, but as a part of him. Likewise, Ned’s eagerness to have a real father, even a terrible one like Steve, feels real. Owen Wilson’s performance in this movie alone makes me hopeful he’ll find his way out of the comedy gutter he’s in and attempt something more meaningful again.

5 – Saving Private Ryan

Director: Steven Speilberg

Saving Private Ryan was a revelation to me for two reasons. First, as most people realized, it was an incredible movie, and its famous opening fight sequence was a heart-stopper. Secondly, it made me realize that war films could have real value, if they made the soldiers real people instead of one-dimensional plot elements. This movie illustrated to me that the soldiers who served in WWII were not always old men, but were once young people who had a lot in common with me. I am writing this from my own experience, not as an objective statement, and when this movie came out, I had yet to see an emotionally engaging war movie. I know that there are exceptions from before this movie, but I had not seen them. So it was genuinely surprising and emotionally engaging for me to see these characters as real people and not archetypical “brave” soldiers. They were brave, certainly, but that wasn’t their only characteristic.

This movie spawned the Band of Brother miniseries, which, to me, is even better. However, since this is a movie list, Saving Private Ryan gets the nod.

4 – The Dark Knight

Director: Christopher Nolan

We saw The Dark Knight in the theater, along with another couple, Tyson and Corinne. After sitting in a completely silent, enraptured movie theater (and how often does that happen? No idiots on cell phones? No crying babies?), we retreated to Stanford’s for late-night happy hour and a chance to talk. Instead of catching up on our lives and other boring stuff, we annoyed the living crap out of our server by discussing every moment of the film in great detail.

Obviously, Heath Ledger is the star, and captures every eye when he’s onscreen, but it’s fantastic for so many other reasons. I’ve been a huge Nolan fan since Memento, and nowhere is he in greater control of mood and pace than here. I have often railed against Meet the Parents as a shrill, one-note comedy, one that makes the viewer tense without ever releasing the tension. If it were funny, it might have done that, but it wasn’t. What I’m getting at here is that The Dark Knight does the exact thing. However, instead of waiting for a punchline that never comes, I draw further and further into the movie until the end, only then exhaling and trying to piece together what I have just seen.

3 – City of God

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Partially due to its all-unknown cast, but mostly because of incredible filmmaking, this movie made me forget, almost instantly, that it was in fact a work of fiction; I had to remind myself at the end of the film that these crazy Brazilian kids were actors. The film was shot in a shaky, documentary-style fashion, necessitated I’m sure by budgetary concerns, but also a desire by director Fernando Meirelles to make as gritty a film as possible. We would see a similar, gripping cinematic flair in Meirelles’s next film, The Constant Gardener, which almost made me cry, and almost made this list.

2 – V for Vendetta

Director: The Wachowski Brothers

Is this a perfect movie? No. Does it completely envelope you? Yes. For me anyway.

The first time I watched this movie was at my friend Stanley’s house, on DVD, a long time ago. He was my only friend at the time with a bigscreen HDTV (ah, the olden days…) and surround sound. As I often do when watching a movie, I was drinking a beer. At some point, I had drank all the beer, and was physically unable to get up and get another. If that’s not powerful anecdotal evidence, I don’t know what is.

As for the movie itself, it hits all the right notes. It’s dark and intense, mysterious and suspenseful. The sequence where Natalie Portman’s character is imprisoned is just wrenching, and beautifully done. The cinematography is just gorgeous, and it nicely grounds the fantastic elements of the story with (relatively) realistic moments and sets.

I think anyone can relate to the theme of governmental control and fear of fascism, and I think it plays it just right. Obviously, there are a lot of parallels between this movie and our current Patriot Act era, but I’ll leave that to you to discuss among yourselves. I find it amazing that the filmmakers force us in the end to root for a man who in any, ANY, circumstance would rightly be considered a terrorist. A quick aside – the people who wrote the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot realize that Mel’s character was not, in fact, a patriot, right? I mean, he’s leading a rebellion, and the U.S. hadn’t even formed yet. To whom exactly is he patriotic? I mean, really, he’s a lawbreaker and terrorist against the government. Sure, he ended up on the right side, but still.

1 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Director: Michel Gondry

I think that anyone who has had their heart broken can relate to this movie, as I did. Sure, it was a long time ago, since Marisa and I have been together for a long time, but I still remember what it feels like. I think it’s amazing that while the movie centers around this crazy technology that lets people into your head, the movie is still just about how these characters feel about one another.

I also like the idea of memory as partial, or incomplete. We remember the most important parts of our lives, and the details wash away. Christopher Nolan got at this idea in Inception. He was talking about dreams, and how our minds forgive the nonsensical or unrealistic elements of our dreams and accept them as reality. I think we do the same with memories. We forgive and forget the parts that we don’t like to create an ideal moment that we can reflect on lovingly later on.

I think that Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman also do a good job at showing the small cracks that break up couples. I’d say most failed relationships stem from a series of small slights, not a momentous betrayal, like a cheating spouse. When you’ve broken up with someone, it’s often tough to point to one moment as THE moment it happened; rather, the breakup started a long time ago when the couple started taking each other for granted, as Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet do in Eternal Sushine of the Spotless Mind.

Honorable Mention

The Constant Gardener
Requiem For a Dream
Fight Club
Sin City
Being John Malkovich
American History X
Rosemary’s Baby

Top 10 Comedies of All-Time

My friends and I had a long conversation on New Year’s Eve about our favorite comedies of all time. It was interesting to see what each of us consider essential comedies; one man’s clever is another man’s corny.  So, as you can see, I made a list of my top ten.  I’m not trying to define the greatest comedies ever, I am simply  trying to explain which mean the most to me personally.

Criteria

  • Memorability: Does the movie have quotable lines? Do you bring the movie up in conversations, because it reminds you of real-life situations?
  • Watchability: Can the movie we watched over and over again? This isn’t necessarily a make-or-break criterion, but it certainly plays a role. Some movies get better on repeat viewing, as the layers of the jokes reveal themselves to you. Some movies get worse.
  • How hard did it make me laugh the first time I saw it?: Some movies make me howl out loud when I see them, while others are more of a slow build. Ultimately, a truly great comedy makes you laugh out loud, not just smile to yourself.
  • What is the story/funny ratio?: Ultimately the best comedies have a strong story with well-drawn characters and plot lines, while also being hilarious. However, the ratio can swing away from character and plot and still succeed, if the movie is incredibly funny. Likewise, it’s easier to excuse a movie with fewer jokes if its plot is engaging.
  • What does the movie mean to you?: The list I’ve prepared includes some movies my wife insists aren’t that funny, and I’ve realized that she might be right. But to me, on a personal level, they will always be great, because I first saw them when I as a kid. As an adult, I still appreciate them, but my judgment on their quality is clouded by sentimentality.

I mulled over all these elements, and have settled on my top ten comedies of all time. Here they are:

T-10. Borat and Spaceballs

Is it a cop-out to have a tie for number 10, thereby allowing me to choose 11 movies for my top 10 list? Yes. But it’s my list, so back off.
Borat falls into the category of “laughed hysterically the first time I saw it, but lost a lot of luster on repeat viewing.” That said, I have never laughed harder in a movie theater, or been in one that was more raucous. The shock value of that movie is obviously through the roof. Sacha Baron-Cohen was brilliant in this movie, and his follow-up, Bruno, showed how difficult a movie like this is to pull off. Where Borat gave me a pleasant “what will happen next” feeling, punctuated by laughter, Bruno left me feeling tense and unsatisfied.

Best Quote: “Her vazhïn hang like sleeve of wizard’s robe.”

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Mel Brooks, to me, has made about 4 classic American comedies: The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and Spaceballs. Although I know many of you might argue that the last one doesn’t belong, I realized today that it’s my favorite among them.

First, it’s one of those movies that I adored as a kid. But watching it again as an adult, I still laugh. Bill Pullman is great in it, and it’s one of Rick Moranis’s best performances. I’m a Star Wars fan, and I like that Spaceballs pokes fun at the ridiculousness of those movies.

What really sold it for me is that Spaceballs has one of the greatest commitments to a joke in movie history. It named the second-in-command bad guy “Colonel Sanders,” which is smile-worthy in and of itself. That’s not the joke, however. Halfway through the movie, Dark Helmet commands the Colonel to put the ship into Ludicrous Speed, which is faster than light speed. Colonel Sanders is clearly afraid, so Dark Helmet taunts him, “What’s the matter Colonel Sanders? Chicken?” This line gets me to laugh every time.

Best Quote: See above

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9. Office Space

Office Space is an interesting case, because I actually didn’t really like it the first time I saw it. I think the reason was that I was 18 and had never really had a job.

It really clicked for me the second time I saw it. The satire of the workplace is spot-on, and the jabs at restaurant chains and mega-apartment complexes ring true. Although there’s lots of great acting, the performances by Ron Livingston and David Hermann in particular really stand out. That movie, on top of its great jokes, also does a fabulous job of building momentum. At heart, it’s a heist movie. A really, really funny heist movie.

Best Quote: “I’m thinking I might take that new chick from Logistics. If things go well I might be showing her my O-face. ‘Oh… Oh… Oh!’ You know what I’m talkin’ about. ‘Oh!'”

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8. Wet Hot American Summer

This little-seen gem is one of those movies that grows infinitely more funny on repeated viewings. It’s a satire of those 80’s summer camp movies, written and directed by Stella, the hilarious comedy troupe comprised of Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, and David Wain. It also stars Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks (before they blew up), Janeane Garafalo, Molly Shannon, and David Hyde Pierce. The rest of the cast is awesome, too. You’ve seen most of them in other, more well-known movies. They’re the “oh, it’s that guy! I love him!” kind of actors.

The comedy is wry and gentle, generally coming from clever interactions between the various characters. The plot is more or less irrelevant, which works out just fine. Watch it once and chuckle. Watch it again and laugh out loud.

Best Quote: “If you wanna smear mud on your ass, smear mud on your ass – just be honest about it. Look, Gene, I’ve never told anyone this before, but I can suck my own dick, and I do it a lot.”

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7. Caddyshack

What can you say about Caddyshack that hasn’t been said a thousand times? It’s essentially a terrible, formulaic teen sex comedy… until you factor in three comedic actors at the height of their power. Chevy Chase, Ted Knight, and Bill Murray take what should have been instantly forgettable and make it memorable. Don’t forget Rodney Dangerfield, either.

It’s another one of those movies where the plot is more of a hindrance than help. I don’t give a damn about Danny and his inexplicably Scottish girlfriend (I think her dad is the groundskeeper, who is Scottish, but that’s never really explained).

There are so many reasons this movie shouldn’t work, but it does. I think that the perfectly hammy performances by Knight and Dangerfield are balanced out by Murray and Chase’s underplayed brilliance, giving the movie a blend of slapstick and wordplay that’s tough to resist. Caddyshack is a lot like Murray or Chase: it gets by on confidence and charm.

Best Quote: “Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac… It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole! “

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6. That Thing You Do!

Laugh at me if you will, but I find this movie delightful. It’s funny, engaging, romantic, and a little exciting. Tom Hanks is a great comedic actor, even though he’s never starred in a really great comedy. To make amends, he wrote and directed That Thing You Do!, which is consistently funny. Sure, he has a supporting part in the movie, but the focus is on the cleverly-titled Oneders (Wonders), who live up to their name as one-hit wonders.

This is truly an ensemble piece, and the cast members all do a good job at playing their parts. The humor in this movie generally comes from within realistic situations, which makes the jokes feel natural. I love how the movie avoids the whole set-up/punchline dynamic when it can. Steve Zahn really shines as the wiseguy drummer. This was the first time I ever saw Zahn, and I think he always brightens up whatever he’s in with his witty delivery.

Best Quote: “Oh, I’m not here with these fellas. I’ve got a pig in competition over at the livestock pavilion, and I am going to win that blue ribbon!”

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5. Hot Fuzz!

Simon Pegg is one of my favorite comedic actors, and I think this is his best movie. Don’t get me wrong, Shaun of the Dead is great, but I think that Hot Fuzz! has more laughs. I love the action-comedy spoof at play, and while that is a source for really funny stuff, the best jokes in Hot Fuzz! come in-between the action, as the colorful characters interact.

Best Quote: “If we don’t come down hard on these clowns, we are going to be up to our *balls* in jugglers! “

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I think that the film works amazingly well as both an action-comedy, and as a spoof of them.

4. This is Spinal Tap

As I pondered this list, I thought a lot about the Christopher Guest mockumentaries, and where I would rank them among my favorites. I nearly included Waiting for Guffman on the list, but I just couldn’t do it. I love that movie, and most of his others, but none of them are quite as good as This is Spinal Tap. Of course, Spinal Tap is a Rob Reiner film, not a Guest film, but they share sensibilities and it’s pretty obvious that Guest had a big hand in making Spinal Tap.

Spinal Tap is a shining example of how strong performances can outweigh light plots, especially in comedy. As a viewer, I feel like the actors are having fun, and it’s contagious. They are sharp, yet silly. The plot elements introduced throughout the movie, such as the black album cover or the arrival of Jeanine, feel less like major shifts in the movie than new opportunities for the band members to joke around. It’s a risky move, as weak performances could have stopped the movie in its tracks. It’s a credit to Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer that the film continues to move along at such a hilarious clip.

Best Quote: “But this one goes to 11!”

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3. Rushmore

It was hard to decide which Wes Anderson film to put in this list. Although The Royal Tenenbaums is his most accessible comedy, Rushmore is always the winner to me. One could make an argument that his films don’t belong on this list at all, as they all share a bittersweet quality that could place them in a different category altogether. I disagree.

Yes, Wes Anderson’s movies all contain sadness, but I think that emotional resonance enhances the comedy. Would Max’s outburst at the nurse at the restaurant be nearly as funny if he wasn’t lovesick?

Another reason I rate Rushmore so high is purely sentimental: this was one of the first movies Marisa and I saw together when we first started dating, all the way back in 1998.

Best Quote: “These are O.R. scrubs.” “Oh, are they?”

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2. Anchorman

I will admit, part of the appeal of Anchorman to me is its setting. I worked in TV news for several years, and it’s fun to see my industry made fun of in such an ingratiating way. But really, this movie is all about the undeniably charm and smarm of Will Ferrell. Arguably his funniest film, Anchorman is a fine example of how a movie can sort of amble along plotlessly for long stretches of time, and still keep viewers engaged.

The movie has less of a plot than a series of sketches strung together, but it all works based on the performances by the cast. Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Christina Applegate, and David Koechner are quote machines.

I saw Anchorman with a group of news coworkers in the theater after we got done doing the morning show, at the first matinee time of the day. We laughed so hard, some of us were crying. The movie maintains its enjoyability after the first watch, as the layers of silliness reveal themselves on repeat viewing.

Best Quote: “Look, the most beautiful rainbow ever!” “Do me on it!”

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1. Ghost Busters

This movie really has it working on all cylinders for me. It has a funny and compelling script, great actors at the height of their comedic powers, quotable lines galore, and it also happened to come out when I was a kid, which means it has that extra something to put it over the hump to the number one spot.

Ghost Busters is the best of the dozens of action-comedy movies that began coming out in the 80’s. You can make an argument for Beverly Hills Cop, Bad Boys or other similar movies, but none of them are as truly funny as Ghost Busters. Jokes in other action-comedies have a tendency to be punctuation marks to action sequences, something the writer threw in there to lighten up the fact someone was killed. The humor in Ghost Busters comes from both situation and personality, which makes it more engaging; you feel like the characters are funny, yet real people.

Unlike those other action-comedies, the jokes don’t stop in the middle of the big action set pieces. When the Staypuft Marshmallow Man is bearing down on our heroes, the movie remains funny.

Ultimately however, the thing that gets me about Ghost Busters is the way the characters all feel fully developed. None of them feel solely like a plot device. For example, Dana and Louis, who live in the haunted apartment building, could just be chess pieces to move the movie forward. But the movie gives you flashes of their lives and forces you to invest in them just a little. And if you care about the minor characters as well as the main ones, the movie is a success.

Oh, and it’s really funny, start to finish.

Best Quote: “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!”

IMDB Page

The Also-Rans

  • Blazing Saddles
  • Major League
  • Naked Gun
  • Liar Liar
  • Dumb and Dumber
  • Animal House
  • Happy Gilmore
  • Swingers
  • Ruthless People
  • Three Amigos
  • High Fidelity
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • 40-Year-Old Virgin
  • Waiting for Guffman
  • Groundhog Day
  • The Princess Bride
  • Semi-Pro
  • Old School
  • South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
  • Team America: World Police

Notes

I can hear you nerds now. “No Monty Python? The Holy Grail is so great!” Sorry. I like that movie, and I like Monty Python, but I don’t think that it has aged particularly well. That was a problem with lots of movies I considered. Comedy is such an ethereal thing. What’s funny now may not be funny in 10 years. That’s why most of the movies I chose were made in the last 20 years. Every time I see a list like this, they always include Some Like it Hot or The Apartment or other old movies. I have seen them, but I don’t think they translate to our age. I loved Duck Soup and other Marx Brothers movies when I was a kid, but they just don’t do it for me anymore.

I would love to get some feedback on this blog. What do you think about my list? What are your top ten comedies?

"Time in the Minors"

Thanks to the great organization Friends of Baseball, started by my friend Ben and his dad, Keenan, Marisa and I got to see a fantastic documentary last night, entitled “Time in the Minors.”  The movie follows two baseball players as they try to achieve their ultimate dream: a shot at the major leagues.

“Time in the Minors” Trailer

Tony Schrager Baseball Card

First up: Tony Schrager, a career minor-leaguer at a make-or-break point.  At age 28, Schrager was a AAA veteran who desperately wanted to get a shot at the big league level.  He was just talented enough to be an effective player at AAA, but wasn’t quite good enough to be called up.

On the opposite end of the scale: 19-year-old John Drennen, a hotshot 1st round draft pick trying to advance through the Cleveland Indians organization.  With a million-dollar signing bonus, expectations were high for Drennen, and he tries to live up to them in A-ball.

I was really impressed with how the filmmaker was able to frame these two kinds of minor-league experiences, while showing the challenges faced by both players in a way the viewer can really relate to.  For Tony, who has spent his entire adult life grinding away in the minors, it’s about deciding whether to keep at it or accept the likelihood that he will never achieve his dream.  To anyone past their early 20’s, it’s easy to sympathize with someone who has to accept that he must change his expectations, and move on with life.  I think we can all relate to John’s struggle as well, in that we have all struggled under the weight of expectations while trying to find our own way.

John Drennen

I know a lot about baseball, having played in high school and college, and have followed major league baseball since I was 12 or so.  Still, I learned quite a bit about the game, specifically the business behind it.  I imagine that it’s hard to be a professional in an emotional sense.  As a young fan, you get attached to a team, win or lose.  You can’t afford that sentimentality as a pro, because the team you’re with may get rid of you at a moment’s notice.  Everything you do on the field is being watched by somebody, which means your bad days are harder to put behind you than in other professions.

Random observations:

– This movie made me really, really miss playing baseball.  I play softball now, like the rest of the old men, but I’m only 32.  I still have time to play hardball.  Ben was telling me about a regular pick-up game on Saturdays, and I’m thinking about trying to go play.

– The movie was shown at the Portland Art Museum, through the NW Film Center, in the Whitesell Auditorium.  It’s a beautiful room in which to see a movie.  It was just too bad they don’t serve concessions.

– The two players they profiled were very much opposite from one another, and I found myself rooting for Tony much more than John.  Tony was clearly a guy who willed himself to this position through hard work and smart play, while it seemed like John was more of a pure athlete.  Also, Tony went to Yale and Stanford, and you could really see how intelligent he is.  John, on the other hand, was kind of dim (but who among us wasn’t when we were 19?).