Ahead on Differential

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Here are ten things.

  1. It was Halloween! Because I am an incorrigible dork, I went as Luke Wilson as Richie Tenenbaum. My pal Emily went as Owen Wilson as Eli Cash. It was uncanny. Bonus: true to her handle, Steph went as the softest bunny.
  2. A bunch of us had a quiet night in of costumes, snacks, and the new Jackbox Party Pack. The standout game for me was Job Job, where players use words in each other's answers to prompts to answer completely different questions. A little Survive the Internet, a little Quiplash.
  3. The new big update for Animal Crossing: New Horizons dropped a day early, sending all the Nookheads I know into a tizzy.
  4. Blaseball is back, baby! This new run of seasons, called Short Circuits, is taking place in a different part of the Blaseball metaverse, so the continuing adventures of Jaylen Hotdogfingers will have to wait. But for now, my beloved Seattle Garages are the best team in the Solid League and have an eight-game lead on their nearest division rival. Damn, now I know this is an alternate universe!
  5. Pen nerd shit: I've been having a fun time writing with these Pilot Razor Points. I'm just a sucker for an ultra-fine felt tip pen.
  6. Indianapolis Colts 45, New York Jets 30. I love gridiron football games that have Arenaball scores, but that's not why I'm including this game as one of the ten things. I'm including it here because 45-30 is scorigami, baby! I still love you, Carson Wentz.
  7. Speaking of football: we turn to the college ranks for the silliest news story of the week, in which the Texas Longhorns special teams coach's exotic dancer girlfriend's emotional support monkey fucking bit a kid on Halloween. Yes, you read that correctly. Alex McDaniel at USA Today has a good write-up of the story so far, and the legends at Shutdown Fullcast dedicated an entire episode to it.
  8. Speaking of podcasts (damn, look at this fool go, two segues in a row): We'll Take This One, a podcast about advice columns that is hosted by some online buddies of mine, has shaken off the cobwebs and dropped a new episode. A passing reference is made to the great Wayne White, which made me remember how dope the documentary Beauty Is Embarrassing is (that's a Short Good Secret Hall of Famer right there).
  9. The new War on Drugs record I Don't Live Here Anymore fucking goes. It is precisely my shit.
  10. A poem, via Matthew Ogle's essential newsletter Pome:

I believe in steep drop-offs, the thunderstorm across the lake in 1949, cold winds, empty swimming pools, the overgrown path to the creek, raw garlic, used tires, taverns, saloons, bars, gallons of red wine, abandoned farmhouses, stunted lilac groves, gravel roads that end, brush piles, thickets, girls who haven’t quite gone totally wild, river eddies, leaky wooden boats, the smell of used engine oil, turbulent rivers, lakes without cottages lost in the woods, the primrose growing out of a cow skull, the thousands of birds I’ve talked to all of my life, the dogs that talked back, the Chihuahuan ravens that follow me on long walks. The rattler escaping the cold hose, the fluttering unknown gods that I nearly see from the left corner of my blind eye, struggling to stay alive in a world that grinds them underfoot. —Jim Harrison, “I Believe”

#lists #tenthings

Here are ten things.

  1. I've been loving the Blank Check miniseries on the films of the great John Carpenter. Their last episode at time of writing was on the Chevy Chase vehicle Memoirs of an Invisible Man. This movie is by most accounts Carpenter's first out-and-out dud, snapping an impressive 11-movie winning streak that lasted from 1974 to 1988. Who else had comparable runs? QT? Miyazaki? Malick? Kurosawa?

  2. This leads to my hot take of the week: if you don't have a run of ten good movies (not even masterpieces, just good movies), you're disqualified from the GOAT conversation. Sorry, Steven Spielberg!

  3. I went on a writing retreat out east with nine other writers and it was fun as hell. Aside from getting some actual work done, the experience reminded me of all the positive parts of dorm life (communal meals, drifting in and out of several coversations, spontaneous group activities). My freind Laura went HAM and made the lot of us a four-course meal on the Saturday. I ate panna cotta for the first time. It was rad.

  4. The collected life wisdom of podcaster extraordinaire Merlin Mann.

  5. The Argo, the oldest independent English-language bookstore in Montréal (and the first place I ever read poetry IRL), has settled into a new home.

  6. The new Elvis Costello & the Imposters single “Magnificent Hurt” fucking whips.

  7. What are the records in your Autumn Album Canon? This thread has some dope answers, but my fall listening habits consist of alternating between Neil Young's Harvest and the Clientele's Strange Geometry.

  8. Goth Derek paid me a visit: I got a wild hair up my ass and painted my nails for the first time in over 15 years. My girlfriend Steph said it best: “It's good to be adorned.” For those playing the home game, this is what I ended up using.

  9. RIP Alan Hawkshaw, an English musician and legendary figure in the world of library music. The great Jon Bois eulogized him in a tweet, and there are tons of sick tunes to check out in the replies.

In an effort to get people to look into each other’s eyes more, and also to appease the mutes, the government has decided to allot each person exactly one hundred and sixty-seven words, per day.

When the phone rings, I put it to my ear without saying hello. In the restaurant I point at chicken noodle soup. I am adjusting well to the new way.

Late at night, I call my long distance lover, proudly say I only used fifty-nine today. I saved the rest for you.

When she doesn’t respond, I know she’s used up all her words, so I slowly whisper I love you thirty-two and a third times. After that, we just sit on the line and listen to each other breathe.
—Jeffrey McDaniel, “The Quiet World”

#lists #tenthings

art by Jason Rainville

Here are ten things.

  1. Like most of the internet, I've been transfixed by the ongoing “Bad Art Friend” saga. Two new wrinkles: a list of corrections Dawn Dorland sent to Gawker regarding their blog posts on this whole kerfuffle and a New Yorker review of the Sonya Larson short story at the heart of the matter.
  2. Even though I consistently go 1-2 and get my ass stomped, Jank City, my Magic playgroup's flagship draft event, is always a blast when it happens. My pal Neil won the day with a dudes-heavy Gruul deck powered by the Mythic Conspiracy card Hymn of the Wilds. We have now banned this card from future play.
  3. I'm always tickled by the stuff Wikipedia Haiku pulls out. A sample:
    It was said the lights
    were clearer on the eve of
    a lunar New Year
  4. What horror movie character are you? My answer: “the guy who gets fucked up by an animal-shaped demon because he wanted to pet it”
  5. Speaking of horror, I watched Gremlins 2: The New Batch for the first time as part of my ongoing spooky season viewing project, and as it turns out, it's a masterpiece. For one brief shining moment, Joe Dante was the American Jacques Tati.
  6. Further viewing: I also watched Alien 3 and thought it was... fine. Admirably downbeat and textured in the way those early Fincher movies are, and not a whole lot else for me to hang my hat on. I talked to my friend Isabelle about it (she's a massive Alien 3 booster), and it was kind of an insight into disagreements about art. Often, it's not so much about misreading or not getting it or whatever, it's differing aesthetic reactions to something both people correctly identified.
  7. Whoever designed the packaging for the Criterion edition of The Celebration deserves a promotion and a raise.
  8. The new black midi record Cavalcade fucking whips ass. Plays like every version of King Crimson at once.
  9. The newest episode of Shutdown Fullcast is a doozy: “What's the dumbest fight you've ever witnessed?”
  10. I'm going to take a page from Laura Olin's playbook and end with a poem I stumbled onto.
    Now we gather worshipful.
    The gears in his legs shine down.
    He lifts his head.
    Here he comes!
    We’re erecting a maypole with green ribbons.
    His legs are four probes.
    And his back is a ship and his eyes are holes in the curtain.
    We’re eating cookies in the shape of him.
    The icing is gold and silver.
    He’s’ shedding gears, here he comes tripping!
    He is casting off the elastic bindings.
    Now we’re hanging giant flags.
    The wind-up key sticks in his side like a blade.
    The wind rocks him on his wheels.
    Here he comes, crawling!
    The bright obvious shines in his body.
    Here comes the electric, the burning mystery!
    —Sarah Manguso, “The Deer Comes Down the Mountain”

#lists #tenthings


I love Magic: The Gathering but I think I play it incorrectly.

This isn't to say that I'm bad at it. Though truth be told, relative to the amount of Magic I've played, I am pound for pound the worst-performing member of my playgroup. I say I play the game incorrectly because the specific format I'm drawn to is jank draft. Standard metas generally bore me. The big-ticket eternal formats are too insular and cost-prohibitive for my taste. I am spectacularly awful at cube. But I love the sustained build and egalitarian nature of drafting. And something about specifically drafting the dregs of Magic's history, the 17,000 or so outcasts and urchins of our game, speaks to me. Losers love other losers.

I am a crazy cat lady for edge case barely-playables. Case in point: I started really getting into Magic during Kaladesh block. I immediately fell in love with the vehicles. All the vehicles. The flavour, the mechanics, everything. Since the dominant format of my playgroup's meta was Commander, I put together the cheapest, jankiest Vehicles deck I could make, placing Depala, Pilot Exemplar at the helm. That's right, a deck where if you play it right, you'll never win on Commander damage; the only real path to victory is vehicular homicide. Somewhere in that deck's early iterations was science's greatest failure, Lupine Prototype. I love this card. Unless your opponent is in a hurry to dump their hand or you keep Mind Rotting yourself for some reason, Lupine Prototype does less than nothing. Can't attack, can't block.

But boy can it crew.

It's alive! And it can drive!!!

Imagine the anguished howl Dopplering into your nightmares as this Frankenwolf conducts a locomotive into Hell's very heart. A thing of cracked beauty. Lupine Prototype is still one of my favourite gimmick cards; in a Commander deck full of hammers and drills, it was the bent paperclip I used to jimmy open my phone's SIM card slot.

Some people piece their decks together like they're setting rubies onto rings. Some people enjoy playing in such a way that their opponents don't get to play (pillow fort pilots are sadists, do not @ me). I like to see someone MacGyver their way to victory. Any bozo can win with a thunder-bringing Limited bomb like, I don't know, Grave Titan or whatever. But what can you build out of a broken mini-USB cable, a rotisserie chicken carcass, and 44 cents in loose change? And more importantly, can you win with it? At one jank draft I held, I saw a guy piloting a 41-card deck deliver a coup de grâce with a Tormentor's Trident strapped to the hood of an Ovalchase Dragster. A terrible scrapyard unicorn barrelling down the bend for lethal damage. It was, again, a thing of cracked beauty.

Which brings us to Giant Ox, a white two-drop with only two things to its name: an unbreachable hide and a valid driver's licence. I suspect this card was a complete nonentity in its native Limited environment. The Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas branded the beast with a grade of D during the Limited Resources Kaldheim set review. Yeah, D for “dat booty,” I bet. With all due respect, LSV, are we seeing the same stats there? Six toughness! Absolutely nothing in those dollar store packs I'm drafting will get past that absolute diesel dumptruck of an ass if I get it out on turn 2. Never mind those 1/1 flyers I keep hearing about, we're in the land of dreams here. A land of six-mana conditional removal at sorcery speed and vanilla 5/5 six-drop bombs. A land where you can go turn 1 Consulate Dreadnought, turn 2 Giant Ox, and boom, your opponent is down to 13. All my dreaming here is lucid. That stupid bovine grin was too beautiful for the limelight of the Pro Tour, but it is ever welcome at the table near the bulk singles.

Giant Ox is emblematic of my favourite kind of Magic card: absent from high-level play, surprising when resolved, limited in usefulness, and impractical to deal with. Because who in God's name is running Giant Ox? Are you really going to use your Consign to the Pit on a two-drop with zero power and no keywords?

One of my favourite bits of Magic advice comes from a 2012 Manaleak article written by Paul Mclachlan: “The majority of Magic cards that see print aren't very good. It's not your job to prove that the card is bad. It's your job to prove that a card is worth inclusion in your deck.” Every card in the game is good for something, and jank draft is fertile land for creating those instances. The joy of playing with cards unloved by our game's power users is the sense of expanded scope. By lending attention where there isn't usually much of it, the game itself feels new; my sense of play is thus rejuvenated. I love playing incorrectly, so to speak, because the very concept of what a “good card” gets blown up and reassembled. Every jank draft is a chance for a different Giant Ox to have its day.


The Blue Nile The Blue Nile (Photo by Kerstin Rodgers/Redferns)

The Scottish band the Blue Nile has cropped here once or twice before. Their album Hats (1989) is an airy sophisti-pop masterpiece, and has quickly become one of my Desert Island Discs, but given their agonizingly slow work rate (four albums since 1984, zero since 2004), you can plough through their main studio output in an afternoon. So I made a Spotify playlist of what I called “stray songwriting credits, odd production jobs, and assorted collaborations” they've done between their main records.

These songs are all Blue Nile songs in spirit, melancholy songs of pained love and aching loneliness, but they vary in their genesis and interpretation. Robbie Robertson up and hired the band in 1991 to record a pretty convincing Blue Nile soundalike he wrote called “Breakin' the Rules” for his album Storyville. Paul Buchanan, the Glaswegian Sinatra who fronts the Blue Nile, spent a chunk of the 90s in L.A. and wrote the most early-90s-ass white-boy R&B song for Michael McDonald. Annie Lennox covered “The Downtown Lights,” and the Scotsmen co-wrote “The Gift” with her in return. I've even included a collaboration with American trumpeter Chris Botti called “Midnight Without You,” which is a Blue Nile song in all but name, which gives a glimpse at the sort of course correction that the band would undertake between the strummy, AOR-inflected material of their third album Peace at Last (1996) and the conscious throwback feel of their last album, High (2004).

The oddest song of the bunch might be the Buchanan-penned “Let's Face It” as performed by cult country singer Matraca Berg, who is perhaps better known as a songwriter than as a solo artist. It's strange to hear the Blue Nile-ness of the melodies and subject matter being filtered through rootsy guitar and rollicking organ lines.

As I wrote earlier, the Blue Nile work at a snail's pace, so this playlist is barely album-length, but there's a few gems here that demonstrate the singular skills of this band, chief among them Buchanan's facility with widescreen heartbreak.


Bo Burnham via Netflix

Here are ten things.

  1. Like most of the world, I watched Bo Burnham's latest special Inside on Netflix. It appears to be pretty divisive in my circles, but I quite enjoyed it as a collection of skits and songs about the performances we all put on, for everyone and no one, on the Internet.

  2. Blaseball is back from an extended Siesta and my beloved Seattle Garages are as dogshit as ever. We're in a strong position to win the Underbracket, but I have mixed feeling about that.

  3. Auckland-via-Detroit filmmaker/festival programmer Doug Dillaman challenged people to program a film festival to “replace” the postponed New Zealand International Film Festival using a specific set of rules. Here's my crack at it.

  4. Reporter Lee Sanderlin finished dead last in his fantasy football league, and as punishment, had to eat his way out of a 24-hour stay at Waffle House. This is his saga.

  5. Quinton Reviews goes waaaaay long on two artifacts of millennial junk culture, Fred and iCarly. The only conclusion I can draw after watching 8.5 hours of this is that this is media criticism as a form of self-flagellation. #FREDPILLED

  6. On the most recent episode of The Big Picture, co-host Sean Fennessey spoke with filmmaker Alex Ross Perry about home video distribution, how canons get built, and movies that fall into the cracks of history.

  7. I filled a big gap in my personal filmography by finally sitting down and watching Singin' in the Rain. I was winded just watching this movie. Here's Donald O'Connor doing “Make 'em Laugh,” and keep in mind, this dude smoked four packs a day and was hospitalized after this because he simply went in too hard.

  8. I revistied Brian Eno's Another Green World, which is a great piece of work. I love it when Robert Fripp's distinctive guitar shows up anywhere.

  9. A compendium of design objects used in Star Trek and who made them, via Jason Kottke, because everything online worth seeing passes through Kottke.

  10. I wrote a poem about bathroom smells, but not the ones you're thinking of. It's called “Sense of Smell, Sense of Time.”

#lists #tenthings

When a friend asks me to recommend them a movie, I never have a title in the chamber and ready to go. Call it choice paralysis: Letterboxd, a favourite website of movie dorks like yours truly, puts the total number of movies in the world at just south of 600,000 and counting. So to help whittle down the list of candidates for my aforementioned friend that totally exists, my answer is usually another question. “Well, what kind of movies do you like?” This helps, but only a little. If my friend says they like science fiction, well, that limits the number of relevant titles to, oh, just a hair above 13,000. This new genre-specific pool is a couple of orders of magnitude smaller that Every Movie Ever Made, but hardly more manageable.

Another example: once upon a time I was on the phone with my mom, and she asked me about westerns. Specifically, she told me that my stepdad was in the mood for a western that evening, and she deferred to my so-called expertise. Surely all that film school book-learning is worth something! So I told her they should watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, to some the greatest western ever made

It was the last time she asked me for a film recommendation. This was years ago. They did not like it at all, and I suspect the film's hefty runtime and rambling pace had something to do with it. Maybe I did no favours my hyping to shit out of Sergio Leone's finest hour.

I learned the hard way that helping someone sort out Movie Night is not the time for a flex. Not everyone shares your tastes and your interests, and that's cool. When you're recommending movies to people, there are always going to be swings and misses; you are, after all, two different people with two sets of cinematic pleasure centres. What I'm trying to devise here is a way to keep from striking out, so to speak, and while this method may yield precious few home runs, it'll compensate by delivering way more slap singles into the gap. Sports!

I. Is it short?

I've said it once and I'll say it again: God's runtime is 87 minutes.

I don't want to besmirch the good names of the many excellent epics and exercises in slow cinema that exist, but when I give someone what amounts to pop-culture homework, I want to be respectful of their time. It happened to me more than once that a trusted friend gave me a hearty recommendation only for me to groan at the runtime. Yes, I'm sure Sátántangó is every bit the masterpiece people say it is, but 439 minutes is a steep cliff to climb, especially when I work 5 Sátántangós a week. It doesn't even have to be that extreme: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly's 161 minutes was a deal-breaker for my mom. And you know what? I don't blame her. Two-plus hours is a lot of time to spend with something you might not like.

I think there's something psychologically inviting about a double-digit runtime. The gulf between 99 minutes and 100 minutes is vast. So for the purposes of this method, I'm going to set a runtime limit of 100 minutes. Why 100? While 100 minutes is completely arbitrary, it does fit snugly in between “just over an hour and a half” and “almost two hours.” You can stretch it to 105 if you want a clean hour and three quarters. Remember: this is a recipe, and like any recipe, you can adjust some parts to taste.

II. Is it good?

I absolutely adore the 2010 film Beyond the Black Rainbow. I love its fucked-up sensuousness, its hazy pacing, and its druggy synthesis of 40 years' worth of genre-film brainmelters. I would never in a million years recommend this movie to anyone unless I was 100% sure we were simpatico. Beyond the Black Rainbow is a perfect your-mileage-may-vary movie. There are movies you like that other people scratch their heads at, wondering what all the fuss is about. That's cool.

Now that we've established that something as seemingly simple as “good” is wildly subjective, let's talk about the wisdom of crowds.

Podcaster Merlin Mann has occasionally quipped on his show Reconcilable Differences, and I'm paraphrasing here, “Why would you ever want to watch a three-star movie?” Ignoring the fact that a three-star movie means something different to everyone, I'd argue that the three-star movie fulfills a very specific role in one's media diet. A three-star movie is a competent, unsurprising piece of work that neither arouses nor offends. It is built from stock parts and familiar faces. It is the perfect cure for a hangover on Sunday afternoon. It is the sweatpants of movies, and everyone owns a pair.

Small sidebar: the burden of masterpieces is very real. If you keep insisting to your friends that something is a masterpiece, there's bound to be a pushback, either explicit or implicit. There's also a strange pressure to like movies that are considered canonical, even though you may not like them at all. The fact that something is considered great might, counterintuitively, be a turn-off to some.

Since the point of this exercise is to create a high-floor approach to recommendations, I've decided to set the minimum “quality” threshold for this method of recommendation at an average rating of 3/5 on Letterboxd. As with the runtime, you can adjust this threshold as needed. If a large spread of people think something is at least “good,” it makes for a solid baseline of agreeability.

III. Is it secret?

I deliberately wanted to avoid the word “obscure” for this section because of the film-snob vibe that word can connote, but we do want to privilege movie that are underseen. Why? The 6,000-ish films that make up the 1% of the most popular films on Earth are in the cultural ether. Your Aunt Brenda probably knows that Parasite (741,000+ ratings on Letterboxd at time of writing) exists already in some capacity. So for that reason, this method caps popularity at 10,000 ratings on Letterboxd. Why 10,000? Again, arbitrary. Plus, it looks good next to “100 minutes.”

If I really wanted to commit to using Parasite as my yardstick, having my popularity cap be 1% of the people who've seen the most popular film on Letterboxd has a bit of poetry to it, but honestly, I just like big round numbers. Plus, it's not inconceivable that Parasite cracks a million ratings at some point future. But this method is more about vibes than stats, and other movies with ~10,000 ratings fit the vibe I'm going for: something about as seen as John Boorman's Point Blank or Walter Hill's The Driver.

Part of recommending a film to someone is making the effort of combing the stacks for them, not just the shelves in the front. This may or may not be true for the specific person coming to you for a recommendation, but for our purposes, you're just playing the odds. My strawman cinephile, whether they've seen Pulp Fiction or not, very likely has heard of it. There's a good chance they'll get there by themselves, since the 1% or movies are the ones we tend to absorb by cultural osmosis anyways (how many people get to Kubrick through The Simpsons, or Scarface through hip hop). They've probably heard of every Quentin Tarantino film. As much as I love those movies, I don't think QT needs the help. People can and do get there by themselves. Miami Blues needs the help. Deep Cover does too (even though, at 107 minutes, it falls just a bit outside the purview of this post).

Plus who doesn't love a diamond in the rough? Nothing beats having a new favourite thing that you didn't even know existed the day before. By using this method, hopefully you'll find some hidden gems of your own. Here's a list of 20 of them to get you started.


The Big Board.

You know how I know I have great friends? Because they didn't mind being conned into doing another one of these movie drafts.

Last time, we drafted movies from 2009. This time, in honour of my birthday, we drafted movies from my birth year, 1988.

A refresher of the rules:

  • The movie's year of released had to be listed as 1988 on IMDb
  • At the end of the draft, each player must have one movie from each of these seven categories
    • Blockbuster (for this one, movies with >$100m adjusted domestic gross were eligible for this category)
    • Drama
    • Action/Comedy
    • Sci Fi/Fantasy/Horror
    • Animated/Foreign Language
    • Sequel/Prequel/Reboot/Remake
    • Wild Card (any film can be a Wild Card)

As is tradition, the draft order was set randomly and picks were made serpentine-style. At the end of the night, here's what our six teams looked like.

  • Person A: Die Hard, The Last Temptation of Christ, Grave of the Fireflies, Bull Durham, Vampire's Kiss, The Thin Blue Line, The Blob
  • Person B: Rain Man, Police Story 2, They Live, The Accused, Willow, Dragons Forever, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
  • Person C: My Neighbor Totoro, A Fish Called Wanda, Coming to America, Dead Ringers, Dangerous Liaisons, Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack, The Vanishing
  • Person D: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Land Before Time, Bloodsport, Stand and Deliver, Midnight Run, Dead Heat, The Dead Pool
  • Person E: Beetlejuice, The Naked Gun, Cinema Paradiso, Beaches, Child's Play, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Crocodile Dundee II
  • Person F: Mississippi Burning, Akira, Big, Young Guns, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, Red Heat

First things first: everyone brought their A game. This was a much closer draft than the last one. People learned from their biffs in the first one, developed boards and strategies, and the result was a killer performance overall.

I had Die Hard as the first movie off the board, so Person A was 100% justified in taking it first. The rest of their draft is very good; The Thin Blue Line was a great wild card pick, and The Blob is a criminally underrated film and also a great last-round pick. There were rumblings among the Committee that Vampire's Kiss was ineligible because it was only released wide in 1989, but the rules clearly state that the year used to determine the validity of a pick the the year listed on IMDb, which in the case of Vampire's Kiss is, in fact, 1988, since it premiered at Cannes that year. Nice try, anonymous GM!

Could B have gotten Rain Man later? Probably. But, as with Avatar in the 2009 draft, it's hard to argue with the reasoning: this movie was an Oscar juggernaut (four wins, including Best Picture) and the highest-grossing film of 1988. Could they have gotten Police Story 2 later? Again, probably, but I see the reasoning. Sequel/Prequel/Reboot/Remake is always going to be thin, so getting in early is a good move. It also allowed B to score mad style points by having a Jackie Chan double feature on their roster when they picked Sammo Hung's Dragons Forever, which wasn't even on my radar.

C came in hot out of the gate, capitalizing on My Neighbor Totoro, which was 2nd overall in my mock draft, falling to third. C picked crowdpleasers with surgical precision in the first five rounds. But dear reader, I have never been as floored or flabbergasted by a pick than when C took a fucking Gundam movie in the sixth round. It was the right place to have a complete and total curveball, and it just knocked me square on my ass. Char's Counterattack wasn't even in the same galaxy as my board, and I have no choice but to respect the move. Getting the Dutch thriller The Vanishing in the last round as a wild card is quite the coup, too.

D's board has strong “weekend at Dad's” vibes. Dad really likes action movies with manly men committing grievous acts of bodily harm against one another, using their guns, their fists, or both. But there are a couple of tapes there for the kids, too. As far as draft strategy goes, getting Midnight Run in the fifth round is fucking highway robbery. How did stay on the table that long. I can't be sure, but I have a theory: most of the GMs in the draft are under 30, no one has cable, and Midnight Run isn't streaming anywhere. A perfect storm for generating a high-value pick.

I think E had a solid draft right up until the end. As I mentioned before, Sequel/Prequel/Reboot/Remake is always going to be a thin category, but surely even horror programmers like Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers or Phantasm II were higher value than the second Crocodile Dundee movie. By their own admission, Crocodile Dundee II was “smooth-brain viewing,” but so's some of that horror schlock I just mentioned. Beaches I get, but Crocodile Dundee II I don't. My suspicion is they wanted to keep it real and only pick movies they've seen, but by their own admission, they've seen “like 100 movies,” so maybe hatedrafting a shitty sequel is a viable way of doing things.

F fooled me. I though they biffed it completely when they drafted Hellraiser II as their SF/F/Horror pick. I even asked them if they were sure. They assured me they knew what they were doing. They did: F went completely off-board and picked the gleefully crass Return of the Killer Tomatoes as their sequel, which while not the steal of the evening (that would be Midnight Run at #28), it was the pick that caused the most hootin' and hollerin'. I don't think F had the best draft, but on the strength of that move and picking Red Heat because like hell we were going to draft an 80s movie year and have no Arnold Schwarzenegger films, they may have had the most fun one.

After the secret ballots were tallied, A and D were declared joint winners. But what do you think? Who won? Who lost?

Here are ten we left on the table:

  • Frantic
  • Hairspray
  • Killer Klowns from Outer Space
  • Married to the Mob
  • Mystic Pizza
  • Oliver and Company
  • Scrooged
  • Twins
  • Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
  • Working Girl

#movies #moviedraft

“[...] You hope that some day in the future, some kid will be walking along the beach and find a little piece of green glass that has been worn down by the waves. He'll pick it up and put it in his pocket, take it home and love it. He won't necessarily know why he loves it, but he'll love it. Those are the kind of records that we try to make.”

— Paul Buchanan

via the Sydney Morning Herald

#quotes #music

The final board.

Inspired by the fine folks at the Ringer's Big Picture podcast, I somehow convinced my friends to indulge me and participate in what is likely the dorkiest group activity I have ever suggested: a movie draft.

The goal is simple: create your best possible team of seven movies. There are only two rules: all movies bust the listed as a movie released in the year or the draft (in this case, 2009) on the Internet Movie Database, and by the end of the draft, you need to have one movie in each of the following seven categories:

  • Blockbuster (domestic gross >$100 million)
  • Drama
  • Action/Comedy
  • Science fiction/Fantasy/Horror
  • Animated/Foreign Language
  • Sequel/Prequel/Reboot/Remake
  • Wild Card (any movie can be a Wild Card)

Armed with nothing but their wits, our movie GMs duked it out and picked their movies serpentine-style, as is tradition. Here were the results:

  • Person A: Avatar, Orphan, The Hangover, The Road, Fast & Furious, Dogtooth, Whip It
  • Person B: Star Trek, Coraline, I Love You, Man, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, Antichrist, Brothers, Up in the Air
  • Person C: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Law Abiding Citizen, Sherlock Holmes, Jennifer's Body, Black Dynamite, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, The Princess and the Frog
  • Person D: Inglourious Basterds, Drag Me to Hell, Fantastic Mr. Fox, In the Loop, A Serious Man, Valhalla Rising, Universal Soldier: Regeneration
  • Person E: Up, Watchmen, Taken1, Zombieland, The Final Destination, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Brüno
  • Person F: District 9, Moon, Crank: High Voltage, Dead Snow, Pandorum, Daybreakers, Redline

Now it's time for me to put on my Mel Kiper hat and break down these drafts.

I think A's only real faux-pas was taking Avatar first. I understand the reasoning: it's the highest-grossing movie of all time, just sitting there. But I don't think this movie has fans. Like, Titanic has fans. Other juggernauts have fans. I don't think I've heard anyone talk about Avatar after that awards season. My point is this: I think A could have gotten Avatar in the third round. With everything else on the board, this was not the way to go. I will note that the rest of their draft is very good: picking up The Hangover in the third was good value, Fast & Furious was as good a sequel there was, and Orphan is a movie that continues to be slept on. If A hadn't picked Avatar first, they probably would have won.

B said they were making their first pick with their heart, and I can't blame them. The Abrahms Star Trek was going to get taken eventually, and they wanted it, so they took it. Now, is that sound draft strategy? Maybe, given that the other people drafting, yours truly incuded, are total fucking nerds. I had Star Trek as a second-round pick, but then again, what do I know. I do know this: B made zero bad picks, including a sneaky/clever Sequel/Prequel/Reboot/Remake pick with Brothers (though I would have slotted Bad Lieutenant there to free up the way-more-open Drama category). All in all, if I'm programming a day of TV, I want B's roster, but I'm making sure to bury Antichrist, a movie I was too chickenshit to finish, deep into the overnight.

I have no clue what the fuck C was doing. The writing was on the wall when they drafted the sixth Harry Potter joint (a) third overall, (b) as their blockbuster when the sequels were already thin. And then they drafted Law Abiding Citizen, a diet Death Wish joint I didn't even consider for my mock list2, in the Top 10. What the fuck. From this point on, C started to get their shit together. After some deliberation, the Committee accepted that Sherlock Holmes qualifies as a reboot, which was a great morale booster for C after being clowed on mercilessly by yours truly for their first two picks. C then followed that up with three more solid picks, four if you're among those who like Parnassus. I wouldn't know, I haven't seen it, and funnily enough, neither has C. Their draft was like watching a kid ride a bike with no training wheels for the first time: an immediate faceplant followed by tenous, tear-streaked wobbling around the block.

D was given a gift, and that was being able to pick Inglourious Basterds fourth overall. I could have sworn this would have been off the board within the first two picks. Shows you what I know. Was D able to capitalize on the best film of 2009 falling into his lap? Well... that's hard to say. Taking Drag Me to Hell ninth overall seems way early for a movie not all that many people seem to like or even remember, but A Serious Man is great value for a fifth-rounder. For better or worse, I think D was playing a different game than everybody else. It's not that the picks were bad, per se. Their picks were too inside-baseball, too eager to play the knowing video store clerk. What exactly are you gunning for if you pick fucking Valhalla Rising and a Universal Soldier movie made in the 21st century? That's not playing to win, that's playing for yourself.

After round two, I was terrified of E's board. Boom, Up. Boom, Watchmen. Two clean chalk picks, in the right categories and everything. Then, a crack in the armor. E picked Taken third, which snuck by the Committee even though it was an invalid pick. Taken would have been another ruthlessly efficient pick had the year of release been correct. Zombieland, good value as a fourth-rounder. But then, the wheels started coming off the war machine: E took The Final Destination as a horror film, which is a more egriegous, more costly version of B's Bad Lieutenant play. At this point in the draft, even okay sequels and reboots were at a premium, while there were still some pretty decent SF/F/H choices on the board. Starting with round five, E didn't so much shoot themselves in the foot as much as empty the whole clip into it. By taking The Final Destination, they fucked themselved into Underworld 3. And Brüno? Well, that's a movie I really don't like. I don't like that schtick. I kind of wish E would have gone for a troll pick instead.

F's board is the one I have the least context for. I think they took Moon at the exact right point, and for my money, I think Crank 2 was the highest-value sequel in play. Smart, small-ball drafting. Then F started balling out and proceeded to fill their board with three mid-budget European genre movies and topped it off with a dollop of high-octane weeb content. And you know what? I respect it. This was the game D was trying to play, but with no pretense. No critic's picks, no Film Twitter touchstones, just slightly-under-the-radar idiosyncrasy. I don't think F won, but they earned my respect as a GM. And much in the same way that I would take B's roster to program a day of TV, if I were tasked with programming a Midnight Madness-style card for a festival, F's roster is the one I want in my corner.

What do you think? Who won this thing?

1 This pick was voided by the Committee because, while it was released in America in 2009, the film is in fact listed as being a 2008 film on IMDb. Tough titties.

2 If this movie would have been made in 1994, it would be awesome.

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