Best of 2017

During Thanksgiving weekend, my nephew wanted my family to play a game. It was pretty simple, actually: name your favorite thing, from categories he chose. Name your favorite TV show. Name your favorite movie. Name your favorite video game. Etc. As simple as the concept of the game is, however, it was wholly impossible for me to answer his questions. Having to choose my favorite movie would be like having to choose which is the favorite hair on my head. The idea of even trying to narrow down to just a handful, let alone one, was way too complicated. While I was happy to rattle off all-time favorites (“Back to the Future,” “A Few Good Men,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” all of the “Star Wars” movies, etc.) there was no way to pick just one.

So why am I bringing this up now? Because, as in years past, I’m not going to blog about my “ten favorite shows” or “eight favorite films.” I’m not bound by space or word limit. These are just the things that I either loved or thought about critically in the world of entertainment in 2017. Even though it’s been a dumpster fire of a year politically,  a lot of the below shows and movies allowed me some form of escape, at least temporarily. Here now is my list of the best of 2017, broken down by category. If you are able to narrow down your list(s), please feel free to provide it in the comments section below.

TV/Streaming

Love (Season 2)

Season 1 ended on a pretty good cliffhanger (Gus and Mickey kissing at the gas station seconds after Mickey has told Gus she needs to be alone for a year), and Season 2 really delved into the question of whether or not 1) these people actually like each other 2) these people are capable of love and 3) these people should be dating each other, either now or ever. Funny, and the show just feels…real. Special shout-out to Claudia O’Doherty’s Bertie, who cracks me up at least once an episode. Here’s hoping that the newly-announced Season 3 (the final season) sticks the landing.

Master of None (Season 2)

Man, this show. Season 1 was pretty great, and then Season 2 just upped the ante. From the premiere episode, filmed on location in Italy in black and white, to the incredible Thanksgiving episode (which rightly won an Emmy for comedic writing), to the doorman/cab driver/hearing impaired woman episode, to the episode at Storm King and ending with the helicopter ride, Season 2 was just incredible. I know Ansari is on record as saying he needs to live more before he can do a third season, and I don’t blame him. If we can get a third season as rich as this one was, I’ll happily wait a few years.

The Good Place (spoiler alert in the clip below)

Holy. Forking. Shirt. I thought The Good Place’s first season was pretty good, and it was a show that, like The Office and Parks and Rec before it, would get its sea legs in the second season. But that twist at the end of Season 1 was genius, and I did not see it coming. Special shout-out to Manny Jacinto, who has made Jason into the show’s MVP.

Superstore

When I was growing up, NBC’s Thursday night line-up (aka “Must-See TV”) was the place for comedy. Cheers and Seinfeld and Friends are all sitcom legend, and some shows (Caroline in the City, The Single Guy, Boston Common) brought some laughs, despite lackluster ratings and having to be compared to those mentioned above. What does any of that have to do with Superstore? Superstore ticks a lot of boxes for me. It’s a funny workplace ensemble that really feels like a spiritual heir to The Office (without the awkwardness and the talking heads), and feels like it is of a place where it could have fit very easily into the Must-See TV schedule. It’s not the kind of show that will win accolades or awards (except from this blog, I guess), but it is consistent week-to-week, and its episode about health insurance was the best primer on the subject (in a funny way) that I’ve ever seen. Humor + distillation of timely political facts = a win in 2017.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 3)
Full disclosure: I thought this season felt a little muddled. Kimmy goes to college! Kimmy struggles in college! Kimmy leaves college! That’s a huge arc, and it was done in about 3 weeks of the show’s timeline. This season did great some great mileage out of guest stars like Laura Dern and Daveed Diggs, which I think bumped it up a notch for me.

Saturday Night Live

“Now I’d like to begin today by apologizing on behalf of you, to me, for how you have treated me these last two weeks. And that apology is not accepted!”

While some may argue that Melissa McCarthy and Alec Baldwin overshadowed the regular SNL players, SNL is clearly having a renaissance. Also, “Woke Jeans” is the sketch of the year for me, in a walk.

Billy on the Street

In a year when a lot of us wanted to just yell and scream out our frustration, Billy Eichner was our avatar.

The Leftovers (Season 3)

This show just got better and better. The final season didn’t waste time, even as the characters moved from Texas to Australia. Unlike a certain other Damon Lindeolf show, this one stuck the landing in the end. And Carrie Coon – just wow. What an all-time performance as Nora Durst.

Veep (Season 6)

The first season with Selina out of power entirely (and without Sue – who I really missed), the show smartly pivoted into a few funny story lines, most notably three terrifying words: Congressman Jonah Ryan.

Silicon Valley (Season 4)

The other half of HBO’s spring comedy duo, Silicon Valley took a few characters in new directions this year. Big Head taught at Stanford, Gavin Bellson became something approaching relatable, and poor Erlich is now stranded off in an opium den.

The 2017 Academy Awards

Well, the ending, anyway. I don’t think we’ll ever see another moment like that again, especially for presentation of best picture.

 

The Challenge: Dirty 30

Didn’t necessarily end the way I’d like, and there was a lot of drama from some random people (Nelson, I’m looking at you) and way too much (racist) Camila. That said, what a stacked cast. Wish they could just run it back.

GLOW (Season 1)

GLOW makes the brave choice of (spoiler alert) having the main character (Alison Brie) sleep with her best friend’s husband in episode 1. The show concentrates so much of its time on good guys and bad guys (or “heels” in wrestling parlance) both in and out of the ring. Like my friend Mags, I found myself compelled to root for the bad guys. Bonus points to Marc Maron for killing it as the show’s director and as a surrogate father figure to all of the GLOW ladies.

New Girl

Mostly because we finally got this moment:

 

Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later

When I first saw Wet Hot American Summer, and it had the joke about meeting up ten years later, I never thought I’d be watching a whole TV season of the counselors’ lives. Of course, I also didn’t know what “streaming” or “Netflix” was, but that’s another matter. This whole series is insane, but in the best way possible.

Late Night Shows

John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and even Jimmy Kimmel really stepped up to the plate this year and delivered scorching, heart-felt, and/or impassioned monologues and comedy bits about everything from health care to net neutrality.

My friend winning Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions

When I was growing up, I used to ride the bus (and later gave rides home to) a kid named Buzzy (whose dad, fun fact, sold me my Bar Mitzvah suit). Really exciting to watch him win the whole Tournament of Champions. (And let’s be honest, Austin was really fun to watch, too.)

 

Other shows I enjoyed: The resurgent third season of Mr. Robot (especially the one-take/”oner” episode), When We Rise, Handmaids Tale, The Young Pope, Future Man, This is Us, and Big Little Lies.

People

James Franco

The Disaster Artist was great, full stop, and his performance on The Deuce was what brought that show from “huh, interesting idea” to fully watchable.

Laura Dern

Between Big Little Lies, her role as Jon Hamm’s new wife on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and, of course, as Admiral Holdo, Laura Dern had an amazing 2017.

Comic Book Movies

Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman, and especially Spider-Man Homecoming were all solid popcorn movies. (Of course, Justice League was about as entertaining as watching paint dry, but that was the exception, not the rule.) Bonus points to the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War for looking amazing.

Star Wars

While The Last Jedi isn’t my favorite Star Wars movie, at the end of the day it was a lot of fun, and years from now I’ll still be thinking about that scene of R2 playing Luke Leia’s original “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” recording. #DroidGuiltTrip

Other Movies

The Big Sick was the best movie of the year, and I’ll be quite upset if it doesn’t get nominated for several Oscars. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon wrote a tremendous screenplay, Zoe Kazan does great character work in what amounts to not a lot of screen time, and Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are both incredible.

War for the Planet of the Apes

I’ll admit it: I love this new “Apes” trilogy. I love the original, Charlton Heston-led Planet of the Apes (and its goofy sequels), but the serious tone of this new trilogy (especially the last two) is really enjoyable.

Stronger

Gyllenhaal is on such a weird streak of choosing interesting, good roles, some of which really pay off (Stronger, Nightcrawler), some of which are disappointing (Demolition, Life), but all of which are captivating on the big screen. I wish this movie had gotten more awards-season recognition, but c’est la vie.

Other enjoyable movies: Get Out, I, Tonya, The Post, Call Me By Your Name, The Meyerowitz Stories, Lady Bird, and the movie I’d vote for Best Picture, The Disaster Artist.

 

Music

Um, did both Gallagher brothers release new CDs this year? And did the Oasis song “Don’t Look Back in Anger” become the unofficial rallying cry of the city of Manchester? Yeah, no matter what Camila Cabello and Taylor Swift tried to do, it was a good year for music in 2017.

Good Riddance

To the men who committed horrific acts (Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose) and to those who covered up or abetted their behavior, don’t let the door hit you.

RIP

Always tough to lose people who meant so much to the entertainment world, and I obviously cannot touch on everyone. But 2017 will be remembered for the losses of Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Bill Paxton, Mary Tyler Moore, Miguel Ferrer, Erin Moran, Martin Landau, Powers Boothe, Don Rickles and, of course, Tom Petty.

Anything I missed? What did others enjoy in 2017? For what will you remember this year? Let me know in the comments.

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Why I’m Worried About Ant-Man

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I’m an unabashed fan of the Marvel movies, or what’s commonly known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I loved the original “Iron Man,” and I remember sitting in the theater in 2008 being captivated by Robert Downey Jr.’s total and complete embodiment of Tony Stark. While I was less taken with “The Incredible Hulk” and “Thor,” I thought “Captain America” was fantastic, and when I heard that Marvel was planning on bringing all of those heroes together for “The Avengers,” I was thrilled. Marvel took characters that were not household names the way Superman, Batman or Wolverine were, and made them into global megastars. When “The Avengers” set the box-office record for biggest opening weekend ever, it was a referendum both on the success of Marvel’s insight and its marketing machine.

“The Avengers” marked the end of Marvel’s “Phase One,” and its “Phase Two” slate, on the whole, has performed well, both critically and at the box-office*. “Iron Man 3” might be the best entry of the series, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the best Marvel movie they’ve made, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” took Chris Pratt and a talking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and made an entertaining, profitable movie out of them.

*The less said about “Thor: The Dark World,” the better.

Marvel’s movies, to date, have an astounding box-office performance. The worst performing movie, “The Incredible Hulk,” made $134 million in 2008, and since the release of “The Avengers,” no Marvel movie has grossed less than $200 million, with “Guardians” bringing in over $330 million, “Iron Man 3″‘s total haul nearing $410 million and this summer’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” approaching $445 million. (Note: these are just domestic totals.) The average Marvel movie makes $309 million, and while that number is substantially aided by both “Avengers” films, that speaks to Marvel’s ability to deliver what mass audiences want to see.

Which leads me to my concerns with “Ant-Man,” the first movie of Marvel’s “Phase Three.”  While I said that I was an unabashed fan of Marvel, I’m an even bigger fan of Paul Rudd. I loved him in “Clueless,” think he’s the best part of the very funny “Wet Hot American Summer,” and has been invigorated by his frequent collaborations with both Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) and David Wain (“Wet Hot,” “Wanderlust,” “Role Models,” “They Came Together.”) Here are just a few of my favorite Paul Rudd scenes, but believe me, there could have been dozens more added:

(This next one’s not safe for work…don’t watch, Mom and Dad!)

It’s impossible not to like Paul Rudd. It is. If I could watch one roving reporter all day, it’d be Brian Fantana. If I could choose one heir to a candy fortune to hang out with, it’d be Bobby Newport. But you know who may not like Paul Rudd as much as I do (and I hate to even say this)? Moviegoers.

Look at Paul Rudd’s box office resume. His highest-grossing movie is “Monsters Vs. Aliens,” a forgettable animated movie where he played the fifth lead. After that is “Knocked Up,” (third at best on the call sheet), “Anchorman 2” (arguably second banana), “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (again, arguably second banana), and “Anchorman” (ditto). The highest-grossing movie of his career where you could call Rudd the lead is “Dinner for Schmucks,” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the sentences, “You know what movie I loved? ‘Dinner for Schmucks.'” said out loud. “Dinner for Schmucks,” “I Love You, Man,” “Role Models,” and “This is 40” all grossed between $67 million and $73 million; that seems to be the range of a typical, Paul Rudd-led vehicle, at its best. I love Paul Rudd. Everyone I talk to seems to love Paul Rudd. But so far, moviegoing audiences don’t love Paul Rudd. I imagine this is how I might deal with various movies of mine underperforming at the box office:

Now, of course, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and even Robert Downey Jr. weren’t all box-office kings before the Marvel machine got ahold of them. And Chris Pratt, who has just had the best 16+ months ever, as far as box office is concerned, wasn’t printing money for studios before “The Lego Movie,” “Guardians” and “Jurassic World.” But Paul Rudd’s been around for twenty years now; if he were going to be a huge box office success story, wouldn’t it have already happened?

The other, major concern that I have for “Ant-Man” is the fact that it’s had the most troubled production of any of the major Marvel movies. Usually, a director is hired, Marvel OKs the script (to make sure that there are no inconsistencies, and to make sure that each movie intertwines with the rest of the cinematic universe to build to future movies), and months or years later, a gigantic blockbuster is released. This has been a proven formula, even with material as quirky as “Guardians.” But “Ant-Man”? “Ant-Man” has been in trouble for a while now. This Vulture article spells it out pretty well, but the most important thing is to realize is that this is the first Marvel movie where the director (who also wrote the script) was fired off the project. And this is after the movie languished for the better part of eight years in development hell.

So…what does it all mean? Not much, although I wouldn’t be shocked if Ant-Man is the first Marvel movie not to cross $100 million (which I think the studio would see as a major disappointment). You have a star who people seem to love, but who don’t rush to see his movies. You have a movie that’s been rewritten on the fly, with a troubled production for years. And there also may be a sense of superhero fatigue. This summer already had an “Avengers” movie; there will be a new “Fantastic Four” in August, then “Batman vs. Superman” next year and “Captain America 3: Civil War” soon to follow.

And yet…if there’s one studio that can pull a rabbit out of its hat, defying conventional wisdom, it’s Marvel. And I think if there’s one actor who has the temerity to prove me wrong, while at the same time not caring whatsoever about his prior box office fortunes, it’s Paul Rudd. After all, when life hands you lemons…

The Magnificent Seven

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I was texting with my friend Kevin last night, and he asked me what my favorite movie of 2014 was. Not best movie, mind you, but my favorite. And the sad thing is, after a summer filled with some real promise, there haven’t been that many entertaining movies (and I think the ledger tilts in favor of comedy, at least so far). So, without further ado, let’s talk about my seven favorite movies of 2014. Please feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments below. Continue reading

Summer Movies I Want to See

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In exactly eight days, I’ll be sitting in a movie theater watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With that, it’ll in (in my mind) officially be summer movie season. (Not sure the weather in NYC will agree with my categorization of “summer,” but that’s a discussion for a different blog). You’ll note this is pretty sequel-heavy, but that’s the industry today.

Continue reading

New Year’s Resolutions

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Well, as I’ve said before, it’s my blog, so I can do things my way. Sure, I’m about 17 days later than most, but here are some New Year’s Resolutions (more like wishes) for the entertainment industry for 2014. Continue reading