Best of the Decade

While of course I’ll write a post about what caught my eye this year, I wanted to take some time to highlight what were the best performances, movies, or stretch of movies over the past decade.  What do we call this decade? Is this the teens? Does that mean we’re about to embark on the roaring 20s again?

Though political machinations have made the last three years feel like they were a decade in their own right, entertainment since 2010 has really seen a lot of change: three Tonight Show hosts, two Late Night hosts, two different Spiders-Man, nearly every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, two different Batmen, the rise and fall (and rise?) of the DC Comics movies franchise, the rise and fall and rise and fall of Ben Affleck, Netflix becoming the most powerful player in the TV landscape, and – oh yeah – the return of actual Star Wars movies to theaters. Suffice it to say, it’s been a memorable decade. Let’s take a look and see what the true highlights were, shall we?  (Note: As always, this is an extremely personal list. You’ll notice no mention of “sitcoms” created by Lena Dunham, nor any shows about and/or containing dragons, to name a few. Glad if others enjoyed them, but they are definitely not for me.)

Best: New “Star Wars” Movies! In 2005, I went to see the first showing of “Revenge of the Sith” in London with my brother and some friends from college. I then saw it six more times in the theater, because it was billed as the final Star Wars movie.  So imagine my shock in 2012 when Disney purchased Lucasfilm and promised to release more movies. “The Force Awakens” was amazing, “Rogue One” was inspiring, and then “The Last Jedi” and “Solo” left me wanting. Also worth mentioning the fantastic “Rebels” animated series here.

Best (for a while): The McConnaissance: Between his bonkers cameo in “Wolf of Wall Street,” his star-making turn in “Dallas Buyers Club,” and the one-two punch of him and Woody Harrelson in “True Detective,” McConaughey could do no wrong.  And then, of course, he made a movie in which he plays a fisherman in a video game. And “Interstellar.” No good thing lasts. 

Best: Sam Rockwell: “The Way, Way Back” is an underrated gem, and though he was primarily known as merely a character actor for much of the decade, Rockwell scored back-to-back Oscar noms (and a win) for his turns his “Three Billboards” and “Vice.” 

Best: The Marvel Movies: Imagine introducing Thor, and Captain America, and Black Panther, and (the best version of) Spider-Man, and Captain Marvel…and then also making several movies wherein they team up? And having each of those movies make hundreds of millions of dollars, and be entertaining (“Thor 2” excepted)? It’s a stunning achievement that so many studios tried to copy (DC and Sony tried to make cinematic universes out of Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman and Spider-Man/Sinister Six, and Universal wanted to make a Dark Universe out of its horror movie monsters).  It’s an incredible accomplishment. 

Mixed Bag: Other Comic Book Movies: “X-Men” movies were both great (“Days of Future Past,” “First Class”) and terrible (“Dark Phoenix,” “Apocalypse”); their spin-offs were good (“Logan,” “Deadpool”); and some of the DC Universe movies were enjoyable (“Joker,” “Wonder Woman,” “Man of Steel”) while others (“Justice League,” “Batman v. Superman,” “Aquaman”) were what this critic might call “atrosh.”

Best: Netflix Series: “Master of None.” “GLOW.” “Love.” “Russian Doll.” “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” “Black Mirror.” Both iterations of “Wet Hot American Summer.” And dozens more. It’s no wonder that Disney+ and Apple+ wanted in on the streaming action. 

Worst: Most Reboots and Remakes: Not everyone needed to know about the continuing adventures of the Tanner Family (“Fuller House”) or “Will and Grace.”  Similarly, did we need another “Magnum, P.I.,” another “MacGyver,” or another “Hawaii 5-0?” 

Best: Zoe Kazan: “Ruby Sparks” was brilliant, her work in “Olive Kitteridge” was Emmy nominated, I loved her on “The Deuce,” and then she goes and makes “The Big Sick,” which was the best movie of the year in 2017. (I also *loved* “What If” with her and Daniel Radcliffe.)

Best: Michael Keaton: from getting a scene-stealing turn in “The Other Guys,” to being a great MCU villain in “Spider-Man,” to “Spotlight” and “Birdman,” and even “The Founder,” Keaton put together an incredible decade.

Best: Jake Gyllenhaal: What a weird decade. He moved on from chasing box-office glory (“Day After Tomorrow,” “Prince of Persia”) to really interesting artsy territory (and, you know, “Spider-Man: Far From Home”). His work in “Wildlife,” “Stronger,” “Everest,” “Southpaw,” “End of Watch,” “Nightcrawler,” and “Source Code” show an actor who is hitting his stride.

Best: Bradley Cooper aka Cooper Bradley: “Silver Linings Playbook.” “American Hustle.” Rocket Raccoon. “American Sniper.” “Limitless.” All great. And then he gives us the best movie of last year, “A Star Is Born.”

Worst: Blah Origin Stories: How many “Robin Hood” movies did we need? Surely not the two we got. (Bonus points if you remember both “Robin Hood” movies this decade. One had Russell Crowe!)

Best: Quality Sitcoms: “Happy Endings,” “The Good Place,” “Suburgatory,” “New Girl,” “Brooklyn 99,” most of “Parks and Rec,” most of “Community,” “Superstore,” “Silicon Valley,” the best (i.e. non-first season) of “Cougar Town,” and “Veep” really set a high bar for laugh riots.

Best: Bill Hader: His work on SNL and in “Trainwreck,” were great, and then he went and made “Barry” into one of HBO’s best shows in years.

Best: Brie Larson: Also great in “Trainwreck,” plus solid work to garner an Oscar in “Room,” and then an incredible MCU debut with “Captain Marvel.” Even her work in “21 Jump Street” was great!

Worst: Unnecessary Sequels: The “Hangover” Sequels totally sully the good work of the first one. “Wreck-It Ralph 2” was clearly a cash grab. “Independence Day: 2” might be the biggest drop-off in quality from one film to the next since…well, “Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom.”

Worst: No National Treasure 3?
I mean, what are we even doing here then? 

Worst: Seriously? They made a TV show…musical….called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Oy. Hard pass.

Best: Some Reboots (When done properly): “Creed” and “Jurassic World” put oomph back into their respective franchises (though their sequels did not continue the upward momentum).

Best: Guilty Pleasures: “This is Us” reliably tugs on the heart strings every week. “Hart of Dixie” – a show about Zoe Hart, a City doctor who became a small town physician – lasted four majestic seasons. “Girl Meets World” – while admittedly a cash grab – finally answered what happened to Mr. Turner. And “The Challenge” produced a lot of memorable drama, and a number of Johnny Bananas and Cara Maria wins.

Worst: Seriously?? When you watch award shows and things like “Green Book,” “The Shape of Water,” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” win awards but Amy Poehler never got an Emmy for Leslie Knope, you know that…well I guess that award shows are meaningless!

Best: Amy Adams: Her role in “Arrival” alone probably gets her on this list, but also her work in “Sharp Objects,” “American Hustle,” “Her,” “The Master,” “The Muppets,” and “The Fighter.”

Best: Don Cheadle: His work on “House of Lies,” “Black Monday,” and as Rhodey in the MCU made it a fine decade for the actor. Speaking of “House of Lies…”

Best: Kristen Bell: Her work on “House of Lies,” “Veronica Mars,” “The Good Place,” and brief cameos on “Parks and Rec” moved Bell to the A-list.

Best: Rami Malek: His work on “Mr. Robot” (even when the show’s quality has waned) is fantastic, and when you’ve won an Oscar and an Emmy in the same decade, you’re obviously doing something right.

Best: Other Streamers: Disney+ only just started but it already has a content library (MCU/Star Wars/Old Disney) that will sate me for weeks on end; Amazon Prime and Hulu had quality offerings (“The Handmaid’s Tale” being the best of the lot); and even Yahoo rescued “Community” for its last season.

Best: HBO dramas: “The Leftovers” – What an amazing three-season journey the Garvey/Durst clan took us on. “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Deuce” were the network at its best. And the aforementioned first-season of “True Detective” was sublime. And I may be one of the only ones left, but I’m still a huge “Westworld” fan.

Best movie of each year of the decade:
2010: The Social Network
2011: Drive (this year was hardest for me to choose from of the decade, easily; I also loved 10 Years, Planet of the Apes, First Class, the first Captain America, and more.)
2012: Avengers
2013: Prisoners
2014: Lego Movie
2015: Force Awakens
2016: Arrival
2017: The Big Sick
2018: A Star is Born
2019: Avengers Endgame

Best: This Blog!: Because it gives me a reason – frequently – to thank you for reading my rambling, nonsensical thoughts on the entertainment industry.

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.

20 Funniest Shows….Ever

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A few weeks ago, my friend Kim and I went to see a live performance of Tituss Burgess (“Titus” from “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”). While waiting in line, Kim mentioned that one of her friends had asked why she and I would go to something like that, considering that “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” isn’t one of the 20 funniest shows ever. I don’t disagree with the unnamed critic, at least as far as rankings go (though, as long as it’s a show that I enjoy, why wouldn’t I pay to see Tituss (and Jane Krakowski) live?). But of course, it got me thinking about what shows actually are the 20 funniest ever.

A few caveats: 1) I purposefully did not count talk shows, so you won’t see shows like Late Night with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, or the Daily Show with Jon Stewart on here. 2) Shows get dinged for going on past their natural expiration date. For instance, I have “How I Met Your Mother” off of the top 20 – had it ended after, say, season 4, it easily would have sailed into my top 20. 3) This is a list about funny shows. I know there are good shows, especially on cable, that are categorized as comedies (“Transparent,” “Shameless,” etc.). These are not funny shows. They are purposefully not included. No show has ever been more liberally described as a comedy than “Girls.” Yet there’s not one laugh in any of the episodes I watched. 4) My (long) list of Honorable Mentions is beneath the Top 20, presented in alphabetical order.  5) This endeavor is wholly personal. Please feel free to disagree with me in the comments below. Without further ado, my top 20:

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Winners and Losers, 2016

Well, as John Oliver rightly noted, 2016 was not a good year. And while I’ll do my best to keep updating this space, regular readers (if there is such a thing) can vouch that I’ve been lacking in posts; mostly because it feels like the world is falling apart. (I say this not as a wholly political statement; for instance, Alan Thicke and Florence Henderson and George Michael have passed while I’ve been working on this draft. Update: Carrie Fisher, too.) But with that said, entertainment is often a good way to express discontent with the current political and social climate, and can often serve as a distraction from, well, our impending doom. So enough prologue: I humbly submit the winners and losers of the entertainment world that were on my radar in 2016.

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If I had an Emmy Ballot 2016

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Emmy nominations are nearly out for the 2016 telecast, so I thought I’d make a quick post for what shows and actors I would nominate, if I were lucky enough to have a ballot. Feel free to disagree or make suggestions in the comments. Continue reading