All posts by Sara

The Best Movies of 2021

It’s been a long year. I’m referring, of course, to 2020, which is still going, some 800-plus days after it started. Oh, it’s 2022?! Ah, shit. That means this list is super-late. Sorry! But maybe we could all use some extra time to think about our choices, and how extremely correct they all are. I won’t waste any more time. Let’s get to the list for another year where everything was garbage but the movies. You can listen to us defend our choices here.
Continue reading The Best Movies of 2021

The SportsAlcohol.dom Podcast Double Feature: Best Movies of 2021, and the Oscars

It’s been a quiet winter, podcasting-wise, at SportsAlcohol.com HQ, but now Marisa, Sara, Jeremy, and Jesse are back with two new retrospective episodes! In the first, we continue our annual tradition of counting down our collective top 15 movies of the year (that’s 2021, not 2022). The full list will be on the site soon, but you can get a preview with our discussion of group and personal faves. Then we convened to talk about some of the best-and-other movies of 2021, offering our predictions, preferences, and occasional complaints about the recent Oscar nominations. Sure, it’s March, but the Oscars still haven’t happened yet! So why not take a last listen to us talking about the highlights (and occasional Oscar-honored lowlights) of the 2021 movie year? It’s been a rollercoaster year-plus, but keep in mind: Heartbreak feels good in a place like this.

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

  • You can subscribe to our podcast using the rss feed.
  • I’m not sure why they allowed it, but we are on iTunes! If you enjoy what you hear, a positive comment and a rating would be great.
  • I don’t really know what Stitcher is, but we are also on Stitcher.
  • SportsAlcohol.com is a proud member of the Aha Radio Network. What is Aha? It’s kind of like Stitcher, but for your car.
  • You can download the mp3 of the episode directly here for the best movies of 2021 and here for the Oscars.
  • Our most recent episode or two will sometimes be available on our Soundcloud. We don’t always have it working right but there’s good stuff there regardless!
  • You can listen to the episodes in the players below.

TRACK MARKS 2021: “4Runner” by Rostam

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them around the turn of a new year, looking back at the previous year in music.

There was a brief, blink-and-you-missed-it period when it seemed like everything was going to be okay. That we’d pull through this whole COVID mess; the masks could be doffed, the social distance between us closed. It’s hard to believe now as Omicron continues to wreck its havoc on vacation planning and school reopenings, but during the weeks of June and July 2021 when it seemed like this great disaster was about to be in the rearview, Rostam’s swoony “4Runner” was my personal soundtrack.

This isn’t to say I was spending a lot of that period driving around; even two and a half years after moving back to the Midwest I still don’t have a car. But like the titular vehicle, “4Runner” is a track designed for the open road, even if it’s just one you’re riding in your mind. Rostam seemed to anticipate this by releasing the single way back in March of 2021, when most of us were still homebound, in advance of his second solo album Changephobia. Though he hasn’t collaborated with Vampire Weekend in several years now, the song recalls some of their breeziest work, though it’s much less indebted to Paul Simon’s multicultural melange than the self-consciously cinematic sweep of Roxy Music.

Employing a surging mix of 12-string acoustic guitar, drums, and a Moog bass, Rostam constructs a euphoric ode to queer love and the freedom that can be found as much in a lover’s arms as the wind in your hair. The lyrics paint a nostalgic portrait of a couple who could be on the road or on the run: the 4Runner they’re driving has stolen plates, after all. A sense of illicitness, even danger, hangs over the scene; at one point Rostam mentions the knife his partner keeps in the passenger door. The song never boils over into melodrama, though. This isn’t a Thelma & Louise story, doomed to end in tragedy. There are no cars careening into canyons here. Instead there’s an acknowledgment that uncertainty is part of the trade-off of partnership, and might even be one of the rewards. “I’m waiting down the street. Take all the time you want to come,” Rostam sings, the music fading beneath him like a sunset, a daily event that can still feel momentous despite its constancy. It was difficult to be spontaneous this past year, but “4Runner” reminds us what it feels like to throw caution to the wind and take off somewhere unmapped, if only for three-and-a-half minutes at a time.

TRACK MARKS 2021: “Faith Healer” by Julien Baker

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them around the turn of a new year, looking back at the previous year in music.

I cried a lot in 2021. I don’t think I’m alone in that. It was a uniquely dark time for many of us, when the continued isolation imposed by the pandemic began to feel less like a moral imperative and more like a congenital defect, particularly for those like me who live alone and already prone to depressive and defeatist thinking. We had hoped the year would go better. It had other plans. In times like this, sometimes it doesn’t really help to try and boost yourself up with positive and mindful self-talk that feels false or forced. Sometimes you just want to hear from someone who gets it. For me, that someone was Julien Baker.

In advance of the release of her third solo album Little Oblivions, Baker was remarkably candid about the personal struggles and demons that inspired it, from her evangelical upbringing to a series of addictions and relapses before she was even out of her teens. If there’s a self-flagellating aspect to her music, a punishing intensity not only to the lyrics but the musical compositions supporting them, there’s also a firsthand knowledge of unhealthy coping mechanisms that can make her seem like the gurus she’s questioning, a belief in herself that’s all the more compelling for how clearly fragile it is. No track embodies that better than “Faith Healer,” the record’s first single and its best song.

Like much of Baker’s music, it starts hushed, with a simple undulating guitar picking, her voice not entering the song so much as venturing into it. “Ooh I miss it high,” she croons, as if hesitant to invade its holy space with a confession of weakness. But, as with most confessions, once Baker starts it all begins flooding out: “What I wouldn’t give if it would take away the sting a minute. Everything I love, I’d trade it in to feel it rush into my chest.” If there’s anything an addict understands in her blood, it’s the seductive power of a quick fix. Whatever the vice might be, whether it’s a drug or a person or a belief system, there’s a relief in giving into it, blinding yourself to the delusion that maybe, this time, you can control the chaos being welcomed back in. The song itself mirrors this during the bridge as strings dart with increasing fervency, building to the cathartic invitation to connect, even, and perhaps especially, when it’s bad for you: “Come put your hands on me.” When she performed this live at one of the first shows I went to post-vaccine in September, the crowd lifted theirs as if the concert hall was a revival tent. And for the upteenth time that year, I cried. And I wasn’t alone in that.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: The Films of Wes Anderson

How did it take us this long to get to a Wes Anderson podcast episode?! Though The Grand Budapest Hotel was our consensus choice for the best movie of 2014, our site’s very first best-movie-of-the-year pick, we hadn’t yet dedicated a full episode to Anderson’s full filmography. With the recent of release of The French Dispatch, we decided to change that, assembling Marisa, Jon, Sara, Jeremy, and Jesse to rank Anderson’s movies and discuss all ten of them. Which film edged out which other film for the number one spot? Which one was lowest on multiple lists? What do we think of his latest movie (now available to stream, rent, or buy on disc)? And where do the stop-motion animals fit in?! All of this information and more is contained in this podcast episode, our first in too long, but also one of our best. So switch off the Kinks for just a couple of hours and listen up!

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

  • You can subscribe to our podcast using the rss feed.
  • I’m not sure why they allowed it, but we are on iTunes! If you enjoy what you hear, a positive comment and a rating would be great.
  • I don’t really know what Stitcher is, but we are also on Stitcher.
  • SportsAlcohol.com is a proud member of the Aha Radio Network. What is Aha? It’s kind of like Stitcher, but for your car.
  • You can download the mp3 of the episode directly here.
  • Our most recent episode or two will sometimes be available on our Soundcloud. We don’t always have it working right but there’s good stuff there regardless!
  • You can listen to the episode in the player below.

FLIRTING WITH DISASTER at 25: To Break Things and Be Forgiven

Mel Coplin cannot name his child. This is the inciting plot point of writer-director David O. Russell’s second and, in my opinion, best film: 1996’s Flirting with Disaster, which celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary this year. It belongs in the same upper echelon of satirical road trip comedies as Albert Brooks’ Lost in America and Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels but is rarely granted that level of recognition, perhaps overshadowed in the popular imagination by Russell’s flashier but less soulful later efforts. Watching it now, there’s something quaint, even wholesome, about Disaster’s more pint-sized focus and ambitions; its entire budget could probably match the cost of one of American Hustle’s needle drops. It’s a portrait of a distinctly dysfunctional family, released during the height of the Clinton years, picking up on the ambient anxieties of the you-can-have-it-all era and mining it for painful laughs. But, like pretty much every character in the film, I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Let’s get back to Mel, who is played with exquisitely calibrated neuroticism by Ben Stiller. Mel cannot name his child because he doesn’t understand where he came from. Mel was adopted as a baby by Pearl and Ed Coplin, played by an uncharacteristically ribald Mary Tyler Moore and perpetually harried George Segal, respectively. Though they are not his birth parents, it’s easy to see how they’ve rubbed off on Mel once they’re introduced in the sort of madcap multilayered “everyone talking at once and about different things” dinner sequence that will become this film’s recurring set piece. For someone like me, who grew up in a household that insisted on sedate nightly meals together that often unfolded with the television on in the background, these scenes hit the same pleasure centers as Moonstruck or Raising Arizona. It’s not that I recognize my own family in them, but the particularities of the arguments and the tangled affection informing them invite me, if only briefly, into a new, more emphatic one. Pearl and Ed are upset with Mel because, deep down, they fear they haven’t been enough for him. Because this is a David O. Russell comedy, that’s expressed by Moore boasting about the defiant buoyancy of her late-middle-aged breasts and Segal cautioning about the carjacking problem in San Diego, where Mel has just announced he’s heading with his wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette, expertly capturing the heightened-stakes sensuality of new motherhood) and his hapless caseworker Tina (Tea Leoni, never sexier), who is recently divorced and feeling pressed for time, biologically speaking. Tina has identified San Diego as the residence of Mel’s birth mother, Valerie Swaney.
Continue reading FLIRTING WITH DISASTER at 25: To Break Things and Be Forgiven

The Ten Best Music Cues on The Sopranos

In early March 2020, a coworker asked me what I might do if Chicago instituted a two-week lockdown to fight Covid. “I don’t know,” I joked. “Maybe finally watch The Sopranos?” It was a huge gap in my television viewing history, if an understandable one. I was twelve when it first began airing in January 1999, and while my family had a free year of HBO thanks to a cable deal, I was clandestinely absorbing the antics of Sex and the City rather than Tony and the gang. Despite later enjoying, to varying degrees, shows that owed the series a debt, from Mad Men to Breaking Bad to The Americans, I was always daunted by the idea of taking on The Sopranos. It felt like a project. Is it really worth it? And when would I find the time? Still, as Twitter flooded with sourdough starters and Duolingo prompts in the ensuing months, I resisted the modest goals I set for myself. I felt too unmoored and confused to accomplish even something as simple as watching a show. It wasn’t until a full year into the pandemic, the same year that Sopranos movie prequel The Many Saints of Newark was scheduled to release, that I pressed play on the premiere, but I was surprised at how quickly the show’s characters began to feel like companions. (Living alone will do that to you.) It can be easy to forget now, but The Sopranos truly was a game-changer, and one made with more care than the contrarian in me anticipated. The music is a huge part of that, much of which creator David Chase handpicked himself, to the point where even a casual fan of the show could come up with a unique top ten list. As a recent convert, I humbly offer mine on the occasion of Many Saints of Newark hitting theaters and HBO Max this week.

The 10 Best Music Cues on The Sopranos According to a First-Time Viewer in 2021

Continue reading The Ten Best Music Cues on The Sopranos

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Top Movies of Summer 1991

As promised, the SportsAlcohol.com panel of summer movie experts is back and bigger than ever, with no fewer than seven all-star contributors assembling (virtually) to discuss the biggest and not necessarily best movies of summer 1991. The panelists are Marisa, Ben, Nathaniel, Sara, Becca, Jeremy, and Jesse. The movies of summer 1991 include R-rated sci-fi action hits that also generated playground buzz from the preteen crowd; a jetpacked retro superhero; Billy Crystal having a midlife crisis; a whole lotta fire; and Kevin Costner in a mullet. And that’s not all! You’ll also find out how Becca’s dad preferred to watch Backdraft, how Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves changed Marisa’s life, how Boyz n the Hood holds up thirty years later, which beloved blockbuster(s) that Ben actually kinda hates, and more, more, more!

If you love hearing us talk about the movies of summer 1991 and long to hear different combinations of us discussing other summer movies of yore, here’s the complete history of this project:

1990
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

  • You can subscribe to our podcast using the rss feed.
  • I’m not sure why they allowed it, but we are on iTunes! If you enjoy what you hear, a positive comment and a rating would be great.
  • I don’t really know what Stitcher is, but we are also on Stitcher.
  • SportsAlcohol.com is a proud member of the Aha Radio Network. What is Aha? It’s kind of like Stitcher, but for your car.
  • You can download the mp3 of the Black Widow/Cruella episode here and the streaming-biz discussion episode here
  • Our most recent episode or two will sometimes be available on our Soundcloud. We don’t always have it working right but there’s good stuff there regardless!
  • You can listen to the episode in the player below.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Oscars 2021!

Oscars 2021 are finally here, which means Oscars 2021 are also finally nearly over! It’s been a long spring and a long awards season and a weird distended eligibility period, which has given us Marisa, Sara, Jesse, and Jeremy plenty of time to watch all of the Oscar contenders, except those that we just couldn’t get to. Just like years past, we are focusing on who we want to win across the biggest categories, with some bonus predictions and plenty of classic Oscar carping about what movies and performances should have been recognized by the ol’ Academy bluehairs! Be sure to listen to us before placing any virtual bets in your office’s virtual Oscar pool! (Assuming your Oscars 2021 pool is mainly about which cinematography Jesse likes best or which major-category rule most enrages Marisa.)

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

  • You can subscribe to our podcast using the rss feed.
  • I’m not sure why they allowed it, but we are on iTunes! If you enjoy what you hear, a positive comment and a rating would be great.
  • I don’t really know what Stitcher is, but we are also on Stitcher.
  • SportsAlcohol.com is a proud member of the Aha Radio Network. What is Aha? It’s kind of like Stitcher, but for your car.
  • You can download the mp3 of this episode directly here
  • Our most recent episode or two will sometimes be available on our Soundcloud
  • You can listen to the episode (and a bunch of great songs!) in the players below.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: The Best Movies of 2020, Again

Back in September of 2020, we wondered whether maybe it was just time to call it on 2020 and move on to other things, so we did our best movies of 2020 podcast four months early. But as it turned out, life continued on planet Earth, and we were able to pull together a list of the year’s best movies at the appropriate time: Well into the following year. In the spirit of, oh, let’s just say an extended awards season, we also got together to discuss some of the movies from this list that we hadn’t already discussed before. So think of this podcast about the best movies of 2020 as a sequel to last summer’s episode, and a testament to the fact that movies really were one actually-good thing in 2020, even if nothing much else was.

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

  • You can subscribe to our podcast using the rss feed.
  • I’m not sure why they allowed it, but we are on iTunes! If you enjoy what you hear, a positive comment and a rating would be great.
  • I don’t really know what Stitcher is, but we are also on Stitcher.
  • SportsAlcohol.com is a proud member of the Aha Radio Network. What is Aha? It’s kind of like Stitcher, but for your car.
  • You can download the mp3 of this episode directly here
  • Our most recent episode or two will sometimes be available on our Soundcloud
  • You can listen to the episode (and a bunch of great songs!) in the players below.