The 20 Best Movies of 2020

Back in the fall, we were so uncertainly about the prospects of discussing the best movies of 2020 in a timely fashion that we decided to call it early and do a best-movies-of-the-year podcast in September. Who knew when anything would get back to normal, if ever? As it turns out, we’re well into 2021 and things still haven’t gotten back to normal (and no amount of pushing the Oscars into April has changed that). But something that stayed the same, albeit in weird and different shapes, were movies, in that there were good movies all through 2020, and in a hell year–hell, a hell-year-plus–that’s still worth talking about. So here we are, talking about the best movies of 2020 again; this time in writing, though a podcast will soon follow, too. And if we (I, Jesse) didn’t get this up until March, well, we’re still having the conversation earlier than the Oscars. That’s gotta count for something, right? Maybe in a few months, you can even start to think about how you might see revivals of these movies out in the real world again. The best movies of 2020 are here for you well into 2021 and beyond! Herewith, Sara, Marisa, Jeremy, Jesse, and Nathaniel talk about their collective favorites.
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COMING 2 AMERICA Sells Itself Short

Sometimes, usually around the Super Bowl, an enterprising corporation will entice a famous actor to reprise a famous role for 30 or 60 seconds at a time. Whether it’s Jeff Bridges briefly returning to The Dude or Mike Myers and Dana Carvey doing one more Wayne’s World sketch, these reanimations can light up our nostalgia receptors with warm hit of recognition. They’re also commonplace enough to diminish with every passing year. The ads themselves may technically vary in cleverness, but most of them amount to a momentary spark, quickly dampened–whether by lame jokes, depressing shilling, or simply the cruel visibility of time’s passage. Coming 2 America, a 33-years-later sequel to one of Eddie Murphy’s better comedies, is like watching that type of Super Bowl ad for 105 minutes, give or take. Imagine how much dampening that involves.

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The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Silence of the Lambs at 30

SportsAlcohol.com mainstay Sara has a Valentine’s Day tradition: Watch The Silence of the Lambs. Valentine’s Day does happen to be the movie’s anniversary–and in 2021, it turned 30 years young! So the SportsAlcohol crew decided to join in on the ritual (virtually, of course), rewatching Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning (and, yes, somewhat problematic) feminist serial-killer thriller and getting together to talk about that, plus the careers of both Demme and, uh, Lecter. So if you’ve ever wanted to listen to Sara, Jesse, Marisa, Ben, and Jeremy talk about Michael Mann, Brett Ratner, Matthew Modine, the Oscars, message movies, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Thandie Newton in one packed episode, then SportsAlcohol.com has done it again! Happy Valentine’s Day to no one! Seriously, though, it’s a good episode.

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: Best Music of 2020

Normally, we try to do some end-of-the-year music coverage timed to the period between the winding down of the calendar year and airing of the Grammy awards in February. This year, I have no fucking clue when the Grammys are even happening. I think they were pushed back? I assume Taylor Swift was nominated for a bunch of stuff? Anyway, the point is, this year in music was as weird as this year in everything else, which stymied any attempt to make a collective list of the best songs or albums. However, we did arrive at a few consensus favorites to discuss, so Marisa, Jesse, Rob, Sara, and Jeremy got together to talk about Phoebe Bridgers, Waxahatchee, Fiona Apple, HAIM, and some artists who aren’t white ladies! (But, honestly, not that many.) We also talked about how our listening habits changed, what old music we found ourselves digging into during quar, the stans who cyberbullied Jesse, and how Jeremy doesn’t know anything about the Beatles. It’s a lot. But it’s a fun conversation to accompany our excellent series of Track Marks song write-ups. Plus, we may not have an essay about the best song or record of the year, but we do have a playlist featuring selections from our collective and individual tastes! Check it out below!

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 Films of David Fincher

With David Fincher’s Mank dominating cultural conversation as a Netflix smash (?!?!), we figured: What better time to obsess over America’s most obsessive filmmaker? In another two-part episode, the all-star team of Rob, Marisa, Sara, Nathaniel, Jeremy, and Jesse virtually convened to talk about each and every David Fincher film, from the big-budget Alien sequel he disowned to the black-and-white labor of love he made about… screenwriting?! Is Zodiac his only great movie? Does Mank live up to the hype/backlash cycle? Who loves The Game? These are all questions we are well-qualified to answer to the tune of Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, so put on your green filters, start poring over serial killer files, and let’s do it.

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

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: The Films of Martin Scorsese

For an episode so long in the works that we decided to make it two episodes, the SportsAlcohol.com film buddies decided to take on the filmography of Martin Scorsese. He doesn’t have a new movie out, and probably won’t until 2022, but we’ve been stuck inside for much of the past year, and Scorsese has such a rich (AND VARIED) filmography that it’s always a pleasure to go flipping back through it. Plus, Raging Bull recently turned 40, Goodfellas recently turned 30, and Casino recently turned 25! Scorsese has so many movies, you can find a significant anniversary virtually any year. So while you prep for the upcoming 10th anniversary of Hugo and 15th anniversary of The Departed, why not kick back with our career-spanning retrospective, wherein we have at least some form of discussion about every fiction film Martin Scorsese has ever made! We talk about the gangster ones, the pulp ones, the religious ones, the early ones, the Leo ones, and more! Do not let Jesse have watched Boxcar Bertha in vain!

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

Stop Calling WandaVision Weird!

WandaVision, currently airing on Disney+, is many things. It’s a superhero show. It’s a love story. It’s a fun romp through the pantheon of television history.

In a lot of ways, it’s what I’ve been asking of Marvel in many, many, many of our MCU-related podcasts, where I plead for the studio to focus on fewer Avengers, tell smaller-scale stories, and do something that feels distinct from the rest of the 20-plus entries in the franchise.

But there’s one thing that WandaVision is not: weird. It’s also not completely original (by design!), unique, or bizarre. And yet.

WandaVision Reviews

WandaVision can’t — and doesn’t — have it both ways. It can’t rely on its audience to recognize sitcom tropes, and then also exist apart from them. And I don’t believe the show is really trying to. I think it wants you to feel the timeworn plot patterns, spot the inspirations in the decor, ease into the comfort of the laugh track. From the show’s debut, any TV fan can tell that one episode is going to feel like the ’50s, with all those conventions, the next is going to take on the ’60s, and so on.

In fact, my biggest complaint about WandaVision is that sometimes the idea of it is more fun than actually sitting down to watch it. (Except for Vision’s magic show. That was great.) I get that Wanda has Bewitched-style powers, and she’s going to use them to get out of a scrape with The Boss and try to whip up a big dinner, and that it’s going to backfire. There is joy in watching it because of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s performances, but the way it unfolds is not particularly refreshing. Even the idea of a classic sitcom parody is not, by itself, something especially new.

Of course, it’s not just a classic sitcom parody. But the way the story hints at something bigger going on is not weird, either. It’s straight out of The Truman Show.  Or Lost. I’ve only seen the three episodes that are available to the general public so far, but I know when I start each one that, a couple scenes in, there’s going to be some kind of hint that not everything is as it seems, and then at the end there’s going to be, well, an even bigger hint that not everything is as it seems. Maybe the show will change course and we’ll stop living in TV Land, or maybe the parts that exist outside the sitcom world will take up a bigger slice of the running time of each episode. Maybe she’ll have to fight The Powers That Be — the ones that made our heroes retreat into the imagined safety of a blissful TV marriage. Maybe that’ll involve more typical MCU-style hangars and control rooms. Or maybe not. But I have a feeling that, whatever the reveal is, it’s not going to be shocking. I will come back and sincerely apologize if this show does anything that genuinely surprises me.

So why do people keep calling it weird? I think there’s something else implied that isn’t being said. WandaVision is weird…for Marvel.  (It’s not even the weirdest recent Marvel property! Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is weirder! It has a talking pig! Legion, as frustrating as I find it, is weirder! It has an astral plane!) While WandaVision sits comfortably within television tropes, it exists apart from the hardened Marvel formula.

At this point, Marvel shouldn’t be getting credit for moving one standard deviation away from its current status quo. It should’ve been at least this creative the whole time, if not moreso. Was it a long game — making movies so samey that they get oohs and ahhs the minute they decide to change course, even the tiniest bit? Probably not. But I hope this encourages the Marvel suits to take more, and bigger, risks across the board, and not just compartmentalize tiny nods to weirdness into a handful of episodes on Disney+. I want more talking pigs!

In THE LITTLE THINGS, Denzel Washington sticks around for more afternoon-cable pulp

There are times when it’s easy to lose patience with Denzel Washington for his steadfast dedication to being a movie star. Here is one of the best actors of his generation, a popular two-time Oscar winner with fine taste in theater classics and a willingness to complicate his megawatt charisma, who nonetheless frequently makes movies designed to play on some Turner-owned cable station or another in weekend-afternoon perpetuity.

Yet Washington, who has always appeared in pulp but has done so more often after 50, has stuck around in crime thrillers, vigilante thrillers, and serial-killer-chasing thrillers for so long that his junky one-for-them studio pictures can, under the right lighting, look like comfort. The Little Things, his new Warner Bros. movie premiering in theaters and HBO Max simultaneously, has the right lighting. Specifically, it’s lit in Diet David Fincher greens and streetlamps at night, a more richly moody look than anything I’ve seen before from writer-director John Lee Hancock. Hancock is taking a break from his usual Americana; rather than observing the men who caught Bonnie and Clyde or the unctuous franchising of McDonald’s or the white-knuckle production of Mary Poppins, he’s simply on the trail of Denzel Washington, on the trail of a serial killer, throwing back only so far as 1990. Canny, setting a cops-versus-killer narrative at the dawn of that narrative’s big-studio heyday.

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The Girl Without the Harry Potter Tattoo

Dear Harry Potter Tattoo I No Longer Plan to Get,

Didn’t we almost have it all.

You were meant to be tiny but I had big plans for you: featured player in at least a dozen Instagram stories within week 1; avoiding for as long as possible the phone call to my dad where I’d retract 18-year-old Cristin’s promise to Never Get Another One; a life lived on my left forearm a respectful distance away from my (existing) Shel Silverstein tattoo. I can picture it perfectly even though I can’t picture you; I never decided between the stylized minimalist snitch, the classic lightning bolt scar/ glasses combo, the deathly hallows, the sorting hat, or any still-unmasked dark horse contestant that had yet to grace my Pinterest feed. I should thank my design indecision for your absence–I wavered right up to the pandemic quarantine, where I couldn’t have gotten a tattoo if I wanted it, even if I had decided on a design, even if J.K. Rowling hadn’t imploded, forfeiting her place on a ton of readers’ mental bookshelf of heroes and teaching me that permanent icon status doesn’t exist, at least not outside of Joan Didion. We can all still agree on Joan Didion, thank god. Somehow I still don’t see Later I Forgot or You Sit Down To Dinner and Life As You Know It Ends quote art taking over for Always or I Solemnly Swear I Am Up To No Good on anyone’s tattoo power rankings any time soon.

We can likely expect a tattoo baby boom post-pandemic, both from all of the tattoos not gotten in quarantine (I still can’t believe that the women of this world were asked to deal with RBG’s death without immediate and abundant access to dissent collar tattoos) plus all the mulling-over time we’ve all had at home. There was newfound free time to devote to things like tattoo selection, and things like tattoo selection to allow us to think about permanence, if it even exists, without looking at the concept head-on and punching a one-way ticket to an existential crisis. After a year in a world that bares absolutely no resemblance to its predecessor, the one we thought was indelible and enduring and were categorically wrong about, I can’t think about permanence without feeling like I’m staring into the sun or holding my hand too close to the stove. I can only look at permanence sideways, through philosophical scrims like body art and Sharpies and bad credit histories.

I’m still working through my feelings on Rowling, hoping to talk myself into believing that the books are each of ours as much as they are hers, which would allow me to keep a pensieve’s worth of happy memories and associations that would be a fantastic consolation prize for Tattoos Never Gotten like yourself. Maybe there are places I can go for help, support groups filled with people who still have framed Woody Allen movie posters and who like the Weinstein seasons of Project Runway better than the recent iterations. Maybe in these groups I’ll come to grips with having lost something that I wanted to stay a permanent part of me, something much bigger than just the idea of a someday tattoo.

There’s no sign of you on me, and there won’t be, but I’m left with plenty of Potter inked on my insides, in my personal permanent collection. I’m also left with a vacancy in the spot you surrendered. Tell Frog & Toad they’ll be hearing from me.

Take care, and I’m sure I’ll see you on a BuzzFeed list soon.

Women of Action: MONSTER HUNTER and SHADOW IN THE CLOUD

The recent movie Shadow in the Cloud sounds like it could be one of those occasional January miracles: an efficient, unpretentious genre mish-mash executed with no-fuss brawn and style. It’s about Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz), a WWII flight officer who hitches a last-minute ride on a bomber, where she is beset by sexism, then Japanese fighter planes, then gremlins. Shadow is so theoretically January-tastic that it dropped on the very first of the year, a rare release date made more feasible by the global pandemic, which has sent the film to first-run VOD as well as a few theaters simultaneously.

The hybrid release model is unusually appropriate for this movie; for its entire 83 minutes (or rather, for the 75 minutes it actually runs minus credits), it straddles the line between unusually ambitious, well-made trash and the chintzy direct-to-video garbage of old. The movie even provides its own convenient delineation: there’s the sizable chunk of the story confined to Maude’s cramped stay in the plane’s ball turret, communicating with her mostly-offscreen co-stars via radio, versus the mayhem-heavier sequences where she exits the ball turret to fight off those human-sized beasties. The filmmakers seem torn over whether its low-budget ridiculousness should be elegantly elided, or powered through with smash-and-grab energy.
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