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The Best Movies of 2015

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

2015 at the movies: There were no fewer than three excellent and satisfying part sevens. 70mm came back to multiplexes. The cast of Ex Machina was in everything, even Star Wars. Women talked about things other than men. The same guy made The Cobbler and Spotlight. There was a fourth movie about singing chipmunks.

It was a weird year, and not without its eclectic, sometimes unexpected pleasures. For our yearly poll, SportsAlcohol.com’s certified heavy moviegoers Nathaniel, Jesse, Marisa, and Sara voted with our ridiculous hearts and came up with fifteen of the year’s strongest achievements in cinema. We also talked about it in an upcoming podcast. But before you listen to us, read us waxing rhapsodic about some of the year’s best.

The 15 Best Movies of 2015

Continue reading The Best Movies of 2015

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Star Wars – The Force Awakens

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Did you guys hear that a new Star Wars movie came out?! With enormous gravitational force, this event drew four of SportsAlochol.com’s founding editors together to watch the movie (twice) and talk about it (a lot). For what I imagine will be the first Star Wars podcast of many Star Wars podcasts, Rob, Sabrina, Marisa, and Jesse talked a lot about The Force Awakens. Listen to our Star Wars podcast to hear:

–Analysis of how J.J. Abrams differs from George Lucas!
–Controversial nerd-baiting opinions about how the prequels rule and maybe Han Solo isn’t the best character in the original trilogy (Rob would like to point out that it’s all Jesse on that one)!
–Geeking out about our favorite scenes!
–The Mary Sue issue, addressed!
–Praise for our new hero BB-8!

AND MORE!

How To Listen

We are now up to SIX (6) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

HALFTIME REPORT: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Nathaniel

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.
Nathaniel

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With Halftime Report, your good friends at SportsAlcohol.com revisit some of their favorite films from the first half of this decade.

Hang me, oh, hang me. I’ll be dead and gone.
Hang me, oh, hang me. I’ll be dead and gone.
Wouldn’t mind the hanging, but the laying in the grave so long
Poor boy, I’ve been all around this world.

In 2013, Inside Llewyn Davis was met by film fans with an enthusiastic array of reactions that has become fairly familiar for a new Coen Brothers film (particularly the films they’ve released since 2007’s No Country For Old Men). There’s the poring over their meticulous technique, the debates about where the latest film ranks among the brothers’  oeuvre, speculation about how much the film can be read as personal expression by the famously puckish filmmakers, the debates about how despairing or cynical the film’s worldview truly is AND the attendant speculation about how much of that is sincere and how much is a joke on audiences. This last one is something of an evolution of the charge levied against them from the beginning of their career that they hold their characters (and possibly their audience) in contempt. Like A Serious Man, with its story about midwestern Jews in the 1960s that gave critics the purchase to finally analyze a Coen picture with an eye to their biography, Inside Llewyn Davis‘s story of a man adrift after losing a close friend and artistic partner offered a critical approach that allowed people to sidestep whatever lingering questions they still have about the Coens’ sincerity. Here was a movie working through the guys’ feelings about an imagined scenario where one of them died, leaving the other to muddle on alone. It’s a pretty satisfying reading of the film, and it suggests that we can perhaps also map the movie’s take on art, commerce, and the life of an artist as a similarly personal exploration by a couple of filmmakers who have a strange and interesting outsider relationship with Hollywood. But watching it now, after those initial conversations have subsided, I was struck by the way that it employs a classic Coen Brothers shaggy dog comedy of errors structure to tell their most emotional story, crystallized in perhaps the most devastating moment in any of their films. Continue reading HALFTIME REPORT: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

HALFTIME REPORT: Four Lions (2010)

Nathaniel

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.
Nathaniel

Latest posts by Nathaniel (see all)

With Halftime Report, your good friends at SportsAlcohol.com revisit some of their favorite films from the first half of this decade.

It’s become part of the conventional wisdom about Paddy Chayefsky’s great 1976 satire Network that modern viewers will miss the comic exaggeration in its depiction of a craven and amoral American media landscape. The darkly absurd predictions it makes about ratings-hungry producers and networks have been rendered commonplace (or even quaint) by reality in the last four decades. I had this in mind when sitting down to watch the woefully under seen terrorism comedy Four Lions again for the first time in a few years. I figured the character comedy would still work, but I wondered if the recent horrifying attack in Paris and incredible brutality of ISIS, along with their bizarre success in recruiting westerners, would render the film’s group of buffoonish Al-Qaeda dead-enders similarly quaint or outdated. Continue reading HALFTIME REPORT: Four Lions (2010)

HALFTIME REPORT: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013

Sara

Sara is big into reading and writing fiction like it's her job, because it is. That doesn't mean she isn't real as it gets. She loves real stuff like polka dots, indie rock, and underground fight clubs. I may have made some of that up. I don't know her that well. You can tell she didn't just write this in the third person because if she had written it there would have been less suspect sentence construction.
Sara

With Halftime Report, your good friends at SportsAlcohol.com revisit some of their favorite films from the first half of this decade.

There comes a point in all artistic endeavors when the project that one has toiled over must be turned over to the public to do with it what they will. This can have mixed results, particularly when one’s endeavor is ironic or satirical, as many rappers can attest (to take one recent example: Kendrick Lamar, whose song “Swimming Pool (Drank)”, an indictment of alcoholism in the projects, became a party anthem for white bros. And, to be fair to the white bros, it is really catchy, in a lethargic sort of way.) In the realm of film, Martin Scorsese may be one of the most co-opted artists of his time, whether it’s his method or his message. His seminal 1976 film Taxi Driver was condemned on release as a glorification of the violence it abhors and his elegiac, thoughtful religious picture The Last Temptation of Christ was picketed, sight unseen, by Christian groups as blasphemous. Both films are now rightly regarded as classics but suffice to say, the man knows a bit about having his work twisted by consumers. So perhaps he wasn’t surprised by the reception of The Wolf of Wall Street, his twenty-third feature film and one of the higher-grossing of his career.

To be fair to his critics, the movie walks an extremely fine line between inducing rage and adrenaline. While watching it, I shifted how I felt about it from moment to moment; it’s so much fun to experience and yet everything that happens in it is ugly. What might be most infuriating about it is that its central figure, Jordan Belfort (played by a game Leonardo DiCaprio,) is, essentially, a bro-tastic good time guy that’s easy to latch onto. He’s not particularly smart but he knows how to harness the energy in a room and game a vulnerable system. And boy are the United States’ financial institutions vulnerable. This film came out a scant five years after the Great Recession started and depending on what side you were on (or wanted to be), The Wolf of Wall Street plays very differently. Much like Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street before him, Belfort could be seen as either a savior or a destroyer, someone to aspire to or despise. Scorsese, to his immense credit, never plays his own hand openly though if one knows anything about him, it’s not difficult to figure out where he stands. Still, that didn’t stop many viewers from seeing Belfort’s splashy exploits as an endorsement of their own repulsive behavior.

The other major critique of the film was its length but in hindsight that seems purposeful, the rigor of the runtime matching the strenuousness, often amphetamine-aided, of its subject until it feels like a party everyone should have left a long time ago. For those who think of DiCaprio as a mechanical, joyless actor, I highly recommend a YouTube viewing of the sequence where Jordan is on Quaaludes, an incredible feat of physical comedy that acts as a bit of a funhouse mirror to the contorting of his more self-serious performances. By the end you’re practically begging for this prick to finally get his comeuppance but this is America and it doesn’t work like that, as anyone at Goldman Sachs can tell you. In many ways the closing shots are some of Scorsese’s most disturbing: the camera turned back on the audience, gazing on Belfort, now a motivational speaker, in adulatory awe. There are plenty of monsters in Scorsese’s back catalogue but Jordan Belfort may be the scariest because he’s a villain without a moral compass – even the gangsters of Goodfellas had a code – and he knows for most people that doesn’t matter if you’re saying something they want to hear.

The SportsAlcohol.com Bonus Mini-Podcast: Victor Frankenstein

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

As a bonus addendum to both the SportsAlcohol.com Thanksgiving summit in upstate NY and to our ongoing coverage of Frankenstein-related media, all of this site’s founding editors plus our buddy Derrick went out to see the new film Victor Frankenstein over the weekend and then piled into Rob and Sabrina’s five-seat hatchback car to talk about it. Rob was in the trunk. In this special bonus Victor Frankenstein podcast, We briefly discussed James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, hunchbacks with too many jobs, the Sherlockification of Frankenstein, and the slashiest Frankenstein movie since we don’t know when. Check it out, why not? It’s only ten minutes and you’ll feel like you’re crammed into the car with us.

How To Listen

We are now up to SIX (6) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

The SportsAlcohol.com podcast: The Hunger Games

Rob

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

All of the sportsalcohol.com founders were not only upstate for the holidays, we’ve also read all of the Hunger Games books and seen all of the movies. On the heels of the release of Mockingjay, Part 2, we talked about it all: the plague of breaking up books into multiple movies, the chemistry of Jennifer Lawrence and her co-stars, multiple directors, and Josh Hutcherson’s sweet skateboarding moves.

How To Listen

We are now up to SIX (6) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

Spotlight on the Social Issue Drama: David Gordon Green and Thomas McCarthy take their shots

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

When David Gordon Green broke away from his indie roots to make the mainstream stoner comedy Pineapple Express, followed by the idiosyncratic (and less financially successful) but still mainstream Your Highness and The Sitter, much was made of this unexpected career left turn. Green has since swung back into indie territory with a trio of lower-key dramas (Prince Avalanche; Joe; Manglehorn), albeit with bigger stars than anyone who appeared in All the Real Girls or Snow Angels, and his fluid, prolific toggling between genres makes clear both his talent and his personal stamp. Though not everyone recognized it, his loopy broad comedies are not so far removed from his loopy, less broad character studies or Malick-ish dreamscapes; the scrappy chase narrative of Undertow shares a certain kinship with Pineapple Express, and the aimlessness of Pacino’s Manglehorn and Jonah Hill’s feckless babysitter have a certain, subtle rhyme scheme.

It turns out, if you really want David Gordon Green to stretch, assign him to do a George Clooney/Grant Heslov/Participant Media social-issue drama. Producing partners Clooney and Heslov aren’t formally involved with Participant, but they have a taste for the kinds of high-minded material the company seeks out; though Participant has worked on plenty of films, some of their most notable have won Clooney an acting Oscar (Syriana), announced his seriousness as a writer/director (Good Night, and Good Luck), and supported Clooney’s frequent collaborator Steven Soderbergh (The Informant!; Contagion). Now Participant has produced Our Brand Is Crisis, a fiction-film version of the same-named documentary, once earmarked for a Clooney directorial project. At some point, Clooney (who still produced with Heslov) passed the project to Green, having gained a star in Sandra Bullock, who signed on after screenwriter Peter Straughan (who also worked on the non-Participant but Participant-ish The Men Who Stare at Goats, co-starring Clooney) agreed to flip the protagonist’s gender to female.
Continue reading Spotlight on the Social Issue Drama: David Gordon Green and Thomas McCarthy take their shots

90s Music Goes to the Movies

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

We intentionally dedicated last week to ’90s songs, rather than albums or movies or TV shows; the decade is too big to cover in great depth in a single week. But as Rob alluded to in his essential Soundtracks with Elastica Songs piece, a lot of great ’90s tunes turned up in a lot of great (and not-so-great) ’90s movies, for reasons both artistic and mercenary. So here we’re taking a look at how some of our Top 90 Songs of the ’90s fared in movies that actually came out during the ’90s, with a big assist from film fan and music enthusiast Sara Batkie. A lot of them involve Scenes of Teen Partying.

90s Music at the (90s) Movies

“Fake Plastic Trees” (#61) in Clueless (1995)
“Wah wah wah.” This is how Cher Horowitz reacts to Radiohead in Clueless, with the band standing in for all complaint rock that typically plays on college radio or at least does in Cher’s version of California. I didn’t realize until looking the soundtrack up that it’s actually an acoustic version of the song as its appearance in the film itself is brief and pretty muffled. It is notable, however, for backing the scene that introduces Josh, Cher’s ex-stepbrother and eventual love interest, a plaid-and-Amnesty-International tee-shirt-wearing foil to Cher’s candy-colored Beverly Hills princess. Like Thom Yorke’s sweetly abrasive crooning on the soundtrack, which is otherwise a mix of peppy pop rock numbers by Supergrass and Smoking Popes and sunny covers of Mott the Hoople and Kim Wilde, Josh doesn’t fit his surroundings at first glance. But Clueless remains a classic of its genre for its inclusiveness, from Di and Murray to stoner Travis, even teachers like Ms. Geist and Mr. Hall. In the end, just like Josh and Cher, “Fake Plastic Trees” works with the film because of its differences, not in spite of them. – Sara Batkie

Continue reading 90s Music Goes to the Movies

HALFTIME REPORT: Attack the Block (2011)

Nathaniel

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.
Nathaniel

Latest posts by Nathaniel (see all)

With Halftime Report, your good friends at SportsAlcohol.com revisit some of their favorite films from the first half of this decade.

For monster fans, creature design in the 21st century has been something of a mixed bag. Digital animation has freed designers from the shackles of the human form, limitations in terms of textures and fur, and even the bounds of physics altogether. In order to provide a grounding in reality for all these pixels, designers and animators often talk about looking to real animals for physiognomic principles and behavior. Reality is the goal, and much effort is expended in simulating the way joints interact or how skin stretches across muscles. This is maybe best exemplified by Neville Page’s muscly multi-limbed creatures for movies like Cloverfield, Super 8, Avatar, and Star Trek. But these impressively realistic creatures often place an emphasis on the Real over the Iconic. It seems silly to use a word like mundane when discussing such weird and impressive creations, but these creatures (with the feelings of sameness they can sometimes inspire) can miss that special charge that a truly iconic monster design can carry. Obviously, creating an iconic monster is much easier said than done, but it’s still worth celebrating when somebody pulls it off. And the aliens in Attack the Block, with their uncanny movements and simple-but-clever silhouette-and-glowy-bits aesthetic, stand out as the best of the decade so far. Using an inspired blend of suit acting (with invaluable work by movement coach and performer Terry Notary) and animation (both to enhance the puppetry and to create the aliens’ inky black, almost two dimensional look), Attack the Block‘s monsters are still so great they’re nearly enough to make it one of the best films of the 2010s on their own.

But watching the film in 2015 America reveals greater relevance than even a few years ago. The film is set in south London and directly addresses the specific cultural ways that young, mostly black, kids who live in council estate tower blocks (Americans, think housing projects) are vilified, and the societal issues at play are startlingly universal. After the opening, a mugging that wouldn’t be out of place in any reactionary genre movie from decades past, with a gang of black kids menacing a pretty white woman, it’d be easy to imagine the version of the movie that kills off these thugs in a pre-title sequence to establish the threat. Instead, when Moses and his gang run into the building where they’ve cornered a mysterious creature, they aren’t just slaughtered off-screen but instead emerge victorious, establishing a very different dynamic for the rest of the film. Instead of just following the story of the gang’s victim, Jodie Whittaker’s Samantha (a nurse who lives in the same tower block as the kids), the kids emerge as the heroes of the film. Cornish and his actors do a wonderful job of humanizing these characters, making them funny and hugely lovable without ignoring or excusing their worst behavior. This simple extension of empathy and respect feels almost radical when viewed in an America where we’ve had a truly horrible number of opportunities to witness the awful spectacle of the American news media greeting each new police shooting of an unarmed black guy with attempts to determine just how much the deceased had it coming based on their thuggish appearance or potential criminal background. The understanding and mutual respect that develops between Samantha and Moses is even more moving in this context, as is the conversation the kids have speculating about the government having “bred those things to kill black boys.” It’s not the case, but getting to know these kids we can see why it would feel like a possibility to them.

While it feels a little frustrating watching Attack the Block now knowing that Joe Cornish hasn’t yet directed another feature, there’s some solace in seeing ads for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that feature John Boyega front and center. His performance as Moses, which has that movie star thing of combining real acting and seemingly effortless charisma even when he spends so much of the film not saying much, marked him as a young actor to watch for anybody who saw Attack the Block in 2011, so it’s gratifying to know that a much bigger audience is about to see what he’s got.