Monday, April 21, 2008

Top 5 Hated Sports Franchises (Pro)

Tim’s Top 5:
1. Boston Red Sox - Remember when you rooted for the Red Sox to beat the Yankees in the ALCS in 2003? Yeah, they didn’t win. They blew it and the Marlins won a World Series that was unwatchable in every way, shape, and form. Then the Red Sox came back and won two World Series in four years and generated more fans than a Chinese factory. I used to try and distinguish between the bandwagon fans and the old fans, but I have long since given up. They’re both equally evil and continue to act like they’re somehow a victim in the Yankees race. David Ortiz seems as likely a candidate for my Mitchell Report as exists on this earth and Manny gets to be Manny and people 1) act like it’s a big deal and 2) celebrate it.

2. New England Patriots - It was a great experience for the entire planet to rally around anyone beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I’m pretty sure if I’d had to choose between the Patriots or the Nazis winning the Super Bowl, I’d probably have just gone to a bunker and shot myself. Tom Brady, Tedy Bruschi and the fact that no one’s suspicious how a healthy 30 year old man has a stroke, Bill Belichick’s goddamn hoodie, Brady’s perpetual presence on the injury report, Spygate, Brady’s immunity from actually being injured and forcing one of their backup QBs to start for the first time since high school, the fact that Randy Moss suddenly learned to behave, basically everyone but Ellis Hobbs and Mike Vrabel infuriate me. Oh, and Charlie Weis being mistaken for a good coach. I hold that against the Pats.

3. New York Yankees – It’s actually gotten to the point where I kind of pity the Yankees, because they spend so much more than anyone but Boston, but they really haven’t posed a serious threat of winning a World Series in some time. Still, the owner situation, the Brokeback Mountain-like affection for Derek Jeter, the total disdain for actually gifted players like Alex Rodriguez, and the sense of entitlement really get me. But the Red Sox almost push them out of the Top 5 entirely.

4. Colorado Avalanche – They’re the Quebec Nordiques, okay? Then they went out and acquired most of hockey in free agency (and the rest in trades) when I was still enjoying hockey so they had Sakic, Forsberg, Rob Blake, Ray Bourque, Dave Andreychuk, Patrick Roy, and I believe by the end of 1999-2000, they also had Terry Sawchuk, Darryl Sittler, and Rogie Vachon. Oh, and Jesus. He signed as a free agent shortly after that.

5. Chicago White Sox – Hawk Harrelson should be in Chateau D’If. If there’s a team that’s impossible to root for, it has to be the White Sox, and Harrelson doesn’t exactly help. The White Sox won a World Series premised on an ump who calls “strike” by making the out gesture, A.J. Pierzynski, Bobby “Fatass” Jenks, and the opportunity to play the Astros in the World Series. Oh, and their manager is an angry bigoted loudmouth who gets mistaken for colorful when he says the same things as John Rocker just because he’s from a little farther south.

Honorable mention: Oakland Raiders – it takes a lot of evil to make me hate a team that’s sucked for so long, but they really pull it off; San Francisco 49ers – I used to hate them far more than I do now, but I still really hate them; University of Southern California Trojans football team – I hate them precisely because they are all professionals; any hockey team that’s moved in the last 20 years (Carolina Hurricanes, Phoenix Coyotes; Dallas Stars); Atlanta Braves – grr.

Dan’s Top 5

1. The Washington Nationals - I have nothing against the members of the team itself or any of its coaches. But when the Expos were planning their move, it seemed like the top two spots for them to end up were either Washington/Northern Virginia or Norfolk. If you’ve lived in Virginia for any length of time, then you know there’s a spirit of rivalry between Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. I thought we had it won when I looked at a map and saw how close a Washington team would be to the Orioles. But when the decision was made not to go to Norfolk, I made a vow to hate the Nationals as long as I could stand to. We remain the largest metropolitan area without a professional sports franchise.

2. The St. Louis Cardinals - Remember back when the Cards were the really safe bet every year to win the NL Central? There are no reasons other than that and Pujols to list them here. Probably not my truest ranking, but I’m still feeling a lot of early-season passion.

3. The New England Patriots - I have nothing to add after reading Tim’s excellent breakdown, other than I’d like to see what a Nazi NFL uniform would look like. Despite the evil, I think it could look pretty damn cool.

4. The Washington Redskins - I was taught as a child to hate the Redskins, and the team really hasn’t done anything to change my perspective.

5. The Dallas Cowboys - Any team that has the audacity to call themselves "Americas Team" had better make damn sure that they’re speaking for everyone in America, and guess what? They didn’t do that, because I exist and hate them. Ranked so low because in actuality, I don’t really care.

Ryan's Top Five

1. Denver Broncos - Fuck Mike Shanahan. He cheats, he is an asshole, he continually screws up numerous fantasy football rosters (given, if you're still dumb enough to draft a Denver RB, you deserve it), etc. etc. etc. They will beat the Chiefs in Denver about 97% of the time, to the point that I get furious when they lose to other teams in Denver (which happens 97% of the time, lately). Bah. Denver. Evil.

2. St. Louis Cardinals - As much as I hate, say, the Huskers, I've met some fans in my life who are sensible and not jerks. Not so with St. Louis--every fan I've ever met (ever) has an unhealthy and delusional vision of their franchise as the best in history. So you won a World Series. Congrats on being the worst team ever to win a World Series. The Cardinals could win fifteen straight World Series, they'd still bitch about Denkinger in '85. Little discussed facts, courtesy of wikipedia: "Many Cardinals fans blamed the loss on Denkinger's call, but the Cardinals made a number of mistakes that enabled the Royals to stay in the game and win. In the next at-bat, Clark misplayed a foul pop-up by batter Steve Balboni. Instead of popping out, Balboni singled on the next pitch, and Onix Concepcion came in to pinch-run. With runners on first and second, Jim Sundberg then bunted into a force play at third. (It should be noted that the runner forced out at third was Orta.) Catcher Darrell Porter then allowed a passed ball, allowing the runners to advance to second and third. Pinch-hitter Hal McRae was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Dane Iorg knocked a bloop single to right that scored Concepcion and Sundberg, who avoided Porter's tag at the plate to score the winning run." Then they went on to lose the next game 11 to fucking zero. Boo, hoo.

3. Chicago White Sox - Hawk Harrelsen pretty much sums it up, for me, in everything he embodies.

4. Oakland Raiders - My hatred of them has really worn off since they've taken a UNL-like fall from sports grace. Kudos to Bill Callahan for helping ruin TWO of my least favorite sports entities.

5. Johnny Damon - I couldn't decide between the Yankees or the Red Sox, so I figured this was the safe pick. Whenever someone says "Red Sox" to me, the first thing I think of is Caveman Johnny Damon helping them with a World Series with the voice-over from that piece of trash (translation: Jimmy Fallon movie) "Fever Pitch." Blehck.

I also hate the Yankees.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Top 5 Worst Best Picture Nominees 2000-present

Tim's Top 5:
I was going to say films to win best picture, but since I'm quite certain I'm the only person on here who can tell you definitively how much worse The English Patient was than Cimarron...I figured I'd keep it current.

(For convenience sake, at the end, I've included all the films that fall into the category. For the record, I've not seen Babel nor Atonement. This completes the list of movies I haven't seen on said list. I suspect both might crack my top 5 list)

1) The Hours - This movie reads like a lifetime original motion picture. Nicole Kidman got an Oscar for being ugly in the same way Bill Murray almost came away with an Oscar for not being funny (see #2), and a movie that's supposed to be about women comes off as being one of the most chauvinistic films in decades. Women get by because of their gay friends with AIDS (Ed Harris in a truly punishing performance), or they don't get by at all. Meryl Streep comes off as an awful stereotype of the independent woman who is, as I wrote in my initial review "perpetually smug", hell, I have to quote me here "[Streep] occupies the screen like she's paying rent there, and emotes her way through an agonizing, yet critically-acclaimed performance." But since Streep is the focal point of the movie, there's little else to say. It's a dreadful assemblage of thin characters and obvious motifs.

2) Lost In Translation - Sofia Coppola has made three films, two of which I've had the misfortune of seeing. But while The Virgin Suicides suffered from a creepy narrator and not much of a story, Lost In Translation suffers from the fact that no one bothered to check whether the movie was finished before releasing it. You watch Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, they do things, they develop a bit of a relationship, and then the oh so touching ending THAT NO ONE WROTE. If you invite me to pay $10 for a movie, the least you can do is actually have a beginning, a middle, and an end -- not just make the entire movie hinge on words that no one hears. I love this -- someone trying to defend the movie on the IMDb said "pointless, plotless, and boring?" to try and defeat a straw man. But actually, they summarized it pretty beautifully -- I'll strike the question mark and this movie finally has an ending.

3) The Green Mile - Few movies have the gall to be so openly manipulative as The Green Mile, which is a woeful failure in all the ways The Shawshank Redemption was successful. Tom Hanks tries to play a bladder infection for laughs and fails, the Christian allegory is horrifically transparent, the movie is three hours long, and it manages to make every character unlikeable. Then throw in some heavy-handed Hollywood nostalgia. Also, if possible, try to make the movie completely anachronistic in geography and time period. Hey, you did it. Thanks.

4) No Country For Old Men - Few movies have left me feeling so angry. I walked out of there pretty much holding my head with anguish at what had just been declared a massively successful film achievement. While The Departed was a profound disappointment that amounted to little more than a bloodbath, there was a point...sort of. Nearly everyone's dead, you get to watch a lot of gruesome deaths, the sound is horrifying (I'll give them props, they were robbed at the Oscars, listening to this movie made me ill), and Bardem is pretty good at playing the remorseless psychotic with no purpose in killing, but it still adds up to a movie that leaves you pretty much where you started or worse. Fatalism and nihilism doesn't make for good filmmaking unless there's some sort of devolution throughout the film.

5) A Beautiful Mind - So how do you make a terrible biopic? Well, cast someone really unsuitable for a role -- wiry mathematician...enter Russell Crowe. Wipe their life story of anything the least bit controversial -- take that communist tendencies and homosexuality. Throw in a love interest that's not believable -- Jennifer Connelly with mathematician...check. Now add things that are utterly preposterous (like a mythical roommate) and change everything about the story to make it more Hollywood. Shudder. This is fish-in-a-barrel drama, but it's still executed as badly as Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile.

Honorable mention: Finding Neverland - Enough with the Johnny Depp blowing, film critics, it's been a while since he's made a good movie; The Sixth Sense - when you've got a one-bit premise, try not to make it totally obvious. Unbreakable was infinitely better; Chocolat - a film that was so painfully American in attempting to be French or Italian. Harvey Weinstein definitely engaged in sexual favors for it to be nominated; Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring - what happens, exactly? I'm not a fan of LotR, so I could go on, but all others like opaque cinema where you can actually see Peter Jackson making decisions with extreme close-ups, slow motion, soft focus, and everything but a constant barrage of center wipes; The Departed - it sucked. Scorsese needs to stay out of Boston.

Best Picture Nominees:
American Beauty
The Aviator
A Beautiful Mind
Brokeback Mountain
The Cider House Rules
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The Departed
Erin Brockovich
Finding Neverland
Gangs of New York
Good Night, and Good Luck
Gosford Park
The Green Mile
The Hours
The Insider
In the Bedroom
Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World
Michael Clayton
Million Dollar Baby
Moulin Rouge!
Mystic River
No Country For Old Men
The Pianist
The Queen
The Sixth Sense
There Will Be Blood

Ryan's Top Five

I have not seen but 30-40% of this list. I shall persevere.

1. "The Sixth Sense" - Tim's right--"Unbreakable" was a lot better (read: good, not bad).

2. "Lost in Translation" - I only saw this once, but damn, this movie was boring. I have to like characters to get involved, and I didn't like any of these people.

3. "Ray" - Jamie Foxx deserved to win best actor. That said, biopics BORE THE BEJESUS out of me.

4. "The Fellowship of the Ring" - I really liked "The Two Towers," this one as boring as sin. Seriously.

5. "Little Miss Sunshine" - I do really like this movie and Steve Carell was great, but the ending was a bit too off for it to be a "best movie." (Keep in mind there are probably many movies I could see that would knock this one off the list.)

Dan's Top 5:

I actually like all the films in the list that I saw in the aforementioned list, with exception of what is noted below.

1. Mystic River - I just flat out didn't like it.

2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - All I remember was seeing a bunch of flying around on wires. I didn't get to see the full movie, but I doubt I would have liked it.

3. Erin Brockovich - I like this movie, actually. But I get it already - the main character is a woman.

4. Little Miss Sunshine - Probably one of the worst endings ever, especially for india cinema.

5. Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World - I can't remember the main conflict of this movie. I've seen it, but nothing stuck. I was really expecting more out of this movie.

Honorable mention: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Top 5 Bruce Springsteen songs

Tim's Top 5:
I've had this list partly composed for ages, but I figured I needed to put it down before I actually listened to the three new albums I've acquired in the last two days (in my defense, they're albums I regarded as totally inessential, and I'm probably only wrong about Tracks -- In Concert/MTV Plugged; Human Touch; and Tracks).
Just because I think it informs you about where I'm coming from, my interest in Springsteen has taken a circuitous path. I bought Greatest Hits and The River in probably 2000, The Rising in 2002, Devils & Dust in 2005, Greetings from Asbury Park; Wild, Innocent; and Darkness On the Edge Of Town in 2006 before getting everything else (except Lucky Town and Chimes of Freedom) last year, courtesy of a lot of trips to the library, a couple to amazon, and yesterday's trip to Pathmark. Yeah. Pathmark.

1. Thunder Road - I thought Nick Hornby was really odd when I read his Songbook entry on Thunder Road five years ago. I mean...Born to Run, right? That's the song. Thunder Road is just a good song. Sigh. I hate 5-years-ago me. Thunder Road is one of the best novels ever written, it just also happens to be a song. Three or four lines from Thunder Road should have just been songs on their own. After several attempts, I've decided I'm incapable of describing it in sentences. If it weren't for the line "You ain't a beauty, but hey you're alright", I think I'd probably actually waste hours of my life attempting to convince Sarah to make this our wedding song. But because of that line, I know better. Thanks, Bruce.

2. No Surrender - This is a great song, made even better because it's about the only song from Born In The USA I hadn't heard before getting the album. It's much more of a frenzied pace than most of Springsteen's work, but it's worth it. The fact that this song was actually used in an attempt to dethrone Bush, well, all the better. It's also a good motivator in attempting to prepare for the Philly Marathon.

3. Atlantic City - This song leads to research, that's how good it is. Ah, the chicken man. The amount of desperation and rationalization crammed into 3:57 is astounding, even for an album that makes several references to the electric chair.

4. The Ties That Bind - It's pure pop-rock joy, but it's a great opening track for an amazing first disc. The stuttering is lifted directly from Buddy Holly, solely for my satisfaction. I'd doubt there's a whole lot of fans who would put it on their top 100 list, but I'll enjoy it.

5. Land of Hope & Dreams - I have no patience. None. Particularly not with songs over seven minutes songs. But Springsteen has several I could easily put in this list without lying to myself. Jungleland, American Skin, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight). But Land of Hope & Dreams has the kind of emotion that I don't think anyone but Bruce can generate, a song telling you that the world's a total disaster of a mess overrun with shattered hopes, crushed dreams, whores and gamblers but still strikes you as life-affirming.

Honorable mention: Born to Run - I've gone through periods in my life where I would have contended it was one of the greatest rock songs ever. It still didn't make this list; The Promised Land - it indulges a little too much in 1970s Bruce mumbling, but it just rings of triumph, and it ought to; From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come) - it's on the Essential Bruce Springsteen, and that's exactly how I'd describe it. He opened a concert in Philly with it in 2003 and I'm still in disbelief that I could have been there; American Land - Much like everything on The Seeger Sessions, it's way too good. Way too good. It's an amazing pro-America song that still rings totally dark; Lonesome Day/The Rising - both amazing songs, though I preferred Worlds Apart when I first got the album; Brilliant Disguise - I'm really coming around on this song, it strikes me as an exceptionally mature song that you can only appreciate once you've experienced adult relationships, but it still has a drum machine. Hence, no top 5; Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) - you can have the other 6:30 if you want, but "Tell him this is last chance to get his daughter in a fine romance
Because a record company, Rosie, just gave me a big advance" is the most euphoric moment in a rock and roll song.

Dan's Top 5:

Let's see, "Born To Run," "Dancing in the Dark," "Born in the USA"... Nope, I can only stand three Bruce Springsteen songs. Granted, that's from the pool of songs I've heard on the radio. Until someone challenges my belief that the man can't sing, I don't see myself liking Bruce Springsteen.

Ryan's Top Five

I like Bruce Springsteen but I've never been able to really get into him. I do have enough favorites for a Top 5, however.

1. "Born to Run" - Cliche I'm sure, but there's a reason many people consider it his best song. I am in that group.

2. "Thunder Road" - Excellent.

3. "Streets of Philadelphia" - I honestly love this song, but I think more than that I like wearing a hoodie when it's cold and we're outside, getting Cortney's attention ("Look, Cortney!) and somberly, Springsteenily singing, "Streets of Philadelphia..." as I saunter along with my hands in my pockets. It's one of my longest-running jokes and I'm fairly sure it's only funny to me, and maybe Tory.

4. "Dancing in the Dark" - One of my favorite songs from the '80s.

5. "Born in the USA" - Good stuff.

In retrospect, I went with what I'll call a "Now This Is What I Call Springsteen!" that would make record compilers and boring People Magazine Top 5-makers happy. Yikes. I defer to Tim.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Top 5 R.E.M. albums

In honor of today's release of Accelerate, the long-sort-of-awaited album from R.E.M., I'm posting this top five. Edit: Now that I have listened to it and let it soak in for a month, Accelerate would be #5 on this list.

Tim's Top 5:
1. Automatic for the People - This could make a strong argument to be any band's finest work, with only two aberrations that I'm not enamored with (Star Me Kitten and New Orleans Instrumental No. 5 do little for me). "Everybody Hurts" has gotten too much credit and "Man on the Moon" made its way into popular culture, but the real majesty of the album is tied up in its other tracks -- Sweetness Follows, Monty Got A Raw Deal (the greatest song ever written about Montgomery Clift, sorry, The Clash), and Ignoreland...and the last two tracks -- nightswimming and Find The River, which are great achievements. I think if forced at knifepoint, Find the River would probably be my favorite R.E.M. song, but at the very least, it's on a short list with Daysleeper, Circus Envy, and Texarkana.

2. Murmur - As a disclaimer, I never listen to Murmur. I didn't hear it until I'd already been the owner of five R.E.M. albums at which point I was in disbelief that it was that amazing. So I can't say much except that I'm still in disbelief at its greatness even though later albums -- Document, for instance -- fell far short of expectations for me. Radio Free Europe and Talk About the Passion are great songs, Sitting Still and Catapult aren't off that level, and the sheer raw sound still charms me.

3. Monster - Ok, it got so much radio play that it took a long time to forgive for songs like Bang and Blame, which was hardly average, but this was a revelation -- R.E.M. could actually just drop the mandolins and quiet introspection and rock. Circus Envy is one of my favorite R.E.M. songs, and it's likely my absolute favorite after "Find the River".

4. Life's Rich Pageant - A perennially forgotten album, I will listen to it once a year and just be in disbelief that it took a year to get back to it. Fall On Me, What If We Give It Away?, and Cuyahoga are representative of the better parts of Out of Time and Green in the near future, but Begin the Begin and Superman also tend to point toward what Monster and, ultimately, Accelerate would become.

5. Up - More than any album, Up was aptly titled, because it actually seemed possible that R.E.M. might actually continue to improve after losing Bill Berry. Walk Unafraid, Sad Professor, The Apologist, Lotus and Hope all started to blur the line between traditional R.E.M. and production-heavy artists like Beck, but they still had the smallness of R.E.M.'s best work. Daysleeper is likely the best song R.E.M. has ever written, and it's not low on the list of the best songs they've ever recorded either.

Honorable mention: I could have made an argument that Green, Out of Time, or Accelerate belong on this list, but I'm content with what I've done.

Dan's Top 5:

Disclaimer - I am just starting to take an active listening role towards R.E.M., so forgive any poor taste.

1. Automatic for the People - Actually one of my favorite albums to listen to, which is a surprise, since I'm just starting to get into R.E.M. "Man on the Moon" is one of my favorite songs ever, and Drive is a great lead-off track. In all, nothing to complain about in this album (or any other R.E.M. album for that matter, lest I trigger Tim's blog-wrath)

2. Out of Time - Anyone claiming that "Losing my Religion" is their favorite R.E.M. song won't get any scoffs from me. Along with "Shiny Happy People," it presents the case for a strong album, though it can never have that master's touch like Automatic for the People.

3. Document - Responsible for two of my favorite R.E.M. songs, "It's The End Of The World As We Know It" and "The One I Love." As is typical, I've only heard the others a handful of times. But I have heard them.

4. Green - Much like Document, in that I'm enamored with two songs from it - I absolutely love "Orange Crush," and I'm pretty fond of "Stand." I've only heard the rest of the album once or twice, though. Such is my bad habit.

5. Murmur - I've actually not gotten around to listening to this one yet (though I do have it on my computer), but it does have "Radio Free Europe" on it, and I hear that's one of their classics. But that laziness on my part may be the only reason that this is ranked at the bottom.

Honorable Mention - Accelerate, which I don't have yet because Amazon is taking their sweet-ass time getting it to me.

Ryan's Top Five

In respect of R.E.M., I'll defer to my associates on this one--I love the REM that I know, but I know so pathetically little (save what everyone's heard on the radio) that I don't feel comfortable ranking albums. "Losing My Religion" is one of my favorite songs.