Category Archives: Movies

The Best Films I Saw in 2022

It’s Oscars weekend! Who’s jazzed up? (Also, are the hip kids still saying “jazzed up”? Or “hip kids”? Let me check my TikToks.) Anyway, I saw 50 movies in 2022, or 1 every 7.3 days. Exactly zero of those movies was in a theater; I think that’s a first. Lame. However, I’ve never been a big theater-goer; this reminds me of a story…(fadeout with flashback music)

When I was 17 years old, I had a hot night planned with a girl who for some strange reason was into me. (It might have been my devastating good looks.) After a week of what we used to call “dating,” I asked if she wanted to see a movie on a Friday. “Yes! What time are you picking me up?” she asked. “Um, I was wondering if you could swing by my house,” I said. Because I was the youngest of four kids and a few of my older siblings were living at home at the time, I rarely had access to either of the family sedans. “Ohhh-kayyy,” was her hesitant response. “How about dinner before?” she asked. “Sure!” I said; “I can’t afford to take you anywhere, so what is your mom making tonight?”

We started the night (after she picked me up and drove me back to her house) with a spaghetti dinner with her mom, dad, and little sister. And now I’m about to age myself: Off we went to see the new  Tom Hanks movie, “The ‘Burbs” (1989). The trailer looked funny, and Hanks was in his wacky-comedic phase (closer to “Bosom Buddies” than to “Castaway”). If you don’t know “The ‘Burbs,” it’s a black comedy. Which is my least favorite kind of comedy. Usually it means there’s going to be death, gore, a mean-spirited tone, and a real lack of setting the romantic mood in a darkened theater, if you know what I mean.

I should mention that at that point in my life, I barely knew what I meant. I had hardly dated, and I spent most of the film in my own head, thinking about how our evening was going: Do I reach out for her hand? Put my arm around her? Get more popcorn? When does the kissing begin?!? Or do I just sit here like a mannequin? I went with that last option. Not to spoil the movie, but we left in a daze at what we had just seen. As we got into the car (“Shotgun!” I called out, to make her chauffeuring me seem a little cooler), she said, “Well, that was…something.” “Yeah,” I said. (Is this when the kissing begins?!?) She drove me home mostly in silence, except for the Milli Vanilli and Paula Abdul on the radio (this was 1989, remember). When she pulled into my driveway, it was only like 9:45 pm. “Well,” I said, “I guess this is it.” “I guess so,” she said, expectantly. (Oh crap, this is when the kissing begins!) So I went to lean over to her, got jerked back when I realized that my seatbelt was still on, undid my seatbelt, and finally got down to the smoochfest before saying goodbye. I’m sure you’re wondering, how great was the kiss? Do the words “like kissing your sister” mean anything to you? Let’s just say that I made such an impression on her that she dumped me by the time the next weekend rolled around.

Okay! Moving on! Now how about my list of the top films I saw in 2022? Keep in mind, these are the best movies I saw in the calendar year, not necessarily the best ones released last year.

everything-everywhere-all-at-once_nysayfbn_480x.progressive1. “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” 2022 comedy/drama/sci-fi directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, starring Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, and James Hong. My teenage nephew told me he had seen this film twice and bawled both times, so I took that recommendation. It’s not for everyone; I know some people who though it too over-the-top or hard to follow or too clever for its own good. It hit me at the right time, and the portraits of parents and children struggling to connect with each other resonated with me.

Unknown2. “Don’t Look Up,” 2021 disaster comedy/drama directed by Adam McKay, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, and Timothee Chalamet. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I’ve seen my share of “this is how the world ends” films. This one, about two astronomers (Lawrence and DiCaprio) who become media celebs trying to alert the world to an impending meteor strike on Earth, deftly wove in our current climate of science vs. politics (the film’s title is from the politicians to who tell their followers to ignore the scientists). Thinking about the state of the world we’re leaving future generations, I can’t shake DiCaprio’s character’s line: “We really did have everything, didn’t we?”

Unknown3. “Life of Pi,” 2012 drama directed by Ang Lee, starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Gautam Belur, Tabu, and Vibish Sivakumar. How about some love to Lee, a director who went to the same university as me? Based on the heralded Yann Martel novel, this fantasy (or is it?) of Pi Patel’s travels after a shipwreck with a tiger make the viewer question what reality is, while also highlighting the resilience of people to overcome great tragedy with the stories we tell ourselves to keep ourselves moving forward in a cruel world.

Unknown4. “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” 2022 mystery directed by Rian Johnson, starring Daniel Craig, Janelle Monae, Edward Norton, Dave Bautista, Kate Hudson, Madelyn Cline, Leslie Odom Jr, Jessica Henwick, and Kathryn Hahn. Johnson is a master at weaving a tangled web and having one character (Craig’s Benoit Blanc) untangle it one step ahead of us. The elaborate plot all comes back around several times; worth a few viewings.

Unknown5. “The Last Blockbuster,” 2020 documentary directed by Taylor Morden. The title is self-explanatory: the last remaining Blockbuster video store (kids, ask your parents) stands in Bend, OR. This lighthearted film toggles between telling the story of that one store and how it has navigated a changing world and the backstory of what actually happened to put the Blockbuster corporation out of business (it wasn’t just Netflix and the rise of streaming).

Unknown6. “Look Both Ways,” 2022 romance/dramedy directed by Wanuri Kahiu, starring Lili Reinhart, Danny Ramirez, David Corenswet, and Aisha Dee. This “what if” story follows Natalie (Reinhart, of “Riverdale” fame), who, as she graduates from college, lives two parallel lives, one in which she gets pregnant and has to set aside her career dreams to raise her child, and one in which the pregnancy test reads negative. Very “Sliding Doors.”

Unknown7. “Long Story Short,” 2021 romantic comedy directed by Josh Lawson, starring Rafe Spall, Zahra Newman, Ronny Chieng, and Dena Kaplan. This film reminded me of another of my faves of the last few years, “About Time.” Teddy (Spall) has a spell cast on him as his wedding approaches that leads to him only living a few minutes each year for a decade, dropping in on his life and giving him a glimpse of what his future holds. My lovely wife Jen disliked it; I’d say it’s better on a second viewing, once you know where things are headed. (Hint: it’s a romantic comedy, not a black comedy.) One overarching theme in my life has been the shortness of life (Andrew Marvell wrote: “But at my back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” and that has haunted me since I read it as a teenager); this is a reminder of that.

Unknown8. “Jexi,” 2019 comedy directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, starring Adam Devine, the voice of Rose Byrne, Alexandra Shipp, Wanda Sykes, and Michael Pena. Devine has great comic timing (see my next pick as well) as Phil, a guy who is addicted to his phone. When he upgrades to a new phone with a talking virtual assistant (Byrne as Lexi), Lexi takes over his life. She stalks him through other devices, orders him healthier food, and generally follows the directive to improve his life how she sees fit. This is like a funny version of “Her,” the film where Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

Unknown9. “When We First Met,” 2018 romantic comedy directed by Ari Sandel, starring Adam Devine, Alexandria Daddario, Robbie Amell, King Bach, and Shelley Hennig. Bizarre that I liked yet another time-travel film because they are usually not up my alley. Noah (Devine) spends the night with the girl of his dreams (Daddario’s Avery), only to fall into the friend zone. When he accidentally travels back in time through a photo booth, he tries to change his future by altering the events of the night they spent together. Very much a “be careful what you wish for” story.

Unknown10. “Definition Please,” 2020 dramedy directed by Sujata Day, starring Sujata Day, Ritesh Rajan, Lalaine, Jake Choi, and Katrina Bowden. Day writes, directs, and stars in this story of Monica, a former national spelling bee champion whose life is a mess as she must reconnect with her estranged brother to care for her ailing mother. A touching look at mother/daughter and sister/brother bonds, and at the immigrant experience.

Movies that just missed the cut: “The Long Dumb Road,” “Spirited,” “The Lost City,” “Nobody,” “Boys State,” “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” “I Want You Back.”


The Best Films I Saw in 2021

When I was a sophomore in college, I wanted to impress my then-girlfriend (some of you might know her as my lovely wife Jen) with how “hip” and “literate” and “bohemian” I was. So I took her to see the movie “Henry and June,” which was the first film to ever receive the NC-17 rating. NC-17, or “no one 17 and under admitted,” was created to delineate arthouse films with edgy material from pornographic films, which were X-rated. “Henry and June” was playing at our campustown theater (the Co-Ed), and we walked over there. “You might want to bring your student ID and drivers license,” I told my freshman girlfriend, “you don’t want to be turned away because you’re just barely over the age limit.” Tee hee.

When we got to the ticket booth and I requested two for “Henry and June,” the cashier looked us up and down, slid one ticket to Jen, and said to only me, “Can I see some ID?” “What?!? Why?” I said. He didn’t answer me, but instead turned to Jen while verifying my age on my license, “I can’t be too safe: the guy looks like he’s 12 or something.” Jen got a big kick out of it. I ripped my license and my ticket from his hands and stormed into the theater. “How dare he!” I said. “He thinks I’m a little child? I’m a man!” Admittedly, if there was a “You Must Be This Tall to Enter” sign, I probably wouldn’t have made the cut. And my voice was squeaking while I was whining. And my feet were dangling from the theater seat a few inches from the floor. But come on!

Anyway, this is about my list of the best movies I saw in 2021. Another year of hardly any theater-going (I saw one film in theaters: “Free Guy”). Another low number of total films seen: 65 movies, or 1 every 5.6 days. (Is that low? I keep saying it’s low, but it’s still more than once a week.) I saw a lot of clunkers; this was maybe the hardest year to round up 10 good movies. That’s what happens when you follow the Netflix algorithm: “If you watched this bad film, you might like these three other bad films.” Annual disclaimer: These are not the best films of 2021, just the best ones I saw last year, regardless of when they were released.

Unknown1. “Adult Beginners,” 2014 drama/comedy directed by Ross Katz, starring Rose Byrne, Nick Kroll, Bobby Cannavale, and Joel McHale. This film is a reminder that the movies I love aren’t always the movies the world loves. It absolutely bombed at the box office, but I related to the story of Nick Kroll’s character struggling to find his way in the world, as he loses his job, moves in with his sister (Byrne) and her husband (Cannavale), and becomes the sitter for his 3-year-old nephew. Comedy/drama gold. Plus, any movie that finds a role for the quirky actor Bobby Moynihan is a bonus.

Unknown2. “The Beatles: Get Back,” 2021 documentary directed by Peter Jackson, starring four musicians you might recall. Does this count as a movie? A three-part, 468-minute piecing-together of the original documentary that was made for the “Let It Be” album sessions, Jackson does a masterful job telling the story of the Beatles, both in the whole series and in the opening 3-minute clip of the first part (it reminded me of the scene from Pixar’s “Up,” where the story of the couple is told without words in a montage). I can say a lot about this, but I will keep it to these two things: 1. I thought I knew everything about the Beatles and their breakup, but this had some surprises and refutations of what we thought we knew, and 2. it displayed the slow, sometimes mundane, sometimes funny, sometimes fruitless creative process of four regular guys who happened to catch lightning in a bottle with nearly every song they made for 8 years straight.

Unknown3. “Love Wedding Repeat,” 2020 romantic comedy directed by Dean Craig, starring Olivia Munn, Sam Claflin, Eleanor Tomlinson, and Allan Mustafa. This Netflix film had charm, humor, eccentric characters, and (of course) a budding romance all centered around the (mostly British) friends attending a wedding in Italy. Munn is underrated as a comic actress, and Claflin appears in two films on my list. Honestly, it could have been straightforward film told chronologically and I would have liked it, but then it pulled a “Sliding Doors”/”About Time”-esque time jump. Still good.

Unknown4. “True Grit,” 2010 Western directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, starring Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin. A much better film than the original 1969 version with John Wayne, this one is more sober while also being truer to the humor-filled novel by Charles Portis. Steinfeld was 13 during the filming, and she pulls off the independent Mattie Ross, seeking justice for her father’s killer. Bridges as Marshall Rooster Cogburn and Damon as Texas Ranger LeBoeuf make for an odd couple as they hunt down the killer for their own separate, selfish reasons.

Unknown5. “Beastie Boys Story,” 2020 documentary directed by Spike Jonze, starring Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz. You don’t have to be a Beastie Boys fan to understand this film, but it sure helps. Diamond and Horovitz wrote a book about their time in the rap trio (much of the film and book are devoted to praising the other member, the late Adam Yauch). They turned it into a multimedia stage performance, and Jonze filmed it. Funny, more emotion-filled than you would think, and worth it just for the story of the time they toured as the opening act for Madonna.

Unknown6. “Enola Holmes,” 2020 mystery/adventure directed by Harry Bradbeer, starring Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Helena Bonham Carter, and Sam Claflin. I’ve read books and seen films that offer twists on the Sherlock Holmes canon, and this one is fun: Brown plays the title character, the young sister of Sherlock (Cavill) and Mycroft (Claflin), who was raised wild by their suddenly disappeared mother (Carter). Her first mystery is to follow the clues left behind; her brothers’ job is to step in and provide adult supervision for their abandoned sibling. This felt like a setup for at least a trilogy.

Unknown7. “I Used to Go Here,” 2020 comedy/drama directed by Kris Rey, starring Gillian Jacobs, Josh Wiggins, Hannah Marks, Jorma Taccone, Zoe Chao, and Jemaine Clement. Rey previously directed “Unexpected” and used to co-write movies with her ex, Joe Swanberg. This personal film is about Kate Conklin (Jacobs), a writer whose first novel tanked but is invited back to her alma mater (Southern Illinois University) by her former mentor (Clement, always funny). The brief visit turns into a longer stay, including hanging with the college students living in her former house on campus. A slow burner and a fantasy of what it would be like to relive the college experience.

Unknown8. “Standing Up, Falling Down,” 2019 comedy/drama directed by Matt Ratner, starring Ben Schwartz, Eloise Mumford, Billy Crystal, and Grace Gummer. Want to see a film in which Crystal plays a deadbeat dad to his adult kids and a pothead dermatologist? Did not see this one coming. Schwartz, a great improv actor, holds his own in this pairing as a stand-up comic forced to move back in with his parents on Long Island; a chance encounter with Crystal’s character leads to a chance for Crystal to be a better mentor to a stranger than to his own kids. Funny and sad.

Unknown9. “The Way Back,” 2020 drama directed by Gavin O’Connor, starring Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, and Janina Gavankar. Oh man. This sports drama had every opportunity to take the easy cliches and run with them, but it pulls no punches. Affleck portrays Jack Cunningham, a local basketball legend who takes the coaching job at his former high school. There are some backstory issues: his alcoholism, his difficult upbringing, his failed marriage and family. While we watch him deal with the fallout from his own problems, we see him make a group of young men believe in themselves. This film doesn’t take the obvious path; don’t expect “High School Musical.”

Unknown10. “Ghost Team,” 2016 comedy directed by Oliver Irving, starring Jon Heder, David Krumholtz, Amy Sedaris, Justin Long, Paul Downs, and Melonie Diaz. This goofy film follows a group of amateur ghost hunters who believe an abandoned farmhouse in the middle of the woods is haunted, so they decide to spend the night filming any supernatural occurrences. A parody of the long-running reality TV show “Ghost Hunters,” with Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”) and Sedaris leading the way.

Movies that just missed the cut: “Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong,” “Opening Night,” “Emma.,” “Literally, Right Before Aaron,” “Palmer,” “Comet.”

The Best Films I Saw in 2020

When I was in college, my buddy Mike asked me if I wanted to attend a matinee showing of Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues” at the Co-Ed Theatre on Green Street in Champaign, IL (it closed in 1999 and later was razed for luxury apartment buildings).

We entered the darkened theater, and the opening credits were rolling: a mostly black screen with images in deep purples, blues, and reds of a jazz quartet’s instruments (and Denzel Washington’s profile). It was impossible to see the theater’s seats. Mike whispered something like, “I can’t see anything; let’s go about halfway down the rows.” I had to reach out and put my hand on his shoulder just to know where he was. He found  two open seats right next to this one guy. We sat down, and in the darkness, I could see this guy was staring at us hard. What’s his problem?, I thought.

When the first scene started and the theater lightened up, I noticed that there was not a single soul in any of the rows in front of us. Then I looked behind us; there were exactly three people in the whole theater: Mike, me, and the guy we sat next to. Awkward! The whole movie, I’d catch the guy glancing at us, I’m sure wondering what our problem was. The seats weren’t ample, so Mike and he had to share the tiny armrest.

After the movie was over, we walked out, and I burst into laughter when we got onto the Green Street sidewalk. I said to Mike, “Why didn’t you move to other seats and give the guy some space?” Mike said, “After a certain point, it would have been weirder if we moved away from the guy than if I stayed right next to him.”

I didn’t visit a movie theater in 2020. Like the rest of the world, I did my viewing at home. I watched 66 movies, or 1 every 5.5 days. That’s less than I usually average per year; I ate into that with binge-watching TV shows. Here’s my annual disclaimer: This isn’t a list of the best movies of 2020, but a roundup of the best films I saw, no matter what year they were released. Here we go:

cba4825e2936ce64d980d529d6f62a271. “Jojo Rabbit,” 2019 war satire directed by Taika Waititi, starring Scarlett Johansson, Roman Griffin Davis, Taika Waititi, and Thomasin McKenzie. I swore there was no way I was going to see and like a movie that had a comic portrayal of a boy and his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. Then I saw it. Oh man. At first, the Nazis are portrayed as bumbling, “Hogan’s Heroes”-era Germans, characters we can laugh at. Then things turn more sinister as the film develops. The story of a boy, his mother, and possibly another person living in his house in Germany during World War II. It reminded me of Roberto Begnini’s 1997 “La Vita e Bella (Life Is Beautiful).”

Unknown2. “Columbus,” 2017 drama directed by Kogonada, starring Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film where the buildings are as much a character as the people. This quiet film follows Jin (Cho) as he travels from South Korea to small-town Columbus, Indiana, to tend to his father, a renowned architecture professor who has suffered a medical emergency. He strikes up a friendship with Casey (Richardson), a local librarian. If you’ve never been to Columbus, you should look it up: the city is filled with Modernist buildings designed by the likes of Eero Saarinen and I.M. Pei.

Unknown3. “Chef,” 2014 comedy/drama directed by Jon Favreau, starring Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, and Emjay Anthony. I gravitated to parent/child relationship films this year, maybe because the pandemic and state lockdowns led to all three of my own kids living together in our house for what I imagine will be the last time (insert sad-face emoji here). I got into this film backwards: Favreau and his chef consultant for the movie, Roy Choi, went on to make a Netflix doc series called “The Chef Show,” on which they cook with other famous chefs or celebrities. I realized after the first episode that I needed to watch the film that predated the show. Just a gorgeous story on what drives chefs to such extremes, the stress of cooking for others (restaurant owners and critics), and also a wonderful father/son travel movie. Vergara was a pleasant surprise in this one as Favreau’s ex-wife who nudges him to be a better dad.

images4. “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened,” 2016 documentary directed by Lonny Price. In 1981, Stephen Sondheim (along with George Furth) created “Merrily We Roll Along,” a musical about a successful film producer and his friends, telling their story backwards, ending with them as youngsters about to embark on their lives. Sondheim (and director Hal Prince) got the idea to use teenaged, unknown actors to portray the same characters. It was a disaster; the musical’s Broadway run closed after only 16 performances. This doc takes a clear-eyed look back at all the ways things went south, including last-minute rewrites and the male lead having to be replaced because he wasn’t right for the role, but mostly the inexperience of the actors. The director (who was in the original cast) interviews Sondheim, Prince (before his death), and many of the original cast members, including Jason Alexander and Giancarlo Esposito. Funny, redemptive, and emotional watching the actors looking back on how their own lives played out for better or worse since the show, this is for anyone who loves live theater.

Unknown5. “Blinded by the Light,” 2019 drama directed by Gurinder Chadha, starring Viveik Kalra, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Kulvinder Ghir, and Nell Willaims. I love films that aren’t quite musicals but are dominated by their soundtracks. This based-on-a-true-story film follows Javed (Kalra), a Pakistani immigrant in Luton, England, in the late 1980s, a time of deep and vocal anti-Pakistani racism in British politics and society. A classmate of Javed’s gives him a cassette copy of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” and something about Bruce’s words speaks to him and changes his life. A touching film about the immigrant experience, the generation gap, and the power of dreams to drive us to a better place.

Unknown6. “Gifted,” 2017 drama/comedy directed by Marc Webb, starring Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, and Jenny Slate. A small film (compared with Evans’ Captain America films) about a guy trying to raise a 7-year-old girl quietly in a small coastal Florida town, and the girl’s mathematical talents draw attention to her that leads to unwanted attention from his family and neighbors. It started out predictable (hmm, will Evans start dating the first-grade teacher played by Slate?), but then it went places I didn’t expect.

Unknown7. “Dean,” 2016 comedy/drama directed by Demetri Martin, starring Demetri Martin, Gillian Jacobs, Kevin Kline, and Mary Steenburgen. I love cringy movies that derive their humor from placing characters in awkward situations. Martin does this throughout this funny movie about an illustrator in New York (and his father) dealing with his mother’s death and his lack of ambition. His work leads him to Los Angeles, where he meets someone at a party (Jacobs) and decides on a whim to stay longer. I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re a fan of Martin’s standup (or his old Comedy Central show), you’ll get this.

Unknown8. “Good Boys,” 2019 comedy directed by Gene Stupnitsky, starring Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon, Keith L. Williams, Molly Gordon, and Midori Francis. If 2019’s “Booksmart” could be (mostly inaccurately) labeled “Superbad” but with girls, then this film is “Superbad” but with preteen boys. Coming-of-age adventure about three boys who skip school and their misadventures chasing down a drone that they need to retrieve before a parent notices that it is missing. The raunchy parts are not for everyone (there’s a running gag about the boys misunderstanding what sex toys are; it’s that type of humor), but there’s a depth here too; in the end, it’s a sweet story about friends being there for each other.

Unknown9. “Marriage Story,” 2019 romantic drama directed by Noah Baumbach, starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Azhy Robertson, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda. Should have been called “Divorce Story,” am I right? I like Baumbach’s films, although this one had less humor than his previous output. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, with Dern winning Best Supporting Actress. It’s a breakup movie that involves cutthroat divorce lawyers   and cross-country custody battles (and mirrors Baumbach’s real life, a little uncomfortably), but it’s also about learning to raise a child with love and coming to terms with the end of a relationship.

61-YbvBswcL._AC_SL1481_10. “The Farewell,” 2019 drama directed by Lulu Wang, starring Awkwafina, Zhao Shuzhen, Tzi Ma, and Diana Lin. Awkwafina, known more for her rap and her comedic turns in “Crazy Rich Asians” and a show on Comedy Central, plays Billi, an American woman who is called to China to attend a fake wedding for one of her cousins, a ruse to get her family together one last time with her grandmother, who has been diagnosed with a terminal condition but not told about it. A film about how much we are obligated to do for our family, and how big we are willing to let our lies grow to make others happy. Hard to believe that this was based on the true story of the director Wang’s family.

Movies that just missed the cut: “They Shall Not Grow Old,” “The Biggest Little Farm,” “The Death of Stalin,” “Knives Out,” “Wild Nights with Emily,” “Lady Bird,” “The Trip to Greece.”

The Best Films I Saw in 2019

My lovely wife Jen and I had some people over for dinner a few months ago, and one of them noticed a red envelope sitting near our TV.

“Is that a Netflix DVD?” he asked.

“Yeah. Why, are you not a Netflix member?”

“I didn’t even know Netflix still did the DVD-by-mail thing! I thought they ended it years ago!”

I asked him, “Then how do you watch new movies?” and he catalogued a bunch of different ways: Redbox, streaming through Xfinity, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc.

“Jeepers!” I said. “I can barely keep up with regular TV shows; do you think I’m with-the-times enough to subscribe to all those?”

“Not if you’re still using words like ‘jeepers.'”

Anyway, my point is, there’s too much out there, and too many ways to watch it all. (And no one gifted me the Disney+ subscription I asked for over the holidays, so I’m missing out on baby Yoda!) So you might notice that my best movies list is a little Netflix-heavy. Here’s my annual disclaimer: This isn’t a list of the best movies of 2019, but a roundup of the best films I saw, no matter what year they were released. Here we go:

91rKEgY1qDL._SY679_10. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” 2019 sci-fi directed by JJ Abrams, starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, and Kerri Russell. Okay, that’s a wrap on 40-plus years of Star Wars films shaping my worldview. If I had to rank Episode 9, I’d put it at fifth-best in the series. If you don’t know the major plot twist, I’ll ruin it for you now: Rosebud was a sled.

Unknown9. “Fyre,” 2019 documentary directed by Chris Smith. I first became aware of the Fyre Festival when one of my favorite bands, blink-182, announced that they were headlining the weekend music festival/experience. Then they pulled out at the last minute. Then the (mostly wealthy) customers who bought the pricey tickets started posting on social media how much of a ripoff the trip was turning out to be (e.g., the “gourmet meals” they were promised were cheese sandwiches). Then came the lawsuits, the accusations of financial misdeeds, and the jail time for one of the founders. A fascinating, funny look at how a few social-media influencers drove the initial success of what was essentially a house of cards.

Unknown8.  “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” 2007 Western directed by Andrew Dominick, starring Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Mary-Louise Parker, and Sam Shepherd. This film reminded me of another one based on a real-life outlaw, 2009’s “Public Enemies,” with Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, in the sense that both criminals, Dillinger and James, brought about their own downfalls when they had to rely on less and less trustworthy partners to continue their robberies. Really two separate character studies, one of Jesse James and the other of Robert Ford, a wide-eyed fan of James’ who becomes a minor player in the James Gang but hopes for greater glory in bringing down the outlaw.

Unknown-17. “Someone Great,” 2019 romantic comedy directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, starring Gina Rodriguez, Brittany Snow, DeWanda Wise, Lakeith Stanfield, and Peter Vack. A star vehicle for Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”), we follow one day in her life as her two best friends try to cheer her up after her breakup with longtime boyfriend Stanfield, and we see their relationship through flashbacks. Great soundtrack and great female friendships.

Unknown6. “Always Be My Maybe,” 2019 romantic comedy directed by Nahnatchka Khan, starring Ali Wong, Randall Park, Daniel Dae Kim, and Michelle Buteau. Terrific story of a successful chef returning home to San Francisco and running into her childhood sweetheart (Park). Also with a very special cameo of a certain actor who parodies his own public persona mercilessly.

Unknown5. “Booksmart,” 2019 teen comedy directed by Olivia Wilde, starring Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Billie Catherine Lourd, Diana Silvers, and Molly Gordon. Some have called this the girls’ version of “Superbad,” and that’s not far off (Feldstein’s character is very much like that of her real-life brother Jonah Hill), but there’s more heart and depth in this film, even though it follows the teen-movie trope of two kids deciding to finally have fun and party on the last night of high school. Teen life in all its awkward, embarrassing glory. If you were a nerd in high school (hint: if you were one of my friends back then, you probably were), you will watch along in painful self-recognition.

Unknown-14. “Unicorn Store,” 2017 comedy/fantasy directed by Brie Larson, starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford, and possibly a unicorn. I don’t even know where to start with this. If you are looking for another Marvel-type action movie with the “Captain Marvel” co-stars here, you’re in the wrong place. Larson plays Kit, a lost-soul artist living in her parents’ basement, who receives an invitation from a store purporting to have available to her the purchase of a unicorn. Jackson plays the Salesman, the unicorn-store’s only employee. This will leave you confused as to where this film is going, in a good way. A sweet, big-hearted film.

Unknown-13. “Plus One,” 2019 romantic comedy directed by Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer, starring Maya Erskine, Jack Quaid, Beck Bennett, and Rosalind Chao. Erskine and Quaid are best friends who find themselves single during high wedding season and agree to be each other’s plus one for every wedding invitation. We know where this is leading, but it’s a fun ride getting there. Quaid is the son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, but he looks and acts more like a younger Joel McHale. Erskine is a revelation of the less put-together adult of the duo; she had a few moments that made me laugh out loud.

Unknown2. “Eighth Grade,” 2018 coming-of-age film directed by Bo Burnham, starring Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, and Luke Prael. This unflinching film about the growing pains of life in the social-media age is painful. There’s no glossy Hollywood sheen over this story, and Fisher is almost too real as the eighth grader struggling with depressive tendencies, boy crushes, FOMO caused by Instagram, and a father who is trying a little too hard to be liked by her. I happened to be living through this story (from the dad’s point of view) when I saw it, and I loudly recommended it to all of my daughter’s parents. Watching this actress bravely play out the pool-party scene was amazing (also very hard to sit through).

shopping1. “Three Identical Strangers,” 2018 documentary drama/mystery directed by Tim Wardle. What an amazing, “this can’t possibly be true, but it is” story. In 1980, a New Yorker named Bobby Shafran goes to a community college and on his first day on campus is constantly mistaken for another guy who had gone there the year before named David Kellman. One of David’s friends calls David and says, “You have to meet this guy, he looks just like you.” So they meet and discover that they were both adopted and are indeed brothers. After the story runs in New York papers, another New Yorker, Eddie Galland, sees their photo in the paper, and thinks, “I look just like them, and I was adopted…” The story that ensues is at first celebratory and uplifting. But then things take a darker turn as we learn about the reasons for their separation at birth and how their different upbringings affect their adulthoods in tragic ways. A sometimes sad, sometimes heartwarming documentary that stayed with me for a long time afterwards.

Movies that just missed the cut: “Juliet, Naked,” “Free Solo,” “The Tomorrow Man,” “A Simple Favor,” “Studio 54,” “All Is True,” “Under the Eiffel Tower,” “Echo In the Canyon.”

The Best Films I Saw in 2018

It’s Oscars weekend, so time once again for my list of the best movies I saw in the previous year. (Annual disclaimer: This isn’t a list of the best movies of 2018, but a roundup of the best films I saw, no matter what year they were released.) I saw 66 films in 2018, an average of 1 every 5.5 days. I’ve noticed a pattern over the last few years: I watch a lot of movies in the early months of the year, then I slow down in the summer months (kids are out of school, I’m doing yard work, a seasonal job that takes up my time), then it picks up in the fall. One exception is that my viewings spike in the 2 weeks after a marathon, when I am in recovery mode. (And by “recovery mode,” I mean “sitting on a couch and eating from a bag of chocolate chips.”)

Anyway, the films (Sorry, there’s 11, not 10. Also, because of a tie, there’s 12, not 11.):

Unknown11. “Everything, Everything,” 2017 teen drama directed by Stella Meghie, starring Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson. The first of three movies based on a young-adult novel (also one of two starring Nick Robinson, see below), this film is about teenager Maddy, who has an immune disorder that leads her physician mother to quarantine her in their house, for fear that contact with the outside world will kill her. She develops a texting relationship with Olly, a new neighbor boy, and we see how far she is willing to risk her health to explore this friendship.

Unknown10. “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things,” 2015 documentary directed by Matt D’Avella. This film could change your life, if you are open to it. It’s about compulsory consumption and why we (Americans, Westerners in general) are driven to buy things we don’t need. Specifically, we see two guys called The Minimalists, who have a podcast and have written books, talk about how to refocus your life on what is important (hint: it’s not the stuff you own).

Unknown9. “Nowhere Boy,” 2009 biographical drama directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, starring Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Anne-Marie Duff. This story is loosely based on the early years of John Lennon, pre-Beatles fame. Although we see him meeting schoolmates Paul McCartney and George Harrison for the first time, it’s more focused on his messed-up family life (i.e., absent father, unreliable mother, strict aunt who acts as his guardian). You don’t have to be a Beatles fan to appreciate this film.

Unknown8. “Wonder,” 2017 comedy/drama directed by Stephen Chbosky, starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay. This touching film (another based on a young-adult novel) is about Auggie, a boy with a rare facial deformity that has required 27 surgeries, who is about to enroll in a school after years of being homeschooled by his mom. It’s that rare film that you can see with your whole family and everyone will get something out of it. It deals with bullying, accepting people for who they are, parents struggling to let their children grow up, and confronting our fears. Stellar supporting cast, particularly Mandy Patinkin as the school principal and Daveed Diggs as the teacher.

Unknown7. “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” 2012 documentary directed by Alison Klayman. A great film about the Chinese artist, architect, and activist Ai Weiwei and the increasing hostility he faces from the Chinese government, as he is harassed, beaten, surveilled, and eventually arrested, all while his brand-new art studio is razed by Chinese authorities. What were his crimes, other than artistic provocation? Printing on his website the names of all 5,000 children who died in an earthquake in Sichuan, a disaster that the Chinese government had hoped to cover up. Inspiring story about true bravery.

Unknown6. Tie: “I Am Your Father,” 2015 documentary directed by Marcos Cabota and Toni Bestard; and “Elstree 1976,” 2015 documentary directed by John Spira. These movies go together. They are definitely for the Star Wars fans among us. One focuses on the filming of the original “Star Wars,” at Elstree Studios in London in 1976, and captures the indie feel that the film had before it became a worldwide success. More specifically, it follows Unknownextras and ancillary support crew, who had no idea what they were signing on for. Similarly, “I Am Your Father” is about actor David Prowse, a fascinating former world-champion bodybuilder who portrayed Darth Vader in the original trilogy, and his falling out with George Lucas over the making of the movies. Essentially, he’s been persona non grata to the Lucasfilm folks ever since, and the directors would argue unjustifiably. If you saw “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and were disappointed (I liked it, but I’m sure you’re getting tired of seeing these movies on my best-of lists), you might want to check these out.

Unknown5. “Crazy Rich Asians,” 2018 comedy/drama directed by John Chu, starring Henry Golding, Constance Wu, Awkwafina, and a large ensemble cast. This was the “La La Land” of the year for me: a film that I heard so much about that I didn’t think it would live up to the hype. Well, I was charmed. It was funny, romance-filled, gorgeously filmed, and hit all the right notes on family and obligations in the face of love. One downside for me was that there were so many characters that we didn’t get to spend time with some people I would have liked to see more screen time of.

images4. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse,” 2018 animated sci-fi directed by Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman, featuring the voices of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, and many others. This isn’t your typical cartoon. Not sure where to begin with the plot: Miles Morales gets bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes Spider-Man. Wait, I thought Peter Parker was Spider-Man. It turns out this is in an alternate universe, and when the bad guy (Kingpin, voiced by Liev Schreiber) creates a machine that rips open the fabric of the universe…okay, I’m losing the plot thread here. Just know that there are several Spider-Mans (and girls, and, um, pigs) from different universes involved. Visually amazing; I felt as if we were watching 1970s-era NYC graffiti come to life.

Unknown3. “Get Out,” 2017 satirical horror directed by Jordan Peele, starring Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams, Lil Rel Howery, Bradley Whitford, and Catherine Keener. Oh man, what hasn’t been said about this movie? I’m not a fan of horror movies, so I was surprised that this one got to me. While there were some horror-movie tropes (jump scares, bloody violence, “wait, didn’t he kill that guy already?,” things like that), the psychological suspense and cultural commentary parts were strong. This one will stay with you for a while afterward.

Unknown2. “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” 2017 comedy/drama directed by Noah Baumbach, starring Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, and Elizabeth Marvel. I’m a fan of Baumbach’s movies. Stiller, Sandler, and Marvel play siblings dealing with their aging father, the not-quite-respected artist and retired professor Harold Meyerowitz, played with aplomb by Hoffman. Stiller is the successful son, and Sandler (in his best dramatic role since “Funny People”) is the sad-sack who can’t seem to please his dad or live up to this father’s wishes, while dealing with his college daughter (Grace Van Patten). As with most Baumbach films, I’d describe it as painfully funny.

Unknown1. “Love, Simon,” 2018 romantic comedy/drama directed by Greg Berlanti, starring Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Alexandra Shipp, and Katherine Langford. The third movie adapted from a YA novel on my list, this one is sweet and uplifting. Simon is a teenager who starts an online relationship with another boy. A third boy finds out about the relationship and blackmails Simon into helping him get a date with a female friend of theirs, for fear of outing Simon. I thought of the John Hughes movies of the 1980s, and not because of the topics, but the “of its times” feel of the film. Example: the high schoolers swing by Starbucks to get coffee drinks on their way to school everyday. Another example: Well-meaning, loving adults who support but can’t really solve problems they don’t understand, specifically Garner and Duhamel as Simon’s parents and Tony Hale as the trying-to-be-hip vice principal.

Movies that just missed the cut: “Brad’s Status,” “Jeff Who Lives At Home,” “Solo: A Star Wars Movie,” “Game Over, Man,” Springsteen On Broadway.”

The Best Films I Saw In 2017

Faithful blog readers! It’s time once again for my list of the best movies I saw in 2017! Why am I yelling?! Just a reminder: These are not the best films released last year. These are the best movies I saw in the last calendar year, whether they were new or old. I saw 72 movies in 2017, or 1 every 5.1 days. I have mentioned in past posts that I screen movies for my lovely wife Jen. See, she has a real job. And a life. I sit through hours of bad filmdom so she doesn’t have to. (When she catches me sitting on the couch munching on dark chocolate M&Ms and watching “Ted 2” at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, I tell her, “But honey, I’m doing this for you!”)


I put this photo here to get Jen to read my blog post.

Actually, I found out that I’ve failed Jen in one crucial aspect this year: I thought I was doing a good job of weeding out the bad films from her life, but one day we were having a casual discussion about the movie “Baywatch.” I was telling her that, other than Zac Efron’s and Dwayne Johnson’s ripped bodies, she didn’t miss much. She said, “Hold up. You are hiding another shirtless Zac Efron movie from me? This is like the fourth one this year! And in most of them, you said he gets fully naked!” (For the record, in the past 2 years, I’ve seen 5 naked-or-nearly-naked Zac Efron films: “Neighbors 2,” “Dirty Grandpa,” “Baywatch,” “That Awkward Moment,” and “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.”) I hadn’t been keeping track, but apparently, she was. So I have learned my lesson: the wife would appreciate a little Troy Bolton with his shirt off. But who wouldn’t, if we’re being honest?

Anyway, the list (sorry Jen, no Zac Efron to be seen in these films):

139ba3eecd2df4d6fa438634bb3e50fadbdc845310. “The Incredible Jessica James,” 2017 romantic comedy directed by Jim Strouse starring Jessica Williams and Chris O’Dowd. Funny, surprising, sarcasm-laced film about a woman coming out of a bad breakup who reluctantly agrees to go on a date with a guy getting over a bad divorce, and the fits and stops their friendship takes. Williams (“People Places Things,” incidentally my favorite film from 2016) runs this flick; when O’Dowd (you’d recognize him as the cop/love interest in “Bridesmaids”) tells her character, “I really like you,” she responds, “Of course you do, everyone does, I’m freaking dope.”

Unknown9. “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru,” 2016 documentary directed by Joe Berlinger starring Tony Robbins. If you’ve ever seen infomercial star/entrepreneur/life coach Anthony Robbins and thought, Who is that giant man with the self-confidence to match his height? (He is 6’7″), this movie is for you. It follows one of Robbins’ “Date With Destiny” 5-day seminars in Boca Raton, FL, where people shell out $5000-plus to learn how they are screwing up their lives and what they can do to fix it. He is brutal, honest, and to the point. Does this come off as a drink-the-Kool-Aid promotional video? At times. But he is very open about his own shortcomings, and it’s fascinating to see someone explain how they got their sh*t together and turned their life around, and to watch others try to do the same. It’s quite emotionally deep, actually.

Unknown8. “The King’s Speech,” 2010 historical drama directed by Tom Hooper starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter. The story of King George VI’s unexpected ascension to the throne, his struggles with stuttering (and self-confidence; he should have talked with Tony Robbins), and the speech therapist whose unorthodox methods helped him overcome so much in his life. This deservedly won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler), Best Director (Hooper), and Best Actor (Firth).

Unknown7. “Captain Fantastic,” 2016 drama directed by Matt Ross starring Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, and Samantha Isler. Heartbreaking film about a guy struggling to raise his children away from the civilized world after the death of his wife. The trailer made it look more like a comedy; don’t be fooled. Very thought-provoking; watching him butt heads with his in-laws about his wife’s wishes for her burial versus what societal norms would require is tough.

Unknown6. “Don’t Think Twice,” 2016 comedy/drama directed by Mike Birbiglia starring Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Birbiglia, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Chris Gethard. When does a person give up on their dreams? What if one of their best friends is better than them at something? And how much do we owe our mentors for our successes? This movie follows an improv ensemble as they struggle to pay the bills; when a few of them get a tryout at a “Saturday Night Live”-type variety show, the reactions of the individual members of the group threaten not just their careers but their friendships. Very funny and poignant.

MV5BNzg1MzQyMjI4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDMzNzQyNjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_5. “She’s Funny That Way,” 2014 comedy directed by Peter Bogdanovich starring Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Kathryn Hahn, Jennifer Aniston, Will Forte, and Rhys Ifans. This movie was fun. At times it approached farce; like the plays “Noises Off,”  “What the Butler Saw,” or “You Never Can Tell,” this movie has love triangles, doors opening and closing while people try to hide their trysts from their partners, and great comic timing. Ifans plays a director whose latest play is upended by the addition of a call girl-turned-actress (Poots).

BREAK FOR ANNUAL STAR WARS MOVIE: I feel as if there should be a special place on my list for all of the Star Wars films that Disney will be releasing annually for the next decade. Last year’s “The Last Jedi” should be on my list, but let’s just assume that I’m going to like it (I did) because I have a blind spot for Star Wars movies and thus am incapable of objective criticism. Moving on:

Unknown4. “La La Land,” 2016 musical comedy/drama directed by Damien Chazelle starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and John Legend. There’s always a movie that receives universal praise that I want to dislike. I thought I wouldn’t like this one. A musical? About Hollywood? Where a white guy saves jazz? And did I mention it’s a musical? But I liked it. Gosling and Stone have chemistry, and they make us want to see where they are going. I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s a scene at the end of the movie, no talking, just music and pictures, and it reminds me of the scene in the Disney film “Up” when the old man is thinking about his long relationship with his wife, and…well, you have to see it.

Unknown3. “The Fundamentals of Caring,” 2016 comedy/drama directed by Rob Burnett starring Craig Roberts, Paul Rudd, Jennifer Ehle, and Selena Gomez. Rudd plays a struggling writer going through a divorce and trying to get into a new career as a home-health caregiver. He gets hired to take care of a young man (Roberts) who is wheelchair-bound. Turns out the kid’s a smartass (picture Bubble Boy in that episode of “Seinfeld;” he’s pissed that everyone wants to feel sorry for him, so he acts like a jerk). The two guys decide to take a road trip and pick up a few stragglers along the way, including Gomez, who is a wonderful surprise in this film. A very funny and very touching movie; you will laugh and you will cry (unless you’re an unfeeling jerk).

Unknown2. “The Edge of Seventeen,” 2016 comedy/drama directed by Kelly Fremon Craig starring Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Kyra Sedgwick, and Woody Harrelson. My God, are all of my favorite movies comedy/dramas? Yes. This hilarious coming-of-age film follows a girl (Steinfeld) whose high-school problems are compounded by the fact that her best friend is now dating her older brother. Her closest confidante is an English teacher (Harrelson) who can barely tolerate her. It reminded me of “Juno.”

Unknown1. “The Big Sick,” 2017 comedy/drama directed by Michael Showalter starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano. This is really three movies in one: a comic romance between Nanjiani’s and Kazan’s characters, a drama about a health scare, and a relationship film between them and each of their parents. Hunter is great, and Romano is way more understated than I expected. Nanjiani, who co-wrote the movie with his wife, carries the film; if you have seen him, it’s probably from “Silicon Valley” or his frequent minor roles in “Portlandia.” This film is like “While You Were Sleeping” if Sandra Bullock was an Uber-driving son of Pakistani immigrant parents who were trying to arrange a marriage for her/him. I feel like I lost the thread there somewhere.

Movies that just missed the cut: “The Last 5 Years,” “Song One,” “Scott Pilgrim Versus the World,” “Bad Moms,” “Hello My Name Is Doris,” “Starter for 10,” “The Martian,” “Good Night and Good Luck,” “Other People,” “Table 19,” “American Teen.”

The Best Films I Saw in 2016

“Hey Dudley, when are you going to post your list of favorite movies from 2016?” is a question that exactly zero people have asked me. Well, too bad, it’s my blog! Just a reminder: These are not the best films released last year. These are the best movies I saw in the last calendar year, whether they were new or old. I’m almost embarrassed to say that, of the 87 movies I watched in 2016, only one was in a movie theater, and that was in late December. This means I streamed a ton of films into my living room and watched them by myself (I like to call it “Netflix and no chill”). See, my lovely wife Jen would rather spend her time reading books or going to work than sitting and staring at a screen (she’s weird like that). So it’s usually me alone, watching a movie and thinking to myself, Great job on another 2 hours well spent, Dudley! Add that one to the list for the blog!

But I’m okay with that if you are. Here is my list. Remember, just because I liked them doesn’t mean that you will. And vice versa; I mean, you probably liked some of the films I left off the list (e.g., “A Walk in the Woods,” “Ant-Man,” “Neighbors 2”). Clearly, we have different tastes. I’m not saying mine is better; I’m just mumbling it behind your back.

10. “My Architect,” 2003 documentary directed by Nathaniel Kahn. Louis Kahn, a celebrated architect who died in the early 1970s, had three separate families that he kept from one another. His son travels the world visiting his father’s colleagues, family members, and buildings he designed, trying to find out more about his father. Sad and redemptive; at one point, a relative challenges him to prove that he is his father’s son, and Nathaniel Kahn, obviously used to this sort of questioning from his father’s family, pulls out the birth certificate that he always carries with him.

9. “What If,” 2013 indie comedy directed by Michael Dowse starring Zoe Kazan and Daniel Radcliffe. Harry Potter in a romantic comedy? Yes please! Radcliffe is a medical-school dropout moping about his failed engagement; he meets Kazan at a party, and they hit it off. The only thing standing in their way is her boyfriend. Wizardry won’t save you now, Harry Potter! Yeah, he’s never going to outgrow that.

8. “Super 8,” 2011 sci-fi directed by JJ Abrams starring Kyle Chandler and a bunch of child actors you’ve never heard of. Abrams wanted to make a film in the spirit of early Steven Spielberg (who is the executive producer). A group of children spend the summer of 1979 running around and making movies. Late one night, they sneak out and accidentally capture a military train crash on film, leading to an investigation of unexplained events happening in their town. I remember seeing “E.T” in a Texas theater in 1982 while on vacation; this movie brought a lot of the memories of that movie and that time back.

7. “Gravity,” 2013 sci-fi drama directed by Alfonso Cuaron starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Every year, there are movies that I hear so much about that I’m like, Screw that, I know everything about that flick and won’t want to sit through it. I don’t know why, then, that I watched this much-talked-about film, but I did. I couldn’t get it out of my mind afterwards. I’ve always hated thinking about deep space; it makes my brain hurt. Still does, but what a powerful film.

6. “How To Be Single,” 2016 romantic comedy directed by Christian Ditter starring Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Damon Wayans Jr., Jake Lacy, and Anders Holm. I am a sucker for twentysomething, “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life,” relationship movies (see “What If” above). This ensemble comedy follows Dakota Johnson’s character as she navigates the wacky world of dating in New York in the 2010s. It’s better than I describe it; and for the second year in a row, Jake Lacy fills the nice-guy role with great comic timing (last year’s “Obvious Child”).

5. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” 2016 sci-fi directed by Gareth Edwards starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, and Riz Ahmed. Look, I get that people who don’t like the Star Wars universe hate hearing about it all the time. And I’ll be honest, after first seeing this, I said out loud, “That wasn’t my favorite Star Wars movie.” But then it stuck with me, the way “Gravity” did and the way other movies that aren’t exactly all rainbows and sunshine can. It effectively carried the story up until the moment the original “Star Wars” began. And now during trying times, I find myself muttering under my breath, “I am one with the force, and the force is with me…”

4. “Mortdecai,” 2015 mystery/action comedy directed by David Koepp starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ewan McGregor. I watched this silly movie and immediately made Jen and my daughters watch it. I’m not usually a fan of all of Depp’s goofy voices, but to hear him with a marble-mouthed upper-crust British action, and to hear Paltrow’s accent, made this movie worthwhile. Based on the late Kyril Bonfiglioli’s novels about Charlie Mortdecai, art dealer and scoundrel, this one follows Charlie as he and his wife attempt to solve a crime caper involving stolen art. I giggle thinking about Paltrow gagging when she attempts to kiss Depp with the handlebar mustache that she hates.

3. “Love & Mercy,” 2014 drama directed by Bill Pohlad starring Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, and Paul Giamatti. I didn’t think it would work having Dano and Cusack play Beach Boys singer/songwriter Brian Wilson at different ages, but it does. I thought I knew the story of how Wilson suffered from mental illness and then lived under the control of his psychologist, Eugene Landy, but I didn’t really understand what was going on. Effectively shows what it’s like inside the head of a haunted musical genius. This is a truly American story of love, loss, and redemption; we love a comeback tale.

2. “The Nice Guys,” 2016 crime comedy directed by Shane Black starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, and Angourie Rice. Gosling and Crowe have great comedic chemistry in this action movie set in 1977 Los Angeles. They play private investigators working on a murder case that involves porn stars, government conspiracies, and eccentric hitmen. Rice plays Gosling’s preteen daughter, clearly the more mature of the two of them. I’m not one for bloody violence, but I could put up with it here to see Crowe and Gosling knock heads.

51PQ9syugdL._SX200_QL80_1. “People Places Things,” 2015 romantic comedy directed by Jim Strouse starring Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall, and Jessica Williams. This movie came and went quickly. If you recognize Clement, it’s probably from the TV series “Flight of the Conchords.” Here, he plays a newly single father of twins in Brooklyn struggling to raise them while dealing with the breakup of his marriage, teaching art and animation to college students, and working on his own graphic novel. Funny and sad. Sometimes very funny, sometimes very sad. It’s my favorite movie of the year because it was so unexpected.

Movies that just missed the cut: “Dope,” “The Social Network,” “Ex Machina,” Mr. Holmes,” “Pride,” “About Time,” “Man Up,” “10 Years,” “Hail, Caesar!,” “Before We Go,” “Bottle Shock,” “Indie Game: The Movie.”

My Old Star Wars Toys Are Priceless! Wait, Does “Priceless” Mean the Same As “Worthless”?

I decided to wait until all the “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” hoopla died down before I posted this story. (Let’s assume that getting beaten in the domestic box office by “How To Be Single” and “Zoolander 2” equals no more hoopla.) As I explained in my year-end review of movies, I was a Star Wars kid growing up and thus will remain ever devoted to the Rebel Alliance. I blame my parents for having me in 1971, making me 6 years old when Episode IV was released.

I should mention that I am not a true Star Wars geek. I don’t delve too deeply into the Star Wars Expanded Universe or even the Star Wars canon, I don’t follow Wookieepedia, and I definitely do not want to get into an argument over whether Han Solo or Greedo shot first in the Mos Eisley cantina.  (There’s no argument because clearly it was Han.)

When I was a kid, my parents had a strict policy on toys: my siblings and I could keep them as long as all of our toys didn’t overflow out of the toy barrel. (My dad had played in a golf tournament organized by his company, and he won a plastic garbage can in the shape of an old wooden barrel. He turned it into a fun toy chest: “Here, kids, keep your toys in this garbage can. Make sure the lid stays on it.”) The four of us Dudley children were in charge of getting rid of any toys that did not fit.

Consequently, I usually got small toys as gifts. (Please, stop weeping for me. Somehow I made it to adulthood relatively unscathed.) And my favorite gifts were Star Wars figures. I would spend hours playing with them all over the house, creating storylines that I am sure don’t fit into any Star Wars canon. Example: Luke and Chewbacca get stuck in the toy barrel under my sisters’ Barbie dolls and have to blast their way out. (All the storylines ended with “and have to blast their way out.”)

Along the way, I picked up some random figures that were the same size as the Star Wars guys but were not from the movies. My favorites were the Fisher-Price Adventure People. My neighbor had way cooler ones than me, but my brother and I got one set that had a Jeep and another that had a motorcycle with sidecar. We played with those indoors and outdoors, and we slept with them (we had no shame).

Like all kids, we were a little rough on our toys, and not all of the Star Wars guys survived. The original R2-D2 had its legs broken off, but was replaced by a newer toy when my son was younger. The Adventure People vehicles are long gone. A few of the other Star Wars guys had their heads popped off. None of them are worth anything at this point, I am sure.

I bring this up because of an article in the Chicago Tribune on December 15, 2015, that highlighted the worth of older, well-maintained Star Wars toys. A recent auction fetched $505,202 for the sale of a collection of over 600 Star Wars toys, including $32,500 for a 1980 boxed set of Boba Fett, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker figures. Yikes. The $25,000 sale of a Luke Skywalker with a double-telescoping lightsaber is no comfort to me: my Luke Skywalker was of the replacement single-telescoping kind, and the telescope on him and my Darth Vader broke off shortly after we got them.

My point: Let your kids play with their toys. They will destroy them, and that’s okay. You don’t want them to become like Al McWhiggin, the toy collector who stole Woody in “Toy Story 2.” They just might end up keeping those toys in their basement when they are adults, and then post an article about them. Complete with photos:


This was the carrying case for my Star Wars figures. It has two trays and can hold 24 figures. The figures came with a sticker so you could label their slot in the case. The trays flip over and have plastic pegs so you can stand the figures (there are round holes on the bottom of their feet).


These are all Luke Skywalker. Left to right: wearing his Bespin fatigues, X-Wing Pilot, and the original. Note the missing lightsaber on the original. You could open and retract it.



“Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy!” Darth Vaders from 2005 and circa 1977. Poor guy lost his cape and lightsaber.



The arm on this 2005 Darth is spring-action. But it can never be lowered, so that’s annoying.



Bleep blorp bloop. R5-D4 from 1977 and R2-D2 from 2005. R2 makes noise, but I haven’t changed his batteries in a long time.



I’m pretty sure I said I wasn’t a Star Wars geek, but apparently I lied. This is an Ugnaught (left) and a Power Droid (right).



Oh, how I loved Yoda. He was short, smart, and funny. This figure came with a brown snake and a cane. I’m sure they were vacuumed up by my mom in 1983.



“Going somewhere, Solo?” “Yes, Greedo, as a matter of fact, I was just going to see your boss. Tell Jabba that I’ve got his money.”



Boba Fett and Lando Calrissian. Lando liked to make the moves on my Princess Leia figure. (I lost the Leia figure just before I started dating girls. Might have been a correlation.)



Okay, now we’re getting obscure. These are a rebel soldier in Hoth battler gear and a Bespin security guard from Cloud City.



This is a Tusken Raider. (Labeled as “Sand People” on the original packaging, although technically it should have said “Sand Person.”)



C-3PO and Death Star Droid. C-3PO’s hands broke off. Chewbacca probably did it.




Hey, it’s Hammerhead! And his brother Hammerhead! (I’m guessing my parents got sick of hearing my brother and me fight over our toys and so got us the same thing once. Even though it was the ugliest of the Star Wars figures that we owned.)



The Chewbacca Brothers. Mine was the one on the left. Just kidding. But not really.



Maybe these guys were the ugliest figures we owned. Snaggletooth and Walrusman.



These are my son’s. Note the bendable legs and arms; clearly, that’s a 21st-century toy. Left to right, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Utapau Shadow Trooper, and Clone Commander.



Original Tron figures. Made of translucent plastic. We welcomed all kinds in our game-playing.



Fisher-Price Adventure People. These were part of the cycle racing team; the guy on the left sat on the motorcycle and the guy on the right went into the sidecar.



Adventure People. These were my favorites. Two outdoorsmen and a cowboy. They had a Jeep. Note that most of the Adventure People had left hands that could curl around any vehicle’s steering wheel.



Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (left) and as Han Solo (right). Indy had a whip, and his right arm is spring-action.


The Best Films I Saw in 2015

Faithful readers of my blog (all three of you; you weirdos), here’s the list of favorite movies I saw in 2015. Just a reminder: These are not the best films released last year. These are the best movies I saw last year; they could have been old or new, but I just happened to see them in the calendar year 2015. I saw some movies that were released in the last month (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and some that were released decades ago (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). They only qualify for my list if it’s the first time I have seen them. For example, I watched the original Star Wars trilogy for the twentieth time in anticipation for Episode VII, but they would have been on my list in 1977, 1980, and 1983.

If I had a blog back in ’77, my list of faves would have looked like this (remember, I was 6 years old): Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saturday Night Fever, The Rescuers, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Oh, God!, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training, Pete’s Dragon,  and Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown. 

UnknownHonestly, the Charlie Brown movie may have had as big of an impact on me as any of the Star Wars films. I have such a vivid memory of sitting in the front row of our hometown theater, which had been built in 1925 and had yet to be chopped up into four smaller screens, and staring wide-eyed at the adventures of Charlie and his pals as they tried to survive life at Camp Remote.

Anyhoo, here is the list. If you’ve been following me (since 1977), you’d notice my taste in movies: no horror flicks and very few big-budget blow-’em-up action films; lots of indie films and comedies. My lovely wife Jen doesn’t have as much free time as I do, so she only sees movies in her wheelhouse (dumb comedies, romantic comedies). I filter out all the other dreck to save her some time. I often watch a movie and think, “Would Jen want to sit through this?” Strangely, I didn’t have her see all the movies on my list.

10. “Young@Heart,” 2007 documentary directed by Stephen Walker and Sally George. This touching film is about the Young@Heart Chorus, a singing group whose members’ average age is 81. Also, they sing punk, rock, and other songs you wouldn’t expect from them. Funny and heartbreaking.

9. “Alan Partridge,” 2013 comedy directed by Declan Lowney and starring Steve Coogan and Colm Meaney. Steve Coogan is one of those actors whose films I gravitate to (Simon Pegg being another). Alan Partridge is a character he has played for years on British TV. The plot: A corporate conglomerate has bought out the radio station where Alan is a DJ, and one of his disgruntled co-workers takes everyone hostage to protest. Bonus: This film contains the single funniest scene in a movie I saw last year, wherein Alan attempts to escape through a window.

8. “Argo,” 2012 drama directed by Ben Affleck starring Affleck, John Goodman, and Alan Arkin. Some of this movie was hard to watch because I remember the Iran hostage crisis and how miserable a time in our nation’s history it was. (See, this is why I usually stick with comedies.) Affleck balances deftly the tension and humor in this little-reported story of a joint US-Canadian effort to save the lives of six Americans holed up at the Canadian embassy using the ruse of a Hollywood film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi movie.

7. “Obvious Child,” 2014 comedy-drama directed by Gillian Robespierre starring Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy. A comedy about abortion? One of three movies on my list that I greatly hesitate to recommend. Slate is such a fresh voice in this charmer about a young woman dealing with the aftereffects of a one-night stand. Plus, Polly Draper, who was Ellyn in the TV show “thirtysomething,” plays her mom. Yowza!

6. “While We’re Young,” 2014 comedy-drama directed by Noah Baumbach starring Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller, Amanda Seyfried, and Adam Driver. Painfully funny story of a couple in their forties who fall in with new friends, a twentysomething couple who makes them feel younger but also makes them question how little they have accomplished so far in their lives. Which made me question how little I’ve accomplished. Besides this blog.

5. “The Interview,” 2014 action comedy directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen starring Rogen, James Franco, Lizzie Caplan, and Randall Park. I know what you’re thinking: “Why, Dudley, why?” The second of the movies I hesitate to recommend. I swore I was never going to see this, especially after subjecting myself to “This Is the End,” which was (to me, but apparently not to others) unfunny, violent, and disgusting. This one was also violent and disgusting but funny! I laughed throughout. Do I have to explain the plot to the two of you who don’t remember the international incident that this film caused? Okay: a talk-show host and his producer score an interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and the CIA tries to convince them to assassinate him. Best use of the song “Firework” by Katy Perry in a movie since “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.”

4. “Silver Linings Playbook,” 2012 comedy-drama directed by David O. Russell starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro. What an original character Cooper played (Lawrence, too). There’s nothing funny about mental disorders, but Russell (who, in the DVD extras, talks about dealing with bipolar disorder in his own family) uses humor to tell the story of a guy and his family dealing with his release from a mental institution after his marriage falls apart.

3. “Boyhood,” 2014 drama directed by Richard Linklater starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and Lorelei Linklater. I am of the camp that believed this movie should have won the Best Picture Oscar last year over “Birdman,” which I liked (see my “Movies that just missed the cut” list below) but I found slightly pretentious in the “it’s a Film about Actors! and Directors! so it must be Important” way that usually goes over well with the people who vote for the Oscars. What happened in “Boyhood”? Not much, except a kid grew up. I could relate.

2. “Rudderless,” 2014 drama directed by William H. Macy starring Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin, and Felicity Huffman. Hoo boy, did I struggle with this one. I didn’t even have Jen watch it; it’s too painful.  It is about something that most people will not want to see, and it tells a side of the story that most people won’t want to hear, and yet it is redemptive and (at times) funny and surprising, and the original songs are great. The plot: Crudup plays a guy whose son dies in a school shooting (are you still with me here?). His life falls apart. Then he discovers his son’s unrecorded music and starts performing it, passing it off as his own (did I lose you yet?). Please don’t see this and be mad at me if you hate it. I’m not recommending it for anyone else, but it moved me more than any other movie I saw. I admire Macy for choosing this subject matter for his directorial debut.

1. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” 2015 sci-fi directed by JJ Abrams starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford. You may have heard of it. Yes, I was a Star Wars kid growing up. I can’t defend the derivative plot, but I had more fun watching this movie than any other. I laughed, I cried, I was surprised. I will probably see it again.

Movies that just missed the cut: “The Great Gatsby,” “Kings of Summer,” “Life Itself,” “Big Hero 6,” “Birdman,” “Land Ho!,” “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” “Inherent Vice,” “Nebraska,” “Laggies,” and “The Artist.”

My XXXL Marathon Adventure

My lovely wife Jen and I were out on a walk, talking about the marathon I was going to run that weekend. I was going over my clothing options for race morning. Dressing appropriately for a race that will take (for me) 3½ hours is tricky; typically, the marathons I run are in the spring and fall, and the temperatures can rise 20 or more degrees during the course of the race.

“I am definitely going with the shorts,” I said. “Maybe a short-sleeve. Weather Underground’s website says it will be 39 degrees at the start and rise to 51 by the finish; maybe I should go with a long-sleeve shirt and a T-shirt over it. Then the gloves, a baseball cap, and maybe my neck warmer. But then again, I might not need the long-sleeve. What do you think?”

Jen said, “I think you’ve crossed the line and gone over to Crazy Town. Just do what you always do and stop obsessing about it!”

She had a point. But in my defense, I haven’t gotten this far in life without a few side trips to Crazy Town.

I was running in the Naperville Marathon, a relatively small race. My previous ones were all big-city marathons, and consequently, they had big marathon expos at convention centers. A marathon expo is where you have to go to pick up your packet with race bib, free shirt, gear-check bag, etc. If you’ve been to an industry expo or a college fair, you know what these things are like: vendor booths, free samples of frozen yogurt or another trendy food item, people generally harassing you into visiting their booths. This one was similar but with one big difference: it was teeny-tiny. The first clue was that it was being held not in a convention center but in the back room of a health club.

The health club was about an hour from my house, so I drove there 2 days before the race.  I wanted to do a quick get-in, get-stuff, get-out trip, but first I needed to ask some questions at the Information desk. The nice lady at the desk said I could ask her anything I wanted.

“Great,” I said. “I notice that there are parking garages a few blocks from the starting line. How soon before the race do they fill up? I’m trying to avoid having to use the remote parking.”

“Good question,” she said. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?!?”

“This is my first time volunteering at this marathon. I’d guess 6 a.m., maybe? Any other questions?”

“Um, no, I’m good.” I did have other questions, but seeing as my guesses would be as good as hers, I saved them.

Flustered, I went to the packet pickup table and got my goody bag. The guy at the table looked at my packet, yelled, “Men’s small!” to the volunteers behind him, and grabbed the shirt they handed him. Into my bag it went. I had already seen a photo of it online and decided it wasn’t really my style, so I hadn’t planned on keeping it; but hey, it was a free shirt. (Editor note: obvious foreshadowing ahead.) Usually, I would spend some time looking through my packet and verifying that everything is there and that the shirt is the correct gender/size, but I was in a hurry.

When I got home, Jen was back for lunch. Like a little kid showing off Halloween candy, I said, “Look at what I got!” I took out the marathon shirt and held it up for her to see.

“Oh my,” she said. “It’s kind of big.”


I am pretty sure this is not my size. Please note: I am actually wearing shorts. As far as you know.

“What the?” I looked at the tag: Men’s XXX-Large. “Are you freaking kidding me?!?” This thing was a dress on me, and my arms flapped in the too-long sleeves, like when Tom Hanks’ character turned back into a 12-year-old boy at the end of “Big” and he was still wearing a man’s suit. (Sorry to ruin the ending of that one for you.)

Jen said, “Don’t get upset. You had already said you weren’t going to keep it. And don’t drive back to the expo for a replacement shirt.”

She was right, but it was the principle of the thing that ate at me. I mean, seriously. How did they get this one wrong? Plus, is there really that much of a demand for XXXL shirts at a marathon? I didn’t see any 6-foot-5-inch, 400-pound runners out there on Sunday morning. And did they accidentally give my small shirt to that guy? (“Hey, why did they give me a handkerchief instead of a shirt?”)

On race morning, we got there around 6. (Guess what? There was plenty of parking in the parking garages.) It was freezing; Jen didn’t want to hang around the starting line, so I wore some throwaway clothes. We have a “donate” box in our bedroom, and anyone who is retiring clothes in our family knows to throw them in the box; then I run it to goodwill when it’s full.  Anything that remotely fits me ends up in my “marathon throwaways” pile. At the starting line of most major marathons, spectators aren’t allowed near the runners, so it’s best to have clothes that you throw out just before the gun sounds. The marathon organizers then collect them and donate them.

There was plenty of space for spectators at this race, but Jen went to stake out a spot a few miles into the course. Unfortunately, the only long bottoms in the donate box were pink flamingo-covered pajama pants. (I’m pretty sure Jen retired them just to see me wear them to a marathon. And no, I didn’t allow her to take a picture of me wearing them.)

This was how ugly they were: 5 minutes before the race started, I took off my ripped-up old sweatshirt and put it on the fence around the starting corral. I then took off the pink flamingo pants; when I went to put them on the fence, the sweatshirt was already gone. I placed the pants down and moved further into the crowd. For the next few minutes, every time I glanced back, the pants were still there on the fence, crying out, “Take me! I am in need of a loving home!” As far as I know, they are still sitting forlornly on a sidewalk in downtown Naperville, waiting for a brave (or color-blind) citizen to claim them.

I won’t bore you with the details of my race. I wanted to run somewhere around 3:20 to 3:25; I went out at 3:20 pace for the first 20 miles, then faded in the last 6 and ended up at 3:27:12. (Sorry, I actually did bore you with the details.) The course itself was great, and the people of Naperville (Napervillains?) deserve a lot of the credit for supporting something that disrupted their Sunday morning for 6 hours. For a small race, there was great fan turnout, a beautiful course, and ample water stations throughout. If you are insane enough to run a marathon, you could do worse than this one. Bonus: Because there were so few people in the race, I came in 85th place. That’s the top 10 percent, about where I usually finish in a marathon, but much more impressive than telling someone that I finished 3,500th in the Chicago Marathon: “Not to brag or anything, but I was in the top 100. And what have you accomplished with your life?”

Weather Underground

The Naperville Marathon. Correction, the “Healthy Driven” Naperville Marathon. I don’t know if the phrase “healthy driven” follows any rules of grammar. But it sounds cool.