Monday, December 24, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

googling myself

If there's one thing I know about you, it's this: You have, at some point in your life, sat down at the computer and typed your own name into a search engine. It's literally impossible to summon the will power not to find out where your name is popping up on the information superhighway (are people still using this term?). Well, I Googled myself first thing this morning, and I found out that there are a lot of Alex Bakers out there. I had to be very specific if I wanted to find anything about myself. Here's how my search went:

alex baker. I began with the most basic search. The first Alex Baker that Google located? The President and C.E.O. of AIG Shopping Center Properties, L.L.C. It occurs to me that this process could be damaging to my self-esteem. What if I'm the least successful Alex Baker I find? Hmmm.

"alex baker." Mr. Waters used to teach my class that quotation marks were their friends when it came to Internet searches, so I gave it a shot. Did you know that a guy named Alex Baker supplied the voice for Martin the Pirate in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie? Check him out. Other Alex Baker acting credits: Band Manager in I'm in the Band, Ron in The Horrible Flowers, and Agent Pissed in Finding Neo (no, that's not a typo--IMDB calls it a "cross-concept of Finding Nemo and The Matrix"). So there you go.

"al baker." This took me to a blog, but not this one. Still, happy belated birthday to Al Baker's lovely wife Cindy.

"alexander richard baker." Is it possible that there is no reference to an Alexander Richard Baker on the Internet? It doesn't seem possible, but the first thing to pop up is some bill of which "Rodney Alexander, Richard Baker, and Charles Boustany" have become co-sponsors. There are only 54 results, and none of them refer to someone with my full name. Interesting. (And I'm using that term loosely.)

"alex baker," woodstock. Still not me. Some photographer on a web site where they post works of art and you're supposed to click "Digg it" if you dig it. He had zero diggs, so I tried, but you have to create an account, so I gave up. I tried though--I think the Alex Bakers of the world should stick together.

"alex baker," woodstock, illinois. Hey, hey! Here I am. And even my lovely wife will never guess where. She and I are quoted on the "Some Letters We Received" page of the Night Dancin' web site. To those of you who have somehow forgotten, Night Dancin' was the company that DJ'd our wedding. Check out Tom and Diane. Lookin' good, guys. We still appreciate the "personal attention you gave us throughout the planning process" and feel that it was "a pleasure working with you."

"alex baker," "big foot." A 2004 edition of the Big Foot High School newsletter telling people to contact me with questions about the play. I haven't done the play for three years, but at least the actual me is making some appearances on the list.

"alex baker," "ripon college." Did you know that as of May 6, 2002, I was among the Midwest Conference leaders in fewest hits allowed, fewest runs allowed, and fewest doubles allowed? It's true. And also not that surprising since I had probably pitched a total of 1 inning at that point. Interesting story, by the way: We were playing in Ft. Myers for Spring Break when I earned the first save of my college career. It was the bottom of the 8th, the bases were loaded, we had 2 outs, and Gordie gave me the call. I came in and threw a fastball off the outside corner for a ball, followed by another fastball for a called strike. The guy waved at the next two splitters, and I got the strikeout. So I sprint off the field and into the dugout, waiting for us to put up some runs in the top of the 9th, when I turn around and see the team huddled by the third-base line. Turns out that was the 9th inning, and the game was over. I had no idea. So when people tell me that they have a hard time paying attention to an entire baseball game, I forgive them.

"alex baker," "teacher man." Just curious. And yes, it takes you back here. The first entry to pop up? The "some cool links" entry I did a couple months ago. I wonder why that is. Who the heck knows? As I imagined that it might, this exercise has proven that the Internet is a mystery.

Later gators.

an open letter to the english teachers of america

First, I will share with you what bothered me in the first place: I'm teaching "The Red Wheelbarrow," by William Carlos Williams, in English 11: Literature. During my prep period yesterday, I was doing a Google search to see if there were any intelligent essays about the poem on the web. (If you're wondering, lots of essays, very few of them intelligent.) But I came across one in particular that made me want to punch out my computer screen. It's by a woman named Lezlie Laws Couch, and she begins by telling the story of how she met up with some ex-students who were complaining about poetry because they didn't like "counting beats," and who asked questions like, "Who could ever figure out what those poets were trying to say?" She goes on to say that she later looked back at the materials she had used for the class those students had taken with her and was "horrified" by what she found. After finding worksheets about meter, literary devices, etc., she claims that her "stomach was in knots."

Second, I will share with you the problem that Miss Couch illustrates: As I read publications like NEA Today and the WEAC newsletter, I find with increasing frequency articles that seem to have the same core thesis. Basically, students (and sometimes teachers) don't enjoy the nuts and bolts of reading and writing, so we should find ways to teach the latter while circumventing the former. No one wants to talk about which syllables are stressed or unstressed--we'd much rather discuss theme and imagery. No one wants to diagram sentences--we'll just teach all that mechanical stuff through their writing. Hogwash.

Third, I will share my opinion on this matter, which I hinted at with the final sentence (a fragment, for those of you who had Miss Couch for English) of the previous paragraph: You're an English teacher, for crying out loud. I have often observed that I would be a horrible football coach. I have a rudimentary knowledge of the game, and I've done enough coaching in my life that I could probably keep the players somewhat organized and focused. However, I'd call too many flea flickers. Seriously, I love those gadget plays. We'd be 4th and goal from the opponent's 1-yard line, and I'd call a triple-reverse halfback option pass. We wouldn't even have a punter because all we'd ever do is fake punts. Sometimes on third down. The Couch Approach to Language Arts is tantamount to the Baker Approach to Football. Sure there are fun things about English that the kids need to be exposed to--that, for the most part, is what got us into this field. But I think an English teacher ought to sort of love punctuation and rhyme and meter and everything else too. Almost to the degree that people think you're strange. Off the top of my head, I can think of six grammar/writing books I've purchased in the last four or five years and read for pleasure. This is not to say that I am the standard by which English teachers should be measured. (It's also not to say that I'm not--I'll leave that up to you.) It is to say that I'm tired of people thinking that we (teachers) need to cater to them (students) in our classrooms!

So to the English teachers of America, keep on diagramming those sentences! Don't let your students talk you out of a lecture on the finer points of the semicolon! And for Pete's sake, don't stop banging out that iambic tetrameter on your desk while those ungrateful miscreants half-heartedly recite "Because I could not stop for Death"! You're fighting the good fight!

Later gators.

Monday, December 17, 2007

what would charlie do?

Having finished our church Christmas pageant yesterday (an unabashed success, by the way), I feel like it's my responsibility to tell you that all of the Christmas pageants you did when you were a kid were full of lies. Sorry if I just totally altered the way you perceive your childhood, but it's the truth. Remember how Mary and Joseph would sit up in front with the little doll that was supposed to be Jesus, then the three guys who could sort of sing would walk to the front to the tune of "We Three Kings"? Well, it turns out that that's not the way it went down. It seems that those three wisemen actually didn't show up until Jesus was almost two years old! Am I the only one that didn't know this? Sara says that Stacy's Bible study group or something had this conversation, and a quick Google search confirms that while the wisemen were taking their sweet time to bring gifts to the son of God, he was becoming a toddler. In fact, a guy named Phil Greetham has a web site on which he scoffs at those who would believe that they showed up "5 minutes after the shepherds left!" Well, soooooooooorry Phil. I guess I just had too much faith in my Sunday School teachers.

What other lies did Mrs. Meredith and Mrs. Kyle tell me? Noah's ark? Adam and Eve? David and Goliath? It makes you wonder how many atheists out there made that decision because they found this out before I did.

Anyway, it occurs to me that if Jesus was roughly two--apparently that's the guess because after the wisemen talked to Herod, he had all boys under two killed--that would mean that he was about my son's age. Now, are we to believe that Jesus was somehow different because of all of the external factors involved in his birth, or was he a pretty typical 2-year-old? Because if he was anything like Charlie, I have a lot of questions:

Did Mary get pissed because the wisemen woke Jesus up from His nap when they banged on the door?

Did He run around yelling "NOT! NOT!" when Mary and Joseph tried to introduce Him to the wisemen?

Did He dump out the gold and just play with the box it came in?

How much of the myrrh did He eat before Joseph realized what He was doing? Or did Mary see it while Joseph was supposed to be watching Him and they got into a big fight?

Was it awkward for Mary and Joseph when He threw the frankincense and went to play with His Snoopy doll instead?

And the thing is, we'll never know. I suppose I could ask our minister, but I'm not really sure how much I trust him anymore.

Later gators.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

top 10 books

Has it really been over a week since my last post? I apologize. I am not reflecting the responsibility and diligence that one would typically associate with bloggers. I'll be better.

Time for another Top 10 list, I believe, and this time I'm going with books. Now, you would think that this would be a really hard list to come up with, but it really wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. That might be partly because the list I have to draw from isn't nearly as impressive as I thought it was before Monday night, when I brought home an AP test prep book and Sara and I went through the list of suggested books to see how many we'd read. Out of 50 books, I'd devoured 19, which seemed respectable. My wife, however, had read 18 of those 19 plus 20 others. 38 out of 50! That's ridiculous. (I'm trying to make a big deal out of M. Butterfly because that was the only one I'd read that she hadn't. Greatest book of all-time. Can't believe she hasn't read it. Guess she's not so smart.) Anyway, I came up with a list of books I liked, but the top 8 or so were obvious. My basic criterion was this: If someone I knew were going to die in a week and asked what one book he or she should read with the time he or she had left, what would I choose? The answers follow in my list of the Top 10 Books of All-Time:

10. Staggerford, by Jon Hassler. Hassler's pretty awesome--reminds me a lot of Richard Russo, who you'll find later in the list. This is the story of a week in the life of Miles Pruitt, a high school English teacher in Minnesota. (Hassler is, incidentally, an English professor at St. John's in Collegeville, MN.) It's a really spot-on look at what it's like to teach high school. For an example, read the first chapter, in which Hassler kind of lays out Miles's day based on the kinds of classes he has. Every teacher I know that's read this book says, "I've absolutely had that class" about every class he describes. It's Hassler's first novel, which makes it that much more impressive.

9. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, by Chuck Klosterman. A couple of books are going to show up on this list that aren't likely to show up on anyone else's list of the "greatest books of all-time," but I don't care. If you want Ulysses, read randomhouse.com. I prefer this. I'm quite sure that James Joyce never wrote an essay about Saved By The Bell, or The Real World, or a GNR cover band, or anything nearly as cool as the stuff Klosterman covers in the 18 essays that comprise this book. It's funny, smart, unique, and thought-provoking. He also talks a lot about pornography and drugs, so my students like it. Whatever.

8. Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. If you would have told me 10 years ago that my 8th favorite book was going to be written by some economist, I would have punched you in the gut. However, it seems that that would have been a mistake because it turns out to be true. But Levitt and Dubner don't explore interest rates and all of that nonsense. They look at more interesting real-world issues like whether the name you give your kid really matters and why violent crime rates in New York dropped so significantly in the 90's. This is the book that turned me on to all of the other economics-type books that I've fallen in love with--Blink, The Tipping Point, etc.--so it gets a place on the list.

7. How To Be Good, by Nick Hornby. Like John Hassler, Nick Hornby is awesome. Like Chuck Klosterman, he's both funny and smart. He's written books that have turned into blockbusters--About A Boy, Fever Pitch, etc.--but I prefer this one to all of those. (Full disclosure: I've only read two others. I bet I wouldn't like anything else as much, though. Probably.) Anyway, How To Be Good is the story of a woman who is in a bad marriage and wants out. She's a doctor, and her husband is the author of a newspaper column called "The Angriest Man in Holloway," so clearly she is the "good" one, and he is the "bad" one. But then he goes through this spiritual transformation and decides to start being really good--like giving away their stuff and inviting homeless kids in to live with them. So now she still wants to leave because he's unbearable, but she's less confident that she should because she might not be the "good" one anymore. The end bugs me a little, but overall, great story.

6. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Since everyone knows the story of TKAM because it's so awesome, a question: How amazing/ridiculous/baffling/etc. is it that this is Harper Lee's only book? I mean, what possible reason could someone with this kind of talent have for not writing more? She seems fairly normal, as far as writers go. She hung out with Truman Capote and helped him with his research for In Cold Blood, and she apparently became friends with Gregory Peck after he played Atticus Finch in the movie version (about which she seems to have nothing but good things to say). I guess maybe she's so normal because she didn't write more. All the prolific ones become alcoholics or druggies and die young. Maybe a good decision.

5. On Writing, by Stephen King. Seriously, I enjoy Strunk & White's The Elements of Style and an assortment of other books about grammar and usage and all of the other stuff that bores most people, but this is not one of those books. This is as fun to read as most of King's fiction. And if you want a real treat, get the audio version and listen to him read it. It's awesome. He's funny, he tells great stories (like when he got the idea to write Carrie), and you might learn something too. But you don't have to if you don't want to.

4. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This should probably be higher because it's probably the most perfect book ever written. The only problem is the old Dying Friend Test because I would want that book to be sort of funny, or at least witty, and I'm not sure Gatsby is. However, it's awesome, and Jeff Brower helped me realize why. Now, Jeff hates it, but when I asked him about it the other day, he confessed that he was still impressed by it: "I'm impressed by anyone who can write so easily." That's it, isn't it? Fitzgerald just writes so easily. And even if it wasn't literally easy, which it almost certainly wasn't, it seems easy, and that's basically the same thing as far as the reader is concerned. Anyway, here's to Gatsby.

3. Straight Man, by Richard Russo. In the first scene, Hank Devereaux's nose is huge and purple after getting stuck with the loose wire of a notebook. And then it gets better. Hank is a middle-aged English professor at a small college in Pennsylvania who is struggling with all of the stuff that guys like that struggle with: his health, tenure, his marriage, his students, etc. His story includes things like donkey basketball, a Groucho Marx-bespectacled goose, a guy nicknamed Orshee after the way he alway corrects the automatic use of the male pronoun...At one point, Hank tells a creative writing student: "Always understate necrophilia." These are a few--but not all--of the reasons this book is great. I cannot imagine someone not loving it. I really can't.

2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. In King Dork, Frank Portman says of TCITR: "It's kind of like a cult. [Teachers] live for making you read it. When you do read it you can feel them all standing behind you in a semicircle wearing black robes with hoods, holding candles. They're chanting, 'Holden, Holden, Holden...' And they're looking over your shoulder with these expectant smiles, wishing they were the ones discovering the earth-shattering joys of The Catcher in the Rye for the very first time." This is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but it's absolutely true. I was a late-bloomer as far as bibliophilia goes (senior year--AP English), and this is the first book I ever read that I wanted to re-read right away. It was my favorite for a long time. Then I read...

1. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. The best. My dad told me once that "the first half of Catch-22 is the funniest book I've ever read." Yup. And Jeff Brower once told me, "'The Eternal City' is my favorite chapter of any book I've ever read." Yup. There is no superlative too super for this book. As Dwight Schrute might say, it hits everything on my checklist: funny, tragic, great use of language, colorful characters, gripping plotline, terrific surprise ending. If I had a friend that was going to die in a week, I'd send his family out of the room and leave him with a copy of Catch-22. And I think he'd thank me.

Later (but not too much later) gators.

Monday, December 3, 2007

the reality of the situation

In one of my recent posts, I made the comment that "I hate reality TV." This is absolutely true. I was mildly intrigued by the first season or two of American Idol, I was highly engaged in the first season of The Apprentice, and I like the Food Network, although I don't really think that's "reality programming" in the way that we typically use that term. But I also realize that I may become something of a dinosaur if I continue to rage against the machine that is reality TV, similar to the teachers here at BFHS that are convinced that "computers are just making life more complicated." (And if the writers' strike continues, we might not have many alternatives.)

So in the if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em spirit, I have 3 ideas for reality television shows that are better than anything out there right now. Tell me you wouldn't watch these:

Name That Tune 2007. We probably couldn't get it off the ground in the next four weeks, so it might have to become Name That Tune 2008, but let's get some music geek--why not Chuck Klosterman?--to host. There will be a house band (or possibly a different semi-famous band every week) that would be prepared for songs in any number of categories: '80s hair bands, Seattle Grunge, Garth Brooks, '90s rap, etc. In the first round, contestants would choose categories and try to be the first to buzz in and identify the song. The second round is played by each contestant separately. While the other is in a sound-proof booth, the player does a "lightning round," in which he/she tries to name as many clips as possible in 60 seconds. The final round is a face-to-face "I can name that tune in 5 notes" situation. Am I right or am I right?

The Decathlon. I think we have to have celebrity contestants for this one. We have 2-4 contestants each week, and they compete in 10 of the following events: tic-tac-toe, rock-paper-scissors, war, dodgeball, 4-square, Tetris, hangman, 500, paintball, HORSE, checkers, 3-card Monte, ping-pong, foosball, air hockey, Guitar Hero, miniature golf, tug of war, etc. If Extreme Makeover: Home Edition can draw 10 million viewers, how many people would tune in to see Pauly Shore, David Spade, Flava Flav, and Adrianne Curry playing 4-square? Hard to even speculate.

The 1st-Year Teacher. Do you know how many teachers there are in the United States? 6.8 million. And even if they quit after a year or two, do you know what they all have/had in common? They had a first year. And do you know what else? It mostly sucked. I am promising you that those people would watch a show that followed a young, attractive, interesting first-year teacher in a school that was likely to create some conflict and interesting storylines. You'd have to pick the right situation, but I know that this could work. I know it, I know it, I know it.

Here's the litmus test: Pick what you believe to be the worst idea listed above. Okay, now pick the 5 best reality shows on television right now. Wouldn't my idea make the list? Thought so.

Later gators.

Friday, November 30, 2007

those crazy rotarians

So yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a Rotary luncheon. Three Big Foot students were invited to talk a little about themselves, and they needed a ride. I got an undercooked pork chop out of the deal, so it was definitely worth it. Anyway, here's a short running diary of the event:

11:30 We board the school Suburban and head to Abbey Springs. On the radio: "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk," by Trace Adkins. I wonder how many of the Rotarians would be able to define "badonkadonk." (And yes, according to cowboylyrics.com, that's how you spell it.)

11:40 We arrive, somewhat uncertain of where we're supposed to be. We enter the Yacht Club door, but it looks kind of empty except for an old guy in an ill-fitting Cosby sweater and another guy that looks like a magician (white dress shirt, black leather vest). Magician asks if we're here for the Rotary meeting. Indeed we are. He points us to our table and says that we can "dig in" whenever we'd like. Then he pulls a quarter out of my ear.

11:42 Since no one else is here, we feel a little uncomfortable starting to eat, so the students all talk about how nervous they are to speak in front of all of these people. I tell them it's not that big a deal. If they do a good job, however, they might get $4,000. (The Rotary sponsors one of the big scholarships on Honor Night.) No pressure though.

11:46 People are starting to show up, so we head to the buffet table. On the menu: salad (lots of mushrooms and big cucumbers, so that's a plus), breadsticks (not warm), rice, green beans & carrots (surprisingly tasty), and pork chops with baked apples (very rubbery; might give us all salmonella). Unsweetened iced tea to drink. Adequate meal, but I'm definitely thinking about the leftover fried rice that's waiting for me in the teachers' lounge fridge.

11:52 Don't you hate eating in front of people? I mean, not family or friends or whatever, but like students or Rotarians? These cucumbers are huge, so I'm getting Italian dressing on the corners of my mouth with every bite. I can hear myself chewing the pork chop. Good thing I'm not the one who has to impress people here today.

12:00 We're all finished with the meal and making small talk with the Rotarians that keep coming up to us to say hi and tell me that they played baseball for my dad. This is the worst part of functions like this. I barely like talking to my friends, much less people I barely know. And I think that if one more guy asks Jeff McMahon, a senior soccer player at Big Foot, if he played on that great football team this year, he's going to snap. Can't blame him.

12:10 This is where the weirdness begins. The bell is rung (by--I am not making this up--a guy named John Ring), and everyone stands. He says, "'America the Beautiful'--first verse." And we all begin to sing. (How do I know all the words to that song, by the way?) We finish and John the Bell Ringer takes us into the Pledge of Allegiance. When we finish that, one of the Rotarians who happens to be a minister leads us in prayer. The highlight of the day, by far, comes during the prayer when a woman's cell phone goes off and the ring tone is--again, I am not making this up--"Bad Day," by Daniel Powter. Classic. I bet that lady could totally define "badonkadonk." Anyway, the minister is totally flustered. She abruptly ends the prayer and everyone sort of stifles a giggle. This is fun.

12:15 Apparently Cosby Sweater is also the Sergeant-at-Arms (real title), which means that he has to collect these make-believe fines from people because that's how Rotary makes money (at least in part). For example, he fines the "Bad Day" lady because of the interruption. But it's all in fun. These Rotarians know how to have a good time.

12:18 John the Bell Ringer invites me to come up and introduce the kids. I thank the Rotarians for their generosity and tell them that I know all of these kids and they're all great, which they pretty much are, then I let the students take it from there. Their 60-second speeches are pretty generic, but they get the job done. I'm ready to duck out, but I don't suppose that's polite because there's another speaker. Magician comes up and introduces this woman from an organization called Hearts in Motion, which actually sounds pretty cool even though it's not entirely clear what they do. I know it's mostly in Guatemala; I know that you can go down there for 10 days to volunteer for $1,500; and I know that she has a lot of disgusting stories about a girl who was born "without a face," a woman who came to her with a tumor on the side of her head that was "twice the size of her head," and some similarly-inflicted Guatemalan folks. It's pretty sad. Plus there's a video. During the video, I call Deb in the office to tell her I'm going to need a sub because the luncheon is running long.

1:04 The Hearts in Motion lady finishes up and gets a round of applause. (It's not clear why she was speaking. She didn't ask for money or volunteers, and she didn't thank anyone. But she's married to one of the Rotarian's basketball teammates, so that might have something to do with it.) Then Magician cuts her in half.

1:12 We finally get out the door--a lot of these Rotarians like to make small talk with the kids after lunch, which is fine because they're going to end up giving them a lot of money down the line. And they're reasonably nice.

1:13 On the Suburban ride home, the kids are kind of giddy, the way that kids are when they've been nervous about something but now it's over. We get back to school and I head back to English 11 Lit., which is populated by a lot of kids that will never be asked to a Rotary luncheon.

2:07 I duck out of class to go finish off that fried rice.

Later gators.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

who says there's nothing good on tv?

When I dress in the morning, my only real goal is not to stand out. I don't need to be the best-dressed guy in the room. I just don't want anyone to wonder if I'm colorblind.

I do not dance in public.

I avoid eating messy food around people I've just met.

All of these things are true for the same reason: I have a healthy respect for embarrassment. Evidently, this is not true of the following people: Brigitte Nelson, Jeff Conway, Daniel Baldwin, Jessica Sierra, Seth Binzer, and Joanie Laurer. I know that because those are the celebrities (!) that are going to be featured on the new show, Celebrity Detox. (On some web sites, it's referred to as Celebrity Rehab, but I trust Perez Hilton unequivocally).

Now, after hearing about the show on the radio this morning, I decided to do a little research once I got to school, and I was shocked to find out that there are critics out there that think this is a "controversial," or sometimes "appalling," concept for a show. I disagree. I think this is an excellent idea for a show, and I hate reality TV. Here's why I think it's awesome:

1. They can use Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" as the theme song. I kind of like that song.

2. There could be a really hilarious, ironic drinking game associated with the show. Every time Jeff Conway spits when he yells, you drink. Every time someone accidentally calls Joanie Laurer "Chyna," you drink. Every time Jessica Sierra, of American Idol "fame," vomits, you drink. Every time Brigitte Nelson has fewer than two items of clothing on, you drink. I think this is brilliant.

3. It has Drew Pinksy. What the heck happened to Loveline, by the way? I loved that show.

4. It solicited the following comment, a reference to musician Seth Binzer, on perezhilton.com: "The fact that Crazytown ever existed kind of makes me want to smoke crack. I can only imagine how this guy must feel."

There's only one thing that could make the show better: a Survivor-type format in which contestants are booted off every week. Sorry, Mr. Baldwin. We'd like to help you, but it took you nearly three minutes to finish the obstacle course. Best of luck.

Later gators.

Monday, November 26, 2007

the yapping point

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell defines the "tipping point" as "that one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change all at once." This blog entry is not about the tipping point. However, it is about a similar phenomenon that I have encountered, and I'm going to call it the yapping point. Allow me to explain.

Every so often, I'll be with friends--typically guy friends--and someone will open a bottle of rancid milk or something similar and he (or, sometimes, she) will say, "Oh my god. That's disgusting. Smell that." Now, you have no doubt made note of the irony here--if it's so noteworthily disgusting, why would you impose that odor on someone else? But here's the thing--everybody makes this observation. In fact, they make it so often that I dread hearing someone suggest that a friend "smell that" for that very reason. This is the yapping point. It's the point at which the public outcry against some contemptuous individual or idea becomes more contemptuous that the individual or the idea itself. Britney Spears is another great example. I don't think I particularly like Britney Spears; she seems sort of insane. But I'm beginning to outright loathe all of the magazines/telelvision "news" shows/etc. that make it their job to constantly point out how insane she is. Britney has reached the yapping point.

I bring this up because this morning I had a radio station on--I think it was AM 620 out of Milwaukee. For those of you don't listen to talk radio, that station is conservative to the point of absurdity--a host named Charlie Sykes is the most egregious offender. And they had a guy on talking about his new book, the thesis of which seems to be something like this: We are making the current generation of children soft by trying too hard to make them feel good about themselves. This is a concept that has, without a doubt, reached the yapping point.

Now, this doesn't mean that I disagree with the sentiment, at least not entirely. I do think that there are examples of our culture coddling our children a bit much. I do not, for example, like the idea that every kid gets a trophy just for playing Little League baseball. However, those examples are rare, as are virtually all examples of crazy behavior. But guys like this one (and I wish I had listened long enough to catch his name) seem convinced that this sort of behavior is rampant. I am quite certain that it's not. I teach high school, and I am sure that I hear people complain about how soft our kids are getting much more often than I see examples of actual softness in these kids. But I suppose that he wouldn't sell many books under the premise that this stuff barely happens at all--he needs it to be a national epidemic, so for the purposes of his book, it is.

At any rate, I am here to tell you that most kids are fine. Some are strange, some are socially awkward, and some smell like rancid milk, but those instances are rare, just like the instances of coddling that this guy is in a tizzy over. And that's why I'm more sick of him than I am of those rare instances, and that's why this idea has reached its yapping point.

Later gators.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

students say the darndest things

First, my apologies because this has been my worst blogging week so far. It's the first week of basketball, and I've been real busy, but that sounds like an excuse, so forget it. I've dropped the ball. Sorry.

Anyway, here's one that's been in the cooker for a while. When you're a teacher--especially an English teacher--you'll occasinally be reading through a paper and find a line (sometimes more) in a paper that a student has written that makes you laugh out loud, then go into the room next door and say, "You've gotta' hear this." Sometimes it's because of sloppiness, and sometimes it's not at all clear why it happens, but I've decided to give you a sampling of such lines (and while I am going to use aliases so as not to lose my job, I can assure you that these are all direct quotations):

CHARITY WILSON (Persuasive Research Paper): "'Disabled' and 'retarded' people have a special place in God's eyes."
I believe that Charity was quoting from Leviticus there.

JUSTIN HILL (Literary Analysis): "Billy Collins's students take poetry for granite."
It's possible that this is just an awkward way of saying that Collins's students sometimes think that a bit of verse is actually a piece of plutonic igneous rock. If so, they would be only slightly more daft than mine.

GRANT VANDEBOGERT (Othello Essay Test): "Othello is a warrior for Venetia."
Actually, Grant, it's people from Venice that are called Venetians. Nice try.

BRIDGET BROWN (Reflection Paper): "In this class, I learned different ways of writing in different time zones. Like how people acted in the past compared to now."
Time zones, Bridget? Really? Like how people on the east coast write differently than people in the midwest? Or could you possibly have meant different time periods? Possibly?

JUSTIN LANDON (Persuasive Essay): "Ninja fighting turtles is probably the best thing that anyone has ever seen."
Probably.

NATE SANDERSON (throughout an entire Connection Paper): "The Great Gagesby."
And this was after we'd read almost the entire book aloud in class and he had had a copy of it at his disposal for two weeks. Take a glance at the cover, Nate.

ANNIE LEWIS (Connection Paper, in which students are to connect the book--in this case The Great Gatsby--with something else they've read): "The Great Gatsby reminded me a lot of a book that I read when I was in middle school. I don't remember the name, but it's really similar."
And that was her ENTIRE ESSAY! Excellent work, Annie. I'll take your word for it.

PARKER FRITZ (Literary Analysis): "Overall, this essay shows an awesome use of diction."
TOTALLY awesome.

NATE SANDERSON (Final Exam Essay, in which he was to identify the five points of view discussed in class: 1st-person participant, 1st-person observer, 2nd-person, 3rd-person limited, and 3rd-person omniscient): “There are five different point of views: first person, second person watching, second person reacting, third person limited, and third person obeisant."
Yup, that's the same Nate Sanderson. I'm not sure which is my favorite. Possibly 2nd-person watching, but possibly 3rd-person obeisant. (In case you were curious, Webster's Dictionary defines "obeisant" as "respectful." I always appreciate a respectful narrator.)

Hope that entertained you as much as it frustrated me.

Later gators.

Monday, November 12, 2007

why sam is awesome

Those of you that know me well know that I am a fan of Bill Simmons, sportswriter for ESPN.com. (For a specific example of his awesomeness, check out the "some cool links" post from a couple weeks back.) In one column (actually, probably in a few columns), Simmons explains that he thinks television (and radio) producers go about choosing broadcasting teams for sporting events the wrong way. They try to get the best color guy, the best play-by-play guy, etc. This seems to make sense, except it leaves out a key component of the formula for a successful broadcast team: chemistry. Last year, the Monday Night Football people decided to put Tony Kornheiser and Joe Theismann in the booth together because Kornheiser is funny and Theismann is (sort of) a good football guy. But Kornheiser just mocked Theismann while Theismann just made stupid, obvious, and sometimes baffling observations that were loosely related to the game. It was not a success. What would have been more successful, Simmons suggests (and I agree), would be to choose the best guy--let's say it's Kornheiser-- and tell him that he needs to pick another guy or two to work with him. Wouldn't you rather hear a few guys who are buddies and have some chemistry talking about a football game than a bunch of guys who would obviously never spend time together outside of the booth?

For those of you who are not football fans, another example: Nicole Beckford is a good friend of mine and a fellow member of the English department at Big Foot High School. She's kind of team teaching with another teacher this term, and I'm sure it's going to go fine, but it got me thinking about how much fun it could be for the two of us to team teach a class. We both know what we're doing (no one wants to listen to incompetent people, no matter how close they are), and I think everyone--ourselves and our students--would have fun and learn a lot. (I had an experience like this when Bill Schang and Russell Blake taught Growing Up in America during my freshman year at Ripon--it was a lot of fun for us, and you could tell that they were having fun too.)

And this is why Sam Baker & the Band is such a blast to see. I went to their show Saturday night at Beezle's, and the mood in that place was perfect for a smalltown bar on a Saturday night--it was relaxed and comfortable. You could see the guys joking around between songs. They did a little gag during the pause in one of the songs--"Wild Rose"?--where they pretended like it was over, then came in loud, all at once. When Bob, the bass player, realized that they didn't have a mic set up for him, he wandered over and sat awkwardly (but sort of smoothly, if that make sense) at the keyboard, which had a mic set up for Sam during the second part of the set. Later, when he shared the mic with Sam for "Do Good Then Walk Away," Sam gave him a shove and the two nearly cracked up in the middle of the song. And that's what I think most people are looking for at a concert. Sure, these guys are awesome musicians, but I can hear awesome musicians almost any time--I do have plenty of Conway Twitty CD's at home, you know. But there's a comfortability, an accessibility about these guys that makes the live performances terrific. It's the same thing that was missing from the Kornheiser/Theismann experiment, and the same thing that would exist if Nicole and I were to teach a class together. Chemistry.

Anyway, it was a great show all around. And that's why Sam is awesome.

Later gators.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

top 50 movies (wrap-up)

So looking back over the list, what have we learned? Almost nothing. I mean, if you look at the breakdown, there are almost no patterns. Surprisingly (at least to me), the director that appears most often is Rob Reiner, who directed 4 of these movies (including 3 of the top 6). No one else appears more than twice, and the 6 that do appear twice are very random: Apatow and Brooks, who do comedy; Tarantino and Fincher, who do sort of violent crazy stuff; Coen, who does quirky, offbeat stuff; Coppola, who does Godfather movies; and Sidney Lumet, who I'd never even heard of until I realized that he directed Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men when I was writing this list.

What about actors? Well, I was glad to see that my list backed up what I've told a lot of people--that my favorite actors are Al Pacino, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kevin Spacey. Pacino was in 4 of the top 50 (and 3 of the top 10), and both Jackson and Spacey were in 5 each (including SLJ's really small supporting role in Goodfellas). The list of actors who are in 3 of my top 50 is as diverse as the directors: John Cazale, Steve Buscemi, Keifer Sutherland, Bruce Willis, Gene Wilder, Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Seth Rogen. There are quite a few that are in two, but they're not really worth listing. (Incidentally, I'm not aware of any women that show up more than twice. Hmmm.)

And if we try to examine genre? Equally unhelpful. The top 10 has a little consistency: I'd say that the Godfather movies, Goodfellas, and Glengarry Glen Ross are somewhat similar, but where do The Breakfast Club and Stand By Me fit in? And what of It's A Wonderful Life?

But maybe that's a good thing. Maybe there doesn't need to be a unifying element. Or rather, maybe the unifying element is just watchability. Because as I was making this list, there were so many times that I wanted to stop and go watch one of them. In fact, right now I think I'm in the mood to hear Verne tell everyone that if he had to eat one food for the rest of his life, it would be cherry Pez. God bless Rob Reiner.

Friday, November 9, 2007

top 50 movies (10-1)

Wow. You can cut the frickin' tension with a knife. Let's just do this thing.

10. The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Five high school students, all different stereotypes, meet in detention, where they pour their hearts out to each other, and discover how they have a lot more in common than they thought.
PERFORMERS: Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: John Kapelos (Carl the Janitor)
INTERESTING FACTS: In the beginning, former Shermer High School student Carl the Janitor is on a Man of the Year plaque...Hughes wrote the screenplay in just two days in 1982...The scene in which all the characters sit in a circle and explain why they're in detention wasn't scripted; Hughes just told them to ad lib
BEST SCENE: Bender taking one for the team as they run through the hallways.
BEST LINE: "Screws fall out all the time. The world's an imperfect place."

9. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.
PERFORMERS: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: James Caan (Sonny Corleone)
INTERESTING FACTS: When asked who he wanted to play Don Vito Corleone, Coppola said, "Look, I don't know, but who are the two greatest actors in the world today? Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando"; after being told that Olivier was sick and not taking parts, they sought out Brando..."I'll make him an offer he can't refuse" was #10 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest Movie Lines of All-Time...The film was #3 on the AFI's list of the Greatest Movies of All-Time
BEST SCENE: The horse's head scene.
BEST LINE: "Do you spend time with your family? Good. Because a man that doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."

8. The Godfather II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: The early life & career of Vito Corleone in 1920's New York is portrayed while his son, Michael, expands and tightens his grip on his crime syndicate stretching from Lake Tahoe, Nevada to pre-Revolution 1958 Cuba.
PERFORMERS: Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: John Cazale (Fredo Corleone)
INTERESTING FACTS: DeNiro is one of only four actors (including Sophia Loren, Roberto Benigni, and Benicio Del Toro) to win an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actor) for a role primarily in a language other than English...#32 on the American Film Institute's list of the Greatest Movies of All-Time..."Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer" was #58 on the AFI's list of the Greatest Movie Lines of All-Time
BEST SCENE: Fredo's death scene.
BEST LINE: "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!"

7. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.
PERFORMERS: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: James Whitmore (Brooks Hatlen)
INTERESTING FACTS: In Stephen King's novella (Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption), Red is Irish; they left the line, "Maybe it's 'cause I'm Irish" in as a joke after casting Morgan Freeman...Darabont watched Goodfellas every Sunday while filming Shawshank and drew inspiration from its use of voice-over narration and the way it dealt with the passage of time...The role of Andy Dufresne was originally offered to Tom Hanks, but he turned it down in favor of Forrest Gump (which edged out Shawshank for Best Picture that year); Hanks did work on Darabont's next adaptation of a Stephen King story, The Green Mile
BEST SCENE: Red and Andy meeting on the beach in Mexico.
BEST LINE: "As I am innocent of this crime, Sir, I find it decidedly inconvenient that the gun was never found."

6. The American President (Rob Reiner, 1995)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Comedy-drama about a widowed US president and a lobbyist who fall in love. It's all aboveboard, but "politics is perception" and sparks fly anyway.
PERFORMERS: Michael Douglas, Annette Bening
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Michael J. Fox (Lewis Rothschild)
INTERESTING FACTS: The Oval Office set was originally built for Dave and later used on The West Wing...The phone number that President Shepherd gives Sydney when he first calls her is the actual White House phone number...One of a very few movies allowed to keep its PG-13 rating despite three uses of the f-word
BEST SCENE: Andrew Shepherd's speech to the media.
BEST LINE: "My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I am the President."

5. A Few Good Men (Rob Reiner, 1992)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Neo military lawyer Kaffee defends Marines accused of murder; they contend they were acting under orders.
PERFORMERS: Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Jack Nicholson
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Kevin Pollak (Lt. Sam Weinberg)
INTERESTING FACTS: Ed O'Neill shot scenes as a Marine testifying in court, but his scenes were cut because audiences kept laughing whenever he came on screen (at the time, O'Neill played Al Bundy in Married...With Children, one of the highest-rated sitcoms on television)...The actor who played Harold Dawson was working as a location scout for Reiner when he was offered the job because Reiner thought he "looked like a Marine"..."You can't handle the truth" was #29 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest Movie Lines of All-Time
BEST SCENE: Lt. Kaffee interrogating Col. Jessup on the stand.
BEST LINE: "The only thing I have to eat is Yoohoo and Cocoa Puffs, so if you want anything else bring it with you."

4. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Henry Hill and his friends work their way up through the mob hierarchy.
PERFORMERS: Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Paul Sorvino (Paul Cicero)
INTERESTING FACTS: After the movie, the real Henry Hill went around telling so many people who he was that he was kicked out of the Witness Protection Program..."As far back as I can remember, I've always wanted to be a gangster" was #20 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest Movie Lines of All-Time...Joe Pesci's Oscar acceptance speech--"This is an honor and a privilege. Thank you"--is the third shortest of all-time (behind William Holden in 1954--"Thank you"--and Alfred Hitchcock in 1968--"Thanks")
BEST SCENE: "What do you mean I'm funny?"
BEST LINE: "Now go home and get your f***in' shinebox."

3. Glengarry Glen Ross (James Foley, 1992)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: An examination of the machinations behind the scenes at a real estate office.
PERFORMERS: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Alec Baldwin (Blake)
INTERESTING FACTS: The character of Blake was not in the original play and was written for the movie...Jack Lemmon called the cast the "greatest acting ensemble" he had ever been a part of (on days when certain members of the cast were not shooting a scene, they would regularly show up anyway to watch the other actors perform)...During production, the actors referred to the film as Death of a F***in' Salesman
BEST SCENE: Blake's speech.
BEST LINE: "We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired."

2. Stand By Me (Rob Reiner, 1986)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: After the death of a friend, a writer recounts a boyhood journey to find a body of a missing boy
PERFORMERS: Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell, Corey Feldman
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Kiefer Sutherland (Ace Merrill)
INTERESTING FACTS: In the scene where Ace steals Gordie's hat, Sutherland's first instinct was to put the hat on, but Reiner told him to give it to Eyeball to illustrate that he was stealing the hat just to be cruel, not because it had any real significance to him...The movie is adapted from a story called The Body, which is included in a book of novellas by Stephen King called Different Seasons; also included in the book is a novella called Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redmeption...In the scene where Gordie and Verne are running from the train, the boys didn't look scared enough, so Reiner yelled at them until they began to cry, at which point they finished filming the scene
BEST SCENE: The campfire scene.
BEST LINE: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"

1. It's A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would had been like if he never existed.
PERFORMERS: Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Henry Travers (Clarence)
INTERESTING FACTS: #1 on the American Film Institute's lists of the 100 Most Inspirational Movies of All-Time and the 100 Most Powerful Movies of All-Time...In 2004, the BBC magazine Radio Times listed it as the second best film never to win an Oscar (#1? The Shawshank Redemption)...Jimmy Stewart's performance as George Bailey was #8 on Premiere's list of the 100 Greatest Movie Performances of All-Time
BEST SCENE: The final scene.
BEST LINE: "Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends."

Little wrap-up coming tomorrow.

Later gators.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

top 50 movies (20-11)

Interesting sidenote: IMDB (which is where I'm getting a lot of my information here) has Plot Keywords for every movie. Yesterday, I learned the the Plot Keywords for Fight Club include homoeroticism, immaturity, and young girl. I wonder how often Andy stumbles onto the IMDB page for Fight Club during his typical Google searches. Hmmm...

On to the list...

20. Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: To ruin a western town, a corrupt political boss appoints a black sheriff, who promptly becomes his most formidable adversary.
PERFORMERS: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mel Brooks (Gov. William J. LePetomaine)
INTERESTING FACTS: The role of Bart was intended for Richard Pryor, but Brooks couldn't get a studio to finance it because of the controversial nature of Pryor's stand-up act...John Wayne was offered a part in the movie; he said, "Naw, I can't do a movie like that. But I'll be first in line to see it"...According to Brooks, while they were shooting the movie, Wilder insisted that Brooks do his (Wilder's) movie idea next; the idea was for Young Frankenstein
BEST SCENE: Mongo cold-cocking the horse.
BEST LINE: "Excuse me while I whip this out."

19. The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A boat has been destroyed, criminals are dead, and the key to this mystery lies with the only survivor and his twisted, convoluted story beginning with five career crooks in a seemingly random police lineup.
PERFORMERS: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Kevin Pollak (Todd Hockney)
INTERESTING FACTS: The line-up scene was supposed to be a serious scene, but after a full day of shooting, the actors couldn't keep a straight face; Singer was angry at the time, but ended up using the funniest take...Al Pacino turned down the role of Agent Kujan because of scheduling conflicts; he says this is the film he regrets turning down the most...In an IMDB poll, the film was voted to have the best plot twist, edging out The Sixth Sense and The Crying Game
BEST SCENE: The final scene.
BEST LINE: "Keaton always said, 'I don't believe in God, but I'm afraid of him.' Well I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze."

18. The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A classic fairy tale, with swordplay, giants, an evil prince, a beautiful princess, and yes, some kissing (as read by a kindly grandfather).
PERFORMERS: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Wallace Shawn (Vizzini)
INTERESTING FACTS: William Goldman (the author) tried to get the movie made in the 1970's, and his first choice for the part of Fezzik was an up-and-coming actor named Arnold Schwarzenegger...During filming, Andre the Giant had serious back problems and, ironically, couldn't lift anything; Penn was attached to wires in the scene where she jumps from the balcony into his arms...The ROUS's were played by small people in rat suits
BEST SCENE: Wesley chasing Vizzini, Fezzik, and Montoya. "Inconceivable!"
BEST LINE: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

17. A Time to Kill (Joel Schumacher, 1996)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A young lawyer defends a black man accused of murdering two men who raped his 10-year-old daughter, sparking a rebirth of the KKK.
PERFORMERS: Matthew McConaughey, Sanrda Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Kevin Spacey (Rufus Buckley)
INTERESTING FACTS: Donald Sutherland thought that his character should be more of a radical drunk (as he is in the book), but Schumacher thought it would make his character too comical...McConaughey was originally cast in Keifer Sutherland's role, but asked Schumacher for a private screen test and won the part of Jake Brigance...Kevin Costner was considered for the role of Brigance, but wanted complete control of the project (to which John Grisham, the author, objected)
BEST SCENE: Jake's closing statement.
BEST LINE: "Yes, they deserved to die, and I hope they burn in hell!"

16. Crash (Paul Haggis, 2005)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Several stories interweave during two days in Los Angeles involving a collection of inter-related characters.
PERFORMERS: Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Ryan Phillipe (Tom Hansen)
INTERESTING FACTS: First Best Picture winner to win fewer than 4 total Oscars since Rocky in 1976 (Crash won 3)...The role of the TV director was offered to Forest Whitaker, but he turned it down to finish filming First Daughter (which, incidentally, did not win a Best Picture Oscar)...During an argument, Thandie Newton's character tells Terrence Howard's character that the closest he's ever been to being black was watching The Cosby Show; Howard's first acting job was on The Cosby Show when he was 19.
BEST SCENE: Officer Ryan pulling Christine Thayer out of the car at the end.
BEST LINE: "It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something."

15. Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A young FBI cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.
PERFORMERS: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Anthony Heald (Dr. Frederick Chilton)
INTERESTING FACTS: Hopkins described the voice of Dr. Lecter as "a combination of Truman Capote and Katherine Hepburn"...The film was the third to win the Academy Award Grand Slam (Hopkins's performance was the shortest to ever win Best Actor)..."A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti" was #21 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest Movie Lines of All-Time
BEST SCENE: When Clarice meets Dr. Lecter for the first time.
BEST LINE: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."

14. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A young woman steals $40,000 from her employer's client, and subsequently encounters a young motel proprietor too long under the domination of his mother.
PERFORMERS: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: John McIntire (Sheriff Chambers)
INTERESTING FACTS: After he bought the rights to the novel, Hitchcock bought up as many copies of the book as he could to try to keep the ending a secret...The blood in the shower scene was Bosco chocolate syrup...Hitchock was so pleased with the score of the movie that he doubled the compoer Bernard Herrman's salary; Hitchcock later said that "33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music"
BEST SCENE: The shower scene.
BEST LINE: "Well if the woman up there is Mrs. Bates, who's that woman buried out in Greenlawn Cemetery?"

13. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: The lives of two mob hitmen, a boxer, a gangster's wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.
PERFORMERS: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Eric Stoltz (Lance)
INTERESTING FACTS: Most of Jackson's famous quote from the Bible is actually made up...Vincent Vega (Travolta) is the brother of Vic Vega, played by Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs...When asked what was in the briefcase, Quentin Tarantino has said, "Whatever the viewer wants it to be"
BEST SCENE: Vincent and Jules in the car.
BEST LINE: "That's a pretty f***ing good milkshake. I don't know if it's worth five dollars but it's pretty f***ing good."

12. Hoosiers (David Anspaugh, 1986)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A coach with a checkered past and a local drunk train a small town high school basketball team to become a top contender for the championship.
PERFORMERS: Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Dennis Hopper (Shooter)
INTERESTING FACTS: The announcer for the final game in the movie was the actual announcer from the 1954 game on which the movie is based...The actor who played Jimmy Chitwood was the only player on the Hickory team not to play high school basketball in real life...For the scene in which Shooter walks onto the court drunk, Hopper asked for ten seconds' notice before they would yell action so he could spin around in circles to get himself dizzy
BEST SCENE: "I love you guys."
BEST LINE: "I'll make it."

11. Caddyshack (Harold Ramis, 1980)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: An exclusive golf course has to deal with a brash new member and a destructive dancing gopher.
PERFORMERS: Rodney Dangerfield, Michael O'Keefe, Bill Murray
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Chevy Chase (Ty Webb)
INTERESTING FACTS: The Ty/Carl scene was not in the original script, but was written during filming when Ramis realized that he did not have a scene with his two biggest stars..."Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac...It's in the hole! It's in the hole! It's in the hole!" (92) and "So I got that going for me, which is nice" (49) were both on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest Movie Lines of All-Time...Brian Doyle-Murray (who plays Lou) is Bill Murray's brother and the co-writer of the screenplay
BEST SCENE: Ty Webb and Lacey Underall.
BEST LINE: Nine-way tie between "A flute without holes is not a flute. A donut without holes is a Danish," "You don't have to go to college. This isn't Russia. Is this Russia? This isn't Russia," "Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball," "Thank you very little," "You'll get nothing and like it," "I christen thee the flying WASP," "Your uncle molests collies," "That's what they said about Son of Sam," and "I heard this place is restricted, Wang, so don't tell 'em you're Jewish, okay?"

Later gators.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

top 50 movies (30-21)

No clever intro today because I'm a little late getting started. So onto the list...

30. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Milos Forman, 1975)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Upon arrival at a mental institution, a brash rebel rallies the patients together to take on the oppressive Nurse Ratched, a woman more a dictator than a nurse.
PERFORMERS: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Brad Dourif (Billy Bibbit)
INTERESTING FACTS: Ken Kesey (the author) has claimed that he will never watch the film version because it's not told from the Chief's perspective the way the book is...One of only three films to win the Grand Slam of Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress)...#33 on the American Film Institute's Top 100 Movies of All-Time
BEST SCENE: McMurphy doing play-by-play of the World Series.
BEST LINE: "They was giving me ten thousand watts a day, you know, and I'm hot to trot! The next woman takes me on's gonna light up like a pinball machine and pay off in silver dollars!"

29. Dead Poets Society (Peter Weir, 1989)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: English professor John Keating inspires his students to a love of poetry and to seize the day.
PERFORMERS: Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Josh Charles (Knox Overstreet)
INTERESTING FACTS: Originally, Professor Keating was supposed to die of leukemia, but the director decided that the focus should be on the boys...It was the first major motion picture ever filmed in Delaware..."Carpe diem. Sieze the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary," is #95 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest Movie Lines of All-Time
BEST SCENE: The boys standing on the desks.
BEST LINE: "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race."

28. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Judd Apatow, 2005)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Goaded by his buddies, a nerdy guy who's never "done the deed" only finds the pressure mounting when he meets a single mother.
PERFORMERS: Steve Carell, Catherine Keener
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Seth Rogen (Cal)
INTERESTING FACTS: The chest hair scene was shot in one take, and Steve Carell's chest was really being waxed...Voted one of the 50 Greatest Comedies of All-Time by Premiere...During the "Aquarius" scene, Jay is doing the M.C. Hammer "Shuffle Dance"; the actor who played Jay (Romany Malco) played M.C. Hammer in the VH1 movie Too Legit: The M.C. Hammer Story
BEST SCENE: The chest hair scene.
BEST LINE: "Tell me, what's Curious George like in real life."

27. Swingers (Doug Liman, 1996)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Wannabe actors become regulars in the stylish neo-lounge scene; Trent teaches his friend Mike the unwritten rules of the scene.
PERFORMERS: Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Ron Livingston (Rob)
INTERESTING FACTS: Favreau wrote the screenplay based on his personal experience moving to California and hanging out with his friends, Vaughn and Livingston (the men are basically playing themselves)...Vaughn's father and Favreau's grandmother play lucky gamblers at the casino...Trent, Mikey, Sue, Rob, and Charles are supposed to represent the members of the original Rat Pack: Sinatra, Martin, Lawford, Bishop, and Davis
BEST SCENE: Trent and Mikey in the casino.
BEST LINE: "Hey! What're you kicking me for? You want me to ask? All right, I'll ask! Ma'am, where do the high school girls hang out in this town?"

26. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart, 1971)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A poor boy wins the oppurtunity to tour the most eccentric and wonderful candy factory of all.
PERFORMERS: Gene Wilder, Peter Ostrum
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe)
INTERESTING FACTS: Ostrum (who played Charlie) never made another film; he went on to become a veterinarian...The movie quotes several Shakespeare plays, including Romeo & Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and As You Like It...Sammy Davis, Jr. wanted to play Bill, the candy store owner, but producers thought it would be too kitschy; the song "Candyman" was later a staple of Davis's stage act
BEST SCENE: The opening scene in the factory.
BEST LINE: "The strawberries taste like strawberries. The snozzberries taste like snozzberries!"

25. The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan, 1999)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A boy who communicates with spirits that don't know they're dead seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist.
PERFORMERS: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Toni Collette (Lynn Sear)
INTERESTING FACTS: "I see dead people" was #44 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest Movie Lines of All-Time...Liam Aiken (who plays the little boy in Stepmom and the kid in the Lemony Snicket movies) turned down the part of Cole...#89 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest Movies of All-Time
BEST SCENE: Malcolm realizing that he is dead.
BEST LINE: "You ever feel the prickly things on the back of your neck?...And the tiny hairs on your arm, you know when they stand up? That's them. When they get mad... it gets cold."

24. 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A dissenting juror in a murder trial slowly manages to convince the others that the case is not as obviously clear as it seemed in court.
PERFORMERS: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jack Warden (Juror #7)
INTERESTING FACTS: Jack Klugman is the only juror still alive today...John Fiedler, who played Juror #2, provided the voice for Piglet in several Winnie the Pooh movies (he is from Platteville, WI)...#87 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest Movies of All-Time
BEST SCENE: The other 11 jurors turning their backs on #10 after his racist rant.
BEST LINE: "It's always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don't really know what the truth is. I don't suppose anybody will ever really know. Nine of us now seem to feel that the defendant is innocent, but we're just gambling on probabilities - we may be wrong. We may be trying to let a guilty man go free, I don't know. Nobody really can. But we have a reasonable doubt, and that's something that's very valuable in our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it's SURE. We nine can't understand how you three are still so sure. Maybe you can tell us."

23. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Dorothy Gale is swept away to a magical land in a tornado and embarks on a quest to see the Wizard who can help her return home.
PERFORMERS: Judy Garland
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow)
INTERESTING FACTS: Buddy Ebsen was cast as the Tinman, but was dropped because of a reaction to the aluminum powder make-up..."Over the Rainbow" was #1 on the American Film Institute's List of the 100 Greatest Movie Songs of All-Time..."Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore" (62) and "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" (24) were both on the AFI's list of the 100 Greatest Movie Lines of All-Time
BEST SCENE: The Scarecrow's first scene.
BEST LINE: "I think I'll miss you most of all."

22. Field of Dreams (Phil Alden Robinson, 1989)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: An Iowa corn farmer, hearing voices, interprets them as a command to build a baseball diamond in his fields; he does, and the Chicago Black Sox come.
PERFORMERS: Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Burt Lancaster (Moonlight Graham)
INTERESTING FACTS: In a review of the movie, W.P. Kinsella (the author of the novel) gave it four out of five stars for two reasons: Mark wasn't villainous enough, and he didn't think that Gaby Hoffman looked like she could be Kevin Costner and Amy Madigan's child...Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are among the thousands of extras in the Fenway Park scene...Archibald "Moonlight" Graham was a real baseball player that played one game for the New York Giants in 1905 before quitting to become a doctor
BEST SCENE: Ray and his dad "having a catch."
BEST LINE: "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time."

21. Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: An office employee and a soap salesman build a global organization to help vent male aggression.
PERFORMERS: Ed Norton, Brad Pitt
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Meat Loaf (Bob Paulson)
INTERESTING FACTS: Norton and Pitt really got drunk for the scene in which they hit golfballs, and the balls were sailing into the side of the catering truck...Norton's character is identified only as "The Narrator" in the credits..."The first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club" was #27 on the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Movie Lines of All-Time
BEST SCENE: The Narrator beating himelf up at work.
BEST LINE: "Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel's life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted."

Later gators.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

top 50 movies (40-31)

If you're wondering what my criteria are for deciding the Top 50 Movies of All-Time, here's the process:

1. Go to numerous web sites and write down movies that I like.
2. Open a Word document, and type in the name of the first one on the list. For example, The Godfather.
3. Locate the second one on the list (for example, Superbad), and ask myself, Which one is better? In some cases (this is probably one), the answer is obvious, so I put Superbad in there below The Godfather. In some cases, it's trickier (Dog Day Afternoon v. The Negotiator), so I try to decide, when I am lying on my deathbed and only have 2 hours left to live, which I will want to watch. In this case, it's The Negotiator, so there you go.
4. Locate the next movie on the list, and go through the same process. (In this case, The Godfather is better than Superbad, but Superbad is better than The Negotiator.) And so on.

And now, #40-31...

40. Superbad (Greg Mottola, 2007)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Two co-dependent high school seniors are forced to deal with separation anxiety after their plan to stage a booze-soaked party goes awry.
PERFORMERS: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Foggell)
INTERESTING FACTS: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg started writing this movie when they were 13...In the party scenes, apple juice was used for hard liquor, water was used for vodka, and non-alcoholic beer was used for beer...Because Mintz-Plasse was 17 at the time of shooting, his mother had to be on set for his sex scene
BEST SCENE: The home ec scene.
BEST LINE: "Muhammad is the most commonly-used name on Earth. Read a f***ing book for once."

39. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich, 2003)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A father-son underwater adventure featuring Nemo, a boy clownfish, stolen from his coral reef home. His timid father must then travel to Sydney, and search Sydney Harbour find Nemo.
PERFORMERS: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Andrew Stanton (Crush)
INTERESTING FACTS: Holds the all-time record for first day home release sales with 8 million copies sold in the United States...Andrew Stanton claims to have modeled the voice for Crush after Sean Penn's character in Fast Time at Ridgemont High...A stuffed version of Nemo appears in Boo's room in the movie Monsters, Inc., which was released two years earlier
BEST SCENE: Dory trying to communicate with the whales.
BEST LINE: "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming."

38. Ocean's Eleven (Steven Soderbergh, 2001)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Danny Ocean and his ten accomplices plan to rob three Las Vegas casinos simultaneously.
PERFORMERS: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Carl Reiner
INTERESTING FACTS: The following actors were all slated for roles in the movie but dropped out for one reason or another: Bruce Willis, Mark Wahlberg, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, and Alan Alda (Wilson, Wilson, and Glover dropped the project to film The Royal Tennenbaums)...At Danny's parole board hearing, there was originally a line in the script where he asks the parole board members how much they make, but the line was cut when actual parole board members advised Soderbergh that an inmate would never be granted parole if he asked such a question
BEST SCENE: The final heist.
BEST LINE: "I'm not sure what four nines does, but the ace, I think, is pretty high."

37. To Kill A Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his kids against prejudice.
PERFORMERS: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Estelle Evans (Calpurnia)
INTERESTING FACTS: The character Dill was modeled after Harper Lee's childhood friend Truman Capote...The film marked Robert Duvall's big screen debut (he played Boo Radley)...Atticus Finch was chosen as #1 on the American Film Institute's Top 100 Screen Heroes of All-Time, and the film was chosen as #2 on the AFI's Most Inspiring Movies of All-Time and #25 on their Top 100 Movies of All-Time
BEST SCENE: The dog scene.
BEST LINE: "Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passing."

36. Rain Man (Barry Levinson, 1988)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Selfish yuppie Charlie Babbitt's father left a fortune to his savant brother Raymond and a pittance to Charlie; they travel cross-country.
PERFORMERS: Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Michael D. Roberts (Vern)
INTERESTING FACTS: Dustin Hoffman originally wanted Bill Murray to play the part of Charlie...Raymond was originally supposed to be mentally challenged, but Hoffman insisted that he be an autistic savant...The screenplay was written with Dennis and Randy Quaid in mind for the leads
BEST SCENE: Raymond and the toothpicks.
BEST LINE: "I'm sorry ma'am, I lied to you. I'm very sorry about that. That man right there is my brother and if he doesn't get to watch People's Court in about 30 seconds, he's gonna throw a fit right here on your porch. Now you can help me or you can stand there and watch it happen."

35. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: After a simple jewelery heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.
PERFORMERS: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Steve Buscemi
INTERESTING FACTS: Aside from the opening credits, the film makes no reference to the term "reservoir dogs"...During filming, a paramedic was kept on site to make sure that Mr. Orange's blood loss was consistent with that of a real gunshot victim...The following actors were all under consideration for parts in the movie: James Woods, George Clooney, David Duchovny, and Christopher Walken
BEST SCENE: Mr. Blonde cutting off the cop's ear to "Stuck in the Middle."
BEST LINE: "If you shoot me in a dream, you'd better wake up and apologize."

34. Fargo (Joel Coen, 1996)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Jerry Lundegaard's inept crime falls apart due to his and his henchmen's bungling and the persistent police work of pregnant Marge Gunderson.
PERFORMERS: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: John Carroll Lynch (Norm Gunderson)
INTERESTING FACTS: The film is not, as it claims, "based on a true story"...William H. Macy begged the directors for the role of Jerry Lundegaard. He did two readings for the part, and became convinced he was the best man for the role. When the Coens didn't get back to him on the subject, he flew to New York (where they were commencing production) and said, "I'm very, very worried that you are going to screw up this movie by giving this role to somebody else. It's my role, and I'll shoot your dogs if you don't give it to me"
BEST SCENE: Marge interviewing Jerry at the car dealership.
BEST LINE: "And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper."

33. Shrek (Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson, 2001)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: An ogre, in order to regain his swamp, travels along with an annoying donkey in order to bring a princess to a scheming lord, wishing himself King.
PERFORMERS: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Conrad Vernon (The Gingerbread Man)
INTERESTING FACTS: Chris Farley was originally cast as Shrek and even recorded the dialogue, but after he died, the part was given to Myers...The principal actors never read together...First winner of the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar
BEST SCENE: The Gingerbread Man's interrogation.
BEST LINE: "Blue flower, red thorns. Blue flower, red thorns. Blue flower, red thorns. This would be so much easier if I wasn't COLOR BLIND!"

32. Chicago (Rob Marshall, 2002)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Murderesses Velma Kelly (a chanteuse and tease who killed her husband and sister after finding them in bed together)and Roxie Hart (Who killed her boyfriend when she discovered he wasn't going to make her a star) find themselves on death row together and fight for the fame that will keep them from the gallows in 1920s Chicago.
PERFORMERS: Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: John C. Reilly
INTERESTING FACTS: Chicago joins American Gigolo, Days of Heaven, and An Officer and a Gentleman as films that John Travolta has turned down and eventually went to Richard Gere...An earlier film version of the musical starring Frank Sinatra, Goldie Hawn, and Liza Manelli was canceled when Bob Fosse, who was to be involved, died in 1987...Was named one of the 20 Most Overrated Movies of All-Time by Premiere
BEST SCENE: The Cell Block Tango.
BEST LINE: "You're a free woman, Roxie Hart. And God save Illinois."

31. Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, 2006)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A family determined to get their young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant take a cross-country trip in their VW bus.
PERFORMERS: Abigail Breslin, Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Alan Arkin
INTERESTING FACTS: All of the girls participating in the beauty pageant, except for Breslin, were actual beauty pageant regulars...When producers cast Steve Carell for the film, they worried that he wasn't a big enough star and didn't have enough acting experience; between the time the movie wrapped and the time it was released, The 40-Year-Old Virgin was released and The Office debuted on NBC
BEST SCENE: Olive dancing to "Super Freak."
BEST LINE: "I'm madly in love with you, and it's not because of your brains or your personality."

Later gators.

Monday, November 5, 2007

top 50 movies (50-41)

So this was going to be a Top 10 list, but it was impossible. Top 5 were easy, but it was impossible to differentiate between 10 and 11. (It was also impossible to differentiate between 50 and 51, but I felt less guilty because the movies were less great.) So instead, we're going with a 5-day installment, but before we begin...

HONORABLE MENTION: American Beauty, American History X, Back to the Future, Big Fish, Boogie Nights, Fletch, Hotel Rwanda, Major League, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Saving Private Ryan, The Shining

And now, the Top 50 Movies of All-Time...

50. Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A man robs a bank to pay for his lover's operation; it turns into a hostage situation and a media circus.
PERFORMERS: Al Pacino, John Cazale
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Charles Durning
INTERESTING FACTS: Based on the real-life story of John Wojtowicz (who watched The Godfather, starring Al Pacino and John Cazale, the day he robbed the bank)...Pacino's performance as Sonny Wortkiz was #4 on Premiere's list of the 100 Greatest Performances of All-Time..."Attica! Attica!" was #86 on the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All-Time
BEST SCENE: The phone conversation between Sonny and Leon.
BEST LINE: "Attica! Attica!"

49. Bull Durham (Ron Shelton, 1988)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A fan who has an affair with one minor-league baseball player each season meets an up-and-coming pitcher and the experienced catcher assigned to him.
PERFORMERS: Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Robert Wuhl
INTERESTING FACTS: In a memorable line, Costner says he believes "Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone"; in JFK, Costner plays Jim Garrison, who devoted much of his life to proving that the JFK assassination was a conspiracy...The part of Crash Davis was originally written for Kurt Russell, who helped Shelton develop the script...Sarandon and Robbins both claim that of all the films they've worked on in their respective careers, this is their favorite
BEST SCENE: The rain-out scene.
BEST LINE: "Well, Nuke's scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man's here. We need a live...is it a live rooster? We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose's glove, and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present...We're dealing with a lot of shit."

48. Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A man, suffering from short-term memory loss, uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife.
PERFORMERS: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Ann Moss
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Joe Pantoliano
INTERESTING FACTS: Anterograde Amnesia is the real-life name for the condition that Leonad suffers from in the film...Alec Baldwin was Nolan's first choice for the role of Leonard...The screenplay is based on a short story ("Memento Mori") by Nolan's brother (Jonathan Nolan)
BEST SCENE: Natalie reveals that she is helping Leonard because her boyfriend was killed by Teddy.
BEST LINE: "My wife deserves vengance. Doesn't make a difference whether I know about it. Just becuase there are things I don't remember doesn't make my actions meaningless. The world doesn't just disappear when you close your eyes, does it?"

47. The Negotiator (F. Gary Gray, 1998)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: In a desperate attempt to prove his innocence, a skilled police negotiator accused of corruption and murder takes hostages in a government office to gain the time he needs to find the truth.
PERFORMERS: Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Paul Giamatii
INTERESTING FACTS: Spacey was originally supposed to play Jackson's part, and Sylvester Stallone was supposed to play Spacey's part...The movie is dedicated to the late J.T. Walsh
BEST SCENE: Danny embarrassing Farley when he tries to talk Danny down.
BEST LINE: "You hurt one of them, you burn up any currency you have with me. They're all I care about. Getting you out of here alive... a distant second."

46. Unbreakable (M. Night Shyamalan, 2000)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: A suspense thriller with supernatural overtones that revolves around a man who learns something extraordinary about himself after a devastating accident.
PERFORMERS: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Spencer Treat Clark
INTERESTING FACTS: Eljiah (the name of Jackson's character) is a biblical character who returns to Earth to pave the way for the return of the savior...Three times before he is identified as "Mr. Glass" (as a newborn, as a child, and in the art studio), Elijah is revealed through a reflection (the delivery room mirrors, the TV screen, a glass frame)...Alliterative names (like David Dunn) are common for the "secret identities" of superheroes (Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Clark Kent, etc.)
BEST SCENE: David Dunn coming to the realization that Elijah caused all of those accidents while trying to find him.
BEST LINE: "To answer your question, there are two reasons why I'm looking at you like this. One because it seems in a few minutes you will officially be the only survivor of this train wreck, and two, because you didn't break one bone, you don't have a scratch on you."

45. Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Police drama about two cops, one new and one about to retire, after a serial killer using the seven deadly sins as his MO.
PERFORMERS: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: R. Lee Ermey
INTERESTING FACTS: Kevin Spacey's character is identified in the credits only as "John Doe" (REM's Michael Stipe was once considered for the role)...Spacey was originally supposed to receive top billing at the beginning of the movie, but Spacey insisted that his name not appear at the beginning at all, so as to hide the identity of the killer (his name is, however, first in the closing credits)...Denzel Washington turned down the part that went to Brad Pitt
BEST SCENE: Mills, Somerset, and John Doe in the car ride before they find Mills's wife's head.
BEST LINE: "I've been trying to figure something in my head, and maybe you can help me out, yeah? When a person is insane, as you clearly are, do you know that you're insane?"

44. The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen, 1998)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: "Dude" Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.
PERFORMERS: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: John Turturro
INTERESTING FACTS: In an early draft of the script, it is revealed that the Dude made his money because he was the heir to the Rubik's Cube fortune, but Coen decided to cut that part and never explain it...The word "dude" is spoken 160 times in the movie, or roughly 1.5 times per minutes...White Russian: 2 parts vodka, 1 part Kahlua, 1 part cream
BEST SCENE: Walter's eulogy for Donnie.
BEST LINE: "Obviously you don't golf."

43. Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Dr. Frankenstein's grandson, after years of living down the family reputation, inherits granddad's castle and repeats the experiments.
PERFORMERS: Gene Wilder, Teri Garr
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Marty Feldman
INTERESTING FACTS: Gene Hackman plays Harold, the Blind Man, but was uncredited in the original cut...Wilder's performance as Dr. Frankenstein was #9 on Premiere's list of the 100 Greatest Performances of All-Time...Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler wrote the band's hit song "Walk This Way" the day after seeing the movie, inspired by Feldman's famous line
BEST SCENE: The revolving bookcase.
BEST LINE: "What hump?"

42. Knocked Up (Judd Apatow, 2007)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: For fun loving party animal Ben Stone, the last thing he ever expected was for his one night stand to show up on his doorstep eight weeks later to tell him she's pregnant.
PERFORMERS: Seth Rogen, Katherie Heigl, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Kristen Wiig
INTERESTING FACTS: James Franco, who starred in Freaks and Geeks with Seth Rogen, was considered for the part of Ben Stone...Originally, the movie was supposed to be a follow-up to The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Rogen, et al. were supposed to reprise their roles as the Smart Tech guys
BEST SCENE: Alison and Debbie trying to get into the club.
BEST LINE: "Marriage is like a tense, unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond, only it doesn't last 22 minutes. It lasts forever."

41. Office Space (Mike Judge, 1999)
IMDB PLOT OUTLINE: Comedic tale of company workers who hate their jobs and decide to rebel against their greedy boss.
PERFORMERS: Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Stephen Root
INTERESTING FACTS: Peter lives in the Morningwood Apartments...Milton's stapler was created by the prop department because Swingline didn't make any staplers bright enough to be seen on film (after the movie, Swingline began producing red staplers)
BEST SCENE: The guys destroying the printer in the field.
BEST LINE: "Why should I change? He's the one who sucks."

Later gators.

Friday, November 2, 2007

snowflake

This is the story of the day I killed Lydia Martin's cat.

I used to teach American Literature and Advanced Composition at Three Rivers High School. School let out at 2:42, and while our contract required us to stay until 3:15 Monday through Thursday, we were allowed to leave immediately after the final bell on Fridays, and on this particular Friday, that’s what I did.

I lived on Haydn Court, a cul-de-sac in the Sonatas, a relatively new housing development in Three Rivers. Andy and Becky Martin lived in the house to our left and had been close friends since we moved into our respective homes in the summer of 2003. Andy and I were the same age--26 at the time--but Becky was a bit older than Annie, and while their daughter Lydia had just turned five, Annie was pregnant with our first. Becky and Annie scrapbooked together, and Andy and I played on the same 16-inch softball team. We barbecued a lot. When they went on trips, we took care of their cat, Snowflake.

On that Friday afternoon, I pulled onto our street looking forward to a few minutes of alone time--on Friday afternoons, Annie was the Story Lady at the grade school, where they began and ended half an hour later than we did at the high school. As I pulled into our driveway, I saw what appeared to be a dead squirrel lying in front of the Martins’ driveway. It was not. It was Snowflake. Shit. Now, I didn’t like Snowflake--or any cats, or animals in general, for that matter--but I did like Lydia. Annie and I lost our daughter, Reagan, shortly after she was born, but I always imagined that she might have turned out a little like Lydia--pretty and precocious and confident. I always enjoyed the stories and the jokes and the magic tricks that she would share when our families got together to throw steaks on the grill. She had bright eyes and a great laugh. Sometimes, I would watch her after school until her parents got home. I would be watching her that afternoon, in fact. And Lydia loved that cat.

I paused for a moment, wondering what the hell I was going to do. Lydia would be home at 3:30. I didn’t look forward to telling her that Snowflake was dead--in fact, I tried to imagine a scenario in which I wouldn’t have to do it at all--but for her to actually see her cat this way would have been devastating. And as I stood at the curb, arms crossed, the situation became even more complicated when I heard Snowflake take a labored, raspy breath. Her chest moved almost imperceptibly. I watched more closely, thinking that I must have imagined it. Her tail was bloody and raw. Pink, bubblegum organs bulged out of the exposed side of her body where the white fur had been torn off. Her legs were flattened, and one was folded up underneath her body. Her mouth was wide open, and her eyes were motionless, barely open. She breathed again.

“Holy fuck,” I said to myself. Or maybe I just thought it. Who knows? I looked at my watch. 3:20. Snowflake breathed once more, then I turned and walked quickly to the garage. I returned in a moment with a shovel, which I used to scoop up Snowflake’s nearly-dead body. I got her on the first try, but she slipped off as I tried to lift her. She was stuck. All the dried blood had plastered her tail to the pavement. I reached down and pinched the tip of her tail between my thumb and forefinger. I looked the other way, then slowly peeled Snowflake’s tail off the street. When the tail had been liberated, I stood again and tried to shovel her back up, but this time couldn’t get her to stay. Instead, I pushed her around the cul-de-sac for a few seconds, much the same way that I sometimes push around that last bite of rice on my plate on nights when Annie decides to make Chinese food. I usually end up trapping the rice with my finger. Here, I used the curb to trap Snowflake, then I slid the shovel beneath her. I extended my arms as far as I could while keeping Snowflake balanced on the shovel, then carried her into my backyard.

I laid the body beside the air conditioner and wiped some sweat from my brow. There was really only one option, but I closed my eyes, searching for alternatives. None came to mind, and I didn’t have time for brainstorming, so I wrapped my hands tightly around the handle of the shovel, lifted it as high as I could, then opened my eyes and drove the edge of it hard into Snowflake’s throat. Her head rolled to one side, but her body stayed put. A split second later, I heard the kind of scream that you brace yourself for at horror movies when the heroine is about to enter the room where the psychopathic killer is hiding. It was Lydia.

I glanced at my watch. 3:28. She was early. I turned and tried to use my body to hide her dead cat. Lydia looked at me with a pitiful combination of confusion and disgust.

“Why did you do that?” she whispered. In her eight-year-old mind, this had been an act of malice rather than compassion. I knelt down.

“Lydia, I want you to listen to me. Snowflake was hit by a car.”

“Liar!” she screamed. “You killed her!” And with that she turned and ran home, sobbing.

You couldn’t blame her. To a perfectly rational adult the situation would have looked suspicious. In fact, Lydia’s misconception was much more logical to her than the truth would have been to almost anyone. I took my cell phone out of my pocket and dialed Annie. She answered after two rings.

“Hey you,” she said. She was in a good mood, I could tell. She was always in a good mood after Story Time.

“Um, hey,” I said.

“You sound weird.”

“Yeah, well, something awful happened.”

She paused for a moment. “What is it?”

“Snowflake got hit by a car.”

“Christ, Charlie, you scared the hell out of me. I thought it was your father.”

“No, no. Just Snowflake, but it was pretty bad.”

“Is she dead?”

“Yeah. Now she is. Only she wasn’t when I found her. She was close. Practically dead. And Lydia was on her way home.”

“Okay,” she said, drawing out the second syllable of the word in a confused way.

“So I killed her. Snowflake. I put her out of her misery really.”

“Jesus.”

“I know, but that’s not the worst part. Lydia saw me do it.”

“Shit, Charlie! How the hell did that happen?”

I explained to my wife what had happened. She considered the situation.

“Where is she now?” Annie asked.

“She went home. I don’t know what to do. Do I go try to talk to her?”

She thought about it. “No. I’m sure she’s just crying in her bedroom. Let her be. I’ll be home in ten minutes and I can go try to calm her down. Just clean that shit up for now.”

I told her okay, then ran inside, grabbed a garbage bag, and returned to that spot by the air conditioner. I turned the bag inside-out, the way you do when you’re picking up dog shit, and I lifted Snowflake’s body. It was still warm. Once her body was securely in the bag, I did the same thing with her head, which felt smaller than I thought it would. I cinched the bag and carried it to the edge of the woods that run along our property on the north side. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the bag that contained Snowflake, but I knew that I couldn’t keep it in our garbage--the smell was already pretty close to unbearable--and I sure as hell wasn’t putting it in my car to take it anywhere, not even in the trunk. So I set it down and began to dig.

It was the end of March, and in Wisconsin, that means that the snow has been reduced to patches here and there. The sun was out--I remember that I wasn’t wearing a jacket--and that meant that the soil was soft, easy to dig. I worked quickly, and it was only a few minutes before I had a hole big enough, I thought, to bury a cat in. I bent down to pick up the bag, and that’s when I heard footsteps. They were squishy--I told you that the ground was soft and wet--and I flinched, thinking that a raccoon or a deer was approaching. Instead, it was Lydia. With a loud grunt, something louder than I would have thought such a sweet girl was capable of, she stabbed me hard in the lower back. I instinctively backhanded her across the face, but it barely fazed her. She got in three more sharp jabs--one more to my lower back and two to my side--before I dropped to one knee. She looked me in the eye, drew back her right hand like a pitcher about to deliver a fastball, and thrust the blade of her mother’s kitchen knife deep into my throat.

It was about this time that Annie parked her car next to mine in our driveway and shut off the engine. I sometimes wonder how long she looked at the splattered blood and the patches of dirty white fur where Snowflake had lain for who knows how long before I found her that afternoon. Did she stand in the street and imagine what happened? Or did she cover her eyes, afraid that her weak stomach wouldn’t be able to handle it? Perhaps she vomited. (But this is unlikely, isn’t it? It was only a dead animal. She had no doubt seen a few on her drive home.) At any rate, she got out of her car and walked to the Martins’ front door, which Lydia had left open. She called out to Lydia, but there was no answer. She walked up to the pink bedroom with the Dora the Explorer bedspread. Also empty, so she went back down the hallway, down the stairs, and into the kitchen. Surely she didn’t notice one missing knife from the block on the new, granite countertop.

She walked to the sliding glass door, and then she screamed, and then she opened the door and sprinted across the lawn to the edge of the woods. She stopped and dropped to her knees with her head in her hands, surveying the scene. There sat Lydia, contentedly petting the headless body of her bloody white cat. And beside the two of them, I was slumped over, my head in a shallow, muddy hole, a knife wedged in my throat. She knelt there for a long time, my wife, watching me closely, just waiting for me to take even one labored, raspy breath.