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Darren McGavin died on February 25, 2006 at the age of 84.
I’ve been traveling this week, and it’s beautiful outside here in Athens, so if you’ll forgive me, we’re going to keep this week’s missive brief. The Oscars are Sunday. They will be hosted by the guy I once only knew as this guy:
I will stay up and watch them, because I’ve been staying up to watch them for 25 years. I know they are silly and self-indulgent and I will still always watch them. This is not something I am proud of, but if we were proud of every single thing about ourselves, we would all be assholes.
Here is my definitive ranking of the Best Picture winners since I started staying up to watch the Oscars in 1992.
25. Crash, directed by Paul Haggis (2006). You saw this coming. Grierson wrote a great piece on this last year.
24. The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius (2012). A pleasant gimmick when it came out feels even more gimmicky now. I didn’t understand the affection for this movie at the time, and I feel pretty vindicated by the fact that I’m pretty sure it hasn’t come up in a single conversation in at least three years.
23. Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle (2009). Of all the Danny Boyle movies, this is the one that wins Best Picture. It hasn’t aged well, dramatically or “problematically.”
22. Chicago, directed by Rob Marshall (2003). I didn’t understand why Grierson had this as his best movie of 2002 back then, and I still don’t understand it now.
21. American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes (2000). My disdain for this movie is well-documented, but even I can admit that Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening and Wes Bentley are all great in it. Man, though, that Chris Cooper character, yikes.
20. Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis (1995). Tom Hanks saves this from being even more of an overwrought mess than it is, but it gets knocked a couple spots anyway because it beat Pulp Fiction. In college, I wrote a piece for the Daily Illini that argued you could learn everything you needed to know about a person by their answer to “which movie do you like better: Forrest Gump or Pulp Fiction?” I still believe this.
19. The English Patient, directed by Anthony Minghella (1997). I’ll always prefer Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.
18. A Beautiful Mind, directed by Ron Howard (2002). This movie is ... fine. It’s fine. Russell Crowe is good in it. He’s better in The Insider and L.A. Confidential.
17. Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott (2001). And Gladiator, for that matter.
16. The King’s Speech, directed by Tom Hooper (2011). The ending of this thing is really inspiring, which both supports and disguises the fact that this is essentially a sports movie, with the King as Rocky and Geoffrey Rush as Mickey. There’s even a montage sequence!
15. Million Dollar Baby, directed by Clint Eastwood (2005). The ending is still a little overwrought to me, and the way Eastwood portrays Hilary Swank’s family still grates.
14. Argo, directed by Ben Affleck (2013). A fun little thriller that confirms that Ben Affleck is a reliably muscular and efficient director ... but honestly, how much of this movie do you remember today?
13. Shakespeare in Love, directed by John Madden (1999). Charming and funny and sweet, and I still can’t freaking believe it beat Saving Private Ryan.
12. Braveheart, directed by Mel Gibson (1996). Say it with me now: “Say what you want about Mel Gibson, but the son-of-a-bitch knows story structure!”
11. Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu (2015). Indulgent, over-the-top, annoyingly showoffy and still pretty fantastic, I have to say.
10. Unforgiven, directed by Clint Eastwood (1993). I’m not sure it’s appreciated enough just how incredible Gene Hackman is in this movie. He hasn’t been in a movie in 11 years. (Alexander Payne tried to get him for Nebraska, and as much as I like Bruce Dern, I think that would have helped that movie considerably.)
9. Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy (2016). I still feel like this is more an example of finely crafted professionalism than a particularly breathtaking work of art, but it’s still the sort of roll-up-your-sleeves movie I love.
8. The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow (2010). Zero Dark Thirty was better ... but that’s about the only bad thing I have to say here. (OK, the Kate-from-Lost scenes were pretty rote.)
7. Titanic, directed by James Cameron (1998). No revisionism here: Despite all its (numerous) flaws, this movie knocked me on my ass when I saw it in 1997 and still packs a wallop today. The last 45 minutes are just killer. There should be a way to digitally erase Billy Zane from this movie, though.
6. The Departed, directed by Martin Scorsese (2007). I love all of Scorsese, but I’ll confess, I prefer Pulpy Scorsese to Very Self-Consciously Serious Scorsese, so I’m glad this was the one that broke through and finally won for him.
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, directed by Peter Jackson (2004). Only twice since I started watching the Oscars did my No. 1 movie of the year win Best Picture. This was the first time.
4. No Country For Old Men, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (2008). Not in my top five Coen brothers movies, but still this high on this list, in case you were wondering how much of geniuses the Coen brothers are.
3. The Silence of the Lambs, directed by Jonathan Demme (1992). A genre serial killer flick that came out in February won Best Picture anyway just because it was so perfectly constructed and performed. I’ll put its lotion in the basket anytime.
2. 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen (2014). Only twice since I started watching the Oscars did my No. 1 movie of the year win Best Picture. This was the second time.
1. Schindler’s List, directed by Steven Spielberg (1994). I still don’t think it’s the best movie of that year — that would be Short Cuts — but it’s still pretty jaw-dropping today. Drop the epilogue, and it’s essentially perfect.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)
1. Backlash to Dexter Fowler Shows Ugly Minority of Cardinals Fans, Sports On Earth. This one got me yelled at by a bunch of people with whom I usually have much agreement. This isn’t always true, but generally speaking: That often means something has clicked correctly.
2. Review: “Get Out,” The New Republic. This is an excellent movie, and I thought I did a good job of explaining why.
3. The Case for Rooting Against Northwestern For a Tournament Bid, Sports On Earth. There are a ton of legitimate reasons to cheer against Northwestern — Google “Johnnie Vassar” — but I didn’t want this piece to be overly serious in that way: I’m just trying to be silly and have fun with this one. (Still, though, you should cheer against them.)
4. Georgia-Kentucky and the Worst Sports Fan I Know, Sports On Earth. This was a fun column, but since I’m talking about a real guy, I tried not to get too harsh about it or bring anything too personal into it. To each his own, you know?
5. Your NL West Predictions, Sports On Earth. Buy, buy those Rockies.
6. Oscar Predictions, 2017, The New Republic. Guaranteed to be wrong.
7. MLB Stars Who Are Still Making History in 2017, Sports On Earth. Sometimes I just need to look at baseball statistics for an hour.
As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the three podcasts I do. You don’t even have to listen to them! Just download them. Here they are:
Grierson & Leitch, big Oscar predictions episode, as well as discussions of The Great Wall and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
The Will Leitch Experience, the weekly baseball shows with Alyson Footer are back, yay!.
Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, we had a live show at Tailgate Georgia, good place.
Also, the last half of this newsletter was written with a two-year-old on my lap, so forgive all typos and germs.
Have a great weekend, everyone.