The Ghosts of Christmas Past (or “Oh crap, another list…”)

There are so many different ways to get into the holiday spirit – and lots and lots of ways to get out of it; attempting to navigate any mall or market during the month of December makes me want to commit harakiri – but, with the possible exception of the annual release of the new Glee Christmas album, few are as effective as the holiday films that we grew up watching. Last week, I mentioned that “it wasn’t Christmas” until I got to see The Muppet Christmas Carol (and on the big screen? BRILLIANCE), and that goes for a few more movies as well. And so, with links to lots of videos that will hopefully delight you too, I bring to you the b-roll “It just isn’t Christmas until…” list.

Please note that you won’t find a lot of old stand-bys in this post, but there are several Muppets. I know that it’s a wonderful life because Santa performs miracles on 34th street, but these are my favorites. Feel free to submit yours in the comments.


…Gonzo (as Charles Dickens) calls Rizzo the Rat an idiot. (The Muppet Christmas Carol)

Yes, I know I lifted this right from my earlier post, but it’s true. This just might be my very favorite Christmas movie; I know every single word of it and am not even remotely ashamed of that fact. Muppet Christmas Carol does a superb job of blending the timeless Dickens classic with zany Muppet genius, and has moments of such humor (“Light the lamp, not the rat! LIGHT THE LAMP NOT THE RAT!”) and sweetness (“Bless Us All” is really quite a tear-jerker) that you can’t help but love it. See for yourself, won’t you?

Although (and, if you’re totally unaware of how A Christmas Carol ends, kinda spoiler alert): When I saw this film in the theater and Scrooge sang that he would “promise to share the wealth,” I laughed aloud, then prayed that there wasn’t a Fox News employee in attendance. Lord help us.

…Charlie Brown rescues the most pathetic little tree in the world. (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

Who said there were no classics on my list? Incidentally, for a children’s holiday program, this is one helluva sad little show; not only is Charlie Brown suffering from such a deep clinical depression that he sees a (unlicensed) therapist, but it’s then exacerbated by the local townschildren (and dog) mercilessly telling him how useless he is. Thank God for Linus and his blankie of wisdom. I know the show’s message is peace on earth and anti-materialism, and that’s awesome, but I’ll be honest, I watch for two reasons: To recreate the BEST. DANCE MOVES. EVER. (my favorites – the “head nod” and the “zombie”), and to throw my head back and croon “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” along with the Peanuts gang (skip ahead to 2:45 in the clip). Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.

…Aunt Bethany leads the Griswold family in the Pledge of Allegiance. (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation)

This is one of those God, this is so stupid that it’s hilarious movies that I have been quoting for roughly 20 years. (My favorite line: “You couldn’t hear a dump truck driving through a nitroglycerin plant!”) Also, who didn’t dream of having a house as tackily illuminated as the Griswolds? As a child, I begged my dad to put lights on the house (or, as a compromise, at least the two-story-tall pine tree in our front yard; totally reasonable!), and he responded by nonchalantly chucking a string of lights into the tree beside the house, which has forever become known in my family as “the Clump in the Lilac Bush.” It was not the Griswoldian light show I was hoping for.

…the Swedish Chef tries to cook Big Bird for Christmas dinner. (A Muppet Family Christmas)

This is much less dark than it sounds; it’s actually quite hilarious in the context of the show (in which the Swedish Chef sees Big Bird, thinks he’s a large turkey, and cries, “Gobble Gobble HUMONGO!”). Also, Big Bird, in his sweet and wonderful way, wins the Swedish Chef over and they sing a duet together, so, all good. But what makes A Muppet Family Christmas special is, truly, “family”; the entire Jim Henson gang – Muppets, Fraggles, Sesame Street – come together for Christmas sing-alongs and clever quips, followed by a cameo from the man himself at the end. Magic, friends. Magic.

…Billy Mack tops the charts with the worst Christmas single ever. (Love Actually)

I think Bill Nighy is the highlight of Love Actually (hence above), but a romantic comedy full of awesome and attractive British actors? Hugh Grant dancing and Colin Firth adorably fumbling through a Portuguese proposal? Yes, please. Though the Emma Thompson/Alan Rickman and Laura Linney stories break my heart into pieces, and on behalf of women everywhere, I do wish the  “chubby girl” that Hugh Grant falls in love with in spite of her “enormous thighs” didn’t look exactly like a swimsuit model (with not-at-all-enormous thighs); right, it’s such a leap that he would like her. Still, it’s a great movie, and I know Garry Marshall’s been trying to Americanize Love Actually with Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, but the Brits just did this so much better. We’re embarrassing ourselves at this point. Just stop.

…Ralphie’s father receives a box that is “fra-gee-lay.” (A Christmas Story)

This movie is a little overplayed, sure (an annual 24-hour Christmas Eve marathon will do that), but it’s still a hilarious and classic film about Christmas through the eyes of a child (and the  “unbridled avarice” of Christmas morning). Everything about it just connects to childhood memories: The desperation for that present you absolutely had to have, the tearing apart of the wrapping paper then falling asleep under the tree, the poor dad who has to assemble or fix everything and swears a blue streak (my dad’s “tapestry of obscenities” is hanging in space over Lake Winnipesaukee, incidentally). It’s perfect holiday nostalgia, wrapped up with a beautiful bow.

And with that, I am officially bathed in the holiday freaking spirit, b-rollers. And just for good measure, let me throw in a couple TV moments as well: Who else treasures a visit from The Holiday Armadillo? I love Friends and own all ten seasons on DVD, and for my money (literally, apparently), this was one of its funniest episodes (and spawned what might be my favorite Friends joke ever, when Rachel walks in to see the Armadillo, Santa, Superman and Monica lighting a menorah in a dimly lit room and quips, “It looks like the Easter Bunny’s funeral in here.” Maybe you had to be there.)

And finally, I wrote about how much I love The West Wing, and their first season’s Christmas episode, “In Excelsis Deo,” is one of the reasons why – moving, beautifully-written and edited, sensational. I’ve embedded the final five minutes of the episode below, but I highly recommend that you watch the whole thing.

And that, friends, is it until the New Year. Happy Holidays from b-roll.

TV of the Year, from the extremely limited perspective of b-roll

You know how I said that I wouldn’t be ranking my favorite shows and giving you a top whatever list? I kinda lied. I didn’t rank all of the shows, just the one that I think was not only the best show this year, but maybe even an all-time great – in my humble opinion, of course. And if you read my blog on a regular basis you will be shocked, SHOCKED, by what it is. (Shut up, it’s not Wheel of Fortune.) Anyway, scroll to the end if the suspense is killing you.

Otherwise, in no particular order other than my totally invented and nonsensical categorization, here is the Official (Really Long Form) b-roll 2011 TV Year in Review. Won’t you share your own thoughts in the comments?


The State of Television, according to b-roll

As a film/TV lover, I always enjoy that moment when all of the critics start rolling out their end-of-year “best of” lists, and everyone’s curiosity abruptly turns to outrage at the omission of their favorites. I usually clock in at “benign irritation,” but occasionally people go a little nuts; some comments are flat-out terrifying. It must be a delight for the critics, too, who all preface their write-ups with some variation of: “These are just my opinions. I know you’ll hate them and/or want to scream at me. Commence telling me how much I fail at life in 3…2…1…” You can just hear their fortifying deep breaths turning into sighs of resignation as readers angrily start to chime in.

It really promotes the seasonal feelings of love, joy and fellowship, this “best of the year!” thing.

The perils of doing one of these lists not as a professional critic but as a “for love of the game” blogger (and a sporadic one at that) is that I miss a ton of stuff; I don’t get screener DVDs or private sneak previews. Thus I don’t really want to do a “favorite movies of 2011” list yet; best to do that closer to the Oscars, once I’ve made a mad dash to catch up on the contenders.

But I watch a lot of TV. Sure, I don’t catch everything, but I watch. A lot. So – a list of television shows! Extra credit because I’ve been so movie-centric recently; a TV post is long overdue. So, here we are: the official b-roll Top (choose an arbitrary number) favorite TV Shows of 2011. Yes. This is good. Let’s get started.

Hey – is it me, or does TV kinda suck?

I mean, I watch it obsessively; day and night, my TV is on. And I DVR a good number of shows – I never watch anything but sporting events or Law & Order re-runs in real time – so it’s not like I don’t commit. But very few of them fall into the must-see category anymore.

Anyone else having this problem too?

Part of this is compounded by the DVD/Hulu effect; not only do I not have to watch shows the minute they air, I can catch up to them years later. I’m not going to cry over missing a show I should apparently be watching or fork out a ton of money for premium channels; I’ll just shrug and wait until they’re on Netflix (which, I’ve said before and I’ll say again: Netflix streaming is, without question, a gift from the baby Jesus). This is how I’m getting up to speed on Breaking Bad, though I’m not quite there yet. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I think there’s more to this Walter White fella than meets the eye.

So, rather than a top whatever list (because, hand to God, I’m not sure I can come up with 10 or so shows that I watch consistently and think are honestly worth recommending right now), how about a “Shows that were on television that I watched this year and think have some merit, so if you’re watching too, great, and if not, consider catching up on DVD or online” list? Catchy, right? And I’ll add a dash of “Shows that I still watch but have gone downhill and/or off a cliff,” maybe a couple of “Shows I DVR that I’m a little ashamed to admit I do” and just a splash of  “I’ve officially deleted you from my DVR, the hell with you, American Idol” (that may be just a rant about one show in particular). What say you to that?

So I’ll be back this weekend with my unranked thoughts. And in the meantime, a caveat: These are just my opinions. I know you’ll hate them and/or want to scream at me. Commence telling me how much I fail at life shortly.

The Best of Pixar, Volume 2

Happy Wednesday, b-rollers! It’s hotter than a certain afterlife destination here in DC, but I am happily ensconced in an air conditioned room and I hope that you are, too.

And now, right on schedule, here is my list of the Top 5 Pixar films! Try to contain yourselves, b-rollers…

PS: Forgotten the first part of my Pixar rankings? Click here to refresh your memory!


The Best of Pixar, Volume 1

Happy Wednesday, b-rollers! As promised, here is the first part of the official b-roll guide to Pixar. To refresh your memory, here is a list of all 11 of Pixar’s feature films (excluding the short yet delightful films that usually precede the main features), in order of release:

Toy Story
A Bug’s Life
Toy Story 2
Monsters, Inc.
Finding Nemo
The Incredibles
Toy Story 3

As always, these rankings reflect the opinion of b-roll and no one else. Feel free to (politely) disagree with me in the comment section below.

So without further ado, here are numbers 6-11. Drumroll, please…


Prelude to Pixar

Good evening, gentle b-rollers! I know what you’re thinking: Hey! You promised us a Pixar post today! What the hell?!

Yeah. About that. Allow me to explain, darling readers. I had an excellent plan for my Sunday. Step 1: Call b-roll Dad and wish him a happy Father’s Day (duh). Step 2: Go for a bicycle ride around the DC Mall. (Sure, I’m wildly out of shape, but it sounds like fun, no?) Step 3: Sit down to write part 1 of my Pixar ranking. It was to be a full yet delightful day.

Well, here’s what happened. By the time I finished Step 1 (hi Dad!) and headed out for my bike ride, it was early afternoon on a gloriously sunny summer day. Now, if you’ve never been to Washington in the summertime and need some background, the weather here from June through August can best be described as “outer circles of Hell, but more humid.” So I rounded the Mall in scorching 94-degree heat, enjoying the ride – it’s a marvelous trek, to be sure, although if you plan to bike the Mall you should be prepared to dodge visitors who stop abruptly to open a map and wonder aloud/loudly which museum is which – and by the time I was done, I felt overheated yet pleased that I had both exercised and avoided picking off any stray tourists. I walked home on increasingly-wobbly legs and cooked myself dinner (another energy-utilizing task to which I am not usually accustomed), and climbed into bed with my laptop to start my Pixar list, congratulating myself on my productive and satisfying day.

And here’s where the wheels came off the wagon, b-rollers. I had the best of intentions to commit myself to blogging, but alas, the heat and exercise finally took over. A state of semi-catatonia washed over me and all I could do was channel surf between the Red Sox game and the movie Remember the Titans while brief, uncomplicated thoughts swam through my head. Pedroia! I like him. Buchholz is pitching well. My legs hurt. Inning change – flip. The championship game scene. That’s exciting. Oh, the paralyzed guy. That was sad. My legs hurt. Commercial break – flip. Pedroia! I like him. My legs hurt. It was not a good time for an insightful and witty analysis of Ratatouille.

So in summation: The Pixar list has been slightly delayed. But fear not, faithful b-rollers, as I’ll be bringing you the first part of my Pixar list on Wednesday, with the second half – the top 5 Pixar movies ITHOOBR (In The Humble Opinion of B-Roll) – on Friday.

And in the meantime, I bring you a peace offering – a short animated feature to whet your appetite. This was produced as a student film at UCLA, and it came to my attention when it won an award from my company last year, and rightfully so, because IT. IS. AMAZING. Most Pixar movies make me weep by the ninety minute mark; this film gets me after four. So enjoy Sebastian’s Voodoo, and please return on Wednesday for The Best of Pixar, Volume 1. Til then, b-rollers.

Play Ball! #1-5

Hello, darling b-rollers! I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s #6-10 edition of b-roll’s Best Baseball Movies. Onward to my Top 5!

#5: The Natural
This is a great movie, but it primarily makes the list because of THE SCENE. Come on, you know it. Robert Redford hits the ball deep into the night and starts jogging in slow-motion, his side bleeding and sparks raining down upon him. The crowd goes insane. Randy Newman’s epic score – “da na…DA NA NA NA…” – blares as he circles the bases. Cue shivers down the spine of every baseball fan.
“You know, my Mama wanted me to be a farmer.”
“My Dad wanted me to be a baseball player.”
“Well, you’re better than any player I ever had. And you’re the best goddamn hitter I ever saw. Suit up.”
-Pop Fisher and Roy Hobbs

#4: Major League
Bad late-’80s style notwithstanding, don’t you just love everything about this movie? Tom Berenger’s deadpan catcher, Jake Taylor. Charlie Sheen rocking the tortoiseshells. Dennis Haysbert (alternately President Palmer or The Guy From the All-State Commercials, depending on whether you watch 24 or not) praying to Jobu with a snake around his neck. Wesley Snipes, pre-tax evasion. And, most delightfully of all, Bob Uecker’s droll, semi-drunk radio announcer, Harry Doyle. If you don’t watch baseball games and say “Just a bit outside!” at wild pitches, then you need to hand in your Baseball Fan Membership Card immediately. It is no longer valid.
“Hell of a situation we got here. Two on, two out, your team down by one in the ninth. You got a chance to be a hero on national television… if you don’t blow it. By the way, saw your wife last night, hell of a dancer, you must be very, very proud. I mean that guy she was with, I’m sure he’s a close personal friend and all. But tell me, what was he doing wearing her panties on his head? [Ball is popped up]. Uh oh, Rexy, I don’t think this one’s got the distance.”
-Jake Taylor to Rexman

#3: The Curse of the Bambino/Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino
I’m going to go ahead and plead my hardcore Red Sox fandom as the reason these documentaries are so high; Yankee fans, go ahead and skip to #2. The Curse of the Bambino was released in 2003 and explored the tortured history of the Red Sox from the perspective of fans (some famous, most not). After the Sox won the World Series in 2004 (gloriously humiliating the Yankees en route to doing so), the filmmakers collected the same fans for a sequel, and each person gleefully recounted what it was like to finally, FINALLY celebrate a championship. Of course, I empathized (and delighted) with each featured fan. But the scene that always gets me is when a rabbi shrewdly remarks that in the moment the team won it all, every Red Sox fan thought of someone who hadn’t lived to see it. Cut to family members placing Red Sox gear on gravestones; and cut to me, thinking of my grandfather and bawling. A must-see for any longtime Sox fan.
I live in New York. The day after [the 2004 ALCS in which the Red Sox beat the Yankees], I walked down the street like I was Spartacus.
Featured Fan (sorry, I forget his name; but he was hilarious).

#2: A League of Their Own
I got sucked into this movie again the other night. There I was, trying to come up with clever sentences about The Bad News Bears and Bull Durham at 11:30pm, and all I could do was crack up all over at Jon Lovitz’s profane scout and hold back tears when the War Department telegram was delivered (my God, that telegram scene). Many of the stars were never better than in this film – Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Lori Petty – and lest we forget, this was Tom Hanks’ “comeback” movie after a long, unfortunate dry spell. It’s part history lesson, part girl power, completely wonderful. And I still know the league’s theme song by heart (including the fabulously bizarre line, “She is not the one to use or need an alibi…”) Following quote is obvious, but cannot possibly be helped.
“Well I was just wonderin’ why you would throw home when we got a two-run lead! You let the tying run get on second base and we lost the lead because of you! Start using your head – that’s the lump that’s three feet above your ass!!! [Evelyn starts sobbing.] Are you crying? Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING? There’s no crying! THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!”
-Jimmy Dugan to Evelyn

#1: Field of Dreams
You remember last week, when I posted an item about how movies frequently make me cry? In a related story, I will always cry when I watch Field of Dreams – and so will most anyone. The themes of this film are inspiring (and profoundly corny): following your passion when those around you think that you’re crazy; making dreams come true for yourself and others; and reconnecting with those you love. That this happens through baseball makes Field of Dreams pure magic for any fan of the sport. And because I can’t say any of this as well as the film’s writers and James Earl Jones, here’s the longest, most relevant quote from my list.
“People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. 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. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
-Terence Mann

So, there you have it! Did your favorites make the list? What deserves to be higher or lower? Holler back!

Play Ball! #6-10

So, here we are! After my beloved Red Sox dropped two straight to the Dementors, I’m ready for a pick me up. Thank goodness we have the memories of these baseball movies to cheer me up, yes? Because THERE IS NO CRYING IN BASEBALL. (More on that tomorrow. Patience, people). So here are my #6-10 movies, complete with selected quotes from each. Warning: occasional spoilers and the odd salty language. Sorry. You’ve been warned.

Bull Durham#10: Bull Durham
I’ve seen this movie only once, and I feel like if I watched it again (and again, and again) it’d be higher on my list. Yes, I know that it’s a classic baseball film. I agree that it’s funny and sexy. I think it suffered from overhype; I expected it to be AMAZING (caps lock) and it was good (caps lock deactivated), and I never felt the urge to watch it repeatedly (like every movie above it on this list). But if you worship at the Church of Baseball, it’s worth seeing. At least once.
“God, that sucker teed off on that like he knew I was going to throw a fastball!”
“He did.”
“I told him.”
-Nuke LaLoosh and Crash Davis

#9: The Bad News Bears (1976)
God, I miss Walter Matthau. No one could personify “crusty old coot” as hilariously and effortlessly as he did (even when he was youngish). This movie is hilarious and completely politically incorrect – there are several quotes I couldn’t dream of using – and it’s undoubtedly an all-time sports flick. And the sight of young Tatum O’Neal blazing the ball past the disbelieving boys? Icing for every baseball-loving girl.
“There was nothing easy about those fly balls, Ahmad. They were tough chances! The sun was in your eyes!”
“Don’t give me none of your honky bullshit, Buttermaker. I know they were easy.”
“Let’s not bring race into this, Ahmad. We’ve got enough problems as it is.”
-Buttermaker and Ahmad

#8: The Rookie
Admittedly, this movie is rather cheesy. They lay it on a bit thick with the “Will the hero reconnect with his distant father through baseball?” storyline (which was already explored to superb effect in a movie that’s higher on my list – three guesses which). But how do you not love the guy changing his baby’s diaper minutes before pitching a 98 mph fastball? And how do you not tear up as he jogs into the big league stadium with his whole family, and students, AND THE ENTIRE TOWN watching and yes, I’m verklempt right now. Whatever.
“What pitches did you throw to get that strikeout?”
“Fastball, fastball, and…fastball.”
-TV Reporter and Jim Morris

#7: The Sandlot
Having worked in an after-school daycare during my high school years, I saw this movie about 74 times. But it’s not just a kid’s movie; it’s hilariously clever and eminently quotable. It’s also bittersweet and nostalgic; doesn’t it make you flash back to your own childhood baseball (or in my case, rec softball) games, and the friends you used to play them with? The only bad thing about this movie is that Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez grew up and apparently decided to spend his major league career sporting a porn star moustache. How could Smalls not step in to stop that from happening? I mean, seriously.
“Remember, kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”
-Babe Ruth

#6: Soul of the Game
An (unfortunately) obscure HBO film from 1996, Soul of the Game is the story of several Negro League stars in the years leading up to the integration of Major League Baseball. It’s a riveting film, and an essential history lesson for every baseball fan. I had no idea who Josh Gibson was, nor the full, complex reasons that Jackie Robinson was chosen as the first black player (it wasn’t just because of his baseball skills). If you can find it – and good luck, it’s not yet on Netflix – take a look. It’ll certainly make you wonder “What if?” (Warning: I couldn’t verify the quote online, as info is sparse; this quote is from my admittedly leaky memory, so it might not be entirely word-for-word accurate. But it’s pretty close).
“They know they can’t let me in because I’ll break all of their records – Ruth, Gehrig, every goddamn one!”
-Josh Gibson