Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Awesome Balls

My wife is a second grade teacher and seems to come home every day with a funny story from her "kids." Recently her kids were working on grammar and one of the exercises has the students fill in parts of speech on a worksheet. Noun, noun, noun, adjective-noun, etc.

The following is an exact copy of the assignment submitted by one of her students. She assured me that he is completely innocent and does not have any weird fixations, but something about his writing really leaves me wondering. I don't know, maybe I'm weird, but there is something amiss here. I'll let you guys decide.

Floating Balls
Soggy Balls
Stinky Popped Small Balls
Hairy Weird Eerie Balls
Those are just a few...
Cool Balls
Awesome Balls
Happy Mad Sad Balls
Excited Lucky Gold Balls
Angel Balls
Devil Balls
Smelly Balls
Don't forget Chocolate Balls
Last of all, Best of all
I like Big Balls!

The child shall remain nameless, but I bet his parents won't be hanging that one on the fridge. I noticed he forgot screwballs. I will have to pass that on to him if I ever get to meet him. I probably won't shake his hand though...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March Madness

Only in March can you greet someone by asking, "So how's your bracket going?" It is the month that the office sports expert is humiliated by the admin assistant who wins the office pool by picking teams that have the "cutest outfits." True basketball fans fake illness to watch first round action. Every year there are inevitably upsets, buzzer beaters, overtimes, and Cinderella stories. The NCAA tournament has been crowned as the king of sports tournaments, and the phrase "like basketball" is used in nearly every argument against the BCS.

This year will be a personal litmus test for the tourneys actual greatness. After making the Elite 8 last year, the Sooners failed to even make the NIT, so I have very little rooting interest in the teams involved. I would love to see San Diego State do well, but they got hosed in the seeding which forces them to play a first round game against a very tough Tennessee team. I am also not participating in any pools, so my bracket doesn't matter monetarily. It is amazing how much more interesting things become when you have money riding on the outcome. It will be up to fantastic games and interesting match ups to keep my attention.

There has been a lot of debate on whether the tournament should expand its field from the already enormous 65 team slate. This year's first round should do a lot to support or quell that idea. Supporters of an expansion would need several unlikely upsets to prove there is value in adding more inferior teams. The importance of regular season records would diminish with an expansion. It seems silly to tinker with a format that is so popular, but it would make for a wild first couple of rounds.

Despite what many say about the NCAA tournament, there are no flawless systems to crown a champion. The hot topic leading into the tourney is unfair scheduling for #1 seeds. Kansas was clearly the best of the four #1 seeds, but have the toughest path to the Final Four. Conversely, conspiracy theorists got great fodder from the extremely favorable schedule Duke received. Most years there are several teams upset about getting snubbed by the tournament committee. The snubs were minimal this year, but many teams are upset about nonsensical seedings. I won't bore you with all the examples, but after going 7-9 down the stretch the Texas Longhorns still secured an #8 seed. Hmmm?

It makes me wonder how this would change if football had their own tournament. It is easy to bash the BCS and say a tournament would crown a true champion, but there would still be a litany of problems. Unlike basketball, the attention given to every decision, every seeding, every match up, and every location would be monumental with football. There are 65 teams that are included in basketball's tournament and there are still serious grumblings about who gets left out. Can you imagine the arguments that would ensue if you could only include eight teams? I will stop there before I get out of control and make the March Madness post about football.

Regardless of problems, the NCAA tournament is a wonderful event for fans. Games are usually very competitive and highlights are filled with last second heroics. The tournament has a reputation of being kind to the little guy because of its inclusion of small conference champions and several mid majors. Unfortunately, these teams rarely make a real impact. Since the tournament's inception only two teams seeded worse than #9 have made the Final Four. There has never been a #1 seed knocked off by a #16. That being said, there are always huge upsets which is my favorite aspect of the tournament. The wild nature of the first round is thrilling if you can get invested in teams rarely televised. After the first round the likelihood of an upset plummets. Once the field is pared down to eight teams, schools with the most NBA prospects and most experienced coaches are the ones that win.

Hopefully, the passion and excitement these college kids play with will draw me into the action. If not, I will continue to wait patiently for baseball season. That is one thing I always count on when tournament time rolls around. No matter what happens I know baseball is just around the corner. I can already taste the hot dogs.

My Final Four teams include: Kansas, West Virginia, Syracuse, and Baylor. I should have Kentucky in there, but despite their tremendous talent, they are very young. I know that doesn't count for as much as it once did, but it still has to count for something. Right? I really don't see anyone beating Kansas either way. The Big XII was the best conference in the NCAA this year, and KU only lost one conference game. Picking against those guys would be a pure guess. In the end, the rich get richer as Kansas cuts down the nets again. Just don't ask them to play football.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Top 50: Films of the 80s

Most who know me well are embarrassed by my vast knowledge of 80s music and culture. Being a child of the 80s, I was always amused by the decade's entertainment. It is hard to define what makes this period so fascinating. Even after turning 30, I still explore sub genres of music and movies I never knew existed.

Part of the charm of 80s entertainment is the blurred line between quality and garbage. Sometimes the "bad" films or music actually brought more entertainment than the "good" ones. The truly memorable films of the period are filled with heart rather than production value. That is not to say that there weren't quality films or music produced during the decade. But when the 80s label is attached to entertainment, the idea of what this means transcends quality and becomes a water color image of the decade. More people think of Pretty in Pink than The Color Purple.

After seeing an ad for the upcoming movie Hot Tub Time Machine, I immediately felt a sense of loss. Not only for John Cusack (one of the few 80s icons that was able to continue a career beyond the decade), but for the oft maligned films of the period. For some reason, most films that try to pay homage to the 80s don't come close to reproducing the personality of the period and merely serve to perpetuate stereotypes rather than capture the essence. I decided to create a list of my favorite films of the 80s but had some trouble finding motivation to complete this list. After hearing about Corey Haim's untimely demise (although not unexpected) I found the motivation to complete my post.

This is a list of my favorite movies from the 80s. It would not be accurate to say that these are the best films of the 80s, just like it would be different to say they are the best 80s films. Each would be a separate category with separate restrictions, so I decided to just rank my favorites. Some epitomize being young in the 80s, some are just entertaining movies. Here's how I see it.

1. Caddyshack

I can't believe this movie was originally considered a flop. It is admittedly not the greatest film ever created on any level, but it is my favorite of the decade. Every scene is nearly flawless with every performer contributing humor. I was shocked to find out that Chevy Chase and Bill Murray did not speak to each other on set unless they were performing in a scene.

Signature Moment: The "Buddies for Life" exchange between Chase and Murray.

2. The Breakfast Club

When I think of 80s movies, this is the first one that comes to mind. Writer/director/producer/film legend John Hughes practically owned the 80s and early 90s. In an era dominated by ensemble casts and coming of age story lines, The Breakfast Club set the standard. This film truly captures the reality of suburbia high school while filming nearly every scene in one room. The cast was hand picked and featured fresh faces that were catapulted to fame shortly after.

Signature Moment: Super happy ending finishing with Judd Nelson pumping his fist in the air to the backdrop of Simple Minds', Don't you Forget About Me.

3. Back to the Future

It's hard to find someone over the age of 25 that doesn't consider Back to the Future a great movie. Although Michael J. Fox had a terrific career that spanned several outstanding performances, he will always be known as Marty Mcfly. This film had a perfect balance of fantastic script, excellent casting, captivating special effects, great direction, and fabulous production quality. Not much you can say bad about this film.

Signature Moment: Marty's performance of Johnny B. Goode while jumping off speakers and writhing around the stage.

4. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Another Hughes classic. I still remember the first time I ever saw this movie. I was unable to take my eyes off the screen. Hughes had a way of taking the most simple ideas and making them captivating films that are quoted throughout generations.

Signature Moment: Hard to pick a single moment, but I always got my biggest laugh watching the two valets flying through the air in the Ferrari while the backdrop music played the Star Wars theme.

5. The Untouchables

One of the most overlooked gangster movies. Pretty surprising considering the cast features: Robert De Niro, Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, and Andy Garcia. This is a must see for any that enjoy gangster dramas. When I hear the name Al Capone, I think of De Niro.

Signature Moment: Capone's speech about baseball and his demonstration on how to swing a bat.

6. Blood Simple

The Coen brothers are geniuses and Blood Simple is a masterpiece. Before No Country for Old Men, there was this film. The way the Coens' can connect with the viewer by perfecting multiple elements of storytelling is amazing. There are layers of horror, mystery, thriller, and comedy wrapped into the direction of this film while the script and plot remain relatively (well) simple.

7. A Christmas Story

You know a holiday movie is a classic if it can end up in a top ten list. No matter how much TNT threatens to destroy the novelty of this incredible movie by running it for 48 straight hours over Christmas, it will be one of my all time favorites forever.

Signature Moment: Ralphie beating the crap out of the neighborhood bully.

8. Henry V

If you aren't a fan of anything Shakespeare this film could change your mind. Although the translation is literal, this indie film earned Kenneth Branagh Academy Award nominations for Best Actor and Best Director. The battle scenes from Braveheart were clearly interpreted from this movie. Superb in every facet.

Signature Moment: The St. Crispin's Day speech will make you want to get out of your seat and fight against the French yourself.

9. Goonies

One of my favorite movies as a child. Great ensemble cast but the funniest character is Data. I would have killed to have some of his gadgets. "That's what I said! Booty traps."

Signature Moment: The Truffle shuffle. What else?

10. Fletch

Everything Chevy Chase touched turned to gold in the 80s and Fletch was no exception. Definitely one of the most quotable movies ever. There aren't too many performers that can basically make a one man movie, but Chase did it.

Signature Moment: Fletch dreaming about playing for the Lakers. "He is actually six five, with the afro six nine."

11. Hoosiers

I used to get pumped up for basketball games by listening to the theme music.

12. The Empire Strikes Back

Always a fan of Star Wars, this was my favorite installment.

13. Field of Dreams

The only movie that ever made me shed a tear.

14. The Princess Bride

I nearly wore out the Beta Max tape as a youngster.

15. Christmas Vacation

I almost left this off a shorter list because of A Christmas Story and Vacation, but it is way too good to ignore.

16. Ghostbusters

Rick Moranis is brilliant and Bill Murray is the funniest man alive (especially after the Chevy Chase Show although he is making a comeback...check out Community).

17. Vacation

Another Chase and Hughes classic.

18. Wall Street

Timely and entertaining. Michael Douglas is awesome as Gordon Gekko.

19. Young Guns

"Did you see the size of that chicken?"

20. Clue

Not as well known, but really entertaining.

21. Blues Brothers

This movie broke the record for most cars crashed when it was released. Seriously.

22. Major League

Highly quotable, great characters.

23. Die Hard

Possibly my favorite pure action movie.

24. Never Ending Story

I was entranced by this movie as a child.

25. Airplane!

Laughs from start to finish.

26. Beetlejuice

One of Tim Burton's first films. "Nice fucking model! *honk honk*"

27. The Lost Boys

A tribute to Corey Haim. Definitely his best movie.

28. Bull Durham

Great concept, great performances.

29. This is Spinal Tap

The first mockumentary for Christopher Guest (Best in Show).

30. Real Genius

Awesome ending with Tears for Fears', Everybody Wants to Rule the World rocking the credits.

31. Weird Science

"Chicks can't hold they smoke. That's what it is..."

32. Back to School

Worth watching for the diving board scene alone.

33. Return of the Jedi

Not quite as good as Empire, but the first 45 minutes are awesome.

34. Teen Wolf

Michael J. Fox as a breakdancing, basketball playing, van surfing werewolf. Of course its a good movie.

35. Spaceballs

Mel Brooks is consistent.

36. The Gods Must Be Crazy

Not well known, but really funny.

37. Coming to America

This movie taught me how to let my soul glow.

38. The Shining

One of the rare Stephen King adaptations that worked. Jack Nicholson was a good choice.

39. Raising Arizona

My first Coen brothers movie.

40. The Gate

The Gate is a B movie that both intrigued and terrified me as a child.

41. Big Trouble in Little China

Yep. Kung Fu and Kurt Russell. It works.

42. The Monster Squad

Another sentimental choice from my childhood. This was the coolest movie among third graders at Canyon View Elementary.

43. Raging Bull

Many have this as the best movie from the 80s. I don't quite see it like that, but still a tremendous film.

44. Dragnet

Dan Akroyd and Tom Hanks pair up well in this remake.

45. Glory

Fantastic movie with a positive message and historical setting.

46. Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Based on Cameron Crowe's novel that he researched by going undercover as a student at Clairemont High School in San Diego.

47. Platoon

Interesting take in the pantheon of Vietnam movies.

48. Gremlins

Never feed your mogwai after midnight.

49. The Terminator

The perfect vehicle for Schwarzenegger, no dubbing required.

50. Top Secret

Val Kilmer in a spoof film that is off the wall and hilarious.

A quick note about John Hughes who died less than a year ago. 10 percent of the movies in my top 50 have his fingerprints on them. Here are some of the titles that he was involved with that didn't make the cut: Uncle Buck, The Great Outdoors, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Pretty in Pink, European Vacation, Sixteen Candles, and Mr. Mom. And that's just the 80s. He sadly died a recluse refusing to do interviews or be in the public eye at all for his final years. Can you imagine the landscape of 80s films without him? I certainly couldn't find 50 movies to fill up a list. Amazing guy. By the way, he kicked off the 90s by writing and producing Home Alone.

There you have it. Please let me know why this list is a disgrace and I will gladly respond.


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