Pond Hockey at Levi’s Stadium – Kings vs Sharks

IMG_5232The NHL started featuring at least one outdoor regular season game per year only at the beginning of 2008. For the first few years, they stuck to just one such game, the Winter Classic, played on New Year’s Day. In 2014, they created the Stadium Series, which allows them to host a handful of outdoor games each season. So the concept is still relatively new and a limited amount of fans have been able to catch one of these games in person.

This past Saturday night I became one of those fans. My brother was kind enough to take me with him to the Kings-Sharks game held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

Any sports fan should immediately say yes to an invite for an outdoor hockey game. It’s such a unique experience. For people in many parts of the United States and across all of Canada, the earliest memories of playing hockey revolve around a frozen pond, hand-me-down skates, makeshift goals and the biting winter wind attacking their faces. Playing outdoors in the elements feels right when it comes to hockey.

On top of that organic, back-to-its-roots feel that comes along with an outdoor game, there’s also something really exciting about being part of an audience that’s three or four times larger than the normal crowd at a hockey game. It just feels more important.

With only six weeks remaining until the NHL playoffs and the Sharks and Kings battling for the same playoff spot, this game actually was important. Throw in the recent history of the Kings winning two Stanley Cups in the last three years—including last season’s run that started when LA completed an historic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit in the 1st round against these same Sharks—and San Jose repeatedly underperforming in the playoffs, and suddenly we had a true rivalry game at a key point in the season with pond hockey at a state-of-the-art NFL facility as the backdrop.

This event was going to be awesome, right?

For the most part, yeah, it was fantastic. The Kings won 2-1 with a 3rd period goal being the difference. The game was pretty evenly played and both teams had plenty of great scoring chances. The weather was perfect: a little chilly so it felt like we were watching outdoor hockey, but not so cold to make it miserable for fans sitting in their seats for three hours.

But despite the good times and enjoyable experience, I was able to nitpick and find six legitimate complaints. I’m not sure if these things are the NHL’s fault, Levi’s Stadium’s fault or a combination. Here they are in no particular order:

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1. Temporary Prohibition: At 6pm, about 75 minutes before the opening puck drop, some of the beer vendors ran out of beer. Look at all those sad empty boxes in the picture above. My brother and I were second in line at the time these workers announced they were all out of the only product they had for sale at their stand. They pointed out another beer stand but said that stand already borrowed from them earlier, so they were probably low or out too. In fact, these guys were so unsure of whether or not any more beer was coming, they started handing money back to customers. That’s gotta be a worst case scenario for a stadium and a greedy sports league, right? You give money back to your customers due to inept employees or logistics, and you block people from getting liquored up, which stops them from making drunk purchasing decisions (more beer, lots of food, spontaneous merchandise transactions). Who’s running this league anyway? Roger Goodell?

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2. “Easy Listening” as the Music Choice: The NHL has this rare opportunity with every outdoor game to make it bigger than it really is. In terms of the theatrics and entertainment, they should treat these events like the Super Bowl. Blow it out. Make the entire experience memorable, not just the game itself. So who did they roll out to get the fans fired up for hockey? None other than Kris Allen for the opening song & the National Anthem and Melissa Etheridge for the 2nd intermission performance. Everyone knows Etheridge and her style. And I’m sure you’d agree that hockey doesn’t really scream for her type of music. As for Allen, he’s a former American Idol winner who seems to specialize in soft, easy-listening, Christian music. Again, I can’t see any natural link between this artist or his music and a live sporting event or the typical hockey fan. It’s beyond mind-boggling. It was infuriating to have to sit through that crap. In fact, these performances were so out of place, it made John Fogerty’s 1st intermission set seem like the perfect fit for a hockey game. Fogerty was actually awesome. He played the Creedence hits, rocked out as hard as I imagine he can rock out, and seemed like he was having a genuinely good time. But the rest of the music was just disappointing.

3. Piped-In Sound Effects: My brother said it sounded like Michael Bay had produced the sound effects that were coming through stadium speakers during the game. And I think that’s a spot-on comment. Think about how lame it would be if a stadium was playing the audio/natural sound from the game being played over their speaker system. It’s just corny, right? The natural noises of the game should sound natural, not extra loud or enhanced. Well imagine if they didn’t even play the natural sound (of shots being taken, pucks being blocked, skates scraping across the ice) but instead created their own exaggerated version of what those game sounds should be. It was like listening to a lightsaber battle in Star Wars combined with the noises from a pinball machine. It was laughable, considering they were trying to play it off like those sound effects were simply the natural noises of the hockey game. Corny, over-the-top and terrible.

4. Bandwidth Problems in the Valley: Speaking of technology, the fans were repeatedly beat over the head with messages saying to download the Levi’s App for a special interactive light show during the intermissions (where, presumably, everyone’s lights/flashes on their smartphones would blink in rhythm with the music). Except in the heart of Silicon Valley, apparently 70,000 people can’t be connected to the internet all at once, even on “the Nation’s #1 networks” or whatever the stupid cell companies say about their 4G capabilities. I could hardly get Twitter to load once every 25 minutes let alone download an app that could take control of my phone. Do you think by the year 2075 humans will have fixed this ongoing problem of not knowing how to make the internet work when more than five people are trying to access it at the same time from the same location?

5. A Showcase for Ugly Uniforms: Ugly, unimaginative jerseys for both teams The Sharks went with this:

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Notice the size of the numbers (which was done on purpose so the fans up in the nosebleeds of this extra large stadium could see who was on the ice). Also notice that the Sharks’ base color, teal, is just ugly on a uniform of any sport. Unfortunately they don’t have too many variations to choose from in their short history: Sharks Jersey History. Looks like they need to finally put a buck or two into having someone redesign their look and brand.

The Kings, on the other hand, have a variety of yellows, purples, and blacks to choose from when looking back at their history. Instead, they went with the drabbest of drab:

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This is supposed to be the NHL’s grand showcase. You think the NFL or MLB would have let a chance to roll out a classic or bold new uniform slip through their fingers on the National stage? This might seem like a minor detail, but I think it’s actually a pretty huge fail. So many more people would be interested in buying a commemorative Stadium Series jersey if, you know, there was something interesting and different about the jersey.

6. Fake Sharks: Again, this is supposed to be an event where even people who aren’t going to start watching a lot of hockey say to themselves every year, “I gotta see those outdoor games. They always do the coolest things during those.”

And you know what’s cool? Real sharks swimming around in the manmade shark tanks that surrounded the outer edges of the football field (right below the first rows of seats). I didn’t do a good job getting a picture of these pools, but if you look back at the very first picture at the top of this article, you can see right in front of the Stadium Series sign is a little bit of water. They had these large pools scattered throughout stadium.

Imagine a handful of great whites circling below everyone for the duration of the game? It would be a great feature, a rare thing to see, and an easy way to hold onto half your security budget because there’d be no need for people to monitor for fans running into the playing area (or other official on-field areas).

They didn’t even bother with complete fake sharks. They lazily placed a couple fake shark fins sticking out of each pool and called it a day. How could they have screwed this up so badly?

Here’s what I know: In 11 months, 100 million pairs of eyes will be on this same Bay Area stadium as the NFL hosts its 50th Super Bowl here. Of course the NFL has a much better handle on how to put on a show, so you can expect the music and the lack-of-real-sharks problem to be resolved. But Levi’s Stadium didn’t seem like a facility ready to host the world’s largest annual sporting event.

We’re talking about a major NFL milestone with the 50th Super Bowl, and we’re talking about history as Tom Brady will likely be going for Lombardi Trophy #5 in his own backyard. Don’t screw this up for us, Levi’s Stadium.

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The Oscars Recap: A Night Full of Disappointment

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When my fiancee picked me up at the airport in Los Angeles on Sunday evening, she told me how she had never seen Trader Joe’s more packed than when she went there earlier in the day. The employees at the grocery store told her the three busiest days every year are the day before Thanksgiving, Super Bowl Sunday, and Oscars Sunday.

I knew plenty of people liked to watch Hollywood’s biggest night (Robin Roberts’ words, not mine), but I never thought it was cause for madness at the local markets.

I guess that means there should be lots of people eager to read a recap of last night in running diary format. Let’s dive in:

  • 4:00pm (Pacific Time): The Oscars Red Carpet Ceremony kicks off with Robin Roberts telling us we’re going to see the red carpet tonight like we’ve never seen it before. Which I think just means it’s a slightly different color of red this year.
  • 4:02: The first celebrity shown during ABC’s opening is Anna Kendrick. Never have I been more optimistic about the next six hours of my life. Kendrick = happiness.
  • 4:04: The first live interview by Roberts is with Common, his mom, John Legend, and his wife Chrissy Teigen. And four minutes into the coverage, we have our first name screw-up as Roberts calls her “Christy”. We can also hand out the award for the most aggressive dress slit of the night, as Teigen’s goes well above her vagina.
  • 4:11: Sorry, Rosamund Pike, but your dress slit is laughable compared to Teigen’s. Better luck next time. Also, adding to my dislike of this woman is the fact that her two children are named “Solo” and “Atom.”
  • 4:15: I support ABC’s decision to replace last year’s red carpet style expert (Tyson Beckford, whose most notable style comment was “She’s wearing a nice pink dress tonight.”) with this guy from Yahoo who is considerably more knowledgeable about style and considerably more gay. I mean, I don’t personally care, but I’m sure the people who watch this show to hear about the dress makers and the stars’ accessories love it.
  • 4:32: Robin Roberts says “congratulations” to Julianne Moore and it seems like they both know Moore is the guaranteed winner for Best Actress in a Leading Role tonight. There’s a chance this is going to be a very, very boring Oscars. It feels like one of those years where the odds-on favorites are going to win in each major category. Let’s hope that’s not the case. There’s nothing more boring than predictability.
  • 4:41: Kerry Washington, wear an uglier dress, I dare you to. Here’s my simple advice to the Oscars women, as a man who likes looking at women: Don’t make your hips or hip area look larger than it is. Should be simple.
  • 4:42: Chris Pratt and Anna Faris should host awards shows. I’m assuming it would be the first ever husband-wife combo to do so, but they’d kill. I would actually watch a three-hour show where Pratt does nothing more than cut a loaf of bread. He’s that hilarious.
  • 4:52: Reese Witherspoon brought her A-game tonight. And it’s not a coincidence that her dress doesn’t enlarge her body by 36 sizes like half of the actresses here tonight.
  • 4:55: I’m nominating Jennifer Lopez as the person that sparks the most “she’s still so hot at her age” Tweets throughout the awards ceremony. I think she looks fine, but nothing special.
  • 5:19: The ABC correspondent interviewing Lady Gaga says, “You never let us down with your fashion.” Really? I would have said, “You always let us down with your fashion.” And I would have put the word fashion in air quotes.
  • 5:30: And finally, we’re live from the Dolby Theatre as the 87th Academy Awards officially gets underway. Neil Patrick Harris is the first-time host. It’s raining in LA. I think the last time it did that was during last year’s Oscars. I’m going out on a limb and saying NPH’s first joke will be about 50 Shades of Grey. (He can’t joke about the weather because Ellen led off last year’s telecast with rain jokes.)
  • 5:31: “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest…I’m sorry, BRIGHTEST.” Dammit, he went with a race joke to lead it off? Who knew?
  • 5:33: Anna Kendrick joins NPH during his opening musical number. Between Anna being the first celeb shown on the red carpet and now putting her front & center during this opening, it’s like the Oscar producers are trying to make sure one specific person stays tuned in all night long: Me. And they’ve done their job. I’m hooked.
  • 5:36: NPH’s six-minute song & dance ends after Jack Black joins in as the comic relief. It was a solid performance, but I’m already thinking this should be the new normal for The Oscars: NPH and Ellen co-host, and NPH is in charge of all the theatrics, singing and dancing, while Ellen is the joke-teller. I feel like that’s a solid compromise.
  • 5:41: I do appreciate that the Academy gives us a taste of what we’re actually here for by announcing the Best Supporting Actor as the first award of the night (before boring us with hours of technical and irrelevant categories). And in what will likely be the least surprising winner of this night, J.K. Simmons takes The Oscar for his role as the abusive jazz conductor/teacher Terence Fletcher in Whiplash. If you don’t know how large my erection is for Whiplash and Simmons, you can read all about it HERE.
  • 5:42: Wait a sec. Was Simmons tearing up while watching the 15-second highlight of his performance that the show played when announcing the nominees? Does that immediately make his performance the most powerful in acting history? The actor who played the role is crying while watching himself in that role!
  • 5:47: Liam Neeson makes what must already be the 10th joke of the night about the movies being criticized for constantly basing its stories on comics, books, remakes of old movies, etc. The football equivalent would be if the NFL did a “year in review” montage during halftime of the Super Bowl and it highlighted Roger Goodell’s 176 missteps of 2014. It’s teetering on that line between self-deprecating and awkward.
  • 5:49: Wow. I was way off tonight. It took 19 minutes into the telecast for NPH to make a 50 Shades joke. Dakota Johnson’s on stage to intro Maroon 5, who is performing a song from some movie that Adam Levine apparently acted in? This seems like a great time for my annual “this is why I DVR The Oscars” comment. No one can force me to listen to this pompous, talentless jerk-off sing on live television.
  • 5:56: And here we go. The start of what I’m sure will be a long run on categories absolutely no one cares about. J-Lo and Chris Pine are announcing the “Achievement in Costume Design” category. The Grand Budapest Hotel wins the first boring award of the night! Congrats.
  • 6:00: Reese Witherspoon, who was intro’d by an awful NPH joke about “she’s so lovely you could eat her up…with her spoon,” announces Grand Budapest as the winner of “Achievement in Makeup & Hairstyling.” Since this movie has almost no chance to win for Directing or Best Picture, I’m glad to see it taking home some of the more technical categories.
  • 6:03: Channing Tatum is on stage talking about something even more boring than the technical categories: The “Team Oscar” winners. No one understands what this is and no one cares. Who are these people? What is their purpose? Why should we care? It’s like ABC forgets that the point of a TV show is to hold viewers’ attention and therefore make money from advertisers who want as many eyeballs on the screen as possible.
  • 6:12: Congrats to Poland (or more accurately, the director from the Foreign Film winner who happens to be from Poland) for being the first to get the “wrap up your speech” music of the night. Except even that couldn’t deter him. They had to stop the music and re-start it just to let him know they meant business.
  • 6:18: Lonely Island is performing “Everything is Awesome,” the theme song from The Lego Movie. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person left in America who hasn’t seen that movie. More importantly, I wonder how many people predicted Lonely Island would eventually be on stage at The Oscars when they were producing “Dick in a Box” and “Jizzed in My Pants” a decade ago?
  • 6:26: With Jason Bateman and Kerry Washington announcing the “Live Action Short Film” award, we get a rare moment where my fiancee and I are both satisfied with the eye candy on stage.  Meanwhile, we started down this boring categories path 30 minutes ago and we’re still going strong. If only they could do the pointless awards at some off-screen ceremony where people could still be honored but the TV audience wouldn’t be subjected to such lame entertainment….Oh, what’s that? They have that exact scenario in place already? They gave out a bunch of awards on February 7th this year? Then what the hell am I doing watching speeches from the winners of “hairstyling & makeup”?? C’mon, Academy!
  • 6;27: I hate to stereotype but it appears only the foreigners don’t understand what the “get off the stage” music means.
  • 6:32: iaasieeieeeieieeeieejnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn””””””””doookkkkkkkkkffffffffffff
  • 6:34: Sorry, I passed out on my keyboard from boredom.
  • 6:35: Gwyneth Paltrow comes out…See? Here you go, Oscars. If you’re going to bore us to death with content, please roll out the hot blondes to deliver that boring content.
  • 6:46: Sound Mixing category up next. And just like that, they put Sienna Miller on stage. One minute before, they had Margot Robbie presenting (the actress from The Wolf of Wall Street and some upcoming Will Smith movie). This is a calculated move by The Academy to keep our attention just a little during this downtime.
  • 6:51: They throw us a curveball by bringing out a hot brunette as the next presenter. It’s Jared Leto! (Sorry, that was a recycled joke from last year. Had to do it.) Mark it down. Fifty-five minutes of bullshit categories and announcements. And Patricia Arquette wins for Best Supporting Actress, another category that seemed decided before the ceremony even started. Let me take this moment to wonder out loud if Keira Knightley is simply Winona Ryder after the name change?

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  • 7:06: Anna Kendrick is back out there to present “Best Animated Short.” Here are the people and order in which I’d organize the presenters for the entire night: Anna Kendrick, Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon, Margot Robbie and Kata Mara (who I didn’t even know existed until I binged on House of Cards recently). Repeat that order over and over until there are no more categories left to present.
  • 7:09: I’d like to make an immediate amendment to that order above. Zoe Saldana absolutely should be included. And she will be. Once I’m the producer of this awards show.
  • 7:17: I would rate NPH’s hosting attempt as adequate so far. He’s not doing outstanding; he’s not doing horribly. He just doesn’t have the comedy chops of Ellen. I know some people will ridicule that, mostly the people who assume Ellen is only funny to middle-aged women. But she’s an experienced stand-up comedian who has been on TV, in movies, on talkshows and even host of awards shows. Bring her back in 2016!
  • 7:37: Over the past 20 minutes, they ran through a couple more technical categories and did the “In Memoriam” tribute. As we kill some time, I’ll go ahead and nominate Robert Duvall as this year’s “person in the audience who refuses to laugh or smile at any of the jokes, specifically any aimed at him.” Because this night is NOT about having fun and being self-deprecating if you’re a super serious actor, apparently.
  • 7:44: I’ve reached that point in the night where I’m fast forwarding almost every acceptance speech. I guess I’m truly in this for just the seven major categories, the hot blondes and the Ellen jokes.
  • 7:46: As Terrence Howard speaks, I have to ask, are any actors in Hollywood actually American? Or are they all from England and have simply perfected their American accents? Every year I’m confused by the number of actors with British accents.
  • 8:03: Idina Menzel is on stage. Hey, Idina, thanks for costing me $5 with your extra long rendition of the National Anthem before the Super Bowl! I hate you!
  • 8:04: Holy shit! I just heard thunder for the first time in the three years I’ve lived in LA! THUNDER! IN LA! THIS CAN’T BE! WHY DO I LIVE IN THE CITY THAT HAS THE WORST WINTER WEATHER IN AMERICA?!?!
  • 8:08: John Legend accepts the award for Best Original Song and says, “There are more black men in correction facilities today than there were slaves in 1850.” One person in the audience claps. Perfection.
  • 8:12: ScarJo! Say it ain’t so. Why are you purposely trying to look like Tilda Swinton? I know this is blasphemy, but 1) I dislike short hair on most women, and 2) That slicked back short blonde hair looks like, well:

[www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilda_Swinton linktext:Tilda Swinton]

  • 8:20: As Lady Gaga sings The Sound of Music medley and then Julie Andrews joins her on stage, my fiancee, who never wants to watch movies and seems generally disinterested in the film industry, is now schooling me on the deep history of all things Julie Andrews…vocal chord problems she used to have, reciting her IMDB page from memory. This is weird.
  • 8:21: OK, Grand Budapest just won its 4th award of the night. Granted, they are all in minor categories, but I’m starting to wonder if this groundswell of winning is going to lead to an upset in the Directing or Best Picture categories.
  • 8:23: “Wes Anderson, you are a genius” has replaced “I want to thank Harvey Weinstein” as the most uttered phrase at this year’s Oscars.
  • 8:29: Eddie Murphy is now presenting. He could say no words and just urinate on stage and it would still be more compelling than his appearance on the Saturday Night Live 40 show.
  • 8:30: I love how they stretched all those meaningless awards out over an hour in the middle of this broadcast and now they’re going to rip through the remaining five or six important categories in the final 30 minutes. This makes no sense. Anyway, Birdman wins for Best Original Screenplay.
  • 8:33: The Imitation Game wins the Best Adapted Screenplay award. I’m just going to say it and hope it doesn’t come off as offensive: These award winners make it very very difficult to make fun when every speech includes something about gay rights, racism or gender inequality.
  • 8:44: Ben Affleck announces the Directing winner, and it’s Birdman. It’s on its way to sweeping the major categories now.
  • 8:47: Cate Blanchett presents the Best Actor category, which is won by Dennis Reynolds of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame:

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  • Whoops, sorry. Turns out Eddie Redmayne is actually the winner, for his role in The Theory of Everything:

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  • 8:52: Julianne Moore wins Best Actress. So at this point, the favorite has won in the following categories: Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Actress, Directing and Best Original Screenplay. This is a tough year for underdogs.
  • 9:00: Only one more category left, the big one, the moment we all tune in for, the award we’ll be taking about for years…AND MY DVR STOPPED TAPING RIGHT AFTER JULIANNE MOORE’S SPEECH!! I EVEN EXTENDED THE BROADCAST FROM THREE HOURS TO 3.5 HOURS, AND IT STILL WENT OVER!
  • FUCK YOU, ACADEMY AWARDS! I’M BOYCOTTING NEXT YEAR (unless Ellen returns to host).
  • Oh, and Birdman won for Best Picture, which I had to google to find out.

I saw this headline on Monday morning: ABC Telecast of The Oscars down 10% in overnight ratings to four-year low.

See? It wasn’t just me. Everyone hated this year’s Oscars. So here are my quick fixes that The Academy should immediately adopt:

  1. Do away with most of the live music. It’s boring and there are almost never any songs we want to hear being performed.
  2. Do away with that full hour of bullshit categories.
  3. Fill time, if you must, with trailers for upcoming movies, highlighting specific performances that The Academy is excited about. This is a win-win because people love seeing movie previews, and it would almost definitely cause more people to go to the movies in the upcoming months.
  4. Stop celebrating arbitrary things that happened an arbitrary number of years ago (“Sound of Music turned 50 this year, let’s spend 10 minutes on that!”)
  5. Put Jon Lovitz as the last face of the “In Memoriam” tribute.

Can someone please start a petition for Ellen’s big return in 2016?

Also, where the F was Jennifer Lawrence this year?

What a disaster the 87th Academy Awards were.

Getting Ready for The Oscars With the Best Picture Nominees

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For those of you who strictly adhere to the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS) when deciding which movies to see, you’ve probably been a bit disappointed over the last few months by my lack of movie reviews. You’d think that as we got closer to Oscar night, I’d be seeing more nominated films and spreading the word about them. Well it turns out I have been seeing a lot of those films, but I haven’t done a good job of putting up my reviews (blame it on football season, the Patriots’ extended run through the football season, or just plain laziness…all are valid).

With the 87th Academy Awards (fancy name for Oscars) taking place only a couple days from now, I wanted to post a little primer to get people excited. Maybe this column will spark some debates, maybe it’ll cause you to run out to the theaters and see a few of the nominated films before Sunday evening, or maybe it’ll just get you in the mood for Hollywood’s most self-righteous night.

No matter your feelings on the topic, The Oscars will be talked about a lot in the days following the event. Don’t be the jerk who didn’t tune in.

Beyond this preview for the award show’s most important category, you can also expect a recap in the form of a running diary on Monday morning. Since Sunday is Hollywood’s night of unnecessary self-congratulations, allow me to be the first celebrity to do exactly that…

I pretty much CRUSHED IT with my running diary of last year’s Oscars (which you can find HERE). I just re-read it, and I’m still laughing at jokes that are now a year old. I’m the best.

OK so here’s the deal: I’ve seen six of the eight Best Picture nominees. I might see a seventh on Friday afternoon, but this blog needed to go up on Friday morning so you all could make your weekend plans accordingly. The two that I didn’t see are Selma and The Theory of Everything. So there’s a chance those two films are awesome. But I doubt it.

Here is how I would rank the Best Picture nominees that I’ve seen in order from worst to best:

6. Boyhood – The worst movie of the group wasn’t bad by normal standards, but it most certainly is not Oscar worthy. It was basically a three-hour gimmick where we got to see the actual actors age over 10 years in the context of a family in Texas growing and living, just like many families do. It was certainly an outside-the-box concept to film the story over a decade, but the stakes weren’t very high and it didn’t keep me glued to my TV at all. It was just OK. The plot could be boiled down to “boy moves through childhood and adolescence in a very normal way, with the usual highs and lows of a human life.” So someone please explain to me why this is considered one of the best eight movies of 2014??

5. American Sniper – Here’s how loaded the top five of this category is this year: American Sniper was a fantastic movie and it’s only the fifth best! It seems like this movie needs the least explaining out of all of them because there have been dozens of web articles and TV stories about this war story. And recent events have put Sniper back in the mainstream news (sorry for being vague, but I’d hate to spoil the ending). Even though this particular war movie focuses on a very specific person—the greatest sniper in American history—it’s still mainly about war in the Middle East. So I had to dock it points for originality. In many years, this could easily be the best movie. Bradley Cooper was fantastic and deserving of his Best Actor nod. But it didn’t hold my attention quite like these next four did.

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel – These days you could lose a lot of friends simply by saying you didn’t like a Wes Anderson film. It’s not very cool or hip to dislike anything this great writer and director does. But I promise you it’s not just peer pressure that made me love Grand Budapest. In classic Anderson style, we get to see a very intricate plot dressed up in colorful, precise scenery while still feeling like we’re watching an easy-going, fun adventure. If you’re at all familiar with his previous work, then you know exactly what to expect walking into this movie. This particular tale starts off a little slow, but once you get past the opening 20 minutes, the pace picks up and you really have to pay attention to keep up. The characters and the action move at light speed. Grand Budapest follows a concierge of the fictitious hotel and his loyal Lobby Boy as they try to prove the concierge’s innocence in a murder case. Like many films from the Wes Anderson archives, the plot is almost an afterthought as the characters and dialogue take center stage. Buckle your seat belts and hang on tight as this movie speeds down the proverbial (and real) alpine ski slope.

3. The Imitation Game – Trust me, I was just as surprised as you are at how much I enjoyed this Benedict Cumberbatch starring film. Set in the 1940s and ’50s, specifically during World War II, this is the true story of how Alan Turing and a handful of England’s top mathematicians cracked Germany’s brilliant Engima code. The code is what the Nazis used for all wartime communications (where to position their troops and U-boats, where to bring supplies, the positions of the Ally armies, etc). The movie includes Turing’s life before being recruited to the top secret code-cracking sector of England’s military, and his postwar life, where he was prosecuted for being a homosexual. The reason this movie is so compelling is because of the perfect blend of the high stakes of war (this small group of geniuses seems to be England’s only hope for saving millions of lives and ending the war) and the captivating story behind Turing himself. Technology buffs will also tell you that the machine Turing created during this time period was technically the first computer in human history. Not too many movies can boast that level of importance in its story. When I exited the theater after seeing The Imitation Game, I didn’t think I’d be ranking it this high, but it’s grown on me the more I’ve thought about it. Cumberbatch was so good, I think he deserves runner up in the Lead Actor category to the man who starred in this next movie.

2. Birdman – This is the one Best Picture movie that I actually did write a review for, which you can find HERE. In a nutshell, Birdman was a fantastic independent “artsy” film that featured the shoo-in Best Actor winner in Michael Keaton and a handful of other outstanding supporting performances by the rest of the cast. The parallels between Keaton’s actual career and the fictitious Riggan Thomson are impossible to ignore, and there wasn’t a more uniquely shot movie in 2014. Please click the link above to read about the plot in more detail. It’s a must-see, and for me it almost made it to the Oscars finish line as the best movie of the year. However…

1. Whiplash – For three months I’ve been telling people it would take a miracle for any movie to knock Birdman off the top of my 2014 “best films” list. At the 11th hour, a miracle is exactly what occurred. I finally saw Whiplash on Thursday and it BLEW EVERY OTHER MOVIE OF 2014 OUT OF THE WATER. I’m not exaggerating even slightly. In fact, I went into the theater hoping not to like it that much because there’s this one particular person in my life who I hate having to admit to that he’s right, and he told me a couple weeks ago that this was the best movie he’s seen in a while. Even while trying to be stubborn about it, Whiplash lapped the field in this year’s Best Picture race in my opinion. The story follows student jazz drummer Andrew (played by Miles Teller) at America’s finest music school, Schaffer Conservatory in New York. He starts on what is essentially the Junior Varsity team of bands, but is aiming to get to the next level, the studio band conducted by the legendary Terence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons). Let’s stop right there with the plot because we need to talk about Simmons (who has acted in a ton of stuff, with the most notable role for me being Paul Rudd’s Dad in I Love You, Man…remember his best friend, Hank Mardukas?). In Whiplash, Simmons plays the role of the fearsome, abusive, uber-demanding teacher. And he plays it just about better than any actor in any role that I’ve seen in my lifetime. As I watched him, I laughed and trembled with fear at the same time. Teller also played his part phenomenally, I thought, but sometimes an actor and a role are like a tornado ripping through the movie and leaving destruction in its wake. That was Simmons in this particular film. He’s nominated for the Supporting Actor Award on Sunday, and I don’t think a category has been this locked up before the ceremony since Daniel Day-Lewis actually mutated into Abraham Lincoln in 2012’s Lincoln. I can’t say enough about Simmons or the movie in general. Beyond the characters, the plot was even better than you could ever imagine considering it’s a story about jazz and music school. The writer/director of Whiplash, Damien Chazelle, sets us up for the ultimate “HOLY SHIT” moment not once, but twice in the second half of this movie. And to top it all off, the final 10 minutes are the most fun you will ever have watching actors play music on the big screen. After writing all this, I really want to go see Whiplash again. Like right now. You should do the same.

And because I thought Whiplash was so amazing, I’m hoping one more miracle happens. Below are the betting odds for the Best Picture category. I just had to put a few bucks on Whiplash at 66/1 odds. I’m hoping the Academy members saw what I saw in this movie and decide to reward it in the way it deserves. Fingers crossed.

Enjoy Oscar Night!

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Super Bowl Recap & Looking Ahead to 2015

malcolm butler

I decided on Sunday night that I wouldn’t stop celebrating the Patriots’ Super Bowl win until Gronk stopped. When I saw this tweet on Tuesday afternoon, I knew it was time to start writing.

gronk

The great thing about this fourth Super Bowl victory for the Brady/Belichick era Patriots is that there’s no need to debate things. I don’t want to write 1,500 words trying to argue about legacies, and you don’t want me to do that. It’s pretty clear-cut at this point:

  • Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback and greatest winner the NFL has ever seen.
  • Bill Belichick is the best football coach. Ever. Period.

There is no logical argument that can be made against either of those facts. Certainly bitter, unappreciative people from outside New England will look for arguments, but only the most insecure Patriots fans will even bother listening.

Chicago has Michael Jordan.

New York has Babe Ruth.

Edmonton / Los Angeles has Wayne Gretzky.

And now New England has Brady.

The greatest of all time.

And since Brady plans to play for another three or four years and the Patriots are the odds-on favorite to return to the Super Bowl for the AFC next year, let’s not use this fourth Lombardi Trophy as an end point in his career. Maybe he wins a fifth Championship. Maybe he makes it to two more Super Bowls but loses them both. It doesn’t matter. Nothing short of a Lance Armstrong-level doping scandal can knock Brady off the top of the QB perch (unless Eli Manning rattles off three straight Super Bowl wins starting next year, which would make the entire idea of ranking quarterbacks absurd).

Yes, I’m an unapologetic Patriots fan who will absolutely be annoying to talk to for the next couple months, but don’t you dare accuse me of being someone who can’t make light of things that happen to his hometown teams. I’m pretty sure what happened in the following Vine is that Jimmy Garoppolo jumps up & down like a normal human, but he immediately notices that Brady celebrates like a seven-year-old girl who had a few too many Pixie Stix, and so Garoppolo had to quickly adjust (because no one is allowed to look cooler than Brady at any given moment):

I totally understand the people who couldn’t bring themselves to root for either team in the Super Bowl and didn’t even want it to be a good game. I felt that way last year when Seattle trounced Denver. But after living through that relatively boring game and this past Sunday’s instantly-epic one, I gotta figure no one’s upset with the way this game went down no matter what your feelings are on either of the teams.

On the surface it appears as though the Patriots were the winners on Sunday, but of course the NFL won in a big way too. They got a record-breaking audience watching a game that immediately vaulted into the “Top three Super Bowls of all time” conversation as soon as the fourth quarter clock struck 00:00. And maybe most importantly, the NFL got a nearly flawless game from the referees.

Here’s the tweet of the week, courtesy of Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith), managing editor of Pro Football Talk: “The six most-watched American TV shows of all time were the last six Super Bowls. No. 7 is the MASH finale.”

And yes, Super Bowl XLIX was the most-watched TV show ever.

I’ll reiterate something I’ve been writing in this space with regularity this season: The NFL has us…BY. THE. BALLS.

As far as betting on the game went, I didn’t have an awesome outcome on my Prop Bets. I won four of them (Brady over 1.5 TD passes, Russell Wilson under 42.5 rushing yards, Al Michaels did mention the point-spread, and Belichick wore a blue hoodie). But I lost about 15 of them.

Hopefully you made an extremely large, totally irresponsible bet on the Patriots to win just like I did about 30 minutes before kickoff.

If you did that, then you’ve definitely got a bunch of money in your Bovada account. One recommendation before you cash out for the season: Take a look at the Super Bowl odds for next year and find a couple longshots that you like. Throw a few bucks on a few teams to win Super Bowl 50, and then request payment for the rest of your balance. This will help you avoid stupidly betting on the NBA, NHL or college basketball when you have no business doing that.

Here are the handful of teams I’m throwing money on today before I cash out:

  • Green Bay (8/1 odds): OK, it turns out I took one non-longshot. The Packers might be the only NFC team that can challenge the Seahawks next year. And there’s a chance Seattle’s schedule is difficult enough that the Packers finally get that critical #1 seed.
  • Baltimore (33/1): Because they’re definitely the only team that can challenge New England in the AFC. As long as Baltimore makes the playoffs, it doesn’t matter if they dominate and go 14-2, or they back into the postseason with nine wins and some good luck, they have a reasonable shot to get back to the Super Bowl.
  • Atlanta (40/1): Because Dan Quinn’s defensive chops and just his fresh blood at head coach could get these guys back to the playoffs. Remember how horrible the NFC South was this past year. I’d much rather have Atlanta at 40/1 than New Orleans at 25/1.
  • Houston (40/1): This is purely based on my guess that Bill O’Brien will go out and find a decent quarterback either through trade or free agent signing. O’Brien did a fine job in his first season as Houston’s coach. The AFC South was almost as weak as its NFC counterpart in 2014. And who wouldn’t want to have a lottery ticket like this if it means rooting for J.J. Watt in meaningful January football games?
  • NY Giants (40/1): Just like a Presidential Election…every four years.

On that final bet, yes, I’m fully prepared for the Patriots to lose Super Bowl 50 to the Giants. It’ll strengthen a really weird historical footnote in Brady’s career that he did everything you could ever ask the G.O.A.T. to do except beat Eli Manning in a big game.

It’s that sort of crazy randomness that keeps more and more fans tuning into NFL games even as the people running the league continue to one-up themselves in the broad category known as “ineptitude.”

This was a fun season to write about the NFL twice a week. I hope everyone enjoyed reading this column as much as I enjoyed writing it. Of course I’ll be back for next season, and you can expect some columns every now and then during the offseason whenever there’s something newsworthy to discuss.

Enjoy patching things up with all the family members you’ve neglected over the past 22 weeks!