Saturday, February 21, 2015

Oscar Worries

I have completed and submitted my Oscar pool ballot, and I'm nervous. Very nervous - because I changed my pick. Two actually. The big two.

I base my picks on who WILL WIN, not who DESERVES to win. That's what an Oscar pool is all about.

In breaking down the big six categories, let's get the easy stuff out of the way.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Particia Arquette - Boyhood
Laura Dern - Wild
Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game
Emma Stone - Birdman
Meryl Streep - Into The Woods

Solid performances by Dern and Knightley, but not Oscar winning. Streep is always great, but this isn't her year (or her Best Actress category). Stone will win one day, but not for this. Patricia Arquette aged 12 years right before our eyes and is the glue to Boyhood. She's a lock.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall - The Judge
Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
Edward Norton - Birdman
Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons - Whiplash

Duvall is a legend and always delivers, but he's in fifth place here. Hawke, Norton and Ruffalo are all excellent, but they picked the wrong Oscar year. If J.K. Simmons doesn't take home a gold statue, then I don't know who's voting. Lock.

BEST ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore - Still Alice
Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon - Wild

I feel bad for Rosamund Pike. She's excellent in Gone Girl, but the movie came out too early and it's just not the Academy's speed. Felicity Jones is very good and will be back, but she's not winning. Reese shows no signs of Elle Woods and gives a heck of a performance. Marion Cotillard could read the phone book for two hours and I'd watch...the Academy loves her. But this is Julianne Moore's Oscar to lose...the part is depressing and she's got the goods.

BEST ACTOR
Steve Carell - Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper - American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton - Birdman
Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything

Has there ever been a more likable Best Actor nominee list? Carell is fantastically creepy, but this won't be his year. Cumberbatch is ALWAYS good and deservedly getting his due, but not enough here for a win. Cooper isn't getting enough praise for his portrayal of Chris Kyle, but he finishes third. Everyone loves how Keaton's life seems to parallel Batman, I mean, Birdman an awful lot and he shows his range all over New York City. His only problem is he's up against a Brit playing a genius who becomes handicapped, and that's tough to beat any Oscar year. Eddie wins by a nose.

BEST DIRECTOR
Alejandro G. Inarritu - Birdman
Richard Linklater - Boyhood
Bennett Miller - Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum - The Imitation Game

Congrats on your nominations Miller and Tyldum and thanks for coming. I will see any Wes Anderson movie, but he's not winning either. This is a two-horse race, and Hollywood thinking got me to change my pick. Richard Linklater is a Top Five all-time director for me. I love everything he does and have the ultimate respect for what he did with Boyhood. And I think he will be rewarded with Best Picture. But not Best Director - that's going to go to Inarritu. He follows Ang Lee and Alfonso Cuaron who both took home statues, but for their directing and not their film.

BEST PICTURE
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

If there's more than one word in the title this year, you're out. And Selma is not going to win. That leaves Birdman, Boyhood and Whiplash. Whiplash was my favorite movie of the year, but I don't think it can win the Oscar. J.K. Simmons will represent.

I've gone back and forth on Birdman and Boyhood. I liked both films a lot, but I'm trying to think like an Oscar voter. I think the scope of Boyhood's filmmaking will eclipse the shots and percussion of Birdman, and all the work Richard Linklater put in will pay off with a Best Picture win.

So those are my Top Six picks. I hope my flip-flop pays off.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Top TV Shows of 2014

It's time for a list of my favorite TV shows from 2014.

But first. my honorable mentions for a variety of reasons:

BLACK MIRROR (CHANNEL 4)

I only recently caught this on Netflix. It might be my favorite show of the year. It is all that TV SHOULD be. Can't wait to see the Christmas special. Go watch it on Netflix, now.

SHERLOCK (BBC ONE)

Only 3 episodes, but each feels like a feature film. The third was the strongest. I miss Moriarty. After Black Mirror, go watch this on Netflix. Then continue down this list.

HANNIBAL (NBC)

It's on the DVR. I just haven't gotten back to it yet. But I've heard only great things.

TRANSPARENT (AMAZON)

Saw the pilot and thought it was very strong. Haven't logged on to Amazon to watch the rest yet. I will though. I owe it to Jeffrey Tambor.

LAST WEEK TONIGHT (HBO)

I've watched segments from the show online and thought they were brilliantly funny. I just haven't caught the entire show yet. But I will.

HOUSE OF CARDS (NETFLIX)

The second season was this year, right? The plot got a bit ridiculous, but the acting is top notch.

RECTIFY (SUNDANCE)

Loved the first season. Haven't seen the second one yet, but I heard it's as good as the first.

THE LEFTOVERS (HBO)

My favorite TV episode of the year was when Nora travelled to New York City. The show might have been a bit inconsistent, but different, and well worth watching.

THE WALKING DEAD (AMC)

Great first episode. The rest...was just not that good. I'm still watching though.

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And now, my top 11 shows, because 10 just isn't enough TV.

11. JANE THE VIRGIN (CW)

One of the best pilots I saw this year, and the series holds up reasonably well. It's smart, well acted, and avoids being the cliche that it can so easily become.

10. SILICON VALLEY (HBO)

Web-geek bias fully in play here. Very funny show, which only got better as it progressed. JT Miller and Christopher Evan Welch deserve Emmy nods, but they often get it wrong anyway.

9. THE GOOD WIFE (CBS)

Not its strongest year, but still one of the only series on network TV that's worth watching. Great cast top to bottom. Still the best place to see actors from The Wire (with apologies to The Affair).

8. BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO)

We all knew how it would it end, but there were surprises along the way and Buscemi was masterful. I liked the flashback parallel story quite a bit. And can someone sign Michael Shannon to his own cable series please? Thank you.

7. HOMELAND (SHOWTIME)

I almost gave up on Homeland last season, but I'm glad I came back. Easily the comeback player of the year. The finale was a setup for next season, but the episodes before it were fantastic. Great recovery.

6. VEEP (HBO)

No show made me laugh as much as Veep did this season. I'm concerned about Selena's new job in the Oval Office, but what a great season to get there. And Emmy gets this one right - Julia deserves it.

5. MAD MEN (AMC)

I really enjoyed this half-season of Mad Men. It feels like a novel that you never want to put down. I treasure any Don/Peggy scene that I can get (or anything involving Roger). This show will stand the test of time.

4. THE AMERICANS (FX)

If Homeland is this year's most improved show, this one is not too far behind. The 1980's scenery is always fun to take in, but the story and tension never let up all season long. Solid Russian spy stuff.

3. GAME OF THRONES (HBO)

My harshest criticism is that they didn't vary the opening credits sequence enough. That's HOW GOOD this show is. The best part of a new year is that "Winter is Coming" soon.

2. TRUE DETECTIVE (HBO)

The best acting of the year. The best tracking shot of the year. The most original show of the year. The second best villain of the year, because there was...

1. FARGO (FX)

I did not have a good feeling about a TV series based on this particular Coen Brothers movie. Boy was I wrong. This show did everything right from the get go. Each episode was better than the next. Billy Bob was the best villain on television. Every actor shined in his or her own way. The direction, the story, the acting...everything clicked. I almost don't want a second season because the first one was so good.

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Agree? Disagree? What did I forget? Let me know.

And in the words of Billy Ray Valentine (in disguise on an Amtrak train), Merry New Year!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fast Food Photo Plea - Part Deux

Thanks to all of you who have sent me photos from the fast food places I simply cannot get to. I sincerely appreciate your help, and I'm jealous that those locations aren't near me to sample.

I still need some photos from other parts of the country to finish this project, and I'm hoping those of you who are fortunate enough to live nearby any of these locations can help me out.

Here are the restaurants and pictures that I need from them respectively:

  • BRAUM'S - Turtle Sundae
  • CHECKERS - Big Buford, Baconzilla
  • DICK'S DRIVE-IN  - Dick's Deluxe
  • KRYSTAL - Logo, Krystal Burger, Krystal Chik
  • PAPA JOHN'S - Logo, Any type of pizza
  • ROY ROGERS - Logo or Exterior, Fried Chicken, Roast Beef Sandwich
  • SKYLINE CHILI - Cheese Coney, 3-Way or 4 Way
  • TACO TICO - Logo or Exterior
  • THE VARSITY - Logo, Exterior, Parking Lot

If you live close by any of these locations and can get me hi-res pictures from your phones, I would be most appreciative.

Please email me and I will give you the scoop on this project and any other specifics that you might be wondering about.

I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving. What better way to follow up that meal than with a visit to one of these fine fast-food establishments? Yum.

Take care,

Jon

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Fast Food Photo Plea

NOV 18 UPDATE 

THANKS SO MUCH TO ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE E-MAILED ME AND OFFERED TO SNAP SOME PICS.

I SINCERELY APPRECIATE ALL OF YOUR HELP!

JON

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People of Earth…I humbly seek your help.

I’m working on a personal project that involves something close to my heart. Probably too close.

Fast Food.

I am having a difficult time obtaining hi-res photos from fast food places that are, quite unfortunately, nowhere near where I live.

That is why I am reaching across the world wide web to you.

My humble request - if you live near any of the restaurants below and could snap a couple of hi-res photos with your iPhone for me, I would be most appreciative.

Here is my esteemed list of restaurants:
  • Arthur Treacher’s
  • Braum’s
  • Carl’s Jr
  • Checkers
  • Chick-fil-A
  • Church’s
  • Culver’s
  • Dick’s Drive-In
  • Hardee’s
  • Krystal
  • Long John Silver’s
  • Papa John’s
  • Qdoba
  • Quiznos
  • Roy Rogers
  • Skyline Chili
  • Taco Tico
  • Tim Hortons
  • The Varsity

If you’d like to help me out, please email me here and I will provide you with all the juicy details.

Thank you in advance!

Jon


Friday, February 28, 2014

Oscar Pix

Does anyone care about the Oscars this year? Did they get lost in the Olympic shuffle? We actually have a battle for Best Picture. Too many nominees, but still, no slam dunk.

As always, I pay no attention to who is wearing who or the wit of the host (good luck, Ellen).

It's all about the picks...and not only winning money, but more importantly, being right.

So, without further adieu, here are my picks for this Sunday night..

BEST PICTURE

My annual plea - lets get back to FIVE nominees. Make the academy work. All the films this year are good ones, but five makes it more special.

I got out more with my wife this year and saw all but one of the nominees. The film I missed was Her.  That's okay, it's not going to win.

Captain Phillips is a good movie, and Tom Hanks shockingly is not getting his due. It won't win. 

I enjoyed Philomena and Nebraska, but they both have a Best Indie feel to it, not Best Picture. 

The Wolf of Wall Street is a half hour too long and this just isn't Marty's year. 

American Hustle felt like a Scorsese movie I've seen before. Marty did it better. The acting is great. Best Picture, it is not.  

Dallas Buyers Club will take home at least one acting award, but not the big prize. 

So that leaves just two - 12 Years A Slave and Gravity.

I just watched 12 Years A Slave, and it is an excellent film. Based on a true story, its plight is so painful because we realize how much of it is true. A very moving film. But so was The Color Purple. And it did not win Best Picture. 

So that leaves Gravity. It is a visual masterpiece. It eats up every inch of the big screen. I left in awe when I walked out of the theater. And I think it will win on Sunday night.

By the way, I picked Zero Dark Thirty over Argo last year.

My Pick: Gravity

BEST DIRECTOR

This "who is Ben Affleck" category is a no brainer for me.

Alexander Payne is brilliant and I will see any movie he makes. Same goes for Martin Scorsese.  David O Russell's genius continues to elude me (I thought Silver Linings Playbook was bloated too).  Steve McQueen did an excellent job with 12 Years A Slave and has a great name for the movies.

I knew Ang Lee was going to win last year. Same reason that Alfonso Cuaron will win this year. Visually, it just doesn't get any better.

My Pick: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

BEST ACTOR

This is a tough one, and Hollywood's temperature will be taken to determine the winner.

Christian Bale - nice job in American Hustle, thanks for playing.

Bruce Dern - fantastic performance in Nebraska, and if it was Supporting Actor you might have a shot. It isn't, and you don't.

Leonardo Dicaprio - excellent performance, but these days you don't win Oscars for playing guys like Jordan Belfort.

Chiwetel Ejiofor - fantastic range of character and so many masterful subtle acting moves - it could be yours. But...

Matthew McConaughey - he's got the right Oscar mix. Lost a ton of weight, AIDS victim, angry and uplifting, and True Detective is incredible (sorry, my TV side got in there). It's his year. Alright, alright.

My Pick:  Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett. Lock. And that's with Meryl Streep and Judi Dench in the field.

My Pick: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

BEST SUPPPORTING ACTOR

Bradley Cooper is a talented actor, but he comes in fifth here. Michael Fassbender will be nominated again, but I felt he was too much of a caricature. Barkhad Abdi is great in Captain Phillips, but I need to see him in something else. I'm rooting for Jonah Hill who nailed the Long Island schmuck I'm all to familiar with. But the recipe is right for Jared Leto - cross dressing, AIDS, love story and a tragic figure. Winner.

My Pick: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

This is a tough one too.

I didn't see August: Osage County, so sorry Julia. You already have a statue anyway. I wasn't taken by Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine - probably too captivated by Cate. 

Jennifer Lawrence is a flat out movie star who owns the screen every time she appears. But there was not enough of her in American Hustle to merit a nomination, much less win the Oscar. I love her, but not for this.

June Squibb flat out steals Nebraska.  She's funny, poignant, and perfect for the film.  I want to pick her, but...

Lupita Nyong'o as Patsy, well, that's one for the ages. The pain in her performance is so palpable. She has to take home a gold statue.

My Pick: Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years A Slave

My pick six: Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron, Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Jared Leto, Lupita Nyong'o

Care to wager?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Second GoPro Video

I went snorkeling with my GoPro in Aruba.

This is my second attempt creating a video using GoPro software.

I'm uploading this with a foot of snow on the ground here in New York. Uggh.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My First GoPro Video

I went parasailing in Aruba.

This is also my first crack using GoPro software.

Be kind.  Happy 2014.