Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: The Dark Room

The Dark Room The Dark Room by Jonathan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy for review from the publisher.

Inspector Gavin Cain is in the middle of having a body exhumed when he is pulled off that case and rushed to meet the mayor of San Francisco who has received some photos which apparently show a woman being raped along with a threat to release more pictures if he doesn’t kill himself. The mayor denies knowing the woman in between gulps of bourbon, but Cain is less than convinced. As Cain investigates he quickly becomes convinced that there’s a link between the blackmail and the shocking discovery they find in the coffin he was having dug up. Coincidence? I think not!

This is the second book in what author Jonathan Moore is describing as a neo-noir trilogy that started with his excellent The Poison Artist and will conclude next year with The Night Market. However, this is a stand-alone story that just hints at a few events of the previous book so it can be read on its own.

Overall this has a couple of very compelling mystery components with some horrifying elements to them, and the way the plot unfolds make the revelations and ultimate resolution very satisfying. At that surface level it’s a well done whodunit story, but it’s a deeper and more interesting book than just a simple detective novel. While The Poison Artist was a psychological suspense thriller that had a brooding and dreamy atmosphere The Dark Room is more of a straight-up police procedural. Both books make excellent use of their San Francisco location with Moore describing rainy streets filled with fog that make you think that Sam Spade might be walking just around the corner.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about these books is that they are incredibly tight with both of them coming in at less than 300 pages, and yet they feel like full and rich stories. Moore does his business with an admirable economy that doesn’t skimp on the character details. Cain takes shape over the course of the book as a competent and moral detective who is neither an action hero nor Sherlock Holmes. He’s also got a sub-plot about his relationship with his agoraphobic girlfriend, and that’s where we see a whole other side to him that adds more layers.

I’ll definitely be checking out the third and final book of this trilogy when it releases, and I’m so impressed with Moore at this point that I’ll be checking out some of his earlier work, too.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy: New Guard, Volume 1: Emperor Quill

Guardians of the Galaxy: New Guard, Volume 1: Emperor Quill Guardians of the Galaxy: New Guard, Volume 1: Emperor Quill by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

”The entire galaxy is a mess. Warring empires and cosmic terrorists plague every corner. Someone has to rise above it all and fight for those who have no one to fight for them. Against their natures, a group of misanthropes and misfits came together to serve a higher cause. DRAX the DESTROYER, GAMORA, the most dangerous woman in the universe, ROCKET RACCOON, GROOT, and FLASH THOMPSON a/k/a VENOM all joined together under the leadership of PETER QUILL, STAR-LORD, to be the saviors of the spaceways, the conservators of the cosmos, the….GUARDIANS of the GALAXY!

But things have changed."

I still haven’t managed to read Secret Wars and the five million reboot books that Marvel launched in the aftermath, but seeing the excellent second GotG movie gave me the itch to check this out. I was a little lost on a few points. What happened ot the Kree homeworld? Why has Peter ditched the Guardians to become king of Spartax after replacing his dirtbag dad. (Who is not Kurt Russell in the comics.) When and why did Ben Grimm and Kitty Pryde leave Earth and join the Guardians?

As with most things things comic booky it’s best not to worry too much about the history and just diving in didn’t keep me from enjoying the story. It’s fairly easy to pick up the flavor of what’s going on, and Bendis’ style of dialogue is suited for infodumps among the banter and fights.

Overall, I liked this line up. Having Rocket lead the Guardians while Quill is struggling to learn how to lead a planet was a nice change of pace. Kitty Pryde taking over the Star-Lord persona gives her a cool new look while still remaining the same great character, and I really liked Ben Grimm joining the team. It’s a good start to a book I can see myself reading a lot more of if they just let them have fun adventures rather than trying to shoehorn them into crossovers.

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Friday, May 5, 2017

Review: Ant-Man: Season One

Ant-Man: Season One Ant-Man: Season One by Tom DeFalco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My reaction was seeing that Marvel did one of these Season One stories for Ant-Man was pretty much the same reaction I had when I heard they were doing an Ant-Man movie. Really?

But on reflection it does make a certain amount of sense. Hank Pym goes back to the early days of the Marvel comic universe, and he was a founding member of the Avengers so giving him a reboot with the rest of the gang helps create consistency. However, his history of wife slapping and mental health issues also make him problematic.

This does a fairly good job of laying groundwork for some of the problems he’d have later with a young Hank grieving over his murdered first wife and struggling with his paranoid tendencies as well as his overbearing father. This creates a sympathetic guy you can see destined for trouble down the road. The origin stuff is OK with a plot that gives somewhat plausible reasons why a guy would shrink himself down and talk to ants.

It’s not great, but it was a decent reboot.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Review: Robert B. Parker's Little White Lies

Robert B. Parker's Little White Lies Robert B. Parker's Little White Lies by Ace Atkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy of this from NetGalley for review.

I usually spend some time in my reviews of the new Spenser books from Ace Atkins talking about how well he’s done with the tricky job of taking over the series from the late Robert B. Parker. I’m not going to do that anymore because at this point this is entirely Atkins’ series, and Spenser is as good as he’s ever been.

Connie Kelley was swindled out of several hundred thousand dollars by her boyfriend, M. Brooks Welles, who has since vanished, and Connie would like Spenser to track him down and get her money back. Welles claimed to be a military veteran and spy whose experience made him a regular fixture on the cable news as an expert in those matters. What Spenser quickly finds is that Welles is a con man who has left a trail of broken promises and unpaid bills in his wake including a land scam that involved a shady gun dealer.

One of the best parts of this one is the character of Welles because he makes for an infuriating bad guy for Spenser to chase. He’s a compulsive liar who absolutely will never admit that he’s fibbing even when he’s confronted with direct evidence of it. What’s really amazing is how many people he’s burned who continue to fall for it and keep putting their faith in him. I mean, what kind of rubes continue to believe a guy who has been conclusively proven over and over again to be completely full of shit?

As usual we get a lot of twists and turns that find Spenser eventually making a trip down South where even more shenanigans are going on. Along the way he’ll have to deal with cranky cops, angry ATF agents, a wavering client, professional mercenaries, and more scams than you can shake a stick at. We also get the reappearance of a supporting character we haven’t seen in a while as well as plenty of great stuff with Hawk, too. Atkins also continues to rehab Susan so that I actually now enjoy her interactions with Spenser rather than just cringing at the sight of her name on the page.

Of course the heart of it all is Spenser who is his usual hard-punching, straight-shooting, smart-mouthed, gourmet-cooking self, but he still continues to show signs of growth in these newer books including a refreshingly pragmatic streak of how far he’s willing to take a case. Overall, it’s pretty much a book that most fans of Spenser or modern PI novels in general would enjoy reading.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review: Dune

Dune Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to write this review without rhythm so that it won’t attract a worm.

In the distant future Arrakis is a hellhole desert planet where anyone who doesn’t die of thirst will probably be eaten by one of the giant sandworms. It’s also the only place where the precious spice melange can be found so it’s incredibly valuable, and the honorable Duke Leto Atreides has been ordered by the Padishah Emperor to take over control of Arrakis from his mortal enemies, the House Harkonnen. While this seems like a great offer on the surface the Duke and his people realize that it’s actually a cunning trap being set by the Emperor and Baron Harkonnen.

The only hope seems to be allying with the local populace called Fremen whose harsh environment has led them to become an incredibly tough and disciplined people, but they have their own vision of what Arrakis should be. They also have a prophecy about the coming of a messiah figure who will lead them to freedom, and the Duke’s son Paul looks like he may be exactly who they’ve been waiting for.

This is classic sci-fi that really deserves the label. What Frank Herbert accomplished in one novel is stunning because he built a fascinatingly detailed universe in which the politics, religion, economics, espionage, and military strategy are all equally important. He then blended these more grounded concepts with bigger sci-fi ideas like being able to use spice to see through space-time, and the scope of that encompasses trying to pick the proper path through various potential timelines as well as free will vs. fate.

I think one of the factors that helps this story stay timeless is that so much of it is based on what humanity becomes vs. trying to predict what futuristic technology would be like. This is a society that once had a war with machines and has since rejected any type of computers so people have developed to fill the gap with the help of the spice. The Mentats are trained to use data to predict outcomes. The Navigators of the Guild have used so much of the spice to help them move through space that they’re mutating. The all female Bene Gesserit have developed a variety of skills to place their members alongside positions of power to help advance their breeding scheme that spans generations. Herbert also cleverly came up with an excuse that explains why knives and hand-to-hand combat are so important with the idea of the personal body shields.

So even though we still got a good sci-fi’s novel worth of cool gadgets the emphasis is on what the people can do and how that’s developed over a long period of time. It also adds a lot of depth to the political dimensions because all of these groups have different agendas that cause them all to mistrust each other, but because they all fill these various roles none can exist with the others.

There are also parallels to our world that are still in play because the idea of a desert people caught up in the power struggles of various outsiders because of their valuable natural resource is an obvious allegory to the Middle East that still works today. Plus, the classic film Lawrence of Arabia came out a few years before Herbert published this, and you have to think that it had some influence on him because there are elements of the story that seem very much inspired by it.

While the whole concept of a Chosen One has gotten a bit worn over time that’s not Herbert’s fault, and this is still a fantastic sci-fi story with big ideas that also works as space opera as well as being an epic adventure story.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Review: Doctor Strange, Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment

Doctor Strange, Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment Doctor Strange, Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment by Roger Stern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Greetings, Dr. Strange. I, Victor von Doom, have come to offer you an opportunity to assist me in a magical quest.”

“You must be mad, Doom. As the Sorcerer Supreme you know that I’d never use my powers to help a villain like you. I’ll see you in hell first!”

“Funny you should say that….”

Dr. Strange and Dr. Doom are summoned to a magical trial with some other contestants to determine who will be the next Sorcerer Supreme. Strange walks away with the title, but Doom wins the right to make a request of him. Doom wants help in freeing his mother’s soul from Mephisto which means going to Hades and fighting the devil himself on his home turf. Hilarity ensues.

This one started out with two strikes against it with me. First, it was written back in the late ‘80s so I knew going in it’d probably seem somewhat dated. Second, I’m not a fan of Mike Mignola’s art. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this.

While the dialogue is very overblown and comic booky it actually kinda works when you’re dealing with a couple of verbose characters like Strange and Doom. Teaming up a hero with one of Marvel’s worst baddies adds a fun mismatched partners dynamic like you find in a good buddy action movie. The story itself is pretty strong and the battle between them and Mephisto features some really clever twists in the way it uses as magic and plays with the idea that Doom will almost certainly betray Strange to save his mother’s soul.

I also liked it because I generally find Doom to be a hoot because he is just such an unbelievably arrogant jerk, but this manages to add a tragic dimension to the character. By the end you feel almost bad for the guy.

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Review: The Ridge

The Ridge The Ridge by John Rector
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy of this via NetGalley for review.

I’ve lived in the suburbs for years and despite what books, movies, and TV would have you believe I’ve yet to see any evidence of evil lurking beneath the surface. Except for leaf blowers. Leaf blowers were created by the devil for morons to run for hours on end and drive me insane because how in the world can you possibly have that many leaves in April and will you just PLEASE TURN IT OFF BEFOREIHAVETO COMEOVERTHEREANDBEATYOUTODEATHWITHAHAMMERINFRONT OFYOURCHILDREN?!?!?!?!?!

Uh…where was I? Oh, right. Yeah, I haven’t found a beating heart of darkness beneath the surface as popular fiction likes to depict. Still, it makes for some good creepy stories like this one.

Megan and Tyler Stokes have recently moved to Willow Grove for Tyler’s new job at the Institute which sits on a ridge overlooking the planned community. Megan is struggling to adapt to their new area, and she’s got a particular problem with her attractive neighbor Rachel who Megan believes is interested in Tyler. After a few bottles of wine Megan decides to confront Rachel, but a bizarre incident makes Megan start to suspect that there is something very wrong with her neighborhood. However, Tyler thinks that Megan’s unhappiness with Willow Grove is making her imagination run wild.

I’ve read a couple of good noirish crime novels from John Rector, but he’s trying something different here. This is more of a moody blend of psychological suspense and conspiracy thriller, and it’s a nice piece of work. It starts off with just an inkling that there’s trouble in paradise with Megan being obsessed with Rachel, and then it quickly veers into some much darker territory before settling into a mode of gradually increasing the unease into paranoia and then outright terror.

There’s a few very big clues as that made it fairly obvious to me what the underlying cause of the whole thing was so Rector didn’t pull off a major twist. On the other hand, I don’t think that’s what he was really trying to do. This seems more about the journey than the destination, and Megan’s gradual unraveling as the weirdness piles up is what makes it a page turner that will have you feeling vaguely creeped out the entire time.

This is one where I really wish we had those half stars because it’s too good to be an average 3, but 4 seems just a tad high.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Review: Golden Prey

Golden Prey Golden Prey by John Sandford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy of this from NetGalley for review.

The twenty-seventh book in a series would be when you’d really expect an author to run out of gas and just coast along on the fumes of creativity and the goodwill of hard core fans. So how do you explain John Sandford writing one of the most exciting Prey novels in the entire series now?

You can’t. So just enjoy it.

Lucas Davenport is now a deputy US marshal, and he got the gig thanks to his political connections. In fact, Lucas has so much juice that he gets to pick and choose his cases, and he’s still got a taste for hunting the worst of the worst. That’s why he decides to track down Garvin Poole, an armed robber who shoots first and doesn’t bother asking any questions later because he killed anyone who could have answered.

Poole dropped out of sight until he recently ripped off a massive amount of cash, but a small child was collateral damage on that caper so Poole is back on the government’s radar. He also mightily pissed off a drug cartel because it was their money Poole stole, and they want it back so badly that they’ve dispatched a pair of cold blooded thugs to viciously torture and kill anyone who ever knew Poole on the off chance that they might know where he is.

Giving Davenport a new gig with the US Marshal’s Service was an inspired choice because Sandford writes great manhunts and a big part of what marshals do is chase fugitives. (It also makes me fantasize about a crossover between Lucas and the late Elmore Leonard creations Raylan Givens and Karen Sisco.) So the book immediately plays to Sandford’s strength as Lucas first sniffs around for a lead on Poole, and then finds himself in a race against the cartel to find him.

Having Davenport run around various Southern states gives the whole thing a sense of momentum, and the cat and mouse games between him, Poole, and the cartel killers shows off the kind of fantastic plotting and pacing that Sandford can seemingly do in his sleep. He almost always manages to make everything seem realistic, natural, and intelligent while keeping a reader turning pages as fast they can to see what happens next.

Taking Davenport out of his usual Minnesota setting also freshens things up. I don’t think that Sandford ever fell into a rut, but any long running series is going to develop a certain rhythm to it after a while. Lucas had his home life to ground him along with his cop buddies and a bunch of friends he’d turn to for help regularly, and while it was all still good it was also very familiar. This isn’t the first time that Sandford has mixed things up because Davenport has changed jobs before, and he’s grown and mellowed as a character over time.

That’s all still here, but by putting Lucas into a completely new branch of law enforcement as well as changing his geographic location it took away all the old support systems. Which means that Sandford has to develop new characters, new ways of handling things, and new problems for Davenport. All of which he’s done very well, but Sandford also knows where his bread is buttered so it still seems very much like a Prey novel. It’s like he’s given Lucas a makeover. He’s still the same old ruthless bastard he's always been when he's on the hunt, but now with a new haircut and a spring in his step as he does it.

Also, since I've reviewed a lot of Sandford on here I regularly get asked if it's the kind of series you can read any book or if you need to read the whole series to understand. My standard answer is that most are self-contained stories that can be enjoyed by themselves, but this one in particular would make a great place to jump in for anyone looking to try it out.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Review: Under the Bright Lights

Under the Bright Lights Under the Bright Lights by Daniel Woodrell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jewell Cobb is a small town Louisiana boy who has come to the city with dreams of making it big in crime, and he gets hired to kill a crooked politician. Detective Rene Shade grew up on the streets he now works, and he knows every lowlife around. His own brother runs a bar so shady that Rene can ruin business just by walking in the place and scaring off the customers. As Shade tries to run down Cobb and figure out what’s behind the gang violence things get messier than trying to eat a bowl of gumbo without a spoon.

This is Daniel Woodrell’s first book, and it’s the start of a trilogy he’d do featuring Rene Shade. It’s a short and snappy piece of work that focuses on vivid characters and colorful atmosphere that includes smoky pool rooms and swamps. It’s not nearly as good as Winter’s Bone, but it shows off Woodrell’s talent that he’d continue to develop over his career.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

47 Movies - The Director's Cut

Picking one favorite movie for every year of my life required a lot of deep soul searching.  Here’s the finalists along with some random silly thoughts about why I chose each particular one.  I ranked each year in descending order.
1970 – Patton
Kelly’s Heroes
I was born into war!  Or at least born into war movies because all three I considered here are war flicks. I’ve only watched MASH entirely a few time so it didn’t seem to fit the criteria of favorite.  Kelly’s Heroes is a great twist on a war flick done as a heist with a fun cast of kooky characters, but that awesome George C. Scott’s speech in front of a giant American flag tips the balance.
1971 – The French Connection
Dirty Harry
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Two cops and a crazy candy maker in competition here, and Popeye Doyle wins by driving like a maniac down the gritty streets of ‘70s New York.
1972 – The Godfather
The Getaway
Would I really pick anything else?  The Getaway is a classic '70s crime fim, but I only considered it for a hot second before bowing to reality.
1973 – The Exorcist
The Sting
Enter the Dragon
Bruce Lee made a strong case with the sheer force of his martial arts skill and screen presence, but how can you top Newman and Redford conning Robert Shaw during the Great Depression?  Why, only the devil himself could do that!
1974 – The Godfather Part 2
Blazing Saddles
Again, it’s pretty much impossible to go up against the combo of the first two Godfather movies. It’s a testament to how strong Godfather is that both Blazing Saddles and Chinatown could be my #1 pick in a lot of other years.
1975  - Jaws
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Jack Nicholson needed a bigger boat to win this one.
1976 – All the President’s Men
The Bad News Bears
As someone who grew up in the ‘70s when parenting and child safety standards were a bit different than today I still get a huge laugh out of Walter Matthau giving beer to foul-mouthed children, and who could root against Rocky Balboa?  Still I slightly prefer the true story of dogged reporters taking down a corrupt president.  Ah, the good ole days…
1977 – Star Wars: A New Hope
Smokey & the Bandit
Star Wars was always going to be my pick, but that Trans Am was pretty cool.
1978 – Halloween
National Lampoon’s Animal House
Dawn of the Dead
Full confession: Animal House would have been the favorite at an earlier point in my life because it’s one of those movies that I could pretty much quote from start to finish thanks to watching it a few thousand times in the ‘80s.  However, the appeal of frat boy behavior has faded.  So instead I’m giving the nod to a deranged mass murderer in the mask instead.  And I still think of zombies whenever I somehow find myself in a mall.
1979 – Apocalypse Now
The Jerk
North Dallas Forty
This one was tougher than I expected.  I’ve got a huge soft spot for the dingy ‘70s atmosphere that surrounds a cynical and battered Nick Nolte, and if I had a nickel for every time I’ve said, “He hates these cans!” I could retire.   A chest bursting alien is also pretty good, but it still doesn’t smell as good as napalm in the morning.
1980 – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
The Shining
The Blues Brothers
Yet another time where comedies that I’ve quoted an unhealthy amount of times just can’t overcome superior completion, and Nicholson really could have used a dead Tauntaun when he was in that hedge maze.
1981 – Raiders of the Lost Ark
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Escape From New York
Two tough dystopian warriors and Bill Murray with a military grade RV still can’t take down one archaeologist with a whip.
1982 – Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan
48 Hrs.
Blade Runner
This was an incredibly tough pick between two of my favorite sci-fi classics and a great buddy action/comedy, but only Wrath of Khan can still make it seem dusty in my living room at the end.
1983 – WarGames
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
The Right Stuff
National Lampoon’s Vacation
Star Wars could have had a three-peat here if not for the Ewoks, and while the Mercury astronauts may have had the right stuff what they didn’t have was a computer that could talk and destroy the world.  The moose should have told the Griswold family that this pick was closed.
1984 – Ghostbusters
The Terminator
Romancing the Stone
If Terminator had come out a year sooner it could have easily taken out geeky Matthew Broderick, but not even a murderous cyborg and the charm of Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in their ‘80s prime is enough to overcome a Twinkie this big.
1985 – Fletch
The Breakfast Club
Real Genius
Yes, Real Genius was one I seriously thought about just because I’ve seen it even more than Back to the Future.  Which I like just fine but I don’t have the deep love that some people do so I’ll have to rely on Breakfast Club’s honorable mention to save my ‘80s street cred.  Fletch was the easy choice here.
1986 – Aliens
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Stand By Me
The recent death of Bill Paxton reminded me just how many times in my life I’ve said, “Game over, man!  Game over!”
1987 – Full Metal Jacket
Raising Arizona
Princess Bride
The Untouchables
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Lethal Weapon
1987 was a helluva movie year, and it’s the first one that I really struggled with because of the sheer number and variety of candidates.  How do you compare Full Metal Jacket to The Princess Bride?  Or Predator to Planes, Trains & Automobiles? In the end it came down to my memories of seeing Full Metal Jacket in a packed theater and walking out with a crowd just as stunned and silent as I was.
1988 – Die Hard
Bull Durham
The greatest action movie ever made steamrolled the minor league baseball team even though I still call anyone who is moving too slowly to suit me a lollygagger.
1989 – Major League
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade
Say Anything
Lethal Weapon 2
I was fairly shocked that Batman wasn’t #1 with a bullet since I saw that movie four or five times in the theater and wore out a VHS copy of it back in the day.  Yet, I eventually started criticizing it more than enjoying it and hadn’t seen it many years.  A recent viewing didn’t do much to boost it in my eyes either.  I’m even more shocked that I put Major League in first place of the box scores here, and it’s probably one of my few real offbeat choices.  Still, it hits the criteria of being the one I’ve probably seen the most, and I will almost always watch it again if I come across it on TV.
1990 – Miller’s Crossing
Total Recall
This was an upset that happened after a lot of careful consideration.  Total Recall is goofy fun but never stood a chance with these two heavyweights.  Goodfellas is a fantastic flick that would win almost any other year, but Miller’s Crossing has a special place as my favorite Coen brothers’ movie. I also love the story and setting which were influenced by Hammetts’s Red Harvest.  So after looking in my heart I decided that it had a slight edge.
1991 – The Silence of the Lambs
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The ‘90s are almost nothing but hard choices on here, and it's two of my all-time favorites head-to-head. Hannibal gets the win just because it’s a great adaptation of a book I also love.
1992 – Unforgiven
Reservoir Dogs
Tarantino’s first work against Eastwood’s best?  The crusty veteran takes the prize, but it was close.
1993 – Groundhog Day
The Fugitive
It’s cold out there, campers.  So cold that I gotta cut movies like The Fugitive and Tombstone.
1994 – Pulp Fiction
The Shawshank Redemption
Another near impossible choice here.  Speed is a distant third even at 50 mph, but there’s no shame in that with this kind of competition.  I just can’t go against Pulp Fiction here, but Shawshank made it tougher than I thought it’d be originally.
1995 – Seven
The Usual Suspects
This is where I very nearly threw in the towel on my rule about not having any ties.  These are three movies that would probably rank in all-time top twenty so cutting two is particularly cruel.  As with 1987 the tie-breaker came from the stunned audience reaction to Seven in the theater that got it the top spot.
1996 – Fargo
Star Trek: First Contact
Finally, an easy pick from the ‘90s.  First Contact is great, but Jean-Luc Picard has to take a backseat in Marge’s police cruiser.
1997 – LA Confidential
Jackie Brown
Sweet bloody Christmas, but this is another heart breaker.  Two fantastic crime movies based on two fantastic crime novels from a couple of my favorite crime authors?  It’s just not fair.  LA Confidential squeaked ahead because I think it’s just a tiny bit more enjoyable to watch.
1998 – Saving Private Ryan
The Big Lebowski
Out of Sight
Once again it’s three movies that would rank highly among my all-time greats.  I hate to slight an Elmore Leonard adaptation for the second year in a row, but Out of Sight just can’t hang in there with the other two. In almost any other year Lebowski would bowl a strike, but Tom Hanks and his squad once again defeat the Germans.  Sure, they’re just nihilists, not Nazis, but the results are the same.
1999 – Fight Club
The Matrix
This is getting goddamn ridiculous.  But we all know what the first rule of Fight Club is: Don’t tell Neo about Fight Club because he’d just cheat by showing up with a bunch of kung-fu moves he downloaded. And if Neo doesn’t know about it then he can’t beat Tyler Durden.
2000 – Memento
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The Way of the Gun
Finally a choice that doesn’t make me break out in a cold sweat.   Way of the Gun is a crime flick that only about thirty people in the world have ever seen, but it’s one I return to again and again.  Ang Lee’s film is gorgeous violent poetry, but the structure of Memento is something that can only be experienced, not explained.
2001 – LotR : The Fellowship of the Rings
The Royal Tenenbaums
Ocean’s 11
There’s no better way of symbolizing the shift from ‘90s crime dramas to 21st century sci-fi spectacle than the first Lord of the Rings movie.
2002 – The Bourne Identity
LotR: The Two Towers
I loved Spider-Man, but the CG hasn’t aged well and the Green Goblin’s mask is still stupid.  The forgetful spy holds Helm’s Deep against the Orcs.
2003 – X-Men 2
LotR: Return of the King
Kill Bill Vol. 1
And here we have my first comic book movie winning out.  It won’t be the last.
2004 – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Kill Bill Vol. 2
Shaun of the Dead
The Bourne Supremacy
Spider-Man 2
Will Farrell kept his head on a swivel during this fight that escalated quickly.   
2005 - Serenity
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Batman Begins
Another oddball pick, but if loving a movie based on a short-lived TV show is wrong then I don’t wanna be right.
2006 – Casino Royale
Inside Man
Bond.  James Bond.  
2007 – There Will Be Blood
No Country for Old Men
Here we are back again with three amazing movies and a choice that will seem flawed no matter what I do.  If you asked me to do this pick three times I might pick a different one for each round depending on my mood at the moment, but for now Daniel Day-Lewis wins the showdown and drinks my milkshake.
2008 – The Dark Knight
Iron Man
I really should have thought about this no ties policy harder because it’s two great comic book characters going head to head in movies that would set the stage for the next decade. DC gets the pick thanks to Heath Ledger’s amazing performance as the Joker and Christopher Nolan’s top notch film making skills.  However, while Marvel lost this particular battle they’ve been winning the war ever since.
2009 – Star Trek
Inglourious Basterds
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Some really strong choices here, but I simply love this reboot of classic Trek.
2010 – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
True Grit
Anyone who doesn’t have tragically Canadian sensibilities recognizes that this is the clear pick.
2011- Moneyball
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Tom Cruise hanging off a skyscraper is fun, but not as much fun as watching arguments about compiling baseball stats.  I like this movie so much that I actually root for the A’s over my own Royals while watching it. (But only in this movie.)
2012 – The Avengers
Django Unchained
Moonrise Kingdom
No real contest despite some stiff competition.  It's pretty much how it looked in my head when I’d read Avengers comics as a kid so what more could I ask for?
2013 – Pacific Rim
This is the pick that I’m the least happy with.  I enjoyed Pacific Rim, but it’s got problems. Same thing with Gravity.  I suspect that Snowpiercer might one day claim this spot, but I need to see if it passes the multiple viewing test first.
2014 –Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Grand Budapest Hotel
John Wick
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Yes, it’s another one based on comic books, but when you combine that with space adventure, great action, a fun cast, a catchy soundtrack, and a heavily armed talking raccoon you get a movie that I think has high potential to remain one of my all-time favorites for many years to come.
2015 – Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Martian
I’m a little surprised that I didn’t go with the return of Star Wars because I did enjoy the hell out of that movie, but there is just something about the look, pace, and action of Fury Road that make me lean in its direction.  Poor Matt Damon will just have to keep eating potatoes by himself. 
2016 – Captain America: Civil War
Dr. Strange
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
More comic books and Stars Wars.  I’m sensing a trend here.  However, I don’t have the same level of enthusiasm for this as the other comic book picks. Plus, there’s still a lot of well-regarded movies from 2016 that I haven’t seen yet so it’s very possible that there will be some shifting around once I do some catching up.

47 Movies

This idea about picking your favorite movie for every year of your life has been going around, and one of my friends posted hers. Since I’m a jerk I felt the immediate need to ridicule a couple of her choices so in the interest of fair play I created my own list which she can mock.
What started out as a goofy time waster actually turned into something more interesting as I put it together. There is a good chunk of mine that would appear on almost any critic’s best of the 70s-90s list, and a lot my choices are painfully obvious.  (On the other hand was I really gonna get cute and say that The Godfather wasn’t my favorite movie from 1972?)  Things get a little weirder after 2000 though, and I started thinking about whether it was me or the movies that changed.  The answer: Yes.
It also forced me to really think about what my ‘favorite movie’ meant.  Favorite isn’t necessarily the best, and I have several choices where I freely admit that there were better made and more meaningful movies available.  They just weren’t the ones that I enjoy watching the most.  
Still, we all like to think that we’ve got good taste, and if my fave won that year’s Best Picture Oscar then I feel validated.  Or if one of my picks was a huge blockbuster that has remained in the public consciousness I can also justify it. However, the flip side of that is that I would start to worry about what the choices I was making would people think about me.  Didn’t I want to be hip and have some offbeat picks?  Did I want to seem lowbrow and admit how many comic book movies I really love?  The natural tendency is to start reviewing your choices and start tailoring them to project the image you want.
I tried to fight this by setting a couple of rules for myself.  First, I stuck to one a year.  No ties allowed because I found that if I had a bit of wiggle room I started adding in a critical indy darling along with the big blockbuster to show how much range I have as a person.  Second, I asked myself what was REALLY my favorite. Not the ones that I think are great movies, but that I've only seen once or twice. Instead what was actually the one for every year that I’ve watched countless times already and will still stop and watch it if I come across it while flipping channels?
There’s a few off years when the movie I chose probably wouldn’t make a straight up list of my favorite 47 movies, and there’s several years like 1995 where I had to cut several that would definitely be among my all-time greats.  By sticking to the rule of one per year it forced me to be honest, but the arbitrary nature of the format introduced an X factor that kept it from always being obvious choices.
And the winners are:
1970 – Patton
1971 – The French Connection
1972 - The Godfather
1973 – The Exorcist
1974 – The Godfather 2
1975 – Jaws
1976 – All the President’s Men
1977 – Star Wars: A New Hope
1978 – Halloween
1979 – Apocalypse Now
1980 – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
1981 – Raiders of the Lost Ark
1982 – Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan
1983 – WarGames
1984 – Ghostbusters
1985 – Fletch
1986 – Aliens
1987 – Full Metal Jacket
1988 – Die Hard
1989 – Major League
1990 – Miller’s Crossing
1991 – The Silence of the Lambs
1992 – UnforgIven
1993 – Groundhog Day
1994 – Pulp Fiction
1995 – Seven
1996 – Fargo
1997 – LA Confidential
1998 – Saving Private Ryan
1999 – Fight Club
2000 – Memento
2001 – Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
2002 – The Bourne Identity
2003 – X-Men 2
2004 – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
2005 – Serenity
2006 – Casino Royale
2007 – There Will Be Blood
2008 – The Dark Knight
2009 – Star Trek
2010 – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
2011 – Moneyball
2012 – The Avengers
2013 – Pacific Rim
2014 – Guardians of the Galaxy
2015 – Mad Max: Fury Road
2016 – Captain America: Civil War
So what does this say about me?  The obvious conclusion here is that I’m a middle-aged nerd with a taste for crime, action, sci-fi, and comic book movies with a few other things like war films and comedies sprinkled in here and there.  I’m also sure that a cinema snob would look at this list and lament that it illustrates how film has fallen steadily downhill since the days of The French Connection and All the President’s Men to the point where 3 out of my last 5 picks are Marvel comic book movies.
It’s true that my list seems to go from the true classics to giant blockbusters, but I also think that part of this is the natural filter that occurs over the years.  I didn’t go see The Exorcist in the theater when I was three years old.  I caught it years later because it’s a classic that has stood the test of time. That’s why my ‘70s list is pretty much nothing but well known critical darlings. There’s a similar filter on the ‘80s and ‘90s stuff where I was going to the movies, but I’ve had twenty or thirty years of re-watching these too so that I know what’s worn the best.  It's no real surprise that the better regarded and well known movies are often the ones that I still enjoy the most.
So it stands to reason that the recent ones are less ‘refined’. (For lack of a better word.)  As an example, I’ve only seen one of 2016’s Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, and that was Arrival.  I liked it a lot, but I’ve only seen it once so I can’t really say that it’s passed the long term favorite test so far.  Yet, I have seen Captain America: Civil War several times already because I’ve already got the Blu-ray, and it’s been out on Netflix for a few months.  So I’ve already established that I will go back to it, and that’s why it’s my pick at the moment.  Maybe I’ll watch Arrival twenty times when it hits cable and change my mind, or maybe something like Moonlight will eventually work its way to that level the same way that it took a decade for There Will Be Blood to become the favorite of 2007 over No Country for Old Men and Zodiac which are two movies I love that seem a lot more typical of me based on the other choices. 
Of course, there’s also just the fact that I’m a big comic book nerd, and that we’re living in a time where the technology can make those movies work.  They’re also the big moneymakers at the moment so that’s where a lot of the resources are going, and I can only like the movies they make. Again, we’re in the middle of this trend so it’ll probably be a few years to see if my enthusiasm for them holds or shifts to other things.
It does look like my list functions as a high level overview of trends in Hollywood.  The ‘70s were full of groundbreaking films in several genres, but the modern blockbuster was invented with Jaws and the first Star Wars.  That led to the ‘80s being all about trying to repeat that formula, and they had a lot of success while doing so.  However, things changed to a more cynical view in the ‘90s which you certainly see on my list where even the comedy I picked during that decade is about Bill Murray being trapped in a version of hell.  Since the turn of the century things have cycled back to be about escapism and spectacle.  The golden age of television that started about then have also shifted the dynamics with best drama and characters now on the small screen while trips to the theater are primarily saved for the big splashy movies that justify the cost and hassle of leaving my living room.
If you’re not tired of my navel gazing about this list I’ve also posted a version with the other finalists and some notes about them here.