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Friday, December 31, 2021

Films of 2021

This is my annual post about the new films I saw over the prior year. Here's a link to last year's list if you want to work backwards through my choices over time. 

I made the following point last year and it remains true thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic:
I saw nearly all of these films at home rather than at my local multiplex. I think the last movie I saw in the cinema was Little Women in December 2019. On Long Island. I vividly recall the experience and miss it dearly. 
This first group of films is excellent. All that were eligible last year (the top 5) were nominated for Oscars and were worthy of those nominations. The 2020 Oscar competition allowed for films released early in 2021 to be eligible for consideration, which explains why they are included here. 

As for the "new" crop of 2021 films, I found Limbo to be excellent with a potent political (and humanistic) message about the duty to care for refugees. Power of the Dog is a novel western in that it addresses themes not ordinarily present in the genre. 

Tier I
Judas and the Black Messiah
The Father
One Night in Miami
Quo Vadis, Aida?
Power of the Dog

These next films were also entertaining, but they were clearly a notch below the selections in the top tier. CODA is earning a lot of awards buzz and may well be worth it. I found it to have predictable "movie of the week" themes, but it is very well done and it reveals a bit of the world unfamiliar to most of us. King Richard was also well done, but it relies upon a number of sport film tropes that will be familiar to viewers. 

Shiva Baby was very hard to watch at times, with extremely awkward situations and an atonal soundtrack. It may make your skin crawl, but it is smart. 

See Rams. 

I really wanted to like Don't Look Up and I very much appreciated its message about science, but I think it may have been overly ambitious with its attacks on media and celebrity culture. It wasn't as funny as it should have been despite the all-star cast and production team. 

By contrast, I Care a Lot is excellent social satire that is quite well written and funny. Its targets are not as ambitious. 

Tier II
I Care A Lot
King Richard
Quiet Place II
No Sudden Moves
Don't Look Up
No Time to Die
Shiva Baby
Riders of Justice
Together Together
The White Tiger

I also saw these new films in 2021:

Tier III
The Kid Detective
Plan B

Oh, also, I saw a few new documentaries in 2021. Summer of Soul was one of the best movies of the year and should earn an Oscar nomination. A Glitch in the Matrix was not worth my time -- or yours. I enjoyed 227 by the same director and they have a similar odd take on pop culture. But no, skip it. 

Summer of Soul
Some Kind of Heaven 
Derek DelGaudio's in & of Itself 
A Glitch in the Matrix

I almost forgot to add a list of Films of 2021 I still plan to see:

About Endlessness, Akilla's Escape, All is Forgiven, Amusement Park, Anne at 13,000 ft, Assassins, Atlantis, Azor, Beginning, Belfast, Belushi, Bergman Island, Card Counter, Censor, The Climb, C'mon C'mon, Come From Away, Come True, Concrete Cowboy, The Courier, Cowboys, Cruella, The Disciple, The Dig, Dream Horse, Dune Part One, First Wave, FTA, Green Knight, Hearts and Bones, Holler, Hope, Human Factor, Human Voice, Identifying Features, I'm Your Man, Inheritance, Karen Dalton, Keep an Eye Out, Killing of Two Lovers, Land, Lapsis, Licorice Pizza, Little Fish, Lost Daughter, Mass, Mitchells vs. The Machines, Memoria, MLK/FBI, Mogul Mowgli, Night of the Kings, Nobody,  Outside Story, Oxygen, Passing, Pieces of a Woman, Pig, The Reason I Jump, Red Rocket, The Rescue, Ride or Die, Rocks, Rose Plays Julie, Saint Maud, Saint-Narcisse, Shadow in the Cloud, Slow Machine, Souvenir Part II, Spencer, Stowaway, Supernova, This Is Not a Burial It's a Resurrection, tick, tick...Boom!, Tina, Tragedy of Macbeth, Truffle Hunters, Two of Us, Undergods, Undine, The Vigil, White Lie, Wild Indian, World to Come, Yellow Rose, Zola. 

And these are Films of 2020 I still need to see:

All In: The Fight for Democracy, Babyteeth, Bacurau, Banana Split, The Beach House, Beanpole, Beats, Bloody Nose Empty Pockets, City Hall, Color out of Space, Come as You Are, David Byrne's American Utopia, Donut King, End of Sentence, Ghost of Peter Sellers,  Half of It, Herself, How to Build a Girl, Lost Girls, Madre, Mangrove, Martin Eden, Miss Juneteenth, Mr. Jones, My Darling Vivian, The Nest, Ordinary Love, Place of No Words, The Platform, Possessor, Premature, Proxima, Relic, the Rental, Selah and the Spades, She Dies Tomorrow, Social Dilemma, Sorry We Missed You, Spaceship Earth, Straight Up, Sugar Daddy, The Surrogate, True History of the Kelly Gang, The Truth, Vitalina Varela, Wander Darkly, The Whistlers, A White, White Day, White Riot.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Books of 2021

This is my annual post listing books I read in the most recent year. I have produced such a list since 2005 -- here's a link to the 2020 list if readers want to work backwards.

Also, I posted short reviews of most of these books at Goodreads


Robert Vitalis, White World Order, Black Power Politics

Robert C. Rowland, The Rhetoric of Donald Trump 

Paul Harris, Pathologies of Climate Governance 

Rikka Kuusisto,  International Relations Narratives 

Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk 

Fareed Zakaria, Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World 

Hank Aaron with Lonnie Wheeler, I Had a Hammer 

Joe Cox, The Immaculate Inning: Unassisted Triple Plays, 40/40 Seasons, and the Stories Behind Baseball's Rarest Feats 

Harvey Frommer, Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball 

Jess Lebow, The Beer Devotional: A Daily Celebration of the World's Most Inspiring Beers     

The Vitalis book is not perfect, but it is an eye-opening must-read. I recommend it to anyone interested in international relations. Vitalis produces an amazing array of evidence revealing that the IR discipline was built by scholars and institutions that were fundamentally racist and imperial. He also discusses an array of black scholars who were building "the Howard School" of IR that pondered genuinely rival ideas, but that are mostly neglected, if not forgotten.

Disclosure: I've been friends with Robin Rowland for over 40 years -- read his book on Trump's rhetoric anyway. It's not an insiders account of misdeeds. Arguably, in fact, it is a far more frightening account of Trump's appeal based on his public rhetoric.

The Harris book is an update of a similar older book that I read some years ago. I adopted it as a textbook for my class on Global Environmental Politics this past fall. 

Both Lewis and Zakaria have penned better books. These had their moments, but also had some serious flaws. Both actually seemed a bit rushed and thus unfinished.   

I don't know why I waited so long to read Hank Aaron's autobiography. It's a great story. Joe Cox's book is full of interesting tales of baseball rarities. 

Literature and Genre Fiction

Patrick Modiano, So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood 

Graham Greene, Power and the Glory 

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart 

I didn't read that many books this year that would count as "literature." I'm listing these three and could put them in almost any order. Modiano has won a Nobel Prize for Literature, though I found this book somewhat frustrating. That may have been the point. Greene was a master, but this book is kind of slow and perhaps repetitive. Achebe's tale is well-known, so I'm late to it. It's more enjoyable if you like magical realism. 

Charlie Fletcher, A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World 

Stephen King, Billy Summers 

Philip K. Dick, VALIS 

I think these three works were my favorite fiction books of the year. I was sometimes frustrated by Fletcher's story, but it easily held my interest and it is well worth your time. King's recent non-horror book is terrific (though flawed, ultimately) and Dick's work was bizarre at times, but compelling. 

Shawna Seed, Not in Time 

Eric Ambler, Cause for Alarm 

Donald E. Westlake, The Black Ice Score as Richard Stark

Donald E. Westlake,  Dancing Aztecs 

Michael Connelly, The Last Coyote 

Ross Macdonald, The Underground Man 

John MacDonald, The Lonely Silver Rain 

Donald E. Westlake, Drowned Hopes 

Helen MacInnes, Ride a Pale Horse

This set of works is rated a bit higher than the books below. I read three books by Westlake and he rarely fails to entertain. As you can see, I completed the Travis McGee series this year. Indeed, as usual, this list includes a lot of crime fiction. 

Disclosure: I've known Shawna Seed for decades as we were undergrads together at Kansas. I liked her first book a great deal, but this one also made for an interesting read. Personally, I would have preferred that she not include the paranormal elements. 

Paul Auster, Music of Chance 

Carl Hiassen, Bad Monkey 

James Lee Burke, In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead 

Duane Swierczynski, Expiration Date

PD James, A Mind to Murder 

Sue Grafton, K is for Killer 

Stephen King, Later 

Ian Fleming, The Spy Who Loved Me 

David Goodis, Shoot the Piano Player 

Jean-Patrick Manchette, No Room at the Morgue 

Jim Thompson, Savage Night 

Robert Parker, Catskill Eagle 

I was really disappointed in the Spencer book by Parker. To me, the character jumped the shark, committing far too many acts of violence and lawlessness. I'm not sure when I might jump back into that series, which I had been reading in order.

The books just above that Spencer story were a bit dated in one way or another. I found King's storytelling to be first-rate, of course, but the story itself was not all that interesting in the end. PD James, Sue Grafton, and James Lee Burke all told new stories about familiar characters -- but I didn't enjoy these books as much as others I have read by the authors. 

The Auster story was very strange (absurd even), which made it difficult to embrace. It has stuck with me, however, so that's a strong point in its favor. I had not read a Hiassen book in some years, but this one was kind of funny (as intended). 

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Monday, November 08, 2021

BoJo: James Bond Moment for Climate Change


 Text (from the UK government website)

Welcome to COP, welcome to Glasgow and to Scotland whose most globally famous fictional son is almost certainly a man called James Bond who generally comes to the climax of his highly lucrative films strapped to a doomsday device desperately trying to work out which coloured wire to pull to turn it off while a red digital clock ticks down remorselessly to a detonation that will end human life as we know it and we are in roughly the same position, my fellow global leaders, as James Bond today except that the tragedy is that this is not a movie, and the doomsday device is real and the clock is ticking to the furious rhythm of hundreds of billions of pistons and turbines and furnaces and engines with which we are pumping carbon into the air faster and faster- record outputs and quilting the earth in an invisible and suffocating blanket of CO2 raising the temperature of the planet with a speed and an abruptness that is entirely manmade and we know what the scientists tell us and we have learned not to ignore them
2 degrees more and we jeopardise the food supply for hundreds of millions of people as crops wither, locusts swarm 3 degrees and you can add more wildfires and cyclones – twice as many of them, five times as many droughts and 36 times as many heatwaves 4 degrees and we say goodbye to whole cities – Miami, Alexandria, Shanghai – all lost beneath the waves and the longer we fail to act the worse it gets and the higher the price when we are eventually forced by catastrophe to act because humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change. 

 It’s one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock and we need to act now.

This reminds me a bit of an old blog post I wrote about a 2009 speech given by Barack Obama’s climate negotiator Todd Stern, who called for a "comic book sensibility of uniting in the face of a common danger threatening the earth.

These are both overt efforts to leverage popular culture to motivate action against climate change. 


Saturday, September 04, 2021

Political Consequences from COVID-19 Partisanship?

The COVID-19 virus is not partisan, of course, but partisanship is influencing rates of vaccination, masking, and even social distancing. Democrats are far more likely to be vaccinated and claim to practice masking and social distancing in far greater numbers.

Here's the latest data I could find on the vaccine rates from the August 2021 KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor. Note the top-line portion of vaccinated Democrats and compare that number to the line second from the bottom:

There are similar poll results for masking and social distancing. 

The data has shown for months now that most of the people hospitalized with the virus, and dying from it, are unvaccinated. These are overwhelming numbers actually, 97% of all hospital visits and deaths according to Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator. He gets his data from the CDC, presumably

Armed with knowledge of the partisan rate of vaccine acceptance along with CDC data on COVID-19 death rates, astrophysicist and celebrity science personality Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted the following on August 31: 

I have no idea if that is accurate, but this is how Tyson arrived at the number:

And because twitter did what twitter does, Tyson soon deleted the original tweet:

In any case, imagine for a moment that Tyson is correct. That means Republicans are losing about 6000 net voters every 10 days -- and that is mostly in red counties (which have much lower vaccination rates) according to this health-care blogger who uses county-level data from Johns Hopkins (omitting Nebraska and Florida because they are not reporting this data):

 new COVID-19 case rates are now running more than 68% higher in Red counties than in Blue counties, while new COVID-19 death rates are now running nearly 2.2x higher in Red counties.

This chart from the same blogger (and Center for American Progress contractor) also seems helpful:

If Tyson is correct and the 6000 per 10 day figure held for a  year, that would amount to a bit more than 200,000 net fewer Republican voters in mostly red counties. Would that have electoral consequences as the US enters the mid-term elections next fall?

It would take lots of assumptions to make that sort of calculation work.  And I'm not trying to be cynical here. I don't want those Americans to die, no matter their party ID. 

Indeed, it is heartening to me that Republican electoral elites are starting to call for people to get vaccinated --  Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, for instance. 

The vaccines save lives and are safe. The FDA officially approved the Pfizer vaccine (which I received) and so it is not an "experimental" drug anymore. 

I really don't understand the hesitancy at this point. 

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Monday, August 30, 2021

AAA Baseball

I have not attended a big league baseball game since 2017 when I caught the KC Royals visiting Baltimore on my birthday. Last year, of course, I didn't see any minor league games either, though I usually manage to see one or more minor league games every summer. Indeed, last season was the first since since 1984 that I didn't catch at least one professional baseball game.

This summer I've managed to attend three games featuring AAA teams -- in three different ballparks. 

Our SABR group attended a Louisville Bats game on July 24 against the Memphis Redbirds. The group had a box courtesy of the team, but I walked to centerfield during the game to snap this picture:

On August 7 my spouse and I attended an Omaha Storm Chasers game in Columbus, Ohio, against the Clippers. I wanted to see Bobby Witt, Jr. before he is promoted to KC. He did not disappoint as he hit a grand slam in the second inning and a loud double in another at bat. The game was a slugfest

This past weekend, we drove to Indianapolis and saw the Bats lose to the home team in another high scoring affair. We had great seats:

With the visits to Columbus and Indianapolis, I managed to see some ballparks for the first time -- and visit a nice brewpub in each city. That would be Hoof Hearted (and BrewDog) in Columbus and Ellison in Indy. 

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Friday, July 09, 2021

OBFLB 2021A Champions

I've periodically posted draft results or season results from my two long-running fantasy baseball leagues. This is an update for one of those leagues.

Since 1991, I've owned the Louisville Sluggers in the Original Bitnet Fantasy Baseball League (OBFLB), a 24 team online league that plays two seasons during each major league season. Generally, the team general manager-owners are from across the US. I've only met a few of them face-to-face, but have known many of them online for 25+ years. 

In this league, teams manipulate lineups to prioritize 9 hitters (at 8 defensive positions, plus DH/Utility), 5 starting pitchers (minimum 4), and 3 relief pitchers (minimum 2) at a time. Teams can actually use daily substitutes through the week, which means it is possible to have more than 5 starting pitchers and multiple players at various positions. Through the week, the teams compete in 10 categories, including on base average, home runs, stolen bases, plate appearances, runs produced average ((R+RBI-HR)/ABs), pitching wins, saves (times two) + holds, innings pitched, ERA and WHIP. We award 2 points per victory, with each team receiving 1 point for a tie.

The first (half) season begins at the start of the baseball season and typically features 11 or 12 weeks of head-to-head competition by teams in four 6 team divisions. Everyone plays a double round robin schedule, plus 1 or 2 teams from the other divisions that are determined largely by previous performance with an eye toward equality. This year the season lasted 11 weeks, though the first week included a few extra games. A weekly is typically Monday through Sunday but the season started on Thursday April 1 for most major league teams and we included those first few games. 

The Sluggers finished with the second best regular season win-loss record in the league and thus played the #3 seed in the opening round of the playoffs, the Southern Hemispheres -- a team operated from western Australia. That owner I met once when he was visiting Louisville!  As measured by CBS's statistical Breakdown (universal head-to-head results), the Sluggers were the best team in the league and thus survived that matchup via tiebreaker -- it otherwise ended in a 10-10 tie. 

The top seed was the Loaded Basses, which won its playoff matchup and thus made its fourth straight World Series appearance (both of the 2019 half seasons and the only 2020 abbreviated season). The Basses are loaded with baseball stars, but both SS Cory Seager and 3B Alex Bregman were injured and did not play in the Series. 

Thus, in the 2021A season, the Louisville Sluggers ultimately won the championship 18-2.  Here's the line score from the World Series via CBS, our stats service:

This was the Sluggers 9th World Series championship (of 12 appearances) in fewer than 60 (half) seasons of competition during the past 30 years. One other team has 8 titles and another has 6. Obviously, there was only one season in 1994 and 2020.

The World Series heroes for the Sluggers played mostly on offense.  Veteran infielder Max Muncy hit 3 HRs with a  .423 OBA and .619 RP, completing his strong half season. Whit Merrifield hit 2 HR and stole 2 bases to go with a .433 OBA. Dom Smith had a weak first half, but he also hit 3 HR in the Series with a .440 OBA and .458 RP. Star 3B Nolan Arenado hit a HR and is the only player from the last Slugger championship in 2016B. All of the pitchers from that team are gone

On the pitching side, Nate Eovaldi threw 7 innings of shutout ball for a win and his Red Sox teammate Matt Barnes had a win and 3 saves. 

Below, you can find my regular lineup with substitutes at their primary positions. I'm putting my pre-season retained players ("keepers") in bold red text and noting draft round or free agent acquisition (or trade) status for all other players. The draft is 28 rounds, but begins with round 7 as all teams have to keep at least 6 players. I kept 11 players, so my draft started round 12. The first few rounds included some great picks, but the last 8 or 10 picks did not turn out well. I was active on the free agent market, but not many of those players contributed significantly to the season. The keepers were strong and determined the team's fate:

C: W. Smith LAD
   Pina MIL  (free agent)

1B: Muncy LAD (eligible 2B/3B)
    Tellez TOR (traded to MIL in early July) (round 17)

2B: Merrifield KC (OF eligible)

3B: Arenado COL
SS: Rojas ARI (acquired via trade)
      Lopez KC (free agent)

OF: Acuna ATL
OF: D. Smith NYM (1B eligible)
OF: Bradley MIL (round 21)
    Wade SF (1B eligible) (free agent)
    Stewart BAL (free agent)
    Olivares KC (free agent)
    Kelenic SEA

DH: McMahon COL (eligible 2B/3B)

SP: Bauer LAD
SP: Gray CIN
SP: Greinke HOU
SP: Eovaldi BOS (round 12)
SP: Rogers MIA (round 14)
SP: Taillon NYY (acquired via trade)
SP: Mejia CLE (free agent)
RP: Barnes BOS (round 13)
RP: Fairbanks TB (round 19)
RP: Staumont KC (round 25)
RP: Zimmer KC (free agent)
RP: Antone CIN (injured during the Series) (round 16)

I released these draft picks during the season:

C Sisco BAL (round 28)
IF Adrianza ATL (round 26)
SS Ahmed ARI (round 15)  (actually, he was traded)
SS Garcia CIN (round 20) (now named Barrero)
UT Tsutsugo TB (traded to LAD) (round 23)
SP Peterson NYM (round 18) (released during Series after Gray recovered from injury)
SP Ponce de Leon STL (round 24)
SP Lucchesi NYM (round 22)
RP Wendelken OAK (round 27)

The trade for Rojas included some "cash" (we use fictional trading points) plus free agent pickup P Josiah Gray LAD, who is a top prospect. He was injured shortly after I acquired him just as it looked like he might join the Dodger rotation after the Dustin May injury.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Global Digital Politics: Fall 2021

I am scheduled to teach a new course this fall on "Global Digital Politics" (POLS 507), which is open to both advanced undergraduates and graduate students. When I was chair, the department created a master's field in Digital Politics:
The Digital Politics field focuses on the intersection of information technology and politics and includes an applied component, providing students with training and experiences useful to their career pursuits. Areas of study include e-government initiatives, social media advocacy and narrative strategies for non-profit organizations, and online political campaigns.
Over the years, the department has offered courses in this track that emphasize American and comparative politics, but I think this will be the initial offering of a truly Global Politics class.

The syllabus will include most of the topics mentioned above -- e-government initiatives, social media advocacy, and narrative strategies for both governmental and non-governmental organizations. My recent research agenda has included a great deal of work on narratives and I am currently involved in a project with colleagues Jason Gainous and Melissa Merry (who both teach regularly in this track) that has implications for social media advocacy. In other words, this is genuinely an area of interest to me.

Because of the lack of central authority in international politics (anarchy), the global context arguably offers a perfect opportunity to promote deliberative democratic forms of e-government. Indeed, my 2004 coauthored book with Nayef Samhat discussed the apparent emergence of deliberative norms (transparency and participation, primarily) in global governance, with case studies of the World Bank and World Trade Organization. To promote democratic accountability, NGOs and international organizations employ various digital tools that we discuss in the book. Nayef and I have also written about deliberation surrounding the buildup to the Iraq war and other topics of shared international concern. Some of my solo writing has also addressed the potential of deliberation on global security and environmental issues. Though some of the conjecture seems dated now, I also previously explored the prospects for deliberation in the digital world.

The course will not cover political campaigns per se, but it will certainly discuss state and non-state interference in various national elections, including the 2016 (and 2020) U.S. presidential election, the Brexit referendum, and various European elections over the past few years.

Indeed, this last point suggests a major theme: the class will focus extensively on the dark side of global digital politics -- surveillance, hacking, ransomware, disinformation campaigns, etc. Some of this will align with the class consideration of social media and narrative strategies. I am trying to decide how much to include about the large tech companies that monitor individuals primarily as consumers. At minimum, we will discuss the overlap with politics -- when governments turn to these corporations to provide data about their customers. 

I am tinkering with various ideas to bring the necessary practical elements into the class, potentially including service-learning elements tied to real-world global social movements and NGOs active in the digital realm. Students would have a great deal of latitude selecting a real world movement or organization, but I will especially encourage selection of human rights, environmental, and peace activism given my own background studying and teaching in these areas. 

The class will not teach students how to employ the tools of the dark side, but it also won't teach much about the specific tools to counter them. We will instead address broad strategies and best practices, addressing the need to identify and employ trustworthy technical expertise in the political realm. 

Right now, the class only has 4 students and I think it would work best with around 15. The cap is set at 20. More students are needed and I'm engaged in active recruitment. 

The class will be organized as an in-person seminar, which means I expect students to interact with one another and with me. I will figure out a way to evaluate the practical component and assign at least one long and one short paper. Any exam would be in essay format and would likely be take-home. I am still working out the details. I am obliged by UofL policies to make the workload a bit tougher for graduate students . 

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Saturday, June 12, 2021


My oldest daughter arrived Memorial Day weekend and we ventured out a bit as vaccinated adults. My spouse and I hadn't seen her since December 2019 -- well, not counting our Zoom (Duo) existence. She fought COVID in New York over a year ago and her loss of smell lingered for a long time. 

None of us were ready to eat indoors, but we got a lot of takeout from local favorite restaurants. With the holiday weekend, she got to see many old friends who happened to be in town. 

On Thursday June 3, we ventured inside a venue while masked and took in the Breonna Taylor exhibit at the Speed Art Museum near the UofL campus. It was quite moving, especially the wall of biography near the end of the exhibit. I hadn't realized until that moment that my oldest daughter and Taylor were born just a couple of months apart and graduated from high school in the same year. 

It truly is difficult to imagine that family's pain.

I snapped this photo from the entrance area, but should have taken a shot of Amy Sherald's excellent posthumous portrait, which you can see here

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Saturday, April 24, 2021

2021 Oscars

As per usual, my spouse and I have tried to watch as many Oscar contenders as we could prior to the big event. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was a very strange year for viewing films. We've had plenty of opportunity to watch films as they were made available on home streaming services much earlier than usual -- and the deadline for release date was deep into 2021. Also, the awards show is much later this year (April 25). We did not see any of these films in the theater, obviously.

I've read a bit about the favorites (and checked with the oddsmakers), but the lists below reflect my personal rankings -- and I'm only going to rate the films and performances I've seen. These are NOT my predictions. And yes, this is a completely subjective and poor way to think about art.

Later, I'll move up films and performances as I see them, but I'll highlight those additions in yellowFor now, the films and performances that I have not seen are listed below those I have watched, separated by a blank line. Prior to the awards show, I saw 5 of the Best Picture nominees.

Best motion picture of the year

"Judas and the Black Messiah"
"The Father" 
"Promising Young Woman"
"Sound of Metal" 
"The Trial of the Chicago 7" 

On any given day, I'd might change the order of 2-3-4, but I thought Nomadland was the best film I saw last year. 

Performance by an actor in a leading role

Anthony Hopkins in "The Father"
Chadwick Boseman in "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom"
Gary Oldman in "Mank"
Riz Ahmed in "Sound of Metal"
Steven Yeun in "Minari"

Boseman's performance was somewhat mannered in a film that seemed like a theatrical stage production. But it was powerful and a notch above the competition.

Update: Hopkins won the Oscar and his performance is powerful - and realistic, frightening, and courageous all at once. 

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

Daniel Kaluuya in "Judas and the Black Messiah"
Lakeith Stanfield in "Judas and the Black Messiah"
Sacha Baron Cohen in "The Trial of the Chicago 7"
Leslie Odom, Jr. in "One Night in Miami..."
Paul Raci in "Sound of Metal"

Apparently Kaluuya is the favorite in this category. I'm actually not sure Odom provided the best supporting part in his own film. Cohen was good.

Performance by an actress in a leading role

Carey Mulligan in "Promising Young Woman"
Frances McDormand in "Nomadland"
Viola Davis in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"

Andra Day in "The United States vs. Billie Holiday"
Vanessa Kirby in "Pieces of a Woman"

I could see the case for McDormand winning yet another Oscar, but Mulligan is the favorite and was very good. 

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

Yuh-Jung Youn in "Minari"
Olivia Colman in "The Father"
Amanda Seyfried in "Mank"
Maria Bakalova in "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe..."

Glenn Close in "Hillbilly Elegy"

Youn is the favorite here. Colman is always very good. 

Achievement in directing

"Nomadland" Chloé Zhao
"Minari" Lee Isaac Chung
"Promising Young Woman" Emerald Fennell
"Mank" David Fincher
"Another Round" Thomas Vinterberg

Nomadland really is good. 

Best documentary feature

"Crip Camp" Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht and Sara Bolder
"The Mole Agent" Maite Alberdi and Marcela Santibáñez
"My Octopus Teacher" Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed and Craig Foster
"Time" Garrett Bradley, Lauren Domino and Kellen Quinn
"Collective" Alexander Nanau and Bianca Oana

Hey, I saw all of the nominated films prior to the ceremony! 

I'd be pleased if either Crip Camp or The Mole Agent won. The oddsmakers say this is unlikely.  Both provide a measure of humor not always found in this category. Collective was somewhat difficult to watch and not merely because of the content as the onscreen dialogue moves fairly quickly. If you watch the screen too much, you'll miss the subtitles. And those are crucial in this foreign doc.

Best international feature film of the year

"Quo Vadis, Aida?" Bosnia and Herzegovina
"Another Round" Denmark
"Collective" Romania

"Better Days" Hong Kong
"The Man Who Sold His Skin" Tunisia

The characters in Another Round make insane life choices, but the film is a joy to watch.  

Update: The Bosnian film is an outstanding look at a terrible atrocity. The United Nations is made to seem complicit, but the looming violence in this film was committed by Serbs. 

Best animated feature film of the year

"A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon" 

Soul was entertaining. I'll probably see Farmageddon someday and maybe Wolfwalkers. 

July 2022 Update: I saw Farmageddon and it was not that good. 

"Over the Moon"

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Bolts from the Blue 2021

The long-running Hardy House fantasy baseball league skipped 2020. Nearly all of the owners competed in an AL-variant of the league during the 60 game season, but it was not a keeper league, the draft was not an auction, and we experimented with some rules variations (especially in the free agent bidding process). We drafted quickly online last summer.

This past Saturday, March 27, we "met" online for our first Zoom auction. Most owners likely hoped it would be our last in that format, but the truth is that one to three owners seem to miss the auction every year and participate by phone. Zoom is probably a superior option for those owners. 

It is a 5 by 5 keeper league with many idiosyncratic rules. I've been playing in the league since 1989 and a couple of the other owners have been around that entire time as well. Most of the owners have a decade or two involvement at minimum. 

So this is my roster, with auction prices noted. My 9 pre-draft keepers are in red

C Jansen (TOR) $7
C Maldanado (HOU) $3
1B Walsh (LAA) $14
2B Semien (TOR) $19
3B Y. Diaz (TB) $9
SS Bogaerts (BOS) $29
MI Simmons (MIN) $3
CI M. Cabrera (DET) $9
OF Tucker (HOU) $13
OF Buxton (MIN) $21
OF Kepler (MIN) $21
OF Hicks (NYY) $20
DH Y. Alvarez (HOU) $29

P McCullers (HOU) $3
P Manaea (OAK) $3
P E. Rodriguez (BOS) $13
P Minor (KC) $5
P Turnbull (DET) $3*
P Staumont (KC) $5
P Fairbanks (TB) $16
P Loaisiga (NYY) $3
P D. Castillo (TB) $7
P Pressly (HOU) $5

3B Ruiz (BAL) $3
P Gibson (TEX) $2
P Dyson (KC) $1

Yes, that's a lot of faith in players from the teams I think are going to be competing for AL playoff spots -- the Houston Astros (5 players), Tampa Rays (3), Minnesota Twins (3), Toronto Blue Jays (2), and NY Yankees (2). There are some players from the bottom teams as well, including the team I grew up rooting for -- the KC Royals (3).

A couple of the players are guys I historically like for various reasons, but many of these guys I had no specific intention of drafting. Other players I wanted went for more money than I wanted to pay and I shifted to a strategy of buying lots of guys in the $5 to $20 range. Even then I paid a bit over my draft sheet price for a few of the picks. I needed to buy some stats and positional scarcity was starting to play a role. 

I'm worried that I may not have enough starting pitching, but I genuinely like my offense even though it might be a bit light on steals.  There are guys with checkered injury histories on my roster, including one player* currently on the COVID-19 restricted list. 

Feel free to leave criticisms in the comments. 

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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Fred Zahner

This grave of former Louisville Colonel Fred Zahner is a couple of hundred feet from my house in the nearby St. Louis cemetery.  He played major league ball in 1894 and 1895, then drowned at age 30 when he fell off of a boat in the Ohio River on July 24, 1900. Zahner, a catcher, had just over 100 plate appearances in total during the two seasons and never hit a home run.   

Since last March I've walked past his grave dozens of times.

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Friday, February 19, 2021


A few weeks ago, my colleague Jasmine Farrier tweeted a reminder about an event I attended prior to the pandemic. It was a book launch for a work about the life of Paul Weber, who died far too young back in October 2005. Paul was department chair when I was hired at Louisville decades ago: 

As it happens, I often walk past Paul's grave when I navigate through Calvary cemetery.  As I have frequently mentioned, I have been walking in several nearby cemeteries during the pandemic. They're usually quiet and I've learned a bit about local history. 

Here's a photo of his grave:

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Monday, February 08, 2021

Best Films of 2020

As I've been doing in recent years, I'm posting Metacritic's final compiled list of best films based on the top choices of nearly 300 film critics. This is an aggregation of their end-of-the-year top 10 lists. Last year's list was drawn from 340 individual rankings. 

After the list, I'll place the films I've seen in tiers and briefly discuss any notable changes from my Films of 2020 list posted at the end of that year. Finally, I'll list the films that I still need to see. 

This year, because so many of these films were streaming, I saw a large percentage of them at home in the year they were released. I have personally seen 15 of the 30 listed films, which is about my normal rate when I post these lists in late February each year. 
Movie and Metascore# 1st Place# 2nd Place# OtherPoints
195 Nomadland352075.5220.5
289 First Cow182081175
395 Lovers Rock131072131
491 Never Rarely Sometimes Always7889.5126.5
582 Da 5 Bloods10660.5102.5
687 Minari5953.586.5
778 I'm Thinking of Ending Things536586
872 Promising Young Woman934275
981 Sound of Metal574069
1093 David Byrne's American Utopia8530.564.5
1179 Mank4540.562.5
1283 Palm Springs3539.558.5
1391 Time453658
1472 The Invisible Man0644.556.5
1582 Bacurau2539.555.5
1683 Soul453254
1783 Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets7227.552.5
1879 The Assistant2534.550.5
1989 Dick Johnson Is Dead5230.549.5
95 Collective3530.549.5
2174 Martin Eden8416.548.5
2277 The Trial of the Chicago 7333348
2388 City Hall552247
2472 Possessor Uncut5227.546.5
2586 Vitalina Varela451638
2687 Wolfwalkers123037
90 Mangrove521837
2884 The Vast of Night142435
2969 Tenet222434
87 Ma Rainey's Black Bottom103134

Note that last-minute release date changes (necessitated by the ongoing pandemic) mean that several titles included on multiple lists (most notably, Nomadland) will technically be 2021 releases rather than 2020 films. Also note that since we include some foreign publications, it is possible for a few titles to repeat from last year's list due to differences in USA and overseas release dates.

Tier I (Outstanding: top award choices)

Never Rarely Sometimes Always
First Cow

This category is always the smallest, but it is smaller than usual this year. Most likely, this is because studios elected not to release some of their best films during the pandemic -- and productions might have been delayed.

However, it probably also has to do with the timing of the Academy Award cycle this year -- films released through February will be eligible for awards. Look for some late-arriving excellent films -- like Nomadland and Minari from this list, which are slated to be released more widely in February.  Also: the highly anticipated Judas and the Black Messiah and The Father are coming soon and the excellent One Night in Miami was released in January, too late for this list. 

2/19/21: I saw Nomadland on Hulu. It is excellent and Frances McDormand gives a great performance. Third Oscar?

Tier 2 (Very good: strong consideration for awards)

Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Assistant
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

This category will also fill out a bit after I've seen more of the films.

The new entry here for me is the Netflix picture about the criminal legal proceedings the Nixon Justice Department pursued against 8 men who helped organize protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The protests were marred by violent riots often blamed on Chicago's police department. 

The defendants included Tom Hayden (played by Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne), Abby Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), and Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). The story refers to the "Chicago 7" because [historical spoiler alert] the judge was ultimately forced to order a mistrial for Seale as his lack of legal representation (his attorney had surgery just as the trial was beginning) led to courtroom outbursts by Seale and judicial system over-reaction to those outbursts. 

Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance played defense attorney Willian Kunstler and Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin wrote the script and also directed the film. It will likely receive Academy Award and other top film nominations for prizes in various categories. I rated the film more highly than most critics, probably because I'm especially interested in effective political drama. This is in my wheelhouse. 

Tier 3 (Above average, but flawed in some way)

Palm Springs
I'm Thinking of Ending Things
Lover's Rock
Vast of Night
Dick Johnson is Dead
The Invisible Man
Da Five Bloods

As I always say, this is not a ranking and on a different day I might alter the order of the films. I did like Palm Springs a lot more than Da Five Bloods and The Invisible Man, but the 5 films after Mank in the center of the list are difficult to compare. 

The new dramatic entry here from the first weeks of viewing in 2021 is Mank, which is a well-acted and fairly entertaining tale about the Oscar-winning and self-destructive writer of the classic film Citizen Kane. I felt that some small edits in the script and/or some modest changes in story-telling (including direction) might have made it more powerful. My spouse didn't find it especially compelling. 

We also saw Time and thought it was a very well-done documentary about the criminal justice system. I personally would put Crip Camp above either of the docs listed here. Indeed, I  saw a number of new narrative films in 2020 that I placed above many on this list, including the excellent Saint Frances. 

Tier 4 (Skip it)

[So far this category is empty.]

Films I still need to see

David Byrne's American Utopia
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
Martin Eden
City Hall
Possessor Uncut
Vitalina Varela

Once I view these films, I'll move them up to the appropriate Tiers above and note that updated entry with yellow highlighting. 

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