When I was in high school, I wanted to be Roger Ebert when I grew up.
I'm not sure this is a particularly healthy person for a 15-year-old to emulate. Nothing against Mr. Ebert, who will probably end up being the most important journalistic voice in film of this century, and probably the last one as well. (And seriously, if you're not reading his non-film work, you're missing out as well.) But I probably should have wanted to be Ozzie Smith, or Kevin Costner, or Bruce Springsteen, or someone who actually did something rather than writing about people who did something. The only reason I wanted to write was because I wanted to write about movies.
I blame my friend Tim. Back in Mattoon, we were the two nerdy smart kids who were way too into Woody Allen, the Cardinals and Kurt Cobain. Because the best movies rarely came to Mattoon, we'd have to drive the 50 miles to Champaign to see the "arthouse" movies like Malcolm X and Howards End. This led to a tradition, started in 1991, in which we would wait until the night before the Oscar nominations came out in February — we needed that extra couple months to catch up on all the late December releases — to give each other our top 10 movies of the year. This ritual lasts to this day, and we even used to publish them on the old Black Table site. (Here's 2002, 2003 and 2004.) Fellow Black Table editor A.J. Daulerio, who never really did much with himself after the BT, loved to make fun of us for this, and he labeled the yearly festivities "Dorkfest." Tim and I both call it that now, and, still, we do it. The nominations come out January 22 this year; we'll be on the phone for four hours the night before, giving each other our lists, debating and generally being, well, dorks. It's awesome.
Tim ended up actually having a career as a film critic — you can see a full archive right here — but, sadly, I ended up going another direction, and now I write fart jokes about sports for Web sites, magazines, newspapers and napkins. I have to admit, if someone told me I could settle down somewhere and just write movie reviews and books, I'd be a happy fellow. Of course, every film critic in the country in the country is getting laid off, so that doesn't seem like a viable career option. Looks like I'll be sticking with the fart jokes.
But that's not gonna stop me from writing about movies. As mentioned a few weeks ago, I've started a fancy new "official" Website, and a large section of it is going to consist of movie reviews. You can see a full archive here, but so far, I've hit Che, Gran Torino, Milk, Rachel Getting Married and The Wrestler. (This week, Benjamin Button and Revolutionary Road!) It's completely self-indulgent, and god, I can't stop.
It probably goes without saying that I put more time into those movie reviews — which are probably seen by 20 or 30 people, tops — that just about everything else that I do. I miss it. I really did want to be Roger Ebert. Maybe there's still time. Until then, though ... please read my movie reviews. (And Tim's.) You're granting a dying boy his last wish. We want to make Mattoon a veritable farm system of film critics.
Hell, it sure beats interviewing naked athletes for a living.
32. Detroit Lions (0-14). Call me crazy, but don't you kind of get the feeling the Lions are going to win one of these last two? They've showed too much life the last couple of weeks. My money's on that Green Bay game in Week 17, in front of a discouraged, cranky Lambeau crowd. That just seems like the perfect way to end the first season in Green Bay without Brett Favre: Losing at home to a team that's 0-15.
31. St. Louis Rams (2-12). Bernie Miklasz made a great point about Steven Jackson: Wasn't this guy supposed to be great by now? Obviously, the Rams are a disaster, but Jackson has revealed himself as one of those guys who's perpetually on the cusp, but, all told, not much more than mediocre. Do you realize that this is fifth season? That's a lot of tire tread on running backs like him. Anybody else get the sense he might be playing for the Patriots next year?
30. Oakland Raiders (3-11). I've been trying to come up with the best visual interpretation of what the intra-divisional battles in the AFC and NFC Wests have been, and I think I've found it, via Jeff Miller's site The Trunk. That's right: It's squirrel fights!
This is from "Etosha National Park in Namibia." North American squirrels are such pussies.
29. Kansas City Chiefs (2-12). Count me among the folks devastated that the Arena Football League is shutting down for a season. You have to love a sports league that, in its "we're trying not to go bankrupt here" press release, quotes Jon Bon Jovi. Back in the day, when The Mighty MJD was doing weekends around here, his recaps and dissertations on Arena Football — it gets pretty boring on weekends in February — not only inspired me to love the league, but even buy a video game. (It's less fun than it seems; I just wanted to knock guys into the stands, but it's quite hard.) I hope it comes back soon, though probably not as much as Mike and Mike do.
28. Cincinnati Bengals (2-11-1). Palin watch! OK, whatever your thoughts on our would-be vice-president — and apparently everybody has thoughts, because I can't get on the Web for more than five minutes without somebody telling me Sarah Palin's IQ — I have to say, setting fire to her church is pretty far over the line. I hope they catch that guy, and I hope he looks like Beavis. Afterwards, Palin apologized to the Wasilla Bible Church — I think that title is missing a word, or a modifier, or something ... not that I should talk — for the "undeserved negative attention" that might have led to the incident. I would have to think that it's a bad sign when you run for vice president, and people react so strongly to you that they try to burn down your church. And then you apologize for it! I bet Sarah Palin's ready for 2008 to get over with.
27. Cleveland Browns (4-10). So, to recap, the Cleveland Browns, chosen to be on national television a shocking five times this year, actually went 2-3 in those games this year. All told, that's not so bad! It was the 2-7 in the Sunday afternoon games that got them. That's that problem with these guys: They only play their best under the brightest spotlight! Makes sense! Unfortunately, that means they're going 1-15 next year.
26. Seattle Seahawks (3-11). Look out, Jets: These guys are feistier than you realize, and they're going to be going all out for Mike Holmgren. You know, I'm a big fan of Mike Holmgren's move this year: Announce you're retiring at the end of the season, let everybody tell you how much they love you, and then, after a terrible year, with two games left, imply that, hey, now that I think about it, I might be up for coaching again after all. I think this is called The Keith Jackson.
25. Green Bay Packers (5-9). I'm starting to think the Web editors of the Green Bay Press-Gazette are putting these stories up on Mondays and Tuesdays just to mess with me. The top story on the Press-Gazette's site as I type this? "De Pere boutique aims to 'save you time.'" It's about "a boutique offering gourmet foods, gift baskets, entertaining essentials and gifts." I think the most brilliant part is how they put "save you time" in quotes, like this was a particularly insightful statement made in interview. A few suggestions down the line:
BAKER LOOKING TO "MAKE DIFFERENT KINDS OF FOOD."
COP HOPES TO "KEEP STREETS SAFE."
WRITER WANTS TO "TYPE WORDS FOR YOU."
LOCAL MAN "WANTS YOU TO GET IN HIS VAN."
24. Buffalo Bills (6-8). Difficult to sum up life as a Buffalo Bills fan over the last 10 years or so better than that play at the end of that Jets game, isn't it? As dumb as Dick Jauron's call was, I must admit, I said, out loud, before that play, "You know, since the two-minute warning is coming up anyway, they might as well throw a pass here. The Jets don't have to call time out anyway." Combine that with my lack of understanding what a trap play is, and I'm starting to think I maybe shouldn't be a football coach.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9). I tend to enjoy Christmas, partly because I get to go home and see my family and partly because watching tourists fall down trying to skate at Rockefeller Center is an awfully pleasant way to spend and evening. You know who doesn't like Christmas? Christopher Hitchens! In a story headlined "The moral and aesthetic nightmare of Christmas," he writes:
As in such dismal banana republics, the dreary, sinister thing is that the official propaganda is inescapable. You go to a train station or an airport, and the image and the music of the Dear Leader are everywhere. You go to a more private place, such as a doctor's office or a store or a restaurant, and the identical tinny, maddening, repetitive ululations are to be heard. So, unless you are fortunate, are the same cheap and mass-produced images and pictures, from snowmen to cribs to reindeer. It becomes more than usually odious to switch on the radio and the television, because certain officially determined "themes" have been programmed into the system. Most objectionable of all, the fanatics force your children to observe the Dear Leader's birthday, and so (this being the especial hallmark of the totalitarian state) you cannot bar your own private door to the hectoring, incessant noise, but must have it literally brought home to you by your offspring.
Boy, that guy's got the fever. We're only a couple of years away from the PBS special in which Hitchens is visited by the ghost of fact-checkers past and learns the true joy of the season: Scotch.
22. San Francisco 49ers (5-9). Love to Lindsay Robertson, who brings us the story of poor Adolf Hitler Campbell, who can't get the personalized birthday cake he wanted..
JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell and Adolf Hitler Campbell.
Good names for a trio of toddlers? Heath and Deborah Campbell think so. The Holland Township couple has picked those names and the oldest child, Adolf Hitler Campbell, turns 3 today.
This has given rise to a problem, because the ShopRite supermarket in Greenwich Township has refused to make a cake for young Adolf's birthday.
You know, you think Adolf's pissed now, just wait a decade or so, when he tries to get his personalized license plates.
21. San Diego Chargers (6-8). Amazingly, the Chargers are still alive in the fight to become the top squirrel in the AFC West. I'd make fun of them for this, but there's a very real possibility they'll end up with the same record as the Buzzsaw, so I'll just shut up.
20. Washington Redskins (7-7). And, ultimately, the Redskins ended up where most people thought they'd be all along. And now, a brief comment on the Shoe Tossing Incident.
You'd be hard-pressed to find someone more critical of the policies and actions of President Bush over the last six-and-a-half years than me, though I'm sure there are some people out there. I think he has caused this nation perhaps more harm than we'll ever be able to overcome. I think the only person who wants him out of office more right now than me is ... well, George W. Bush. But I find it appalling that anyone could see the leader of our country, the President, avert an assault in a foreign land and somehow find it funny, or see the guy who tossed the shoe as some sort of "hero." I mean, that's the President, guys. Sure. It was a shoe. But god, really? We're supposed to chuckle? I watched that video with horror; not just that it has come to this, but that people here could actually celebrate it. I hate that video. It makes me ill. It makes me scared.
Of course, now I'll embed it right here.
[stepping off soapbox, walking slowly backwards, hands in air]
19. New Orleans Saints (7-7). While we're talking "politics" — though we weren't really talking politics there — I was a little stunned to read that Time's Jay Carney, one of my favorite reporters throughout the campaign, had signed on to be director of communications for Vice President-Elect Joe Biden. For all the talk that sports journalism is so much more chummy-chummy back scratching than political journalism, imagine if the Yankees hired Mike Lupica, or the Mad Dog, as their manager? Isn't that, like, wrong? Isn't that against the rules?
18. The Buzzsaw That Is The Arizona Cardinals (8-6). Last week, I got some comedic mileage out of my "bandwagon" friend who watches Buzzsaw games with me. A couple of notes. First, I probably should have mentioned that he started cheering for the team before this season and its run. I'm not sure that's a point in his favor or not. More pressing, as much as I needled him last week, if it hadn't have been for him, I would have stomped out of the bar at halftime of Sunday's travesty. I'd forgotten just how much the Buzzsaw could enrage me. Hugely important game, and they show up looking not only like they were still hungover from last week's celebration, but like they were still drinking. And the worst part? They're gonna end up playing the Cowboys first round of the playoffs, which means my first ever Arizona Cardinals home game, in the playoffs, is going to have more fans from the opposing team. Just freaking awesome.
17. Houston Texans (7-7). Hey, nice go of it there, kids. In honor of their victory and their status as one of the hottest teams in the NFL as the season ends, here's video of Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing Christmas songs together.
16. Denver Broncos (8-6). Hey, wasn't Eddie Royal supposed to be the dominant rookie fantasy receiver this year? That might have been just one game. Who will be an underdog in their home playoff game by more points, the Broncos or the Buzzsaw? It's gonna be close.
15. Chicago Bears (8-6). You know what's a nifty trick? Taking the massive scandals involving Illinois Gov. Blagojevich and blaming them entirely on the stupidity of the American public. It's a neat trick. Presumably, newspapers who didn't uncover the depths of Blago's depravity until a federal prosecutor handed it to them, they probably share a little bit of the blame too, right? Nope! Chicago Tribune's John McCarron explains that the reason his company's going bankrupt is not because of idiotic business practices and institutional inertia but because ... you're a moron!
Despite all the outrage and indignation over Blago's arrest on federal corruption charges, it was we, the people, who let ourselves to be fooled by this "hairdo," not once but twice. And as more of us turn away from substantive, long-form journalism of the kind found in newspapers such as the Tribune and instead to celebrity- or self-centered media, from "American Idol" to MySpace, we're doomed to be duped forevermore.
It takes a special sort of journalistic jujitsu to find a direct correlation between Gov. Blago to MySpace in about 15 words. That would be worthy of salutation, Mr. McCarron, were I not such a mongoloid that I can't bring my hand near my head without accidentally slapping myself. Fortunately, I can go watch "American Idol" now and ignore all the planet's goings-on! Whew! Is that a newspaper over there? Get that away from me! Its inherent intelligence could corrupt my empty placidity!
14. New York Jets (9-5). For the record, Brett Favre has one touchdown and four interceptions in his last three games, two losses and one that should have been. After the big win over the Patriots, I wrote for the magazine: "The season is far from over. But the Jets have a breakthrough victory. They also finally have Favre. No longer are they his rebound relationship. He is now a Jet." And I was right! Because, you see, now he's comfortable in New York, like he was in Green Bay, which means he's comfortable enough to start throwing interceptions all the time. Or something! No idea! Nothing to see here!
13. Minnesota Vikings (9-5). I'd love to raise them higher, but everybody else around them won too, and besides, it was the Buzzsaw. In other news, I know people ripped him around here, but I swear, Robert Weintraub really is pretty good. I suspect he just has better editors at Slate than, uh, me.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5). This is an awfully steep drop for a team that lost in overtime to a playoff contender while missing their starting quarterback, but seriously, this season makes no sense. If they win their last two, they could be No. 1. Who knows?
11. Miami Dolphins (9-5). It's nice, in the midst of this financial catastrophe, that banks can still be bilked the old fashioned way: By grifters. It's a blast from the past, really.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (8-5-1). Time for more selections from the Shaq Twitter feed
I feel good dan nan nanna nanna na , lol, sing wit me my twitterean brothers and sista
I wanna b a ufc fighter, raaaaaaaaaaaaaa dats my growl , lol
Even the aliens no me, da ones real far, i speak to em like ibadablaa, Jigamagla, bockeraaa
I feel like I know Shaq better than I know most members of my family.
9. Dallas Cowboys (9-5). This is what bothers me so much about Terrell Owens. After a week's worth of "Terrell's Screwing Everybody And Is A Total Dick" stories, once his team wins, he acts like this was all just something inventing out of plain cloth. If the Cowboys had lost Sunday night, he would have bitched even more and not had anyone retract anything. You don't get to play it both ways. It just drives me crazy. I can't wait until he finally retires — the guy's almost 35, you know — and we can ignore him again. If that means continuing not to subscribe to Showtime, where he'll inevitably end up on "Inside The NFL" once he's gone, so be it.
8. Baltimore Ravens (9-5). Speaking of the Vikings — and I'm aware we weren't speaking of the Vikings — I had to deal with several taunting text messages from Drew while his Thors were pounding my cute birds. An hour after the game, I received an email from him saying that he shouldn't count on any more texts from me because his wife told him they cost 25 cents. First off, he phrased this in a way that implied it was somehow my fault that I was running up his phone bill by reading his taunting messages. And, more to the point: There are still cellphone plans like this? Twenty-five cents? For a text message? Get an iPhone, you dope.
7. Atlanta Falcons (9-5). At this rate, the Falcons are going to end up playing at Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs. To step in the wayback machine, the last time those two teams played in the playoffs was 1998, the same year the Buzzsaw last made the postseason. That was the game in which Gary Anderson missed the easy field goal that would have clinched the game, ultimately costing that rather awesome Vikings team a shot at the Super Bowl. This game would be less fun than that, but it's a nice memory, isn't it?
And that paragraph cost me 25 cents to send.
6. New England Patriots (9-5). Amazingly, I still write that column over at WEEI.com, and I've had a bunch of "readers" email me already this week to taunt me about the upcoming Patriots' romp over my Buzzsaw. In case you were wondering whether or not Boston fans had been humbled in the wake of Brady's injury. Nope.
5. New York Giants (11-3). Uh-oh. I still think the Giants are going to be just fine, and should still be considered the favorite to win the NFC ... but I'm not quite sure why. It's almost as if losing three of your five most talented players ends up hurting your team in the short term. Oh, and for the record, Sports Media Establishment, Deadspin had nothing to do with that Antonio Pierce strip club video. If it had been Deadspin's doing, it would have been entertaining.
4. Indianapolis Colts (10-4). OK, fine, so, the Colts are going to make the playoffs again, and, for all the supposed oddities of this season, you could make an argument that the best three teams in the AFC are, again, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and New England. Sigh. At least we won't have to watch them play in that soulless new stadium. Even people from Indianapolis hate that building, which is no small feat; I think that's the only building in Indianapolis that holds more than 78 people.
3. Tennessee Titans (12-2). Another reason to cheer for/against the Titans come playoff time? Kerry Collins is now making a country music album. Favorite song title: "I Don't Need the Whiskey Anymore." Hey, speak for yourself, Kerry: You're totally boring now.
Thought project: Songs that would be on Vince Young's country album. Go.
2. Carolina Panthers (11-3). I'm actually going out to Giants Stadium for the Panthers-Giants game on Sunday night, and since I don't have a car, I have several transportation options. I could rent a car. I could take the bus. I could call a car service to idle outside the stadium before shipping me back to Brooklyn afterwards. I could walk. (Note: This would take several days.) I think I'm gonna rent the car. The car service is actually more expensive than the rental car, and I'm not sure I want to fight 35,000 people for the pleasure of a ride to the Port Authority. Once again, be happy you don't live in this wretched city.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3). Ladies and gentlemen, it's the world's only likable juggernaut franchise. I'm not sure why nobody hates the Steelers they way they hate the Cowboys, or the Yankees, or the Red Sox, or the Lakers, but they just don't. And I don't hate them either. And, honestly, I kind of hope they make the Super Bowl. Losing to the Buzzsaw, of course.