Monday, March 31, 2008

Farewell to Orlando

Random notes on the conference that will wrap up tomorrow:

- The keynote speaker on Sunday was Sidney Poitier. I've seen a lot of speakers at a lot of conferences in the past four years, and if not the best, Poitier was right up there. From the time he walked onto the stage to the completion of his address, Poitier was the picture of class and dignity. His speech was a simple one - talking about his mother, father, and growing up under difficult circumstances. The lessons he learned from them, the way that they prepared him for a life that would come to define the term "meaningful." Throughout, he spoke quietly but forcefully, and in a manner that could almost be described as hypnotic. At 81 years old, he is a generous soul - and a man who has a profound understanding about what his life has meant - and the messages that it holds for other people.

- Today, I saw a presentation by a guy who I have to admit I'd never heard of before: Daniel Pink. In short, I thought he was great. His presentation was very interesting, and he is an engaging, well-spoken, amusing guy who fields questions well and even came up with a good joke when the inevitable cell phone rang during his speech. His presentation centered on the new abilities that students will need to have to succeed (and for the U.S. to succeed) in the 21st Century, and how at the present time our public education system - particularly the accountability mechanism - is not structured to deliver that content.

He also has a new book coming out tomorrow - called "The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need." It is a career guide in the guise of a graphic novel. He showed a sneak preview of it (just like a film preview) at the lunch which was absolutely hysterical. It looks like it could something that could become a huge hit.

- And finally, I got to see the Parade of the Ducks at the Peabody Hotel. On the one hand, it was corny beyond belief. On the other, it was pretty damn funny. I may never return to this hotel in my lifetime, and I'm glad I had the chance to witness this strange but strangely endearing tradition.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Conference Etiquette, Chapter I

Working for a statewide membership association, I suspect that I attend more conferences than the average person, and at those conferences I attend a lot of workshop presentations.

Almost without fail, the workshop presenter(s) begin his/her presentation with a request that the audience turn their cell phones off, or put them "on stun," or some other variation of "turn the damn ringer off, please."

And without fail, at some point during the workshop, a cell phone rings, and it is usually one with a particularly annoying ringtone.

I have a question for these people: what is your problem? Can it be possible that you really don't know that your cellphone ringer is on? Do you not care? Do you not understand the English language?

And another thing...what's with people who leave before a workshop session is over? OK, I get it...I understand that some are not as good as advertised or expected, but come on...we're talking about 75 minutes out of your life here. You can't suck it up? And where, exactly, do you have to go that's so important?

It's just rude, people...think about it.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Peabody Hotel

So, in Orlando I'm staying at The Peabody Hotel, which is very nice but has an unusual tradition - ducks. Everywhere you look, you see ducks. Paintings of ducks on the roof of the hotel. Ducks at the end of the swizzle sticks in the bar. At lunch, butter shaped like a duck. In the bathroom, one bar of soap shaped like a duck. A duck carved into the other bar of soap. One restaurant called "Papa Duck's Pizzeria." Another called "Dux."

So what's with all the ducks?

Well, the hotel is also nice enough to supply, in several places (on the back of cocktail napkins, for one) "The Legend of the Ducks." To wit...

Back in the 1930s, the General Manager of the Peabody and a friend returned from a weekend hunting trip, and after a bit too much Tennessee sippin' whiskey, thought it would be a dandy idea to put their live duck decoys into the fountain in the hotel lobby.

After more than 65 years, the marble fountain is still graced with ducks, which are raised by a local farmer. The ducks relax and play in the fountain from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., when they parade down a red carpet and return to their "Royal Duck Palace" for the evening.

So this afternoon, I had a little time after a meeting, and was sitting in the lobby when I hear one of the cocktail servers tell the bartender, "better call the duck guys." One of the ducks had gotten out of the fountain, which apparently is frowned upon and probably a sign that this particular duck's employ as a Peabody duck is about to end. And let me tell you, a duck is not easy to catch; three people were unable to do it. Finally, satisfied that its efforts were not in vain, the duck climbed back into the fountain, all by itself. can add Duck Entertainment to the hotel menu.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Maybe I'll Stop Complaining After All

For years I've griped that the West Coast has gotten the short shrift when it comes to the scheduling of major sports events. But right now I'm in Orlando, Florida for a conference, it's almost 10:00 p.m., and the second set of NCAA tournament games hasn't even started. That's just insane! I'll trade missing the first half of the first set of games for getting to sleep at a decent hour any day of the week.

Of course, I'm still on West Coast time, so I'm sure I'll be up until the last buzzer sounds. And will pay for it when I have to get up tomorrow morning, at 6:00 a.m. East Coast time.

Oh is the NCAA tournament, after all.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chris Webber Calls It Quits

(Doug Christie, Mike Bibby, and Chris Webber in happier times)
As a loyal Sacramento Kings fan, I feel compelled to write something about the retirement of Chris Webber, but I'm having trouble coming up with much to say.

Webber may very well have been the best player Sacramento ever had, and while you can have a legitimate debate about which player deserves the most credit for the Kings' "glory years" (some might say Peja, others Vlade, or even Bibby), it would be foolish to think that the Kings could have gone as far as they did without Webber. He didn't want to come to Sacramento, but once he was here he played great, and in 2002 he was one of the best two or three players in the entire league.

Everything began to go downhill when Webber suffered a terrible knee injury in the 2003 playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks. He was never the same player, and the Kings were never the same team. Less than two years later he was gone, and his contributions to the teams he played for after that (Philadelphia, Detroit, Golden State) weren't terribly memorable.

He wasn't a bad guy when he was in Sacramento, but neither was he a fan favorite, aside from the fact that all fans like whoever their best player happens to be. Though unfair, in the end he will probably be best remembered for his gaffe in the 1993 NCAA Championship game, the "phantom time-out" (on top of the uncalled travel) which cost his Michigan team - the famous "Fab Five" - a their best chance at winning a title. And that's how it always seemed to turn out for Webber - close, but no cigar.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Greatest Masters Ever

Starting in 1964, when I was four years old and too young to care one way or another, every 11 years there has been an historic Masters.

That year, Arnold Palmer won his fourth green jacket in dominating fashion, with a six-stroke victory over Jack Nicklaus and Dave Marr. Though seemingly at the top of his game, it would prove to be the final major tournament ever won by Palmer.

In 1986, Jack Nicklaus stunned the world by capturing his sixth green jacket, with a miraculous back nine on the final day which lifted him above such international superstars as Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros. As commentator Ben Wright put it when Ballesteros put his third shot into the water on 15, "The foreign legion is reeling under the onslaught of the Bear." (That may not be an exact quote, but it's close).

And in 1997, a young skinny guy named Tiger Woods did whatever is beyond stunning the world by obliterating the field, capturing his first green jacket and major tournament with a victory so dominant that it essentially led to the demise of Augusta National as we once knew it, as the inevitable (and fruitless) process of annual "Tiger-proofing" began. But it's still a wonderful course, and the greatest tournament in the game, in large part because of familiarity with the course. If there is a golf fan out there who can't sum up a visual picture of each hole on the back nine, then I would question whether that person is really a golf fan.

But my favorite Masters, and the one I would still nominate as the greatest ever, took place in 1975. That year, Nicklaus captured his fifth green jacket, in a breathless duel on the final day with Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller, both of whom were at the top of their game. At the time, I was one of the biggest Nicklaus fans in the world. Not only did I want him to win every week, but I wanted everyone else to fail, and miserably. Guys like Palmer, Player, and Weiskopf I could stand, but there was a special strand of hatred that I saved for Johnny Miller and Tom Watson. I've long since gotten over it, but back then, I just wanted to see those two suffer on the course. The more balls in the rough or the water, the better.

And so now we arrive at 2008, which means that something special should be coming up in a couple of weeks. I've got a long streak going here, and I'll be disappointed if it comes to an end. I'm thinking maybe a Woods-Mickelson playoff, after both have shot 64 on the final day? That would just about do it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Way Beyond Lame

After less than a week of freedom, Sara Jane Olson is on her way back to prison, her release explained as a clerical error:

State corrections officials said they released Olson early because of a "clerical error." They said she must now return to a women's prison in Chowchilla to serve as many as two more years for her role in crimes including the 1975 murder of a Carmichael woman during a bank robbery.

"We understand how sensitive the impact of such an error has on all involved in this case and regret the mistake," said Scott Kernan, chief of adult operations for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, at an afternoon news conference in Sacramento.

I don't believe it for a minute, but let's set that aside for a moment. The choice here is simple - either the Department caved in to the increasing level of political pressure, in which case the re-arrest represents cowardice on a vast scale. Or, Mr. Kernan is actually telling the truth, and Olson's release represents gross incompetence on scale that is breathtaking to behold, in which case Mr. Kernan probably deserves to lose his job.

So which is it, Mr. Kernan? Are you and your department incompetent beyond belief, or are you simply a coward? And by the way, is that incomprehensible quote for real?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Catch A Wave And See Your Life Flash In Front Of Your Eyes

I've never been on a surfboard, and based on my embarrassing attempts at skateboarding, doubt that I'd be much more than amusing entertainment for anyone who happened to be in the vicinity. But I find the phenomenon of big-wave surfing fascinating, and that fascination was fueled by the excellent documentary Riding Giants. The movie covers the history of big-wave surfing, from the days when the first rowdy Californians headed to Hawaii to see what all the fuss was about, to the day when Laird Hamilton and his buds figured out that, armed with a jet-ski, a helicopter, and cojones the size of boulders, you could surf just about any damn place you wanted to, regardless of how far it was off shore.

Waiting to get my hair cut today, I was perusing the most recent edition of Men's Journal (I have to admit I had no idea that Jann Wenner was publishing that sucker these days), and stumbled across a great article about the big-wave surfers, an account of the freak storm conditions last December which resulted in record waves, from Hawaii all the way to the legendary Mavericks wave off the coast of California. It's not a happy story - it focuses on the death of Peter Davi, who lost his life on a wave at Ghost Tree, and the near death of Hamilton's close friend Brett Lickle, after the two bought it in a big way on a wave off of Maui:

Laird Hamilton had guessed right. The farther offshore from Maui he and Lickle got, the clearer it became that the storms' big swells were setting up hills of water 50 feet high, hills that were crashing over the reef and offering rides three quarters of a mile long. "It was absolute perfection," Lickle says. "Not a drop of water out of place." As the waves grew, the pair found it nearly impossible to control their skittering boards, so they returned to shore to pick up Hamilton's favorite: a six-foot-seven wood missile shaped by Hawaiian Dick Brewer, thin as a water ski, heavy, and fast. By the time they returned, Outer Sprecks had gone mutant.

Helicopter pilot Don Shearer, who's flown film and rescue missions during Maui's hairiest swells, flew in under the low ceiling and was completely awestruck by waves 12 to 15 stories tall. "I've seen every big swell that's come in since 1986," he says. "This was far and away the biggest I've seen in my life."
"They were sucking the water off the reef, breaking top to bottom," Hamilton says. "We could barely get into them, even at full speed."

The aluminum fin on Lickle's board had bent, so Hamilton lent him his Brewer. The foot straps were too wide, but Lickle couldn't resist the opportunity to chase down "the two biggest waves of my life." But as he blasted down his third the entire wall reared up in front of him. With no chance to outrun it, Lickle swung to the top, narrowly flying over the back. He was done. Then the horizon went dark: It was a rogue wave, straight out of The Poseidon Adventure. Hamilton wanted it. Lickle pegged the throttle.

After letting go of the rope, Hamilton felt as if he were flying. Plunging down the wall, he had to make split-second adjustments to deal with the warbles and ripples in his path while also focusing far ahead in case the wave lurched up into a closeout. Then he realized that was exactly what was happening. Tearing along at 40 knots, Hamilton's only hope was to dive into the wall, kick like hell, and pray he didn't get sucked downward as the wave thundered shut.

Lickle, tracking behind, was horrified when the wave closed out. Then his buddy popped up unharmed, but waving frantically: The next one was even bigger. Hamilton grabbed the sled and Lickle nailed the throttle, shooting toward land at 50 mph. It wasn't fast enough.

Neither was killed, though Lickle survived injuries which easily could have killed him had Hamilton not had the presence of mind to act quickly and fashion a tourniquet out of part of his wet suit (for all the gory details, you'll have to go buy the magazine).

When you think about what guys like Laird Hamilton are doing these days, it's clear that they're wired differently than the rest of us. But this story makes me wonder whether the limit has finally been reached - because if Laird Hamilton and Peter Davi have found waves that they can't handle, then maybe it's time to pack it in and call it a day. But something tells me that's not in Hamilton's nature.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Top Ten Jackson Browne Songs

He probably didn’t event it himself, but I’m borrowing this concept from Tosy and Cosh. I promise, to all four of my faithful readers, that this will be the last Jackson Browne post for a while.

10. “The Pretender.” There was a part of me that wanted to leave this song off the list. From time to time, I think that it’s almost too perfect, that it’s more like a perfect pastiche of a great Jackson Browne song than it is a great Jackson Browne song. But every time I hear it, I want to turn up the stereo, especially when he gets to the lines “I’m going to find myself a girl/Who can show me what laughter means/And we’ll fill in the missing colors/In each other’s paint by number dreams.” And as Dave Marsh wrote in the liner notes to The Very Best of Jackson Browne, “it’s arguably not the greatest song he’s ever written, but it probably gets closer to the core of his vision than any other.” It seems silly to leave it off.

9. “Alive in the World.” Browne’s post-1993 albums of original material (I’m Alive, Looking East, The Naked Ride Home) are all somewhat underrated; it’s almost if a significant part of his audience (both popular and critical) turned away from him after his political side became the dominant factor in his work of the previous decade. With some notable exceptions, I find his “songs of the heart” more effective and moving than his political work. In a way, “Alive in the World” is both, and it succeeds on all levels. I’m surprised it hasn’t shown up on someone’s campaign trail:

With its beauty and its cruelty
With its heartbreak and its joy
With it constantly giving birth to life and to forces that destroy
And the infinite power of change
Alive in the world

8. “The Load Out/Stay.” Along with Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page,” “The Load-Out” is one of the great songs about life on the road:

But the band’s on the bus and they’re waiting to go
We’ve got to drive all night and do a show in Chicago
Or Detroit, I don’t know
We do so many shows in a row
And these towns all look the same
We just pass the time in our hotel rooms
And wander ‘round backstage
Till those lights come up and we hear that crowd
And we remember why we came

Coupling the song with Maurice Williams’ “Stay” was pure genius, and together the two songs comprise what may be the all-time greatest show-closer.

7. “For Everyman.” In her Rolling Stone review of For Everyman, Janet Maslin wrote that Browne’s work was “a unique fusion of West Coast casualness and East Coast paranoia, easygoing slang and painstaking precision, child’s eye romanticizing and adult’s eye acceptance.” Lyrically, Browne arrived on the scene as a complete artist; the main weakness of his first two albums is their relatively dull musical landscape. On this song, Browne began to stretch out a bit.

6. “Redneck Friend.” OK, there may be a bit of guilty pleasure which drives this one so far into the Top Ten. But hey, I never get tired of it, and it’s a great rocker.

5. “Sky Blue and Black.” This is not a song Browne could have written in the early 1970s; partly because of his advanced emotional maturity, but primarily because the musical chops he had in his back pocket in 1993 simply weren’t there in 1972. It’s a complex song, both lyrically and musically, and it plumbs the depths of Browne’s emotions like no song before it.

4. “Your Bright Baby Blues.” This is the classic example of a song that I wasn’t able to appreciate on release, but came to love later. My favorite sets of lines:

No matter where I am I can’t help feeling
I’m just a day away from where I want to be


You watch yourself from the sidelines
Like your life is a game you don’t mind playing
To keep yourself amused
I don’t mean to be cruel, baby
But you’re looking confused

3. “Late for the Sky.” See post below.

2. “In the Shape of a Heart.” Simply magnificent, and perhaps the best song ever written about the vagaries of human relationships, and how hard people try to make those relationships work. A lyrical and musical powerhouse, from beginning to end.

People speak of love
Don’t know what they’re thinking of
Wait around for the one who fits just like a glove
Speak in terms of a life and the living
And try to find the word for forgiving

You keep it up, you try so hard
To keep a life from coming apart
And never know the shallows and the unseen reefs
That are there from the start
In the shape of a heart

1. “Running on Empty.” Without question, one of the greatest songs in the history of rock and roll, and one that has as much in common with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” as it does with any of the other songs on this list. As Dave Marsh wrote:

It’s hard to think of another record that speaks so forthrightly to and about a world that was disintegrating before its own eyes in a cycle of denial and repression that took the shape of rampant hedonism…I think of a roster of Browne’s friends that might include Lowell George, who overdosed and died, Warren Zevon, rehabbed and rehabbed and held together with main human strength and raw talent, and David Crosby, surviving massive cocaine addiction through a period of imprisonment but ballooned to three hundred pounds in compensation. In that crowd, “Running on Empty” was less a metaphor than a prophesy, a post-Woodstock “Dead Man’s Curve.”

And behind it all, the classic lines:

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I just don’t know how to tell you all
Just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to
To pull me through
Looking into their eyes I seem them running too

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Getting Old, Chapter XXVII

The task today was to accompany #1 son while he rented a tuxedo for the upcoming Junior Prom. Left to his own devices, I'm confident he still would have done better than I did for my first Prom, which can be summed up by the words "powder blue tux with white ruffled shirt." It was definitely a sight to see, I can tell you that. The thing is, back in 1977 that sort of thing was all the rage. And we all thought we looked really cool.

So, #1 son will look something like this, although you have to use your imagination a bit - grey herringbone vest, tuxedo shirt, bow tie.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Late for the Sky"

OK, so I'm on a bit of a Jackson Browne kick right now. An album I was eagerly looking forward to, Kathleen Edwards' Asking For Flowers, remains sitting on the stereo cabinet, despite having been bought 4 days ago.

But I do this sort of thing every now and then, to the dismay of my family. I hear some variation of "for crying out loud, when are you going to listen to something other than ______ [fill in the blank]?" Soon, patient, I answer.

I don't know that I would argue that it's his best album, but forced to choose one, I'd probably say that Late for the Sky is my favorite Jackson Browne album. It wasn't the first Browne album I'd bought (that was The Pretender), but for some reason it spoke to me, and it dominated my turntable for much of the spring of 1977. That was my junior year of high school, which without question was the toughest year I ever had in school. It was also the spring I had my first serious girlfriend, which in the end turned out to be a terrible mistake, but seemed at the time the right thing to do. I was working 30 hours a week at McDonalds, which was good in the sense that I had more money than I knew what to do with, even after setting aside much of it for the good old college fund. But it was also bad, in the sense that 30 hours is a long time for a high school junior to be working, especially when you're taking Trigonometry and Chemistry - two subjects for which I had great distaste and no particular affinity. In short, I was a nervous wreck much of the time, and for some reason Late for the Sky seemed the perfect expression of that nervousness, as well as the perfect antidote.

For the most part, it's not a happy album, and that much you can tell from the song titles - "Before the Deluge," "Fountain of Sorrow"...and that was probably the key to why I liked it so much. In his Rolling Stone review, Stephen Holden said it best:

No contemporary male singer/songwriter has dealt so honestly with the vulnerability of romantic idealism and the pain of adjustment from youthful narcissism to adult survival as Browne has in this album. Late for the Sky is the autobiography of his young manhood.

Back in March 1977, youthful survival was enough for me. And the title track was played quite a lot in my room, and my brothers and parents probably thought much the same thing as do my wife and kids today...when are you going to start listening to something else?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Jackson Browne Nails It

After just a handful of listens, I’d have to call Jackson Browne’s Solo Acoustic, Vol. 2 an unqualified success - if not an outright masterpiece.

Browne has come up with a great concept with this set of albums, and at this point I just wish that he’d release them more frequently (Vol. 1 was three years ago). They’re probably for fans only, as each features previously released songs, in (per the title) solo acoustic format – either guitar, or piano. And at this late date, it’s highly unlikely that acoustic versions of old songs is going to sway someone over to Jackson’s side.

But they expose a side of Browne that heretofore was unknown (at least to me), or at least little known – the guy has a great sense of humor, and knows how to apply exactly the right amount of self-deprecation. On Vol. 1, Browne told a hilarious story about the time he sang “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and realized halfway through that he didn’t exactly agree with what the lyrics were saying about relationships (you’ve got to hear it to appreciate it). On Vol. 2, he makes some amusing comments about the fact that the bulk of his work could be viewed as somewhat depressing (at one point he comments, “I could sing you a tender song filled with despair, or a weary song laced with hope…what’s your pleasure?), and throughout the show achieves an easy back-and-forth banter with the audience.

What Vol. 2 really demonstrates is that Browne’s later work – which I’ve always thought was underrated – is just as good, if not better, than the songs which made him famous in the first place. With a handful of exceptions, the songs on Vol. 2 are from albums released well past his high-water mark of popularity, the Running on Empty era. Songs like “The Night Inside Me,” “Enough of the Night,” and “My Stunning Mystery Companion” all gain something in the translation from full-band recording to solo performance, almost as if the songs can finally take a deep breath, no longer constrained by the borders of an arranged performance.

The highlight of the album is the spectacular triple crown of “Sky Blue and Black,” “In the Shape Of A Heart,” and “Alive in the World.” I’ve always thought those songs were among his very best, and if anything, they sound more powerful here than ever before. A close second is “Redneck Friend,” which proves that you don’t need a band to be a rockin’ fool.

The great critic Paul Nelson once referred to Jackson Browne as “our finest practicing romantic.” On this album, Browne is that and more. A romantic, a little world weary perhaps; but completely at ease with himself and more astute than ever about what constitutes his strengths. I just hope I don’t have to wait three years for Vol. 3.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Obama For the Real World

Michael Reynolds makes the case for Obama-as-pragmatist, and does it quite effectively, I think.

The conclusion, and my favorite part:

Vote for Obama. Hope he's for real. (Hope won't kill you, though it will encourage you to drink.) But man, if you are somehow under the impression that Mr. Obama just came from a conversation with a burning bush and next week will begin curing lepers, (yeah, I know: I'm mixing testaments,) then you need to remind yourself that fulfillment does not come from politicians; it comes from fast cars, good booze, and women who can manage to tolerate you.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Morning Drive Thought of the Day

So on the mix-tape I listened to this morning, the song "Call Me" by Petula Clark came on.

For some reason, it made me think of Eliot Spitzer.

If you're feeling sad and lonely
There's a service I can render
Tell the one who loves you only
I can be so warm and tender

Call me
Don't be afraid, you can call me
Maybe it's late, but just call me
Tell me, and I'll be around

It goes on in that vein, but that's probably sufficient.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"The Moby Grapes" on Mike Douglas

I have to admit that Mike Douglas was a staple of our household when I was growing up. His show aired in the afternoon - I want to say sometime around 4:00 p.m. - and I remember watching him from about the time I was 8 years old, through 14 or 15.

No one ever accused Mike of being particularly hip, but he did feature a lot of rock bands on his show. I'm not sure what's funniest about this appearance of Moby Grape - Mike's introduction of the band as "The Moby Grapes," or the decidedly tepid response from the crowd. But in any event, this is the kind of stuff YouTube was invented for.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Idol Thoughts

I never watched a single episode of American Idol until the fifth season, and even then I only started watching when they were down to three contestants. And I'm afraid that's all it took for me to get hooked, even though it's fair to say that I find much of the "American Idol" style of singing detestable. I've never bought an album by any of the Idol winners, and the only song from an Idol winner that I've really actively enjoyed was Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone," which is just a great song, plain and simple. Much of what one hears on the show is dreck, and most of the rest of it is entirely disposable.

So it may not be great music, but it is great television. Not the audition shows, which are little more than a freak show - but once the competition actually gets started, there's just something about the damn thing that's irresistible. There's plenty of opportunity to make fun of the singers, or make fun of Paula, Randy, Simon, Ryan...whoever happens to act the strangest in any particular week, and you just never know who that's going to be (but Paula is always a safe bet). There are a handful of great performances from week to week, and even the occasional surprise (like last night, when Chikezie turned in the performance of the night, and prohibitive favorite David Archuleta stunk up the joint). I can't quite explain it, but it's just fun.

So this year, to add to the viewing enjoyment of a crew at work who watches every week, I came up with an American Idol contest. The rules appear below, and anyone wandering through this site is welcome to steal them for their own use.

The Rules

Each participant predicts the order in which the 12 finalists will be eliminated.


For exact picks (for example, you predict Carly Smithson will be eliminated in 3rd place, and that's where she finishes) you receive points, as follows:

12th place 2 points
11th place 2 points
10th place 3 points
9th place 3 points
8th place 4 points
7th place 4 points
6th place 6 points
5th place 8 points
4th place 10 points
3rd place 12 points
2nd place 15 points
Champion 25 points

Consolation points

If you don’t get the exact position of elimination correct, you can still gain points, as follows:

• If you correctly predict a finalist will finish in the 10-12th place block, but don’t get it exactly correct, you receive 1 point. Example: You predict Chikezie will finish in 12th place, but he finishes 10th – you get 1 point.

• If you correctly predict a finalist will finish in the 6-9th place block, but don’t get it exactly correct, you receive 2 points. Example: You predict Amanda will finish 9th, but she finishes 6th- you receive 2 points.

• If you correctly predict a finalist will finish in the 3rd-5th place block, but don’t get it exactly correct, you receive 4 points.

• If you correctly predict a finalist will finish in the top 2, but get the order wrong, you receive 8 points.

The person with the most points wins (nothing like stating the obvious, eh?).

And I can win some money while I enjoy a guilty pleasure.

The Last Great Moment

OK, this will cheer me up a bit...probably the last great moment the Kings enjoyed, in Game 3 vs. San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs. What's cool about this one is that I was at this game, and in the replay, you can see me. Well, not really, but I know I'm in the shot because the section where I sit (and have sat, for close to 200 games since 1985) behind the basket where Kevin Martin made his incredible layup.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

You Learn Something New Every Day

What I learned while driving into work this morning is that it is possible, when listening at exceedingly high volume, to come to the conclusion that the live version of "Prove It All Night" (the one recorded in New York City, 2000) is the greatest song of all time.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Chipping Away

Rolling Stone magazine endorses Barack Obama. Whether this matters or not in the big scheme of things is hard to know, but it can't make the Clinton campaign happy to have lost this constituency. And even less happier that Ideologue-in-Chief Jann S. Wenner takes a spirited blast against the honorable Senator:

All this was made clearer by the contrast with Hillary Clinton, a capable and personable senator who has run the kind of campaign that reminds us of what makes us so discouraged about our politics. Her campaign certainly proved her experience didn't count for much: She was a bad manager and a bad strategist who naturally and easily engaged in the politics of distraction, trivialization and personal attack. She never convinced us that her vote for the war in Iraq was anything other than a strategic political calculation that placed her presidential ambitions above the horrifying consequences of a war. Her calibrated course corrections over the past three years were painful. Like John Kerry — who also voted for the war while planning a presidential run — it helped cost her that goal.

This is just one example of the increasing height of the cards that are stacked against Clinton. I still think that she can win the nomination, but my sense that in doing so she would destroy the party grows with each passing week.

A Glimpse At What Made Johnny So Great

One of the things that separated Johnny Carson from his contemporaries, and those who have tried to follow in his footsteps, was his ability to turn nothing - a total comedic bomb - into something that usually ended up being the funniest moment on that night's show:

Of course, there were the classic scripted moments, as well. As cliched as it became over the years, being shown every year on the Anniversary show, this was still one of the best:

1999: The E Street Band's Magnificent Return

Show #7 - October 1999, Oakland

With the April 4 concert less than a month away, it’s time to resume Springsteen Festival II. Picking up where we left off:

The 1992-93 “Other Band” tour would be Bruce’s last full-scale, full-band, fully electric tour for nearly seven years. He didn’t exactly drop off the face of the earth, but neither did he command the public spotlight, as had during the 1980s. He won an Academy Award for “Streets of Philadelphia,” and was nominated for one the following year for “Dead Man Walkin’.” And then, two days before Thanksgiving 1995, he released The Ghost of Tom Joad, widely viewed as a sequel of sorts to Nebraska, primarily because it was mostly acoustic and featured arrangements that were spare at their most complicated, and minimalist elsewhere. I don’t think the album sold that well (for Bruce, anyway), but to this day I think it’s one of his best. It’s his “California album,” one that came to be partly in reaction to the political atmosphere of the state in the mid-1990s.

Hit hard by a fiscal crisis at the turn of the decade (gee, does that sound familiar?), California was also entering an era when, for the first time, it would become a “minority majority state.” In other words, white people, for the first time, would comprise less than half of the state’s population. The governor at the time, Republican Pete Wilson, was elected as a moderate, but partly due to the economic crisis, saw his popularity drop to near-record lows during his first term. Running for re-election in 1994, he ran one of the most cynical, mean-spirited campaigns in the history of the state, one that was based primarily on fear-mongering against the “hordes of illegal immigrants” that were, according to the story that he told, poised on the border, ready to take jobs, fill up schools, and do just about everything short of rape and pillage. Wilson's campaign was successful in the short-term – he got re-elected – but proved disastrous in the long-term for his party, which entered into a tailspin from which it has never recovered. Now, people find it hard to believe that California, as recently as 1988, was a “red state.”

It is that California which Tom Joad addressed: the California that seemed to be paradise for those on the wrong end of the economic and political strata, but also the one that offered so little hope to those who needed it the most. Songs like “Sinaloa Cowboys,” “Balboa Park” and “Across the Border” portrayed a world (much like the one in Nebraska) where hopes and dreams didn’t really matter – just surviving on a day-to-day basis was the best which someone in that situation could hope for.

After that, there was very little new work, although there was a great deal of excitement in 1996 when Bruce got the E Street Band back together for a quick session, which resulted in four “new” songs (most of which had been heard before by die-hard fans) that were tacked on to the end of the “Greatest Hits” album. It wasn’t ground-breaking work, but it filled longtime fans with hope that if the band could be brought together for something like this, it could certainly be brought together for something bigger in scale.

In 1998, Bruce released “Tracks,” a 4-CD set of unreleased treasures (for the most part, at least) that went way back, all the way to the incredible set of demo tapes Bruce recorded with the legendary John Hammond in 1972. With a lot of these songs, you could tell why they got left off of whichever album was being recorded at the time, but with others, it was hard to figure out why they didn’t make the cut. From beginning to end it was fascinating, and in many instances, much more than that. Without question, there are songs on “Tracks” that can stand proudly alongside anything Bruce has ever recorded.

It was about this time that the rumors of an E Street Band Tour began, and soon those rumors were confirmed. The band would be getting back together in 1999, for a lengthy world tour that would begin in Europe and then cross the United States, playing multiple nights at many of the largest venues. There was a great sense of excitement about the announcement, because people immediately began to speculate about what songs the band would play. There was no new album to promote, so what would serve as the basis for the show? Would the “Tracks” songs be featured? Would it be little more than a greatest hits revue?

I suppose you could call the 1999 show a Greatest Hits revue, but that does not do it justice. The band, with Steve Van Zandt back in the fold alongside his successor Nils Lofgren, was a like a souped-up car that had been kept in the garage, in mint condition, for just a little too long. It was a monster that needed to be out on the road, in order to show all the young whipper-snappers that had risen in its wake that, yes, the E Street Band was all it was cracked up to be, nothing less than the greatest concert band in the history of rock and roll.

And so it was. It’s really difficult to put into words what an exciting night this was. We attended the show with our friends Tim, Carol and Chuck, all of whom had seen him “back in the day,” and on the drive from Sacramento to Oakland I felt like a kid on his way to see his first major league baseball game. The show was exquisitely paced, brilliantly played, and reached heights that I would have thought impossible. And all of it was made sweeter for the fact that none of us had been sure that we’d ever get to experience it again.

("My Love Will Not Let You Down," Milan concert, 1999)

The entire show was one long highlight, but for me these moments stood out above the rest:

• The opener, “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” driven by Danny Federici’s propulsive organ;

• The intro to “The River,” which allowed Clarence to show off a different set of chops than the E Street Nation was used to;

• The incredible three-headed hydra guitar attack of “Murder Incorporated;”

• Bruce’s long, incredibly funny sermon during the “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” medley;

• The heartbreakingly beautiful version of “If I Should Fall Behind,” which was transformed into a love song that Bruce and the band sang to each other; and

• The amazing new song, “Land of Hope and Dreams,” which essentially represents, in eight minutes of amazing music, everything that Bruce Springsteen is all about.

In short, it was one of those landmark nights that you remember for the rest of your life.


My Love Will Not Let You Down / Prove It All Night / Two Hearts / Darkness On The Edge Of Town / The Promised Land / Mansion On The Hill / The River / Youngstown / Murder Inc. / Badlands / Out In The Street / Tenth Avenue Freeze Out - It's Alright - Take Me To The River - Red Headed Woman / Where The Bands Are / Working On The Highway / The Ghost Of Tom Joad / Meeting Across The River / Jungleland / Light Of Day / Ramrod / Bobby Jean / Born To Run / Thunder Road / If I Should Fall Behind / Land Of Hope And Dreams

Saturday, March 08, 2008

F*ck That Sh*t!

South Pasadena goes "curse-free."

Hat tip: Dr. Helen.

Just A Couple of Guys From Jersey

Although I have to admit that when the camera cuts to Frank and Barbara, it sure looks like he could be asking her, "who'd you say this guy was?" But what the hey - he does blow him a kiss at the end.

Debating the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - Why Bother?

It's interesting - I have at least as much passion, if not more, for rock music than I have for baseball. But when it comes to debating the merits of candidates for their respective Halls of Fame, there's an enormous gap. I love debates about the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I have a strange disinterest in debates about the Rock and Roll Hall.

Why is that? I think it's because, absent any kind of guidance or standards from the Hall about what constitutes a Hall of Fame member, in the end it all boils down to personal preference. And once the Hall got through the list of obvious choices (I'm talking about artists like Chuck Berry, Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan, James Brown, Otis Redding...that caliber), on what do you base your selections? Artists like Jackson Browne and Bob Seger can't be considered (at least not by any reasonable person, and I love them both) as the equal of Bob Dylan - does that mean they don't belong? Of course not. But where do you draw the line? And what is more important - record sales? critical acclaim? influence? Does anyone really care anymore?

This was all brought to a head by an article, which Larry Aydlette linked to, that lists the author's 25 Biggest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame snubs. When I first saw it, I thought it would be fun to write a little something about each artist, and either make the case for their inclusion or exclusion. It didn't take me long to decide that I didn't really give a sh*t one way or another. Sure, I hate Genesis, but if you want to put them in, who am I to quibble? Dick Dale? Sure, great guitarist. But as Bill James once wrote, the point of a Hall of Fame is that the people in it are actually supposed to be famous. Is Dick Dale famous? In small circles, perhaps. But as I said before, you've got to draw the line somewhere. Hall and Oates? Yeah, I like them a lot. But really...are they good enough to be in a Hall of Fame?

All of which leads me to a conclusion that the concept of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was probably a dumb one to begin with.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Kings Is Dead

Took #2 son to see the Kings tonight, and saw the team get its rear end handed to it by the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves. Kevin Martin was awesome (46 points), but the rest of the team was closer to awful. Brad Miller played but took the night off, which meant that we got to see many minutes of rookie Spencer Hawes, and let's just say that he needs many more minutes before he starts to look like an NBA quality player. And defense? rebounding? Not in the vocabulary this evening.

They aren't going to the playoffs this year, so the rest of the way is just for pride. The overall situation isn't as bad as the worst of the late 1980s and early 1990s, but even with some wizardry from Geoff Petrie, it looks like they're at least two seasons away from being a legitimate contender. Unless, of course, they can talk a superstar into coming to Sacramento. At this point, I don't have any idea who that would be.

The highlight of the evening was when I noticed, near the end of the first quarter, that management has stopped the absolutely inane practice of playing incredibly loud music every time the Kings have the ball. So...thanks are due to whoever is responsible for that wise and welcome decision.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

One More Terminator Post

Very cool. Alan Sepinwall agrees with me about Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Maybe it's time to look into a new line of work.

I started reading Alan when the World Wide Web was a mere screaming baby, and he was a college student writing weekly reviews of NYPD Blue. And now, he's one of the best TV critics out there.

Key grafs:

Speaking of improving as they go, I thought "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" got quite a bit better after the first few boring episodes. Specifically, the introduction of Brian Austin Green, of all people, signaled the moment when I began to think this show might have more legs than I initially thought. For whatever reason -- my guess is a network note about making the main character more relatable -- the producers decided to soften Sarah from the homicidal nutcase she was in "Terminator 2," and so they wound up giving all of movie Sarah's most extreme, memorable qualities to Derek Reese, and the former David Silver somehow pulled it off. I bought him as a hair-trigger commando from the future, and he gave the show an unpredictable quality that it didn't have with the original troika.

The finale also featured one of the great "do more with less" moments I've seen lately. With the weekly budget obviously much lower than for the pilot, there was no way to actually show Cromartie massacring the FBI tactical team, and so they shot virtually all of it from the point of view of the bodies falling, one by one, into the pool far away from Cromartie's hotel room. It helped that they scored the whole thing to Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" -- any scene feels more epic when it's accompanied by a number from one of Johnny's America albums (see also the opening of the most recent season of "The Shield," where Johnny's "I Hung My Head" kicks an already powerful opening sequence into something magnificent), and the song itself is about Judgment Day.

Now (with apologies for the self-indulgence), compare that to what I wrote.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Our Mayor Is A Better Point Guard Than Your Mayor

...OK, so he hasn't actually won yet, he's just announced he's running. But can there be any doubt that Kevin Johnson will do what it takes to win? One thing's for certain - he'd blow Antonio Villaraigosa right off the court.

And Boy, Do We Need It Now

An excellent post from Sheila on the Boston Massacre, which occurred 238 years ago today.

My favorite part:

One of the most important things about the Boston massacre is John Adams' part in the aftermath of it. He, a lawyer in the area, defended the British soldiers. Nobody could accuse him of harboring sympathies for the British crown - although, of course, that was what he was accused of. And whatever he may have thought about the soldiers, he did think they deserved a defense. And whatever this new entity would be ... whatever this new nation would be, if they ever freed themselves from the British yoke - Adams was committed to the idea that it would be a nation "of laws, not men".

Laws above men. It is the principle of the thing. (It reminds me of the great story of Alexander Hamilton lambasting the unruly crowds clamoring to attack the pro-British president of King's College. He was just a student at that time, and although he was on his way to being a full-time revolutionary - any mob like that terrified and angered him. He stood on the steps of the college and made a fiery speech about liberty that people talked about later - it was remembered. Pretty amazing.) The detachment of these gentlemen. Principled detachment.

Think about it. "Laws above men." "Principled detachment."

Principled detachment.

Something that is likely to be in very short supply between now and November.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Political Version of Groundhog Day

...because no matter how you look at it, this thing is goin' on for quite a while.

As Stephen Green noted after New Hampshire:

I’m telling you, you’ve got to run a stake through the heart, separate the head from the body, burn the remains and scatter the ashes in heavy winds if you want to put a Clinton down for good.

And so now, it gets ugly...and the Democrats will do their best to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, a task for which they have a rare talent.

When The Terminator Comes Around

None of the blogs I read for insightful and/or entertaining commentary on television is saying anything these days about Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, so I’ll just put in my two cents worth and say that I really hope it comes back next season. At the beginning, I was highly skeptical that there was enough story left in the Terminator saga to create a full-blown series, but they managed to pull it off, largely by pretending that the third movie never happened. Over the course of nine episodes, I’m still not certain the show has found its footing, but there were enough outstanding moments in the last few episodes that, if it is granted a second season, I think it can turn into something special.

The weak link among the cast members remains Lena Headey as Sarah Connor. It’s not that she was awful, but she never infused her character with anything resembling what made Linda Hamilton’s portrayal of Connor so striking. It didn’t matter to me that Headey wasn’t buffed like Hamilton in T:2, but there was just nothing there – no passion, no fire, no personality – Sarah Connor on Prozac. Thomas Dekker was fine as John; Summer Glau was more than that as Cameron, managing to seem more human than Sarah herself, even as she continually expressed confusion over the various emotions and catch-phrases she encountered. Richard T. Jones and Dean Winters in supporting roles, as the FBI agent always one step behind Connor and the former fiancée of Sarah, were also quite good. But the real surprise was Brian Austin Green as Derek Reese. I never watched a single episode of Beverly Hills 90210, but remember the vicious things people used to write about him on that show. In this, he was damn good – believable as a person, and effective as an action hero.

There were some great moments in last night’s two-part finale (really two separate episodes, but why quibble) and the two most striking were as different as night and day. In the first, Derek (Green) takes John out for a birthday ice-cream cone, and they just happen to end up in the park, where Derek as a boy is playing catch with his younger brother Kyle, who as we all know eventually becomes John’s dad. It was a very quiet scene, but mind-blowing, especially if you tried to apply any kind of “time-travel logic” to the situation. But a very nice moment, one that added a sense of humanity to the proceedings.

The second, even better, moment was set up early in the episode, when Agent Ellison – who had already been portrayed as a religious, God-fearing man – quoted the passage from Revelations which Johnny Cash uses as the introduction to his song “The Man Comes Around:”

And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder:
One of the four beasts saying:
"Come and see."
And I saw.
And behold, a white horse.
And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts,
And I looked and behold: a pale horse.
And his name, that sat on him, was Death.

As it happens, my 13-year old son has become quite a Cash fan, and this song (along with “Hurt”) is probably his favorite. It’s a truly frightening song, one that came to Cash in a dream, dealing with the happy topic of Judgment Day. When Ellison began the quote, we sort of looked each other, a sly grin coming to our faces.

Throughout the series, Ellison has become less of a skeptic – each week, some small piece of evidence has convinced him that, hey – these Terminator thingies might really be out there somewhere. And last night, he finally found one, a taciturn fellow who has spent the past several weeks (after acquiring a new layer of skin: don't ask) impersonating an FBI agent. And as Ellison and the SWAT team close in on the apartment where “Cromartie” is holed up, you hear it – the strums of guitar, followed by the Man in Black:

There's a man goin' 'round takin' names
An' he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won't be treated all the same
There'll be a golden ladder reaching down
When the man comes around

It could have been a cliché – just another battle between cops and a Terminator, a battle whose ending we know before it begins. Instead, the director shot the scene looking up from the bottom of the swimming pool, and as Johnny went on singing, one SWAT member after another fell, silent and dead, into the pool. Brilliant.

So…it may not be the greatest show ever made, but what the heck…it was better than Season 6 of 24.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Tower Theater

(Photograph by Michele Catalano. Used with permission)

The Tower Theater on Broadway, which opened in 1938, is one of the two remaining movie palaces in Sacramento (the other being the Crest Theater on K Street). The first movie I saw here was The Andromeda Strain in 1971, when I was 11 years old. I had read the book, so my parents thought it would be OK to bring me along. At that time, the theater hadn’t been broken down into smaller screens – it was one glorious Cinemascope-type nirvana.

The next time I set foot in the theater, it was my first date with my wife-to-be, on May 20, 1984. We had met in a seminar that Spring – I was a graduate student (one who would never finish his Masters Degree, but what the heck, I met my wife, so it wasn’t a total loss) and she was an undergraduate. The course was on Modern American Political Thought, with a focus on Lewis Mumford (we still have an entire shelf of Mumford books in our library). About halfway through the semester, she started to ask if I needed a ride home, and then on the last day of class, she gave me her address and phone number. Bright guy that I am, I figured this was significant, and in a week or so I called her to see if she wanted to go see a movie.

It was a Sunday afternoon, and the movie was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. Not his best film, but certainly one that we’ll always consider to be meaningful. A little less than three years (and many movies, including some at the Tower) later, we got married. And we recently celebrated our 21st anniversary.

The Tower sign is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city - when you fly into Sacramento in the evening, it is easily recognizable as the plane heads into Metro Airport. Across the street was the site of one of the city's Tower Records stores, along with Tower Books and (later) Tower Video. Now, Tower founder Russ Solomon runs a record store called R5 at the site, and The Avid Reader has taken over the old bookstore. Together, the stores serve as the gateway to the Land Park neighborhood of the city.

"Is it safe?"

As Turner Classic Movies winds down its annual 31 Days of Oscar festival, last night son #2 and I (son #1 hit the sack early; took SATS today; my God, I’m getting old) caught up with “Marathon Man,” a film I hadn’t seen since my junior year in college.

As anyone who’s seen it can attest, once you’ve seen “Marathon Man” you’re unlikely to ever forget it, if only for the “Is it safe?” scene. In that famous scene, Laurence Olivier gives Dustin Hoffman an impromptu checkup, sans Novocain, in order to determine whether Hoffman knows anything about what will transpire when Olivier – a Nazi war criminal – visits the bank the following day in order to retrieve a hidden cache of diamonds. It’s not what you would call a “fun” scene – in fact, at one point even one of the evil henchmen turns his back, not wanting to watch what is about to transpire.

The scene wasn’t quite as bad as I remembered (but just hearing the drill makes your teeth hurt in sympathy), but the film was much better than I remembered. One of several “paranoid thrillers” that cropped up in the 1970s, it’s sort of what “North by Northwest” might have been like, had it been made shortly after the Watergate affair. It’s got all the same elements – the innocent guy (Hoffman) who gets caught up in intrigue by accident, and never has any idea what is going on; the shady American spies (Roy Scheider and William Devane, both outstanding) who aren’t really good guys or bad guys but somewhere in between; the blonde girl who fits in somehow but you’re never quite clear how; and the evil guys with foreign accents (Olivier, joined by among others Richard Bright, who played Al Neri in The Godfather movies). The plot moves forward with solid pacing, but at times is close to incomprehensible. You’re never quite sure exactly what Scheider and Devane are up to, but that just adds to the eerie, almost claustrophobic feel of the film (as does the somewhat strange score). You end up feeling as disoriented as Hoffman, and wondering how to get out of the trap you've fallen in.

All of the actors are outstanding, including Hoffman, who has never been one of my favorites. He doesn’t look much like a marathon runner, but he convincingly portrays his character’s transformation from naïve innocence to survival to a thirst for revenge. Olivier is iconic, and as previously mentioned, Scheider and Devane are both outstanding.

All in all, the film has held up well over the years. It’s not an entirely pleasant ride, but it superbly portrays the distrust of government which was so prevalent in those post-Nixon years.

"Revolting Outrage, or Shocking Incompetence" or..."Harebrained?"

Ann Althouse dissects one portion of the new Hilary Clinton ad that is catching the attention of many.

I'd have to say it's the latter. It's hard to believe that anyone would stoop so low as to do it on purpose.

Check out the comments, as well...


Kevin Drum calls the post harebrained.

If nothing else, the dissenting viewpoints on the issue, and the way in which they are expressed, illustrate the vast chasm that exists in political thought today.

At the Movies

The list comes from Sheila. As she did, I’m changing the rules a bit, mostly because I have no idea how to create red text on this here blog.


Bold movies you have watched and liked.
Turn BOLD ALL CAPS movies you have watched and loved.
Italicize movies you saw and didn’t like.
Leave as is movies you haven’t seen.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Schindler’s List (1993)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Casablanca (1942)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Star Wars (1977)
12 Angry Men (1957)
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Goodfellas (1990)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
City of God (2002)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
PSYCHO (1960)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Citizen Kane (1941)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Fight Club (1999)
Memento (2000)
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Se7en (1995)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
American Beauty (1999)
VERTIGO (1958)
Amélie (2001)
The Departed (2006)
Paths of Glory (1957)
American History X (1998)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The Third Man (1949)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
ALIEN (1979)
The Pianist (2002)
The Shining (1980)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Leben der Anderen, Das [The Lives of Others] (2006)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Boot, Das (1981)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Forrest Gump (1994)
Metropolis (1927)
Aliens (1986)
Raging Bull (1980)
Rashômon (1950)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Rebecca (1940)
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Sin City (2005)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
All About Eve (1950)
Modern Times (1936)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The Seventh Seal (1957)
The Great Escape (1963)
Amadeus (1984)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Touch of Evil (1958)
The Elephant Man (1980)
The Prestige (2006)
Vita è bella, La [Life Is Beautiful] (1997)
JAWS (1975)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
THE STING (1973)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
City Lights (1931)
Braveheart (1995)
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Batman Begins (2005)
The Big Sleep (1946)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
The Great Dictator (1940)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Notorious (1946)
Salaire de la peur, Le [The Wages of Fear](1953)
High Noon (1952)
Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)
FARGO (1996)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Unforgiven (1992)
Back to the Future (1985)
Ran (1985)
Oldboy (2003)
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Donnie Darko (2001)
The Green Mile (1999)
Annie Hall (1977)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Gladiator (2000)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Diaboliques, Les [The Devils] (1955)
Ben-Hur (1959)
It Happened One Night (1934)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Life of Brian (1979)
Die Hard (1988)
The General (1927)
American Gangster (2007)
Platoon (1986)
V for Vendetta (2005)
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
The Graduate (1967)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Crash (2004/I)
The Wild Bunch (1969)
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Heat (1995)
Gandhi (1982)
Harvey (1950)
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
The African Queen (1951)
STAND BY ME (1986)
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Conversation (1974)
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Wo hu cang long [Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ] (2000)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Cabinet des Dr. Caligari., Das [The Cabinet of Dr Caligari] (1920)
The Thing (1982)
Groundhog Day (1993)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Sleuth (1972)
PATTON (1970)
TOY STORY (1995)
Glory (1989)
Out of the Past (1947)
Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Ed Wood (1994)
Spartacus (1960)
The Terminator (1984)
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Frankenstein (1931)
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
The Hustler (1961)
Toy Story 2 (1999)
The Lion King (1994)
Big Fish (2003)
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Magnolia (1999)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
In Cold Blood (1967)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Dial M for Murder (1954)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Roman Holiday (1953)
Casino (1995)
Ying xiong [Hero] (2002)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Rope (1948)
Cinderella Man (2005)
Finding Neverland (2004)
Inherit the Wind (1960)
His Girl Friday (1940)
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Needless to say, there are a few holes there that need filling. And my apologies to devotees of American Beauty, 2001, and The Graduate. None of them did it for me. And yes, the middle films in both the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings trilogies really were my favorites.