In defense of The Sopranos Finale

For anyone who needs a refresher: 

What? It’s over? Is my cable out? That can’t be the end.

These are just a few of the thoughts that went through millions of fans’ minds as they watched the series finale of The Sopranos on HBO on June 10th, 2007. I was one of them. I had not seen all of The Sopranos at the time (my parents understandably would not let me) but it was too big of an event to miss. My family and I sat down together to watch it, and even though I did not fully understand the events leading up to the ending, I will never forget the first time I watched the final scene.

Tony’s worries are over. The war between the families has ceased and his biggest enemy, Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) will be having his closed casket funeral in the coming days. He has nothing to worry about right? Then why is he so uneasy? The door rings as customers enter, and the ring catches Tony’s attention and eyesight every time. The tension of the scene is incredible. It does not matter who enters everyone is a threat. Who knew that Don’t Stop Believing could feel so menacing? As Tony, Carmella and AJ sit and talk Tony’s attention is continuously elsewhere. Why does that guy keep looking over? Why is that couple talking so loud? Who are the thug looking guys coming into a family restaurant? The brilliance of this last scene cannot be understated. It even includes two separate references to the two different times that Tony has been shot during the series; the two times he was closest to death. These references are subtle without throwing it right into the viewer’s face. The man who keeps looking over is wearing a Member’s Only jacket, which would be fashionable if it were 1987. However, some Soprano’s fans will remember “Member’s Only” is also the name of the episode in which Tony’s Uncle Junior shoots him, leading to Tony’s coma. Also, the two thug looking African Americans who walk into the restaurant could be in reference to when Tony is nearly killed by two similarly dressed African Americans in the episode “Isabella.” While there are plenty of other shots of people in the restaurant, these are the two that Tony seems to be focused on the most. Meadow finally gets to the restaurant and cannot seem to parallel park her car, which is by far the most intense parallel parking scene of all time (clearly something to be proud of). The Member’s Only guy trudges past the table and goes to the bathroom. Oh no, she’s going to walk in just as the guy comes out of the bathroom and shoots Tony. That’s what I was thinking, as I realized I cared about these characters despite seeing very few episodes. One last ring of the door, one last look up from Tony, and one last Don’t Stop from Journey and…its over. No gunshot, no arrest, it was simply over.

What would you have preferred? Would you have wanted Tony to be shot in the back of the head with his family sitting there followed with a fade to black? Would you have wanted Tony on trial or in an orange jumpsuit behind bars? The ambiguous ending is not a “cop out” as many would argue. Instead it reinforces exactly what the entire series is all about. The mob has its advantages, and has been glorified for years by film, however it is not as glamorous as The Godfather might have you believe. Tony Soprano always gets what he wants; however he is never happy, in fact he is continually depressed. Maybe this business is not what its all hyped up to be. Tony has won; his “associates” have finally disposed of Phil Leotardo, however he cannot sit still. Tony knows for the rest of his life, he will be constantly looking over his shoulder; there is nowhere he can hide. Does it really matter if he died right then and there in the diner as the screen abruptly went black? No, it’s the tension of the scene and his uncomfortable demeanor that are important, Tony will not feel completely safe ever again, even at dinner with his family.

The ending is still debated on to this day, which in my opinion is exactly what David Chase wanted. Whether good or bad reviews people are still talking about it, over five years later, what more could you ask for from a finale of a landmark show? The finale may have left a lot of viewers feeling underwhelmed, however, would those same viewers still think and ask question about the show had it ended in a clearer fashion? No, they probably would have just panned it and been done with it.

The defense rests.

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I’d like to thank the Academy…

Oscar Sunday has always been like a second Super Bowl Sunday for me. While no event can out do the Super Bowl as a spectacle, the Academy Awards are close. I agree the Oscars are a little over the top, perhaps outdated and may not always get it right in the public’s opinion, but there is no higher honor in filmmaking than winning an Academy Award. Here are just a few of the awards that I would give out based on my interest and opinions of Oscar history.

Best Oscar Acceptance Speeches:

Joe Pesci: “Its my privilege, thank you”  Simple and to the point, perfect.


Woody Allen: Has not been in person for any of the three Oscars he has won, the only time he showed up was in 2002 for a 9/11 tribute. I respect that.

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon: Whether or not they each contributed an equal amount to the script is something people constantly question, however you cannot deny their pure excitement as they accept their Oscar.

Best Reaction to Presenting an Award:

2005 Jack Nicholson: “Crash…Wow”

Terribly Egregious Upsets:

Ordinary People over Raging Bull

Ordinary People is a fine movie, but best picture over Raging Bull? C’mon man. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both picked Raging Bull to be their choice of the best movie of the 1980s, the entire decade and it did not even win best picture in its individual year, ridiculous. Raging Bull is arguably Scorsese’s best film, (Id say Goodfellas) yet this was just one of the many times Marty was overlooked by the Academy until they finally gave him his due in 2006:

Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan

This upset for some reason, I take personally. It a travesty to think a movie like Shakespeare in Love would win over Saving Private Ryan. I’ve seen Shakespeare in Love once and was fine with it, Saving Private Ryan I am willing to watch almost every time it is on. The Academy gave Spielberg the Best Director for Saving Private Ryan, however that does not make up for the fact that his film was head and shoulders better than Shakespeare in Love. You may argue that as two very different styled and themed films that they are like apples and oranges. However, in my opinion its as simple as this, the history of modern cinema cannot be written/discussed completely without mentioning Saving Private Ryan, and Shakespeare in Love is easily forgettable in the same discussion.

1975 Best Director

I know many of you are probably tired of hearing me talk about Jaws, but how is Spielberg not even a nominee for Best Director in 1975? The filming went so overscheduled that he was nearly fired, and he still came up with a masterpiece. That’s its for Jaws and Spielberg, I swear.

Best Years of Best Picture Nominees:

1994:Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, The Shawkshank Redemption, Quiz Show, Four Weddings and a Funeral

Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, and Shawshank Redemption are three movies that are already classics in American cinema. While I believe Forrest Gump to be the weakest cinematically of the three (even though it won), they are all consistently re-watchable, especially GumpQuiz Show and Four Weddings and a Funeral round out this year as very solid fourth and fifth nominees.

Pulp Fiction: 

1976:Rocky, Taxi Driver, Network, All the President’s Men, Bound for Glory

Rocky, Taxi Driver, Network, and All the President’s Men are movies that will be remembered for a long time, and thats really all that has to be said. I have never seen or heard of Bound for Glory, however the strength of the other four films make up for that.

Network: 

2009: Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Up in the Air, The Hurt Locker, District 9, An Education, A Serious Man, The Blind Side, Up, Precious

This is perhaps one of the most diverse groups of movies ever nominated for Best Picture. 2009 was the first year that the Academy switched back to their old way of having ten nominees (instead of five) for Best Picture, leading to some unique nominations. In previous years, movies like Up, District 9, or The Blind Side would not have been nominated, but I do not think it makes this year weaker. In fact, it makes 2009 strong because of its diversity.

Iglourious Basterds:  

Best Decade of Best Picture Winners:

Without a doubt it is the 1970s: Patton, The French Connection, The Godfather, The Sting, The Godfather Part II, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, Annie Hall. The Deer Hunter, Kramer vs Kramer in that order by year. I cannot pick one movie out of this group to be the weak link, thats how good of a field it is.

I see the 1990s as a distant second with: Dances with Wolves, Silence of the Lambs, Unforgiven, Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump, Braveheart, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love (should have been Saving Private Ryan), and American Beauty in that order by year.

Random Last Thought for the Conspiracy Theorists Out There:

The first Oscar ceremony was held in 1928 and honored Wings as its Best Picture, which was the only silent movie to win. However, this year The Artist became the second Best Picture winner to be a silent film. If the Mayans are correct and the world does end on December 21st, 2012 the first and last Best Picture winners will have been silent films. Random I know, its just how I think.

Thanks for reading.

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What if?

A “what-if” is a way of thinking that has always interested me. “What ifs” can be used in any situation. What if I went to a different college? What if I took that job? What if I studied a more practical major in college than Cinema Studies? Eh, forget that last one. However, I have consistently applied “what ifs” to sports. What if Tom Brady’s “Tuck Rule” play wasn’t overturned? What if the Colts drafted Ryan Leaf instead of Peyton Manning in 1998? What if the Portland Trailblazers drafted Michael Jordan instead of Sam Bowie, or Kevin Durant instead of Greg Oden? The possibilities are endless. It was not until recently, while reading Bill Simmon’s “Book of Basketball” (in which he gives his three favorite movie what ifs) that I thought to apply “what ifs” to movies. Here in no particular order, are my favorite movie “what ifs”:

What if Johnny Depp didn’t turn down the role of Jack Dawson in Titanic?

If you type “Leo” into Google, two names pop up as suggestions. The second one listed is Leonardo De Vinci, one of the most famous humans of all time, period. The first person listed is Leonardo Dicaprio. Leo is the first suggestion, and he has Johnny Depp to thank for it. Let’s go back to 1996, James Cameron needs a Jack Dawson for his big budgeted film, Titanic. Johnny Depp was already an established movie star having been title characters, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Gilbert Grape. Leonardo Dicaprio on the other hand was not established, but rather right on the cusp of being a huge Hollywood name. He had solid roles as Gilbert Grape’s (Depp) mentally handicapped brother, the lead in The Basketball Diaries (1995) as well Romeo in a contemporary movie version of Romeo and Juliet but was still not a sure thing. Depp was reportedly offered the role first, but turned it down giving Leo the chance to become a superstar. We know now that Leo took the role, made Jack Dawson an iconic character, and helped Titanic become one of the most successful box-office movies of all time (it also won the 1997 Best Picture academy Award). Would it have been as successful with Depp? Almost. Depp would have given a solid performance as always, but Jack Dawson works so well as a bright-eyed, innocent boyish-man, which Depp could not have done as well as Dicaprio. Also, Dicaprio and co-star Kate Winslet’s chemistry really drives the film, even if Rose wouldn’t move over a little to let Jack sit on the floating door. Would Depp and Winslet’s chemistry have matched hers and Leo’s? No, there are few actors whom have had better chemistry in a film than those two. The key question however is, would it have been as successful at the box office? Once again I think the answer is almost. Titanic was the highest grossing domestic film of all-time until 2009 when another James Cameron film named Avatar (2009) overtook it. Cameron already had three huge box-office movies before Titanic in Aliens (1986), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and True Lies (1994). (Maybe he should have picked Arnold to be Jack Dawson). A Titanic with Depp would have been a huge movie, because of Cameron, its high production value and budget, as well as its topic. However, it would have never been the highest grossing film of all time with Johnny Depp. Dicaprio was the right young actor at the right time for this movie to be that successful. A girl once told me she saw Titanic fourteen times in theaters (fourteen times!). When I asked her why she replied simply: “Leo.”

What if John Travolta decided to be Forrest Gump?

This one is interesting simply because of the ripple effect it would have caused in Hollywood. Travolta reportedly turned down the role of Gump so he could be Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), which, earned him an Oscar nomination (ironically he lost to Hanks as Gump) and re-established him as a legitimate actor after years without a solid role. If Travolta took the role of Gump, Tarantino favorite Michael Madsen would have likely played Vincent Vega, which would be interesting as his character in Reservoir Dogs (1992) name is Vic Vega (widely considered to be Vincent’s cousin). Madsen pulls off the psychotic Mr. Blonde (Vic Vega) perfectly, would he have been as good as Travolta was as Vincent? It’s almost impossible to know. Lets just say he pulls off Vincent Vega decently well, he probably would have gotten the Oscar nomination that Travolta got as Pulp Fiction’s critical acclaim was astounding. This would have been a break through role for Madsen, who then goes on to not only continue to be Tarantino’s boy, but has a much more substantial career with more leading roles and maybe even more Oscar nominations. Travolta does a fine job as Forrest Gump, but without perhaps the most likeable actor in the history of film in Tom Hanks, the film is not nearly as successful and thus Travolta never has the full comeback that he got thanks to Pulp Fiction. Forrest Gump (1994) does not win Best Picture, Robert Zemekis does not win Best Director, and Hanks does not win Best Actor in a Leading Role for the second year in a row (he won in 1993 for Philadelphia). This makes room for The Shawkshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction and Quiz Show to win Best Picture in perhaps the deepest year of nominees ever. Tarantino or Frank Darabont (Shawkshank) win Best Director and maybe just maybe Michael Madsen grabs the best actor in a leading role Oscar without Hanks as a nominee at all. Hanks meanwhile no longer has his most famous role under his belt and does not become one of the most likeable actors of all time as he loses out on iconic lead roles in Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile and Cast Away. Basically, the careers of John Travolta, Tom Hanks, Michael Madsen, Quentin Tarantino, Frank Darabont, and Robert Zemekis could have been drastically altered if Travolta decided to be the “box of chocolates” character instead of the “royal with cheese” one.

What if Bryan Singer did another X-Men instead of Superman Returns?

Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) and X2 (2003) brought the superhero genre back to success after years of campy, over the top films like Joel Schumaker’s Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997). The films made Singer a legitimate Hollywood director having already made the extremely successful Usual Suspects (1995). However, when the studio attempted to keep Singer for a third X-Men film, he instead left to direct Superman Returns (2006). Singer had already brought the superhero genre back, so why not bring Superman back too? Unfortunately Superman Returns turned out to be terrible, as its hefty $270 million (what?!) budget failed to capture audiences and critics alike. Meanwhile, Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) was picked to direct X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) a continuation of Singer’s series. The film disappointed, prompting the X-Men series to go in a new direction, telling origin stories of the characters rather than continuing with what they had. What if Singer stayed on to do another X-Men? X2: X-Men United in my opinion is easily a top five superhero movie of all time right up there with The Dark Knight (2008), as Singer was hitting his stride, improving on his original X-Men. Continuing off his superior sequel, Singer makes a much better third X-Men movie than Ratner’s and the studio decides to continue with the series as is instead of radically changing their approach. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and X-Men: First Class (2011) never get made, and Singer makes two or even three more X-Men movies as the series does not require a reboot. This leaves Superman Returns without a director, however it was Singer who demanded that the film follow the same storyline as Richard Donner’s original Superman (1978) series, instead of making one that was completely new. This resulted in Superman Returns being simply more of the same, as the entire plot and even specific scenes are almost exactly the same as the original Superman. Without Singer its very possible that a different director would have had a fresh take on Superman and thus the film would have been less of a disappointment. Instead they are already rebooting Superman with Man of Steel coming out next summer. If Bryan Singer stays on for another X-Men film, he very well may have saved two separate franchises from eventual reboots, and Brett Ratner’s fate is unchanged as he continues to be a mediocre director, at best.


The Current Golden Age of Television

Television is currently in a new golden age. Few other times in the entire history of television has there been this many quality shows on this many different networks been on during the same time period. A big part of this has been a trend of film actors and writers/directors/producers deciding to do television instead of film, as there is more creative freedom and more consistency in working with one group of characters for an extended story arc. For example, filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas) Frank Darabout (Shawshank Redemption) and Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) have all worked in television recently on Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, and Boss respectively. Meanwhile, many strong supporting cast film actors such as Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), William H. Macy (Shameless), Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) and Don Cheadle (House of Lies) have flourished in leading television roles. Also, more networks have become real contributors to the overall quality of original television as AMC and FX have joined the ranks (if not surpassed) the likes of HBO and Showtime as far as original content. This is not simply an opinion either; the ratings prove that viewers currently love this trend of continuingly quality television. While there may have been other eras where the very best shows on television were arguably better than they are now (think early 2000s The Sopranos, The Wire) the depth across genres and networks is what makes this current era special.

To convey this idea, here is a list of all the quality television shows broken down by network with the season that each is currently in or soon to be listed in parenthesis.

Qualifications for quality television show:
1) The show must be scripted and at least in the process of a 3rd season, a show becomes quality when it has continued success (unless viewership or critical reception is too much to ignore)
2) The show must be generally acclaimed by critics and have high viewership. If either is overwhelmingly high it can cancel out the other. (When Arrested Development was on: unanimous critical acclaim + low ratings = still quality)
3) Programs with higher quality earlier seasons that have declined since still make the list, depending on how steep the decline is.

AMC:
Breaking Bad (Season 5)
Mad Men (Season 6)
The Walking Dead (Season 3)

FX:
American Horror Story (Season 2)*
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Season 8)
The League (Season 4)
Louie (Season 3)
Sons Of Anarchy (Season 5)

HBO:
Boardwalk Empire (Season 3)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 9)
Eastbound & Down (Season 4)
Game of Thrones (Season 3)

I do not consider True Blood to be quality television. (You read that correctly)

Showtime:
Californication (Season 6)**
Dexter (Season 7)**
Homeland (Season 2)*
Nurse Jackie (Season 5)
Shameless (Season 3)

NBC:
30 Rock (Season 7)**
Community (Season 4)
The Office (Season 9)**
Parks and Recreation (Season 5)

CBS:
The Big Bang Theory (Season 6)
How I Met Your Mother (Season 8)**
Two and a Half Men (Season 10)**

Comedy Central:
Futurama (Season 7)
South Park (Season 16)

ABC:
Modern Family (Season 4)

FOX:
Family Guy (Season 11)

PBS
Downton Abbey (Season 3)

*Good enough to make list despite rule 1
**Not as good as it was at one point

There you have it, there are at least twenty-nine “good” television programs that are on the air currently. The varying programs mean more opinions for viewers and as long as quality programming is being watched, it will continue.


Just when you thought it was safe to watch a shark movie.

Anyone who has ever had a conversation about film with me probably knows that my favorite movie of all time is Jaws (1975). I could go into a long detailed explanation as to why it is my favorite, but I am not going to do that.  Jaws was the first major film about a shark and its success at the box office and critical reception has never been close to being equaled. The sequels tried and completely failed. While, Jaws 2 (1978) has one of the best taglines ever (“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…”) and hung on to Roy Schieder to reprise his role of Chief Brody it failed on many levels. It was successful at the box office mostly feeding off the success of the first one but it’s not nearly as good of a movie without Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw. However, because of Jaws 2’s success at the box office the studio felt they needed to try sharks in 3-D so they put out Jaws 3-D (1983), which once again was a disaster of a movie even with a young budding star in Dennis Quiad. And yet, none of the previous three could have prepared audiences for the atrocious Jaws: The Revenge (1987). The basic idea of this film (at least as far as I am concerned) is that another great white shark arrives in Amity and kills Danny Brody (Chief Brody’s son) then follows Ellen Brody (Chief Brody’s wife) when she goes down to the Bahamas to visit her other son, Michael. Allow this idea to sink in. Crazy, I know.

Each of these movies declined in quality after the original. Why? It is not due to lack of budget as the original Jaws had a measly eight million dollar budget (around thirty-four million in today’s world), which is nothing, compared to big-budget action films of the present. Perhaps it is because no one wanted to challenge the greatness of the original film. How could anyone truly duplicate its success? Instead in the 35 years or so since Jaws, audiences have had to bare witness to one horrible shark film after another. Even looking outside of the Jaws saga there is nothing really out there except for poorly done, low budget films like Shark Attack (1999) and Meglaodon (2002) and all of their terrible sequels. And sure Deep Blue Sea (1999) is a larger budget studio film that is thrilling and fun, but it is not a good movie. I’ve seen Deep Blue Sea many times and yes it is entertaining but mostly for how ridiculous it is. Why would anyone under any circumstances make sharks smarter? The answer is they wouldn’t for fear the sharks would turn on them and eat them, which is (you guessed it) exactly what happens. However, Deep Blue Sea does get points for having Ladies Love Cool James (LL Cool J) as a black guy who survives a horror movie. Will there ever be a good Shark movie again? Probably not.

Here are a few terrible shark movie scenes:

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. How were the filmmakers able to keep a straight face while editing this?

Jaws 3-D. This scene could not have looked good even in 3-D.

Jaws: The Revenge. Wait, is that shark roaring?

Deep Blue Sea. Samuel L. Jackson making a big speech everything is going to be fine, right? Nope.