Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Puddles of Myself 2010 Year End Awards

Well, my Puddlers, the year of 2010 as we know it is coming to an end.  I’ve really enjoyed 2010 as a year.  I switched jobs, improved my life, enjoyed the summer and generally had a fantastic time overall.  This was a big year for the blog as far as I’m concerned.  The Puddles of My Podcast episodes were cranked out a fairly consistent rate and the response was positive.  We are going to be back with more podcasts in the next year.  I believe that the written content on the blog, not only from myself but from the guest columnists improved as the year went along.  Next year we will have some new regular guest columnists joining the fold as well as less frequent guest columnists. I am leaving the door open for anyone who wants to contribute, so please contact me about that if you are interested. I will start more more aggressive solicitations in the new year.  This year also saw the first ever Puddles of Myself Fiction reading.  I am hoping to put on a few more of these events next year as well so that we can bring the blog to the real world as well. 

This will be the last post of this year and during the next week or so, all of the content at the current PuddlesofMyself.blogspot address will be shifted over to an official address.  That is the first step in the next phase of this enterprise.  Later in the spring and summer, the site will be redesigned and we will be taking steps forward to incorporate more fiction onto the site, which was my original intent.  Over the past year, in the interest of  providing entertaining essays and posts to you readers (and my own enjoyment in writing them), I have continued to put my focus on the cultural ramblings, sports analysis, musical musings and human soul dissections.  All of those posts and columns have come to represent the general idea of “Puddles of Oneself,” which is writing with passion, humor and seriousness about the things that moves one to express themselves.  However, the largest “Puddle of Myself,” that of the fiction realm, has been largely left out of the loop.  We will be getting there, my Puddlers, so just stay with me as always.

Now, the end of the year usually brings awards, glances back at the year that was as well as a look ahed forward to the trends and awards that will be given in the upcoming year.  So, in my own twist on this little tradition, I have compiled my own list of awards that I believe fit the personalities, culture, current events and people that I know personally in the past year.  As usual, it is completely biased and probably doesn’t make a ton of sense. 

So, without further ado, here are the Puddles of Myself 2010 Year End Awards presented by Rookie Blue on ABC.

 The James Joyce Best Quote AwardLeBron James

There are some years where the winner for this award is just blatantly clear.  In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. ran away with this award for “I have a dream.”  In 1987, Regan nailed it with “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall!”  In 1998, Bill Clinton was a clear-cut winner with “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” And even last year, Animal Collective pulled away early with “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things, like a social status. I just want four walls with adobe slabs for my girls.”  This year, we had another rock-solid winner.  All sports fans were anticipating the summer of 2010 because of the impending LeBron free agency.  We imagined how crazy the media coverage would be; what the wooing processes for each city would be like; what the actual decision would be.  However, the reality ended up being much more absurd and ridiculous than anyone could have anticipated.  LeBron and the other free agents toured around different U.S. cities, holding meetings with the executives of each NBA franchise in an attempt to make a decision about where to play for the next six years of their NBA careers.  LeBron held meetings with Jay-Z and Mayor Bloomberg.  Marketing campaigns were unveiled.  However, no one could have imagined that LeBron would hold the city of Cleveland hostage by holding a one-hour special devoted to his decision.  It even sounds crazy only five months after the fact.  During LeBron’s Decision, James uttered the following words that broke every Cleveland sports fan’s heart, “This fall, I’ll be taking my talents to South Beach to join the Miami Heat.” The backlash against LeBron and the ridiculousness of the situation in general have led that phrase to be used in about a million satirical situations.  My favorite being as a veiled innuendo for masturbation.

The Rajon Rondo Annual Assist AwardNick Mencia

Keeping with a basketball and South Beach theme, this year, the Rajon Rondo Annual Assist Award goes to Nick Mencia.  This award has gone to anyone who has had a stellar recommendation regarding a book, album, movie, restaurant or anything else during a calendar year.  It can also go to the person who has helped the most people (you can make a score joke if you want to) in a given year.  So, past recipients have been: Mother Theresa, Princess Diana, Al Green, the movie Love Story, Jesus Christ, and Prince.  However, this year, my good friend Nick Mencia (now setting up his Mencia Gourmet business down in South Beach) receives the award for gifting me the novel The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley. If you have never read any work by James Crumley, then I highly recommend it.  This novel is filled with all kinds of Vietnam, 1960’s west coast fallout, as well as a country vibe all thrown under the umbrella of potboiler, gumshoe fiction.  It also has perhaps the best dialogue that has ever been written in the history of the world.  With accolades like that, how could Nick Mencia not receive this award in 2010?

The Sal’s Pizzeria Reliability Award – Michael Cunningham

Sal’s Pizzeria on Lorimer Street in Williamsburg is the most reliable pizza place on the planet.  It’s not fancy schmancy or gourmet like Motorino or any other place that New York Magazine does a spread on at least 15 to 20 times per year (next most frequent New York magazine spread: best sandwich).  The pizza is always reliable, always flavorful and always feels like Friday night getting pizza with your family as a kid – that means something.  Michael Cunningham gets this award, because once again he produced another fine novel.  This year brought By Nightfall.  Cunningham never disappoints you, but he never completely dazzles you either—and he does sometimes go overboard on homosexuality as a theme (not homophobia speaking, simply opinion) as well as homoerotic moments and sex scenes (Chabon has been guilty of this as well).  Yet, he always brings home a rewarding and rich novel experience.  His novel Flesh and Blood, which came out in 1996, was a mesmerizing chronicle of one family over the many decades of their lives and even stretched into the future – somewhat predating Six Feet Under in scope and intensity.  By Nightfall is a solid novel about how we appreciate and find beauty in the world.  How sometimes beauty, a beauty that is similar to the aesthetic appreciation we find in a work of art, can be found in another human being; how that appreciation can be held between a man and his wife’s younger brother.  It is not an especially challenging novel, but it raises interesting themes and Cunningham is a master of perspective and character psychology and consciousness – his narrative always successfully matches his characters’ inner workings.  When I know I want pizza, I go to Sal’s.  When a new Michael Cunningham book comes out, I buy it (or get it for free as a promotional gift since I am now in the media), read it and enjoy it.

The Tony Castles Best Late Night Food Award – Grand Morelo’s Bakery

This award is pretty self-explanatory: Gabi Wurzel, the drummer for the Tony Castles is one of the biggest eaters I know and he is never averse to the late night snack.  Grand Morelo’s  actually won this award from 2000-2007. In 2008, it was upset by a new to the late night scene Manna. In 2009, the pizza craze swept the city and Anna Maria on Bedford avenue stole the award.  However, 2010 was a year of glory for Grand Morelo’s as it just had that late night voodoo that lured all kinds of hungry drunkards in through its well-lit front doors.  A burrito (or two) doused in green sauce from this place at three or four in the morning (with a beer and two glasses of water) will cure whatever ails you.

The Henry Jones Sr. Quest for the Holy Grail Award – Mark Jack

Speaking of curing whatever ails you, we now have the Henry Jones Sr. Quest for the Holy Grail Award.  Some fantastic thinkers have won this award in the past: Steve Jobs (2007), James Joyce (1922-1930), Ernest Hemingway (1932), Christopher Lloyd (1985)*, Larry Bird (1986), John Lennon (1968), Winston Churchill (1944), Bill Clinton (1996).  The title may be a bit confusing, but it really is given to a person with the greatest thirst for knowledge and the restlessness to achieve it, and it is that restlessness for knowledge which will always keep us young and adventurous.  For those of you that have read Mr. Mark Jack’s posts on Puddles of Myself the past few months, you obviously know that the man is restless and he will not stop walking until he figures out what it’s all about—sort of like a young Jesus Christ.  He even dissected the phenomenon of merely sitting on a bench. There may have been flashier or more charismatic thinkers out there in 2010, but none of them thought deeper or exhibited that depraved sense of restlessness better than our very own Mark Jack.

*The 1985 award was taken from Christopher Lloyd once it was pointed out that Doc Brown from Back to the Future was actually a fictional character.  The award was vacated and given to the default winner of all awards in 1985 – Bruce Springsteen.

The E Street Band Sweat and Showmanship Award - Vampire Weekend

With all of the popularity and praise that Vampire Weekend have received over the past three years, there have been equal doses of backlash and criticism.  The release of Contra this past year allowed people to either continue to praise the band or to deride them because of their clean or preppy appearance.  However, in September, Vampire Weekend sold out three straight nights at Radio City Music Hall and those performances were some of the most charismatic in recent years.  The crowd that shows up is what one has to imagine a Beatles crowd was like in the early 60’s.  There are thousands of screaming teenage girls who play ringtones and mp3s of the songs on their phones before, during and after the concert. Ezra Koenig is the smirking, sarcastic and witty John Lennon and Chris Tomson is the grinning Paul McCartney (on drums, not bass) that keeps the machine moving at a frenetic but always charming pace.  There is no other band that you could say this about today – period.

Bonus Prediction for 2011 Award WinnerElton John.  Listen to Honky Château and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and tell me someone won’t be copping all that wah wah guitar, keyboard and piano at some point in the next year.

The Hank Kingsley Excellence in Arrogance Award – Kanye West

No one did arrogance and humility like Hank Kingsley and, currently, no one does it like Kanye West.  Kanye has killed it with his arrogance in years past (2006), however this year was his masterpiece thus far.  He had his breakdown on the Today show with Matt Lauer.  There were the apologies to Taylor Swift and George W. Bush.  Then there was the strange, symbolic “Power” artwork and later the sprawling 40-minute “Runaway” video.  You also can’t forget about his random performance on a Delta flight.  Even as of a month ago, Kanye put on a strange performance on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade where he wore a large gold chain and a throwback 80’s Michael Jackson/Eddie Murphy red, chest-exposing, jump suit while kids rode on the float with him.  He also released his sprawling and epic album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that featured several different options of cover art.  If there is one man who takes himself too seriously, who wears his heart on his sleeve and who is so fragile that we can expect him to fall apart at any moment just like Hank Kingsley, then it is Kanye West.

The Peggy Olsen Upstart of the Year AwardDas Racist

There has been buzz about these guys for the past two years, but this is the year that they really broke through.  I don’t really know them that well personally (although friends of mine do), nor do I even really like or listen to their music that much.  From what I have heard, it’s funny, somewhat clever and slightly enjoyable.  However, I have to commend young guys like this making their way into the press and attention of the music world whenever I get a chance.  So, this year the award goes to Das Racist. If they actually become big, they seem like they will be due for one of those sprawling messes of an album that I will probably learn to love, so they have that going for them.  Like Peggy Olsen, hopefully they also learn what the money is for.

The Fleetwood Mac Memorial Artist Rediscovery AwardBruce Springsteen

Each year, there is an artist from the past who most people either overlooked or wrote off as too commercial or too over exposed that makes a dramatic comeback among the “hipper” sets.  In 2009 that band was Fleetwood Mac.  For about 7 or 8 years before that it was constantly Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys.  This past year, it was Bruce Springsteen.  The Boss’ comeback with the youth had been gaining steam over the past few years, but a cover of “I’m Going Down” by Vampire Weekend, the release of the expanded Darkness on the Edge of Town box set and the repeated admission of hipsters that The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle was a good album truly signaled that he was the Rediscovered Artist of 2010.  I’ve already written about my own newfound appreciation for the Boss, so I won’t go completely in depth. He can certainly be annoying at times (just like Fleetwood Mac and the Beach Boys can in their own ways), but there is a certain merit to albums and songs like “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “Rosalita,” and “Dancing in the Dark” that you simply can’t deny.

The Abbey Road Album of the Year AwardThe Walkmen, Lisbon

If you read My Top 10 Albums of the Year post then you already knew that this was my favorite album of 2010.  You can also read my actual review of the album to further understand why.  However, the Walkmen are the closest that we have had to a real working band in a long time (Wilco is the only other band that truly rivals them in that sort of American touring band spirit that the Stones actually originated in the 70's. Weird how a British band could start that image.).  It still remains baffling why the National even get any attention while the Walkmen are making music. The National are basically a bankrupt man’s Walkmen.  Every time these guys release an album they seem to figure out the core of their sound just a little more.  They don’t simplify or distill that original murkiness and uneasiness, they allow it to evolve.  So, where stark keyboards and organs were once the most prominent sounds in the mix, now there are horn flourishes.  Where the guitar lines were once extremely cavernous, now they are fluid and becoming warmer and warmer with each album.  Again, for me, Lisbon is an album that represents a place that I want to get to  – it is a place that I am working to get to.  A place where I can allow that perhaps I am a good person despite all my flaws and where all of the simple things I enjoy are OK, because I have gotten to know how to enjoy those things because I have lived my life in my own way.  Any time an album makes you feel that way – allowing the last virtues of your immaturity to slightly slip away while trying to grasp onto what adulthood and acceptance is – then you have to give it the Abbey Road Album of the Year Award.

The Don Draper Award for Excellence in AdvertistingGeico Insurance

When a company has three irritating and insistent ad campaigns running simultaneously (Gecko, Private Eye Question Guy, Cavemen residue), you know that they have a great ad agency.  Maybe Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Pryce can land Geico next season and save the firm that way.

The Doctor Doolittle Philotherian AwardKevin Arkell

In 2011, one of the first guests I hope to have on Puddles of My Podcast is my great friend Kevin Arkell so that we can discuss the Indiana Jones quadrilogy. At this point, some of you readers may know him, but many of you may not.  Either way, this man and his fiancée just bought two black cats this past year named Charles and Celia.  I have seen people love dogs, lizards, birds, cats and fish in the past, but nothing compares to how much this man loves these two black cats.  He gave them dignified French aristocrat names like Charles and Celia and he even taught them how to actually be funny.  Ask Kevin Arkell about cat videos or pictures at any time and you are sure to get an education in love.

The Michael Jordan Memorial Moustache AwardJimmy McMillan

This award is given in honor of the inexplicable fact that Michael Jordan sported a Hitler moustache in a Hanes commercial this year.  Obviously, there is only one person that this award could go to in 2010 and that was to Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” McMillan.  Now that this year and this past election are over, thankfully we can say goodbye to this man who will undoubtedly be a cultural reference in “I Love the Teens” (Not a pedophilic website, TV show or movie. Just a spoof on the “I Love the…” TV shows.).

The True Lies Award – The San Francisco Giants

One of the worst teams of all-time won the least watched World Series of all-time.  Enough said.

The Michael Phelps Memorial AwardLindsey Vonn

In an era when our Olympic heroes need to be larger than life and win a record number of gold medals every time they compete, Lindsey Vonn tried to reach the heights of Michael Phelps, but she came up short.  She competed in five events with a shin injury and won a gold and a bronze medal in two of them, which isn’t terrible.  However, where Lindsey Vonn excelled was in being a sexy Olympic hero.  Who could forget her blonde hair and her somewhat cat like looks? What about the media frenzy that surrounded her and the photos of her in a swimsuit right before the Olympics?  She had all men in their 20’s saying the ultimate catchphrases of early 2010, such as “I’ll make her my Lindsey Vonn,” “That Lindsey Vonn is one piece of ace,” “I Vonnt that,” or “Lemme get some Vonn.”  She had all men worked up in a frenzy, which made the 2010 Winter Olympics the most watched Winter Olympics of all time (not an accurate fact).  Not only that, but she provided Puddles of Myself with some of its funniest and most misleading headlines to post up on Facebook in order to get people to click on the link and look at the site.  Lindsey Vonn is an American hero!

The Larry Sanders No Flipping AwardLeBron James Returns to Cleveland

Immediately after LeBron spurned Cleveland in July and after the NBA schedule came out in August, everyone circled their calendar for December 2, which would be LeBron’s first game back in Cleveland against his former team (also Erik Lilleby’s birthday).  As the day approached, the hype built and you began to think that there was no way that the actual event could ever live up to the hype.  Well it did…sort of.  LeBron’s entrance as well as the Miami Heat introductions were like nothing I have ever seen at a sport event in my life.  The volume and anger of the crowd was unprecedented. During the first and second quarters, the crowd’s chants were so vehemently directed at LeBron that it was even worse than Reggie Miller at the Garden during the 90’s.  When a crowd’s volume comes through the TV at a basketball game, you know it is extraordinarily loud in person.  However, it wasn’t until LeBron went to the line and took his first two free throws that you could actually comprehend the volume.  LeBron was on an island for a moment and the crowd could just completely focus on him as he stood at the free throw line.  And LeBron proceeded to swish both free throws in the face of the crowd.  After that, well, things sort of went downhill for the Cavs as LeBron had his way and all Cleveland fans realized that things were really just going to be sad from December 2, 2010 on.  All of this of course made it MUST SEE TV!

 The Godfather II Best Movie to Watch on Cable AwardThe Devil Wears Prada

I know that many of you who know me will be shocked by this pick.  “What about the Indiana Jones quadrilogy movies, Domino?”  “What about You Me and Dupree, Domino?” “No Back to the Future trilogy love?”  All of those things crossed my mind at some point in the past five minutes before I started writing this.  But then I started thinking about what movie was there all year for me on cable.  In the bitter cold of January and February, what movie was playing in that post-work 7:00 PM-9:00 PM slot?  In early spring when life was beginning again and you gently coaxed your hangover away on Saturday afternoons at 1:00 PM, what movie was playing that helped you want to get out on the streets?  When summer was blazing and you had to point two fans at you while you ate dinner and drank beer until midnight, what movie finished up tidily at 12:00?  And what movie was still being played on cable even as recent as two weeks ago?  Well the answer was The Devil Wears Prada.  It’s actually a solid movie and not a total chick flick, and it leaves you with an easy open door to switch to a game that is on at the same time, as well as give you the perfect opportunity to give up on watching it at any sitting.  It also contains the number one virtue of watching a movie on cable—the commercial breaks actually enhance the viewing experience. Above anything else, it has Anne Hathaway.  And God damnit, I love Anne Hathaway.  She is my total dream babe as of this moment.  So what if I work for Conde Nast Magazines and this is drinking the corporate Kool-Aid a little bit?  This movie can win the Godfather II Best Movie to Watch on Cable Award in 2010.

The Tessa Mencia Discerning Taste in the Novel Arena Award – Nicole Krauss, Great House

My friend, Tessa Mencia, has pretty great and discerning taste in everything: clothes, food, people, atmosphere, and books.  I don’t know if she has actually read this book, but I enjoyed this book that I am giving it this award.  If you are someone with highly discerning taste in modern novels, then you can open the doors and let this book in.  Nicole Krauss is a great writer.  Her last novel, The History of Love, was a well-written book with a nice little story.  For me, it was a surprise to read in college while I was busy studying tomes of literature in class.  Great House on the other hand is a fantastic novel.  There are passages of tremendous beauty, tenderness and sadness.  The different threads of the novel are all connected by a piece of furniture that finds its way to different owners.  The stories behind all the owners of the furniture and the people that know them are fantastic.  All of a sudden you will find yourself engrossed in the book.  You will think of how much you know the people in your life and how much you share with them.  How much you have been able to give love and accept love.  It is a truly fantastic new novel.

World’s Coolest Dude 2010 – Louis CK

The World’s Coolest Dude Award has become a bit of an inside joke among my friends.  I gave the award to myself in 2007 and to my good friend Mike Antonio in 2006. Obama won the award in 2008 and my good friend Nick Kozmin won the award in 2009.  So that makes three out of the last four winners Skidmore alumni.  I always wanted to create a list of all the World’s Coolest Dude winners over the past fifty years so that people could see the history.  However, I’ll give you World’s Coolest Dude winners from 2000 going forward:

2000 – Bill Clinton

2001 – Rudy Giuliani

2002 – Julian Casablancas

2003 – Andre 3000

2004 – LeBron James

2005 – Kanye West

2006 – Mike Antonio (barely edging Dwyane Wade)

2007 – Matt Domino

2008 – Barack Obama

2009 – Nick Kozmin

2010 – Louis CK

*The award is obviously only awarded to Americans

If you are a fan of comedy or even just of human nature, then 2010 had to be the year of Louis CK.  His new comedy special Hilarious killed it just as much as his last special Chewed Up did.  His TV show Louie, featured some of the best stand-up bits mixed with some of the most poignant and humanistic television that has ever aired on TV.  Louis CK is an expert for taking a human interaction (between father and daughter, husband and wife) and looking at it from such a removed and objective perspective and then commenting on it so that the most precious things that we hold sacred become ridiculous and absurd, which makes us ask ourselves why we hold them so sacred without really thinking about them and that in turns makes us relearn those interactions and appreciate them even more.  Although, Louie can very often be depressing as a TV show, it is never cynical or pessimistic, it always leaves you cherishing life even if it can be completely terrible.  And I look to my World’s Coolest Dudes to do that year in and year out.

The Annual Don Draper AwardMatt Domino

Because really, “Who is Matt Domino?”

Monday, December 20, 2010

Jingle Ball

Being a sports fan is a funny thing.  Your life is dictated by the schedules of games on certain nights of the week.  You get frustrated if a great game is going to be on a Friday or Saturday night when you have some kind of social obligation to partake in. This is mostly because you feel like you’ll be missing out on a legendary game and, in order to prevent that from completely happening, you’ll be checking your phone every five minutes.  Also, if the game doesn’t go your way you know that you ultimately end up turning drunk and surly.  Then there are those Sundays when you swear you are going to do productive reading and writing or that you are going to enjoy a leisurely walk around the city or organize the paperwork accumulating in your life.  The only problem is that there are two to three must see football games on and you can’t pull yourself away from the TV no matter how much you want to.  “I’ll be able to get everything done once football season is over,” you say.  But once that happens the playoff races for basketball and hockey are heating up and baseball season is just beginning.

When you are a sports fan, you keep track of time by the events that happen during certain sports seasons and you distinguish different eras of your life by the prominent players or teams from those particular years.  In general, you rely on the success of strangers as well as their ability to be great in order to bring a certain modicum of happiness and fulfillment to your life.  In short, it is a bizarre phenomenon.

Recently, I have been thinking about my own sports fandom.  The reason I have been thinking about it is because I have been enjoying this NBA season so much.  I’ve enjoyed it so much, but it is odd because I don’t have any true vested interest in any one NBA team over another – I simply love the league as a whole.  And yesterday, while I was watching the Eagles play the Giants in the NFL, I thought about how that might reveal some sort of weakness in my sports fan character. You see, guys that cover the NBA for a living have to be impartial.  They have to enjoy the league as a whole, report on a variety of teams and stories and deliver the news as quickly and without bias as humanly possible.  However, many times these analysts of the game can ruin the passion and absurdity of loving a particular team or player by overanalyzing elements of the game or looking at stories too objectively. No matter how much they love a team or player, their job requires them to be unbiased.  Perhaps this is just the division of one’s job versus one’s personal opinions and enthusiasm, but to me and the joy that sports can bring it is an important distinction. 

On Sunday as I was watching a classic Eagles vs. Giants game and screaming at every Eagles miscalculation, I cursed myself because this season I had vowed not to raise my voice at all.  When I could no longer control myself, I decided to turn the game off, retreat to my room and try to read to calm down. “I’m getting too old for this shit,” I muttered to myself.  While reading, I kept the online game tracker up on my computer, which is set up on my desk at the foot of my bed.  I noticed that the Eagles were creeping back into the game.  So I put down my book (Nicole Krauss’ excellent new novel Great House), and returned to the TV.  I watched the game a little further before another Eagles miscue.  After a small scream, I returned to my room, deciding that the Eagles would do better off without me watching.  My superstition seemed to be accurate, as the Eagles got closer. So, once more, I returned to the TV only to be disappointed by an Eagles drive that stalled out.  It seemed like the game was over, so I went back to my room to read. “If they win, they win.” I said to myself.  Well, as I was reading, I noticed that the Eagles had come back from twenty-one points down and tied the game at 31 in the fourth quarter. “Fuck it,” I said. “Even if me not watching has been helping them win, I have to see how this ends.”  So, I went back to the couch and turned on the TV.  What unfolded was one of the most amazing comebacks and ends to the game in perhaps NFL history, as Desean Jackson returned a punt 65-yards (after fumbling the catch) for a touchdown as time expired.  I got up and screamed, “FUCK YEAH! FUCK YOU, FUCKING GIANTS! FUCK YOU!”  Then, I settled down, turned off the TV, checked on the chicken I was cooking and returned to reading.

Obviously, I love the NBA way more than I love the NFL.  However, my devotion to the Philadelphia Eagles as a franchise is what differentiates the love I have for the NFL and the love I have for the NBA.  My love for the Eagles is blind passion.  I don’t care who they are playing because no matter who it is, I will automatically hate that team.  Their quarterback could be fantastic, but to me he sucks no matter what.  Their players could be stand-up guys, guys that play the game it was meant to be played, who don’t show boat and who do community service, but to me they are smug assholes who deserve their comeuppance because they suck. In basketball, I have no team that makes me feel that way.  When I was younger, I felt that way about the Chicago Bulls because Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen represented something good, something about excellence and achievement and never wanting to lose.  However, I had no personal ties to Chicago or the Bulls franchise and as the Jordan era came to an end, I found myself attempting to latch on to some kind of team connection.  I loved Allen Iverson, but the Sixers had always been so terrible that it was still hard to blindly root for them as he revived the franchise into relevancy.  So, I started paying attention to all the players as I had more or less done when I was a little kid and the Bulls were ruling the NBA.  I learned how to appreciate Jason Kidd and what he did with his Nets teams in the early 2000’s; I loved Iverson’s toughness and electricity; Chris Weber’s passing ability. I saw the weakness in Vince Carter’s defense despite his incendiary offense; I marveled at how complete of a player Rasheed Wallace was even though most of the time he was flustered by the referees; I even tried to see the beauty in Shaq’s game even though I hated him so much.  However, my full devotion to the NBA didn’t arrive until Dwyane Wade entered the league.  He was the first player that reminded me of what Michael Jordan stood for. I didn’t look to him as the “next Jordan,” but something about him made me think of goodness, effort and striving for excellence.  There was a toughness and grace about Dwyane Wade that I appreciated and it signaled a new era in the NBA. 

Flash-forward about six or seven years and a new era of the NBA has certainly dawned.  There is now more talent in the NBA than possibly at any time ever.  The only region where there may have been as much talent was in the 1986-1988 range.  However, I am beginning to think that even then there may not have been as many great players as there are now.  You have the prolonged careers of 13+ year veterans like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Shaq, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash.  You also have the peak years of veterans such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Pau Gasol, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony.  There is even a subset of players from that generation who are good but not as great as those guys (Rudy Gay, Raymond Felton, Big Baby Davis, Danny Granger, Tayshaun Prince, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson).  Then, you have the young generation with players like Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Brook Lopez, Al Horford and Joakim Noah.  The league is literally stacked with talent no matter which way you look.  And that has been the story of this season so far.  The great teams are actually becoming deeper and more talented than they were last year, such as the Celtics and the Lakers.  There is an uber-team that everyone talks about in the Miami Heat. Orlando just made some huge trades over the weekend to get even deeper and perhaps better and the Knicks are looking to land Carmelo Anthony in order to become another powerhouse in the East.  And I didn’t even mention the Bulls or the Thunder, which are two of the more exciting young teams in the league.  So for me, when I feel as though I have been lackluster as a true blindly passionate sports fan when it comes to the NBA, I take a look around and remember how I take each team into consideration.  How I appreciate the players league wide; how I pay close attention to what each team is trying to do, which teams are trying to make a run, which teams play hard, which players are head cases and who doesn’t deserve the honor of being in the NBA. I take all of that into account and realize I am one damn great fan of the NBA and perhaps that is the mature way to appreciate a sport, maybe all that screaming is something I have to grow out of – perhaps its just something I should keep relegated to one team. Well, maybe two if you count the Phillies once the baseball season gets a little bit more serious in late August and September, or college basketball when UNC throws players out on the court that actually have a pulse.

In any event, here are year-end NBA thoughts has we have finished over one quarter of the season.  These thoughts may all be shaken up after the huge slate of Christmas Day games that we are about to see, namely Heat vs. Lakers.

1. The main thing that everyone probably wants to hear me weigh in on is the Miami Heat. I was as disappointed and confused by the Heat’s slow start as anyone.  I was blinded by the talent of Bosh, Wade and James and figured they had played enough with each other in Beijing and in the offseason when they were hanging out that they would become acclimated very quickly.  I didn’t realize how severe the drop-off in talent between them and the role players would be early on and I really didn’t think that Wade and LeBron would have an issue integrating the rhythms of their games.  However, what we have learned very quickly is what it takes to make an actual team in the NBA.  The early season games between the Heat and the Celtics made that perfectly clear.  The Celtics play as a cohesive unit and have exhibited some extremely graceful and fluid team passing early on in the season.  Rondo orchestrates that team like a maestro and their pieces fall into place perfectly.  They have a deep bench with high energy guys and Doc Rivers understands the psyches of his players, their ups and downs – he knows how to push their buttons at the right times.  The Heat were a totally different beast. Spoelestra had no player rotations down; he thought James should handle the ball and initiate the offense (I thought this too because I, like most people wanted LeBron to be like Magic, when even though he may resemble Magic in body size and stature, he plays basketball like LeBron James and no one else); the team played a lot of half court offense even though their best two players are arguably the two best players of all time in the open court; Wade and LeBron didn’t really move without the ball because they were used to handling the ball so much when they were carrying their own teams; Bosh just seemed lost trying to figure out when to initiate the offense and attack and when to just let LeBron and Wade take control.  The team also had to deal with Mike Miller’s injury and then Udonis Haslem’s.  They had no true rebounder.  However, over the past near month that they have been on their twelve game win streak all of that has changed.  Haslem’s injury actually opened the door for Wade to expand his game and add another purpose, which was to account for the rebounds the team would miss without Haslem. Wade is averaging the highest rebound rate of his career.  The team also added Erick Dampier who has fit in a nice role as a big, tough, body rebounder in the middle to go along with Zydrunas Ilgauskus’ ability to shoot the open jumper and Joel Anthony’s uncoordinated but appreciated effort.  With those three different looks in the middle the Heat have been able to improve their rebound rate drastically. Juan Howard has also found a niche and been able to provide a few points as well as rebound help and toughness off the bench.  With each week Bosh is learning his role.  He was especially terrific in attacking the basket against the Knicks as well as helping to defend Amare.  His rebound rate has improved as well.  The big difference has been the fact that the Heat are now looking to push the ball at every instance, which makes sense because when you have LeBron James or Dwyane Wade getting a good portion of your rebounds, you should always be looking to run and move the ball ahead because chances are one or the other will be streaking upcourt.  Also, Spoelestra has Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers handling the ball as true point guards and letting LeBron operate from the wing.  He and Wade are now moving much better off the ball with Wade finding his go to movement on the baseline where LeBron can find him for quick layups or short jump shots.  I also believe they should run Wade in modified screen sets like the Celtics do with Ray Allen. Instead of Wade’s routes taking him to the outside where Allen splashes all those dagger threes, Wade should curl in the 16-18 foot range where he can catch the ball and either continue his drive into the lane for a layup, dunk, foul or kick out, or stop and hit a jump shot in his range. In either way, it keeps the defense off guard and gives the Heat another look. What has also been big is the solidification of the rotations. Now, Spoelestra lets James lead his own unit at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth quarter and also for the beginnings of many of the second quarters.   That allows Bosh and Wade to rest and for LeBron to keep his confidence and pride up by carrying the second unit.  What is so fascinating about this team is that they are still learning what actually works for them and it is already becoming a little scary. On any given night you know that either LeBron or Wade is going to go off and on some nights both of them do.  What is becoming apparent and what may actually be the key for this team is that Bosh is becoming reliable every night for about 16 to 20 points and about eight to ten rebounds. If he does that almost every night then he will very much be the glue that keeps the team together.  For me, that is one of the many fascinating stories to keep track of with this team. There has literally never been something like this team before. Every game has its own new point of interest and every game is just another experiment in the lab of basketball where each tweak is magnified and you find yourself paying attention to and noticing things you never did before. This is all good stuff right? These guys are selling out arenas, driving up national TV ratings and blowing out teams almost regularly now that they have established an initial chemistry with each other.  All of this has happened in just fewer than thirty games and Wade only played three minutes in the preseason. I and everyone else in America completely overreacted – another unfortunate side effect of being a modern sports fan.

2. The Knicks.  Being a Bulls fan in the 90’s meant I hated the Knicks.  I never liked Patrick Ewing. John Starks and Derek Harper annoyed the hell out of me. Anthony Mason, Charles Oakley and Xavier Daniels were all dirty players who couldn’t keep up with Jordan and Pippen so they had to try and slow them down with hard fouls.  The only times the Knicks were able to do anything was when Jordan was out of the league.  However, now that that era of the game is over, I realize how much I appreciated those players. But what I really appreciated was basketball being relevant in New York and Madison Square Garden being the most electric sports venue in the world.  There really is nothing like it.  Last Wednesday, when the Knicks and the Celtics played perhaps one of the best regular season games in the last decade, the Garden was absolutely on fire. Amare and KG were going head to head. Spike Lee was in the front row waving his arms and being completely obnoxious. Ray Allen hit a dagger three and Spike Lee had to shake his head at his own creation, Jesus Shuttlesworth, silencing the New York crowd.  You had Danilo Gallinari showing why he is a coveted wing player.  Landry Fields showcasing the fact that he was one of the most slept on rookies in a long time.  Raymond Felton was taking the ball at a hobbled Rondo but despite his big numbers was still not able to out play him.  And of course you had Paul Pierce hitting his patented herky-jerky step back jumper from about sixteen feet to win the game.  Then there was the added bonus of Amare draining the game winning three as time expired only to have the shot called off, which prompted Paul Pierce to come to center court and bow to the crowd.  All of this happened at a Knicks game? On a Wednesday night? In the middle of December?  You better believe that basketball is back at the Mecca.  Now, the Knicks are not an elite team and they are on a three game slide as I write this, but they are a team that plays hard and will be in the playoffs.  To me, it’s debatable that they add Carmelo Anthony.  He is a unique superstar who is nearly unstoppable on the wing.  However, he doesn’t play defense and Amare is already a nearly unstoppable offensive force that doesn’t play defense.  In my opinion, they just need to solidify the backup point guard spot so they can spell Felton (like D’Antoni never could in Phoenix for Nash).  They need an athletic shutdown wing defender (like Iguodala from Philly who won’t need to score as much with Amare in the middle) and they need a tough inside presence who can play the true five spot and move Amare to the four spot he prefers to play (not sure how they land that piece).  I think Carmelo upsets the dynamic of this team, which is that Amare is the man and COMPLETELY believes that he is the best player on the court on any night and the rest of the team feeds off that energy.  If you add Carmelo to that mix, I’m not sure what the identity of the team is.  Amare and Carmelo are not Wade and LeBron. Sure, their positions are much different, but they are not as flexible in being able to adapt, as I believe Wade and LeBron are.  It’s all up in the air and I could be completely wrong about Carmelo and Amare playing together. If they did, that team would be some offensive powerhouse running in the D’Antoni system.  However, right now they have a lot of nice pieces, they are a fun, hard working team to watch and they have people in New York thrilled and excited about basketball.  The thrill may wear off when the natural cynicism of New Yorkers slowly seeps back into this initial euphoria, but right now we are witnessing a pure joy that is not often seen in New York sports.  You should all enjoy it because this town is buzzing again about the Knicks and that buzz will always be better and more electric than any buzz about the Yankees, Giants, Jets, Rangers or Mets.  There’s just something different about New York and basketball, I don’t care how many championships the Yankees have one – all 27 of those are stored up in the Bronx.  The Knicks’ championships and banners are in the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden and those halls run right in Midtown Manhattan. That’s a big difference.

3. The Boston Celtics are an absolutely fantastic basketball team to watch.  They are on a revenge tour through the NBA this year after their heartbreaking loss to Los Angeles in Los Angeles in Game 7 of the Finals.  They want that championship badly and you can actually feel it.  Rajon Rondo has a legitimate shot to break John Stockton’s average assist record. Kevin Garnett seems to be back from the dead and is playing with an intensity that has been missing (mainly due to his injured knee) since the 2007-2008 championship season.  There is a great chance that Garnett could win the Defensive Player of the Year Award and he can also finish dunks again.  Ray Allen never seems to age and seems to make three pointers whenever it counts (I think he is on a mission after his disappearance in the second half of the Finals series).  Pierce is just simply being Paul Pierce as usual and giving this team a championship swagger that was missing the past two years. Shaq has been solid and is doing everything they need him to do (when he’s on the court). Big Baby has improved his game and has become nearly automatic on his 16-18 foot jumpers and is one of the best around the rim finishers in the league right now (playing below the rim).  Nate Robinson has gained a modicum of maturity and has settled into a nice role on the team.  They are even deeper now with Delonte West (when he comes back from injury), Jermaine O’Neal (if he ever plays) and Semih Erden (who has been a pleasant surprise).  Plus they have a fantastic team chemistry that is probably only rivaled by the Thunder and Bulls (though the Heat are making a strong run now).  All of this has happened without Perkins joining the lineup.  I watched the Celtics handle the Hawks on Thursday night without Rondo. Now, this was the night after their emotional win in a packed out and pumped up Madison Square Garden.  As I was watching the game, I was thinking about how good the Celtics were and how their one weakness was rebounding even though their interior defense has been terrific.  Then I realized that Perkins hasn’t even played a minute this whole year.  This team is going to be a beast when the playoffs roll around and I just hope all you casual followers of the NBA realize that this Celtics teams is very similar to all of those vintage NBA teams that we have nostalgia for. This team is deep, it has memorable players, they all play well together and you should appreciate what they do on almost a nightly basis.  Plus I’m pretty sure that Rondo is some kind of alien who was ordered to exhibit the future of basketball at least twice every game.

4. The Los Angeles Lakers are not going to roll over and let anyone take the championship from them. They started off hot, cooled off and are now on a five game winning streak.  They are going to walk away with their division, but the West overall is much more competitive at the top with the Spurs and Mavericks looking pretty tough to beat.  Kobe seems to have lost another step, but still has the best footwork in the NBA and is the number one killer. You know he wants to tie Jordan’s championship tally and this just may be his last chance to do it.  Pau Gasol has actually gotten better and is without a doubt the best post player in the NBA this year (one more year of progress and Dwight may be knocking on that door).  Lamar Odom gained a new level of poise and confidence after being the elder statesman on the FIBA Gold Medal team this summer and is playing with motivation and leadership.  Shannon Brown has made a leap as a player. Steve Blake is an upgrade at backup point guard over Jordan Farmar and Matt Barnes gives them depth, toughness and scoring off the bench.  Oh, and Artest is on this team and is a wild card to go off for points or shut down defense on any given night.  Also that and making the funniest statements known to man.  He actually reminds me of the real life Pedro Cerrano in Major League II this year.  Artest won the championship and is all about charity much like Cerrano was all about Buddhism and peace.  Maybe the Lakers need to get a Japanese player to infuriate Artest into inspired play just like the Indians did.  And, the Lakers, like the Celtics, have been playing much of this season without a key player – Andrew Bynum.  Once they ease Bynum back to his regular minutes and spot in the starting lineup, then the Lakers can bring Odom off the bench and their team takes on a totally different look and returns to their dynamic of the previous two championships.  They are going to be scary and have a legitimate shot at a three peat.  Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen.

5.  Blake Griffin.  If you haven’t watched any of his highlights or if you don’t know what kind of experience it has been to watch this kid play basketball this year, you have some serious catching up to do. Absolutely unreal. He’s like Shawn Kemp and Dominique Wilkens.  Maybe that’s hyperbole but who knows how long this freak is going to be around.  YouTube him NOW!

6.  The intriguing Orlando Magic team.  Look, I have not been a fan of Dwight Howard at all.  I thought he was a “non-killer” in the same vein as LeBron for most of his career. However, this summer he spent time with Hakeem Olajuwon and he has come back with some legitimate post moves that are looking better and better as the year goes on.  He put in his time like the old school NBA players and came back with a new wrinkle and I respect that.  The only thing is that his team has gotten stale. Vince Carter is pretty much washed up and Rashard Lewis is actually dead in some states I believe (those reports aren’t completely accurate).  So, this weekend the Magic made two ballsy moves and shipped Vince to Phoenix with Marcin Gortat and Mikael Pietrus (playing terribly) in exchange for Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson and sent Lewis to the Wizards for the troubled Gilbert Arenas.  I actually like these moves. Hedo only played well on the Magic and created matchup problems when they went to the Finals so he may play inspired ball alongside Dwight. Richardson is a very good three-point shooter and is definitely an upgrade over Vince at the shooting guard spot. And Arenas can lead the second unit for the Magic and be a top sixth man in order to gain some respect and good graces throughout the league to try and get one more contract. I think the Magic needed to shake up their team and this was a good way to do it.  If they can add another, cheap, low post player that can spell Dwight when he gets into foul trouble that would certainly help, but it isn’t a perfect world. We’ll see how the experiment goes because this team can’t afford to waste too many more of Dwight’s prime dominant years, though with these new post moves that period may be longer than we originally thought.  In any case, I always appreciate ballsy trades and the Magic did that this weekend.  Certainly makes their team much more interesting to watch.

7. Kevin Love becoming the best player you never really knew about. He put up a 30 and 30.  That is literally insane.  He and Beasley make the Timberwolves interesting.  They lose a lot of games, but they always play to win, which is definitely an upgrade.

8.  The Bulls and Thunder and their budding rivalry. Rose, Westbrook and Durant were the young leaders of the FIBA Gold Medal team and now they play on two teams filled with young talent who could both go deep into the playoffs. Their teams have already played twice this year and both games have been supremely entertaining.  Both the Bulls and the Thunder have fantastic chemistry throughout their roster and whenever they are on TV you should always make sure to check out their games. You literally can’t wrong watching a basketball game that features Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green.  Hell, I’ll throw Serge Ibaka of Oklahoma City in there too just because he is such a hard working and great player to watch.  These two teams could very well be the two that stand in the way of Miami dominating the league for the next six or seven years. So, get on board now and say that you saw greatness coming years before it came – courtesy of Matt Domino and Puddles of Myself of course.

9.  Chris Paul and Brandon Roy and their injuries.  Paul’s may just be a case of him coping with a knee injury and that can take time for a dominant player like him to get back to the level he was used to playing at. And I believe Paul will get back to his transcendent Isiah Thomas level of basketball soon.  However, Brandon Roy’s knees are basically non-existent and he was one of the best and most likable young players in the league.  Poor Portland.

10.  I’ve already written five thousand words and I could possibly go for another five thousand to expound on how great this NBA season has been so far and how great it could potentially be.  We are only in December and most teams haven’t even played thirty games yet and there are endless fascinating points and storylines to follow.  I may be a huge NBA fan and perhaps some of this stuff is over the heads of a lot of casual fans, but I think 70% of what I have covered is interesting to even the casual NBA fan.  And if you are not interested now, we’ll get you there. I’ll allow you just tuning in next June when the Celtics and Lakers are engaging in the rubber match of their most recent Finals battles.  Then, I’ll get your ear and make you really listen and understand.

The bottom line is that the NBA is well into a new golden age and you should start learning the teams and names now so that you can get on board and then get nostalgic years later while I am trying to pump you up about the next generation.  What can I say? I’m a visionary.  I’m a visionary even if I don’t have an irrational passion for one NBA team. Perhaps I can just leave the irrational passion for a far lest interesting and worthy sport – the NFL. I’ll just leave my irrational, tunnel vision passion for the Philadelphia Eagles. Well, that team and basically everything else in my personal life.  However, those misguided passions will be the topic of a best-selling memoir to come much, much later.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Top 20 Christmas Movies of All-Time

Christmas time is a unique time of the year.  Maybe its because there are lights everywhere.  Maybe because in New York and most other places it gets cold therefore developing a mass media that promotes the Christmas season as being cold and full of snow, which, let’s face it, we all want it to look like anyway.  Perhaps Christmas is so unique because the world is infused with a certain sense of wonder – gifts are given, families come together, feasts are eaten and there is a supposed sense of goodwill toward men.  Or maybe its unique because of the propaganda of the Christian religion in popular culture, which relegates Judaism, Islam and other religions to an afterthought, a moment of “oh, yeah those are great religions and holidays too.”  Christmas rides along on the fuel of a Bruce Springsteen guitar riff and saxophone solo that has no regard for volume (Oh, wait, he recorded “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” He’s in on it too.).

All of this is up for debate.  However, you can’t argue that there are certain indelible images attached to the holidays, such as sitting on the couch or in the other warm nooks of your home, with your family, with your lover, covered in blankets and watching movies.  Most often, those movies have something to do with Christmas (is the only Hanukkah movie Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights?).  So, in honor of the holiday season (sorry other denominations) and in order to fill out the Puddles of My Stupidity Section on this blog, I give you The Top 20 Christmas Movies.

20. Elf – This movie is a relative newcomer to the Christmas Movie genre.  However, it has built steam in the canon due to some serious excessive play on the USA network even in the non-yuletide seasons.  I can’t argue with it entering the canon due to the fact that Will Ferrell’s overacting actually works in the context of this movie; Bob Newhart’s presence lends a classic feel too it; and Zooey Deschanel sings in it and looks slightly strange with blonde hair, but gives off a great Christmas vibe and is all around attractive.  You also have to love James Caan getting a large role.  You can never say no to Sonny Corleone.

19. A Garfield Christmas Special – Now, my friend Dan Morgenstern has had a lifelong appreciation for the cartoon character Garfield and when you watch a Christmas special like this one, its not hard to figure out why.  This special came in the run when the Garfield TV show was ruling the airwaves and you have a very dry Garfield, being voiced by whoever the hell did his voice, going to Jon Arbuckle’s family farm.  The only person that Garfield gets along with is Arbuckle’s feisty grandma who makes strange sexual innuendos, but who is really lonely. Garfield is able to cheer her up, stuff his face and even be nice to Odie.  An instant classic upon its airing in 1987.

18. Scrooged – I don’t know too many people who don’t enjoy Scrooged.  This movie came in the era when Bill Murray could do no wrong as a smirking, smug and arrogant character; whether it was Peter Venckman in Ghostbusters, Phil Connors in Groundhog Day or Frank Cross in Scrooged.  The Christmas Carol gets a good update for the late 80’s corporate world and you can’t go wrong with Karen Allen (also known as Marianne Ravenwood from the Indiana Jones movies) as his long lost sweetheart who Frank turned his back on for the almighty dollar.  This movie also gets points from me because they tend to air it late night on Christmas Eve into the early hours of Christmas morning.

17. Muppets Christmas Carol – This movie has been getting some serious play during the past few weeks.  Like most great authors and artists, the popularity of Christmas movies moves in cycles.  Muppets Christmas Carol was way down on the critical scale in the early 2000’s, but with the recent championing of the Muppets by Jason Segel and the terrible animated Jim Carey version (human facsimile scale anyone?) this movie has risen in its stature.  As it is, it is a terrific Muppets outing.  All of the Muppets make their cameo appearances. They give Gonzo some great screen time as he plays Charles Dickens narrating the tale. Also, Rizzo the Rat gets his due by providing commentary alongside Gonzo.  Obviously, Kermit gets to play Bob Cratchit and Ms. Piggy is his wife.  And you have the classic Brit, Michael Caine, playing an inspired Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s amazing that a Muppets Christmas Carol could have ever fallen out of favor. Shame, shame.

16. Home Alone 2 – I don’t want to give away future entries on this list, but this is an instance where my hard, fast rule that sequels are always better than the original is not true – although, it is very close.  Home Alone 2 is a fantastic movie and, like its predecessor, it always does justice to the Christmas season.  This movie spawned all kinds of new gags and gadgets, especially the recording device that Kevin McCallister uses throughout the movie to trick his foes like Tim Curry as the hotel maître d.  There is also the misunderstood “scary” character, the Pigeon Woman, who is much cheesier than the Scary Old Guy Next Door from the first Home Alone.  Kevin’s wild use of his dad’s credit card is not only fun when you are a part of the spending spree, but also turns out to be a valuable lesson about how not to abuse credit.  Finally, the insane beating that the Wet Bandits take in this movie is literally unbelievable.  It actually includes a part where Daniel Stern is electrocuted and his head turns into a skeleton for a brief moment like in the cartoons.  This prompted my old friend, Blake Fabrikant’s, grandfather to exclaim, “There is no way two men could endure such abuse!” when he took a young Blake to watch the movie in the theatre.  How can you say no to a Christmas movie that causes and old man to say that?

15. Santa Clause – This is a hard classic in my house and if you polled my family they might just put it in the top five.  However, this list has to reach a broader appeal.  Tim Allen made this movie when he was on top his game as Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor on Home Improvement and his charisma just shines through. It’s a great myth too: you accidentally kill Santa Claus, you put on the suit, you become the successor to Santa Claus.  A great play on words in the title as well.  It also manages to make a nice commentary on divorce and the effects that can have on a child, as well as the perhaps detrimental use of therapy.  I also enjoy the movie because the main elf, Bernard, played by the actor David Krumholtz looks exactly like my great friend Jeff Schles.

14. The Year Without a Santa Claus – Of all the stop motion animation Christmas movies of the 60’s this one has to be my favorite. It introduces Mother Nature and her sons Snow Miser and Heat Miser as characters who are always fighting over the weather and that its only Santa Claus who can keep them at bay.  When Santa thinks that kids aren’t believing in him anymore and decides to bow out of Christmas, well then these guys go crazy.  The Heat Miser and Snow Miser songs are probably the most underrated Christmas songs of all time, featuring great brass playing and top of the line production for the era.  There is almost a Burt Bacharach feel to the instrumentation.  This is a must watch for anybody and I vow that all the people of my age group show this movie to their kids once we start having them.  Got it? Great.

13. Jingle All the Way – This movie was pretty much panned upon its release, but it has gained steam over the years due to Conan’s Arnold impersonation on his old show.  This is actually a fantastic Christmas movie about paying attention to your kids and being an active father in your children’s lives. Arnold really digs deep for his performance and Sinbad is great as the rival who is trying to get the Turboman doll for his kid as well.  However, it is the late Phil Hartman who really steals the show.  Phil Hartman was probably the best “voice comedian” of all time.  When I say “voice comedian” I don’t mean just voice acting in a cartoon, I mean that he sold jokes with his voice like nobody else.  He could do so much in just a slight inflection and he really swings for the fences in this movie.  This was one of the last things he ever did.  At Christmas time I really remember how much I miss Phil Hartman.

12. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
– I know most people enjoy classic movies, but I usually enjoy the remakes instead.  I don’t care if a young Natalie Wood was in the original, this remake assembled some of the best early 90’s talent that the silver screen has ever seen.  You have Dylan McDermott playing Brian Bedford, the lawyer who has to defend Kris Kringle.  You have Elizabeth Perkins (Tom Hank’s girlfriend from Big) playing the protagonist mother who has forgotten how to  believe in Santa.  And you have an on top of her game in cuteness Mara Wilson (Matilda, etc.) as the little girl.  To top that off, Richard Attenborough (Dr. John Hammond from Jurassic Park) plays Kris Kringle himself.  I mean, seriously, can you do any better than that? Of course there are all the Christmas themes about believing and large department stores looking beautiful, but what this movie really nails down is casting.

11. It’s a Wonderful Life
– If you want to look for a classic Christmas movie, this is really the one to look to.  You can’t go wrong with Jimmy Stewart and I just caught this movie on TV the other day and I forgot how beautiful that the woman who plays his wife is.  Also, the scene where the young George Bailey saves the life of the old chemist is always moving and heartbreaking with some great acting by the kid and also the old man.  It’s a Wonderful Life has been referenced so much and been around so long that it has become a cliché, which really means that it has just become ingrained in us so that its hard to view it from a distance.  But it really does have one of the best messages of all the Christmas movies as well as movies in general: remember to appreciate your family and friends no matter how bad things seem.  Great movie.

10. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
– I didn’t become a disciple of Chevy Chase until about my sophomore year in college when my friend Blake preached the glory of Spies Like Us.  Since then, I have only gown to appreciate the nuances of Chevy Chase, which is why Fletch has become one of my favorite comedies of all time (that and the basketball scene).  Anyway, I was never a huge fan of this movie among all the “Vacation” movies, so I’m not really sure why its here.  I guess its because it has grown on me as a movie over time.  There is that great cheesy (in a good way) song that plays when Clark is watching the old home movies in the attic.  Rusty and and Audrey have once again swapped ages so that’s always funny.  I think I enjoy this movie because it reminds me of a girl I grew up with, Lindsey Blechman, who always enjoyed the old aunt saying, “Grace? Grace died thirty years ago!” after the family says grace at Christmas dinner.  It reminds me of slightly snowy, cold, gnarled tree, winter nights on Long Island when I was  teenager and looked at the burning lights of homes on the streets and was as distraught and lovesick as I’d ever be.  Now, that is Christmas spirit!

9. Frosty the Snowman
– This is one of the obvious classics that has to be on any list.  The animation has the complete sixties aura around it and the narrative of the special really expands on the Frosty song.  There is plenty of great twinkly, sixties produced Christmas music in the background.  And of course the magician has one of my favorite lines of all time, “I’m busy, busy, busy.”  There’s not much more I can say about it.  It’s always on CBS, we always watched it, ours kids will watch it and if we’re lucky we’ll find those old VHS our parents taped the special on so we can catch all the old Nestles and 7-Up commercials.  Oh, wait…DVR.

8. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – Rudolph and Frosty go hand in hand. These two specials are really the forerunners of the Christmas special. CBS will always play them back to back to usher in the primetime holiday season feel immediately after Thanksgiving.  The stop motion animation is embedded in our consciousness, as is the snow monster, the lumberjack, the Island of Misfit Toys, the babe reindeer that Rudolph kind of likes.  It’s a classic Christmas song and story brought to life in a timeless way.  Was there any doubt this would be in the top ten? Please.

7. Back to the Future – I have a long standing belief that the Back to the Future movies are secretly Christmas movies.  It’s not because of any Christmas spirit in the actual movies themselves, but for the fact that they are always played on TV on Christmas Day.  I’m telling you, just watch the USA Network this Christmas Day and you will be treated to all three Back to the Future movies, arguably one of the most original and greatest movie franchises of all time. Clearly the first Back to the Future is an amazing movie – a young boy goes back in time and avoids having his mother fall in love with him so that he can make sure that she falls in love with his father and cements him having a better future. I mean, c’mon, does it get any better than that?  This brings you a joy that only the joy of Christmas Day is supposed to be able to have and match.

6. How the Grinch Stole Christmas – Dr. Seuss will always be beloved by all human beings. I’m pretty sure that’s a fact. And this was perhaps the best rendered of any of his stories.  The animation is full-blown sixties radiant warmth mixed with the fade of time.  Boriss Carloff’s narration reminds us of an earlier time of film and history – the changing of generation.  The “Mean Mr. Grinch” song has become a holiday staple of sorts and the morale of interacting with other people in a positive way will never get old.  Of course the dog with the sawed off antlers tied to his head is a nice touch that always gets cuteness points from the female viewer.  When I was a kid, I made my family stand around our tree, hold hands and sing the “Va-hoo Voories” song.  Let’s just say I have a soft spot for Little Cindy Loo Who.

5. All I Want For Christmas – This is a terribly overlooked great Christmas movie.  This basically carries the stamp of the early 90’s on it. Ethan Embry plays an upper east side Manhattan kid whose parents have been divorced a year but who still sort of love each other. Embry’s character is a mischevious kid so he and his sister (a still cute Thora Birch) decide to use Christmas as a way to get their parents back together.  The movie’s strength lies in the Upper East Side at Christmas backdrop and also Embry’s New York City kid charm.  It also has some random early-90’s teenage brunette babe who plays a friend of the family.  You know the girl, the kind of friend of the family you always wished would show up at some holiday or over some summer and you could have a little fling and then long distance communication.  It’s classic 90’s stuff.  Also, Embry’s dad owns a diner that features prominently as a set in the film and Kevin Nealon plays the mom’s doofus boyfriend that she ditches.  This is a Christmas masterpiece.

4. Charlie Brown Christmas – Charlie Brown Christmas is everyone’s go-to Christmas movie.  It basically stands at the top of the class.  You have American icons in the Peanuts characters.  You have the great score.  You have Charlie Brown trying to learn and show everyone the true meaning of Christmas and the show stopping scene at the end where the tree grows due to love and all the kids sing “Hark the Harold.”  This is probably my mom’s favorite Christmas movie so it has to be in the top five based on that merit alone.

3. Die Hard – Die Hard is often overlooked as a Christmas movie because of the violence, Alan Rickman’s fantastic acting as Hans and Bruce Willis becoming an action hero icon. However, the movie takes place on Christmas Eve, which technically makes it a Christmas movie. Hans obviously has no appreciation for the spirit of Christmas since he decides to plan a siege on a huge corporation on Christmas Eve.  There are terrific wisecracks and references to the holiday throughout and Die Hard set so many standards for parodies of Christmas parties, hostage situations, Germans and tall buildings that it is on par as a pillar of our culture with any Christmas movie.  People just need to remember that John McClane saved the day on Christmas Eve.

2. Home Alone – We already saw that Home Alone 2: Lost in New York made it on this list, but Home Alone deserves to be in the number two spot.  Its really a fantastic movie that is funny on a lot of different levels.  It also features a completely fat John Candy who was a few years removed from inspiring Joe Montana to a game winning drive against the Bengals in the Super Bowl.  There are countless memorable scenes: Kevin eating ice cream; Kevin thinking about his family hating him; Kevin finding the picture of Buzz’s girlfriend; Kevin setting up the TV really loud to scare the robbers while watching gangster movies; Kevin’s mom riding in the van with John Candy and the polka guys; Kevin’s dad being unintentionally (?) funny.  However, the movie really wins out with Kevin confronting the Scary Old Man Next Door when they are in church.  The old man’s story of his estrangement from his son is actually a moving little story in general about being estranged from our families and how important it is to forgive each other – the sadness that can lie in between the spaces of fathers and sons!  You also have Joe Pesci and especially Daniel Stern operating on the top of their comedic games as the Wet Bandits as well as John Hughes’ just brilliant writing and Chicago vibe to the entire movie.  Also, and I admit this begrudgingly, the scene where Kevin and his mom reunite at the end of the movie is one of the few scenes in cinema history that can make me start tearing up cold.  No matter if I’ve been invested in the movie or not.  There, I said it.  That’s where Puddles of Myself really come from.

1. Back to the Future II
– Obviously, the best Back to the Future movie would be at the top of this list of Christmas movies. I’m sure a lot of you were dubious about this list in the first place and especially so when you found the first Back to the Future on the list, so I don’t expect you to follow me to this movie being the logical number one.  You have to think conceptually.  Is there anything that captures the wonder and joy of Christmas more than this sprawling epic of a movie?  In Back to the Future II, we travel forward in time, back in time to an alternate reality, back to the altered past from the first movie and then forward to the double altered 1985. Michael J. Fox gives a tour de force playing the different generations (and genders) of the Marty McFly brood.  We are upgraded to Elizabeth Shue playing Jennifer.  The actor who plays Biff was robbed of an Academy Award nomination for all of the different Biffs he played throughout the years.  How can you deny the greatness of a movie that features iconic scenes from the original movie that have been altered based on the ongoing actions of the in progress sequel?  I don’t think you can.  Besides all of this, you have the dramatic ending where Marty meets the messenger in the rain and receives the letter that Doc Brown sent from the Wild West.  A movie that ends on a cliff hanger?  The Back to the Future movies contain some quality that may never be duplicated.  The movies contain an energy, a creativity, an adventure that sums up what the image of “Hollywood” is supposed to  be.  It is a feel, something larger than life. Just the basic concept of a teenage kid and mad scientist going back in time is a tale that we give into and go along for the ride because the people that made it tried to make it as fun, enjoyable, memorable and original as possible.  And all of those things are  hard to come by now, but when they come together, to me, that creates a strange, murky, indescribable sense of joy.  That same joy people associate with Christmas.  Also, the movies are on on Christmas Day every year.

That concludes yet another Puddles of Myself list.  Obviously you will all disagree with my choices, but to quote a Christmas movie that barely missed this list, “Are you not entertained?”