While it’s almost certain I first saw Kotto in Alien, the performance that will always stick with me was seeing him on stage as Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s Fences.
Through all the power, fragility, strength, and weakness in that character was a presence that just couldn’t be faked. As an actor and as a casting director, I obsess about actors “inhabiting” their characters to the right degree — and Kotto always did so. Amazingly so.
And I should point out he could inhabit all sorts of characters in a variety of genres. For Midnight Run, his turn as FBI agent Alonzo Mosely is a perfectly realized straight man in an action-comedy whose plot was anything but straightforward. His gravitas weathers all the shenanigans and manages to ground the film in the stakes, especially at the end.
Although he turned down an opportunity to be Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, evidently in part to avoid being typed in “space” films, he did come awfully close to being in another venerable sci-fi franchise.
Yes, apparently he was close to being Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. That would have been a very different Picard, but man would I like to see the stories from that timeline.
Time and again, the appearance of Yaphet Kotto has meant you’re getting a damn fine performance. I’m overdue to revisit his turn as Lt. Al Giardello in Homicide: Life on the Street, a series I should check out again anyway.
You want to talk about the bonus situation? The bonus situation was whenever Yaphet Kotto showed up. May his memory be a blessing.
It’s an even year, although the nicest thing you can say about 2020 is that it was odd. But, in any case, even years mean it’s time for my Favorite Films sort, something I have done offline for about 30 years and have done online for the past eight years. You can see my previous entries here (including how I do the sort by pairwise comparison).
Just as with two years ago, there was some major shakeup in the top 10, along with 15 additions to the top 50 that were either new or sorted lower on a previous year. Some of the results are shocking. Why, Die Hard isn’t even my favorite Christmas film any more!
Hush, you. One Christmas movie delivered because it clearly had correct postage.
Anyway, here are the ground rules:
These must be feature films (narrative or documentary). Short films aren’t included.
Film series or franchises do not count as one entry. Each must fend for itself.
TV movies can be included (I don’t think any are in the top 50)
TV mini-series are not included.
Regular TV series are right out.
These are my favorite films, not a “best of.” If anyone else entirely agrees with my list, one of the two of us is an evil doppelganger/replicant/host.
Basic Stats (note: genres overlap, based on IMDb genres)
Total Comedies: 7
Total Dramas: 30
Total Action-Adventure Films: 27
Total Sci-Fi/Fantasy Films: 23
Total Westerns: 1
Total War Movies: 13
Total Musicals: 4
Total Animated Films: 3
Total films with Liam Neeson: 2
Mean average year of the 50 films (rounded up): 1992
Decade with the most favorites: 2000s (13 films), followed closely by the 1980s (12 films)
The film at #51 which at least one reader will insist should rank higher: Sense & Sensibility (1995)
All right, here’s some other thoughts…
What a lot of war
Okay, I guess it’s not the majority of films, but 13 is “nontrivial.” You pair that with all the dramas, and it does seem heavier. I’ve also noted that, in general, though I inhale TV shows these days — thanks to the omnipresent streaming services — really none of them are sitcoms. Evidently I get my comedy in the ‘quippiness’ inherent to many an action-adventure (the majority of the films in the 50).
Perhaps I should revisit a few more comedies for next time.
Trek films 2, 4, 6, and 8 are all in the sort and “Wrath of Khan” has been in the Favorite 50 frequently. I guess the familiar is no longer the favorite.
Similarly, The Empire Strikes Back, perhaps always in my favorite list, has retired to a lower place behind young upstart Rogue One.
As with other longstanding films on the list, I guess the personal resonance only goes so far and I’m ready for new things, which may explain why…
Hamilton did have the votes
Because I maintained a strict personal blackout on the play, I didn’t know most of the details or any of the music about Hamilton (musicals not being my thing anyway, despite working on dozens of them in a former life). And then it came to Disney+ and blew us all away.
But Hamilton was a damn fine musical and if “concert films” like The Last Waltz and Woodstock are eligible for the sort (which they are), then Hamilton certainly was. And I watched it several more times after my wife and my initial watch just to be sure. I wasn’t going to throw away its shot.
Besides Hamilton and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse being brand new entries to the sort that also got in the top 50, I also noticed the average age of the top 50 went from ‘1986’ in the 2018 sort to ‘1992’ now. I suspect that average will continue to rise in 2022.
As with the comedies, should I delve into the deeper trove of classic films? Maybe.
No Christmas in the Favorite 50
There’s always a few films that are undoubtedly favorites that, nevertheless, fail to break the top 50 — and that seems frequently the case with both spy-fi and holiday films.
While a Bond film actually broke into the top 50 this year (Daniel Craig’s debut in Casino Royale), Die Hard, which supplanted the 1947 Miracle on 34th Street as my favorite Christmas film, was itself supplanted.
The interloper, Klaus, narrowly missed out by coming in at #54, so perhaps it’ll get in next time, as The Little Prince did this time. Die Hard is still in the overall 100 at #80. You really should check out Klaus though. It’s delightful.
So there you have it. Another sort in an altogether too long two year interval, this year being at least 14 years long. Here’s hoping there’s more joy in 2022, and if I’ve inspired anyone to check out some films, my job here is done.
The end of this week will feature the latest edition of my biennial Favorite Films list, so I suppose I have films on my mind.
Some of the earliest films I saw were short films, thanks to my dad and the Arlington County library which had them. And I do mean films! We had a projector at home, which was often used for birthday parties and other events. This inevitably meant those masters of movie comedy, Laurel and Hardy.
As long-time readers of this blog know (all seven or nine), I am a bit of a Star Trek fan, as may be deduced from my manic series Crisis of Infinite Star Treks alone.
Where that series delves into fannish hand-wringing and minutiae, it did remind my of how much I enjoy Star Trek in its seemingly infinite combinations. I wanted to do something special for its official 50th anniversary, but life has intervened (quantum filaments, holodeck mishaps, Borg incursions… the usual).
So what better way to express rampant fandom while looking back at the history of Star Trek than to rate each of its 700+ episodes? Think of it as a gift of the pandemic (well, for those of us in Sector 001).
Regardless, doing a retrospective of previous TV Trek seemed appropriate before now… and by the time I was fully invested in rewatching and ranking everything, new TV series started appearing (and may never abate). Yes, Lower Decks, the next seasons, of Discovery and Picard, and who knows how many other series will all find their way into the rankings ’cause I’m as foolish as Stamets wanting to do one more jump.
Oh what I wouldn’t give for a fortuitous temporal anomaly right now.
Anyway: to the links! (Not great links, perhaps, but links none-the-less)
The Methodology The short version? Every TV series (even the original animated one) is in. I had to make command decisions on how to judge two-parters and continuing storyline episodes, so I did. Movies are not included.
How to Rank ‘Em Yourself Even an honest Vulcan will tell you their logic is susceptible to mortal foibles as emotions and other intangibles creep into their calculations. It could be that ranking Star Trek episodes objectively is a no-win scenario, but tell me your Kobayashi Maru solution in the comments, whether it’s the top 10, the whole list, or anything in between (be civil, please).
What if you Object, Dislike, or Outright Hate My Rankings? No self-respecting Starfleet captain nor honorable Klingon commander would take such injustice lying down. Do something about it!
Re-watching (and in some cases, watching) all 700+ episodes of Star Trek took an inordinate amount of time over the past few years, so there’s no way I wasn’t going to comment on everything, including both spoilers… and a certain amount of irreverence. If you’re not ready for potential spoilers and snark, stick to the links marked “episode names only.”
(As alluded above, these lists will be updated as new episodes premiere. The lists below include all episodes for all series before July 2020)
As I mentioned the other week, we saw Hamilton along with a good many millions of people at the beginning of the month… and that’s led to listening to the soundtrack non-stop the following weekend, at least one rewatch so far, and delving into all sorts of reading and watching of supplemental material.
Just about none has topped my theater geeky glee quite like seeing Adam Savage looking at the props used in Hamilton.
As many of you know, I worked on both sides of the stage for quite some time, and although I was never the best props maker, I had my moments, I loved most every minute, and there was always a special level of delight in making a prop and seeing it used on stage.
If this isn’t enough to give you your fix, you can also check out Adam Savage exploring:
I know many people, and the articles, cite his turn as Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings movies or his absolutely chilling performance as Ash in Alien, but for me, Ian Holm burst into my memory in 1981.
The first film, Chariots of Fire, is included in the montage below. He didn’t win an Oscar for supporting actor, but he did win a BAFTA and one from Cannes and the moment you see below is about a nice a quiet payoff moment as you can want as a character actor.
The second film, Time Bandits, was another family favorite and, perhaps being exposed to it in my formative years, Ian Holm’s portrayal of Napoleon remains one of my favorites (one of the three times he played Napoleon).
As the years went on, it was always a pleasure to see him pop up on screen. He had incredible presence in the moment, yet didn’t skew the scene or chew the scenery: a consummate character actor. Even where he plays a major role, he’s part of a team.
So let’s close with something that Ian Holm (as Napoleon) professed to like: little things hitting each other!
One of the nice things about his work was that his characters were perfectly at east with who they were, be it an alien, a corrupt sheriff, or entrepreneurial pilot. If he turned out to be a villain, his character would metaphorically or literally shrug, as if to say, “Do you get surprised that a wolf is a carnivore?”
My all-time favorite scene with Brian Dennehy comes from Never Cry Wolf below:
The beauty of this scene is all the character and clues about motivation that Dennehy puts into Rosie. You think it’s just a fun, kooky scene when you first watch the film, but when Rosie turns up later in the film, you realize that everything he does is completely in line with what he told you in the beginning. His entire performance, as with so many of his others, is a kind of zen: totally in the moment.
A towering presence in cinema –literal and figurative– had died. Max von Sydow, an actor we’ve seen on screens since the 1950s, has died at the age of 90.
You can read (and listen) to accounts in the BBC, Variety, and NPR among many others.
What struck many of us moviegoers was the wide range of parts he would play… and could play with such quiet conviction. Here is a man who played the Son of God as well as the Eternal Adversary. But whether as tormentor or tormented, he would bring a bit of gravitas to whatever work he was in, even if the work was more than a little cartoony (I’m looking at you, Ming).
His unequivocally prolific body of work means that audiences will find him in dozens of films for decades to come — and personally, that has always been a delight. Especially for some of his later work, where he moved from leading man to supporting character, his presence wasn’t always announced, so I adored his appearance in Intacto and wished for a few more scenes of him in Star Wars, but enjoyed it nonetheless.
As some have noted, he’s been a presence in our cinema lives for so long, it’s hard to imagine him not popping up again in this TV show or that movie, whether to be chilling or entertaining, but always affecting.
It’s been one amazing chess game, sir. Well played.
Back on March 1st, 2015, I re-entered the web world with a personal website, something I really hadn’t had since the 90s, which in Internet terms is ancient history.
Perhaps because March 1st doesn’t correspond with any other anniversaries in my life, I keep on meaning to do an annual retrospective about posts and such on the blog, but keep on forgetting.
This year, however, I made sure to set a reminder for myself. As with any eponymous blog, this post is mainly a self-indulgence, but for anyone who wants to go back and check some of the posts (over 400!), here’s an accounting of the “greatest hits” and some of the “deep cuts.”
Of course, these posts topped the list. My series, Crisis of Infinite Star Treks, lasted almost the full five years. There were long and short entries and ones that I thought were better than others. The three that seemed to best represent the series are:
I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of my posts about writing got so many views. Writing and trying to do more work as a writer is near and dear to me… and frankly, one of the reasons I’m online anyway.
Granted, most of the posts are mainly linking to or commenting on articles or resources I found online, but it’s been great to share what I know. Some of the most read have been:
Integrally linked to many of these articles are the posts which talk more about motivation (one of them is up there). That was led to several posts about finding purpose, meaning, and motivation… often explicitly disconnected from a paycheck. These were a lot of fun to write (and probably helped me work through some thoughts):
As indicated above, part of the fun of a blog is the ability to indulge your whims and flights of fancy, often without a care for deadlines or the editorial rigor you yourself might expect from a magazine article.
Many of the posts grow out of articles I read online that I want to expand on, which include.