January 31, 2011

My night at the Royal Rumble.

It began, as it always does, with a Shawn Michaels DVD.

I've never tried to hide my love of wrestling, but it was an infatuation that's mostly died out. I don't watch any of the weekly shows, and I haven't been to a live wrestling event in seven or eight years. Several of my friends gamely try and keep up, but it's not what it used to be. The heyday of The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon is long over.

But I was there live when The Undertaker hung the Big Boss Man at WrestleMania XV, which was maybe the worst Mania of all time, and I also attended the epic duel between Michaels and Mankind at the Mind Games event in 1996. I stay on top of the older guys that are still chugging along, and I'll watch the occasional pay-per-view if someone else invites me over. I wouldn't call myself a fan, but there's a lingering, begrudging respect I maintain for wrestling and its entertaining theatrics.

So when I heard that the Royal Rumble was coming to Boston, it was a no-brainer; I was going. The Rumble is by far the best wrestling event of all time; the excitement of all the stars in one ring, the spectacle that is the 10-second countdown before each new entrant and the allure of a title shot for the winner. Nothing else can compare. WCW came kinda close to repliciating it with World War 3, but it fizzled out early and never rose to the level of the then-WWF's original offering. You can't copy perfection.

In preparation, my friend Matt and I relived some of the good old days by popping in the aforementioned Michaels DVD. We watched several of The Heartbreak Kid's matches, including his No Holds Barred match with Diesel and the first-ever Hell in a Cell between Michaels and The Undertaker. Nothing we'd see in that night would come close to replicating the classic mid-'90s action, but it did remind me why I liked "sports entertainment" in the first place; it used to be pretty damn entertaining.

Matt and I then met up with a work associate at Boston Beer Works; I can't imagine being over the age of 20 and attending a wrestling show sober. And luckily, this one catered to the drinkers out there. The Rumble itself is always the main event, which gives fans plenty of time to get lubed up during the early matches, and the women's title match that directly preceded the battle royal provided 10 solid minutes of boring action that could be used for beer procurement and a bathroom visit.

Then it was Rumble time. My friends and I each bet $5 on a possible winner; I had John Morrison. I thought he was the prototypical young star that would greatly benefit from a Rumble victory; they could even rev up a feud between Morrison and his former tag team partner The Miz, who coincidentally is now WWE Heavyweight Champion. It seemed like the obvious ending...which, of course, means that it didn't happen.

It turned out that Morrison's big moment was his crowd-pleasing Spider-Man impression; Alberto Del Rio, someone I'd never heard of before, turned out to be the young guy getting the huge push. And hey, it made the three Hispanic guys next to me extremely happy, so good for them.

But it's the little moments that made the night special, not the $10 I frittered away on Rumble bets (the other $5 was lost at the last second on a knee-jerk Wade Barrett-versus-Del Rio wager). The return of Diesel and Booker T, in particular, was a great bone to throw older fans like myself. I'd argue that Booker T got the biggest pop of the entire night, and Diesel's ranked right up there next to Cena's. I doubt the company will do any more with those guys, but it was quite a thrill to see them one more time.

Will I go to another wrestling event anytime soon? Absolutely not. I even turned down a ticket to WrestleMania a few months ago; this was quite enough for me. But if I were to stumble upon another Rumble ticket in a few years, even if I'm married and have kids at that point, you better believe I'd be there. Even for a wayward former fan like myself, there's just nothing like it.

January 26, 2011

The evolution of Charlie Manuel.

The Internet has swallowed up all of my pre-2008 blog posts, but I imagine any Phillies-themed ones from before the 2007 season included at least one rant about how Charlie Manuel sucks as a baseball manager.

His squads perpetually came up short. He had Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Bartolo Colon, CC Sabathia, Roberto Alomar and Manny Ramirez in Cleveland, but they couldn't make it past the first round of the playoffs. And for a while it looked like his Phillies teams were destined to continue the trend of being slightly above mediocre, never to gaze at the world beyond an 88-win season.

Fast forward to January of 2011, however, and no Philly sports fan would ever dream of thinking anti-Charlie thoughts. Manuel has risen from "country bumpkin" to "annual Manager of the Year candidate" in an unbelievably short amount of time. Five years ago, he was almost run out on a rail. Now, he's essentially the king of Philadelphia baseball.

Sure, we all still love to nitpick his in-game strategy. He's loyal to a fault -- a fact never more evident than when he stuck with Brad Lidge throughout the closer's epically bad 2009 season -- and sometimes he'll rile up the statheads by listening to hunches over statistics.

But the players love him, the fans adore him and even the most hardened baseball scribes have to admit that he's the perfect leader for this team. Plus, there's no arguing with the results: four straight NL East championships, two World Series appearances, two MVPs, one Cy Young winner and one title.

Along with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, he's made Philadelphia a place where stars want to play baseball. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee chose to become Phillies; Roy Oswalt waved his no-trade clause to be swapped here. A lot of that's winning and a nice ballpark, but it's also a commentary on who's in charge. Players like the idea of playing for Charlie Manuel.

Sometimes I think about all the vitriol spouted at him in the early days, and I can't for the life of me remember why we did it. We were mean to Charlie?! Charlie Manuel, the baseball lifer, good ol' boy and nicest manager in the business?! God, we were dicks. We wanted another Larry Bowa-type so badly that we almost didn't realize how lucky we were.

Rich Hofmann notes today that Manuel's been drawing a baseball-based paycheck for 49 years, and the 67-year-old thinks that he's still got at least three more years left in him. That's just fine with me; plenty of time for a few more championship runs.

"I love living in Philly and I love the fans," Manuel stated during a recent interview on 610-WIP. "I want to go out as a Phillie."

Charlie, we'd like nothing more.

January 23, 2011

Looking for that million-dollar sound: Reviewing Springsteen's The Promise.

Bruce Springsteen has had success with double albums; The River might be the perfect mix of merry and melancholy, "Sherry Darling" coexisting with "Stolen Car." That's one of the freedoms of a double album; you're allowed diverting, disjointed themes. And yet Bruce makes it all part of the same package; The River feels like it encompasses all the ups and downs of life.

The Promise isn't quite there, but considering it's a compilation of outtakes and passed-over material, that's not a bad thing. Even though it's supposedly all tracks that were possibilities for Darkness on the Edge of Town, not a single song would fit on the album that Bruce and The E Street Band ended up producing. That doesn't mean they're subpar; they're just about different things. Say what you will about Bruce's song-selection process, but the man knows how to put together a record with a unifying message.

One of the more intriguing aspects of The Promise is how Springsteen touched up and, in some cases, completely redid songs from the Darkness sessions. "Save My Love" is the most glaring example; it's a great song, stuffed into a quick two minutes and 40 seconds, but it was also recorded in 2010. Written in the 70s, of course, but produced by the current incarnation of The E Street Band. This isn't a bad thing, it's just...slightly odd to hear.

It's also impossible not to compare these versions with their previously published predecessors. "Rendezvous," "Fire" and "Because the Night" are the most obvious examples, and they've all been done better elsewhere. I prefer Southside Johnny's "Talk To Me" to Bruce's, even though Bruce actually wrote it, and the alternate version of "Racing in the Street" isn't as interesting as, say, "Wings for Wheels" is when compared to "Thunder Road."

Yet at the same time, one of the joys of The Promise is seeing how Bruce's mind works. There are snippets of "I'm On Fire" in "Spanish Eyes," "Come On (Let's Go Tonight)" became "Factory" and "Candy's Boy" is, obviously, an early "Candy's Room." Sometimes it's a complete overhaul, sometimes it's just swapped-out lyrics or a change in the musical tone, but you can hear some of his future masterpieces starting to take shape.

As he ages, Bruce has gotten better at offering a glimpse into his work, through methods like Thom Zimny's Darkness documentary and the release of these older, "lost" materials. And with that, we can see how adept he is at moving lyrics around like puzzle pieces. This goes here, that goes there, paste this, cut that, and bam: there's your song. That's never more apparent than on The Promise.

Disc 1 has a few gems, including the most Southside-sounding song Bruce ever recorded, "Gotta Get That Feeling." Disc 2, however, is where the album shines. I'm an unabashed The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle fan, and "City Of Night" has a simple, sparse sound that reminds me of "New York City Serenade." "It's a Shame" is another soulful, Southside-y romp, and the aforementioned "Save My Love" would have been a wildly successful single, even if it sounds a little weird coming out of present-day Bruce's mouth.

And in a perfect world, "Ain't Good Enough For You" would be known as one of his most crowd-pleasing hits. It's catchy as hell, funny and perfect to dance to. Basically, it couldn't be less Darkness-appropriate. Alas, it'll forever be just one of many outtakes, grouped together with "So Young and In Love" and "I Wanna Be With You" as his most outgoing, "mass audience-worthy" lost tracks.

Then there's "The Promise," probably the most oft-discussed Bruce song that he never, ever plays. The story behind "The Promise" is that Bruce wrote it during a legal battle over his music; he had been previously locked into an unfair contract, and it wasn't clear when he'd be able to record another album. He name-checks "Thunder Road" a few times, implying that this is the continuation of their story. But Mary and her man-friend have obviously fallen on some hard times, much like our songwriter, finding that "every day it just gets harder to live, this dream I'm believing in."

The song is like the bridge from Born to Run to Darkness, when Bruce went from being a bright-eyed, pent-up youngster to America's most frank and uncompromising mainstream musical legend. He would still become the "future of rock and roll," but he was going to take rock where he wanted it to go, not where everyone expected of him.

(Of course, if you want to read a real writer on "The Promise," please check out what the song did/does to Joe Posnanski's insides. It's the kind of written masterpiece that Bruce would understand, something I'll never come close to reproducing.)

In the end, what is The Promise? It's a worthy addition to Bruce's catalogue, a collection of good-to-great songs offered as a package but loosely linked thematically. Mostly, it's just another way to honor Springsteen's genius; songs like these would define the careers of other artists, and Bruce had no qualms about locking them in the basement for 30 years. If he wants to spend his remaining years pumping out unexamined, satisfying gems from his past, well, that's alright with me.

January 21, 2011

Hard, hungry and alive: Through 47 games of the 2010-2011 Philadelphia Flyers season.

A few weeks ago, I was planning to write a Philadelphia Flyers-themed blog post based on this Bruce Springsteen quote:
Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive.
I thought it summed up what the Flyers had to do without star defenseman Chris Pronger: play tough, keep pace with the other Eastern Conference leaders and, ultimately, survive.

Well, I didn't get around to the post. And in the meantime, Pronger returned from his foot injury on Thursday against Ottawa, only to less fanfare than you'd expect. Why? In his absence, the team went 9-4. Even better, ten of those games were on the road. The Flyers didn't just survive, they flourished.

And that's the beauty of this team. They're deep, probably the deepest in the league and maybe the deepest group of Flyers in recent memory. Not only are there a boatload of talented players, but everyone's being used properly. John Stevens could never figure out how to squeeze four centers into three lines, but Peter Laviolette has proven adept at meshing personalities and talents together. For the most part, Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter have switched off on one line, while Briere hunkers down in the middle on another and Mike Richards babysits some combination of James van Riemsdyk, Andreas Nodl and Darroll Powe. And it's worked.

In particular, the Briere-Scott Hartnell-Ville Leino line (which Stephen Whyno tried so very hard to name via Twitter) remains as good as it looked in last year's playoffs. The mashup of Leino's passing, Hartnell's aggressiveness and Briere's eye for the net has been oddly inspired casting. In particular, Briere's been an absolute revelation. Finally healthy and free from dealing with numerous personal issues, he's living up to his $6.5 million a year and then some. And Giroux's moved into his house! It's one of those odd weird Mario Lemieux/Sidney Crosby-type deals that's always got a weird hint of creepiness to it, but I'll allow it in this case.

Meanwhile, Carter's quietly tallied 20 goals, on pace for another 35-plus season, and Richards leads the team in points, leadership qualities and handsomeness. Matt Carle's gone from being Pronger's disciple to a legitimate top-four defenseman. Kimmo Timonen is as steady as it gets, and Andrej Meszaros leads the league in plus-minus. That's right, the whole NHL. Paul Holmgren got this guy for a second-round pick, only one of the many reasons he was recently extended.

And then there's van Riemsdyk. Surprisingly enough, JVR's on pace for a 20-goal season, and continued good play could get him near 25. He's been the hardest-working player on the ice in more than a few games recently, and keep in mind that the kid's still 21 years old; Giroux's making his All-Star debut at 23. Any talk of trading JVR is absurd; let him marinate with one of the best teams in the NHL, and you'll have a stud on your hands in a few short years.

I had a fear, after last year's Stanley Cup Finals, that this was a "one and done" team. They had their shot at stealing a Cup in a wide-open year, and they blew it. But I was wrong, dammit, and I couldn't be happier about it. It was actually a young team that was gelling, a roster that added a few key veterans like Meszaros and Sean O'Donnell, and an organization that struck gold with young goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Oh, the goalies. As always, everything relies on them. Brian Boucher has been the perfect backup, and Bobrovsky seems to be settling back into a nice little groove. Plus, it doesn't hurt to have maybe the best defense in the league in front of you. But until Bob gets some playoff experience, until he proves that he can handle being a full-time starting NHL goaltender, it's a house of cards. It hasn't toppled yet, and I don't necessarily think it will. But it could make things complicated, and then Holmgren's mettle, Pronger's foot, Richards' leadership and Laviolette's coaching acumen might be truly tested.

Until then, the Flyers have the most points in the NHL. They've got the best goal differential. And their best defenseman, probably a little sleepy pre-injury from playing roughly 120 games total last year, is getting back into the swing of things. Philadelphians are accustomed to worry about their sports teams, but this time maybe it's the rest of the league that should be concerned.

January 10, 2011

We'll get 'em next year.

Next year. Presuming, of course, that there is a next year in the NFL. That's when the Philadelphia Eagles will shine.

DeSean Jackson will have a new contract and absolutely no reason to complain. Jeremy Maclin, Nate Allen, Brandon Graham, LeSean McCoy and Jamar Chaney will be a year older, a year wiser. Michael Vick, even further from his prison stint and now compensated appropriately for an MVP-caliber season, should hold up better over 16 games. Stewart Bradley, Jamaal Jackson and Leonard Weaver will be healthy. And, through the draft and free agency, holes on the offensive line and in the defensive backfield will be addressed.

That's what I want to believe, at least. There are five or six elite players on this roster -- Vick, McCoy, DeSean, Asante Samuel, Trent Cole -- that almost any other general manager would kill to build a team around. There's untapped promise in Allen, Graham and Chaney; there's Pro Bowl potential in Maclin and Todd Herremans. All in all, it's an extremely talented roster that could make the leap to "elite" status with a few solid, unassuming acquisitions. If only Pat Gillick could run a football team...

A rough plan: Replace Winston Justice at right tackle. Replace Dimitri Patterson at right cornerback. Bring in a little more depth at safety, maybe dig up a kick and punt returner that isn't a bargain-bin loser.

Oh yeah, and fire Sean McDermott. Weak personnel or not, there's no arguing with "31 touchdown passes allowed" and "worst red-zone defense in the league." Coaches have booted coordinators for far less; I don't know if the answer is Dick Jauron or someone floating around the league, but McDermott still looks overmatched in a position he didn't earn so much as inherit.

What I keep reminding myself is that the Eagles are a young team; they weren't even supposed to compete in 2010. What happened this year, partly fueled by Vick, was an unexpected blessing. And I also recall the Packers, many of them getting their first playoff exposure, dropping a close game to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2009 wild-card round. This year, obviously, they've taken the next step. That's a good blueprint to follow.

So, much like that time where Jeff Garcia stopped by and lead the Eagles to the NFC Championship Game, let's just enjoy the memories. But next year, that's a different story. In 2011, Andy Reid and company will be expected to field a winner. Come up short again, waste another season of maybe the most talented collection of young players in the league, and Sean McDermott won't be the only one handed his walking papers.

January 7, 2011

Game of the year.

Football fans from the city of Philadelphia are nervous, and rightfully so.

If the Philadelphia Eagles don't run the ball on Sunday, they're going to lose to the Green Bay Packers. If Dimitri Patterson doesn't resume ingesting whatever rocket fuel powered him in the fall, if Trent Cole can't get to Aaron Rodgers, the defense will be picked apart. And if Michael Vick gets bombarded with unblocked blitzers yet again, he'll be suffering from more than just a quad contusion.

Basically, it's already quite easy to summon from the never-empty well of pessimism. This is somewhat absurd, but I don't fault anyone for leaning towards Green Bay. Rodgers has been terrific since coming back from a concussion, and the Packers are certainly one of the more competitive six seeds in recent history. They've got a top pass defense and an absolute stud in Clay Matthews. It might be the worst possible match-up for Andy Reid's team.

Plus, the stink of the Vikings game is still prevalent in Philadelphia. That's the last time we saw most of the Eagles, when Joe Webb was rocking their shit up and down the field. The same Joe Webb who went 20-32 for 145 yards against the mediocre Detroit Lions in Week 17. It was one of those yearly Eagles events, when the team just flat-out doesn't show up and we're all reminded just how crappy they have the potential to be.

Yet, like that one movie title exclaims, hope floats. The Eagles have arguably the most potent offense in the league; 1st in the NFC in points scored, total yards from scrimmage, yards per play, rushing yards, yards per carry, rushing touchdowns, pass plays of 20+ yards, pass plays of 40+ yards. They can out-shootout anybody, maybe even the Patriots, and that is a way to win. Not the best way, not the time-tested "playoff" way to win, but it can be done.

And if the Eagles do win, their future looks very bright indeed. The Bears on the road wouldn't be a cakewalk, but I find it hard to believe that they'd beat the Eagles twice in a year, especially in Jay Cutler's first-ever playoff game. And then it's probably the Falcons, a team that Kevin Kolb dismantled a few months ago. Nothing about Atlanta particularly frightens me.

So I'm willing to go as far as to call this the much-vaunted "Game Of The Year." Win, and the Super Bowl is seriously in sight. Lose, and it's a repeat of last season's first-round letdown. The "is Vick the real future at quarterback" talk begins, not to mention a resumption of the "will Andy Reid ever win a Super Bowl" and "when does DeSean Jackson get paid" debates. And nobody, except maybe a cold-hearted sportswriter, wants that.

My prediction? A high-scoring game that goes down to the wire, a total crapshoot that either team could win. No outcome will surprise me, yet I feel like I've seen the Eagles come up short in games like these a hundred times before. I really, really don't want to disembark from the Michael Vick Experience, though, so I'm going to choose the Eagles. God help me, I'm going to choose the Eagles.

January 5, 2011

My 10 favorite movies of 2010.

As usual, my yearly list of the top 10 movies is a word-packed disaster-piece, so I'll spare you an introduction. In alphabetical order, these are the 10 movies I enjoyed (or appreciated, or revered) the most in 2010.

(Editor's note: Before we begin, keep in mind that I have not yet seen The Kids Are All Right, Rabbit Hole or Blue Valentine, three movies that could easily have made it onto this list. I'll try and see them as soon as possible, pinky swear.)

Black Swan - My associate Rob Turbovsky unleashed a nice anti-Aronofsky rant on me after we'd both seen Black Swan, complaining about how "in your face" his symbolism can be. I don't entirely disagree (I mean, for a good portion of the movie he depicts Natalie Portman as actually turning into a fucking swan), but I think one scene redeems the Wrestler director. Near the end, when Portman is stumbling through the backstage area, she comes upon an actor in the evil swan suit that has been haunted her dreams. Rather than being terrifying, though, he casually says hello and continues on his way.

At a time when the movie's world is crashing down, it's a perfect moment of levity that also serves to emphasize, far more than supposed physical transformations, just how messed up Portman's character really is. Does Black Swan deserve Best Picture? Probably not, but Portman should take home Best Actress, and Aronofsky has again proved himself as adept in examining the psyche of solitary, obsessive individuals. He's the perfect director for the new Wolverine movie.

The Fighter - This movie is on this list for really only one reason: Christian Bale. Mark Wahlberg plays a perfectly acceptable straight man as the titular boxer, Melissa Leo is good as his overbearing mother, and Amy Adams "uglies up" by gaining 5-7 pounds and dressing like a lower-class bartender, which actually ends up making her maybe three times as hot.

But Bale carries the movie. His performance is gripping and remarkable; I don't know if Bale truly captured the essence of Dicky Eklund, but I do know that he wasn't Christian Bale up on the screen. He wasn't Bruce Wayne or Batman or Patrick Bateman, either. It was a unique performance, something impossible to look away from. It's a clich├ęd Simpsons reference, but every time Bale wasn't on screen, I found myself asking, "Where's Bale?" If he doesn't win Best Supporting Actor, there's something wrong with the Oscars. There are, actually, many things wrong with the Oscars, but Bale should still come out on top.

Greenberg - As you may or may not know, I'm a huge sucker for Wes Anderson and Wes Anderson-y movies. By proxy, this makes me a Noah Baumbach fan, which is fine with me because he's a pretty great writer/director in his own right. The Squid and The Whale is one of my all-time favorites, and I think Greenberg was another rousing success.

Above all else, I'm a fan of good, funny dialogue, and that's an Anderson/Baumbach specialty. The interactions between Ben Stiller and Rhys Ifans are hysterical, and it's great to see Stiller take on a more challenging role in between Night at the Museum and Meet the Parents sequels. See, everyone, he doesn't have to suck, he just chooses to. Makes it so much better.

The King's Speech - Most of the reviews I read beforehand indicated that The King's Speech was a straightforward, uplifting historical drama that soars thanks to the performances of its leads. And I can't disagree; Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are an unbearably charming team, especially in the scene where they yell "shit" and "fuck" and all sorts of other curse words that sound even funnier coming out of English mouths.

I'm not sure why Tom Hooper's getting so much Best Director praise; The Damned United was one of my favorite little films of 2009 and I thought he did a fine job of putting this one together, but it's the cast that does most the work. Like a Harry Potter movie, the well-known British actors come in waves: Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce (who is actually, like Rush, Australian) and the underappreciated Timothy Spall as a plump and wise Winston Churchill. And it's always nice to see Helena Bonham Carter playing a real person and not a ghoul or a zombie or whatever shit Tim Burton casts her as in his latest disaster of a movie. Ever since Big Fish, Tim Burton has sucked. The King's Speech, though, does not.

Inception - Upon first viewing, I didn't exactly love Inception; hell, I even went as far as to write a blog post entitled "Inception is not as good as you think." I called it a "convoluted jumble of ideas, a plethora of vague insights and questions about reality that director Christopher Nolan's already explored far better in his earlier work." And I stand by all that 100%.

But I also called it an "interesting, ultimately forgettable summer blockbuster," which I find far too harsh in retrospect. After letting my feelings on the movie simmer for a while, I realized that I respected Nolan for turning that complicated screenplay into a relatively functional film far more than I wished to denigrate him for not making it into the "best movie of all time ever." Just because a lot of people loved it a bit too much doesn't mean it's completely lacking in value. It's an entertaining film, respectfully spawned from an original idea in an era of sequels and remakes, and definitely one of the 10 best I saw this year.

Never Let Me Go - A real dark horse; a movie I loved that few other critics have really gotten behind. Many reviews labeled Never Let Me Go as "science fiction" because the plot involves cloning, which really shoehorns it into an inappropriate genre. It reminds me of when I was a kid and everyone said Contact was science fiction because there were aliens at the end. There weren't really any aliens! It was just David Morse.

Anyway, Never Let Me Go is far more than science fiction. It's a drama about love and separation, about growing up sheltered and struggling to break free, physically and emotionally. Andrew Garfield continues his star-making 2010 with another dynamite performance, and Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley remain two of the best young actresses working today.

But mostly, this made the list because I follow Mark Romanek on Twitter and I want to see him tweet the phrase "Steve Cimino calls Never Let Me Go one of his 10 favorite movies of 2010." Come on, Mark, get kingmyno.com some much-needed recognition.

The Social Network - As a fan of The Squid and The Whale, I'm obviously a fan of Jesse Eisenberg. Even though he mostly plays "neurotic Jewish kid" in every movie, he does it well, damnit. And his opus is The Social Network, also known to many people as "the Facebook movie."

But although Eisenberg gets a few scenes to shine, he's mostly playing the unwilling passenger on an unexpected trip to fame and Internet glory. I don't think he even gives the movie's best performance; that award would go to either the aforementioned " future Spider-Man" Andrew Garfield or Armie Hammer, who memorably plays dual Winklevi. They're both deserving of Oscar nominations, and the movie's more about how their characters interact with Mark Zuckerberg than about Zuckerberg's billion-dollar creation. It's about the rise and fall of relationships during the spawning of Facebook, but it's made hundreds of millions of dollars and garnered countless awards through the way it expertly intertwines everything together.

Toy Story 3 - As another associate of mine likes to note, Toy Story 3 is a "fuckin' cartoon." And yes, in the minds of many uninterested people, cartoons are forever associated with children's entertainment. But anyone who's seen a Pixar movie over the last decade (and shame on you if you haven't) knows how false that idea really is. Pixar makes movies for everyone, works of art with wit and heart and intelligence. Toy Story 3 is no exception.

If you cried at Up or Wall-E, prepare to bawl several times at this one. Maybe it comes from being invested in the adventures of Woody and Buzz Lightyear for so long, but certain aspects of this three-quel are unbelievably moving. Toy Story 2 seemed like way more of a ho-hum moneymaker, albeit an enjoyable one, but Toy Story 3 will make you laugh and cry interchangeably. I'm not sure if it's deserving, but I'd love to see this win Best Picture just to put a stamp on the fact that, no, computer animation and human emotion are not oil and water.

True Grit - One of the more straightforward Coen Brothers movies, at least in terms of plot, True Grit still keeps up the trend of fantastic performances and stand-out dialogue that defines pretty much every movie in Joel and Ethan's filmography.

The reliable trio of Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin bring exactly what you'd expect to the table, and exquisite newcomer Hailee Steinfeld somehow keeps up with all of them. I'm not sure if the goal of the Coen Brothers was to pepper a traditional, old-fashioned Western with their distinctive quirks and quotable lines, but it definitely carries more overall appeal than the beloved-but-very-literary No Country for Old Men.

One aspect I really enjoyed was the demeanor of bad guys Brolin and Barry Pepper when the action shifts to them near end. Rather than exude the traditional devilish auras of Western villains, they're portrayed as reasonable, intelligent people. Sure, Brolin has a short fuse, and they're obviously engaged in cut-and-dry criminal activities, but Barry Pepper's character treats Steinfeld's character with a respect you don't see coming. Just another layer added to another classic from these cinematic masters.

Winter's Bone - And finally, the movie ranked #1 by The A.V. Club, Winter's Bone. Kind of a "Brick set in the Ozark Mountains," Jennifer Lawrence is absolutely sensational as a young girl investigating her father's disappearance. The cool new indie thing to do seems to be crafting a noir-esque film outside of the traditional noir atmosphere, and despite the outrageous differences between the Ozarks and then-burgeoning Los Angeles, Lawrence's bottomless commitment to finding her missing parent echoes the "never give up, never think things through" spirit of Jake Gittes in Chinatown.

It's sad that Lawrence will be beaten out by the equally-as-deserving-and-way-more-well-known Natalie Portman for the Oscar, because anyone who saw this coming from a star of "The Bill Engvall Show" is kidding themselves. But she'll snatch up a much-deserved nomination, as (hopefully) will her equally deserving co-star John Hawkes. Hawkes is one of those guys everyone's seen in something, from American Gangster to "Eastbound and Down" and "Deadwood," and he's both comfortingly paternal and extremely intense as Lawrence's uncle, Teardrop. The aforementioned Bale, Rush and Garfield were stellar in supporting roles this year, but shame on the Academy if they can't find a place for Hawkes, too.

And the rest: Of course, a few movies just didn't make the cut. They were Exit Through the Gift Shop, Waiting for "Superman", Please Give, I Love You Phillip Morris and A Prophet. I enjoyed all of them, but they just weren't good enough to be fully recognized. Better luck next time, Banksy, Oliver Platt and a very gay Jim Carrey.

Oh, and anyone who put The Town on a top-10 list is out of their minds. It looked like a slightly above-average heist movie in the preview, and it ended up being...a slightly above-average heist movie. It's the Boston version of Heat, only less good. That's not something to really celebrate.