Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review: A Short Stay in Hell

In his brilliantly insightful novella A Short Stay in Hell, Steven L. Peck presents readers with a mundane version of the underworld wherein the damned spend a quasi-eternity searching out their own life stories from among a nearly-infinite library that contains every book that could ever possibly be written (a la Borge’s “The Library of Babel”). Because books comprised entirely of typographical nonsense are among the possible, most of the volumes found in the library are filled with indecipherable gibberish. Anyone lucky enough to stumble upon even a few intelligible words strung together in a semi-coherent fashion is considered blessed, and the relevant text is heralded as a great discovery, perhaps even replete with meaning. Compared to many of his damned compatriots, Soren Johansson is something of a skeptic. A geologist and devout Mormon during his mortal existence, Soren is banished to the library-esque version of Hell after learning (posthumously, of course) that Zoroastrianism is the one true religion. The upshot is that the Zoroastrian Hell, whichever form of it one is consigned to, is only temporary. Of course, when you’re dealing with eternity, the temporary can last a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very long time.

Pithy and poignant, A Short Stay in Hell is an existential tour de force. The beauty of the book, like the despair of the Hell it describes, lies in its relentless familiarity. It is as if Peck has cobbled together a personal parable for each and every one of us, a hauntingly intimate allegory for the everyman. And that is the genius of Peck’s work. The author manages to weave a fantastical tale of mythological proportions in a way that remains resonant and relevant to readers everywhere, a sort of memoir of the human condition. One would be hard pressed to come up with a major philosophical question that is not at play within the book’s narrative: Who am I? What is truth? What is meaning? What is time? Not that Peck sets out to answer these questions. At best, Peck implicitly concedes that humankind’s search for definitive answers to profound questions is both taxing and, more often than not, fruitless. He also implicitly acknowledges that the search is inevitable. One familiar idiom sums it up quite nicely: you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Book Review: You're Not That Great

*In the interest of full disclosure, I will preface this review with the fact that I know the author of this book personally. To the extent possible, I have not let this influence my review of the book. Of course, based on the information provided in this book, it is unlikely that I have fully succeeded in remaining unbiased.

Call him the anti-hero of self-help. Dr. Daniel Crosby is here to rip you a new one—a new self-image, that is. With a proverbial wink and smile, Dr. Crosby is going to tear all of the protective bandages off of your many blemishes and imperfections. It’s going to smart. It’s going to sting. You might even cry a little. But, as Dr. Crosby himself reminds us, he is doing this because he loves you. Not that you’re anything special, mind you.

Humorous title notwithstanding, You’re Not That Great: A Motivational Book is less tongue-in-cheek and more of a swift-kick-to-the-nads of overinflated egos everywhere. And by everywhere, I mean everywhere. Not a single one of us is immune to thinking much more highly of ourselves than we really should. In fact, this is the central thesis of Dr. Crosby’s book. Yes, you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you—but nowhere near to the extent that you suppose. Welcome to Reality 101.

With an abundance of empirical data to support his claims, Dr. Crosby provides readers with a guided tour through the unconscious megalomania, biases, and other influences that inevitably skew our interpretations of (and interactions with) the world around us. Think you’re good at making sensible decisions? Odds are your “rational” choices will spin a complete 180 if the same factual information is presented to you in slightly different terms. For those who aspire to be level-headed, this is bad news. The good news is that Dr. Crosby is here to point out and encourage you to check (and recheck) your mental blind spots as you cruise through this crash course called life. And how does he achieve this? Each of Dr. Crosby’s chapters is centered on a theme that sounds like something out of a cynical fortune cookie: “You’re Kind of Crazy,” “You’re Not as Safe as You Think,” “You’re Chasing the Wrong Dream,” etc. Psychological research is presented to convince the reader of the truthfulness of these claims, but readers aren’t left to despair. Instead, each chapter concludes with a pair of valuable sections in which Dr. Crosby assists the reader in putting this information to good use. In the section titled “The Path Forward,” Dr. Crosby offers some general advice and principles for living a life that avoids the pitfalls just discussed. In the section titled “Learned Living,” Dr. Crosby challenges the reader with specific exercises that will put these principles into immediate effect.

While the statistical data provided by Dr. Crosby’s tome has been put forward in several other works of recent years, I am aware of none that approach the data from the angle of generalized self-help. As the subtitle of the book makes clear, Dr. Crosby’s aim is to motivate. Because his writing is so personal and engaging—he shares almost as many embarrassing anecdotes from his own life as he does data from scientific research—the result is as rousing as one could hope for. Indeed, Dr. Crosby’s writing style is so conversational, easy-going, and upbeat that it nearly undermines the book’s authority. That may not sound like a compliment, but it is. You’re Not That Great is a mere stone’s throw away from reading like a personal letter from a friend. Dr. Crosby’s professional credentials feel secondary to his genuine concern for the reader. The result is, in my opinion, all the more inspiring because of it. Rather than speaking to us from atop a high horse, Dr. Crosby sits beside us, pats us on the knee, and tells us like a true friend that we need to pull our heads out. Who couldn’t use a friend like that?

One thing stood in my way of enjoying Dr. Crosby’s book as much as I could have. The copy I received had numerous typos in it, sometimes surprisingly many to a page. I have been assured by the author that such typos have been remedied and are no longer an issue. I feel it would be unfair of me not to mention the errors, as they were a part of my reading experience. Fortunately, they will not be a part of yours.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Jacksonville Zoo

Melanie and I took the kids to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens yesterday. We treated Monday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) like a regular work day so that we could splurge and play on Tuesday, when the zoo was offering $2 admission. I personally haven’t been to a zoo since Peter was a baby. I don’t think kids ever find zoos to be as exciting and fascinating as you expect them to, but taking them every once in a while is a parental must. I enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with my fam.

I’ll tell our zoo story mostly through photographs. For all the pictures we took, surprisingly few animals appear in them. But that’s okay. We plan to go back sometime in the near future. Also, because it takes a full 2.5 hours to drive to the zoo from our apartment, not including restroom breaks and the like, I made us leave the zoo by about 4 p.m. We ended up skipping a few parts of the zoo, which wasn’t our original intention. It was an all-day event for us, but we didn’t even see everything, and not because Jacksonville Zoo is particularly huge.

Our first stop at the zoo was the train station ticket booth. We rode the train and got a backside view of everything the zoo had to offer. That usually wasn’t all that impressive, but the kids on the train were cute, as evidenced here:

Our next stop was the stingray exhibit. Although our kids were too apprehensive to touch the stingrays, we spent several minutes watching them. I asked several questions of a zoo employee who tends to the stringrays, so it was an educational experience for me. In the end, everybody agreed that it was our favorite exhibit. There’s just something peaceful about watching marine life, at least in many situations. I snapped a couple of photos on my cell phone. They’re not great, but I’ll share a couple here.

This was the “boss” stingray, according to Eddie and Peter. It was huge, which you probably cannot tell from this photo alone. The zoo employee said it would grow to about twice that size in another couple of years. Wowzers!

One of the most intriguing sights, for me, was of an animal called an okapi. I’d never seen anything like it. It’s got the legs of a zebra, the body of a horse, the head of a deer, and the ears of a vampire bat. It’s like God’s version of Wendy’s chili, composed of all of the day’s leftovers thrown together. Or so it seems. In actuality, the okapi is not related to the zebra but to the giraffe. You can see the resemblance once you know, but it’s a quirky creature either way. I saw the okapis from the train, but I didn’t manage to get a photo of them. Here is an image taken from Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of someone who goes by the handle Raul654:

One of the highlights of our zoo trip was the inquisitive squirrel who searched our stroller while Melanie had the kids in the restroom. He continually climbed in and out of every part of our stroller. He even grabbed hold of my Diet Mountain Dew bottle and sniffed the lid for a few seconds. The kids were thrilled by the spectacle when they came out of the restroom. This particular squirrel was probably the most exciting animal they encountered at the zoo.

The reptile house was another big hit. There weren’t a ton of snakes, but the kids loved what they had. For whatever reason, they were particularly fond of the first snake we looked at, even though it wasn’t the biggest. We returned to it after admiring the other snakes, at our kids’ request.

I was a fan of the huge bull frog that resided in the reptile house. Peter’s head blocks the frog in the following photo, making it nearly pointless. But I’ll include it anyway since I’m so darn cute in it.

Playing outside of the reptile house…

Move over, Michael Jackson!

At the giraffe overlook (with the giraffes mostly obscured, of course)…

Playing on sculptures…


But of course, nothing beats a children’s play area. It wouldn’t matter where you go with kids, they will care more about the play area than anything else. Such was the case with Jacksonville Zoo. Admittedly, the play area was pretty cool. I didn’t get many photos to show off what the play area was like, but aside from a couple of slides, it was comprised primarily of things on which to climb. No swings or teeter totters, just lots of rope and walls. It was a smash hit.

Every time I tried to snap a photo of Creegan playing, I would barely miss him. That’s his red shirt at the left end of the bridge. This is about a good a photo of him playing as I got.

The end!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Top 5 Discoveries of 2012: Pre-2012 Movies

This is the sixth official list in my “Top 5 Discoveries of 2012” series. To see my music list, click here. To see my television list, click here. To see my books list, click here. To see my 2012 movies list, click here. To see my apps list, click here. To better appreciate my approach to making these lists, please read the brief introduction to this series (posted here).

This is a companion piece to my list of the top five 2012 films. In this case, I am focusing on movies that I saw in 2012 but that were released in earlier years. As with my 2012 list, this list is less authoritative than I’d like it to be. I simply don’t have an easy or convenient way of determining what movies I saw in 2012. I can use my Netflix and IMDb ratings histories as guides, but not everything I’ve seen is recorded in one of these ways. So, the list below is liable to contain errors. Also, I’m not aiming to provide you with the absolute best pre-2012 films I saw in 2012. While these are all extremely good films, I’ve aimed to compile a well-rounded list. Possibly, there are one or two films not on the list that outshined one or two films that are on the list. So be it. And now, in no particular order, are my top 5 pre-2012 films that I saw, for the first time, in 2012.

1. Hugo (2011)

Hugo won five Academy Awards and was nominated for a total of eleven. The awards it picked up were largely technical (e.g. Best Sound Editing), but it was up for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Music, and then some. It was a worthy nominee, a fanciful family film oozing with fairy-tale-esque charm. In the movie, Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is a 12-year-old orphan boy who lives in a Paris train station, secretly maintaining the clocks and working on an automaton his deceased father had never successfully repaired. Assisting Hugo is Isabelle (Chloƫ Grace Moretz), goddaughter of the cranky toymaker (Ben Kingsley) from whom Hugo steals mechanical parts. The magic and mystery unfold as Hugo and Isabelle bring the automaton to life, only to be left with further questions as to the purpose of its design. Directed by Martin Scorsese, Hugo is a beautiful picture, both visually and conceptually. Like the automaton in the film, Hugo is a hybrid of art and engineering, a tribute both to the wonder of the intellect and to the aesthetic of precision.

2. Higher Ground (2011)

Debuting at the January 2011 Sundance Film Festival, Higher Ground stars and is directed by Vera Farmiga, most notable for her role in the Oscar-nominated Up in the Air. Here, Farmiga plays Connie, a woman who interprets her survival of a major bus crash as an act of divine intervention. Several years after the accident, Connie and her husband Ethan are living with their children in a cult-like community of fundamentalist Christians. Devoted to her faith, Connie nevertheless wrestles to understand the relationship between piety and the expectations hoisted upon her by her idiosyncratic community. I’m a sucker for movies that deal (in a non-propagandizing way) with spirituality and faith. Higher Ground is an excellent instance of this. Anyone who has grown up or been immersed in a conservative religious environment will find something with which to identify in this film. Gender roles, orthodoxy, the tension between sexuality and purity—all of these issues are explored. The result is a thoughtful, reflective, and surprisingly balanced piece. Higher Ground is based upon a memoir by co-screenwriter Carolyn S. Briggs, and so those with a penchant for movies “based on a true story” will have extra incentive to see this film.

3. Between the Folds (2008)

Not every moviegoer appreciates documentaries, and it may seem that a documentary about origami has two strikes already against it. But you’d be wrong to think that Between the Folds is anything short of fascinating. There is more to find here than paper airplanes, boats, and cranes. What the skilled origamist can do just by folding a single sheet of paper is absolutely amazing. I promise that you will be surprised—nay, shocked—by at least one work of art featured in this film. What’s cool about Between the Folds is that it is not merely an onscreen art exhibition, but a foray into the theory and meaning of origami. The practice is examined from a variety of angles, from art to science to math. Each segment is equally illuminating. As I write this, Between the Folds is available for instant viewing on both Netflix and Amazon Prime. Clocking in at just under an hour, this documentary is well worth your time.

4. Apocalypto (2006)

Apocalypto was the last film Mel Gibson directed before earning his reputation as something of a nutcase. Following on the heels of The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto was yet another Gibson film of epic proportion. Set amidst the fall of the Mayan empire, the nearly two-and-a-half-hour film features Mayan actors speaking a Mayan language. The movie’s main character is Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), one of few survivors when his village is violently overtaken by a separate Mayan group. Taken to a nearby city, Jaguar Paw evades human sacrifice and ultimately escapes from his captors. He must then fight his way back to his village, where his pregnant wife and young son remain stuck in a deep pit that served as an impromptu hiding place during the initial attack. Apocalypto is not an easy film to watch. It features some of the most brutal violence I have ever seen in a movie—it is gory, realistic, and callous. But the film itself is a monumental achievement. It is a sobering look at humanity and at how vastly different one society can be from another. I dare say that watching Apocalypto is the closest I’ve come to experiencing genuine culture shock. I’m not well-traveled, but that’s saying quite a bit for a movie.

5. In a Better World (2010)

The Danish film In a Better World picked up the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 2010. The film revolves around two boys, Elias and Christian, who bond together as each suffers the hardships of young adulthood. Elias, whose parents are estranged, is relentlessly bullied at school. Christian, on the other hand, has recently lost his mother to cancer, a fact that fuels his resentment toward his father. Weak and defenseless, Elias welcomes Christian’s protective mentoring. All the while, Christian finds an outlet for his rage by acting out against Elias’ enemies. With violence among children being such a hot topic nowadays, In a Better World could easily have become exploitative or sensationalistic. Fortunately, it does not. It shows a surprising amount of restraint, even as the film becomes saturated in tension. How far will Christian’s retributive antics go? The audience is never sure, but Elias’ fascination with Christian is all too natural and believable to put viewers at ease with the thought that cooler minds will prevail. And that is the most jarring and terrifying aspect of the movie—it is not a far cry from reality at all. The film poignantly reminds us that nothing out of the ordinary is required for something extraordinarily awful to occur. While In a Better World is more of a drama than a thriller, its intensity will satisfy fans of either genre.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Top 5 Discoveries of 2012: Apps

This is the fifth official list in my “Top 5 Discoveries of 2012” series. To see my music list, click here. To see my television list, click here. To see my books list, click here. To see my 2012 movies list, click here. To better appreciate my approach to making these lists, please read the brief introduction to this series (posted here).

Melanie and I have cheap cell phones. We don’t have newfangled smart phones that can be loaded up with apps. However, Melanie received a Kindle Fire for her birthday in 2012, and so apps have now entered into our life. For those who don’t know (Hi, Mom!), apps are basically just programs. The distinction doesn’t matter much. What matters is that apps serve a wide variety of purposes. Many apps are games, while others serve as utilities (e.g. maps, calculators, day planners, etc.). There are also entertainment and social networking apps that allow you to use Facebook, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and the like on your cell phone or other app-friendly device. Because Melanie’s Kindle has been used primarily as our official home video game system, nearly all of my app experience consists of game-playing. I haven’t played nearly as much as my kids have, but I’ll now present my top five app discoveries of 2012—from the least of my favorites to my favorite of favorites. All of these games were acquired for free from the Amazon App Store, so if they strike your fancy and you’ve got a Kindle or an Android device, you can get these for yourself.

5. Angry Birds

Naturally, the Angry Birds franchise is where my family got started. And, naturally, I loved the games from the get-go. I rarely play them now, but it would be a conscious exercise in cultural rebellion to deny them a place on this list and I’ve never been much of a rebel. If you’ve somehow never played Angry Birds, you can do so for free via Google Chrome’s Web Store. It loads up right in your browser window, and you can play it all day long. So, what are you waiting for? Flip the bird, already!

4. Scramble Touch

Scramble Touch was one of the first games my family acquired on the Kindle Fire. It is basically like Boggle, in electronic form. There are probably countless other apps that are knock-offs of Boggle, and for all I know, those games are much better. But Scramble Touch was the first app I felt somewhat addicted to and wanted to play over and over again. For a short while, I never had a bowel movement without spending some good time playing Scramble Touch.

3. Happy Jump

When I first played Happy Jump, I literally squealed with delight. It’s a rather absurd little game in which you utilize the tilt sensitivities of your portable device to guide a bouncing mold of red gelatin up a series of landings and platforms, some of which move. The goal is simply to get as high as you possibly can. The game is over either when your gelatin misses a landing or hits a bumblebee. Along the way, you collect coins, and your bouncing gets an extra boost whenever you collide with an apple. Like I said, it’s absurd. The gelatin never stops bouncing, so it’s surprisingly challenging to keep going. It is easy to find yourself saying “one more time” about a thousand times in a row, making Happy Jump a severe threat to your productivity. I should note that there is a very similar game called Ice Cream Drop wherein you tilt your Kindle (or phone, etc.) back and forth in order to guide a scoop of ice cream down a series of landings and platforms. I don’t find that game nearly as fun, but a variation of Ice Cream Drop exists called (no joke) Happy Poo Fall. In that version of the game, you are not a blob of slippery ice cream but a dollop of (again, no joke) feces. What kind of crap will they think of next?

2. Sky Burger

Sky Burger is another endless food-based game that utilizes tilt functionality and offers players no other goal than to keep going. In this game, you start with the bottom half of a hamburger bun, which you can slide back and forth along the bottom of your screen. Various hamburger toppings fall from the sky a la Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. If a topping lands on your bun, it stays there. If a top hamburger bun lands on your sandwich, the round is over. In order to finish the round successfully, you must construct whatever burger is on your ticket. In lieu of points, you get money for each requested topping you collect. You also get a “tip,” which increases as you nab correct toppings and decreases as you pick up anything else (including too many of the requested toppings). The tip also depreciates if you miss a topping that you still need. As you progress, the burgers become more complicated, which makes them taller, which makes it more difficult to avoid inadvertently grabbing a top bun before the proper burger is constructed. Fortunately, the sequence of toppings never matters. If the burger is supposed to have six pieces of cheese, four beef patties, and ten servings of pickles, they can be arranged however. It’s a good thing, too, because the burgers get much, much more complicated than that.

1. Army of Darkness Defense

I discovered this game only recently, downloading it on a whim while completely ignorant of the fact that it is based on the cult 1992 horror/fantasy/comedy film Army of Darkness starring Bruce Campbell and directed by Sam Raimi. When I realized it was tied in to the movie, I was stoked. Not that you need to be familiar with the movie in order to enjoy the game, but fans of the film will be in on the inside jokes that permeate the game. In the game, you play Ash, the one-handed hero who must protect the Necromonicon Ex-Mortis, or book of the dead (basically), from falling into evil hands. Utilizing your “boomstick” and other assorted weaponry, as well as by calling swordsmen, knights, peasants and a host of others to your aid, you must fight off the large swaths of skeletons that come your way. Those familiar with the wildly popular Plants vs. Zombies will tread familiar territory here, although Army of Darkness Defense is slightly more geared to the RPG (role playing game) crowd. You collect coins from your defeated foes, which can then be used to upgrade your armor, your weaponry, etc. Given that this game is available for free, it’s an absolute must-have. For fans of the film, it would be a sin to pass it up. The game utilizes genuine audio clips from the movie, such as Ash’s flubbing of a magical incantation to summon supernatural assistance. Downloading this game is a Klaatu Verata Nobrainer.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Top 5 Discoveries of 2012: 2012 Movies

This is the fourth official list in my “Top 5 Discoveries of 2012” series. To see my music list, click here. To see my television list, click here. To see my books list, click here. To better appreciate my approach to making these lists, please read the brief introduction to this series (posted here).

I watch a lot of movies. But for all the movies I watch, fairly few of them are seen in the theater. I see about a dozen movies in the theater per calendar year, and yet I probably watch an average of 3 to 4 movies per week. That makes it hard for me to narrow down my top five selections for the year, even if I include movies that were released prior to 2012. To give myself just a little bit of leeway, I’ve decided to post two movie lists. My first list—this one—will be only of movies that were released in 2012. In a forthcoming list, I will present my top five movies watched in 2012 but that were released in a previous year.

I feel I should mention that I have not seen several popular and/or critically acclaimed 2012 films. I’m eager to see Django Unchained, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Les Miserables, all of which are still in theaters. Because I see so few films in theaters, most of the 2012 films I’ve seen were released earlier in the year. Add to that the fact that I don’t have an overly convenient way of looking back at what movies I watched during 2012. Taking these things into account, my list of top five discoveries in 2012 movies should be taken as less than definitive.

5. The Amazing Spider-Man
I was a fan of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, but Marc Webb’s series reboot is already proving itself superior. (Of course, Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 was pretty crappy, so that won’t be hard to outshine.) Andrew Garfield is a much more appealing Peter Parker than was Tobey Maguire. Whereas Maguire played Parker as a full-on dork, Garfield transforms him into a socially awkward but otherwise normal guy. I also love the angst that Garfield brings to the role, which imbues the Spider-Man persona with a kind of emotionally-about-to-lose-it-ness that I greatly enjoyed. It nicely underscores the cathartic nature of Parker’s vigilantism once he discovers he has superpowers. And, of course, there’s Emma Stone, who’s great in everything she does (quite unlike Kirsten Dunst, whom I realize played a different character in Raimi’s triology). All in all, I found The Amazing Spider-Man to be my personal favorite superhero movie of the year. Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises was good but not great, and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers was egregiously overrated. I’m excited to see where Webb’s series will go from here.

4. Looper
I wasn’t as smitten by Looper as many people seemed to be, but I definitely thought it was one of the better flicks of 2012. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is quickly proving himself to be one of the best actors Hollywood has to offer, and I’ve always liked Bruce Willis. Time travel is a timelessly fascinating subject, and the prospect of running into yourself (and facing the moral quandary of how you should treat yourself when you regard yourself as “other”) is teeming with existential food for thought. It’s a bit more of a stretch for me to accept Jeff Daniels (i.e. Dumb & Dumber’s Harry Dunne) as the leader of an organized crime ring. I was also taken aback by the film’s horror-like elements, which nudged it ever so slightly from being a sci-fi action flick to being more of a supernatural thriller. That didn’t resonate with me quite as much as it could have, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film and would recommend it to most.

3. The Hunger Games
I know some people will think I should be embarrassed by this, but I’m not. Jennifer Lawrence is awesome, the books were great, and the film is about as perfect a film adaptation as one could reasonably expect. No doubt, you’re better served reading the book first, but the movie stands quite strongly on its own. I consider The Hunger Games one of my top movie discoveries of 2012 because, like almost everything else nowadays, it’s going to be a series. Thankfully, we’re off to a very promising start. The first half of the film is especially good, taut with tension despite its shortcomings. The excellence doesn’t persist all the way to the film’s final frame, but I wasn’t anything less than pleased with the film as a whole.

2. Bernie
The most obscure movie on my list, Bernie is the true-life story of Bernie Tiede, an effeminate mortician in Carthage, Texas who befriended and ultimately murdered Marjorie Nugent, a well-to-do widow over forty years his senior. What may surprise you is that Bernie is a comedy, with none other than Jack Black playing the title role. It is also, sort of, a documentary. The film is supplemented with interview footage of actual Carthage residents who knew Bernie and Marjorie. These interviews provide some of the movie’s greatest comedic moments, with the townsfolk all but stealing the show from an impeccable Black. As Marjorie, Shirley MacLaine is pitch-perfect. The movie also stars Matthew McConaughey as Danny Buck, the district attorney whose prosecution of Bernie made history when Buck requested a change of venue—because Bernie was too well-liked by the Carthage community. This was the first time a change of venue had been requested in a criminal case due to a defendant’s likeability. As unique as the story that inspired it, Bernie is unlike any other film I’ve seen.

1. Argo
Argo is a masterpiece. I discussed the film a bit in a previous entry, wherein I concluded that God would indeed watch R-rated movies of this caliber. I mention this again here because it speaks to how good of a film Argo really is. It says something when a film leaves you wanting to discuss not so much the technical aspects of filmmaking, but the nature of humanity. Argo couldn’t have done this nearly so effectively if it were not technically brilliant, and yet that is overshadowed by the story itself. As a reminder, Argo is based on actual events surrounding the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81. The best films achieve this—they are so excellently crafted that the inherently fabricated nature of the medium that is film becomes completely transparent, and all that we are left to see and remember and ponder are the people whose stories get told. This is true even when those stories are fictional, but of course, when the movie is based on actual events, it is all the more poignant. If I had one 2012 film that I could force everyone to watch, it would be Argo.