Seth Rogen is the man

It’s really easy for celebrities to forget how influential they can be. And when I speak of celebrities, I mean the big guns — internationally popular musicians, actors, athletes, etc. Basically, the people who have the check mark next to their names on Twitter.

There are so many ways to effect change. We all don’t need to be Jonas Salk and singlehandedly create a vaccine that eradicates a deadly disease.

When you have such a huge fan base, and when everything you say or do is under a giant microscope, sometimes simply attaching yourself to an important issue is just as important as actually solving it.

That’s why I have a ton of respect for what Macklemore is doing. The guy became a megastar only about a couple of years ago, and he wasted absolutely no time using his stardom for good, which, in his case, is promoting gender equality. It’s so easy for celebrities — particularly new celebrities — to get wrapped up in the life, and take advantage of their newfound fame for selfish reasons.

People care too much about celebrities in America. Magazines like People or US Weekly spend way too much time reporting on who Taylor Swift is dating, where Blake Lively ate brunch, or what nightclub Paris Hilton attended on a Saturday night.

I can see why it would be annoying for celebrities to have their every action reported in the media. But I think that what a lot of them forget, is that when they do good things, it’s going to be reported also. And that’s how they could help.

And that’s exactly what Seth Rogen did on Wednesday.

Rogen, the comedic actor known for his love of marijuana, appeared on Capitol Hill to address the Senate Committee on Appropriations about the lack of attention he believes our government pays towards those with Alzheimer’s disease. In his speech, which was both hilarious yet heartfelt, he talked about his wife’s mother, who developed severe Alzheimer’s before she even turned 60.

Here’s the entire speech. it’s about six minutes, and I highly recommend watching:

Rogen didn’t spout too many scientific facts, nor did he even offer any suggestions about what should be done to improve Alzheimer’s education in America. Instead, he shared his own personal story. And by doing so, suddenly the entire world is talking about Alzheimer’s disease.

That’s what people like Seth Rogen are capable of.

As somebody who writes for a living, I really appreciate Rogen’s speech. It’s obvious he’s a writer — which is also evidenced by his screenwriter career — because he had the perfect blend of humor and seriousness. And that’s what catches people’s attention.

Rogen has always come across as a down-to-earth, chill dude who is really easy to like. But now, I’m officially a fan forever. I can’t imagine how much courage it must take to sit in a congressional room and speak before some of the most powerful people in our country.

I personally would never do what he did because I wouldn’t consider myself smart enough to speak directly to people who have spent almost their entire lives in government. But maybe that’s what real courage is — not giving a shit about how others might perceive you and standing up for what you believe in.

The other lesson? Sometimes it’s the potheads who speak the real truth.

I always wish the media would report more good news … until some lucky sonofabitch finds millions of dollars of buried treasure in their backyard

Although I try my best to watch the morning and evening news under a detached lens, I’d still be lying if I said hearing about death, war and general violence repeatedly didn’t have some type of effect on me.

There’s no way you could possibly hear a story about a rape and still feel the same exact way you felt a moment before. Again, when you put on the news, you’re expecting to hear somber things, so that mindset does desensitize you a little bit. But it doesn’t fully block out of all of the negativity.

I also find myself wondering why the media doesn’t report more good news, or at least open with good news more often. I know the bad Saddle Ridge Hoardstories are the ones that attract the most viewers, but sometimes a heartwarming story can have that very same impact, but obviously in a much more pleasurable way.

Every one loves to hear about the kid with down syndrome who scored a touchdown. Or a dog that saved a 3-year-old child from drowning. Those are the stories I want. And that’s what I’m waiting for when I turn on the news. Forget the death and destruction, give me some positivity, damn it.

But sometimes, sometimes, there’s a positive story that makes me angrier than any negative story ever could. By now most of you have likely heard about this California couple who found a rusty can in their backyard one year ago, only to open it to find 1,400 coins from the 19th century stowed inside. After getting the coins appraised by a numismatics firm called Kagin’s, it was discovered that they have a face value of about $28,000, but could sell for more than $10 million.

Well, fuck.

I mean, stuff like this just doesn’t happen. We all had that phase in our lives where we watched movies or fantasized about being on a pirate ship searching for buried treasure. But it was never easy. There’s supposed to be a long sea voyage to get there, several villains who pop up to hinder your plight, the possibility of a mutiny within your own crew along the way, and even when you do Pirate treasureget there, it’s supposed to be extremely difficult to find the ‘X’ that marks the spot.

But this couple, who are being identified simply as John and Mary, stumbled upon this buried fortune in their backyard.

I hate them.

I’m not naive enough to say “Why couldn’t this be me?” Because this isn’t like the lottery, where you have winners popping up by the month. This is something that happens once — ever. The only other time anything remotely like this ever happened was in 1985 in Jackson, Tennessee, when construction workers discovered $1 million worth of gold underground.

But that kind of makes sense. Construction workers should find buried treasure. Not two random people named John and Mary.

So instead of saying, “Why not me?” I prefer to say “Why anybody?” Why does there have to be somebody out there who got so damn lucky that they became millionaires without even trying to be, when the rest of us have to bust our ass every day just to make any money at all.

John and Mary chose not to reveal their surnames or location, which was probably a smart move.

I guess the lesson is to be careful what I wish for. Instead of desiring to hear about good news on TV, I’m going to instead break out a smile the next time I hear about somebody getting robbed at gunpoint outside of a WalMart.

How can I make myself un-know that this year’s Bachelor’s name is Juan Pablo?

There are some guys who live in fear of admitting certain things because they worry it will diminish their masculinity. For example, some will adamantly refuse to admit that they ever watched the movie Titanic, because they think doing so is synonymous with handing in their man card.

That just bothers me. Yes, if you’ve seen Titanic 47 times, know all the lines, and cry every time Rose says to Jack that she’ll “Never let go,” then maybe you do need to mix in a Sylvester Stallone flick every now and then to round things out.

But otherwise, who cares? Not only have I seen Titanic, but I’ve seen more “chick flicks” than most people see in their lifetime. I Juan Pabloalso have two Hanson songs on my iTunes. If you live in fear that liking a movie or a song can take away from your manhood, then you have a lot more issues to worry about than that.

That said, I have never seen a single episode of The Bachelor, never plan to see a single episode of The Bachelor, nor could I tell you what channel it’s on, and I probably have never spent more than 12 seconds of my life even thinking about it.

And again, that has nothing to do with protecting my image — any thought of that went by the wayside about 450 blogs ago — but because the whole concept is just so unappealing to me. Why do I care about some random guy being hounded by 30 desperate women in a contrived, manufactured environment, resulting in a relationship that likely will not last longer than a few months.

I dislike the show because it makes a mockery of male-female interaction. Part of me also thinks my old-fashioned romantic side is what makes me not like the show. I think that the Bachelor not only represents everything that’s wrong with today’s television entertainment, but also everything that is wrong with today’s perception of matchmaking.

I’m starting to come around a little bit on online dating. I think that it contains enough elements of real life dating that it won’t forever change people’s reality of meeting others. But I just really, really hope that people don’t watch shows like The Bachelor with the hope that this is how they want to meet their dream counterpart.

I’ve watched shows similar to The Bachelor before solely for the entertainment value. I recall watching that show several years back where a network hired a paid actor to act as “the bachelor,” while being intentionally repulsive to see if the woman could actually Jack and Roseconvince her family that she was marrying him.

I also tried watching other spin-off versions of reality dating that had a certain twist to it, like Joe Millionaire during its one-season run in 2003, and that stupid one hosted by Monica Lewinsky, also in 2003, called Mr. Personality, where the bachelors wore hidden in masks the whole show so that the female contestants couldn’t make their decision based on looks. God, that was stupid.

But The Bachelor has no twist. It’s just one moron, surrounded by a few dozen snobby princesses, all acting like 12-year-olds on a playground. And for some reason, I know that this year’s bachelor is Juan Pablo, a former professional soccer player, and the first minority bachelor. Juan Pablo is a name that stands out, so after hearing it about a dozen times, I had to ask somebody who the hell it was. You can only imagine my disappointment when the response forced me to learn my first piece of information ever regarding The Bachelor.

How this show has lasted 18 seasons is beyond me.

Although maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve never had 30+ women gawk over me in my life, period, let alone in one room.

That’s it. I’m adding a Spanish sounding middle name to my persona.

Remember that time you craved Taco Bell in the morning? Yeah, neither did … any one else.

Let’s face it. Eating Taco Bell is blissfully enjoyable in only two contexts.

a) As a high school student eating it during your “off period.”

b) Shitfaced at 3 a.m.

In the first scenario, we’re young and really just don’t care about too many things, our health included. All we know is that a Cheesy Taco Bell breakfastGordita Crunch taste pretty goddamn good, and there’s something oddly cathartic about cramming one down your throat on a Tuesday afternoon in the 45 minutes between physics and European history class.

In option two, we also don’t care about too many things, but that’s because our ability to make logical, sound decisions has been corrupted by hours of binge drinking. And scarfing down that Doritos Locos Taco after seven Budweisers and four Jameson shots tastes like a sirloin steak at the Four Seasons.

Not to say that Taco Bell doesn’t taste good during other times, but that feeling is also usually accompanied by unpleasant sensations like remorse, self-loathing and diarrhea, to name a few.

There’s plenty of reasons why people actively decide to avoid Taco Bell. The main one being that they want to convince themselves that they are eating healthy. But people forget that if you enter a “healthier restaurant” and order shitty food, it’s really not that much better. Eating a foot-long chicken and bacon ranch sandwich from Subway is not quite an upgrade.

It’s also extremely unflattering to tell somebody that you just ate at Taco Bell. Nobody ever responds to that by saying, “Oh really? That’s awesome! What’d you order?”

I know that’s just a typical, self-conscious viewpoint and that none of should care about what other people think of our food choices, but heck, even at 6:30 p.m., right in the heart of dinnertime, when my stomach is rumbling like an earthquake on the San Andres Fault, I still will go through great lengths to avoid eating Taco Bell. And if I do eat there for whatever reason, you’re damn well right I am going to lie about it.

But guess what? For those who do succumb to their lowly desires of eating Taco Bell, now you have even more reason to become ashamed of yourself. They’re serving breakfast!

Beginning March 27, from 7 to 11 a.m., Taco Bell will expand its menu to include meals like the waffle taco, the A.M. Crunchwrap and breakfast burritos.

What better way to start off the workday than with a helping of waffle tacos?Yo quiero

At any time between 7 and 11 a.m., I’d be ashamed to even pull into a parking lot that contains a Taco Bell. Even if my true destination was to the strip club, err, I mean … the gym. I don’t go the strip club in the morning. Anymore.

But seriously, as negative of a stigma that eating at Taco Bell already has, how could eating breakfast there possibly be any better? I’d say that this is the reason why Americans are so fat, but the sad truth is that most Americans are probably excited by this news, and that’s the real reason why Americans are so fat.

Come March 27, I wouldn’t be surprised if traffic jams plagued the Unites States during the morning commute because Taco Bell drive-thru lines become so backed up that they filter out onto the streets.

Although, all sins would be forgiven if they brought back the “Yo Quiero Taco Bell?” chihuahua. That thing probably represented the highlight of American pop culture as we all know it. Why did they take that away from us?

I also just thought of something. If I were to go on an all night bender until 7 a.m., and then went to Taco Bell, would that qualify as a legitimate excuse to try the A.M. Crunchwrap?

These are the dreams I strive for rather than trying to better my career and income.

10 days in Israel

For those of you wondering where I’ve been and why my remarkable penmanship has not made its way towards your computer screen in two weeks, I have spent the better part of that time halfway across the world, visiting the Motherland, also known as Israel.

Among my meticulous pre-trip planning and organizing — albeit one night before my departure, but meticulous nonetheless — I neglected to post here that I would be MIA for a little while. I tried one time to post it in Israel in a short time I had WiFi, and then I remembered that I’m on vacation and that I should put my phone away. No offense to you all.

My trip was free, courtesy of URJ Kesher, a trip organizer for Taglit-Birthright, an organization that sends young Jews to Israel for 10 days to visit the place in which their lineage originated.

As a young Jew, I have had many friends who have gone on this trip, only to come back reborn, resurrected, a new person with different beliefs and priorities, memories, and an entire new outlook on how they perceive day-to-day living. So I had to go and give it a shot. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to have any type of spiritual catharsis, but hey, if I did, then why not? I could use some structure.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I knew to expect the unexpected. It’s been quite some time since I went on a long vacation, and I knew it would be good for me to get away, and force myself to go somewhere where the trivial things that bother us in our normal lives would become meaningless.

10 days later, I wouldn’t exactly say I am a new man, but I definitely feel like there’s at least a part of me that is forever changed. A little orb now exists somewhere in my chest labeled “Israel” that will stay there forever.

As somebody who is content to spend an entire Sunday in bed in his pajamas — which is exactly what I plan to do today — one can only imagine how different it felt to visit the Old City of Jerusalem, hike a 1,500-foot mountain, swim in the Dead Sea, ride a camel and sleep in a tent with 40 other Jews, all in a 96-hour span.

The trips work to combine 40 people from across the country (including Canada) of approximately the same age, so that you can share the experience with one another. Needless to say, after spending nearly every moment with these people for 10 days, you’re going to form extremely close friendships, and that is exactly what happened.

The purpose of the trip is naturally to educate young Jews on Judaism and the state of Israel, to form a connection to the Homeland, to create friendships with other Jews, and to hopefully stay and/or become a practicing Jew for the rest of your life. I can certainly say that I learned a lot — as someone who grew up in a mostly secular household, I am pretty ignorant to the happenings in the Middle East and to religion altogether. I can’t say I’m an expert now, but at least being there for a week-plus has given me some perspective, and also taught me not to trust the American media too much when it comes to the topic.

It was my first time entering another continent (I’ve been to Aruba, which is really in Central America, but technically considered North America), and the trip definitely inspired me to want to see more of the world.

But what will stick with me the most is the friendships. Not that I don’t love my friends back home, but when you progress through life and enter your mid-20s, you don’t really put yourself in a position to meet a ton of new people. So to meet 40+ individuals and spend so much time with them, learn about who they are and where they come from, is really special and something you don’t experience besides your first few weeks of college. 

I’m particularly glad I went to Israel when I did. I could have went as young as 18. But as ignorant as I am now, at 26, I could say with the utmost certainty that I wouldn’t have appreciated the trip back then as much as I did now. At such a young age, my priority would have been to go to Israel and get drunk — the Israeli drinking age is 18 – instead of focusing on the people, the land, the culture.

Which is pretty magnificent, might I add. Everywhere you step in Israel, a breathtaking view surrounds you. You don’t get that too often in the U.S. The Dead Sea, for the record, is actually a pretty damn exotic place, and not just a historical and iconic novelty. It’s Earth’s lowest elevation on land, and the water is so salty that you float without even trying to. I was actually doing sit-ups at one point while floating in the water.

It’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate the religious aspect of the trip, either. What really stuck with me was learning that the original Jews were forced out of Jerusalem with the intention of getting it back, so that one day, Jews could return. That’s why cedars always end with the line, “Next year in Jerusalem,” to pay tribute to our ancestors who had that wish 2,000 years ago. And it came true.

My group was also fortunate to have quite possibly the best tour guide on the planet, who went by the name of Ayal Beer. His mix of knowledge and humor made the trip what it was, and even though he’s spent his entire life in Israel, his knowledge of American pop culture was impeccable. One night, after returning to our hotel from a night out in Tel Aviv, he walked by a group of us and said, “’80s dance party in room 408.” Naturally, I thought he was joking, but lo and behold, as I walked back to my room, I hear ’80s music blasting nearby, only to see Ayal and a few others dancing chaotically at 2:00 in the morning. I jumped in without hesitation.

It’s still going to take quite a while to decompress, and wrap my head around the whole thing and what exactly it meant to me. Two days after returning home, it’s safe to say I’ve never been more disoriented in my life, between missing the land, my new friends, jet lag, and the shock of returning home and having so much time to myself.

There’s nothing more cliché in life than saying “it felt like it was a dream,” but that’s really what it feels like. 10 days is nothing. It flies by in the blink of an eye, and then so does the next 10 days, and the 10 days after that. I just happened to spend the past 10 of them in Israel. We did so much in such little time, that I’ve never had a more exhausting yet fulfilling experience in my life.

I think what I’ve learned over the years is that the goal of having an experience is not to isolate it. It’s easy to do something memorable and then keep it solely to yourself, and separate it from your every day life. What I really want to do is exactly the opposite — to incorporate it into my life. I want to wear it on my sleeve, and take the things I learned over there — about the world and about myself — and use it to better my life over here. Because that’s the true meaning of an experience, and there’s no reason why the two things have to be mutually exclusive.

Kesher

But don’t worry, some things will never change, and tomorrow, I’ll be back with my typical asinine and childish narratives, tackling today’s relevant issues under a humorous lens.

And next time I go away, I promise I’ll leave a note.

Weingrad rates the movies of 2013

Each year I devote one post towards reflecting on the past year in movies. I’m a major cinephile by night — which sounds pretty dirty if you don’t know what cinephile means — and while I like to watch movies of all genres, eras and languages, I especially make a point to watch all of the newly released films that come out, particularly during awards season.

I took me a while, but I finally believe I’ve seen everything that 2013 had to offer, and per tradition — I’ve done this in 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 — I am going to present to you my top 12 films of the year. If you haven’t seen a movie I list, needn’t worry, because I will not spoil anything for you.

And just as a backdrop for you all, here is a list of the 2013 Oscar nominations. The ceremony will take place on March 2, and will be hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.

Let’s get to it.

Saving Mr. Banks

12) Saving Mr. Banks:

Saving Mr. Banks is a Disney movie about … Disney. So you already knew to expect a fairly biased interpretation of the entertainment juggernaut, and Walt Disney himself, who is portrayed spectacularly by Tom Hanks. However, the best performance of the film belongs to Emma Thompson, who plays Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers. The movie is about the interactions between Disney and Barrie as they are adapting Marry Poppins into a movie, and amazingly, the film creatively juggles three storylines into one  —  a glimpse back into Travers’ childhood in Australia, the making of Mary Poppins at Walt Disney Studios, and Marry Poppins itself. The movie really does capture the true spirit of a classic Disney movie, making you feel warm and fuzzy while possibly becoming choked up at some points. There’s also a nice supporting performance from Colin Ferrell involved, and Thompson’s omission from the Oscar nominations was startling. Overall, it’s an example of great storytelling and worth the watch.

Frances Ha

11) Frances Ha:

“Frances Who?” is what you’re all probably saying. Filmmaker Noah Baumbach has been making brilliant films for two decades now, including 1995’s Kicking and Screaming, 2005’s The Squid and the Whale, and 2010’s Greenberg. 2013’s Frances Ha is another addition to that esteemed list. It’s a fairly simple — and often told — story of a girl (Greta Gerwig) several years out of college trying to make her way in New York City. But though she’s struggling, the story never becomes gloomy, cynical or self-destructive. If anything, it almost glorifies the idea of being single, jobless and piss broke in contemporary Manhattan. Gerwig, who co-starred in Greenberg and actually co-wrote Frances Ha with Baumbach, is brilliant, and is one of the best actresses in Hollywood no one knows about. The film is in black and white, drawing stark resemblance to a Woody Allen film, and there’s a scene about midway through of a closeup shot of Gerwig as she drunkenly describes what her idea of a perfect relationship is that might be my favorite minute of any movie this year.

Frozen

10) Frozen:

If there is ever a year where an animated movie doesn’t make this list, then that’ll be extremely disappointing, because the world needs animated movies. When done correctly, they instill feel-g00d chemicals into our brains that — at least temporarily — restore our childlike wonder of humanity. And Frozen does just that. Josh Gad is by far the funniest part of the movie as the voice of Olaf the snowman, and this is probably the best animated movie that had its own original music in a long, long time. Like all Disney movies, it’s full of clichés, princesses and sorcery, and you know how it will end before it begins. Even so, you won’t be able to stop yourself from smiling for hours after seeing it. 

Captain Phillips

9) Captain Phillips:

Like Argo like last year, there are just some real-life stories that were just made to be on the big screen. Captain Phillips retells the kidnapping of Captain Richard Phillips in 2009 by Somali pirates, the first hijacking of an American cargo ship in more than 200 years. That’s pretty damn exciting as is and requires no further dramatization. As Phillips, Tom Hanks easily, easily, gives his best performance in years, and his snub from this year’s Oscar nominations actually made me angry. But anyway, the film moves at a breathtaking pace directed by Paul Greengrass of Bourne Ultimatum and Flight 93 fame, and the last 30 minutes will keep you on the edge of your seat. The film is also propelled by a strong supporting cast of actual Somalians who play the hijackers, highlighted by Barkhad Abdi, who received an Oscar nomination in what was the first film of his life.

12 Years a Slave

8) 12 Years a Slave:

It’s amazing how low this movie is on this list considering how good it is. But I thought long and hard about it, and I really wanted to make this list a combination of quality and overall enjoyment, and it’s really hard to genuinely enjoy 12 Years a Slave considering its subject matter. It’s the true story of Solomon Northrup, a free black man who is sold into slavery. The movie has all of the bad things you’d expect — torture, racism, the ‘N’ word, etc. So that’s what make sit difficult to digest, but nonetheless, it’s an important piece of history for us to remember and never forget. The cast is brilliant, carried by Oscar-nominated Chiwitel Ejiofor, Lupito Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender. It’ll be egregious if Nyong’o doesn’t win come March 2, and Ejiofor is definitely a strong contender, although I think the award will go elsewhere. But he is certainly deserving if he does pull off the victory, and 12 Years a Slave is my prediction for Best Picture.

Her

7) Her:

Again, this is another brilliant movie that is somehow not in the top 5, which speaks volumes about how strong this year’s fold was. Her is your typical Spike Jonze film, although the premise seems fairly simple — a guy who falls in love with his computer operating system (it takes place in the “not too distant future”) — is at times hilarious, but in the end, when you really think about its themes and message, it’s a wildly depressing film. At the end of the day, the film makes you think about your individual existence in the grand scheme of the world, which is obviously next to nothing, and that what prevents it from being higher on this list. Sometimes, I’d rather watch movies with talking snowmen than think about such things. But Joaquin Phoenix delivers his usual spectacular performance, Scarlett Johansson lends her sultry voice to his operating system Samantha, and without a doubt, Her is going to be a classic for years to come.

Inside Llewyn Davis

6) Inside Llewyn Davis:

Now this Coen brothers’ movie is probably going to divide some people, but for me, it had many elements that appealed to me greatly. It takes place in 1960s Manhattan, as fictional folk singer Llewyn Davis, portrayed splendidly by Oscar Isaac, is unsuccessfully trying to make his mark in the music industry. But the problem is he can’t get out of his own way, and really ends up worsening the life of everyone he comes in contact with. It sounds depressing, but it’s really not. Like Frances Ha, he’s just trying to establish his identity in New York City — albeit during a different time period — and there’s something about that sense of finding oneself that always intrigues me in movies, whether the character ultimately does or not. Plus, there’s folk music throughout the entire movie, which is all I ever needed as it’s my favorite musical genre. Oscar Isaac does his own singing and this is certainly going to be his breakout role.

Philomena

5) Philomena:

Here we go. Top 5 time. I credited Saving Mr. Banks for its brilliant storytelling, but it was one-upped in that regard by Philomena. And like Captain Phillips, it’s inspired by true events that are of the so-unbelievable-this-needs-to-be-made-into-a-movie mold. But it’s certainly not an action film, but a drama, full of mystery, suspense and humor in the form of an English journalist helping an Irish woman reunite with her long lost son. That sounds like a lot, especially for a 98 minute film, but it really is a perfectly flowing movie that was co-written by one of the movie’s co-stars, Steve Coogan, who really is a massively underrated actor. It’s a movie that will catch you by surprise, and will impact you emotionally, leaving you thinking about it long after the credits roll. Judi Dench is her normal great self as well.

Gravity

4) Gravity:

I present to you the only movie I saw in theaters this year. Besides Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Don’t judge me. But Gravity needed to be seen in theaters because its visuals are truly groundbreaking. Most of you have seen it, or know all about it, but it takes place in outer space, when astronauts played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are thrown into a pickle as their spacecraft is destroyed by a meteor show, leaving them fighting for survival in the most inconvenient of places. The movie puts you right there next to them, with impeccable use of 3D, and probably the best usage of it since 2009’s Avatar. The script leaves a lot to be desired, but it doesn’t matter, because the cinematography is stunning and more than makes up for it. It’s almost like a 90-minute panic attack, and you really come to care for the characters’ fate as the movie progresses. Gravity should easily take home all of the technical awards during the Oscars.

Dallas Buyers Club

3) Dallas Buyers Club:

These last three movies could have been easily interchangeable. Dallas Buyers Club is a really serious movie about a man who finds loopholes in the system to deliver medicine to AIDS patients during the height of the disease’s epidemic in the mid-1980s. I say it’s a serious film because it doesn’t even really try to blend any comedic moments in. The subject matter is too serious for that. But Matthew McConaughey — who’s already won the Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild Award — delivers the performance of a lifetime here, and without a doubt has established himself as one of the best working actors today. The man’s come a really, really long way since his Wedding Planner days. Amazingly, his performance is matched by cross-dressing Jared Leto in a supporting role, and is as much a shoe-in to win an Oscar as anybody this year. It’s just a brilliant movie in so many facets, and really exposes the downfalls in our medical system during the AIDS epidemic. This one will stay with you for a while.

Nebraska

2) Nebraska:

Director Alexander Payne has already made his mark on my year-end Top 12 lists: The Descendants was #1 on my 2011 list, which in hindsight, may have been a mistake considering how good The Artist was. But the point is, the man is an underrated and brilliant filmmaker who also made another gem in 2004 with Sideways. Nebraska is a film that takes us to the midwestern United States, revolving around a delusional, booze-addled old man portrayed by Bruce Dern who believes a sweepstakes mailing scam has earned him one million dollars, even though everyone around him tries to convince him otherwise. His son, SNL alum Will Forte, humors him and decided to take him on a trip from Montana to Nebraska to claim his “prize.” Along the way, they get sidetracked, and run into a conglomeration of equally quirky old friends and family members. The film takes on an extremely melancholy tone, and shows us the ways of life of people in a part in the U.S. that is seldom depicted in movies. Bruce Dern, I believe, should win the Oscar. I just don’t believe he will, unfortunately. But it’s a brilliant story that is really just about a family’s love for another, and June Squibb definitely deserves some recognition for her lively performance as well.

Wolf of Wall Street

1) The Wolf of Wall Street:

If you told me a few months ago that this would be my #1 movie, I would not have believed you. Because there was just too much hype, and that usually deters me. but when the movie was released on Christmas, I was surprised by how much negativity there was in its reception by the masses. “Too long” and “too raunchy” were among the complaints, and my expectations were lowered because of it. And it was just enough to make me love it. The length (three hours) was not an issue for me — in fact, it was so entertaining that it zoomed by. I thought it contained just the right amount of raunchiness, and it just moves at such an energetic pace. Watching this movie almost has the same effect as if you downed 10 Red Bulls. Leonardo Dicaprio gives his best performance this side of The Aviator, and though he has a chance of winning the Oscar, I’d be very surprised if he did. Jonah Hill was better in this than he was in Moneyball, and the film also gives us Margot Robbie, which is just a great thing for everybody. This will be remembered as Scorsese’s post-2000 masterpiece, and there is one 15-20 minute scene involving Quaaludes that will be remembered as one of the hilarious scenes in film history.

And there you go. the prestigious top 12. To date, none of the previous winners — AvatarThe Social Network, The Descendants and Life of Pi have received the Best Picture Award. We will see if the Wolf of Wall Street changes that.

But, as usual, I’ll also provide you with insight on some other enjoyable films from 2013, albeit in lesser words.

On the outside looking in:

Blue Jasmine: The Woody Allen product was helmed by Cate Blanchett, who almost definitely will win an Oscar this year. It’s a dialogue-driven film with a whole ensemble of quirky characters, but honestly, it’s worth seeing for Blanchett alone.

Enough Said: I really wanted this movie to make my top 12, but there just wasn’t enough space. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini are absolutely brilliant in this film, and have great chemistry. It’s surprisingly funny, but also somber, with a lot of that sadness stemming from knowing what Gandolfini’s fate will be after he finished filming it. But it’s definitely the best romantic movie of the year.

American Hustle: This is easily the most overrated film of the year. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t good. With a cast of Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale, it can’t not be good. But it’s a fast-paced movie with a lot going on. It’s a little tough to keep up with at times, and by the end, it makes you wonder if it was all worth it. Still worth seeing for the great performances alone. It’s also a dark horse for Best Picture at the Oscars.

All is Lost: Two words: Robert Redford. The guy is a legend, and he is this sole character of this survivor tale — think Gravity at sea — and speaks only a couple of lines of dialogue throughout the film. But it’s captivating, meticulous and it’s just great watching Robert Redford do what he does best.

Short Term 12: This movie is almost the complete opposite of American Hustle. A no-name cast (led by Brie Larson and Jon Gallagher Jr.) who work at a foster care facility for teenagers. It’s a very emotional movie at times but brilliantly acted with rich, real characters who will maintain your interest.

Other solid features from 2013 that you should see:

– Rush: Ron Howard’s retelling of the rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s. This is as fast-paced a movie as there was this year, and the film is carried by the performance of Daniel Bruhl as Lauda. He was a pretty hard snub in the Oscar nominations as well.

– The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: The second of The Hobbit trilogy, this will again be a joyful experience for all those who love Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson certainly takes some liberties with the story, but he had to in order to keep a few-hundred page book entertaining across three movies, helped largely by the return of Legolas, played by Orlando Bloom, and a new elf, portrayed by Evangeline Lilly, who only emphasized my once-hidden secret that elves are freaking hot.

– Lee Daniels’ The Butler: Based on a true story, The Butler is about an African-American man who served as a White House butler across eight presidencies. It’s interesting to see what actors were chosen to play our former commanders in chief — Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, to name a few — but the movie is carried by Forrest Whitaker, who delivers an incredible performance. Definitely worth the watch.

– The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: The second installment of the Hunger Games series is probably better than the first. Casting Jennifer Lawrence as Kitness Everdeen really could not have worked out better, and I thought this movie did a better job than the first portraying the fictional world from the books. And I think it will resonate for those who haven’t read the books too.

Blue is the Warmest Color: This French film is rated NC-17, mainly because it’s sex scenes border on pornography. But beyond that, it’s a great character study and we got one of the best performances of the year by Adele Exarchopoulos, who unfortunately — along with the movie — was disregarded by the Oscars because of the film’s graphic nature.  It’s a long one though, at 179 minutes.

Out of the Furnace: This I believe is one of the more underrated movies of the year. It’s completely unoriginal — a story about a guy looking to avenge his brother’s disappearance, but it’s shot splendidly by director Scott Cooper (of Crazy Heart fame), and carried by an incredible cast of Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana and Forrest Whitaker.

Prisoners: This is another mystery/suspense film that delves into familiar territory: child kidnappings followed by a massive police investigation. But it’s an interesting look at how parents who are victims of such heinous crimes react to such an incident, and is also comprises strong acting by Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Melissa Leo. It stands out though because of its direction by Denis Villeneuve, who gained acclaim for his 2010 French film, Incendies.

Lone Survivor: This movie works because it’s based on a true story. A remarkable true story. But — and viewers can ascertain this based solely on the title — there is no happy ending. It’s a movie that’s supposed to be all “America, hell yeah!” but, again, it’s a pretty incredible sequence of events and even more incredible that it actually happened.

About Time: I have to include a chick flick every year. I just have to. This one is about a young man (Domnhall Neeson) who learns that, at the age of 21, the men in his family can travel back in time. It’s a cute, romantic film that has genuinely funny moments. It’s definitely sappy and will make women cry. But it also presents us with hot chicks like Rachel McAdams and Margot Robbie.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: I recall reading this short story in either middle school or high school, and thinking that it would make for a great movie. Ben Stiller wrote the script, directs it and stars in it, and he does a pretty decent job. It’s a movie that obviously takes some liberties with realism, but I think it does its job in inspiring its viewers to feel the need to go on more adventures in life. Because we could all use a little adventure, amirite??

And that’s all, folks. It really was an extremely strong year for movies, and now we can all look forward to what 2014 has to bring in cinema, and I’ll be back to do this all over again next year.

Finally, DMX can live up to the Ruff Ryders’ Anthem

‘Stop, drop, shut ’em down open up shop 
Oh, no 
That’s how Ruff Ryders roll’

Earl Simmons, better known as DMX, had two major hits in his illustrious rap career. The first being his breakthrough Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” and the next being whatever the one where he’s saying “Up in Here” the entire time. If you can name another one after that, then kudos to you for your rap knowledge.

Those two songs were released more than 10 years ago, though, and aside from a small burst of relevance due to an impromptu hip-hop performance of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer a year ago, DMX has remained very much out of the public eye except when DMXhis mug shot surfaces online — his Wikipedia page has an entire section devoted to “legal troubles.”

And now, he’s suddenly become everybody’s favorite black man.

But let’s rewind a little bit.

On February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, stirring a racial firestorm across the — eh, I think I went back too much. Let’s fast forward … the trial … the acquittal … yeah you know all that. Ah, here we go.

Last week, George Zimmerman announced he would be participating in a celebrity boxing match. In other words, he’s piss broke and he needs money.

But the question became: who would his opponent be? I don’t think you’d be too hard pressed to find suitors who’d like to step in a ring and go to-to-toe with George Zimmerman. Apparently 15,000 people sent emails to volunteer their services, including another rapper, The Game, but ultimately it was DMX who got the call.

However, DMX’s reps — and I’m sure that that’s a fun job — said it’s not quite official yet. But at this point, it out there. DMX vs. George Zimmerman. It has to happen. It has to.

To be fair to George, some of the proceeds are going to charity, but, come on, there’s no way in hell he’d be doing this if there wasn’t some financial benefit for himself.

There’s no one else in the world who people would like to see have their face pummeled in more than George Zimmerman, and now he’s giving some one the opportunity to do it legally. And on top of that, he’s chosen someone who’s most famous song contains the lyrics “How can I maintain, with mad shit on my brain/I resort to violence, my n****z move in silence.”

Not smart.

If you were somehow — some way — on the fence with your opinion of George Zimmerman, and if you still were giving him the benefit of the doubt for whatever reason, then this should be the ammunition you needed to finally hate him.

I mean, it’s impossible to put yourself in his shoes. None of will ever know what he’s going through, and will go through for the rest of his life. And for the majority of people in this world, there isn’t anything he can do to redeem himself.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t try.

He’s only 30 years old, and that’s a long time to try to do a lot of good. Instead, he’s taking advantage of his notoriety and desperately seeking publicity. I’d say, “You’re better than that, George,” but … he’s not.Rudy

Which leads us to this boxing match which will hopefully happen. People are going to unite behind DMX even harder than we all rooted for Rocky Balboa  — in all six movies combined.

If George Zimmerman gets knocked out, people will be counting down from 10 for the knockout like they did in Lake Placid, New York during the final seconds of the Miracle on Ice hockey game between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

And if DMX wins, he’ll get carried out of the arena on somebody’s shoulders like Sean Astin in Rudy.

In other words, you have DMX, a rapper who has been arrested on charges of animal cruelty, reckless driving and drug possession, vs. known killer George Zimmerman.

It’s what Disney movies are made of.