Daily Film Thoughts (5/15/17): Chasing Amy (Schumer); Cannes shames Netflix

A new daily unfiltered and unedited journal of random film thoughts going through my head. No proofreading or serious analysis allowed.

5/15/17

‘Snatched’ isn’t quite a Trainwreck, but it’s far from another hit for Amy Schumer.

Amy Schumer seems to have an awful lots of haters considering she’s had one of the most successful comedy shows of the decade and also wrote/starred in Trainwreck, one of 2015’s most pleasant surprises, a rare female-driven raunchy comedy that made a lot of money (there’s Bridesmaids, Bad Moms, and ummm…that’s it?). I sort of understand why. Her brand of humor is quite brash. She jokes about vaginas almost as much as Seth Rogen jokes about dicks. And she really, really likes to talk about the fact that she doesn’t have the body of a typical movie star. Her transition from up-and-coming comedy star to full-fledged movie star has not been smooth, and she can come off as very unlikable in interviews. But don’t sell her short. Her show has featured some of the sharpest satire on TV, and Trainwreck really was great.

Snatched, the latest Amy Schumer star vehicle, a Mother’s Day comedy co-starring the one and only Goldie Hawn, opened at just $17.4M domestically (barely half of what Trainwreck opened at, and below studio projections). That’s by no means a disaster given its light $42M pricetag, but it’s going to have a hard time turning a profit for Fox. Reviews haven’t been kind either. While Trainwreck proved a solid date-night movie, Snatched had a whopping 77% female audience. It’s hard for a film to make money given that percentage, as politically incorrect as the statement might seem.

I’m yet to see the film, but from what I’m reading, Schumer is by no means the one to blame for its commercial and/or creative problems. The chemistry between her and Hawn has received praise, with most of the criticsm directed towards the script (Schumer didn’t write this one). So two movies into her attempt at box office stardom, Schumer has one hit and one mild failure.

It’d be silly to stick a fork in her as a star considering how we’ve overlooked much worse bombs from folks like Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, etc. I’m excited to see what happens with her next (she’s got a few projects in pre-production).

Cannes changes rules when it comes to Netflix/Amazon

At this year’s Cannes Film Festival (starts this week), two of the high-profile in competition films will ultimately see distribution via Netflix; Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories. In response, Cannes has changed its rules starting next year. If a film hopes to compete for the prestigous Palme d’Or, it must get a French theatrical release before it is on any streaming service.

This is just the latest in a larger battle between the conventional film distribution industry and companies like Netflix and Amazon; though Amazon has been much more willing to play ball with their films, at least domestically, where the exclusively theatrical window is supposed to be 90 days (see, Manchester by the Sea). Netflix has commented “the establishment is closing ranks against us, see Okja on Netflix June 28th”. It doesn’t seem like this is going to get resolved anytime soon, with bodies like Cannes and even American collectives stuck in their ways, not to mention Netflix committing $6B to original content in 2017 alone.

My take? The industry needs to adapt. I see the value in the theatrical release, both from a financial standpoint and artistic one, but forcing Netflix to follow strict rules and lengthy windows seems silly. They’re not going to to intimidate Netflix. It’s not like Netflix is going to stop making and buying high-profile films. The music industry has finally excepted streaming as their main distribution method. We’ll probably never get there with movies (there’s always going to be desire to see movies on the big screen), but to treat Netflix like the enemy is a very dated move.

Peace.

Daily Film Thoughts (5/14/17): ‘Get Out’ laughs at liberals; we all laugh at Guy Ritchie.

A new daily unfiltered and unedited journal of random film thoughts going through my head. No proofreading or serious analysis allowed.

May 14th, 2017

So I watched ‘Get Out’ again…

…and it’s exceptional. Jordan Peele’s undefinable (at least in terms of genre) smash hit seems even more carefully constructed on second viewing. Get Out could’ve been a less ballsy film and still made a boatload of money. Peele could have had his protaganist Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) get kidnapped by a bunch of confederate flag-waving, tobacco spitting, toothless racists. Structurally, that would’ve worked all the same. But the genius behind Peele’s thoughts on race in America stem from the fact that the white folks here aren’t your typical movie-screen racists. These are affluent lake-house liberals; people so afraid of offending anyone of color that their careful wording actually backfires. These are the people who employ hashtags on twitter and hang medical degrees on their walls. These are people, as the film shows, who remind every black person they see that they would’ve voted for Obama again if they could have. This film suggests, at least for its white audiences, that the annoyance caused by the unnatural effort not to offend is just as much part of the black experience as actual, intentional offensiveness.

Initially, Peele finds humor through this dynamic. Yet there’s always a sense of dread that surrounds Chris. Brilliant pacing and the use of sound to mine tension out of something as simple as a spoon tapping a glass show off Peele’s directorial chops. By the time the film shows its hand and ventures into the ridiculous, you’re so invested that its relatively lackluster ending doesn’t hinder its overall impact.

There’s also some clear slavery imagery that Peele makes use of. The Armitage families lakefront property is made to look like a plantation, or at least how plantations have looked in Hollywood productions, with its large open spaces and apparent isolation from the rest of the world. Even more overt is the use of cotton. When Chris is strapped to a chair and undergoing the final hypnosis, he saves himself by plugging his ears with cotton he ripped from the chair. That little white fluff, so long a symbol of America’s gross racial history, is what ultimately costs the whites here. It’d be hilarious if it didn’t happen amidst such disturbing circumstances. But that’s Get Out in a nutshell, right?

Stop giving Guy Ritchie money.

Greg Silverman, the Warner Bros exec who greenlit King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, was given the axe six months ago. It was a long time coming. He oversaw other box office bombs such as Jupiter Ascending and In the Heart of the Sea. It’s safe to assume Warners was prepared for King Arthur to flop, but still, to flop like this? Yeesh.

The critically-panned film reportedly cost over $175M in total, and it won’t open at even $15M domestically. The international numbers aren’t any better. There’s no way this film creeps into the black. This could be a potentially nine-figure loss for WB.

As for the films apparent ineptitude, I’m not exactly surprised. Guy Ritchie has shown absolutely nothing since making the transition from crime caper auteur to studio puppet. His Sherlock Holmes films are messy, only saved by the prescence of Robert Downey Jr. 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was lifeless despite its sexy cast and thrilling basis. Ritchie, when given a large budget, has left a lot to be desired. He’s a capable filmmaker. Fun films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch don’t happen by accident. But he needs a career intervention, because if he helms another big budget disaster, he won’t get the chance again.

Unfortunately, Ritchie is currently in pre-production on Disney’s live-action Aladdin. The film is still in the scripting phase so maybe Disney will make a change, but I doubt it. They were surely way aware that King Arthur was unlikely to be successful when they hired Ritchie. We’ll see.

Quick notes:

  • Cannes starts this week, so we’ll get first reactions to some of the year’s most-anticipated films. Cannes films I’m keeping the closest eye on? Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
  • On the TV front, it’s an awesome time. The Leftovers, American Gods, Silicon Valley, and Better Call Saul are entertaining the hell out of me so far this season. Unfortunately I can’t say the same thing about Fargo.
  • The second season of the Aziz Ansanri’s critically-acclaimed Master of None came on Netflix this weekend. It’s good, though not as poignant as the first, a little caught up in its own privleged world. The first five episodes are great though.

 

2018 Oscar Predictions: Best Picture

This post was updated May 11th.

With Guardians of the Galaaxy Vol. 2 kicking off the summer and the Cannes lineup having been announced, it’s that time again where folks start to concern themselves with awards season. It’s still very, very early. Release dates will be shuffled, festival lineups will set the real stage, and some films nobody has even heard of yet will emerge. So this is little more than a speculative look at upcoming films that figure to factor into the discussion.

1) Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson fasion drama

Distributed by Focus Features (Dec. 25th), Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

PTA returns, and reunites with Daniel Day-Lewis no less, in this highly anticipated drama set in the 1950’s fashion world. Little else is known but it’s been shooting for a couple months now and anytime a PTA film comes out it factors into awards discussion.

2) Darkest Hour

Distributed by Focus Features (Nov. 22nd), Directed by Joe Wright

Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill and Ben Mendelsohn plays King George VI in this wartime drama from Atonement director Joe Wright. Seems to have Oscar DNA.

3) Detroit

Distributed by Annapurna Pictures (Aug. 4th), Directed by Kathyrn Bigelow

Bigelow returns with what figures to be a tense look at the 1967 Detroit riots. The first trailer looks great, but this is Annapurna’s first film as a distributor so it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep an August release in the hunt.

4) The Post

Distributed by 20th Century Fox (Date TBD), Directed by Steven Spielberg

Spielberg tackles the pentagon papers with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in the leads. Fox has fast-tracked the film hoping to get it done in time for this awards season.

5) The Current War

Distributed by The Weinstein Company (Dec. 2nd), Directed by Alfonso -Gomez-Rajon

This film from the director of hit indie Me and Earl and the Dying Girl chronicles the rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon, respectively.

6) Mudbound

Distributed by Netflix (Date TBD), Directed by Dee Rees

This period drama sparked a ton of Oscar buzz at Sundance and started a bidding war. Netflix won out. We’ll see how they roll out the film.

7) Mother!

Distributed by Paramount Pictures (Oct. 13th), Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Aronofsky’s first feature since Noah has a loaded cast that includes Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Little is known about the story, but Oscar has gone for Aronofsky’s weird brain in the past.

8) Wonderstruck

Distributed by Amazon/Roadside Attractions (Oct. 20th), Directed by Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Carol) is back with Julianne Moore in tow and buzz is palpable. The film will screen in competition at Cannes, by no means a historical indicator of Oscar success, but Carol did the same and went on to six nominations.

9) Mary Magdalene

Distributed by The Weinstein Company (Nov. 24th), Directed by Garth Davis

Lion helmer Garth Davis tackles this religious drama with Rooney Mara in the title role. Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peter round out an outstanding principle cast.

10) The Snowman

Distributed by Universal (Oct. 20th), Directed by Tomas Alfredson

This crime mystery based on the popular series of novels stars Michael Fassbender and has received strong buzz from the beginning. Universal hopes it proves both a box office hit and awards darling.

11) Call Me By Your Name

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics (Nov. 24th), Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Along with Mudbound, this coming-of-age drama is the other Sundance film that sparked real awards buzz. The critics are already behind it and Sony Pictures Classics is of course capable of taking a Sundance darling all the way, as they did with Whiplash a few years ago.

12) The Shape of Water

Distributed by Fox Searchlight (Dec. 8th), Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo’s latest fantasy creation is set during the Civil War and features a loaded cast. Awards-friendly release from Searchlight helps.

13) Blade Runner 2049

Distributed by Warner Bros (Oct. 6th), Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Buzz is high for Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic. It should at least be in play all over the techs and with Arrival Villeneuve was welcomed by the Academy both in Picture and Director.

14) The Mountain Between Us

Distributed by 20th Century Fox (Oct. 20th), Directed by Hany Abu-Assad

Abu-Assad is a two-time foreign language nominee and his English-language debut is a romantic survival story starring Idris Elba and academy favorite Kate Winslet.

15) The Greatest Showman

Distributed by 20th Century Fox (Dec. 25th), Directed by Michael Gracey

This musical biopic stars Hugh Jackman as famed circus pioneer P.T. Barnum. Everyone loves Jackman in musicals and Fox held what could’ve been a summer film back to compete this awards season. How did first-time director Michael Gracey handle the big chair?

16) Annihilation

Distributed by Paramount Pictures (Date TBD), Directed by Alex Garland

Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina has the makings of another smart sci-fi thriller. His artistic team is all back and Natalie Portman is in the lead fresh off her Jackie nomination.

17) Dunkirk

Distributed by Warner Bros (July 21st), Directed by Chrisotpher Nolan

Nolan’s first attempt at a war film figures to be a summer smash and if it’s truly great Warner Bros will have no problem running a campaign as eyes will be on it already. Now we wait on reviews…

18) The Beguiled

Distributed by Focus Features (June 23rd), Directed by Sofia Coppola

Sofia is always in the discussion but Focus is giving this Cannes drama a summer release. Do they see it as an awards film? They have other horses in the race that could command more attention.

19) The Glass Castle

Distributed by Lionsgate (Aug. 11th), Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

Brie Larson reteams with her Short Term 12 director for this film about famed memoirist Jeannette Wells. Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson round out the main cast, and the film will be cut by the Moonlight duo (Nat Sanders & Joi McMillon)

20) Downsizing

Distributed by Paramount Pictures (Dec. 22nd), Directed by Alexander Payne

Oscar loves it some Alexander Payne and his latest has a loaded cast hangling what appears to be a quirky sci-fi family drama about shrinking. Very intriguing on the surface.

21) Marshall

Distributed by Open Road Films (Oct. 13th), Directed by Reginald Hudlin

This film about a young Thurgood Marshall stars Chadwick Boseman in the title role. Open Road Films proved themselves capable by taking Spotlight all the way. This seems a safe bet to make festival rounds.

22) Suburbicon

Distributed by Paramount Pictures (Nov. 3rd), Directed by George Clooney

Clooney’s crime comedy features script work from his good pals the Coens and a loaded cast including Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Josh Brolin, and Oscar Isaac. Very few other details of the film are known right now.

23) Goodbye Christopher Robin

Distributed by Fox Searchlight (Nov. 10th), Directed by Simon Curtis

Domhnall Gleeson plays Winnie the Pooh creator A.A. Milne, Margot Robbie plays his wife. Simon Curtis has proven himself a very capable director of actors.

24) Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Distributed by Disney (Dec. 15th), Directed by Rian Johnson

The Force Awakens was probably a lot closer to a Best Picture nom than people think, given the PGA and tech noms it scored. If Rian Johnson’s film is an improvement, why can’t it make noise?

25) Molly’s Game

Distributed by STX Entertainment (Date TBD), Directed by Aaron Sorkin

Acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin finally makes his directorial debut with this poker drama featuring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, and Kevin Costner.

Others:

Get Out (Universal), Wind River (The Weinstein Company), Lean on Pete (A24 Films), Wonder Wheel (Amazon), Granite Mountain (Lionsgate), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (A24 Films), War Machine (Netflix), Hostiles (No distribution yet)

 

 

 

Cole Rightley’s 2017 NBA Lottery Big Board (Version 1.0)

Cole’s (@TrashAsTweets) first 2017 NBA Draft big board. For Zak’s big board click here, and stay close for more content as the draft approaches.

The talent in this years draft is top heavy. It’s not as deep as once was thought of because of talents like Miles Bridges and Robert Williams opting to return to school. However, teams picking in the top ten will still be pleased with the star talent available to them and teams picking in the middle to late first round range will be excited with the role player potential with this years pool of talent. He are my top 14 players in the 2017 NBA draft as of April 22nd.

1) Markelle Fultz (PG, Freshman, Washington)

Markelle Fultz is the clear prize of this draft class. He is quite frankly in a tier of his own. If you were creating a point guard from scratch, you would end up creating Fultz. He has great size, standing at 6’4”, weighing 195 pounds with a 6’10’ wingspan. He’s not an elite athlete at the position, but he is a dang good one. Fultz greatest strength as a prospect is his ability to score at all three levels. He can get to the basket using his vast array of dribble moves, he can pull up and hit a mid-range jumper if a defender is sagging off, and he can hit the 3, in which he shot at a 41% clip in his lone season at Washington. He is a good passer and displays good vision. He dominates in the pick and roll, thanks to his ability to threaten the defense at all three levels, combined with his ability to whip passes to the screener or an open man on the perimeter. Although Washington’s defense this year was abysmal, it wasn’t because of Fultz. He was inconsistent on defense, but he has a ton of potential on that end of the floor because of his size, quick feet and length. Fultz is the clear-cut #1 prospect in this class.

2) Lonzo Ball (PG, Freshman, UCLA)

Lonzo Ball is an extremely unique point guard prospect. He is 6’6”, which is outstanding size for a two guard, let alone a point guard. Ball is a slightly above average athlete. He doesn’t have the foot speed to stay with good athletes at the position and must rely on his basketball instincts and size on that end of the floor. Although he’s not a particularly good individual defender, he is a pretty good team defender. He lets his instincts take over off the ball, flying in for steals and the occasional block.  Ball’s best quality by far as a prospect is his passing ability. He is an elite passer with elite vision. He does a pretty good job attacking the basket and finishing at the rim thanks to his size. The biggest question with Ball is if his unorthodox shot will translate to the next level. He shot the 3 at a 41% clip at UCLA, whether that was in catch and shoot situations, or with his patented step back heave off the dribble. He was able to get his shot off at the college level, but playing against bigger and more athletic players in the NBA will leave him with an extremely small room for error shooting the ball. The team that ends up with Ball will be extremely happy to get a player of his caliber and his ability to transform an offense.

3) Jonathan Isaac (F, Freshman, Florida State)

Jonathan Isaac is the ideal stretch 4 that the NBA looks for. He has good size at the position at nearly 6’11” with a 7’1” wingspan. He is a great defender with the ability to guard the 4 or the 3. He has quick feet, and can more than hold his own out guarding on the perimeter. He averaged nearly 2 steals and 2.5 blocks per 40 at Florida State. Offensively, Isaac can attack off the dribble due to his quickness and handle. He can shoot the 3, as evidenced by his nearly 35% behind the arc. He is extremely unselfish on offense, maybe a little too unselfish at times. He doesn’t go into a game thinking that he needs to “get his”. He lets the game come to him. He doesn’t really have any post moves at this point, and when he is in the post, he usually gets pushed off of his spot. He needs to get stronger to reach his full potential at the next level. Any team in the early part of the lottery looking for a stretch 4 with the ceiling of being an extremely good role player should look no further than Jonathan Isaac.

4) Josh Jackson (F, Freshman, Kansas)

The first thing that sticks out when watching Josh Jackson is his defensive ability. Jackson can stay with quick wings out on the perimeter and can bang down low with bigger players in the post. He displays good instincts on defense as shown by his 2 steals and 1.5 blocks per 40. He stands at 6’8” with a 6’10” wingspan. Jackson is a great athlete with extremely quick feet and strong body for someone his age. He is a great leaper, and will be able to catch any lobs thrown to him at the basket that are in his vicinity. Jackson is an ideal 3 at the next level, but can play some small ball 4 if needed because of his strength and rebounding ability. He is great at attacking the basket and finishing at the rim. He has rare vision for his position and he won’t hesitate in passing the ball. Jackson’s 3-point shot improved drastically over the course of the year, but his FT% remained very bad. His shot will be something to keep an eye on at the next level. The team that selects Jackson early in the draft will be pleased with his ability to guard the opposing team’s best player along with his skills attacking the basket and facilitating on the offensive end.

5) De’Aaron Fox (PG, Freshman, Kentucky)

De’Aaron Fox is a lightning quick player on both ends of the floor. He is extremely good athlete with good leaping ability. On offense, he is great at attacking the basket because of his great first step, but will struggle with length while finishing at the rim. He also will get pushed off his spot when attacking due to his lack of strength. He is a good and willing passer with an improving jump shot. He only shot 25% from 3 in college, but his shot improved throughout the course of the year. While statistically he wasn’t a good 3 point shooter, he was very good using a one dribble pull up. Defensively, Fox is an extremely fun watch. He is not scared to pick up the opposing team’s point guard full court and pressure him all the way up the floor. He is able to stay in front of nearly every single player he guards because of his elite foot speed. I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if De’Aaron Fox turns out to be a better pro than Lonzo Ball. He put Ball in a blender in both of their matchups showing off his elite athleticism and outstanding on-ball defense.

6) Jayson Tatum (F, Freshman, Duke)

Jayson Tatum is aesthetically pleasing to watch. Just watching his his smooth movements on both ends of the floor is fun. Tatum comes in at 6’8” with a 6’11” wingspan. He’s not super explosive, but he’s a pretty good athlete. Tatum is an extremely good offensive player that can score at all three levels. He is the best iso scorer in the draft, whether that be using his quick first step attacking the basket, using his ability to back defenders down and turn over either shoulder shooting the ball, or pulling up from 3 at a 34% rate while he was at Duke. Tatum doesn’t get the credit he deserves on defense. He is able to stay with most 3s, and can guard some 4s in small ball situations. He is a very good team defender and a very good rebounder for his position. Tatum can be a cornerstone piece to the team that selects him because of his elite scoring arsenal and underrated defensive ability.

7) Dennis Smith (PG, Freshman, NC State)

When watching Smith, the first thing that immediately stands out is his athletic ability. He is a very good athlete with an outstanding leaping ability in which he can be seen to to throw down highlight dunks. He is a tad undersized at the point guard position at 6’2”. He is a score first point guard but he is willing to pass the ball on offense. He is very effective in the pick and roll because of his ability to either attack the basket or shoot the 3, which he did at NC State at a 36% clip. He can be turnover prone on offense due to his bad decisions with the ball at times. Smith is very inconsistent on defense. He has the ability to stay with guards because of his athletic ability but didn’t do it enough in college. The team that gets Dennis Smith will be getting a player with elite athletic ability and the ability to score but a player that contains a lot of untapped potential if he buys in.

8) Lauri Markkanen (F/C, Freshman, Arizona)

Lauri Markkanen is the next European big man that can shoot the ball. He is a legit seven footer with unlimited range. He is a sniper on offense, shooting the 3 at a 42% clip at Arizona this past year. He has the ability to come off of screens and shoot the ball which is extremely rare for a player his size. I’m not sure if he’s a 4 or 5 at the next level, but whoever is guarding him will not be able to contest his shot due to his size and his slight lean back when shooting the ball. He is decent attacking off the dribble and has a couple of good post moves. He’s not a good passer and he doesn’t display good vision when attacking the basket or when facing double teams in the post. Markkanen improved defensively throughout the year but he still has a long ways to go on that end. He doesn’t have fast feet and will get pushed around down low. He is a decent rebounder but he offers no rim protection. I’m not sure he’s strong enough to guard 5s, or quick enough to guard 4s, which will obviously be a problem at the next level. The team that selects Markkanen early will love his shooting ability at his size with the hope that he can develop to an average defender on defense.

9) Malik Monk (G, Freshman, Kentucky)

Malik Monk gets buckets. He is a fantastic offensive player that can score in bunches. His size at 6’3” would suggest for him to be a point guard in the NBA, but he doesn’t display the passing ability or vision to be the lead ball handler full time. Due to that, he is an undersized two guard. Lucky for him, his freakish athletic ability helps compensate for his lack of size. Monk is an extremely good offensive player. He is best known for his three point shooting ability in which he shot at 40% at Kentucky, but he can also attack the basket and show off his very good leaping ability. He’s not very good as a defender right now, but he has the potential to stick with guards at the next level due to his athleticism. However, he will get bullied by bigger and stronger guards. If Monk isn’t scoring, he’s not impacting the game, which is why I think he is best suited as player who can come off the bench to provide a spark. Monk is a better prospect than Jamal Murray was last year, and the team that drafts him will be excited in his ability to immediately provide bench help.

10) O.G. Anunoby (F, Sophomore, Indiana)

OG Anunoby is a freak of nature. He is a 6’8” forward that weighs 230 pounds with a 7’6” wingspan. When watching Anunoby, his defense immediately sticks out. He is extremely quick for someone his size and is pretty strong. He has the ability to guard 2s, 3s or 4s, and probably some 1s and 5s at the next level. He is that good on defense. On offense, Anunoby is work in progress. He is a good straight line driver with rare leaping ability when attacking the rim. He has shown the potential to be able to knock down spot up 3s in which he shot at a 37% clip at in his two years at Indiana. However, he doesn’t have a good handle, can’t shoot off the dribble, and doesn’t have good vision. Anunoby is for sure a lottery talent, but his knee injury complicates things. The team that drafts Anunoby will first be hoping that he comes back fully healthy from his knee injury. If he shows signs of his old past, they will be ecstatic in his ability to immediately guard 1-5 at the next level with the hope that he can develop more on the offensive side of the ball.

11) Frank Ntilikina (PG, 19 y/o, International)

Frank Ntilikina’s size immediately sticks out as soon as you watch him. He has great size for the point guard position at 6’6” with a 7’ wingspan. His greatest strength as a player is his defensive ability. He’s a menace on defense. He uses his long arms to get in passing lanes and disrupt shots. He’s more  of a fluid athlete with good body control compared to an explosive athlete. On offense he has a good handle with the ability to drive the ball and finish at the basket due to his length and body control. He is also a willing passer. His shot has improved greatly over the past few years and he has extended his range to behind the three point line. Ntilikina is a very good point guard prospect because of his size, length, defensive ability and offensive improvement. He will be able to play early on for the team that drafts him because of his ability to impact games defensively now, while continuing to develop his offensive game on the job.

12) Zach Collins (C, Freshman, Gonzaga)

Zach Collins is an intriguing center prospect. He has good size at 7’ and 230 pounds with room to add strength. Collins’ offensive and defensive ability stands out for someone his age. On the offensive side of the ball, Collins has shown the ability to execute different post moves down on the block, displaying nice touch with either hand. He does struggle with length at the rim and can get pushed off of his spot at times. He can also step out at and hit mid range jumpers, or step behind the arc and shoot 3s in which he did at Gonzaga at a 48% rate, albeit he shot less than one per game. Defensively, you notice Collins’ length immediately. He blocked an incredible 2 shots per game while playing only 17 minutes per game, which translates to around 4 blocks per 40 minutes. The team drafting Collins will get a player that will develop into an above average starter at the center position with the ability to protect the rim on defense and score the ball in multiple ways on offense.

13) Luke Kennard (G, Sophomore, Duke)

Luke Kennard was the unexpected second best player on Duke this year. He took a big jump from his freshman to sophomore season. Kennard is a 6’5” guard prospect with the ability to score at all three levels. He is an extremely good shooter, whether that be from downtown, where he shot at 44% this past year, or whether that be from the mid range, in which he shows craftiness as a ball handler and impressive footwork. He can drive the ball and score at the rim, but will struggle at finishing due to his average athletic ability and lack of length. Kennard is a good player in the pick and roll due to his threat to score, combined with his handle and passing ability. On defense, due to his lack of athletic ability, he has trouble staying in front of quicker guards. However, he is a good team defender. Kennard is probably best used as a scorer and facilitator off the bench at the next level. The team that drafts him will be getting a good scorer and playmaker on the offensive end and a willing defender.

14) Bam Adebayo (C, Freshman, Kentucky)

Bam Adebayo is an imposing physical specimen. He is a 6’10”, 250 pound center prospect with a 7’2” wingspan. Bam is a good vertical athlete and a pretty good lateral mover. He was the defensive anchor for Kentucky this past year. He is very strong, and due to his length and strength, it is hard to score down low on him whether that be a big man trying to score on him in the post, or a guard/forward attacking the rim. Bam is a very good rebounder and can contribute to an NBA team early next year if he remains a consistent rebounder. However, he’s not particularly a smart defender at this stage, as his off ball defensive awareness needs to improve. Bam improved vastly on the offensive side of the floor throughout his lone season at Kentucky. He has always been able to catch lobs at the rim and score off of offensive rebounds, but he showed a greater display of post moves as the year went on. He can step out a little bit and shoot, but that is not a consistent part of his game yet. Wherever Bam goes come draft night, the team that drafts him will be getting an immediate contributor to the defensive end of the floor as a rebounder and a good enough shot blocker with potential on the offensive end.

 

‘Big Little Lies’ further proves that great acting is a cure-all.

There’s a gross amount of casual wealth flashed in Big Little Lies, the latest limited series from HBO. Reese Witherspoon picks her daughter up from elementary school nonchalantly carrying a Birkin bag as if it’s a tote from the grocery store. Nicole Kidman has a separate closet for her shoes with a lighting fixture that would make David LaChapelle jealous. Laura Dern’s six-year old daughter wears a Burberry dress. Nearly every domicile shown is MTV Cribs-worthy. Based on the novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty, the miniseries constructs its own little world (set in Monterey) by flashing this wealth to emphasize the fact that most people living in this world don’t have any real problems. Big Little Lies paints Monterey as the type of place where moms are bothered by the fact that the neighbor’s kid’s iPad has more memory than her kid’s. There’s a great basis for a satirical look at petty competition in wealthy communities here and Big Little Lies is in part just that. But it’s also a murder mystery, and a Lifetime-esque melodrama, and a work of subtle feminism, and a surreal revenge fantasy, and a statement on domestic violence, and an anti-bullying infomercial. Big Little Lies is all these things simultaneously, and therein rests its core flaw. While the series is occasionally thought-provoking and always pretty to look at, director Jean-Marc Vallée and writer Richard E. Kelly are unable to balance the ambition of the source material. The result is a strange blend of Pretty Little Liars and Desperate Housewives, only with uber-famous actresses and a bunch of f-words.

Brief discussion of plot details from the first five episode of ‘Big Little Lies’ is included here, but fear not, this is spoiler-free.

This isn’t your typical murder mystery. Not only do we not know who the killer is, we don’t even know who was killed. Something with fatal consequences went down at Trivia Night at the elementary school, and our principle players were involved. Most nonlinear mystery narratives show us what happened and then find their story through what drove it to happening. Big Little Lies doesn’t want you to know anything. The inherent flaw with this concept is that with so little known about the eventual murder, it’s very difficult to look at what happens along the way within the context the show wants you to. There are some brief post-murder interviews with witnesses thrown in a few times per episode that attempt to function as a Sophoclean chorus; but many of them are for comedic relief, and they’re all insignificant. I often find myself forgetting about the murder entirely while watching. There’s enough intriguing stuff going on with various subplots for that to be just a minor problem, but I worry about the ultimate payoff.

Luckily, the lead performers in Big Little Lies are all in such fine form that the show is always watchable. Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) is a wealthy mom on her second marriage. She’s viewed as a bit of a primadonna amongst her peers. She resents many things, most notably working “career moms” like Renata (Laura Dern, fantastic as always). Madeline is grappling with her current place in the world. Her oldest daughter seems to be more comfortable talking to her new stepmom (Zoe Kravitz). So in a struggle for purpose, she volunteers at a local theatre and takes serious interest in the new-to-town Jane (more on her in a sec) and takes self-congratulatory pride in her position on social issues. Madeline is the type of person to go on and on about the plight of minorities in the working class as she sips a $6 latte in her Bentley. Madeline loving to hear herself talk so much leads to a lot of frustrating exposition, but Witherspoon has so much energy and chirpiness here that she manages to navigate the terrain. She plays Madeline with this perfect blend of emptiness and childlike excitement, wide-eyed and emotive at times, melancholic at others. Five episodes, her work is nothing short of masterful. She should dominate all the limited series awards the way Sarah Paulson did last year for The People vs. O.J. Simpson.

A subplot concerning mom beef between Madeline and Renata is given a two-episode arc. Jane’s son Ziggy was accused of hurting Renata’s daughter Amabelle, so when Amabelle’s birthday comes around, apparently a lavish annual event, Renata invites everyone in the class except. Madeline, a social justice warrior straight out of Saks Fifth, will not stand for this treatment of her new pal Jane. She forbids her daughter from going to the party and even gets a stretch limo and a dozen tickets to Disney on Ice, taking many of the popular kids who’d otherwise be at the party with her. The climactic sequence of this subplot is absolutely ridiculous. Scenes of the Disney on Ice crew sipping champagne and singing Fleetwood Mac in a limo (apparently these first-graders know every word to “Dreams”) are cut together with a very agitated Renata at the party that seems to be going just fine for everyone else. We’re supposed to believe this all will play a role in the murder but watching it unfold is just weird. This schadenfreude amongst one-percenters doesn’t have enough meat on its bones to manufacture real tension. The satire doesn’t work because it’s simultaneously trying to manufacture that tension. But as with all the strange storytelling choices made, the actresses hold it together. There are few things more entertaining to watch than an agitated Laura Dern.

Jane (Shailene Woodley) is a young and not particularly wealthy single mom who moves to Monterey “for the schools”. She is so wildly different from every other character in the show both in terms of appearance and personality. It’s clear from the onset she has a dark past and is trying to escape something. Being embraced by Madeline from the onset certainly helps, even if Madeline just views Jane as a charity case. We learn in the third episode that Jane was raped, and that her son Ziggy is a product of the rape. The weight this has on her is emphasized by nightmarish sequences of her killing her attacker and even herself. Jane’s story very quickly becomes less about fitting into the community and more about getting revenge on her attacker when Madeline *thinks* she found him on the internet. It’s safe to assume the rape will have some impact on the series’ endgame. Woodley plays the part very well despite her dialogue concerning the rape often being cringe-worthy. She’s such a gifted young actress, capable of seeming so normal even with her all-world beauty. It’s the eyes. She’s quite good at saying a lot without actually saying anything.

The last of the “big three” ladies on Big Little Lies is Celeste (Nicole Kidman). Kidman plays most scenes lifelessly, but that’s exactly what the role requires. She’s trapped in a physically abusive marriage (her husband is played in a one-note manner by Alexander Skarsgård, who continues to function as eye candy and nothing more). Celeste doesn’t like being a full-time mommy and she misses her legal work. She’s best friends with Madeline but it’s hard to tell why. We get into Celeste’s psyche via therapy sessions; but these scenes are completely unnecessary given we can tell what she’s thinking in real-time through Kidman’s choices as an actress. Big Little Lies doesn’t necessarily violate the “show don’t tell” rule of storytelling in this regard. It certainly does a fine job of showing why Celeste feels the way she feels. Unfortunately, it then proceeds to have her tell us explicitly how she feels. So it shows, and then tells. It’s a waste of a perfectly good Nicole Kidman performance. The worst thing The Sopranos ever did was inspire writers to lean way too heavily on therapy scenes as a way to make up for questionable character work in other scenes. But, while they’re pointless and repetitive, the therapy scenes in Big Little Lies are always watchable because Kidman is Kidman.

Every episode is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and anyone familiar with his other work would notice so even without the credits. He structures scenes that bounce between quick dreamy montages and close-ups in real time. He uses character’s choice of music as narrative device. He blocks most of his scenes so that the lovely scenery can also be put on display. Vallée is a gifted filmmaker, even if his style lacks the verve required for this story and can be a bit heavy-handed at times. He’s just out of his element here: trying to turn a murder mystery into a multi-pronged character study, attempting to mix biting satire and dark drama into the perfect cocktail. There are so many things happening (I have barely mentioned the series’ other big mystery, who’s bullying poor Amabelle?) that Vallée’s jack-of-all-trades approach makes him seem like a master-of-none. I’ve seen his films. I know that’s not the case. This just isn’t the right material for him.

But through the opulent photography and grade-A performances contained herein, Vallée finds enough with Big Little Lies to create a fun viewing experience. It may be shallow. It may strike out in its attempts at cohesive thematics. It may really be nothing more than a mildly clever made-for-TV murder mystery. But, again, it is always watchable. The work of Witherspoon, Woodley, Kidman, Dern, and Kravitz makes for addictive viewing. The series itself being popular and acclaimed is a testament to the power of great acting. With lesser performances, Big Little Lies would be laughably terrible. It’s very similar to another HBO limited series, The Night Of, in that sense. If you buy an actor’s performance, you naturally overlook weak dialogue and questionable narrative decisions. Great acting is a cloak. On Big Little Lies, that cloak is probably made by Hermès, and it’s damn sure effective.

Zak’s Favorite Films: ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’

“I hold it true, whate’er befall;

I feel it when I sorrow most;

‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.”

“In Memoriam A.H.H.”, Canto 27, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

That stanza from Tennyson, specifically its last two lines, is perhaps the most quoted bit from one of the most quoted figures in the history of world literature. It’s easy to see why. It almost argues in favor of heartbreak; suggesting that the pain of bereavement or separation pales in comparison to the hypothetical emotional void caused by that love never being there in the first place. Tennyson’s poem was about and dedicated to his close college friend Arthur Hallam, but most who quote it do so in regards to the untimely end (whether it be via death or breakup) of a romantic relationship. Michael Gondry’s 2004 opus Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind –penned by the always exploratory Charlie Kaufman- is a film that tackles the “better to have loved and lost” idea in an off-kilter, nonlinear, uncomfortably human manner that forces the viewer to take stock of the relationships in their own life, both past and present.

The premise is simple enough. The bashful Joel (Jim Carrey) discovers that his former lover Clementine (Kate Winslet), almost a cliché composite character of free spirited folk, has undergone a memory erasure procedure that had him completely wiped from her memory due to the less than ideal way their relationship ended. He visits Lacuna, Inc., the company that performs this procedure, and decides to endure it himself. After gathering all trinkets that could possibly spark a memory of Clementine, Joel has his memory wiped in his apartment while he sleeps. Employees from Lacuna (played by Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and Kirsten Dunst) perform the procedure as we experience Joel’s memories of Clementine in reverse order. It gets a bit more complex when sleeping Joel realizes what’s going on and the employees are given tragic relationships of their own, but the meat of the film are the relationship vignettes between Joel and Clem; the highs, the lows, and the details that transcend this single relationship.

Eternal Sunshine does a brilliant job choosing which moments to highlight in a relationship. There’s the initial attraction, where everything is fun and carefree. There’s the apathy that inevitably sets in (“Are we one of those couples at restaurants?”). Then there’s the fighting. The fighting here is so real and anti-cinematic in a sense. Like most fights between loved ones –whether it be a romantic partner, family member, friend, etc.- nothing actually happens to start the fight. Instead, a little slip of the tongue from one party gives the other an excuse to let months of pent up anger come to a boil. Most fights in a relationship aren’t actually about what we pretend they’re about. In Eternal Sunshine, Joel’s subtle comments on Clem’s drinking and her being unfit to be a mother cause her to explode, but her anger doesn’t really come from Joel’s comments. The anger comes from what both realize but are either unable or scared to communicate; that they’re maybe not the picture perfect storybook match they initially thought they were. Of course, storybook matches only exist in, well, storybooks.

Another thing Joel repeatedly does that irks Clem, something I think most of us can relate to, is use the fact that he considers his life to be unspectacular as an excuse for a lack of intimacy. He doesn’t like to talk about himself or how he feels because, as he says multiple times, “My life just isn’t that interesting”. The script positions Clem as an escape from the cyclical nature of Joel’s life. She quickly becomes not just part of his life but the most important thing in his life. So when he says his life isn’t that interesting it, unintentionally, comes off as a slight towards Clem. In fact, nothing Joel or Clem say/do that leads to their breakup is really intentional. That’s how most non-violent, non-adulterous relationships end (I think?).

The film ends on a reasonably happy note considering how depressing it plays at times (I won’t go into any more concrete plot detail in case you haven’t seen it). It’s clear that both Joel and Clem never would’ve undergone the memory erasure if they had a second chance. They make substantial efforts inside Joel’s memories to stop the process, and they both certainly would agree with Tennyson if given the gift of hindsight. These memories are an integral part of who they are. The loose sci-fi story emphasizes that by having the two experience brief moments of remembrance even after they’ve undergone the procedure. It’s not grounded in any real science, but who cares? The film correctly argues that memories of great strength, be they good or bad, are a part of you, and you’re better for it even if you don’t consciously realize so amidst the heartache.

On a purely aesthetic level, the film is something to marvel at. Gondry uses the erasing of memories as an excuse to pull some neat visual tricks. Things disappear and the transitions are trippy (childish diction, I know). DoP Ellen Kuras lights and lens the scenes in a neat way that puts a lot of literal darkness around the characters.

Carrey turns in the best performance of his career. His turn, along with his work in The Truman Show, adds another notch to his “I’m a serious actor and should respected as such” belt. The always outstanding Kate Winslet is at her most unrestrained here, and the supporting players all create real characters despite limited material to chew on.

Perhaps what scares me most about Eternal Sunshine is how close to it I feel despite being just 24 years of age and never having been in a serious, lengthy relationship to the extent of these characters. I can’t begin to imagine how hard this film would hit someone who’s recently undergone a breakup, a divorce, or a death in the family. But that’s the mind of Charlie Kaufman for you. He’s always finding unorthodox ways to tell very personal stories that still manage to be relatable to anyone who tends to deliberately think about why people feel the way the way they do.

Eternal Sunshine is one of those films whose value can’t be fully comprehended during its 108-minute runtime on first viewing. It is what it makes you notice about your own life and relationships, specifically the sad stuff. I both envy and pity anyone who’s never had their heart broken. Experiencing such creates a weary yet learnéd emotional compass with which one navigates future relationships. That’s not to say that heartache leads to cynicism. Heartache leads to a better understanding of human communication, the most integral part of the human condition, and so does Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The 10 (okay, 11) Best ‘Game of Thrones’ Episodes, Pt. 2

Here I conclude my countdown of my favorite Game of Thrones episodes with the top five. For #’s 11-6, click here.

Obviously, spoilers ahead.

#5) “The Children”

Season 4, Episode 10

Directed by: Alex Graves

Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

GOT has built itself a reputation for unorthodox season structure. Usually, it rolls out its “big” episode as the penultimate one then uses the finale as a way to catch-up amidst the aftermath. Episode nine of season one saw Ned Stark beheaded. Episode nine of season two saw the Battle of Blackwater. Episode nine of season three saw a little event called the Red Wedding. So when the season four finale proved eventful, following the battle at The Wall in the prior episode, it was certainly a pleasant surprise.

Where do I even begin with this one? Maybe beyond The Wall? Jon Snow travels North to assassinate Mance and break up the wildling army. But after a tense conversation, Mance is quick to realize Jon’s plan. Jon seems doomed, but then Stannis’ army shows up, easily running through the tired and horseless wildlings. The key moment here is Jon suggesting Stannis spare Mance and take him as a prisoner. It’s proof that even after the bloodshed, Jon truly does respect Mance and his people. I found it a bit out of character that Stannis listened to him, but whatever. Also beyond The Wall, Bran and his traveling companions reach the Heart Tree. They’re attacked by some wights, who are fought off by the Children of the Forest in what made for the show’s most impressive use of CGI yet. The corpses were beautifully animated; horrifying.

Shit certainly goes down in King’s Landing as well. Tyrion, awaiting his execution, is sprung free by Varys and Jaime. The escape included a nice, minimalist farewell between the brothers. I don’t think anyone really thought Tyrion was going to die -his imprisonment had been dragged out too long as a plotline for it to end as one would conventionally expect- but Benioff and Weiss still managed to squeeze real emotion out of this moment. Of course, Tyrion, wronged by nearly everyone, isn’t interested in merely escaping. One of the series’ most heartbreaking moments comes when Tyrion enters his father’s chamber, sees Shae laying on the bed, and she mutters (thinking Tyrion is Tywin), “My lion”. To this point the series painted Shae as a whore with a heart of gold. It turns out, she’s was just a whore with a regular whorish heart. As Tyrion graphically strangles her to death, the look in Peter Dinklage’s eye is one of both sorrow and pure hatred. A fine speechless moment from the series’ best actor. He follows that up by putting a couple crossbow bolts in Tywin as he drops a deuce. That was a fascinating scene. Even facing certain death Tywin was incapable of truly apologizing to or embracing Tyrion. He gave some quick spiel about “You think I’d actually let them kill you?” but it was such an obvious lie. A great sendoff for Charles Dance, who gave one of the stronger performances on the series as Tywin. Tyrion-Tywin scenes were always great.

But my favorite moment came in the Vale. Brienne and Podrick come across Arya and The Hound. They recognize the girl, and The Hound’s insistence on being the one who looks after her results in the best fight the show’s had yet. Brienne and The Hound, two of Westeros’ mightiest warriors, both truly having the best of intentions regarding Arya, square off. That’s a complex scenario given how both characters developed into two of the more likable folks on the show. And the actual fight? Sheesh. It quickly becomes hand-to-hand combat as their swords are lost. The Hound kicks Brienne in the vayjayjay. Brienne smashes The Hound’s head with a rock. The sound design in this scene is exceptional. Every blow is heard clearly. It’s raw. No music plays (which differs it from most GOT action sequences). After Brienne wins the fight and The Hound takes a tumble, it appears he’s dead. Yett Arya finds him just barely alive. He begs her to kill him, to cross another name of her list. But she won’t. It’s the climactic moment in what developed into one of the series’ best relationships. Outstanding acting by Rory McCann, who’s been repeatedly snubbed by awards groups for his work in this role.

What a packed episode. And more than that, what a packed episode that takes its time with key moments.


#4) “Baelor”

Season 1, Episode 9

Directed by: Alan Taylor

Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

“Baelor” served as GOT’s first true holy shit moment. As the first season neared its conclusion, I don’t think anyone sans book readers actually believed Ned Stark would be executed. After all, he was one of the few clear “good guys” on the show and the closest thing we’d ever get to an  actual protagonist. Ned Stark’s death was the moment when GOT showed us that nobody is safe and that nothing is predictable. It’s not automatically going to end happy for fan favorites as most fantasy stories tend to. It was certainly a ballsy moment both in print and on screen. Killing the guy whose face was on all the advertisements before the first season even ended? Unheard of. Looking back, however, it’s the only thing that made sense. It showed Joffrey’s monstrosity. It showed that honor gets you nowhere in Westeros. Most importantly, it showed that any character can be (literally) put on the chopping block.

Adding to the importance of the moment is the fact that it was shot and edited perfectly. We get images of Sansa looking on in horror, closeups of Ned’s head being put in place, Arya witnessing it all from the statue. As the sword finally comes down on Ned’s neck we cut to the Night’s Watch man Yoren holding Arya as she looks up, and then to an almost serene image of birds flying above. It was impeccably handled by Alan Taylor, perhaps the series’ finest director.

The other high point of the episode comes at the Lannister camp, where we’re introduced to Shae. She plays a revealing drinking game with Tyrion and Bronn, and the chemistry between her and Tyrion is clear from the start. In Dinklage’s best bit of acting this season, he recounts the story of how his brother set him up with a prostitute, who he married. Upon hearing of this Tywin made Tyrion watch as a gang of his men fucked her (not clear if it was rape or not). It was the first really dark moment from Tyrion, who to this point seemed like little more than a careless lusthound with an always problematic BAC. It provided great insight into why he feels so separated from every other Lannister.


#3) “The Winds of Winter”

Season 6, Episode 10

Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik

Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

That opening. Holy fuck. Miguel Sapochnik hits us with a quiet, ominous sequence that lays the groundwork for the biggest massacre on GOT to date. Perfectly drawn out. Ramin Djawadi’s beautiful score plays as everything falls into motion. It’s primarily just piano, vastly different from the main theme and any character music. We slowly realize what’s happening as Qyburn’s “little birds” shank a few people and Cersei has The Mountain prevent Tommen from attending the trail in the Sept; where all of the Sparrows, all of the Tyrell’s, and many other innocent people are gathered. Margaery, perhaps Cersei’s greatest rival, is the first to notice that something is off. But it’s too late. Kaboom. The impressive set piece turns into a glorious onslaught of green flames. Cersei finally gets her revenge and is now in charge. The whole sequence was a remarkable filmmaking achievement, complimented by the scene of Tommen killing himself.

Elsewhere, Arya kicks off her revenge tour by giving her best Eric Cartman impression, baking Walder Frey’s sons into a meat pie that she feeds him just before she kills him. It was a nice little appetizer for what is sure to be a very violent conclusion to Arya’s storyline. We also get a preview of a very neat new location as Sam arrives at The Citadel. Yet another tease for next season takes place as Lady Olenna arrives in Dorne to spark an alliance against the Lannisters. And to cap it all off we see Dany FINALLY sailing her fleet to Westeros. This finale found the balance between previewing the next season, containing its own exciting moments, and wrapping up a few storylines. Quite the writing/directorial achievement.

The big revelation comes as Bran enters a vision of Young Ned at the Tower of Joy, one we were briefly shown earlier. The scene confirms what many believed for years; R + L = J. Jon Snow is not in fact Ned’s bastard child. He is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark (Ned’s sister). Lyanna, knowing Robert Baratheon would have the boy slaughtered, made it her dying wish to Ned that he protect him. So Ned, honorable to a fault, claimed Jon as his bastard. In real-time, Jon was just proclaimed King in the North because everyone thinks he has Ned’s blood running through him. In reality, he’s a Targaryen, and Dany is his aunt. Got it?

The showrunners were likely tired of the endless speculation surrounding who was in the Tower of Joy and Jon’s real heritage, so making the truth clear before the series goes into its final act was a wise move. Rather than end with a cliffhanger, season six ended by solving a mystery. Jon and Dany are obviously going to meet soon and there will be an interesting complex at play. Who else besides Bran will learn Jon’s true lineage? Maybe something Sam discovers at the library.

God, I am so excited for season seven, so this finale certainly did its job. It’s by far the strongest GOT finale yet.


#2) “Blackwater”

Season 2, Episode 9

Directed by: Neil Marshall

Written by: George R.R. Martin

GOT’s first real battle episode remains its strongest, despite later ones having much more money to work with. Stannis’ assault on King’s Landing benefited from: A) the viewer genuinely having no clue what was going to happen, B) a perfectly directed and written episode that kept everything in perspective. The actual wildfire explosion was spectacular, beautifully colored amidst the night sky. When we cut back to the faces of Tyrion, Joffrey, others on the wall there’s this subtle green lighting highlighting their faces. A nice touch by DoP Sam McCurdy.

“Blackwater” served as the series’ first bottle episode. The entire hour was focused on the events at King’s Landing. That allowed for not just some awesome action sequences but tense quieter moments as well. Bronn and The Hound almost fighting just before the bells ring? Tyrion channeling his inner Henry V to rally the troops (“Those are some brave men out there…let’s go kill them!”)? Joffrey showing his cowardice? Stannis refusing to admit defeat and having to be literally dragged off by his men? Gold. All great moments that, combined with the bloodshed, made for a fantastic hour.

But the highlight of the episode came inside the city. Locked away, Cersei and Sansa have a killer conversation. An increasingly drunken Cersei explains many things to young Sansa. She explains the raping that happens when a city is sacked. She explains that a woman’s most powerful weapon is what’s between her legs. In theory, she’s trying to help Sansa. But Cersei’s tone makes it clear she’s doing nothing more than trying to scare the shit out of the poor girl. One of the best moments for Lena Headey in the role. The scenes of the two talking provide a perfect contrast with what’s going on outside the walls.

GOT may have topped “Blackwater” in terms of sheer spectacle with episodes like “The Watchers on the Wall”, “Hardhome”, and “Battle of the Bastards”, but no battle episode was more carefully put together. This made for one of the finest hours in television history.


#1) “The Door”

Season 6, Episode 5

Directed by: Jack Bender

Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

Am I crazy to say the saddest death so far on GOT was that of Hodor? At the very least, it was the most significant to the series’ overall mythos. Bran breaks his consciousness in two, staying at Winterfell in the past and warging into Hodor in the present. This of course tells us that Bran can serve as a direct connection between the past and present, and that many things that have happened or will happen were impacted by Bran long ago (check reddit for crazy theories concerning this). Can he literally change things that’ve already happened? We’ll see.

The actual death of Hodor, maaaaaaan. Young Hodor Wylis, through Bran, hears Meera Reed’s cries from the present for him to hold the door. So he has some sort of seizure, shaking and shouting “hold the door” until eventually all he can say is Hodor. It was an astonishing moment. The uncomfortable imagery of seeing the youngin’ have an attack while nobody is able to help him, cut together with Bran and Meera just barely escaping the army of wights. GOT enlisted Jack Bender to direct this episode. Bender has real experience with weird TV time continuums thanks to his work on Lost. This final scene felt like a tipping point in Bran’s often-shaky storyline. Isaac Hempstead Wright has become a significantly better actor with age and in season six Bran actually became one of the strengths of the series.

And Hodor, poor Hodor.

Other fun moments in this episode include the traveling players in Braavos recounting earlier events in hilarious fashion and the touching moment where Jorah, finally having been accepted back by Dany, reveals his greyscale to her. She orders him to find a cure. Could he be visiting Sam at The Citadel next season?

“The Door” is by no means the biggest GOT episode, but it’s certainly the most important. The entire narrative of the show falls apart if they don’t nail that scene with Bran and Hodor. It could’ve easily been confusing and/or corny. Instead, it made for the series’ finest moment.