“To a New Yorker, observes our man — a Manhattanite of long standing — the warmth of the embrace with which Los Angeles has hugged the Dodgers to its bosom is impressive, for while Brooklyn used to hold the Dodgers in affection, Los Angeles seems to hold them almost in awe. It would be hard to imagine any Angeleno, these giddy days, referring to the team as bums. And the city’s respectful adoration does not stem merely from the circumstance that a World Series has finally been staged in this palmy setting. Rather, it appears that the Dodgers have given the land of make-believe something real to cling to. “It’s not our feelings about baseball that have us all stirred up,” one reasonably old-time settler said the other day. “It’s that this cockeyed, sprawling place has finally had a chance to become a unified city. It’s the first time Los Angeles ever had a chance to become anything.”
By Jon Weisman
It’s me, alive and well. I’m two months into my job at Showtime, which means I’m two months removed from blogging about the Dodgers. (That blogging time has been rededicated to working on my upcoming Dodger-themed book, details of which will be revealed in the coming months.)
After covering the Dodgers on a daily basis for most of the past 15 years, I haven’t minded a break from the grind. But I will say that whenever I see a shot of a beautiful baseball diamond, at Camelback Ranch or at Dodger Stadium, I sigh a little bit. It’s possible that I’ve missed the ballpark more than I’ve missed the games.
I’ve got a good feeling about this year’s Dodgers, who are both deep and talented. That’s not to say they don’t have weaknesses, or that the Cubs have gone away, but the Dodgers probably have as good a chance to go the World Series — and win — as they’ve had in the post-1988 era.
As the headline shows, the main reason for this post was to provide a quick guide to enjoying the 2017 Dodger season. So let’s get to it …
1) The Dodgers will lose at least 60 games this year. Probably a bit more. Some of those losses will be in a row. You know those losses are coming. Don’t freak out about them.
2) Great players will have terrible games. Good players will have terrible months. That’s baseball. That’s allowed. Again, big picture.
3) When you focus on the Dodgers’ problems, don’t forget that other teams have problems as well. For example, the Giants begin the season with Matt Cain as their No. 5 starter. The Cubs’ starting rotation includes 38-year-old John Lackey and the injury-prone Brett Anderson, with nothing like the pitching depth the Dodgers have behind them. Those two guys could have great seasons, and the Cubs also have the organizational depth to make a trade. But it’s not like the Dodgers’ rivals have nothing to worry about.
4) This Dodger team not only has the potential National League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player award winners, it’s got talent up and down the roster — the best in baseball, according to Fangraphs. And, it’s a likable bunch, led by a manager who could be here for 20 years or more. Savor that.
5) At the end of each day, it’s a game. No, really, it is. We all want to win, but if you’re angry for more than a minute after it’s over, you’re doing baseball wrong. Have fun! (And don’t be obnoxious on Twitter and Facebook …)
P.S. Celebrate Opening Day by buying my book — the one I’ve already written — 100 Things Dodger Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. About 98 of them are still alive and well!
By Jon Weisman
It was a full sprint at the finish line, but even in a busy year in which I only saw a baker’s dozen of live-action movies, I did manage to get to all nine Oscar nominees for best picture. That’s the first time that’s happened since I left Variety.
I’m glad I did. Usually, there’s at least one nominee in the bunch that I find inexplicable, if not horrible. But I had positive feelings about every nominee, all the way to Hacksaw Ridge, which I had been avoiding until it became the final unseen nominee on my list. The initial plotting in Hacksaw is somewhat by the numbers, but it’s a powerful story and it more than does its job of making you feel both the horrors and heroism of war.
Still, my favorite movie of the year is La La Land, and I’m not dissuaded by the backlash that complained about its supposed superficiality or the quality of the singing. The film resonates with me today, months after having seen it, and is more complex than many of its critics give it credit for. I don’t buy the argument that you have to have Broadway voices to make a musical sing. In many people’s eyes, the best picture race has come down to La La Land vs. Moonlight, and I don’t begrudge those hoping Moonlight takes the big prize. But as much as I appreciated the latter, La La Land is triumphant for me. Of course, I’m someone who was also happy with The Artist and The King’s Speech, which from every story that I’ve read about them over the past few years, you’re not allowed to like at all.
The most underrated movie of the year for me is Loving, whose omission from the Oscar picture nominations is hardest for me to understand. It’s an important story, the execution of that story is essentially flawless, and it’s the kind of story that should fit into the Academy’s wheelhouse. In a year of big stories told intimately, Loving was the best of any that I saw. Jeff Nichols, who also wrote and directed Mud and Take Shelter, deserved better. The Lobster is another movie that was worthy of best picture consideration, though it’s far easier to understand why it didn’t get a foothold with the Academy beyond an original screenplay nomination.
If I were limited to a top five, it would be La La Land, Loving, Moonlight, Lion and Arrival. Lion was a satisfying movie experience from start to finish. Arrival began slowly for me but finished strong, leaving a deep impression.
Heading into Manchester by the Sea, I expected I was about to see the year’s best picture winner. And while it was well done — with Michelle Williams’ performance stealing the show — it was a movie that I was done with about as soon as I walked out of the theater. At the time, I was watching the final season of AMC’s Rectify, which had the quiet lead character with a troubled past like Manchester but was doing it much more compellingly, week after week, and Manchester suffered by comparison. It deserves its best picture nomination, but not the Oscar.
I have no complaints about the film adaptation of Fences other than what happens with Denzel Washington, my pick to win best actor, in the final stretch. I know that’s part of the point of the story (and it gives supporting-actress favorite Viola Davis one last moment to show she wasn’t a supporting actress), but it just seemed to leave a hole in the production where a punch should have been. Hell or High Water was strong — a Bonnie and Clyde for the post-recession era — and with Manchester, Lobster, Fences and Hacksaw, it takes a spot in my top 10 ahead of Hidden Figures, which also has a great story but presents it in a clumsier fashion than some of the others. In particular, the story of Octavia Spencer’s character, who is treated as a glorified administrator for virtually the entire film when she was so much more, really seems to get short shrift.
The two other live-action movies I saw were also completely entertaining. Florence Foster Jenkins was a good watch — as old hat as it is for Meryl Streep to get an Oscar nomination, it doesn’t come by accident. Meanwhile, Simon Helberg and Hugh Grant are also really terrific and help make the film a winner. And I’ll also throw some positive support behind Eddie the Eagle, which we saw on something of a lark early in 2016. The movie knows what it is — it doesn’t try to make itself into something grand, but it also isn’t stupid. If you catch this one on the small screen, I’ll bet you enjoy it.
I’m not nearly as positive on the animated films from 2016 I saw this year. While not as good as top animated films of past years, Moana is the best of this year’s bunch, by several degrees, and yet the broad consensus is that it will lose best animated feature to Zootopia, which was forgettable. Kubo and the Two Strings had a good story, but the anglicized voice acting significantly undermined it. Finding Dory, Trolls and The Angry Birds Movie did little more for me than pass the time with my kids.
Hastily compiled … and spoilers follow …
While many root beers strive to make a bold statement, sometimes to the point of being the blue-tuxedoed uncle at your best friend’s wedding, AJ Stephans is daring only in its restraint. It dials back the sweetness and doesn’t linger, living extremely in the moment, not like a brash teenage snowboarder but rather a delicate piccolo artist inhaling each note, otherwise rapidly forgotten. Lack of edge prevents it from reaching the top tier, but unpretentiousness prevents it from sinking to the bottom.
Sampling date: December 1, 2015
Ingredients: Pure carbonated water, cane sugar, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, citric acid, sodium benzoate
Nutritional information: 12-ounce serving, 175 calories, 0 grams fat, 44 grams sugar, 30 milligrams sodium, 0 grams protein
Headquarters: Orange, Massachusetts
Rankings to date:
1) Route 66 Root Beer
2) Bulldog Root Beer
3) Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer
4) Sparky’s Root Beer
5) AJ Stephans Root Beer
6) River City Root Beer
7) Cool Mountain Root Beer
8) Rat Bastard Root Beer
Sparky’s Fresh Draft Root Beer is a line-drive base hit, nothing unconventional, nothing that would bring a crowd to its feet, but neither a routine grounder to the right side for an out. Its engine revs at the outset of each sip, coasting into a pinching sweetness that is more cocky than coy.
Sampling date: November 30, 2015
Ingredients: Carbonated filtered water, pure cane sugar, honey, natural and imitation flavorings, spices, sodium benzoate to preserve freshness, phosphoric acid and caramel color
Nutritional information: Not provided
Headquarters: Pacific Grove, California
Well, this puts a period on the sentence that was my last big paragraph of filmgoing for a while.
Now that I’m working for the Dodgers, my years of going to movies by the bushel will take a break. I saw nearly 60 of 2013’s films, but that number is going to come crashing down in 2014.
So for perhaps the last time for a while, here is my annual ranking of the films, using the system I designed long ago.
As I’ve said before, it’s a system that is decidedly personal, because film is decidedly personal. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a “best” film, but only a “favorite” film, because what we bring to a film and what we desire from it is so idiosyncratic. Here’s the boilerplate explanation:
Ambition (1-7): How much the film is taking on, in subject matter and in filming challenges?
Quality (1-10): As objective as I can be, how well do I think the film succeeds in achieving its ambitions?
Emotional resonance (1-13): How much did the film affect me personally. This category gets the most weight because it’s the most important – I’d rather see a flawed film that touches me than a technically perfect but emotionally stultifying picture.
Two last quick points: I wouldn’t get caught up in single-point distinctions – those don’t amount to a significant difference between films. I could tinker with the grades every time I revisit the list.
I will say this – I’m less enchanted with my system than I have been in the past. I don’t tend to award much variance in ambition, and I’m having more trouble distinguishing between objective quality and emotional resonance. But this isn’t the time I’m going to change things up, so here we go …
|Blue Is the Warmest Color||3.5||9.5||10.5||23.5||Loved the deep, patient exploration of the arc of a relationship – it at once had an intimate and epic feel.|
|Gravity*||5||8.5||10||23.5||No film mixes cinematic and spiritual ambition better this year. A thriller in more ways than one.|
|Short Term 12||4||9.5||10||23.5||Spot-on great storytelling of both a character and a place.|
|Much Ado About Nothing||4||8.5||10.5||23||A movie that I found easy to cherish – a loving and lovable homage with its own originality.|
|12 Years a Slave*||4.5||9||9||22.5||Unassailable in its worth and inner integrity. I can’t explain why at times I felt numb. “Roots” had more impact.|
|Her||4||8.5||10||22.5||Takes what could have been a sitcom story and turns it into something extraordinary and moving.|
|Saving Mr. Banks||4||8.5||10||22.5||Strong movie throughout, and the stuff about the flawed fathers got to me.|
|Captain Phillips||4||8.5||8.5||22||Intense. Hanks builds to some phenomenal moments. Somali parts well-played.|
|Dallas Buyers Club*||4||9||9||22||Legitimately strong story that should transcend qualms about who the protagonist is. Leto is amazing in it.|
|The Way Way Back||4||8.5||9||22||Touching and sincere.|
|August: Osage County*||4||8.5||9||21.5||Adeptly juggles numerous stories and got at the true contradictions of family life and love. Underrated at Toronto.|
|Mud||3.5||9||9||21.5||Really engrossing story, superbly acted by the kids. Troubled somewhat by the ending.|
|The Past||4||9||8.5||21.5||Another complex multi-person relationship drama. Tough but good.|
|The Place Beyond the Pines||3.5||9||8||21.5||Very strong, though Mendes’ character would have benefited from more development.|
|All Is Lost||4||8||9||21||Taut and nearly silent, but the main question was, why wasn’t their cursing in every minute?|
|Inside Llewyn Davis||4||8||9||21||A good personal journey movie, that maybe stops short of the knockout punch its ending should have.|
|Frozen||4||8||8.5||20.5||Definitely more depth than advertised, but also strong in humor and music. Didn’t quite get why secret had to be a secret.|
|The Wolf of Wall Street||4||8.5||8||20.5||As a comedy, very ambitious with some great moments, but also lagged for me in places.|
|What Maisie Wants||4||7.5||7.5||20.5||A rough story to tell but it works.|
|The Iceman||3||9||8||20||Rock solid, with Michael Shannon giving dominant performance.|
|Blue Jasmine||4||7.5||8||19.5||Hits some great notes – liked even if I didn’t love.|
|Despicable Me 2||3.5||8||8||19.5||Worked very well – I think I liked it more than the original.|
|Enough Said||3.5||7.5||8.5||19.5||Loved the exploration of a mature relationship, just wish big reveal hadn’t been so delayed and sitcommy. I miss Gandolfini.|
|Prisoners||4||8.5||7||19.5||Strong, gritty movie, a little slow-paced in first half but pays off.|
|Stories We Tell||3.5||8||8||19.5||A really interesting film if a bit rough around the edges.|
|The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby*||4||7||8.5||19.5||Liked the material overall and the two-part experiment, but not convinced it wouldn’t be better as one piece.|
|Fruitvale Station||3.5||7.5||8||19||Narrowly focused but important and heartbreaking.|
|How I Live Now*||4||7||8||19||The quest is a weird one, but it’s a beguiling fantasy.|
|Labor Day*||3.5||7.5||8||19||Liked this maybe more than I should – kind of a indie-spirit Hallmark movie.|
|The Armstrong Lie||3.5||8.5||7||19||The crazy denial comes to life.|
|The Short Game||3||8||8||19||Funny to see this at around the same time as “Bad Words.”|
|42||3||7.5||8||18.5||Liked the acting more than the script – mostly a paint-by-numbers telling of a great story.|
|Nebraska||3||8||7.5||18.5||Might be selling short its ambition, but though I enjoyed it, not sure what it adds up to.|
|Philomena||3||8||7.5||18.5||Pretty intimate and well-told story.|
|The Spectacular Now||3.5||8||8||18.5||Touching. Liked that drinking was key element but not central. Shailene Woodley too adorable to be an outcast, though.|
|Admission||3.5||6.5||8||18||Underrated – didn’t all ring true, but hard not to notice the attempt.|
|Bad Words*||3||7||8||18||At times profane for the sake of it, but among the most fun films of the year.|
|Can a Song Save a Life*||4||7||7||18||The joy of making music. Even its darkness is kind of bright. Tremendously likeable.|
|Casting By||3||8||7||18||Nice piece of work on an area that deserves attention.|
|In a World …||3||8||7||18||Fun story and a nice showcase for Lake Bell.|
|Picture Day||3.5||7.5||7||18||Tatiana Maslany expectedly adorable, and it was an interesting (and slightly strange) ride.|
|The Invisible Woman||3||8||7||18||Solid period piece, with Fiennes beguiling as Dickens.|
|To the Wonder||3.5||6.5||8||18||Eloquent, beautiful love story sandbagged by inexplicable lack of attention to Affleck’s character.|
|Out of the Furnace||3.5||7||7||17.5||More true grit, a la Prisoners, which perhaps was better because its antagonist was better.|
|Lee Daniels’ The Butler||4||6||7||17||Worthy subject and occasionally moving but far too on the nose in places.|
|Night Moves*||3.5||7||6.5||17||Low, low-key film struggles toward the end after it all goes down.|
|Rush*||4||7||6||17||Beautifully shot with good lead performances, but fairly conventional storytelling for a sports film.|
|The Croods||3||7||7||17||Ends on a good note but kind of tedious in the midsection.|
|Turbo||3||7||7||17||No great leap but a likable enough tale.|
|American Hustle||3.5||7||6||16.5||I’m probably being harsh on it, but was not involved in the story until the final hour, and it didn’t stick with me after.|
|Austenland||3.5||6.5||6||16||Points for the ambiguity in the love story, points against for its clumsiness.|
|Oz the Great and Powerful||4||5.5||5||15.5||Uninvolving script and really questionable casting.|
|Monsters University||3||7||5||15||Harmless but pointless for me.|
|The Incredible Burt Wonderstone||3||5||6||14||Gross miscalculations about Carell, Carrey and Wilde characters undermined what might’ve been a really good comedy.|
|Spring Breakers||3.5||5||5||13.5||Certainly not your typical Spring Break movie, certainly stylish, but did not make me care at all. This year’s emperor with no clothes.|
|Planes||3||5||4||13||A sorrowful rehash of past aspirational animations.|
|Before Midnight||3||5.5||4||12.5||Pretentious as ever in the first half, hardly groundbreaking in the big fight in the second. The love for these films remains mystifying.|
|Dom Hemingway*||3||4||3||10||Aside from a couple good moments, thought this was pretty much flatulent.|
|You Are Here*||3||3.5||3.5||10||Matthew Weiner’s feature was the biggest disappointment of the year.|
*Seen at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival
Come check out Dodger Insider on January 6 …
Any of you who have been reading Dodger Thoughts for some length of time have by now grown accustomed to change, whether it’s personal to me (my three children have been born since I launched the site 11 1/2 years ago) or the site changing hosts no fewer than five times.
Maybe this is the biggest change of all.
I have left my full-time job at Variety to join the Dodgers themselves as director of digital and print content.
I will be writing plenty over there, as part of an overall series of duties that involves managing and producing content for the Dodgers’ publications and website.
As you can imagine, it’s an opportunity that was too intriguing and exciting for me to pass up, which is why I’m willing to give up the longest job I’ve ever held, a position at Variety that has brought me more great memories than I can begin to mention and placed me among a group of colleagues that have been such a pleasure to be with.
It’s also why I’m willing to put Dodger Thoughts in storage – though again, this isn’t exactly as newsworthy as it might have been, before I essentially took a vacation during the 2012-13 offseason, to focus on an extremely busy awards season for Variety. I did find a rebirth on Dodger Thoughts during the 2013 baseball season, but it was always in competition with the other directions I’ve been pulled in.
So while it would be premature to get into specifics about my new duties with the Dodgers, I can say that one of the greatest appeals for me is that for the first time, writing about the Dodgers will move from avocation to vocation, from hobby to primary activity.
I’ll feel safe using Vin Scully (my new colleague!) as my role model. I’ll consider it my job, as an employee of the Dodgers, to inform and to entertain, in service of the organization. You can be sure I’ll be taking that responsibility very seriously. But don’t worry – we’ll have plenty of fun along the way. There’ll be no shortage of insights or stories, great and small.
As always, thanks for your support, whether it’s been for 11 minutes or 11 years (you know who you are). I’ll be working fast to get up to speed in my new office at Chavez Ravine, and I’ll certainly tell people here when I start to have something to show you there. In the meantime:
• Since this move puts the Dodger Thoughts community in flux, reader Linkmeister has once again invited people to come hang out at his blog, Elysian Fields.
• In addition, please follow me on Twitter at @jonweisman for updates.
A nice look back at Hideo Nomo’s career is provided by Jay Jaffe at SI.com, serving as a reminder of Nomo’s importance as a cross-continent pioneer.
So much in Los Angeles changes fast. Treasure the good things that don’t.
“Hello, Doris!” goes the chorus of regulars at the Original Farmers Market, when they stop by to see Doris Perez, who has been there as long as they know. …
… On a recent Saturday morning, after flipping on the lights and tying a black apron over her crisp white shirt, the 78-year-old, who has 4 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, set to work arranging the jams, knickknacks and nut butters in precise stacks and V-patterns on almost every inch of countertop.
“Top of the morning!” said a kind-looking man in a khaki windbreaker just as she was finishing up.
“And the rest of the day to you!” she chimed back to Peter O’Malley.
The former Dodgers owner, old-fashioned and courtly, likes to stop in to see Perez as his father, Walter, did before him. (Walter was partial to Du-par’s chicken pies, she says: “He used to buy them by the dozen.”) …
Nina Lelyveld in the Times, “Dishing up cheer for 50 years at Farmers Market”
A year ago, I published a couple of pieces for Variety on what I called “The Wallflower Syndrome,” named in honor of 2012’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and describing films that weren’t getting the awards consideration they deserved, in large part because they didn’t have the right pedigree, or they simply weren’t loud enough to grab people’s attention.
This year, I’m making “Short Term 12” winner of my just-formed 2013 Wallflower Syndrome Award. It’s a wonderful movie, with an absolutely superb performance from Brie Larson, that really should be seen and considered with the best film work of the year.
This is a fun interview with National League Cy Young Award-winner Clayton Kershaw, especially with the twist at the end.
Best wishes also to Nick Punto, who has signed a nice deal with Oakland.
If you haven’t come up with a better way to achieve your goals than hazing, you are not trying hard enough. Period.