Feb 27

My favorite films of 2013

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.

If you want to look back, here are four past charts: my favorite films of 201220112010 and 2006.

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 …

2013 A O ER T Comment
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

Nov 15

The ‘Wallflower Syndrome’ Award Goes to ‘Short Term 12′

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.

Wallflower Syndrome plagues Oscars

More musings about the Oscars and the Wallflower Syndrome

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.

Feb 21

My favorite films of 2012

Thanks to my new duties last year as awards editor at Variety, I saw by far the most films I’ve ever seen in a year. Including documentaries and a smidgen of 2013 films that I got a sneak preview of, I took in 84 in all. And it was a good year to take a deep dive, with lots of interesting, quality offerings.

So here is my annual ranking of the films, using the system I designed long ago. (Important clarifications, for work purposes: I am obviously not a professional critic, and these rankings are my own and completely unaffiliated with Variety.)

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? For example, is it offering both a romantic story and social commentary at once? How difficult was the film to make technically? This allows one to distinguish between two equally well-made films when one is Casablanca and the other is Animal House. Ambition isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it allows some extra credit to be given where it is due.

Quality (1-10): This is essentially how most films are graded – simply, how good are they. 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.

Just to give you a quick idea of how this works, here are the scores of my favorite films of all time.

The Misfits: Ambition 5, Quality 9.5, Resonance 13, Total 27.5
Casablanca: Ambition 6, Quality 10, Resonance 11.5, Total 27.5

Both are great movies in my mind, with Casablanca being objectively better and The Misfits being the most powerful to me emotionally. Now, there probably aren’t 10 people in the world who would consider these films equals, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it? This system helps us rank our favorites without trying to say that they’re definitively the best.

And, for comparison, down near the bottom of the scale …

The Bad News Bears Go To Japan: Ambition 1.5, Quality 2, Resonance 2, Total 5.5.

Two last quick points: I wouldn’t get caught up in single-point distinctions – those don’t amount to a significant difference between films. In fact, each time I look at the list, I feel like tinkering with some of the grades.

That last point is so true – I really find myself wanting to change the point totals again and again, and finally told myself I just had to stop.

If you want to look back, here are three past charts: my favorite films of 2011, of 2010 and of 2006.

Here we go …

A O ER T Comment
A Late Quartet 4.0 9.5 11.0 24.5 This movie has everything (that I need, anyway).
Beasts of the Southern Wild 4.5 9.0 10.0 23.5 Stunning. Unlike anything I’ve seen, but so much more than that.
Seven Psychopaths 3.5 9.5 10.0 23.0 Loved this. Funny, clever, meta, and also thoughtful and sensitive.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower 4.0 9.0 10.0 23.0 They should make more movies like this about adults. A few quibbles but really well done.
Zero Dark Thirty 4.0 9.0 10.0 23.0 Like United 93, doesn’t mess around – and grips on multiple levels.
Argo 4.0 9.0 9.5 22.5 Riveting entertainment and great mix of humor and terror.
Django Unchained 4.0 9.0 9.5 22.5 Features style and substance, earns being provocative, and fun on top of it all.
Dangerous Liaisons 3.5 9.0 9.5 22.0 Spot-on adaptation, luminous and enjoyable and with no wasted moments.
Ginger & Rosa 4.0 9.0 9.0 22.0 Very believable mix of political and personal in a coming-of-age story; Fanning’s perf peaks in amazing ways.
Les Miserables 4.5 8.0 9.5 22.0 Bit of a bumpy journey for the otherwise transcendent material. Hathaway soars, Crowe sinks.
Mea Maxima Culpa 3.0 9.5 9.5 22.0 Thorough, impactful indictment of the blindness to horror.
Moonrise Kingdom 3.0 9.0 10.0 22.0 Sincerity of the story undermines any potential problems with preciousness.
No 4.0 9.0 9.0 22.0 Really interesting, sincere and important storytelling.
Looper 4.0 8.5 9.0 21.5 Cool mix of Terminator, Logan’s Run and Inception. Felt a little long but still strong.
Quartet 3.5 8.5 9.5 21.5 A bit of a sluggish start but ultimately a lovely journey in performance and aging.
Rust and Bone 3.5 8.5 9.5 21.5 Strong story with rough edges – plot gets forced a bit toward ending, but very compelling.
The Secret World of Arrietty 3.5 9.0 9.0 21.5 Lovely, earnest film – slow-paced but completely justified in being so
Wreck-It Ralph 3.5 8.5 9.5 21.5 Great ride and really inventive, even as it was grounded in familiar.
Any Day Now 4.0 8.5 8.5 21.0 Significant yet unpretentious, with key perf from actor with Downs Syndrome.
Brave 3.5 8.5 9.0 21.0 The mother-daughter relationship evolves in a way I’ve never seen in an animated film.
End of Watch 3.5 8.5 9.0 21.0 Gritty police drama in the absolute best sense – not cliché. Gyllenhaal shines.
Searching for Sugar Man 3.5 9.0 8.5 21.0 Modest start yields great rewards – earns its smiles.
How To Survive a Plague 3.0 9.0 8.5 20.5 Some amazing historical footage highlights thorough history of HIV treatment battles.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen 3.5 8.0 9.0 20.5 Cuts some corners but knows where its bread is buttered. Charming.
The Intouchables 3.0 8.5 9.0 20.5 A really entertaining and warm film, even as it risks relying on the conceit of the magical black healer.
Amour 3.0 8.5 8.5 20.0 Tender, well-told story but takes you exactly where you’d think it would, in a very insular world.
Central Park Five 3.0 9.0 8.0 20.0 Utterly persuasive and compelling, ranks with the best work of the Burns family.
Life of Pi 4.0 8.0 8.0 20.0 Powerful visually and the narrative mostly matches up. Not sure it achieves all it set out to, but worth seeing.
Ruby Sparks 3.5 7.5 9.0 20.0 Some contrivance early on is mitigated by really strong and thought-provoking finish.
Smashed 3.0 8.5 8.5 20.0 Really strong, human-yet-unsentimental portrayal of dealing with alcoholism
The Grey 3.5 8.5 8.0 20.0 As harsh and beautiful as the world around it, with one of the best-written endings of the year.
The Iceman 3.0 9.0 8.0 20.0 Rock solid, with Michael Shannon giving dominant performance.
Lincoln 4.0 8.0 8.0 20.0 Solid but not quite moving or natural. Day-Lewis great but almost not in same world as others.
War Witch 4.0 8.5 7.5 20.0 Can’t argue with intense story in this dark companion to “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
Bully 3.0 7.5 9.0 19.5 Indispensable message but with some frustration at lack of insight into the causes.
Flight 4.0 7.5 8.0 19.5 Some Hollywood elements but otherwise pretty unflinching, plane stuff was good.
Promised Land 3.5 8.0 8.0 19.5 You wonder how Damon’s character ever got ahead in the business, otherwise fine.
Safety Not Guaranteed 3.0 7.5 9.0 19.5 A couple of loose plot issues don’t undermine the overall sincerity and charm.
Silver Linings Playbook 3.5 8.0 8.0 19.5 Appropriately manic, I suppose, and energetic – good but storytelling had its hiccups.
Chimpanzee 3.0 8.0 8.0 19.0 Satisfying journey into the chimps’ world.
Frankenweenie 3.0 8.0 8.0 19.0 Good, atmospheric, but doesn’t really deal with its central theme.
Head Games 3.0 8.0 8.0 19.0 Straightforward and convincing.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted 3.0 7.5 8.5 19.0 Defies logic but it was fun.
Middle of Nowhere 3.0 8.0 8.0 19.0 Solid story about love and life on hold with a mesmerizing lead.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 3.5 7.0 8.5 19.0 A little tidy in the storytelling but very warm and enjoyable.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3.5 7.5 8.0 19.0 Entertaining but long, 48 fps is cool even though it gives it a Teletubbies feel.
The Impossible 3.5 7.5 8.0 19.0 Incredible story, epic tsunami but simplistic outside of action.
The Sessions 3.5 7.5 8.0 19.0 Saccharine to a large extent, with a distracting outing by Helen Hunt, but strong finish.
To Rome with Love 3.5 7.5 8.0 19.0 Silly and a little padded but fun.
West of Memphis 3.0 8.5 7.5 19.0 Powerful stuff, of course, but troubled by the partisan production team.
Your Sister’s Sister 3.0 7.5 8.5 19.0 Sweet, sincere, meaningful if a bit light on what made characters the way they are.
Peace, Love and Misunderstanding 3.5 7.0 8.0 18.5 Servicable movie; I enjoyed Fonda, Olson and Keener.
This Is 40 3.5 7.0 8.0 18.5 A good amount of hardcore reality and some fun, interrupted by phony moments.
Bernie 3.0 7.5 7.5 18.0 Fun, if a bit slight. Role was simply made for Jack Black.
Killing Them Softly 3.0 7.5 7.5 18.0 Ending makes sense of it all. Solid with good performances but not transcendent in any way.
Rise of the Guardians 3.5 7.5 7.0 18.0 Actually a fun story, though it doesn’t really make its theme of defeating fear anything more than a fantasy.
Skyfall 4.0 6.5 7.5 18.0 Bardem wonderful, rest of the movie uneven – good moments and turgid ones.
The Gatekeepers 3.0 8.0 7.0 18.0 Enlightening. Didn’t give much reason for optimism on Israel.
To the Wonder 3.5 6.5 8.0 18.0 Eloquent, beautiful love story sandbagged by inexplicable lack of attention to Affleck’s character.
Holy Motors 4.0 7.0 6.5 17.5 The most unique movie of the year by a factor of 1,000, but it didn’t affect me.
Paranorman 3.5 7.0 7.0 17.5 Felt that I should have liked it more than I did. Story just never grabbed me. “Coraline” superior.
The Master 3.5 6.5 7.5 17.5 Impressive performances and visuals but a story that doesn’t take you anywhere.
The Waiting Room 2.5 8.0 7.0 17.5 Visceral window into ER nightmares and heroic health-care pros, but was there much insight?
Damsels in Distress 3.0 6.0 8.0 17.0 If you don’t like Stillman’s style, this film has no chance with you. Hard one to buy into.
Ethel 3.0 7.0 7.0 17.0 Completely adequate but seemed mistitled and unsure of its purpose.
Hitchcock 3.5 6.5 7.0 17.0 Has good moments but left me shrugging. Narrow.
Samsara 3.0 7.0 7.0 17.0 No shortage of interesting images, but don’t know what else to say about it.
The Company You Keep 3.0 7.0 7.0 17.0 Kind of fine, kind of fun (always with Julie Christie), but nothing standout.
Trouble with the Curve 3.5 6.5 7.0 17.0 Terrible start and a horrible baseball movie, but nice father-daughter stuff.
Not Fade Away 3.5 6.0 7.0 16.5 Some good elements but doesn’t come together in a useful way.
The Lorax 3.5 6.0 7.0 16.5 Fine for kids but definitely felt the adaptation was a bit brash and strained.
The Deep Blue Sea 3.0 6.5 6.5 16.0 Weisz strong but the film seemed thin and the ending forced. What was special about her heartbreak?
The Five-Year Engagement 3.0 6.5 6.5 16.0 Several funny moments but overall just long and kind of slow. Just inconsistent.
Arbitrage 3.0 6.0 6.0 15.0 Rich, handsome lout gets away with stuff. Well-acted but pretty pointless.
The Dark Knight Rises 4.0 6.5 4.0 14.5 I’m sure it’s very good despite its flaws, but mostly bored me to virtual tears.
Celeste and Jesse Forever 3.0 5.0 6.0 14.0 Some redemption but mostly misfires in its attempt to be instructive about relationships
On the Road 3.5 5.0 5.5 14.0 Craziness does not equal insight. Whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Anna Karenina 3.5 5.0 5.0 13.5 Outside-the-box approach spottily executed, and key character utterly useless. A long haul.
Compliance 3.0 5.5 5.0 13.5 For all its true-story basis, the film never convinces you to buy in to its outlandish reality.
Magic Mike 3.0 5.5 5.0 13.5 Harmless but almost fascinatingly dull outside the dancing. Character arcs like anthills.
Cloud Atlas 4.0 4.5 4.0 12.5 Trite, corny, doesn’t justify its expanse.
The Paperboy 4.0 4.5 4.0 12.5 Tries stuff, but really never feels anything but silly.
Hyde Park on Hudson 3.0 5.0 4.0 12.0 Pointless, with Laura Linney’s weird desperation disguised as meaningful emotion.
Cosmopolis 4.0 3.0 3.0 10.0 Sound and fury, signifying nothing new.
Feb 13

Tyra’s college application essay on ‘Friday Night Lights’

“Two years ago, I was afraid of wanting anything. I figured wanting would lead to trying and trying would lead to failure. But now I find I can’t stop wanting. I want to fly somewhere on first class. I want to travel to Europe on a business trip. I want to get invited to the White House. I want to learn about the world. I want to surprise myself. I want to be important. I want to be the best person I can be. I want to define myself instead of having others define me. I want to win and have people be happy for me. I want to lose and get over it. I want to not be afraid of the unknown. I want to grow up and be generous and big hearted, the way people have been with me. I want an interesting and surprising life. It’s not that I think I’m going to get all these things, I just want the possibility of getting them. College represents possibility. The possibility that things are going to change. I can’t wait.”

Sep 24

‘There’s a Place in the World for a Gambler’

Been listening to this song a lot lately for some reason. It was in the movie “FM,” which featured one of the great soundtracks of all time, and also played frequently on guitar at my summer camp. And then, until this month, I probably went about 30 years or more without hearing it.

Dan Fogelberg was getting made fun of a bit by the time the 1980s were in full swing, but he did have some sweet songs. Another favorite of mine is “Same Old Lang Syne.”

I offer no defense for the corny visuals above, however.

Aug 22

My greatest triumph in Hearts

For those of you who play Hearts, here’s what happened for me today:

The game was to 100.  Ann had a point total far worse than any of us in the 90s, while Ben, Tom and I were each in the 30s. There was a very good chance that the guy that won the next round would win the game.

I had what I thought was a good, safe set of cards, but somehow ended up with the Queen of Spades, which put me in third place and in jeopardy – especially because Ann had reached exactly 99 points. I shifted strategy and purposely picked up all the remaining hearts, putting me further in the hole compared with Ben and Tom – but keeping myself alive, by keeping Ann alive.

Then, in the next hand, I shot the moon – pushing Ann over 100 and the other two into worse scores than mine. It was a stunning comeback victory that would have had Brent Musberger awarding me all the Tostitos!

Aug 19

Root beer reviews: Rat Bastard

Rat Bastard Root Beer is a dull, lifeless brew that buzzes with the tasteless annoyance of a mosquito in a bug zapper. It needs to be gulped for the taste to have any sustain, but even that victory is short-lived. “Rat Bastard?” More like … well, no, it’s exactly like “rat bastard.”

Sampling date: August 13, 2012

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, molasses, citric acid, caramel color, caffeine, natural and artificial flavors, herbal blend (American, Siberian and Korean ginseng, jasmine , clove, dong quai – angelica, skullcap (Mud Dog weed); African Capsicum, ginko bilboa; gotu kola; goldenseal, echinacea, reishi and shitake and cordyceps), sodium benzoate

Nutritional information: 12-ounce serving, 190 calories, 0 grams fat, 40 grams sugar, 65 milligrams sodium, 0 grams protein

Headquarters: Gardena, California

Rankings to date:
1) Route 66 Root Beer
2) Bulldog Root Beer
3) Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer
4) River City Root Beer
5) Cool Mountain Root Beer
6) Rat Bastard Root Beer 

Aug 01

Root beer reviews: Capt’n Eli’s

Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer has a smooth entry with a swift kick, offering a pleasing, smarm-free taste. It’s top-flight if you want a medium bite.

Sampling date: July 29, 2012

Ingredients: Water, cane sugar, caramel coloring, natural and artificial flavors including wintergreen oil, anise, vanilla, spices, herbs, citric acid, sodium benzoate (preservative)

Nutritional information: 12-ounce serving, 165 calories, 0 grams fat, 40 grams sugar, 35 milligrams sodium, 0 grams protein

Headquarters: Portland, Maine

Rankings to date:
1) Route 66 Root Beer
2) Bulldog Root Beer
3) Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer
4) River City Root Beer
5) Cool Mountain Root Beer

Jul 26

Root beer reviews: River City

River City Root Beer enters the palate neutral to slightly saccharine. It doesn’t taste of medicine, but it teeters close enough that the thought will cross your mind.  A latent, more sincere sweetness is its finishing touch, making the beverage vaguely seductive, like a first date you’re not sure you should call again. But in a pinch …

Sampling date: July 24, 2012

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, caramel color, natural flavor, quillaia extract, phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate (preservative), potassium sorbate

Nutritional information: 12-ounce serving, 180 calories, 0 grams fat, 46 grams sugar, 15 milligrams sodium, 0 grams protein

Headquarters: Sacramento, California

Rankings to date:
1) Route 66 Root Beer
2) Bulldog Root Beer
3) River City Root Beer
4) Cool Mountain Root Beer

Jul 21

Root beer reviews: Cool Mountain

Cool Mountain Root Beer frontloads its bite with a carbonated sizzle that has a slight echo of Pop Rocks, followed by a rather slim aftertaste. It’s not bad and certainly inoffensive, but there isn’t an abundance of joy in it.

Sampling date: July 18, 2012

Ingredients: Filtered water, pure cane sugar, natural and artificial flavor, caramel color, phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate as a preservative

Nutritional information: 12-ounce serving, 160 calories, 0 grams fat, 40 grams sugar, 15 milligrams sodium, 1 gram protein

Bottling location: Des Plaines, Illinois

Rankings to date:
1) Route 66 Root Beer
2) Bulldog Root Beer
3) Cool Mountain Root Beer

 

Jul 19

Root beer reviews: Bulldog

Bulldog Root Beer hits your tongue thin but slick, with a nice sweetness and a nifty bite at the end. It’s quenching and gone in a hurry.

Sampling date: July 17, 2012

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, honey, maltodextrin, natural and artificial flavors, sodium benzoate, real vanilla, phosphoric acid, salt

Nutritional information: 12-ounce serving, 160 calories, 0 grams fat, 41 grams of sugar, 45 milligrams sodium

Bottling location: Mukilteo, Washington

Current rankings:
1) Route 66 Root Beer
2) Bulldog Root Beer

Jul 18

Root beer reviews: Route 66

With a $25 gift card to BevMo in hand, I decided to pursue a small but highly significant taste test of root beer. I bought several different brands and will be publishing reviews over the next few weeks. Here is the first:

* * *

Route 66 Root Beer has what I would call a classic non-mainstream taste – the sweet bite that you don’t get in an A&W or Mug. Goes down smoothly and unpretentiously, disappearing all too quickly.

Sampling date: July 14, 2012

Ingredients: Carbonated water, real cane sugar, caramel color, natural and artificial flavorings, quillaia, citric acid, sodium benzoate (preservative)

Nutritional information: 12-ounce serving, 160 calories, 0 grams fat, 28 grams of sugar

Bottling location: Lebanon, Missouri