My Oscars Quest 2023 Quick-Start Scorecard

Michelle Yeoh looking peaceful, eyes closed, with an explosion behind her.

Michelle Yeoh descends from the heavens to accept her honors.

It’s that time again! Longtime MCC readers know this time of year is my annual Oscar Quest, during which I venture out to see all Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, regardless of whether I think I’ll like them or not, whether their politics and beliefs agree with mine or not, whether they’re good or bad for me, and whether or not my friends and family have ever heard of them. I’ve seen every Best Picture winner from Wings to CODA, and every Best Picture nominee from 1987 to the present, many of which were worth the hunt. You take the good, you take the bad, and so on.

In addition, this will be my third annual Oscars Quest Expanded Challenge, which was inspired by that darn pandemic — to see not just all the Best Picture nominees, but as many nominees as possible in all the other categories as well. When new releases were going quickly or directly to home video while theaters were shuttered, the Expanded Challenge was easier for me. I saw all but two of last year’s nominees, and am still missing eight nominees from the year before that. Someday maybe I’ll complete those sets. In the meantime, I have concerns about this year’s logistics now that theaters are back in business. I’m probably looking at far more trips away from home to reach my pointless personal goal, mood and local cinema schedules permitting.

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2022 at the Movies at My House

Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson as astronauts just standing there looking pained.

Live footage of Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson exiled off-planet as punishment for costarring in Moonfall.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: in 2022 I made 18 trips to the theater to see films made that same year. Though I’ve tried to get back out there with my vaccines and my restlessness and whatnot, more often than not the motivation level still wasn’t quite where it used to be. As a sort of compromise, in the year’s back half I tried to overcompensate and catch up with 2022 through our various streaming subscriptions and a smattering of Redbox rentals. We don’t have HBO Max or Amazon Prime, but I nevertheless watched plenty by estimation, enough to present the third annual installment of the MCC tradition borne of the pandemic: a ranking of all the brand new films I saw on comfy, convenient home video in their year of release.

Whittling away any and every film with a pre-2022 release date, our living room hosted 28 films in 2022 that fit the specific parameters for this list. We’re not far away from the Oscars’ nominations announcement on January 24th, which for weeks I’ve been keeping in the back of my mind as the deadline for this listicle, so…on with the countdown!

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My 2022 at the Movies, Part 2 of 2: The Year’s Best

The Batmobile jumping through an explosion in "The Batman".

Brought to you by EXPLOSIONS! They’re good for what bores ya!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: in 2022 I made 18 trips to the theater to see films made that same year. In Part 1 we ranked the Bottom 8 backwards from “Blockbuster Video clearance bin” to “groundbreaking yet ordinary”, which I realize makes little sense to anyone who lives outside my own head, but is the sort of convoluted flaw you need to expect from a hobbyist who super-likes movies, occasionally enjoys writing about them, but refuses to rate them on an ordinate scale comprising numbers, letters, stars, adjectives, or cutesy emoji.

And now, the countdown concludes with the ten most relatively awesome films I saw at a theater in 2022 that were released for general audiences in same. Onward!

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My 2022 at the Movies, Part 1 of 2: The Year’s Worst

Jared Leto as Michael Morbius holds a hand up to the camera.

Talk to the Morb.

It’s listing time again! In today’s entertainment consumption sphere, all experiences must be pitted against each other and assigned numeric values that are ultimately arbitrary to anyone except the writer themselves. It’s just this fun thing some of us love doing even though the rules are made up and the points don’t matter.

I saw 18 films in theaters in 2022 that were actually released in 2022, an 18.2% decrease over 2021 despite having taken more vaccines than ever, well short of my all-time high of 32 films in 2019. That number doesn’t include the seven Academy Award nominees that were officially 2021 releases, but which I saw later as part of my annual Oscar Quest. It definitely doesn’t include all the 2022 films I watched on streaming services, which will receive their own much longer two-part listicle.

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My 2022 Reading Stacks #4: The Big Finish

Two graphic novels by Tillie Walden, reviewed below.

Two of my favorite reads this year, both by the same writer/artist.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Welcome once again to our recurring MCC feature in which I scribble capsule reviews of everything I’ve read that was published in a physical format over a certain page count with a squarebound spine on it — novels, original graphic novels, trade paperbacks, infrequent nonfiction dalliances, and so on. Due to the way I structure my media-consumption time blocks, the list will always feature more graphic novels than works of prose and pure text, though I do try to diversify my literary diet as time and acquisitions permit.

Occasionally I’ll sneak in a contemporary review if I’ve gone out of my way to buy and read something brand new. Every so often I’ll borrow from my wife Anne or from our local library. But the majority of our spotlighted works are presented years after the rest of the world already finished and moved on from them because I’m drawing from my vast unread pile that presently occupies four oversize shelves comprising thirty-three years of uncontrolled book shopping. I’ve occasionally pruned the pile, but as you can imagine, cut out one unread book and three more take its place.

I’ve previously written why I don’t do eBooks. Perhaps someday I’ll also explain why these capsules are exclusive to MCC and not shared on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites where their authors might prefer I’d share them. In the meantime, here’s me and my reading results…

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My 2022 Reading Stacks #3

Three Star Trek books, reviewed below.

Our Star Trek renaissance year, felt most deeply at conventions and our Paramount+ subscription, extended into my reading matter, as we showed in Part 2 of this series.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Welcome once again to our recurring MCC feature in which I scribble capsule reviews of everything I’ve read that was published in a physical format over a certain page count with a squarebound spine on it — novels, original graphic novels, trade paperbacks, infrequent nonfiction dalliances, and so on. Due to the way I structure my media-consumption time blocks, the list will always feature more graphic novels than works of prose and pure text, though I do try to diversify my literary diet as time and acquisitions permit.

Occasionally I’ll sneak in a contemporary review if I’ve gone out of my way to buy and read something brand new. Every so often I’ll borrow from my wife Anne or from our local library. But the majority of our spotlighted works are presented years after the rest of the world already finished and moved on from them because I’m drawing from my vast unread pile that presently occupies four oversize shelves comprising thirty-three years of uncontrolled book shopping. I’ve occasionally pruned the pile, but as you can imagine, cut out one unread book and three more take its place.

I’ve previously written why I don’t do eBooks. Perhaps someday I’ll also explain why these capsules are exclusive to MCC and not shared on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites where their authors might prefer I’d share them. In the meantime, here’s me and my reading results…

…okay, so this is supposed to be a recurring feature throughout the year. Instead it became among the many things I’ve let linger unattended in my life. Now my annual season of capsule reviews is upon me, and the large stack of finished books next to our PC looms over and demands a year-end catch-up. Let’s see if I can shorten these so I can get the complete list posted ASAP and move on to all the other year-in-review stuff…although every time I think to myself, “This will be a short review,” I am nearly always lying to myself. Wish me luck?

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“The Menu”: Tonight’s Special is a 10-Course Massacre

Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes face off as diner and chef in "The Menu".

“No, miss, I will not recite today’s specials in Voldemort’s voice.”

Speaking as someone who’s been in customer service for 34years and counting: when everything goes well, the symbiosis between a service team and their customer — whether a singular exchange or a recurring relationship — makes for a heartening occasion that both sides can appreciate. They pull off the quid pro quo between creator/provider and receiver/consumer, and everybody wins.

When things go wrong between the two parties, the results can be anywhere from mild disappointment to small-scale war. The customer gets full of themselves, or the employees show up in a foul mood, or there’s a miscommunication between the sides that could be resolved with some calm negotiation, yet isn’t. No one wins, everyone’s miserable, and it’s another round of cringing when they look back on That One Time years later.

The Menu falls in the latter column as an extreme worst-case scenario. An evening gone wrong becomes no mere comedy of errors, but an all-out class-war ambush where no one is innocent.

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“Avatar: The Way of Water”, the Weight of a Waterworld and the Wonder of Warrior Whales

Na'vi characters greeting each other in "Avatar The Way of Water".

Jake Sully, a fish out of water, becomes a little fish in a bigger pond, fishes for compliments from his hosts, believes he has bigger fish to fry, and realizes there’re other fish in the sea.

It’s been 13 years since the original Avatar hit theaters in December 2009, made a zillion dollars, and was nominated for a couple of awards. It was two years before this site existed, four years before I signed up for our first streaming service, 4½ years before I bought my first smartphone, and seven months before I joined Twitter. My son was in middle school. Barack Obama had been President for less than a year. Breaking Bad was two seasons in and a handful of AMC viewers thought it was keen.

It’s in those primitive times that James Cameron unleashed Avatar‘s technological might. I saw it twice in theaters, both times in 3-D. The first time, I was enthralled and perhaps a little giddy. The second time, I nodded off during one of the space-pterodactyl taming sequences. Over a decade in the making, the first sequel Avatar: The Way of Water vows that any theater-goer who pays extra to see it in a deluxe format cannot possibly sleep through a single second of it unless the speakers give them a concussion.

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How I Spent My Thanksgiving Holiday

Ten pies brought to Anne's family's Thanksgiving this year.

Pies nearly outnumbered people at Anne’s Thanksgiving this year.

It’s the holiday season! Yes, again! The past two weeks have been far from boring as Thanksgiving came and went, events kept sliding into our schedules, opportunities for both travel and sedentary diversions fought to take up our head space, and Christmas kept trying to assert its dominance too soon. Some of the busyness lent itself to pictures.

Some of the things I did:

* Thanksgiving at home! My side of the family has more or less forfeited turkey-time now that most of us live far from each other — states away, in some cases. In lieu of that, on Thanksgiving Day itself the last few years we’ve been inviting my mom over so she doesn’t have to spend the day alone. Anne makes a feast for the four of us that would feed a full-size gathering. I watch a movie with Mom, I spend a few seconds reminiscing in my head about how I used to spend Thanksgiving night studying the Black Friday ads in the newspaper, and then we dine on the leftovers for days. That’s baseline Thanksgiving of late. I finished the sweet potatoes Wednesday morning for breakfast, and thus were our leftover duration standards met.

Our Thanksgiving 2022 dinner with boneless Butterball turkey, sweet potatoes, rolls, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, and so on.

Not pictured: the second of two boneless Butterball turkeys Anne made, our household’s event-dinner poultry of choice.

* Thanksgiving way from home! After Anne’s grandma passed away in 2018, her side’s turkey time went on hiatus as everyone suddenly began focusing on gatherings in their other circles that they’d been missing over the years, or they indulged other non-holiday activities while Mamaw was no longer around to guilt-trip them sweetly into coming over. This year two key relatives moved up to Indiana after a decades-long stay in Kentucky and offered to host a Thanksgiving comeback special. One catch: it was Friday at noon, which meant no one could spend the entire day shopping. As most folks rely more heavily on online shopping nowadays and are okay with driving local proprietors into the poorhouse, nobody complained about schedule conflict.

As seen in our lead photo, we had too much pie, a phrase that sounds like heresy, and yet there it is. I limited myself to sliver-sized slices from three different pies and pretended that was a mature choice. Even before the Friday shindig, we’d already had pumpkin and pecan pies at home…and a chocolate pudding pie the weekend before, as a pre-Thanksgiving teaser dessert, kind of like how some families let kids open one gift on Christmas Eve. All told, the pie collection featured were pistachio, squash, pumpkin, Oreo, different Oreo, chocolate non-Oreo, Tollhouse Cookie, custard, cherry, and my favorite, pecan chocolate chip. For anyone demanding a change of pace, there was a store-bought pumpkin roll, and the last faction to arrive brought a cake I never got to see.

A few of our preferred groceries have become scarce or nonexistent during the temporary recessional inflationary supply-chain crisis-esque inconvenience meltdown trifle catastrophe that’s been status quo for like two years straight, but at long as we can find pie, or pie can find us, we believe America will stand tall and brave any other challenges ahead. Hopefully.

Our relatives were pretty happy to see each other again. Right on time, my social awkwardness kicked in as all the most interesting and ebullient talkers decided the best place for mingling in varying groupings would be in the room where I wasn’t. Three of us guys who weren’t much on initiating chitchat (all of us being plus-ones to blood kin) were left in the living room with the TV off and no one volunteering to do anything about it. Instead we agreed to find separate directions in which to stare off into space, avoid eye contact, and fall back on the hoary excuse that we were “digesting”. I kept my phone pocketed for as long as I could, but eventually caved. I got in a good forty minutes’ silent, boring doomscrolling before anyone checked on me.

In a few ways I’d missed that. Sort of.

A big black and white doggie sitting by my feet, staring politely.

Their doggie kept me company through some of that. I didn’t get her name.

* Black Friday shopping anyway! On my old blog I used to have an annual tradition of keeping a “Black Friday War Journal”, a complete rundown of times, stops, and purchasing results written throughout the hours I’d spend on Black Friday out there in the predawn pandemonium and the maddened crowds, all written in the terse, paranoiac style of Frank Castle. I walked away from all that as Black Friday metamorphosed into a very different thing over time, but I do miss keeping those War Journals.

Despite our noon engagement, I got out for a few hours in the morning beforehand to grab a couple of minor sales. I saw no customer feeding frenzies, no fistfights, and no police springing into action to quell riots. At 8 a.m. Barnes & Noble was teeming with dozens of teens. At 9 a.m. Target was already sold out of a popular Nintendo Switch game in their ad (or they hadn’t bothered to order any — I checked two different Targets, mind you). By 10 a.m. Best Buy had almost no line at the registers. I was home by 11.

* Family Game Night! That was Saturday evening. I’ve posted in the past about some of our experiences with new board games. The ones that catch our attention are too expensive for us to make this a regular habit, although after seeing how many Likes my Instagram posts get whenever I share them, it’s really tempting to reinvent myself as a Board Game Guy. Our latest acquisition is Terraforming Mars, a 2016 release in which each player is a future corporation doing its part to turn Mars into Earth Junior, ostensibly in the name of solving a humanitarian crisis and advancing humankind’s frontiers and scientific achievements, but also you’re competing to see who can take the most credit. Corporations gonna corporate.

The setup and teaching phases took us far too long, but eventually we picked up speed as we got used to the rules, slowly realized which of the zillions of scores ‘n’ stats mattered most, and figured out how to sabotage other’s plans in the grand corporate tradition. My son won this initial skirmish, but I expect different results next time. Hopefully.

Terraforming Mars board game, which comes with literally a few hundred components, including over 200 cards.

Anne and I hope to start on season 3 of Apple+’s For All Mankind in the next few weeks or so. This game feels like an apropos prologue.

* Solo Game Nights! Or, “how I spend every night after 9:00 when I’m not sleepy and not writing, which is most of them lately.” Fallout 3 has been keeping me company. I’ll write more about it in the next annual “Old Guy with a PS3” entry, but for now let me say that, considering the number of years I spent playing nothing but Skyrim, luring me into a game whose mechanics and sandbox sprawl are virtually identical to Skyrim‘s was like handing a Jack Daniels gift-box to your alcoholic dad. Thankfully there aren’t nearly as many locations, and the Capital Wasteland is far smaller than Tamriel, so maybe I’ll “finish” it sometime early in 2023. The less I write here, the more time I have for covering ground there.

"Radiation Warning" sign in Fallout 3.

The fence around Fallout 3‘s crater where the White House used to be. Lately this image could also double as Twitter’s home page.

* Xfinity Watchathon! A few times per year, our old-fashioned cable TV provider will treat their customers to several free days of premium services they refuse to subscribe to normally. That’s when I catch up on my HBO stories. My last Watchathon was devoted entirely to season 3 of Barry, which remains amazing; this time in between all the other activities I just wrote about above, I managed to fit in ten episodes of Succession (I ended with season 3’s riotous shareholders’ meeting, and hope the next episode doesn’t begin with poor Frank still trapped at the podium vamping for time), the HBO Max original film See How They Run (a frivolous whodunit with some historical facts blended in, and I cheered when I recognized Lucian Msamati from the awesome Gangs of London as Agatha Christie’s husband), and, for Mom’s Thanksgiving afternoon entertainment as a lifelong fan of disaster films, Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall, the worst 2022 film I’ve seen so far. Thanks, Comcast, mostly!

* A funeral. Anne’s great-uncle, her Mamaw’s youngest brother, passed away Thanksgiving Eve after three years of compounding illnesses and conditions. He was an Air Force veteran who went on to work for the FAA, he served on the local township school board for sixteen years, he spent over five decades in the Lions Club and assorted charity works, he used to take the family out for Christmas dinner every year at Gray Bros. Cafeteria in Mooresville, and he was always kind to me and my son whenever he saw us, same as he was to pretty much anyone who intersected with his path. His numerous accomplishments added up to the sort of obituary that makes you hope your own obit won’t end up a two-line slug that just says, “Mostly harmless.”

* Things that will get their own MCC entries in the week ahead! Stick with us as I’m on staycation all next week and should have plenty of time to write about:

  • The Menu, a wicked but sadly overlooked satire of wealthy foodies and the restaurateurs who take too much pride in serving them.
  • A field trip to see a collection of special Christmas trees in a local museum.
  • Our next convention! I spent Monday night prepping for this coming weekend’s big soiree, which will take us to a city in another state that we’ve already visited twice this year, whose convention center we walked around once but have never been inside before.

…and maybe even more, more, more, right here on MCC! If you don’t read about all these by next Wednesday, please tell Anne to go drag me out of Fallout 3 kicking and screaming.

“The Crown” Season 5: All Ten Episodes Ranked According to a Guy Who Was Never All That Attached to Princess Diana

Elizabeth Debicki and Salim Daw at a horsing exhibition in episode 3 of The Crown season 5, "Mou-Mou".

Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw) enjoy themselves a little too much in the Royal Penalty Box.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: at the start of the pandemic my wife Anne and I binged the first three seasons of Netflix’s The Crown and soon caught up with the rest of fandom. One slight hitch: while Anne is a major history aficionado, that was never my forte, especially not the story of Queen Elizabeth II and her subjects, some of whom were her own trod-upon relatives:

Compared to my blissfully ignorant self, Anne is far more knowledgeable of history in general and British royalty in particular. My interest in their reigning family went dormant for decades beginning on the morning of July 29, 1981, when my family woke up at 5 a.m. — over summer vacation, mind you — to watch Prince Charles marry Princess Diana, two strangers I knew only as frequent costars of my mom’s favorite tabloids. Their wedding lasted approximately six days and was performed entirely in slow motion with British golf commentators prattling through the lengthy silences in between the happenstances of nothingness. For the next 15-20 years I retained nothing of British history apart from their role as the Big Bad in the American Revolution. Frankly, I’ve learned more about their country’s storied past from my wife and from Oscar-nominated movies than I ever did from school. Sad, unadorned truth.

So far I’ve enjoyed The Crown anyway, and understood most of what’s gone on…

I found myself so entertained by Peter Morgan’s principally fictional creation that I was compelled to compile my ten favorite episodes of those first three seasons based on my own finicky and sometimes underschooled impressions. That listicle unexpectedly became this site’s most popular entry of 2020 for lack of competition during an unprecedentedly sedentary year. Naturally I was compelled to post follow-ups as they happened — a sequel listicle for season 4 and a recount of that time on Labor Day weekend 2021 when we attended a Dragon Con fan panel about the show but suppressed our responses and ripostes behind our sweaty pop-culture COVID masks in a rather Royal Family manner.

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