Category: Lists

Rom-Com Protagonists We Love to Hate

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Judd Appatow’s latest opus dropped yesterday on Netflix and comes in the form of a 10-episode romantic comedy title Love. It attempts to understand what love is by chronicling the relationship between self-loathing and self-sabotaging alcoholic Mickey (Gillian Jacobs)  and Gus (Paul Rust), an OCD, socially awkward on-set tutor. Their courtship evolves from one misstep after another in the new trend of two dysfunctional people coming together and finding solace in each other’s mess. It’s a trend that means viewers end up falling for characters that are really not so nice. Need more examples that this is a thing? Here’s four other delightfully wicked rom-coms featuring the most awful, unlikable protagonists.

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Casual [Hulu]
Newly divorced Valerie moves in with her brother Alex and together they embark on dating while raising her teenage daughter. Sounds so lovely and sweet, right? Wrong. We figure out pretty quickly how selfish and narcissistic both Valerie and Alex are. Lifelong bachelor Alex is rich from his dating start up success so he barely does anything productive including work. Valerie gets romantically involved with anyone remotely linked to both her brother and daughter for some reason. The idea of two broken people coming to together to magically heal each other usually works when it centers around two people dating. When it’s a brother and sister it’s just weird and borders on incestuous at times. But for some reason you can’t look away.

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You’re the Worst [FXX, Hulu]
When Jimmy Shive-Overly and Gretchen Cutler meet at a wedding it’s dislike at first sight. The two bond over their shared anti-relationship sentiments. We are sure we loathe them because Jimmy is a narcissist that just got kicked out of said wedding for disrespecting the bride. Meanwhile, Gretchen is a cynic leaving with a stolen gift. What kind of people are these? What starts as a one-night stand blossoms in some dark, dysfunctional way into a GASP, relationship, much to their surprise. We can’t help but keep watching the terror unfold. Luckily, the one-liners in here and the amazing supporting characters give the couple and show some redeeming value.

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Sleeping with Other People [Amazon Video, iTunes]
Addiction rears it’s head again here in this modern day When Harry Met Sally. Jake and Lainey have a one stand in college and then 12 years later run into each other at a sex-addicts-anonymous meeting. Yep, that’s where we are headed with this. Both have just cheated on their significant others causing the demise of their perspective relationships, surprise, surprise. Jake is an expert at Peter Panning and cuts out at the first sign of trouble in any relationship and sleeps with someone else. Lainey is obsessed with her unavailable gynecologist making her non-committal. Again, not nice people! They make a pact to try something new and just be platonic friends. No sexy time, just friends. And somehow this works. Of course, they fall in love with each other and push those feelings away. Lainey does the sensible thing and moves out of state. But then Jake does the inevitable rom-com grand gesture of beating up the gynecologist and now they realize they have to be together.

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Togetherness [HBO]
If you want a recipe for dysfunction take one self-loathing, out of work actor friend, one unfocused, selfish sister and one unhappily married couple mix together and put in the same house and Voila! That’s the premise for one of the realest depictions of the trials and tribulations of marriage on TV. Brett and Michelle Pierson’s marriage is in that weird mundane stage where they have lost all the passion and zest. Brett is super grouchy while trying to find himself and Michelle wants to have more fun. They take in Michelle’s little sister Tina and Brett’s BFF Alex, somewhat out of pity but probably more for a distraction. Tina offers to help Alex become the leading man he’s always wanted to be and in the process they become great friends. When Alex professes his undying love for Tina she opts for dating the rich producer guy who actually has his own place instead. OOF. Oh and Michelle rediscovers her passion, with someone who is not her husband.

Your Essential Streaming Valentine’s Day Episodes

It’s cold out there, if you’re on the East Coast. People are begging Netflix to release House of Cards early. But if House of Cards isn’t for you (it’s definitely not for me!) and you want to honor the weekend’s holiday, you can’t go wrong with these themed episodes from your favorite shows. (That only one is still airing is incidental.)

I Love Lucy

Episode: “Lucy Plays Cupid” (Season 1, Episode 15)
Watch at: Hulu or CBS.com

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Lucy schemes to set up her older neighbor with the grocer. An awkward love triangle ensues, made worse when Ricky (oh, brother) tries to teach Lucy a lesson. Ricky’s a bad husband, but the match works out in the end.

Parks & Recreation

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Episode: “Operation Ann” (Season 4, Episode 14)
Watch At: Netflix

The show that invented a pre-holiday can’t be left out. While Leslie obsesses over finding a mate for Ann, Ben, Andy, and Ron struggle to solve a series of clues. Ann rightly finds Leslie’s second-hand desperation insulting, though it’s a joy to take in Pawnee’s community-thrown couples dance (poorly DJ’d by a very sad Chris). Ron and Ben revel in Ben’s challenge, which is way more fun than the dance, as they interrupt dates at JJ’s Diner and Pawnee’s odd attractions (including the snow globe museum, which is staffed by a disgruntled Martin Starr). It’s too bad that Manentine’s Day is already a thing of its own.

The Simpsons

Episode: “I Love Lisa” (Season 4, Episode 15)
Watch At: Simpsons World via FX Now

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There’s more than one Valentine’s Day episodes in The Simpsons oeuvre, but Ralph Wiggum’s declaration of love for Lisa, who pitied him like we pity Charlie Brown, is easily the best of the series. Ralph’s stirring speech during the President’s Day pageant is more moving than a speech from a fictional second-grader has any right to be.

30 Rock

Episodes: “St. Valentine’s Day”/”Anna Howard Shaw Day” (Season 3, Episode 11/Season 4, Episode 13)
Watch At: Netflix (1/2)

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In “St. Valentine’s Day,” Liz is foiled on a first date with Jon Hamm’s perfect (and stupid) doctor Drew on Valentine’s Day, while Jack reconciles with Selma Hayek’s Elisa over McFlurries. (“Don’t tell me you’re one of those convenient Catholics who goes to church every Sunday.”) In “Anna Howard Shaw Day” Liz rebels against the holiday, insisting she can do anything a couple can, including getting herself home from a root canal, which she deliberately scheduled for the holiday. Jack, on a date with Avery Jessup, has to carry a very out-of-it Liz home. It’s a balm for anyone rolling their eyes at friends shaking their fist at Valentine’s Day.

Arrested Development

Episode: “Marta Complex” (Season 1, Episode 12)
Watch at: Netflix

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Michael’s speech about love causes Marta, G.O.B.’s girlfriend, to fall in love with him and inspires Lindsay to seek a divorce. Good job, Michael.

Happy Endings

Episode: “The St. Valentine’s Day Maxssacre” (Season 2, Episode 23)
Watch at: Hulu

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Penny wants to dump her boyfriend, but wants to wait until after the fancy dinner (“for him,” she swears), and convinces Dave that he’s being strung along too, and his foolishness costs him a threesome and his relationship. It’s great to see an acknowledgment of what seventh grade boys and girls have been manipulating for decades: The Break Up Window.

The Twilight Zone

Episode: “From Agnes—With Love” (Season 5, Episode 20)
Watch at: Netflix

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A computer programmer trying to use his work machine for offsite tasks (wooing a woman) finds himself foiled when the computer falls in love with him.

Screen Scholars’ Favorite Episodes of 2015

What defines a great episode of television can range from a grand concept outside the program’s usual structure to a show that perfectly captures the spirit and characters of the series’ universe. While they often have a social mission, sometimes they are simply a well-executed, deftly written snapshot of a compelling moment or characters’ turning point. Our list of favorite episodes of 2015 contains all of these types of shows and more.

Warning: Abandon ye all hope of avoiding spoilers once you pass this point!

Broad City

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Episode: “St. Mark’s”
Originally Aired: 3/18/2015
Watch at: Hulu

Few television shows inhabit the city in which they live as Broad City does New York City. Its remarkable second season is practically a love letter to the passive joys of the city that always brings the drama, seen through the eyes of two blissed-out, critical, yet adoring natives. If the opening subway stride brilliantly set the season up, Abbi & Ilana’s stroll through one of NYC’s supremely bohemian boulevards — one that’s famously and undeniably feeling the strain of rampant gentrification — wraps up the season in a manner that exquisitely fits the Broad City universe. St. Mark’s Place is a wonderfully messy mix of surviving tattoo parlors, t-shirt and sock salesmen, cartoonish creations like Treeman, obnoxious bridge-and-tunnel gawkers, street urchins with trust funds, archaic poets and hipster wannabes, foodies, soused frat boys chasing discount beer deals, and so on — basically, it’s the good and the bad of many eras of a mutating urban center all mingled together. And it provides perfect backdrop for the imperfect Broad City duo — a pair of pals trying hard to navigate life in a city that can be unbending to say the least. More than anything, Abbi & Ilana find it in friendship, a bond ideally illustrated by their adventures in “St. Mark’s,” particularly by an ending which veers away from comedy as the two cuddle under a blanket on the city street sharing some very simple and earnest hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. It’s an honesty and openness few cool comedies could pull off. Broad City does.
Jason Thurston

Fargo

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Episode: “Loplop”
Originally Aired: 12/7/2015
Watch at: Amazon Prime

As is the case Fargo’s episodes, there’s a lot going on here; Ed and Peggy are trapped in a cabin with Dodd, the cops are hot on the trail, the mobs are unhappy and clueless, and two steps ahead of everyone is Hanzee.
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“Loplop” is truly Hanzee’s episode (sorry, Peggy). In spite of hallucinations and trade deals, he is always out there. Stalking through the wilds of Midwest, Hanzee. Reflecting the massacre of Native Americans, amid puke, Hanzee. (The plaque commemorating the hanging of Native Americans was a nod to this, right?) Demanding answers and meteing out justice, Hanzee. Killing anyone who crosses his path, from the seemingly innocent to the definitely-had-it-coming, Hanzee. Plotting, I am sure of it, from state to state, the ends of his adopted family—because no one cares about Dodd, not this much—Hanzee.
Hanzee is compelling in his mystery, and there are little answers in this season, or the next after he ascends the throne of the Fargo mob as Moses Tripoli.

But when I think of Hanzee, I think of him as a singular man—a singular man—stalking through the wilderness and across the suburban baseball fields, into and out of the ether, a man unnoticed and absolutely untouchable.
Katherine M. Hill

Inside Amy Schumer

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Episode: “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer”
Originally Aired: 5/5/2015
Watch at: Hulu

It takes a certain type of metaphorical balls to make an important piece of satire using a half-century old black-and-white movie to affect mainstream social change — not to mention one that makes a strong feminist statement which doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. However, Schumer could do very little wrong in 2015 (this year seems to be a bit different, fwiw) and the highlight of her spectacular third season was this pitch perfect, star-studded parody of the 1957 classic 12 Angry Men.

As the show sheds its multi-sketch format for one continuous story/bit, John Hawkes shines in Henry Fonda’s role as Juror #8. This time the one-man army heroically advocates — against an 11-man sea of dissent — the basic notion that Amy Schumer is attractive enough to “deserve” to be a movie’s leading lady. While the tightly wound thirty minutes does not spare the gut laughs (including dryness king Kumail Nanjiani’s response to a dildo which takes the place of the original movie’s switchblade), the episode hits its points on about every front. Schumer doesn’t merely lay herself bare to a barrage of the petty critiques and body shaming which have haunted her career, but takes on the clear absurdity in the double standard where women have to adhere to a Nurse Ratched-strict list of ideal looks guidelines that men like Hawkes and Dennis Quaid and many others in her stacked jury do not. And again, the episode is simply funny and a spot-on homage to the original — not an easy task; one which makes it perhaps the most impressive episode of television from 2015.
Jason Thurston

The Jim Gaffigan Show

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Episode: “The Bible Story”
Originally Aired: 11/9/2015
Watch at: Amazon Prime

In his moderately successful mainstream career, Gaffigan has made no secret about (and created some hilarious longform routines around) the factor religion — specifically: Catholicism — plays in his life. However, much of the narrative success of the first season of his enhanced autobiographical sitcom has been in not making a big deal about it, even with a priest in the main cast. The show’s also been strong in its commitment to realism, letting its strong characters and conversations naturally drive the stories. Of course, its best episode throws all that out the window.

Circumstances burden Gaffigan with a ginormous Bible at a comedy nightclub, a book he accidentally holds up as if a talisman when a fan takes a pic with him. The photo goes viral, then macguffin, as the genially neurotic comic’s attempts to alternately embrace and explain away his faith — including a visit to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show — dig him in deeper, earning him famous enemies on all sides of the debate. The episode reaches a fever pitch in a marvelous montage when hiding in bed, Gaffigan flips through the channels, as everyone from Rachel Maddow to Bill O’Reilly to Nancy Grace brutally destroy the defeated comic. It’s a silly high-concept episode, but it works as both a fun ride and an examination of the media’s tendency to latch onto the most provocative parts of a story and twist it to its own intent, to the point any deeper meaning or sense is long lost.
Jason Thurston

Mad Men

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Episode: “Lost Horizon”
Originally Aired: 5/3/2015
Watch At: Amazon Prime

One of the most memorable episodes and gifs of the season, maybe even series, is centered around gasp, Peggy??? Sorry Don, we’ve had enough of your self-absorbed melancholy. Yes, you are being reduced to one of many and you are no longer the star of the show so go out west and do some soul searching. This episode is for women everywhere trying to find their place in a male-dominated world and workplace.  While waiting around at the old office because there was no office for her at McCann, Peggy is begged by Roger to hang out. One last drink for the road he says. Ha, famous last words! They have a drink or five, manage to roller-skate around the office and have a heart to heart. It’s kinda sweet the way Roger offers up some fatherly advice which becomes the collective “a-ha” moment for all women watching.

We already know from Shirley’s wise observation that “advertising is not a very comfortable place for everyone” as she throws in the towel before the acquisition. Joan is finding that out during her first week at McCann. Even in her high position she is told she is not even entitled to her own emotions and is pushed out of the company for half of what is owed her. Peggy knows that first-hand also, but still timidly kept on the good fight, trying her best never to disturb anyone with her presence. When she declines Roger’s offer to take the pornographic octopus painting because she has to, “make men feel at ease,” Roger retorts “Who told you that?” … OOF. Point taken. It seems everyone’s future is dismal at this point. But when a rebellious, thick-skinned Peggy 2.0 walks in to McCann a few days later — hangover sunglasses on, cigarette toting, carrying the octopus painting under her arm (LIKE A BOSS) we can rest assured she is ready to take on whatever the agency has waiting and SC&P will continue to live on through her.
Navani Otero

Master of None

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Episode: “Parents”
Originally Aired: 11/6/2015
Watch at: Netflix

As heartwarming as it is funny, this episode successfully portrays the dynamic of second generation immigrant kids with their parents. And who better to showcase what that relationship looks like than Aziz’ real parents portraying his fictional family?  It’s this subtle authenticity they brought to the screen that earns it a spot as one of the best episodes of the year.

After dodging their parents requests to hang out, Dev and Brian finally decide to double date and all go out for a meal. Up until this point, neither of the sons had really bothered to ask about what it was like for their parents to move to America. Instead of the grandiose, happy tale they probably expected, they hear how Dev’s mom sat on the couch and cried, how both his dad and mom feared answering the telephone because of their accents. Brian’s dad shares this affliction. Both Brian and Dev leave truly affected and with a new appreciation for their parent’s struggle. It changes their relationship for the better. Dev puts in a weekly reminder in his dad’s iPad to have catch-up call, which Papa Ansari had been struggling to use throughout the whole episode. Then all our hearts melted and we called our parents immediately.
Navani Otero

The Nightly Show

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Episode: “Episode 51”
Originally Aired: 4/30/2015
Watch at: Comedy Central

When I think of The Nightly Show and I look back on Larry’s short tenure on air, what I remember with the most warmth is his sit down with Baltimore’s gang members during Baltimore tumultuous spring. Larry finally brought humanity to the crisis and Baltimore’s own people, when other network were making a real mess of journalistic integrity. (You can see Larry’s critique of that here. Watch his segment at the Double T and ask me about The Wire like some asshole who thinks the show is hyperrealistic yet not a city where people live.)

This is Larry at his best. He’s funny (“when have property taxes elicited laughs like this”) and he’s serious and respectful, too. Larry doesn’t pander or patronize, and what we get is a first rate interview the newsmen couldn’t get.
Katherine M. Hill

Parks and Recreation

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Episode: “One Last Ride”
Originally Aired: 2/24/2015
Watch at: Netflix

When Six Feet Under pulled off its near-perfect finale, it extended to the furthest future, to celebrate the remainder of the Fisher family lives through their moments of death. The vastly sunnier Parks and Recreation plays off this tactic for its finale, however with its own fitting twist. As indefatigable politician Leslie Knope hugs each of her fellow Pawnee travelers, we see their life paths through to each character’s happiest of moments (only one whose real death we witness is L/G/B/Terry — and it’s on his 100th birthday, surrounded by his ageless, loving family of Christie Brinkleys). While all the outcomes exhibit characters’ achieving absurd levels of success, these triumphs are earned by individuals established as most deserving of human beings.

One nice touch: Jon Daly’s drunk from the first scene of the first episode, returns to the slide he clogged up then, now as a cleaned-up citizen demanding repairs — as good a parallel as any for a show which began about as laggard and poorly reviewed as any, only to transform into one of the most marvelous and iconic programs of all-time.
Jason Thurston

Playing House

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Episode: “Knotty Pine”
Air Date: 8/18/2015
Watch on: Amazon Prime

Emma and Maggie spend extracurricular time with their nemesis, Bird Bones, and dedicate themselves to keep her married to Mark. Their dedication almost overshadows the quiet, lonely agony Mark and Bird Bones are suffering at home (“It’s not a train set, it’s a tabletop railroad modeling system set in a miniature Pinebrook.”), which Playing House treats with unexpected grace and gentleness. Mark and Bird Bones break up quietly, privately, and because Playing House is the joy we were promised in a post-Bridesmaids world, Emma and Maggie pick up the pieces…with humor, kindness, and fro yo.
Katherine M. Hill

The Walking Dead

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Episode: “JSS”
Originally Aired: 10/18/2015
Watch at: Amazon Prime

The sixth season of Robert Kirkman’s basic-cable changing zombie series was its usual hit-or-miss mix of thrillride and stuttering over-exposition. However, when it was on, it shined with a brilliant intensity few shows can match.

“JSS” sets up a quiet day in Alexandria with Carol wryly, and with no shortage of passive aggression, discussing dinner plans with the town’s residents. With most of our featured players handling an undead crisis a few miles outside the fort’s walls, the plot proceeds quietly for a half-hour, until Carol places a casserole in the oven; as the uber-warrior masquerading as a housewife crouches into the left of the screen, we focus on an Alexandrian innocuously smoking in front of her house. Without warning, she is gorily macheted to death by a hooded attacker. From there all chaos breaks loose as the frequently foreshadowed Wolves attack the compound, Carol clashes with Morgan over his non-killing policy (while she does her usual kicking of ass), an attacker’s truck’s horn draws zombies, teenaged Enid suspiciously leaves town and Carl(lll!), and the overwhelmed Alexandrians try their best to save their own.

And just as quickly as it started, it’s over. As Carl removes Carol’s now-cooked casserole from the oven, the viewer is left to ponder our own ethics and philosophies vis a vis human life. How would we react in kill-or-be-killed times? Oh, we also wonder just how the heck the gang is going to get themselves out of the latest fine mess.
Jason Thurston

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

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Episode: “Electro/City”
Originally Aired: 7/31/2015
Watch at: Netflix

If the initial conceit back in 2001 of mostly 30-somethings playing raging teen camp counselors seemed a longshot, what exactly would you call the odds of the same cast returning a decade-and-a-half hence — to create a prequel. Yet it works — and not totally b/c Hollywood stars like Rudd, Cooper, and Banks are ageless, but mostly due to its unlikely ability to add a real heart and compelling plot deep within the wall of broad farce.

The center of that story is the gang’s bizarre ultra-1980s musical, planned throughout the season, performed in the sixth episode. It’s both strikingly prepared to fit with the culture of the time to the point you’ll find yourself checking the internet, sure of its existence, and so peculiarly plotted as to blow your mind if you try to piece together just what the hell is going on upon the stage. More impressive is the ensemble’s ability to weave almost a dozen subplots into this performance, with all climaxing in one impressive wave — of course, right as the play-within-the-series reaches its crescendo.
Jason Thurston

You’re the Worst

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Episode: “Other Things You Could Be Doing”
Originally Aired: 12/2/2015
Watch at: Hulu

What a whirlwind this season has been. My new favorite couple Gretchen and Jimmy are certainly have a bumpy ride which all gets magnified in this tumultuous episode. The two have officially taken a break after her manic depression set in leaving Jimmy totally blindsided. Gretch has since moved in with her bestie, the only other person who seems to be familiar with this side of her. Gretchen has reached an all-time low causing a never-ending feud with her clients (Sam, Shitstain and Honeynutz), pulling out a gun on someone and then balling up in the fetal position back at Jimmy’s in the dark.

Jimmy has given his all but after being pushed away for so long he strikes up an emotional and physical affair with the local bar maiden. She offers him up a romantic getaway to have a romp and he bites. Jimmy goes home to pack a bag and sees Gretchen there crawled up in a ball in the dark. He realizes he can’t just leave her like that. So, he makes a decision and off to making a fort he goes and crawls up beside her. When Gretchen finally wakes up and sees he is there and never left she cries like a baby, signaling that she can actually feel again, and of course I am crying right along with them. “You stayed?” she asks. Omg, he did! At that point you realize Jimmy really loves her even if he hasn’t come to terms with it himself yet. Never have I seen mental illness explored in such a human way where no one is demonized, you feel for everyone involved and you somehow get through it. Maybe love does conquer all.
Navani Otero

Our Top 30 Shows of 2015:
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Incredible Documentaries That Lost the Oscar

This year’s Oscar nominees for Best Documentary are packed with goodies: all five films have received buzz on their own merits, and deserve to win. 124 films were up for nomination, making it a true honor to be in the running. It’s as tight a race as Best Picture, yet only one can win, a loss for the four excellent films. (Cartel Land, What Happened, Miss Simone?, and Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom are streaming on Netflix; Amy and The Look of Silence are for rent on Amazon.)

Let’s take a look at shocking losses of the last 5 years.

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Restrepo was nominated in 2010, but lost to Inside Job. Restrepo is, perhaps, better remembered. (Its 2014 sequel is Korengal.Restrepo follows the 2nd Platoon of Battle Company over the course of a year in Afghanistan’s deadliest valley, Korengal. Available on Netflix.

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Pina lost in 2011 to Undefeated, a documentary about a high school football team. A critical darling of art lovers worldwide, it is inevitably playing in New York City at any given time. Wim Wenders’ 3D ode to the choreography of Pina Bausch features her best noted work, performed in the city of Wuppertal. The camerawork and cinematography are outstanding. (Wenders’ Buena Vista Social Club was nominated and lost in 1999.) Available on Amazon Video (free with Sundance Doc Club).

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Paradise 3: Purgatory was also nominated in 2011; it’s the third installment in a series of compelling documentaries following the West Memphis Three. Wrongly imprisoned for 18 years, Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin were suddenly released two months before the film’s HBO premiere; Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky focused then on the lives of the Three after the release after their Alford plea. Available on HBO Go.

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How to Survive a Plague, the 2012 documentary about the actions and efforts of ACT UP and TAG in the early days of the (STILL ONGOING) AIDS epidemic lost to the very good Searching for Sugarman. But given the demographics of Oscar voters, it’s more than fair to say that its loss is entirely political. Available on Netflix.

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The Invisible War is also from 2012. It explores the rampant sexual assault in the military, the lack of effort to stop it. Women are more likely to be raped than killed by enemy fire. The Invisible War won both a Peabody Award and an Emmy. Available through Amazon Video (free with Prime).

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The Act of Killing lost the 2013 honor to 20 Feet From Stardom. Both were perfectly deserving. Killing finds the perpetrators of the 1965-1966 Indonesian massacre. Two of the men rose through the ranks of the death squads and killed over 1,000 innocent people in an enormous ethnic cleansing; today the men are proud, unapologetic, and in positions of political power. During the re-telling of the crimes director Joshua Oppenheimer has one of the men reenact the events, which is bizarre and horribly affecting. This year’s nominee The Look of Silence is Oppenheimer’s follow-up. Available on Netflix (theatrical release and director’s cut).

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The Square was enormously popular upon its Netflix release in 2013, but likely suffered the affects of Netflix seeming less legit than the cinema. (This seems to have affected Beasts of No Nation, despite Netflix’s best efforts, though the Oscars’ inability to recognize Black actors didn’t help.) The Square examined the Egyptian Revolution; it won three Emmys. Available on Netflix.

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Virunga was also released on Netflix. It lost the 2014 Oscar to CitizenfourVirunga follows four people in Congo’s Virunga National Park protecting gorillas from war, poaching, and deforestation. The popularity of the documentary resulted in scrutiny against Soco International (who agreed to stop exploring the area for oil drilling). The film won many awards, including a Peabody. Available on Netflix.

Many critically acclaimed documentaries were never nominated: the epically long ShoahGrey GardensGoing Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Prophet’s PreySenna, and Let the Fire Burn, the reason I wrote this article. (It’s so good! You can fin it on Netflix.) The exclusion of Hoop Dreams resulted in a change in the nomination system. The works of Errol Morris and Michael Moore are usually overlooked as well. (More did win for 2002’s Bowling for Columbine, and Morris shared a win with Michael Williams for 2003’s The Fog of War.)

8 Alternative Christmas Films

Christmas is soon upon us, and we now find ourselves knee-deep in holiday specials. But if you find The Sound of MusicToy Story, and Harry Potter unfathomable (having a Christmas scene does not a Christmas movie make), ABC Family and Hallmark nauseating (hear, hear!), and the traditional fare boring (looking at you, Die Hard), I have a bevy of weird and alternative titles at the ready.

  • The Silent Partner (1978)
    Elliott Gould tries to stop a bank robbery planned by the mall’s Santa and played by Christopher Plummer. I present a clip below in my effort to make this one in a classic. (Amazon Video)
  • Reindeer Games (2000)
    Dennis Farina, Gary Sinise, Ben Affleck, Isaac Hayes, and Danny Trejo are among the cast in this explosion-filled film featuring a group of santas robbing a casino. (Amazon Video)
  • The Tower (2012)
    I’ll let IMDb handle this one succinctly:”A Christmas Eve party at a luxury residential building takes a horrific turn when a fire breaks out.” (Amazon Video)
  • Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
    In this Finnish film, the true Santa is excavated from his icy grave and proves to be less saintly than believed. (free on Amazon Video with a Tribeca Shortlist subscription)
  • Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1965)
    This science fiction comedy is a classic in its own right, thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000. (Amazon Video, Hulu)
  • Santa Claus (“Santa Claus vs The Devil”) (1959)
    Rated with even less prestige than …the Martians, Santa fights the devil with the aid of the wizard Merlin. (Amazon Video, Internet Archive, and occasionally TCM)
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
    Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer star in this under-the-radar noirish comedy which has since inspired a quiet, cult following and fanfic. RDJ is a petty thief who unwittingly poses as an actor auditioning for a role and is paired with Kilmer’s private investigator as he investigates a possible suicide. (Amazon Video)
  • Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
    The least weird of the bunch, except that it stars Dudley Moore as a kind, then scheming, then conciliatory elf. Nevertheless, my sisters were forced to watch this in the Crying Room of the theater, and never let me forget it, so I would be remiss to leave out my first film.