the lego movie

Tough Questions: What’s the Best Thing You’ve Seen this Year?


Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the best thing you’ve seen this year?

Rules are simple: what have we, like, gotta see, man? No, really, what have we gotta see? It’s the middle of the year and nearly everything worthwhile is on hiatus. Wonder if anyone here is writing about that? Is that the first meta-plug in the intro paragraph? Why are you reading this, still? Go find out what you’re missing! What’s the best stuff from your first half of 2014?

Alex Russell

“So Did the Fat Lady” is the episode of Louie that’s nominated for an Emmy, but I’m sticking with the entire “Elevator” saga. I’m Louie‘s biggest fan, and I’m honestly a little surprised every time I realize it competes for Emmy awards as a “comedy.” I guess it is, but the “Elevator” arc from this season is everything the show is supposed to be. There were a ton of thinkpieces written about how it’s not funny anymore, but if you’re watching Louie to laugh then you’re missing the point. It’s all about watching a woman try to explain “hairdryer” to someone with no shared language between them. DAMN this season of Louie was good, y’all.

Jonathan May


I’d have to say the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado. Clyfford Still was one of the leading American Abtract-Expressionist painters. The Museum houses 94% of the artist’s output, and he stipulated in his will that all of his work should be sealed off from the public (upon his death) until a museum devoted solely to it was built. The Museum opened just a few years ago, so I was lucky to be able to return to Denver to see it this year. Not only is the building itself absolutely gorgeous (concrete and steel), the paintings hang beautifully in chronological order, with many more in careful storage. I’d never been able to see his paintings in the flesh, so to walk through rooms and rooms of them was just heaven.


Brent Hopkins

I would say the best thing I have seen this year would have to be Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe in Japan. I’ve always been intrigued by Japan as a long time video game and anime fan, and finally had a chance to go visit. (I wrote about the arcade culture there way back when.) You always hear about Tokyo, but the other cities are so vibrant and lively that they shouldn’t be taken for granted either. Kyoto in particular had me feeling like I had lived there forever or could live there forever. Just a breathtaking place with amazing people.

Gardner Mounce

The best thing I’ve seen so far this year is the trailer for Boyhood, the new Richard Linklater film. I’m a huge Linklater fan, having seen all of the Before… movies a dozen times. I was smiling ear-to-ear when I saw that trailer. It looks like it’s going to be like the Before…movies but three hours long and with all the cringiness of puberty. That’s my kind of entertainment.

Colton Royle

Can we just talk about how incredible The Lego Movie really was? I mean here is a movie about a kid’s toy that was somehow also about globalization, free movement of capital, and the possibility for a post-nation state while also adding in a little Marxist criticism for the low income workers?

In all seriousness, the movie is really funny. Each cliché is tweaked just out of reach for comedy. Consider the foreshadowing of Emmit’s fall into the human world (spoilers, but it’s been enough time) with items like the “Blade of Exact Zero” and the enlightened flashes that included a cat poster. Consider how Morgan Freeman’s character Vitruvius thinks that a prophecy is true because it rhymes. And the first five minutes of the film in Bricksburg is the most satirical animated wonder since Shrek. While it definitely shows as not a movie for children, it is philosophical and quirky in a way that had me doing jumping jacks.

Andrew Findlay

The best thing I have seen all year is The Sopranos. I have been on a quest to catch up on all of the universally acclaimed television shows from the last couple decades, and The Sopranos has impressed me the most by far. Mad Men is dripping with style, The Wire is sprawling, complex, and incisive, and Breaking Bad is absurdly exciting to watch, but none quite hit the slow and workmanlike layering of a fully realized network of people. The Sopranos is a show about generational psychosis, the American dream, and family (both the kind you see at Thanksgiving and the kind you order to hijack a semi of fine Italian suits for you). All the shows I listed are amazing, but they are all missing something intangible that The Sopranos has, and I expect it to remain for some time in my top five cultural experiences.

The Lego Movie is Entirely About Fun. Should You See it?


Mike Hannemann

In our rarely-running kinda-series Should You See It? we talk about movies that just came out. You can figure out the rest of the premise from the title of the series. That’s right: we talk recipes. Should you see The Lego Movie?

Back when I was in high school, making Lego movies was a big fad. There was an early YouTube clip of the “Camelot” song from Monty Python and the Holy Grail re-done entirely in Lego that I watched daily. I had friends that tried to re-create Star Wars scenes with them well before the video game franchise came around. I get it. Even before the hugely successful video game franchise, people were making Lego movies. I say that to say how much I thought The Lego Movie was going to be embarrassing.

The elevator pitch for The Lego Movie is, essentially, just “oh, it’s a movie about Lego.” I’m terrified to think of the board meeting where this was greenlit. On paper, there’s no way this could actually be a good movie. It seems like the lowest hanging fruit to base a film on (Battleship from a few years ago takes second place). It almost feels like something a TV show would use as an idea when making fun of Hollywood for trying to shovel-feed easily consumed movies to mass audiences. “Ball: The Movie” is probably the only thing easier to use as a joke.

But then, somehow, it works.

At this point, you’ve probably already heard about the universal acclaim The Lego Movie is bringing in. As of this writing, it’s boasting a 95% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “How could this go so wrong?” is a question that’s frequently asked when it comes to Hollywood but in this case, we’ve got ourselves scratching our heads asking “how could this go so RIGHT?”

After seeing it, the answer is pretty simple. The writers (of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs fame) choose to air on the side of caution and just… well, want to have fun. It’s a simple comparison to the actual point of using the blocks themselves, but I couldn’t help coming back to that fact when watching it. The movie never tries to be more than it is, it doesn’t try to reach Toy Story-esque heights or re-imagine the way we look at a toy that’s been a staple of childhood since the mid-1950s. It just simply tries to tell a fun story. And because of it, it works.

Chris Pratt plays the main character – Emmet – a construction worker who becomes the film’s “Chosen One.” I won’t waste time talking about the plot. It’s simple enough to engage but children and adults but that means discussing any real story points would be to spoil it. So, instead, let’s just talk about this one character. He’s simultaneously the story’s hero but it also feels like the movie itself is designed off of him.

The character is a simple-minded, good-hearted, silly guy. And this is all the movie sets out to be, too. Jokes don’t always land (although thankfully the laughter overshadows the clunkers) but that takes a backseat to the good-natured charm. While the plot gets over-the-top with how ambitious it becomes, it still feels like a simple narrative hitting all the familiar beats one would expect in a “save the world” story aimed at nostalgia.

It’s because of this that the voice acting works so well, too. Throughout the entire film, it just feels like these actors are having the time of their lives. Nick Offerman voices the pirate Metal Beard with such enthusiasm that I actually didn’t realize it was him until the end credits. Charlie Day brings his It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia manic charm to a role that would otherwise have just been a filler character. And throughout the entire film, Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks are the two main characters that have as much charming back-and-forth as any non-animated on-screen duo. Pratt, especially, deserves praise for managing to portray a character that is simultaneously bland yet still “the most interesting person on the world” (the film’s words, not mine).

The final element that lets the movie play around with its story is the visuals. This, at face value, is probably the only thing that was assured to be solid from that initial pitch meeting. Done in full CGI (with a few real Lego sets sprinkled in), the movie looks like it was done in stop-motion. It actually looks like these figures are all just interacting on a physical Lego set, adhering to the real-world limitations of the bricks themselves. For as broad and expansive the world the film takes place in is, the figures still have that waist that only allows them to bend in certain directions. It’s this crazy dedication to letting the animators run wild but while still confining them to a set of rules that makes this whole thing work. It feels real, in the weirdest sense.

At the end of the day, it works for one reason and one reason alone: it isn’t cynical. It genuinely feels like everyone involved, from the animators to the actors to the directors, are just having fun. They aren’t creating what could easily be the biggest product placement film in history (that damned Coca-Cola polar bears movie takes the crown on that one). This isn’t a corporate tie-in for them. This is a chance to create something legitimate based off of a culture’s shared experience of playing with these multicolored bricks and using one’s imagination.

Should You See It? Yes. That’s the film’s biggest achievement: for an hour and a half, there’s no cynicism. You’re earnestly encouraged to just smile and enjoy yourself. “Everything is awesome” is the refrain for the movie’s main theme the characters sing while completing mundane tasks. For a film that could have been a colossal failure and turned out to be weirdly charming, there couldn’t be a more appropriate sentiment.

Image source: ABC