Thursday, September 29, 2011

DVD Roundup: Barney's Version

There are a lot of movies that have trouble finding an audience because the people who create the trailers decide the movie is about one thing, while it's actually about something else.  Barney's Version had trouble with this, in part because the title doesn't really describe much of what the movie is about and then the trailer made it look like it was about something a little different.  So here's what I think it was about (some spoilers, but mostly it'll make it easier to decide to see it, since you REALLY should):

Paul Giamatti is pretty unlucky in love.  In the 1970s he's living in Rome, being a "patron" of the arts only because he's the only one among his artsy friends who actually has a job.  He's knocked up one of these friends (Rachel Lefevre) and agreed to marry her.  She's a bit of a liar, and the marriage doesn't end well, but it ends relatively quickly.  So Barney heads back to the States.  He's set up with the daughter of a colleague (also Jewish - Minnie Driver) and eventually it makes sense for them to marry, much to the dismay of his working class dad (Dustin Hoffman).  At the wedding reception, Barney meets Miriam (Rosamund Pike) and falls completely in love.   She totally denies him, and goes back to NYC.  Barney stays married until he finds his alcoholic-in-recovery best friend Boogie (Scott Speedman) in bed with his wife.  This finally allows Barney to pursue Miriam.  They eventually marry and have kids and a wonderfully happy life.

This whole bit is told in flashback.  Meanwhile, Barney is talking on and off to an "ex-wife", but we don't know which wife he now refers to as his ex. So we're waiting until flashbacks meet real time.  The other big plot point that is supposed to be the main driver of the film is that Barney was once accused of murder and the cops think he got away with it.  He's telling his own "version" of what happened.

We slowly find out who is dead, whether or not Barney might have done it and what Barney's life eventually became.  It's an interesting mixture of romantic comedy (if somewhat sad, but wonderfully romantic) and murder mystery.  However, the mystery isn't all that interesting and is wrapped up rather ridiculously at the very end.  That could have been left almost out of the story with it being more of a side note rather than the force behind the title of the film.  It kind of felt a little rough around the edges - the feeling that comes to mind is like when you've shuffled cards and can't quite get them back into an organized deck.  All the good cards are there, they're even in the right order, it's just not smooth along the sides.

Paul Giamatti totally deserved his Golden Globe award - he does a great job playing Barney, a moderately successful business person who can't quite make his life work for a while.  But when he finally meets the love of his life, it starts to make sense.  The sweetness and earnest way he shows he's in love with Miriam is heart warming and really believable.  Yes, it's love at first site, but he doesn't ruin the life he's committed to by trying to make it work.  He holds on to his love (sending her flowers every week) but waits for fate to bring them together eventually.  I really really liked this movie.  4.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesdays Movie Mashup No. 44

Dylan took it again!  James came up with a pretty great choice - a more complicated version than it might have been - but Dylan got the correct answer. 

Last week's clue:  Two incompatible people are made guardians of their friends kids when a cop and a waitress win the lottery. 
Answer: Life as we know It Could Happen to You

Leader board
Hatter - 17
Rachel - 6
Dylan - 5
James - 4
David, Nick - 3
Red - 2 
Sebastian, Andrew, Andy, Keith - 1

New Clue:  A high school teacher is revealed to be something he never admitted to ruining his fiancee's life and a man and women fall in love amidst zebras, lions, Masaai and Kikuyu.  

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wednesdays Movie Mashup No. 43

Dylan's been cleaning up at the games lately - surpassing my lead over at Keith's game.  But well done getting this one.  I really thought this one wouldn't appeal to him since it contained a movie before 1970.  So bigger props for guessing.  Also, if you haven't listened to the newest Lambcast, I contributed 5 Mashups for a new category for LAMBPARDY!  So check 'em out.

Last week's clue: A morally corrupt guy convinces his friend to pretend to be his  ex-wife while two unmarried acquaintances road trip to avoid the girl's dad, and fall in love on the way.

Answer: Just Go With It Happened One Night

Hatter - 17

Rachel - 6
James, Dylan - 4
David, Nick - 3
Red - 2 
Sebastian, Andrew, Andy, Keith - 1

New Clue:  Two incompatible people are made guardians of their friends kids when a cop and a waitress win the lottery.  

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Thoughts on the 2011 Emmy awards

I haven't been watching that much TV of late, but the kick-off for the fall season began last night by honoring the best of last season at the 2011 Emmy awards.  This was a very odd year.  A lot of people won out of left field, and then there were the completely expected that happened exactly as predicted.

First - the wonderful and amazing:
1. KYLE CHANDLER WON AN EMMY!!!!  Coach Taylor from my beloved "Friday Night Lights" was finally recognized for creating a wonderful male role model and half of a model marriage.

2.  Melissa McCarthy will not be nominated for an Oscar for her part in Bridesmaids, but now at least she has an Emmy for "Mike and Molly" and most deservedly.  I have a feeling there was some vote-splitting  between the bigger name comediennes, but I don't doubt the people who voted for Melissa knew what they were doing.

3. Margo Martindale, a supporting character actress you've seen dozens of times plays such a bad-ass on "Justified" that someone paid attention and gave her an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama.

4. I haven't seen "Game of Thrones" yet, but anyone who wants to tell Peter Dinklage he's amazing and should keep acting is fine by me, and giving him the Emmy for supporting Actor is a pretty great idea that I have no problem with.

5.  Because this was the first award of the night it was definitely the biggest surprise, but it set us up for less surprising wins for the rest of the night.  Julie Bowen from "Modern Family" beating Jane Lynch for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy meant it wasn't that big a surprise when Ty Burrell and the show also won.  Still, it was a pretty amazing season (I was stuck on lots of planes this summer and several showed episodes from this show).

Not surprising:
1.  "Amazing Race" reclaiming its Best Reality Show title.  It's won like 7 of the 8 years the category has existed.

2.  Jon Stewart and the Daily Show taking their 9th straight win for variety show.  It might be time they retired the category - and I love and adore both the Daily Show and Jon Stewart, but it would be nice to share some love.

3.  Kate Winslet and Mildred Pierce taking it for the mini-series category.  I haven't seen it yet (can't wait actually) but Kate's outburst thinking they wouldn't win anything seemed somehow not particularly genuine.  False modesty doesn't work when you recently won an Oscar.

4.  "Mad Men" won again.  So?

5. Okay, it was a pretty good show and Jane Lynch was funny, so I don't have another thing that wasn't surprising.  But I guess the fact that Jane Lynch hosted a good show wasn't particularly surprising.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

DVD Roundup: The Conspirator and Hereafter

I expected a lot from The Conspirator, mostly based on my love of historical drama, particularly about a topic I know very little.  Then there was the cast - James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Klein, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Justin Long, and many strong male character actors.  How could it go wrong?  Sadly, it barely reaches the stage of a decent film.  Based on the true story of the first woman executed in the US, it follows the death of President Abraham Lincoln, the search for his killers and their collaborators, and finally their trial and defense before execution.  Most of the story focuses on Mary Surratt (Wright), the mother of one of the conspirators (the only one to be acquitted, ironically) who owned a boarding house and rented rooms to some of the others and had meetings take place at her house.  She is entitled to a defense and McAvoy is asked to defend her.  A returning Civil War hero, he has begun his legal career, and is excited to find his place in the new DC.  He looks through all the evidence (realizing he'll be the most hated man in the world) and decides to take on the case because it's only circumstantial that she knew what might have been going on.  That's pretty much where the interesting parts of the movie ends.  Here are the list of things the movie COULD have addressed, but didn't.
"Why won't Mary throw her son under the bus to save herself for her daughter?"
"Why does McAvoy give a crap about this woman who won't even help in her own defense?"  (His life totally falls apart because of it, but we have no idea why he cares)
"Why does the government bother to hate on this woman when they have the other 6 people involved (including the doctor who set Booth's broken leg) and don't really need her?"
"Why doesn't the term 'witch hunt' come up at all?"
"Why aren't the motives of any of the conspirators discussed?"
"Why isn't Mary's possible motive discussed beyond her being a devout Southerner?"
So basically, the movie does a fairly decent job of putting all the right pieces in one place, but doesn't bother to put the puzzle together.  2 of 5 stars/lambs

Alternatively, you can watch a movie that takes a whole lot of pieces and does a pretty terrific job putting the pieces into a whole that elevates the parts.  Clint Eastwood directs a movie that takes a real life event (the south pacific tsunami from 2004) and brings an ethereal bend to the story.  It follows three different stories that eventually intersect.  First, Matt Damon is a able to communicate with the dead.  But it gives him unwanted insights into people's lives he touches and has stopped doing it as a profession, and is trying to live a life a bit more alone.  Meanwhile, Cecile De France (in her first English film I think) was in the tsunami and was nearly killed and experienced something that can't be discussed in most company about what happens after you die.  And back in London, a pair of twins are trying to navigate raising themselves and avoid being taken from their druggie mother.  They've set up a system that works, but when one of them is killed in a car accident, the life for the other twin changes forever and he tries to figure out how to go on - seeking advice from his dead brother (the one who was always in charge before).

It's a really beautiful movie, from the score to the visuals.  Watching the tsunami come through you can absolutely see why it was a good idea to pull the movie from Japanese markets last year.  It's horrifying beyond words, even through the very small slice we experience through De France's character.  Even the portrayal of the afterlife that appears sometimes doesn't force you into a belief of any kind, but rather watches the beliefs of those on screen play out and change.  It's a hard movie to describe, but I really enjoyed the experience.  It's sad, but heartwarming, tragic and hopeful.  4.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wednesdays Movie Mashup No. 42 (a day late)

Sorry.  My work days fluctuate so much (11-hour Tuesdays, 6-hour Wednesdays) that I'm always either way behind or way ahead.  So yesterday I was way behind.  So you're getting this a day late.

Last week Red took it from Ryan by milliseconds.  He even managed to correct an error before Ryan snuck in.  So Red has two in a row!

Last week's clue: A kid who was fat in high school and in love with the cute girl plots revenge now that he's hot and makes a deal to have lots of sex without strings.  

Answer: Just Friends with Benefits (Yes, Ryan, you should be embarrassed for knowing that one).

Hatter - 16

Rachel - 6
James - 4
David, Nick, Dylan - 3 
Sebastian, Andrew, Andy, Keith, Red  - 1

New Clue: A morally corrupt guy convinces his friend to pretend to be his  ex-wife while two unmarried acquaintances road trip to avoid the girl's dad, and fall in love on the way.   

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck! 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reel Insight: Coming soon

If you've listened this past week, you'll know that Reel Insight has switched to a bi-weekly format.  That means we'll be back next Monday.  So, for now listen to older episodes, send us some feedback (good feedback could become fodder for guest appearances), and hear all about how the podcast is changing (TV Talk is gone?) and what you think we might do to make it even better.  We're having fun planning ahead for it all.

Meanwhile, here's a short video to entertain you during our week off. This always makes me smile.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

New Release: Midnight in Paris

I have avoided a lot of reviews and done almost no reading about Midnight in Paris.  Mostly because I was pretty sure it would never come to a movie theater near me, and also I haven't really been a fan of recent Woody Allen films.  Some work, some don't.  Manhattan is awesome, I adore Mighty Aphrodite, thought Match Point was pretty good and that sums up my really positive associations with Allen, though I've seen most of his films.  Most of Allen's movies, particularly recently, have used other actors to play the "Woody Allen" role. They nearly always capture his basic personality, but none have done it as charmingly as Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris.  It's almost as if Allen finally saw Wilson in a movie and realized he'd found a more plausible, handsome, funnier, "movie star" to play himself on film with young female starlets.

In less capable or articulate hands, this movie might have fallen completely into farce.  Instead, it retains charm, humor, and originality enough to make you smile the whole ninety minutes.  The story begins to defy summary, but I'll try.  Owen Wilson is a Hollywood writer who has come to Paris with his fiancee, Rachel McAdams, and is inspired by the streets of Paris to work on his novel.  She thinks very little of his intellectual pursuits, though loves to listen to Michael Sheen and his wife talk about cultural places and ideas.  One night Wilson is drunk and takes a walk back to his hotel.  After the clock strikes midnight an old-fashioned taxi appears and the partiers inside take him to a party where he meets Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald (Alison Pill - so awesome!! and a VERY likeable Tom Hiddleston, Loki from Thor).  He can't really believe what he's seeing, but when he realizes it's actually Cole Porter, he basically says why not, I'm dreaming so I'll enjoy it.  Later that night he meets Ernest Hemingway (perfectly captured for comedic effect by Corey Stoll) who says he'll pass Wilson's manuscript on to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) for her opinion.
Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald
Wilson becomes infatuated with this world of 1920s Paris, returning night after night - first attempting to get McAdams to come too, but of course she thinks he's crazy so he goes alone.  It's his dream-world.  The most perfect place he can imagine being a part of.  I can't say I think he's wrong.  The number of influential people he meets, particularly as an artists himself, is awesome and not something easily repeatable in our own time.  The movie does a terrific job taking us on Wilson's journey, complete with a memorable soundtrack and jokes I could even remember after leaving the theater.  There are a lot of diverse characters, and some of the french conversation will be missed by some people (anyone who doesn't speak french or have a good grasp of romance languages will miss about a quarter of the film I think) but that won't actually lessen their enjoyment of the film at all.  And if you're not a fan of 1920s literature or art or weren't forced to read a fair amount of it in high school, you'll probably miss some of the references to the notable personalities passing through the scenes, but again, those are just bonus moments rather than the crux of any part of the story.

The blogger formerly known as the Mad Hatter, Ryan asks guests on his podcast a series of questions.  One is something along the lines of "what's a movie you wish you'd made".  I still remember my own response, Out of Africa just to be a part of recreating 1930s Kenya.  So perhaps my own "perfect time" would be actually experiencing 1930s Kenya.  Just as in Midnight in Paris Wilson has to convince someone else that the Belle Epoch (1890s Paris) isn't in fact any more perfect than 1920s Paris, I don't need to be convinced that my own "perfect time" isn't any better than the time I'm actually living in.  There's a degree of romanticism within the idea of dreaming about living in another time and place, but nearly always that dream comes with stipulations (I'd live in Jane Austen's time but only if I could be rich).  And Paris shows us that if we actually live our dreams we can see those stipulations come to life and living our own lives well is a better choice than wishing for something you can't have.

 This has to be my favorite Allen film ever made. The best romantic comedy made in years.  5 of 5 stars/lambs

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wednesdays Movie Mashup No. 41

I've been on a break for a few weeks, but I haven't forgotten that last time there was a new winner for the Movie Mashup.  Welcome Red!  

Last week's clue: A little girl's parents are turned into pigs while another set of future parents meet some crazy 
friends as they search for a place to live.

Answer: Spirited Away We Go

Hatter - 16
Rachel - 6
James - 4
David, Nick, Dylan - 3 
Sebastian, Andrew, Andy, Keith, Red  - 1

New Clue: A kid who was fat in high school and in love with the cute girl plots revenge now that he's hot and makes a deal to have lots of sex without strings.  

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck! 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

DVD Roundup: Another Year and Jane Eyre

I had heard great things about both of these movies, and was really looking forward to seeing Jane Eyre as I've loved the book since I was a child (books on tape got us through many many car rides, but we didn't have too many - "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", "Anne of Green Gables", "Little Women" and "Jane Eyre" in rotation).

Another Year is the story of Tom and Gerri (yes, they've heard the joke before) played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, an older married couple - he's a geologist and she's a counselor.  The story, written and directed by Mike Leigh (so anything can happen) follows Tom and Gerri through the course of a year and it plays more like four related short stories starting with Spring.  We meet Mary (Leslie Manville - we need more of her!) Gerri's colleague who can't really seem to get her life together.  She's divorced, single, and her current ambition is to buy a car.  She relies on Gerri and Tom to be her social life and conscience.  In the summer we also meet their son, Joe, who doesn't visit or call as a much as they'd like.  Mary always thought she might end up with Joe despite their age differences.  In Fall we meet Joe's new girlfriend and see Mary fall apart a little more.  And in Winter, Tom's sister-in-law dies and we meet his brother Ronnie (David Bradley - Filch from Harry Potter) and nephew Carl who hates his dad.  Ronnie comes to stay with Tom and Gerri for a while and meets Mary and they kind of hit it off in a fairly sad and strange way.
Overall, you keep expecting the movie to make cliched turns and make all the characters turn out great and have happy endings, but that's not Mike Leigh's style.  You do see almost everything through Tom and Gerri's happy, contented eyes, but all the other stories have elements of pathos that are hard to ignore or bend to be a happy ending.  Great movie with a strong concept executed well by terrific actors.  4 of 5 stars/lambs

**Some spoilers if you don't know the story already**
Jane Eyre is Mia Wasikoska's first adult leading role and she takes care of a beloved literary character extremely well.  However, it's sadly the leading men in Jamie Bell and Michael Fassbender that make the movie really memorable.  Jane Eyre is an orphan forced to live with an aunt to hates her.  She's sent to boarding school where the headmaster believes her deceitful and orders the girls not to befriend her.  So after she has a miserable childhood, she's pretty excited to get a good job in a fancy estate as a tutor to a little french girl, the ward of Mr. Rochester (Fassbender).  There are mysteries in the house, but the housekeeper, Judi Dench is able to explain them away.  Over time, even though she is "plain" and poor and Mr. Rochester wealthy and snobbish, they fall in love.  However, on their wedding day a man appears to stop the wedding arguing that Mr. Rochester is already married.  Bastard.  He totally is and has kept his crazy, suicidal wife in the attic (all the mysterious noises) but still wants to marry Jane.

Heartbroken, Jane runs away and is befriended by St John Rivers, the head of the local parish, and his sisters.  She becomes the schoolteacher and finally has a home of her own and is dependent on no one.  Finally, her evil aunt dies and she finds out that she inherits a TON of money.  Of course now Mr. Rivers wants to marry her and take her to India as a missionary.  She says no because she doesn't want to be dependent on anyone (and she still loves Rochester).  Lots of drama and I'll tell you it does end well, but I won't spoil the finale.

I really really liked this version of the movie.  Mia does a great job of being the down and out Jane who expects nothing from life and is suspicious of anything good coming her way.  But she can play the smart and witty character at the same time.  And the chemistry between Mia and Fassbender was terrific - even between Mia and Bell was great (but more platonic).  I really hope we get to see a lot more of all of these actors.  The overall cinematography of the film deserves to be nominated - it evokes the creepiness of the forests and English moors and doesn't make the movie rely on a cliched soundtrack to create the mood of unease.  Combining that with exceptional costumes, which are consistent throughout (if not historically accurate), I'd be surprised if this movie is completely overlooked come awards season.  4.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Monday, September 5, 2011

Episode 61: Cameron Diaz

This week we finally reached our Cameron Diaz episode - I say finally because she's been on the schedule for months and kept getting shuffled.  But once she was on the schedule we'd both started watching her movies so this week she was an easy choice.  We have a discussion of new movies, Jane Eyre and Priest, and then future movies coming this fall, with a little controversy of course.  Then on to Ms. Diaz.  And stay tuned for big announcements during the episode.

New movies seen with Cameron Diaz this week:
Vanilla Sky - I had avoided this one for ages.  It was the beginning of Cruise/Cruz and the trailers made it very confusing and more than a little creepy looking.  What it actually is probably did defy the trailer experience, so they did the best they could.  But I have a lot of trouble seeing what people didn't like about the movie.  I really really dug it.  It's a romance at heart - what will we do to try to stay with the love of your life?  But thrown in with that is a strange crime drama where Cruise, in a Phantom of the Opera mask, is in prison telling his story to Kurt Russell's psychologist and trying to get to the bottom of what happened.  It's a good mystery with a terrific arc for Cruise.  I actually can't wait to see it again.  4.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Any Given Sunday - Another movie I'd avoided due to its length and the Oliver Stone factor.  But the cast wasn't something to be denied during Cameron week.  Al Pacino as the coach, James Woods and Matthew Modine as the team doctors, and Dennis Quaid as the older Favre-esque quarterback being replaced by Jamie Foxx's young rookie.  Then Diaz as the team owner with her mom Ann-Margaret.   It's more about the business of football than you'd ever need to know, but still a fairly compelling story.  3 of 5 stars/lambs

A Life Less Ordinary - Another terrific director (Danny Boyle) and I just missed this one.  I blame it on Ewan McGregor's hair. He's a janitor about to be replaced by a robot and kidnaps the boss' daughter (Diaz).  However, he's not really a criminal mastermind, and Diaz helps him along as she was kidnapped as a kid.  Meanwhile, two angels (Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo) have been tasked with ensuring they fall in love and stay that way.  It's a big more complicated than it needs to be, but overall was a lot of fun with depth and humor (if terrible hair).  

Feeling Minnesota - This impressively awful.  Keanu Reeves has just been released from jail and is attending his brother's wedding (outdoors in Minnesota in winter?) of Vincent D'Onfrio and his "prize" Diaz.  He found out some accounting snafus for the mob and they rewarded him with Diaz.  She doesn't like him and screws around with Reeves, a lot.  Then of course there's a long drawn out mob-like mystery trying to get her back and find the money the mob lost.  Ridiculous.  She almost won me over after she dies and comes back to life (Camille did), but sadly it didn't help.  1.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Very Bad Things - I'm convinced movie titles can be a bit prophetic.  This was really really really bad.  Staring Jon Favreau as a man engaged to Diaz and on his way to Vegas for his bachelor weekend with Daniel Stern, Christian Slater, Jeremy Piven, and Leland Orser.  While there Piven accidentally kills a prostitute while having sex with her.  When a security guard comes to investigate they kill him too.  Eventually they start killing each other, and Diaz gets in on the action in a Bridezilla attempt at the perfect wedding.  Don't watch this.  1 of 5 stars/lambs

The Green Hornet - Seth Rogan wrote this, and it's pretty easy to tell because he DOESN'T STOP TALKING! As a comic book/super hero movie it's pretty interesting, but no super hero is better because he talks criminals to death.  Kato is not a bad side-kick given his ability to develop interesting weapons, but that's about it.  As part of the love triangle between the two, Diaz does a good job holding up her part of the equation.  Basically fairly blah.  2.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Top 5 'The West Wing' Episodes

I don't think this was meant to be the start of a meme, but perhaps by continuing it here, it will become one.  Simon at Screen Insight put together his Top 5 'Friends' Episodes after seeing Andy Buckle's Film Emporium's Top 10 'Seinfeld' episodes.  So I thought I'd take my own favorite TV show (after 'Friends') and create my own Top 10 list.  There was recently a post over at The Matinee talking about the decline of the Top 5 list.  I would argue that one perspective he left out that probably will always sustain the Top 5 (or 10) and that's nostalgia for a favored topic/show/movie/actor.  While I could argue with Simon that there are different episodes that should make up the Top 5 'Friends' episodes, I'm fine with his choices because I'm a huge fan and just reading where his funny bone was tickled is enough for me.  That's the spirit in which I write this list.

Honorable Mention - Isaac and Ishmael (Season 3 Episode 1) - This is the only completely stand alone episode of the series.  It references nothing you'd need to know from any other episode and furthers no other plots.  It's the response to 9/11 episode and as the world changed, The West Wing decided to incorporate that into their political story without making it change the world within it.  Talking about all aspects of terrorism and terrorists and with plenty of the typical West Wing history lessons, it's a wonderful episode and always makes me cry.  Everyone gets to shine for just a moment without any single character running the show

# 10 - Shibboleth (Season 2 Episode 8) - There are a lot of episodes that deal with faith during the course of this show.  But this episode deals specifically with Chinese Christian refugees.  However, the part that I really like throughout the episode is Bartlett's obsession with Thanksgiving.  The holiday episodes of this show usually deal with them peripherally, but they face it head on here.

#9 - 20 Hours in America (parts I and II) (Season 4 Episode 1 and 2) - There are a lot of two-part episodes, at least one per season, and they often create some of the best stories of the series.  This kicks off Bartlett's re-election campaign with a trip across the country where Toby, Josh and Donna get left behind by the motorcade.  We watch them try to get back to DC while arguing over how the campaign is going.  There's also my favorite speech in this episode about halfway through the second part referencing a catastrophe at a college - it's the music underneath that I really love.

#8 - Take This Sabbath Day (Season 1 Episode 14) - This is Marlee Matlin's first episode as a campaign manager.  Overall, the President is trying to decide whether or not to commute a death sentence and what it will mean if he does it just because he (as a Catholic) doesn't believe in the death penalty.  There's a scene with Karl Malden as his former parish priest that gets me every time.

#7 - The Stackhouse Fillibuster (Season 2 Episode 17) - This is a fairly unique episode because there is voice-over.  Each of the senior staff are writing letters to people describing their recent days that have led to the first filibuster of the term.  It's a particularly long filibuster by a Senator for no obvious reason.  Over the course of the night they figure out how to help the Senator and what he's actually trying to accomplish with the tactic.  It's a lot of information about how our government should and often does work, but done in a really creative way.

#6 - No Exit (Season 5 Episode 20) - One of The West Wing's best qualities is when they force people to have lengthy conversations when all else has stopped (like during a catastrophe).  In this one (in a nod to Sartre) people are forced to stay in rooms when an airborne toxin is detected.  Most also happen to be in rooms with people they dislike or don't know and for a change, things don't resolve particularly well.  Mary McCormack has arrived as a new NSA staffer and fights really well with Josh.

#5 - Undecideds (Season 7 Episode 8) - There aren't a lot of stand alone episodes from the final 2 seasons.  They're fairly continuous from episode to episode, but this one has a throwback moment to the quality of the first seasons (under Aaron Sorkin) where Matt Santos is trying to figure out how to be both a Presidential candidate and a Latino representing his race.  Watching him struggle hits home for anyone who wants to be both a representative of their group and to stand above being identified solely by that group.  And the speech his gives at the end is awesome.

#4 - In the Shadow of Two Gunman Part I and II - This is the origin episode and starts the second season.  When I loan my DVDs to people I always give them the first disc of the second season with the first season because the cliff hanger at the end of the first season is impossible to stop at.  This episode shows how Bartlett got into the race to be President and how the rest of his staff got hired - you get to see what they were each doing before they joined the campaign.  It's a really really terrific episode with lots of action and quickness interspersed with information where everyone tells their story.

#3 - The Supremes - A really really terrific episode that shows all the creativity you can have when you're making up a political universe and have innovative ideas that could potentially happen in the real world if the real world didn't actually include politicians.  Glenn Close guest stars as a liberal judge being considered for the Supreme Court.  However, given the difficulty in getting people through the Senate confirmation process they've realized anyone with strong political convictions can no longer get confirmed.  A creative solution presents itself and we see a long discussion of the Supreme Court.

#2 - Two Cathedrals (Season 2 Episode 22 - Another flashback episode preceding Bartlett's confirmation of re-election.  It's just after Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten) is killed.  We see the first time she meets Bartlett in high school and the kind of kid he was that led to the man he became.  He talks to God in Latin in a terrific sequence in the Cathedral after her funeral.  A young Mrs. Landingham played by Kirsten Nelson does a great job of capturing Joosten's acting style we love.  It was a sad day losing Mrs. Landingham, but she's sent off in a terrific episode.

#1 - Evidence of Things Not Seen (Season 4 Episode 19) - My favorite episode of the entire series.  It's a lot of talking - the staff is meeting to play poker on a Friday night.  However, Bartlett needs to talk to the Russian President to resolve a crashed spy-plane.  And the White House is shot at and is put under lock-down, forcing people to stay in certain places and keep talking to each other.  And throughout the episode, CJ is always trying to convince her colleagues that you can stand an egg on end during the equinox to a lot of humor.  Oh, and Mathew Perry guest stars as a new counsel applicant.  You can see why they chose Perry and Bradley Whitford to star in Sorkin's next show.  Oh, and Joshua Malina has arrived to stay.  Love him!