I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I saw at least a couple hundred movies this year (some of which were even released just this year!), but I remained unmoved by most of them. You may remember my end-of-year disappointment from last year, so this pattern is beginning to trouble me. Have I just seen so many movies in my life that I just can no longer be knocked for a loop? Do I register even the best new movies with a resigned “yep, that’s another good one?” The only movies that really surprised me this year were Breakfast for Two, an uncelebrated 1937 Barbara Stanwyck screwball comedy (which I only discovered because I have an Eric Blore wishlist on my TiVo), and Cria cuervos, Carlos Saura’s spooky 1976 film about they way they fuck you up, your mum and dad (which I only discovered because I still have a compulsion to watch every film released by the Criterion Collection). Am I so out of touch now that I can only connect with movies made decades ago? To compound the issue, I’ve recently taken to listening to the music of the 1930s, particularly Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra (well before the “ring-a-ding ding” Vegas era). I guess I’ll just chalk it up to getting older, but don’t bury me just yet: I did like Zodiac, The Bourne Ultimatum, Margot at the Wedding, and last year’s Inland Empire quite a bit.
What really turned my crank this year was abandoning all episodic television save for 30 Rock (see last year’s encomium to this show) and – my new favorite – The Ultimate Fighter, Spike TV’s reality show about mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters. The extraordinary appeal of a show about nearly-naked men who choke and punch each other until one of them passes out should be obvious, so I won’t try to justify it. I will, however, note that this season of the show had one feature that made bearable all of the usual whining about missed girlfriends, drunken vandalism, and vainglorious boasting: Mac Danzig. Mac Danzig is an unlikely hero for a show of this sort: a meditative vegan from the Hollywood Hills who loves his mom and generously doles out supportive hugs to the other fighters, yet who handily wins all of his fights. Despite the well-known machinations of reality television, Mac also comes off as a human being and a professional in every good sense of the word: he cares about the integrity of the sport, cares about the well-being of his fellow fighters (even as he acts like a total sourpuss to most of them), and inspires fierce loyalty in his friends. He’s also pretty hot for a short guy. Lest he seem too much of a golden boy, though, Mac also has an unholy temper and a vicious sense of humor towards those fighters he does not respect (usually rightly so), rarely hesitating to unleash it. While most televised MMA treats its fighters less as people and more as win-loss records to be defended, and while the Real World-style The Ultimate Fighter show does not exactly take great pains to humanize its subjects, Mac Danzig became a surprising pleasure to watch both on and off the mat. Would that UFC and Spike TV realized what a commodity they have in Mac and gave him a spin-off show. A sport that is at its best when someone is getting their face punched off and that bumps to every commercial break with tribal tattoo graphics and ear-splitting generic rap-metal could use the humane, balancing effect a nature-loving soy muncher like Mac generates.