Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Oscars 2019: Early reactions and predictions

The Oscar nominations were released a week ago on Tuesday, Jnauary 22, and while there still is not a host for the telecast itself , there is now a lot more clarity on this year's race. A lot of the heavy hitters that were expected to be there were nominated, but there still managed to be a few surprises - and there have been even a few more in the week since.

Here are my top five takeaways from this year's nominations, one week after the announcement:

1. As Mark Harris observed, the Academy is quite divided in its current iteration, and much like the American political system, there are really two groups: the younger, much more diverse, millennial-oriented generation; and the older, whiter, more male establishment. As has happened in each of the past few years, the overall nominations reflect a division between the more traditional "Oscar bait" (Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody) and more progressive fare (Black Panther, Roma), as represented by primary face-off between Green Book and Roma (more on that in a bit). 

2. White males are still firmly in control of this thing. Despite the fact that the favourites in both supporting categories are currently actors of color, they represent the entirety of the African-American acting nominees and half of the nominations for non-white actors. Add in an unhealthy dominance of nominations by white males in other key categories, and it adds up to a relatively risk-averse Academy that favours the establishment (more on that later). We're still a long way from better representation both in front of and especially behind the cameras.

3. The snub narrative this year will be shared by First Man and If Beale Street Could Talk, which I find interesting as their writers/directors (Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins) were involved in the infamous Best Picture mix-up two years ago. But there's one other surprise contender for this narrative in Black Panther, which, despite seven nominations including one for Best Picture, has a chance to participate in this narrative after missing out on several key categories (Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing). It has the angle of being somewhat snubbed as both a superhero/popular film and as an African-American film, and if it does not come away with any major awards, it will likely be the movie most remembered for not winning, therein taking hold of the snub narrative.

4. This has the potential to be a particularly controversial Oscars on several fronts, both in regard to the nominated films and the Oscars itself. Aside from the continually reinforced aforementioned white maleness of the nominees, there is the little issue of the telecast itself and who will host (a process which has not been without controversy already), as well as that snafu of the "Best Popular Film" Oscar from last summer (which seems to have faded into memory, thankfully).

There are a number of controversies both about the content of and filmmakers behind Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody. BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, The Favourite, and Vice are politically divisive to varying degrees. Roma is subject both to scrutiny as a product of Netflix and the streaming system and politically as a representative of Mexico as per the current American government's rhetoric. Only A Star Is Born is really devoid of any controversy, other than the fact that a month ago it seemed like an unstoppable juggernaut but that now seemed like it likely peaked too early.

5. The main competition of Green Book and Roma is indicative of higher stakes for the future of the Academy. Let's be honest - the Academy will always be the Academy to some degree, and there will always be "Oscar bait" that succeeds in various categories. But there has been significant hope that this could be the year in which the Oscars really embrace change after indications in the past five years that it was doing so. The next month will go a long way to determining whether there is change or not.

That said, this really is a wide-open year in many categories, with as many as four films that could conceivably win Best Picture. Roma is the early favourite overall, with Green Book close behind and A Star Is Born and Black Panther another half-step further behind. But this seems like one of those years without a dominant film in which the major awards are divided among the main nominees and the movie with the most Oscars gets as few as three.

By the way, I was actually fairly close with my estimations on nominations for the major contenders, including that The Favourite would lead with ten nominations (of which I incorrectly identified only one!). I thought Roma's Netflix origins might hurt it a bit more than it apparently did, and I missed out on a nomination each for Vice and A Star Is Born, but I'm fairly happy with my overall prediction of the nominations. But now onto some of my thoughts on the specific competitions in the main categories.

Predictions by category

Best Picture: There ended up being eight nominees, rather than nine, so my prediction that If Beale Street Could Talk would make it in despite not being nominated for a PGA was incorrect - but I did correctly identify the other eight. This is an interesting race, with Roma and Green Book leading the pack, which also provides an interesting dichotomy for the Oscars and seems like it really might answer the question of whether the Academy is looking backward by awarding a spiritual sequel to Driving Miss Daisy and Crash or forward to a future in which a movie in a foreign language that was released on a streaming service can win Best Picture. It does seem like a watershed year for the Academy, but I think that Roma's accomplishment is such that the Academy will want to be on the right side of history.

Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron is a lock. It's not even a question.

Best Actor: A month ago, I thought Bradley Cooper was a lock. Now, he seems like Warren Beatty, who never won an acting Oscar. A week ago, it seemed like Christian Bale was a lock, but then Rami Malek won at the SAG Awards over the weekend. I think this might actually be Malek's to lose at this point, but the next month should be interesting.

Best Actress: Glenn Close, arguably the greatest living actress without an Oscar (my apologies to Amy Adams), looks like she will remedy that this year. I thought Olivia Colman might have more momentum, but this seems like Close's to lose, despite the fact that very few people seem to have seen The Wife.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali will win this for Green Book. There's no other option.

Best Supporting Actress: This is an interesting category, as the frontrunner - Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk - was not nominated for the Screen Actors' Guild Awards, and the winner at SAG - Emily Blunt - was not nominated here. I think King still takes it, particularly because Glenn Close has taken the "it's her time" narrative from Amy Adams, who has been better in the past and likely will be again in the future.

Best Original Screenplay: It seems like this is where The Favourite will be acknowledged, but it is not impossible for Green Book to win here even with its controversy. That said, the writer's branch often likes to reward creativity, so I expect The Favourite to win.

Best Adapted Screenplay: While at one point I could have seen this being where A Star Is Born got an Oscar, I think that BlacKkKlansman will win here and that Spike Lee will finally win a competitive Oscar. Sure, it's not for Directing, but it's still meaningful.

Best Animated Feature: It seems like it comes down to two superhero movies: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Incredibles 2. Despite some late Spidey momentum, it seems more likely that Brad Bird will win his third (!) Oscar in this category for the return of his Pixar superheroes.

Bonus picks

Best Original Song: "Shallow" is where A Star Is Born - and Lady Gaga, who famously lost to Sam Smith's turgid Bond theme - gets its Oscar.

Foreign Language Film: It seems obvious that this would be Roma, and I think it will be, but there's a case to be made that if people think that Roma will win Best Picture that Cold War could win here. But I think Roma will win.

Cinematography: Cold War might win this category, but the crazy thing is that Alfonso Cuaron could win here, and if Roma really sweeps the night, it could be one of five Oscars (Cinematography, Picture - as Producer, Director, Writing, and Foreign Language Film) he wins for the movie. It's not likely, but the fact that it could happen is kind of nuts in itself.

Technical categories: I expect The Favourite to win a couple, Vice to win Makeup and Hairstyling, and Black Panther to win at least one, but I don't think there will be one dominant film in the technical categories this year.

Film Editing: Here's a weird stat: all five nominees here are nominated for Best Picture, but two of the most nominated films - Roma and A Star Is Born, the two early frontrunners - were not. The only time the Best Picture winner was not nominated in this category was Birdman in 2015, which was essentially shot in a few long takes, so Roma's leading despite this lack is quite interesting. This might be where Vice wins a second Oscar.

My personal record

This is now my fifteenth year of publicly predicting the Oscar winners, and I am happy overall with my results in that period (91/126 for 72.2% correct in the nine major categories) with one exception: I'm really bad at predicting Best Picture. I have a four-year-long streak of missing that category, including the last two of the last three which spoiled what would have been 9/9 sweeps. It's not quite as bad as it seems: at least two of those picks were defensible - The Revenant over Spotlight and La La Land over Moonlight - and my risk of taking Get Out over The Shape of Water last year would have been brilliant if it had happened. (Not choosing Birdman was just a product of being really out of tune that year.) But it's still pretty bad, and combined with a bad streak from 2005-2007, it makes it my worst category by far.

Here are my results by category and by year.

Results by category:
Best Picture: 6/14 (missed 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)
Best Director: 11/14 (missed 2011, 2013, 2015)
Best Actor: 11/14 (missed 2007, 2009, 2017)
Best Actress: 12/14 (missed 2008, 2012)
Best Supporting Actor: 12/14 (missed 2007, 2013)
Best Supporting Actress: 12/14 (missed 2006, 2008)
Best Original Screenplay: 9/14 (missed 2005, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015)
Best Adapted Screenplay: 11/14 (missed 2008, 2010, 2015)
Best Animated Feature: 11/14 (missed 2007, 2013, 2015)

Results by year:
2018: 8/9 (missed Picture)
2017: 7/9 (missed Picture and Actor)
2016: 8/9 (missed Picture)
2015: 4/9 (missed Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, and Animated Feature)
2014: 8/9 (missed Original Screenplay)
2013: 6/9 (missed Director, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature)
2012: 8/9 (missed Actress)
2011: 7/9 (missed Director and Original Screenplay)
2010: 6/9 (missed Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Screenplay)
2009: 8/9 (missed Actor)
2008: 6/9 (missed Actress, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay)
2007: 5/9 (missed Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature)
2006: 7/9 (missed Picture and Supporting Actress)
2005: 7/9 (missed Picture and Original Screenplay)


This is turning into a very interesting year for the Academy, with the possibility of change looming ever larger over the possible winners this year. The next month should go a long way to determining whether that change is actually here, or whether the Academy will double down on its old favourite tropes. And, of course, if this will set a new low for the telecast itself, depending on who does (or does not) host.

As for me, I still have a number of films yet to watch: RomaA Star Is Born; The Favourite, BlacKkKlansmanBohemian Rhapsody; and, problematic though it may be, even Green Book. And I might try to rewatch Black Panther, too. And although there might be some personal changes (!) that interfere with these best-laid plans, I will do my best to make my final picks closer to the ceremony on February 24.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Oscars 2019: The pre-nomination storylines

The Academy Award nominations closed on Monday, and they will be tabulated over the next week before they are announced on Tuesday, January 22. But even though the nomination window is closed, there are still quite a few unresolved storylines that remain open. Here are some of my thoughts on five major storylines heading into the announcement of the nominations.

1. Which eight or nine movies will be nominated for Best Picture? The Oscars' flagship category is Best Picture, which is why it expanded the number of nominees in 2010, when it increased from five to ten for two years. In the seven years since the subsequent change from "ten" to "between five and ten" nominees, there have been five years with nine and two others with eight nominees, so it seems like a good chance that there will be either eight or nine again this year. My bet is on nine nominees, with seven that I think are locks: A Star Is Born; The Favourite; and Roma, the three "favourites", as well as BlacKkKlansman; Black Panther; Green Book; and Vice.

The Academy's Best Picture nominations have overlapped with films nominated by the Producers Guild of America (PGA) by between seven and nine spots (of the ten that appear on the PGA list) each year since the Academy expanded the number of Best Picture nominees. All seven of the aforementioned "locks" are PGA nominees this year, which leaves one or two spots remaining, and a few interesting possibilities.

The Academy often uses one of those spots for an indie film: examples include Phantom Thread; A Serious Man; Winter's Bone; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; Room; Amour; or Philomena. I think this year that honour will go to If Beale Street Could Talk over First Man and Can You Ever Forgive Me? (though I do expect some acting nominations for the latter two films).

The other spot often seems to go to some kind of Oscar biopic catnip kind of movie that also has some popular draw: Darkest Hour; The Blind Side; and Selma. This year, however, one of those kinds of movies was actually (surprisingly) listed by the PGA, and I think it will be nominated for Best Picture despite its checkered history behind the scenes, especially after its recent win at the Golden Globes: Bohemian Rhapsody.

My next pick - or if there were somehow to be a tenth nominee - would be A Quiet Place, which would likely leave Crazy Rich Asians as the only PGA-nominated film out of the Best Picture conversation this year. But even with a year that is this wide open, it just does not seem likely that there will be a full complement of nominees.

2. Just how many nominations will Black Panther get? With a Best Picture nomination seeming all but guaranteed for the first time for a Marvel movie, the question is how many nominations it can receive. I think the final number will be eight, to tie the superhero movie record held by The Dark Knight a decade ago. I'm hedging my bets a bit, as it could get nine or ten nominations, but I doubt director Ryan Coogler will be nominated, and I think that the movie will miss on at least one of the technical categories.

For the record, I think it gets to eight with nominations for Picture, Supporting Actor (Michael B. Jordan), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography (Rachael Morrison with her second consecutive nomination after 89 years of no female Directors of Photography being nominated), Art Direction, Costume Design, and two of Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects.

3. Which movie will lead in nominations and thus be declared the early frontrunner? In the last few years, the leading nominees have often been technically proficient movies that have had critical acclaim: Mad Max: Fury Road; The Revenant. The movie that most fits that bill is actually Black Panther, but something tells me that the movie that will lead in the nominations is The Favourite, with ten (Picture, Director, Screenplay, the three Actresses, Original Score, Art Direction, Costume Design, and Film Editing).

For the record, I think that this year will have a number of movies with multiple nominations. In addition to Black Panther and The Favorite, I think the next most nominated film will be Roma with seven or eight nominations (Picture, Director, Actress, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Film Editing, and a technical award). I'm not sure whether its distribution through Netflix will hurt it other than perhaps having curtailed its reception somewhat; then again, I could also see Roma being the most-nominated film if it receives what seems to be well-deserved favour in the technical categories.

After those three, Vice should get six or seven nominations (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actress, Makeup and Hairstyling, and maybe Supporting Actor), as should A Star Is Born (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Song, and maybe Supporting Actor), providing narratives for five favourites (when there are usually three).

4. Who gets the snub narrative this year? There are usually a couple of types of movies that dominate the snub talk after the nominations, but they take on different directions depending on the film. There's usually the "popular but it should really have gotten more attention" snub that has been quieter in recent years because the Academy has been nominating science fiction movies for the past decade. Think Straight Outta ComptonDeadpool, or even Blade Runner 2049. If Black Panther doesn't get the love that's expected, it will dominate this narrative, but my pick is A Quiet Place over Crazy Rich Asians, which has not received the kind of narrative that would place it in the Oscar conversation.

There's also the "indie that really should have gotten more attention" type of snub. There are, of course, many indies that are considered by some to be snubbed, but I'm referring to the movies that actually garner some semblance of momentum and then are left without many - if any - nominations. Think: Drive; Moonrise Kingdom; Inside Llewyn Davis. The most likely candidate here is First Man, which had a lot of buzz initially due to its pedigree (Oscar-winning director, biopic, Oscar-nominated star), but now seems like more of a bust. If First Man somehow breaks through, this corner could belong to Can You Ever Forgive Me?

5. Will Paul Schrader finally be nominated? It is unreal to me that the writer of Taxi DriverRaging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ - all films directed by Martin Scorsese that were nominated for Best Picture - has never been nominated for an Oscar. Schrader's spiritual sequel (pun intended) to Taxi DriverFirst Reformed, received critical acclaim, and it probably represents his last best chance to be nominated. For what it's worth, I think that Schrader will be nominated for Original Screenplay, along with a deserved Actor nomination for the movie's star, Ethan Hawke.

There will, of course, be many more storylines to come next week, depending on how the nominations go. Will Roma and A Star Is Born regain their erstwhile favourite status? Will Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody suffer a post-Globes backlash? Will A Quiet Place or First Man usurp some of their nominations? Will there be any surprises in the acting nominations, or will this be another year of mostly straightforward competitions that already seem decided? And can Disney win its first ever Best Picture Oscar (it's hard to believe, I know!) with a Marvel movie? Stay tuned...

Thursday, August 09, 2018

On the "Popular Film" Oscar

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this week that they would be making a few changes to the awards, some of which start with the 91st Academy Awards in February. The least contentious of the three was that they will be moving the Oscars to an earlier time in February, thereby shortening the interminable awards season.

The other mostly-not-controversial announcement was that the Academy would be shortening the length of the ceremony to three hours, in part by giving some awards (read: short films) during the commercial breaks and then running some clips of those awards later in the show. It seems like it's not a terrible decision to make, although there has been some chatter online about how the whole "The Oscars are too long" narrative is overwrought and likely not as responsible for the decline in ratings as some pundits have proposed.

But it was the final announcement of the three that has already been regarded with a mix of derision, skepticism, and puzzlement: the Academy, at some point in the future - perhaps as soon as the next Oscars - will be introducing a heretofore unheralded category for "Best Achievement in Popular Film". They released very few details about the criteria for the award or the timeline in which it will be introduced, but that has not stopped critics from reacting.

There have already been a few takes published: Vanity Fair said it is likely only to make things worse for these kinds of movies; Rolling Stone's Tim Grierson framed his criticism of the decision by examining how the move seems ill-fated and reactionary; and, perhaps most directly, Vulture's Kyle Buchanan's opinion is expressed in his headline: "The Oscars Made Some Dumb Decisions Today".

I have a number of thoughts of my own that I wanted to share as a result of this decision, so I thought it would be useful to present my ideas in a series of posts. This post, the first of the three, will go through some of the questions that arise as a result of this new category, along with my initial thoughts on its inception. The next post will serve as an extended thought experiment of what might have been, and the final post will consist of some of the other ways that the Oscars might make some changes. But for now, here are the questions that are raised as well as some of my initial thoughts.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Leafs' Levels of Losing

Today marked the 51st edition of the celebration from much of the hockey world the day after the end of the Toronto Maple Leafs' season. This year's seven game series loss to the Bruins was creative in its execution, if nothing else. After being blown away in the first two games and then being down 3-1 in the series, the Leafs won two games in a row to force a deciding game without really playing a great game in the series.

In Game 7, they took advantage of early sloppy play by the Bruins and once-future-Leaf-goalie Tuukka Rask. The Leafs led 4-3 going into the third period, but they quickly gave up the lead and ended up losing 7-4. It was a disappointing loss, to be sure, but it did not seem as devastating as it could have been. I and other Leaf fans would far rather have seen them win, but it did not seem like the worst thing for them to lose.

But then my ruminations on this series loss made me start to wonder I would rank it in comparison to all of the other season-ending losses I have experienced over the past quarter-century as a Leafs fan. In that time, they have made the playoffs as many times as they missed out: twelve each, with the lockout marking the remaining entry.

So I decided, arguably somewhat masochistically, to rank each playoff loss (and one notable end to a regular season) to see where this series would rank in my personal tortured history as a Leafs fan. (This is the point at which I should probably give a not entirely facetious trigger warning to any Leafs fan. It's not as bad as it could be, but I'm still dredging up some ugly losses here.)

Special Mention: Los Angeles Kings / NHL conspiracy to make hockey succeed in the southern US, Western Conference Finals, 7 games, 1993. Although I still harbor residual bitterness toward Kerry Fraser, Gary Bettman, and the NHL for the fiasco of the Doug Gilmour high sticking non-call on Wayne Gretzky in the 1993 Conference Finals, I did not rank this series because I was not a Leafs fan at the time. That said, I could easily make an argument that I should have ranked it because I was cheering for the Leafs at the time anyway as a Canadian team, and that the fact that this was easily the Leafs' best chance for a Cup since 1967 would put it in my top three on merit alone, even if I do not have a lot of personal baggage tied up in this loss.

Tier V: No residual pain

13. Chicago Blackhawks, Western Conference Quarterfinals, 7 games, 1995. I'm not sure why this one doesn't stick out more to me now, since this was a particularly nasty series with a divisional rival with some bad blood between the two teams. Perhaps I just was not as aware of that history, but I have no feelings about this series at all. Two players from that Hawks team will come up later in this history, though - one in a positive light (goaltender Ed Belfour), and one far less favourable (Jeremy Roenick).

12. St. Louis Blues, Western Conference Quarterfinals, 6 games, 1996. This should probably be lower than the loss to the Hawks in the previous year, but my Leafs fandom was more well-established by this point and there was more of a sense of urgency to this loss, as the core of the team that had almost made it in 1993 was quickly fading. They ran into Curtis Joseph, which marked the second year in a row they would lose to a goalie who would later become a playoff hero for the team.

11. New Jersey Devils/New York Islanders, Last Day of the Regular Season, 2007. This is the only non-playoff loss on my list, but it deserves its spot. After the Leafs barely missed the playoffs the previous year, which was the year after the lockout, they entered the final day of the season with a chance to return to the post-season if the Devils beat the Islanders that day.

I still think there was some kind of collusion between the latter two teams, because the playoff-bound Devils rested several starters and lost in a shootout, which meant the Islanders made the playoffs. Of course, the Leafs had themselves lost in Long Island in the previous game when a win would have guaranteed them a playoff berth, but that last game still stung, especially because it would be another six years before Leaf fans would get to watch playoff hockey again.

Tier IV: It stings a little

10. Washington Capitals, Atlantic Division Semifinals, 6 games, 2017. Although the Leafs ultimately pushed the best regular season team as far as they could, they lost in six games, including three losses in overtime. What makes this loss easier is that the team had been the worst in the league one year previous; what makes it harder in retrospect is that they were so so very close to one of the greatest upsets of recent memory and maybe of all time.

9. Vancouver Canucks, Western Conference Finals, 5 games, 1994. This loss should probably be ranked a lot higher, but it's not for a few reasons: I was still a really new Leafs fan; the team was obviously gassed after two brutal rounds; and they lost to another Canadian team. What can I say? I was only eleven, and my senses of loyalty and long-suffering were still not very well developed at the time. It should probably sting more than it does, but then we wouldn't have had that classic Rangers-Canucks final.

8. Boston Bruins, Atlantic Division Semifinals, 7 games, 2018. This feels about right, all things considered. Sure, the team had the most wins and points in its history, but those numbers were artificially inflated from the loser point, so this was not the best Leafs team ever. It still stings to lose the series when they had the lead going into the third period of Game 7, but it still feels like this team is young enough that this was not their last chance. (More on that later.)

7. Buffalo Sabres, Eastern Conference Finals, 5 games, 1999. The Leafs had had a surprisingly solid first season in the Eastern Conference and their new building in front of new goalie Curtis Joseph. They had defeated Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in somewhat close series in the first two rounds, but they ran into the best goalie in the game in Dominik Hasek and this series was not even close. It was great to have the Leafs good again, and there was hope for the future that was (somewhat) justified by their performances over the next few years, so that's why this loss ranks somewhat lower than might otherwise be expected.

Tier III: That really smarts!

6. Philadelphia Flyers, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, 7 games, 2003. This series was an all-out war that the Leafs had no business winning apart from the heroics of goalie Ed Belfour. They won two games in double-overtime and barely missed out on taking a 3-1 lead in Game 4 after a triple-overtime loss, all of which was mostly thanks to Belfour's incredible goaltending. I just really hated those Flyers teams, so this might be ranked so highly largely because of personal distaste.

5. New Jersey Devils, Eastern Conference Semifinals, 6 games, 2000. The Leafs had made it to the Conference Finals the year before, but the Devils were at the peak of their powers on their way to their second Cup. The Leafs had managed to split the first two games of the series before losing Game 5 at home and then managing to gift Martin Brodeur with the record for the fewest saves required for a shutout in a playoff game in the Game 6 series clincher. 

4. Philadelphia Flyers, Eastern Conference Semifinals, 6 games, 2004. This series is ranked this highly for three reasons. First, I had (and probably still have) a lot of residual bitterness against the Flyers for winning the previous year. Second, Jeremy Roenick scored the winner in OT. And finally, we knew that this was the true end of this era of Leafs success thanks to the impending lockout. I don't think any of us would have guessed that it would be so long until a return to anything resembling success, but the fact that this was the last Leafs playoff series for almost a decade makes it sting even more now than it did then.

Tier II: In serious pain

3. New Jersey Devils, Eastern Conference Semifinals, 7 games, 2001. This might be the one that really got away. After dispatching the Ottawa Senators in the first round, the Leafs led this series 3-2 with Game 6 at home, which they lost 4-2; they then went on to lose Game 7 by a 5-1 score to the eventual Finalists, which was even more embarrassing than the Game 6 drubbing the year before. They never had another chance at the Devils, although the Devils did win the Cup again in 2003, because nothing makes a loss worse than seeing the other team have even more success.

2. Carolina Hurricanes, Eastern Conference Finals, 6 games, 2002. After the Leafs lost star Mats Sundin in a brutal first round battle with the New York Islanders, the team gutted out series wins against the Islanders and the Senators in seven games each behind the heroics of Gary Roberts and Alyn McCauley. But they lost three games in overtime to the Hurricanes and just could not beat Arturs Irbe. This is the one that can only be rationalized through injury, and even then it just does not make sense, other than being the year that could have been.

Tier I: That Game

1.  Boston Bruins, Conference Quarter-Finals, 7 games, 2013. A loss that deserves its own level of pain. Sure, they were a young team that was performing way above expectations, but they had a 4-1 lead with under ten minutes to go and provided a perennial punchline for Leaf-haters everywhere. I don't know if it made it better or worse that the Bruins went on to the Final to lose to Chicago, but I will never forget the emotional roller coaster of this loss.

The windows of winning

To be honest, I was expecting that this exercise would be a lot more painful than it ended up being. Perhaps that is because I am far more personally removed from hockey and sports fandom in general over the past few years, but it is also likely somewhat due to the increased distance from some of those losses. Most of them seem "reasonable" in retrospect considering the teams to whom the Leafs lost, and although they all still sting, they make sense in the greater view of the narrative of hockey history - except for that loss to the Hurricanes in 2002.

But I also realized through looking through this quarter-century of playoff woe (as well as the success of other teams) that the window for possible success is a decade at most and probably closer to five or six years for most teams. The Devils had a window from 1994-2004, but they had an all-time goalie and two Hall of Fame defencemen. The Red Wings' window lasted from 1995-2004, but they had an unreal core of future Hall of Famers. The Dallas Stars, Buffalo Sabres, and Ottawa Senators also had success in that time period, and two of those three teams did not win a Cup.

In the decade and a bit since the lockout in 2005, there are many other examples of teams that could not win the Cup despite sustained success, even if they made it through to the Finals: the New York Rangers, or the San Jose Sharks, or the Vancouver Canucks. Or consider the Anaheim Ducks, who have not made it back to the Finals since winning in 2007, managing to lose in a seventh game on home ice after leading a series 3-2 for four consecutive years (now that's some pain right there). And then, of course, the playoff pain poster boy Washington Capitals have never managed to make it past the second round, despite having Alexander Ovechkin.

The point here is that although I do believe that the Leafs do have a few years left in their window for success that things can easily and quickly change for the worse. It is increasingly difficult to keep good teams together under a salary cap, and the Leafs are poised to have some troubles in a few years when Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Frederik Andersen are poised for significant raises from their currently relatively cheap contracts.

The Leafs have a bright future, especially now that their core players have experienced the anguish of a Game 7 loss, and there is every possibility that they will be contending for the Cup for the next five to eight years; then again, there is a possibility that they will lose early again in the next two years and that the 2020 lockout will effectively mark the end of this edition of the Leafs. I do not think that will be the case, but there's always the possibility that the window could be a lot smaller than you might otherwise think.


I think that this particular series loss to the Bruins did not affect me as much because I never really bought into this team as a contender. I know a lot of people who did, but I was not one of them. There were still too many better teams that the Leafs would have to leapfrog - all of whom are still playing in the second round - including two in their own division. It felt like this team was a couple of years of experience and a solid defenseman away from contending, and Game 7 confirmed that fact for me.

But I am in on this team for next year, which might be a recipe for more pain. I really like this group of players, and I am looking forward to watching them grow next year. But I also know that I am not looking forward to some of the future playoff losses that seem somewhat inevitable as they keep growing and learning how to win, even if they do it the hard way.

That said, I don't know what I would do if Vegas manages to make the Finals in their first year as a franchise, much less if they won the Cup. Then again, the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Cubs, and Houston Astros can overcome their baggage to win titles, so anything really is possible, and it is just as conceivable that these young Leafs use their pain to propel them to heights that no one under the age of fifty has ever seen; only time will tell, and I can only hope that I don't have to write another column like this in the future.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Turner Games Q4 2017 Update

This is a long overdue update on my board gaming for the last three months of 2017 that I inexplicably skipped over posting for the past two-and-a-half months. It's a little shorter than most of my updates, since I'm going to leave a number of items (ie. updating my goals for 2017) for my year-in-review post, as well as omitting the usual "what I'm looking forward to in the next quarter" conclusion.

Games Played

Games played this quarter from my Top 25 to play: Jump Drive (1)

Games played this quarter from previous "Top to Play" lists: Space Alert (1)

Other games played this quarter from my "Want to Play" list: Azul; Barenpark; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; First Class; FlowerFall; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle; Herbaceous; Hero Realms; Infinite City; Ladder 29; Magic Maze; Mega Man: The Board Game; Monad; Okey Dokey; Roll Through The Ages: The Iron Age; Tiny Epic Quest; Valletta; Word on the Street; Yamatai (19)

Other new games played this quarter: Codenames: Marvel; Doctor Who Fluxx; EXIT: The Game - The Abandoned Cabin; Go Nuts for Donuts; Quelf; Stock Ticker; Tokyo Highway; Unlock! The Tonipal's Treasure (8)

New expansions played this quarter from my "Want to Play" list: Between Two Cities: Capitals; Galaxy Trucker: Another Big Expansion; Oh My Goods! Longsdale in Revolt; Pandemic: The Cure - Experimental Meds (4)

Other new expansions played this quarter: N/A

New party/social games played this quarter: Codenames: Marvel; Quelf; Word on the Street (3)

New filler games played this quarter: Doctor Who Fluxx; FlowerFall; Go Nuts for Donuts; Herbaceous; Magic Maze; Okey Dokey; Stock Ticker; Tokyo Highway (8)

New light strategy games played this quarter: Azul; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Hero Realms; Jump Drive; Ladder 29; Monad (6)

New family games played this quarter: Barenpark; EXIT: The Game - The Abandoned Cabin; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle; Infinite City; Unlock! The Tonipal's Treasure (5)

New family strategy games played this quarter: Mega Man: The Board Game; Roll Through The Ages: The Iron Age; Tiny Epic Quest; Yamatai (4)

New complex games played this quarter: First Class; Space Alert; Valletta (3)

Favourite new light/medium games played this quarter: Azul; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Jump Drive; Magic Maze; Okey Dokey

Favourite new strategy/complex games played this quarter: First Class; Tiny Epic Quest; Valletta

Games played most this quarter:
1. Codenames Duet (18)
2. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (6)
3. Anomia; Azul; Magic Maze (5)
6. NMBR 9; Okey Dokey; OctoDice (4)

Other games played repeatedly this quarter: 7 Wonders; Cacao; Can't Stop; Century: Spice Road; Codenames: Pictures; Galaxy Trucker; The Game; Get Bit!; The Great Heartland Hauling Co.; Istanbul; Monkey; Oh My Goods!; Orleans; Pot O' Gold; Roll for the Galaxy; San Juan; Splendor; Tides of Time; Tiny Epic Galaxies; Villages of Valeria; The Voyages of Marco Polo (21)

New games played repeatedly this quarter: Azul; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Codenames: Marvel; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle; Magic Maze; Okey Dokey; Space Alert; Tiny Epic Quest (8)

Games replayed from my Top 25 to Replay List this quarter: Quadropolis (1)

Other games replayed (for a second time) this quarter: 6 Nimmt!; Acquire; Broom Service; Camel Up Cards; For Sale; Gold West; The Great Heartland Hauling Co.; Great Western Trail; The Oracle of Delphi; Sagrada; Tides of Time (11)

Expansions replayed (for a second time) this quarter: Cacao: Chocolatl; Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black (2)

New nickels (five total plays) this quarter: Azul; Cacao; Can't Stop; Century: Spice Road; Codenames Duet; Harry Potter: Hogwarts' Battle; Magic Maze; Medieval Academy; Roll for the Galaxy; Samurai; The Voyages of Marco Polo (11)

New dimes (ten total plays) this quarter: Codenames Duet (1)

New quarters (25 total plays) this quarter: N/A

Want to play

Games added to my "Want to Play" list this quarter: Hardback; Istanbul: The Dice Game; Ladder 29; Majesty: For the Realm; Mint Delivery; Mint Works; Pulsar 2849; Rajas of the Ganges; That's A Question! (9)

Party/social games added this quarter: That's A Question! (1)

Filler/light games added this quarter: Mint Delivery; Mint Works (2)

Light strategy games added this quarter: Hardback; Istanbul: The Dice Game; Ladder 29 (3)

Family games added this quarter: Majesty: For the Realm (1)

Family strategy games added this quarter: N/A

Complex games added this quarter: Pulsar 2849; Rajas of the Ganges (2)

Expansions added this quarter: Innovation: Artifacts of History; Innovation: Cities of Destiny; The Networks: Executives; Paperback: Unabridged; Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium; Terraforming Mars: Venus Next; Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 - United Kingdom and Pennsylvania; Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 6 - France and Old West (8)

Games and expansions removed from my "Want to Play" list this quarter: Brewin' USA; Colony; First Martians; Leaders of Euphoria (4)

Changes to my collection

Games acquired this quarter: Boss Monster; Cacao; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Century: Spice Road; Codenames Duet; Compounded; Glen More; Go Nuts for Donuts; The Grizzled; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle; Jump Drive; Ladder 29; Louis XIV; NMBR 9; Okey Dokey; Pandemic Legacy: Season 2; Roll for the Galaxy; Terraforming Mars; Tichu (19)

Party/social games added this quarter: Codenames Duet (1)

Filler/light games added this quarter: Go Nuts for Donuts; NMBR 9; Okey Dokey (3)

Light strategy games added this quarter: Boss Monster; Century: Spice Road; The Grizzled; Jump Drive; Ladder 29; Tichu (6)

Family games added this quarter: Cacao; Caverna: Cave Vs. Cave; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (3)

Family strategy games added this quarter: Compounded; Glen More; Roll For the Galaxy (3)

Complex games added this quarter: Louis XIV; Pandemic Legacy: Season 2; Terraforming Mars (3)

Large expansions acquired this quarter: Between Two Cities: Capitals; Cacao: Chocolatl; Compounded: Geiger; Dixit: Odyssey; Flash Point: Fire Rescue - Tragic Events; Oh My Goods!: Longsdale in Revolt; Pandemic: The Cure - Experimental Meds; Cities of Splendor; Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium (9)

Promo (mini/small) expansions acquired this quarter: 7 Wonders Duel: Stonehenge; 7 Wonders: Cities - Anniversary Pack; 7 Wonders: Leaders - Anniversary Pack; Century: Spice Road - Promos; Codenames: Authors and Board Games; Codenames: Pictures: 5x5 Promo Tiles; Compounded: Chemical Chaos; Compounded: Methamphetamine; Go Nuts for Donuts: Apple Fritter; Go Nuts for Donuts: Bacon; Go Nuts for Donuts: Zombie; Imperial Settlers: Dice Tower Inn; Louis XIV: The Favorite; Mega Man Pixel Tactics: Frost Man; NMBR 9: Starting Tiles; Orleans: Drawbridge; Orleans: Neue Ostkarten No. 5; Orleans: Promo No. 1; Splendor: Dice Tower Noble; Terraforming Mars: Self-Replicating Robots; Terraforming Mars: Snow Algae; Thief's Market: Narrow Alleyway (22)

Games and expansions liquidated from my collection this quarter: Hive  + 2 expansions; Keyflower; Morels; Orleans; Prairie; Space Alert (4+3)

Kickstarters that arrived this quarter: Flash Point: Fire Rescue - Tragic Events; Ladder 29 (2)

Kickstarters ordered this quarter (with target arrival date): The Networks and Executives (May)

Kickstarters still on order from previous quarters (with expected arrival date): Hardback and Paperback Expansion (Jan); Mint Delivery and Mint Works (May); Star Realms: Frontiers (Feb)

Games added to my wish list this quarter: Azul; Istanbul: The Dice Game (2)

Expansions added to my wish list this quarter: Agricola: Farmers of the Moor; Cacao: Diamante; Concordia: Aegyptus / Creta; Dixit: Harmonies; Imperial Settlers: We Didn't Start the Fire; Voyages of Marco Polo: Agents of Venice (6)

Small (mini/promo) expansions added to my "Want in Trade" list this quarter: Cacao: Diamante - The New Huts; The Castles of Burgundy: Team Game; Mega Man Pixel Tactics: NMBR 9 - Extra Tiles; Stardroids; Roll for the Galaxy: World of Ambition; Terraforming Mars: Penguins (6)

Here's the updated shelfie for posterity:

In the Queue

I found that having a queue last quarter was really valuable for guiding my playing priorities, so I decided to expand it a little bit for this quarter.

New games to play from my collection: Back to the Future: An Adventure Through Time; Boss Monster*; Compounded*; Incan Gold; Louis XIV*; Mega Man Pixel Tactics; Pandemic Legacy: Season 2*; Tichu* (8)

New expansions to play from my collection: Compounded: Geiger*; Core Worlds: Revolution; Galaxy Trucker: Latest Models*; Galaxy Trucker: Missions*; Fresco: 8, 9, and 10;  Innovation: Artifacts of History; Innovation: Cities of Destiny; Innovation: Figures in the Sand; The Resistance: Hostile Agenda and Hidden Intent*; Roll Through The Ages: The Iron Age - The Mediterranean*; Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium* (10)

Top games to pull off the shelf and replay: Core Worlds*; Cosmic Encounter; Glass Road*; Le Havre; Le Havre: The Inland Port; In The Year of the Dragon*; La Isla*; Ora et Labora; The Princes of Florence; Tikal; Uchronia* (11)

Games with 5+ plays that will join my Shelf of Shame if unplayed this quarter: Agricola; Burgoo; Caverna: The Cave Farmers; Coin Age; Dixit; El Grande; Hey, That's My Fish!; King of New York; Knit Wit; Lost Cities; Saint Petersburg; Spyrium; Sushi Go! (13)

Top new games to play: The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game; Ex Libris; Food Truck Champion; Gaia Project; Majesty: For the Realm (5)

Top (non-owned) complex games to replay for a second time: Concordia; The Gallerist; La Granja; Grand Austria Hotel; Lorenzo il Magnifico* (5)

Top Deep Dives: Galaxy Trucker; Innovation; Terraforming Mars (3)

Top small/medium games to buy: Azul; The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game; Gravwell; Lanterns: The Harvest Festival; Queendomino (5)

Top large games to buy: The Castles of Mad King Ludwig; Deus; Shakespeare; Troyes; Vikings

Top promo expansions to buy: Cacao: Volcanoes; The Castles of Burgundy: Trade Routes; NMBR 9: Extra Tiles; Roll For the Galaxy x2 (5)

Top large expansions to buy: Cacao: Diamante; Isle of Skye: Journeyman; Kingdom Builder: Harvest; Roll For the Galaxy: Ambition; Village Port (5)


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