Author Archive

Ranking 2013’s Independent Films

The Esquire Theater in Denver, Colorado. Where I watched many of the films on this list, including Blue Jasmine.

I watched and will now rank 27 independent films that came out this year. I don’t expect to match this number until retirement absent a radical career change.

What’s an “independent film”? Defining the term is difficult. Wikipedia defines it as “a professional film production resulting in a feature film that is produced mostly or completely outside of the major film studio system [or] [by the indie] subsidiaries of major film studios [e.g. Fox Searchlight].”* That definition is good enough for me and I adopt it here.

*But why does it matter that a film is “independent”? There seem to be two prime reasons: (1) independence from major film studios — and, consequently, independence from the desires of the median viewer in the demographic the studio wants to attract — permits production of a broader range of content and (2) independent films generally have significantly lower budgets and accordingly have to make tough choices that major studio filmmakers don’t face. And a third reason for ranking purposes: outside of Los Angeles and New York City, most independent films play in different venues — independent theaters and arthouses — than major studio films and only a subset of filmgoers frequent these venues with any regularity. There surely is a bigger debate to be had on whether these reasons hold water and whether there’s a better way to define an independent film —- perhaps solely according to budget —- but I’ll save that for another day.

I missed a few of this year’s highly-acclaimed indie films (e.g. Blackfish, Wadjda, All is Lost) and I left off this list any film I saw that satisfied the above definition but received a lot of play in standard theaters (e.g. Twelve Years a Slave).

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‘Twas 2012: Top Ten Songs of 2012

 10. “Octopus” — Bloc Party:  Four was a disappointing album, but, happily, the wiry “Octopus” was an exception.


 9. “Argonauts” — Hospitality:  Hospitality’s self-titled album was my favorite of 2012, and “Argonauts” is the album’s most layered, sophisticated track.

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Yelp Theory

Which people and why?

Which people and why?

I first linked to Yelp in June 2008, according to a search of “yelp” in my Gmail account.*  I apparently jumped on the bandwagon when many did:  2008 was a banner year for Yelp, the first year Yelp received more pageviews than Citysearch.  Since 2008, I, like so many others, have come to rely on Yelp as my primary source for deciding where to eat and drink.  Let me share some Yelp tips I’ve developed over the past few years.

*In case you’re wondering, this is where I linked, suggesting a decent pizza place near Madison Square Garden, where, aside from Koreatown, good food is hard to come by.

To start, never trust the star rating of a Mexican restaurant that serves margaritas.  Too often, the margarita-serving Mexican restaurant gets most of its four or five-star ratings from patrons whose number one concern is the quality, size, and cost of the restaurant’s margarita.  Too often, these patrons couldn’t care less about the food.  Or their tipsy post-margarita state makes their food assessments (of everything but the chips and salsa) unreliable.  Not all margarita-serving Mexican restaurants, of course, suffer from an inflated rating.  Run a search of the reviews:  if, say, only one-out-of-six reviews mentions the revered alcoholic drink, then the risk of inflation is mitigated.

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Hindsight 2010: Josh on The Best of Music

Much of the music I listened to this year was not from 2010, but there were plenty of standout tracks from this year. Below are my top five songs and top three albums of 2010:

Top Five Songs of 2010

5) “Deep Blue” — Arcade Fire

  • It may be a simpler song than many of the others on the The Suburbs, but Win Butler’s falsetto shines on this ballad, as does the acoustic guitar and violin play.

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An Alternative View from the Wing (and the hotel bed)

I never watch Larry King. If I were to have a dishonorable mention for retiree of the year, King would be it. Yet, recently while staying in a hotel, I watched nearly ten minutes of Larry King. I have other more systematic preference shifts when in different contexts. On airplanes, I almost always order tomato juice despite rarely ordering it on the ground.*

*I do remember taking a flight once in which they oddly took the drink orders before the plane left the ground. After regaining my composure, I believe I opted for no drink.

This phenomenon of changing preferences with changing environments is not limited to me. A German study found that tomato juice is incredibly popular on airplanes, for example. And, apparently, Ginger Ale is also disproportionately popular on airplanes.*

*A quick Google and Google Scholar search did not reveal anything on the hotel television preference issue. There is plenty, however, on Larry King’s awfulness.

Now, a shift to some classic economic theory: revealed preference theory holds that a consumer’s preferences are revealed by their behavior, or purchasing habits. So, if a woman usually buys two apples each week rather than two oranges, the revealed preference theorist would say that she prefers the bundle of two apples.*

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Hindsight 2010: John Paul Stevens, Retiree of the Year

Hindsight 20/10– Over the next few days, we will be reflecting on the past year in a series of posts. Josh begins with the Retiree of the Year:

Since 2005, Supreme Court Justices Rehnquist, O’Connor, Souter, and most recently, Stevens departed from their coveted positions on the bench. As a law student, I read a lot of legal opinions by justices of the Supreme Court and federal circuit courts. The judge’s name is generally listed before the text of the opinion and naturally, some judges excite me more than others. I know I’m going to get a well-written opinion with Justice Scalia, an intellectually stimulating economic analysis of some aspect of the law under the guise of an opinion with Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner, and a witty, brilliant analysis with Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.* Only a handful of other justices’ names alone get me excited for an opinion: Of the Court’s four most recent retirees, Justice Stevens is the only one who fits into this class.

*He also showed his wit on The Dating Game (second contestant).

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36 Past and Numerous Future New York Times Articles Consolidated Under One Title

“Jews Exist in Every Part of the Country, Some Parts of Other Countries, Are of Different Races, and Sometimes Did Not Start Out Jewish”

Fresh Mediocrity: A Review of Pret A Manger

Pret A Manger (“Pret”) is a London-based sandwich retail chain that has been expanding in the US. There are now 24 outlets in New York and one in Washington, DC. Despite encountering many Pret outlets in England, it was the latter outlet that gave me my first experience eating one of their celebrated fresh sandwiches.

“Pret A Manger” is French for ready-to-eat. You need not have an understanding of French, though, to know that their sandwiches are made fresh. They are all lined up in paperboard containers (used instead of plastic to emphasize the freshness!) on refrigerated shelves. You should be wary about not having a sandwich decision in mind before approaching the shelf, because if you stand dormant in front of a shelf for more than two or three seconds, a Pret employee will almost certainly cut in front of you to load on some more of the fresh sandwiches. They are, of course, loaded in the front rather than the back so every customer gets the freshest sandwich available.*

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Teaching, Parenting, Happiness, and Dogma

What popular activity leads to a statistically significant drop in personal happiness, drastically reduces leisure time, and decreases romantic satisfaction? Parenting, of course. We engage in other activities that are, in general, displeasing, but they are often a means to a greater end: We endure traffic or crowded public transportation to live in a neighborhood that better suits our lifestyle, or we work to earn money to sustain that lifestyle. That’s not to say that driving home or working universally reduce people’s happiness—but, when it does, it’s generally for a clearly more desirable end. Not so with raising children. Child-rearing or creation is supposed to, in itself, generate the sort of transcendental happiness that makes it all worth it. New York Magazine’s Jennifer Senior questions the dogma of parenting as a universal good.

Why is there such a dogma? Surely the reverence most religions accord to raising and bearing—well, sometimes just bearing—children plays some role. Maybe parents are aware of the negative effect of children on their happiness level, but merely follow the broader trend of embracing altruistic acts as the ultimate good—the epitome of which is committing most of your life to another human or two. But, perhaps something else not unique to parenting is at work.

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On Mutual Experience

Mutual experience* presents a paradox.

*Mutual experience, simply put for purposes of this post, is doing the same thing as someone else. It could be simultaneous (e.g. riding a roller coaster with a friend) or temporally divided (e.g. reading a novel after a friend has read it).

There is little in life that is a more consistent source of pleasure than mutual beneficial experience. It explains the joy in reading old yearbook entries (where friends write of inside jokes) and the pleasure of jogging our memories with a friend or lover over a pleasant past mutual experience.** The pleasure of mutual experience is behind the nauseating (to me, but pleasing to many others) back-and-forth over travel experiences.

**It may be more than momentary. One study has shown that couples’ reminiscences of events of shared laughter improve overall satisfaction with their relations.

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