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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Earl J. Woods and the Night of the Rainbow Squiggles

Back in high school I'd often finish off a roll of film by taking long exposures of traffic at night. Since these squiggles of light were created without any clear vision, purpose or statement of any kind I suppose I can't really call any of these creations art, but every so often something reasonably pretty developed, such as this example from 1987. Indeed, it reminds me a little of the patterns I see when I listen to music, though far less colourful and lacking both movement and a third dimension.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Man in the White Hat

It's Dad's birthday! Here he is back in 1966 on a trip through the United States, blending in with the Americans by donning a white cowboy hat. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

So Long to The Shield

Back when Sylvia and I first started dating she introduced me to The Shield, a cop drama with a twist: rather than follow the exploits of typical crime fighters, The Shield focussed on a small group of corrupt officers, the Strike Team based out of "the barn" in the (fictional) Farmington district of Los Angeles. Fascinated by the show's gritty style, taut writing and above all Michael Chiklis' performance as the sociopathic Strike Team leader Vic Mackey, I eagerly purchased the first season on DVD to catch up and watched each following season as it was released to home video.

Sylvia and I watched the first five seasons together, but then suddenly, for whatever reason, I burned out on the show - not because of any dip in quality, but because the show's bleak landscape simply got to be a little too unremitting; I moved on to lighter pop culture fare for my after-work entertainment. Sylvia finished the show on her own, and it wasn't until the last month or so that I decided it was finally time to complete Vic's story. We sat down together tonight to watch the last two episodes of the final season, and now that it's all over I have no choice but to place the series in my personal top ten television dramas. But why?

While The Shield is ostensibly about the corruption of Vic Mackey and his Strike Team contrasted with the efforts of good cops to uncover that corruption while also handling the regular run of murders and assaults in the show's crime-ridden version of LA, there's a subtext - intended or not - that critiques the racial and class divides in contemporary Western culture, divides that seem to make Mackey's corruption inevitable. After all, Mackey's thuggish policing tactics, his thefts and murders don't arise in a vacuum - they're a sociopath's response to a world that offers little opportunity for decent quality of life for far too many citizens. Not that this excuses Mackey's criminal acts; far from it. The show makes it clear that Mackey's primary justifications, that everything he does is to protect his team and his family, are subordinate to his primary motivator: Mackey likes to win, whatever the cost. A skilled manipulator and bully, if he ever appears sympathetic it's because those emotions are engineered to obtain that exact response.

Against this backdrop the show also follows Latino police captain, then city councillor, then Mayoral candidate David Aceveda, the man who initially suspects Mackey of corruption, pursues him and eventually winds up tainted by Mackey - like nearly every other character who crosses the man's twisted path. Aceveda's arc, though minor in comparison to the show's throughline, nonetheless adds important thematic meat to the show. Aceveda's political career requires unsavoury compromises from beginning to end, and even if he wins, as seems likely (the show's finale doesn't portray the actual election), he's become too much like Mackey to really make the changes that the city needs. Aceveda isn't a villain like Mackey, but he was always in it for himself, and by the show's conclusion he's only grown more cynical and self-serving.

Mackey's web of deceit eventually traps him, of course, as it must in conventional Western drama, but in an immensely satisfying way; he winds up trapped in a hell of his own making, theoretically gaining immunity from his crimes but losing his friends, family and reputation in the process. And there's enough ambiguity in the final seconds to suggest that he's going to at least attempt to dig his way out; the man is, after all, a venomous serpent, and it would be against his nature to accept defeat.

The show's purest characters - Farmington chief Claudette Wyms, Detective Dutch Waggenbach and Officer Julien Lowe - escape relatively unscathed, their moral compasses intact (though Wyms is slowly dying of lupus). The series implies that they will continue to fight the good fight as long as they can, perhaps even more effectively now that they're free of Mackey's dark influence.

The citizens of Farmington, however, don't have much to look forward to. Their world is one of economic desperation, broken families, random violence and drug addiction. While the main characters of the show (or any conventional show) can at least rest assured that they'll enjoy drama and narrative closure, the nameless denizens of The Shield's world, the citizens the Strike Team and Farmington's detectives and police offers are ostensibly meant to protect, will shuffle along as supporting players in their own lives, left out of the spotlight, bystanders impotently observing the stories of more important players.

Just like the rest of us.

And that is of course the show's message, conveyed most bluntly in its splash screen by a shattered police badge: the shield cannot protect us. But if we take that metaphor a step further, perhaps it's also saying that society's current configuration, with its growing distance between haves and have-nots, no longer protects or nurtures a majority of citizens. Once again, things fall apart and the centre cannot hold. Perhaps that's assigning too much meaning to a cop show, but sometimes subtext speaks louder than text.

Monday, January 28, 2013

60s Double Exposure

Snap a photograph with a traditional film camera, fail to advance the roll and snap again, and you'll wind up with a double exposure. Some digital cameras will allow photographers to pull the same trick, and you can always emulate it with photo editing software, but sometimes happy accidents offer the most interesting results. I recently discovered this image in Mom and Dad's negatives - in fact, I just spotted Mom right in the centre of the photo. It's an interesting juxtaposition, suggesting that one group of friends is perhaps thinking about the other.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fargo on the Farm

Mom or Dad took this photo of a Fargo (and presumably one of my relatives) sometime in the mid to late 1960s. I cropped the original for better framing, corrected the colour a little and removed dust and scratches. I love the mismatched paint job.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Last Last Resort

ABC broadcast the last episode of Last Resort last night, and as I predicted back in May, it lasted a mere half-season. Last night's finale concluded the series' major narrative threads, though the abbreviated season clearly left writers scrambling to tie up all the loose ends. Most importantly, Captain Marcus Cole, played by the remarkable Andre Braugher, went out cackling like a maniac with his sunglasses on, refusing to compromise his principles right to the final curtain call.

It's a shame that Last Resort came to a premature end; it was gutsy and ambitious, casting the United States as the villain, depicting its immoral use of nuclear weapons and ominous curtailment of civil liberties while also featuring a very flawed cast of protagonists, most especially the this-close-to-unhinged Marcus Cole. (Sean and I took to calling this show Frank Has Nukes, after Braugher's best-known character, Detective Frank Pembleton from Homicide: Life on the Streets.) Network television is awash in cop shows, medical dramas, sitcoms and so-called "reality" shows; it's nice when the powers-that-be take a chance and try something different. It's too bad there aren't enough viewers to support even somewhat iconoclastic programming.

IGN has an interesting interview about where the series may have gone had it continued.

Earl and Sylvia on a submarine in Hawaii in 2008.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Poe's Raven in Plastic

If you push the button, a bell rings and a sonorous voice intones "Nevermore." Yes, it's very silly.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This Is Not The World's Largest Oil Can

Here I am posing in front of the world's largest oil can in my dad's birthplace, Rocanville, Saskatchewan, sometime in 1981. For some reason the composition of this photo reminds me of something Dali or Magritte might have painted, so I used Photoshop's filtering tools to clumsily transform it into something painterly:
Is this somewhat surreal, or am I crazy?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

See You in the Funny Papers

Hard to believe that Charles Schulz was only a little over halfway through his 50-year run on Peanuts when the strip pictured here ran sometime in 1976 (actually December 29, 1974, the date tracked down by the detective work of Al Hunt; thanks, Al!) - what a shame the photo's resolution isn't quite high enough to discern the exact date on The Brandon Sun in my hands! This was taken at my maternal grandparents' farmhouse near Virden, Manitoba. How carefree those childhood days seem now.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Back to the Bedrocks of B.C.

No sooner do I post about Kelowna's Bedrock City do I discover another set of photos from the same trip, taken by Dad. And look, I'm even carrying the camera I complained about last time.
Dad understood, as I did not back then, that photos with people tend to be far more interesting than photos of random scenery - unless, of course, you're a professional photographer, a gifted amateur, or really lucky.
They really should have cut holes in the floor so kids could exhaust themselves driving around the park.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Bedrocks of B.C.

Sometime in the early 1980s, the Woods family travelled to Kelowna, British Columbia to visit Aunt Jean and Uncle John. While there we visited Kelowna's Bedrock City, one of two Flintstones-themed parks in British Columbia that thrived for a few years and then vanished.
A stone helicopter would require tremendous lift! These photos were taken with a pretty primitive camera, one that seems to have allowed some light to leak into the film compartment, because every photo taken with it features a reddish smear near the top of the frame.
That's Bamm-Bamm and, I guess, Dino, enjoying a bit of fishing near a volcano.
Another view of the pool.
Guests could ride the train through town.
Naturally, this station only played rock music.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


This may be one of those "you had to be there" moments, but last night, as Sean and Jeremiah and I played Power Grid, Jeremiah's tongue slipped while he was trying to say "uranium." He wound up stuttering "plat - uh, uranium," to which Sean immediately responded, "Platanium, the most valuable element!"

I laughed.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Last Friday Night on Earth

Tonight Pitts the Elder and Woods the Elder faced Pitts the Younger and Woods the Younger in a rousing match of Last Night on Earth. The elder team controlled the zombies, while the younger waded into action as the heroes. It was a slaughter, with dozens of zombies brutally butchered by the time the sun rose. The four heroes escaped with four grateful survivors in tow, as Jeff and Earl shook their heads in defeat. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tony's Tirade

One of the things I love about my friend Tony is his complete lack of inhibitions. Back in the early 90s Tony seemed to be riding a constant sugar rush - and no wonder, since I witnessed him dumping six or seven packets of sugar into his iced tea on more than one occasion. I'm not sure what he's doing in this picture, but if I had to guess he's probably mocking Hitler, who certainly deserves eternal derision. Of course, once again I'm missing all the action by reading when I should be paying attention to my surroundings.

These days, Tony is an important contributor to The Paltry Sapien. Check it out - he's always finding important and interesting material, typically much more topical than this meandering blog.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Roadside Attraction

Roadside Attraction
I race along the highway and the old wrecks meander past my windows
I long to stop and push the rotting door open, to hear the ancient rusted hinges creak
To hear the nesting birds flutter away from my intrusion
To explore each room wondering if the floorboards or the ceiling will give way
Perhaps finding some treasure, a forgotten old newspaper or photograph or long abandoned tool
To be sure there's almost certainly nothing, just dung and dust and emptiness and wood turned
Grey with age

But I'd stop if I had more than two weeks
And if the old houses and barns told no stories
I'd make up my own
And leave them in each building
To dissipate into eternity
Like all the other ghosts

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Robert Stone Woods

Here is my great-grandfather, Robert Stone Woods (1857-1939), probably taken in Rocanville, Saskatchewan, sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s. Great-Granddad was a blacksmith and sired twelve children; his youngest, William James Woods, was dad's father. I didn't retouch this photo very much at all, wanting to preserve the natural sepia tone and other slight imperfections. Why is there a cat sitting on his shoulder? I don't know, but the look works for him.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Nose in a Book

On our way to or from Expo '86, the Woods family camped at a truly lovely spot somewhere in British Columbia, or at least that's what these photos tell me; I have no memory of the stop at all, nor of the book I'm reading here, The Destroyer #4, which the Internet tells me is subtitled Mafia Fix. I had to laugh when I saw the photo, though, because the moment it captures is typical: no matter what natural wonders surround me, I've almost always found books more compelling.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Perspective of Interest

I'm fascinated by the tropes and formulas of dramatic television. Played straight, they can codify important values and principles - do the right thing, fight intolerance, tell the truth, work together, don't be greedy. Inverted or subverted, they can point out our culture's weaknesses: our deep-seated need for comfort at all costs, our hypocrisy, our gluttony, our tacit approval of state-sponsored violence, torture and abuse of civil rights.

Or sometimes television writers will play with formulas just for fun, as in the latest episode of Person of Interest, "Prisoner's Dilemma." Serialized dramas have become so complex that many shows for the last couple of decades have featured a "Last time on..." reel of clips to bring viewers up to speed on plot and character arcs. Usually these are straightforward affairs, with one of the series' actor intoning "Last time on (name of show)..." and then falling silent as a carefully-chosen selection of clips from prior episodes - all relevant to the upcoming episode, of course - encapsulate a season or more's worth of plot in a few seconds.

Person of Interest is unique among current shows because it has its own omniscient narrator, "the machine," which watches everyone, everywhere, all the time. How apropos, then, that the machine itself would present the latest episode's "Last time on..." reel, not with a conventional string of clips, but with footage from security cameras, vehicle rear-view cameras, webcams and the million other eyes of modern-day civilization, footage overlaid by the machine's rapid-fire, somewhat cryptic textual analysis of the clips. The technique has to be seen to be really appreciated, but I found it a remarkably clever way to liven up a well-worn trope. As Person of Interest continues, the machine is slowly becoming not just the foundation of the series' premise, but a unique and interesting character in its own right, one that makes all kinds of narrative tricks possible. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Milestone Approaching

I can scarce believe it myself, but in a little over a month My Name is Earl (J. Woods), formerly known as The Bleak House of Blahgs, will be ten years old. Clearly I'll need to do something special for such a momentous occasion, but what? Another name change? A redesign? Some kind of commemorative post? A best-of list? Finishing that short story I promised Jeff? A retrospective?

I know what I should do. I've long threatened to novelize the screenplay of Toilet Chase. But that's a better project for National Novel Writing Month.

Ideas from the peanut gallery gratefully accepted.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Man and Mountains

Look at all the wonderful geometry in this photograph of my father, shot by Mom on their trip through the western United States. I love how the bright yellow tent echoes the shape of the jagged, angular mountains, and how the gentle curve of the shelter frames not only the tent and mountains, but Dad as well, who seems to be poring over a map or perhaps a newspaper. I'd never seen this shot before scanning it yesterday, and it's a real keeper.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Photo Phlub

You find the strangest things when you dig through the family photo archives. Here I'm at a cousin's wedding in Winnipeg, and whoever shot this caught me unprepared, capturing my sublimely goofy expression. Mom looks really good, though.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Edmonton Space and Science Centre, January 1985

I've noted previously my fascination with drugstore cropping of negatives. On the left we have a restored image of the then-new Edmonton Space and Science Centre; on the right, the original 110 negative.

The centre had a great version of the Lunar Lander game back then, as well as scales telling you how much you'd weigh on each planet in the solar system. There was also a full-scale replica of the Canadarm. But my most vivid memory is of the electricity exhibit, in which you were instructed to place your thumb on a pair of contacts and then crank a handle as hard and as long as you could. Cranking the handle gave your thumb an electric shock, and it was quite a challenge to keep your thumb down and the crank turning for more than a few seconds. As James Bond might quip, "Shocking!"

Monday, January 07, 2013

Defender of the Federation

O'BRIEN: Think of it as a combination of Ender's Game and The Last Starfighter, sir. 

SISKO: I'm afraid I don't get the reference, Chief. 

O'BRIEN: Forgive me - twentieth century trivia, sir. At any rate, the concept is simple. Our pilots will operate robot starships remotely, from this console. We can engage the Dominion fleet at no risk to ourselves.

BASHIR: Ingenious!  

SISKO: Hmmm. 

WORF: I disapprove. It is not...honourable.

KIRA: If it's a choice between dishonour and death, I'll take death.

WORF: Death before dishonour!

SISKO: All right, all right. Care to offer a demonstration, Chief?

O'BRIEN: After you, sir. Remote starship operations are pretty basic. This manual steering column moves the ship back and forth on the viewscreen. This button provides thrust, this button fires phasers, and this one launches a spherical burst of quantum torpedoes that will wipe out anything within the limits of your viewscreen. We call it a smart bomb.

SISKO: I'm ready. Aha, I see Dominion ships on the radar. They're kidnapping humanoids!

KIRA: You've got to do something, sir!

SISKO: Fire! Fire!

BASHIR: Can you beam them aboard the remote ship?

O'BRIEN: No. But if the captain moves his ship in close, perhaps the humanoids can grab on.

SISKO: It's working!

WORF: There are too many of them! Jump to hyperspace!

(The all look at WORF.)

WORF: I mean, go to warp speed.

KIRA: Wave one complete!

SISKO: Fire! Fire! Smart bomb! Arrgghh, I've lost my last ship!

O'BRIEN: Well done, sir. High score!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Woods Lurking in the Woods

How many humans can you find in this photo? Click to embiggen if you must. This photo was shot sometime in the early 1970s somewhere in or around Leaf Rapids, Manitoba. How beautiful it the summer.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Apple Computer Lab November 1985

Here I am in November 1985, during a computer class in grade ten. The newly-renovated and expanded Leduc Composite High School featured a computer lab stocked with Apple IIes, complete with floppy disc drives and dot-matrix printers. I don't recall the exact name of the entry-level course offered at the grade ten level - I think it may have simply been "Computers 10" or "Computer Sciences 10." At any rate, I remember it as being a fairly easy class that left me with enough free time to play The Kobayashi Alternative, an early Star Trek adventure game written by Diane Duane, one of the best of the Star Trek tie-in novelists. And yes, we played Oregon Trail too. Perhaps this explains the mediocre grade I received when I completed my one and only university level computer course...

Friday, January 04, 2013

Memories of DS9

A modern CGI recreation of Deep Space Nine by artist Tobias Richter.

Twenty years ago this week, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiered. DS9 is often referred to as the dark horse of the Star Trek world, perhaps the least-remembered series among the general public. But it is also quite possibly the very best Star Trek show, its strongest episodes comparing quite favourably to the strongest of the original series. And on a personal level, it was the show I needed to endure my angst-ridden twenties.

When "Emissary," the pilot, debuted in early January 1993, I was living in the Bleak House of Blahs with Ron and Allan. We watched the episode in the so-called Ron Room, Ron's first-floor library and office.  I don't remember their impressions, but I was impressed right from the start. Unlike Star Trek: The Next Generation, which featured an at-times embarrassing pilot and a very rocky first season, DS9 began with a cast of compelling characters and a premise that inverted the Star Trek formula: instead of boldly going to explore strange new worlds, DS9 was all about staying in one place and working on a single long-term problem: the reconstruction of a formerly-occupied world and its struggle to earn membership in the United Federation of Planets.

While TNG featured a cast of almost too-perfect heroes on the Federation's shiny new flagship, DS9 was crewed by misfits and average joes struggling to get a scuttled enemy space station back in working order while dealing with a ruined planet and the double-edged sword of a nearby newly-discovered wormhole to the other side of the galaxy, a kind of Silk Road to potentially great wealth and knowledge, or (as it later turned out), a very dangerous existential threat.

DS9 has often been characterized as "dark" in comparison to the other Star Trek shows, but I think that's too simplistic a description. I would characterize it, rather, as more political, more ambiguous, more complex and only a tad less optimistic than the rest of the Trek canon. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry declared that by the time of the Next Generation era humans were essentially perfect, an edict TNG's writers struggled with. By the time DS9 premiered Roddenberry had died, giving writers greater freedom to explore interpersonal conflicts among the the show's cast - and the friction between DS9's diverse characters was one of the highlights of the show.

Single father and DS9 commander Benjamin Sisko had an almost impossible job, and unlike Captain Picard he wasn't shy about using anger as a tool to motivate his staff. His son Jake wasn't a wunderkind like Wesley Crusher, but an average kid overcoming the loss of his mom. First officer Kira Nerys, a native of planet Bajor - the world recovering from occupation - was a former terrorist/freedom fighter with a huge chip on her shoulder and a distrust of the Federation. Policeman Odo was a delightfully curmudgeonly alien shapeshifter, always at odds with shady entrepreneur Quark, the station's bartender/black marketeer. Doctor Julian Bashir was the station's overenthusiastic doctor, who annoyed the hell out of everyone including his best friend, former Enterprise bit player Miles O'Brien, the show's salt-of-the-Earth everyman.

Even the recurring players on DS9 - people like Cardassian tailor/spy Garak, Quark's brother Rom and his son Nog and the show's primary antagonist, Gul Dukat, receive more character development than many of the starring cast members of other Trek shows.

But characterization means little without solid storytelling. DS9 started strong, with several stories about the clash of Bajoran and Federation values, political intrigue, personal loss and, yes, space exploration. With every year the show's continuing storylines grew more complex, culminating in the four-year Dominion War arc.

I was the perfect viewer for this show. During the 90s I was struggling to find my place in the world, just as DS9's occupants were. I had some of Quark's ambition, hoping to escape the poverty of minimum-wage existence. I had Bashir's naivety and optimism, tempered by Odo's anxieties, Sisko's early struggles with self-confidence and a touch of Kira's cynicism. The 90s recession mirrored DS9's bleak tone, but the characters managed to overcome their difficulties; they were, after all, the show's heroes.

And I needed heroes then, because I wasn't sure I'd ever realize any of my dreams. I moved in and out of my parents' basement several times, and I bounced around a number of different jobs and apartments. Becoming a professional writer, my primary dream, was echoed in Jake Sisko's character arc, and it's fair to say that his perseverance helped encourage me to keep writing. I sold my first professional work midway through DS9's run, and by the time the show ended in 1999 I'd earned my first co-author credit.

I watched that final episode alone in my apartment near the University of Alberta. "What You Leave Behind" was powerful and sad and as ambiguous and difficult as ever, and its final tracking shot away from the station left me profoundly moved. Of all the Star Trek shows, DS9 is the single series that hadn't yet exhausted itself creatively; more than any other, it could have gone on for another two or three seasons, and I wish it had.

But for seven years DS9 helped sustain me. For an hour each week, the show gave me food for thought, a chance to escape, inspiration to dream. During a lonely time in my life, DS9 was a stalwart companion, and I'm grateful to all the creators who provided seven years of superb entertainment.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Antechamber

"Ungood Art Day" is one of my favourite features over at Jeff Shyluk's Visual Blog. Jeff is a real artist, so his failures are more compelling than the average hack's triumphs. The average hack's failures, therefore, fail to meet the "ungood" bar and instead strain to achieve merely doubleplusungood.

Once again I've stumbled across an hold high school photo that's beyond my capabilities to restore, so instead I've played with layers and brushes and blending tools and filters to craft this mess. In the original photo my high school friend Keith is playing guitar in a dimly-lit auditorium. My old Kodak 110 didn't have a powerful enough flash to illuminate the scene, so Keith is mostly lost in shadow. A few overhead spotlights and a tiny floor light gave Keith a slight glow. I selected out Keith and threw a stained glass filter atop everything else. I duplicated some of the cells, simply because there weren't enough light sources to create enough virtual glass. (I'm not sure why there's a large expanse of cells in the middle of the image, because the area is pitch black in the original photo.)

A nifty YouTube tutorial showed me how to paint fun glowing orbs, so I naturally abused the technique and painted ten when three or five would probably have done the job.

The scene wound up looking as though Keith is playing the role of a young guitar player recruited by beings from another dimension to bring rock to their universe. Hence, "The Antechamber," where Keith waits to cross to another place.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Miniature Plantation

I've blogged before about tilt-shift photography, and in the past I used a web application to mimic the effect. Tonight I tried Photoshop to ape the technique, which requires blurring the top and bottom portions of the photo to make the picture look as though it's a miniature set, like the landscape of a model train. I think it's a rather charming technique, but choosing the right photo is critical. This one, which I took from a helicopter while celebrating our first wedding anniversary in Hawaii, would probably work better if we'd hovered at a slightly lower altitude to make the pedestrians visible. The cars and the maze look delightfully toy-ish, however.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Movies I Watched in 2012

Although I've been tracking my reading since January 2011, it didn't occur to me until mid-2012 to track my film viewing. The following list ordered chronologically by film viewed, though it's probably a little off as I didn't start recording until later in the year and had to dig through my memory for films I caught earlier in 2012.

Moneyball (Bennett Miller, 2011)
Green Lantern (Martin Campbell, 2011)
John Carter (Andrew Stanton, 2012)
The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012)
The Racket (Lewis Milestone, 1928)
In Old Arizona (Irving Cummings, 1928)
The Divorcee (Robert Z. Leonard, 1930)
Source Code (Duncan Jones, 2011)
The Love Parade (Ernst Lubitsch, 1929)
Cimarron (Wesley Ruggles, 1931)
Five Star Final (Mervyn LeRoy, 1931)
42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon, 1933)
Little Women (George Cukor, 1933)
Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935)
Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946)
Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton, 1947)
Three Coins in the Fountain (Jean Negulesco, 1954)
The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)
The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)
Tender Mercies (Bruce Beresford, 1983)
Babe (Chris Noonan, 1995)
Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant, 1997)
The Cider House Rules (Lasse Hallstrom, 1999)
Chocolat (Lasse Hallstrom, 2000)
In the Bedroom (Todd Field, 2001)
Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese, 2002)
My Week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011)
The Hours (Stephen Daldry, 2002)
Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
Seabiscuit (Gary Ross, 2003)
Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
Capote (Bennett Miller, 2005)
The Queen (Stephen Frears, 2006)
Atonement (Joe Wright, 2007)
Doubt (John Patrick Shanley, 2008)
Thor (Kenneth Branagh, 2011)
Hobo with a Shotgun (Jason Eisener, 2011)
True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993)
Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971)
In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008)
Starcrash (Luigi Cozzi, 1978)
Shanghai Express (Josef Von Sternberg, 1932)
The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch, 1931)
The Private Life of Henry VIII (Alexander Korda, 1933)
American Grindhouse (Elijah Drenner, 2010)
She Done Him Wrong (Lowell Sherman, 1933)
State Fair (Walter Lang, 1945
Dodsworth (William Wyler, 1936)
The Greatest Show on Earth (Cecil B. DeMille, 1952)
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Sam Wood, 1939)
Wuthering Heights (William Wyler, 1939)
Oliver Twist (David Lean, 1948)
The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940)
The Music Man (Morton DaCosta, 1962)
Fiddler on the Roof (Norman Jewison, 1971)
Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott, 2001)
The Help (Tate Taylor, 2011)
Limitless (Neil Burger, 2011)
The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Scott Derrickson, 2008)
Mutiny on the Bounty (Frank Lloyd, 1935)
Mutiny on the Bounty (Lewis Milestone, 1962)
Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963)
A Few Good Men (Rob Reiner, 1992)
12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957)
Elizabeth (Shekhar Kapur, 1998)
Repo Men (Miguel Sapochnik, 2010)
The Adjustment Bureau (George Nolfi, 2011)
Contagion (Steven Soderbergh, 2011)
The Mechanic (Simon West, 2011)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001)
Clash of the Titans (Lois Leterrier, 2010)
Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008)
Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder, 2011)
Battle: Los Angeles (Jonathan Liebesman, 2011)
Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard, 2008)
Skyline (Colin and Greg Strausse, 2010)
Drive Angry (Patrick Lussier, 2011)
Chronicle (Josh Trank, 2012)
Timecrimes (Nacho Vigalondo, 2007)
Arlington Road (Mark Pellington, 1999)
Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey, 1963)
Mysterious Island (Cy Endfield, 1961)
Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, 2011)
The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb, 2012)
The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012)
Looper (Rian Johnson, 2012)
How the West Was Won (John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, 1962)
Midnight Express (Alan Parker, 1978)
A Trip to the Moon (Georges Melies, 1902)
Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915)
Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)
She (Lansing C. Holden and Irving Pichel, 1935)
Things to Come (William Cameron Menzies, 1936)
eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920)
The Green Hornet (Michael Gondry, 2011)
Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1935)
Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945)
House (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)
Emotion (Nobohiko Obayashi, 1966)
Magnum Force (Ted Post, 1973)
The Ides of March (George Clooney, 2011)
Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)
Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton, 1932)
Shallow Grave (Danny Boyle, 1994)
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, 2002)
Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)
King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933)
Hillsborough (Charles McDougall, 1996)
Collision Earth (Paul Ziller, 2011)
Crack in the World (Andrew Morton, 1965)
Gog (Herbert L. Strock, 1954)
Triangle (Christopher Smith, 2009)

That's 116 films, a fairly typical year. A few of these films were part of the curriculum of the popular culture course I tutored in the fall: Birth of a Nation, Metropolis, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Triumph of the Will, Star Wars, Detour. I wish I'd been able to show them some of the others on this list, notably King Kong, Jason and the Argonauts, Island of Lost Souls, Dirty Harry, How the West Was Won and Five Star Final - great examples of adventure, fantasy, science fiction, crime drama, western and newspaper drama. 

On the other hand, I'd probably tell future students to avoid Collision Earth, The Green Hornet, The Amazing Spider-Man, Drive Angry, Skyline, The Greatest Show on Earth and Green Lantern