Oscar picks and movie rankings.

It’s Oscars Sunday, and for the first time since the 2013 ceremony, I’ve seen the majority of the nominees for Best Picture and several other categories. Here are my rankings of all of the 2016 movies I saw, based on release date or Oscar eligibility. Any linked titles go to reviews. As I review a couple more of these this week, I’ll update this post to link to them.

1. La La Land
2. Moonlight
3. Manchester by the Sea
4. O.J.: Made in America
5. Tanna
6. Arrival
7. Everybody Wants Some!!
8. Tower
9. The Lobster
10. Sing Street
11. Fences
12. Loving
13. Zootopia
14. Hell or High Water
15. Moana
16. Hail Caesar
17. Fire At Sea
18. Kubo and the Two Strings
19. Author: The JT Leroy Story
20. Midnight Special
21. Louder than Bombs
22. Finding Dory
23. Life, Animated
24. I am Not Your Negro
25. A Man Called Ove
26. The Red Turtle
27. Hidden Figures
28. The 13th

I’ve still got a half-dozen or so 2016 movies I want to see, which I’ll mention as I go through the remainder of the post.

I don’t pretend to any insider knowledge of the Oscars, so any predictions here are just for fun, and I think I only managed to run the table of nominees in one category, so don’t take my opinions too seriously.

Best Picture

Who should win: I’ve got La La Land as the best movie of the year, although I think Moonlight is more than worthy too.

Who will win: The heavy betting has been on La La Land all year and I don’t pretend to know any better.

I haven’t seen: Lion, which I’ll see eventually, and Hacksaw Ridge, which I won’t see because the director is an anti-Semitic domestic abuser.

Who was snubbed: All the movies I have in my top ten that didn’t make the final nine nominees would have been extreme surprises if they’d earned nods. I think O.J.: Made in America was the best movie not nominated, but if we’re limiting to realistic candidates, then Loving would be my pick.

Best Director

See above. I know sometimes these two categories are split, but I usually don’t understand it when it happens, and can’t imagine that happening this year.

Best Actor

Who should win: Casey Affleck gave one of the best performances I’ve seen in years in Manchester by the Sea. The only reason I could see for him to lose out to Denzel Washington would be Affleck’s off-screen issues – he has been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment.

Who will win: I’d give Affleck 55/45 odds over Denzel.

I haven’t seen: Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) or Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge).

Who was snubbed: Colin Farrell was terrific in The Lobster. And A Man Called Ove fails utterly without Rolf Lassgård’s performance as the title character.

Best Actress

Who should win: I think Emma Stone for La La Land, but I’ve only seen two of the five nominated performances.

Who will win: Stone seems like a lock.

I haven’t seen: Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), or Natalie Portman (Jackie). That last film just hit digital last week, so when it becomes a rental option I’ll see it. I won’t see Elle.

Who was snubbed: Amy Adams for Arrival.

Best Supporting Actor

Who should win: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight.

Who will win: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight.

I haven’t seen: Dev Patel (Lion) or Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals). I’ll get Lion soon.

Who was snubbed: I thought Kevin Costner was pretty great in Hidden Figures, one of the only characters with any complexity in that film. Shannon was excellent in Midnight Special, but he’s just kind of great in everything.

Best Supporting Actress

Who should win: Viola Davis for Fences, which was really more of a lead performance. She owns the second half of that film.

Who will win: Davis.

I haven’t seen: Nicole Kidman (Lion).

Who was snubbed: Octavia Spencer got a nomination here for Hidden Figures, so was Taraji Henson submitted in the lead category for the same film? If Henson was eligible for this category, she was better in a harder role than Michelle Williams’ brief appearances in Manchester by the Sea. I also thought Rachel Weisz (The Lobster) and Lucy Boynton (Sing Street) were worthy.

Animated Feature

Who should win: Tough call for me, but of the four I’ve seen I’d give the nod to Zootopia for the best combination of animation quality, story, and voice acting.

Who will win: I think Zootopia wins this too.

I haven’t seen: My Life as a Zucchini opens in Philly this upcoming weekend and in Wilmington the following Friday. I’m dying to see it.

Who was snubbed: Finding Dory wasn’t a great film by Pixar standards but I think in many years it gets a nod, perhaps losing out because there were two other Disney films in the category.

Cinematography

Who should win: I think of the three nominees I’ve seen, I’d give the nod to Arrival.

Who will win: La La Land.

I haven’t seen: Lion or Silence. Adnan Virk loved Silence – I think he named it his top movie for 2016 – but I think I’ll pass given its length and my short attention span.

Who was snubbed: Hell or High Water was beautifully shot, with wide pans of the New Mexican landscapes.

Documentary Feature

Who should win: It’s almost unfair that the seven-hour O.J.: Made in America documentary (from ESPN) is eligible in this category, but it is, and it’s among the best documentaries I’ve ever seen regardless of length or format.

Who will win: O.J.: Made in America. If anything else wins, it’ll be a travesty.

I haven’t seen: None. I got all five here.

Who was snubbed: Tower was absolutely deserving of a spot over at least three of the other four nominees; I could see an argument Fire at Sea over Tower, even if I don’t agree with it.

Foreign Language Film

Who should win: I have only seen two of the five, and neither of the two that appear to be the critical favorites. Tanna would be more than worthy of the honor, but I can’t say if it’s better than the two leaders.

Who will win: It sounds like The Salesman is going to win, because it’s a great film and because of the Muslim ban’s effect on its director.

I haven’t seen: The Salesman, Toni Erdmann, or Land of Mine. I will probably have to wait for digital options for all three.

Who was snubbed: I haven’t seen any other foreign-language films from 2016, but am very interested in seeing two films on the shortlist, Neruda (from Chile), which I just missed the one weekend it was playing near me, and The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (from Finland), which hasn’t been released anywhere here or online that I can see. That latter film has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes through 13 reviews.

Music (original song)

Who should win: Tough call for me, but I think La La Land‘s “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” hits the right combination of great song and essential to the film’s story, over Moana‘s “How Far I’ll Go,” which I’d say is the better song outside the context of the movies. That said, Lin-Manuel Miranda is a national treasure and I will never be upset to see him give an acceptance speech.

Who will win: I get the sense “City of Stars” is the favorite here.

I haven’t seen: I didn’t see Jim: The James Foley Story but I’ve heard the nominated song, “The Empty Chair.”

Who was snubbed: Sing Street‘s total absence here is a farce. “Drive It Like You Stole It” was my favorite from the film, but I could argue for a couple of others as well. Also, my favorite song from Moana was actually “We Know the Way.”

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Who should win: This is Moonlight‘s to lose.

Who will win: Moonlight.

I haven’t seen: Lion.

Who was snubbed: The screenplay for Loving was deemed to be “adapted” by the Academy, although the Writers’ Guild classified it as original.

Writing (Original Screenplay)

Who should win: The Lobster.

Who will win: La La Land.

I haven’t seen: 20th Century Women.

Who was snubbed: Tanna.

Tower.

On August 1st, 1966, Charles Whitman, a white, Catholic 25-year-old who had trained as a sharpshooter with the Marines, murdered his wife and his mother, then went to the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower and began targeting and shooting anyone he could see, killing 14 and wounding 31 others. It was considered the first mass “school shooting” in U.S. history and the worst mass murder in Texas history to that point.

The documentary Tower, which was shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, recreates the 96 minutes from when Whitman first started shooting until he was killed by policemen who, with the help of one courageous civilian, cornered him on the observation deck. By using first-person accounts from survivors and witnesses, Tower tells the story of the shootings via animation, some of it overlaid on actual footage from either that day or that time period. It’s an utterly gripping account that comes as close as possible to putting the viewer on the scene, and focuses on the victims, both those killed that day and those injured or involved who had to carry those memories for the rest of their lives. The film is available to rent on amazon and iTunes.

Whitman’s motives remain unknown to this day, although there are multiple theories, including that a brain tumor pressing on his amygdala had caused him to have murderous or delusional thoughts. Tower doesn’t get into Whitman’s story at all; in fact, he never appears in the film, not even in animation. Instead, the documentary gives us the stories of the people who are rarely if ever mentioned when the story of the Tower shootings are told.

One student, Claire Wilson, who was eight months pregnant and walking with her boyfriend was among the first people shot by Whitman; she survived, thanks to the help of multiple good Samaritans, two of whom eventually risked their lives to drag her to safety, but she lost the baby and her boyfriend was killed immediately. Another student, John “Artly” Fox, was one of the men who went into the open to bring Claire out of the sniper’s sight so she could get medical attention, and after three months in the hospital, she survived. Tower brings the two of them together for the first time since the shootings at the end of the film. A boy delivering newspapers was shot while on his cousin’s bicycle; he survived, but his parents were first told he’d been killed before finding him alive at the hospital. Air Force veteran Allen Crum, then the manager of the campus co-op store across the street, came out to break up what he thought was a fight, then realized there was a sniper and decided to make his way to the tower itself, eventually joining the officers on the observation deck and providing cover for them as they crept up on Whitman and killed him.

Many of the principals are still alive today and appear twice over in the film – as themselves, near the end of the documentary, but in animated form as their younger selves during the reenactments. The animation gimmick works incredibly well, more than simply hiring actors would have (if such a thing were even feasible), because it allowed me at least to focus completely on their words. There’s no question of someone overacting or rendering a person inaccurately here; we get their memories, enough to give us a fairly complete picture of those 96 minutes of hell, and a closing segment as those still alive discuss life after the shootings. And because this story is rarely told – victims are largely numbers, and modern accounts will always focus on the killer instead – there are tons of details here I’d never heard before, as well as the angle that elevates some of the day’s heroes over the murderer in the telling.

I’m floored Tower didn’t advance and earn of the five nominations for Best Documentary Feature. It’s better than the four nominees of normal length, with a clear narrative and a strong angle that remains important to this day (perhaps even more so, as the current federal government wants to ensure people with serious mental illnesses have easy access to guns). And it did something novel, combining animation with real footage to provide an accurate historical rendering of a major event in American history – one that I would say is somewhat forgotten outside of Texas, perhaps because school shootings have become so commonplace. It’s better structured than I Am Not Your Negro, more compelling than Life, Animated, and lacks the fatal flaw of The 13th. For it to fall behind all of those films defies understanding.

Stick to baseball, 2/25/17.

I wrote one Insider piece this week, on how the Mets should handle their rotation, with six capable major-league starters right now, but five of them coming off of some kind of injury last year, from Thor’s bone spurs to Harvey’s TOS repair surgery. I also held a Klawchat on Thursday.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers the worker-placement game Ulm, which works fine mechanically but has a theme that’s just so overdone for me.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. The book just got its first official positive review, from Kirkus Reviews.

Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

I Am Not Your Negro.

I Am Not Your Negro is the hip outsider’s pick to win Best Documentary Feature at this weekend’s Academy Awards, a highly topical film that includes four of the most important figures in the civil rights movement. Based on an unfinished work by author James Baldwin, who got 30 pages into the project (titled Remember this House) before abandoning the project, IANYN tries to … I mean, I don’t really know what it tried to do. It’s so disorganized, with no narrative thread whatsoever, or even a sensible internal chronology, that less than an hour into it I was debating whether to stay for the remainder. If it weren’t for the mesmerizing footage of Baldwin himself speaking to various audiences and on television, I wouldn’t have anything good to say about it.

Ostensibly, IANYN is supposed to fulfill Baldwin’s vision to tell some story of the civil rights movement through the lives and deaths of three friends of his, all murdered for their work in attempting to secure basic freedoms for black Americans: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Baldwin knew them all well, well enough to know their families, to be in pictures with their children, to be at all of their funerals, but nothing in this film illuminates any of the three figures in a way we haven’t seen countless times before. The only person illuminated here is Baldwin, and that is the only part when the film works.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of Baldwin himself in IANYN, and my word was he an amazing speaker. He was charismatic and eloquent, in control of himself and the audience, with the author’s flair for the dramatic finish. He appears to be speaking extemporaneously in all of these appearances, but with the confidence of one who knows every word he’s about to speak from now until the end of the talk. And even in the longest sequences we see in the film, he remains on point, never digressing, even throwing in sarcastic asides and poetic flourishes like alliteration or repeated phrases. I would watch two hours of nothing but watching James Baldwin give talks about race.

Two of those bits of archival footage dominate this documentary. One is from a talk Baldwin gave at the University of Cambridge in 1965, a searing soliloquy on race that is by turns insightful and damning, one that ended with a standing ovation from the English audience (white, as far as I could see) that genuinely seemed to take Baldwin by surprise. The other is from an appearance he made on the Dick Cavett show in 1968, interspersed throughout IANYN, but when it opens the movie, we are treated to Cavett asking Baldwin a question where he repeatedly uses the word “Negro.” By the time I was born five years later, that word had become, unquestionably, a racial slur. To hear that word used so casually by a white man on a television show recent enough to be in the era of color (TV, that is) is beyond jarring. If the filmmakers wanted to get my attention, they succeeded. If that word isn’t followed by “Leagues,” I don’t want or expect to hear it. Baldwin certainly appears unhappy with the word’s use, but his response – that the situation for the black American at that time might be “hopeless” – subsumes any discussion about Cavett’s dated language.

The film as a whole, however, never finds its footing. It jumps around from civil rights hero to civil rights hero, moving forward and back in time, mixing in Baldwin’s words on his friends as appropriate but never enlightening us about those men. Had Baldwin lived to complete the project, he would likely have told us things about the three men that we did not know – and, in the case of Evers, give a forgotten hero some well-needed memorializing. (Evers was shot and killed by a white nationalist, Byron de la Beckwith, part of the burgeoning alt-right movement in 1963.)

This is not a biography of Baldwin, although I think such a project could be a tremendous contribution to our cultural canon. IANYN doesn’t mention any of his literary works; only mentions his sexual orientation once, as part of the J. Edgar Hoover-led FBI’s report on him; and never explains how he became someone invited to appear on talk shows to discuss major social and political issues of the day. But it also tells us nothing insightful about Baldwin’s friendships with the three other subjects. Simply giving us something in Baldwin’s words, read here by Samuel L. Jackson, doesn’t make for much of a watch, and those words don’t help tie together the film’s attempts to explore segregation in culture such as showing racist depictions in film or, in perhaps the most shocking sequence (to my eyes), the series of ads from the 1950s that used sambo-style images to sell products to white audiences.

Later, there’s a clip of a promotional film titled The Secret of Selling the Negro Market, which appears to be a U.S. Department of Commerce production explaining to companies that they can sell things to black Americans but might need new strategies to do so. IANYN neglects to mention that the film was financed and produced by Johnson Publishing, a multimedia company founded by the African-American couple John H. and Eunice Johnson, the same company that publishes Ebony and Jet magazines – a rather salient point that puts the anachronistic Secret of Selling in a very different context.

I’ve seen the near-universal acclaim for this film, and I am comfortable on the other side of the street. It’s just not a good treatment of the subject. The footage of Baldwin speaking is wonderful, and there are some segments of our cultural mistreatment of blacks (in film, on TV, in advertisements) that were new to me and should never be forgotten or swept under the rug. However, IANYN lacks any cohesive thread, and its only point of view is that racism is bad. I already knew that and I assume you do too.

Top Chef, S14E13.

Two links before we get to the recap: I have a new Insider post on how the Mets should handle their rotation, with five of six guys coming off some sort of injury; and I reviewed the boardgame Ulm for Paste.

* I think we got a glimpse of Drunk Shirley in the prelude where she slurred “Let’s dooo this” in the toast. Drunk Shirley is the best Shirley.

* The three remaining chefs are flying from Guadalajara to Riviera Maya, on the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula. They walk into the resort (I think it’s a Secrets location, although I didn’t see an orgy anywhere so maybe not) and Sheldon asks “are we in a Jay Z video man?”

* Why are we seeing so much of the chefs in bathing suits? The shot of the three of them walking into the water, which meant clear shots of Brooke’s and Shirley’s behinds, was kind of inappropriate for a cooking show.

* Their first stop is in Valladolid, a city of about 45K located inland on the Yucatan, a beautiful town with lots of Old World Spanish architecture. It’s named for a city in central Spain that was once the Spanish capital.

* Quickfire: Cook a dish that showcases the habanero. (No tilde, please.) The winner gets a one-week vacation for two at any Secrets resort. Their guest judge is Chef Ricardo Muniz Zurita, who literally wrote the book on Mexican cuisine (in Spanish, of course).

* They have to buy all of their ingredients at an open-air food market in the town center, and it looks like chef heaven, with an unbelievable variety of produce and meat being butchered to order. 13/10, would shop there.

* Sheldon appears to speak no Spanish, which I think would be impossible for a chef cooking in the continental U.S. given how many native speakers typically work in restaurant kitchens. Perhaps that’s not true in Hawai’i, though. Brooke at least speaks quite a bit, although she could stand some work on her accent.

* Sheldon’s looking for queso fresco and somehow can’t find any at the market; I guess it’s possible there wasn’t a vendor selling cheese, but I find that a little hard to believe, since there is cheese in Yucatecan cuisine. He then buys a tamal colado without knowing what it is because he thinks it looks like cheese. (It’s actually a traditional Yucatecan tamale with roasted pork or chicken and an achiote and roasted tomato sauce.

* Shirley says that sometimes to wake herself up in the morning she takes a bite of a habenero. I prefer coffee.

* Brooke can’t get her blender open, briefly at least, which is yet another stupid equipment issue that doesn’t tell us anything about who the best chef is. It’s Top Chef. Maybe we could get the chefs some stuff that works?

* The dishes: Brooke made a roasted pork loin with orange and green habanero salsas, with the green ones in a raw fruit and vegetable salsa with jicama, pineapple, and cucumber … Sheldon made a pan-roasted chayote stuffed with the tamal colado and a roasted habanero/tomato/onion salsa. … Shirley made a masa dumpling with poached egg, habanero, and crispy chicharrones.

* Nobody really did poorly here, although I thought the final order was pretty clear. Sheldon’s was too spicy, and the tamal did nothing for his dish. Brooke ends up the winner. It seemed like her dish showcased the habanero best and was the most balanced overall, and Muniz Zurita didn’t hide that that was his favorite.

* Elimination challenge: Jeremiah Tower is there; he’s a California chef who now lives in the Yucatan, which seems like a pretty good place to retire, actually. He has a new book, Start the Fire: How I Began a Food Revolution in America, coming out on April 4th (that’s a preorder link), as well as a related documentary about him produced by Anthony Bourdain.

* The challenge is to make a dish entirely of local ingredients and cook it over an open flame, with no access to electric devices whatsoever, They get to keep their knives, though. This is way too gimmicky for the semifinal challenge, in my view. Just let them cook.

* The challenge will take place in Playa del Carmen, about halfway between Cancun and Tulum on the Yucatan coast. I don’t know if Mexico’s Tourism board paid for all this airtime, but holy crow, I want to go there immediately.

* The three chefs get a tour (from Muniz Zurita and Tower) of some traditional Mayan instruments and ingredients, like a metate, a molcajete (which they called a tamul) mortar and pestle, and the giant herb hoja santa (also called yerba santa, so “holy leaf” or “holy herb,” although if you listen to a lot of hip-hop you might think “holy herb” means a totally different plant).

* When they get to the site of the challenge and see the array of ingredients, there are no alliums and no citrus. The three of them seem like they’re collaborating to try to get their heads around the pantry, given the handicap of lacking any traditional aromatics. I also didn’t see any proteins other than fish; all three chefs end up cooking fish, at least.

* Sheldon is burying sweet potatoes in the coals of the pit, burning the outside, and then scooping out the centers to make a mash. It’s a brilliant method of cooking them without needing too much time.

* Brooke tests one fish fillet on the grill to see if the skin will stick to the grates because she doesn’t think the coals are hot enough. (There’s no open flame, actually, just glowing coals.) She says she’s just “trying to build layers of flavor with no actual dish in (her) head.” Meanwhile, the fish did stick, so she ends up wrapping the fish fillets in hoja santa leaves to grill them safely.

* Sheldon is grilling the fish whole, but never tests the grill like Brooke did … and it sticks. At this moment, I was sure Sheldon was going home. You can’t fuck up a protein, serve it to Tom Colicchio, and think you’re sticking around. But what a lousy way to go – it’s not like Sheldon screwed up the fish while cooking on a plancha or in a skillet. Making a mistake in an unfamiliar environment is just normal.

* I watched this episode with my wife and one of our friends from the bus stop (another mom), and they both commented on Padma’s cleavage before I said a word. So, Padma’s cleavage. How about that.

* Brooke serves first. She did steamed yellow snapper with bean and corn ragout, jicama and papaya relish, and fresh avocado. The sweet salsa (relish) consisted of “lots of stuff.” She used tomatillo juice to try to add some acidity to the two sides, since there was no citrus available. The snapper is perfectly cooked; the judges disagree on the salsas, although Tom says they complemented each other, and we know his vote is the one that counts. The one criticism seems to be that the dish doesn’t have huge flavors, but it’s fish. If you overpower it with big flavors, they’ll ding you for overshadowing the main ingredient.

* Sheldon serves what is basically shredded snapper with annatto crab sauce, Yucatan vegetables, and a habanero salsa on the side. One of the diners thought the hot salsa was too hot, and the sauce in the middle tastes completely of crab, although another diner – they’re all star Mexican chefs – thought that the technique of using masa to thicken the sauce was smart.

* Shirley made steamed grouper, crustacean and roasted habanero-tomato sauce, and dragonfruit and corn salad, along with shrimp salt sprinkled over the top. She chose grouper because she wanted a fatty fish that could stay moist over the direct heat. Tower says “that girl can cook,” and that it says “I know what I was doing at the beginning and then I did it.” Tom praises her for editing.

* Shirley wins, with Graham saying it was “the most composed of the three.” (It certainly looked the prettiest.) Hers was the only dish that didn’t get any criticism from the eight people at the table.

* What happened next seemed a little contrived to me. Sheldon totally blew the fish, unfortunately, and the hot salsa and the crab sauce blew out the diners’ palettes. Brooke’s dish was a little mild or “timid,” and Tom said it was overly complicated with too much going on. How the judges could present this as a very close decision is beyond me; the criticisms of Brooke’s dish may have been entirely valid but they’re hardly equivalent to the criticisms of Sheldon’s. If you botch your protein, you go home.

* And Sheldon is indeed eliminated. I’m sad to see him go, because he’s talented and funny and has definitely become a different person since the last time we saw him (in a good way), but this was the only decision that would have made sense given what else we were told about everyone’s dishes. That leaves Brooke and Shirley in the finals, and I’ll say Brooke is the 3:2 favorite.

* Unrelated to this episode, but while looking into Jeremiah Tower, I saw he co-authored a short book called Table Manners: How to Behave in the Modern World and Why Bother, which came out in October. The title makes it seem dated and fussy, but the descriptions afterwards actually seem kind of modern and relevant. Have any of you read it? I’m hardly the lost son of Judith Martin when it comes to table etiquette, but I’m intrigued by this.

The Red Turtle.

If you saw that The Red Turtle came from Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli and figured this was another charmer from the producers of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, well, allow me to disabuse you of that notion. This 80-minute, dialogue-free film, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature this year, is by turns dark, pensive, and bizarre, operating almost entirely on a metaphorical level to elevate its paper-thin plot to something much more. And I still couldn’t really tell you how much I liked the film.

The movie opens with a man apparently surviving a shipwreck and washing up on a very remote tropical island, from which he begins to try to escape by building rather ornate rafts. Each time he tries to sail away, however, an unseen creature, which turns out to be the turtle of the title, smashes his raft to bits, so when the turtle comes ashore at one point, he attacks it and flips it over, leaving it to die. Somehow, this causes the turtle to morph into a woman, who then becomes the man’s mate, with the second half of the story following their life together as a couple and eventually parents of a young boy.

There isn’t even really that much of a story – we see a few events, like a tidal wave destroying much of the island, but so little happens here that I couldn’t process the movie in my head without immediately considering its possible metaphorical meanings. The arc of the entire movie has the main character starting at sea, landing, starting a family, growing old, and … well, the movie can only end in one or two ways, so I’ll leave it at that.

So what does the turtle/woman represent? I haven’t settled this in my own mind yet, but I think the turtle – the only red one in the film, as there are lots of turtles, but the rest are green – might stand in for maturity, or the way that the world forces maturity on us. Faced with the terrifying prospect of being stranded forever (growing up), the man tries to escape multiple times rather than facing the reality of the situation. The turtle prevents him from running away (and perhaps dying in the process), and only when he accepts that he has to stay can he continue with his life, at which point the turtle becomes his partner and eventually the mother of his child. But the turtle could represent commitment, or religion, or something else that he was fleeing before we first see him adrift in a storm.

The Red Turtle also has a strong ecological underpinning, with the man wholly dependent on the island for his survival. He begins by battling his environment, including the overt fight with the turtle, before submitting to his fate, and developing a way to support himself and eventually the woman and their child off what the island can provide them. If this was a deliberate theme, it comes through more in the animation itself than the story; the natural elements, especially the water and the foliage, around the island are drawn more delicately and thoroughly, with greater depth and complexity of color, than the relatively plain, barely-drawn people. If nothing else, I inferred that the filmmaker, Michaël Dudok de Wit, loves nature.

The film as a whole is dark, visually, in literal contrast to the other four nominees plus Finding Dory. The combination of the muted color palette and the lack of dialogue or significant action made the film seem a lot longer than it actually was; I enjoy some philosophical works of fiction, whether on the page or the screen, but perhaps The Red Turtle left too much of the deep thinking to me rather than putting it on the screen. This is the movie that wins the art film festival award, but if I were an Oscar voter, I would put it fourth among the four nominees I’ve seen for the category. (I haven’t seen My Life as a Zucchini yet, but I saw the trailer before this film, and it’s bright and colorful and looks absolutely fantastic; it opens in Philly on March 4th and here in Wilmington a week later.)

Hidden Figures.

The story of the three African-American women who broke through color and gender barriers at NASA in the 1960s makes perfect fodder for a Hollywood movie, and Hidden Figures, based on the book of the same name, has become a surprise commercial success, earning more than any of the other eight nominees for Best Picture this year. The story itself is wonderful, a fairy tale of talented women of color whose good work was recognized for what it was and who persevered through an era that didn’t respect them as people to help develop the American space program. But this movie … this is a movie for kids. Even with lots of great performances, it’s incredibly bland, and it’s hard for me to believe that the truth was this simple.

The story revolves around Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn, the three women, all black, all working at NASA, all relegated to the “colored computer” room – a time when a computer was a person who computed, not a machine that did it for you. Goble (Taraji Henson, who gives the film’s best performance) was a child prodigy in math, according to the film, solving quadratic equations when most kids were doing arithmetic, and has become an adult who can, apparently, do trigonometry in her head. Her story is the most central of the three, as she’s drafted to fill an opening in the Space Task program, one that no white man was able to handle, working for Al Harrison (Kevin Costner, who’s pretty fantastic as well), a character made up for the movie. (NASA has a brief FAQ that explains that several of the white characters in the film aren’t real, but that John Glenn really did ask for “the girl” to double-check the calculations.) Vaughn (Octavia Spencer, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress) ran the colored computer room and ends up teaching herself Fortran, one of the earliest programming languages, so she can run the new IBM mainframe NASA is installing. Jackson (Janelle Monae) has the least to do in the film, but became the first black female engineer at NASA, thanks in part to her challenge of a whites-only rule at the school where the classes she needed to take were offered.

The three actresses who play the three women do well with what they’re given, but the characters we see on screen are just a little too cute and the story created a bunch of fake obstacles for them to overcome. The “colored” bathroom detail is inaccurate, but forms a big and very silly part of the story. (Plus the script makes Goble appear to be a klutz.) I wouldn’t want such a script to create fake racism for the women to face, but at the same time, I find it very hard to believe that this was the height of the interference for three black women in Virginia circa 1960, a state where many facilities were truly still segregated and mixed-race marriages were still illegal. Did Goble’s white male colleagues in the Space Task program really go no further than asking her to use a separate coffee pot? And did we really need the white savior figure in the pastiche character of Harrison to force everyone else to accept Goble as part of the team?

There are a lot of recognizable faces among the remainder of the cast, delivering mixed results. Kirsten Dunst, also playing a character contrived for the story, plays the garden-variety Southern white racist woman who seems to think she’s not racist. She was just missing her Sunday hat to make the stereotype complete. Mahershala Ali, who appeared with Monae in Moonlight, appears as a very one-dimensional love interest for the widowed Goble. (The scene where his character proposes is more saccharine than a case of TaB.) Glenn Powell, who was so damn good as the philosophical Finn in Everybody Wants Some!!, is incredibly charming as John Glenn, but that character was written with less nuance than anyone – he’s the Great American Hero, so let’s not tarnish him in any way.

The truth behind Hidden Figures had to be more interesting than what we’re getting here on film. This version feels like it was made for kids – and my ten-year-old daughter absolutely loved it across the board. She loved that the women outsmarted the men, that racism took the L, that science and math were at the heart of the story, and that it says women can do STEM jobs just as well as men. But it didn’t exactly give her a fair picture of race in America at the time of the story, either, and when she asked if it was really “like that” afterwards, I told her that it was probably much worse. These three women deserved a better story than the one they got here, even if the truth is uglier than we’d like it to be.

Klawchat 2/23/17.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

Klaw: I got an open mind, so why don’t you all get inside? Klawchat.

Andy (KC): At what point should a team like the Royals bring up a guy like Zimmer and just let him fire whatever bullets he has in live action? I have to assume he’d be good out of the bullpen already, and what’s the point of him throwing another pitch that doesn’t count?
Klaw: I tend to agree with this, but if Zimmer can’t go back-to-back days, which seems likely given his history of arm issues, then it’s hard to carry him as a reliever in a modern bullpen. You’d have to structure some of the bullpen usage around him, which I think implies a certain type of manager.

Matt: In last week’s chat, someone mentioned he enjoyed learning and was wondering about college even though he was 37. I went back to college when I was 39. Not only did I enjoy it, but I was never the oldest student in the class. Don’t let age be a deterrent to learning!
Klaw: Indeed. Why would anyone ever stop learning? If I didn’t have to work, I’d probably spend some of my free time taking classes. If I’ve lost my interest in learning, stick a mirror under my nose.

Bill G.: Hi Keith. Which pitcher has more upside potential: Alec Mills (CHC) or Jorge Lopez (MIL). Thanks!
Klaw: Lopez. Potential mid-rotation guy or better. Worlds ahead of Mills.

Rahn: Kind of feel like Brooke has been foreshadowed to win Top Chef all year and tonight we’ll see, but I have to say this crop of contestants looks to be one of the weakest. (Said the guy who didn’t get to taste one thing.) But really, the newbies either never got the benefit of the doubt at Judges’ Table or were overmatched, leading to a run by the also-rans. I mean, that rude, sweaty John was in the final four!
Klaw: Agreed across the board. Been debating this with another parent from the bus stop – she has still enjoyed the season, I haven’t as much. I think if you were a big fan of any of the final 3, you probably got more out of this season than I did. (Although I admit to being Team Brooke this year, because she’s just that good.)

Fred: Hi Keith. What do you think is the likelihood Josh Staumont can remain a starter? Thanks
Klaw: Less than 10%.

Vander: If Jeren Kendall strikes out at a pace of once per game or more, how far down team’s boards do you think he’d fall? Do you think the Twins or Reds would still consider him at the top of the draft?
Klaw: Given his other abilities and the general comfort level with higher strikeout rates, I doubt he gets out of the top 5 unless his other stats are all down. Kendall does plenty on contact, and if the projected power shows up more in games, it’ll balance out some strikeout concerns. That said, if he strikes out 70 times and doesn’t walk much or doesn’t show much power or scouts question his defense, that’s a brutal combination.

Edward: Keith, longtime reader, first time questioner in the chats. If an outfielder has a “20 arm”, is it possible for them to improve that ability? And can they improve dramatically? Thinking about Donnie Dewees and his noted skillset
Klaw: Welcome! My bark is worse than my bite. A 20 arm is a gift from the gods. It’s not getting any better without divine intervention.

John: Could you compare Jake Burger to Nick Senzel please? Do you think Burger will still be available in 30’s in the draft?
Klaw: Not even close. That’s like comparing Jake’s Wayback Burgers to Shake Shack. Bear in mind that Senzel put up those stats in the SEC, not in the Missouri Valley.

Jim: What was your “WTF” font size when you read that Jered Weaver was signed by the Padres? Aren’t they rebuilding?
Klaw: Yeah but someone’s gotta pitch. Bring in a bunch of veterans on one-year deals, sort ’em out in March.

Nick: I’m trying to perfect the classic breakfast skillet (potatoes, bacon, cheese), and can’t get the potatoes crispy enough. Any suggestions?
Klaw: Parcook them beforehand and make sure they’re really dry when they hit the oil in the skillet. Also, roughing them up a little bit between the two stages will increase the surface area in contact with the oil. I have fried potatoes almost any way you could think of, and I still prefer hashbrown or rosti style (shredded, salted, moisture squeezed out) for maximum crispiness.

Jimmy: Chances of Astros making playoffs once in next 3 years?
Klaw: Once or more? 75%.

Josh: Best version of Ticket To Ride for 3 people? My 9-year-old has started playing the app version.
Klaw: Start with the classic game. Europe is a slightly better game overall, but adds two rules that you don’t need for a first-time kid player.

Lewis: I heard you on MLB Network (I think it was you) praising Tyler O’Neill as a guy who could flat-out hit, but you seemed down on his hit tool by omitting him from the top 100. Has your read on him changed, or am I imagining this whole scenario?
Klaw: You are imagining this whole scenario because I don’t work for MLB Network and have never appeared on it.

Sean: It was only a one inning appearance, but any initial thoughts to Anthony Banda being recorded at 95-97 during the game against GCU? Possible relief ace if he doesn’t make it as a starter?
Klaw: It was a one-inning appearance in March. I remember Andy Oliver doing that one spring. That didn’t quite work out.

Chris: Have you ever watched the movie Inside Out? I feel like it’s really underrated and has a pretty solid storyline/message.
Klaw: Yes and reviewed it. I would vote for that over any of the five 2016 animated films I’ve seen – four of the nominees or Finding Dory.

Joe: If international players were part of the amateur draft, where do you think Maitan would have been drafted?
Klaw: He’s 16, so it’s not a reasonable comparison. If he’d gone to a US high school for a year and come out at 17, which is feasible, then assuming he performed like I expect he’d have been a top ten pick. But if you’d put him right in the draft at 16 compared to ‘proven’ amateur talents in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico, I don’t think he does.

Still not James Baldwin: Did you have a chance to catch either Neruda or I Am Not a Negro last weekend? I saw Neruda and thought I liked it, but left confused. Pork tenderloin at Cocina Lolo was 80 grade, though. Looking forward to your reviews . . .
Klaw: I saw IANYN yesterday in Philly. I don’t understand the praise for it, and I’ll try to write up a review tomorrow. Neruda I’ll have to catch online later on. I’m also super annoyed that My Life as a Zucchini isn’t opening nationally until next Friday, after the Oscars, or I would have gotten all 5 animated nominees in time. I did get all 5 documentaries and 7/9 best picture nominees.

Andy: Can Ian Anderson be a true ace, or is a 2/3 his ceiling? P.S. I really appreciated your very subtle reference to Jethro Tull in his top 100 write-up. It was the obvious joke, but you didn’t force it. Bravo
Klaw: I’d say more of a #2, with enough variance either way that ace is within the range of potential outcomes.

Nick: Do you see Bukauskas and Houck as starters or relievers at the next level?
Klaw: Relievers. I give JBB more of a chance to start than Houck.

Brian: By the way, no question, just a thank you…for not sticking to sports. #resist
Klaw: You’re welcome. By the way, did anyone notice my former home state of Arizona’s latest? The state Senate is trying to block residents’ First Amendment rights to freedom of assembly. I hope those of you who live there have been on the phones today.

Jeff: Keith, where would you start Mitch White in the Dodgers system this season? How quickly do you think he can move through said system?
Klaw: I assume he’ll be on an innings cap, and I’d rather limit his time in the California League anyway, so I have no problem with starting him in Great Lakes and moving him up fast if he dominates. That innings cap also means he wouldn’t get to the majors very quickly.

Eugene: Can better pitch tunneling and deception be taught to pitchers?
Klaw: Deception is largely a function of delivery. Change the delivery and you will change (but not necessarily improve) deception. The tunneling stuff is brand new and I think still in the hypothesis stage. If your question is whether a pitcher can be taught to throw one pitch that looks like another pitch until relatively close to the point where it hits the plate, well, yeah. That’s something a good changeup is supposed to do, for example, or why we talk about a pitcher who can manipulate the spin on his breaking ball a little more.

Jon Weisman: Keith, given your site URL, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on current and past Bloom County. It was one of my true favorites in the 1980s, along with Doonesbury, Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes. But whenever I read it now, I don’t feel it holds up as well. Doonesbury still feels like a really sharp time capsule by comparison, and Calvin & Hobbes truly seems timeless. Were you/are you reading any of these?
Klaw: Huge BC fan, of course, more from its heyday than the more recent iteration. I think the classics are still very funny but some of the jokes are products of their time. It would be hard to explain to my daughter why the whole Banana Jr 5000 joke was funny, or what the hair tonic storyline was about (the War on Drugs, for those who don’t remember it). But god, those characters were tremendous, and Breathed’s punchlines were some of the best and smartest anywhere on the comics page.

Paul: Hi Keith, is your book only related to baseball or are you touching on other topics that you seem to enjoy talking about (I am fine with it but I am not interested)? If it is only baseball I will buy it, otherwise I will pass – thanks!
Klaw: The book is only baseball – I discuss traditional stats that are falling out of favor and why they don’t tell you what they purport to tell you; newer and/or better stats, from OBP to WAR to wOBA etc., that better answer questions about performance; and what baseball analytics might look like going forward, including a chapter on Statcast and its potential impact.

Erich: 2 part question. Do you think the NCAA has the power to fight against Trump’s pull back on bathroom freedom by withholding events from states that move forward with “bathroom bills?” 2. Do you think the NCAA will actually do this?
Klaw: Yes, they do, unless every state tried it. I guess it could be a boon for New York and California, though. And I think they will, or they’ll try to do it, at least. Corporate America is not with Trump on this topic. They want their taxes cut and their regulations gutted, but it’s pretty clear they want access to the largest workforce possible and one that isn’t fighting or worrying about discrimination.

DeMarcus: Hi keith, love these chats. I threatened to slap my friend once when he said that steaks didn’t need to be seasoned as long as they were cooked medium rare. Is there any other way I could have reacted? I was just so shocked.
Klaw: No, you did good.

DeMarcus: Is there any chance that Connor Sadzeck can be an average starter at the big league level? Or is he destined for the bullpen?
Klaw: I think it’s 90% bullpen if not higher.

Joe: Hi Keith – I think people are missing the point of the new intentional walk rule, as I’ve repeatedly heard remarks such as “this is stupid, this won’t solve the problem, why bother.” I don’t recall Manfred every saying this will make a drastic difference, and what I see this as is a small step in the right direction. Sure this may only shave a minute (yes it takes longer than a few seconds to throw four balls) off of NL games, but compounded with future changes (hopefully!), such as limited mound visits and quickening replay reviews, it could make a substantial difference. Your thoughts?
Klaw: If you’re arguing it opens the door to more changes … I guess? I saw it as something so innocuous that no one would really object. If they try a pitch clock, though, they’re going to get pushback.

John: Hey Keith, I’m not sure if you saw the segment on Mike & Mike discussing Ankiel’s recent admission to drinking before games to calm his nerves. The turned the narrative into players drinking and totally ignored how this stemmed from his issues with anxiety which in 2001 wasn’t as well known as it is today. I guess this is less a question and more a statement that mental health issues, when it comes to athletes, seem like an avenue that could raise awareness but it overlooked for a more popular narrative. It’s disappointing and I’m thankful that you address the real issue and not the popular narratives when it comes to these issues.
Klaw: I didn’t see or hear it, but that is a shame. It sounds like (from your description only) they didn’t treat anxiety as a medical issue, and how Ankiel may have self-medicated with alcohol. It’s really too bad because I could have helped that discussion.

Yoan Moncada: What is my best position, both objectively and for the long term plans of the White Sox?
Klaw: Looked better at third to me than second. I think centerfield will always be an option given his speed.

Chris: Do you think Cashman responded to Randy Levine’s fuckery internally? What would you have done?
Klaw: I would have called the player and the agent to apologize, to say that idiot doesn’t speak for me or the organization, and to ensure the player that I value his contributions and perhaps open the door to a multi-year agreement that would avoid further acrimony in arbitration hearings.

Chris in London: Any chance the ridiculous runner on 2nd proposal is just to distract us from a slightly less controversial rule change? P.S. Sorry about Piers Morgan.
Klaw: That’s Machiavellian. Or Trumpian. Also the runner on 2nd in extras is the worst idea ever.

Sean: After the embarrassment of the latest CBA negotiations, how is Tony Clark still leading the union?
Klaw: Everyone who asks something like this ignores that the players got the things that were most important to them in the last negotiation.

Francisco: Have you seen Kyler Murray and Brandon Mcillwain ? How good are they in baseball ?
Klaw: I saw Murray in parts of two games and McIlwain in one. I’d say both have first-round talent if they commit to playing full-time.

Culture: Do you buy the argument that anything the Oscars do really has any tangible real world impact beyond that room? Like for instance Moonlight winning Best Picture would somehow be a win for gay rights
Klaw: No, especially since that industry is fairly concentrated in blue states. But I might argue that Moonlight winning BP would lead more people to go see it and perhaps help some fraction of that new viewership view LBGTQ people or people of color a little more sympathetically. I don’t think it would lead to any sort of sea change in views, though.

Christian: Is Brendan McKay a hitter or pitcher long term in your opinion? What are his overall ceilings at both respective positions?
Klaw: Pitcher 100%. Mid-rotation potential.

Wannabe Top Chef: Chef Law – how do you go about organizing the recipes you use, either self created or taken from another chef/home cook? I find it hard to remember everything I’ve made in the past or would like to make in the future and tend to make the same meals quite often instead of enjoying a variety of different foods.
Klaw: I have a shelf of cookbooks and binders with recipes I’ve clipped, plus stuff I’ve saved online, but when I decide what to cook it’s usually either a request from a family member or because I was at the store and saw something that I wanted to cook (or reminded me of a favorite recipe, etc.).

Travis: If you want to know how messed up the NCAA really is, listen to this. I’m trying to work for a D1 Football team as. student assistant. I can’t technically work for them because it’s against NCAA rules. A way around that would be to get into the work study program provided by the school. I can’t get into the work study, because my parents make too much money. Even if I register as an independent, my parents still influence whether or not I can get into the work study program. The only way I get into the work study without my parents influencing it is if I was 24 (I’m 19), if my parents were in jail or dead (they aren’t), or if I’m homeless (I’m not) along with a couple of other factors. An appeal to the NCAA could be sent but it it would just get immediately rejected according to our compliance office. It’s just sucks that I get punished because my parents make too much when this job would actually help me advance my career. So the NCAA doesn’t just screw the players.
Klaw: The NCAA is a legal cartel. I don’t understand why they seem to be exempt from antitrust laws. Do they pretend to non-profit status?

Matt: Can you believe Milo? I was OK with what he said about women, blacks, and immigrants. But he crossed a line with pedophilia! Please excuse me while I clutch my pearls and lie on my fainting couch.
Klaw: I’ll escort you to your safe space, snowflake.

Chris (Chicago): Grimes’ album Art Angels is still one of the best albums the last 3 years. That is all.
Klaw: Yep. And she did a song with Janelle Monae, which is worth 50 million bonus points.

Greg (DC): An article was published today about the potential for MLB to expand to 32 teams. Most of the opinions suggested four divisions in each league, with four teams each (and then presumably one wild card for each league because MLB isn’t going to reduce the number of teams making the playoffs). I think two divisions per league with 8 teams each makes more sense. If the playoffs have four division winners and one WC, one division winner would have to play the play-in game with the WC (deflating the regular season accomplishment of the division winner), or there would need to be a first round bye and longer playoffs. With three WCs, we could keep the play-in for the last two in. Also, I think larger divisions might increase interest outside home markets, by putting more teams in the same division as your hometown team. Do you have a preference for expansion, or is it too far off in your view? Thanks for all your great work.
Klaw: I saw this on our site and disagreed with basically everything in it. I’d MUCH rather have fewer divisions with more teams than the converse, and I think the player pool and economy would support expansion but not in the way that roundtable expressed.

Justin: I read your review on Hidden Figures today, and you don’t seem to be the only person questioning it’s quality as a movie itself. I know this will probably come off wrong, and I don’t want it to, but is it possible that it received the Oscar Nominations it did because of last year’s controversy? And if that’s the case, is there a problem with that?
Klaw: Oscars So White? Very possible. Grierson and Leitch wondered if that might help Denzel win Best Actor too (one said it would, the other still predicted Affleck). But I actually think the better explanation is that it’s a very popular movie with a very positive and timely message. With Texas busy trying to roll back rights 60 years, it’s a good time for movies that remind us what those days were like, whether it’s HF or IANYN or The 13th.

Travis: Hey Keith, thanks for taking my question. I have a three year old boy, and he loves throwing things… but his mechanics are a mess! His “W”s are all inverted, and sometimes look like “M”s. He often leads with the wrong foot. No question here, just nonsense from a young father, who appreciates all you do for us baseball fanatics.
Klaw: The real problem is that you forgot to tie his right arm down so he learns to throw a gyroball with his left hand.

Lucas: Ever since Billy Eppler left the Yankees for the Angels GM job, I’ve wondered about the possibility of him trading Trout to his former employers. Could you imagine the Yanks using their farm system to get Trout and then signing Harper?
Klaw: Somehow i missed the news of Arte Moreno’s passing.

Bobbo: big fan here. i posted this in comments a few posts back but i’m still curious: why is drip-over superior to traditional drip? seems like the same process either way. (and by “superior” i’m only talking about the quality of the cup or pot of coffee)
Klaw: I’m going to let Serious Eats answer this one.

EL: Can Arroyo and Beede help the Giants in 2017?
Klaw: No on Arroyo. Possibly on Beede but I don’t think they’re inclined to rush him.

JR: Going to keep watching Legion or was the pilot enough for you?
Klaw: We watched episode 2 last week. We’re a day behind because we’re watching via amazon (we don’t get FX … we have a small bundle from Fios).

Bob (Cleveland): Wondering if you’ve had any opportunity to see Jason Heyward’s “revamped” swing. From the half-dozen or so wings I’ve seen on video, it appears that there’s some obvious emphasis on adding loft, but I’m wondering whether you’ve seen it and, if so, whether it appears to address what you consider to be the most glaring issue(s).
Klaw: No – our radio affiliate in Chicago asked me about this and I shot it down right away. It doesn’t mean jack until he’s facing live pitching. I’m not trying to be Mr. Skeptical Smart Guy, but a swing that looks right in the cage doesn’t mean a whole lot. Call when someone runs 95 in on his hands.

Anonymous: With ICE performing a real life Milgram experiment, what do you foresee happening?
Klaw: We know what happened at Stanford. It’s already happening in the wild.

CVD: Thought on Wieters to the Nats?
Klaw: Whatever. I mean, I don’t think it makes them better, unless he has that breakout year I predicted for him forever ago that has just never happened. And he’s a poor framer and not considered a great game-caller. They had Norris and Lobaton. What’s the upgrade here? A few runs, if that?

TK: Loved listening to you talk boardgames on the Just Not Sports podcast. I don’t know if I’ve seen you talk about this, so I just wanted to see if you’ve played Letters from Whitechapel. My wife and I have played with a couple of friends several times now and we really enjoy it. Thanks for everything (including not sticking to sports)!
Klaw: Nope, haven’t. Heard good things though.

AH: Any good food places in the ashburn virginia area? if i recall, you said you spend a fair amount of time here!
Klaw: We’ve hit some good spots in Leesburg and the area, including a place called Doner Kebab (I think) that makes the German-Turkish sandwiches of that name. I also love King Street Coffee right downtown there and visit every time I see my folks (they live in Ashburn).

addoeh: What about Ian Anderson’s flute skills? Grade 80?
Klaw: Absolutely.

Todd: A’s take ___________ 6th overall in the draft ?
Klaw: I have no idea. It’s February. Ask me that around mid-April and I can at least hazard a reasonable guess, but today, it would be a bullshit answer and I really try to avoid those whenever possible.

Lee: You’ve mentioned previously that you have voted Republican in previous elections. Can I ask what policies you agree with Republican’s on? You seem like a pretty intelligent guy and I don’t see what would draw you to any Republican candidate.
Klaw: Free trade was a huge one – it’s about the only policy that most economists agree on, it’s a net positive for both partners (with some groups within each country that lose out, and whose needs should be addressed), and it fosters the flow of information and culture, which may/should help spread democratic ideals. Of course, the Republican party has become the batshit protectionist party, so that’s out the window.

MS: At what point did you realize you weren’t going to play baseball professionally?
Klaw: I realized around age 7 or 8 that I would never be big enough to play any sport. I didn’t know at the time that I had an organic acidemia that limits my muscle growth, but that was the main reason I couldn’t even play sports in high school.

Chuck: You’ve liked Castellanos in the past. Spring training reports that he’s shown big power in BP and may bat 2nd. Over/under on 29.5 home runs? Did you see anything that may indicate he’ll have a more patient approach?
Klaw: Season high to date is 18, so under on 29.5. Never seen anything to make me believe he’ll get into better counts to get to more power. Also, big power in spring training BP is in the same category as new swing mechanics in the cage.

Mike: As a parent of young kids, question… do you think of life insurance as merely “term for the death benefit, god forbid”, or “whole life- as a way to diversify investment portfolio as well” ? thanks.
Klaw: It’s a God forbid policy for us.

Ajax: Logenhagen in a Fangraphs chat this week said that Lourdes Gurriel, Jr had a utility ceiling, based on his sources, and the size of his contract. I dropped Gurriel from my 75 player roster dynasty team and picked up Cristian Pache. I am also doing research on Cionel Perez. What are your thoughts? BP’s recent dynasty 101 has Lourdes Gurriel’s ceiling as ‘top ten 2b’ and his floor as utility player. Looking for some perspective.
Klaw: Everyone I asked about Gurriel in the fall when he signed said utility guy, and he was kind of paid like one too. Cionel is in my Astros writeup. (Gurriel isn’t in the Toronto writeup because he signed as a pro, which is my demarcation line for Cuban players. He’s also not a great prospect.)

Adam: Royce Lewis is a name I hear as a guy who could break his way into the #1 pick conversation. What is your primer on him?
Klaw: I said that last week. So, uh, good memory? Big tools at the plate, unclear long-term position, not sure folks believe quite enough in the hit tool.

Mark in Santa Monica: Sure this has been asked in the past but I’m knew to your site. How did Trout last until the 24/25th pick? Was he ever consideration for top ten? And do you think he finishes his contract and becainea a free agent or will he resign or be traded? He’s our only hope out here!
Klaw: Worth answering again. I know for sure Oakland considered him strongly at pick 12, and I think he was on the long list for Seattle at 2 (they did consider him, but they picked 2 and took the consensus guy). Trout was a northeast HS position player who did not show 80 speed at the time. He faced poor pitching his whole career. Billy Rowell, from the same area, had gone 9th overall three years earlier and was an outright disaster. And Trout’s senior year was wrecked by rain – it was the worst spring for scouting I’ve spent up here, and his games were constantly being pushed back due to weather or poor field conditions. The day I saw him was a Friday and there were 9 scouts there with me. I think teams just didn’t get enough looks at him to jump on him earlier.

Buckner 86: Can Aaron Nola become a Top 5-10 SP in the NL?
Klaw: No, that’s outside of even his 95% outcome for me. Also, he’s gotta get healthy.

Tom: Baseball doesn’t need a pitch clock. If they want to speed up games, Barry Bonds has some free time. MLB should hire him to teach batters to stay in the damn batter’s box after each pitch. If perhaps the greatest hitter of all time could do it, other guys can learn how to not go all Pedroia with their batting gloves.
Klaw: This is my #1 pet peeve as a fan. Stay. In. The. Box.

Jonathan: Best post-hype sleeper for 2017: Dylan Bundy?
Klaw: Not for me. Wore down visibly in 2016.

Luke: What game or games does your daughter enjoy playing most with you and your wife?
Klaw: I’ll ask her when I pick her up today, after the chat, but I would guess her favorites are Splendor, Small World, Ticket to Ride, Istanbul (because she beat us at that one early on), and recent favorite Imhotep. She also loves the Lanterns app.

JJ: Where did it go wrong for Daisuke Matsuzaka? Was he just overhyped?
Klaw: Overpitched when young? Also refused to pitch inside much when he came here.

Ethan: It sounded like you didn’t know this to be the case, but yes, the NCAA is a 501(c)(3)–which is non-profit status–according to the IRS, and I believe they fall under this as education providers. I wrote a paper on it in college, but the details are fuzzy right this second.
Klaw: That’s hilarious.

Akronohiomofo: What’s your take on Daniel Murphy’s 2016 increase in WAR? Were you suprised? Sustainable or an aberration?
Klaw: Changed his swing. Would bet on some regression, but not a ton.

Rahn: Totally with you on Hidden Figures. I liked it, but in a fuller field year for the Oscars, would not make the cut. If my first words to people who ask about a movie are “It’s fine, you’ll enjoy it” it’s usually just that. Fine. I feel like it’s been elevated because it’s a feel-good tale of extraordinary people during such divisive times of governmental intolerance.
Klaw: Yep, I’ve probably seen 20 better movies from last year, including Loving, The Lobster, and the movie everyone in this chat needs to see, Everybody Wants Some!!

James: First, I am a lifelong moderate Republican that did not vote for Trump. That being said, i still side with the Republican party on a number of issues. One thing that concerns me is that if I disagree with a democrat on any policy, nor I want to have a civil discussion about a policy, I am immediately branded a racist/hater/homophobe….you name it. The level of discourse from those that don’t agree with you has become incredibly hateful (which is one of the main things they are often fighting for).
Klaw: Well, it depends on the policy, right? If you oppose affirmative action, for example, I don’t think that’s racist or sexist. If you support these “bathroom bills” (which always seem to have a second section rolling back anti-LGBT discrimination laws), well, then I’m probably going to find a word to describe you that you might not like.

Matt: Faedo and Wright both got off to rocky starts to the season, but it’s nearly impossible to find any information on how their stuff looked, only statlines. Did you hear anything (particularly on Faedo coming off knee surgery) to make you think they shouldn’t still be the top 2 college SPs off the board?
Klaw: Yes. I know Crawford and Longenhagen were at Wright’s start, so you might ask them for more, but I was told his stuff was great early, he didn’t hold it, and he never showed average command. Faedo’s stuff I heard was good not great. No idea how his knees felt or if he had any ill effects. Heard Houck looked totally relieverish with two pitches and below average command. Martin at A&M was pure reliever too. McKay I tweeted about but I’ll add that he kept finishing with his fastball up, especially up and away to right-handers, and I don’t think it was a plan.

Zac: Keith, I can’t help but think that Max Fried could absolutely sky rocket up prospect lists if he continues his late season domination over the course of this entire year. Do you tend to agree with that assessment?
Klaw: I only discuss my prospect list, and if you see where I ranked him, he doesn’t have much room to rocket anywhere.

Elton: Vince Velasquez: If I remember correctly you’ve said in the past he was probably a future reliever. Is that because of durability/health or more about his pitches?
Klaw: I haven’t said that – I’ve said there’s risk. Never had a full healthy season, and the breaking ball is often fringy to a tick below average. He threw 136 innings in 25 starts last year including one rehab outing, and both marked career highs for a guy who signed in 2010.

Dave: Most underhyped way Trump voters will be screwed by their leader: repeal of the fiduciary rule.
Klaw: That’s a solid choice, but I would probably vote for repealed or reduced environmental regulations, which tend to help the poor more than the rich. I don’t live near factories or dumps or power plants. Companies build that stuff near poor communities.

Ethan: Wow, just looked at the tax code, and the Exempt Purposes for tax exemption include “charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.” I do not remember this when I did research in college on the topic. The IRS and NCAA are in cahoots!
Klaw: With the full faith and support of the rest of the federal government. Competition is good, so it would be nice if we had some in college athletics.

Klaw: That’s all for this week’s chat – thank you as always for all of your questions. I’ll be back some time next week but it might not be Thursday, so watch here, Twitter, Facebook, or my newsletter for more details.

Kubo and the Two Strings.

Kubo and the Two Strings is one of the five nominees for Best Animated Feature for this year’s Oscars, or perhaps one of the four nominees that’s going to lose to Zootopia … although I could craft a good argument for Kubo winning instead, especially if the quality of the animation and visual style count as much as the story and voice acting do. It’s available to rent or buy (just $10) on amazon and iTunes.

Kubo is a 3D stop-motion film from the same studio that produced Coraline (which is fantastic), Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls, all also filmed with stop-motion animation, a painstaking process of which you get a glimpse if you hang around through Kubo‘s closing credits. It’s incredible to look at and I found it hard to believe some parts were done via stop-motion because they were too smooth and vivid, things we would normally associate with computer animation like Pixar uses in its best-in-breed films.

Kubo is the main character, a one-eyed young boy who lives in a cave outside of his village with his ailing mother, whose grip on reality seems to ebb and flow with the daylight. She tells him heroic stories of his father, Hanzo, a warrior who disappeared while trying to protect his family, and Kubo repeats those stories by day in the town square, using his magic shamisen, which builds and animates origami figures as he plays and talks. By night, he must return to the cave, or his evil grandfather and aunts will return to try to steal his other eye to make their powers complete.

Needless to say, he stays out one night, there’s a battle, and Kubo has to go on a quest to find his father’s missing armor so he can protect himself from his grandfather (voiced by Ralph Fiennes, who is a little too good at the whole villain thing). He’s joined by Monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron), a totem he kept who was animated by his mother’s last burst of magic, and eventually Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a giant insect samurai with meory loss, who help him try to retrieve the three parts of the armor and perhaps learn some Valuable Lessons along the way.

The story is a bit hackneyed, but the characters themselves are well-written and there’s plenty of humor within it to keep it from feeling too much like a fable. McConaughey gives a pretty good Buzz Lightyear performance as the flawed hero, mixing in bravado with the absent-mindedness that provides a lot of the comic relief. But Kubo is more of a visual feast than a great story – it’s just such a beautiful and unique-looking film that even the slower sequences when the quest first begins are still riveting.

I’ll also mention Finding Dory quickly here – it wasn’t nominated, falling behind two other Disney properties and two foreign films, and I can see why. It felt a lot like the softer version of Finding Nemo, with a lot less of the first film’s wonder and more feel-good elements – although I thought showing two sequences where Dory is separated from her family might be too much for younger kids. It’s a stunning film to watch, as Pixar manages to animate water and other difficult substances like nobody else in animation history, and I enjoyed the Wire reunion of Idris Elba and Dominic West as sea lions sharing a rock. It’s free to stream on Netflix now.

Tanna.

Tanna is one of the five nominees for this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, despite the fact that it was Australia’s official entry in the category. (They speak English there, regardless of what those awful beer commercials say.) The movie takes place on the island of Tanna in the archipelago nation of Vanuatu, and all dialogue is in local Tanna languages, mostly Nauvhal (Nivhaal), a language with fewer than 5,000 native speakers. It’s one of the ten best movies I’ve seen from 2016 across all categories, a simple story perfectly told, with beautiful cinematography and stunning performances from Tanna natives with no acting experience. It’s available to rent on amazon and iTunes.

Tanna itself is based on the true story of a young native couple who, in 1987, wished to marry for love rather than partake in the custom of arranged marriages between tribes (known as Kastom). The couple, the son of the deceased chief of the tribe at the center of the story and the girl who’s being promised to their rivals, choose to run away together, sparking a hunt for them around the island and the potential for war between the tribes. You can probably guess how this is going to end, which is also part of the actual story, but it’s how we get to that point that makes the movie click.

The background itself is mesmerizing – this film could double as a Vanuatu Tourism video, with the kind of lush jungles and deep blue waters that eco-tourists dream about. But the filmmakers also choose to deploy this asset wisely, since the film could easily be nothing but wide shots of the island, the forests, the volcano where the Spirit Mother resides (to which the islanders go frequently), or the waterways. The tribes depend largely on the land for everything, including food, shelter, and clothing, so it’s prevalent in just about every shot in the movie, even when the camera focuses tightly on one or two characters.

(The island itself was hit extremely hard by Cyclone Pam in 2015, not too long after filming was completely, with substantial infrastructure damage, and is still recovering nearly two years later.)

Once you get past the glorious sights of the island, it’s the performances by the amateur actors that carries Tanna. The actors all played characters with their actual names – Wawa is played by Marie Wawa, Dain (pronounced Dah-een) is played by Mungau Dain and was chosen because he was the best-looking member of the tribe. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, none of the members of the Yakel tribe had ever seen a movie, so the filmmakers strung up a sheet and showed them one to give the locals an idea of what they wanted to do. (Article contains spoilers.) There isn’t a false note in anyone’s performance here, not the young girl who plays Wawa’s sister, not the old men who play the Chief (the Yakels’ actual chief) and other elders. Even Dain manages to play the brooding romantic lead like a Hollywood veteran.

The production is a touch overdone at some spots, with needless flourishes that just don’t add to the film. When Selin, Wawa’s younger sister, tries to grab a mushroom off a tree and is warned that it’s terribly poisonous, you know it’s going to come up again (Chekhov’s gun, in a gun-free society). When Wawa and Dain embrace at the volcano’s rim, we don’t really need the volcano to spout sparks behind them to push the point home. Tanna‘s simplicity is its greatest strength, a straightforward story that puts these actors at the center, showing us the natives’ culture and history without condescension. The direction isn’t heavy-handed, but has moments where the touch could have been even lighter.

This is the first of the five Best Foreign Film nominees I’ve seen, but it certainly sets the bar for the category; I’ll do a ranking on Sunday, but this might end up in my top five overall. A Man Called Ove, another foreign-film nominee, is also available online, while the other three are still kicking around in art/indie theaters. I thought that the German-language Toni Erdmann might be the favorite based on early buzz, but Tanna seems to have a little hype behind it now and it’s certainly worthy of the honor.