The 2014 Matty Awards

The ballots have been cast. The votes have been tallied. They winners are about to be revealed.

That’s right, friends! It’s time for the annual release of the Matty Awards! I know you’ve been on the edge of your seat in anticipation of this year’s announcement. This is, after all, a highly coveted award. It’s right up there with The Old Man’s fragile Leg Lamp.

So here’s this years winners in all their glory. But before I announce them, please note that the links included are affiliate links. If you happen to buy any of these fine products, a small portion of the profits will go back to me. And that helps keep this blog up and running. Thank you for your continued support!

Now that we have that disclaimer out of the way, I’m pleased to present the 2014 Matty Award recipients.

Congratulations to all of the winners!

2014 Matty Awards

Best Movie


Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I think the second Captain America is my favorite installment in the Marvel series so far. Of course, I haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy yet. Some say it’s even better than Winter Soldier. That’s a pretty tall order. I plan on finding out soon if this is a valid claim or not.

Best Album


Andrew Peterson, “After All These Years: A Collection

Andrew Peterson is no stranger to this award. In fact, his album, Behold the Lamb, won the award for Best Album in the inaugural appearance of this award (back when it was called the Ralphies).

This is not your typical “best of” or “greatest hits” album. There are some new songs mixed in with the old ones. And the old ones have been redone. It’s like Andrew Peterson is covering Andrew Peterson on this album (or something like that). While I love every song on this album, I’m especially fond of the second half.

Best Song

I think this category is going to be handed over to my kids. Permanently.

Here are their choices…

Aiden


Lecrae, “Nuthin”
from the album, Anomaly

Alyson


One Direction, “Girl Almighty”
from the album, Four

Mihret


“Let it Go”
from the Frozen soundtrack

I know. Mihret’s choice is a shock. Isn’t it?

A #Frozen #selfie with Olaf. #Christmas2014

A photo posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on

Best Book (nonfiction)


Creativity, Inc.
by Ed Catmul

Not only is this the story of the creation of Pixar and the resurrection of Disney Animation, but it also talks about how to be a creative organization. This is a must-read for any fan of Pixar, Disney, or Steve Jobs. It might even be a must-read for fans of Industrial Light and Magic. It’s also a must-read for anyone remotely concerned about leadership, management, creativity, teamwork, or storytelling.

The chapter about failure is worth the price of admission alone. It’s completely contrary to what I’ve experienced in the corporate world.

Best Book (fiction)


The Warden and the Wolf King
by Andrew Peterson

No, this hasn’t become the Andrew Peterson Awards Show or anything like that. I managed to read some good works fiction this year. The Warden and the Wolf King is the best work of fiction I’ve read in a long time. I laughed. I cheered. I cried. I couldn’t put the book down. It is a fitting end to the Wingfeather Saga.

Best TV Show

Still retired. I have one show that I’d like to name, but I don’t want to jinx it. It seems like every show that wins this award is canceled shortly afterward. So I’ll keep my choice to myself because I kind of like watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

oops.

Best Sports Moment

Aiden Todd, North Middle School

I didn’t write about this when it happened. And it was one of the few times I didn’t have the camera ready when Aiden was on the football field this season, but the best sports moment, by far, has to be the interception he got during one of his games. Hopefully it’s only the first of many in his career. Although I don’t have a video or a photo of his interception, here’s a little video I put together while playing around with flipagram.

 

Best Blog

DorkDaddy
Dork Daddy
I mean, the guy is raising his kids in the ways of the Geek. And he and his family dressed up like characters from The Princess Bride this Halloween. And he even took his kids to meet Wesley himself. That makes for an awesome dad. And an awesome blog.

I could probably also give the award to Indy with Kids and Geeking in Indiana, too. But they’d be repeat winners. And we’ve already had repeat winners this year. Besides, they’ll probably win next year, too. Because they’re pretty awesome people with some pretty cool blogs, too.

Now it’s your turn! What books, movies, etc. are on YOUR list for 2014?

Why A New Hope is my favorite

Me and my Darth Vader nightlight
Me with my Darth Vader nightlight, courtesy of Aunt Patsy (circa 1982)

I remember when CBS aired Star Wars* on network tv for the first time. It was a big deal. A big-huge deal. Gigantic. Enormous. Gargantuan. You get the idea?

I asked Grandmama and Grandpa to record it on their big-huge VCR because we didn’t have one yet. Every time we visited their house (which was often), I’d pop in the tape and watch it over and over and over again. I wanted to be part of the Stuben family with their giant collection.

All that being said, I still thought it was pretty weird to get married in line while waiting for the movie. I mean….having a Chewbacca-shaped Groom’s Cake is one thing. Spending your wedding night in a movie theatre?

That’s something else.

But I digress…

Every time someone would walk into the room while I was watching the beloved Star Wars videotape, I would shout, “Shhh! Shhh! This is my favorite part!” Of course, every part was my favorite part.

Leia gets captured? My favorite part.

Luke is ambushed by Sandpeople? My favorite part.

The Millennium Falcon has to blast its way out of Mos Eisley? My favorite part.

The Princess is rescued from her cell?** My favorite part.

I think you get the idea. Every single part of this movie was my favorite part of my favorite movie. It was so captivating. It transported me to a different world – one that I would continue to live in when I wasn’t watching the movie at my grandparents’ house. Star Wars has a very special place in my heart because of the memories it evokes. For this reason alone, Star Wars will always be my favorite. There are other reasons, however, why Star Wars is such a masterful piece of storytelling.

The music

John Williams is a genius. George Lucas is a genius for getting him to work on this film. The score is so intertwined with the visuals that it is impossible to imagine Star Wars without the soundtrack. I would suspect it would be a much, much different experience. And it probably wouldn’t have been as memorable of a movie.

Here’s an example of how the two tie in so perfectly. Try not to get a little misty-eyed as you listen to Binary Sunset (around the 1:50 mark). In your mind’s eye, you can see young Luke gazing off into the horizon, wishing he could leave for a life of adventure that he cannot have while he’s stuck at his uncle’s farm.

OK. Maybe I’m the only one who can see the scene in my mind’s eye. And maybe I’m the only one who gets misty-eyed. But it’s still a powerful scene. And we owe it to the soundtrack.

The jaw-dropping special effects

With Star Wars, George Lucas understood the purpose of special effects. It could be argued that he lost his way when it came to the prequels, but that’s a different discussion. When you look at Star Wars for what it was, it was an amazing technological leap forward in the realm of special effects and film.

And it played second fiddle to something much more important: the story.

Without a good story full of engaging, memorable characters, you don’t have that much of a quality movie. If you throw special effects in there and use them to drive the story, then you have even less of a movie.

Special effects are just a tool, a means of telling a story. People have a tendency to confuse them as an end to themselves. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.

George Lucas
From Star Wars to JediThe Making of a Saga

The story is a timeless fantasy. Farmboy growing up a hundred miles from nowhere becomes a protege of a wise, mysterious, old wizard. They team up with a band of outlaws on a journey to rescue a princess. Along the way, they topple an evil Empire and this seemingly insignificant farmboy from an insignificant place saves the galaxy.

While the special effects were groundbreaking and are still pretty amazing, they’re subservient to the timeless story. And that’s the way it should be. I wish more filmmakers (including George Lucas himself in later years) would learn from that. Special effects are a tool to tell a story. Special effects are not the story. Star Wars nails this point perfectly.

I think that’s why I have been so disappointed with the tinkering they did with the films for the Special Edition – and after the Special Edition. The story becomes a tool to show off your special effects, which is the opposite of how it should be. It messes up the story.

All that being said, there’s one addition in the Special Edition of Star Wars that does help the story. It’s the brief encounter Luke has with Biggs before the final battle. It helps the audience understand why it was such a big deal that Biggs is shot down at the end. It’s not just that Luke is now all alone. He’s also lost his best friend.

Luke and Biggs before the Battle of Yavin
image via Wookieepedia

I feel like I should also mention that the final battle scene in Star Wars is where I strongly disagree with Roger Ebert’s initial review of the film. I have always thought the final battle was just the right length.

The magic

Star Wars is an adventurous joyride full of ups and downs and twists and surprises and it doesn’t stop until the final explosion and you jump up and down with joy as all the tension releases from your body. Steven Spielberg once said that Star Wars “put the butter back into the popcorn.” And he’s right. With Star Wars, movies became fun again. Once again, movies could take you off to a place far, far away, and invite you to stay. Moviemakers have been trying to capture that magic since Star Wars. While some have had varying levels of success, none have been able to come close to matching the magic of Star Wars.

Its endurance

Some movies, like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan are great because they tell moving, heartbreaking stories. And I never want to watch them again.  Other movies are great because you want to watch them over and over and over again.

As you can see, Star Wars clearly falls into the latter. And I’m pretty sure that’s why it’s my favorite of my favorites. Always has been. Always will be.

Which Star Wars film is your favorite? Do you like any prequels better than the Original Trilogy?

For the duration of this post, please realize that I’ll be using ‘Star Wars’ and ‘A New Hope’ interchangeably. If you have a problem with that…well…that’s really your problem. I suggest you find something else to get upset about because this really isn’t that big of a deal.

** I warned you here. I warned you again here. I have no sympathy for you if this is a spoiler. Just watch the daggum movies already!

Why The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite

Empire Strikes Back

I believe The Empire Strikes Back is the first movie I remember going to see in a movie theatre. I remember waiting in line with Uncle Don and Aunt Patsy. I’m sure other people were there with us, but I definitely remember them because Uncle Don told me that they use glowing swords that make a humming noise and go “bzzzzp” when they hit each other. I came to find out much later that they were concerned that the lightsaber scenes were going to scare me.

Scare me?

They were awesome.

I appreciate the sentiment. But I already knew all about the sound lightsabers make. I was already a huge Star Wars fan. I had the storybooks. I’d heard The Story of Star Wars. Like most kids my age, I was hooked. And the toys from The Empire Strikes Back – especially the Hoth playsets – certainly helped fuel my Star Wars addiction.

I owned that playset. It’s still in my parents’ basement. It’s one of my favorites. Always has been. Always will be.

Of course, the toys aren’t the only reason The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite…

Everybody’s Doing It

It seems that it has become quite cool to say that The Empire Strikes Back is your favorite of the Original Trilogy (and if it’s your favorite from the OT, then it’s probably your favorite of the entire series of Star Wars flicks because it’s entirely unlikely that one would think that any of the prequels is better than Empire – just sayin’). Roger Ebert said it was his favorite in the Star Wars saga. It is the highest-rated episode in the entire Star Wars filmography, according to rottentomatoes.com. Wired magazine says that “the other five movies are comic books. Empire is a fairy tale.” I’m pretty sure they mean that as a compliment.

In high school, I started telling everyone that Empire was my favorite of the three films. I got some pretty crazy looks from people for two reasons:

  1. Star Wars wasn’t “cool” anymore. I was part of the minority. I still loved the stories even when very few of my classmates would admit to being a Star Wars fan. I guess you could say I’m a Star Wars hipster. I liked the films before they were cool again. Those were dark times, though.
  2. For many of those who thought Star Wars was still worth discussing, Empire was just a bridge between A New Hope and Jedi. They didn’t see the way Empire was essential in fleshing out Luke’s development as a character. They didn’t understand how the hero had to lose before he could win.* They didn’t appreciate the complexities of the lover’s triangle that was brewing between Han, Leia, and Luke. They just wanted explosions and action and stuff. Empire was just a means unto an end.

Chewbacca

Sad Chewie by David Bigler via http://davidbigler.com/art/illustration/the-empire-strikes-back-30th-anniversary-drawing-a-day-may-5-sad-chewie/attachment/empire-strikes-back-30th-sad-chewbacca-hoth-db/
image via David Bigler

Most of the time, Chewbacca’s  character is about as static as when you rub a balloon against my head. Not so in Empire. He isn’t just a walking carpet with anger management issues in this edition. He cares. Deeply. He’s distraught over the shield doors closing at night, trapping his closest friend in the frozen horror that is Hoth at night. He goes berserk in his attempt to protect Han from the carbon chamber. He comforts Leia as she watches Han descend into the unknown. It’s subtle. But there’s a lot of depth to Chewie in Empire.

“No. There is another…”

Do me a favor. Ignore the prequels for a minute. I know. You’d rather ignore them forever. I get that.

Think back to the time when you had no idea that Luke and Leia were siblings.* When Yoda tells Obiwan that Luke is not their last hope, it sends a shiver down your spine. The mystery of who the other hope for the galaxy? Now that’s a cliffhanger.

Ch-ch-changes. Or not.

I have disagreed with a lot of the changes that George Lucas made when he released the Special Edition. I thought most of them were unnecessary. It should say something, then, that The Empire Strikes Back was the one film that George Lucas didn’t change very much. Yeah, there are a few expanded scenes and the visuals are enhanced, but it’s nothing like the changes in the other two. I firmly believe it’s because Empire was so well done that there wasn’t much Lucas could tinker around with (except Boba Fett’s voice. I’m still upset about that). That’s a sign of a well-told story. And I like that.

The bad guys are winning*

There is very little hope at the end of the second installment of the Original Trilogy. Very little hope, indeed. The Rebels are on the run. Luke’s received horrifying news. Han has been taken off to who-knows-where. The entire galaxy is spinning further into darkness. The Dark Side has won the day. You can’t have the joyful ending in Return of the Jedi without the dark, almost depressing ending found in The Empire Strikes Back

And because of this, The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite.

*Like I said earlier, it’s 30+ years. If this is a spoiler for you, I’m sorry. You need to get with the program. I even have a few copies of the films you can borrow.

This is the End.

I love watching series finales. Even if I haven’t watched the show very much, I’m pretty likely to tune into the finale if I’ve ever had a remote interest in the show. I did that with Smallville a few years back. I had a cursory interest in the series but never really had the opportunity to dedicate much time to watching it. Even so, I still made sure to watch the finale and see Clark finally become the Super Man he was destined to become.

I remember when I was a young’un in the house we lived in before my parents’ current home. I was heartbroken because some crazy educational show on PBS that involved a woman and a green puppet – I think it was a green puppet. I remember it as a green puppet. I think they were on Mars. And they had to leave for the summer. I bawled my eyes out as their rocket took off and I had to say goodbye. I remember tugging on mom’s leg while she was on the phone. She had to get off the phone because I was in hysterics: Because I had to say goodbye to the Martian puppet for the Summer. I honestly don’t remember if that show ever came on again.

Goodbyes can be tough. They’re part of life, though. Everyone goes through it. At its core, the art of storytelling is the art of dealing with the human experience. I guess I love series finales because when they’re done right, they can be the perfect example of great storytelling. And as you know, I love a good story. A final story told well can tug at the heartstrings. It can resolve conflict. It can leave some tension unresolved. It can make you wish you didn’t have to say goodbye. It can make you want more.

Some of the finales I’ve watched do this really, really well. Others? Not so much.

With all of this talk about tonight’s series finale of The Office, I’ve been thinking a lot about the memorable series finales I’ve seen and why they’re so memorable. 

M*A*S*H

MASH Goodbye
Image via TampaBay.com

I was seven when they aired the M*A*S*H finale. I have no idea if we watched it that night. While I have a pretty vivid memory of my childhood, this is something I just have no recollection of whatsoever. That probably means I didn’t watch it, but you never know, I guess.

I have, however, watched the finale since its initial airing. Holy cow. What an ending. In my mind, this still sets the standard for television series finales. I have never really had a strong attachment to the 4077th – it was probably just a little bit before my time – but even so, I still find myself tearing up as the helicopter flies away for the last time.

Friends

We watched Friends pretty religiously in college. I was living off-campus when Ross flubbed his wedding vows and you could hear screams all throughout the apartment complex. It was pretty crazy.

I was disappointed when I had to work during the series finale. I really wanted to be curled up on the couch with Christy while we watched. Instead, I was busy delivering pizzas. It turned out that I didn’t actually watch the finale until almost ten years later.

Seinfeld 

A bunch of my college buddies and I gathered together at a friend’s house for one of our last hurrahs before everyone graduated. We had high expectations for this finale.

It was underwhelming. That’s about all I can say.

The Wonder Years

Christy’s still mad about this series finale. That was twenty (!!!) years ago this week. I guess you could say that time doesn’t heal all wounds. She happened to watch this episode again a few months ago. She was depressed for weeks. I don’t think she can watch any episode of The Wonder Years ever again because she’s still so angry/depressed about how they ended the story.

She’s convinced Kevin and Winnie should’ve gotten married. I, however, think it’s better that they didn’t. After all: how many people actually marry their high school sweethearts? I didn’t. Christy didn’t. I’m pretty OK with that. 😉

Boy Meets World

I think some of that emotional bitterness that Christy experiences with Kevin and Winnie’s breakup has been eased by the finale of Boy Meets World. The fact that Cory and Topanga actually got married and appear to be living happily ever after is a bit of a healing salve.

Cheers

Man. What a great finale. I think it’s my favorite. It’s another finale that aired twenty years ago this month.

What season finales stick out as your most memorable? Which one’s your favorite? Do you have a least-favorite?

This Year’s NaNoWriMo Story Is….

Great Isaiah Scroll Ch53

I listened to your input on this poll and on my Google+ profile (a conversation on Google+? Never thought I’d say that). As I’ve thought about it and talked about it with others, an outline began to form in my mind. Characters started to develop. It became clear that one story was taking shape. Amazingly enough, it’s the story I was originally the least excited about when I came up with my list of potential story ideas. That is no longer the case. I’m looking forward to seeing how this story unfolds.

Which story, you ask? I’m glad you asked. I’m pleased to announce that my story for the 2012 National Novel Writing Monthwill be called,

The Authenticator

Are you gonna NaNoWriMo this year? Be sure to become my writing buddy! This’ll be fun!

I’m gonna NaNoWriMo all over the place

NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month
Image via SciFiFX

Last year, I made a last-minute decision to try to participate in NaNoWriMo. While I can’t say I failed because I got a pretty good start on a story that my kids enjoy, I didn’t come anywhere close to completing it.

This year, I’m gonna knock it out of the park.

Well….I hope to, anyway.

Although I’m not going to start writing until November 1, that doesn’t mean I can’t go ahead and start planning things ahead of time.  I figure anything I can do beforehand, like research, outlines, character history, etc.) will be a good thing so I can hit the ground running. But I have to make a decision first. What kind of story should I write? I’m not sure yet so I figure I should get some input from you, dear reader.

Please vote. If you have another suggestion, I’m all ears at this point. Don’t vote “Other” unless you have an idea because…well…that doesn’t really help me. Know what I mean?

Thanks for the input, everyone! Let’s make this year’s NaNoWriMo the best NaNoWriMo ever!

Delay of Game…

I’ve resigned myself that there’s no way I’ll be able to get this story written in time to give it as a Christmas gift this year. But that’s OK. I should be able to get it finished by her birthday in April. Ideally, I’ll be able to get her to come up with some illustrations and then I’ll have the story bound for her in her own book (somehow).

You say you want to know more about this story? I’m not sure if it’ll ever be made public, but I’ll go ahead and tell you this much: It’s about a girl who has strange things happen to her after she’s bitten by a mysterious horse. Oh yeah. She’s gonna love it.

I’m still here

No. I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. It just feels like it.

Yes. We have successfully moved into our house in Greenwood.

I have a lot of blog posts I need to write, including how I can cross three more things off my 100(ish) Things.

Oh – and the obligatory “The BCS is a sham” post. 😉

But I’ve been spending my spare time doing three things: 1) Looking for a job and 2) Writing a top-secret superhero story for one of my daughters that I’d love to get done in time for Christmas, but it’s looking more likely that it’ll be done in time for her birthday.

That’s all for now. Back to writing (sometimes awesome). And job-hunting (not-so awesome). And loving on my family (which is always awesome).

Read any good books lately?

I’m looking for a good book or two to read. I’d prefer fiction. It can be historical. As long as it is narrative. I’ve been reading all kinds of books recently, but none of them have really told a story. I need to read a good story now and again. I’ve been listening to The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle in its audiobook form. It’s been a very interesting story to hear. And unless I’m mistaken, the last work of fiction that I read was Red Storm Rising – and that was nearly two years ago. It’s time to get into some good stories.

I’ve noticed I’m much more comfortable using a narrative style when I preach. If that’s the case, I really should be reading more stories, don’t you think? One way to become a better storyteller is to listen and/or read other great storytellers. And I have the privilege of telling the greatest story ever told every week! It only makes sense that I should continue to sharpen that area.

So – read any good books lately? What do you recommend?

Stick a fork in me…

This is one of those days where I’m ready to be done with school. I’m done.

This is one of those days where it’s very tempting to leave seminary and pursue a Masters in Storytelling at ETSU. In some ways, it would be more beneficial because it appears that storytelling is the direction that sermons are (at least, should be) heading.

It ain’t gonna happen, but I still entertain the thought from time to time. Of course, that thought pops up more when I have all kinds of projects and papers due. If I were to leave Emmanuel, I wouldn’t have to write any more exegetical essays – and what fun would that be?

Speaking of the essay, I’m a big ol’ dork-head. I picked a passage that is huge, rather than picking a small, managable piece. What was I thinking? Oh – I know what I was thinking…I really like this story and there’s no way I’m going to try to translate something outside of the Gospels! It really hurts trying to translate the epistles in such a way that it makes sense. Fortunately, the paper is only supposed to be something like 1,200 words – which is pretty easy.

I’m more concerned about my translation for my huge passage. What was I thinking?

In more positive news, I got an A on the Greek midterm. That has to brighten my day…doesn’t it?