The Year in Review (-10): The Best Films of 2004

Day three of the 4-day Year in review (plus 30 years ago, 20 years ago, and today’s 10-years ago reviews). I don’t know about you, but 1994 was a weird year. There weren’t a lot of good candidates for the top ten films of the year, but the top three were as strong of contenders for best movie of the decade as you’re likely to find. 2004, as it turns out, was similar, but not. I instantly found 8 movies that I would immediately put on a top ten list… and about 20 movies that were… good, but not great. So numbers 9 and 10 on this list get put there on account of their box office appeal, and no other reason. Clearly somebody liked them, even if that somebody wasn’t me.

Let’s get it on.

10. Shrek 2

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I don’t like Shrek, and Shrek 2 was just more of the same stuff. But lots and lots and lots of other people do, so it makes the list. Unfunny Mike Myers as a big green ogre making anachronistic jokes, unfunny Eddie Murphy pretending he’s a funny donkey, and a cast of annoying fairy-tale-inspired characters.. That’s the Shrek movies in a nutshell. Anotnio Banderas’ Puss in Boots is the only bright shining star in this franchise, but even he can’t bring the highest grossing movie of the year higher than #10 on the list of best films of 1994.

9. The Incredibles

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To wash the bad taste of Shrek 2 out of our mouths, let’s go with the best cartoon of the year, The Incredibles. While this movie isn’t the best of the Pixar lot, The Incredibles is possibly the best original (non-comic-book-based) superhero move ever. Like many Pixar movies, they lift the premise heavily from another source… you may find next year’s Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron very similar to the Incredibles. They both use the “self-healing, self-improving robot” as their bad guy. In spite of this, the family dynamics, the tension and action, and the comedic elements all work exactly like you’d expect from Pixar. A worthy film for any film library, adult or kid’s.

8. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

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I have to be honest, I usually hate stoner movies. I didn’t like Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I was never a fan of Dazed and Confused. Don’t even get me started on Cheech and Chong. But Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle managed to somehow transcend this hatred. Smart, witty script, talented actors, and Neil Fucking Patrick Harris. With one fell, mind-blowingly awesome swoop, Harris shed the Doogie Howser skin and became something transcendent. Bonus footage: put the DVD in and let it sit on the main menu for a while. There’s like… 30 minutes of dialogue as Harold and Kumar wait for you to hit play. Win/Win.

7. The Passion of the Christ

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Mel Gibson won Academy Awards with Braveheart. He won box office acclaim with the Lethal Weapon movies. He won international derision with a drunken rant in Malibu. But he won the award for goriest, hardest-core Bible movie of all time with The Passion of the Christ. Christian audiences flocked to this movie like no other. If you don’t include the three Narnia movies (which hold spots 2, 3 and 4 on the all-time chart), Passion of the Christ outsold the fifth-through-twelfth all-time box-office-leading Christian films…. combined.

6. Team America: World Police

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It would be difficult to imagine a situation where someone could say “a raunchy rated-R parody of America, Americanism, 90s action movies and the War on Terrorism was one of the best movies I saw this year.” But with Team America: World Police, 2004 was that year. The brainchild of South Park masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Team America featured extraordinarily catchy parody songs, silly characters engaged in serious romance and action, and just the most rated-X sex you’re likely ever to find puppets doing.

Double bonus extra points for the “Dicks, Pussies and Assholes” monologue at the film’s climax. That is possibly one of the most brilliant pieces of double-entendre dialogue ever penned.

5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban

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Episode three of the eight-part Harry Potter saga introduces us to my favorite secondary character, Professor Lupine, who ends up playing equal parts protagonist and antagonist in the film. The kids are all grown up now, in their middle-to-late adolescence, which means Emma Watson has started moving rapidly from “cute and precocious” to “extraordinarily attractive,” so there’s that, too.

Seriously, though. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban immediately leaves the happy-go-lucky first two Harry Potter films behind, and heads toward darker, more dangerous waters. There’s a serial killer on the loose, Voldemort is trying to come back, and the only thing they seem to have in common is an intense focus on young Harry. Daniel Radcliffe gets his his first chance to really emote, as feelings of rage, fear, and exhilaration are in ample display here. The movie easily works its way into the top 5 films of the year.

4. Dodgeball

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“If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!”

You all know by now that one of my favorite story memes is “plucky underdog wins against superior forces.” Dodgeball has that in spades. It also has Alan Tudyk in a fantastic character bit, Vince Vaughn doing exactly what he does in every movie to perfection: playing the unflappable everyman, and Justin Bateman as an unforgettable color commentator for ESPN 8 (The Ocho). Casting is perfect, slapstick is perfect, film is perfect. I’ve noticed that of my top 10 films of 2004, seven of them are cartoons or comedies. Huh.

3. Mean Girls

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Mean Girls managed to pull off the seemingly impossible: it combined chick-flick with coming-of-age teen comedy and merged them brilliantly. Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams and Tina Fey all bring a perfect sense of comedic timing, and the film is spot-on accurate in nailing how the cliques we discovered in John Hughes movies in the 80s have evolved into today. If Lindsay can’t pull off a Drew Barrymore and turn her life around, Mean Girls will not only be the 3rd best movie of 2004, but also the best film of her career.

2. 50 First Dates

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Speaking of Drew Barrymore!

Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore have undeniable screen chemistry, but it has never been so wonderfully displayed as in 50 First Dates. an imminently charming romantic comedy about a marine biologist living in Hawaii who falls in love with a girl with unusual amnesia: every day she wakes up believing it’s the day before a big accident she had several years in the past. Her family (including Sean Astin in a hilarious bit role as her ‘roid-popping brother) and friends have been meticulously arranging their lives to make her feel like it’s still that day in the past. Made well before Sandler began treading the Eddie Murphy path of fading comics, 50 First Dates is fresh, funny, sweet and heart-warming. Great date movie. Great movie, period.

1. Spider-Man 2

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The absolute best of the five Spider-Man movies made in 21st century, Spider-Man 2 pits Peter Parker against his worst enemy yet: his own insecurities. At the time this movie came out, I was dealing with an identity crisis involving responsibility. I had been given a task that was not quite beyond my ability to handle, but absolutely required that if I were to tackle it, it would be at the expense of everything else I’d wanted to do with my life.

So the movie hit me pretty hard when Peter had to face that exact same dilemma, albeit it with a crisis of super-hero identity. To see him come to grips with his inner demons, find the focus he needed, and save the day found strong resonance with me, and with audiences around the world The #2 movie at the box-office in 2004 turns out to be the best film of the year.

 

And that’s my list for 2004. We looked at 1984 on Friday, 1994 yesterday, and 2004 today. Tomorrow we will close out the year in review with the actual year in review: the best movies of 2014. What do you think? Did I nail them? Did I utterly blow it? Dis I miss something? Let me know! Comment below or knock me out on Twitter (@gawainthestout).

See you tomorrow!

 

The Year in Review (-20): The Best Films of 1994

Welcome back, film fans!

At the end of each year, I look back in the wayback machine at the previous year, and then ten years, 20 years, and 30 years past that for the best ten films of that time to see how well they’ve held up and just hold some awesome nostalgia parties. With the demise of 2014, we looked at 1984 yesterday, we’ll look at 1994 today, with 2004 and 2014 coming on Sunday and Monday.

1994 was a difficult year for me to judge. My first pass through the 250 movies that came out that year left me with only six movies I’d put on a “best movies of the year list.” So I went back through the ranks and looked for films that maybe merited a higher spot, even if they weren’t favorites of my own. Without further ado, the top ten films of the year-20, 1994.

10. Pulp Fiction

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Quentin Tarantino had cut his teeth with the cult hit Reservoir Dogs in 1992. 1994 saw him strike gold and mainstream accolades with Pulp Fiction, a modern masterpiece of American cinema. Samuel Jackson and John Travolta reinvented themselves with their iconic roles, and the concept of time-and-storyline-hopping became the avant-garde methodology of choice for years to come.

9. Dumb and Dumber

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Do you want to hear the most annoying sound in the world? NYAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Jim Carrey was on top of the world in 1994, with three movies in the top 20, two of them in the top 10, and Dumb and Dumber at the top of the pile, the sixth highest grossing film of the year. You couldn’t shake a stick without running into a Jim Carrey movie, or a guy in the office imitating Ace Ventura, this movie, or Fire Marshall Bill. I hated Dumb and Dumber the first time I watched it, but over time it has grown on me. I recognize now that this movie exemplified “stupid men’s comedy” better than any film before it, or since.

8. Speed

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Keanu Reeves had dabbled in action adventure with Point Break. He’d explored thrillers with Bram Stoker’s. But in 1994’s Speed he hit his stride and made the biggest movie of his career. Only the three Matrix movies have done better at the box office. With Sandra Bullock, Jeff Daniels and Dennis Hopper in extra-crazy mode, Speed became the runaway hit of the year (you see what I did there?). With this film, Keanu finally realized what his destiny was. Johnny Mnemonic and Chain Reaction would follow in the next two years and The Matrix was just beyond the corner. Pop quiz: You’re about to become one of the most successful action stars of the early 21st century. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?

7. The Professional

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Luc Besson does one thing, and he does it well. He writes tight, action-packed thrillers that always feature strong, defiant, resilient women. You might remember Le Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element, this year’s Lucy. In 1994 he made his strong woman a 12-year-old girl (Natalie Portman, in her screen debut) who taught a hardened assassin to love.  The Professional is a fascinating study in how French cinema varies from American films: Besson is the master of taking both French and American elements and merging them into a fascinating melange of cross cultural action and suspense. With The Professional he gave American audiences an exotic European flavor in their gritty thrillers, and we loved it.

6. Stargate

It’s hard to argue with the success of Stargate, or the immense appeal of its central idea: an ancient society of dominating aliens once built and used a series of planet-hopping portals to rule the known universe: while on Earth, they were known as our Egyptian gods. Stargate told a compelling story of freedom, redemption, man’s rise against his gods, and how to spawn three television series and a half dozen made-for-TV sequels, and gave Jaye Davidson his only other role after The Crying Game. James Spader and Kurt Russell play off each other well and the effects hold up well even today, 20 years later. In a year when there was an absolute dearth of good science fiction, Stargate easily works its way into the top ten films of the year.

Stargate-stargate-the-movie-25135540-1000-440[1]Even if the director had a weird fetish for flashing “Don’t make me use my God powers” eyes.

5. The Shawshank Redemption

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For my money, The Shawshank Redemption is one of the best adaptations of Stephen King’s works. I say that in full admittance that I have only read two Stephen King books, and the short story that this movie was based on was not in either. The quiet grace with with Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) finds a way to not only survive but transcend his prison cell is inspiring and profound. I don’t watch many dramas, but this one I will watch anytime I see it on TV (along with that damned tear-jerker The Green Mile).

4. Clear and Present Danger

Harrison Ford (“Mr. Franchise Movie Star” to you, Mister) returned to the Jack Ryan series with Clear and Present Danger in 1994, a film that looked at America’s dirty dealings with drug lords in Central America and how Good Guy Jack Ryan finds the CIA (and himself as a result) implicit in dangerous, deadly affairs. In typical Ford style, he delivers the lines and the explosive action, assisted by an already-gnarled Willem Dafoe. The sniper-training scene is one of my all-time favorites.

3. The Lion King

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There is no denying that The Lion King belongs on this list. It was the highest-grossing animated of all time for ten years, and still stands at #2 all-time 20 years later. The songs are infectious, the story is deep and heart-felt, Jeremy Irons delivers his evil villain lines with so much flavor you wish you could eat them. Brilliantly funny and wise secondary characters, James Earl Jones yet again fathering the best heroes in all the multiverse (that man has fathered more protagonists….), and again, the music. You don’t always see the songs from a Disney film dominate pop radio like this one did. Imagine Frozen’s “Let it Go” — and multiply it by two. “Circle of Life” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” both topped the charts, and both were in the top 12 most-played songs on pop radio in 1994.

2. True Lies

 true-lies-1994-07-g[1]You have no idea how hard it was trying to find a picture from this film that wasn’t from the striptease scene.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a spy with a cover so deep, his wife of 16 years has no idea. Roseanne Barr’s disgraced ex-husband, Tom Arnold is his surprisingly hilarious partner. Jamie Lee Curtis, looking hotter than she had in a decade (and instantly jumping to the top of everyone’s MILF list), and Bill Paxton in his crazy character acting best. True Lies is a fantastic movie, and one of Arnold’s absolute best. It’s exciting, fast-paced, sexy, funny, smart and just as much fun as a movie can be. True Lies was not just one of Arnold’s best, it was also his last truly great movie. Think about that for a while.

1. Forrest Gump

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Forrest Gump is… amazing. One of my favorite movies. I would say it’s my favorite Tom Hanks movie… except it’s not. He’s had one that rises even higher than Gump. That guy impresses time after time after time (I think we’re going to see more of him tomorrow when we look at 2004). The thing is… Forrest Gump sneaks up on you. He’s a simple man, with what seems to be a limited emotional capacity, so he’s pretty much just set on “optimistic and unflappable.” We see him weather Vietnam, his mother’s demise, successes and failures all with the same emotionless aplomb. When something finally does hurt him, we have lent him our emotions and invested so heavily in his life that it hurts us. It hurts beyond belief. The best movie of 1994 is one of the best movies ever, but bring a handkerchief when you watch it. You might need it by the end.

 

And that’s our list. Yesterday we looked at the year in review (–40) with 1984. Tomorrow we’ll be reviewing this year (-20) and the top ten movies of 2004. What do you think of this list? Did we miss anything? Agree? Disagree? Please, comment or hit me up on Twitter (@gawainthestout). I’d love to hear what your favorite films of 1994 were.

 

The Year in Review (-30): The Best Films of 1984

Instead of just a breakdown of this year’s films, I’m going to stretch back in time, and do one for each of this year, ten years ago, twenty, and thirty years ago. How have the best movies of decades ago fared? Which movie stood the test of time? Let’s find out by going as far back as my movie-going goes, all the way to the wild and wooly 80s, a time we call: 1984.

#10. Beverly Hills Cop

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There was a time, long years ago, when Eddie Murphy was funny. Like, drop your jaw, roll on the floor with disbelief funny. Few people remember this. Murphy has been blazing the trail for fading comic actors for years: fat suits, drag, Disney films. But in 1984 he was at the top of his game, and Beverly Hills Cop was the biggest film of the year, beating — get this — Indiana Jones at the box office. An R-rated comedy, starring a black man was the #1 movie in America. THAT’S how good Beverly Hills Cop was, that’s how great Eddie Murphy was. Great films transcend social boundaries.

#9. Top Secret!

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In 1980, the Zuckers blasted open a wide wide world of tongue-in-cheek, absurdist comedies with Airplane! They would ride this wave for many years, but for my tastes, 1984’s Top Secret! was the cream of the crop. Headlined by a young, sexy, insanely charismatic Val Kilmer in his prime, the movie comes across as just silly compared to the raunchy comedies of today. Nevertheless, with great parody songs like “Skeet Surfing” and an iconic cow-humping scene (you heard me), Top Secret! remains one of the best films of 1984.

#8. Gremlins

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There’s this guy, Chris Columbus (the Hollywood guy, not the “sailing to America” guy) that you probably have heard of. He’s produced kid movies like, oh, the first three Harry Potter movies, the Fantastic Four movies, The Percy Jackson movies, the Night at the Museum Movies. That guy. Well, 30 years ago, when he was just a nobody, he wrote a script about a kid who inherited a cute little… thing. A thing you shouldn’t ever get wet. A thing you definitely never, ever wanted to feed after midnight. Gremlins took the monster movie, turned it on its ear, added a healthy dose of comedy, and became the surprise hit of the year, launching good Mr. Columbus’ career faster than the Santa Maria on Nitrous Oxide, if that’s even a metaphor.

#7. Red Dawn

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The recent remake of Red Dawn is, surprisingly, a worthy reboot of this classic “American underdogs are the most dangerous dogs on the planet” movie. 1984 was the middle of the Reagan Renaissance, and one of its greatest art revolutions was in war films that cast Americans as the ultimate good guys. Red Dawn has everything a teen movie about resistance fighters struggling to free themselves from sadistic invaders could ever need: Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise at their hunky best, Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey (the girls of my Freshman year dreams) and the stupidly popular super-weapon of bad guys in the 80s: the Soviet HIND. Movies like this helped America finally start to shake off the damage to its psyche that Vietnam had caused. The Wolverines still stand, 30 years later, at #7.

#6. Buckaroo Banzai

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The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension makes me the saddest for this list, because even though it is a cult classic, even though it has a stellar cast of future somebodies (Jeff Goldblum, Peter Weller, John Lithgow) and even though it is a smart and funny-as-hell movie, it, of the ten films on this list, holds up the most poorly, It had a very small budget, and the farther away from 1984 we get, the more it shows. Still, effects aside, we have just reached the point in the list where every film has iconic scenes and quotes that no one ever forgets. Did you ever hear that phrase “Wherever you go, there you are?”

Look up who said that first.

#5. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

You can’t have a movie in the 80s or 90s without having a Stephen Spielberg blockbuster — except for the years he was making Oscar-winning art movies. In 1984 we got the second of the Indiana Jones movies, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In this episode, Indy travels to India with sidekick Short Round (runner up for “Worst Indy Sidekick”) and sexy-but-annoying Willie Scott. It’s not the best Indiana Jones movie, but that doesn’t matter. I spent six hours standing outside the new Regency Cinema in Fresno to watch this movie, and so did everyone else in Fresno. This was the first “Everyone MUST SEE THIS MOVIE” movie I ever experienced. It deserves the top 5 spot from the sheer force of will of every geek on the planet sharing its memories.

#4. Sixteen Candles

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The 60s had beach blanket teen party movies. The 70s had disco and pot coming of age films. In the 80s, we had John Hughes flicks. Teenagerism and the very memes that defined life as a subadult were penned and filmed by John Hughes. His string of generation-sculpting hits included The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Some Kind of Wonderful but they started with Sixteen Candles, which introduced us to John and Joan Cusak and Gedde Watanabe, gave Molly Ringwald her first starring role, and set the standard for high school romantic comedies. It is easy for me to say that John Hughes was possibly the most influential comedic director of my life. He wrote my favorite comedy, my favorite road trip movie, and my favorite romantic comedy. Sixteen Candles was his first big hit, and it stands the test of time, earning the fourth spot with ease.

#3.The Karate Kid

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In 1984, underdog movie archetype The Karate Kid connected with audiences so strongly it became the fifth biggest movie of the year. How rare is that? Sure, lots of movies with martial arts have made the bigs, especially with the rise of Wire-Fu, but only two other movies specifically about the martial arts have broken into the top ten since: The Karate Kid 2, and Kung Fu Panda, 24 years later. There has never been a more quotable, enjoyable, good-natured, family-friendly, heart-warming movie about a boy learning martial arts and fighting in a brutal (well, brutal for the San Fernando Valley) tournament for the love of a girl beneath a fantastic soundtrack of energetic 80s montage music ever.

End of story.

#2. The Terminator

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It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

badabumpbump-ba-dump. BaDaBumpBump-Ba-Dump. BADABUMPBUMP-BA-DUMP!

30 years later, as Google buys robotics companies left and right, Japanese engineers create near-artificial intelligence, and social media infects everything, I have to wonder, time and time again, DIDN’T ANY OF THE PEOPLE WHO WORK ON ROBOTS WATCH THIS MOVIE?! This was the first movie where the bad guy got top billing, was played by a an automaton with an unintelligible accent, the only face on the one-sheet, and it fucking worked. The Terminator is a masterpiece of small, terrifying science fiction film-making.

#1. Ghostbusters

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An invisible man’s lying in your bed. Who’re you gonna call? Today, maybe 911. But in 1984 the answer was obvious. Ghostbusters was, is, and always will be a comedy classic, with cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykoyd, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver, Ivan Reitman (who also penned and directed), Annie Potts and Ernie Hudson all at the absolute top of their game (that cast! WOW! Right?!). Fantastic physical effects (the commentary track for the Ghostbusters DVD has some amazing insights into how they did some of the things they did, I highly recommend it), a script so tight nearly every single line of the movie is quotable, and a 12-story-tall marshmallow all blend together into the best movie of 1984, and one of the best films of all time. As Peter Venkman might (and did!) say: “We came, we saw, we kicked its butt!”

 

And that’s my list. What do you think? Did I miss one? I know Amadeus didn’t make the list, or Star Trek III or Footloose — like with every year there were good candidates that didn’t make the cut. Shoot me a comment below or Tweet me @gawainthestout. Let’s talk about it.

Stay tuned tomorrow when we jump forward 10 years to the mystical year of 1994, when a simple man flat out dominated the box office, beating a dead lion, 5 other feel-good comedies, and Quentin Tarantino? The 10 best films of 1994. Right here. 24 hours from now. Be there!

My Christmas Wish for the World

I am not a spiritual person. I don’t know if there are mystical beings out there who created us and provide for us in times of need. Still, in the spirit of the holidays (whichever specific franchise you subscribe to), I offer this prayer for the world, for things it seems to be in desperate need of these days.

May God heal the wounds that time cannot.

May he bring peace in the heart of chaos.

May you find solace when justice fails.

May grace and forgiveness follow you, love and hope lead you, and faith never fade from your sight.

 

It has been a strange, sad, interesting year, full of change. Loss, gain, more loss, more loss, and a plethora of goals cut loose and abandoned. My last wish for all of you is that for all the disappointments that threaten to swallow whatever joy you have in this world, may the universe provide you with that one, solitary thing you need to keep your spark alive.

My kindling is out. Take care, my friends.

 

Words I Don’t Use Anymore

My fantastically awesome cousin Amanda posited a question on Facebook today. I started going, and kept going and by the time I got done, realized I oughta put my answer on the blog, so everyone could read it.

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You know what words I don’t use anymore? The stupid offensive ones that no one told me were offensive.

My cousins and I called each other n*gger all the time. I was a n*gger, Don Martin was a n*gger, we were all n*iggers. I didn’t know that I could o
nly use that word in reference to black people until I was in high school. I wouldn’t have ever known it was offensive until I met someone who took offense to it. I certainly had no idea that there was a color requirement on it.

Wetbacks and beaners. In Fresno we had lots of those. These are (in my mind) even more offensive than n*gger, especially since you don’t hear Pitbull calling all his homies “Beanahs” or such in his raps. Of course both of those are pretty crude and offensive. I haven’t used them since high school.

I don’t use dyke or fag anymore. I still use queer, but only in reference to “Smear the Queer” — a game I miss, since you’re not allowed to play games with offensive words anymore. The point is — most people, when they become aware that something is harmful to other folks — even folks they don’t know! — they stop using those words.

I never used kike or gook or chink or spic or wop or “soul-less, readheaded potato-sucking irish pansy,” but I suppose if I did, I would have stopped using those too. There are so many good reasons to hate a person or be angry or upset with him. Skin color or country of origin is a pretty stupid one.

There’s lots of words I don’t use anymore, but there’s even more words I wish we would use more and more and more, because they’ve become chronically underutilized. Tolerance. Forgiveness. Kindness. Patience. Friendship. Brotherhood.

Love. Faith. Hope.

Redemption. Honor. Integrity.

Compassion.

We are so focused on ourselves, so afraid of people around us, so angry at “the other guy.” There’s a better way out there, and we used to pursue it.

I wish we would try chasing that dream again.

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